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From Macy’s parade to Spotify Wrapped, Bad Bunny is on top of the world

Bad Bunny performs at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Va., on Aug. 16, 2018. (Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)
5 min

’Tis the season of Spotify Wrapped, that time of year when users of the streaming service unabashedly reveal their taste in music — and just how many minutes they spent jamming to the same song — via a made-to-share breakdown of their listening history.

As droves of people disclosed the soundtracks to their lives on Wednesday, one artist reigned supreme in their personalized decks of animated slides: Bad Bunny, also known as El Conejo Malo and Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio (his real name).

For the third year in a row, Bad Bunny was the most streamed global artist on Spotify. Garnering over 18.5 billion streams in 2022, he more than doubled the amount he racked up last year. His latest album, “Un Verano Sin Ti” was also the most streamed album in the world, and two of his songs ranked in the top five most-streamed tracks. Those accomplishments wrap up a year full of accolades, hitmaking and world touring.

In early November, Bad Bunny was named Apple Music’s artist of the year. His last four months have been spent hopping from sold-out stadium to sold-out stadium across the world. In recent years, his music has rung out everywhere from college bars in the Midwest to the Super Bowl’s halftime show. Bad Bunny had his debut acting role in “Bullet Train” and even had a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

In short: Bad Bunny is everywhere — and the world is obsessed.

Bad Bunny will star in ‘El Muerto’ and enter the Spider-Verse

But how the 28-year-old went from supermarket bagger in his native Puerto Rico to global phenomenon and one of Latin music’s most recognized voices in the span of six years isn’t just another example of an artist’s meteoric rise to fame, said Larry Miller, a professor of music business at New York University’s Steinhardt School — it underscores the music industry’s changing landscape, as well as Bad Bunny’s flair for performance and an unmatched ability to “capture a zeitgeist moment,” he said.

“If only we could bottle that thing that Bad Bunny has and duplicate it,” Miller told The Washington Post. “That would be the recipe for success for any artist.”

(Video: @badbunny/TikTok)

That thing is hard to put into words, Miller said. “It’s what makes him such a captivating artist. It’s the song. It’s his performance. It’s the song construction. It’s his partnership with the producers and collaborations with different artists. It’s his power, energy and charm. It’s everything.”

Like some members of the most recent generations of musicians, Bad Bunny began releasing music on SoundCloud. In 2016, his single “Diles” caught the attention of a producer and led to a record deal. With a slew of singles under his belt, Bad Bunny’s fame began growing among Spanish speakers, across Latin America and, eventually, around the world.

By 2018, Bad Bunny snagged his first No. 1 hit, “I Like It,” with Cardi B. That year, he released his first studio album, “X 100Pre” — which reached Billboard’s No. 1 position on the Top Latin Albums chart. His last compilation, “Un Verano Sin Ti,” made history as the first all-Spanish-language album to score a Grammy album of the year nomination. The week after its release in May, Latin music temporarily became the fourth-most-popular genre in the United States, surpassing country for the first time, according to a 2022 midyear report by Luminate, an entertainment data provider.

For Bad Bunny’s fans, he’s more than a global superstar. He’s a political icon.

That success and worldwide reach, Miller said, was exacerbated by the rise of streaming — which not only “drives almost 85 percent of revenue in the recorded music business,” but has also helped Latin music become more popular worldwide. According to Luminate’s report, streaming of Latin music increased by 33 percent this year.

“Though Latin music has always been around, it never got the traction that it’s having now. That has to do with shifting demographics in the United States and other big markets around the world,” Miller said. “But Spotify and the other big digital music services have driven an acceptance, even among non-Spanish speakers, for music that is not in their native language but is absolutely infectious.”

On Wednesday, Robert Wong’s Spotify Wrapped was a testament to that. According to his deck, the 23-year-old from New York spent 8,087 minutes playing Bad Bunny — the equivalent of nearly 135 hours, or more than five full days. Three of Wong’s most-listened-to songs were also by Bad Bunny.

“I’m probably the number one Bad Bunny listener who’s Asian American in the world,” he said.

Wong carries it like a badge of honor, or a representation of his “years-long journey” into discovering Latin music. It all started when he heard Daddy Yankee’s 2012 song “Limbo” during a trip to the Dominican Republic as a teenager. Then, in college, he heard a Bad Bunny song playing at a bar he and his friends frequented in Indiana. But the moment that would change Wong’s life was when Bad Bunny released his first album. “That’s when I fully became a fan,” he said.

“Coming from someone who doesn’t understand all the lyrics, his vibe and the way he produces his music is really catchy,” Wong said. “Plus, listening to Bad Bunny is helping me learn more about Spanish and how sentences are structured in the language. It’s a really great thing.”

Though he’s already among Bad Bunny’s top 0.5 percent of listeners, Wong said his goal for 2023 is to be part of the artist’s top 0.0001 percent.

His plan of action: “Listen to him on repeat until I’m number one.”