Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio aka Bad Bunny opened up the 2023 Grammys in February with an energetic and fun medley of two songs from his history-making album, Un Verano Sin Ti. As he sang “El Apagón” and “Despues la Playa” with dancers and cabezudos (performers wearing festive papier-mâché heads of Puerto Rican folklore characters) in tow, CBS’s closed captioning read “[SPEAKING NON-ENGLISH; SINGING IN NON-ENGLISH].”
In a new Vanity Fair profile, Martínez directly addressed the incident, which viewers saw as an offensive write-off to the artist behind the first-ever Spanish language album to be nominated for Album of the Year. “It’s ugly to say that I saw it as normal,” Martínez told the magazine. “Then it was like, wow, wait a minute, what the hell? Why don’t they have someone? Knowing that I was going to be there.…” He called it “so fucked up” but that, ultimately, “I sing for those who want to listen to me and those who understand me.”
Un Verano Sin Ti lost later in the evening to Harry Styles’ Harry’s House. But as Yarimar Bonilla explained in a New York Times piece following CBS’s flub, Bad Bunny’s “performance signaled a shift from a time when Latino artists sought to appeal to mainstream audiences by either singing in English ...or deploying what linguists call ‘junk Spanish’ with stereotypical and simplified references to livin’ la vida loca or dancing la macarena.”
Bad Bunny’s music has transcended language barriers, securing the top spot for Spotify’s most-streamed artist three years in a row. Martínez himself isn’t fluent in English, but he clearly has global appeal. “It’s not like I hate the idea” of performing in English, he told Vanity Fair. “It’s just that I feel more comfortable in my own language. I think in Spanish, I feel in Spanish, I eat in Spanish, I sing in Spanish.” Seems easy for a billion-dollar entertainment media company to take that into account before broadcasting the game-changing artist to the millions of viewers his performance attracted.