fashion

In pink, florals and short shorts, Bad Bunny champions a new masculinity

Published 24th April 2019
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - DECEMBER 23:  Bad Bunny donates toys as part of Good Bunny Foundation event at Roberto Clemente Coliseum on December 23, 2018 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
Credit: Gladys Vega/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
In pink, florals and short shorts, Bad Bunny champions a new masculinity
Written by Vanessa Rosales, CNN
In an Instagram post from March 8, Puerto Rican trap artist Bad Bunny photographed his manicured hands against a turquoise swimming pool, his fingernails painted in an iridescent hue.
"By the way, how about my nails?" the caption playfully concludes in Spanish, followed by a blushing smiley face and a painting-nails emoji.
Cue 1 million-plus likes and more than 24,000 comments -- most of them in Spanish -- from his 15.9 million followers, ranging from the celebratory ("I love it!!!!!!!" "Bad Bunny is a whole MOOOOOD") to the homophobic and disapproving ("[You're] helping the youth distort their minds and go against what God has created.")
All of this is standard for Bad Bunny. The 25-year-old, born Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, is known for provoking audiences in Latin America and beyond with his penchant for painted nails, bright colors, short-shorts and rose-tinted sunglasses.
Bad Bunny (left) at the 2018 Billboard Latin Music Awards in April 2018.
Bad Bunny (left) at the 2018 Billboard Latin Music Awards in April 2018. Credit: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
His most memorable looks live on YouTube. For "Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola" ("If your boyfriend leaves you alone"), his 2017 collaboration with Colombian reggaeton superstar J Balvin, Bad Bunny donned an all-pink ensemble and matching sunglasses as he rapped to the camera with two iguanas perched on his shoulder. In the homemade video for 2018's "Estamos Bien," which features nostalgic sequences of him and his friends, he paints his own fingernails a deep purple and blows them dry while wearing a denim jacket from Louis Vuitton's Supreme collaboration.
But his video for "Caro," which has been viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube since it was released in January, is perhaps his most transgressive. In it, he sits absentmindedly in a pastel-blue room surrounded by pink furniture and décor (including a crucifix on the wall) as a woman paints his nails. As he thanks her, he is transformed into a young woman with a shaved head, who impersonates him for most of the video. When Bad Bunny's male form reappears, the two of them sit across from each other in similar dress, playing hand games and, eventually, kissing.
Of course, adopting "feminine" styling and the occasional nod to gender fluidity aren't new when it comes to men in music. Many genres and scenes have encouraged long hair and makeup in the name of androgyny, while still allowing artists to embody hyper-masculine rock star stereotypes.
But because they are framed within a Latin American tradition of masculinity, where men are often taught from a young age to avoid anything even slightly feminine, Bad Bunny's sartorial risks are significant, providing alternative expressions of masculinity, style and Latin identity.
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Bad Bunny derived his nickname from a childhood photograph of him grudgingly dressed as a rabbit. He grew up in Vega Baja, where he spent afternoons at the local skate park, before moving to study communications at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. (He moonlighted as a grocery store bagger.)
Since the release of his breakthrough single "Soy Peor" in 2017, his rise has been rapid and vertiginous. In two short years, he's become a ubiquitous figure on the Spanish- and English-language charts, collaborating with reggaeton and rap heavyweights alike, from J Balvin, Arcángel, Farruko and Daddy Yankee to Drake, Cardi B and Nicki Minaj.
Bad Bunny performs at the Vina del Mar International Song Festival in Vina del Mar, Chile in early March.
Bad Bunny performs at the Vina del Mar International Song Festival in Vina del Mar, Chile in early March. Credit: CLAUDIO REYES/AFP/Getty Images
Aesthetically, Bad Bunny's style is as diverse as the artists and genres he's connected with: the gold chains and semi-nude women associated with mainstream rap; the flashy streetwear and luxury accessories designed for Instagram; the bold patterned shirts and general flamboyance that can be traced back decades to Puerto Rico's salsa and boogaloo scenes.
"What's fundamental is that Bad Bunny is brave. He has a very different way of expressing urban culture with a visual punch and that is strengthened by the way he embraces diverse social groups," says José Forteza, a senior editor at Condé Nast Mexico & Latin America.
Bad Bunny (left) with artists Arcangel, Wisin and De la Ghetto in 2017.
Bad Bunny (left) with artists Arcangel, Wisin and De la Ghetto in 2017. Credit: John Parra/Getty Images North America
"Bad Bunny embraces the femininity that all men carry within, and this is one of the things I find most interesting about him, as he is sending a very powerful message in a time when a lot of people are discussing all things related to equality ... I think that the symbols he's assuming are able to diffuse frontiers between genders, he carries a message of inclusion and acceptance."
When it comes to Latin stereotypes of masculinity, fashion can be a way of challenging prescribed expectations. And while painted fingernails and colorful designer clothes may not be enough to dismantle centuries of patriarchal patterns, they can be emblematic of a larger cultural shift.
Sebastian Essayag, an Argentinean expert on gender and public policy and a consultant for UN Women in Latin America, explains that Bad Bunny comes from a wider scheme where masculinity is characterized by violence, objectifying behavior, defiance of self-care and an aversion to developing feelings, as well as a sense of hyper heteronormative sexuality.
"Bad Bunny seems to be an agent for cultural transformation," he says. "As a counterpoint, rebellious and politically incorrect, Bad Bunny takes advantage of his incredible popularity to re-signify the model of traditional masculinity from within the trap genre by changing the narrative and aesthetic in his videos.
"His discourse and look both defy gender mandates and stereotypes. He breaks the sort of accomplice masculinity codes that have hurt women's rights and discriminated against men whose trajectories have not adjusted to a macho identity. Bad Bunny also does this countercultural gesture within a global political and social context that favors questioning social norms and a patriarchal cultural industry."
Bad Bunny at the 2017 Latin American Music Awards in Hollywood.
Bad Bunny at the 2017 Latin American Music Awards in Hollywood. Credit: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
On a similar note, Colombian fashion researcher William Cruz explains: "The image is a powerful vehicle when it comes to pushing newer representations of masculinity and gender forward. As we witness a structural revision of these topics, his image can certainly contribute to enrich freer masculinities."
And it would seem that Bad Bunny is aware of the different message his fashion choices are sending. "There's people that appreciate what I do; there's people that criticize it," he said in a recent interview with GQ. "There's people who say, 'Thank you for sticking up (for us), thank you for defending (this).' There's others that say I'm an opportunist."
Indeed, in our image-flooded digital age, visual symbols are often charged with meaning and conjecture, and their interpretation often says as much about the society consuming them than the person transmitting them.
Discourses that remain purely aesthetic can only superficially push something like hegemonic masculinity, but that doesn't negate their value. That's often the beauty of change: it can prove powerful in subtle shapes.