When assistant editor Suzy Exposito left New York on March 11th to begin reporting this issue’s cover story about Bad Bunny, it was hard to know how fast the world was changing. The Puerto Rican reggaeton star, whose real name is Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, had just filmed the outrageous cross-dressing video for his single “Yo Perreo Sola,” and headed home from Florida with his girlfriend, Gabriela Berlingeri.
Suzy spent the weekend in Miami interviewing Bad Bunny’s producer, and visiting her grandmother, then planned to meet Benito in San Juan on March 17th. Two days before her flight, Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced issued an island-wide stay-at-home order. “I must admit, I was relieved,” Suzy says. “I was willing to go, but I was paralyzed by anxiety. My worst fear was going to the airport and getting sick or getting stuck in Puerto Rico, where I didn’t have anybody.”
Since then, Benito has been isolated with Gabriela in their rented house in San Juan, and Suzy has been camped out at her grandma’s place in Florida. “I can sit on the terrace and watch the jet-skiers while I work, so it’s not a bad setup,” she says.
We ended up postponing the story for a month, but Suzy kept reporting in a new and novel way — with multiple hours of interviews over Zoom and FaceTime. “It was awkward at first,” she says, “but he started to open up and let himself be more vulnerable than I thought he would be.”
The distance, in some ways, allowed for more intimate reporting. Benito shared playlists he’s been making of songs that mark the chapters of his life, and described himself as bored at times but also frightened and angry. “He convinces himself that he has coronavirus all the time, even though he hasn’t left the house at all,” Suzy says. He found his political voice in the aftermath of Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria, and he’s been critical of Gov. Vázquez for her handling of the pandemic. “Puerto Rico is in a messy situation, and Benito has been very open and angry, involved in Puerto Rican politics,” Suzy says. “He’s very tuned in.”
For the cover and inside photographs, we handed over the camera to Benito and Gabriela, who spent a day documenting their life in isolation and ended up on the roof as the sun was setting. With direction from photographer Theo Wenner, who has shot Rolling Stone covers of Adele and Taylor Swift, among others, Gabriela captured this cover image on Benito’s iPhone.
“There were no publicists, no managers, no hair and makeup,” says director of creative content Catriona Ni Aiolain, “and even though we weren’t physically there, in a weird way, we are let into their world in a way we wouldn’t be if we were there.”