It was 8 p.m. on a Saturday in New York City — and somewhere inside Madison Square Garden, a Bad Bunny fan was missing a chancla. Although it seemed rather early in the night for misplacing odd articles of footwear, the lone rubber sandal with ‘Puerto Rico’ printed on its strap, abandoned at the base of an escalator, would foreshadow a wild night to come.
By the time Bad Bunny touched down on New York for his sold-out, second-to-last date on his spring X 100Pre tour, he had not just passed through dozens of other cities this year: Earlier this month he’d stormed Coachella’s main stage for the very first time, and later made a splash in Las Vegas for this year’s Billboard Latin Awards. Since the Christmas Eve release of his full-length debut, X 100Pre, the Puerto Rican “heavyweight champion of Latin trap” — as he was introduced on Saturday night — has seen his star rise exponentially throughout 2019. But while X 100Pre was a bid for mainstream pop credibility, his New York City showing was a warm salute to his fans from the very beginning, as well as the Latinx community at large. “Be proud to be Latino,” said Bad Bunny, “and never lose that pride!”
Padre Conejo — Father Bunny — delivers a sermon
At the onset of every X 100Pre show, Bad Bunny opens with an arty thesis film that casts a light on ordinary life in Puerto Rico: where people do chores, attend church and make small talk with their neighbors in the sunshine. “You’re born and then you do what you’re supposed to,” he monologues over the 10-minute video, “like washing your own dirty clothes, to working every day to put food on the table… You let your dreams fall apart, or you fight for those dreams until the end. That’s the difference between being stuck telling yourself ‘never’ and building a legacy that lasts forever. Por siempre.”
Sporting an iridescent purple trench coat, Benito finally took the stage, cutting short his meditation on success with one triumphant sentence in English: “We fucking sold out Madison Square Garden!”
The Benito Show
Produced by Cardenas Marketing Network, Bad Bunny’s X 100Pre set is as much a visual experience as it is an aural one. Shaped like a giant Christian cross, every corner of the stage is visible from every angle of the arena; Bunny bounded from one side to the other, making sure his fans could see him (and snap a good photo). Through animations played from giant screens above — including gratuitous shots of bikini-clad women — his songs took on lives and stories of their own. While performing his and Balvin’s verses on “I Like It,” Bunny was backlit by colorful images of dominoes and rainbow Sno-Cones — both staples of the New York summer experience. And during his trap-punk song “Tenemos Que Hablar,” Benito’s peace offering to rockists, the 360-degree jumbotron projected images of a teenage bedroom shellacked with Black Flag, Nirvana and Linkin Park posters. (Bands like The Pixies, Dead Kennedys, Fugazi, Hüsker Dü and Pennywise made the cut too.)
Bad Bunny and Friends
There’s been no shortage of supporting talent at any given Bad Bunny show. He’s curated his tour with cameos from artists across the Latin pop spectrum: from established superstars J Balvin and Becky G, to more burgeoning acts like Puerto Rican rapper PJ Sin Suela and Argentine emo-trap diva Cazzu. At his Madison Square Garden show, New Yorkers got to know Dominican upstart El Nene La Amenaza, a.k.a. Amanazzy, who brought his trap-laden love ballads to the stage.
Bad Bunny also invited up Puerto Rican singer-rapper Arcángel, newly out of jail after being charged with domestic battery on Thursday, to perform their 2017 tracks “Tú No Vive Así” and “Me Mata.” For being recorded just two years ago, Bunny’s verses seemed dated, at least in comparison to newer material like the posi-pop of “Caro” or his anti-violence theme, “Solo De Mi.” If anything, the macho rap cuts revealed just how far the artist has come since he dropped his first track on Soundcloud — 2016’s “Diles,” which he also performed live — and his diehard New York fans received them with enthusiasm.
El Alfa El Jefe: “Latinos Stand Up!”
Of all the special guests that night, Dominican dembow star El Alfa El Jefe — the rascally MC who set X 100Pre‘s “La Romana” aflame — was arguably the guest of honor. Cued in by the pyrotechnics, El Alfa marathon-sprinted onto the stage to join Bunny for his X 100Pre feature, chanting his famous line: “Fuego fuego, fiyah fiyah!” The two indulged in the same cat-and-mouse game they do in their wacky music video: Bunny clutching a Dominican flag in white raver pants, and Alfa, chasing him in a flame-print leather jacket.
Once Bad Bunny departed for a costume change, Alfa duly babysat the audience with tracks off his own 2018 album, El Hombre. But he also stoked the crowd by calling out Latin America’s various nationalities. New York City is not only home to the largest Puerto Rican population outside of Puerto Rico; it’s also home to sizable Dominican, Mexican, Colombian, Salvadoran and Ecuadorian communities, who happened to muster some the heartiest cheers of the night. (Still, they were all surpassed by the Puerto Ricans.) Alfa followed up with a special one-question pop quiz, or a verse from his single, “Suave”: “¿Como les gustan los plátanos?” He asked, “How do you like your plantains?”
“Maduros!” roared the crowd.
Fly, Bunny, Fly!
El Conejo would eventually return to the spotlight… not by stage, but by bungee cable. Tightly strapped onto a metal platform, he was gently lifted off the ground while singing angelic lines from his X 100Pre B-side, “Como Antes.” By the time he reached the balcony — planted on the opposite end of the arena — he was clutching both a Puerto Rican flag and a giant bra, which were flung generously from the audience. “Hug the person next to you,” he said, preacher-like as he floated serenely above his congregation. “Whether they’re your friend, your family, your partner. Even if you don’t know them at all. Show everybody around you some love!”
Bad Bunny’s X 100Pre tour will resume in Boston on October 25th, 2019.