Chart Beat

Five Burning Questions: Bad Bunny's Historic Debut Week With 'YHLQMDLG'

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Bad Bunny performs during Mega 96.3 FM Calibash 2020 at Staples Center on Jan. 11, 2020 in Los Angeles.

With the Leap Day release of his second full-length solo album YHLQMDLG, Bad Bunny has achieved feats rarer than a day that comes around once every four years.

Though the set only debuts at No. 2 on this week's Billboard albums chart -- bested by Lil Baby's My Turn, which moves 197,000 equivalent album units -- it does so with an impressive 179,000 units moved itself. That number (accomplished in a shorter sales week than Lil Baby and others, due to its Saturday release) represents the biggest week for a Latin album release since Billboard began tracking titles by equivalent album units in 2014, and also results in YHLQMDLG becoming the highest-charting all-Spanish-language title in the chart's nearly 64-year history.

How did Bad Bunny accomplish this? And will he become the first Latin artist to score an all-Spanish No. 1 album? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.

1. Bad Bunny's tremendous first-week numbers for YHLQMDLG represents a new high-water mark not only for his own career, but for Latin trap in general. What's one important thing that Bad Bunny's doing as an artist (or with YHLQMDLG specifically) that's allowed him to get to the head of the pack like this? 

Tatiana Cirisano: The album title says it all. (The acronym stands for Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, a mouthful which roughly translates to I Do Whatever I Want.) Bad Bunny has always done whatever he wants, whether that means flaunting acrylic nails, infusing classic reggaetón with punk rock and other influences (more on that later) or making urgent political statements other artists might shy away from. He is boundlessly creative and unafraid to push the boundaries of the genre, and more often than not, he's pushing it forward. YHLQMDLG is bejeweled with the kind of sonic miracles you can only get by taking risks, like the gritty, Linkin Park-esque breakdown of “Hablamos Manana,” operatic outro of “Si Veo a Tu Mama” or the ambitious, glorious chaos of “Safaera.” It's thrilling to watch Bad Bunny be Bad Bunny, and to wonder what he'll do next.

Griselda Flores: I think it’s protecting his individuality in music and lyrics, fashion choices and his persona that has made him stand out in a crowded field of urbano artists. One quality that I truly appreciate from him and that I think has helped him connect with a younger fanbase in the Latinx community is that he doesn’t shy away from politics or social issues in his music -- and also, that he isn’t afraid to defy heteronormative standards of masculinity. He’s the modern reggaetonero we need right now representing Latin culture. He’s showing Latinos that there is no need to adjust to social norms, he’s showing up-and-coming artists that it’s ok to be yourself and that Spanish music can achieve historic success on the Billboard charts and beyond.

Musically, his modern take on reggaetón accepts and celebrates vulnerability with raw and honest lyrics about heartbreak and other topics. But then he gives you a 360-degree turn and becomes this “I do whatever I want” trap superstar... all in one album.

Bianca Gracie: As Benito's star continues to ascend, he's become completely unapologetic when it comes to showing just how silly he can get. And now, his fun personality has connected even more with an English-speaking audience, thanks to recent late-night show appearances. Aside from the persona, he continues to push his own sonic boundaries. YHLQMDLG continues his trek of going beyond the ledge of what is expected for Latin artists and that fearlessness really resonates with fans.

Jason Lipshutz: I think the most important thing has been Bad Bunny’s exaltation of the album as a viable format for telling his story — whereas other Latin pop and Latin trap artists have built buzz through a stream of singles and treated subsequent full-lengths as collect-them-all afterthoughts, Bad Bunny has focused on building projects, both solo and collaborative, as contained worlds that fans of all levels need to experience. And because of that, fans have been more interested in checking out a full body of work upon its release.

Andrew Unterberger: His natural blend of easy charisma and unpredictable flamboyance is the stuff star power has always been made of, across all genres and nationalities. But let's also not overlook the importance of having a singular voice, and Bad Bunny's congested-sounding (but somehow still undeniably smooth) croon is one of the most immediately recognizable sounds in pop music right now.

2. In addition to its stellar performance on the albums chart, YHLQMDLG also notches 11 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Which of the 11 do you think has the best shot of catching on as the breakout hit from the album? 

Tatiana Cirisano: The sharp, pop-flavored “La Santa” with Daddy Yankee, which captures the essence of reggaetón romanticism and brings one of its beloved pioneers along for the ride. Sure, the “saint on the outside, sinner on the inside” shtick is overused in hip-hop, but Bad Bunny adds new layers, exposing the titular character's hypocrisy when she wants to change him: “You ain't a saint, I am not a saint either/ We met each other sinning” (sung in Spanish) is a helluva burn. With its sun-splashed, chirping hook and vocoder flourishes, I could also see the wistful “Solía” becoming a sleeper hit in the summer months.

Griselda Flores: A lot of these songs on this album have a good shot at becoming breakout hits like “La Santa,” “Yo Perreo Sola” and “Si Veo a Tu Mamá.” It’s difficult to just pick one but if I had to, I’d say “Safaera” featuring OG reggaetoneros Jowell Randy & Ñengo Flow. The infectious beat is a result of meticulous production work by hit-makers Tainy and DJ Orma who were able to make this traditional, underground mix track into a standout track on the album. Effectively switching from perreo to reggaetón and citing musical references like Alexis Y Fido’s “El Tiburón” and the hook to Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On,” there are a lot of production elements flavoring this song.

But what makes this an instant hit for me is that it pays homage to that old-school reggaetón beat from the early 2000s that many fans will appreciate -- and quite honestly, who isn’t nostalgic for the 2000s? On top of that, add the #SafaeraChallenge that has taken over social media with a bunch of people posting videos getting down, including Bunny himself, to this reggaetón anthem. Like its fast-paced beat, "Safaera" is unstoppable.

Bianca Gracie: I know that "Si Veo a Tu Mamá" is leading the charge, but that crown goes to “Safaera," featuring fellow Puerto Rico reggaetoneros Jowell & Randy and Nengo Flow. It's quickly become my most replayed song on the album, and it's all because of that throwback reggaeton sound. "Safaera" is essentially four songs with completely different sounds all meshed together that would surely blow any speaker it comes in contact with. For those who were in Puerto Rico when reggaetón was in its baby stages, those who couldn't stop playing DJ Playero's mixtapes, and people like me who grew up in the Bronx or Washington Heights where this kind of raunchy music blasted through people's cars on the street or at sweaty perreo basement parties, it takes you back to that thrilling time where reggaetón was just on the brink of becoming an international force.

Jason Lipshutz: Not sure if “Está Cabrón Ser Yo” becomes a crossover hit or just a club anthem, but the chemistry between Bad Bunny and Anuel AA on this trap track crackles, and the song would make for a great addition to any hip-hop playlist or rap radio rotation. Out of all the highlights on the album, this is the one I’ve found myself returning to most frequently.

Andrew Unterberger: I'll also say "La Santa," thanks to that bleating synth beat and Bad Bunny's most instantly captivating chorus since at least "Callaíta." Plus, we've all seen what Daddy Yankee can do adding ad libs and a scene-stealing verse to a irresistible reggaetón jam with a massive hook.

3. Bad Bunny's already shown himself to be far from a one-trick rabbit musically. Is there a sonic direction he explores on YHLQMDLG you might be interested in seeing him pursue further on future releases? 

Tatiana Cirisano: Whenever Benito taps into punk rock, my ears perk up. It’s an interest he explored on X 100pre’s tinny, heartfelt Blink-182 homage “Tenemos Que Hablar,” too, but perfected for 30 head-banging seconds on new track “Hablamos Mañana,” which is capped off by a metallic, cathartic-yet-controlled screamo moment. (Is it a coincidence that those titles align?) Anyway, I’d love to hear what a purely rock Bad Bunny album would sound like.

Griselda Flores: I really liked the stripped-down Bad Bunny on the closing track “<3.” We already know that he can drop some mean trap beats but this guitar-led song with a softer beat in the background really shows off his versatility as an artist. He exposes a different side of his music, one that doesn’t need for the fast-paced cadence. Instead, it's a slowed-down Bunny sharing this intimate moment with his fans. It’s clear that Bad Bunny is one of the best reggaetón/trap artists we have in the game right now but I do want to see more of Bunny in this intimate space where it’s just him, a guitar and a microphone.

Bianca Gracie: There was a brief moment of this on X100PRE with "Tenemos Que Hablar" that gave nostalgic Blink-182 vibes, but I’d love for him to continue tapping into more emo-leaning, softer music. While it's not technically in the same vein as "Tenemos Que Hablar," he does slow things down on "<3" on YHLQMDLG. Bad Bunny really shines when he digs deep into his vulnerability, and the contrast of his signature raspy voice with tender production makes for truly beautiful songs. But he also gets completely rowdy on the thrashing end of "Hablamos Mañana" -- can we manifest a Bad Bunny x Ozzy Osbourne collaboration in the future please?

Jason Lipshutz: if “Hablamos Mañana,” with its hoarse-scream vocals and crashing drums, has proven anything, it’s that we desperately need a full-on Bad Bunny emo project. Even just, like, a five-song EP in which he channels his inner Dashboard Confessional would be spectacular! It’s difficult to be surprised by an artist so daring in terms of sounds explored and subsequently conquered, but “Hablamos Mañana” suggests a wild new rabbit hole for Bad Bunny (excuse the pun).

Andrew Unterberger: There's always one song on a Bad Bunny album where the beat sounds like a monster rampaging a small village -- the beginning of "Safaera" on this one, the back half of "La Romana" on X 100pre, and the entirety of "CUIDAO POR AHÍ" on Oasis (which, smartly, actually featured a monster menacing its music video). An entire Bad Bunny album of that level of five-alarm beat-storming would probably be too much to take -- but maybe just two songs next time?

4. Though Bad Bunny's numbers are historic; he still loses out on No. 1 this week to rapper Lil Baby's similarly streaming-dominant set My Turn. Do you think Bad Bunny will be the first Latin artist to score a Spanish language No. 1 on the Billboard 200 -- and who might be his greatest challenger for the honor?

Tatiana Cirisano: If he delivers on his lyrical promise in “<3” to release another album in nine months, I think he could do it. At 25, Bad Bunny has all the classic hallmarks of superstardom under his belt, having performed on the Coachella main stage, at the Super Bowl halftime show and on late-night television; charted omnipresent hits with the likes of Drake and Cardi B; and earned three Grammy nominations. At this point, an eventual No. 1 album feels like a given. But if not Bad Bunny, Rosalía and J Balvin are strong contenders (and each have accumulated many of those same accolades). With Balvin soon to drop his epic sonic rainbow Colores, it could be one of Bad Bunny’s closest friends and collaborators who makes history first.

Griselda Flores: J Balvin’s Colores is dropping March 20, and that’s also a highly anticipated all-Spanish-language album that I can see debuting in the top 5 on the Billboard 200. But I think Rosalía is his greatest challenger. Like Bunny, there’s a lot of mystery to the Spanish artist's musical projects which just keeps us all on the edge of our seats. She’s also become a superstar on her own terms and doing music her way, and I think fans react positively to that individuality.

Bianca Gracie: At this point, he deserves it -- the numbers don’t lie. I think the main competitor he’d likely have to be wary of is, coincidentally so, his musical brother J Balvin whose Colores album is supposed to arrive later this month.

Jason Lipshutz: It will be interesting to see what type of fanfare greets Rosalía’s next full-length: El Mal Querer flew under the radar of the general U.S. population when it was first released in 2018, but since then, the Spanish singer-songwriter has morphed into an eclectic, undeniable star. If its follow-up gets the right rollout and stumbles into some opportune timing, I could see Rosalía pulling off a No. 1 album.

Andrew Unterberger: Agreed that Bad Bunny and J Balvin are the co-front-runners in this race. I'll throw in two more names, though: YHLQMDLG collaborator Anuel AA, a long-rising star whose international popularity seems to grow every month, and Shakira, obviously a longtime legend in the game, who -- with the right collaborators/producers -- could possibly ride post-Super Bowl momentum to her first No. 1 album.

5. YHLQMDLG already marks Bad Bunny's third project released in the past 15 months, following Dec. 2018's X 100pre and June's Oasis set with J Balvin. Which of the three do you think is best?

Tatiana Cirisano: YHLQMDLG. Much love to the overflowing party that is Oasis, but for me, it’s between Bad Bunny’s two solo albums. And while X 100pre had the feel of an emerging artist proving his worth (which he was, and which he did), his latest project has the swagger of something more free-flowing and confident, like he’s having fun, relishing his success, and maybe even showing off a little. And let him!

Griselda Flores: All projects are very different from each other but I have to say that Oasis is still my favorite and it’s an album I can listen to every day. I love how Bunny and J Balvin balance each other. I might regret this answer later and wish I would have said YHLQMDLG but for now, I’m sticking with Oasis. You just can’t top Bad Bunny and Balvin together, right?

Bianca Gracie: From the genre-bending music to the eye-catching videos, I still don’t think Oasis got the praise it deserved. But in an overall sense, X 100pre remains the project that shows all facets of Bad Bunny’s sonic versatility. He packs in traditional reggaetón, emo rock, latin trap, bachata, pop and dembow in a near-flawless package that set the standard for what a millennial Latin artist should be aiming for.

Jason LipshutzYHLQMDLG is the most complete project of the three, building upon the ideas and momentum of X 100pre and offering more introspection than Oasis. It’s only been a week and change since its release, but it’s pretty clear Bad Bunny just released his strongest statement to date.

Andrew Unterberger: All the respect in the world to the ambitious sprawl of Bad Bunny's two solo albums, but personally I still lean towards the all-killer Oasis set. Just listening to Balvin and Bunny offer up their artist IDs back to back is thrilling.