Critical (In)attention to Bad Bunny Headlining Coachella Latest Example of Dismissal of "Latin" Music ArtistsRoundup
tags: immigration, pop music, music, Latino/a history, Bad Bunny, Coachella
A quick news search for Coachella coverage of Bad Bunny will yield more about his love interest Kendall Jenner backstage, or the tweet mentioning Harry Styles that was projected as part of Bad Bunny’s set, than it will about the groundbreaking moment in Latin music history that his performance represented.
The global music superstar Bad Bunny, whose full name is Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, was the first Spanish-language artist and first Latino solo artist to headline the festival. In addition to performing his reggaetón hits, he did an acoustic mini-set with pioneering Puerto Rican musician José Feliciano, who released the ubiquitous song “Feliz Navidad” in 1970 and who many consider the first Puerto Rican “crossover” artist. He also featured Mexican regional music group Grupo Frontera and brought out Puerto Rican reggaetón artists who have been influential to him, but not necessarily household names, including Jowell and Randy, Ñengo Flow, Arcángel and Jhayco. Additionally, his sets showcased videos on the history of Caribbean musical genres, like salsa and reggaetón. It was a monumental moment for Latin music, Spanish-language music and Puerto Rican cultural history that was largely overlooked in coverage.
But the lack of attention to the cultural nuances and powerful messages in Bad Bunny’s Coachella performance is consistent with the long history of how Latin music has been positioned in U.S. mainstream media. Despite celebrations of Latin crossovers from Desi Arnaz to Gloria Estefan to Bad Bunny, Latin music has continuously been represented as foreign, exotic and distinct from Americanness.
More than mere frivolous tabloid fodder, such representations have damaging consequences. Even seemingly positive coverage — including praising Latin artists for their contributions to the pop scene — is undermined when such praise also casts them as perpetually foreign. And such treatment mirrors similar broader coverage that continuously depicts Latinos as recent arrivals at best, or foreign “threats” at worst.
For example, in the 1940s, Arnaz, a refugee whose family fled Cuba after the 1933 revolution, became a popular U.S. entertainer. In 1940, he played an Argentine football player in the film “Too Many Girls.” The film ends with Arnaz leading a crowd in a conga line around a giant bonfire, banging on the drums. The performance helped launch Arnaz into Hollywood stardom, but the musical number reinforced stereotypes of Latinos as tropical and carefree, fun-loving but potentially dangerous Latin lovers.
This contradictory depiction of the place of Latinos in the United States reflected broader ambivalence. Although the United States recruited Mexican workers to fill essential roles from World War II into the 1960s, anti-immigrant hysteria also prompted mass deportations in the 1950s. In fact, Feliciano’s Latin-tinged 1968 performance of the national anthem at the World Series fueled these nativist fears. The moment ignited a boycott of his music as well as a movement to deport the Puerto Rico-born U.S. citizen, reflecting the assumption that all Latinos were interchangeable and undocumented. It was the festive, bilingual, non-threatening “Feliz Navidad” that helped fuel his comeback.