Last week, just a few days before Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny, released his new album, the Puerto Rican rapper stopped by the Vogue offices straight from recording a verse in his New York hotel room. He turned his temporary lodgings into a makeshift studio, which is how he usually operates when he’s making new music on the road. Despite the fact that his sophomore album, YHLQMDLG, would come out in just four days, he was still finalizing verses and working until the very last minute on the songs, as he always does (he told me that he thrives under pressure). He was dressed for the cold in a yellow beanie, which matched his yellow face mask, a beige sweatshirt, and taupe carpenter pants. His iPhone dangled from a long chain hanging around his neck for easy access.
While bold sunglasses are a staple of his wardrobe, he wore regular gold-framed specs. He said that his old haircut, a lightning bolt buzz, worked better with bright frames, but now that he’s trying to grow his hair out, he has lately just been sticking to his prescription glasses. Bad Bunny had his English teacher in tow—he has been working with her since December in preparation for this album cycle—and was nervous for his very first on-camera English interview, which took place last Thursday on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. He was there to promote the new album, but his performance on the show struck a resounding chord even beyond his devoted fan base.
After his on-camera interview (his English lessons had clearly paid off), Bad Bunny sang “Ignorantes” in a black skirt with chunky black sneakers and a pink blazer, which he peeled back to reveal a white T-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Mataron a Aleza, no a un hombre con falda.” This roughly translates to, “They killed Alexa, not a man in a skirt,” a reference to Alexa Negrón Luciano, a homeless, transgender woman who was murdered two weeks ago in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. In the aftermath of the crime, local news outlets and the police initially referred to Alexa as “a man dressed in a black skirt.”
The symbolic weight of fellow Puerto Rican Bad Bunny performing on national television in a black skirt, turning this callous misgendering on its head in tribute to Luciano, is only the most recent example of the ways in which Ocasio’s self-presentation pushes against gender stereotypes. His penchant for manicures, whether his nails are lacquered in a light-bending holographic polish or an opaque, metallic gold, has given rise to both scrutiny over his sexuality and praise for stretching the boundaries of heteronormative masculinity. “It’s natural,” Bad Bunny says of his flouting of gender codes. “If I went to the store when I was a kid where the clothes for boys and girls were separate, my complaint was always that the girls’ clothes are better. There were more styles and colors, and the boys’ clothes were always so monotonous.”