Has Bad Bunny bounced back with his new album?

It would be an understatement to call Puerto Rican urban music phenomenon Bad Bunny (born Benito Martinez Ocasio) a well-known artist. With his last blockbuster album “Un Verano Sin Ti” ranking Billboard’s No. 1 most popular in 2022, Martinez Ocasio has come a long way from his first song on Soundcloud in 2016.

And yet, at the height of his fame, el conejo malo seemed to stumble from grace. From a viral video showing him tossing a fan’s phone away to his controversial relationship with fashion model and so-called tequila culture-vulture Kendall Jenner, Martinez Ocasio became the heart of numerous controversies over the past year. The scandals had the Internet abuzz about dropping Bad Bunny’s music, with some “switching” to that of hit regional Mexican singer Peso Pluma.

But maybe we shouldn’t pivot away from Bad Bunny just yet. Such a substitution flagrantly dismisses the decades-long politically charged histories of both reggaeton and corridos tumbados.

Besides, Bad Bunny is still up and kicking. His Oct. 13 release, “nadie sabe lo que va a pasar mañana” (“nobody knows what will happen tomorrow”), contests public opinion and calls back to the darker flow and cheeky swagger of his early trap roots. Its ample 22 tracks lean on this genre to explore themes of sex, fame, heartbreak and the streets.

In this sense, the album feels familiar. It contains all the same archetypes we know and love from Bad Bunny’s past discography: angsty rants directed at past lovers, sexual bars set to sultry melodies, bittersweet reflections on growth and confident going-out bops that basically command you to shake your hips. 

In other ways, though, “nadie” is certainly a departure from his previous release, international smash hit “Un Verano Sin Ti.” Songs like “Monaco,” “Mr. October” and “Telefono Nuevo” ooze with braggadocio over catchy trap hi-hats and lend this project a far darker sound than that of its predecessor. 

Drill-trap newcomer YOVNGCHIMI joins in to create a bold impression on “Mercedes Carota,” rapping about the power dynamics of the streets. Menacing cackles punctuate flashy bars; the question-response chorus has the singers dismissing an imaginary third person for not exercising authority through drugs, death or money. These cocky tracks make for an energizing listen, and they became some of my favorites on “nadie.”

On the other hand, the “sad Bunny” songs on the album don’t quite measure up to Martinez-Ocasio’s earlier classics like “Solo de Mi,” “Soy Peor” or “Vete.” Perhaps these new songs lack a harder-hitting message, or perhaps his flows simply don’t manage to capture the emotion of angst in the same way. (The exception to that may be “Gracias Por Nada,” which did move my cold heart to some emotion.)

Similarly, the album’s introduction “Nadie Sabe” also lacks catchiness and relatability — though maybe that wasn’t the goal with this one in particular.

Martinez Ocasio opens by plainly lamenting certain toxic elements of his fame, setting up an interesting context for what follows. In light of the artist’s discontent, this album’s return to his 2016 trap sound almost feels like a small gesture of resistance to the international commercial success he earned through his reggaeton albums. After all, Bad Bunny had established his prowess as the king of the Latin trap scene long before “Tití Me Preguntó” was standard college party fare.

But fear not, reggaeton fans — the album’s 81-minute duration makes plenty of space for a broad palette of sound and energy. Solid reggaeton gems pepper the project. “Perro Negro” is an irresistable bouncing perreíto, and “Hibiki” practically begs you sing along boisterously.

Admittedly, reggaeton slow jam “Seda” struck me as a lyrically creepier version of Martinez Ocasio’s 2022 hit “Aguacero.” I preferred the more nonchalant seductive rap track “VOU 787,” which crafts a chic beat by sampling Madonna’s “Vogue.”

One of the strongest bops on the album is “Fina,” a coquettish tune featuring rising queer reggaetonera Young Miko. Between Miko’s signature hoarse flow and clever bars from Bad Bunny, there’s much to love.

Interestingly, though the chorus on “Fina” calls back to reggaeton giant Tego Calderón, this album continues Bad Bunny’s shift toward featuring younger up-and-coming urban musicians. Whereas his 2020 project used copious collaborations with reggaeton founders to illustrate his rise to stardom, he paves the way for others on “nadie.”

Fan backlash notwithstanding, Martinez Ocasio did secure a chart-topping debut for “nadie,” demonstrating that this bunny is capable of bouncing back. A breakdown of public image does seem inevitable for many celebrities these days, be it over a petty squabble or a deeply concerning pattern of abuse. In both cases, we should approach the parasocial cycle of “stan, scandal, repeat” with caution.

In cases like that of Bad Bunny and Peso Pluma, our conversations about artist accountability must avoid treating those from marginalized communities and genres as disposable, interchangeable commodities.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.