In ‘El Apagón,’ Bad Bunny Tackles Gentrification and Power Outages

In ‘El Apagón,’ Bad Bunny Tackles Gentrification and Power Outages

Puerto Rican artist Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio — aka Bad Bunny — dropped his fifth studio album on May 6, and it’s already 2022’s most streamed album. Its title, Un Verano Sin Ti, translates to “A Summer Without You,” and the vibe recalls a languid beach day and its afterparty: There are songs about dancing, drinking, hooking up, and lost love.

And then there’s “El Apagón,” or The Blackout, where Bad Bunny trades verses about why he loves his home with searing attacks on its political leaders and mainlander gentrifiers: “Maldita sea, otro apagón. Vamo’ pa’ lo’ bleacher a prender un blunt antes que a Pipo le dé un bofetón.” Damn it, another blackout. Let’s go to the bleachers and light up a blunt, before I give Pipo a slap.

“Pipo” is a nickname for the island’s current governor, Pedro Pierluisi. He’s a former coal lobbyist running an island that experiences frequent power blackouts. Last year Pierluisi promised residents that there would be fewer energy disruptions in the future… and then in early April, a fire broke out at the Costa Sur power plant, plunging millions into darkness. Schools had to shut down, and the intensive care centre of a medical centre in Mayagüez temporarily lost power.

Both residents and businesses are fed up with the power outages. Last month, four major corporations sued LUMA, the island’s power authority, for $US310 ($430) million worth of damages. Angry residents rallied outside of LUMA’s office in San Juan and threw bags of food that had spoiled inside their refrigerators. All told, April’s outage cost Puerto Rico’s economy up to $US500 ($694) million, according to El Nuevo Dia.

Pipo isn’t the only person taken to task in “El Apagón.” At the end of the song, Bad Bunny’s partner Gabriela Berlingeri is featured singing “Yo no me quiero ir de aquí, no me quiero ir de aquí, que se vayan ellos,” or “I don’t want to leave, I don’t want to go, they should leave” — they, presumably, referring to new island residents including mainland Americans, social media influencers, and “crypto colonizers” who have made many natives feel unwelcome in their own homes.

Other songs in the album, like “Andrea,” also deal with the tug of war between loving the island, its people, and its culture, but understanding the reality of having to live there. “Quiere quedarse en PR, no irse pa’ ningún estado pero todo se ha complicado,” Bad Bunny sings: “She wants to stay in PR, and not go off to some state, but everything has gotten complicated.”

Despite the complaints, the lyrics of “El Apagón” also remind listeners that “Puerto Rico está bien cabrón,” or “Puerto Rico is fucking amazing.” The song balances the joys of being from the island with the trials of living with displacement, unreliable politicians, and regular power outages — and reminds listeners that they’re worth fighting for.

That’s an especially important message in the light of recent protests. Last year, environmentalists and residents in popular beach town Rincón protested at a condo site to stop construction of a pool that cut off beach access and threatened endangered turtles that lay their eggs nearby. Earlier this year, beachgoers were accosted by wealthy homeowners and a party protest was organised by native Puerto Ricans. A month later, another protest party called “Ghetto Beach” was held in Dorado. People danced, sunbathed, and chanted “yo soy Boricua, pa que tu lo sepas” / “I’m Puerto Rican, just so you know.”

Like the protest parties, Bad Bunny’s “El Apagón” gives listeners rays of light amid the island’s literal and socio-economic darkness. Things are not perfect, but at least Puerto Rico está bien cabrón.

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