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Bad Bunny performs a medley at the Billboard Latin Music Awards in Las Vegas on April 25, 2019.

Eric Jamison/The Associated Press

This year’s global Spotify streaming champion is Bad Bunny, the Puerto Rican rapper whose hit album YHLQMDLG reads like a suggested password reset. The streaming explosion represents both his worldwide ascent and the growing power of Hispanic music overall. Never before has a musician who completely ignored English topped the year-end list.

His real name is Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio. He may have been a surprise guest at the Super Bowl LIV halftime show earlier this year, but his YouTube presence and broad appeal throughout the Caribbean and the Americas make him a verifiable mainstream superstar.

Bad Bunny announced himself to the Canadian mainstream with the 2018 single Mia, a Spanish-language collaboration with the opportunistically bilingual Drake. A year earlier, Justin Bieber was featured on a remix of Despacito, an unstoppable Latin-pop earworm from Puerto Ricans Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.

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Digital service providers are becoming more prevalent in the Spanish-speaking world. As that happens, streaming numbers more accurately reflect listening habits worldwide. Sitting third on the 2020 Spotify chart, behind Bad Bunny and Drake, is J Balvin, the Colombian singer whose Prince of Reggaeton title is ceremonial but backed up by significant numbers.

Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG is his second solo studio album. A mix of traditional reggaeton and Latin trap (a Spanish-language hip-hop permutation with hedonistic lyrical themes), the LP debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200, making it the highest-charting all-Spanish album ever on the chart, until it was eclipsed later in the year by his follow-up, El Ultimo Tour Del Mundo.

YHLQMDLG stands for “Yo hago lo que me da la gana.” It’s Spanish for “I do whatever I want” – no false boast from an artist whose rule-breaking is as audacious as his record-setting.

Bad Bunny isn’t attached to a major label, rare for a pop artist of his standing. His music is released through Rimas Entertainment, a label founded by Noah Assad, an industry maverick who signed Bad Bunny when the artist was still a grocery boy in President Donald Trump’s least favourite unincorporated U.S. territory.

The latest hit single from the rapper is Dakiti, an island-vibed collaboration with fellow Puerto Rican artist Jhay Cortez. Released on Oct. 30, Dakiti became the first song to debut in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 while simultaneously hitting number 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart. The song is at the forefront of the house-reggaeton hybrid genre now making waves in the Latin music mainstream.

The only marketing push behind Dakiti was a music video. “We didn’t invest one dollar in paid campaigns,” Assad told Billboard magazine last month.

Why pay for publicity when the noise makes itself? In the Paul McCartney/Michael Jackson days, pop-star collaborations were the exception. Today they’re the rule – a doubling of commercial possibilities on names alone.

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Corporate marketing pushes are no longer required. It’s word-of-mouth now and, more than ever, the words are no longer only in English.

Five musical trends in 2020

Nostalgia ruled: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, music fans locked down to the songs of their youth. During the first week of April, Spotify reported a 54-per-cent increase of playlists featuring music from past decades, with the listenership of 1950s music increasing the most.

Lost music resurfaced: In the darkest year most of us have ever known, saving music for a rainy day made no sense at all. So, Neil Young released his mid-1970s buried treasure Homegrown; an audition tape of Joni Mitchell from 1963 saw the light of day; the best tracks from Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You were written in the 1970s; and one of the year’s most acclaimed jazz releases was Palo Alto, a 1968 concert by pianist Thelonious Monk recorded by a high-school janitor.

Livestreamed concerts filled a void: Whether or not in-person concerts come back in 2021, online shows aren’t going away. The technology and monetization involved will become more sophisticated.

Cover songs exploded: Unable to go on tour, artists didn’t quarantine so much as quarantune, issuing cover versions relentlessly. Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl celebrated Hanukkah with interpretations of tunes by Jewish artists including Bob Dylan, Drake and the Beastie Boys. Covers queen Miley Cyrus was busy with homages to Hole and Blondie. All-covers LPs were released by Molly Tuttle, James Blake and the late Chris Cornell.

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Stevie Nicks killed it: If the scarf-swathed singer wasn’t releasing a concert film, she was making news by selling her publishing rights or scandalously discussing Harry Styles. All that and her 1977 Fleetwood Mac song Dreams was the soundtrack to the viral TikTok video of a blithe, skateboarding man sipping cranberry juice sublimely.

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