Estamos activa’os!” Bad Bunny tells me when I meet him and his three-person crew at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the East Village on one of the first cold nights in November. He’s buried in a big black puffy coat, scrolling through his phone; a single curl is braided and looped through a little plastic bead that hangs over his left eye. The only noticeable remnant of Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio’s larger-than-life alter ego is his nails, which are decked out in an immaculate green manicure. ¶ There’s a brief silence and some stifled laughter around the table. It’s painfully obvious that the energy levels at the moment are extremely low—decidedly not activa’o. Martínez Ocasio looks like a bored, tired kid dragged to a family function. “Well, we’ll get there,” he assures me, taking a sip of white wine.
In person, Martínez Ocasio exudes a humbleness that belies his star power. Perhaps it’s how frequently he mentions his mother, both in conversation and in songs. “When she listened to ‘Safaera,’” he says— referring to the song off YHLQMDLG that pays homage to early reggaeton (back then, we called it “underground”) in its sexually explicit lyrics—“she sort of scolded me.” He puts on a gentle but concerned voice and begins imitating his mother. “Benito, te safaste,” he recalls her saying. “My God, you went over the line!” Or perhaps it’s that he’s still running with the same crew he has had since he was growing up. (His highschool friend Pino is joining us for dinner.) Not to mention that when two Puerto Ricans meet anywhere outside of the island, they’re never quite strangers. I am frequently reminded of hanging with my cousins back home when Martínez Ocasio makes funny little sounds as our plates are delivered to the table. “Some little snacks for you,” announces the server, to which he responds with a “Brr!” “Here are some crispy deviled eggs” elicits a “Bop!” He declares a fluke tartare to be “bien bellaco,” or “very horny.” Every other sentence is liberally sprinkled with “cabróns,” a catchall cussword that can mean something is very cool, very bad, or very difficult—or that someone is an asshole. For men of a certain age on the island, the word is simply a stand-in for dude.
“It’s been un año cabrón in a lot of ways,” Martínez Ocasio says. After almost two years of canceled shows, he has been flying around the world for detours into acting. He’s in town to promote the third season of Narcos: Mexico, the Netflix series in which he plays El Kitty, a “narco junior” who rolls with the Arellano Félix clan, the family that rules the Tijuana cartel. After filming his episodes in Mexico, he went to L.A. for a part in director David Leitch’s upcoming Bullet Train with Brad Pitt. In February, he was in New York to perform as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, in which he played a pirate and a dancing plant, respectively, in two sketches. He loved every second of it. “If acting is something I can continue doing in the future, I would love to do more comedy, and maybe drama, rather than the action path I am currently on,” he says. “Action movies are the last kind of movie I want to watch.” (The week before, he binged all the Harry Potter movies for the first time. “Now, everything is a reference to Harry Potter, a joke about Harry Potter. I kept thinking, Why haven’t I seen them before? I’m full of regrets.”) But it’s possible Martínez Ocasio’s most memorable performance this year came as part of another franchise that requires an innate facility for comedy: WWE’s WrestleMania. He moved to Florida for three months this spring to train. As a hard-core fan, he knew the rest of the fandom would be skeptical. “They are not Bad Bunny fans. They do not listen to reggaeton; they listen to metal,” he says. “I know they hate me, and I think it’s funny; I love it. I was so ready for the hate.” In the end, he won them over. It was a remarkable debut. Watching Bad Bunny wrestle in the ring, jumping off the third rope and doing a “satellite headscissor,” was like watching someone live his childhood dream.
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