Bad Bunny Jumps To Stadiums With ‘World’s Hottest Tour’ (Cover Story)

Cover of Pollstar’s April 4, 2022 issue. Photo by Jomar Dávila

It’s a brisk foggy night in March, but inside downtown Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, it’s a sweltering packed house. An immense 53-foot black semi-truck pulls up inside the arena, making its way front and center, and a startlingly loud honk presumes to cue tens of thousands of concertgoers to scream at the top of their lungs. As fire blazes above the big rig’s pipes, ominous keys and a flamboyant yet maniacal melody set the tone, all evoking some kind of a dystopian fantasy à la Mad Max. The screams get louder to deafening as the sight of the world’s hottest Latin superstar, Bad Bunny, appears amid the enormous tractor trailer, slowly elevating to the now transformed stage.

“¿Quién dijo que yo? Ey, que yo no puedo. Yo hago lo que me dé la gana,” declares the Puerto Rican hitmaker with a smirk, “Who said I can’t do whatever I want?” The lyric is from “El Mundo Es Mío” (or “The World Is Mine”) and he’s on the “El Último Tour Del Mundo” (aka “Last Tour of the World”). But the surreal vibe is an understatement, especially given that this is his first tour since the COVID-19 global pandemic forced all humanity to quarantine. Clad in all-black combat gear, Adidas sneakers to boot, El Conejo Malo plots his next move, and ignites the scene as the hard-hitting trap thump to “Booker T” begins to play.

“Siempre se siente cabrón venir a una casa llena,” the artist muses. “It always feels amazing coming home to a full house.” Especially when not one of the 16,499 seats was left unoccupied on either night at Barclays March 19-20 and the fact that the Bunny had five sold-out dates in the Northeast area alone.

From Vega Baja To The World: Bad Bunny performs at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on March 27, 2022. Photo by Paul R. Giunta / Getty Images

It is awe-inspiring how a once-choir-singing kid with big dreams from Vega Baja, a north central town in Puerto Rico, has become the most in-demand Latin powerhouse performer, not just on this continent, but the world over. Just last week, the 28-year-old, born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, topped Pollstar’s Global Live Boxoffice chart by a mile for his three night-stint (March 10-12) at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.

According to reports submitted to Pollstar, he sold all three shows at 100% capacity for a total of 51,430 tickets sold – the equivalent of stadium capacity. So it was fitting to display the iconoclastic chart-topper as an astronaut on the arena screens that night, donning a Puerto Rican flag patched to his suit, and floating through outer space on a quest to continue his (interstellar) dominance.

“We knew the demand was out there,” says Jbeau Lewis, Bad Bunny’s music agent at United Talent Agency (UTA). “There were situations where we would sell out one of the arenas on this [El Último] tour, and we would know that there were 200,000 to 300,000 people still waiting in the online queue trying to buy tickets.” The tour went on presale April 15, 2021, and in a single day it sold a staggering 480,000 tickets with a gross of $84 million, reportedly becoming the top-selling tour on Ticketmaster on a first day since Beyoncé and Jay Z’s “On the Run II Tour” went on sale in 2018.

Since the presale, Bad Bunny has made an astronomical leap from an arena act to stadium headliner with the announcement of this summer’s “World’s Hottest Tour.” His first stadium tour in the same year as his arena tour is a testament to his wildfire growth in a global superstar. “This is something where he’s a phenomenon […] The way he’s on stage is just unmatched and the fan engagement,” stated Alex Cárdenas, Director of Touring at Cárdenas Management Network (CMN), who has promoted Bad Bunny since early in his career and now works alongside Live Nation. “We knew the shows were going to do well, and we would do multiple dates in various cities where he’s done well in the past, but were we expecting to sell out in a couple of minutes and see Platinum [seats] get to that average? No. I think it took everybody, even the management, by surprise. It’s something we’re probably not going to see [again] in our lifetime.”

Lewis adds, “We were able to extrapolate that data to know what it meant in terms of how many more tickets we could have sold had they simply been available. We also saw the unfortunate blowback that Benito would get on social media because of the fact that the show sold out so quickly, and the only tickets available were thousands of dollars in the secondary market. So the answer was clear: let’s do another tour. Let’s do it in bigger venues so more people have access and it can beat the demand that we knew was there.”

Kicking off on Aug. 5 in Orlando, El Nuevo Rey del Estadio is set to travel across 29 major cities across the U.S. and Latin America, making stops in historic spaces like New York’s Yankee Stadium; L.A.-area’s SoFi; Lima, Peru’s Estadio Nacional; and the tour’s final gig at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca Dec. 9.

Stadium Ready: Bad Bunny is surrounded by his adoring fans at the 19,500-capacity Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on March 16, 2022. Photo by Jomar Dávila

The “Yonaguni” singer has left a trail of shattered records as he establishes himself as one of the year’s most impactful touring acts. His performances at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., stands as his highest grossing from two shows with $9.3 million grossed from 32,568 tickets sold on Feb 25-26. According to Pollstar Boxoffice records, it ranks as the second grossing engagement of 2022 only to his own three-show stint in Chicago among top grossing concert engagements by any artist of any genre. He’s also the highest ranking musician on Earth right now, holding the top slot on Pollstar’s Global Concert Pulse, with an average box-office gross of $2,980,802, and an average ticket price of $177.13, ahead of Elton John, Andrea Bocelli, Eric Church and Billie Eilish.

Yet historically, stadium success by a Latin star in the U.S. is something of a rare breed. In 2014 Bachata sensation Romeo Santos made history as the first Latin artist to sell out two consecutive shows at Yankee Stadium. Five years later, the Dominican New Yorker became the first Latino to headline MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Bad Bunny’s first stadium tour is another opportunity to set new records.

“This is CMN’s biggest tour and we’re super proud to be not only a part of it, but involved since day one having a strong relationship,” muses Cárdenas. “This is a pinnacle achievement.”

Beyond the performance element, Bad Bunny’s presence is inescapable, appearing in all corners of pop culture: whether he’s sipping Coronas on the beach with Snoop Dogg, kicking Brad Pitt’s ass on the upcoming summer film “Bullet Train,” serenading The Simpsons’ family in cartoon form, or releasing a “Benito” collection of Adidas sneakers, like the Forum PWR and Response CL, which he launched while on tour. Then there’s his pro wrestling side with WWE, and he’s even on Airbnb, offering fans the chance to spend the night in his famous touring semi-truck! All ingenious ways to sync brands and networks with multiple fans across the spectrum.

Through The Fire: Bad Bunny heats up SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., March 4. Photo by Jomar Dávila

“When an artist can connect the brands and their partnerships together with live [entertainment], it changes the game entirely,” says Toni Wallace, UTA’s co-head of Global Music Brand Partnerships. “In addition to creating culturally defining moments, and truly pushing the boundaries of culture, his partnerships resonate with fans because they are truly organic and a part of his day-to-day life. It doesn’t have to be a forced placement or sponsorship, like circa the 2000s. There are interesting and unique ways to do that, and Bad Bunny has been an incredible partner at that. Everything is truly 360 and culturally driven, which is what moves audiences.”

“I would argue there’s no movie star on the planet that is as valuable as Benito is in marketing a film,” says Nigel Meiojas, talent agent at UTA, who helped place the star in “Narcos” and “Bullet Train,” among other appearances. “You can see by the [“Bullet Train”] trailer, the importance they are putting on him as part of this film. The trailer gathered 200 million views in seven days. Hollywood has opened their eyes to how big the Latin market is and the reach it has. When you go to a Bad Bunny show, it’s an eclectic group of people from all different backgrounds, people that don’t speak Spanish. And that’s remarkable. It’s only going to get bigger for him.”

Bad Bunny’s origin story, from a church-going choir boy to being proclaimed the Latin Trap King early in his career, sounds like a música urbana fairy tale. But his way of navigating the public eye has resonated with the global Latinx community and beyond.

When Bad Bunny first revealed his artistic side publicly, he was often seen as a lovelorn menace, raw and unhinged. Quick-witted, and backed up by sinister trap beats, he stood tall within the bubbling scene of Latin trappers in the mid 2010s, alongside other key players like Anuel AA, Ozuna, and Myke Towers. El Conejo Malo, however, had the right amount of edge and eclecticism. Noah Assad – Bad Bunny’s forward-thinking manager and founder of Rimas Entertainment – signed the Latin trap star just as reggaeton was becoming the fastest-rising genre on the planet.

“My vision was that I was enjoying what I do,” Assad tells Pollstar. “I love reggaeton, I love trap, I love anything that has to do with Spanish [language] music. The vision hasn’t evolved much because I keep having fun.”

Another unique fact about the artist-label pairing: Most of Bad Bunny’s genre peers are signed to major labels, however, Rimas Entertainment (with distribution by The Orchard, which is owned by Sony), has quickly become an indie label phenomenon.

“I think the right word is freedom,” Assad says, as one of the credits to their success. “With freedom we can pivot easily. We trust each artist’s vision, and we trust Benito’s vision to the fullest.”

CMN, the tour promoting company behind Marc Anthony and Daddy Yankee treks among other Latin greats, began to work with Bad Bunny in 2017 when he was still a local artist on the rise in Puerto Rico, performing in spaces with less than 1,000 club-goers. And with the wildly viral “Despacito” breaking unprecedented records left and right, betting on Latin trap was a bold move, but CMN took that risk and went all in with El Conejo Malo.

The next year, CMN brought Bad Bunny stateside. “When we first signed the deal, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Cárdenas, Director of Touring at CMN. “We were thinking we would bring 3,000 or 5,000 people, and that it was going to be something we were going to work [on]. He’s an artist that we believed in, and we would grow from the theater act to the arena act.”

His first U.S. tour, 2018’s “La Nueva Religión” proved to be highly successful, selling out multiple U.S. cities, and earning above $16 million, according to Pollstar Boxoffice. That same year he also amassed a staggering four billion streams on YouTube and joined forces with Cardi B and J Balvin for the summer anthem “I Like It,” which landed at No. 1 on Billboard’s U.S. Hot 100 chart.

On Christmas Eve of 2018, he dropped X 100pre, and showcased his genre versatility beyond the Latin trap mantle. The album was received with widespread critical acclaim, and he even brought on mainstream guests like Drake and Diplo. He teamed up with J Balvin on Oasis the following year, and in 2020, he landed on the cover of Rolling Stone.

While most of the world stood still in the year of coronavirus dread – Bad Bunny amplified his creative momentum tenfold in 2020, dropping not only one, or two, but three albums: YHLQMDLG on leap year, the compilation Las Que No Iban A Salir on Mother’s Day, and El Último Tour del Mundo, which arrived on Thanksgiving night.

All of the LPs earned notable achievements, but the latter was a game-changer, becoming the first all-Spanish language album to land at No. 1 on Billboard’s Global 200 in the chart’s 64-year history.

“I think the fact that the album was musically diverse – hip-hop, reggaeton, Latin rock, and electronic – and not just [doing] a standard reggaeton album has a lot to do with its success,” says Marco “MAG” Borrero, executive producer of El Último Tour del Mundo. “Benito stepped outside of what was expected of him and appealed to a broader audience, while showcasing the magnitude of his artistry. He refused to play it safe and created a body of work that he truly believed in without falling to the commercial standards of the industry. His fans connect with that because it’s pure.”

His team agrees that one facet of Bad Bunny’s massive draw is by being himself and doing everything from the heart.

Cárdenas notes that the way Bad Bunny has immersed himself in culture, and how he’s able to reinvent himself and be connected with fans both young and old is key to his success.

“I’ve toured with Juan Gabriel and Marc Anthony, who are considered some of the greats. And this guy is just something else. He engages […] and is humble and works. There are some artists that don’t put in as much work as he does, and it’s apparent in the results. When we first started touring, we did five dates a week and then he’d still go and record or do videos in between. … That’s something that always stuck out to me.”

Brooklyn Loves The Bunny: Bad Bunny takes in the moment at Barclays Center on March 19, 2022 during his “El Último Tour del Mundo” in Brooklyn, N.Y., where dance parties broke out in the subway. Photo by Jomar Dávila

In many ways, Bad Bunny has become a symbol, transcending beyond the artist or performer moniker. He’s become a representation of a new Latinx movement that continues to permeate mainstream consciousness. Today, we’re beginning to see a new generation of Puerto Rican stars rising above the stratosphere by headlining festivals, gracing mainstream magazine covers, topping the charts, and selling out shows: Rauw Alejando, Farruko, Ozuna, Lunay, Myke Towers, and the beat goes on. All this speaks volumes about Latin pop’s formidable place in contemporary culture.

“The privilege of working with an artist like him is that we get to represent people who move culture,” says UTA’s Lewis. “There’s no better example right now than Benito. Whether it’s what he says, what he wears, what he writes – you can literally see the impact right before your eyes of the fans following him and supporting him.”

Lewis reflected on the excitement over Bad Bunny’s recent shows at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center from a party at the subway station on Saturday night to a “block party going on for an hour of people dancing to his music that have not left the venue.” He adds, “I mean, those aren’t normal things that happen with normal artists. It’s a testament to all that he’s built and all the culture that he’s moved.”

=Executive album producer MAG, who is Puerto Rican and Dominican himself, muses, “Like many Latinx kids, I didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, or most legacy stadium artists. But to see a kid from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, selling out stadiums in America and globally? That shit resonates with me. The thought of Yankee Stadium screaming [sexually explicit lyrics from ‘Safarea’], gives me goosebumps and brings me laughter at the same time!”

He adds, “It brings me so much joy and makes me emotional to see a Puerto Rican artist accomplish all of the things Benito is doing.“