Collaboration: El Apagón Microsyllabus

On September 16, 2022, Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, better known as the artist Bad Bunny, released the music video for his song “El Apagón,” from his 2022 album Un Verano Sin Ti. Directed by acclaimed music video director Kacho López Mari, the video featured Benito sitting on the porch of Ismael “Maelo” Rivera’s house in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a fitting setting given that the song samples Maelo’s 1969 hit, “Controversia.” The camera cuts to everyday people mouthing along “El Apagón’s” lyrics on the streets of San Juan. Interspersed are images of iconic Puerto Ricans – Tego Calderón, Raúl Juliá, Iris Chacón, J.J. Barea, and, at one point, independence leader Pedro Albizu Campos – alongside videos of Puerto Ricans protesting during the 2019 Verano Boricua. “El Apagón” – the blackout – talks about everyday life in Puerto Rico in the context of unreliable infrastructure and government corruption, yet also the joy and pride he and other Boricuas share in Puerto Ricanness. Bad Bunny’s discussion of these seemingly conflicting truths is encapsulated in the following lyric: “Puerto Rico está bien cabrón.” This can mean “Puerto Rico is f***ed/screwed” and/or “Puerto Rico is the sh*t/amazing.” After several verses comes the break with that infamous DJ Joe sample, ushering in a different scene: a crew of motorcycles and ATVs arrive at el Túnel de Guajataca in Isabela, on the west coast of the island, where Bad Bunny leads a massive party. Perreando through the night, the crowd waves flags – pride flags, Puerto Rican flags, and the black and white Puerto Rican protest flags – until day breaks and we leave the tunnel, flying over the Puerto Rican coastline while Bad Bunny’s ex-girlfriend Gabriela Berlingeri sings, “esta es mi playa, este es me sol, esta es mi tierra.”

But this isn’t just any music video. Following just the first two verses of the song, “El Apagón” stops and independent journalist Bianca Graulau appears on screen, leading viewers through an almost twenty-minute documentary called Aquí Vive Gente – People Live Here. The documentary is a blistering critique of the ongoing economic crisis facing Puerto Rico. More specifically, Aquí Vive Gente tackles gentrification and displacement, from increased housing prices to limited access to the very public beaches that inspired Un Verano Sin Ti.The documentary connects the current crisis to the larger history of colonialism in Puerto Rico. It also places gentrification in the context of the establishment of laws such as Act 60, which offers Americans incentives to settle on the island. The film shows the effects of these problems on everyday people who face eviction, untenable cost of living, and the dangerous effects of climate change, as a result of these larger colonial histories and policies.

“El Apagón”/Aquí Vive Gente is a critical cultural text for our time. The Bad Bunny Syllabus in collaboration with the Puerto Rico Syllabus created this microsyllabus, which brings together resources to contextualize the social, economic, and political issues addressed in “El Apagón’s” lyrics and music video, as well as the accompanying  documentary. Overall, we focus on the impact of the intersecting economic crisis, aftermath of disasters, and privatization and austerity measures on the lives of Puerto Ricans, especially in relation to issues of gentrification,displacement, and energy infrastructure. The first section addresses the gentrification of the island as corporations and wealthy Americans from the U.S. buy up properties, especially along coastal areas such as Rincón and Puerta de Tierra. The next two sections address how tourism and the “visitor economy” fuel displacement. The rapid growth of short-term rental properties, through companies like AirBnB, has significantly worsened the ongoing affordable housing crisis on the island. Finally, we focus on LUMA Energy, the private company that took over Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure in 2021. Bad Bunny famously called out LUMA and Governor Pedro Pierlusi for the inadequate infrastructure in Puerto Rico during his July 2022 concert in San Juan’s “Choliseo.” 

Each section of this microsyllabus  is titled after a lyric from “El Apagón,” guiding learners through some of the song’s and video’s meanings. The microsyllabus provides entry points to the three organizing themes and contains visual, audio, and written primary and secondary sources in both English and Spanish. Although each section works together, they can be engaged on their own and each section gives learners an entry point into critical issues affecting Puerto Ricans.

UNIT 1: Que se vayan ellos: Gentrification

UNIT 2: Esta es mi playa, Este es mi sol: Tourism and the Visitor Economy

UNIT 3: No me quiero ir de aquí: Displacement

UNIT 4: Maldita Sea Otro Apagón: LUMA and Energy Struggles