4 min read

I only share memes, I don't write anything anymore.

I only share memes, I don't write anything anymore.

This essay was originally shared on April 25, 2020

I don’t know when writing and discussing music became the sole focus of my professional pursuits, but I often think back to late nights in my dorm room in disbelief at my ability to churn out content. Writing a review a day was nothing to me, nor was the thought of answering a dozen emails and consuming multiple albums before heading out to attend a concert two hours from campus that I would later write about before going to bed. That work ethic is part of the reason I am where I am today, as well as the cause for my 2.3 GPA in college, but it never really felt like work. It was just “what I did,” and now twelve years later, it’s “what I do.”

Maintaining a passion for anything is an uphill battle. I realized long ago that I needed to continually expose myself to art outside of my usual tastes if I wanted to grow. As much as I love the alternative scene and films featuring Nicolas Cage (I’ll write about that soon), there is a lot more to experience in the world. Nothing is more exciting to me than finding something different and discovering why people enjoy it. I want to know why people like Imagine Dragons or Terrance Malick films. I also need to understand why people obsess over boy bands (myself included), pay to see cover bands and attempt to collect every Funko pop ever made. These discoveries, for me, are mysteries worth solving.

I entered 2020 without a steady writing gig outside my day job, which involves writing about the business of music rather than the music itself, and that left me in a creative rut. I took on assignments I knew I could write because I wasn’t finding anything new to challenge or excite my senses. That is until I took a chance on a new release from Latin artist Bad Bunny titled YHLQMDLG (an abbreviation of "Yo hago lo que me da la gana," Spanish for "I Do Whatever I Want”).

YHLQMDLG is a diverse collection of dancehall ready songs that lean heavily toward reggaeton and trap while conveying Bad Bunny’s attempts to find balance in his life. He raps about creativity and love, as well as the many ways both are complicated both by human behavior and the internet. He also details his attempts to grow and the setbacks he faces along the way. For him, the biggest problems in life are the mental hurdles he must face alone. “I only share memes, I don't write anything anymore,” he declares on the opening track, “Si Veo a Tu Mamá."

Let’s be real. There are very few, if any, new ideas in art. There are only so many things that inspire people, and after more than one hundred years of recorded music and film, it is safe to assume the vast majority of those topics have been covered. We know love is hard, but life is harder. We know your friends are the family you choose, and that life is best when lived on terms that we set. We also know that car rides help clear cluttered minds and that everyone has emotional baggage, even if they hide it well. We know these things because they’ve been passed down throughout time by generations of creative people who found clever ways of sharing universal truths. Bad Bunny is the latest to do so, and he’s fortunate enough to come along at a time when many artists are still struggling to convey traditional truths in a manner that appeals to children born in the digital age.

But I wasn’t thinking about all that when I fell in love with YHLQMDLG. My embrace of the record came from it made me feel. As the melodies and beats washed over me, my mind and body were freed from the stresses of the outside world. For 65-minutes, I left behind everything that was weighing me down in a way that felt effortless. Bad Bunny, along with his numerous collaborators, had created a space that insists listeners abandon all concerns at the door. All I had to do was take the ride.

One spin of YHLQMDLG quickly became two, and soon I was scouring the internet to learn everything I could about the album. Certain tracks spoke directly to my experiences, but others did not. The beauty of music is that it doesn’t have to mirror life perfectly to make listeners connect with it. The best music goes beyond relatability by tapping into something intangible. Call it your spirit or your soul, but whatever it is, that part of you is constantly seeking external acknowledgment. We are creatures that long to feel less alone, and art can give us a sense of connection despite our differences. For all its talk of luxury and twerking and partying, YHLQMDLG is an album about the increasingly complicated act of existing as a human in the modern world. It tells us that the glitz and glamour may help distract us from the cold truth of our limited time on this planet, but we cannot deny the facts of life, and the best thing any of us can do is live purposefully without regrets.

You may be thinking, “I didn’t know James spoke Spanish,” and that is because I don’t. Aside from a few phrases I picked up during a summer that I spent working the graveyard shift in a factory making shelving units for big box stores alongside immigrants and the Amish, I know very little Spanish. Most of what I understand is profanity, insults, and basic greetings. I want to know more, and doing so has is on my list of future goals, but my current understanding is very limited.

My inability to speak Spanish may be largely responsible for why I first fell in love with YHLQMDLG. Those initial spins of the record were purely for entertainment purposes. It was only after I came to appreciate the way the music made me feel that I pursued understanding its message, and thankfully, that journey did not disappoint. I’ve now spent the better part of one full day listening to Bad Bunny in 2020, and I expect many more hours will pass before the album slips out of my regular rotation. I don’t if your experience with YHLQMDLG will be as immersive or life-changing as my own, but I believe it’s worth a listen regardless. Discovery is one of life’s greatest joys, and you owe it to yourself to escape with Bad Bunny at least once before you die.