The Inconvenience of Complacency: Optimistic Nihilism in Pop Music Pt. 2

The Inconvenience of Complacency: Optimistic Nihilism in Pop Music Pt. 2 August 2, 2019

In the previous article in this series, I pointed out the tension between Bad Bunny’s “New Religion” of optimistic nihilism and his desire for objective meaning. I proposed that this tension represents the great existential conundrum faced by those on the cusp of Gens Y and Z. In this article, we’ll look at how this tension is expressed in his lyrics (note that the translations of these songs from Spanish to English are either my own or from Genius).

Estamos Bien (We’re Doing Fine) could easily be used as an entrance hymn were the New Religion of Optimistic Nihilism to come up with its own liturgical rite. He’s got everything he could ever need to be happy: money, parties, women, good health, family, and friends. He’s content, and he makes it clear that he doesn’t need to search for anything greater. If anyone questions his status: “f*ck them,” he repeats throughout the chorus of the song. Who is them? Is it the haters…those who are jealous of him? Or perhaps it’s the voice of his own heart, crying out for more than contentment. He has no time to consider any alternative to the comfort of his current lifestyle. Doing so would imply that he must come face to face with the meaninglessness of this realm…or else he must set out on a journey for an answer that lies beyond.

We see that memories of his past romantic/sexual experiences trigger his heart to demand more than distraction or complacency. Several of his songs express his desire to know that his past lovers still think of him. 

In Dime Si Te Acuerdas (Tell Me if You Remember), he asks a girl with whom he engaged in extravagant sexcapades whether she remembers the moments they shared together. He reminisces about how lascivious his desire was for her (“I just wanna f*ck you”, “If you don’t take off your pants, I’m gonna rip them off”) and about the adventurous locations of their encounters (“remember how we used to f*ck in the elevator?” “let’s do it on the balcony” “let’s do it like before in the Accord”). 

I find this juxtaposition between his vain, hedonistic boasting about his sexual prowess (“my c*ck is famous, look it up on Wikipedia”) and the vulnerable admission of his fear that the woman has forgotten him to be both comical and provoking. He implicitly denounces the false complacency these experiences gave him, hoping that she loves him in the long run, even after the heat of the moment ended. Towards the end of the song, he curiously indicates that his love strives toward the eternal: “baby, I’m gonna be yours until the day they kill m.e. Is this him saying he’d stay faithful to her til death do them part, or perhaps is he speaking prophetically of future events?

He expresses a similar sentiment in Si Estuviesemos Juntos (If We Were Still Together). “I don’t know if your mouth is kissing someone else…and if your eyes have already forgotten me, and if those thoughts have passed with time.” He expounds on this desire for longevity in a relationship, in this case focusing on the need for exclusivity. I want you to love me, and only me. Though his promiscuity provides him with pleasure, he still longs to be preferred by a woman. But he lost his chance, it’s in the past now. Rather than distract himself from the sadness, he dwells on the question: “and I ask myself, what would have happened if we were still together and in love?” These questions stay with him, and weigh on him most intensely on Valentine’s Day and Christmas. 

This sadness emerges in some of his other songs, but perhaps is most dramatically and beautifully expressed in Vuelve (Come Back). “I’m afraid of dying and being born again, only to find that you are not there.” This sadness is tinged with a morbid fear, which the eerie production (by Mambo Kingz and DJ Luian) amplifies. “I want to do to you what I always used to do…only to find that you’re not there, you’re not there.” The fear persists, and he’s faced with his limitations as a person. “I know I’ve made a thousand mistakes…I don’t know how much time I can take without you.” He’s brought to his knees, begging her to “come back.”

He attempts in several of his other songs to escape his heart and to continue distracting himself from the sense of emptiness that his longing provokes in him. Take Amorfoda (a Portuguese slang term meaning “f*cking love” or “a f*cked up love”). On one hand, he wants to forget about the woman who broke his heart (“I don’t want anyone to talk to me about love, I’m tired of it”, “I want you to feel what I’m feeling, I wish I were like you without any feelings, I want to get you out of my mind”). On the other, he briefly questions the meaning of his pain (“I’m asking God if love truly exists” “why if I’ve been so good have you done all this sh*t to me?”). 

He further attempts to distract himself from heartbreak in Ni Bien Ni Mal (Neither Good Nor Bad). “Without you, I’m neither good nor bad. What’s done is done, I’m not gonna call you anymore…to stop thinking of you, I’m gonna smoke.” This song speaks to another important dimension of the New Religion of Optimistic Nihilism: the use of marijuana as a neutralizing agent. The central doctrine is the belief that the point of life is to be content, neither full of joy nor depressed…we could say that the ideal is neutrality. While the heart insists on longing for more and teeters between these two extremes, weed can bring us to a “healthy balance” between the two. No wonder it’s rapidly increasing in popularity among Gens Y and Z. With weed, “estamos bien.” We don’t need to worry about that sense of emptiness or inadequacy. We’re all good.

Bad Bunny returns to weed and numerous other distractions in his guest verse on Karol G’s Ahora Me Llama (Now He’s Calling Me). “She wants to get back with me, but I don’t give a f*ck” he proclaims. He boasts again about his sexcapades, celebrating the fact that he has 23 partners “like Mike.” He finds solace in individualism, or as he puts it, in “doing [his] thing”: “I’m doing much better single. I hang out, drink, smoke, I do whatever I want.”

But once again, the distractions fall short. The illusion of individualism cannot hold up against his heart’s demand for love, for affirmation from another, and in the case of RLNDT (Rolandito), for the ultimate truth of his identity. The song is named after the infamous case of Rolando Salas Jusino, a kid who went missing in Puerto Rico in 1999. He implies that like Rolando, his identity went missing after his quick rise to fame. “Hello, who am I? I don’t know, I forgot.” He no longer knows where he’s headed and what he’s living for (“I forgot the coordinates of my destination, my GPS got damaged half way through the journey”). 

He reveals just how dark the cloud of doubt is that hangs over his boasting and superficial sense of contentment. “There are days when I can’t talk to myself, and I don’t know how to navigate through this darkness. I don’t know if I let myself get carried away, but I don’t trust lighthouses. Because trusting has always been expensive for me and has left despair in my heart.” He admits that he’s not able to answer the questions he’s plagued with, nor is he able to pull himself out of his sense of being lost. “I don’t believe in the stars or horoscopes…I don’t know if I should talk to God…I don’t know if my guardian angel wants to watch out for me…Am I imposing the fear I have on myself? Is it how I was raised or how I was born? Something I heard or saw? As much as I love it, it doesn’t make me happy. Is it that I don’t love it, or that I’m not really made for this?” 

This constant back and forth in Bad Bunny’s songs speaks to the current cultural moment we find ourselves in. For those caught between these last two generations, the traditional frameworks offered by transcendent religious beliefs and secular humanism no longer are seen as viable options for making sense of daily experiences. This existential crisis, the constant teetering between these poles, can prove exhausting. Where can they find respite?

This article is the second in a three part series on Bad Bunny and Optimistic Nihilism. Stay tuned for part three.


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