Bad Bunny Goes Producer: Latin’s Hottest Star Gives Tommy Torres ‘Rock Star Attitude’

Bad Bunny Goes Producer: Latin’s Hottest Star Gives Tommy Torres ‘Rock Star Attitude’

The first time Bad Bunny met Tommy Torres, it was backstage at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico. The inventive, prolific artist was on his 2019 X 100PRE tour, and Torres — a successful singer-songwriter in his own right and a go-to producer for the likes of Ricky Martin, Ednita Nazario and Ricardo Arjona — was at the arena to play piano on the ballad “Amorfoda.” “It all happened so fast, we didn’t have time to talk,” recalls Bad Bunny. “And we didn’t see each other again or keep in touch.”

Since then, Bad Bunny, 27, has become a global superstar, scoring back-to-back No. 1s on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart last year with YHLQMDLG, Las Que No Iban a Salir and El Último Tour del Mundo, the first all-Spanish album to top the Billboard 200. And after 11 years with Warner Music Latina, Torres, 49, released a handful of singles under the independent Rimas Entertainment, where CEO Noah Assad — who also happens to be Bad Bunny’s manager — signed him earlier this year.

It wasn’t until mid-January that Bad Bunny (real name: Benito Martínez) and Torres would meet again — this time at an Airbnb in West Hollywood, where they spent two weeks writing and producing nine songs together for Torres’ forthcoming fifth studio album (and his first in nearly a decade), El Playlist de Anoche. “I can’t say I was surprised, because Bunny always keeps me on my toes,” says Assad. “He’s always reinventing and thinking of new ways to explore into a different world and when he told me about this one, I literally jumped up in excitement. It’s something that, as always, no one sees coming.”

Though Bad Bunny executive-produced Jowell & Randy’s 2020 comeback, Viva el Perreo (which peaked at No. 5 on Top Latin Albums), it’s his first run at producing outside the urbano realm. But the artist known for seamlessly veering among trap, pop-punk and alternative isn’t exactly known for staying in a lane. El Playlist de Anoche has Torres’ signature alt rock-tinged, sentimental pop but integrates an approach to phrasing best described as, “How would Bad Bunny say this?”

“Benito is a new influence, and he has no limits when it comes to creativity,” says Torres. “And that’s how it has to be. If not, we’d be doing mathematics, not art.”

How did this partnership kick off?

Bad Bunny: One day last year, I was at the Rimas office, and I said that I had written a song that I thought would be perfect for Tommy to sing. I had never told anyone or made an approach until that moment because I thought, “Why would Tommy, who writes canciones cabronas [badass songs], want me to write a song for him?” But one of his team members was there and said, “I think Tommy would really like that idea.” So they called him right then and there, and he said yes.

Tommy Torres: I’ve been producing for other artists many years now, but this is the first time that an artist-producer tells me, “I want to do something for you.” To have someone like Benito, who has been surfing across a wave of creativity and really gets this generation — well, it doesn’t get any better than that. But I thought, “What are we going to do? Reggaetón? A ballad version of ‘Safaera?’ ” I had no idea. At the same time, that feeling of nervousness made me realize why this is going to be amazing.

What were the conversations like leading up to your meeting in Los Angeles?

Bad Bunny: We didn’t talk about a strategy, what we wanted it to sound like, nothing. We just showed up and started making music.

Torres: Not having any expectations was liberating. We didn’t have to stick to one musical style. We didn’t have a label dictating anything to us. We didn’t even know if we were going to write just a few songs or an entire album.

Bad Bunny: The behind-the-scenes photos seem like it was a session between a psychologist and a patient. I was the patient lying down on the couch, and Tommy was the psychologist taking notes with a guitar and a computer. Going in, I had two songs written, and since we didn’t have a definitive style, Tommy would just pick up the guitar and play the sound I was making with my mouth. Communication wasn’t an issue, even though he’s a [trained] musician and I’m not.

Torres: I would ask Benito to sing the references because the way he phrases parts of the song is completely different to how I phrase things. The way he would sing it made the song sound so much cooler. I had to learn that language; it was like learning a new instrument. Benito sings with a rock star attitude, and I thought, “That’s the attitude I must have, too.”

How honest could you be with each other in the studio?

Bad Bunny: That was key, and we built that trust quickly. It’s as if we had already made seven albums together and we had known each other for years. We just clicked.

Torres: Benito would sometimes stop me from adding more to a song that was ready to go. He would say, “We’re losing the magic that the original song had. Take this part and that part out.” For example, in “Demasiado Amor,” we end with a piano solo that’s a minute and a half long. I would never dare to put in a piano solo that long because I would question whether radio stations would play it or if we would lose people toward the end, but he would tell me, “Just keep playing. Trust me.” When you have someone like Benito giving you that confidence, that side of the brain that questions things doesn’t kick in. That’s the role of a real producer: He’s objective and doesn’t care about anything but the result.

Can you give an example of how a song was born, and how that honesty played into the process?

Bad Bunny: “Demasiado Amor” was born from a phrase I had written in my notes, and from that we wrote the song. Tommy sat and played the piano and I told him, ‘This is a piano song, it’s about sadness’ and he started playing until we got to that sadness, and he’d write the song as he was playing. It’s probably one of my favorite songs from the album. It has so much emotion. This song will make you cry.

Torres: “Demasiado Amor” is a great example of how we wrote [together]. We’d get to the studio, talk about a million things, eat sushi and then sit and play the piano and boom, in less than an hour and a half, we’d write an entire song. One, because the sessions just flowed so well and two, because Benito comes up with ideas so fast, it’s out of this world. He doesn’t even write things; he just memorizes everything, and he does like a puzzle in his mind like Rain Man. Meanwhile, I’m over here writing everything down, looking for beats and metaphors as he remembers something we said like three hours ago without having to write anything.

After we wrote “Demasiado Amor” I went in and added a full-on orchestra and then Benito told me, ‘Well you don’t feel lonely anymore and I’m not crying because I feel like you have company now. I need to feel that you’re truly alone.’ After spending all that money on the orchestra, we ended up taking it out.

What does it mean to be a producer today?

Torres: Nowadays, producers have a leading role. It wasn’t like that before. I’ve produced so many albums, but a lot of people don’t even know which ones I produced. Now fans are interested in knowing who the person behind these hits is. Ten years ago, producing meant you would bring me a song and I would produce it in whatever style the singer would want. But now the producer will be part of the songwriting process, bring their own idea and vibe, which makes it “fairer” when it comes to figuring out how you split producing/songwriting credits.

How do you approach splits?

Bad Bunny: Well, I made this album and haven’t even asked how much I’m getting. That’s how I work. I’m not on top of numbers or how much money I’m getting. I made this album because I wanted to do it and because it fulfilled me.

Torres: It’s good to have those conversations, but it depends on whom you’re working with, and sometimes it’s best to just not talk about it. You [end up] just thinking about numbers and percentages. Instead of doing art, you’re negotiating.

Did this collaboration feel like a risk?

Bad Bunny: Everything in life is a risk. I’m feeling very confident about this album. Maybe there will be some fans of Tommy who won’t like the idea of him collaborating with me, but at the end of the day, it still has Tommy’s essence. If we wouldn’t have announced that I’m part of this album, no one would have noticed it.

Torres: It’s a win-win situation for everyone in the industry. Many people who didn’t believe collaborations like this could happen will see it’s possible.

Bad Bunny: We didn’t do this because one of us needed to. And no one is doing a favor for anyone. It just happened. We wanted this, and it felt right.

A version of this article originally appeared in the July 17, 2021, issue of Billboard.

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