Bad Bunny and Tommy Torres on the Team-Up No One Saw Coming

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Bad Bunny knows how to take people off-guard. His career has felt like a non-stop parade of unexpected releases, projects, and sonic experiments — but teaming up with Tommy Torres, a 49-year-old singer-songwriter and balladeer from Puerto Rico, and co-producing and co-writing El Playlist de Anoche, an album full of sun-bright pop songs, is a curveball, even for him.

El Playlist de Anoche came out on July 23rd, and though the two had dropped hints that a collaboration was coming on social media, the album took lots of fans by surprise as it climbed the Spotify and Apple Music charts. Perhaps no one was more shocked by the initial partnership than Torres, who heard through their shared manager, Noah Assad, that Bad Bunny had written a song for him. “He was like, ‘I have all these songs, but they sound a little more like what you do than what I do, and I don’t want to drive people crazy, just changing styles so much, and I wonder if we could get together one day,’” Torres recalls. “I was hearing all this through management, and I’m like, ‘This sounds like it’s going to put me outside my comfort zone.’”

Torres shares this during a Zoom call from Miami, where he’s been living for the past 21 years. He’s perennially cheerful and looks practically ageless, cracking jokes while wearing a yellow Superbad sweatshirt, and he admits that at first, the collaboration between him and Bad Bunny sounded like a stretch. Sure, they’re both from Puerto Rico, but they grew up almost two decades apart. Torres started playing guitar in rock bands as a teenager; eventually, he moved to the U.S. to attend the Berklee College of Music and stepped into the industry as a sound engineer for Sony Music Studios. He’s produced for acts such as Ricky Martin and Ricardo Arjona, artists whose music seems more in line with the romantic, glossed-up pop songs he’s been releasing since 2001.

Still, he and Bad Bunny had crossed paths before, and there were inklings they had a few things in common. Bad Bunny knew Torres’ music and had invited him to play piano on his trap ballad “Amorfoda” when he sold out the famed Coliseo de Puerto Rico during his X 100pre homecoming show in 2018. Though the two didn’t interact much beyond exchanging quick hellos during sound check, Bad Bunny thought of Torres one day after he’d come up with an idea for a song.

“I kept hearing his voice for this song, but I thought, ‘Why would Tommy, who’s already a great songwriter, want to sing something I wrote?’” Bad Bunny tells Rolling Stone. “One day, I showed the song to the guys and told them the crazy idea I had. Noah called Tommy and asked him if he was interested in working with me.”

Assad began managing Torres about two years ago (the singer officially signed with Rimas Entertainment earlier this year), and Assad kept commenting on how well he thought Torres and Bad Bunny would get along. “We’re a little more introverted — that’s what Noah kept saying, like, ‘You guys, the hard thing is going to be to get you to speak, but when you do, you’re not going to stop,’ “ Torres says. They put Assad’s theory to the test by renting out an Airbnb in West Hollywood for about 10 days to brainstorm new music. “We had no idea what was going to come out of it.’ Bad Bunny says. “We didn’t go in with the idea of creating a reggaeton song or a pop song, we worked on how our mood was that day.”

pues sí… la verdad está bien cabrón. En solo par de horas… https://t.co/9AWTbRxfJh @sanbenito pic.twitter.com/o2JcRVKTlH

— Tommy Torres (@Tommy_Torres) July 23, 2021

They spent hours bent over Torres’ instruments, riffing on guitar chords or melodies Bad Bunny had recorded on his phone. A few concepts turned into nine, blooming into a full album. When they were done writing, Bad Bunny headed to Orlando to train for his WWE battle, but he kept a close hand in production, seeing the entire album through to the end.

His influence lurks even on songs that sound nothing like his own records. “Cactus,” for example, fits into the unabashedly sentimental vibe of El Playlist de Anoche with its careening chorus, background whistles, and swelling acoustic guitars; the construction feels more arena rock than anything the rapper has done, but it was Bad Bunny’s idea. Torres remembers Bad Bunny bringing the song to him, playing a recording he’d made of himself singing the lyrics over a few chords he put together.

“He starts going, ‘En temas de desamor, ya me he vuelto un experto,’” Torres explains, mimicking Bad Bunny’s clipped delivery. “I was like, ‘That sounds awesome, but it’s so you.’” He had Bad Bunny show him exactly how he sang the verses and paid close attention to his breathing and how he broke up the phrasing. “It was one of the first songs that he showed me, right on the first day, and it was the last one to make it to the album, because I sang it three times,” Torres recalls. “When I sent him the last version, I was like, ‘I’m kind of happy with that. What do you feel?’ And he was like, ‘Man, I love it.’”

The two played off each other’s enthusiasm elsewhere. A piano outro at the end of the ballad “Demasiado Amor” goes on for nearly a minute, and Torres says it came after he had been sitting at the piano showing Bad Bunny different melodies. “He’s like, ‘Again, again!’ and kept getting more excited… If it was by myself — and I produce for myself a lot — I might have just edited that.”

Bad Bunny describes the experience as organic and free from the pressures of the industry. “We focused on creating musical art and not the outside noise of worrying about sales and being in the top charts,” he says, adding, “I love the album. It’s a feeling I can’t really explain to be able to listen to songs I wrote and having Tommy Torres singing them — it’s just an incredible experience.”

Although Torres has several albums under his belt, he’s been telling people that El Playlist de Anoche feels like his first album. “It has that energy that that needed to come out,” he says. “I think this album just opened up, like, 10 different doors and erased any sort of preconceived ideas of what music I should be doing… It definitely sets a tone for all the possibilities of what I can do from now on. It changes everything.”