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When Bad Bunny showed up on Saturday Night Live last weekend, the vibe was to be expected. The Puerto Rican singer-MC was billed as the show's music guest. He was going to perform a set that by all means was going to be stellar — even by pandemic standards. Little did the audience (or viewers at home) know that he would transform altogether.
Making a cameo on the show’s wildly popular “Loco” music video starring comedian Ego Nwodim, Bad Bunny morphed into a plant.
"This here is Reggie. He is a plant. He says, 'Keep going!' when I think I can't," Nwodim raps in disheveled hair and a tattered robe.
“I think my plant’s tryna tell me something,” she says, squatting down to get a better look.
Cut to Bad Bunny in a full-on plant costume, rooted in a pot from the waist down. The pandemic living is clearly driving Nwodim berserk. Bad Bunny has a remedy in the form of a rap verse.
"Mentally, mentally, mentally ill," he raps in English. “Go buss it down if you mentally ill. Talk to the plant, say how you feel. Mentally, mentally, mentally ill."
During the pandemic, many have turned to plants for a mental health boost. (Think: hardy pothoses, split leafed monsteras, resilient succulents.) Bad Bunny is, as the video’s costume designer, Jill Bream, pointed out on Instagram, a snake plant. Known for their tenacity, snake plants mirror the human ability to survive under pressure after almost a year in quarantine.
The skit was meant to be relatable, some of the team told me. “I have been quarantining alone, and not having the best time myself, so I recently bought my first plants in a very long time (@juanitasplants on IG — a great Black-owned Brooklyn business), and have found them therapeutic for sure,” Will Stephen, one of the “Loco” writers, wrote in an email.
“It seemed like a natural thing to include in a sketch about struggling at home,” he continued. “Then, when we were brainstorming silly cameo ideas for Bad Bunny, we thought the plant seemed like it made sense as a comforting thing to come to life and encourage you in a dumb, fun way.”
Stephen penned the “Loco” sketch with Nwodim, Pete Davidson (who also makes an appearance in the video) and fellow “SNL” writer Gary Richardson. He pitched the song idea to the other writers on a Monday, and it was written by Tuesday. Producer JP On Da Track created the earworm beat, and Brian “Nox Beats” Eisner mixed and mastered the track.
As the writers were floating ideas on Zoom, a collective agreement arose: the song had to end on Bad Bunny, because he'd be such a tough act to follow. They knew they wanted him to play an inanimate object come to life — but what?
"At some point, we got on the topic of how so many people in this pandemic have become new plant parents, and they’re (read: we’re) likely talking to these plants, either to help them grow or because they miss interacting with people!" Nwodim wrote in an email. "Thus we decided Bad Bunny as a plant in a lonely woman’s apartment would be perfect."
Bad Bunny (real name Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio), for his part, was game for the role — and to rap in English, a rare occurrence for him. As Times music reporter Suzy Exposito pointed out on Twitter, “Benito barely spoke English this time last year, I’m so happy to see him play his real goofy self on SNL.”
Around this time last year, Bad Bunny was trapped “En Casita.” Experiencing a little cabin fever, he decided to have some fun with his 30 million followers. He took to Instagram in bright yellow Crocs and danced to the “Canción del Coronavirus.” He lost Jenga to his girlfriend and played with Toy Story dolls.
Relatability is currency, and on Saturday night, Bad Bunny used his opportunity on the show to connect: As one YouTube commenter put it, “When the plant came to life and started singing ‘mentally ill’ — I felt that.”
“Bad Bunny was great and got the joke, and thanked us after we shot his piece,” the director of the sketch, Paul Briganti, wrote in an email. “It was a great way to heighten the video and bring the energy up, both comedically and visually.”
Bad Bunny has a history exploring the space between flashy pop culture and mental health. He’s referred to his recent album, “El Último Tour del Mundo,” as “dark."
And more recently, he has spoken candidly about mental health. In January, he talked to Spanish newspaper El País about a period between 2016 and 2018 when he felt lost and empty. “I was stuck in a capsule, without knowing anything,” he said in Spanish. “The world saw me, but I was missing.”
The music video hit home for the internet for a smorgasbord of reasons — not least among them the mental health verse and the pile of houseplants in Nwodim’s apartment. But, in true “SNL” style, it was irreverent too. Bad Bunny sways in his terracotta pot next to a pink cocktail in a martini glass built to scale.
“I also asked the design department to build a set that was a giant replica of Ego's apartment for him to play in,” Briganti said. “If you look close, you can see a giant version of the chair, table, and drink that rests next to the plant. It's these tiny but important touches we're able to pull off that make me proud to work here.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.