Photograph by Carina del Valle Schorske.
This week, the Review is publishing a series of short reflections on love songs, broadly defined.
The first time I felt tropical rain was an erotic revelation: I was nine, visiting family in Puerto Rico on a Carnival cruise. At home in California, rain was cold feet and flooded freeways. But on the island, rain came fast and hot, soaked through my cotton dress, then—sliced by sun—revealed a rainbow. Aguacero. The revelation was erotic not only for my body (the sound, the feel) but also for my mind: now I knew that something bad could also be good—depending on temperature, timing, timbre. My friend Luis Alba calls tropical rain “the secret rhythm beneath all our music”—the windy scraping of the guiro, the shifting pebbles of the shekere—but Bad Bunny’s “Aguacero” begins with ten seconds of literal downpour. Then, the fuckboy’s serenade: me tienes el bicho ansioso.
“Aguacero” is not a proper love song. It’s reggaeton lite (smooth production, raunchy lyrics), one of the more predictable tracks on Bad Bunny’s latest blockbuster. But I can’t lie about what’s on repeat—in the kitchen, on the beach, on the ride home from his place. As with love songs, so with love: we don’t always desire what we deserve. For a long while—longer than we said we would—I had a lover who was in the middle of a messy divorce. He wouldn’t have me for real, and I wasn’t even sure that’s what I wanted. But I was sick, I was tired, I hadn’t fucked with feeling for several years. So I went ahead in the rain. Si el calor es de noventa, el aguacero es de cien. The chorus was both invitation and warning: if the heat’s at ninety, the downpour’s a hundred. This wetness won’t make you less thirsty.
“Aguacero” wants to keep things light—baby dale easy, easy, sabes que soy piscis—with a languid dembow barely fast enough for dancing. But this restraint only intensifies the song’s sensuality, soliciting a slow grind your body might remember from “Cool Down the Pace” by Gregory Isaacs or “Rock the Boat” by Aaliyah. Bad Bunny comes so close to the mic you can feel the spray of s’s in your ear—now he’s Benito. The lyrics, meanwhile, vacillate between ostentatious detachment (don’t worry, I won’t say I love you) and ardent romantic roleplay (when you want it, I’m your husband). The anxiety confessed in the first line returns to trouble the lovers: she needs a doctorate in psychology to understand his intentions, she’s got him desquiciado, scrolling through archived messages. Still, he insists on a fundamental equality of purpose between them that I recognize from conversations with my lover—yo soy un cuero, y tú también—as if the intense mutuality of sexual desire could serve as a solvent for whatever inequalities emerge down the line. The terms of their arrangement remain unclear, and he seems to like it like that: if they ask, say we’re distant cousins. My lover was also reluctant to name in public what we couldn’t even name in private; we never found the right line.
It’s possible to eroticize almost anything, and the quip about distant cousins makes me wince then smile, admitting how I did feel a queer kind of kinship with my lover: we were both children of short-lived cross-cultural relationships between bohemians, trying to invent sustainable forms of intimacy from the ruins of the nuclear family. Like Puerto Rico, New York is an island: there’s nowhere to hide from the connections that bring us together even once we’ve turned away. There’s tenderness there, if you’re willing to taste it. Yo soy un cuero, y tú también, the men sing, and we dance—but do we all understand the desire that sustains the exchange the same way? The words feel impoverished to me; they do not seem to honor the rich mystery of the mornings he would wake early to touch me in the sun, like I wanted. They’re drowned out by the steady pulse of precipitation that saturates the song. In “Aguacero,” there’s a certain tension between words and music, communication and sensation, as if what transpires between bodies encodes a reality that runs counter to our stated expectations—that exceeds them.
Or was the song making things worse, naturalizing arrangements that I struggled to sustain in my everyday life? Was it only, as my mother often warns, perpetuating a patriarchal program that objectifies women, evades emotional responsibility, and ultimately blames us for our confused complicity? Quédate en cuatro, que se ve precioso. I was reading Annie Ernaux, Gillian Rose, Luisa Capetillo, and Simone White, eager to interrogate my heterosexual pleasures but reluctant to relinquish them completely. I texted my lover a passage from Simone White: “dancing is not an endorsement of violence but of course it is /// … when dancing i do feel spread out / i feel helpless and resent the sense that separating myself from feelings of love and enjoyment for the sake of so-called liberation is fucking us all up.” At night I would dance alone in my bedroom and post the videos to my Instagram stories, and if I swiped up—the app had a new feature designed to profit from feminine torment—you could see who’d watched them. I tried not to use it, but I couldn’t forget it was there.
When we said goodbye, finally—it was too cold to stand on the street for the time it should have taken—he told me he’d wanted an escape and he thought that was okay. Now he was going home to someone else. In the moment, still bewildered by desire, I lost my will to litigate. But later, back in Puerto Rico, I wondered over the resonance between that word—escape—and the touristic desires that develop our shorelines, uproot our mangroves, and slowly turn predictable seasonal storms into unnatural disasters. I know I’m being dramatic, letting my metaphorical imagination run wild. But no person or place can be an escape: escape is just the rhythm of the one who’s running.
Last night, walking down to the beach in Luquillo, I saw two men with shovels at the mouth of the river that feeds into the sea—or should, because just then it was choked by sand, so the river was rising and flooding their homes. They were trying to dig out the channel, to restore the flow. Their project seemed impossible to me, especially at such a late hour—and wouldn’t the force of the tides always be stronger than the force of the current? But the next morning, I saw they’d opened the channel into a wide delta, and I realized how many times they must have come down to do this work by hand. They had already committed to finding a form that might accommodate the downpour, that might mitigate—if not eliminate—the damage of the deluge.
Carina del Valle Schorske is a literary translator and a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine. Her debut essay collection, The Other Island, is forthcoming from Riverhead.
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