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Grammy Viewers Disappointed by ‘Non-English’ Captioning

Puerto Rican rapper Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, also known as Bad Bunny, recently opened the telecast of 2023 Grammy Awards. It was the first time a musical act that does not primarily speak or sing in English was featured in such a prestigious timeslot. As a result, many Latin American people beamed in pride at seeing someone from their culture (or one adjacent to theirs) be represented on such a big stage.

But one particular detail caused a stir in the immediate wake of the telecast. Viewers responded in real time on social media platforms to the way that Bad Bunny’s performance was captured by the live closed-captioning text at the bottom of the screen. His words and music were not transcribed, but rather described simply as “non-English.”

This was a disappointment for viewers hoping to see a live transcription of Bad Bunny’s Spanish lyrics, considering that he’d been nominated for Album of the Year. That oversight was particularly galling, according Melissa Harris-Perry of WNYC, because it was so avoidable.

Harris-Perry said, “Bad Bunny does not generally or ever perform in English, right? I mean, this should not have been a surprise.”

Dr. Bonilla is director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (at CUNY), and a guest of Harris-Perry’s podcast . Bonilla says that Bad Bunny is so important to Puerto Rican audiences in part because of his refusal to cater to English-speaking audiences, which is causing the industry to change.

Bonilla said, “Okay, you're making history here. For the first time, you have a Spanish language act nominated for Album of the Year. This is the largest streaming artist in the world. You know that he sings and speaks only in Spanish. Do better, Grammys.”

The good news is that this is less a function of malice than of lack of planning or intentionality. Hopefully, the Grammys will be ready the next time they feature a Spanish-speaking act so prominently in their telecast.

Possible Preaching Angle:

Language is one of the ways that we define and reinforce culture. The church can also be sensitive to this and welcome other language speakers into God's family. We can assist in that mission by accommodating the languages of vulnerable people with less power or influence.

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