“Speaking Non-English”: Not worthy of a Grammy?

The 2023 Grammys have recently come under fire as Bad Bunny opened the award ceremony and even won an award — all while the closed captions were “speaking non-English” and “singing non-English.”

Photo of Bad Bunny accepting award in the 2023 Grammys and tweets about the "speaking in non-english" situation

The Grammy commotion continues a week after the biggest award show ceremony celebrating music. As many sat around the TV waiting for Latin America’s current top star, a feeling of Latin pride took over. However, it didn’t last for long.

What started off as a great night for Latiné culture changed after the words “speaking non-English” and “singing non-English” were seen on the screen. During the award ceremony, live closed captions were used by the television network CBS. It did so for every performance and speech acceptance. Yet, when it came to Puerto Rican singer, Bad Bunny, the closed captions were not translated; a simple “speaking non-English” was displayed.


Bad Bunny became one of the first Latine artists to open the Grammys with his performance of “El Apagon” and “Después De La Playa” — two notable songs for using Dembow, Merengue, and Reggae tunes. His all-Spanish performance filled the room with a tropical ambiance as he brought out traditional Puerto Rican folk art. While putting on his scheduled show, the only words seen on screen were “singing in non-English”. Even in his acceptance speech for Best Musica Urbana Album, the closed captioning remained as “speaking non-English”.

Bad Bunny has become the hottest Spanish-speaking sensation. Placing the charts with “Un Verano Sin Ti” being a top album in the Billboard 200 for 13 non-consecutive weeks and being named Spotify’s most streamed artist across the globe for the third year in a row. Not only are his records selling, his two world tours in 2022 were the top-grossing tours of the year. Bad Bunny’s impact is global and has made Spanish music heard by everyone.

By doing so, he brought recognition to Latine issues and opened doors for many. Focusing a couple of songs on his album on social issues and the current crisis in Puerto Rico. He’s been praised by many for being authentic and sticking to his roots by choosing to always speak and sing in Spanish instead of reaching an American audience by speaking in English.


However, despite his indisputable impact on music globally, his efforts have not been fully recognized in the American industry. With three Grammys under his belt and nine nominations, all his awards have been given under the Urban category. Even with his nominations, only two out of the nine have been for global lists.

The Urban category at the Grammys was said to be made for inclusivity and to highlight urban music for people of color. However, many have expressed their dislike for this category, as it prevents Black and brown artists from being nominated for bigger categories like Song or Album of the Year. Even Tyler the Creator has commented on the issue, “I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending, they always put it in the rap or urban category”. The urban category has been used by award shows to separate the growth between Black and brown artists from the rest and dilute their global impact.


Many USC students also felt strongly after the 2023 Grammys ceremony. When asked about their opinions on the closed captioning provided for Bad Bunny at the 2023 Grammys, Fiorella Sosa, a freshman majoring in business administration, said, “What is non-English — what does that even mean? It’s not like the only existing language is English. I think it’s just rude, disrespectful, and racist.”

Using the words “speaking non-English” has caused quite a controversy as it doesn’t highlight “non-English” speaking artists in an era where diversity should be celebrated.

Other USC students expressed how powerful Bad Bunny is for Latinos and his global impact. Genesis Hernandez, a sophomore studying health and human science, shared her thoughts. “I was so happy that Bad Bunny was performing; he opened the Grammys. It feels so good to get Latino representation. However, them putting that as the closed captions … it really took us back a few steps when we were doing so good,” Hernandez said.

Nathalie Ceron, a freshman studying international relations, also spoke about Bad Bunny’s impact in the genre. “Bad Bunny has completely transformed the way Reggaeton music is viewed by reaching mass audiences all around the world. To see the Grammys deem him as merely someone who doesn’t speak English feels like they don’t think he’s worthy of their award,” Ceron said.

Even one week after the incident, opinions from other celebrities and even politicians are still rolling out. Rapper 50 Cent was quick to share his strong opinions via Instagram. In a post, he wrote, “Bad Bunny is bigger than everybody right now, and you can’t pay for closed captions.”

California Rep. Robert Garcia, shared his strong opinions to CBS directly with an open letter to President and CEO George Cheeks. “For too many Spanish-speaking Americans, it felt disrespectful of our place in our shared society and of our contributions to our shared culture. For the hearing-impaired community, this failure was hurtful,” Garcia said. In this letter, he also highlighted Bad Bunny’s achievements and the 12% of Latinos in the American media force.

After the backlash and several days of rejecting interviews, CBS has finally spoken out. Stating that “regrettably, errors were made” and the efforts the company will now make for Spanish language content. Cheeks openly agreed that a bilingual live captioner should’ve been used during the show, and as of now, correct captioning has been placed on the ceremony reruns.