17.9.18

ALEJANDRO FERNÁNDEZ, “ME DEDIQUÉ A PERDERTE”

23rd October, 2004

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Throughout the last decade of this travelogue, whenever Alejandro Fernández has shown up it's been cause for celebration. One of the most tasteful and careful musicians of his generation of Spanish-language pop stars, he's been a better singer than Enrique Iglesias, a more thoughtful selector of material than Ricky Martin, and less interested in chasing trends than Marc Anthony.

And he's paid the relative penalty for it; fewer #1s, of shorter duration, than his peers, and no crossover hits. He hasn't sung in English, remaining a faithfully Mexican star, and he has mostly stayed out of the Anglophone media circus: the Hispanophone media circus is giddy enough on its own.

But his 2004 album A Corazón Abierto (with open heart) signals a change. The classy suits and charro cosplay of his twenties are gone: and the on the cover of the single for "Me Dediqué a Perderte" (I dedicated myself to losing you) he's in a t-shirt and hippie wristbands, like he's trying to be one of those younger, more rock-oriented stars, a Luis Fonsi or a Juanes.

The song is similarly contemporary: although there's still a bolero inflection to the percussion, it's drowned out by the studio drum kit playing straightforward ballad rock. The song was written by Leonel García of Sin Bandera, and that band's generic music-from-nowhere sound has overwhelmed Fernández' classy traditionalism. But then, classy contemporalism gets you hits. For a season.

Fernández the singer is still a marvel: nuanced and emotive, he savors every syllable in his burnished throat like the singer Enrique Iglesias wishes he was. But the song just sits there instead of taking flight: the string arrangements which have so often been a highlight of his appearances here just flutter uselessly instead of providing dramatic contrast.

It's the sound of a singer aging into a comfortable stasis. From here on out, it's increasingly unlikely that Alejandro Fernández will challenge himself or his audience; like Luis Miguel, his place as a permanent fixture of Mexican culture is secure, and he can coast. The kids are coming up from behind.

10.9.18

JUANES, “NADA VALGO SIN TU AMOR”

25th September, 2004

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From the viewpoint of the #1 spot, the mid-2000s is the most rock & roll that Latin Pop has ever been or presumably will ever be again. It's still not very rock & roll -- pop serves its own needs -- but the signifiers at least of rock have been present on six out of the sixteen forgoing songs of 2004, which feels like a kind of wave. And then there's this, the most straightforward rock song since, gosh, maybe "Ciega, Sordomuda"? (Not that anything Shakira has done has ever been all that straightforward.)

Juanes' shoulder-length hair, tattoo sleeves, and Seventies guitar solo are all valorizing a particular historicized (and Anglo-American) vision of emotional authenticity in popular music, but the glockenspiel hits on the rousing chorus show that he's paying attention to contemporary (Anglo-American) indie rock as well. Since the last we saw of him was a cod-reggae duet with Nelly Furtado, this makeover might be kind of a surprise, but he's always been a rocker, or at least he's always enjoyed playing dress-up in rock clothing. And the shifts between the slow, power-ballady verses and the rousing Ramonesy chorus are a model of how to make rock interesting and engaging to a pop audience that doesn't have automatic affection for it.

It was a big hit, dominating the last half of 2004 on Latin radio and winning Best Rock Song at the Latin Grammys and the first-ever Rock/Alternative Song of the Year at Univision's Lo Nuestro awards. (Lo Nuestro had been awarding Latin cultural achievement since 1989; that they just now started recognizing rock speaks to the change I noted in my first sentence.) And yet... it's a bit soggy, a bit unwieldy. The title, translated as "I'm not worth anything without your love," is the kind of old-fashioned romantic hyperbole that the honesty and irony of Anglo-American rock had once been understood as puncturing. It's a very Latin sentiment, but because it's expressed in a blues-derived form without the traditional emotive flourishes of Latin music, there's a tension between the joyous bounce of the chorus and the plaintive feelings it's expressing.

Which doesn't mean it's bad, just a touch awkward. Juanes has done better. We'll get to hear some of it.

3.9.18

ANDY & LUCAS, “SON DE AMORES”

18th September, 2004

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One of the beauties of Billboard's old method of determining chart placements for various musical subcultures -- like R&B, hip-hop, country, alternative rock, or Latin -- being primarily about what was popular on the playlists of radio stations which served those audiences is that one-week miracles like this were still possible. Another Andy & Lucas will never happen in the streaming age, which is set up to reward the broadest-audience music possible as long as it's given the appropriate genre tag, regardless of whether the music's core audience cares about it, with endless reigns only occasionally broken up by viral sensations.

There was nothing particularly viral about Andy & Lucas, aside from the age-old sensation of cute boys singing sensitive love songs. The flamenco-inspired guitar runs which open and interrupt the song are more an indication of their Spanish nationality, as if their lisping accents hadn't given it away, than an indication of musical virtuosity. There hasn't been as simplistic, or even simple-minded, a song as this on this travelogue for quite some time -- maybe not since "Aserejé," which at least had the virtue of being fun.

But the comparison points to Spain's odd-man-out place in this travelogue. Enrique Iglesias aside (and a argument can be made that he really belongs more to Miami than to the mother country), Spanish artists can only really be novelties on the Hot Latin chart after the millennium. Which would have surprised me back in the 80s, when Rocío Dúrcal and Julio Iglesias were a regular presence; but one consequence of the increased Latinx population in the US over the last thirty years is that it's more and more Central American and Caribbean, so that the white, Iberophilic Latinos who once made up a much more significant portion of the Latin music audience are less significant, and Spain now plays an even more diminished role in Latin pop than the UK does in US English-speaking pop.

All of which is by way of skirting the fact that while Andy & Lucas are certainly cute and give good puppy-dog eyes, there is almost nothing to say about the song: its pseudo-profundities are nostrums that were old when the book of Proverbs was written, and its one lyrical stroke of inspiration, the three-syllable rhyme of "calor y frío" (heat and cold) with "escalofrío" (shiver) is still pretty goofy. Everything else is super generic, from the electronic shuffle of the rhythm to the rise and fall of verse and chorus. I hope the young people who made it #1 for a week in 2004 remember it fondly; that's probably the best use it could have.

27.8.18

CARLOS VIVES, “COMO TÚ”

28th August, 2004

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For eight years and more, I've had "Welcome to my beach party" as the first line of my About slug on the right side of this page, and today the prophecy is fulfilled in your hearing.

Which isn't to say that none of the foregoing eighteen years of number ones were beach party-suitable (that would be as foolish a claim as to say that all Latin music is). Vives himself, indeed, has provided several excellent jams that jibe with sea breeze and sunburn; but this hit marks a subtle turning point, or rather is a key instance in a turning continuum, of all music that enters the Latin #1 spot being transformed into party material.

There are two primary elements in this song: vallenato (or at least the pop-vallenato that was the closest 2000s international pop radio would get) and rock n' roll (or at least ditto). While the rock instrumentation may predominate, the vallenato shuffle sets the tempo, and the vallenato accordion duels with the electric guitar in discrete solos. Vives' hoarse, delighted singing, with patter verses indebted to hip-hop or perhaps to dancehall toasting (his dreadlocks in the video aren't the only island signifiers in the song), splits the difference between Black Crowes-ish bluesy boogie and souped-up millennial-era Latin pop.

Emilio Estefan was a producer, which explains why the music simply explodes out of the speakers the way it does, but it's Vives, hard-working but always genial, who makes it so deliriously joyful. This might be the best, most thrilling pop jam we've met on this travelogue since "Suerte", and the fact that both Vives and Shakira are Colombian isn't lost on me: its international pop scene may have gotten a late start (at least compared to Golden Age Latin pop nations like Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba), but it's more than made up for it since.

20.8.18

LOS TEMERARIOS, “QUÉ DE RARO TIENE”

24th July, 2004

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We first encountered Los Temerarios in 1997, singing a 1977 Vicente Fernández ballad. Now, seven years later, we meet them again, singing a 1990 Vicente Fernández ballad. That's not all they ever do, of course (we met them again in 1998 with an original), but it's apparently what the most people wanted out of them during the few particular weeks when nothing else was grabbing as many people's fancy.

Their 2004 album, Veintisiete, was as the title suggests their twenty-seventh album, and the image of the two bandleaders, brothers Adolfo and Gustavo Ángel Alba (Gustavo sings, Adolfo is the musical director) in sepiatone on the cover is an indication that it's an album of covers: not only Vicente Fernández but Juan Gabriel, Pedro Infante, and Cornelio Reyna are among the mariachi and ranchera classics the Ángel Alba boys tackle.

As with their 1997 cover, it's a perfectly adequate reading of a song that, not being Vicente, Gustavo doesn't have the lungpower to make his own. It's a classic barroom tearjerker, the complaint of a man who has lost everything, including the respect of society, because he can't keep away from women. "Qué de raro tiene?" he asks: "what's strange about it?" -- that's just how men (weak) and women (temptresses) are. Which is of course profoundly misogynist, and Los Temerarios try to palliate that a bit by making the video about a love triangle in which the woman dies, breaking both men's hearts.

But misogynist or not, classic mariachi will not have a place much longer on this travelogue. I'm inclined to enjoy it, despite its political limitations, while it's here.

13.8.18

MARC ANTHONY, “AHORA QUIÉN”

19th June, 2004

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The song that replaced Jennifer Peña's "Vivo y Muero en Tu Piel" (and indeed danced a duet with it, as the two songs passed the #1 spot back and forth for eight weeks in the summer of 2004) is a perfect illustrative example of the way the Latin pop industry, and even the Latin pop listenership, treat men and women unequally. "Piel," you may remember, was released in both a pop and a cumbia version, with a glossy video for both (more or less the same video, but her lip-syncing is different to go with the different styles) -- and "Ahora Quién" was released in both a pop and a salsa version, with the same glossy video for both; only slightly more frantic editing in the salsa version distinguished them.

But where for Peña (at least going by current YouTube counts, which is the only data I have) the pop ballad version was more popular by an order of magnitude, Marc Anthony enjoys the privilege of having the regional, tropical, "ethnic" version be the more popular one, again by an order of magnitude. For both of them, the swelling, bombastic pop renditions of the songs are full of florid emotion and a certain amount of stately narcissism; the ones with the Caribbean rhythms and punchy arrangements make the same emotional point, but also invite the listener to participate in a living tradition of dance and movement rather than just wallowing in lugubrious emotional identification.

It's indisputably true that throughout the history of pop music women have been used as a point of lugubrious emotional identification more frequently than men, who are more often awarded the guardianship of ethnic traditions and the authority of inscribing their personality (rather than just their emotional reactions) onto whatever they perform. This is sexism at its most basic and primal, and few listeners in even the most progressive circles are wholly free from its logic (I certainly would not claim to be). But it's also true that Marc Anthony was, and is, just a bigger star -- both his videos are several orders of magnitude more popular than Peña's -- and his career both preceded hers and has continued since her withdrawal from the market. There's no one-to-one correspondence here.

With its neurotic, motormouthed expression of jealousy, "Ahora Quién" is a pretty good song qua song -- songwriter and producer Estéfano plays the role here that Rudy Pérez did for Jennifer Peña -- but it's neither Marc Anthony at his best nor entirely free from awkwardness: it's pretty obvious that it was composed as a power ballad and had to be retrofitted into a tropical dance number. And even in the salsa version, the first verse still contains a fragment of the pop ballad; but once the montuno gets the upper hand, the funky rhythm never leaves it.

It's the second salsa #1 of 2004, which given how little salsa has appeared here since 2000 might mean the music was experiencing a bit of a renaissance -- but it's only too obvious how unrepresentative the #1 spot is of the entirety of musical activity. It's the mid-oughts already; other island rhythms are coming up from behind.

6.8.18

JENNIFER PEÑA, “VIVO Y MUERO EN TU PIEL”

29th May, 2004

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If Jennifer Peña's career proceeded in emulation of Selena's, this might be the point where Selena's ended: with a frosty, devotional ballad. But Jennifer never crossed over to the English language, preferring to remain resolutely, and indeed polyphonically, Latin -- the regionally-aimed cumbia version of the song also had a video, in which her hips move with much greater freedom than they do in the canonical ballad version -- and this is her last appearance in our travelogue. She would only issue one more studio album, and then marriage (to Obie Bermúdez?!), her recording contract going into legal limbo as a result of label mergers, and finally a turn to Christian music would sideline her pop career for good.

The parent album, Seducción, also featured a salsa version of this song among its bonus tracks, because although the recording industry was undergoing the precipitous slide from its millennial peak, diversification was still a good bet. But it was the pop ballad version that was the hit, judging by its view count (although the cumbia version sounds much more lively and interesting at a remove of fourteen years), and Rudy Pérez's mooning lyrics about the overwhelming, totalizing way that the early stages of a crush affects the enamored one only really make sense in a ballad form: in the cumbia, such lugubriousness ring hollow among so much boot-scooting good cheer.

"Vivo y Muero en tu Piel" means "I live and die in your skin," a striking image that, in the context of the song, is really just an elaboration of the "whither thou goest, I will go" of Ruth 1:16. And I'm reminded again of how much more sensual, how much more willing to consider physical bodies and mention skin and flesh, Latin pop is than Anglo pop. The fundamental Gnosticism of American religion, its pretense that love can be purely an intellectual-emotional exercise without corresponding physicality, casts long shadows.

30.7.18

LUIS FONSI, “ABRAZAR LA VIDA”

22nd May, 2004

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We haven't heard from the boyish Puerto Rican crooner Luis Fonsi since 2000, when I was unimpressed. That was written when he wasn't yet on the radar of every music writer for participating in an unlikely global smash. But more about that when we reach 2017: for now, this is a maturation, a more assured return to a spotlight which he will occupy with some regularity in the next few years.

The song itself is a bit of an inspirational power ballad: "Embrace Life" is its title and central theme, and there's enough respectable (rock) musicianship to give it an edge of Seriousness which Fonsi's own performance, alternating between hushed solemnity and clenched-fist wailing, doesn't quite earn. It's still a power ballad, with all the trappings of uncool that implies. But it's a 2000s-era power ballad, which means that before it really starts soaring into post-grunge pomp in the back half, Fonsi's touchstones are genial strummers like John Mayer or Jack Johnson.

This isn't my nostalgia, because I wasn't paying attention to Latin pop yet in 2004, but it's an era which I can recognize the contours of the nostalgia for. My surprising affection for it may be due as much to the silly, casually charming video, in which young Fonsi is in very good looks, as to the music itself.

23.7.18

MARCO ANTONIO SOLÍS, “MÁS QUE TU AMIGO”

15th May, 2004

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I had steeled myself for another exceedingly well-written but interminable ballad, when the opening notes scratched into life and my eyes lit up. Cuuuuuuuuuumbiaaaaa!

It's immediately my favorite Marco Antonio Solís song I've encountered on this travelogue, and the fact that it's the second to last Marco Antonio Solís song (as of summer 2018, at least) on this travelogue makes me wish there had been more uptempo songs among the number ones scored by Los Bukis or him solo: my blind spot with ballads has significantly hurt my appreciation of his work. (Although I just did a quick spin through the archives, and I've overstated how much I disliked his work in the past. The three-song run off En Pleno Vuelo in 1996-7 really annoyed me, though.)

The song itself has been identified by YouTube commenters as a "friendzone" anthem: Solís confesses his love, and begs to be considered "Más Que Tu Amigo" (more than your friend). But neither the cheerful bounce of the music nor the video, in which he happily flits from model to model, takes the lyric seriously. It's so unserious, in fact, that it was used as a telenovela theme: Velo de Novia (bride's veil), a juicy and preposterous melodrama.

Which is all to the good: the burbling organ, wailing reeds, triumphal horns, sinuous accordion, and thumping, beach-friendly rhythm section make more sense as accompaniment to a man dishing out a line of bullshit he doesn't expect to be believed, but he sounds so charming while doing it that you (the genderless, featureless object of his affections; any listener, in fact) don't mind.

16.7.18

GLORIA ESTEFAN, “TU FOTOGRAFÍA”

8th May, 2004

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In the spring of 2004, Gloria Estefan was 46: the perfect age, you might say, for a stock-taking ballad about the emotional gap left by elders who had passed on, leaving nothing behind but old black-and-white photographs. On the cover of the single, she clutches a photo of her in-laws, Emilio's parents, taken on their wedding day in Havana in the 1940s.

The fact that this obviously very personal, even intimate song still went to #1 perhaps owes less to the undeniable universality of its themes (everyone but the very young has experienced loss and grown sentimental over an old picture) than Gloria Estefan's stature as an icon of Latin pop twenty years in to her hitmaking career. 2003's Unwrapped spawned four singles, but the third, "Te Amaré," was only issued in Spain, where it was a substantial hit, and the second, "I Wish You," was only pushed to English-language radio, where it was a modest adult-contemporary hit; but the two Spanish-language singles released in the U.S. hit #1 on the Hot Latin chart as if duty-bound.

The song itself is perfectly lovely, also co-written by Peruvian songwriter Gian Carlo, with an intelligent, unpredictable chord structure and marvelous, emotionally literate work from drummer Manu Katché and percussionist Archie Peña. Gloria's performance is understated but resonant, reminding me not for the first time of the warmth and yearning in Amy Grant's 1980s records, which is a higher compliment than you may suspect.

It was only #1 for a week, but it only needed to be. In some ways it's the tail end of Gloria's imperial period: we will see her again, but not with the frequency we have since 1989. She's moving towards brand management rather than pop stardom, and as her and Emilo's portfolios diversify, the charts take a back seat. Never mind; the kids are always coming up from behind.

9.7.18

VÍCTOR MANUELLE, “TENGO GANAS”

17th April, 2004

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2004 has been a year of belated appearances at #1 -- first Paulina Rubio, now Víctor Manuelle, who had been second only to Marc Anthony as a leading voice of the younger generation of New York salsa singers in the 90s. But although his albums had been cracking the Billboard 2000 since 1999, it wasn't until his ninth album that he was rewarded with his first Hot Latin #1.

In fairness to the Latin radio-listening public, it's a hell of a song. Post-millennial salsa appearances here have been patchy at best: Gilberto Santa Rosa is a legend, but "Que Alguien Me Diga" isn't really salsa; Son By Four were to salsa what *NSYNC were to R&B; Gloria Estefan opted for Cuban nostalgia instead; and only India knocked both sound and performance out of the park. "Tengo Ganas" (I Want) is both classic and modern; as a song, it would have been thoroughly at home in the 80s salsa romántica wave, but Manuelle's detailed, sensitive performance and the plush punchiness of the production (listen for the pause and rush before the chorus) make it fit right in with the Ricky Martins and Shakiras of the modern pop chart.

Manuelle's primary claim to fame is as one of the great soneros of his generation, a singer whose mastery of the improvised post-song son section of a salsa performance (the bit when the other performers chant a scrap of the lyric in unison) was matched only by Gilberto Santa Rosa (who gave him his first break when Manuelle was still in high school). He finds the pocket and lingers in it easily here, but the son is abbreviated because it's a pop record rather than an extended salsa workout.

We'll hear from him again, though not for some time. He hasn't gone away, by any means, although he prefers to make the music industry come to him rather than chasing trends by singing anything other than salsa. His most recent high-profile single was a collaboration with a fellow Puerto Rican, rapper Bad Bunny, which fits Manuelle's silky salsa into the era of reggaeton and Latin trap. This travelogue started in 1986, which felt so removed from 2010 as to be alien; from 2004, we can just glimpse 2018 on the horizon.

2.7.18

RICKY MARTIN, “Y TODO QUEDA EN NADA”

27th March, 2004

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The fifth single from his 2003 album Almas del Silencio, and the third to appear on this travelogue: just by sheer numbers, this is Ricky Martin's imperial period, his version of George Michael circa Listen Without Prejudice. And like the British star at an equivalent point in his career, he was taking himself very seriously. "Y Todo Queda en Nada" can be translated as "And Everything Comes to Nothing," and textually it's a standard breakup song in which the man wallows rather more in hyperbolic self-pity than usual.

But the video has Martin repeatedly lies or sits in a crucifix pose and stares down the camera with his unnervingly symmetrical face, as religious imagery -- doves flutter past his face, a crowded bar table is framed like the Last Supper, he contorts his own body to suggest both figures in a Pietà -- flashes past. The Passion of the Martin, then -- and as an aside, Mel Gibson's blood-soaked adaptation of Luke 23 was released a month before this went to #1.

It was co-written and produced by Estéfano, whose signature sound here has largely been just this kind of chest-beating ballad, whether by Chayanne or Thalía. And although much of the sound is super-generic turn-of-the-millennium power ballad, there are details in the production -- the vacuum-sealed background vocals, the sawing strings -- that elevate it beyond the crashing drums that have little function other than as a signpost saying Melodrama Here.

It's notable in Martin's oeuvre to date (or at least his #1s) in being identifiably directed at a woman. The final line of the chorus, repeated again and again, is "Yo no te olvido, mujer" ("I can't forget you, woman," but it's not stilted in Spanish). With that, the over-the-top drama in the lyric, the music, and the video begins to make a little more sense. What if it's not the failure of a particular heterosexual relationship that's torture, but heterosexuality itself?

25.6.18

THALÍA, “CERCA DE TÍ”

28th February, 2004

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As though to prove that Paulina Rubio could not appear on this travelogue without being in Thalía's shadow, "Te Quise Tanto" is immediately followed by "Cerca de Tí." What the structure of this blog won't show, though, is that "Cerca de Tí" only appeared there for a week, while "Te Quise Tanto" returned to the top afterward, and then again after the next #1. And in fact this is Thalía's last #1 as of summer 2018 (though I have no doubt she could return again given the right circumstances), whereas Paulina has several more to come.

It's rather disappointing for a swan song (if it is one): a midtempo rock holleralong with straight-down-the-middle love lyrics, the chiming guitar line from "Maps" (or perhaps "Yellow") and a went-nowhere English-language version with even more unprepossessing lyrics. (There are also salsa and cumbia remixes, both of which lend the arrangement some much-needed funk.) Little of which is Thalía's fault: she gives a characteristically committed performance, even recalling Gloria Trevi during the later, bigger choruses.

As it is, it represents a sort of dead end: Latin pop is not going to thrive by imitating Anglophone acts like Coldplay or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. To take over the world, it is going to have to be both more Latin and more pop.

18.6.18

PAULINA RUBIO, “TE QUISE TANTO”

21st February, 2004

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Thalía has been appearing here since 2000, which I noted then was nearly a decade late given her long popularity in Mexican pop, but the fact that her one-time colleague in Timbiriche, the 80s Mexican children's pop group which functioned as a response to Menudo as well as a Mickey Mouse Club-style incubation of young pop talent, hasn't appeared here before now is if anything more outrageous, since she was much more popular during their dueling early solo careers in the 90s.

At least "Te Quise Tanto" is a hell of a song to break into the penthouse with. Having absorbed the lessons of crossover hits from Ricky Martin and Shakira (not to mention Thalía's recent #1s), it's an uptempo dance song with rock instrumentation, layering surf guitar licks, flamenco soloing, house piano, chunky 80s hair-metal rhythm riffs, funky drumming, Afro-Cuban percussion, and a cheery pop vocal from Rubio's trademark slightly husky alto into such a dense blend that it barely gives you time to catch your breath.

It's a love song, of course (the title means "I loved you so much"), but the past tense matters: it's about a hopeless love, a fixation that's ruining the singer's life because the object of her affections can't be found. The switch between moody minor-key verses and open-hearted major-key chorus is an old trick, but it's effective here: even if the love is hopeless, its all-consuming passion deserves to be celebrated.

It was produced by (who else?) Emilio Estefan. Rubio's previous album, Border Girl, had been her attempt at a Shakira-style English-language crossover, which hadn't gone nearly as well as Shakira's (its top-charting single just missed the Top 40, though I remember hearing it in Tower Records at a time when I was paying virtually no attention to pop). Pau-Latina signaled her return to her already immense Spanish-language audience, and they rewarded her with not only her first Hot Latin #1 but one of the longest (non-consecutive) runs by a female artist since Pilar Montenegro in 2002.

She'll appear more frequently from here on out, but one of the charms of this travelogue in the 2000s is that there is no dominant voice of the period, nobody whose every single hits #1, the way that Juan Gabriel dominated the 80s or Luis Miguel the early 90s or Enrique Iglesias the mid-to-late 90s. And because no one predominates (at least until the 2010s, but we'll get to that), less is overlooked. Plenty still is; wholly satisfying pop histories could be written without reference to any of the songs that will hit #1 for a long time, but variety keeps me coming back to pop, so I'm always glad to see more of it.

11.6.18

CHAYANNE, “CUIDARTE EL ALMA”

31st January, 2004

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Before beginning this travelogue, I think I would have expected a lot of it to sound like this: heavily-produced international romantic balladry with sensitive Spanish-guitar runs, a caricature of Latinidad borrowed more from the soundtrack to Don Juan DeMarco than from the living music of some twenty-five different Latin nations. And the caricature is at least somewhat rooted in fact: the song was co-written by Chilean composer Cristian Zalles (who makes it sound like an aching telenovela theme) and Catalan singer-songwriter Marc Durandeau (who gives it a lavish romanticism). 

But it's a natural fit for Chayanne, who has aged into the perfect sensitive crooner with a bit of a rasp. (He was a much better singer than Bryan Adams to begin with.) The studio-orchestral production, with close-miked violins and guitar, is classicist in a way that doesn't feel airless the way so much of the classicist orchestral production of the era can. And the song's natural rhythm, a gentle sway rather than the flat-footed 4/4 or waltz time of so much Anglophone balladry, only adds to the yearning in Chayanne's voice as he builds through it.

It was #1 for three weeks in the winter of 2004, when the charts were historically more open to unexpected hits thanks to diminished sales. It represents the next stage in Chayanne's evolution; into a fully adult crooner. I probably have never given him his full due here the way I have his contemporary Luis Miguel: as of this writing, I'll only have one more chance to do so.

4.6.18

OBIE BERMÚDEZ, “ME CANSÉ DE TI”

3rd January, 2004

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When the less-distinguished early-2000s musical Obie first cropped up here several months ago, I noted that his album Confesiones was more musically diverse and interesting than the whiny post-breakup song "Antes." On this showing, however, it's not.

"Me Cansé de Tí" (I got tired of you) is a slightly better song than "Antes" -- written by Peruvian hitmaker Gian Marco Zignago (who last appeared here as the composer behind Gloria Estefan's "Hoy"), it has the virtue of being at least a little rhythmic, with a Santana-esque Latin-rock breakdown in the middle eight -- and its crisp, though still relatively anonymous, production is pleasant, something it's possible to nod along to even if you're not exactly feeling it.

Because Bermúdez sounds far more comfortable playing the asshole doing the breaking up than the wounded puppy being broken up with. His nondescript voice even achieves a modicum of grit, and the video is a resentful, unimaginative misogynist's delight, as the girl falls to pieces over losing a guy who (other than being continuously shot in the center of the screen, so we know he's the protagonist) has nothing in particular to recommend him -- his extremely early-2000s chin scruff in particular is a warning against the seductions of nostalgia.

28.5.18

SIN BANDERA, “MIENTES TAN BIEN”

22nd November, 2003

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A new strain in Mexican music opens here. It's not actually new, of course: both members of Sin Bandera, Mexican Leonel García and Argentine Noel Schajris, had been knocking about the industry for the bulk of the 90s, and when they got together the music they made wasn't particularly different from that of, say, Ricardo Arjona. But this is one of the first entrants in this travelogue of a musical tradition which will only grow more important in the years to come: internationalist Mexico City-based pop for thoughtful grownups.

The Distrito Federal's contributions to Mexico's musical traditions have hitherto been limited to the internationalist bolero movement of the 30s and 40s and the schlocky factory-line 80s pop which produced child stars (some of whom became adult stars) like Luis Miguel, Cristian Castro, and Timbiriche; but starting in the early 2000s, a scene began to coalesce that took the earnest, self-conscious artistry of Anglophone singer-songwriters for granted, and married it to all kinds of musical ideas. The producer who helped Sin Bandera's first few albums get off the ground was Áureo Baqueiro (who had gotten his start working for Timbiriche) -- the other debut albums he produced around the same time were Natalia Lafourcade's and Paty Cantú's.

Sin Bandera, who chose their name (without a flag) to indicate their loyalty to no nation or creed, a gesture of artistic freedom with roots in nineteenth-century Romanticism, were not the most creative of the scene's members: in fact "Mientes Tan Bien" (you lie so well) sounds like nothing so much as 70s soft rock, an America or James Taylor with updated production and less distinctive voices. As a song, it's terrific, a series of lies told and accepted which function both lyrically and mechanically as poetry, with superb rhymes and intricate rhythms. But as a record, it's dull and soporific, focusing on the glib prettiness of García's and Schajris' voices with such focus that a listener who isn't paying attention to the density of the words, who is just looking for a hook, is left wanting.

In fact, while the lyric is certainly broadly applicable (YouTube comments are full of broken-heart emojis embedded in countless narratives of trust and betrayal), it never accommodates more than a single idea, reformulated over and over again, and ends feeling rather smug and airless as a result. The video, in which supermodels pretend to be first poor fishing-village waifs and then bored, classy strippers, is the kind of thing which admires its own profundity without actually saying anything, all too indicative of the song's vacuity. The minute-long coda to the video, however, which interpolates an uptempo Sin Bandera song while showing the wrap party for the filming, is much easier to like.

It's a pity that this is Sin Bandera's only appearance at #1 to date (in fact very little of the D.F.'s grown-up pop will ever make it to this travelogue) -- they were more varied than this song suggests. But we have places to be. 2004 awaits.

21.5.18

LUIS MIGUEL, “TE NECESITO”

25th October, 2003

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And so Luis Miguel bows out of this travelogue. Shockingly, he does so with his best song and warmest performance since the mid-90s -- the airy, jazzy r&b of "Te Necesito" (I need you) is a throwback not only to his own pop youth, when he was a teenager covering soulful 1960s standards for his first #1, but to an entirely vanished era of music-making. Compared to the hard-bodied futurism of a Shakira or a Ricky Martin, it's irredeemably old-fashioned, a late-70s jazz-fusion dream of 50s doo-wop, all soft edges and pillowy sentiment.

Which doesn't make it bad, just out of place. Luis Miguel has never, since achieving adulthood, particularly cared about following the trend of the moment, and while that's frequently led him to artistic success (the first two Romances albums remain stunning tributes to midcentury bolero), it's just as often led to a solipsistic disregard for fashion that means he's the corniest thing in the world. In the video, he looks more like the handsome, tanned, lion-maned Julio Iglesias than Enrique ever has, and although he's a better singer than either of them, his pop instincts are just as schlocky.

Thank God he's not relying entirely on his own instincts here. "Te Necesito," as its hyperverbal patter lyrics might have suggested, was written by the great Dominican polymath Juan Luis Guerra, and the background vocals are by the peerless US gospel-jazz sextet Take 6; their lush rhythms and advanced harmonics push Luis Miguel to keep up, and he sings with more focus and verve than he has in a long time. The song itself is just pleasant, a clever love song married to a cheery tune; the arrangement makes it shine.

For the good times, Luis.

14.5.18

GLORIA ESTEFAN, “HOY”

4th October, 2003

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The charting of Gloria Estefan's musical career only by her Hot Latin #1s has told a necessarily incomplete story (for a fuller but still incomplete version, my One Week One Band on her remains available), but one thing it's actually been quite good at has been tracking her shifts into exploring many different flavors of traditional Latin American music from Cuban son to Cuban/Mexican bolero to Colombian vallenato to Dominican bachata to, here, Peruvian huayno.

Best known among English-speaking audiences as the musical genre of "El Condor Pasa" thanks to the Simon & Garfunkel rewrite, and immediately recognizable for its use of Andean panpines, huayno is perhaps the most Amerindian-inflected popular music genre of the Americas, although its dotted rhythms speak to the hemisphere-wide influence of enslaved African musicians over the centuries. We've only heard it here before as one element in wide-ranging mixtures from Colombians Shakira and Carlos Vives (huayno is a pan-Andean music, and so is common to Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina), and it's not entirely uncut here, only the predominant element in what is otherwise merely a sturdy pop song.

It was simultaneously released in an English-language version as "Wrapped", which didn't make the Hot 100 at all and only scraped the upper 20s on the Adult Contemporary chart. In both languages the song seems to be a vaguely spiritual love song to a loved one, although it could as easily be directed to a parent (or even the Virgin Mary) as to a romantic partner. The video, the same for both versions, is set among the ruins of Machu Picchu, which only adds to the spiritual (and neocolonial) overtones. It isn't the last we'll see of Gloria, by a long ways, but it's not as sharp or smart as we've come to expect from her, either. Whenever she tries to get vaguely spiritual (remember "Más Allá"?) her usual excellent taste seems to fail her.

7.5.18

OBIE BERMÚDEZ, “ANTES”

13th September, 2003

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There is, however, a limit.

Sometimes whiny, self-centered guys are just whiny, self-centered guys. What's more unforgivable is that they bring nothing new to the whiny self-centered guy table. Obie Bermúdez is, on this showing, entirely obviated by Enrique Iglesias, whose clutched-fist ball-of-neediness balladry at least sometimes has interesting production touches. Bermúdez' voice is smoother, and there's a Christian-music prettiness to the cascading harmonies in the chorus which a sophisticate like Iglesias would reject, but the lyrics are straightforward uncomplicating whining about a breakup, and how he demands to get the last word in.

This isn't the last we'll hear of Sr. Bermúdez, and I should note that I'm not writing him off: the Confesiones album as a whole is far more interesting and diverse than the undistinguished ballad "Antes" which carried him to his first #1. We've had unpromising starts here before.