Why do I put “pop idol” in the categories field when Emmanuel comes up in the draw? This song illustrates why: it’s the first song we’ve had here at the top of the Billboard Latin chart that sounds like the 1980s of myth and snark: completely synthesized, airbrushed, and blow-dried. To ears immersed in UK synth-pop, it may sound more 1982 than 1987; but a cursory Google search turns up the fact that it’s appeared on a budget Italo Disco compilation, and that nails the sound and aesthetic so precisely that I’m left wondering why I hadn’t thought of it. This isn’t Anglo pop, it’s Euro.
Which is a useful reminder that, though the Billboard chart doesn’t always necessarily reflect it, being focused on American Latin sales & radio (again, as distinct from Latin American sales & radio), that much of Latin America has closer cultural ties with Europe than Americans of the estadounidense stripe would expect. Spain and Portugal for obvious historic reasons; but Italian pop has always had a strong showing in the market as well, and French, Greek, and various Scandinavian acts have also done well in the American continents south of the Rio Grande. Italo disco – pop based on the Giorgio Moroder template – was the basic lingua franca of international pop in the 1980s and into the 90s; and the only thing particularly Mexican about Emmanuel here is his accent.
It’s not a particularly Mexican accent; I don’t mean that a listener in Barcelona would hear it the way a Londoner hears a Texas twang. It’s Standard Showbiz Spanish, the “accentless” accent that corresponds to the American English television announcer’s dialect, most strongly associated with California. Though if Emmanuel sounds like anyone American, he sounds like New Yorker Neil Diamond, a faint theatrical grit over a showman’s bellow.
It’s a slight irony that Emmanuel, with his manly croon, achieves effortlessly and (as it were) accidentally, what many of the New Pop chancers of five years previous were attempting: a sophisticated, elegant vocal over a sleek, throbbing synthetic sound. (In the attempt, many of them redefined sophisticated, elegant vocals. But no one thinks Phil Oakey or David Sylvain sounded like Sinatra.)
The song itself isn’t particularly notable, or not nearly as notable as its arrangement: a standard love song (the title translates to “she is my woman,” though from context he’s singing “you are my woman”). The only minor point of interest is when he plays with the meaning of the verb “querer.” “Te quiero,” he sings, meaning “I love you,” and then after a pause, adds “tener,” which changes the meaning of the entire phrase to “I want to have you.” Which is a cute, sexy anti-romantic gesture, but Doug Kihn or Corey Hart could have done as well. (They could also have had the same backing track, come to think of it.)
But speaking of the lyrics, this is also the first record we’ve met that an American’s (as in United States of) name is associated with. Co-writer K. C. Porter isn’t necessarily a household name even in the Miami and Los Angeles circles where he works, but his songwriting and production talents did well by Selena and Ricky Martin, to name only two major figures we’ll be meeting along the way. Seeds planted for the future; for now, just admire the totally-vanished aesthetic.