As someone without strong memories of 80s pop culture — I was twelve by the time they were over, but I had spent most of that time in Narnia or the 1950s of Beverly Cleary and Franklin W. Dixon — there isn't a lot that makes me automatically think of those years, as opposed to the later years when I first encountered most of the usual 80s signifiers. (The early 2000s were my personal golden age of synth-pop.) So when this song came on and I was immediately back to lying on my side in a pastel apartment that belonged to a friend of my mother's, playing her radio very quietly as I flipped through stations for the first time ever, searching for I didn't know what but feeling the scary thrill of doing something unpredictable and secretive, I was startled. Perhaps because my main memory of that first experiment with that forbidden world, secular pop, was disappointed surprise that it didn't sound very different from the Christian pop I knew. (I couldn't possibly hazard a guess as to what I heard then; extracts from the Top Gun soundtrack? Whitney, Debbie, Chaka? The "terrible suddenness" of Rick?) I don't know what I had expected, but it wasn't the same pastel-colored vaguely electronic splashiness I knew from Michael W. Smith and First Call and Teri DeSario; when, two years later in Guatemala, I first heard Megadeth, I knew that that was the terror and ecstasy I had feared.
Personal history aside, this still sounds very close to the Platonic ideal of 1980s music, at least in that familiar narrative in which the 1980s was a nadir for music, only rescued by the grunge revolution of 1992. The electronic timekeeping, neither quite throb nor chug, the drumpad rhythm, the saxophone from which all memory of r&b sweat and lust has been leached away (and which thereby anticipates the Kenny G-ridden 90s). I don't intend to suggest that this is in any way a bad thing, though some will no doubt see it as such — in fact, anything which can stand in so completely for an abstract idea (here, "hairsprayed commercial music of the 80s") is admirable.
In tracking José José's previous appearances in this journey, I've compared him (with slight justification) to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. But the oblique, reserved way he delivers this song, in a tender, exaggerated croon over a bed of bustling electronics, reminds me of no one so much as Bryan Ferry. Not that I'm claiming this as the Latin response to "More Than This," or anything so foolish; rather, both Ferry and José were inspired by vocalists of the pre-soul era, and the electronic, high-gloss production which Roxy Music did so much to make the standard sound of adult pop reached a particular kind of cheesy apogee here.
The lyrics are a fairly standard, if admirably economical, narrative of how Love Changes Everything (call it the "I'm A Believer" template). He watched life go by, he couldn't disguise his sadness, hurt or loneliness, at time he lost hope of someday sharing his life with . . . (wait for it) . . . someone like you! "Como Tú" means "like you" (the comparative like, not the verb), which doesn't quite count as a complete phrase in English the way it does in Spanish — there have been at least four other hit songs since 1989 with the same title. Chorus: [someone] like you, he dreamed of someone like you, who would immediately change his dreams and his luck, and you arrived. Well done, the idealized you!
This is exactly the kind of fluff its expiration-dated production would suggest, the romantic nonsense on which pop careers have always been built, and which goes down so easily it hardly leaves a trace on the tongue. Hating it would be as disproportionate as loving it: it's just there, the soundtrack to a pointless reverie without which life would be slightly duller.