Here in the summer of 1992, the charts have at long last entered something of a groove, with song after song that interest and enthuse me, whether I actually like them or not. The opening bars to "Torero" are the kind of thing that will always put a smile on my face, flamenco flourishes over bolero rhythms, and José Luis Rodríguez being pushed by proximity to living legend Julio Iglesias to deliver a performance infused with the kind of graceful, assured masculinity that I'd bottle and spray on myself before going out if 'twere possible.
Masculinity, particularly the myths of masculinity which are very likely all there is to say about it, is very much the subject of this song, and it's worth spending some time thinking about the myths and figures of Latin masculinity in particular. It's no accident that the most extremely, even parodically, masculine figure at large in pop culture today, the guy in the Dos Equis commercials, speaks with a faint Spanish accent; even beyond the "Latin lover" stereotype (which can as easily encompass the gigolo as the bandito), there's a sort of subconscious sense in which Anglo-Americans believe that Latin men, with their machismo and fiery passions and earthy romanticism — I told you we would trade in myths — are naturally better at being men than Anglos, who are left to console themselves only with superior follicle density.
A torero, of course, is a bullfighter, the most masculine of professions according to that most masculinity-obsessed writer, Ernest Hemingway. Rodríguez and Iglesias use the image of the torero as a symbol of masculinity, one that's in danger of being lost and has to be reinforced. But since it's a pop song, sentiment comes first: like a bullfighter, a man must measure the distance to her heart, be brave and unguarded when he goes to steal a kiss, beware of the danger from her black eyes . . . . The metaphor is intrinsically sexist, of course — women aren't animals in need of tricking and taming — but it's a comfortably familiar one, and they sing it so well, that it's easy (at least for male-gendered me) for the space of the song to believe the myths and aspire to the tender, lordly masculinity their magical thinking creates.