29th January, 1994

The album cover above is a riot of color; and indeed, her two previous number-one singles were riotous and colorful, two of the best dance songs to have been featured in this travelogue, in which dance songs are almost always good. But this is no dance song. If the comparisons I made then with Madonna hold good, those earlier hits were comparable to "Holiday" or "Material Girl" — and this is closer to something off Erotica or Bedtime Stories, a serious examination of sexual relations between adults, in which the moral force of feminism and the narrative force of pop are joined in a work of surprisingly complete power.

But before we dive into the song, a word on its composer. Ricardo Arjona isn't a name most English-language pop fans know — and even here, we won't meet him as a performer for several years yet — but he'd been gathering fame in Latin American circles since 1989, when his first regional-hit album, Jesus, Verbo No Sustantivo (a pun on the religious and grammatical meanings of the word verbo) was released. He was a star in Guatemala, where he was born, where he was a local basketball star, where he taught secondary school for a time, and like regional stars everywhere — especially those with songwriting talent — he was essentially on a farm team to the pop establishment. This was his first song to gain wide exposure throughout the Spanish-speaking world, and both as a piece of songwriting and as a cultural event, he could hardly have made a better shot.

Yuri sings in character as a woman, as a wife, tired of a loveless, sexually unfulfilling, and oppressive marriage: each verse begins with the words "ya me cansé" ("now I'm tired," in the sense of "sick and tired") and lists her grievances: he doesn't look at her, doesn't touch her, she feels the walls closing in, she only knows she's a woman because she does the dishes — and that's just the opening line. The whole thing is a magisterial portrait of Betty Friedan-esque rage at patriarchal oppression and (even more damning) at conjugal impotence, both figurative and literal. The final words of the chorus, "contigo pero sola" ("with you but alone") are a brilliant condensation of the emotions of a (traditional) woman trapped in a (traditional) marriage. Latin Pop is about nothing if not tradition, but neither Arjona nor (at least at this stage in her career) Yuri was interested in shoring up the traditions. Like Ana Gabriel, whose signature rasp Yuri occasionally approximates here, they smuggle genuinely countercultural content into what could be understood, if you weren't paying attention, as a standard romantic lament.

It's a powerful performance, and the production, crisp and billowy, with plenty of space and pulsing crescendos, matches it. The thin plasticity of the 80s, where we began, is far in the rearview now. We've reached 1994, and the future's never been brighter.

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