Tom Ewing’s Popular column at Freaky Trigger — on which this blog is unashamedly based — has a graphic at the top which changes out every so often, using a picture of the biggest pop star(s) of the era that Tom’s covering to orient the readership in the historical moment. If this blog had a similar graphic, Selena would be the unquestioned icon of this age. Not only was she the biggest Latin Pop star of her era — big deal, lots of people have been for lots of respective eras — but she was one of the biggest stars of her era period, doing for Latin Pop roughly what Taylor Swift (at the moment of writing) has been doing for country-pop. Namely, revitalizing it for a lot of people and confirming a lot of other people’s biases against it; a pop star’s probably not doing her job if a significant amount of people don’t hate her.
If “Amor Prohibido” was her all-conquering single, the first triumph in her own voice and style which made her queen over a vast territory of pop, “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” represents a consolidation of power — she’s not just a lament-singer, she can do uptempo dance music too. Not too uptempo — the cumbia rhythm and skanking guitars suggest a lazy beachfront jam rather than a hot dancefloor stomp — but funky and playful where she’s previously been anthemic, even melodramatic. The secret theme of Nineties Music, cross-genre mélange, is given superb form here: Selena combines cumbia tejano, coastal reggae, beach funk, florid r&b vocalizing, and a crisply, bluesy guitar solo into a perfectly-balanced solution that contemporary “eclectic” magpies like Beck or that dude from Soul Coughing might envy.
The title phrase “bidi bidi bom bom” isn’t dictionary Spanish, but onomatopoeia for the giddy beating of a heart. (A rough translation might be “thumpa thumpa dum dum.”) The lyrics, insofar as they matter beyond the gorgeous swell of Selena’s ex tempora vocalizing, are all about how her heart races when someone walks by or speaks in her hearing. The verses are so magnificently generalized, so completely abandoned to anyone’s use, that not even a gender is attributed to the person who’s to blame for this arrhythmia, just a third-person tense. It’s an intentionally slight song, and Selena delivers a complementary performance. You couldn't describe it as slight, not with that lungpower, but it has the impermanence of real joy — even as you try to latch onto it, it flutters away.