17th December, 1994

We close out 1994 appropriately, with the woman who owned 1994 top-to-bottom. It's her fourth number one of the year, and on first listen it's her least modern. It sounds like it could have been recorded in the sixties or even earlier, all tight-strummed guitars and a mini-orchestra pumping film-cue trills in on every bar. The lush r&b of "Dondequiera Que Estés," the skanking cumbia of "Amor Prohibido" and "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" are nowhere to be found here; Ana Gabriel, or even Rocío Dúrcal, could just as easily have recorded this.

Which is partly the point. Latin music is just as much invested in understanding itself as existing in continuity with grand old traditions as country music is; understandably so, given the socially conservative makeup of both core audiences. Selena is very much a way into the future, but she knows that her novelty exists on sufferance: without explicit nods, explicit ties to the past, she remains on unstable ground, as easily dropped as any other novelty. And of course she loves the grand old traditions herself; listen to how enthusiastically she rips into the traditional sobbing ranchera style of singing. Juicy melodramatics no know expiration date.

But the song only sounds old; it was written by Ricky Vela, who was in love with Selena's sister Suzette, after she married, and it's not in the old florid poetic style of traditional bolero ranchero. The vivid images of traditional romántico are left behind as the lyrics deal only in direct emotions; this is a song about how loss of love shatters a person's conception of self, and Vela baldly states it. The opening lines, "no me queda más/que perderme en un abismo de tristeza y lágrimas" translate to "I have nothing left/but to lost myself in an abyss of sadness and tears." It's mopey stuff, for sure; but Selena's vibrant performance, and the refusal of the music to get maudlin, rescues it. Which isn't to say that the song isn't better-written than Selena's previous number ones (not that great writing is everything) — Vela's Spanish is much less basic than A. B. Quintanilla's.

Selena has conquered her world. Dance, ballads, funk, traditional music; she can do it all. Naturally, her sights are set higher still; there's a whole other market out there still to conquer. 1995, and all it will bring, waits right around the corner. No spoilers.

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