4th October, 1997

Because it is occasionally the case that songs given exposure by movies or television shows become massive hits in Anglophone pop, it can be perilously tempting for Anglophone listeners to assume that the relationship between telenovelas and Latin pop is easily analogous. But just about any music supervisor in Hollywood would kill to have the cultural reach the most popular novelas do — far from being merely "soap operas in Spanish," for decades they've combined being Event Television like HBO dramas, telling complete stories like British series, and moving propulsively, not to say trashily, forward with the gonzo pulp energy that fuels not just soap operas but superhero comics, reality television, political campaigns, and pop music. Because telenovelas don't aspire to Art, they can share their giddy, lurid energy with the pop craftsmen who write and sing their theme songs; and if Art takes place incidentally along the way, no one really minds.

Juan Gabriel should be a familiar name in these pages by now; his own tempestuous battle with his label for money, status, and integrity works as an echo for the themes of the novela Te Sigo Amando (I still love you), in which a beautiful young woman is forced to marry a cruel millionaire while her honorable surgeon lover watches impotently. (Per Wikipedia, anyway.) It's a sign of the respect in which Gabriel was universally held by the Latin entertainment complex — for his hitmaking ability, of nothing else -- that his bleat of a voice (sounding all the rougher in these pages after the exquisite dulzura of Luis Miguel) was not sweetened at all for the signature song of a major broadcast event. Just getting him was no doubt coup enough.

It's a traditional-sounding song (not unexpected, given the both the first and the most recent songs we've heard from Gabriel), a florid waltz with big-band mariachi instrumentation, and the lyric is traditional too, a vow of renunciation and at the same time of unending love. The repeated line "Que seas muy feliz" (may you be very happy) is its own classic of the romantic genre; and if it's more calculated to make the man feel he's being noble than to tend to the woman's happiness, there's plenty of precedent for that. This is the level, of course, on which telenovelas function: grand passions, magnificent gestures, sobs all round. Juan Gabriel's voice keeps it tethered to earth, as does an arrangement that manages to be grand without feeling busy: Gabriel's sense of space and when to insert the exactly appropriate instrumental flourish is unimpaired.

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