26th June, 1999

And the millennial era in Latin Pop is truly underway. From an Anglophone perspective, this means that it's the first number one from one of the biggest stars of the era; but from the perspective of the Latin audience, the really important thing is that it's Marc Anthony's second chart-topper. Jennifer Lopez, while indeed a major star in both the English-language and Spanish-language markets of the US -- this was only her second single, and she's at the top spot already -- never dominated the Latin charts the way the woman she broke into stardom by playing had. In a way it's fitting that Marc Anthony would be her chaperone into the Latin charts; not only will he (at press time) earn more than twice as many #1 hits than she will, but the marriage of convenience that is this duet would over time turn into probably the biggest celebrity marriage (with the eventual celebrity divorce) in US Latin pop culture.

The story goes that Ms. Lopez was recording her debut album in the same studio where Mr. Anthony was going over the sessions for his sixth; he, presumably more impressed by her background as a Fly Girl than in her musical aspirations, asked her to appear as a dancer in an upcoming video; she, a shrewder bargainer than perhaps he expected, said only if he would record a duet with her. He chose and rewrote an Italian ballad, "Non amarmi," with which Aleandro Baldi and Francesca Alotta had won a festival prize in 1992; she insisted on recording an uptempo version too. It was the ballad version that ended up blanketing Latin radio and being nominated for a Grammy, but J. Lo proving herself on a salsa right next to the reigning king of salsa was nevertheless a minor triumph in addition to the major one.

As with any meaty pop song embedded so deeply in a personal relationship, history has provided a lot of ways to hear "No Me Ames" ("don't love me"). There's the ironic resonance it has now, as a duet sung by a divorced couple who (if their post-breakup singles are anything to go by; we'll get to his, but not hers) are quite happy to be unlinked; there's the fulsome resonance it would have had between their wedding in 2004 and their separation in 2011, when they sang it often at joint appearances, when the emphasis was placed not on the repeated title phrase but on the way the verses give the lie to it; and then there's the simple resonance it had before they became a power couple, when they were just two pop stars who happened to run into each other and recorded a song that could be applied much more easily and straightforwardly to the listener's personal life than to the singers'. I prefer that version, because I'm more interested in the everyday uses of pop than in celebrity culture, and the pleasurable tug between "no me ames" and "siempre te amaré" (I will always love you) means more to my interior state than any far-off fairy tale of rich people can.

It's a sturdy song, well-constructed and built to dig into the memory and lodge there. Marc Anthony knew what he was doing when he picked it; even if the ballad version sounds like Pop from Nowhere (an Italian specialty in the 90s), with few traditionally Latin flourishes, that only helps it spread more widely.

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