25th September, 2004

Wiki | Video

From the viewpoint of the #1 spot, the mid-2000s is the most rock & roll that Latin Pop has ever been or presumably will ever be again. It's still not very rock & roll -- pop serves its own needs -- but the signifiers at least of rock have been present on six out of the sixteen forgoing songs of 2004, which feels like a kind of wave. And then there's this, the most straightforward rock song since, gosh, maybe "Ciega, Sordomuda"? (Not that anything Shakira has done has ever been all that straightforward.)

Juanes' shoulder-length hair, tattoo sleeves, and Seventies guitar solo are all valorizing a particular historicized (and Anglo-American) vision of emotional authenticity in popular music, but the glockenspiel hits on the rousing chorus show that he's paying attention to contemporary (Anglo-American) indie rock as well. Since the last we saw of him was a cod-reggae duet with Nelly Furtado, this makeover might be kind of a surprise, but he's always been a rocker, or at least he's always enjoyed playing dress-up in rock clothing. And the shifts between the slow, power-ballady verses and the rousing Ramonesy chorus are a model of how to make rock interesting and engaging to a pop audience that doesn't have automatic affection for it.

It was a big hit, dominating the last half of 2004 on Latin radio and winning Best Rock Song at the Latin Grammys and the first-ever Rock/Alternative Song of the Year at Univision's Lo Nuestro awards. (Lo Nuestro had been awarding Latin cultural achievement since 1989; that they just now started recognizing rock speaks to the change I noted in my first sentence.) And yet... it's a bit soggy, a bit unwieldy. The title, translated as "I'm not worth anything without your love," is the kind of old-fashioned romantic hyperbole that the honesty and irony of Anglo-American rock had once been understood as puncturing. It's a very Latin sentiment, but because it's expressed in a blues-derived form without the traditional emotive flourishes of Latin music, there's a tension between the joyous bounce of the chorus and the plaintive feelings it's expressing.

Which doesn't mean it's bad, just a touch awkward. Juanes has done better. We'll get to hear some of it.

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