Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Latin Pop Music in the 1990's

Following the success of Cuban born Gloria Estefan during the 1980’s, a new genre of Latin music was created in the 1990’s. This new Latin pop music, or LatPop, included artists such as Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, Selena, and Shakira who identify with many different Latino nations. Some say that through their music they have made Latinos exotic and desirable, while at the same time popularizing their assimilation into the culture of the United States (Bender 725). Although most of these artists previously recorded albums in Spanish, the majority of their success came from their English or Spanglish recordings (Bender 723).

One of the most famous Mexican-American singers of the 80’s and 90’s was Selena. Born in Texas to Mexican-American parents, she began her singing career at the age of twelve (Scaruffi). Her main success came from her 1990 album Ven Conmigo; however, her stardom did not adapt to American mainstream music until 1994 with her pop ballad infused album Amor Prohibido (Scaruffi). Her plans to write an English album were cut short by her murder in 1995, but even so her music remained popular with a widespread audience (Scaruffi).

After splitting from his Latin American boy band Menudo, Ricky Martin became one of the first successful LatPop musicians of the 1990’s (“Latin Pop” Wikipedia). As many of the other Latino musicians, Ricky Martin started his solo career with albums in Spanish. He obtained popularity in the United States through his acting career and Spanish albums, but did not become extremely popular in the United States until 1999 when he released his first crossover album in English (Scaruffi). Songs like “Livin’ la Vida Loca” and “She Bangs” topped charts around the world. He even collaborated with Christina Aguilera on the song “Nobody Wants to be Lonely” (“Latin Pop” Wikipedia).

Similar to Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias also had a career that began with albums in Spanish. Enrique, son of the famous Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, started his career with three Spanish albums before his crossover to English-language albums with his 1999 album titled Enrique (“Enrique Iglesias Biography”). It has often been questioned whether or not Enrique should associate his identity with other Latin American artists because of his Spanish origin (Bender 727). This raises the question of how to categorize these LatPop artists. Some were born in the United States while others grew up in the country where they associate themselves. Oftentimes, as in Enrique’s case, the media categorizes these artists as Latino, whether it is true or not.

Marc Anthony brought a more traditional salsa influence back into the American pop music industry throughout the 1990’s. This salsa style was seen earlier in the 80’s with Gloria Estefan (“Latin Pop” Allmusic). He actually started his career with an English-language album and made Spanish albums later in his career (Bender 723). His wife Jennifer Lopez also had a LatPop music career that began with English albums and included only one Spanish-language album, despite her Puerto Rican heritage (“Latin Pop” Wikipedia).

Possibly the most famous Latino musician in the United States today is Colombian-born Shakira. Her first few successful albums were in Spanish, while many of her songs from the new millennium are sung in English. She is the second most successful Latin female singer and has sold nearly 50 million records worldwide (“Latin Pop” Allmusic). Her musical style has influences in Latin, Arab, and rock music. Her breakthrough album Pies Descalzos was not released until 1995 and sold over ten times as many records as her record company predicted (“Latin Pop” Allmusic).

For many of these artists, it seemed as if their success came with the use of the English language. This is because English is the primary language of American pop music. The use of other languages is very scarce in the American industry (Bender 725). For example, Enrique Iglesias had some record sales with his Spanish album within the Latino group. When he became a crossover artist and made songs predominantly in English, he enjoyed success in the United States among a more widespread group of people (“Enrique Iglesias Biography”). This reflects the unwillingness of the American public to accept Spanish as a mainstream form of communication (Bender 730). It also shows a support of the assimilation of Latinos into American culture by emphasizing that native Spanish speakers learn English (Bender 733). It reflects the incentive of success that crossover artists have seen in the United States by singing mostly in English.

Instead of specifying the actual ethnicity of these artists, such as Jennifer Lopez’s Puerto Rican heritage, the American industry has grouped them all together under the Latin name (Scaruffi). This grouping has some obvious downfalls. One is that by lumping those all together, the individual cultures of the artists are often ignored. For example, Ricky Martin is often called a “hot tamale” even though the tamale is not a part of Puerto Rican cuisine (Bender 727). One artist even went as far as to say “If I see another article with a jalapeno pepper next to my name or a set of maracas or a sombrero or the words muy caliente…you know what I’m saying” (Bender 730). This is what separates LatPop from other genres such as rap, where the geographic region of the artists plays a significant role in their musical identity (Bender 727). Rappers emphasize in their music whether they are from the east or west coast, and usually the city in which they grew up. But it is very rare to hear a Latino musician “represent” a specific place, like Marc Anthony giving a shout-out to Puerto Rico in a song.

This grouping could also be argued as an advantage to the Latino community because it could be seen as unifying (Bender 730). As seen in the rap example, the bashing of particular geographic identities has led to violence and divides within the community. Because the Latino community does not identify with a specific location, it becomes more unified (Bender 730). The artistic components of LatPop generally do not necessarily vary by the origin of the artist as seen in rap music, but rather by the artist’s own specific style. Through the incorporation of Latin influences such as Salsa music, the LatPop genre has managed to retain some of the culture of the artists’ nations of origin (“Latin Pop” Allmusic). Many songs still utilize traditional Latin instruments like the Spanish guitar, claves, timbales, conga, and cowbell (“Latin Pop” Wikipedia). This can be heard in the song “You Sang to Me” by Marc Anthony, which is heavily influenced by Salsa. Even though the lyrics are in English, it is still easy to tell that the song is LatPop because of its typical Latin style.

Many times the music industry will market their Latino artists by their appearance rather than leaning solely on their musical abilities. These LatPop artists are often presented to the American public as young, tan and bilingual (Bender 733). Record companies have made their artists more desirable by marketing them as exotic and foreign, even though their music has transformed into a very American type of pop music. Much of the new Latin music has become very Americanized by using only English, or just a sprinkling of Spanish words (Bender 725). In addition, the lyrics have started to identify more with the American identity than the Latin identity. For example, Mexican-American artist Carlos Santana references places in the United States in his songs, rather than Mexican cities. In “Smooth” he refers to a girl from Spanish Harlem, while in “Maria Maria” he talks about a lady that “fell in love in East L.A.” (Bender 733). Even Ricky Martin uses New York City as the setting for his song “Livin’ la Vida Loca” (Bender 734). Another attempt by music producers is to make these LatPop artists fit the stereotypical image of the Latin lover through the use of occasional “exotic” Spanish words and steamy lyrics. In Enrique Iglesias’ song “Bailamos”, he uses the Spanish word for “let’s dance” even though most of the song is in English.

“Bailamos, let the rhythm take you over.

Bailamos, te quiero, amor mío.”

By using these simple Spanish phrases, he has emphasized his foreignness while still relating to the American pop music scene. The female Latin artists also portray a romantic role in their music, oftentimes suggesting that they live for their man (Bender 746). This can be seen in Jennifer Lopez’ “Waiting for Tonight.”

“I have spent all my life

Waiting for tonight, oh

When you would be here in my arms.”

While this Latin lover stereotype is being emphasized heavily, the LatPop genre generally has tamer lyrics than rap because it is usually very positive towards women and never suggests violence. Overall, the LatPop genre uses the influences of types of music such as salsa to commercialize the artists for mainstream American pop music. Through their own identity, they have created this new genre which promotes unity, but also assimilation of Latinos into American culture.

Works Cited

Bender, Steven W. "Will the Wolf Survive? Latino/a Pop Music in the Cultural Mainstream." Denver University Law Review 78 (2001): 719-52. Law Journal Library. Web. 12 Mar. 2010. .

"Enrique Iglesias Biography." Starpulse.com - Your Entertainment Destination. All Media Guide, 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2010. .

"Latin Pop." Allmusic. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2010. .

"Latin Pop." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 12 Mar. 2010. .

Scaruffi, Piero. "A History of Latin-American Popular Music." The History of Popular Music. 2002. Web. 15 Mar. 2010. .

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