They say a well-rounded education is the key to success, and if that truly is the case, the my schooling is woefully incomplete when it comes to the subject of pop. That's why we bring you "Popology," the guide to modern radio-friendly stars as seen through the eyes of a guy who grew up on punk and metal. In case you missed previous installments, catch up with Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and the Spice Girls here.
In this week's installment, Ricky Martin throws a fiesta on the radio.
As I've stated many times before in this column, the end of the '90s was a confusing time. Because there was no dominant trend in pop music, dozens of different trends all descended at once. There was the ska trend, the swing revival, the rise of pop-rap and, of course, nu-metal. Also all over the radio waves near the end of the millennium? The so called "Latin invasion," which allowed for smashing success for Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, "Macarena" and the subject of today's column: Ricky Martin.
Martin, a native of Puerto Rico who first got a taste of fame as a member of Menudo when he was still a teenager, had been recording as a solo artist in his native Spanish for most of the 1990s before he dropped his self-titled English-language debut in the spring of 1999. It was an instant hit, as the lead single "Livin' La Vida Loca" immediately accosted the radio waves and topped the charts. Martin quickly became not just a musician but a meme, a representation of a new influx of Latino talent that was taking shiny pop songs and dressing them up in salsa horns and South American dance beats. "Livin' La Vida Loca" started as a catchy tune and quickly became so ubiquitous that it became a cliché, seemingly within a few days of topping the Billboard Hot 100.
But it's important to ask the question that "Popology" always asks: Are the songs — especially the non-singles — any good?
In short, not really. Though past "Popology" subjects like Britney Spears' ...Baby One More Time and Jessica Simpson's Sweet Kisses have proven that the distance in quality between the singles and the deep cuts can be pretty huge, but on Ricky Martin, it's gigantic. Here's the thing: The singles are smashing. In addition to "Livin' La Vida Loca" (which I have to admit is an amazing piece of pop, now that I have a little distance from it), there's also "Shake Your Bon-Bon" (which is even dumber than "Livin' La Vida Loca" but nine times as catchy) and the ballad "She's All I Ever Had" (which let Martin flex his impressive pipes — he's an excellent singer).
But when you get deeper into the album's 14 tracks, it gets sort of problematic. The two Diane Warren-penned tunes — "You Stay With Me" and "I Count the Minutes" — are flat and uninspired. "Private Emotion" is a more reasonable trip through a dancehall and "Spanish Eyes" works well enough, but "Be Careful (Cuidado Con Mi Corazon)" (a duet with Madonna produced by dance music maven William Orbit) sounds like it was made for another album on another planet.
There's nothing inherently wrong with Ricky Martin, and as I said above, the singer's voice is top-shelf and his charisma is undeniable. None of the artists who followed in his wake were as good (though Enrique Iglesias had some moments) or as massively popular. Though he will never be as big as he was in 1999 when "Livin' La Vida Loca" was the soundtrack to everything, Martin remains an international superstar who puts out quality albums and will head out on what will probably be a massive tour later this year. The Latino invasion didn't fade away like swing did; rather, it ingratiated itself into the fabric of pop so that it sounds totally normal to have salsa rhythms in your songs now (and gave rise to those references in rock and hip-hop as well). Martin probably won't be remembered as the guy who facilitated the popularity of reggaeton or the reason we have this great Enrique Iglesias video, but he should be.
What do you think of Ricky Martin's music and the whole "Latino invasion" of 1999? Let us know in the comments!