[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Thursday, May 13.]
Even top-selling rapper Jay-Z seemed bewildered, if not intrigued, by the
attention lavished upon rising Latin pop star Ricky Martin these days.
And he had good reason.
"What I'm really surprised at is that everyone is rushing from this
monumental hip-hop tour to go see Ricky Martin," joked Jay-Z Tuesday at
a press conference marking the end of the successful Hard Knock Life tour.
Frankly, it's getting harder to overlook the 27-year-old rising star, whose
first English-language CD, Ricky Martin, hit stores Tuesday. The
former soap opera actor and singer from the '80s Latino teen group Menudo
has catapulted to a new level of fame. He's had a chart-topping U.S. single,
"Livin' la Vida Loca" (RealAudio
In February he won a Grammy award and performed his hit for an international
audience during the ceremonies in L.A. Even Madonna has gone out of her
way to sidle up to Martin in front of the press, and she performs a duet
with him on his new album.
Articles on Martin in Entertainment Weekly and newspapers such as
the New York Daily News have caught the attention of a music
industry that wonders whether Martin is paving the way for a new wave of
Latin music stars.
But it's not just his rediscovered fame and new album that have people
talking. It's his character and ambition, colleagues and friends say.
To a pair of songwriters who've worked with Martin, the ex-Menudo singer's
rocketing success doesn't come as a surprise. They see it as the natural
ascension for a born star.
If you ask collaborator Desmond Child, he'll tell you it couldn't happen
to a nicer guy.
"He's one of the ... warmest, funniest, most thoughtful artists I've ever
worked with," said Child, 46, who teamed with writer Robi Draco Rosa on
seven of the 14 songs on the singer's debut LP. "And he makes you want
to work harder, to work more. He's a fantastic motivator."
Thanks to his appearance at the Grammys and to the rise of "Livin' la Vida
Loca" to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, Martin has
benefited from an anticipatory buzz over his new album and has become the
subject of extensive media fanfare.
"Everything started out as a friendship and it's turned into this, you
know?" said Rosa, 29, who performed a decade ago with Martin as part of
the hugely successful Latino teen group Menudo. "I've known Ricky for so
long. So I've never really looked at him any other way except like you
would at a buddy across the street. But he was made for this sort of thing."
Martin, born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, became widely known to
U.S. audiences as an actor on the soap opera "General Hospital" and as
a castmember of the 1996 Broadway revival of "Les Miserables." He released
four Spanish-language albums before Ricky Martin, including 1998's
Vuelve, which currently is at #41 on the Billboard 200
albums chart and was certified gold last July.
Child and Rosa co-wrote the single "Livin' la Vida Loca" ("Living the
Crazy Life") and the international hit "La Copa de la Vida" ("Cup of Life").
A Spanglish remix of the latter is included on the album. Child produced
several other songs.
A duet with Madonna, the spacey "Cuidado con Mi Corazón" ("Be Careful
with My Heart") (RealAudio
excerpt), is also on the album, as are two songs by prolific
songwriter Diane Warren: "You Stay With Me" and "I Count the Minutes."
Some industry insiders think the album could be a crossover blockbuster
in both the mainstream pop and Latino music markets.
"To have a #1 single this early in the game and then to have a top-selling
album, this will be a real big deal," said Geoff Mayfield, who oversees
the charts for Billboard. Mayfield did say that Martin's U.S.
success would not be a first for Latino artists Los Del Rio's
"Macarena" hit #1 in 1996 but would still mark a significant
Child said that Martin's Latin background he won a Grammy this
year for "Best Latin Pop Performance" should not get in the way
of mainstream success.
"This is not style-driven. This is about a star," Child said. "There was
Bon Jovi and there [were] legions of hair bands. And now they're all gone,
and there's still Jon Bon Jovi. I can see there being a female
Ricky Martin [or] a guy group with five Ricky Martins there'll
be every permutation."
Still, Child said he and Rosa couldn't resist the challenge of crafting
the lofty horn- and percussion-driven tones of "Livin' la Vida Loca" with
"One day, Angelo Medina, Ricky's manager, calls and says, 'We need a song
that has a Spanglish title, something that can really speak to everybody,
something easy, that everybody can understand,' " Child said. "Rob and
I went into my office and we sat there for days until we came up with it.
That's just how it worked."
Latin music offers a flavor the U.S. is searching for, Rosa said. "We
all are looking for a new sensation. It always seems like we're walking
on a dime when something fresh comes along, that's great. Latin
music is life. It represents sunshine. It's just uplifting music in general."