Ricky Martin leading the Latin (music) revolution
Web posted on: Tuesday, May 18, 1999 11:34:42 AM
From Mark Scheerer
(CNN) -- Puerto Rican heartthrob Ricky Martin has transfixed Latin music followers for years. But with his show-stopping performance on the 1999 Grammy Awards show -- and the May 11 release of his self-titled debut English-language album -- Martin now is serenading whole chunks of middle America.
"Yes, I do want Latin music to be accepted," the 27-year-old San Juan native says. "But we can't forget what Gloria Estefan did. We can't forget what Jose Feliciano did for a while. And Santana. They're legends, and you know they're not going to die."
Martin's single "Livin' La Vida Loca" currently tops Billboard's Hot 100 singles charts.
And the artist is leading a cadre of Latin artists who are releasing English-language albums to gain wider markets. According to SoundScan, U.S. sales of music by Latin artists shot up 48 percent in the first quarter of this year over the same period in 1998. Martin is responsible for 11 percent of that surge.
Suddenly, Latin music is hip again.
"Today it's cool, it's okay and, as a matter of fact, it's hip to say that you're gonna go to a club and dance to salsa music or that you like Spanish music," says Jose Behar, the head of EMI Latin.
Madonna, Menudo -- Menudo, Madonna
Billboard reports that Martin's label rushed his new album to the shelves, some two weeks ahead of schedule. The success of his Grammy performance of "La Copa De La Vida (The Cup of Life)" was too big a boost not to capitalize on.
Little wonder, given the hype surrounding the singer.
In 1984, Martin started out as a member of the boy-chic Puerto Rican group Menudo -- the New Kids on the Block of the Latin world and the first globally successful such outfit on the charts. He joined at age 12 and bailed in 1989. On his own, he released four hit albums and starred on the soap "General Hospital."
SoundScan reports that "Vuelve," his most recent album, went platinum in 20 countries, selling some 1.7 million copies in the United States. It also earned him a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Performance.
Overall, Sony Music says Martin has sold more than 15 million records. So it stands to reason that expectations are high for this first English release. And that's why Martin says the record had to be flawless.
"The truth is that the label wanted it a long time ago," he tells Billboard. "But I wanted it to be perfect. I needed the extra time to fine-tune the material."
In one track on the new album, Martin collaborates with Madonna. "Be Careful With My Heart (Cuidado Con Mi Corazon)," a William Orbit-produced duet with the superstar, was the last cut added to the album.
To help retain the loyalty of core fans, Martin put two Spanish-language tracks on the album, "She's All I Ever Had" and "Livin' La Vida Loca."
But Martin tells Billboard he isn't too worried about alienating his Latin listeners.
"I've already made records in French and Portuguese," he says. "I don't think there's any danger of anyone being offended. In fact, I think there'll be a tremendous amount of pride in the Latin community that one of their own is doing well."
Martin and others are, in part, following in the footsteps of Estefan, who helped introduce Latin music to English-language audiences.
Julio Iglesias' son Enrique's first English-language single is featured in the soundtrack of Will Smith's upcoming film "Wild Wild West," scheduled for a July release. And Colombian star Shakira, often likened to Alanis Morissette, is expected to release her first English album this summer.
Screen actress Jennifer Lopez has a debut album -- "On the 6" arrives June 22, and includes a duet with Latin pop star Marc Anthony.
"I call the music Latin soul," Lopez tells Billboard, "because it's kind of a mix of the different kinds of music that I listened to when I was growing up and the different influences I had. I feel they all surfaced on the album somehow."
Rock en Español is also rolling along, with Chris Perez, the widower of the late superstar Selena, planning to release a bilingual rock album.
"Being from South Texas," says Perez, "it's just part of our culture. We write songs in Spanish and they stay Spanish, we write songs in English and they stay English.
The market for Martin, Estefan, Lopez and others seems more than ripe. According to figures released by the Recording Industry Association of America, the number of Latino CDs shipped in 1998 increased 22 percent over the previous year.
As Martin might sing, that's more than enough reason for "Livin' La Vida Loca."
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