|LIVIN' LA VIDA LOCA|
August 23, 1999
MARGARET WARNER: Finally tonight, Essayist Anne Taylor Fleming considers the appeal of singer Ricky Martin. ("Livin' La Vida Loca" playing)
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: You'd have to be a real recluse not to have seen 27- year-old Ricky Martin strut his stuff.
SINGING: She's into superstition black cats and voodoo dolls...
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: He's everywhere-- from the "Today" show to MTV to People Magazine-- looking every inch the matinee idol/soap opera actor he once was. Martin is full-tilt, eager-to- please exuberance, a breath of frat-boy good looks in a sea of nose rings, tattoos, and heavy leather. We're talking post-post grunge here, the return of the handsome hunk with the boisterous hips, the millennial Elvis. But what's truly different about Martin is that he's truly bilingual and bicultural, hip- hopping from Spanish to English and back again. A native of Puerto Rico, Martin's previous four albums, all in Spanish, sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. "Livin' la Vida Loca" is his first in English, but it's peppered with Latin accents, linguistic and musical, and America loves it. Martin's the right guy at the right place at the right time.
SINGING: Livin' la vida loca
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: We might have a complicated feeling about bilingualism-- many clearly do-- but the reality is that we live in a complicated world where both front-running presidential hopefuls, George W. Bush and Al Gore, took pains in their kickoff speeches to speak some Spanish. That is the reality. In the next decade, Latinos will pass African Americans as the largest minority group in the country, and Ricky Martin is the pied piper of that new world, where a crossover artist can be a star in both languages. Imitators are already lining up, notably actress-singer Jennifer Lopez, who's slithering through her videos like a Latin Madonna: English lyrics, Latin moves-- welcome to the new real world. In fairness, they are not the first such ambassadors. There have been previous pioneers bringing their mambos and salsas and rumbas up North.
SINGING: Come on shake your body baby do the conga; I know you can't control yourself any longer...
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Certainly Gloria Estefan and her Miami Sound Machine helped get the ball rolling in the early 80's, thus becoming the darling of Florida's Cuban expatriates. And in Los Angeles, there was the East L.A. Mexican band Los Lobos.
SINGING: A quiet voice singing something to me.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Before them, there were others, everyone from Hollywood stars like Delores Del Rio and Carmen Miranda in the 30's and 40's, to Tito Puente and Lucy's husband, Desi Arnaz, in the 50's, and also, of course, Richie Valens with his can't- stay-in-your-chair "La Bamba." (Playing "La Bamba") If you've lived here in Southern California as I have, you've undoubtedly heard Latin music a good part of your life. It was either blaring or whispering from some portable radio in a restaurant kitchen or on a street corner, or even in your own home, where someone came to clean or mow the lawn, bringing with them the music of their south-of-the-border homeland. The music always struck me as searingly sensual and romantic, though I didn't understand a word. It wasn't the Latin global pop of today, but something purer, fluid and percussive all at the same time. Some of it was straight mariachi, and sometimes it clearly had Africa in it, too, not surprising since the vast percentage of slaves brought to the Americas went, in fact, to Latin America. For a taste of this, you can go see the current movie, "The Buena Vista Social Club", a loving portrait of some aging Cuban musicians. Beside them, Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez do look a little airbrushed, prepackaged in looks and style to appeal to a mainstream white audience. But in effect, they are simply different pieces of the same story, the explosion and exuberant embrace of Latin music, of so-called fusion, where styles and cultures blur. Look around. Tango classes are full. Latin dance clubs are all the rage. And it isn't just music. The hippest restaurant trend is a Latin accent, be it Mexican or Peruvian or Brazilian. And salsa outsells ketchup.
SINGING: She will wear you out livin' la vida loca come on-- Livin' la vida loca come on livin' la vida loca.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: And Ricky Martin is on the roll of a lifetime,
living la vida loca of fame. We like that. We don't just like him, we
like what his success says about the rest of us.