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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Livin' La Vida Loca

I hope you're ready for some Latin flavour this Sunday, because the Sunday Jukebox is going to have a little bit of sizzle and spice added to it.

Considering that we're in the middle of summer, I think that some of the best music to listen to is music that takes you to a beach party. And, of all the summers that I have lived through, I don't think I remember any year that felt as summery as the year 1999.

Say what you will about late 1990s music. I know some had a real issue with it because it all sounded the same with boy bands, grunge bands, techno bands, and bands that celebrated “girl power”.

Suffice to say, the late 1990s were not exactly a great time for pop music. Far better than the 2010s, but not by much.

Now, 1999 was different. In fact, I think that 1999 was one of the final years that I listened exclusively to Top 40 radio, as there were a lot of great songs that were released that year.

1999 was also the year that I “technically” became a man, as I celebrated birthday number eighteen that year. And, my 18th birthday was just a month before the summer of 1999 kicked off. So, I have a lot of fond memories of that summer.

(Well, aside from the bout of pneumonia that I mysteriously contracted at the beginning of September 1999.)

The truth is that there was a lot of good music coming out during that time. 1999 was the year of the “Latin Explosion” on the pop charts, as several artists with a Latino background were topping the charts. Carlos Santana was still making hit music some thirty years after his very first release, and he had a couple of hits during the year 1999. Jennifer Lopez proved that she was a triple-threat by releasing her debut album “On The 6”, which had several chart-toppers between 1999 and 2000. And, Enrique Iglesias followed in his father's footsteps with the single “Bailamos”.

And then there is today's artist of the day, who some credit to kicking off the summer of Latin sensations. A man who began his career in a boy band, grew up to become a soap opera star, and by the time he was thirty, he had already earned a number of awards, including a Grammy or two.

The name that this artist was given at birth was Enrique Martin Morales. Of course, many of you probably know him best by his stage name.

Today's subject is Puerto Rican born Ricky Martin. And, the song? Well...we're going to get to that in a second. But first, here's a brief biography of the singer.

He was born on Christmas Eve, 1971 in San Juan, Puerto Rico to an accountant and a psychologist. When Ricky was just two years old, his parents divorced, and as a result he ended up having several half-siblings and splitting his childhood between two different addresses.

By age six, he was beginning to find his voice as a singer. He was an alter boy during his early childhood, and was frequently found in his mother's kitchen using a wooden spoon to sing along to REO Speedwagon, Journey and Menudo songs.

Yeah...that last one...we're going to hold on to that one for a little bit.

Now, singing wasn't the only thing that Ricky Martin was skilled in. Because his grandfather was a poet, writing lyrics came naturally to the young boy, and by the time he was ten, he had already begun writing songs in both Spanish and English. It was also right around this time that he began acting in various commercials around the Puerto Rico area.

And, believe it or not, those commercials helped Ricky secure an audition for Menudo!

Now, I don't know how many of you were familiar with Menudo, but the group originated in the late 1970s. And, Menudo wasn't your typical boy band either. Unlike boy bands like the Backstreet Boys and the New Kids on the Block, who kept the same line-up for twenty years and counting, Menudo frequently rotated their members. You see, whenever a member of the band's voice began to change, or if they got too tall, or if they got too old (sixteen or seventeen was generally the cut-off), they were axed from the band and a newer, younger member was brought in.

So, when Ricky Martin joined the band in the summer of 1984 (after being rejected from the band twice before), he was going into the band knowing that his tenure there would not last forever. But that was fine for him. It would be a great opportunity for him to try performing as part of Puerto Rico's biggest boy band, to see if he liked it. And, considering that he appeared in such videos as the one below, I think it's safe to say that he enjoyed it well enough.

But, there were a few hiccups along the way. Beginning with his very first performance as a member of the band, Ricky Martin went outside of the box and did his own thing on stage...which was a big no-no, as the band manager had given him orders to do what the band was doing. He was severely reprimanded for not doing what he was asked, and he was told that if he were to go against the group again, he would be terminated from the band. And, Ricky Martin never disobeyed orders again after that.

Still, although he enjoyed performing with Menudo and received a lot of experience performing in front of crowds, he didn't like the fact that he had to sacrifice so much of his childhood as a result of his commitment to the band. There was actually one point in which he considered leaving the band on his own while the band was on a Brazilian tour, but in the end decided to stick with it, as he feared being sued for breaching his contract, not to mention he didn't want his fans to be disappointed, or face the media scrutiny that would come from such a decision. But it all balanced out with his commitment to global charities such as UNICEF, and it helped the young Ricky Martin realize that he had more to give than just his vocal abilities.

So after Ricky Martin left the band at age seventeen, he returned to Puerto Rico to complete his high school education, and on January 6, 1990, he moved to New York City days after his eighteenth birthday to celebrate the fact that his trust fund was now accessible to him. He remained in New York for a few months and applied to drama school in the city, but decided to make a change in his plans before classes began by moving to Mexico City to perform in a play.

From there, he joined a telenovela for a couple of years, and even inked a recording deal with Sony Discos. Unfortunately, the first album he put out with the label was very controversial, as Ricky Martin failed to read the contract in full. Had he looked over the contract more closely, he would have read the clause that only entitled Martin one penny of royalties for every album sold. Can you say, sucker?

Here's a note for all of you reading this. Before signing a contract...READ IT!

Ricky Martin definitely could. In English and Spanish, no less. Still, despite the fact that he got royally screwed out of royalties, he looked on the bright side. He did have an album of new material out (which would become the Spanish language debut “Ricky Martin” in 1991), and he was beginning to build a fan base as a solo artist. What could be better?

The album proved to be a huge success in Latin America, and it was enough to prompt a second album release, “Me Amares” in 1993. The following year, Martin's agent convinced him to move to Los Angeles, California to increase his star presence in the acting world. He took on a minor role in the short-lived series “Getting By”, and when that was cancelled, he won the role of Miguel Morez on the ABC soap opera “General Hospital”. But he only lasted on the show a few months, as he felt a bit ostracized by the fact that his accent was making people treat him differently. At the same time, he was questioning his sexuality, and came to realize that he was gay. But it would take another fifteen years before he would come out publicly, for fear of backlash from the public. After all, in Ricky's words, he already found it hard enough to be Latino in the world of Hollywood. But to be Latino and gay? That was near impossible.

And, this was only in 1994. I think it's safe to say that the world has changed a lot in nearly twenty years.

Needless to say, after leaving “General Hospital”, Ricky Martin decided to focus solely on his music, and he released three more Spanish language albums, all of which were very successful – in particular 1998's “Vuelve”, which spent twenty-six weeks at the top of the Billboard Top Latin Album charts. He earned his very first Grammy nomination in 1999, and his performance at the 41st annual Grammy Awards television broadcast of “La Copa de la Vida” was so well-received that he earned himself a standing ovation, endearing himself to American artists.

Which was good, considering that in 1999, Ricky Martin was recording material for his first English-language album, which would be released on May 11, 1999. And, not only would the first single from the album be the biggest hit of Ricky Martin's career, but it was the single that kickstarted the Latin music craze of the summer of 1999.

ARTIST: Ricky Martin
SONG: Livin' La Vida Loca
ALBUM: Ricky Martin
DATE RELEASED: March 23, 1999

Would you like to know some interesting trivia about this particular song? Well, how about this?

The song reached #1 in the United States in the spring of 1999, and remained there for five consecutive weeks. But, did you know that the single also peaked at #1 in Canada, Australia, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom?

The song also did very well on the Best of 1999 charts, peaking at #10 overall.

The song is also considered to be the most downloaded single of Ricky Martin's career. Granted, the song was released before iTunes and mp3 players were in vogue, but as of July 2013, the song has been downloaded over half a million times.

The video was nominated for six MTV Video Music Awards in 1999, winning two.

The video won the Ritmo Latino Music Award for Music Video of the Year.

The song was the first American number one single to be recorded in an entirely computerized environment using the Pro Tools software package.

It was a brilliant single to kick off Ricky Martin's career, and over the next couple of years, he would release other hits such as “She's All I Ever Had”, “Shake Your Bon-Bon”, “Nobody Wants To Be Lonely” (a duet with Christina Aguilera), and “She Bangs” (which was famously butchered by American Idol contestant William Hung.

And, perhaps more importantly, Ricky Martin opened up the doors to other Latino artists, and paved the way for an easier way to break into the American market. Shakira, Paulina Rubio, Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias...all were artists where their road to success became a lot less bumpier because Ricky Martin paved the way for them. 

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