Ricky Martin’s Self-Titled Album Turns 20
Backed by exuberant trumpets and horns, swingy saxophones, upbeat piano keys and rhythmic conga drums, Ricky Martin emerged on stage at the 41st Grammy Awards to perform his smash Spanglish hit “Cup of Life.”
Clad in black leather pants and a ribbed long-sleeved tee, the Puerto Rican singer swung his hips from side to side playfully as he brought the song’s celebratory spirit to life, toying with a melismatic singing style during the flamenco-inspired sections, then switching into a high-energy, rhythmic singing style during the mambo, salsa and samba-infused blocks. It was then — on February 24, 1999, while performing at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles — that Ricky Martin began to conquer U.S. audiences. When he sang the lyric, “Do you really want it?” Americans clearly said, “Yes!”
This became all the more evident when Martin released his eponymous album on May 11, 1999 — his fifth studio album, but his very first English-language album. With its darting, mambo-flavored horn blasts and surf-rock inspired guitar riffs — not to mention its clever fusion of ska, rock, mambo, swing and pop sounds — the lead single, “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” written by former fellow Menudo member, Draco Rosa, became an absolute juggernaut. In fact, it spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 100 and ultimately sold more than eight million copies, making it one of the best selling singles of all time. The second single, the power ballad “She’s All I Ever Had,” left fans swooning over the charismatic heartthrob and his passionate and emotive vocals.
Latinx audiences — and particularly island-born Puerto Ricans — already recognized Martin, a Menudo member, as a star. A decade before New Kids on the Block, and 20 years before the Backstreet Boys and N*SYNC charmed mainstream America, boricua boy band Menudo conquered Latin America — and then the world. Menudo was more than a band: it was a phenomenon. Their popularity went beyond album sales or chart performances, with ultra-zealous fans saying they’d been overcome with “Menuditis” and “Menudomania.”
And when a 12-year-old Martin joined Menudo in 1984, replacing original member Ricky Melendez, he instantly became the darling of the group. Even Oprah Winfrey pulled a 13-year-old Martin aside after he performed alongside his band mates on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Even back then, his charisma was infectious.
Post-Menudo, Martin released four Spanish-language solo albums and starred in telenovelas like Alcanzar Una Estrella and the long-running American soap General Hospital. Well before his crossover into the U.S. mainstream, in Puerto Rico and throughout Latin America, Martin was already a supernova.
But in 1999, Martin’s star power became undeniable. It also highlighted the public’s thirst for a different kind of pop: one that was more fusion-heavy and that incorporated the hip-shaking rhythms associated with Latin music. Sure enough, after the release of Ricky Martin, a string of successful Latin pop albums followed: Jennifer Lopez’s On the 6, Enrique Iglesias’s Enrique, and Marc Anthony’s self-titled debut English album among them. Each of these albums fanned the flame of the Latin Pop Explosion, but Martin created the spark.
According to SoundScan, in the first quarter of 1999, sales of music by Latin artists had increased by 48% over the same period in 1998 — and they estimated that Martin was responsible for 11% of that change.
Nowadays, Latin rhythms and sounds, along with Spanish and Spanglish phrases, are a commonplace phenomenon on English-language radio — and much of that can be credited to Martin and the paths he created. Perhaps even more importantly, Martin has managed to stay true to his Puerto Rican roots by constantly releasing music in both English and Spanish – a pattern that Marc Anthony, Thalía, Paulina Rubio and Shakira, among others, followed after their own respective crossovers. The message conveyed to newer generations of Latinos is clear: navigating two different cultures, two different languages, and a plethora of musical sounds is not a hindrance but a blessing.
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