Madonna’s appropriation move into Latin pop is a tightrope walk between corny and respectful: on the one hand an arrangement which packs in every Hispanic signifier bar a finishing “Ole!”, on the other a performance that has far more authority, conviction and love than her last excursion into pastiche. “La Isla Bonita” on paper looks like the most awful quesa – but right from “Last night I dreamed of San Pedro” it goes in a different direction, a reverie full of the real ache of missing somewhere beautiful – there’s something close to dread in her voice.
But in a British pop context “La Isla Bonita” resonates slightly differently: here San Pedro sounded like a Mediterranean island, which meant package holidays, and at the time I disliked “Bonita” as basically a middlebrow cousin of “Y Viva Espana” and suchlike. Eyes like a desert instead of straw donkeys and sombreros, but the principle was the same. Well, I was a bit of a fool back then. Especially since the collective ache of a holiday ended was about to transform British pop culture: a bunch of DJs and partygoers determined to establish the vibe of Ibizan clubs back home, and succeeding in the most remarkable ways.
The ripple effects of the Second Summer of Love – still 15 months off at this point – have transformed how I hear “La Isla Bonita” as an adult: now it sounds like Madonna making a Balearic record. For those unfamiliar with the thin slicing of dance music genres what that means practically is that now when I listen to it I tune in to its buried spaciness, I want more of those Spanish guitar runs, more inessential prettiness, more of the dream and not so much of the song the dream created. Frankly, my ideal version of “Bonita” would be an 8-minute long disco edit which pushed the lumbering chorus to the sidelines: that’s the one bit I still agree with my younger self on, a spell-it-out wake-up call in an otherwise captivating pop track.