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Nov 14

RICKY MARTIN – “Livin’ La Vida Loca”

Popular49 comments • 3,047 views

#830, 17th July 1999

vidaloca It’s a curious rule of the British public and charts that we don’t care much about Latin music – its rhythms and stars remain strange to us when we’ll embrace (and try to absorb) almost anything else. But very occasionally, our aloofness slips. In the USA, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” punched through from Latin charts to pop ones and began a small explosion of interest in Latin music. And even here we felt the shockwave: “Livin’ La Vida Loca” is the first of a handful of Latin – at a stretch – number ones in 1999. But it matched an uptick of interest outside pop – that summer my office ditched the usual team-building paintball for a compulsory salsa dance class. An experiment, like Ricky Martin as the UK’s Number One, that was raucously entertaining but still never repeated.

As Hot Latin 100 #1s review blog Bilbo’s Laptop points out, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” owes as much to third-wave ska as it does to most Latin pop: it’s a stylistic hotpot, far keener on hustling you out of your seat than on sounding authentic. The closest 1999 comparison might be Shania Twain’s global smashes, which rammed the barriers between country and pop by making loud, brash, funny pop songs with a country twist and sensibility. It’s no coincidence that Shania’s breakout tracks (Mutt Lange) and Ricky’s Latin raid on the world’s charts (Desmond Child) were both produced by guys with a hard rock pedigree – men who knew how to take fringe music mainstream and get the world’s fists pumping.

But if the recipe isn’t Latin, the flavouring is over-familiar. From line one – “she’s into superstition” -“Livin’ La Vida Loca”’s storyline is a damburst of stereotypes – a mysterious, hot-blooded Latin woman who whirls into your life and turns it over. British perceptions of Latin America are drawn from a menu of clichés – sensuality and danger, but also sophistication and authenticity. Though, of course, these same ideas are projected onto any passing non-European other, it’s really only the clothes and rhythms that change. “Livin’ La Vida Loca” bundles it all up and sells it back, amped up and cartoonishly exaggerated. As with Blondie’s “Maria”, a saving grace is the knowing glee with which Ricky Martin relates what’s going on – he spins deliriously along in the wake of the vida loca, documenting but also mocking its whirlwind effect on men.

And the other thing that sells this song is its breathless, gonzo commitment. The content may be a little lazy: Martin is not. Every word is an emphasis – “She! Will! Wear! You! Out!” – every instrumental break digitally packed with incident, darting between horn blasts and surf rock guitar riffs like a conjuror spinning plates. “Livin’ La Vida Loca” starts off jaunty, then improves all through, levelling up with each shouted “Come on!” until the gasping coda, with what sounds very much like an “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” quote. Martin had an established Spanish-language career, but he knows this is his shot at the Anglophone, global big time and he and his producers are determined to grab it, and they work as hard as anyone has to bring us on board too.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Mark M on 12 Nov 2014 #

    Re25: It’s “black cats and voodoo dolls”, so that seems to suggest she has a non-donominational approach to the dark arts.

    And why would mocha skin make her not Latina? I would have thought the opposite.

  2. 27
    iconoclast on 12 Nov 2014 #

    Frothy, and placed between larger-than-usual inverted commas, but still quite fun. Nice to hear Proper Instruments, too. Doesn’t quite hold the listener’s attention all the way through, however: SEVEN.

  3. 28
    Ed on 12 Nov 2014 #

    @7, @11 – I came to love this through the version at the end of the wonderful Shrek 2, when it is used as the equivalent of a pantomime’s big musical finale. Our kids loved it too, for that reason.

    A great ending to a great movie: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SXUG9zTpI_w

  4. 29
    Tom on 12 Nov 2014 #

    #25 Yeah, it’s not cut-and-dried but Hispanic heritage encompasses a range of skin tones, mocha included. It may hinge on the title – the only Spanish words in the song are explicitly identified with her specific lifestyle. (But the point is she’s presented to the song’s audience as someone exotic: this is partly what I was getting at in the review, that the qualities associated with the exotic other tend to be roughly consistent no matter what the people being othered are actually like).

  5. 30
    Mark M on 12 Nov 2014 #

    Re29 etc: Yeah, Latino/Latina is non-racially specific. Obviously, Latin America contains large numbers of people of European descent, of descent from indigenous people, of African descent, and – in some places – substantial minorities of Japanese and Lebanese (as we may discuss further down the line) descent. And, of course, every possible mix of the above.

  6. 31
    Mark M on 12 Nov 2014 #

    Re29: Also, as again we may get an opportunity to discuss (looming bunny), being Spanish but living in Miami seems to qualify in practice.

  7. 32
    Nixon on 12 Nov 2014 #

    In the entire history of the English language, I’m not sure there’s ever been as horrifying a combination of words as “compulsory salsa dance class”.

  8. 33
    wichitalineman on 12 Nov 2014 #

    “Woke up in New York ci-taaay”.

    It’s always struck me as a novelty record, and I’m surprised people think it could have been a springboard for Ricky Martin to become an even bigger star. I mentally file it next to Ebenezer Goode.

  9. 34
    Tom on 12 Nov 2014 #

    #32 the statistician whose toes I repeatedly stomped on would certainly agree.

  10. 35
    Mark M on 12 Nov 2014 #

    Pre-Ricky Menudo were big in Mexico when I lived there, but not as big as their Mexican rivals Timbiriche. The girls at school preferred Duran Duran, though.

  11. 36
    chelovek na lune on 12 Nov 2014 #

    This leaves me cold – in tone it’s closer to being aggressive (or, if you prefer, faux wacky), rather than dreamy-mad loca, with too many clunking changes of pace and direction to present an attractive (even madly attractive) impression of the subject. It’s also as half-baked as Blondie’s “Maria”, none of which is terribly impressive. 4

  12. 37
    AMZ1981 on 12 Nov 2014 #

    As a few contributors have referenced Ricky Martin’s sexuality (#15 which tags the others) I’ll make a point I initially thought better of – namely that 1999 was a peak year for closeted gay men getting to number one. Besides Ricky Martin, by the end of the year we’ll have had Stephen Gately (who came out summer 99) twice, Mark Feehilly of Westlife four times, H from Steps and finally Jon Lee of S Club 7 (who has built a relatively successful second career in theatre).

    I think this is worth mentioning because 1999 was (I think) the year that the age of consent was finally equalised and, with hindsight, the year there was a big shift in attitudes. Gately’s coming out is a case in point; his arm was twisted to a degree (he went public to anticipate a kiss and tell) but The Sun described him as `brave` for doing so – ten years before they would have torn him apart. We’re only three years away from a bunnied openly gay pop singer and in 2014 boy bands have openly gay members and nobody really cares.

    This wasn’t an overnight change. The seeds were sown in the early nineties when Take That openly courted a gay audience (something that as five straight men they could have easily refused to do at the time) and Jason Donovan arguably killed his career by suing over insinuations about his sexuality (admittedly the insinuations were false but his response implied it was something to be ashamed of).

    Which is a little bit off topic regarding LLVL but it’s as good a time as any to mention it.

  13. 38
    Cumbrian on 12 Nov 2014 #

    #37: Personally, I am not willing to give The Sun/The UK Press any sort of pass for this change in behaviour given that 1999 was the year that they forced out Simon Fowler from Ocean Colour Scene by running an interview with one of his associates. Leveson revealed that basically they would run roughshod over anyone, at anytime, and SG would have got a better deal by giving The Sun the exclusive – thus selling The Sun more papers. It’s not about the press being happier with gay people – it’s purely the bottom line.

  14. 39
    anto on 12 Nov 2014 #

    A high point of naffness for me. Actually I think my own distaste for Latin music can be linked to some of the points made in this review – No other style of dance music is so relentlessly cheery in the ‘hey-why-the-long-face?’ sense. Never the kind of thing that I was going to dive into (my favourite month of the year is the one we’re currently in, just to drive the point home about how far I am from this singles target audience).
    Ricky was always a joy to look at, but a bit of a dingbat, albeit a harmless one.

  15. 40
    weej on 13 Nov 2014 #

    As much as this sounds like a perfectly-polished pop product with all manner of bells and whistles, I can’t bring myself to like it. It just sounds like a party that I haven’t been invited to. The very definition of a ‘5’ then.

  16. 41
    mapman132 on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Currently on vacation so I’ll keep my comments brief:

    – RM really did seem like a long-term superstar at the time. Count me among those surprised he didn’t become one.

    – Latin music surely did dominate the US charts for the rest of 1999 into 2000. The biggest manifestation was the unexpectedly huge Santana comeback at the end of the year.

    – It seems to me LLVL has largely disappeared from the US wild in the past 15 years, except maybe at weddings and the like.

    – Amusingly I remember LLVL getting voted Song of the Century by readers of some teen mag at the time. Small reference pools indeed.

    – 6/10 from me

  17. 42
    StringBeanJohn82 on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Not much to add to previous comments but I’ll say this is superb on every level. I especially love the twangy guitar break. This song coincided with my starting to go out on the town a bit on the sly and it was absolutely ubiquitous, along with its close cousin which we’ll see in a few entries. Great songs to dance to after a few Strongbows down the Apollo, Port Talbot’s finest nightclub. And of course, I walked home alone (and I had a parental curfew). T’was the summer of ’99. [9]

  18. 43
    Paulito on 13 Nov 2014 #

    @ 37: An openly gay pop star at no. 1 was nothing new in 2002. I’ll acknowledge it was a less hostile era in which to be one – and yet I don’t recall any big fuss about, say, Andy Bell’s sexuality when Erasure broke big. Jimmy Somerville was more controversial, but that’s because he (quite rightly) challenged homophobia in a very political, in-your-face manner. With Boy George it was probably more a case of amused tolerance than open acceptance – but, even so, his sexuality was an asset if anything. And, as far back the early ’70s, David Bowie was claiming to be gay as a PR stunt (while he later claimed to regret it, it did his career no harm).

    The “long journey to acceptance” narrative is a lot less linear and more complex than it might seem. Presumably the reason that the likes of Freddie Mercury, Rob Halford and George Michael stayed in the closet so long was because they feared their fans would desert them if the truth were known (and certainly they would have observed the impact on Elton John’s popularity – in the US at least – of his mid ’70s ‘bisexuality’ confession). And yet it never seemed to be an issue for the huge and diverse audiences that Bowie, Frankie, Culture Club and Erasure attracted.

  19. 44
    DanH on 14 Nov 2014 #

    As Mapman attested, this was the big deal of the summer in the U.S. And it did usher in the Latin craze…this was knocked off #1 by “IF You Had My Love” by J-Lo…”Bailamos” followed to #1 a few months later…and of course, the even bigger deal “Smooth” by Santana feat. Rob Thomas saw the year out at the top. None of which registered with me, except for the bunny to follow very soon…we’ll get to that in due time.

    I also noticed that everything by Ricky Martin didn’t really stand the test of time on American radio*. Tell you the truth, thanks to my summer jobs at the time, I’m more familiar with RM’s followup ballad “She’s All I Ever Had.” Most notable for being cowritten by Jon Secada, and indeed sounding like a long lost Secada track.

    * Or maybe the ridiculous “She Bangs” killed things off for good. Even before William Hung took it on ;-)

  20. 45
    flahr on 14 Nov 2014 #

    Santana & Bathrooms’ “Smooth” is a proper scorcher of a record and might be better than this, in fact. Like a bunny to come it puts me off the idea of listening to any more Santana in case it’s not as good*.

    “She Bangs” makes me wish there’d been a hit song called “She Bangs The” because that’d make a pretty good Only Connect sequence round.

    *my flatmate felt the same about Kraftwerk and Trans Europe Express until I got him to sort his life out I mean Jesus

  21. 46
    AMZ1981 on 17 Nov 2014 #

    #43 I think the key distinction here is between pop stars and pin ups. Of course the seventies and eighties had seen plenty of performers who were willing to defy convention and court the anger of the right while making some superb music at the same time. Of the names I mentioned (Ricky Martin is possibly the exception here) the point is that their looks were arguably more important to their fanbase to their music. However I accept I’m glossing over a complex issue here.

  22. 47
    Mark M on 17 Nov 2014 #

    Re43 & 46: Yes, boybands are obviously a different category to synth duos (many Americans seem to have assumed that anyone armed with a synth was gay until proved otherwise) and pop eccentrics. We know that boyband managers over the years tried to hide that their charges were in any kind of long-term relationship, trying to portray them as endlessly notionally ‘available’ to the fans . To this day, the occasional rumoured girlfriend of a boyband member gets abuse on Twitter by angry young girls.

    So one question about Ricky Martin in 1999 might be whether he fit more into the boyband category (which is where he had come from), or, considering the heightened nature of his music, into the pop eccentric one. As far as the UK was concerned, at least, I think it was more the latter.

  23. 48
    ciaran on 8 Dec 2014 #

    The bronze award for Number 1’s of 99 behind Fatboy’s Silver and Britney’s Gold.

    A real moving so fast it will make your head spin delight and it’s still hold up well today.8.

  24. 49
    CriticSez on 10 Feb 2016 #

    Excellent! I like this one too, but I won’t rate it yet.

    Almost 17 years on, it certainly has a better feel to it than the junk dominating the charts now.

    (I bet people said this was junk then, comparing it with “Come On Eileen” (#1 17 years earlier, in 1982).

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