Nov 16


Popular25 comments • 4,294 views

#919, 2nd February 2002

enriquehero In Britain it was another ballad, another global import megahit, arriving here with the spontaneity of a powerpoint build. But in America it was jetsam, a fragment of wreckage to cling to in a time of fear. Within days of the World Trade Centre falling, “Hero” had been remixed to incorporate found audio from 9/11, a collage of sobbing witnesses, panicked rescuers, and the drained sincerity of politicians interrupting Enrique Iglesias’ every line.

It’s a remarkable thing to listen to, pop snatched up into history, pushed beyond the limit of what it can accommodate. The sentiment of the song – Enrique as hero as lover – shifts into Enrique as firefighter, as cop, and as anyone desperately trying to help and to reassure. But the juxtaposition of pop and tragedy, grotesque as it is, works, because Iglesias himself is so lachrymose: his stagey chokes and moans and trembling lips mix into place smoothly alongside the real agony caught on tape. “I just wanna hold you… I just wanna hold you…” Iglesias murmurs at the end, exhausted and bereft. Romance turns into terror sex.

But of course it works the other way round: the sombre ennobling of “Hero” to fit the raw need of a numbed public is also a detournement of the audio it uses. It’s the first step in turning the attacks into kitsch. “Hero” is used as an emollient, something to frame 9/11 as a narrative of horror followed by hope and unity and resolve. Which turns out to only be half the story.

At fifteen years’ and an ocean’s distance, 9/11 can be a hard event to focus on: its meaning keeps shifting as the dominos it set in motion fall. For a few years it almost seemed to me to be receding, becoming just a secular patriotic holiday in America. The financial crisis loomed larger as the determining event of our times. Of course this was naive, and this week proved it, by connecting the two events as parents of the next great upheaval. Beneath the coat of empathy and unity represented by “Hero”, the attacks created an abscess of fear which built and built and finally burst. Those whose most important issue was the economy, the exit polls said, voted solidly for Clinton. The votes of those who picked immigration or terrorism brought President Trump to power. “I will be your hero”. I alone.

Clearly, this is not the review I expected to write. In its original – and best-known – version, “Hero” is a superior piece of shirt-rending. It has a strong hook, it crests powerfully, Iglesias sings it well, over-emoting with intent, turning himself into a matinee idol, his emotions intensified by the glow of technicolor. But in its unadorned version, “Hero” also contains the antidote to simple narratives and shows of strength: on the verses in particular, Enrique Iglesias sounds vulnerable, full of doubt and need – he has no confidence that his plea to help will work, but he needs to make it as much as his lover needs to hear it. That humility makes the song, and redeems it: in an age of strongmen, reciprocity is the secret power of the weak.



  1. 1
    cryptopian on 11 Nov 2016 #

    I’m interested to see what the prevailing opinion on this one is, because I loathe this song, and I’ve suspected it might be a minority opinion. In the same way that Tom sees David Whitfield and Ronan Keating, I really dislike the way Enrique sings here. I think the difference in mine and Tom’s reading is that I can’t block out the notion that, framed without context, all the little whimpers and strains feel insincere. It all feels like a precursor to the “guy with acoustic guitar love song” genre that plagued the early 2010s.

  2. 2
    Mark G on 11 Nov 2016 #

    My representative memory of this song: The early knock-out stages of one year’s X-Factor, one lad from “the forces” auditioning with “I can be your hero baybeh”, the audience loving it with full respect for the army lad, and Mel B’s look of total and utter disgust. She did not put him through to the next round, and the audience bayed for blood. This was somewhat glossed over, subsequently, but that’s how it was. For all the years we got told that music was the unifying force, it’s not true. Mel B got dropped as a judge, the craze for singing soldiers went away, and calm returned – if only to the x-factor and reality talent shows.

  3. 3
    wichitalineman on 11 Nov 2016 #

    The croak that sets up almost every single line is one of the worst vocal ticks I can think of – much like David Whitfield’s yelps, good call Cryptopian, though at least tended to save them for the song’s climax. On Hero, Enrique reminds me of the barfly in Polanski’s Bitter Moon, a grotesque.

    I really can’t bring myself to listen to the 9/11 remix, given the nightmare of 11/9.

  4. 4
    Izzy on 11 Nov 2016 #

    Those whose most important issue was the economy, the exit polls said, voted solidly for Clinton. The votes of those who picked immigration or terrorism brought President Trump to power

    Is that right, though? ‘Those who think the economy has treated them well’ voted Clinton and those who don’t voted Trump, plus a whole lot of other stuff, might be a better reading.

    That’s an interesting couple of comments about the distinction between what the public wants, and what’s good for them. I can’t help feeling a bit more attention to the former and we wouldn’t be in this mess. Certainly it’s not a mistake X-Factor has made very often.

    As for Hero, for some reason its various metacontexts had somehow always passed me by. I’ve only ever heard it as a sensitive macho guy serenade, as no doubt was always the intention. An Athena poster of a song, made for first dances at weddings. I quite like it as a decent example of the exercise, and it’s a good piece of songwriting, even if the chorus could do with ending on more of a flourish. All in all it’s very pretty – but it’s also pretty boring. Can’t go above a (4).

  5. 5
    Tom on 11 Nov 2016 #

    #4 Well, the exit polls simply ask “What was the most important issue?”. The people who said the economy broke for Clinton. The people who said terrorism and immigration went for Trump. There were a lot more “economy” voters than “terrorism” or “immigration” voters, so obviously a lot of Trump voters were also voting on “the economy”. But Trump’s coalition also includes most of the wealthy Republicans who voted Romney, and Clinton won more of the two lowest-income groups – who I assume don’t feel like the economy has treated them particularly well.

    I see this song as the 00s equivalent of “The Power Of Love” (J Rush version) – an inescapable omniballad, entirely of its time but still a superior version of the other stuff going round (as we’ll see over the next few entries).

  6. 6
    wichitalineman on 11 Nov 2016 #

    I haven’t looked at what’s ahead. But I’d rather have most of the comically lame Popular entries to date than this “Athena poster of a song” (tick).

    My two cents. Going by UK TV coverage, there were plenty of people in failing heavy industrial towns who voted for Trump on the economy.

  7. 7
    thefatgit on 11 Nov 2016 #

    Izzy has pretty much summed up how I feel about “Hero”. So a 4 from me too.

    I seriously considered writing this up as a parody of a Trump speech, but thought better of it. I doubt anyone wants to read repeated points peppered with “tremendous” in every sentence.

    I’m off to listen to “Bird On The Wire” again.

  8. 8
    lonepilgrim on 11 Nov 2016 #

    Thankfully I can’t remember hearing the 9/11 remix of this. The chorus is familiar although I find it pretty easy to drift off during the ‘verses’ because they are so bland and the vocal tics so uniform that there is little to hold my attention. It could do with being shorter.
    The word Hero has become stretched out of all recognition, applied to all and sundry.. On Remembrance Day I think of my grandfather who fought in WWII and who described a fellow soldier who got a medal for taking on a machine gun post single handed as someone who just lost their temper.

  9. 9
    Pink champale on 11 Nov 2016 #

    @4&5. Yes, those with income below $50,000 voted mostly Clinton those above $50,000 mainly Trump. Single most likely group to vote Trump was white men over 45 on above average income. That is, the most privileged group of people in human history. The only freedom that’s ever really been denied to this group is the freedom to be overtly racist. Now sorted of course.

  10. 10
    Pink champale on 11 Nov 2016 #

    I had no idea about Hero’s 9/11 side btw, just thought it was a standard X factor mope-athon. I alsomehow missed the Mel B X factor incident, which sounds excellent. The Magic Soldier who won this year’s BGT could have done with a dose of that.

  11. 11
    mapman132 on 11 Nov 2016 #

    Debuted at #44 on the Hot 100 after 9/11…..peaked at #3 or maybe #4 or, actually I don’t care anymore…

    After Obama got elected in 2008 and especially after the death of OBL in 2011, it seemed that 9/11 and the ugliness followed had finally receded into the background. Sure there were still nutcases out there doing bad things, but people weren’t living their lives in fear anymore. And despite the efforts of a few fringe idiots, things seemed to be improving in the social and economic realms as well: the election of a black president, acceptance of gay marriage, and baby steps toward universal healthcare for just three examples. Of course, a giant elephant named “climate change” was in the room, but other than that, things were moving in the right direction, or so I thought.

    Still, something didn’t feel right. A lot of it was personal (see my comments at #849 and the final sentence of #876 – probably the most personal things I’ve written on this forum, or the internet in general for that matter). As I attempted to deal with those issues in a positive manner, another threat started to loom from an unexpected source. At first a bad joke, I started to worry about it last July even as my moderate-to-liberal friends dismissed my concerns. “That won’t happen.” “Americans aren’t that stupid.” “Good people won’t go for that.” I don’t know why I took it more seriously than others – natural pessimism maybe, or perhaps my experiences being bullied through most of my childhood. But whatever the reason, I can’t really take the high road here, as other than voting and expressing my concerns, I didn’t really do much about it. Surely it was Somebody Else’s Problem to deal with.

    So, after 18 months, the slow motion disaster has finally reached its horrific conclusion. It feels especially weird as I’m not even in the US – I’m actually in St. Martin, having jumped at the invitation of friends to be out of the country this week. (I voted absentee four weeks ago – for Clinton, in case it’s not overly obvious). Tomorrow I fly back to the US. So many questions. Will my friends of color be safe? What about my own niece and nephew who happen to be half-Asian? What kind of world will they and my godchildren grow up in? And then there’s my federal science agency job which could become very different, if it continues to exist at all.

    Anyway, sorry for the off-topic babbling. Maybe there are no heroes anymore.

  12. 12
    ThePensmith on 12 Nov 2016 #

    It’s strange, given his constant collaborating with Pitbull and/or whichever random DJ is flavour of the month these days, that Enrique’s real breakthrough was with this track, an emotive power ballad. He’d been having success in Spanish speaking territories since the mid 90s, then his first English language hit “Bailamos” had of course been a one off smash during the whole Latino craze in the summer of 1999. It’s follow up, “Rhythm Divine” conked out outside the top 40 that December, which seemed to put him temporarily – in the UK at least – as a one hit wonder.

    And then US radio played this and Enya’s “Only Time” on a loop in the wake of 9/11 and that then kicked off his wave of success proper here in the UK. Interestingly, at this point into the 21st century bunnies, this along with Atomic Kitten’s “Whole Again” and Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” was one of the only three records to spend four weeks at the top. It wound up the third biggest seller of the year also. I however never really got the appeal, certainly not for it to spend a whole calendar month atop the UK chart. A 3 is about all I can muster, if not for the fact the whispered intro caused much mirth among myself and my friends at the time for sounding like “Let me pee in your earhole”.

    #2 watch on this – Pink which we covered when we met George Harrison, but also No Doubt’s “Hey Baby” – a stonking collaboration with Bounty Killer that really started to preposition Gwen Stefani as a potential solo star in her own right. The “Rock Steady” album was one of my favourites that year.

    Also stalling behind “Hero” were A1 with “Caught in the Middle” – a marked change in direction for them, as they moved away from the hi energy pop and dance routines of their earlier material – a decision partly down to an absence of almost a year from the public eye following a tragedy in South East Asia where four of their fans got crushed at a mall signing – into self penned, guitar driven pop. Even now it’s held up surprisingly well, and is one of the best boyband efforts of the 00s. Unfortunately its follow up single and parent album both stalled outside the top 10, and by year’s end they’d parted company after being dropped.

    And then the last to fall victim to Enrique were S Club 7 – soon to be S Club as Paul announced his departure the following month – with “You”. Whilst essentially a retread of “Reach”, it was a bouncy little number that saw Rachel back on lead vocal with Jo, and some ad libbing from Jon and Bradley.

  13. 13
    weej on 12 Nov 2016 #

    Cryptopian at #1 – count me in on the loathing. ‘Hero’ seems to be at an unwelcome midpoint between a Westlife ballad and a Nickleback anthem, and Enrique’s vocal style is an unwelcome precursor of the “sensitive guy” style of the 2010s (this is the worst example I can find), which fortunately seems to be in decline now. I know plenty of people enjoy this kind of thing, but it just repulses me.

  14. 14
    Izzy on 12 Nov 2016 #

    13: I didn’t know that one (terrific bit of writing but yes, that’s not a pleasant vocal) so I shazam’ed it. I am not alone – it’s been shazam’ed 19 million times.

    I don’t recall seeing them give stats before, so I looked at some of my recent tags and but it made me feel bad – nothing else (and there are some big tunes in there) gets close to eight figures, and December 12 by The Vow can boast a whopping 34. I haven’t checked, so apologies if it turns out to be bunnied.

  15. 15
    flahr on 12 Nov 2016 #

    #13: mercifully kept at #2 by something about as orthogonal to it as you can get, but yes, we’ll have plenty of opportunity to explore that style further I think.

  16. 16
    AMZ1981 on 13 Nov 2016 #

    I never rated this one. Having seen a few couples slow dance to it over the years I can see why it struck a chord with a lot of people. I’ve also heard it sung at acoustic nights and it’s a passable song; albeit one that drones on a bit. I think the problem I have with this recording is the vocal styling, the way he sounds like he’s about to burst into tears throughout.

    It should be added that I have no particular axe to grind with Enrique outside of this record; I liked the follow up (Escape – probably a solid seven for me were it bunnied) and can live with some of his other stuff like Balaimos.

    Hero also loses a mark for beating out Caught In The Middle to the top; I’d much prefer a parallel universe where A1 outsold Enrique and settled down for a four week stint while Enrique yielded the runner up position back to Pink. Even then it did look like A1 were here to stay; unfortunately the album was more than adequate but had nothing to equal CITM and wasn’t strong enough to cross over to the long playing dynamic. You did get the impression that a fair chunk of their fanbase would have preferred another cheap imitation of an eighties classic. Ironically, as A1 split, the first `rock` boy band were emerging although they don’t trouble the bunny straight away and the soft rock take on the boy band sound would propel a returning boy band to a new plateau within five years. But too late for Ben Adams and co.

    Two footnotes. One is the credit which gave the artist as just `Enrique`, although he had previously charted with his surname attached. Also (and I’m being lazy on this one) is this the first (and perhaps only) example of a father/ son reaching the top as soloists? We’ve had father/ daughter and we’ve had instances like Chesney Hawkes whose Dad was in a chart topping group.

  17. 17
    Lee Saunders on 13 Nov 2016 #

    I might say more about it later if I get time but I have dreadful, indirect memories of Hero always playing in the background. Public places, TV promos, TV shows, radio. It’s my earliest memory of an inescapable hit, which might have been okay for me as a tot had it not bored me to death. And I can’t say I feel any different about it today.

  18. 18
    ThePensmith on 13 Nov 2016 #

    #16 – “Escape” was a bit of a bop back in the day, although I couldn’t shift the feeling when it came out of it’s striking similarity to the theme tune from 80s Saturday morning cartoon staple “The Raccoons”. I’d take that or “Love to See You Cry” that followed in a heartbeat over some of his more recent offerings, mind.

    Going back to A1 briefly – the now trio lineup (Paul Marazzi left the band just as Sony dropped them) have been back together since 2009 and have released two better-than-you-would-expect-them-to-be albums in Christian Ingebrigtsen’s native Norway and toured extensively there and in South East Asia again. The former of the two albums “Waiting for Daylight” is worth investigation and follows that “returning boyband in soft rock” vibe you mentioned, whilst also sounding at times like a 2010 boyband who will be bunnied a couple of times when we get to them.

  19. 19
    Seb Patrick on 14 Nov 2016 #

    My main memory of this track (by which I mean the thing that comes to mind whenever I hear it) is an interstitial they used to play on MTV2, only about ten seconds or so long, in which they’d cut footage of the No Surprises video to look like Thom Yorke was singing this. I’ve been unable to locate it on Youtube or similar but I’d love to see it again, if only to confirm I didn’t imagine it.

  20. 20
    Girl with Curious Hair on 17 Nov 2016 #

    I don’t want to touch the political debate because the whole thing is still fairly mortifying (sigh…) but I do remember this song with a sort of fond embarrassment. When you’re a 10-year-old girl this kind of stuff is emotional catnip. OMG TRU LOVE 4 EVA :'(

    Listening to it now, I agree that it’s a superior version of what it’s trying to do, even if what it’s trying to do is kinda silly. It’s the ballad the Westlife boys wish they’d done. They’d have never pulled it off half as well though.

    Watching the video back though, as much as it sent me to the verge of tears at the time with all the signifiers of heroism and tragedy, he doesn’t actually do anything very heroic. There’s three acts: they’re arsing about in the desert with a very cavalier attitude to a sackload of money (it was before the Credit Crunch; this is what people did back then); then there’s a bit of soft porn; then he gets filled in by Micky Rourke and it starts to rain. Thanks bruv.

  21. 21
    TK on 25 Nov 2016 #

    Yup. Dreamy girl catnip. I was 15 and I have to admit to thinking this was like a tiny bit romantic after all (would never have admitted to this, of course). It makes me think of a few Leonard Cohen songs (Stranger Song, in particular) and Elton John’s Original Sin and David Bowie’s Thusday’s Child and possibly some mawkish Sting efforts (Why Should I Cry For You, Fields of Gold), all sitting somewhere in the same mental box of ‘songs I though were a good romantic soundtrack in 2002’ (not in terms of similarity of quality or anything).

    The logic of the association there somewhere, if I remember my adolescent psyche correctly, was that I’d never managed to get boybands as figures of romantic interest, but the vulnerable, I-can’t-help-myself, mystery-man-undone motif, possibly with an undercurrent of self-loathing, something there worked . What hooked me on Hero, I remember listening to it now, is that opening line – ‘would you dance, if I asked you to dance?’ One could project a good lot onto that line.

  22. 22
    Izzy on 26 Nov 2016 #

    What that question leads onto is Save A Prayer, which is a different kind of chivalry altogether, and not I think what Enrique’s aiming for.

    And I’ve never heard anyone mention Original Sin ever, so thanks. Terrific track, it’s my late-Elton favourite.

  23. 23
    TK on 27 Nov 2016 #

    Save a prayer? Sorry, not following! All that comes to mind is Duran Duran.

    I just watched the video for Original Sin, which I had thankfully blanked from memory, as it’s intensely weird and uncomfortable. Mandy Moore is Elton’s daughter but also apparently has an obsessive fan crush on him and add the lyrics and you go from melancholy self-doubting lovers and straight to Lolita. Sigh. I think I’ll try and forget it again, as I think the song has a lot of charm on its own.

  24. 24
    Erithian on 3 Jan 2017 #

    So a new year begins and we look forward to more Popular. Here’s where we’ve been at the end of each calendar year since the project began:
    2003 Great Balls Of Fire (#66, Jan 58 – 5 years 2 months, 66 entries in the year)
    2004 A World Without Love (#167, Apr 64 – 6 years 3 months, 101)
    2005 Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine (#222, Aug 66 – 2 years 4 months, 55)
    2006 Get It On (#302, Jul 71 – 4 years 11 months, 80)
    2007 Lonely This Christmas (#362, Dec 74 – 3 years 5 months, 60)
    2008 This Ole House (#477, Mar 81 – 6 years 3 months, 115 (plus the Pistols!))
    2009 I Want To Wake Up With You (#575, Aug 86 – 5 years 5 months, 98)
    2010 World In Motion (#646, Jun 90 – 3 years 10 months, 71)
    2011 No Limit (#685, Feb 93 – 2 years 8 months, 39)
    2012 Doop (#703, Mar 94 – 1 year 1 month, 18)
    2013 Forever Love (#742, Jul 96 – 2 years 4 months, 39)
    2014 I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun (#844, Dec 99 – 3 years 5 months, 102)
    2015 Angel (#899, Jun 01 – 1 year 7 months, 55)
    2016 Hero (#919, Feb 02 – 8 months, 20)

    So we’re inching in Popular-time towards the date when we began, and strangely, although it’s the second-lowest number of new entries we’ve had in a year, for the third year running we’re catching up on the actual chart, since as mentioned elsewhere there have only been ten new number ones in 2016. During the year real life rather sucked, the Grim Reaper was on a productivity bonus and we only had three Popular entries rating higher than a 6. Hoping we can get over the collective hangover of an awful year and make quicker progress in 2017. Happy New Year to all Populistas.

  25. 25
    Gareth Parker on 8 May 2021 #

    It’s all a bit cheesy for me, I’m afraid. I’m going for a 2/10 here.

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