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Martin, Ricky: 1971—: Singer, Actor

Ricky Martin: 1971: Singer, actor


Ricky Martin was already a superstar entertainer in Latin and South American nations, beginning with his stint in the hugely popular group, Menudo. But his singing the soccer anthem at the 1998 World Cup, and a sensational performance at the 1999 Grammy Awards ceremony, propelled the singer/actor to international megastar status. A music idol since the age of 12, Martin grew to establish himself as one of the leading pop stars of the 1990s, and has been at the forefront of a new generation of popular Latin artists.


Martin was born Enrique Jose Martin Morales IV on December 24, 1971, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the first child of Enrique Martin, a psychologist, and Nereida Morales, an accountant. His parents divorced when he was two. After six-year-old Martin told his father he wanted to be in show business, he was enrolled in singing and acting lessons. He began his entertainment career on the stage by performing in the choir and in school plays, and by age eight, he was appearing in television commercials.

Joined Latin Boy Band Menudo


In 1984, after three auditions, the 12-year old landed a spot in the Latin boy-band Menudo. The band's manager, Edgardo Diaz, said of Martin in Time, "He was small, not a big singer, and his voice was not so good then. But we thought he could learn a lot by being with the group." Martin toured with Menudo as a lead singer over the next five years, performing across the globe, singing in various languages, and learning much about the music industry. He told Gloria Estefan in Interview magazine, "It was five years of discipline That band definitely helped me keep my feet on the ground." It also made him a teenage millionaire.

Throughout his early teen years, Martin spent most of his time rehearsing, reportedly up to 16 hours a day, and recorded and toured nine months out of the year. Although the band itself was very popular, some of Menudo's former members publicly complained about their experience. In a 1998 interview with Entertainment Weekly, an ex-member described his time with the band as "abusive, exploitative, and unsavory." Although Martin himself did not claim such, he did complain that the members' own musical compositions were rejected by management. "Our creativity was stifled," he told People magazine. "We were told [the songs we wrote] were no good."

At a Glance . . .


Born Enrique Jose Martin Morales IV on December 24, 1971, in San Juan, Puerto Rico; son of Enrique Martin (a psychologist) and Nereida Morales Martin (an accountant).


Career: Singer. Began professional acting at age eight; joined Latin pop band, Menudo, 1983-88; released numerous albums, including Ricky Martin, 1992; Me Amaras, 1993; A Medio Vivir, 1995; and Vuelve, 1998; acted in ABC soap opera General Hospital and on Broadway in Les Miserables, 1994; provided voice for Hercules in the Spanish language version of the Disney film Hercules, 1997; performed at 1999 Grammy Awards; released his first English-language album, Ricky Martin, 1999.


Awards: Billboard Video Award for Best New Latin Artist, 1993; Heraldo Award (Mexico) for best actor, 1993; Billboard Award for best debut of the year, 1999; Grammy Award for best Latin pop performance, 1999; MTV Video Award, 1999; Male Pop Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Video of the Year, Ritmo Latino Music Awards, 1999; Best Selling Latin Artist, World Music Awards, 1999; Billboard Spirit of Hope Award, 2002.


Addresses: Record Company C2 Records/Columbia Records; Management Angelo Medina Enterprises, 1406 Georgetti Street, Santurce, Puerto Rico, 00910; Fan Club Ricky Martin International Fan Club, P.O. Box 13345, Santurce Station, San Juan, Puerto Rico.




Constant touring with Menudo also strained Martin's relationship with his family. Although his parents had joint custody, they clashed over the little time each had to spend with him. Martin said in People, "When my dreams started coming true, my parents started fighting. I had everything I ever wanted, but my family was falling apart." Martin added that his father "wanted me to choose between him and my mother. How do you ask a child that?" According to People, in 1985 Martin "so resented his father that they became estranged and he changed his name from Enrique [to Ricky]." Nearly a decade later in 1994, father and son reconciled.

Released First Solo Album


By age 17 Martin had outgrown and left Menudo, graduated from high school in Puerto Rico, and moved to New York City. "I did a lot of growing up there," he remarked in People. "In Menudo they told you what silverware to use. Suddenly I was paying my own bills." Four years later Martin moved again, to Mexico City, and renewed his acting career with a role in a telenovela, or Spanish soap opera, titled Alcanzar una Estrella (Reach for a Star). A film adaptation of the series was produced, and for his performance in the big screen version, Martin earned a Heraldo, the Mexican equivalent of an Academy Award, in 1993.

In the meantime Martin signed with Sony and released his first solo album, the Spanish-language Ricky Martin, in 1992, which he co-wrote with fellow Menudo alum Robi Rosa (sometimes credited as Ian Blake), who would become a regular collaborator during the course of Martin's career. The release became a gold record in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Chile, and the United States, and Martin performed a sold-out tour across South America. The popularity of Latin pop music was growing, as was Martin's own popularity. After being named to Billboard Video Awards' Best New Latin Artist of 1993, Martin released his second album, Me Amaras, and shortly afterwards moved to Los Angeles.

Fresh into Hollywood, he appeared in the short-lived NBC comedy Getting By, but it was his singing career that got him cast on the ABC daytime soap General Hospital in 1994. After an executive producer of the popular soap opera saw a tape of Martin in concert, he was asked to play the recurring role of singing bartender Miguel Morez. After his year-long stint in daytime television, Martin performed on Broadway, playing Marius in the musical Les Miserables. At the same time Martin continued to record, and released his third album, A Medio Vivir (Halfway Through Life), in 1995. He further expanded his repertoire by providing the voice of the lead character in the 1997 Spanish-language version of Disney's animated film Hercules, and acting as a celebrity spokesman for tourism in his native Puerto Rico.


Unforgettable Grammy Performance

By now Martin was a superstar in Latin and South America, but he had not yet achieved similar status in the United States, particularly with English-speaking audiences. His fourth release, Vuelve, came out in 1998 and climbed to number one on the charts in 22 countries, largely due to its smash single, "La Copa de la Vida" ("The Cup of Life"). And when it became the official song of the World Cup soccer championship that year, Martin's popularity rocketed to an international level.

It was an unforgettable performance by Martin of "La Copa de la Vida" at the 1999 Grammy Awards ceremony that opened the eyes of U.S. audiences to Martin's talent. A leather-pants-clad Martin took the stage and stole the show from Shania Twain, Sheryl Crow and Madonna. The number made news across the nation. Time wrote that Martin "performed the musical equivalent of CPR." Entertainment Weekly remarked that his performance "single-handedly goosed a very dull telecast, earning him a standing ovation." Martin himself told Billboard, "[I was] glad to let 2 million people all over the world in different cultures know who I am and what kind of music I make."

That one televised appearance did more for Martin's career in the United States than anything he had done previously. The Houston Chronicle quoted one record store manager as saying, "Ever since he appeared on the Grammys, [Martin's albums have been] blowing out the door. I don't know what those leather pants did. It just like turned everybody on." According to Rolling Stone and other sources, Martin's Grammy number increased sales of his Vuelve album by 500 percent.


Released English-Language Album


Now an international superstar and household name, Martin released his first English-language album, also self-titled Ricky Martin, in May of 1999. Produced by Rosa and Desmond Child and Emilio Estefan, who, along with Jon Secada, also wrote some of the songs, it became the fastest-selling release that year, entering the U.S. charts at number one, the best ever for a Latin artist on the mainstream pop charts. Its single, "Livin' La Vida Loca," quickly vaulted to and remained at the number one spot on the U.S. Hot 100 for five weeks. The release also included a duet with Madonna, "Be Careful," in which he sings in English while she sings in Spanish. By 2001 album sales were at 15 million worldwide, nearly half coming from the United States, with three single tracks hitting the charts, including the "Loca" follow-up, "She's All I Ever Had," which climbed to number two.

It was more than energetic pop songs that hurtled Martin into international celebrity; his sex appeal contributed as well. When asked in a Rolling Stone interview if he was comfortable with his image, Martin replied, "Sex symbol is equal to no credibility. That's something I don't want to fight with. Sexuality and sensuality are completely different things. Sensuality is something that you're born with. Am I sensual? Well, a lot of people say I am. But sexuality is something I leave for my own mirror. I don't share that with anyone."

The enormous success of his latest releases had finally planted Martin into American mainstream music, but he was now accused by some of having abandoned his Latin roots. Martin explained in USA Today, "I will never stop singing in Spanish, but this a communications business, and it's all about getting closer to cultures." During his acceptance of the 1999 World Music Award for Best Selling Latin Artist he stated, "To create music is to unite countries." And not all critics felt Martin had sold out. A music critic at Time wrote of Ricky Martin, "This is an unabashed pop album, but it's saved by its Latin soul."

After continuous rotation on the airwaves, the smash hit "La Vida Loca" eventually became too mainstream in the United States. The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Martin, the former child star, is suffering a bad case of overexposure. Can you even count how many times you have heard "Livin' La Vida Loca"? Or how many times you have caught yourself singing it? But backlash is part of the price of fame. Fans and press build celebrities up and then knock them down. Once a song becomes so imbedded in pop culture, as Mr. Martin's 1999 hit "Vida Loca" was, it is hard to live down."


Opened Doors for Others

Sound Loaded, released in 2000, featured the single "She Bangs," a hit overseas, but less so in America. It also featured a highly acclaimed duet with Christina Aguilera, "Nobody Wants to Be Lonely." Although it was a top ten hit around much of the world, in the United States it only reached No. 13 on the Hot 100. Billboard was critical about the album's tame reception compared to Martin's two previous releases: "The signs continue to point to massive burn-out on this artist. Unfortunately, 'Loaded' is not going to bring new luster to his career at top 40 radio." Yet Martin's energetic live performances continued to thrill throngs of concert-goers.

Martin's explosion into superstardom helped open the door for many other Latin artists. Artists such as Marc Anthony, Shakira, and Enrique Iglesias, have crossed over to U.S. audiences with much success. In 1999 Martin himself predicted the far-reaching benefits of his hard work and fame to USA Today: "I can open the door to a new generation of Latin performers." This was proven when actress/singer Jennifer Lopez, released her first album, and it quickly went platinum, selling over a million copies.

Since his Menudo days, Martin has become involved in charitable programs that aid children. The Ricky Martin Foundation was established in 2000 to provide assistance to a variety of causes. Billboard wrote in May of 2002: "This impetus to help, coupled with a highly involved and personal approach to doing so that dates back to his teens, motivated Billboard to name Martin the recipient of [its] Spirit of Hope Award."

In 2002, during his participation in the Principal for a Day program, a program supporting New York public schools, People visited with Martin to ask what advice he wanted to share with young people today. He replied: "I think it is important to talk about persistence and to leave the word 'mediocrity' out of your vocabulary. I need to talk about the importance of fighting for what you believe in."

In addition to his charitable work, Ricky Martin has continued to explore his entertainment career. He told People: "I've been working on acting. I want to go back to film and theater. But music will always be my priority. Being onstage is really what I live for. I think it's the most beautiful addiction that there is. I don't really see myself doing anything else at this point."


Selected discography

Ricky Martin, Sony Discos, 1992.

Me Amaras, Sony Discos, 1993.

A Medio Vivir, Sony Discos, 1995.

Vuelve, C2/Columbia, 1998.

Ricky Martin, C2/Columbia, 1999.

Sound Loaded, C2/Columbia, 2002.

Almas del silencio, Sony, 2003.


Sources

Periodicals


Billboard, March 17, 1997; September 5, 1998; March 13, 1999; May 29, 1999; June 5, 1999; June 2, 2001; May 11, 2002; January 27, 2001; February 3, 2001.

Entertainment Weekly, April, 23, 1999; May 14, 1999.

Hispanic, September 1994.

Hispanic Times, October/November 1996.

Houston Chronicle, March 8, 1999.

Interview, June 1999.

Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1995; May 12, 1999.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 2, 1999.

Newsday, May 30, 1999.

Newsweek, May 31, 1999.

New York Times, June 18, 2000.

People, May 15, 1995; May 10, 1999; June 7, 1999; May 6, 2002.

Rolling Stone, May 3, 1999; May 13, 1999; June 10, 1999.

San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 1999.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 16, 1999.

Time, March 15, 1999; May 24, 1999; May 10, 1999; May 24, 1999.

USA Today, March 1, 1999; May 7, 1999.


On-line


"Artist Spotlight Ricky Martin," MSN Music, http://entertainment.msn.com/Artist/?artist=100514 (March 31, 2003).

"Ricky Martin: Biography," VH1.com Artists, www.vh1.com/artists/az/martin_ricky/bio.jhtml (March 31, 2003).

Kim Burton

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Martin, Ricky

Ricky Martin

Singer, actor

Acting, Accidents, and Albums

Created a Loca Audience

Confronted Sex Symbol Image

Selected discography

Sources

On the edge of the new millennium, Puerto Rican pop sensation Ricky Martinalmost by himselfgave Latino music an international face. An electrifying perfor-mance at the 1999 Grammy Awards launched Martin into worldwide super-stardom. As Entertainment Weeklys Andrew Essex reported, his leather-pants, electro-pelvis version of La Copa de la Vida single-handedly goosed a very dull [Grammy] telecast, earning him a standing ovation. It earned him a legion of fans, as well, who quickly snapped up copies of Martins CDs the next day.

Born Enrique Martin on December 24, 1971 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Ricky was not an over night success. Martin, the only child of Enrique Martin, a psychologist and Nereida Morales, an accountant who were divorced when Martin was two, began his climb into stardom at age eight by acting. In 1983 at age 12, Rickyafter auditioning three timeswas finally accepted as a member of the Latin boy band, Menudo. Menudos manager, Edgardo Diaz, told Time, He [Martin] was small, not a big singer, and his voice was not so good then. But we thought he could learn a lot by being with the group. For the next five years Martin toured dozens of countries with Menudo, including Spain, Italy, Guam, and Japan.

At least one ex-member of Menudo has publicly described his experience with the group as, in Essexs words, abusive, exploitative, and unsavory. In spite of this, Essex continues, [Martin] focuses on the lessons Menudo instilled in him: I learned what discipline was. For me, its been easy to forgive. However, Martin did tell Peoples Peter Castro and Lynda Wright that, our [the bands] creativity was stifled we were told [the songs we wrote] were no good.

And because Martin constantly was on tour, his family relationshipsespecially with his fathersuffered. As Martin recalled in People, When my dreams started coming true, my parents started fighting. I had everything I ever wanted, but my family was falling apart. His father, Martin continued, wanted me to choose between him and my mother. How do you ask a child that? Castro and Wright wrote that in 1985, [Martin] so resented his father that he changed his name from Enrique [to Ricky]. It would take almost ten years forfather and son to repair their relationship.

Acting, Accidents, and Albums

In 1988, Martin left Menudo, graduated high school, and moved to New York City. In 1992, Martin moved again, this time to Mexico City where he restarted his acting

For the Record

Born Enrique Martin on December 24, 1971 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Began acting at age eight; joined Latin pop band, Menu-do at age 12, 1983; was dismissed from Menudo, 1988; released first album, Ricky Martin, 1992; released second album, Me Amaras, 1993; resumed acting on the popular soap opera, General Hospital and on Broadway in Les Miserables, 1994; released third album, A Medio Vivir, 1995; provided voice for Hercules in the Spanish language version of the Disney film, Hercules, 1997; released fourth album, Vuelve, which included the smash hit, La Copa de la Vida, 1998; performed at 1999 Grammy Awards; released his first English-language album, Ricky Martin, 1999

Awards: Best New Latin Performer, Billboard Video Awards, 1993; Best Actor, Heraldo Award, 1993; Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Performance, 1999; Best Selling Latin Artist, World Music Awards, 1999.

Addresses: Record Company C2 Records/Columbia Records; Management Angelo Medina Enterprises, 1406 Georgetti Street, Santurce, Puerto Rico, 00910; Fan Club Ricky Martin International Fan Club, P.O. Box 13345, Santurce Station, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

career. Martin earned a Heraldothe Mexican Academy Award for his work in the film adaptation of Alcanzar una Estrella (Reach for a Star), a Spanish or soap opera. Also, in 1992, Martin signed to Sony and released his first solo album, Ricky Martin. Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola saw the future of Latin pop music telling Times Christopher John Farley, The heart and soul of the music will be able to break down barriers easily. Its undeniable. Also undeniable was Martins burgeoning popularity. After a sold out tour of South America and being named Billboard Video Awards Best New Latin Artist of 1993, Martin released his second album, Me Amaras and moved to Los Angeles, California.

In 1994 Martin earned a role on the ABC soap opera, General Hospital. Martin told Hispanic magazine reporter Rosie Carbo that, For me, General Hospital, has been an incredible way of learning and growing as an actor. I look at it as a training school thats going to help my acting career [however], I think this will even help me in my musical career. Martins confidence continued to grow with his performance as Marius in the Broadway play, Les Miserables. Martin also continued to record music and in 1995 released his third album, A Medio Vivir.

As Martin began to grow ever more popular, he became aware of being stereotyped. As he told Essex, Its all about breaking stereotypes. For me, the fact that people think Puerto Rico is Scarface, that we ride on donkeys to schoolthat has to change. Martin began to break stereotypes by becoming Puerto Ricos national tourism spokesman, by voicing Hercules for Disneys Spanish-language version of the 1997 animated film, Hercules, and by releasing his fourth album, Vuelve. Vuelve hit number one in 22 countries on the strength of the smash single, La Copa de la Vida (The Cup of Life). In 1998 this single became the anthem for soccers World Cup, thus raising Martins international popularity. It also became the anthem for Governor Pedro Rossellos campaign to have Puerto Rico named United States fifty-first state. However, Martin did not authorize the use of the song. Martins manager Angelo Medina told Billboards Karl Ross, Music doesnt choose sides. It belongs to every-one. And thats the message Martin wanted American audiences to embrace. However, it would take a memorable performance by Martin at the 1999 Grammy Awards for the United States to open its arms.

Created a Loca Audience

Martin performed La Copa de la Vida (The Cup of Life) at the1999 Grammy Awards. Martin told Billboards John Lannert and Carrie Bell, [I was] glad to let 2 million people all over the world in different cultures know who I am and what kind of music I make. Audiences were glad too. About two hours into a boring show, Times David E. Thigpen wrote, [Martin] performed the musical equivalent of CPR. Martins performanceand leather pantsgave the Grammy audience something to remember. Joey Guerra of the Houston Chronicle quoted one record store manager as saying, Ever since he appeared on the Grammies, [Martins albums have been] blowing out the door. I dont know what those leather pants did. It just like turned everybody on. According to Rolling Stone Martins Grammy appearance, increased sales of Vuelve by 500 percent. In May 1999, Martin released Ricky Martin his first English-language album. Reporters, fans, and critics alike asked Martin why he had apparently left behind his Latin roots. As Entertainment Weeks David Browne commented, The danger of leaving behind ones home turf, especially for world-music artists lies in the loss of [their] identity. However, as Martin told USA Todays Arlene Vigoda, I will never stop singing in Spanish, but this a communications business, and its all about getting closerto cultures. Martin further stated when he accepted the 1999 World Music Award for Best Selling Latin Artist that, To create music is to unite countries. Ricky Martin, however, retains a Latin quality while also showing Martins diversity, including a duet with pop music icon, Madonna. But, as St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Kevin C. Johnson commented, before anyone can accuse Martin of selling out by singing in English, theres a Spanish version of Livin La Vida Loca and Bella, where Martin flip-flops between the two languages.

Confronted Sex Symbol Image

However, it was not merely a number one hit single that created such a successful album, but Martins image as a leather-pants-wearing sex symbol. When asked by Rolling Stones David Wild if he felt comfortable with that image, Martin replied, Sex symbol is equal to no credibility. Thats something I dont want to fight with. Sexuality and sensuality are completely different things. Sensuality is something that youre born with. Am I sensual? Well, a lot of people say I am. But sexuality is something I leave for my own mirror. I dont share that with anyone. Martin continued his worldwide tourthrough-out the summer of 1999, telling Vigoda, I need the immediate reaction I get from performing my music. Vigoda further quoted Martin as saying, I want to do this forever. I dont want to be the hit of the summer, and hopefully, with a lot of humility, we can talk in 10 years and Ill still be here. Little Judy of LaMusica.com, for one, seems to think he will: Martin is much more than a pop idol. In possession of natural talent and quiet intelligence, he is a young man discovering his soul as an artist. What he learns and shares with the world in the future, is what art, in the truest sense of the word, is all about.

Selected discography

Ricky Martin, Sony Discos, 1992.

Me Amaras, Sony Discos, 1993.

A Medio Vivir, Sony Discos, 1995.

Vuelve, C2/Columbia, 1998.

Ricky Martin, C2/Columbia, 1999.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard, March 17, 1997; September 5, 1998; March 13, 1999.

Entertainment Weekly, April, 23, 1999; May 14, 1999.

Hispanic, September 1994.

Hispanic Times Magazine, October/November, 1996.

Houston Chronicle, March 8, 1999.

Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1995; May 12, 1999.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 2, 1999.

People, May 15, 1995.

Rolling Stone, May 3, 1999; May 13, 1999; June 10, 1999.

San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 1999.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 16, 1999.

Time, March 15, 1999; May 24, 1999.

USA Today, March 1, 1999.

Online

Ricky Martin Soul of a Young Artist, www.LaMusica.com (May 6, 1999).

Ricky Martin, Rolling Stone Random Notes, www.RollingStone.com (May 20, 1999).

Additional information was provided by the liner notes from the album Ricky Martin.

Ann M. Schwalboski

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Martin, Ricky

RICKY MARTIN

Born: Enrique Martin Morales; San Juan, Puerto Rico, 24 December 1971

Genre: Latin, R&B, Pop

Best-selling album since 1990: Ricky Martin (1999)

Hit songs since 1990: "Livin' la Vida Loca," "La Copa de la Vida"


Recording a song that becomes a worldwide smash is a huge accomplishment. But when that songcoupled with a million-watt smile and some well-placed hip shakessingle-handedly launches a music revolution, as one-time child star Ricky Martin's " Livin' la Vida Loca" did in 1999, it is a rare occurrence indeed. The former Menudo member thrust his way into the world's consciousness with his mega-selling hit at the dawn of the new millennium, opening the door for a raft of Latin artists in a movement dubbed the "Latin Explosion."

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1971, Ricky Martin was the only child of psychologist Enrique Martin and accountant Nereida Morales, who divorced when he was two years old. Martin began acting in commercials as a child, and by the time he was sixteen had already had a lifetime's worth of pop stardom. A member of the perennially youthful manufactured boy band, Menudowhich forced members to retire at age sixteenMartin began acting and singing while in grade school, finally gaining entrance to Menudo and touring the world with the group after his third audition in 1984 at age twelve.

Martin won a Mexican Academy Award for his role in the film version of the Mexican soap opera Alcanzar Una Estrella II, in 1988 and in 1992 signed a deal with Sony Records, which released his self-titled debut that year. A second album, the ballad-heavy Me Amaras (1993), preceded Martin's move to Los Angeles to concentrate on breaking his career in the United States. The singer landed a role on the ABC soap opera General Hospital as singing bartender Miguel Morez and released his third album, A Medio Vivir (1995), produced by fellow ex-Menudo member Robi Rosa. The album opened up Martin's style by introducing some rock elements into the traditional mix of Spanish ballads and upbeat dance numbers, producing the hit "Maria." In 1997 Martin began a year on Broadway in the role of Marius in Les Miserables.


The Hipshake Heard 'Round the World

Already a huge star in Latin America, the personable singer released Vuelve (1998), which debuted at number one on Billboard 's Top Latin chart and contained the official song for that year's soccer World Cup championship,
"La Copa de la Vida" ("The Cup of Life"). The single hit the number one chart position across the globe while the album sold more than 6 million copies worldwide. With a 1999 Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop Performance, Martin was poised to cross over to an American audience, which he did in an unforgettable fashion at the February Grammy Awards ceremony.

His electrifying performance of the song, complete with leaping flames, a hip-shaking, leather-clad derriere, and a million-watt smile, launched Martin into the stratosphere. Suddenly, the singer was everywhere: magazine covers, entertainment news programs, benefit concerts, and television specials.

The hype would reach astronomical levels with the release of the Latin pop single "Livin' la Vida Loca" in the spring of 1999. The rousing, dance floor-ready celebration of a wild life was the number one single in the United States for five weeks during the summer and the album from which it was taken, Ricky Martin (not to be confused with his self-titled 1992 Spanish debut), entered the charts at number one. The song, which was so ubiquitous it quickly took on the quality of another Spanish smash, "The Macarena" (1996), helped the album sell more than 660,000 copies in its first week, the best ever for a Latin performer on the mainstream pop charts.

With production from Emilio Estefan Jr. and Desmond Child, Ricky Martin blends dance pop, rock, jazz, ska, and salsa into a world beat mix that appeals both to Martin's loyal Latin audience and to an American one primed for new sounds thanks to Martin's charisma and approachable, photogenic image. Even Madonna was wooed to join in Martin's "Latin Explosion" by singing a duet with him on the song "Be Careful (Cuidado con Mi Corazon)." The album also produced the hit ballad "She's All I Ever Had."

Along with massive exposure came prying questions, including a repeated whisper campaign concerning Martin's sexuality. Though interviewers asked Martin to clear up the media-created confusion, the singer politely demurred, suggesting that what he does in his bedroomhe was linked romantically with Hispanic television personality Rebecca de Alba for yearswas not for public consumption. Taking few chances, Martin launched his second English-language album, Sound Loaded (2000), with another pop romp combining Latin percussion and Western dance music, "She Bangs."

Spot Light: The Latin Explosion

With a shake of the hips, a flash of his pearly whites, and a soccer chant that became a worldwide smash, Ricky Martin helped open the floodgates for the late-1990s "Latin Explosion." Following his career-making performance of "La Copa de la Vida" at the 1999 Grammy Awards, Martin released the Latin pop smash "Livin' la Vida Loca," an infectious Latin-English celebration of life that became Columbia Records' biggest-selling number one hit of all time. In the wake of Martin's success, the pop charts were suddenly flooded with Latin artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, Marc Anthony, Chris Perez, Shakira, Luis Miguel, and Maná, some of whom were already major stars in Latin America but who had struggled to break the all-important American market. Not coincidentally, the movement came just a few years before the United States Hispanic population was expected to exceed African Americans as the country's largest minority population (2005).

Despite stronger songs and a more eclectic, lusher sound, the album did not fare as well as its predecessor. A hastily arranged duet with red hot Anglo-Latin singer Christina Aguilera on the album's second single, "Nobody Wants to Be Lonely," and the title track, which was uncomfortably close in sound to "Livin' la Vida Loca," did not reach the fevered pitch of the previous album's singles, according to music critics. Martin retreated from the spotlight in 2001 and 2002, making sporadic appearances at charity events.

With a lifetime of experience at his fingertips, Ricky Martin was poised to break into the lucrative American market, but even the former Menudo member could never have predicted how large an entrée he would make. The success of Martin's feel-good Latin dance singles helped pave the way for a number of other Latin artists who were finally able to translate their fame to a more receptive American audience.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Ricky Martin (Sony Discos, 1991); Me Amaras (CBS/Sony Discos, 1993); A Medio Vivir (Sony Discos, 1995); Vuelve (Sony Discos, 1998); Ricky Martin (Columbia, 1999); Sound Loaded (Sony/Columbia, 2000); Almas del Silencio (Sony Discos, 2003).


gil kaufman

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