Tighter pants might help

by Keri Carlson

Four years ago, Latin artists dominated the Billboard charts and MTV and received their own Grammy awards show. But pop culture loves its fads and once they’re over, they’ve exhausted themselves. At one point, the women of Lilith Fair kicked all the testosterone off the airwaves. Neither Sarah McLachlan, Jewel nor Alanis Morissette have maintained their careers with anywhere near the same force they once had. Latin pop seems to have met a similar fate, though at this point, not as severely as the Lilith chicks.

Ricky Martin was one of the pioneers in the Latin pop explosion with his inescapable “Livin’ la Vida Loca.” He put out an album in Spanish this year, yet remains practically invisible to the U.S. media. Other Latin pop stars are still a force in pop culture. However, highlighting their ties to Latin music has taken a back seat to nastier imagery and protestations that they’re still down with the ‘hood. Artists such as Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and the latest singer to be added to this list, Enrique Iglesias, are all guilty of abandoning their roots to some extent.

Iglesias is the most surprising addition to this group. The ladies are obvious moldable pop stars willing to yank on the leg warmers at the first sign of an 80s comeback. Iglesias has never been a stunning musician, and his main rival, Ricky Martin, has the noticeable edge on looks. But Iglesias seemed to be the least likely to forget his Latin roots in favor of wretched over-produced rock guitars with cheesy throbbing dance beats. This assumption mostly had to do with Iglesias’ father, the multimillion-selling Latin star Julio Iglesias and the fact that his music was so strongly imprinted on his son.

Iglesias’ latest album “7” shows he’s just as willing to try to conform to American pop stars as the rest of them. Iglesias has become a boring and mind-numbing songwriter. The cliche-burdened “California Calling” begins with lines that will have you running for the nearest bathroom: “Driving through the night tears are running down my face. I start to realize all the things that I once said. I promise you the world, that’s nothing more that you deserve.” Iglesias does include a bonus Spanish track, “Adicto.” This is by far the best song on the album because, for non-Spanish speakers, you don’t have to understand the lyrics.

Ideally, the Latin pop explosion would have turned Americans on to a variety of Latin music, not just pop. In some small way this was accomplished with the interest in the Buena Vista Social Club, but not much beyond that. Hopefully, Latin music in the United States will surpass being a fad, but it will have to do it without any help from Iglesias.