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Culture Re-View: How Ricky Martin's 'Livin' La Vida Loca' changed pop music

Puerto Rican pop sensation Ricky Martin performs before a crowd of 25,000 during a concert at the SkyDome in Toronto, Canada Saturday, Mar. 18, 2000.
Puerto Rican pop sensation Ricky Martin performs before a crowd of 25,000 during a concert at the SkyDome in Toronto, Canada Saturday, Mar. 18, 2000. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Jonny Walfisz
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Ricky Martin's sensational debut English-language track wasn't just a banger, it was instrumental in Americans embracing Latin pop.

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23 March 1999: We’re all ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’

A common misbelief for children is that if you go far enough into the past, everything is in black and white. While the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz was a pioneer of technicolour, for me anything prior to this day in 1999 will always seem somewhat monochromatic.

Why was the world so desaturated until 23 March 1999? It’s simple. Ricky Martin was yet to release his sultry pop hit ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’.

Puerto Rican singer Martin was already a big success by 1999. The King of Latin Pop had released four albums that spawned huge hit ‘Vuelve’ and ‘La Copa de la Vida’, the latter of which he performed at the Grammy awards in February 1999.

It was the lead single of his fifth album that would enshrine Martin in the annals of pop forever. 

The opening track to ‘Ricky Martin’, the singer’s first English-language release was, of course, the unmistakable Latin-flourished pop sensation ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ or “Livin’ the Crazy Life”.

KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/AP1999
Ricky Martin open his concert dancing on top of a classic Ford Mustang while singing "Livin' La Vida Loca" Saturday, Nov. 13, 1999, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/AP1999

Over Latin percussion, surf-rock guitar riffs, and celebratory horn instrumentation, the lyrics spin the tale of a seductress who draws Martin into her deadly embrace. It’s use of dynamic range compression gives the song the sense that it’s even louder than it actually is.

Anyone who says they haven’t sung the lines “She'll make you take your clothes off and go dancing in the rain; She'll make you live her crazy life, but she'll take away your pain; Like a bullet to your brain, come on” at full pelt on a night out is either a liar or is terminally dull.

The song, written by Draco Rosa and Desmond Child, was an instant hit and met critical acclaim. It topped the Billboard 100 charts for five consecutive weeks, topping the charts in a total of 20 countries. In the US, it went platinum after selling over a million copies.

Everything about ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ is iconic. From the song itself to the camp nightclub video it came with. But the song’s true importance comes from its cultural influence.

By cultural influence, I’m talking about more than just the scene in Shrek 2 where Donkey and Puss in Boots sing a version.

Martin’s crossover appeal, bringing Latin pop to the US charts was instrumental in making space for the major breakthroughs of other Latin music artists. Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Christina Aguilera, Marc Anthony, Santana, and Enrique Iglesias all followed suit and released crossover albums to massive chart successes.

The next time you’re bopping along to ‘Despacito’ the Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee remixed by Justin Bieber, take a moment to think of ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’... And then put it on immediately after.

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