Jorge Lopez

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Crossing Over

Laura Pausini
Image via Wikipedia

Last year I mentioned Mexican pop stars Thalia and Paulina Rubio and their failed attempts to cross over to the English market. Obviously these two are part of a huge group of singers and musicians who have tried and failed to achieve U.S. stardom which got me to thinking: What does it take to make it here in the states?

Let’s take someone like Laura Pausini. You may not have heard of her but this multilingual singer has enjoyed tremendous success releasing albums in her native Italian and translating them into equally successful Spanish releases.

What some people don’t know is Ms. Pausini also took a stab at broadening her international audience by releasing her English language effort “From the Inside” in 2002. The first single “Surrender” did manage to chart on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play but let’s face it, labels care about the Hot 100 not what’s being played in the clubs.

Needless to say Laura Pausini returned to what she was good at and has since released three successful albums. Her latest has a song with James Blunt called “Primavera Anticipada (It’s My Song)”, we’ll have to wait and see if that’s a sign she may be attempting another stab at the English market.

Another person who has enjoyed huge success overseas is Hikaru Utada who commonly goes by her last name. She dominates the charts and is the chief rival to Japan’s reigning queen of pop Ayumi Hamasaki but over here it’s another story.

Utada has now released three albums in the U.S., two under her current stage name and one way back in 1998 when she called herself Cubic U.

In 2004 Utada returned with “Exodus” via Island Records. The two singles (“Easy Breezy” and “Devil Inside”) did very little, the latter enjoying some degree of success on the club charts. Despite having names like Timbaland on the album, Exodus didn’t do very much to earn Utada the kind of fanbase or sales she enjoys abroad.

Utada released her latest attempt, the confidently titled “This is the One” earlier this month. Unfortunately the lead single “Come Back to Me” hasn’t made much of a splash and the album debuted at number 69 on the Billboard 200.

In terms of Laura Pausini and Utada, one could argue that their failed crossover attempts are due to a lack of proper marketing or promotion. After all, there are numerous releases that go completely unnoticed and are dead on arrival, like when Capitol Records quietly dropped Kylie Minogue’s post breast cancer comeback album “X” in stores without telling anyone.

Then again, in Utada’s case it could be a case of trying to play directly to the kind of music that gets played on popular radio. “This is the One” has been criticized for its uncharacteristically rated R lyrics and for its generic R&B tunes.

Thalia’s “I Want You” had a cameo by Fat Joe, Estelle featured Kanye West but only the single managed to make it big, not the album it came from. But cameos are something of a mixed bag.

Shakira enjoyed tremendous success with Laundry Service but after the lukewarm reception to “Don’t Bother”, she recorded new tunes and used Wyclef’s “Dance Like This” to create the highly successful “Hips Don’t Lie”. Sales for Oral Fixation Vol. 2 skyrocketed but the followup single “Illegal” with Carlos Santana tanked.

Another example of catering to the masses is Ricky Martin. After the relative disappointment of Sound Loaded, Ricky returned with Life and a new image. Both “I Don’t Care” and “Drop it on Me” were about as generic and radio friendly as they get but very few people cared for the new Ricky and life went on, no pun intended.

So at the end of the day it could be several factors. Perhaps the U.S. is too hard to crack. Perhaps popular artists make the mistake of sacrificing their own unique talents and style for the sake of having their music play on popular radio. Is it selling out or is it just a case of not having songs that appeal to U.S. listeners? What do you think?

Musical Flashbacks

Like many children, I was exposed to a lot of the ethnic music my parents themselves grew up listening to and represented where they were from. Like most children I usually didn’t care for it since I was just too cool to listen that “old people stuff” that simply didn’t reflect the more modern sounds of artists like Jesus Jones, 2 Unlimited, Ace of Base, Bell Biv Devoe and of course, Madonna that I was listening to as a kid growing up in the guilty pleasure nineties.

Eventually as time wizened me up and made me realize that it was okay to like Latin music from the past and present, I developed a fondness for Latin pop, mostly because it reflected the same genre of music I prefer in English. This fondness eventually lead me to discover Shakira (before she became a household name in both languages) and other artists like La Oreja de Van Gogh, Juanes and Mexican singers Thalia and Paulina Rubio.

Speaking of Thalia and Paulina Rubio, they both attempted an English crossover but neither managed to grab the attention of American audiences like Shakira, although they both did manage relatively minor hits, the former with “I Want You” off of her 2003 self titled album and the latter with “Don’t Say Goodbye” off of her Border Girl album.

In some cases the manufactured aspect of Latin pop music (some of it anyway) of today reflects the same manufactured approach that’s played on American radio these days which really made me appreciate the time and effort that a lot of singers and musicians put into their craft way back in the day.

With the advent of YouTube and its ease in sharing these videos of the past and present, I’ve recalled a lot of these older artists that I grew up listening to or whose songs I was particularly fond of like Daniela Romo, Emmanuel, Jeanette, Camilo Sesto and Rudy LaScala. Some of those were one hit wonders or simply faded from the music scene but with YouTube I’ve found their videos and it’s so great to get reacquainted with these songs once again while chuckling to myself at some of the fashions and limited technologies that were used to create these videos and now seem so silly but were so modern back then.

Does there always come that point in one’s lifetime when they learn to appreciate the music they were raised on and exposed to or are there common circumstances where even in adulthood this older music still seems…blasé? It’s always fun to revel in that moment when you remember something like Kaoma’s version of Lambada and remember it fondly. Having access to this video and countless others from back in the day or from the nineties for that matter…it only makes the revelry that much more pleasant.

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