Feliz Cumpleaños Madonna!
It’s Madonna’s 60th birthday, and we’re saying it in Spanish to celebrate her career-long affair with Latin music and culture: from Spanish-language songs to torero fashion, her movie role as Argentina’s Eva Peron and her partying a lo cubano. A good decade before the Ricky Martin-led “Latin Pop Explosion” and aeons before “Despacito’s” mega hit sent everyone scrambling to write a bilingual song, Madonna had a Billboard no. 1 with “La Isla Bonita.” Some may quibble with her accent, or slam the romancing of bullfighting in her videos, but there is no denying that the woman has sabor to spare.
“La Isla Bonita”
Madonna called “La Isla Bonita” a “tribute to the beauty and mystery of the Latin American people” in an interview with The New York Times in 1986, when the unexpected Spanish-language track appeared on her album True Blue.
In 1987, Madonna starred in the movie Who’s That Girl with Griffin Dunne. The theme song included an easy Spanish-language chorus (Quién es esa niña?”).
In her early New York days, Madonna hung out in the downtown clubs that attracted Latino kids. Freestyle music was having its moment, and its influence could be heard on the singer’s debut album. Jelly Bean Benitez, the Nuyorican DJ who presided at the Fun House, produced “Holiday,” the single that announced her arrival. In a riff in his 2011 show Ghetto Klown, John Leguizamo said that “Madonna stole freestyle” from Puerto Rican singer Sa-Fire (“Thinking of You”) and Bronx trio Sweet Sensation (“If Wishes Came True”).
Bullfighting has been a running theme in Madonna’s videos and stage shows. The video for her 1994 song “Take a Bow” was filmed at the archetypal white-washed bull ring in Ronda, Spain and turned bullfighter Emilio Muñoz into a sex symbol far beyond taurino circles.
Madonna’s 1995 song “Verás,” the Spanish version of “You’ll See,” Included a bullfighting scene.
In more recent years, Madonna has indulged her bullfighting fantasies on stage and on the red carpet. She dressed in a custom made traje de luces on her 2015 Rebel Heart tour, and wore a Givenchy version of a torero’s costume on the red carpet at the Grammys.
In 1997, Madonna appeared in the starring role in the movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita. Reviews were mixed.
“Evita attempts to revive two things long thought dead: Madonna’s acting career and the movie musical. For Madonna, it’s close but no cigar,” wrote Rolling Stone’s Pete Travers. Roger Ebert, on the other hand, found Madonna’s portrayal of the Argentine legend “magnificent.”
In her NY Times review, Janet Maslin called Evita Madonna’s “most colossal music video,” adding “The star looks stunning, breaks the Guinness world record for most costume changes in a single movie and shows off traffic-stopping screen presence in the process.”
A Lo Cubano
Madonna celebrated her 58th birthday in Havana, where she was captured on video joining a conga line and dancing on the table of the Old Havana restaurant La Vitrola.
Her love of things (and people) Cuban started years before. In 1994, she met Cuban dancer Carlos Leon, the father of her daughter Lourdes. The next year, Cuban singer Albita performed at her 37th birthday party. For a while, Madonna was a fixture on Miami’s then-budding South Beach scene, spotted around town with her Cuban-American gal pal, club owner Ingrid Casares.
Madonna prefaced the current vogue for Spanish-language pop music with “Spanish Lessons,” a 2008 song that could come in handy for some hit-hungry English-speaking artists today.