RICKY MARTIN DIDN’T INVENT LATIN POP, but he became its unofficial U.S. ambassador in 1999.
The San Juan, Puerto Rico, native, then 27, had enjoyed a six-year run with the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo (from 1984 to 1990) and released four Spanish-language albums but hadn’t generated notable crossover success.
That changed on Feb. 24, 1999, when his rousing bilingual rendition of the 1998 World Cup anthem “The Cup of Life” became the most talked-about appearance at that year’s Grammy Awards. His performance ignited a Latin pop revolution, and Billboard noted soon after that “it seems like every record label exec has been in a heated search for the next Latin hottie.”
The subsequent release of Martin’s debut English-language single, “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” only fanned the flames. Co-written and produced by Desmond Child and former Menudo bandmate Robi Draco Rosa, the dance-friendly track spent the first of five weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on May 8, 1999, and Martin’s self-titled album — his first bilingual release — debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 three weeks later. The breakthrough also opened the gates for a string of chart-toppers by Latin artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and Santana.
Martin collected four more top 40 hits on the Hot 100 through 2001, but he has not released an English-language album since Life in 2005. His most recent studio LP, 2015’s A Quien Quiera Escuchar, became his sixth No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart.
Martin came out as gay in 2010 and published his memoir, Me: Ricky Martin, in 2011. The father of twin boys, the singer is in the midst of his first Las Vegas residency, All In, with dates through September.