Several unexpected finds inside this week’s Regional Mexican top 10, not least the presence of some good banda ballads. Unfortunately, #1 isn’t one of them.
1. Banda Los Recoditos – “Perfecta” (#37 Hot Latin) Billboardreports that this is Recoditos’ fifth #1 on the Regional Mexican chart. The first three of those — the iconic breakthrough “Ando Bien Pedo,” “Mi Ultimo Deseo,” and “Hasta Que Salga El Sol” — were about how the world is ending so we should all get drunk and shout along with Luis Angel Franco. The next two — including this one — represent the dispiriting comedown, with the personality-free Samuel Sarmiento atoning for everyone’s sins. If, as I once theorized, Franco’s songs are “the Spencer’s of the banda pop mall,” Sarmiento’s ballads are the HomeGoods. NO VALE LA PENA
5. Banda Carnaval – “Olvidarte, Cómo?”
A slow-as-agave ode to love’s unbreakable hold on the memory. The first line of the chorus sums it up: “Forgetting has some degree of difficulty.” That is, this banda ballad is studied and square, it pulls its punches and never cuts loose — but simmering under all that reserve is a geyser of anguish, rattling the ground around it. You hear it in certain musical gestures, like when the lugubrious on-the-beat melody jostles back and forth with the syncopated horns, and then they come into sync for a trio of “NO”s that seem exhaled rather than sung, yet pack a tremendous rhythmic wallop. Maybe I’m overselling this thing because of the video’s bargain-basement O. Henry “don’t text and drive” message. But Banda Carnaval undersells throughout, except when they strategically don’t, earning them a big old VALE LA PENA. Continue reading “Julión Álvarez sidesteps his sanction, and other surprises (Desfile de Éxitos 7/12/19)”→
First up, from the YASSS SLAIN QUEEN file: July 2 would have been the late Jenni Rivera‘s 50th birthday, so her estate celebrated by releasing “Aparentemente Bien,” a ballad she was working on before her 2012 plane crash. Thanks to some skilled studio reconstruction, you can hear the song in banda, mariachi, and pop versions. It’s OK. Inspired, no doubt, by the heavy metaphysical symbology of the Thor movies, the banda video depicts a rainbow butterfly morphing into an onstage Jenni hologram. NO VALE LA PENA
1. La Adictiva Banda – “El Amor de Mi Vida” (#40 Hot Latin)
This lovey-dovey Horacio Palencia ballad is very boring, so the Blog’s SEO Optimization Team has asked that I make the most of things by reporting that La Adictiva’s singers are Isaac Salas and Guillermo Garza, the latter of whom shares a first name with Guillermo del Toro, producer of the forthcoming film Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The movie looks cool; this song, also recorded by sierreño quartet Alta Consigna, is NO VALE LA PENA.
2. El Fantasma – “Encantadora” (#33 Hot Latin)
Now we’re talking. The man-myth-legend’s “Tu amor es que respiro” lyrics are hard to distinguish from Palencia’s, but the vaquero born Alexander García plows through all that sap like he’s racing his banda to the merch table. This song does NOT appear on García’s latest good album El Circo (Afinarte), on which the banda players routinely sound like they’re trying to trip their boss with their horns. Both album and single are VALE LA PENA. Also Pick to Click!
3. Calibre 50 – “Simplemente Gracias” (#20 Hot Latin)
Edén Muñoz remains one of the format’s most interesting lyricists, on a purely formal “watch me take pleasure in making these metaphors scan” level. When his band plays his ballads, they still sound like they’re gasping for breath. The Blog recommends their brand new, skippy hard luck tale “Chalito,” but this one is NO VALE LA PENA.
4. Banda Los Recoditos – “Perfecta” (#29 Hot Latin)
This is the third song in a row to use el cielo and las estrellas as romantic metaphors. It seems they are endless. La mujer’s beauty is endless. This particular metaphor’s usefulness is not endless. This song feels endless. NO VALE LA PENA
Puerto Rican trapstar Bad Bunny has pulled a Drake this week, clogging up Billboard‘s Hot Latin chart with 10 tracks from his debut album X 100pre. (The highest charting is, whaddya know, a duet with Drake.) NorteñoBlog has long admired Sr. Bunny’s charisma and barber while having almost no use for his music. The greatest insult? He’s Despacitoing norteño music into near nonexistence on Hot Latin. Regional Mexican acts account for only nine of the top 50 songs, one less than Bunny himself. The Blog tells you all this to explain why our Desfile de Éxitos format has changed. You can only type “Bad Bunny” so many times before the Donnie Darko flashbacks become too intense to deal with.
What follows are three mini-lists. First up are the three regional Mexican songs that appear only on the Hot Latin chart, i.e. not on Billboard‘s Regional Mexican Songs radio chart. As you’d expect, since radio factors less into their success, these three songs all have enormous YouTube streaming numbers. As you might not expect, they’re all by sierreño bands. One possible conclusion: sierreño is for cool internet kids. The next list is the Regional Mexican radio top 10: mostly banda, a couple cumbias, and one apiece of sierreño and mariacheño. The third list — of one song this week — is music outside the radio Top 10 that also appears on Hot Latin.
ONLY ON HOT LATIN
Fuerza Regida – “Radicamos En South Central” (#32 Hot Latin)
This sierreño gangsta nonsense is one high-living negocios signifier after another — I count appearances from Compas Tino and Chino, a bottle of Buchanan’s, and an X6 and a white Corvette, along with some good old-fashioned cocaine. The band is really good at switching from midtempo waltz to fast waltz on a dime, so that’s something. Now if they just learned to add backup vocals to their product placements, maybe they wouldn’t sound like they’re trapped in a cement bunker, playing under threat of torture. NO VALE LA PENA
T3R Elemento ft. Gerardo Ortiz – “Aerolinea Carrillo” (#33 Hot Latin)
The lead track from T3R’s 2018 album The Green Trip is ostensibly an ode to Pablo Escobar and his well-structured airborne narcotics business. It’s actually an ode to how cool it is to get high on a plane and sing about gangster shit. In the video, Kristopher Nava, the McLovin’ of the corridos verdes movimiento, chills in an airport lounge wearing a t-shirt that reads “Cookies” and refusing to enunciate. Sergio Cardenas, the band’s Cuban bassist, harmonizes beside him. Gerardo Ortiz plays a commercial airline pilot who smokes up in the cockpit and over-enunciates, well aware of the lurid cargo he’s transporting in his plane’s overhead compartments. Everyone nods a lot. Unlike Fuerza Regida, everyone here is in a good mood and knows the song they’re playing is patently dopey. VALE LA PENA y PICK TO CLICK
Grupo Arranke – “A Través del Vaso” (#39 Hot Latin)
“Una Para Mi Chiquitita (y Una Más Para My Sad Cowboy Hat That Reeks of Authenticity, Even Though My Song Comes From the Horacio Palencia Song Factory)” (Sierreño Versión)
NO VALE LA PENA
5. Banda Los Sebastianes – “A Través del Vaso” (#14 Hot Latin)
“Una Para Mi Chiquitita (y Una Más Para the Underwear Models in the Video)” (Banda Versión)
VALE LA PENA
6. Virlán Garcia – “Quiero Reintentarlo”
Virlán is horny as all get out, so it took an unusual triumph of will for him to keep this from becoming a slow jam. His sierreño band skips along, jaunty and desperate. Congas burble and the tuba line snaps at Virlán’s promises to kiss every corner of your body. VALE LA PENA
14. Calibre 50 – “¿Por Qué Cambiaste De Opinión?” (#50 Hot Latin)
Exactly what you expect from a Calibre ballad: a death march of self-righteous indignation aimed at a fickle mujer, from the dudes who just humble-bragged about going “Mitad y Mitad” with two different women. With his fondness for six-syllable rhymes, Edén Muñoz delights in language more than most of his songwriting cohort, and “No vayas a llorar, que nadie te va abrazar” is a cold kiss-off — but their self pity is dull enough without the band deflating before your ears. NO VALE LA PENA
The corridos verdes boomlet has coughed up a number of giggle-inducing phenomena. With his weedy voice, affected swagger, and perpetually nascent mustache, Kristopher Nava of T3R Elemento (#30 at U.S. Regional Mexican radio) is the genre’s McLovin; his different videos show him hobnobbing among indifferent high school girls and the kushy environs of club VIPs. Meanwhile, the mysterious El De La Guitarra (#26 and #40 Hot Latin, #20 at radio) performs as a diabolical smiley face, and if anyone can remember his real name, they’re not telling.
And then there’s the new joint from Lenin Ramirez ft. T3R Elemento: “Rolling One,” #38 at radio. The song is fine, a rolling norteño waltz with lots of guitar solos compensating for a paper-thin melody. The video is perhaps the highest AF artifact ever filmed. As in, the people who made the video were obviously baked. The video is clearly aimed at people who are stoned. It’s possible that simply watching the video gives you a tropical contact high. (For instance, you might start quoting terrible Beach Boys songs.) Consider that it contains the following elements, inexplicable unless we consult noted cannabis afficionado Occam, last seen using his razor to slice traffic tickets into makeshift rolling papers:
1. A golden assault rifle bong;
2. Numerous mind-blowing shots of people escaping the bounds of the black letterbox bars (IT’S LIKE 3-D ONLY NOT);
3. Lenin Ramirez’s paisley sun-god shirt, itself a mind-altering substance;
4. Especially when he and four bikini-clad, blunt-smoking women ride horses down the beach;
5. Several shots with scratchy or digitally distressed film (IT’S LIKE FOUND FOOTAGE ONLY NOT);
6. A freakin’ tololoche on a boat;
7. A visit to Lenin Ramirez and Kristopher Nava’s industrial cannabis greenhouse;
8. Slow-mo reverse footage of bikini-clad women sucking smoke back into their mouths (IT’S LIKE SPECIAL EFFECTS ONLY NOT);
9. What appears to be a henna tattoo of a wolf;
10. Lyrical shoutouts to marijuana, 420, OG Kush, Colorado, etc., which — as anyone who’s ever been high, or been around high people, knows — is all the high can talk about.
Everything about this video screams both, “Whatever, man, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” and, “Dude, remember that time we were so wasted?” VALE LA PENA, because as I said it’s got lots of guitar solos.
Drowing his sorrows with a different drug, at #39 on the radio we find the new sierreño weeper from hatless 20-year-old lothario Virlán García, who asks the pitiful musical question “En Donde Esta Tu Amor?” Since his mujer left his bed unattended, he’s been searching for her up and down the premises of his stately mansion, chasing her aroma with un vaso de tequila caliente, and — if we can believe the video — hiding all his furniture under dropcloths. NOT UNLIKE HOW THE ORNATE FURNITURE OF HIS HEART HAS BECOME HIDDEN AND USELESS, under the… er… DROPCLOTHS OF MUJER-LESS ANHEDONIA. In the video’s closing scene he sits at the edge of his in-ground swimming pool, singing softly to himself, his tequila vaso apparently bottomless. For his next video, Garcia will either accidentally drown or return inside, to wander among his dusty belongings and go full Havisham. NO VALE LA PENA
Welcome back to the Mexican radio charts! This week, in a startling change of pace, NorteñoBlog finds the Mexican airwaves awash in amor and sentimiento. Rather than fight this impulse by singling out the odd song about lavish lifestyles or dancing horses or whatever, the Blog has decided to embrace it. I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that you open your cold dead heart to at least one of the touchy feely offerings listed below.
At #7 we find “Que Bonito es Querer,” the latest declaration of sierreño amor from Ulices Chaidez y Sus Plebes. The chorus is a decent minor-key circle-of-fifths thing, not unlike “Autumn Leaves,” that allows Chaidez to show off his smoky upper register. The rest of the song would be better if it had any hint of a beat. The video is some straight-up Disney castle cosplay, stuffed with decorum and meaningful gazes and painstakingly plotted ballroom dances — you know, all the places where love goes to die flourishes. Chaidez’s bandmates and sombrero are as absent as princess farts. NO VALE LA PENA
At #8, the balladeers in Banda Carnaval refuse to be anyone’s “Segunda Opción,”especially the segunda opción of a no-good two-timing kiss-stealing mujer. Watch out, faithless ones! When Banda Carnaval’s clarinet players wriggle their eyebrows at you, the nausea can be overwhelming. NO VALE LA PENA
They could take heartbreak lessons from Alejandro Fernandez ft. Los Tigres del Norte, who present an entire heart cauterization program in their duet “Para Sacarte de Mi Vida”, #9 this week. The Springsteens of norteño team up with the… um… Roseanne Cash of ranchera (Maybe? I mean, Alejandro’s too popular to be Shooter Jennings) for a stomp-clap-snappy pop ballad that’s atypical, at least for Los Tigres. The lyrics soar past sentimiento into dark emo/self-help guru territory, with the bereft narrators diving headfirst into their pain, killing their hearts, removing their tattoos, completely rerouting their jogging paths, all in a last-ditch effort to be reborn as some beautiful, heart-intact horse-tiger hybrid. (I paraphrase.) It’s catchy, and Los Tigres acquit themselves well in this less familiar setting. VALE LA PENA and Pick to Click:
NorteñoBlog has held off talking about Raymix, the nombre de cumbia of 27-year-old producer-singer Edmundo Gómez Moreno, in the hope that I would start liking his music. No such luck, but the electrocumiadero’s continuing popularity — “Dónde Estarás” is #8 on Mexican radio, and his two-year-old breakthrough hit “Oye Mujer” is #1 on U.S. Regional Mexican Airplay — has forced my hand. Maybe I need to hear his repetitive, “atmospheric” synth beats echoing around an airplane hangar or something.
1. “Edmundo Gómez Moreno spent 11 months as a project manager and systems engineer helping NASA build nano-satellites in Mexico.” This amounts to one of the coolest “before they were rock stars” jobs ever, as Raymix was apparently living his best life in a real world version of Big Hero 6. Now I’m wondering if his name is a play on “Baymax.”
2. “‘I would define cumbia, whether people like it or not, as the most popular Latin genre all over the Americas and perhaps the world,’ says Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste, a professor at Georgia State University who co-edited and contributed to the essay collection Cumbia! Scenes of a Migrant Latin American Music Genre.” (The Blog is exploring interlibrary loan possibilities.) Cumbia gets plenty of play on regional Mexican radio, often in mixes or accompanying DJ patter, but its electrified version — as played by Raymix, 3Ball MTY, the Kumbia Kings, etc. — has always seemed like an outlier in the mostly acoustic, polka-based format. (Los Ángeles Azules have horns, so their enduring presence makes more sense.) Sure, bandas and norteño groups have a vast repertoire of party cumbias; on banda albums, the Big Dumb Cumbia is as reassuring a presence as the Mama Song on rap albums. But bandas speed up the cumbia’s trademark “ch-ch-ch ch-ch-ch” guiro rhythm until it smooths into something resembling a polka. The slow electrocumbia, on first hearing, seems to have more in common with tropical rhythms like dembow. Why the overlapping audience for acoustic polkas and electrocumbias?
Last weekend NorteñoBlog attended the MoPOP Pop Conference in Seattle, held inside that big blob of Frank Gehry-designed metal that sits in the shadow of the Space Needle. As part of the roundtable panel “Suburban Intersections” (schemed with Annie Zaleski and Anthony Easton, moderated by Karen Tongson), I presented a paper called “Como Los Vaqueros: How Young Regional Mexican Performers Construct, and Deconstruct, Masculinity.” You’ll see it here soon; but while you wait for instructions on how to deconstruct masculinity, here’s my recipe for deconstructed green bean casserole, a perennial Thanksgiving hit, but also good for gardening season:
1. Deep fry long snapped green beans, red onion rings, and whole button mushrooms. (I recently discovered Tyler Florence’s “Fronion Rings” batter, which incorporates frozen fries and xanthan gum and stays crispy way longer than the standard Joy of Cooking batter.)
2. Make sage mayonnaise. (I recommend James Peterson’s method of extracting chlorophyll from spinach and using the chlorophyll as food coloring. It’s a way more appetizing shade of green than regular food coloring, plus you can say you EXTRACTED CHLOROPHYLL FROM SPINACH.)
3. Now that I write it out, you probably wanna switch the order of those two steps.
4. Serve! Dip! Eat!
While at the conference, I caught a fascinating presentation by Yessica Garcia Hernandez, a doctoral candidate at UCSD who’s done extensive work studying Jenni Rivera fandom. You can read some of her papers, for the prestigious likes of NANO and the Journal of Popular Music Studies, here. During the Q&A she pointed out that for true fans, Jenni has never died. We find evidence of that claim on this week’s radio chart, where a duet between Jenni and her daughter Chiquis on the skippy banda tune “Quisieran Tener Mi Lugar” sits at #28. It is a vigorous chingado of los haters.
And, surprise surprise, the Riveras aren’t the only women on the radio this week. At #37 we find Becky G’s heartwarming paean to sexy older dudes, “Mayores,” off the top of my head the only instance of a non-regional song lingering on Mexican regional radio after it’s fallen off the all-encompassing Hot Latin chart. And at #31 we find Marilyn Odessa, aka Marilyn, with the snoozy (but well-sung) banda ballad “No Sé.” Marilyn is on Lizos Records, home to the equally snoozy (but huge) Banda MS. Like Chiquis, Marilyn also has a famous Mom, the pop singer Marisela; you can watch the two madres perform together here. And apparently there was some sort of social media dispute between Marilyn and Chiquis, although they seem to have cleared that up.
ANYWAY, Marilyn is poised for success. “No Sé” was written by the ubiquitous Horacio Palencia, and her previous album Boleto Al Infierno (Music Eyes 2014) was produced by the even more ubiquitous Luciano Luna, so she’s got connections in high places. If Lizos can spin YouTube gold out of the stupefyingly dull Banda MS, there’s no limit to how the company could help an act with an actual personality.
Today’s Pick to Click goes to none of the above. Rather, the Blog hands the coveted award to a different Chiquis song from her new album Entre Botellas (Sweet Sound). “Los Chismes” is a cover of a good-time chinga-los-haters polka from another deathless icon, Chalino Sanchez. In the original, Sanchez complains about the gossips who keep disparaging his wife-to-be: She’s ugly! She’s too skinny! (“¡Dicen que eres flaca!”) Being a caballero in love, Sanchez pays them no mind. (Well, besides going to the trouble to write a song about them.) Chiquis turns the song into a big banda cumbia duet with Lorenzo Mendez, and gets him to flip a couple lines in the second verse. In Mendez’s telling, the gossip folks are complaining that Chiquis is a “gordibuena,” a term for a beautiful full-figured woman that Chiquis has proudly claimed for herself. “If I wanted a flaquita,” sings Mendez, “I’d die of hunger.” “You know what’s good,” replies Chiquis, who delivers all spoken asides with her eyebrow raised a mile high. Come for the horny cumbia; stay for the body image empowerment and what might be Chiquis’s best performance on record.
As promised, Edwin Luna and his perpetually nascent acting chops appear at #10 on this week’s busy Mexican radio chart with the giggle inducing “Fíjate Que Sí.” Actually, it might only induce giggles if you watch the video, let’s see here… [Listens to the song in another tab.] JAJAJAJA! Oh, Edwin Luna. You are an international camp treasure. The man draws out his singing and even his spoken interludes until the words congeal into a sticky mass. They say he aspirates agave nectar.
Other entries previously lauded by NorteñoBlog include man-myth-legend El Fantasma at #17, and whirling fount of Terpsichore Marco Flores doing his devil dance at #19. At #14 we find the latest mariacheño-or-whatever romantic ballad from Christian Nodal, still sounding older than his teenaged years. In “Me Dejé Llevar,” the title track of his overrated 2017 debut album, Nodal laments getting carried away by passion for a mujer, which seems to have made him possessive and scummy. The music doesn’t sound like possessive scumminess; it’s his patented mix of dull, syncopation-free guitars with swoony horns, strings, and accordion. The video, though, is a primo cultural artifact. First we see the macho caballero with hat, cigar, and sturdy country mansion; then we’re whisked behind the scenes into some abstract phantasmagoria of amor, where the now hatless Nodal and a nearly naked mujer enact the ritualized dance steps of love inside a neon square, floating amid darkness. THE DARKNESS OF THE CABELLERO’S OWN HEART, you suggest? The Blog won’t argue with you, except to say: NO VALE LA PENA.
Better is the song at #11. “Sentimientos” is a likeable minor key cumbia from Alicia Villarreal’s 2017 album; it’s both a cover of Villarreal’s 20-year-old Grupo Limite hit, and a duet with her fellow mexicana María José. In both their studio rendition and in this live video, Villarreal and José work up a mariacheño head of steam like Nodal never dreamed. There’s just as much string/accordion swooning, but a much kickier beat and the knowing winks that appear when you find yourself in your 40s, mooning “Ahhhh…. FEELINGS.” Pick to Click!
The Billboard charts are boring this week, so please excuse the following disjointed rant…
As NorteñoBlog suggested last post, the Grammys’ approach to Mexican music is fairly ridiculous. The Grammys themselves are ridiculous — although if we forget that they’re supposed to be rewarding the best music, and instead see them as the dying public gasps of an increasingly irrelevant trade organization, with Neil Portnow facing down exciting existential dilemmas around every corner like Sarah journeying through the Labyrinth… well, I dunno if that helps.
AND YET. For many musicians, especially the ones who don’t make much money, the Grammys are not ridiculous. Or maybe not merely ridiculous, but also useful. Take ranchera lifer Aida Cuevas, who won the Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), against a field of men, for her independently released Arrieros Somos – Sesiones Acústicas. Cuevas used her untelevised Grammy moment to flaunt her charro outfit and to urge Mexican women to speak out against sexual harassment. I won’t pretend to enjoy this particular album of hers, but if we accept that both the Grammy awards and the Blog have slightly less aesthetic authority than one of those plastic duck bobbing contests at a carnival, my opinion doesn’t matter. Cuevas is a talented singer who releases her own music and received a podium. She made the most of her moment. The Mexican music world needs to let in more people like her.
So do the airwaves. If you study last week’s Regional Mexican airplay list, below, you’ll see Chiquis Rivera has dropped off, to be replaced by another token woman: Becky G, whose decidedly non-regional ode to older men, “Mayores,” somehow became the 40th most-played song on regional stations. (This week — not shown due to Blog laziness — she moves up to #22.)
Look, I know studying musicians’ chart positions is a ridiculous exercise. The charts rarely have anything to do with aesthetic quality, and observing the cultural hegemony of “Despacito” is only interesting for a day or so. But the charts do reflect who’s getting paid, and a complete absence of women tells you something unflattering about the values of the industry’s gatekeepers. What will it take to get actual norteño singers like Victoria “La Mala” or Laura Denisse onto the radio — or to get Diana Reyes or Los Horoscopos or Alicia Villarrealback on the radio?
While the Blog organizes a call-in campaign, let’s look at whose new songs are getting played. Radio station billboard anchor Gerardo Ortiz and whirling fount of Terpsichore Marco Flores have brought their VALE LA PENA Mexican hits to El Norte. Los Cardenales de Nuevo León and Los Huracanes del Norte head up the geriatric “beloved by Becky G” contingent with some straight-down-the-middle accordion lopes.
Best of all: Somehow the Blog hasn’t yet noted “Que Me Amas,” a sweet love song from noted eyeliner-and-metal-t-shirt models Siggno. The song starts with “We Will Rock You”-style stadium stomping and distorted guitar, before switching to a midtempo accordion groove that splits the difference between backbeat and polka. You’ve heard Intocable pull this same trick, but Siggno does it better, becuase they keep switching back and forth. The accordion solo and closing drum fusillade are also jarringly good, enough to kick Siggno into coveted Pick to Click status: