The Story of Pop: 1999 (Chapter 28)

Taking a musical trip back in time to the stars and sounds of two whole decades ago, this is The Story of Pop: 1999. This week: the UK’s first ever chart topper from Puerto Rico, via a man who ushered in the big summer craze of that year…

Ask the person on the street of my age and up what the big musical craze of the summer of 1999 was, and I can guarantee that they will say it was Latino pop that ruled the charts throughout the sunnier, warmer months. And they didn’t come more bigger than the classic hit from this artist.

Puerto Rican singer and heartthrob Enrique Martín Morales – better known as Ricky Martin – had actually been a child star from the age of 12, when he was part of a long running Spanish language boyband called Menudo. It was certainly a band with a HR policy that made the revolving door line-ups of Sugababes look reasonable, in that the crux was that each member only had five years in the group from joining before they were kicked out, with Ricky being given the boot just as he was about to turn 18.

He duly set about on a successful solo career in Latin America from 1990 onwards – but he was sort of known to UK audiences at this point, thanks to his single ‘Un, Dos, Tres, Maria’, which had become a European holiday hit and made a top 10 debut here in September 1997 at #6 – albeit unnoticed, largely due to it coming out the same week as Sir Elton John’s single for Princess Diana.

He then recorded ‘La Copa de Vida’ as the official song for the FIFA World Cup in 1998 – which modestly scraped a top 30 position here in July that year – but which was performed at the final between France and Brazil to a global audience of billions in 187 countries. From this, it was clear what the direction was for him next: an English language album.

His self-titled English language debut finally hit shelves a year later, in June 1999, preceded by the single that catapulted him to further global stardom. Helmed by the legendary rock producer Desmond Child, ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ fused traditional Latin sounds with a bombastic, kitchen sink approach to production, sound and style – and record buyers couldn’t get enough of it.

The UK was one of the seven countries to crown Ricky’s signature tune as a number one record, with the song debuting at the top of our chart on this week 20 years ago. It fought off stiff competition from big new singles by Steps and Five to remain there for three weeks in all, and wound up as the year’s sixth biggest selling single, starting the trend for a parade of Latino inspired pop songs in the UK charts in the process – several of which we’ll be meeting in future weeks to come. But for the original and the best of them, it has to be ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’.

Don’t forget to follow our playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 1999. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments or Tweet us, using the hashtag #StoryofPop1999.

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