Thursday, July 23, 2009

Homophobia in the promotion of Latino singers for a wider market

The career of Colombian mega-superstar singer Juanes was the topic of discussion at a recent music festival panel that took place in Bogota, Colombia (that's an older pic of him on the right; he now sports shorter hair).

A transcript of the panel discussion was posted on the Facebook page of Alejandro Marín, a Colombian journalist, and re-posted in its entirety by online site Aliado Digital (Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

The panel consisted Roberto Andrade, who manages Colombian rock band The Mills, interviewing Fernán Martinez, the singer's long-time manager, on the topic of the music industry and how to make it big in the business (he has also represented Julio Iglesias and his son Enrique, among others).

As Aliado Digital says, the interview offers a candid look at the music management business, particularly in the Latino market. It's in Spanish so apologies for those of you who don't understand the language.

There are actually two passages of note that I have translated bellow. In the first one, Martinez talks about meeting Juanes and turning him into a super star. In the second he talks about former boy-band singer Eduardo Verástegui and the reason Matinez dropped him as a client. In both instances, Martinez argues that singers who want to reach the top must sacrifice certain idiosyncrasies to be made more palatable to a mainstream audience.

He doesn't only imply that Juanes should butch it up by doing away with an earring he used to wear, but explicitly use the word 'fag' to discuss rumors about Verástegui's sexuality and jokes that the Mexican actor didn't really want to become the next Enrique Iglesias but, instead, wanted to become the next Sofia Vergara (a Colombian actress that has found some success in the English-language market). He does say that he dropped Verastégui because he wouldn't follow his lead and not as a result of the gay rumors [NOTE: Verástegui, it must be said, has since become a born-again Christian who has advocated against abortion in the United States and was the Latino face of the anti-gay Prop. 8 effort in California which banned marriage equality in the state back in November - see more below].

On Juanes: In this first excerpt from the interview Martinez describes his reaction upon meeting Juanes for the first time and the process of making him a super star. It's a long excerpt but telling in how the industry shapes its superstars. As the excerpt begins, Martinez - who has lived in the United States since the 1980's - has been asked by a Colombian record company to meet a young talent from Medellin who sings for a band called Ekhymosis.
Juanes arrives with all his hair sticking up and his arms sporting tattoos, walking around with his head down, speaking slowly and I thought to myself: 'What am I going to do with this boy? To whom am I going to sell this boy? Where will I put him?'

And he put on his music. And the music was weirder than a green dog. He had the song "Fíjate Bien" and I thought: 'How am I going to put this on in Los Angeles?'. And I begin to talk with him and see a good guy, a very good musician, very orthodox, very into rock. I tell him: 'Brother, let me listen to the music. And I'll call you.'

The man left, with his pants turned to shit, with his used shoes, but he gave a good vibe as a person. I get home, and my wife, who is totally 'fashion', totally 'pop', who is into clothes, and everything else, deep into the superficiality of beauty, and in superficiality-that-is-a-beauty comes and tells me: 'You know what? I am going to get a tattoo.' 'Fuck no,' I said. My daughter had just been born and I was thinking 'the mother of my daughter does not have tattoos'. And she'd say: 'Don't be so old guard, if even my sister in law did it.'

And I'm left thinking 'of course. Tattoo goes 'mainstream.' This man with tattoos is what I need. We are up to here seeing Enrique Iglesias, and Chayanne, and Ricky Martin, and all those pretty and clean-cut guys. The trend is going there. Music has to have that image, it has to be dirtier. The kids are there. People are dressing up with torn jeans. This is the guy I need. I am going to become rich with this fucker.

Juanes is a guy who is, fundamentally, a musician. An honest, good person, who has talent, who is modest, sufficiently handsome for women to like him and sufficiently ugly so that other guys won't think that he's going to take away their broads. He wasn't a heart breaker, he wasn't an Enrique Iglesias, so I told him: 'Brother, we have to fix you up a little bit. What about the earring?' 'No brother, there's no fucking way I will take it of.'

He came from the Medellín rock scene, his perception was totally rock and he was afraid of what his rocker friends might think, and his bands, because he had grown with metal.

'Juanes, we have to be more, we have to see ho to move you to the other side.' And he was totally in denial. But a manager can't blame an artist. Because that's not how an artist works. He is the one who has to decide. Who has to get dressed, the one who knows how to feel the best, the one who sends the message, the one who has to put his little face.

Little by little, we began to do it. Little by little Juanes begins to understand that shirts from 'Urban Shop' are cool, but that there are other shirts that are just as cool that allow him to communicate better. He removes the piercing. And he begins to show his tattoos, something that begins to create an impact.

When I take him to Univisón for the first time, it was very difficult to present him in the "Wake Up America" show. For me it was very easy because I have been a Univisión producer and all my friends are there. My wife works there.

I take him to the show's 'booker' and he says: 'No, no, no, please, the man cannot come in with tennis shoes.' 'But, if he doesn't have other [shoes]!!!', I said. 'And he can't show the tattoos.' 'But if he doesn't have any other shirt, what can we do?'. We went in, in the middle of a fight, but we sneaked in the first tattooed person to appear in the morning show on Univisión.
On Verástegui: As I mentioned above, the latest reincarnation of Eduardo Verástegui has been as a born-again Christian, an anti-abortion advocate (he starred in an anti-abortion dramatic film called "Bella" last year and has toured the country with the film), and was tapped by Prop.8 proponents in California to become the Latino face of the anti-marriage equality movement in the United States:

I had planned to write a post about how the incessant industry rumors about Verástegui's alleged homosexuality might have actually driven him to embrace his new role as an anti-gay spokesperson and might still do it on a later date.

Here, though, for now, are Martinez very candid thoughts on his former client:

...and a very important thing: When the manager is a knowledgeable and correct person, the manager has to have total and absolute control of the artist. That doesn't mean that he has to tell him what to do. It means that he has to know EVERYTHING that is happening with the artist. The artist cannot be doing things on the outside, things that the manager does not know he is doing. They are accomplices in that business. They have to keep informed about everything: From business transactions, to their activities and interviews, and about their personal life. This is a very close relationship and no short cuts are allowed.

Something that happened to me, for example: I had in my hands who I thought would be the next pop star: Eduardo Verástegui. He is the most beautiful man I have ever seen in my life. My wife would say to me 'they say he's a fag.' And I told her: 'OK, so tomorrow I will confront him.' 'And if he tells you he is a fag, what will you do?' 'To give me a little kiss because he has a perfect look.'

Verástegui had a perfect look. Very well established. He wanted to be a singer. Back thenI was selling a pure 'pop' product, retail, Mexican, well-known, with all his spectacular image that even Madonna would take a look at him and fall in love, I said: 'with this image and a fairly good product I can do a lot.'

So I'd say: 'Eduardo: Let's make you a singer, let's make people look at you as a singer.'??

And the record worked perfectly. Songs from Estefano. Marvelously produced. Support from radio. Possibilities of performing at summer festivals. But there was a problem with Eduardo: Every time he did an interview, he'd take his clothes off. He wanted to show his body to the journalist. But it was an obsession.

Finally I said to him, after a serious fight with him: "I cannot work with you, because I want you to be the next Enrique Iglesias, and you want to be the next Sofía Vergara. I left him because he did not understand my strategies. He always took short-cuts. I did one thing and he did another. I fight a lot. I have a big temper. But nowadays we meet and he knows he was totally wrong. It's an example of a bad artist-manager relationship.
Finally, note the terms he uses for women, calling them broads, or his initial reaction when his wife tells him she wants a tattoo: "Fuck no." Interestingly, in some of the passages that I didn't translate, Martinez seems intent on badmouthing Colombia's best known singer, Shakira, belittling her rock credentials and saying that she is not even among the top 50 best loved singers in her home country.

Sadly, I have a feeling that this level of misogyny and homophobic sentiment is not the exception to the rule when it comes to the Latino music industry.


alberto mario said...

Hello Andrés, I just read your insightful note about Fernán Martínez and suffice to say, it TOTALLY changed my perception about him. I'm gay and by default Im not surprised by his homophobia (almost all colombians in my opinion are) and that makes him at my eyes a stupid man, but is his misogynistic views is what finally struck my nerves, and right now this man is in my opinion a BRUTO (!!), and in a way he is, all his artist in his hands, from what I recall are all men, not women, now that delves me to the idea that he is really a closeted homosexual... don't you agree or at least makes you think???

And BTW... where he got that stupid idea that Shakira is not even in the Top 50 most beloved artists in Colombia? from under a rock? I love both Shaki (I'm from Barranquilla :) ) and of course Juanes and along them artisst like Carlos Vives, Fonseca, Andrea Echeverry and so on...

Thank you for make me realize that I was TOTALLY wrong about this "gentleman", he is now not longer on my "mis afectos" and I hopefully he got some very well deserved karma in a not-so distant future.


Blabbeando said...

Thanks, Beto. I very much doubt Martinez is gay but I do think that he is from an older, more conservative generation, with certain ideas about how a man should behave or look, as well as a woman.

As for Shakira, I had heard there was a rift in Colombia between fans of Juanes and fans of Shakira but it's a bit shocking and off-putting to see such a well-known figure in the music industry rile against her. Here is his direct quote on the top 50 (he is talking about how Juanes is popular in all areas of Colombia, including rural areas, and arguing that Shakira is not):

"[Juanes] received a 'ruana' in a Boyacá town. And that's a beautiful story. That he wins over many other Colombian personalities in popularity. Shakira is not among the first fifty."

You sorta have to wonder if Shakira ever turned him down as a promoter and he still nurses some resentment.

Lucrece said...

Bah, managers are the no.1 obstacles in achieving a less prejudiced environment in industries. In their distorted sight of maximizing success, they assume that their worldviews are matched by the populace, that they truly know what people think.

What annoyed me more was Juanes's treatment in "Despierta America". They won't let him appear with tennis shoes or tattoos? What a set of neanderthals.

And it does match my disdainful view toward Latin American media; I liked America more due to the diversity of image, as opposed to the enforced uniformity I experienced in Venezuela.

libhom said...

This is an example of the kind of damage done by the Catholic Church, one of the last vestiges of colonial oppression in Central and South America.

homoneurotic said...

Andres, this is a great post: thoughtful, informative, and searing.

Latino Media is backwoods media, bottom line. Sadly, Latin America is truly behind the times if having tattooed artists with sneakers on air is considered taboo all while over-manicured anchor women appear in 4-inch pumps and low-cut tops.

And although machismo, homophobia, and misogyny aren't limited to Latin America, for some reason, those countries are particularly prone to those things.

Compare Latin American attitudes about sex in general to the Spaniards or other Mediterranean cultures. Latinos are behind.

Check out who heads up Univision, Telemundo, or any of the talking heads you see on Spanish language media -- and you'll quickly notice how similar and how explicitly backward that programming can be.

This is perhaps the biggest reason why I shun Spanish language media and Latino culture at large.

Growing up in the US as both Latino and gay, I realized quickly that Latin America = Anti-Women & Anti-Gay.