Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Elvis Crespo, Granda Entertainment and the Latino LGBT community

 Last month Granda Entertainment announced a series of performances by merengue music singer Elvis Crespo at different LGBT-related venues throughout the United States.

The singer hit it big in 1999 with his first two singles as a solo artist - "Suavemente" and "Tu Sonrisa" - which spent weeks at the top of Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks chart.

"Suavemente", the album, earned the Billboard 'Best Male/Tropical Salsa Album of the Year' honor and was nominated for 'Best Tropical Latin Performance' at the Grammy Awards.

The two songs also became huge dance-floor staples at Latino gay bars in New York and Miami and still can be heard blasting from the speakers from time to time twelve years after they were released.

In December Elvis Crespo released "Indestructible" - his 8th solo album - and launched a video for the single "Hey, Dude".  It's safe to say, though, that he's never managed to match the early success of those first two hits.  Instead, in the last few years, he's been busier confronting allegations of marital infidelity as well as a headline-grabbing 2009 allegation of public masturbation on a civil passenger flight.

And now comes his new LGBT venue tour.

In some ways, it makes a lot of sense for Elvis Crespo to engage his Latino LGBT fans in the United States.  It is a devoted fan-base and the costs of performing at gay venues far outstrip putting together a full touring schedule.

Granda Entertainment is also arguably the place to go. Over the years they have mastered the art of pulling together these kind of tours for former Latino pop stars hoping to revive their careers.  They include Mexican singer Gloria Trevi, who saw her music career reborn after she toured gay bars in the major urban markets in the United States, and - less successfully - Karyme Lozano who wanted to promote a salsa music album after years of performing as an actress in Mexican telenovelas. In 2008, as part of her Granda Entertainment-sponsored LGBT venue tour, Lozano was named as the Queen of the 2008 San Francisco Pride Parade. Two years later she was prominently featured as an anti-marriage equality ally by homophobic institutions such as the National Organization for Marriage.

I do get that this is a business venture and I do believe that - beyond the obvious commercial interests - Crespo does have a sincere interest in reaching out and supporting his LGBT fans.

But I was also incredibly bothered by the way the tour was promoted: The original press release was titled "Elvis Crespo to tour in support of the LGBT community" (italics mine) and media followed blindly. "Elvis Crespo sings in support of the LGBT community" said Puerto Rico's Primera Hora; "Elvis Crespo announces a tour in support of the LGBT community in the United States" said Yahoo News Mexico.

Excuse me? In "support" of the Latino LGBT community? In what way? Are proceeds going to any Latino LGBT charities? Is Elvis Crespo standing up for marriage equality in the same way that Gloria Trevi uploaded a video against passage of Prop. 8 in California? And isn't this actually the other way around? Aren't you asking the Latino LGBT community to spend their hard-earned money to support Elvis Crespo's singing career?

And yet, I realized my anger turned on the way that the press release had been phased rather than on what anyone else in this world might have picked up from it - so I let it go... until it actually became an issue.

On April 6th, on the eve of the first performance, Crespo was scheduled to appear at the top rated Spanish-language radio station in Chicago - La Kalle 106.7 FM - to promote his tour.  By all accounts, the singer showed up at the Univision-owned radio station but left before he had said a single word. As Primera Hora reported, Crespo alleged he simply chose to stand up an leave the studio when he was not allowed to express his support for the LGBT community.

The next day, on his Twitter account he wrote "Disappointed that there is homophobia in communication media in the 21st Century: Indestructible LGBT Tour" and linked up to several media accounts reporting he had walked out of the radio studio.

Granda Entertainment sent out a press release titled "Elvis Crespo cancels Chicago radio interview for not being allowed to support LGBT community". And Spanish-language media gladly "reported" on the incident without asking for any additional details.

Sources tell me that the whole thing stemmed from a misunderstanding between Crespo and the radio station that had to do with not observing exclusive promotional rights instead of homophobia and a source also told The Windy City Times that "it was more of an advertising decision" than anything else.

I reached out to La Kalle 106.7 but they told me they had been told not to discuss the incident with media by Univision and to provide a Univision public relations contact number instead. I called Univision but they said there would be no on-the-record statements on the incident for now.

Still, it's pretty obvious that La Kalle106.7 has felt the sting of the media reports claiming they are homophobic.  This week they have prominently Ricky Martin on their home page as the out gay singer takes his new tour to Chicago (see screen capture above).

In the meantime, last weekend Elvis Crespo continued his LGBT venue tour and performed at Miami Beach Gay Pride.  At the stop, he was interviewed by a reporter for Azteca America and asked to comment on the Chicago radio station incident. Surprisingly, Crespo evaded the question several times and told the reporter it was time to leave the incident behind.

Then I found out that Crespo had been invited to sit in as a guest host on the 2-hour afternoon gossip show "Escándalo TV" that aired yesterday on the Univision-owned Telefutura network... So I set up my DVR to tape it.  Sigh.

I have to say that Crespo was charming, funny and seemingly thrilled at getting the exposure. He also was was a better man than most for enduring jokes at his expense from the other hosts based on past controversies, including the alleged masturbation incident on a commercial flight.
BUT - I also have to say he spent all of five minutes talking about his LGBT-related tour and actually giggled as one of the regular hosts showed a Photo-Shopped image of Madonna kissing Britney Spears at the 2003 VMA awards with Juliet Cabrera superimposed in the middle as a gag example of the "racy" pictures that had surfaced lately about the recently booted Univision beauty show contestant (Google if you must).

And then the actual moment when my jaw dropped.

Half way through the show, "Escandalo TV" linked up to a live video feed from the studios of La Kalle 106.7 FM in Chicago providing a perfect chance for Crespo to confront the radio station for the homophobic treatment he alleged he had experienced.

Not so fast.
  • "Mau" Mauricio Mejia (La Kalle 106.7): "Elvis, we love you here at La Kalle, very much so, and we hope you visit soon."
  • Elvis Crespo: "I know, I know, believe me, I know."
  • Me thinking silently: WTF?
So there are a couple of scenarios here:
  • As [separate?] sources for this blog and The Windy City Times have said, this was all a misunderstanding in which the radio station felt Crespo had broken an exclusivity deal and the singer thought he was being silenced for his support of 'teh geyz', in which case things seem to have been resolved behind the scenes. Or;
  • Crespo was right all along and left the radio station as a principled supporter of the LGBT cause (italics still all mine) who couldn't stand being banned from defending 'teh geyz' on the radio, in which case he seems to have caved in to the pressure of getting exposure of Univision-related venues.
Personally, I have a feeling that the truth lies closer to the first scenario than the second one.

I would have no issue whatsoever if the tour had been sold just as a way for a former pop music idol to connect with his LGBT fans, never mind that said idol waited all these years to speak up about LGBT issues.  But Granda Entertainment made it a point to sell the tour as a way to "support" the Latino LGBT community and I'm not sure this quite rises to that level.

In true Granda Entertainment fashion, Elvis Crespo has disclosed that he will be accepting the King of the San Francisco Pride Parade honor on June 26th - just like Gloria Trevi and Karyme Lozano accepted the Queen of the San Francisco Pride Parades in years past.

I know it's a business. But sometimes I wish the Latino LGBT community would stand up and demand that we are not sold out quite as cheaply as that.

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