In Party Like It’s 1999, I’m marking my birthday June 25th by reviewing every Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit from my birth year 1999 along with other notable hits from the year.
Enrique Iglesias- “Bailamos”
HIT #1: September 4, 1999
STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks
One major criticism of the Latin pop explosion of 1999 is that it was in many ways watered down and Americanized for the mainstream. While Latin artists like Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez managed to have big hits of their own in ’99, Martin’s #1 “Livin’ La Vida Loca” is a genre free rock-inspired Latin song while Lopez’s #1 “If You Had My Love” is essentially an R&B song. In that case, “Bailamos,” the first of Enrique Iglesias’ two #1 hits, might just be the most Latin sounding of them all. “Bailamos” has much more Latin pedigree with its use of Spanish guitar and more Spanish lyrics than any Latin hit up to that point. It’s also a fun song.
It also helps that Enrique Iglesias is the son of Latin music royalty. (The #1 song in America the week Iglesias was born: Tony Orlando & Dawn’s “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)”) Born in the Spanish capital of Madrid, Iglesias’ father is legendary best-selling Latin artist Julio Iglesias who hit his peak in both the Spanish and English language markets in the ‘80s. (Julio Iglesias’ highest-charting single, 1984’s “To All The Girls I’ve Loved,” a collaboration with Willie Nelson peaked at #5. It’s a 4.) Despite his father’s fame, Iglesias’ childhood wasn’t all that glamourous. His parents divorced when he was three and at eight was sent to live with his father in Miami after a kidnapping plot was revealed against his family. Even in Miami, Iglesias never saw his father much due to his music career and was raised by his nanny.
While studying business at the University of Miami, Iglesias decided to launch a music career of his own without his parents knowing to prevent them from interfering and avoided using his last name to not have people judge him based on his father. He recorded demos under the pseudonym Enrique Martinez. The demos got him noticed by the Latin music label Fonovisa which signed Iglesias to a three-album deal. Soon enough, Iglesias became a big name in the Latin market with his albums.
To help break him through internationally, an official from Universal, the international distributor for Fonovisa, contacted producers Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling, the guys who had turned Cher’s “Believe” into a #1 hit earlier in 1999, to help craft an English-language crossover sending them Iglesias’ music. Liking his music, both guys went to see Iglesias in concert and were immediate fans recording together shortly after. Working with songwriter Paul Barry, they wanted to create a song that would help Iglesias breakthrough in the English-language market that would also include some Spanish lyrics.
“Bailamos” came about when Barry asked what “Let’s Dance” was in Spanish to which someone replied “Bailamos” giving him the idea for the song. Barry and Taylor wound up writing the music and lyrics together which included one major error as Barry mentioned to Fred Bronson in Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits, “I put the accent on the wrong spot because I thought they said “Bai-la-MOS” and of course it’s “Bai-LA-mos.” It’s funny because Enrique says people tell him it’s cool how the accent is on the third syllable. It’s my ignorance.”
“Bailamos” would get a big boost from Will Smith when after seeing Iglesias in concert called him asking if he had any songs to contribute to the soundtrack of his latest movie Wild Wild West which had spawned a #1 hit in the title track. Iglesias sent him “Bailamos” and was soon included on the film’s soundtrack. Soon after the song’s release, Iglesias signed a multi-million dollar six-album major label deal with Interscope. Everything was falling into place for Iglesias to get big along with the Latin pop explosion dominating the charts in 1999.
Despite being included on the Wild Wild West soundtrack, I can’t find any clips of the movie that “Bailamos” is used in or people even remembering that the song was included. It feels like people don’t even realize “Bailamos” was in Wild Wild West which isn’t that surprising considering how people have forgotten the movie. Because of that, I don’t know if the song’s inclusion in the film helped it get to #1 a couple of months after the movie’s release but it probably didn’t hurt. It also doesn’t hurt that on its own “Bailamos” is a solid Latin pop jam.
Lyrically, “Bailamos” is what the title implies. It’s about Enrique and a girl dancing as well as how powerful dancing can be and the romance it comes with. The lyrics aren’t much but Iglesias sells it singing in a breathy romantic quiver, “We take the floor/Nothing is forbidden anymore.” And unlike “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” there’s more Spanish lyrics than the title mostly in the chorus and bridge, “Te quiero amor mío, te quiero/Quedate conmigo/Esta noche bailamos” which translates to “I love you my love/Stay with me/Tonight we dance.” Maybe it’s not being a native Spanish-speaker but the enunciation of “Bailamos” in the song feels natural to me. It feels weird to have the accent on the second syllable. Much like “…Baby One More Time,” “Bailamos” shows how writing in a language you aren’t using correctly can wound up sounding right in a weird way.
The instrumentation is anchored by a nice-sounding Spanish flamenco guitar that plays throughout adding more Latin flavor along with bright sounding synths and a recognizable Latin chord progression. There’s nothing revolutionary about “Bailamos” that’ll make you look at music differently but it does its job as an energetic and romantic Latin dance jam. You can’t go wrong playing this song at a dance. This is shown by the Paul Hunter music video showing Iglesias as a bartender at a club trying to get with a girl amid scenes of club-goers and dancers moving to the song.
“Bailamos” was the beginning of a long and successful career for Iglesias. His self-titled debut album netted him his second and final #1, 2000’s “Be With You,” a more club centric cut but a less good one at that. (It’s a 5.) He’d continue landing in the Top 10 as recent as 2011 adapting to the electropop of that time with the godawful single “Tonight (I’m Fucking You)” peaking at #4. (It’s a 1.) Since then, Iglesias has remained a big name in the Latin community continuing to net big Latin hits and remains a live draw. He and Ricky Martin were planning a tour this year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit though from what I could find it’s still on as planned for some reason. If you’re willing to go out to an arena at this point in time, go see Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin in concert together.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Alex Newell and Patrick Ortiz singing “Bailamos” on a 2020 episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist: