Menudo is still a band
Pop phenomena are very often negotiated as musical manifestations of the West. The English-language music in particular is considered pop. However, if you expand your view beyond the western world, you will find a variety of phenomena that can also be classified as pop but have not yet entered the pop history books. The latest ethnomusic research in the field of pop music indicates how promising this openness to non-Western popular music can be for a history of pop. This can be exemplified by the career of the boy band Menudo, whose history is still almost unknown.
While British and American youth founded punk in 1977, the most famous boy band in the Spanish-speaking world emerged. With five boys between the ages of nine and twelve, the Puerto Rican manager Egdargo Díaz Meléndez organized a band for the pre-pubescent audience. Díaz studied film and television directing and production in Spain in the early 1970s. He also produced the children's band La Pantilla. In doing so, he tried a certain working method: The band members could change without the band's name changing. This experience led him to found his own band. Back in Puerto Rico, he won his three nephews and two sons of a friend as members of Menudo. They had to sing and dance. Díaz did the rest. November 1977 was the first performance of the band in a patronage festival in Puerto Rico.
Menudo functioned as a company from the start. Díaz registered the Menudo brand, founded the Padosa label and employed a choreographer, a production manager, two composers and artistic directors, a photographer and a singing teacher. For the first two years, the band only performed on weekends so that the boys could go to school. In 1978 Menudo first took part in a television program - “Noche de Gala”. This resulted in her own program “La gente jovem de Menudo” [The young people of Menudo], which could be seen on Saturdays at 6 pm for half an hour. This made the band nationally famous in Puerto Rico. When one of the band members turned 15, they had to leave the band due to the change in their voice and body. Díaz organized a public casting to recruit new members. This procedure became the norm.
The new line-up of the band had international success. In 1980 Menudo gave their first concerts in Venezuela. A year later, her record sold all over Latin America, which made an international tour possible. In Argentina and Peru the five boys sang in front of 15,000 spectators. They then flew to Uruguay and Mexico to take part in radio and television broadcasts. The number of fans increased considerably in these countries. Díaz began to manufacture various non-musical products under the Menudo brand: TV series, films, posters, magazines, key rings, necklaces, earrings, belts and more. Menudo's television show was renamed "Menudo Mania" and aired in Puerto Rico for seven years.
The tours in Latin America developed into mass events. In Bolivia, Panama, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, Menudo gave concerts in football stadiums that were filled to the last seat. In 1983 more than 100,000 people gathered in Mexico City and Belo Horizonte (Brazil), 130,000 in Rio de Janeiro and 200,000 fans in São Paulo. Due to the successful tour in twenty Brazilian cities, Menudo recorded a record in Portuguese and flew to the USA months later. The concerts in Madison Square Garden in New York also caused a sensation. Encouraged by media reports, Menudo recorded three records in English. The song “If you're not here” became a radio hit. Menudo members were seen at the Grammy Awards. You have been nominated as UNICEF Youth Ambassadors to participate in campaigns against drugs and student brain drain. After a tour of Japan, the band received the gold award from the Tokyo Music Festival. She then toured Taiwan and the Philippines, which was followed by the gold record for the album "Reaching Out".
In view of the uncontrollable, massive concert audience, which made up the majority in the girl between 10 and 16 years of age, there were some accidents. Therefore, the manager Díaz changed his strategy: Menudo should now appear in smaller venues. This resulted in some changes in the band's employment relationship. The boys had to leave their schools. Private tutors traveled with them in order to be able to teach during breaks. The parents were no longer allowed to go on the more frequent tours with their children for cost and organizational reasons. The fees also changed. Until 1984, the boys together got 70 percent of the profits while the producer kept 30 percent. Now the boys worked as employees of the Menudo company on a fixed salary. All other costs were covered from production. They were allowed to be members of the band until they were 18. This gave rise to family problems about the sons' new "wealth". The band also moved to Miami, where they lived together in a house known as "Menudos Castle".
These changes also shaped the band's music. After participating in the Argentine television series “Por siempre amigos” [Friends Forever] in 1987, Díaz decided to turn Menudo into a rock band. Although the members still didn't play musical instruments, they now wore leather jackets, boots, and ripped jeans. There were more guys to be found among the fans. The television series “Los últimos héroes” [The Last Heroes] showed this new attitude of the band. According to news, hotels no longer wanted to accommodate them as fans became violent. Two band members were arrested at Miami Airport in 1990 for drug possession. Meanwhile, Menudo was losing popularity. The image of naivety and innocence began to crack. Díaz changed the two delinquent band members immediately and tried to find a more Latin American style. However, the new line-up was unsuccessful. In 1991, four band members appeared in front of the media accusing their manager of exploitation and physical and sexual abuse. Although they didn't sue the manager, Menudo ended up doing it.
In 14 years more than 30 boys had been members of Menudo. Many say that Díaz invented a formula for success to keep the band always “young” and at the same time to attract a lot of new people. The most successful Menudo was Ricky Martin, who then made a career as a singer and actor in the USA. Under the influence of Menudo, however, new boy bands formed in Latin America (e.g. Dominó in Brazil) and the USA (e.g. New Kids on the Block), which would have been unthinkable without Menudo's historical role model.
Despite their global success and groundbreaking business model, Menudo are still completely unknown in western pop research. A historical analysis of the Menudo phenomenon does not only help to explain the consolidation of a certain type of boy band in the international music industry. It would also allow the historical economic analysis of music bands as companies and reveal the economic principles of the music industry. Behind the myths about the band and the producer Edgardo Díaz Meléndez one can find the social mechanisms that can help explain the emergence and spread of the boy band phenomenon. Pop, it is often said, is a western phenomenon that arose largely in the USA and Great Britain. A quick look at mass phenomena like Menudo is actually enough to expose the limitations of this point of view.
Image: Menudo 1983 by ~ YuRiKoSaMa4820: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.
Glaucia Peres da Silva
Glaucia Peres da Silva is a research assistant at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Duisburg-Essen. She studied communication science and social science at the Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil). In 2013 she did her doctorate at the HU Berlin in the field of sociology and popular music with a DAAD scholarship. Her dissertation is entitled "How does the global order sound? The emergence of a market for world music" and will be published at the end of 2014 in the Musik und Medien / VS Verlag series.
About Glaucia Peres da SilvaGlaucia Peres da Silva is a research assistant at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Duisburg-Essen. She studied communication science and social science at the Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil). In 2013 she did her doctorate at the HU Berlin in the field of sociology and popular music with a DAAD scholarship. Her dissertation is entitled "How does the global order sound? The emergence of a market for world music" and will be published at the end of 2014 in the Musik und Medien / VS Verlag series.
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