It Was About Time America Got to Know Luis Miguel

Luis Miguel, aka Micky, Luismi and "The Sun of Mexico" is  earning fame in the U.S. thanks to a Netflix biopic. Finally. It was starting to feel weird.
Luis Miguel, aka Micky, Luismi and "The Sun of Mexico" is earning fame in the U.S. thanks to a Netflix biopic. Finally. It was starting to feel weird. Ethan Miller/Getty
Dance clubs all over the world can boast of their distinct cultures of chaos. Latin American clubs, however, are notorious for staying open well past dawn, just about till lunchtime, popping with the rhythmic mating rituals of dance.

American clubs are finally developing a taste for Spanish-speaking music, thanks to reggaetón and the success of crossover artists such as Rosalia. This trend will hopefully continue through the recent discovery of Latin America’s music megastar Luis Miguel.

Finally. At this point, holding on to this not-at-all-secret was starting to feel weird.

Three years ago, Netflix released Luis Miguel: The Series, a dramatized account of the Latin singer’s biography, and the recent release of the second season is slowly earning ratings among English-speaking Americans — perhaps most particularly among the Latin music-curious binging the current biopic series Selena.

Unlike Selena, however, whose subject was Texan, Luis Miguel is almost entirely in Spanish and features, through its many characters, a range of accents (from comically heavy Argentinian to the Queen’s Spanish) that’s not for beginners, who’ll certainly have to resort to subtitles.

At least in pop culture terms, Luis Miguel is as important to Mexican history as Emiliano Zapata or Frida Kahlo, so beloved he was designated at a young age as “The Sun of Mexico.” The mid-career revelation that he was actually born in Puerto Rico (to an Italian mother and Spanish father) was a national scandal.

As a child, Luis Miguel was hit first with massive fame, then puberty, growing through the years into his caramel crooning voice, messy-haired, orange-tanned looks and stage presence in an ever-gray suit. He meant business.

In the '90s, Luis Miguel defied his core pop-loving audience by revisiting classic Mexican boleros through updated albums of standards. Audiences ate up his softer side and the singer melted the pants of moms everywhere with later ballads such as “No Sé Tú” and “Hasta Que Me Olvides.” Luis Miguel's poppy, irresistible cheesiness is the kind you dignify with a nice board — and eat its rind. His ballads make an embarrassingly emotive sing-along opportunity for those moments of amused, sad solitude, especially when our lives reach peak telenovela drama.

The series is an epic co-production between Spain, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico and chronicles the singer’s life through different countries, ages and stages, through the spot-on casting of three different actors — so far— portraying the singer through defining eras of his career and mostly sad personal life.

The youngest actor, Izan Llunas, bears a freakishly uncanny resemblance to the singer in the days before he made his TV debut, and his own vocal prowess would’ve rivaled Luis Miguel’s had they been contemporaries.

The teenage, changing-voice version of Luis Miguel is fittingly played by an actor clearly in the midst of his own awkward stage. The far better looking, confident Luis Miguel is played by the far better looking, confident actor Diego Boneta.

The singer's life stories were a perfect fit for TV: “Micky,” as he’s known to his family and really-in-the-know fans, has a darkly complex, manipulative, showbiz nightmare of a father, played with nuanced perfection by the brilliantly chameleonic actor Óscar Jaenada.

The daddy issue themes abound as if in a Spielberg film and the series defies the established formula of music biopics — cautionary tales about the traps of the fast, boundless opportunities afforded by riches and fame. Luis Miguel: The Series instead takes a page from a domestic court case document: family dysfunction replete with child abandonment and persistent emotional abuse.

As the episodes grow hotter through sex scenes and conflict, so grows the size of the stadium crowds. Micky remains a grateful star plagued by the disappearance of a loved one, which adds an entire mystery arc bordering on Twin Peaks-weird. The series is non-linear, jumping perhaps too confusingly among the decades, but is otherwise worth watching for its excellent production value.

As a child, Luis Miguel was hit first with massive fame, then puberty, growing through the years into his caramel crooning voice, messy-haired, orange-tanned looks and sartorial stage presence, in an ever-gray suit. He meant business.

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First available through Telemundo in 2018, Luis Miguel made a star out of Boneta and a star revisited out of the singer, remembered by millions of nostalgic streams on Spotify. If the Latin American monster hit series was marketed in the U.S. the first time around, those efforts went unnoticed, and its premiere hardly made it onto our radars. Netflix now features the show front and center on our TV’s main page, giving the star his due.

For anyone who’s ever lived in a Spanish-speaking country, Luis Miguel was practically a deity. From the late ‘80s and up, grownup Luis Miguel had hit after hit largely through upbeat pop offerings that always seemed to center on an attractive woman on the beach, changing keys for utmost effect after sneaking in a sappy saxophone solo whenever possible.

These early pop hits were as suave as, well, his hit song “Suave,” and the sound of Luis Miguel’s voice set the mood for uncomfortable school dances and the maudlin soundtrack to breakups. Depending on the era, one could equate his stardom to that of a Latin Elvis or Sinatra, or even Leif Garrett.

Yet “Luismi” never quite made it to the American mainstream. At least not to the English-speaking masses. He even dated Mariah Carey for three years, but that didn’t make him a household name in the U.S. Not even in the tabloids, not even during Christmas time.

Most likely, that’s because he never sang in English. Luis Miguel speaks the language (certainly more fluently than Shakira when she began translating her albums to English), yet never laid it down on tracks in an effort to conquer new territory. Even when the time was ripe to capitalize on the great crossover era of Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias.

For years, these Latin pop stars had to translate their songs into English if they wanted to find a hit in the U.S. Until recently, it was unlikely any American could name a song sung entirely in Spanish, save for “La Bamba” or ”La Cucaracha” — and that’s if they were old enough. There’s, of course, a loyal reverence of Selena and the Spanglish appeal that made hits out of the “Macarena” and “Despacito,” even when Justin Bieber, one of the singers featured on the latter, admitted to forgetting the words immediately after recording them.

Now we’re finally developing an ear for melodic Spanish with the discriminating hunger we reserve for foreign foods. One can only dream that the unearthing of a Mexican treasure will lead down an exploratory path to the overdue recognition of Latin rock acts such as Soda Stereo and Café Tacuba.

For now, we’ll have to settle on the broader interest in commercial Latin music. Americans are finally learning about Luis Miguel, and it was about time. The most fitting part of the series' popularity is that if it allows the singer's stardom to grow on new soil, it’ll be as he intended: en Español
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Eva Raggio is the Dallas Observer's music and arts editor, a job she took after several years of writing about local culture and music for the paper. Eva supports the arts by rarely asking to be put on "the list" and always replies to emails, unless the word "pimp" makes up part of the artist's name.
Contact: Eva Raggio