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Ricky Martin Fever Strikes About Midnight

Big things are being predicted for the Latin pop star's first English-language-only album.

May 12, 1999|ALISA VALDES-RODRIGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ignore for a moment the more hilarious parts of this tale--which is to say it involves a grown man named Ricky; a hit song in which the only word to rhyme with "loca" appears to be "mocha"; people who find no humiliation waiting in line at midnight to buy an album a full eight hours before everyone else; and hundreds of velvet glow-in-the-dark posters.

We speak, of course--and again and again--of Ricky Martin, the chiseled pop music stud of the moment. We also speak specifically of the flash and fanfare behind the release Tuesday of his English-language crossover album, "Ricky Martin," predicted by many in the industry to be the runaway hit of the summer. Already the single "Livin' La Vida Loca" has sold more than half a million copies in the United States, according to SoundScan; the single has been out less than a month.

Virgin Megastore outlets in the Los Angeles area opened at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, just to sell the album, as did several Tower Records stores. Amazing thing is, people came.

At the Virgin store in West Hollywood, there were those kitschy free posters and employees fed giggling fans red beans and rice, Puerto Rican style, in honor of Martin's heritage. They also served prunes. We were afraid to ask why.

Many fans, such as George Bujold and his buddy Sklar Toy, were too excited to eat anyway, and just wanted to get home to listen to the album. Octavio Moya, his girlfriend Angie Lopez, and Angie's brother and sister all drove 30 miles to be at the Virgin store, in part because they were hoping to get free tickets to the KIIS-FM Wango Tango concert where Ricky is headlining, and in part because, as Moya said, "Ricky Martin is like the Latino Will Smith."

At KIIS, word is that Martin is the most-requested artist in the rotation, and is the biggest selling point for its June 12 concert at Dodger Stadium.

Ricky was also apparently a big seller for NBC's "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend; it was the show's most-watched episode of the season, according to the network. More than 10 million people tuned in, 29% more viewers than usual. Monica Lewinsky was also a guest on the show, but a network spokesman said researchers don't believe she impacted the rise in viewership.

Why? you ask. Why? Why must you see Ricky everywhere you look? That's easy: It's because Ricky Martin is probably going to be the biggest "Latin crossover" act in mainstream pop. And in a culture where celebrity is often subconsciously turned into a parable of our own place on Earth, boy-next-door Ricky seems to represent for many the classy, non-stereotypical arrival of America's oft-maligned Latinos at the dinner table. "He doesn't curse, he's a nice guy, like me," said Moya.

Now, in case you are wondering, the following Latino artists do not qualify as crossover pop stars, because they flourished first in English: Mariah Carey, Carlos Santana, Sheila E., Brenda K. Starr, No Mercy, and Big Punisher. And, for the sake of dignity, we will pretend Gerardo and "Rico Suave" never happened.

That said, let us consider the reigning queen of Latin crossover, Gloria Estefan. Further, let us consider the heights to which our newest little Ricky will have to soar to topple her.

Estefan's top-selling album in English was her "Greatest Hits" album in 1992, which sold 2.5 million copies in the United States, according to SoundScan. Martin's new album is expected to easily beat that record.

A Columbia Records spokesman on Tuesday said: "We won't make any specific predictions, but we're confident we'll sell a few records."

He was speaking from a rowdy scene in New York City where Martin was making an appearance at the Tower Records at 66th and Broadway. Police had to close off several downtown streets because of the estimated 7,500 fans who showed up. A similarly huge and frenzied crowd showed up at Martin's appearance at Tower on the Sunset Strip a few weeks ago.

None of this has escaped the attention of TV and movie people. According to Martin's publicist, offers have been pouring in. Martin, who starred in the soap opera "General Hospital" and the Broadway musical "Les Miserables," has not made concrete plans for any movies or television roles yet, and is planning his upcoming U.S. tour, slated for the end of summer.

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