Before considering the ”crossover” question, it’s useful to note that Marc Anthony is probably the first major salsa star who ever had to fine-tune his Spanish.
Both the singer-actor’s parents are Puerto Rican, but he was born and raised in New York City, and began performing en espanol only in 1991, after starting out doing all-American dance music. ”Learning the lyrics and singing them was no problem,” recalls Anthony of his initial immersion into tropical genres. ”But my God, it was the most exhausting thing, those press conferences at seven in the morning in places like Colombia where you couldn’t even make a reference in English to cover your butt because they wouldn’t get it. But I’m a quick learner” — he snaps his fingers for emphasis — ”and now it’s second nature.” Still, when the world’s preeminent salsero converses in Spanish, he thinks first in English, then translates in his head. ”Which probably explains my migraines.”
Something else gives Anthony a headache, or at least puts a bristle in his otherwise famously mild manner, and that’s the C-word.
Nearly everyone — his new label, Sony’s Columbia Records, included — is calling the just-released Marc Anthony his first English-language album. It isn’t, though the album he made en ingles for Atlantic back in 1990 is so obscure even he can’t find a copy. Anyway, Anthony’s not eager to be lumped into any Latin crossover trend with Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, et al. —”at all,” he emphasizes. ”I started out singing in English, so what am I crossing over to? That makes it sound like I’m trying my hand at somebody else’s music. But I’m just as American as I am Puerto Rican. This is my music as much as anybody else’s.”
The ”this” in question is the new album’s angelically sung adult-contemporary pop. You’d be hard-pressed to hear the salsa influence in most of these songs, produced by pros who’ve worked with Mariah Carey. The 31-year-old says he grew up listening to Billy Joel, Air Supply, and Asia, and his record is so loaded with synth-laden ballads, the idea that Latin music’s favorite ’90s son might’ve been into Toto before Tito Puente seems credible.
But the album does have a few hotter spots, and there is a Latin influence in the tense corker Columbia chose as the first single, ”I Need to Know,” which is in Billboard’s top 10. The video conjures a scene straight out of L.A.’s Conga Room. So between this first exposure and the media’s Latin-rabid state, Anthony should just resign himself to ”cross” talk and buy aspirin in bulk.
His immediate schedule sounds like a hemorrhage waiting to happen. We mention we saw part of his itinerary on Sony’s website; he retorts that ”they don’t post most of it, because people would call the Humane Society.” Tomorrow, he will do 122 quickie interviews for a press junket promoting Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, in which he plays a significant role. The following week, to celebrate the release of Marc Anthony, he’ll do autograph sessions in Miami, New York, and L.A. within a 15-hour period.