April 15, 2007

Sunday morning Hope (again)

Now here's a good example of a well integrated Mexican musician. Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star was born in 1966 to a Mexican-American family in East LA. Her first musical group was with a friend named Sylvia Gomez, who I assume is also Mexican from LA. Yet unlike the new Shakira, she has never even hinted that she is an exotic creature, and as far as I know, she has never sung in Spanish. (I like bilingualism; I mention this fact about her just to show how her ethnic identity never intrudes into her music, let alone dominate it.)

Blue Flower
Disappear (only lasts through first chorus :p )

That's an odd thing about the grunge era, during which Mazzy Star recorded their albums: despite the superficial likeness to the sudden, popular youth rebellion of the late 1960s, the acts of the early-mid '90s were neither political nor narcissistic. This self-effacing tendency may have made the adolescent years of some of its followers more awkward than they otherwise would have been, but give me navel-gazing over moralistic preening any day.


  1. Good point about the Grunge era's navel-gazing quality. I think it was Camille Paglia who suggested that this musical genre is the expression of the firt generation affected by theri parents' divorce.

    Certainly there was no lack of talented musicians like Eddie Vetter who made moralized ad nauseum, but most of this was off-stage and not in their music.

    One thing that is also interesting about Grunge is the lack of sex. Hardly any of it is aimed at seducing girls. Hip Hop and Boyz-2-Men style R&B, however, was all about that.

  2. What kind of comparison is this? Hope Sandoval's English isn't accented so going the straight-up female singer-songwriter route is no problem for her. Since Shakira's accent is always going to be present in her music when she sings in English, she basically has to have some angle to contextualize it for mainstream American pop audience so it doesn't come across as too jarring, she has to play up the exotic/ethnic angle. Agnostic, you should come clean, this whole line of thought has just been an elaborate means for you to sublimate your rage at Shakira tarnishing her Mediterrenean beauty with peroxide, hasn't it?

  3. Not only does Hope Sandoval speak unaccented English, but she also looks almost entirely non-Mexican. That makes it much easier for her to avoid being "typecast" as a Latin singer.

  4. Mr Me -- It has nothing to do with accents. I'm talking about people who make a choice to play up their ethnic identity. Hope's surname is Sandoval, an obvious Latin marker -- yet she doesn't yield and say, "well, I don't have a WASPy last name, so I might as well go Latin." Ditto her friend and former bandmate Sylvia Gomez.

    Germans, Italians, or Japanese who sing in English wouldn't have to contextualize their accents by singing about something stereotypically German, Italian, or Japanese (unless they wanted to, of course). So why is Shakira forced to?

    Peter -- but does Hope look less Latin American than Shakira? I don't think... well, Shakira definitely isn't, since her family is from the Mediterranean. If you look at Hope's face (the jaw / mouth / lips), you might be able to discern something non-Eurasian about it. Not much, but you had to pick one over the other as "less Eurasian-looking," and so "more likely to be typecast as Latin American," I'd think it would be Hope.

  5. I think any German, Italian, or Japanese singer whose accent was as perceptible as Shakira's when singing would have to play up their ethnicity to achieve the same level of success in the US.

  6. Another reason the accent hypothesis doesn't pan out is that it makes the prediction that her Latin-y influences should decrease as the clearness of her English increases. But it went the opposite way: she started out alterna-pop, then light rock for her first English album, and then 5 years later after much vocal coaching, the two heavily Latin *Oral Fixation* albums.

  7. It may be possible to discern something non-European in Hope Sandoval's features, though if we didn't already know she was Mexican I'm not sure it would be possible to notice anything. The fact still remains, however, that she's far more Caucasian-looking than the vast majority of Mexicans or other Latin Americans. She's as atypical as the hosts of Spanish-language TV shows.

  8. Another reason the accent hypothesis doesn't pan out is that it makes the prediction that her Latin-y influences should decrease as the clearness of her English increases.

    It is not so much about the thickness of the accent but the fact that it is present at all. No matter how intensive the vocal coaching, after a certain age you are just not going to lose your accent. The rationale of playing up your ethnicity is based on the realization that since you can't really get rid of your accent, you might as well try to put it to your advantage. Rather than having your new listeners puzzle over your peculiar enunciation of a straight-up English pop song, why not sing Latiny English pop songs and pitch yourself as an exotic novelty? I'd say the strategy has paid off for Shakira, her pandering "Hips Don't Lie" single seem to be a much bigger success in the US market than her previous cross-over efforts.

    Or to look at it another way, do you think Hope Sandoval with a perceptible accent could have lead Mazzy Star to equal success? I am doubtful she could manage as broad an appeal. I just think you are better off making your case by comparing US-born Hispanics to other US-born Hispanics and leaving out foreign singers trying to break into the US market. If you have some specific counterexamples of foreign singers eschewing this path I would be interested in hearing about them. It's not totally impossible that they could make it big on musical talent alone but since success in pop music is as much about talent as packaging, playing up ethnicity seems like an almost sure bet for those gunning for real pop stardom.


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