It may or may not be his first time, but it hardly matters. The music video for “Súbeme la Radio” (Turn Up the Radio), the lead single for a new album by Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias, was filmed in Cuba and released this February. I have no interest in the song or the singer, whose musical merits or lack thereof are beside the point (though his performance in this video strikes me as faintly ridiculous, but maybe it’s a Spanish thing). What interests me is the chosen setting.
Like any such venture, this required the approval and support of Castro, Inc., which was no doubt delighted to cooperate (and it only ever cooperates when it benefits from it). The resulting footage, regardless of what may have been intended, is eminently suited to promote foreign tourism and, even more importantly, to foster the image of normalcy and native joie de vivre in what is, in fact, a miserable totalitarian dystopia. Yes, it does give some idea of the pervasive physical decay in what was once a great city, but that comes off as quaint and picturesque, not to say “shabby chic.” Besides, foreign visitors apparently love slumming in primitive “revolutionary” squalor.
The video, to me, is not significantly different from Conan O’Brien’s carnivalesque Cuba show in 2015, and for all I know it may have been influenced by it. The approach is certainly highly predictable if not de rigueur: Cuba as a colorful Caribbean street party full of happy, dancing noble savages, I mean natives. The only surprise is what could possibly be taking the likes of Madonna so long to do the same thing (except Madonna definitely ain’t what she used to be). Come to think of it, assuming I haven’t missed it and that he has enough of a career left, why hasn’t the Juanes person shot a music video in Cuba? He could call the song “Everything is normal.”
Well, I know this is just another case of “same shit, different day,” but we should recognize Enrique for his work, such as it is. Being Spanish makes him even worthier of recognition, not to mention being the son of Julio Iglesias. Ah, Julio, all that gooey, cloying melcocha, whom my mother dismissed as “ese pujón”–but I digress. In 2001, he was invited to a reception in Caracas with Hugo Chávez and China’s then-dictator, Jiang Zemin, who’d come directly from visiting Fidel in Havana. The media reported it with photos of everyone having a great time, which included the three amigos singing “Cuando salí de Cuba” (When I left Cuba), a 1960s hit which became an anthem for Cuban exiles. Considering Julio had lived in the Miami area some 20 years by then and could hardly claim cluelessness, let’s just say it was not a good move–and neither was his support for the notorious 2009 Juanes “peace concert” in Havana. So yes, there’s a backstory to this new music video, certainly for those keeping score.
A case could be made for ignoring or “rising above” this sort of thing, which is common as dirt and equally unlikely to disappear. I am perfectly aware that the target audience virtually never includes “those people,” and that if “doing Cuba” sells or seems marketable, it is inevitably going to be put on the market. Alas, I would not make a good Buddhist, and Zen is not my bag. So bear with me, and don’t hate me because I cannot help feeling a certain sympathy for Dickens’s Madame Defarge.