BACK IN THE DAY: Selena Laments Her "Amor Prohibito"

It's time once again to lament love (and song) lost. This month marks twenty years since the release of Selena's iconic Amor Prohibido ('Prohibited Love') album, a record which continues to stand in the pantheon as one of the best Latin/Mexican pop music releases of all time.

While her last "official" album of original material, the English-language peppered Dreaming Of You, released a year later, often gets the majority of the praise here in the US, Amor Prohibido always remained my favorite simply because the album runs from strength to strength.

Recorded during the very pinnacle of Selena's career in the Tejano/Spanish-Language community whilst launching her burgeoning clothing  line, it spawned more than a handful of singles and served as the springboard to Selena's expected English-language crossover (via Dreaming of You) which, of course, never formally happened due to her tragic murder just over a year later.

"Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" was a huge hit internationally -- largely in part thanks to its sing-able nonsense chorus that didn't require knowledge of Spanish -- and won the Song of the Year Award at the Tejano Music Awards. It has since been covered by a variety of artists, not just of Mexican heritage. 

The album's title track was also the lead single from the project and is a mid-tempo of the deceivingly emotional variety. It was also the song that introduced me to Selena's catalog in a formal sense (beyond "Dreaming Of You" and "I Could Fall In Love" which became mainstream English hits in the US in a ripple effect following her death). In my my first ever Spanish language class in middle school, we were asked to try and translate the song into English and explain its meaning. Perhaps this is part of why the song means so much to me even now. The story is the typical fairytale cliche -- a girl falls in love with the boy her parents don't approve of. The charm of the song lies in the chorus' melody and Selena's ardent, sweet vocal. She herself said the lyrics were based on a true story within her family, inspired by her grandparents.

My favorite piece of Amor Prohibido, however, was "Techno Cumbia". So many precedents were set by this song; it sonically plays out like a master class in genre fusion. The chants and call-and-response elements feel like early hip hop while the guitar & drum blams, inspired by techno, follow a rhythm that's vaguely reggae. The song itself is bookended in very stark, minimalist sounds.


It's almost been twenty years since Selena's life and career was cut devastatingly short but her legacy continues to this day. Would the "Macarena" captivate America in 1995-1996 if Selena didn't break through first? It's also arguable that the Latin Explosion of 1999 would never have happened if it weren't for "Dreaming of You" in 1995 and the public interest in her Spanish catalog after her death. Jennifer Lopez can thank her for jump-starting her career not just as an actress but as a singer. Selena Gomez was named after Selena two years before Amor Prohibido was released. Reggaeton saw a marked stronghold in the US in the early 00's and continues on in large cities to this day. Despite this, there remains a hole in the music industry -- no one has been able to tie together so many genres so fluidly and be accepted both as a Spanish and English vocalist (although Shakira is definitely trying). Her back catalog was so inherently strong and she was only just beginning the second phase of career. We're only left to speculate how important and relevant she would become to the US pop market.

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