EW Staff
November 19, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

When David Hasselhoff jumps on your bandwagon, you know your vida‘s getting a little loca.

Without question, the music story of the year has been the Latin pop boom. Now, hot on the heels of Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, and Jennifer Lopez, comes the next Latin class. But here’s the twist: The new wave isn’t about fresh, emerging Spanish-language artists; it’s about established pop stars co-opting the trappings of Latin mania. Thus, you get such head-scratching events as Puffy Combs‘ release of a Spanish rendition of his single ”P.E. 2000” over the summer. And bubblegum popster Christina Aguilera‘s putting out a Spanish version of her chart-topper ”Genie in a Bottle” called ”Genio Atrapado.” And former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, who’s half Spanish, hitting it big in England with her single ”Mi Chico Latino.” And the Ugandan/Sicilian Lou Bega‘s striking gold with ”Mambo No. 5” (see story on page 98). Not to mention Hasselhoff, Mr. All-American Lifeguard himself, who’s planning to release a full-length Spanish album. ”He’s in the early stage of development,” says a source at Hasselhoff’s entertainment company, Nohassel Inc., who jokes, ”His real name is David Gonzalez.”

The impetus behind this cultural exchange is obvious. Fueled by such hot-selling albums as Martin’s self-titled disc and the resurgent Carlos Santana‘s Supernatural, Latin-flavored pop has exploded, and Spanish-language music sales in the U.S. have jumped 12 percent this year. ”Because of this success, there’s a lot more attention being paid to artists who are bilingual or trilingual—or have that potential,” says Bob Jamieson, president of RCA Records. After realizing that Aguilera’s half-Ecuadoran heritage gave her a door to this market, Jamieson came up with the idea to translate her debut single for Latin audiences. ”The whole album in Spanish could sell a million,” he says, adding that such a project is in the works. ”As long as it’s credible.” Of course, the fact that Aguilera was born in Staten Island, N.Y., and that she’ll need Spanish-language lessons to complete the project is merely an inconvenience. ”It’s a side that’s a part of me,” says Aguilera. ”It kind of makes me mad because I hear about a lot of other people who just want to jump on the bandwagon.”

And jumping isn’t without its risks. Critical reception for Puff Daddy’s Spanish song was tepid, and his language skills aren’t likely to impress the relatives of his girlfriend, Lopez. A spokesperson for Combs says he recorded the track to acknowledge his appreciation for his Latino fans. But as one Latin-music insider chides: ”That thing was horrible. The translation, the pronunciation, the enunciation—everything you can think of.” Adds Latino rapper B-Real, whose group Cypress Hill is releasing a Spanish-language greatest-hits album next month: ”Sometimes you gotta question the motive. It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”

Still, not all Latin musicians are disturbed by the trend. After all, this isn’t exactly Al Gore mangling ”Macarena.” ”I’m not a purist about music,” says Gloria Estefan. ”The only way you can grow is through fusion. Paul Simon‘s done it throughout his career.” Adds Latin singer Carlos Ponce, ”Whatever you can do to take your music to the rest of the world…”

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