English has been the lingua franca of pop music, but Spanish Model shows that it doesn’t have to be
Elvis Costello’s sophomore album from 1978, This Year’s Model, has been re-interpreted through the Spanish language via 19 different artists from 10 different countries, creating a one-of-a-kind, global album: Spanish Model.
Not speaking Spanish himself, Costello worked alongside his long-time collaborator and one of the foremost producers in Latin Music, Sebastian Krys. With Krys’ extensive experience in the Latin Music world, they mined a sea of talent for the best artists to bring This Year’s Model to a new light, 43 years later.
Back in 1964, the Beatles sang a few of their songs in German, “Komm, gib mir deine Hand,” and “Sie liebt dich.” This can be seen as a gimmick, using translated versions of their incredibly popular songs to appeal to the German fanbase they garnered while making their rounds in Hamburg. Costello’s concept, on the other hand, is more like an adaptation of his older material; not picking up on the immediate hype of his hits. For a long time, English has been the lingua franca of pop music, but Spanish Model shows that it doesn’t have to be.
Artist: Elvis Costello
Album: Spanish Model
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
The album’s concept originated when Costello was asked to add a woman’s voice to “This Year’s Girl” for the theme song to the second season of The Deuce. When he heard Natalie Bergman’s voice on the track, he realized that the song resonated more from that perspective. By digging out the old masters and realizing their perfect condition, Costello thought of doing something with the album. Keeping all the original music of This Years’s Model, Costello set out to create Spanish Model, with all Hispanohablante voices.
Opening with “No Action,” Nina Diaz of San Antonio, Texas gives the song a fresh perspective from a woman’s point of view. Singing with more aggression than Costello, Diaz shows that the song, originally written from an entirely masculine perspective, can operate well with any gender.
VIDEO: Elvis Costello and The Attractions feat. Juanes “Pump It Up”
The classic Elvis Costello song “Pump It Up” was revamped by Colombia’s Juanes, who kept the chorus in English, but sang the verses in Spanish. Juanes maintained the same energy as Costello, with attitude dripping off of every word. In his music video for the song, Juanes parodies the original, with his face pasted on an animated version of Costello & the Attractions, mimicking each awkward leg movement and uncomfortable close-up.
One of the album’s only ballads, “Detonantes (Little Triggers),” is performed by La Marisoul Hernandez of Los Angeles, California. Staying pretty true to direct translation, Marisoul gives Costello’s words a more powerful, feminine mystique than his own vulnerable voice. On having the opportunity to be featured on this album, Marisoul told Rolling Stone, “Spanish is my first language and singing in Spanish and writing in Spanish feels very, very personal to me, so to be able to take these songs from this extraordinary songwriter and interpret them in Spanish is important. It’s de Corazon.”
Puerto Rican powerhouse Luis Fonsi, best known for his chart-topping hit “Despacito,” took on “Tú Eres Para Mi (You Belong to Me).” Fonsi was born the year This Year’s Model was released, showing that the song can be enjoyed by multiple generations. The music itself is hard to place in a certain time period, it could have been recorded yesterday, or the organ-loving mid-sixties – either way, this is a signifier of timelessness.
The best female reinvention of a Costello track is “La Chica de Hoy (This Year’s Girl).” The song was written as social satire, and partially in response to the Rolling Stones’ “Stupid Girl.” When it was first released, many people mistook the tongue-in-cheek lyrics for misogyny. As Latin America has its own fair share of machismo, to be seen for what it actually is, this song needed a woman’s perspective. Cami’s version carries with it the lived experience, rather than just the social commentary. Interestingly, her music video alludes to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” as she drops cue cards that say “Chica,” “Dueños,” and “Hoy.”
VIDEO: Elvis Costello & The Attractions featuring Cami “La Chica de Hoy (This Year’s Girl)”
The first time you hear an Elvis Costello song, especially from the This Year’s Model album, it can be difficult to actually understand what he’s singing if you don’t have the lyrics in front of you. Spanish Model, on the other hand, presents the lyrics in a tone that is easier to understand (if you understand Spanish). One of the perfect examples of this is “Llorar (Big Tears).” The original version is so attitude-centric that Costello’s words get muddled, while Sebastian Yatra of Colombia, sings in a cool, clear voice.
“Radio Radio” is the best example of lyrical integrity on this album. Performed by Argentine rock and roll pianist Fito Páez, he gives the song a complete update to fit our current age of streaming, where radio doesn’t mean what it used to be. The original song was inspired by the freedom of American radio that Bruce Springsteen often wrote about, and its contrast with the limited channels of British radio. Páez, on the other hand, adapted the song to be about his discovery of Elvis Costello’s new album, Spanish Model in its physical format, rather than digital format. Accompanied by a fun video created by Eamon Singer that illustrates Páez’s journey from Argentina to London, this song, in many ways, encapsulates the universal message and humor of the entire album.
The most serious adaptation on the album is the translation of “Crawling to the USA” by Mexican songwriting partnership, Mitre, and performed by the Peruvian Father-Daughter team, Gian Marco and Nicole Zignago. Mitre drew upon the politically-charged climate of the border in the past few years to transform Costello’s criticism of American foreign aid into a condemnation of the American immigration process. With lines such as “Los coyotes del camino / Crawling to the U.S.A. / Davorando mi destino” or, “The coyotes of the road / devouring my destiny,” they reference the illegal smuggling of undocumented immigrants, and its traumatizing effects.
Music has often been described as the universal language. As a linguistic project, each song on Spanish Model is an exercise in the way things can be lost, and gained, in translation. Music, however, is the bridge that connects them all.