Spanish songs in Hollywood

In April I went to see the movie “Dirty Grandpa” starring Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch and Julianne Hough. The plot revolves around a bonding trip taken from Atlanta to Daytona Beach by lecherous widowered grandfather Dick Kelly (De Niro), who is filthy indeed, and his grandson Jason Kelly (Efron). In addition, it includes a couple of love triangles, one involving Jason, his fiancee Meredith Goldstein (Hough) and his old flame Shadia (Deutch).

Initially, I thought that a film with twice Academy Award winner De Niro, and up-and-coming artists Efron, Deutch and Hough would have a modest sum of cinematographic merit. Instead, I found a mindless and lame script with raunchy visuals and gross-out dialogue. Nevertheless, out of this shallow landscape two redeeming qualities emerged: the great looks of Hough and a song in Spanish titled “Vamos a la Playa.”

I have been watching Hollywood flicks on most weekends during the past 25 years, and it’s pretty unusual to find a song in Spanish in one of them. In the case of “Dirty Grandpa,” while listening to the lyrics “Vamos a la playa. / A mi me gusta bailar / el ritmo de la noche,” I felt that the performer was from Latin America. Much to my surprise, when the credits rolled I saw that it was Loona, born and raised in the Netherlands and whose real name is Marie-Jose van der Kolk. 

This brings us to the question of who other non native Spanish speakers have performed songs in this language in Hollywood movies. The first to come to mind is Madonna Louise Ciccone, who was brought up in Michigan by parents of Italian and French ancestry.

Madonna’s film “Who’s That Girl” (1987) features her musical hit with the same title, whose words go, “Quien es esa niña …/Señorita mas fina.” Nine years later the Material Girl appeared in the picture “Evita.” In this drama Madonna plays Evita Peron, Argentina’s first lady between 1946 and 1952, whereas Antonio Banderas plays Che Guevara. At some point in this story a chorus of workers surrounding Che sing, “Santa, Santa Evita, / madre de todos los niños, / de los tiranizados, de los descamisados / de los trabajadores, de la Argentina.” This is in the song titled “Santa Evita.” Madonna performs in 23 out of the 34 songs heard in “Evita.” Nonetheless, only one of them has words in Spanish: “Partido Feminista.”

Finally, it should be noted that in 1986 Madonna released her song “La Isla Bonita,” which starts saying in Spanish, “Como puede ser verdad,” and later on adds, “Te dijo te amo.” But, to my knowledge, this song has not been included in the soundtrack of any movie.

About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a writer in the academic, scientific, journalistic and literary fields (in the fiction and non-fiction genres).

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