Aventura — the novelty musical act, not the city in Miami-Dade — has turned traditional Dominican folk music, AKA bachata, into a worldwide sensation by doing what Carlos Vives did in Colombia. They've taken song structures from el campo (the sticks), propped them up with pop tropes, and performed them as a boy band. That has made for a marketable sound. Since its inception some 16 years ago, the group's fan base has grown with each album. And so has my disbelief.
I was raised on Latin music, and I love the poppiest of pop just as much as the salsa jams I heard as a kid at family shindigs — mi vieja would pull me onto the dance floor when my old man needed a breather. Last year, Village Voice Media (parent company of New Times) ran my picks for the Top 10 Latin albums of 2009 in all of its 14 markets, so I might as well be the one to address the elephant in the room. It's big, it's gray, it smells like an entire farm's worth of shit, and it's eating all the peanuts.
Enough is enough, people. It's time we face facts. Aventura sucks.
Contrary to what scores of screeching girls and their parents believe, the Bronx-based quartet of Anthony "Romeo" Santos, Lenny Santos, Henry Santos Jeter, and Max Santos is not the Dominican Invasion — not even close. Paul McCartney hasn't swapped his Hofner violin bass for an acoustic guitar with a capo on the ninth fret. Ringo Starr's skin is pasty, not a rich caramel macchiato. And the Beatles' mop-top 'do has not been usurped by Romeo's fade.
This article won't be popular. Look no further than Aventura's accolades from the past six months: an American Music Award for Favorite Latin Artist, five Premio Lo Nuestro awards, nine Billboard Latin Music awards, and the number one spot on Billboard's Boxscore, doubling Bon Jovi's for a total count of four sold-out shows. Sales-wise, triple-platinum in the Latin market is one thing, but Aventura's The Last debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 next to artists like Black Eyed Peas and Lady GaGa, and still sits in the Latin top 10 after more than a year on the charts.
Although there's no way to take any of that away from them, I have to ask... What the hell, guys? How can Aventura's offerings possibly be enticing? It's prepubescent horniness masquerading as the sensitive musings of romantic men! It's "seduction" delivered via cajolery cheesier then Chester Cheetah's paws! I can let slide a telenovela star's weak attempt at sexy intonation, but I'm sorry, I just cannot overlook brazenly corny Latin-lover lyrics.
Consider "Un Beso," in which lead singer Romeo declares (translated literally), "Your mouth is so sensual/It captivates and excites me... your tongue is my weakness." Perhaps emboldened by its seemingly unending success, or perhaps appealing to fans' basest groupie impulses, the bachata boy band from the Bronx rarely makes an effort to even feign romance. To hell with thinly veiled come-ons, it just goes for the jugular. Or the zipper, as the case may be.
Worse, as Village Voice's Rob Harvilla recounted in a review of one of Aventura's four — count them, four — back-to-back sellouts at New York's Madison Square Garden in January, the seas of screaming female fans go absolutely ape shit for Romeo's clumsy stage banter: "Ladies, you feelin' sexy tonight [grabs crotch]? You're sexy to me!" Let's conduct a social experiment: Guys reading this, please attempt the same move the next time you're at a bar, and report back.
It's nothing new for an artist to receive carte blanche onstage for what would otherwise be considered completely unacceptable behavior. Since we've ruled out thoughtful lyrics as the catalyst for the Aventura craze, is it Romeo's velvety vocal stylings that are causing the furor?
Doubtful. When not whispering sweet Skin-e-max nothings, Romeo's singing echoes Mr. Meow, of Meow Mix cat food ad fame and best known for the Aventura-worthy lyrics "meow, meow, meow, meow." Skeptical? Listen to hit single "Mi Corazoncito," and pay attention to Romeo's plaintive declarations of possession of his lover's heart in the hook, which goes "mio, mio, mio-ooo, mio, mio, mio-ooo." Breathtaking.
Before this goes any further, why the hell am I still calling this guy Romeo? His name is Anthony. What self-respecting man refers to himself as Romeo? I'll tell you who: the guy who hangs out at Miami's Café Mystique wearing alligator-skin boots, slacks that accent his package, a dress shirt buttoned only to the navel, and gold chains bedecked with medallions and nestled in a thick thatch of curly chest hair. You know the one. The guy who tells crowds at concerts that he understands why men cheat, then clues them in: "because we love pussy." The guy who I've heard cancels interviews because he hasn't gotten his fade taped.
Speaking of appearances, attribute Aventura's popularity to the ringleader's frequent People En Español's 50 Most Beautiful nominations, and I'll argue that I have a mechanic who looks like him, too. As for bandmate Henry, his diminutive height is not his fault, but that stupid beard is. And the brotherly tandem of Lenny and Max on bass and guitar — hey, no one's blaming you for being the descendants of Frankenstein, but stop looking at your instruments like you want to hump them. No amount of sexy gazing will make you guys any more attractive. Just stroke the instruments. No, your other instruments.
The sun shines on every dog's ass at least once, and these particular dogs' asses have gotten plenty of rays lately. If you can overlook everything I've said, then by all means, go ahead. Whether your thing is the good, old-fashioned, blaring-horns, hip-breaking, bloody-nose-from-all-the-cocaine style salsa of the '70s, or the Dominican Republic's most traditional style of folk music reborn with a pencil-thin chinstrap beard, leather pants, and Gucci loafers, I'll just quote your boys: "It's all up to you."