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While South Korean sensation BTS is music’s current reigning boy band, that position was once held by another foreign-language group: Menudo.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Puerto Rican act dominated Latin teen music. (In Puerto Rican slang, the name means “loose change” or “young ones.”) The group sold an estimated 60 million albums; made two movies and dozens of TV appearances (including on Silver Spoons in 1983 and The Love Boat in 1985); and easily filled a 105,000-seat soccer stadium in Mexico City in 1983.
That year, The New York Times estimated there were 3,500 teenage girls screaming at JFK when their plane touched down.
Though their 1982 movies Menudo: La Pelicula and Una Adventura Llamado Menudo are largely forgotten and went unreviewed by The Hollywood Reporter, THR reported that the group’s original deal with Norman Lear’s Embassy Communications was for as many as five films. (The other three never came to fruition.)
The band had been created in 1977 by Puerto Rican producer Edgardo Díaz, who wanted his own Jackson 5. His formula for keeping the group fresh was to sign new members at age 12, replace them when they reached 16 — and work the act hard. The young singer-dancers earned a flat-rate salary of $60,000 annually ($175,000 in today’s dollars).
Díaz’s most famous discovery was 12-year-old Enrique José Martín Morales, aka Ricky Martin, who was turned down three times before being signed in 1984, at which point he was put onstage. Martin once said he “went from riding my bike to learning my steps to Radio City Music Hall.”
When his age-mandated retirement came around, Martin stayed a few extra months and was 17 when he returned to Puerto Rico to finish high school, performed in a Mexico City play and signed a record contract with Sony Discos that paid him 1 cent for each album sold.
From 1994 to 1996, he played singer Miguel Morez on ABC’s General Hospital.
“I saw a tape of Ricky performing, and I was blown away by his talent,” says the soap opera’s then-executive producer Wendy Riche. “When we met, what impressed me most was how present he was in every moment. He’s always there with you.”
While Martin’s solo albums have sold more than 70 million copies, Menudo disbanded in 2009.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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