Camila’s Dilemma

By: Marcelo Báez

I’m currently listening to Elypse, Camila’s new record, and I keep asking myself: which qualities separate a believable, emotional singer/songwriter from a grotesque cheese ball? From a technical standpoint, Juan Gabriel, whom I love, writes the same type of songs as Ricardo Arjona or Mario Domm, Camila’s frontman. Now, I’m not comparing one to the other (yet), but simply stating that they essentially practice the same craft, which is also geared towards the same mainstream audience.

But unlike Arjona, now largely considered the Internet’s go-to buffoon when it comes to music-related memes, and Camila, a boring band that makes Barry Manilow’s music seem edgy (“Absurdly caramelized, the imprint of the Mexican group wanders between mellow soft rock and pop, without a hint of the danger that the look of its members suggests,” writes one hilarious reporter), you won’t find too many Juan Gabriel haters. You’ll find many predictable jokes about Juanga’s alleged homosexuality, but never any complaints about terrible lyrics or, as with Camila, a deceptive fashion look. (In fact, sometimes Juanga can be too real.)

I’m using Juan Gabriel as an example not just because I’m his fan, but because he’s also a prominent Latin American songwriter, just like Arjona and Domm. Admittedly, it’s not a fair comparison because both Juan Gabriel and Arjona have been around for decades, while Camila is barely on their third record. But since he’s churning out hit songs for likes of OV7, Magneto, Thalia, and Paulina Rubio, Domm is quickly catching up—if not with his legend, at least with his numbers.

Yes, to his credit, Domm seems to be a very prolific songwriter. So then, what’s the problem? Can 92 million fans be wrong? What is it about Domm’s songs that keep him from ascending to greatness?

Domm’s shortcomings as a songwriter are actually quite obvious. While even Arjona has shown some legit creativity in his craft (Yuri’s “Detras de Mi Ventana” could be the best power ballad of the ’90s), Domm has done nothing but churn out the same turd in slightly different, lumpy shapes. Every note sequence, every saccharine or fatal lyric of his work has been repeated ad nauseam in the vast world of pop. His music—even if it’s professionally recorded and expertly produced—is wholly generic. So how can Camila be so popular? As I’ve written before, most people just want to listen to the same thing, but in slightly repackaged forms. It’s true: when people listen to a band like Camila, they’re actually listening to the same song that has been on the radio for years.

So is there any dignified music—romantic music, specifically—coming out of Latin America? Of course. Even Perez Hilton can tell you, we have Alex Anwandter, “basically South America’s Morrissey.” There’s others, too, but you’ll probably never hear them on the radio.

LOGISTICS: Elypse by Camila, available now

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.