Bolero and balada as the guilty pleasures of Latin American pop

Daniel Party, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation is a study of the Latin American pop ballad in the twentieth century, focusing on two related genres, bolero and balada. The overarching themes of the project are: bolero and balada as transnational and pan-regional genres and their reception as guilty pleasures. The first chapter traces the history of bolero from its origin in the late nineteenth century to its decline in popularity in the 1960s, paying the most attention to stylistic developments, such as Cuban "filin" and Mexican "bolero moderno," that led to the emergence of balada. I pay particular attention to the music of Armando Manzanero, a key transitional figure between bolero and balada. Working in-between the two genres, Manzanero's solo recordings highlight the tension that for decades has permeated the distinction between bolero and balada. The second chapter lays the theoretical foundation for the discussion of bolero and balada as guilty pleasures. I locate the origin of the guilty pleasure aesthetic in Susan Sontag's concept of camp, and outline its development into the 1990s, covering the related concepts of cheese, kitsch, and the Spanish "cursi." Chapter three focuses on balada reception in Chile with the purpose of explaining how and why balada became a guilty pleasure in the 1980s. Fieldwork undertaken in Santiago, Chile in 2003 led me to the hypothesis that in Chile, balada is considered a guilty pleasure because of its (a)political and social class associations. I pay particular attention to a balada revival that occurred in the late 1990s because it explicitly coded the genre as a guilty pleasure. The last chapter is a study of Miami's impact on balada production. The single most important development in balada of the last twenty years is the centralization of the balada industry in Miami. I argue that the Miami-based industry plays a crucial role in shaping the sound and image of Latin-American pop artists, thereby influencing its reception in Latin America. I present a case study of Chilean baladista Myriam Hernández's career. In particular, I explore the changes in her music and aesthetics after she immigrated to Miami in 2000.

Subject Area

Music|Latin American history

Recommended Citation

Party, Daniel, "Bolero and balada as the guilty pleasures of Latin American pop" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3211132.