At the MTV video music awards in 1999, a frustrated Chris Rock vented that all anyone could hear that year was Ricky Martin’s most famous hit - Livin' La Vida Loca.“I’m tired of Ricky! On The Tonight Show - Vida Loca, on The Today show - Vida Loca, on the Flintstones - Vida Loca!,” he exclaimed.
The catchy tune was truly inescapable as the century drew to a close and probably the defining song of his career to an English speaking audience.But to the audience at the Menora Mitchavim Arena in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, Martin was more than that. The crowd, mostly Israelis of Latin American decent, happily danced to the few English hits he performed, but their excitement was reserved for his Spanish hits that have continued to make him popular across the Latin world.Ballads like Tu Recuerdo had the crowd swaying their arms to Martin’s soulful - and still very powerful - voice and there wasn’t a still pair of hips in the audience when Martin launched into Maria - one of his Spanish songs that also managed to hit the mainstream after it was translated in English.In what felt like a Zumba class on steroids, it was a hot, body thumping kind of night had by all except for the row of Israeli-American reporters in the audience who weren’t familiar with the majority songs.“It doesn’t matter where I am, I can identify people from different parts of the world,” Martin proudly claimed as he asked the crowd to identify their country of nationality. Unsurprisingly, Mexico and Argentina garnered the most enthusiastic round of applause.When he asked if there were any Americans in the audience - this reporter let out a loud singular “whoop!” that embarrassingly reverberated throughout the arena. Clearly, I was the other in a crowd of hot-blooded Latinos.But at a Ricky Martin concert, embarrassment and being self-conscious is fleeting, as the pop star clearly had no patience for any of that.“Allow yourself to be free!” Martin encouraged in a call in response session with the crowd. “Nobody is going to say ‘I saw you at a Ricky Martin concert and you looked ridiculous,’” he joked.For a liberating 10 minutes the concert transformed itself into souped-up group therapy session, as Martin had the audience dance and sway their arms as he chanted, “I don’t care! I don’t care what people say!” For a moment, it even felt that life would be so much better if it was just a never ending Ricky Martin concert. Despite not knowing the songs, the star’s charisma, mega-watt smile, eternal optimism and (still) chiseled body is certainly a sight to behold. “I’m so happy to be here in Israel. I’m here because I want to have a good time - I want to leave my soul on this stage,” Martin told the audience.And judging from the crowd’s reaction, he seemed to do just that.