Ballads Nuevo

Corridos get updated with drugs and guns

"Since I did that chapter on Lupillo he has become one of the two biggest stars on the U.S. scene," says Wald. "He has done it I think by just being the most urban of them all. The average Lupillo Rivera listener is not the average old-time Mexican music listener. Lupillo's fans will walk into a record store and buy his new record and the one by Eminem. [Lupillo's] is a very much Mexican-American bilingual audience."

Wald believes that narcocorridos are so popular among young Mexican-Americans because many want to assert their identity yet hold on to their street cred. No one can accuse them of being dorky for listening to old-timey accordion-based music when the subject matter is so streetwise and tough. As Lupillo's sister Jenni (a rare female narcocorridista) puts it in Wald's book, "They like the bad [lyrics]. It gives people an adrenaline rush, they get hyped up and it makes them happy. It makes them feel tough and like really, really Mexican. And I think we all like to feel that."

A look at the Latin charts indicates that she's right. Yes, Marc Anthony, Christina Aguilera and Ricky Martin have all had No. 1 hits this year. But so have narcocorridista acts like Los Tigres del Norte, El Original de la Sierra and Lupillo Rivera. Everybody's heard of the pop stars, but as Wald writes, probably not 1 percent of the Anglo population has heard of Los Tigres.

Nearly two-thirds of all Latin music sold in the United States is Mexican, but that's not reflected in the American music media. Wald sees a subtle racism involved: "Latin" elicits romantic visions of rich, handsome men and sexy supermodels boogying in South Beach, while "Mexican" connotes either sombrero-clad mariachis in a restaurant or workaday images of yardmen, maids and poverty. While songs of drug violence will provide only another stereotype, Wald writes that "even this is less annoying to many Mexicans than the picture of the sleepy mariachi in his big sombrero. The violence is terrible, but at least it does not suggest that Mexicans are stupid, lazy or incompetent."

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