For Menudo, perpetual youth and pots of gold
It has been nearly 20 years since the four Brits landed in the U.S. and tumbled helter-skelter into a Manhattan hotel suite, high above police barricades where hundreds of girls were squealing their way into Beatlemania. Pubescent girls, New York City saw last week, are still crazy after all these years: on streets around a midtown hotel, dozens of cops oversaw hundreds of squealing, hysterical teens who were simply dying for a glimpse of the dreamboat singers upstairs. The 80,000 tickets for the group's four concerts last weekend at Madison Square Garden were sold out three days after they went on sale.
Beatles redux? Hardly. Menudo, the objects of all that adolescent yearning, are well-behaved puertorriqueños who sing in their native Spanish and play no instruments. The hundreds of thousands of U.S. fans typically are Hispanic junior high schoolers, like the heartthrobs themselves: five Puerto Rican boys, ages 13 to 15. And menudo, which means "small change" in Spanish, is not really a band or even, to use the '60s phrase, a combo. It is a clever marketing idea: the boys are mere employees of a promoter who replaces each one before he turns 16. "Menudo is a formula, and we must take care not to break it," says Edgardo Díaz, 31, Menudo's inventor and honcho, who manages to seem both cynical and ingenuous. "If we play it cool, I know, I feel, that Menudo will be successful around the world."
Around this hemisphere, it already is. Díaz trotted out the original group in 1977. Their music is the blandest kind of pop, without even a dash of Latin bounce. Yet by 1980 Menudo was performing its custom-concocted songs ("Give me a kiss/ Now we are alone/ Nobody can see us") and primitive choreography throughout Central and South America.
The product flow is no less staggering than the live tours: two Menudo movies (which only a mother or a fan could love), ten record albums (total sales: 3 million) and four years of weekly half-hour TV programs. Remember Monkees lunch boxes? A Menudo school bag sells for $16. Menudo, in fact, may be the Strawberry Shortcake of Latin American product licensing. There are Menudo T shirts and sun visors, wristwatches and jeans.
Díaz is devising an ambitious American campaign. As many as 20 million Hispanics live in the U.S., and perhaps 1 million are females between ten and 15. The audience is concentrated in New York, South Florida, Texas and Southern California, which makes marketing Menudo easier.
The group has already sold 750,000 LPs in the U.S., although Díaz has yet to strike a deal with a domestic record company. The sound-track album of their second film, Una Aventura Llamada Menudo (An Adventure Called Menudo), was a bestseller all spring (No. 1 in New York and California) on Latin record charts. In the fall comes their first serious "crossover" attempt: Menudo on ABC, a series of four-minute spots in English as well as Spanish, will be aired by the network Saturday mornings.