There are few artists in the world capable of conveying so many emotions with their unique voice. Juan Gabriel was one of them.
What does it take to become a living musical legend? There are few people who have that status, and probably, the equation for it is great talent, a lot of determination and hard work, and a life story that connects with people. Every country in the world has its own legends, which adds a special cultural value for their work and their persona. Two years ago today, Mexico lost one of the biggest icons we've ever had, leaving the country in mourning for months. The amazing thing about him is how he turned his own sorrow, heartbreak, and despair into the anthems of our lives.
He also taught us all great lessons about acceptance and diversity at a time when Mexico was in the grips of a horrible homophobic discourse. His name was Juan Gabriel. He became the “divo” of Juárez (the city where was born and raised), and he showed us the beauty of love, pain, and being our truest selves.
As a pioneer of the bio series trend, Juan Gabriel showed his audience that part of his life we were only able to see through his many songs. He was always a polemic figure who allowed his audience to make up and believe stories about him without really denying or accepting anything. For decades, he sang about love and heartbreak, and for that reason, millions of people in his country and all over Latin America adopted his songs as their own anthems. However, as we later saw in the series about him, his songs were mostly pleas for acceptance and love, not from a lover, but his own mother, who always neglected him.
All his efforts in life, including his successful career, were focused on making his mother proud, so she would accept and love him, something that, according to the series, he never accomplished. With songs like “Querida,” “Amor Eterno,” or “Hasta que te conocí,” Juan Gabriel expressed his need for that love so many of us take for granted but that he never had, so he had to look for it in other people. He had a kind of dramatic and traumatic life that he went through, not by escaping from it, but by taking the pain and sorrow as his power to follow his passion for music.
His unique and highly emotional voice gave him the acceptance he always looked for as a child, but not really the one he wanted. His fame escalated not only throughout Mexico, but all through Latin America, Spain, the United States, and even beyond the barriers of language, having some of his hits translated into Japanese to huge success. That honesty with which he wrote, composed, and performed his songs shows his pain and despair, which makes it easy for us to relate in bad times.
However, though his best songs are definitely under this treatment, Juan Gabriel also sings about happiness, love, and joy, making this duality even more intense and appealing. His songs, above all, are examples of Mexican culture, always showing that colorful and folkloric richness that characterizes our country. He gave his all to his audience to the last days of his life. But as I said at the beginning, perhaps what’s most interesting about him is the huge role he played in Mexico, where, sadly, we’re still living with a severe homophobic attitude.
He was always himself, never caring what people said about him. He dressed, danced, talked, and performed as Juan Gabriel (a name he made up to honor both the music teacher who basically raised him, and the father he never met) being just who he was. Over the decades, people speculated about his sexuality and identity, and he never commented, trying to deny it nor conceal it. On the contrary, there’s an iconic interview where's he’s asked if he’s gay, and with his characteristic charm, he just answers “when it's this obvious, there's no need to ask.”
As a famous celebrity, he devoted his time to making Ciudad Juárez a better place, investing a lot of money on different charities. One of his main interests as a social worker was helping orphaned children because he had first-hand experience. He also wanted to give back to those who had helped him get to that privileged spot he reached, including his public, who he always treated with respect and love. Though his music was undeniably great, it was these traits and personality what made people really love him.
To sum things up, he really changed the music industry in so many levels, to the point that, as Obama said after his death, his music transcended “borders and generations" and "his spirit will live on in his enduring songs, and in the hearts of the fans who love him.”
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