In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
What are we talking about? I mean, what are we even doing here? There is no such thing as a born pop star, but if one were to exist, then the second-generation Spanish heartthrob Enrique Iglesias would be the one. It’s hard to picture a reality in which Enrique Iglesias does not become a pop star. “Bailamos,” Enrique’s first Hot 100 chart-topper, is a very silly song, but it’s silly in a big and brash and unashamed way. It stands out. “Bailamos” isn’t a great song, but it’s entirely fitting that it was a #1 hit. But “Be With You”? I don’t know what the hell happened with “Be With You.” Enrique’s second #1 hit is a faintly grating Euro-house song that flirts with anonymity. There’s nothing magnetic about it at all besides, I suppose, the presence of Enrique Iglesias. So how did this one find its way to #1? What happened?
Enrique Iglesias’ ongoing stardom was not a done deal. Even after “Bailamos,” Enrique could’ve easily drifted off of the English-language radio landscape. Years before “Bailamos,” Enrique was firmly entrenched in the Latin pop world, and he could’ve continued to tour arenas around the world without the benefit of another English-language hit. For a minute, it looked like that might happen. Enrique followed “Bailamos” with “Rhythm Divine,” another goofily sweeping dance-the-night-away exoticist love jam. Enrique recorded that one with the same songwriters and producers who’d given him “Bailamos,” and it’s essentially a not-as-good version of “Bailamos.”
Enrique Iglesias recorded most of 1999’s Enrique, his first English-language album, with British producers Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling, the same guys who’d made “Believe” with Cher. In Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book Of Number 1 Hits, Mark Taylor admits that he and co-writer Paul Barry wrote “Rhythm Divine” as a “Bailamos” ripoff: “In hindsight, it was probably too much of a follow-up. It was the same kind of track, so much so that it didn’t have the same magic that ‘Bailamos’ did.”
“Rhythm Divine” flopped. In the US, the song peaked at #32 on the Hot 100. In the UK, the song did even worse, only reaching #45. When Enrique Iglesias released another single, it didn’t get a UK release, even though the track was written and recorded in London. Enrique didn’t have anything to do with writing “Bailamos” or “Rhythm Divine,” but he did co-write “Be With You,” the song that ended up as the third single on the Enrique album. He wrote the track with Paul Barry and Mark Taylor, and the three of them probably expected that the song would become a ballad. It’s not a ballad.
“Be With You” is sung from the perspective of someone who’s been through a breakup and who can’t go on without that lost love. Enrique Iglesias’ narrator sits around mooning about this other person: “Monday night and I feel so low/ I count the hours, but they go so slow/ I know the sound of your voice can save my soul.” That’s about as specific as “Be With You” gets, and it’s also a good indicator of the level of sophistication we’re dealing with here. The other person’s gone, and Enrique just wants to be with them. It’s about as basic and generic as a lost-love song can be.
Co-writer Paul Barry was surprised when producers Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling decided to turn “Be With You” into a dance track. In the Bronson book, Barry says, “I wasn’t sure that would work. It was a bit of a gamble.” By this point, though, Taylor and Rawling were old hands at turning sweeping romantic drama into dancefloor fare; that, after all, is how we ended up with Cher’s “Believe.” But “Be With You” is not “Believe.” Unlike “Believe” and “Bailamos,” the previous two Taylor/Rawling chart-toppers, “Be With You” is the kind of thing that easily blurs into the background. I forget all about the song while it’s still playing, which makes it challenging to write a whole column about the thing. The chorus is the problem. “Believe” and “Bailamos” both have huge, towering hooks. “Be With You” simply does not.
On his “Be With You” chorus, Enrique Iglesias tries to fly into his upper register, howling with pain at the absence of his love. He doesn’t get there. As a singer, Enrique works best when he’s doing the breathy sex-god thing. He can belt when it’s time to ramp up to the chorus, but he can’t wail. On “Be With You,” he tries it anyway. It doesn’t work. When Enrique attempts to hit the lonesome high notes on the “Be With You” chorus, he sounds a little too much like a cat that just got its tail stepped on. A clubby track like “Be With You” doesn’t necessarily demand a great vocal performance. But those high notes, at least for me, move “Be With You” out of the realm of forgettably decent Euro-dance cheese. They make the song actively unpleasant.
“Be With You” is not a grand production; only a few musicians worked on the track. Mark Taylor and Paul Barry both played keyboards. Barry also played bass and sang backup, along with frequent Pet Shop Boys session singer Sylvia Mason-James. Brian Rawling played drums. The flamenco-ish acoustic-guitar flourishes came from Adam Phillips, a London guitarist who’d already played on “Believe” and “Bailamos.” Mark Taylor on Phillips: “He’s not a Spanish flamenco guitarist, just a regular guy from London.” And it’s like: Sure. But they probably could’ve found a Spanish flamenco guitarist, if that was important.
That’s kind of the problem with “Be With You,” though. Nothing is really important. Enrique Iglesias cut his teeth in the Latin pop world, but other than that guitar and I guess Enrique’s accent, there’s nothing especially Latin about “Be With You.” Instead, it’s sleekly predictable Euro-club, the kind of thing that was showing up in every car commercial around the time. It’s not even good Euro-club. It’s so smooth and indistinct that it might as well not exist. “Be With You” shot up the charts almost entirely because of singles sales, but I remain mystified as to why anyone would pay money to own the track. It’s just a big and slightly off-putting nothing. Far be it for me to accuse anyone of anything, but the chart success of “Be With You” is the kind of thing that makes me wonder if Interscope had a warehouse of CD singles somewhere.
Maybe “Be With You” succeeded because of the different versions of the song. Enrique also recorded “Be With You” in Spanish as “Sólo Me Importas Tú,” and the video has a quick drop of an energetically cheesy remix from the LA dance duo Thunderpuss. Or maybe the key was the video itself. The “Be With You” video is, I admit, a lot of fun. Dave Meyers, a longtime director of big-budget music-video spectacles (as well as the Master P/Eddie Griffin vehicle Foolish and the 2007 remake of The Hitcher) made the “Be With You” clip. It opens with Enrique and his friends cruising around a desert in a Jeep, looking extremely Zoolander-esque. One of Enrique’s friends is, I swear to God, Gerardo. (Gerardo’s highest-charting single, 1991’s “Rico Suave,” peaked at #7. It’s a 4.) “Be With You” is nearly a decade after “Rico Suave,” so I don’t know which guy Gerardo is, but I hope he’s the one with the orange spiky hair who surfs on the Jeep’s hood.
Enrique, Gerardo, and company stop at a desert convenience store, where the possibly-Gerardo guy somehow messes up so badly at microwaving a snack that he explodes the rotating glass dish. The beautiful girl working the till and presumably cleaning up all those broken-glass shards is American Pie star Shannon Elizabeth. Later on, Enrique and his friends make their way to a giant geodesic-dome rave, where Enrique finds romance with a now-glammed-out Shannon Elizabeth. The video doesn’t remotely fit the song, since it doesn’t require Enrique to do any pining for any lost loves. But that’s fine. Enrique wears a series of tight solid-color graphic-free T-shirts, and the whole thing is dumb and entertaining. I wish the song was more like the video.
“Be With You” didn’t have a big effect on the sales of the Enrique album. Enrique had gone platinum months before “Be With You” reached #1, and the LP never went double platinum. Enrique hasn’t returned to #1 since then, but he’s come close, and he’s continued to crank out big records. Enrique’s follow-up album, 2002’s Escape, actually sold three times as much as Enrique, but its big single, the lovably shameless “Hero,” only reached #3. (It’s a 6.)
The title track from Escape didn’t quite make the top 10; it peaked at #12. But the song probably had a bigger effect on Enrique Iglesias’ life. In the “Escape” video, the young woman who plays Enrique’s love interest is Anna Kournikova, the Russian tennis player who was arguably more famous for being mind-bendingly hot than for playing tennis well. Enrique and Kournikova became a couple, and they’re still together now. They’ve got three kids. It feels right that two people that famous and successful and absurdly attractive should be together. What were they supposed to do? Date mortals for the rest of their lives?
In the past 20 years, Enrique Iglesias has gone back and forth between Spanish and English, and he’s had big hits in both languages. Enrique still regularly lands songs near the top of Billboard‘s Latin Songs chart; he’s got more #1 hits there than any other artist in history. But Enrique’s done well on the Hot 100, too. In 2010, for instance, Enrique sent two singles, the Pitbull collab “I Like It” and the Ludacris collab “Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You),” to #4. (They’re both 5s. Pitbull and Ludacris will both appear in this column eventually, and those should be some fun columns.)
More than 20 years after “Bailamos” and “Be With You,” Enrique Iglesias is still a factor on the Hot 100. He last made the big chart in 2018, when the Bad Bunny collab “El Baño” peaked at #98. (As lead artist, Bad Bunny’s highest-charting single is 2022’s “Moscow Mule,” which peaked at #4. It’s an 8. As a guest, Bad Bunny will eventually appear in this column.) Right now, Enrique is getting ready to release his Final (Vol. 2) LP. He says that’ll be his last album, but you should never trust pop-star retirements. I don’t think we’ll see Enrique Iglesias in this column again, but the guy still looks exactly like he did when he made “Be With You,” so I’m not ready to count him out yet.
BONUS BEATS: “Be With You” is a song that’s left absolutely zero cultural footprint, so I’m going with something more nebulously Enrique Iglesias-related here. For about a year, the stand-up comic Pete Holmes had a talk show that ran on TBS after Conan. For the first episode of The Pete Holmes Show in 2013, Holmes devoted his entire opening monologue to a story about going to an Enrique Iglesias concert. I laughed. Here it is:
The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out 11/15 via Hachette Books. You can pre-order it here.