Ricardo Arjona, the Guatemalan singer-songwriter pop phenomenon, is currently wrapping up a successful tour of the US. And if you grew up in Latin America, chances are that you first heard of him somewhere in the early nineties. On the radio or through a friend, you may have run into a song that summarized the tenements of all Christianity ("Jesus Is a Verb, not a Noun") and reflected on the fact that someone had made a religious analogy by way of grammar. Soon after, in 1993, you may have heard his song "Mujeres" and, whether you wanted or not, paid even more attention to the lyrics because the song was playing over and over again at parties and at the mall.
"And if [women] inhabited the moon, there'd be more astronauts than sand in the sea," went one of the lines. "They say it was a rib," said another passage, going all Old Testament on the origin of women, "but I would have given my whole spine just to see them walk." And then, at that precise moment, right before the guitar solo kicked in and Arjona became a continental star, you probably chose a side: you were either an Arjona lover or an Arjona hater.
As Arjona's popularity grew with unstoppable force during the next two decades, an equal and opposite force grew against his lyrics. While he was busy turning verses like "forgetting you is harder than running into Lady Di at the subway station" or a song to the menstrual cycle into hits, and selling out 35 straight nights at Buenos Aires' Luna Park in 2006, music fans, journalists, comedians and musicians were equally busy turning him into the living symbol of cheap songwriting.
Just to name a few highlights: as early as 1996 Mexican singer-songwriter Alejandro Filio wrote the song "El Reino de los Ciegos," where he insulted both his audience (the blind) and Arjona (their king); in 2010 singer Fito Páez associated his success in Argentina with "cultural annihilation and absence of ideas" in the country; and last year his detractors threatened to take it to the streets organizing a global demonstration against his "false poetry" via Facebook (which, in spite of receiving wide news coverage, doesn't seem to have materialized). And this is without getting into the Internet meme that attributes earthquakes in Chile, Mexico and Peru to his performances, or the fake news story (which some newspapers duly reprinted) that Iran would punish those who listened to his music with the death penalty.
Arjona himself has not been particularly interested in replying to his critics, but when he does, he displays admirable wit. He dismissed Páez's attacks attributing them to the Argentinean's artistic decline, and of those behind the alleged demonstrations against him, he said: "Somebody who devotes time and space to hate music he doesn't like, and turns that into a cause, is an idiot." More recently, in a biographical text published in his website, Arjona affirmed not to read any of the articles written on him, good or bad. "What's written about me is what I write," he concluded, suggesting that he didn't care for anyone's opinion but his own. True to his statement, in a recent interview with ABC/Univision, Arjona claimed to be unaware of the fact that last year the New York Times rather surprisingly called him "one of Latin pop's finest lyricists" after his sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden. (He recently sold out the arena again.)