Ricky Martin: Revisit Singer's Breakthrough Grammy Performance at 1999 Awards

Ricky Martin is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his breakthrough performance during the 41st Grammy Awards in 1999 by performing during this year's ceremony.

Martin, now 47, took the stage at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium to perform a bilingual version of "The Cup of Life," the anthem he wrote for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Although the track was featured on his fourth album, Martin was still an almost-unknown outside the Spanish-speaking world, inspiring host Rosie O'Donnell to remark that she never even knew of the singer before that night.

"I never knew of him before tonight," O'Donnell told the crowd, notes Billboard. "But I'm enjoying him soooooo much."

Rob Prinz, the head of the agency UTA in 1999, called the performance "the single biggest game changing moment for any artist in the history of the Grammys."

Martin's performance, later combined with the success of the single "Livin' La Vida Loca," helped usher in a "Latin explosion" on the Billboard charts. Martin's self-titled English-language debut topped the album chart, knocking the door wide open for Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglasias and other Latin artists.

Despite that movement, Martin's 1999 performance is still one of the rare performances from a Latin artist during the Grammys. According to Billboard, there have been less than 15 Latin performances in the past 30 years, and that includes Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" last year. On top of that, this year's performance is the first time Martin is performing on the Grammys since 1999.

Even though "The Cup of Life" was the 1998 World Cup anthem and Martin's album Vuelve was nominated for a Grammy, the Recording Academy was still cautious about having the singer perform.

"There was tremendous resistance from the Grammys," Tommy Mottola, the chief of Martin's label Columbia at the time, told Billboard. "They did not want an 'unknown' to perform, yet we he had already sold 10 million copies of Vuelve worldwide. To me, that was absolutely UNACCEPTABLE. We had enormous leverage at that time with almost every major superstar on our label. We heavily voiced our 'opinion and influence' and said: 'Ricky must have a performance on the Grammys!' No was not an option."


Mottola continued, "Ricky Martin's performance on the Grammys doing 'La Copa de la Vida' lit the fuse to the Latin explosion. It took a relatively unknown artist in the Anglo market and propelled him to global superstardom, literally overnight. We followed this by immediately releasing 'Livin' La Vida Loca,' and sold over 20 million albums worldwide."

Martin has won Grammys for Best Latin Pop Performance of 1998 for Vuelve and Best Latin Pop Album of 2015 for A Quien Quiera Escuchar (Deluxe Edition). "Livin' La Vida Loca" was nominated for two Grammys at the 42nd Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year.