Now this is cute! So, the song in question for this review is a cover song, though it is far from the first cover song that we’ve had in this challenge so far (“Mack the Knife” and “Fell in Love With a Boy” are just a couple examples), it just might be the first from which the original is much more popular and commercially successful than the cover. That’s not to say that the artist in question hasn’t experienced quite a bit of success on her own accord, of course. Ximena Sariñana is a Mexican singer-songwriter who took up an interest in music from as early as seven years of age. Initially, though, she began an acting career at age eleven, appearing in a few telenovelas through the 90s and moving onto feature films in the 2000s. Sometime after this, in 2008, she released her debut album Mediocre, after a series of stints in music performance interspersed within her successful acting career. Mediocre went on to achieve platinum record status in Mexico, earned international critical praise, and helped her receive a nomination at that year’s Latin Grammys ceremony. She’s released two albums since this and this particular single comes at the tail end of her most recent album No Todo lo Puedes Dar from 2014.
Now, if you haven’t given a listen to this song yet, I’ll be the first to break the anticipation – this is a cover of Pat Benetar’s 1984 hit single “We Belong”. For the record, I dig Pat Benetar and I like this original song pretty well already. Its production and sound mixing is about as fist-pumpingly over-the-top and anthemic as one would expect from a pop single well into the 80s, and Benetar sounds terrific with her performance of one of the most extravagant melodies of the decade. Although adding in the children’s choir at the end is a bit much, it still remains a charming, slightly poignant pop single through and through. “Juntos por siempre” is a pretty straight-forward cover song, with the title literally translating to “always together” – if you place this translated title next to Benetar’s original title, it seems to form a complete sentence!
When I say it’s a straight-forward cover, though, I don’t mean that it stands on equal measures to the utter bigness in quality that “We Belong” so effectively exudes. For one thing, while this may simply be an misfire in translation, the lyrics to “Juntos” are much simpler. For the first couple of lines in Benetar’s song – “Many times I tried to tell you / Many times I cried alone / Always I’m surprised how well you cut my feelings to the bone” – Sariñana gives us lyrics that roughly translate to simply “I tried to explain / I cried without reason / When you hurt me straight to the heart”. Another example is the chorus: Benetar pronounces such lines as, “We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder / We belong to the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under” with such loud confidence, while Sariñana gives us the much sparser lines, “You will be with me, I will be with you, if you want / Neither the heat of the sun nor the rain will stop it”. For the most part, though, the lyrics follow a very close translation to the original, the necessary liberties taken for rhyme scheme notwithstanding, and the message is still there – it’s a declaration of the speaker’s undying love for her significant other, despite the trials and tribulations of their journey and the unpredictability of the future.
Another way this differs from the original, of course, is through its production. “We Belong” is big, overblown, over-the-top, and openly intended to be played through huge speakers in a packed arena. Yet instead of the multi-tracked recording with dramatic synths, crashing drums, guitars, and handclaps, there is little more than a few whimsical electronic riffs and a drum machine driving “Juntos” along, and certainly no ending children’s choir. Moreover, with Sariñana’s sweet, low-key singing replacing Benetar’s huge vocals, this sounds less like a declaration of love in front of the whole world and more like a personal love letter sealed with a kiss. I never would have thought that “We Belong” would have the potential to be reworked into something cute, but that’s exactly what’s going on here. Much of this is a result of Sariñana’s presence, which is just too wonderful and wholesome to pass off completely.
I could imagine someone who had never heard the original version of this song really loving and connecting with “Juntos por siempre”. It delightfully captures everything that made this quintessentially 80s song so wonderful and repackages it for modern ears, fit to be played alongside Sia, La Roux, and Electric Trees. However, for those who are already well familiar with the original (and if you’re reading this, you probably are), this cover has the tendency to go through one ear and out the other as just another cover song. It could just be my utter ignorance with the Spanish language, but the cadence of the original chorus is just so iconic and fitting, listening to completely different words fill in the gaps left behind by the original just… feels odd. Moreover, I really don’t prefer those cover songs that do a copy-paste job of redoing the original; besides the language and the modern-sounding synths, this is such a straight-forward cover of the song, there’s really no reason I’d choose to listen to this one over “We Belong”. That’s not to say it isn’t an enjoyable cover, though – just a slightly uninspired one. Just as I’d probably much prefer to listen to Benetar’s early hits and even “Love is a Battlefield” over “We Belong”, I’m more intrigued to check out Ximena Sariñana’s other work, particularly her intriguing Mediocre album.