- “La música en las casas”: Musicalizations in La casa de papel and La casa de las flores and Netflix’s Global Audience
My first experience with Spanish-language television came in the form of the telenovela, soap operas from Latin America that follow a group of characters (generally a family or close-knit group of friends) through varying life changes, both socially and culturally. These shows were/are highly melodramatic, including a turbulent romance, a rupture in familial dynamics, severe social inequalities, and even a kidnapping or two: “Telenovelas are a very well established genre that garners large followings and the highest shares of overall television ratings.”1 I watched these shows during my early childhood, especially when I visited my family in Mexico. I had previously watched Mexican movies with my father on Los Angeles’ Spanish-language networks such as Univision, Telemundo, and Televisa, but telenovelas were the province of my summer visits to Mexico. I would sit with my cousins, my aunts, and my grandmother to watch these melodramatic narratives unfold.
My Spanish at the time was limited. I knew a few words and could barely communicate with my family, but when it came to understanding telenovela dialogue, I was at a loss. However, because of the physical and emotional melodrama involved in the shows and the strategic use of music, I understood the narrative gist. A striking feature I came to recognize was that several of the telenovela actors were also popular [End Page 472] musicians, famous for singing a wide variety of contemporary genres. These shows were highly musical, featuring the characters either as performing artists, which is the case with members of the pop music group Timbiriche in Alcanzar una estrella (Reaching a star, Televisa, 1990) and Baila conmigo (Dance with me, Televisa, 1992), or as solo artists, such as Thalía in María Mercedes (Televisa, 1992–93), Mari-Mar (María of the sea, Televisa, 1994), and María la de barrio (Humble María, Televisa, 1995–96). Music and musical performance were key features in the narrative, leading to the show being labeled as a musical.
Moving into the twenty-first century, the effect of the telenovela has grown considerably, impacting viewing practices in the United States, particularly with new interpretations of the genre for English-speaking audiences, including Ugly Betty (ABC, 2006–10), Devious Maids (USA, 2013–16), and Jane the Virgin (CW, 2014–). Streaming media websites like Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix have aided in the wide diffusion of not only the melodramatic telenovela but also other Spanish-language serials. Intriguingly, over the past eight years, Netflix has expanded its online streaming library to incorporate more programming from several Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking regions. These shows were at one time available on network television in their respective countries or are Netflix Original Series in Spanish, serials (both dramatic and comedic) produced by Netflix studios specifically for distribution through their online platform. This streaming media option has changed audiences’ viewing practices by making more programs available at any time (as long as the individual has internet and a subscription or access to one). It has also impacted listening practices, especially for serials. Both the selection and function of music for these serials varied but catered to a format designed for continuous streaming and was geared to the concept of a larger, global audience. The available Spanish-language shows on Netflix feature several musical and sound elements that could be considered to be part of the local culture, but they also exhibit a sonic fabric made approachable and entertaining to a more substantial and diverse audience.
Two highly popular and contemporary Spanish-language serials available on Netflix are Spain’s La casa de papel (Netflix’s title is Money Heist, 2018–) and Mexico’s La casa de las flores (The House of Flowers, 2018–). Both serials have garnered considerable success and a huge fan following in their respective countries, as well as among audiences in the United States. Although not following a strict paradigm, music—functioning both diegetically and nondiegetically—plays a significant and meaningful role in the developing narratives, highlighting and magnifying elements that reflect both the...