When I heard there was a docuseries on iconic Latinx boy band Menudo in the works, I thought it'd be fun. You know, bright '80s outfits, cheesy dance routines, and synthesized beats. HBO's "Menudo: Forever Young" has those things, but they stand in stark contrast to harrowing tales of alleged child abuse hidden in plain sight as the group sang and danced across the global stage.
Menudo's musical legacy is important, and the new series says as much with talking heads calling them "the first boy band" and explaining how Menudo's manager/band leader, Edgardo Díaz, created a profit-generating model that would change the music industry. It was partly the products: records, concert tickets, merch, TV shows, and more. But it was also the marketing — this was a wholesome act, selling a nonthreatening form of masculinity to teenage girls.
As "Menudo: Forever Young" makes clear, the boy bands who followed — New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, NSYNC, etc. — followed this pattern to much success. From a Latinx perspective, Menudo also showed that Spanish-language pop music could have a global audience, that our boys and young men could drive crowds like the Beatles, and that we have talent and artistry to share. Arguably, they helped lay the path for today's Latinx music explosion, with the docuseries even name-dropping Bad Bunny as someone who benefited.
And I'd love for that to be the extent of Menudo's legacy, a positive tale of young Latinos making it at home and internationally. But as "Menudo: Forever Young" tells it, the story behind the band is anything but heartwarming. Instead, the docuseries recounts how Díaz and his associates allegedly abused the young members of Menudo over the course of the band's many decades.
It's important to remember how Menudo worked under Díaz's control. There were always five members, all young boys. When they got "too old" (aka their voices started to change or they looked much older than 16), Díaz and his team replaced them. This structure allowed the band to keep going for as long as it was profitable, and it made the band members disposable. New "Menudos" came in on the losing side of a big power differential — they were usually underprivileged kids who were joining an established global sensation. They were hardly in a place to bargain for more money or more protection.
Through interviews with a host of former members, "Menudo: Forever Young" recounts all types of alleged abuse — financial, emotional, physical, and sexual, including rape. The Menudos interviewed speak to differing experiences, with some noting how other boys had it much worse. None of the former group members deny the abuse allegations in the docuseries, and Díaz refused to be interviewed for the project. In 1991 — the year the allegations were made — Díaz, who was accused of sexual abuse by multiple Menudo members, denied the allegations on the popular talk show with Cristina Saralegui, "El Show de Cristina."
"Menudo: Forever Young" lays a damning case against Díaz and spotlights how the media responded at the time — largely taking Díaz's side, depicting the boys who came forward as greedy and ungrateful liars, although how they'd profit off of accusing Díaz and his circle is entirely unclear. The boys were allegedly silenced and shamed; at least one of the grown-ups who tried to support them was successfully prosecuted for defaming Díaz, who was never so much as investigated. Here, we see the toxic machismo that runs through our culture, shaming boys for coming forward with abuse allegations and allowing grown men with money to do as they please.
Since before #MeToo, we've been debating how (or if) to separate problematic artists from their art. This thorny question gets more complicated here: who owns Menudo and its music — its former members or the man with the copyrights? "Menudo: Forever Young" argues Menudo belong to all of us, particularly the onstage stars who, as grown men, organized a reunion tour with a totally different behind-the-scenes atmosphere than the one they experienced as children. The docuseries is careful to protect the band's legacy while arguing that the men who profited off the boys' talents should be held accountable for their alleged abuses.
And that's the paradox of Menudo. The music, the fandom, the boy stars — they all offer proof that Latino joy and love are universally appealing. But underneath this consumer experience of positive masculinity lies a toxic power structure fueled by Latino men that would negate the very humanity they're selling. In the end, "Menudo: Forever Young" depicts the chasm between our masculine ideal and reality, calling for a reevaluation of Menudo's legacy and what it can teach us about who we are, who we were, and where we are going.