’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Coming Out Of The Dark”
The thirty-fourth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Coming Out Of The Dark” by Gloria Estefan. This was Estefan’s third and final No. 1 song, and her only chart-topper in the ’90s. She broke into mainstream fame in 1985, when she began an enviable run of iconic smash singles, including nine Top 10 songs (and one No. 11) prior to “Coming Out Of The Dark.” Two of those were No. 1 hits — “Anything For You” in 1988 and “Don’t Wanna Lose You” in 1989. “Coming Out Of The Dark” was the lead single off her album Into The Light, thematically inspired by her recovery from severe injuries sustained in a March 1990 tour bus crash. After “Coming Out Of The Dark,” Estefan would reach the Top 10 only once more, in collaboration with *NYSNC on 1999’s “Music Of My Heart,” which reached No. 2. That said, it’s worth noting that she released many outstanding and under-appreciated songs throughout the ’90s, including but not limited to “Can’t Forget You,” “Live For Loving You,” “Always Tomorrow,” “I See Your Smile” and “Reach.” Her last Hot 100 appearance was in 2001, with “Out Of Nowhere,” a dance track that peaked at No. 79.
Though perhaps better known for upbeat tracks such as “Conga,” “1-2-3” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” Estefan is, in our opinion, at her best on ballads. All of her No. 1 songs were ballads, as were most of her best predecessors to “Coming Out Of The Dark,” including “Words Get In The Way,” “Can’t Stay Away From You” and “Here We Are.” These songs are, frankly, extremely similar to one another, but they capture the pain of heartbreak exquisitely, and are fine vehicles for Estefan’s tender, vulnerable vocals. “Coming Out Of The Dark,” however, moves into a much more gospel lane, potentially over-dramatic in retrospect but deservedly appropriate at the time given her harrowing experience.
Let’s revisit “Coming Out Of The Dark”:
That this song went to No. 1 says more about Estefan’s public support than the inherent merits of the track, which is among Estefan’s least interesting outputs. The emotion and theme behind it are authentic, and the music isn’t bad, but the verses are too slow, while the chorus is overblown with a gospel choir that doesn’t suit Estefan particularly well. We see what she was trying to do here, but this isn’t her best work.
Was it dope? Estefan’s health and recovery were big stories, and people were very happy to see such a wonderful, generous, classy, talented person resume her career unscathed. To purchase or request this song was to say, “We love you, Gloria! Welcome back! We’re so happy you’re OK!” MTV and especially VH1 were happy to play this video constantly as a show of solidarity, and Top 40 radio did its part as well. That doesn’t mean people considered the song dope, it means that people were nicer during the Gulf War era.
Does it hold up? We have immense respect for Estefan and still listen to many of her songs that everyone else has long forgotten about, but even we have no interest in sitting through “Coming Out Of The Dark.” And we’re not alone. On Estefan’s Vevo channel, as of this writing, this song languishes with about 223,000 views, her 39th most popular video, which is alarmingly low given that this is technically one of her biggest hits. (Her other two No. 1 hits, as of this writing, have more than 1.2 million views apiece, as points of comparison.) And regardless of all that, objectively, the use of the gospel choir on this track seems not only cheesy, but misappropriated. It’s fine to explore new styles and genres, but going full-on gospel for a one-time-only track about surviving a near-death experience feels a little superficial.
Dopeness: 2 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?