Gloria Estefan – Heaven’s What I Feel

Released: 25th May 1998

Writers: Kike Santander

Peak position: #17

Chart run: 17-24-30-52
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 34-29-29-27-27-30-37-39-43-48-45-45-48-48-53-57-58-55-57-68

This may not have been the diva comeback of 1998 that grabbed the headlines, but make no mistake, Heaven’s What I Feel is an absolutely brilliant dance-pop reinvention.

When Gloria Estefan set about recording the Gloria! album, it had been several years since her last top ten hit. The vision was to collaborate with a producer (in this case, Tony Moran, who’d remixed several of her earlier hits) and create a sound that would have a strong presence on the dancefloor and – hopefully – spill over into the charts. If that all sounds vaguely familiar, then yes, this could indeed have been a response to the unprecedented success of Cher‘s Believe. Except Gloria Estefan got in there first. Heaven’s What I Feel was a perfect lead single, although she wasn’t the first artist in mind to record it. The song was initially pitched to Celine Dion for the Let’s Talk About Love album but deemed not the right fit (though this is the album that included Treat Her Like A Lady, lest we forget). So instead, it was given to Gloria Estefan and proved a perfect fit for her. Even though the prospect of Celine Dion performing Heaven’s What I Feel is quite something, it’s genuinely hard to imagine the finished product in anyone else’s hands.

Not least because with Tony Moran heavily involved as a producer of Gloria!, the song is immediately positioned as a credible ’90s disco anthem. And the whole thing is bloody marvellous; all four and half minutes of it (and that’s the radio edit – the album version runs just over five minutes). Heaven’s What I Feel is so well composed in that it’s knowingly indulgent – the warm, shimmering synths during the intro are a dead giveaway that it’s going to be a big track – and takes its sweet time to get there, savouring every moment along the way. There’s a slow-build through the first verse, with some fanciful lyrics to set the scene: “And love sometimes is like the blowing wind, it can take us to wherever, sending us on silent wings…”, before the finger-snapping beat drops with a flurry of strings: “…but I have broken all the rules of love, I never dreamed that I could come this far”. And we’re off.

The song delivers a tale of forbidden romance as Gloria Estefan grapples with her internal turmoil against the ascending drama of the pre-chorus: “And now I’m lost in my emotions, you’re becoming my devotion, there’s nothing I can do to stop this love for yo-o-o-o-ou”. It’s a bit of a twist on the usual angle of songs like this, with Heaven’s What I Feel far less a statement of defiant survival and instead where Gloria Estefan is – at least in part – the instigator of potential heartbreak. That’s not an easy role to sympathise with, but she sells it so well that it’s impossible not to be on her side. Of course, it’s helped by the behemoth of a chorus: “I was not supposed to fall in love with you, I have someone else and someone else is loving you, and I was not supposed to let this love get through, so let me say for real, heaven’s what I feel when I’m with you”. This is an epic tour de force of massive hooks, with Gloria Estefan‘s voice and Tony Moran’s booming production filling the song from top to bottom

The energy is relentless from the second Heaven’s What I’m Feel summons its audience to the dancefloor. With a middle-eight steeped in urgency: “Heaven! Heaven! Is what I feel when we’re together. Heaven! Heaven! Just look in my eyes and you’ll see it’s the truth”, the track doesn’t stop to catch its breath. The sheer euphoria when Gloria Estefan unleashes the high notes: “Heaven’s what I feel…when I’m with YO-O-O-O-O-OU-OOH-OOH-OOH” is almost too much to handle. As a glorious, dizzying rush of a pop song, this deserves to be recognised alongside any of the major diva tracks of the ’90s and is an utterly essential effort.

Accentuating the appeal of Heaven’s What I Feel is the way Gloria Estefan wholeheartedly throws herself (quite literally, at some points) into the ’90s-tastic music video. There’s isn’t a narrative, as such, but at every turn is a concept or special effect that was about as high budget as could be, yet now looks intrinsically of its time, which just makes it even more entertaining. None of the computer-generated sequences is shoehorned in. Instead, they all exist to do things that would be otherwise impossible, like the one where Gloria Estefan is standing on a glitterball, which is moving (but not rolling because the animation isn’t quite that advanced yet) through a grand corridor. At the same time, other glitter balls float around her. The goo effect from The Secret World Of Alex Mack also makes an appearance, although here it represents a portal to some sort of anti-gravity space chamber, which Gloria Estefan steps through. To create the floating effect, she was suspended from a harness in mid-air doing somersaults in front of a green screen; and that kind of dedication to her craft is precisely why she’s such an icon. 

The ambition of the video is still appreciable, although it’s inarguably the parts that used real sets which have aged best. The latter half of the video – featuring a three-tier dance hall and a sizeable troupe of dancers – is the aesthetic of this era of pop music in a nutshell: it’s slick, stylish and entirely impractical for anything other than the purpose for which it’s been created. Gloria Estefan looks like she’s having the time of her life, which radiates from every aspect of the visuals. And quite frankly, who could blame her because singles like this don’t come around very often.

From a commercial perspective, Heaven’s What I Feel – indeed, the entire Gloria! campaign – is perhaps best judged by what didn’t happen rather than what did. Gloria Estefan was firmly within the age bracket where she was facing the typically ageist mentality of the music industry over what sort of music she should (or shouldn’t) be making and how much success she should reasonably expect to enjoy. She deftly sidestepped all of them to ensure Heaven’s What I Feel didn’t come across as trying too hard and, most importantly, existed as an entirely natural evolution. Thus, its success was probably best measured in its consistency; the single peaked at #17 in the UK, becoming Gloria Estefan‘s 13th top 20 hit (her ninth as a solo artist). It would have been great to see this go top ten and connect with a broader audience, but at the very least, it was evidence enough that her fanbase was on-board. In America, Heaven’s What I Feel reached #27 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Gloria Estefan‘s highest-peaking single for four years.

The Gloria! album followed a very similar trajectory, although was marketed slightly differently in terms of the artwork. It reached #16 in the UK, where our version went all-out and featured Gloria Estefan sporting a fabulous disco perm. Meanwhile, the American edition – which peaked at #23 – opted for her peering over the top of blue vinyl. In their own way, both convincingly sold the essence of the album to their respective markets. It’s completely justifiable to feel the project – and Heaven’s What I Feel, in particular – was vastly underrated, which is resoundingly true. But in the absence of any real precedent for this reinvention, Gloria Estefan threw caution to the wind, going all-in to deliver in every respect. This single is a total triumph and is fully deserving of being remembered among the quintessential diva tracks of the late ’90s.

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