Martin was born on December 24, 1971, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the son of Nereida Morales, an accountant, and Enrique Martín Negroni, a psychologist. His parents divorced when he was two; his father remarried. Martin has two maternal half-brothers, Fernando and Ángel Fernández, and two paternal half-brothers, Eric and Daniel Martín, and a paternal half-sister Vanessa Martín. Martin grew up in a Roman Catholic home and was an altar boy until he joined Menudo. Martin has some Corsican and Catalan ancestry as his paternal fourth great-grandfathers were born in Rogliano, Cap Corse, Corsica, and Vilanova i la Geltrú, Catalonia.
Ricky Martin rose to fame as a member of the Latin American boy band Menudo, after which he became a solo artist in 1990. Martin has been nominated one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People magazine and its sister magazine People en Español in 2000 and 2006.
In 1995, Martin refocused on his music career, and his third album, A Medio Vivir, would be a major international breakthrough. With this album, Martin made a shift from formulaic hit ballads to a more risky fusion of music centered around traditional Latin sounds, epitomized by the hit "Maria". "Maria" broke Martin into Europe via Spain. The single went to number one and became one of the biggest hits of the year in France and Belgium, hitting the Top 10 throughout Europe and even making its way into the lower reaches of the U.S. Hot 100. With the ballad "Te Extraño, Te Olvido, Te Amo", Martin furthered his expansion from Latin American and Spanish-speaking audiences to the European and Asian markets, and several other tracks hit the Latin Pop Airplay charts. The album went Gold in the U.S., Switzerland and Finland, Platinum in France, and 4X Platinum in Spain.
After the conclusion of a worldwide tour, Martin returned to New York to appear in a Broadway theatre production for the first time, joining the cast of the hit musical Les Miserables to play the romantic lead, Marius Pontmercy.
While on Broadway, Martin returned to the studio and recorded his fourth album, Vuelve. The title track and the ballad "Perdido Sin Ti" both hit number one on the Hot Latin Tracks and Latin Pop Airplay charts, with further hits including "La Bomba" and "Corazonado". The album's pinnacle, however, was "La Copa de la Vida", which Martin made a major hit in an English version when he was chosen to sing the anthem of the 1998 FIFA World Cup. "The Cup of Life"/"La Copa de la Vida" reached number one on the charts in 60 countries. The song went Platinum in France, Sweden and in Australia, where it ultimately became the number one single of the year. The song was awarded "Pop Song of the Year" at the 1999 Premio Lo Nuestro awards. Martin was nominated for a Grammy Award for the album, and was booked to sing on the show's live TV broadcast. The now-legendary performance of "The Cup of Life" stopped the show, earning Martin an unexpected standing ovation and introducing the star to the mainstream American audience. Martin capped off the evening by winning the award for Best Latin Pop Performance. Vuelve became Martin's first Top 40 album on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart in the U.S., where it was certified Platinum by the RIAA. The album notably went to #1 in Norway for three weeks, going on to sell eight million copies worldwide.