‘Despacito’ has been blaring everywhere the past few months and so it would seem to be the song of the summer, right? The company announced Wednesday that ‘Down’ by Fifth Harmony featuring Gucci Mane was the most tweeted about #SongofSummer.
How did Despacito become the song of the summer? Slowly.
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s original version of the track debuted in January, becoming a global hit that beckoned a remix with Justin Bieber in April. With Bieber on board, the song rose to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for 16 consecutive weeks until Tuesday, when Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Dotook the top spot.
The original track and its remix have become a point of pride for the Latin music community, according to musicians and industry experts.
“Despacito proves that when music moves you and makes you feel something, it’s universal no matter in what language the lyrics are written,” Becky G, the Mexican-American singer and actress, who stars in the forthcoming Gnome Alone, tells USA TODAY. “And as a Latina American singer-songwriter, I couldn’t be prouder to be working in this industry at this point in time.”
J Balvin, a Colombian singer whose single Mi Gente is being hailed as the next Despacito, agreed that the Bieber/Fonsi/Yankee track is a “historic” achievement for Latino artists.
“I have the biggest love and respect for Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee for opening even more doors for all of us,” he told USA TODAY.
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“I think Despacito greatly accelerated a change that was already underway,” he explains. “Reggaeton spurred big growth last year for Latin music streaming and video play, and then Despacito exploded to take things much further and faster down the road.”
With Mi Gente among the many new Spanish-language tracks gaining traction on pop radio charts along with Karol G’s Ahora Me Llamaand Shakira’s Me Enamoré, industry experts are already seeing the ripples of Despacito‘s impact.
Despacito has “given the music industry confidence that songs can cross more readily,” says Tom Poleman, iHeartMedia’s chief programming officer. “Those songs (are) getting more exposure on mainstream radio stations… It’s a trend right now in pop culture to give those (Spanish-language) songs a shot.”
Labels, too, are looking for more opportunities to boost the profiles of Latin artists. Balvin hopped on a Latin remix of French Montana’s hit Unforgettable in July, while Fonsi’s Spanish-language rework of DNCE’s Kissing Strangers was released earlier this month.
“There’s been an interest from many general market players and people that don’t necessarily look at Latin music,” says Alejandro Duque, general manager of Universal Music Latino, the imprint that released Despacito. “Now we have artists saying, ‘Hey, I want to do my remix with a Latin artist.’ “
While many are singing the praises of Despacito, it’s also an outlier for Latin artists, many of whom still struggle to break through on mainstream charts. Before it, only two Spanish-language predominant songs topped the Hot 100: Los Del Rio’s Macarena in 1996, and before that, Los Lobos’ cover of La Bamba in 1987.
“A big challenge is just that even now, with this Latin explosion going on, it’s still a little bit limited,” Duque says. “There’s some media and some channels that segment Latin as Latin, and don’t necessarily consider a Latin hit to be a pop record. I think that’s one of those barriers that’s been proven wrong by Despacito and now by Mi Gente.”
And while Justin Bieber’s addition to Despacito helped rocket it to No. 1,he also left a permanent blemish on the song’s legacy when, singing the song live, he botched the Spanish-language lyrics, mockingly replacing some words with “burrito” and “Dorito.”
“I think what pained me the most was that it wasn’t just the lyrics he was mocking — his English verse was free of criticism,” says music and culture critic Maria Sherman. “It was the Spanish lyrics, which feels borderline hateful, even if it was Bieber just being a dumb kid.”
Yet, Bieber’s involvement in the track doesn’t seem to have poisoned the song’s reputation. According to Leila Cobo, Billboard‘s executive director of content and programming for Latin music, Despacito was always larger than Bieber.
“(Despacito) was doing very well without Justin Bieber, that’s really important to say,” Cobo says. “He definitely helped it get to No. 1 on the Hot 100, which is a domestic U.S. chart…(However), it was No. 1 on Spotify and No. 1 on YouTube at a global scale. So it was a global hit.”
Sherman agrees that while Bieber may be part of Despacito‘s story, its legacy isn’t likely to erase its original creators.
“I think Bieber helped put some audiences on to the track and sound that normally wouldn’t be exposed to it, but its greatness lies in the hands of the Latinx musicians who made it,” she said.
“It also doesn’t hurt that the title is in Spanish,” she continued. “You can’t whitewash Despacito, even if people try.”
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