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Nothing slow about ‘Despacito’
Photo: Luis Fonsi Facebook

By Joshua Pilkington

A look at the most successful Latin single ever

By the Chinese zodiac calendar 2017 was the year of the Rooster, but in the music world it was the year of “Despacito.” The single from Puerto Ricans Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee exploded onto the Latin Music scene in early 2017. The track gained impulse and popularity in the Billboard Top 100 chart on a remix version featuring Canadian pop star Justin Bieber and the records began to fall.

“I thought it was really exciting,” said Julia Rincón, 32, a native of Bayamón, Puerto Rico who has been living in Colorado since 2013 and in the continental US 2001. “I was walking to work and could hear Fonsi and el Cangri (Yankee) blasting from the radio, which isn’t all that unusual in my neighborhood, but then I look over and see a bunch of young, white girls trying to sing along. It was eye opening.”

Breaking records and barriers

Indeed the song tracked with audiences across all spectrums. In 27 countries “Despacito” was either the first or second-highest rated single, including regions as far reaching as Malaysia and Poland.

The reaction toward the song was moderate in the U.S., trending mostly on Latin Music radio stations and formats. That all changed in April 2017 when the first remix - featuring Bieber - took to the airwaves.

“You couldn’t go anywhere and not here that song,” said Marcus Riggs, 27. “I work in a stock room with mostly guys and we could be listening to the Spanish station, the pop station, the hip-hop station, it didn’t matter, that song was always playing.”

Riggs added that he heard the song so often, he learned some of the lyrics.

“Of course I can’t really use any of it in conversation,” he said laughing. “Unless I want to get slapped in the face.”

Crossover stars (particularly those who transition from Spanish to English) are nothing new in the United States. Gloria Estefan began her transition from Spanish to English in 1984 with the Miami Sound Machine and became an international success with chart-topping singles like “Conga” and “Words Get in the Way.”

Other artists have experienced similar success including Selena, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Pitbull and Marc Anthony, but none of their hits (in English or Spanish) have matched the success of “Despacito.”

Not since Los del Río came out with “Macarena (Bayside Boys mix)” in 1996 has a song primarily in Spanish topped the Billboard Hot 100, but “Despacito” didn’t stop their. It rode a wave of unprecedented success to top the chart for 16 weeks, a feat only matched by “One Sweet Day” the 1995 collaboration from Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men.

“It’s crazy,” Rincón said perusing the list of singles that have spent the most weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 100. “‘I Will Always Love You’, ‘Despacito’ beat out ‘I Will Always Love You.’ I mean, there are so many great songs and its in front of all of them.”

On digital platforms, “Despacito” also broke records. The music video, filmed in Old San Juan, became the first YouTube video to reach 3 billion views. As of today, it is still the most watched video in YouTube history with 4.92 billion views.

Crossing to the underground

Of course crossover artists aren’t limited to pop music.

“There’s a whole range of bands that do the Spanish-English thing but their music is a little more underground,” said David Trujillo, a self-described metalhead.

Bands like Puya (Puerto Rico), Molotov (Mexico City) and Brujería (Tijuana) have found a considerable following around the globe despite playing metal and rap-infused music that often does not find its way onto the airwaves.

“People come to me often asking about some good Spanish rock,” Trujillo said. “I can give them a list of hundreds of bands both in and outside the US. It’s unfortunate they don’t get the same type of play as Latin pop artists because their music is far more artistic and original.”





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