Why a Spanglish Reggaeton Pop Remix Is Now Nearly As Big As the "Macarena"
I'm clearly not the only one who's played Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" remix (with Bieber) more times than I'd publicly disclose.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single featuring Justin Bieber is destined to bang. "Eenie Meenie"? Are you kidding? "Let Me Love You"? Forget about it. "Where Are U Now?" Pass the fucking aux cord and watch my Uber rating plummet into the depths of hell. For posterity, there was also that rancid collaboration with Far East Movement that sounds like the entire Oceana club franchise gained sentience and learned what a drop was, but after a few WKDs and a pinger I'm sure the general attitude towards that would change too.
Thus, it's not surprising that a remix of "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber would, to employ the modern parlance, "go off" – but the degree to which it has exploded was unprecedented. It's become the first mostly Spanish language to enter the Billboard Hot 100's top 5 since Los Del Rio's wedding DJ staple "Macarena" in 1996 and 1997. As far as YouTube is concerned it's the biggest music debut of 2017 so far, accumulating more than 20 million views in its first 24 hours. As far as actual people are concerned, it simply bangs. It slaps. It sizzles. It is "a tune!" It grabs you by the hips and forces you to move in ways that are ungovernable and probably quite upsetting if you're as white as I am.
For the unacquainted, "Despacito" – which translates to "slowly" in English – is a fusion of Latin pop and reggaeton by two of Puerto Rico's finest: Luis Fonsi and, naturally, Daddy Yankee. As someone whose lived experience of Spanish language music begins and ends with shotting Licor 43 to Pitbull at a foam party in Costa Brava, I am not best placed to comment on what this means for Latin music apart from the obvious (in Fonsi's words: "this is great"). But let's pause for a second and think about how wild it is that the first mostly Spanish language track to enter the top tier of the US charts in more than two decades is a remix from an unexpected yet perfect holy trinity of Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber. Not Enrique Iglesias, not Shakira, not even Daddy Yankee in his own right – but a guy who started out in a group called "Big Guys" which also included Joey Fatone, the man responsible for "Gasolina" and, well, Justin Bieber.
The track was already fucking massive before Bieber got involved, scaling the charts in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, France Austria, Germany and reaching number 44 on the Hot 100 almost immediately after its release on 17 January. According to Spotify, it's the first Spanish language song to reach number 1 on the streaming service's global chart and is that chart's highest-ranking Spanish language release to date. The original video amassed well over a billion YouTube views in just three months (for context, the only other song that has ascended to the billion mark so rapidly is Adele's "Hello"). It was already on its way to becoming one of the most successful Spanish singles of all time, but you could say that Bieber – to paraphrase Scotty T – weaponised it. Though it still has a way to go in the US and UK in terms of ubiquity, with the original sitting at number 22 in the UK singles charts and the remix nowhere to be seen so far, the remix bolted positions from 48 to 9 in a week in the US, currently sitting at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 between Kendrick Lamar's "Humble" and Future's "Mask Off".
As the story, told by Luis Fonsi to Yahoo! goes, Bieber initiated the remix after hearing it in a club in Colombia while on tour. Singing in both English and Spanish (which sounds amazing, by the way), Bieber adds a verse at the beginning, provides accompanying vocals throughout and takes over from Fonsi when the time comes to sing the word "despacito" a cappella in such a slow and steamy manner it makes me want to kill myself (you can find this at 1:01 into the remix although I strongly recommend you do so sitting down somewhere private). The remix doesn't differ much from the original but I suppose Bieber's involvement took it to an audience who may not have heard it before and perhaps provides an entry point for people who, for whatever reason, find it difficult to connect with a song that isn't largely in English.
But enough about facts and statistics. Facts and statistics are just a way to quantify the success of "Despacito"; they hardly explain it. Having listened to the remix a number of times I will not disclose publicly, lest my mam become concerned and ask if I'm OK like she did after I scrawled all the lyrics to In Utero over my bedroom walls in black chalk aged 12, I have arrived at two theories on this matter – one of which is very simple, the other a complex combination of socio-political climate, memes and happenstance. Let's start with the latter.
Thanks to a variety of worldly forces including Mercury in retrograde and that picture of Theresa May miserably eating chips, I've been waking up lately feeling weighed down by a general malaise. True to British custom, our three days of spring are over and now we're all back to leaving the house in a jumper and a jacket and having to remove one or both items on public transport because it's hot and then putting them back on again and eventually arriving at work coated in a thin film of sweat. That's obviously the least of anyone's worries – America is currently helmed by dark timeline Boss Baby who refuses to sleep anywhere that isn't his own bed – but sometimes, when the world's problems seem so sprawling and impenetrable, you end up focusing your anger on something inconsequentially micro, like your body temperature.
Anyway, basically what I'm trying to say is everything is crap and when faced with the prospect of tumbling toward wrack and ruin it is a Darwinian response to cling to something solid. "Despacito" is that something; the ray of light through the cloud, the fortuitously placed branch we hit on our way to the dirt, the dank meme sandwiched between wildly bad takes on the timeline. Try listening to "Despacito" and not feeling immediately transported to a balmy paradise where dust gives the air a physical presence and everyone smells like salt mixed with coconut oil and you are day drunk on something you sucked out of a pineapple with a straw. Go on. I dare you. It is impossible. This song is pleasure incarnate. Do you want to know why Ed Sheeran had to briefly wrestle with Steps for the top spot in the UK album charts? Do you want to know how it is possible that, of all the One Direction solo endeavours, it is Niall Horan who released the objectively better song? Because people are starved for joy, that's why. Because at this point any faint glimmer of optimism has a magnetism ten times the power of Daniel Day-Lewis' on-screen presence. Tom Odell and Sam Smith? In this economy? Are you fucking joking? All anybody in their right mind really wants is a fair and functioning society for all and more songs about shagging. Is that so much to ask?
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee did not intend to enter the discourse when they collaborated on a song that is ostensibly about having sex slowly so as to make the most of it (useless straight men of the world: take note), but they inadvertently punched a hole right through it regardless. After all, what is resistance without joy? What is progress without celebration? What does celebration of life and culture and pleasure sound like if not precisely "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee?
It goes without saying that both Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee have had enormous followings for decades and this song, this objectively perfect song, was destined to do well in a whole swathe of countries regardless. But between a Radiohead meme propelling "Gasolina" back into the realms of 'Sound of the Summer' (for those who believe it ever truly left at all) and Justin Bieber having recently reached some sort of zen-like state where he seems to be working on whatever the hell he fancies and appearing more visibly comfortable in himself for it, the conditions have never been so primed for a collab between two 39-to-40-year-old Puerto Rican legends and a Canadian pop icon to arise in the most natural way possible: because it was on in the club.
My other theory is that "Despacito" is really fucking good.
Long may it reign.
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