Luis Fonsi Explains His 'Evolution of Sound' on Runaway Success 'Despacito'

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee
Omar Cruz

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee

Latin sensation Luis Fonsi has released eight successful albums, and is gearing up for his ninth. Ahead of the album, which he is still currently writing, the pop balladeer dropped an unexpected and infectious single featuring Daddy Yankee that has since skyrocketed to No. 1 on several of the Latin charts, including Hot Latin Songs

Fonsi spoke with Billboard about how "Despacito" (No. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of Mar. 13) signifies a new direction -- sonically speaking -- how its music video broke records comparable to Psy and Adele, and why the positivity embedded in Latin music is so necessary right now.

“Despacito” is a sonic departure from the pop ballads you’re known for, what influenced this new direction?

Instead of a step forward, it’s two steps forward as far as an evolution of sound. The bare bones of just writing a song are still the same -- I sit with a guitar and try to come up with a nice blend of music and lyric. I wrote “Despacito” with my guitar, but where you can tweak a lot is in the production. For us Latinos, this urban feel in the rhythm is what we breathe in and out; it’s a synonym of party. Latinos are known for being happy people and now, more than ever, I think we need happy music. That’s why I went this route.

Considering you wrote this song with just your guitar, do you think you would ever record an acoustic version?

Yeah, it’s a very melodic song and it works well in so many genres. We did a salsa version of the song, which is coming out soon, and we’ve done a more reggaeton-urban version, We’re getting a lot of people involved in doing a club version, too, because there are some great DJs who have shown interest. So, to answer your question, I’m definitely going to incorporate the simplicity of a guitar and a vocal at some point -- I don’t know if I’ll record and release it or if it will be more for something live, but it’s always cool to show people that these songs have great melody and lyric and when you showcase them in a very simple way people see it from a different angle.

Does this single reflect how your upcoming ninth album will sound?

I treat every album as a new beginning, so I’m asking myself, ‘What is pop music now? What are people consuming?’ and I take these things into effect. I’ve probably done the most homework for this album because think pop music in general is shifting at a rate where whatever you do today, if you wait too long to release it it’s going to sound old.

The video has reached over 400 million views on YouTube, why do you think so many people are drawn to it?

It’s the third video to have reached 300 million views the fastest, right after Psy (“Gangnam Style”] and Adele [“Hello”]. The video was filmed in Puerto Rico, where I’m from, and it celebrates our Latin culture and who we are; movement, dancing and rhythm are engraved in my bones. The genre I listen to the most is salsa, so people look at me and see this guy who’s done mostly romantic ballads, but there’s always been this other side. It captures the best of both worlds, and I think that’s helped the success of the song.
 
In addition to this song’s success, you’re featured on Afrojack’s single “Wave Your Flag.” Why do you think that song is resonating at this time?

It’s a song I recorded back in early November. Afrojack reached out -- we had performed at the Billboard Awards two years ago, so we connected there -- and he asked me to do this song. As soon as I heard the hook I felt connected to it because it celebrates unity and it’s positive. It’s a way to celebrate what we’re all about; my job is to go from city to city, country to country, flag to flag everyday. That’s what I do. Everyday I’m in a different city and I see a different flag in the audience. So to be able to celebrate this union through this song, it was perfect timing. And again, this was done five-six months ago and the song just came out recently, so it came at the right time. We need this positive feel in life, and music does that.

You’ve had eight albums and a lot of success -- what’s some advice you would give to younger artists who are just finding success?

My father always told me, you’re not going to please everybody, you just have to do what your gut tells you, what your heart tells you, and you have to take chances. I think that’s what I did with this song, “Despacito,” and I think that’s what I’m doing with this album, knowing that it is a little different from what I’ve done in the past and knowing that maybe I could face some criticism, but I took a chance because I really do believe this is who I am and this is who I’ve always been. Pushing the envelope, musically speaking, is what needs to be done to rise to the top.

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