Dispelling 5 Huge 'Despacito' Myths
The fact that a predominantly Spanish-language track is not only No. 1 in the United States but also around the world has given fodder to all kinds of pundits of Latin music, Latin culture and, basically, Latin anything.
Some of the claims? That “Despacito” is a facile track that doesn't represent the richness of Latin music. The authors/artists on “Despacito” are unknowns. “Despacito” is a response to Donald Trump. The success of “Despacito” speaks to the rise of the Latinx generation. The “Despacito” remix is an example of the exploitation of Latins in music.
Why some people’s panties are tied up in knots over the mega success of a Latin track is beyond me. And while everyone is entitled to their own opinion on the merits of the songs, there are several simple facts that need to be put forth in the midst of all the subjective commenting.
1. “Despacito” isn't a good song: Untrue. It’s a great pop song. Like it or hate it, that’s a fact. Initially written by Puerto Rican Luis Fonsi and his friend, Panamanian singer/songwriter Erika Ender, it was then “spiced up” by Daddy Yankee, a perennial hitmaker who added the catchy pre-chorus (“Pasito a pasito, suave, suavecito") to the mix. The immediate catchiness is undeniable. It stems from that chorus -- “Des-Pa-Ci-To” -- so disarmingly simple that anyone, regardless of age or language, can repeat it. It’s a technique that’s been used time and time again in hits: Pitbull has spoken at length about how he conceived the “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro” intro to “I Know You Want Me (Calle 8)" as something so simple even a child could repeat it. Also witness “Bailando.” For the haters, the ultimate insult may be the hilarious Italian parody video where three friends in a car mock the song, all the while loudly singing along to every word. “That video says it all. It exposes every hypocrite,” says Yankee.
2. These guys are rookies: While many write-ups in mainstream English-language media imply Fonsi and Ender are newcomers or relative unknowns, that’s incorrect. Fonsi is a major Latin star who’s charted two tracks on the Billboard Hot 100 -- “Nada es para siempre” in 2006 and “No me doy por vencido” in 2008 -- and has had seven No. 1s on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, going back to 2000. Not to mention he also released an English-language album in 2007, back in the day when a wave of Latin stars attempted crossovers. However, he hadn't had a major hit in years, which makes “Despacito” that much more of a sweet comeback. As for Ender, she’s an established Latin songwriter and also an artist who has penned big hits for multiple stars. And then, there’s Yankee, who’s placed a grand total of four tracks in the top 50 of the Hot 100, more than any other non-English act. Fun fact: He’s also the second most-listened to artist on Spotify worldwide, second only to Ed Sheeran. Think about that. In short, the hitmaking power was there. That the track is solid is no accident.
3. “Despacito” has political undertones: No. No. No, it doesn't. Sorry, but it really doesn't. Neither Ender nor Fonsi are known for their social-justice bent or for their edgy output; they are known for writing good, radio-friendly fare. Yankee has released plenty of social commentary in his career, but this isn’t it. I also dispute the notion that “Despacito” is benefiting from a larger U.S. Latin population. The track follows the trajectory already taken by “El perdon” (No. 56 on the Hot 100) and “Bailando,” which went to No. 12, aided by a remix with Sean Paul (who's obviously not Justin Bieber). What these tracks all benefited from were global streaming numbers, which allowed them to jump boundaries of language and culture thanks to their catchy hooks. Yes, those numbers underscore a growing global appetite for Latin music. But had “Despacito” been preachy, complex, political or hateful, it most certainly wouldn't have fared as well.
4. “Despacito” wouldn’t have been a hit were it not for Justin Bieber: Incorrect. “Despacito” already was a hit and rising fast. Though it was only at No. 44 on the Hot 100 when Bieber jumped in, it was No. 3 on Spotify’s global chart, which is huge (and the first time a Spanish track has gone so high) and the video was No. 1 on YouTube’s global chart. That’s what is truly remarkable and unprecedented: that an all-Spanish track without a remix made it so far. Would it have hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 or remained this long on top were it not for Bieber? Unlikely, in my opinion. But it would still be a major hit.
5. Bieber’s participation is disrespectful to Latins: Oh please. Bieber has fallen in love with Latin tracks before; he’s known for dancing to “Gasolina” in his shows and has shared the stage with pal J Balvin. But that’s irrelevant, actually. The fact that the guy is singing in Spanish at all, and took the trouble to get it right versus simply singing in English (like most everyone else does), is a magnificent example of music’s ability to transcend differences and also highlights the melting pot of genres and styles that music increasingly is. So Bieber’s Spanish isn’t perfect. It still sounds pretty good to me in the recording. Is he now supposed to speak it fluently too? (For the record, I am Colombian born and raised; Spanish is my native language). And for those who want to get into the language issue, let’s not open the door of what many Latin stars’ accents sound like when singing in English. The issue of cultural appropriation is truly anathema in the world of music, which, by definition, is a world of collaboration. “Despacito” is an excellent example of musical fusion and of having open minds and hearts where walls are torn down instead of built.