Grammy Watch: Will 'Despacito' Be a Contender -- Or Be Shut Out?

Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee, 2017
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee perform during the Latin Billboard Awards on April 27, 2017 in Coral Gables, Fla.

In the months leading up to the 59th Grammy Awards this January, Billboard will be featuring Grammy Watch, a weekly column looking at the artists, music and trends likely to be featured heavily at this year's ceremonies. This week: Jason Lipshutz looks at the Grammy chances of one of the biggest, and more unique, smash hits of 2017.

Few songs, if any, have defined the year 2017 more than “Despacito.” Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s single, which was remixed with Justin Bieber, was (and remains) a commercial behemoth, in a way only a handful of pop songs have ever managed — it tied the record for weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart with its 16-week stay at No. 1, and its video smashed the record for YouTube views in the span of a few months.

“Despacito” has been more successful than any single this year, based on chart reign and streaming numbers; it is generally well-liked, even after months of airplay, and it's culturally important, as the longest-leading Hot 100 song sung primarily in Spanish of all time. Yet there’s a real chance that “Despacito” is shut out of the major categories at the 60th annual Grammy Awards next January — and potentially, snubbed from the ceremony altogether.

On one hand, the popularity of “Despacito” could make it a shoo-in for multiple nominations, including Record of the Year, even as the rare Spanish-language single to grab hold of U.S. pop radio. (Song of the Year is a songwriters category, and "Despacito" is more likely to be lauded for its production and vocal performances than lyrics.)

After all, there is some precedent of the Grammys recognizing Latin artists impacting the American mainstream, from Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” getting a Record of the Year nod in 2000 to Santana’s dominance of the major categories that same year to Los Lobos’ 1988 remake of “La Bamba” sneaking onto the Record of the Year shortlist back in 1988. And if the popular remix featuring Bieber is submitted, Grammy voters certainly showed last year that they were inclined to give the Biebs some love — his Purpose project was up for Album of the Year.

Most importantly, of course, the ubiquity of “Despacito” gives it a great shot at Record of the Year; out of the 25 most recent Record of the Year noms, 20 made it to at least the Top 5 of the Hot 100 chart. "I can’t see how it couldn’t or wouldn’t get [nominated] in Record,” says Jerry Blair, head of Global Entertainment Management. "It’s one of the biggest songs of all time! It represents popular culture.”

If that’s the case, where else will “Despacito” be represented at the 2018 ceremony? The delineation of the Latin music nominees at the Grammys make the answer a bit murkier than one might expect. The Grammy Awards have four Latin categories — Best Latin Pop Album; Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album; Best Regional Mexican Music Album; and Best Tropical Latin Album — none of which “Despacito” would be eligible for. (Also worth mentioning: the smash hit couldn’t even appear on any album nominated in these categories, because as of now, it doesn’t belong to an album from any of its three artists).

If you’re wondering why there are no Grammy categories for Latin singles — it’s because the Recording Academy created its own awards show for them. The Latin Grammy Awards was formed in 2000, three years after the creation of the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, as a separate entity honoring Latin music, and is typically held in November. The 2017 Latin Grammy nominations were supposed to be announced this week, and were postponed due to the earthquake in Central Mexico; whenever the announcement takes place, “Despacito” is expected to be a big part of it.

"You’ll probably hear ‘Despacito’ a whole bunch of times that night, and rightfully so,” says Tomas Cookman, head of Nacional Records, of the Latin Grammys. “But since the Grammys are basically U.S.-based and [with] U.S. voters, that will change things a bit.”

Indeed, if the Latin song categories aren’t part of the main Grammys, then “Despacito” will ostensibly have to compete in the general and pop categories — crowded fields being determined by voters that aren’t necessarily in the Latin music demographic.

Indeed, if the Latin song categories aren’t part of the main Grammys, then “Despacito” will ostensibly have to compete in the general and pop categories — crowded fields being determined by voters that aren’t necessarily in the Latin music demographic. The song would have been a shoo-in for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, but that category was shuttered following the 2011 ceremony. Now its hope rests on a Best Pop Duo/Group Performance nod, where it could potentially have stiff competition against songs like Taylor Swift and Zayn’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” The Chainsmokers’ "Paris" and a slew of songs by DJ Khaled.

Cookman points to the snub that “Despacito” suffered at the MTV Video Music Awards last month as a harbinger of what might happen to the song at the upcoming Grammys. Although the VMA recipients have never been strongly indicative of Grammy honorees, the fact that the video for “Despacito” was shut out of the ceremony — despite having the most views for a music video in the history of YouTube, with 3.8 billion views — makes that snub particularly notable.

"If all things were fair and traditions were followed, then yeah, it would get the normal [Grammy] nominations that one would expect for a song of that magnitude,” Cookman notes. "That said... if the MTV Video Music Awards were any indication, you really just don’t know.”

For as uncertain as the song's Grammy chances may be, there is one card that Fonsi, Yankee, Bieber and their respective teams have yet to play when it comes to "Despacito": a joint performance. Amazingly, the smash that tied the record for the most weeks atop the Hot 100 chart has never been performed together by its three creators; “It’s crazy to think about!” Blair laughs when reminded of this.

For an Academy that’s forever in search of “Grammy moments” that cannot be replicated elsewhere, securing the first-ever performance of “Despacito” with Fonsi, Yankee and Bieber is right up their alley. If Grammy voters have that type of foresight, to marry such a moment with a Record of the Year nod, then “Despacito” could be a contender in 2018 — and represent an important moment for Latin music at the Grammy Awards.

“With the Grammy politics, we’ll see what happens,” says Cookman. "I would be surprised if it did get a lot of different nominations, but I would definitely be very happy if it did."

2018 Grammy Awards


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