When big hits come around, it’s always tempting to say, “I knew it was a hit from the first time I heard it.” But in reality, does any artist ever see themselves sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks straight?
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee‘s “Despacito,” a song that went through many permutations and more than one singer before it became the finished product, was likely one of those successes that no one saw coming. Perhaps when Justin Bieber jumped into the track and made it bilingual did Fonsi and Yankee forsee a No. 1, but whether it was expected or not, the Latin track has become a worldwide phenomenon.
What all the shifts in “Despacito” had in common — aside from Fonsi as the lead singer — were the track producers, Colombians Mauricio Rengifo (one half of urban/pop duo Cali y el Dandee) and Andrés Torres, who has worked for Alejandro Sanz and David Bisbal, among others. As a production team, they’ve worked together for the past two years on tracks for the likes of Sebastian Yatra, Thalia and Morat and are repped by producer Sebastián Krys through his Rebeleon Entertainment.
Following the success of the “Despacito” remix, the pair are also producing other bilingual tracks, including the recent remix of Ryan Tedder’s “No Vacancy” with Yatra. Rengifo and Torres spoke to Billboard about the making of “Despacito,” Daddy Yankee’s contributions to the track and the real story behind Justin Bieber’s participation, including his hiring of a Spanish diction coach. (See “Despacito’s” English translation here.)
How did the song get to you?
Torres: From the onset, we were onboard to produce Fonsi’s new material. We went to Miami to write with him, and one of the songs he had was “Despacito.” But there was always some issue with the song. It kept getting postponed.
Rengifo: When Fonsi first played it for us, it had no reggaetón in it, and that’s a big part of what makes the song so easy to digest. But it did have that ‘Des-Pa-Ci-To.” That’s a golazo, and an amazing idea. The song took a lot of time to finish, not so much because of the song itself, but because of the bureaucracy behind it [“Despacito” was initially recorded with Nicky Jam, who eventually had to decline because the release conflicted with his album release]. There was a lot of trial and error — but that’s one of the virtues of the song. We had time to sort it out.
Was it a challenge to get the Justin Bieber remix done?
Rengifo: The big deal about Justin coming in — beyond the marketing — is that as a songwriter and a performer, he approached the song in a completely different way. His first verse was completely different to what any Latin artist would do. It was very impressive and very cool for all of us to witness his voice doing what he does and the fact that his approach to American melodies and American songs worked so well for a track that wasn’t conceived for the Latin market.
What do you think of the criticism Bieber has received about not singing the Spanish parts live?
Torres: Whatever anyone says, Justin Bieber is singing a song in Spanish and that song is No. 1. But, that criticism is important because it moves passions around the world. We don’t take it seriously, but it is cool to see how big an impact the song has.
Rengifo: I really feel that the fact that he made an effort to sing the song in Spanish is a sign of respect toward our culture and our language. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t have done it in Spanish. Or he would have said “Despaciro.” Anyone who’s successful will be criticized, and that helps the songs gain traction. But [Justin] respects Spanish so much that he recorded in Spanish. And that has to be respected.
How and when did he actually record?
Torres: He recorded in Colombia [Bieber was in Colombia when he first heard the song]. He went to the studio in Bogotá where we often work and recorded the remix with a vocal coach. He flew in his recording engineer, the guy he records his vocals with, we sent him the files, and he recorded in an hour. When Justin Bieber said he wanted to do the track, everyone was on top of everything within two hours. The track was released four days after it was recorded. That simply doesn’t happen.
What’s the difference between a Latin sound and an American sound?
Rengifo: Latin music is more complex in the arrangements and in the placement of the instruments. American music is more straight ahead. But we admire the quality of sound in the general market. We now feel we have to produce music that can be heard by anyone anywhere in the world, and it can’t sound “small.”
When “Despacito” first started to do so well, many people wrote that you were unknowns. Given your background, was that irritating?
Torres: Not at all, because the dimensions of “Despacito” are gigantic. Anyone would be an unknown in comparison. This is far bigger than anything most anyone has done in their career.
Rengifo: We see a lot of magic in it. We love that people aren’t focused on the producer. We’re not really fond of putting a lot of noise behind this song or any song. You have to maintain that magic of people liking a song because of the artist.
When did you realize how good the song was?
Rengifo: The song really took 100 percent shape the day Yankee recorded. It was 2 a.m. and we went to Fonsi’s house. And when we heard it for the millionth time, we did feel that musically it was where it had to be.
Torres: Once it was out and it had a face — the thing is, when we reached No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs, we said, “Wow, that’s it. That’s incredible.” And then there was another thing, and another thing, and another thing. That No. 1 on the Hot 100 was crazy.