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The Success of ‘Despacito’ Has Labels Looking to Latin

As the Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber collab dominates the summer, A&R executives spot a trend.

“Despacito,” the first mostly Spanish-language song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 20 years, has already brought in $2.9 million in revenue for Universal Music Group in the United States alone, according to estimates based on Nielsen Music sales and streaming data for both the ­original and the remix. Also, the song has earned more than $220,000 in revenue for the publishers and about $1.27 ­million in royalties for the ­performing ­artists and songwriters.

But the success of “Despacito” — originally recorded by Luis Fonsi, featuring Daddy Yankee, then remixed by Justin Bieber — isn’t as sudden as it seems. Over the past two years, the outsized popularity of Latin music on streaming services has made Latin music both more accessible and more popular around the world.

“Despacito” “is a white-glove slap to anyone who doesn’t think Latin music is a global ­phenomenon,” says Sony Music U.S. Latin president Nir Seroussi. Sony has had worldwide success with crossover Latin hits for decades, thanks to artists like Shakira and Ricky Martin. And more recently, predominantly Spanish-speaking artists like CNCOMaluma and Nicky Jam have ruled streaming charts worldwide, while Enrique Iglesias‘ “Bailando” peaked at No. 12 on the Hot 100 in 2014, which is in some ways a precursor to the success of “Despacito.”


“We’re actively pursuing new sounds and music that can travel globally and that respect and enhance Latin culture,” says Charlie Walk, president of UMG’s Republic Group, which is promoting “Despacito” to mainstream radio and media. “The marketplace is clearly dictating that Latin sounds and lyrics matter. Streaming data doesn’t’ lie, and it now shows us that the world loves this music.”

Latin artists have collaborated with mainstream musicians for years — the remix of “Bailando” featured Sean Paul, and Drake joined Romeo Santos for “Odio” in 2014. But the success of “Despacito” is making such collaborations more of a priority — even changing who contacts whom. “We now see more artists from the other side reaching out to this side,” says Seroussi.

The U.S. mainstream actually came late to “Despacito,” which was originally written by Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Panamanian singer-songwriter Erika Ender. (Bieber, Jason Boyd and Marty James also have writing credits on the remix.) Months before Justin Bieber even recorded his remix, the song was a worldwide hit for Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, rising to No. 1 on YouTube’s global music chart and No. 3 on Spotify’s Global Top 50. (The Bieber remix is now at No. 1, with the original at No. 12.) But in the U.S. Hot 100, where mainstream radio matters, Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s original version of the song only climbed as high as No. 48.


The fact that it took a Bieber remix for the song to take off in the U.S. underscores the difference between a national market where Spanish-language hits are still the exception, and the global one, where Latin music is very much in the mainstream. Fully a third of YouTube’s latest music video chart is Latin; the original “Despacito” remains at No. 1, and Maluma’s “Felices los 4” is at No. 3. Maluma has six tracks on the chart, more than any other artist in any language.

“I think it’s the beginning of a very long journey of new sounds,” Walk says, noting that Bieber helped make Spanish cool, at least in mainstream U.S. pop. “I see it happening fast and I see it happening quickly. People love the music, no matter their demographic and background.”

That doesn’t mean the next “Despacito” is on the way, though. “If you try to copy it,” laughs Daddy Yankee, “it will never work.”

This article originally appeared in the June 24 issue of Billboard.