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2017 No. 1s: ‘Despacito’ Stars Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee on Making a Culture-Changing Hit

When Jesus Lopez first heard Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" demo, he had an inkling the song had potential.

Billboard Hot 100 (16 weeks), Digital Song Sales (17 weeks), Streaming Songs (16 weeks), Hot Latin Songs (35 weeks); year-end Top Hot Latin Song and Latin Artist (Daddy Yankee)

When Jesus Lopez first heard Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” demo, he had an inkling the song had potential. After reggaetón star Daddy Yankee jumped on the track, the chairman/CEO of Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula was convinced it could be a hit. “I wanted it to be the [label’s] first single released in 2017,” says Lopez. “Despacito” topped Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart just three weeks after its Jan. 13 release and rose to No. 3 on Spotify’s global tally, unprecedented at the time for a Spanish-language track. Then, in April, Justin Bieber lent his voice to the remix. The song exploded — hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 within a month, generating the most-viewed music video of all time on YouTube (over 4 billion views) and scoring three Grammy noms, including record and song of the year.


Pictured from left: Universal Music Latino/Machete Music/Capitol Latin GM Alejandro Duque, Republic Group president Charlie Walk, Republic Records founder/chairman Monte Lipman, Republic Records founder/president Avery Lipman, Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula executive vp Angel Kaminsky, Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula chairman/CEO Jesus Lopez and Luis Fonsi.

Luis Fonsi: I woke up with “Des… pa… cito” in my head so clear, I had to research if this was a song I’d heard before. I had the blueprint of the chorus before my morning coffee. [My co-writer] Erika Ender and I felt that if a strong urban voice came in on that second verse, the song could grow even more.

Daddy Yankee: Fonsi emailed me: “Yo, I have this crazy song.” But something was missing. I came to the studio and did the verse and the pre-hook, “Pasito a pasito” — that was my creation.

Jesus Lopez, Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula chairman/CEO: Radio really wasn’t waiting for a Luis Fonsi track. Yankee’s contribution was crucial.

Fonsi: I realized that this was going to be a game-changer: Instantly I was doing promo in markets where my music had never been played before.

Lopez: We always had a remix in mind but failed in our initial efforts to find an Anglo artist. Then Justin Bieber heard the song at a club in Bogotá [Colombia].

Monte Lipman, Republic Records founder/chairman: We have a close relationship with Jesus and his team. When “Despacito” broke, we knew there was an opportunity to cross the record to English-language stations. [Bieber’s manager] Scooter Braun called and said, “Bieber loves it, but he wants [the record] out in 48 hours.” We flew someone to South America that day to record vocals.

Lopez: I knew that would unleash a global domino effect.

Lipman: What Fonsi and Yankee did was exceptional. Bieber was the hot sauce. It eliminated any excuses of anyone who said they couldn’t play the record.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Dec. 30, 2017 issue of Billboard.