Not Since La Macarena, ‘Despacito’ opening doors for Spanish songs on English radio

This April 27, 2017 file photo shows singers Luis Fonsi, left, and Daddy Yankee during the Latin Billboard Awards in Coral Gables, Fla. Photo: Lynne Sladky, STF


Despacito” is easily the song of the summer, with the success of the hit stretching beyond Spanish-speaking audiences to make it one of the year’s most recognized songs.

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s tune, which has topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 13 weeks and counting, set a record as the most streamed song on Spotify and is the first YouTube video to reach 3 billion views. And in an industry where success breeds imitation, the song has opened the door for other Spanish tracks to get airplay on American radio.

“The beauty behind (‘Despacito’) is that it was never meant to be a crossover song. When I sat down with my guitar to write this song, I just wanted to write a great song that people would automatically connect to, and dance to, and really enjoy, so it was so nice to see how – in a very organic way – the whole world just connected to it,” Fonsi said in an interview from Spain, where he was set to perform the worldwide hit. He’ll make a stop at the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land on Sept. 17

“It wasn’t really forced, it wasn’t gimmicky … it’s sort of an accident if you will,” he said. “There’s something magical in that melody and in the beat and in the production … and people in Russia and Australia and U.K. and France and U.S. and South America – everyone’s just dancing.”

“Despacito” is the first mostly Spanish song to top the Hot 100 since Los del Rio’s “Macarena” in 1996. Fonsi’s smooth jam about slowly falling in love has become a pop-culture phenomenon since its release in January, selling more than 7.7 million tracks – based on digital sales, audio streaming and video streaming – according to Nielsen Music. It has spent 27 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Latin songs charts, and while some believe Justin Bieber helped make the song a hit when he jumped on its remix, it’s quite the opposite.

“Despacito” had reached the Top 40 on the Hot 100, and following the Bieber remix – which includes the pop star singing in Spanish – the song reached No. 1. The remix spent 14 weeks on top of Spotify’s global chart until last week when it was supplanted by J. Balvin’s “Mi Gente” – another Spanish song finding success on U.S. radio and the pop charts.

“Mi Gente,” a collaboration with Willy Williams, is No. 30 on the Hot 100 after just a month on the chart.

“I don’t think this is just something that happened overnight … it’s something the Latin music industry and creative community, we’ve been working so long toward this direction, and I don’t think specifically only in the U.S., it’s a global momentum,” Guerra said. “Platforms like Spotify are giving access to the same songs at the same time everywhere, so that’s allowing us to have more (Latin) artists on the (global) chart.

“There has been a domino effect,” added Guerra, who said there are currently eight Latin songs on Spotify’s global chart, which includes 50 songs. “The more songs that we put on the global chart, people are getting more used to listening to songs in a different language.”

She said that Spotify has spent the past two years pushing Latin music in regions outside Latin America: “We’re proactively trying to push its consumption in countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the U.K. (and) obviously the U.S.”

And there’s proof it is working. Daddy Yankee became the first Latin artist to reach No. 1 on Spotify in June, taking the spot from Ed Sheeran, and the Latin genre is third overall globally on Spotify, just behind pop and hip-hop.

The Latin beat can be heard on current English-language hits as well, including DJ Khaled and Rihanna’s “Wild Thoughts,” which samples Carlos Santana’s 1999 megahit “Maria, Maria,” and French Montana’s “Unforgettable,” which has a reggaeton vibe (J. Balvin appears on its Latin remix).

Fonsi said he doesn’t want to take credit for the success of Latin music on pop radio but knows “Despacito” has helped set the mood.

“I hope that it’s a door that will stay open for a long time. I think it’s bigger than just this summer. I think it was (over)due for Latin music to get this attention, and I love the fact that we’re all collaborating in different languages,” he said. “It’s not about where you’re from or what language you’re singing in, it’s about bringing cultures together and different styles, and it’s good for music in general.”

Erika Ender, who co-wrote “Despacito” with Fonsi at his home in September 2015, said the song felt special when they created it.

“There are some songs that come with a special spark, and I think it’s got it. … We looked at each other and said, ‘I think this is a hit,’ ” she said.