What's Behind The Success Of 'Despacito'? : Alt.Latino "The whole world is singing in Spanish," says singer Luis Fonsi. How the mainstreaming of reggaeton, the ubiquity of streaming services and some queasy culture clashes gave us the song of the summer.
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What's Behind The Success Of 'Despacito'?

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What's Behind The Success Of 'Despacito'?

What's Behind The Success Of 'Despacito'?

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's on the radio blaring out of cars and on the streets. It's even playing in grocery stores.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESPACITO")

LUIS FONSI AND DADDY YANKEE: (Singing in Spanish).

SHAPIRO: "Despacito" by Puerto Rican musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee with Justin Bieber. The song has been streamed more than 4.6 billion times worldwide. It's been number one on Billboard's Hot 100 for 11 weeks now. NPR's Jessica Diaz-Hurtado reports the song is saying something about how global music is changing.

JESSICA DIAZ-HURTADO, BYLINE: "Despacito" was released in January of this year, climbing the global charts pretty fast. When Justin Bieber jumped on the song with a remix partly in English, it gave Luis Fonsi's song the boost it needed.

LUIS FONSI: The whole world is singing in Spanish. You know, we have everybody just kind of googling what does despacito mean?

DIAZ-HURTADO: It means slowly. And it sparked conversations on the power of crossover culture, when an artist crosses into the mainstream and this time, without translating the lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESPACITO")

LUIS FONSI AND DADDY YANKEE: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ-HURTADO: Fonsi points out that he's not the first artist to do this.

FONSI: "Despacito" was just the song that just exploded through the door. But I give a lot of credit to amazing artists who have done these kind of fusions in the past like Ricky, like Enrique, like Shakira.

DIAZ-HURTADO: As in Martin, Iglesias and, well, Shakira. But before YouTube and Spotify, it was kind of hard to track exactly how popular those crossovers were, says Jesus Lopez, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Latin America and Iberian Peninsula.

JESUS LOPEZ: Before, you cannot see how the market was working there because the piracy. Now you can see the consumption of the music on the charts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESPACITO")

LUIS FONSI AND DADDY YANKEE: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ-HURTADO: "Despacito" was actually a big deal before the Justin Bieber remix. Isabelia Herrera, music editor of the online Latino cultural website Remezcla, says that when a video began circulating of Bieber messing up the words at a show in May, fans got mad.

ISABELIA HERRERA: There's this viral video that went around of him singing it in a nightclub in New York and replacing the lyrics with I don't know the words, so I sing Dorito, burrito.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUSTIN BIEBER: I don't know the words so I sing poquito, I don't know the words so I sing Dorito...

HERRERA: Very weird, uncomfortable imagery that is, like, associated with Latinidad. I don't care if he messes up the lyric by accident. It's more about, like, using these tropes and mocking the language itself.

DIAZ-HURTADO: She says that this moment was a painful indication that Latinos in the U.S. still face some real issues.

HERRERA: We continue to tell ourselves these, like, feel-good stories about representation of Latinos in music and culture because we are so starved for visibility. And we use these moments, these pop-culture moments, to, like, celebrate these remarkable feats for how far we've come. But I don't think that it necessarily changes the political situation of Latinos in the United States.

DIAZ-HURTADO: But it's making money, says Jesus Lopez of Universal Music.

LOPEZ: Right now everybody knocks on our doors to make more collaborations with Latin artists. The Anglo producer, the Anglo artist open their eyes and see how important became the Latino artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESPACITO")

LUIS FONSI AND DADDY YANKEE: (Singing in Spanish).

DIAZ-HURTADO: All analysis aside, Luis Fonsi is beyond happy that his collaboration with Daddy Yankee is having this kind of impact.

FONSI: The timing is quite (laughter) - it's quite perfect, you know, in sort of this environment that we live in. And I don't want to turn this song into a political environment because it's not. It's just a - it's a great song to just make us feel good. But in the times that we live that, you know, some people want to divide and we want to build walls and, you know, we're going through sort of a lot of change, it's quite lovely that a Spanish song is number one right now.

DIAZ-HURTADO: And after 11 weeks, "Despacito" shows no signs of giving up the top spot on the charts. Jessica Diaz-Hurtado, NPR News.

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