Despacito: The UnBeliebable Explosion of a Bilingual Song

Luis Fonsi sits down with NBC Latino at 30 Rock to discuss his hit song 'Despacito.'
Luis Fonsi sits down with NBC Latino at 30 Rock to discuss his hit song 'Despacito.'Marissa Armas / NBC NEWS

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By Victoria Moll-Ramírez and Marissa Armas

The fusion of a ballad/pop singer with the king of reggaeton and a little "Beliebing" has lead to the biggest song of the summer and possibly one of the biggest songs in a long time.

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” Remix featuring Justin Bieber is currently the top song in the country. The song took the first place from DJ Khaled’s “I’m The One” which also features Bieber. This also makes the “Despacito” Remix the first predominantly Spanish language song to obtain the coveted spot on the Billboard Hot 100 since the “Macarena” in 1996.

“We never, and I think I can speak for Daddy Yankee when I say this, we never in our wildest dreams saw this coming,” Luis Fonsi told NBC Latino at a recent interview in New York.

The song’s hook, “Pasito a pasito...suave, suavecito (step by step...gently, gently)” is almost prophetic in the way it has also described the journey of a smash hit that’s breaking records across the globe. The original “Despacito” has topped iTunes charts in 53 countries. Meanwhile, the remix has topped them in 59 countries. Both versions combined have nearly 1.6 billion hits on YouTube/Vevo, and that’s only scratching the surface of its long list of records.

A Spanish language hit, but then came Bieber

The original version of "Despacito" was already a hit with Spanish language stations here in the U.S. and on music charts abroad, but it was the remix featuring Justin Bieber that catapulted the sensual song into not only the mainstream but music history.

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Billboard’s chart manager for Latin/R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap, Amaya Mendizabal, has watched the growth and explosion of the “Despacito” Remix. “It’s great for the industry as a whole and it sheds a great light onto Latin music,” she told NBC Latino.

But, was it just the Bieber touch that's to credit or is there more to it? That depends on who’s asked.

“[The song] is dominated by a Latin urban platform with a little salt and pepper from Bieber,” said Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, the chair and director of graduate studies in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University.

“Stylistically the song remains significantly unchanged," he said.

However, he does believe that Bieber’s decision to collaborate with Fonsi and Daddy Yankee was more of a business move, “Bieber, I believe, is being very strategic. This helps him maintain and transform his brand away from being a little kid.”

Mendizabal noted how in the past other chart topping Latino singers, like Shakira or Enrique Iglesias, have done two separate versions of their songs, one for their English language audience and one for their Spanish language audience.

She celebrated the fact the “Despacito” Remix didn’t do the same. “We don’t have to do a full English version to prove this is a good song.”

The fact an English version of the song wasn’t necessary is something Fonsi, a Puerto Rican raised in Florida, is excited about.

“The beautiful thing about it is that “Despacito” is not really an English crossover. It was just another song that the world made a crossover. I didn’t really push it, it just kinda went there…” he said.

Fonsi also told NBC Latino the song is about much more than just being a dance anthem.

"I think it’s about coming together. Language is not a factor anymore, you know. We’re celebrating and we’re respecting each other’s culture.”

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