It doesn’t really matter who Luis Fonsi is. He might well have an impressive, rags-to-riches backstory. This might be the release that took him from provincial hero to continental superstar. Maybe he used to do salsa music before a reggaeton reinvention. Whatever the case, and despite his billing to the left of the hyphen above, it is unlikely that anyone will remember Fonsi years from now. He is not – at least not yet – the kind of marquee name that is going to bring out Latin populations in droves to shows in New York, Toronto, London. The reasons he might never get there, and the reasons my generally rigorous approach to background research is swiftly displaced today, are twofold: Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber.
Yankee, pronounced ‘Jankee’ if you really want to fit in, still has that superstar aura about him, even over a decade since ‘Gasolina‘ introduced the fast-talking Puerto Rican to the masses. Far from clinging to the light of a fading halo, Justin Bieber, on the other hand, has engineered one of the most impressive resurrections in recent memory. Leaving talk of monkeys and DUIs far behind him, Bieber has embraced his astounding global popularity by making increasingly wise curatorial decisions with respect to the opportunities that his second coming has afforded him. Now no longer a teenie bopper, Bieber has reinvented himself as a pliable Everyman, the natural choice for your hip-hop chorus, your dance hall anthem, your… Latin mega hit?
After having been subjected (is it still subjected if I go pseudo-willingly) to back-to-back ‘Despacito’ renditions yesterday (and introduced to versions spawned in other languages including, most troublingly, German), it became clear that Bieber and Yankee’s hitching their stars to the track was as inconsequential as Fonsi’s participation. They serve as populist hooks, sure, but the astounding reality of this song is that whoever sang it – Carlos Vives or Nicky Jam or Enrique Iglesias – it would have been a bona fide smash. The song is or has been #1 from Bulgaria to Portugal, Italy to Guatemala, for reasons that go beyond personalities or distinct voices. I actually think it’s the way in which ‘Des-pa-ci-to’ arrives a capella before cascading into the guitar and drum machine pool beneath it that wins the day. From ‘Gasolina’ to ‘Bailando’, most of the formula seems to involve getting one, multi-syllabic word, annunciated memorably and ensconced in competent production. That explanation might be unfairly derivative but it’s the only way I can explain my (and seemingly everyone else’s) insatiable fascination with this song. Even if you don’t remember the name Fonsi, you’ll remember ‘Despacito’.
Luis Fonsi – Despacito (Remix) Ft. Daddy Yankee & Justin Bieber