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Latin music scores with chart-topping ‘Despacito’

When the song 'Despacito,' by singer Luis Fonsi and rapper Daddy Yankee, reached No. 1, it became the first mostly Spanish-language song to do so since the mid-1990s track 'Macarena,' by Los del Río.

LUIS FONSI (L.) AND DADDY YANKEE SING AT THE LATIN BILLBOARD AWARDS.
LYNNE SLADKY/AP
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Spanish-language pop has scored another major hit with “Despacito.”

The song, composed and performed by singer Luis Fonsi and rapper Daddy Yankee, was released in early 2017. Following a remix that featured chart-topping singer Justin Bieber, which came out in mid-April, the song has experienced even more success; it came in at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a second week (the June 3 chart).

When the song reached No. 1, it became the first mostly Spanish-language song to do so since the mid-1990s dance craze inspired by “Macarena,” by Los del Río (which was also remixed, getting a makeover by the Bayside Boys).

Why has “Despacito” become such a hit? Enrique Gonzalez Müller, an associate professor of music production and engineering at Berklee College of Music in Boston, worked with the Venezuelan group Los Amigos Invisibles on their Latin Grammy Award-winning album “Commercial.” “[‘Despacito’],” he says, “tries to do most things for most people, and it actually kind of succeeds.” 

According to Professor Gonzalez Müller, the beginning of the song immediately brings in various musical styles. “In a matter of seconds, the song goes from traditional Latino to traditional Spanish to slick American vocal pop to slick Latino rhythm-based grooves,” he says. Bieber performs in Spanish in the song, and Gonzalez Müller sees this as another aspect that has brought it success. 

“You grab a kid who’s a chart-topper and then, ‘How can we make it more special?’...,” he says. “ ‘Ooh, have the guy sing in Spanish.’ ”

In discussing the success of “Despacito,” Gonzalez Müller looks back to ’90s hits like “Macarena” and Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la Vida Loca.” 

“I have a feeling that it won’t be as massive as ‘Macarena’ or ‘Livin’ la Vida Loca,’ ” he says. “But it will have ... perhaps to a slightly lesser degree  ... the same impact. It’ll reach that crowd that, now [that it’s on] their radar, now they have this Latino beat.”