Costa del pop: how Despacito is breaking down music’s language barrier – The Guardian

The schools may not yet have broken up, but the song of the summer has been decided. From the beach-side botecos of Rio to the cheesy discos of Andalucia and the indoor malls of British commuter towns: Despacito. The track, by Puerto Rican crooner Luis Fonzi and reggaeton stalwart Daddy Yankee, first broke into the Latin chart back in January but over the last six months it’s become an unstoppable global hit and the UK’s biggest non-English language song since Macarena.

Part of the reason for the song’s success is obvious: its slinky Spanish guitar and simple hooks are infectious; it really sounds like that ninth glass of box wine as you lounge by the pool. It was already shooting up the charts before the remix featuring an English language verse from Justin Bieber came along, and is now in its ninth week at No 1.

But there is another reason, and it points to a global conversation happening within its bars. “The key factor in the success of those songs is actually the collaboration with Latin urban acts and the fusion of pop and urban itself,” explains Suzette Fernandez, an assistant editor at Billboard en Español.

Fonzi, is a hugely famous, very schmaltzy artist in Latin pop. He has so far resisted the exploding movement of reggaeton, a more upbeat Latin dance genre pioneered by his fellow Puerto Rican, Daddy Yankee. On this collaboration, however, the two artists meld the sound with more traditional R&B: the equivalent of Gary Barlow dropping a summer banger with Disclosure. A similar tactic can be heard on the summer’s other big hit, Súbeme la Radio, a collaboration between madres’ favourite Enrique Iglesias and reggaeton duo Zion & Lennox.

“This has not only happened with Despacito or Súbeme,” says Fernandez. “We also have Nicky Jam’s El Perdón, Shakira and Maluma’s Chantaje: all pop artists collaborating with urban acts.”

New global streaming charts also mean we’re hearing these songs as soon as they’re released, so British acts are now thinking about everywhere else’s music tastes. Ever-shrewd pop star, Ed Sheeran synchronised the main release of his mega-hit Shape of You with a “Latin remix” featuring Zion & Lennox on the same day.

The mechanics of this are perhaps less exciting than the result: a more varied pop landscape where a song can explode out of one market and into the global mainstream. Songs like the rum and Slush Puppie vibe of Bailando or J Balvin’s breathlessly suave Safari are lighting up our dowdy poolside playlists. Right now Latin pop is the main benefactor, but anything is possible: 2018 could be the summer of Ukrainian rave.

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