Despacito. There. The elephant has been ADDRESSED, and I am here to tell you that there is way more to the Latin Music Industry than just this song. Lucky for you, I will be talking about exactly that. However, that does not intend to detract from Despacito’s importance either.
Before Justin Bieber slid his way into the Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee tune, the song was already a global hit. It’s worth mentioning that the original video has reached over 3.7 billion views as of September 20th, and does not have the Canadian singer even make a cameo. Why? Because Bieber is not the reason this is a hit (he “allegedly” jumped on the track after hearing Despacito in a club during his Latin American tour). Although Bieber’s appearance solidified it as a juggernaut in American radio, we’ll talk more about this later, the world was already hip to this style of music many in America cannot name: reggaeton.
Now, I too was not aware of just how global Latin American music was until I began taking a Latin Music Industry course at USC, instructed by Loren Medina. This is the first course of its kind to be taught at not only USC, but any college campus in the U.S. (if you know of another, I’ll wait). So, don’t feel bad for not knowing of its relevance. However, take the time to get familiar with it now, because it’s coming either way, and it’s amazing. I am lucky to get an insider view on the industry but, ANYWAY, back to matters at hand.
Born out of Panama and Puerto Rico, with heavy Jamaican and hip-hop influence, reggaeton has been ruling the insurgence of Latin American music around the world. Many reggaeton artists like Maluma, J Balvin, and the Despacito boys (am I allowed to call them that?) have been capitalizing on this, racking up hundreds of millions, if not billions, of views. BUT, you might be mulling over a question in your head similar to “Okay cool, issa global hit...but what does that mean for American Airwaves?”
I’m so glad you asked. Before Despacito, no primarily Spanish-speaking song had claimed the number one spot on the Billboard 100 since “La Macarena” in 1996. That’s about 21 years later. Or two decades. Two separate milleniums. Whatever you want to define it as, it is baffling. Latinos are the largest ethnic minority in America making up 17 percent of the population, and it’s high time that music starts reflecting that. The silver lining however, is that Despacito may have come at just the right time because of two genres BOOMING in the States: EDM and Mumble Rap.
We all know EDM and its power to make people dance and roll (on the ground..yea..on the ground), and mumble rap’s ability to do relatively the same thing, the additional factor being indecipherable lyricism (y’all do y’all though). BUT, do we know how it is subconsciously altering our perception of reality?
Look at how the producers of these genres, Skrillex, Metro Boomin, etc, even producers who are more-so “talent-wranglers”, have sky-rocketed to fame and success. It is because of the tracks they create. So, how do they get you, and myself, to ATTEMPT to scream the lyrics and shake our bums to it even though we legitimately might not know what it is they’re saying? Did someone say “Work”?* It’s not because we are drones or robotic machines..haha..no, it is because we are becoming desensitized to the importance of lyrics (kind of sad for songwriting, but that’s another issue). For it to be a commercial pop hit it just needs to be catchy, and have a danceable track. This sounds as if it comes with a negative connotation, but I mean it in the most positive way.
Because we are getting away from lyrics, we are also moving away from language BARRIERS, which are ultimately what is keeping Spanish-speaking hits, like Despacito, out of the top of the charts in America without remixes. Despacito more than likely would have performed well on the charts, it was approaching the top 40 before Bieber hopped on, but it would never have had the reign at number one it did without the help of an English-speaker(ing) collab. This is evident with previous Spanish-speaking U.S. number ones like La Bamba and La Macarena also..all remixes.
If American music continues down this road, then it is conceivable to imagine a Billboard number one single being completely in Spanish, no remix, hopefully within the next couple years. However, we will probably see a lot more songs follow the path of Despacito before that happens.
So, if I leave you with anything, I want to say that this is something you want to be a part of. Latin music is great music, and it’s so fun to explore sounds and artists that you might never get to know if it weren’t for the help and accessibility of streaming, the internet, and all that millennial gizmo junk. Happy hearing. And if you speak spanish, happy listening.
*"Work" is a WORK of art that people don’t understand the lyricism of because it is partially in Jamaican patois.