How ‘Despacito’ became the song of the summer

Everything you need to know about 2017's biggest hit

1.2 million copies sold. Number 1 in over 50 countries. Put a pin just about anywhere on a map, and Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’ will be the song of the summer.

From Puerto Rico streets to Ibiza beaches, U.S. skyscrapers, and regrettable house parties in the UK, it’s everywhere. And if for some improbable reason you haven’t heard it, here you go:

What does ‘Despacito’ mean?


Everyone’s singing along, but this is what the Spanglish number translates to:

The title itself translates to “slowly”, and Fonsi’s verses are all about slo-mo seduction. “I want to undress you with kisses slowly,” he sings. “Sign the walls of your labyrinth / and turn your body into a manuscript.” Blimey. Doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines.

A five-point guide on how ‘Despacito’ took over the world

1. Its Latin roots paved the ground for success

‘Despacito’ began to gain traction in January 2017, when it was released via Universal Latin. Fonsi’s never had a hit like it, but he hadn’t exactly been a stranger to chart success. Three of his previous albums topped the US Latin chart, six singles performing the same feat. But that doesn’t make his breakthrough’s crossover success any less of a surprise.

2. The Bieber effect made the difference

‘Despacito’’s Daddy Yankee remix, featuring Justin Bieber, is when the magic started to happen. On its own, the single was another popular dose of Reggaeton, a genre which originated from Fonsi’s home country of Puerto Rico. Add the world’s biggest popstar into the mix, and two worlds collide – shiny pop and Latin urban. It’s not exactly a one-off – Ricky Martin and Shakira broke similar ground in the past – but rarely has such a big name hopped on an already-established hit to make it stratospheric.

3. Streaming charts helped make it happen

Unlike the glory days of Shakira, we’re in a very different world where one streaming success somewhere can have an instant impact in another country. Label bosses are wise to knowing that a hit in Puerto Rico could equal big dollar elsewhere. Just look at OMI’s 2014 hit ‘Cheerleader’, a success in Jamaica that didn’t break through worldwide until it was given a glossy, uptempo remix from Felix Jaehn.

4. Controversy did no harm


There’s no such thing as bad press, right? ‘Despacito’’s lead star, Justin Bieber, courted controversy back in May when he forgot the words. Performing the track in New York club 1 OAK, he chanted “blah, blah, blah” when his mind went blank. He was then pelted with bottles at Sweden’s Summerburst Festival when he refused to play the track.

Fonsi responded by telling ABC Radio: “I don’t blame him not knowing [the lyrics], and I think we have to give him a little bit of a pass because that’s not his main language.”

He added: “We can’t expect the guy to just out of the blue get it perfectly. I mean, it’s obvious when he was recording the song he had the lyrics in front of him.” He further clarified that Bieber insisted on singing in Spanish in the first place: “He had a chance to record the chorus in English, we had a full English lyric and he decided to take the time to record it in Spanish because he wanted to keep the originality of the song.”

But for every dose of controversy, more people were talking about ‘Despacito’, meaning more people were playing ‘Despacito’, meaning – you get the gist.

5. But don’t forget the quiet genius of the song itself

Putting ‘Despacito”s whirlwind success down to clever label packages would be discrediting the track itself. The subtle change of pace just before it kicks into the chorus, Bieber’s English-Spanish duo-lingo, the sheer simplicity of it – it’s not standard fodder. “It just felt special because it was so simple yet so catchy,” Fonsi told CNN.

“Sometimes you kind of go overboard when you write a song and you try to get that perfect lyric and it’s – from, like, a songwriting point of view – it’s just magical.”