Despacito: the slow impact of Latin pop
Natalie Howe | Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” overtook Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” for the No. 1 spot last week, dashing its chances of being the song with the longest run as Billboard’s No. 1, currently held by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day.” Some people believed that the reign of “Despacito” in America was a change towards multiculturalism; they viewed it as a revolution against the current political climate minorities are facing. Others said it was a musical fad. Justin Bieber’s inclusion in the remix that dominated American radio definitely helped with exposing it to people who otherwise had no interest in Spanish music. So what will its impact be?
Well, it is definitely not the first time a foreign song was popular in the States. Spanish is one of the most prominent languages in the U.S, but surprisingly enough, there aren’t that many Spanish songs the average American can name. The artist Selena, gone too soon, paved the way in fusing Spanish and English music. Her works continue to be played at Latino functions of all kind. Since then, other artists have made their mark on the American music industry. We have all heard of “Gasolina” by king of reggaeton Daddy Yankee, and “Suavemente” is a party classic by Elvis Crespo. “Danza Kuduro” might have too many syllables to remember, but when played, it is sure to be recognized. Every few years there is a song by a Latino artist that hits American airwaves, and we inch a little closer to the culture.
“Despacito” was the song of the summer, no matter how much it was hated. It falls under the category of reggaeton, a popular type of urban music originating in Puerto Rico that expanded to Colombia, Mexico and all corners of Latin America and the world. “Mi Gente” was also picked up by American radio this summer, and it was sung by J. Balvin, another big name in the world of reggaeton. Can we say that we’re moving towards — dare I say it — diversity?
Shakira is a household name for us all. She began her music career in Spanish, but transitioned to English and maintained her Latino fans as she expanded her success. “Hips Don’t Lie” is mostly English, but there’s enough Spanish and instrumental undertones to justifiably say it’s a very Latino song. She’s still out there, producing bops in her native Spanish. Jennifer Lopez, on the other hand, began with American music. After ups and downs — lots of downs — she turned to the Latino market, where she finally gained a fanbase loyal enough to support her as she refocused on America. Ricky Martin gained huge popularity with “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” an English song with the blaring trumpets indicative of its Latino influence. That was over 15 years ago, but he has come back with new hits in Spanish, where he’s finding continual success.
We might scoff at Shakira, Ricky Martin, and J.Lo for being the artists of our parents. Yet, they still maintain a huge presence in Latino communities in the U.S, especially with their new releases in Spanish. They are in their 40s now, past their prime to be the artists we revere. Their staples are iconic yet historical artifacts in an industry that keeps changing.
A resurgence in cultural pride among Latinos is propelling the music industry to revive inspiration from the cultures making up 17 percent of the U.S. population. Fresh faces are driving this change. Camila Cabello, former member of Fifth Harmony, will be releasing Havana as her next single. It is completely in English, but it carries the Latino vibrancy with trumpets and percussion. She already had strong support from Latinos, even after she left the group. Becky G, another relatively fresh face, seems to be going the J.Lo route with a few hits in the U.S. But her most recent song, “Mayores,” is a pun-filled and sex-fueled song entirely in Spanish; its popularity is surpassing any of her previous English songs, including those with the heavy Latino undertones so many artists are incorporating today.
While I can’t say “Despacito” really caused any sort of revolution in the music industry, it definitely made its mark in furthering Latino artists’ presence in America. Many of those who had never heard of Luis Fonsi and looked him up would have been pleased with other songs of his. Maybe they’ve even listened to a few other reggaeton and pop artists that are so influential to millions of people residing in the countries south of us. America as a whole has yet to discover and embrace music from other cultures, but the new generation of Latino artists is helping bridge the gap and diversify our nation’s musical palate.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.