Do you still hear Despacito?
BZ interview with Luis Fonsi about "Despacito"
The search for the summer hit 2017 didn't even have to be called out. It's been there for a long time, the song that has been playing for months on everything that has ears. "Despacito" ("Leisurely") is his name. The man behind the hit is Luis Alfonso Rodríguez López-Cepero, or Luis Fonsi for short. He is 39, was born in Puerto Rico, lives in Miami and has been a superstar in the Latin American pop world since the late 1990s. Only with us nobody knew him until recently, which is now logically changing. Steffen Rüth spoke to Luis Fonsi in Berlin.BZ: Luis, when you wrote "Despacito" with Daddy Yankee, how did you feel?
Fonsi: This song had a lot of magic from the start. It was really special, and we felt like we had a strong, melodic, funny, energetic song here. We brought it to market with some conviction. But what happened to the number is a big surprise to me.
BZ: Can't you predict a bit whether a song will be a hit or not?
Fonsi: No. You can't do that at all. This is pure gamble. You can only guess what people want to hear. If it all went so easily, then we would all have great hits without a break. Sure, I always want my music to be successful and reach as many people as possible, but you can't sit down and say: "Well, let's write a world hit today". That wasn't the plan either.
BZ: What was the plan?
Fonsi: I've been successful in the Latin American and Spanish markets for 20 years, I just wanted to record a new, cool single for my long-term regular audience. Then "Despacito" crossed borders, cultures and oceans and became number one almost everywhere in the world. This is madness. The song is at the top not only in Germany, Europe, the USA, but also in Japan and Russia. That has never happened before. And then of all things with a song that is a declaration of love to my homeland Puerto Rico.
BZ: In retrospect, it's already obvious why the number is so triumphant, isn't it?
Fonsi: The thing about "Despacito" is that all the details are right. You can't get the melody out of your head, and the chorus, which consists of only one word, is so light that anyone can sing along to it, even people who don't speak Spanish. The video is great too. And with Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber, two world stars are taking part. Just a few days ago we had two billion clicks on YouTube. No other song has done it so quickly, not even "Gangnam Style".
BZ: The fact that otherwise very different countries and their inhabitants all take this one song to their hearts, isn't that a perfect indication of good old globalization?
Fonsi: Yes, it is completely. "Despacito" is the model song for unity, togetherness and solidarity. The song comes at a time when there is so much that divides, when people want to build walls and erect fences. The governments of many countries are taking measures to isolate and marginalize others, and this mood is hit by a song that does not divide, but unites. The people are much further ahead than many politicians believe. The poetry behind the whole story is beautiful.
BZ: Does the song especially make Latin Americans in the US feel good, more positive?
Fonsi: Perhaps subliminally. The song builds up, it improves your mood. But just because a song carries you away doesn't mean you stop being afraid of being deported, for example. And yet it is overall positive for the self-confidence of the Latin American people. "Despacito" is the first Spanish-language song in 21 years to reach number one on the US singles chart. The last one was "Macarena".
BZ: Can you still hear the piece?
Fonsi: Yes, it's always funny. Although that happens a lot, mostly from the car next to me, or I meet people who are humming the song without recognizing me. "Despacito" has long been much bigger than I am. The song will outlast me.
BZ: You have released eight albums that are becoming very successful in the Latin American markets. When is the ninth coming?
Fonsi: Soon. It's 95 percent done. However, "Despacito" is going so well that I don't want to rush anything. My career has been going on for 20 years and now we're igniting the next level. It's totally unusual, and right now it all feels like a ride on a roller coaster.
BZ: You studied music. Is a solid foundation important to you?
Fonsi: That was important to me, yes. I wanted
become the best musician possible and be able to see the music from so many angles. I don't just want to be a singer, I also want to know something about writing, arranging and producing, just master the craft. That I am involved in every detail is good for me and my music, it makes the songs more personal and individual.
Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee: Despacito (Universal Music).
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