One day, 20 years from now, the opening guitar notes of “Despacito” will evoke equal amounts of nostalgia and revulsion — just like its commercially successful predecessor, “Macarena.” Let us explain.
By the time Miami resident Luis Fonsi returns to South Florida next month for a show at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, his hit single, “Despacito,” might finally have been knocked off the top of the charts by a new challenger. However, it would take a monumental push, seeing as the track is entering its 15th consecutive week of dominating the Billboard Hot 100, is the most streamed song ever, and is accompanied by the first music video to reach 3 billion views on YouTube.
Regardless, the ubiquitous, undeniable, inescapable song of summer 2017 has left an indelible mark on pop culture. Everyone wants a piece of it, from the Justin Bieber remix to the Sesame Street parody.
Still, for all the accolades and attention the reggaeton-pop earworm has received, every hit song has a shelf life. If left exposed for too long, they all eventually rot. The “Despacito” oversaturation, unlike the English-language translation of its title, did not happen slowly; it first appeared this past January, and the assault on the charts of all kinds was swift, achieving what many tracks never get close to in a fraction of the time.
What’s more, the fascination by white people in the media and the general public is that — gasp! — it’s a Spanish-language song. Thus, nine out of ten articles written about “Despacito,” including this one, inevitably point to the last time something similar occurred.
“Macarena,” the bane or boon, depending upon taste, of every wedding reception, was released in 1993 by the Spanish pop duo Los del Río. There are more than a half-dozen versions out there, including a Muppets cover and a Christmas rework, but the two versions most people are familiar with are the original and the 1996 remix by the Bayside Boys (also Miami residents).
It was the latter that broke records and spent 14 weeks at number one on the Hot 100. A Spanish song making a historically Anglo chart its bitch is only the first of several similarities to "Despacito," but let’s first discuss the one major difference.
Of course, the main difference between the two tracks is the obvious lack of a cheeseball dance associated with “Despacito.” Because of this fact, “Macarena” was watered down into a fad for the entire family. Any clumsy, rhythmically challenged toddler or milquetoast politician with arms could perform the damn thing, and the song rapidly became toothless, slipping into the territory of novelty like "Cotton-Eye Joe" or "The Electric Slide."
However, just as the Bayside Boys' remix and their addition of English lyrics exposed “Macarena” to a much larger audience, the same could be said of the Biebs' jumping on the “Despacito” bandwagon. That little turd still holds sway over both the youth and radio stations across the nation. Everybody has heard the song, its sonic tendrils creeping into every crevice of daily life. Fonsi’s single actually has more of a global reach than “Macarena” because of the internet and the power of YouTube. It isn’t hard to imagine that a family barbecue in Puerto Rico, a car driving to work in Colombia, and a Bluetooth radio in a Pittsburgh kitchen couldn’t all have “Despacito” simultaneously streaming through speakers.
And much like its predecessor, how close are any of those people even listening to the lyrics? Sure, “Despacito” is clearly about sexy thoughts, but stop to listen, really listen, and they’re more suitable for late-night sexting than a morning commute.
“Slowly/I want to breathe on your neck slowly/Let me tell you things in your ears/So that you remember when you're not with me/Slowly/I want to strip you with kisses slowly/Sign the walls of your labyrinth/And make your whole body a manuscript/Turn it up, turn it up... turn it up, turn it up.”
Half of you are turned on, the other half are creeped out, and all of you are correct.
Meanwhile, how many of us remember that “Macarena” was also about sex?
“Give your body joy, Macarena/Because your body is meant to be given joy and good things/Give your body joy, Macarena/Hey, Macarena!/Macarena has a boyfriend who is named/Who is named with the last name Vitorino/And while he was being sworn in as a conscript/She’s giving it to two friends.”
Yes, “Macarena,” whose refrain used the name of the biblical hooker with a heart of gold, “Magdalena,” instead is about a lonely woman having a threesome with her boyfriend’s pals.
Neither of the tracks is innocent, but both have been declawed, spayed, and neutered so they’re safe enough for domestic life with nuclear families around the world.
Ultimately, because it doesn’t have a goofy dance built in, “Despacito” will take longer to wear on people’s nerves and hit the played-out highway. But the appropriation by outside forces every day weakens the song’s staying power and overall appeal. Remixes by anyone with a computer and time on their hands, parodies by James Corben, guys in Speedos, and moms talking about their slow-moving kids will all help us roll our eyes at “Despacito” in the near future.
Let's hope Fonsi knocks another one out of the park with a follow-up single, but if he doesn’t, the majority of the world will ignore his successful two-decade career that came before all of this. And a kid's birthday party in 2027 will be filled with the sounds of “Heyyyyyy, 'Despacito'!”
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.