“Despacito,” the inescapable song of the summer, dominated the charts and infected our brains with its undeniably catchy melody.
It reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 100 and stayed there for 16 weeks, becoming the first mostly Spanish language song to reach the top spot in over 20 years since “The Macarena,” and yet, outside the Latin music world, most people had never heard of “Despacito”'s singer-songwriter Luis Fonsi.
“It feels like this is my first album, like I’m new to the game,” Fonsi told “Nightline.”
Fonsi is no stranger to seductive, chart-topping hits. A Latin Grammy Award-winning performer, he is known for ballads, such as “No Me Doy Por Vencido.”
But it was “Despacito” that helped him reach an international audience, including none other than Justin Bieber, who says that after dancing to the song in a Columbian nightclub, he wanted in.
“We had a full on English translation and vocals recorded in English,” Fonsi said. “We thought he was just going to do an English version. … But no. He took the time to learn it in Spanish…. I was impressed.”
Fonsi said the song’s massive success is a dream come true and it all started with a rhyme.
“I wake up one morning, and I just have this melody and this word in my head, ‘Despacito,’ ‘Despacito.’” Fonsi said. “I had the rhyme Puerto Rico, which is where I’m from, and ‘Ay Bendito.’”
That same afternoon, Fonsi said he had a writing session with his friend, Erika Ender, who is also a Latin Grammy Award winner and the youngest artist to ever be inducted into the Latin songwriter’s hall of fame.
“I grab my guitar,’” Fonsi said. “And, I start playing it for her.... Four hours later, we had ‘Despacito.’”
“We knew that it had to be urban fusion in a certain way because that's what's going on right now,” Ender added.
And that’s where rap artist Daddy Yankee came in.
“I tell him, ‘Why don't we talk about a man that is trying to get to a woman in a very nice way,’” Ender said. “Because this genre is normally very aggressive with women … and I think this song it's very respectful.”
The “Despacito” music video’s director Carlos Perez said Fonsi had a simple, yet poignant, idea for the video.
“It's almost like a day in a life inside the culture of Puerto Rico,” he said. “When we were talking about who the lead could possibly be we all knew that it had to be someone that felt credible in the environment and above and beyond all, really was a true representative of the beauty in the Caribbean.”
If showcasing Puerto Rico’s beauty was the goal, Zuleyka Rivera, a former Miss Universe winner, was their answer.
“He said, ‘You know, Zuleyka, I just want you to feel the music. I just want you to be here. Just walk from here to there and just feel the music. Whatever you feel about the song just do it.’ So pretty much I was freestyling,” Rivera said.
Rivera, a Puerto Rican native, won the Miss Universe title in 2006 and became the star of the “Despacito” music video. She said the dress she wore was a nod to her pageant dress.
“When I saw the videos like everybody's having a great time. Everybody's dancing. Everybody's so happy,” Rivera said. “And that's what you see in Puerto Rico every time that you go to Puerto Rico.”
“Despacito” is now the single most watched YouTube video of all time with 3.7 billion views and counting. The video was all shot in one day and then edited in a small studio in Miami.
The song is so infectious, it has inspired fan videos from around the world, translated into dozens of languages. Even Sesame Street joined the party with their version, “El Patito,” which means “The rubber ducky.”
“It’s been like a fever, it’s been crazy,” Ender said.
In many ways, Fonsi believes “Despacito” is a love song to his home country.
“It's a very sensual song, but, I think the star of the show is Puerto Rico,” Fonsi said. “It's such a special place and it's the inspiration behind my music, and, and now to be able to sort of represent Puerto Rico through my music. It's really a dream.”
Fosni, who now lives in Miami, was recently named tourism ambassador to Puerto Rico and his song is being used to lure visitors who are needed now more than ever after the country was battered by Hurricane Irma and may receive a direct hit from Hurricane Maria. Fonsi joined other celebrities to raise millions of dollars in relief efforts as part of the “Hand in Hand” telethon.
For the creators, “Despacito” is a heartfelt ode to their beloved Puerto Rico.
“Exactly what you see, was what everyone was feeling at the shoot,” Perez said.
“I'm just thankful … to know that 3 billion times people saw this video, and sang the song, and saw the beautiful sides,” Fonsi added.