“Despacito” is making me slowly lose my mind.
The chart topping song “Despacito,” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, featuring Justin Bieber has taken pop music by storm. As a indie music reporter, I don’t really pay much attention to the top 40 charts. However, the other day I came by an insightful tweet about “Despacito.” It read:
white girls: spanish music is weird
white girls: me encanta reggaeton y daddy yankee y sabado gigante
— Noel Miller (@thenoelmiller) May 14, 2017
You’d never guess by my blindingly pale exterior and Americanized slang, but I’m half Chilean. My mother is from Santiago, where I attended school and spent time with family and friends. I grew up dancing to reggaetón with my cousins and the first time I got drunk was from drinking Pisco Sours and Piscolas.
“Despacito” has been at the top of the charts for two weeks now and I’m shocked there isn’t more talk about The Biebs merengue-ing into the world of Latin music like he owns the place.
But, come on. It’s Justin Bieber singing in Spanish, am I the only person seeing some red flags or am I being too sensitive?
This is more than just some privileged white dude doing what privileged white dudes do best, which apparently is whatever the hell they want. This feels like a blow to Latin music. Westernized pop music can make it on the charts in Spanish speaking cultures, but it seems more difficult for it to happen the other way around. The next Latin song to appear on this week’s pop chart is “Felices Los 4” by Maluma and that’s way down at 70.
The song starts with classical Spanish guitar, warning the listener they’re going to be immersed in Latin music. Then the music video is almost entirely a tribute to Puerto Rican culture (where Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee are from). Except for the clips with Bieber. It’s strange seeing the video switch from a dominos game in some sunshiny family neighborhood to Bieber doing a glamorous underwear shoot. It goes from “look how strong our family bonds are” to “look at a half-naked Justin Bieber trying to seduce the camera.” Is it just me, or do those two scenes just not belong together?
Don’t get me wrong, I very much want Americans to broaden their horizons and learn as much as they can about different cultures, especially during times like these when Trump-borne xenophobia is at an all time high. However, this song just does not do that justice. If anything it’s glamorizing American culture over Latin culture.
“Despacito” means “slowly.” The only time I’ve asked someone to do something slowly as often as Bieber does in this song was when I was first learning conversational Spanish. If Justin Bieber learns how to speak Spanish from this experience, and encourages his fans to do so as well, I will be thoroughly impressed.
But, seriously, couldn’t he have just bought a Rosetta Stone course or something instead?