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‘Despacito’ song could boost Spanish language uptake, say music experts

Author:   |  August 9th, 2017

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Are you one of the few people on the planet not to have yet heard Despacito?

Are you one of the few people on the planet not to have yet heard Despacito?

The written word is obviously not the best medium through which to portray just how addictive the song ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee is. The global smash of an earworm is the first song ever to surpass three billion YouTube views, and once heard is hard to forget…

If you’re sitting there thinking “never heard it”, you may be surprised: there must be millions out there who think they’ve yet to hear the song, only for the penny to drop and the eyes to widen in recognition when somebody plays it to them.

Every summer seems to deliver a worldwide smash, but ‘Despacito’ is unique in its reach, appeal, popularity and language. The song is mostly sung in Spanish, making it the first Spanish-language song to top the US’s Hot 100 for more than 20 years. Anybody who guessed that the last such song to do so was “Macarena” in 1996 gets an extra point.

And while the fast-paced nature of the lyrics means that most non-Spanish speakers simply mouth along as they go, music experts believe that the song’s global reach could have a positive effect for the Spanish language, which is already the world’s most popular second language after English.

On music streaming platform Spotify, ‘Despacito’ was the most streamed song every day since for 14 weeks straight, and was only usurped last week by ‘Mi Gente’ (My People) – another Spanish-language song by J. Balvin that also looks set for global success.

And that is not all: the global Spotify Top 50 has eight Spanish or Latin-origin songs in it, which is the highest proportion ever, says the company. “There has been a domino effect, certainly,” said Rocio Guerra, Spotify’s head of Latin Culture. “Platforms like Spotify are giving access to the same songs at the same time everywhere, so that’s allowing us to have more (Latin) artists on the (global) chart.

“The more songs that we put on the global chart, people are getting more used to listening to songs in a different language.”

By genre, ‘Latin’ is third behind pop and hip-hop on Spotify’s streaming chart, and Latin-style beats – as well as an increasing peppering of the Spanish language – are being heard on the tracks of global stars such as Ed Sheeran and Rihanna.

After Macarena’s 1996 success, language schools noticed a sharp uptick in demand for Spanish courses. There is no data as yet as to whether ‘Despacito’ has yet had the same effect, but the signs are good that the song has opened the ears of millions to the beauty and unmistakable rhythm of the Spanish language.

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