ISSN 2692-3912

“Despacito” Surfing the Reggaetón Wave

 

Abstract:

Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” (2004) put reggaetón on the map as the first major crossover into the mainstream U.S. music market. However, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” (2017) surpassed “Gasolina” becoming the most watched YouTube video of all time with over 7.4 billion views as of June 2021. With an interest in how “Despacito,” a monolingual Spanish song, became one of the most popular in the world, this research traces its international pathway to fame. In the article, we highlight the historical roots of reggaetón and examine the musical creation of a pan-Latinx identity. Furthermore, through the pan-Latinization of the genre, we point out the ways that reggaetón has transitioned to what we term Hurban Pop Latino forming a fusion of musical styles, cultures and languages. This article also employs Appadurai’s (1996) “scapes” of globalization and the role of imagination as a means of initiating a discussion on “Despacito’s” globalized popularity. In particular, we consider the plethora of global streaming platforms and social digital media outlets in order to trace the online mobility of the U.S. Latinx population. Appadurai’s theory on the role of new media and imagination from globalized perspectives offers compelling references about comprehending the importance and global use of online mediums, propelling the collective consumption of popular music and culture.

Keywords: Reggaetón, “Despacito,” Hurban music, U.S. Latinx, Crossover songs, Globalization

 

 

  1. Introduction: “Despacito” Surfing the Reggaetón Wave

 

            In 2017, Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” became a household name as the first Spanish language song to surpass milestone records around the globe. In fact, “Despacito” was the first Spanish song to reach 1 billion views on Spotify. As of September 2019, it is the most watched video on YouTube with over 6.4 billion views and over 3 million comments from fans. In June 2021, the respective numbers surpassed 7.4 billion and agglomerated over 4 million comments. The vast popularity of this song marks a turning point for the Latinx community from global, cross-cultural and online streaming perspectives.i Not only does “Despacito’s” tropical rhythm entertain fans world-wide, its popularity has also led artists around the world to proliferate instrumental adaptations and linguistic reproductions spanning from Armenian to Zulu and including indigenous and sign language varieties.

            “Despacito” unexpectedly sparked a wave of change in the reggaetón genre marking new global consumption trends towards what we term Hurban Pop Latino.ii  With an interest in “Despacito’s” ground-breaking success and world-wide popularity as a monolingual Spanish song, this article examines its path to international fame. The article commences with a brief overview of previous studies that examine the genre and delineates the global, cultural, and urban factors, which led the genre to transition to Hurban Pop Latino. Moreover, the project employs Appadurai’s (1996) “scapes” of globalization and the role of imagination as a theoretical means of initiating a discussion on the role of Latinx and non-Latinx fans in shaping popular music and culture and propelling the globalized success of “Despacito.” In particular, we analyze the success of the song by demographics, which we argue was sparked by U.S. Latinx online mobility, along with international participation of non-Latinx fans in the song’s proliferation through online platforms and streaming services such as YouTube, Spotify, and social media networks. We conclude the article with a general discussion and point out related future research directions.

  1. A Brief Overview of Reggaetón  

            Reggaetón’s origins have been closely linked to Panama, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and New York. Musically speaking, the genre was influenced by a variety of Caribbean rhythms including salsa, son, reggae, dancehall and soca (Rivera et al. 2009, 20). Reggaetón also draws heavily from U.S. hip-hop that also has been influenced by the Latinx presence during its heyday (Flores 2000; Rivera 2003; Rivera 2007). Reggaetón’s musical heritage is far more complex when we consider the international exchange of ideologies and music, as well as the history of migration between the Caribbean and the U.S., mainly New York.iii For a detailed historical and musical overview of reggaetón see: Jillian Báez (2006), Marshall (2008), Rivera Z. et al. (2009), Baker (2011) and Rivera-Rideau (2015).

            Daddy Yankee’s (2004) hit “Gasolina” is perhaps the song that put reggaetón on the map as a crossover song in the contemporary U.S. pop market as it conjures club culture through its interaction with other musical styles like hip-hop, reggae, and R&B (Rivera et al. 2009, 20-21, 49; Rivera-Rideau 2015, 130). Around this time, reggaetón lyrics began to move away from messages of race and class to focus more on sexuality and dancing. This thematic shift can be seen in many of the most popular Billboard reggaetón hits of the early 2000s including: “Abusadora” (Wisin y Yandel 2002), “Baila Morena” (Hector y and Tito 2004), “Hips Don’t Lie” (Shakira 2005), “Salió el Sol” (Don Omar 2007), to name a few. By nature of the genre transforming into music representative of club culture, and its explicit sexual lyrics, many of the songs perpetuated a stereotypical view of Latinos as “hot-blooded” people to their American audience (Rivera. et al. 2009, 24). With this music losing its notoriety as music of the Afro-Latino diaspora, and gaining popularity as club music, reggaetón was propelled into being seen as an expression of pan-Latinidad. As a result, the genre shifted towards Reggaetón Latino which celebrated diversity within the greater Latinx community.

            More recently, we posit that the promotion of the aforementioned pan-Latinx reggaetón identity is seen in artists born outside of Puerto Rico, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, or New York, such as Colombian artists like Maluma and J. Balvin, who have both gained international fame. In fact, in 2017, J. Balvin’s “Mi Gente” reached a level of popularity to where the remix to the song included American star Beyoncé singing in monolingual Spanish. Typically, crossover Latin artists who gain fame in the U.S. and abroad have tended to change their lyrics to English, like Selena Quintanilla, Ricky Martin, Mark Anthony, and Gloria Estefan, among others (Cepeda 2001, 70). In the case of the remix for “Mi gente,” having one of the most well-known contemporary artists in the world sing in Spanish illuminates the visibility of reggaetón as an accepted mainstream genre in global pop culture. In addition to highly-circulated remixes with American collaborators, reggaetoneros have begun to feature Brazilian artists and Portuguese lyrics in their songs. This is a newer development for the genre as typically the bilingual songs tend to include English as the second language. Recent popular collaborations featuring Portuguese include: “Danza Kuduro” (Don Omar 2011), “Corazón” (Maluma ft. Nego do Borel 2018). These recent updates to reggaetón have further propelled it into the sphere of Hurban Pop Latino and increased its visibility and artistic inclusiveness across the globe.

  1. Previous Scholarly Studies Examining Reggaetón

            Much of the scholarly discourse published on reggaetón often focuses on lyrical constructions related to race, sexuality and stereotypical images in mainstream U.S. culture (Rivera-Rideau 2015; Rivera-Rideau and Torres-Leschnik 2019). Aside from providing a historical examination of the genre, some recent analyses examine reggaetón and corresponding music videos. For example, Maria Elena Cepeda, has published a wealth of literature examining contemporary Latinx music from U.S. and Latin American contexts. Cepeda (2009) explored the creation of a pan-Latinx identity in the U.S. through “Nuestro Himno,” an abbreviated Spanish version of the Star-Spangled Banner, and the music video of “Reggaetón Latino” (2005) by Don Omar. The study found that both of these cultural productions emphasized notions of familia and belonging amongst Latinx of all backgrounds living in the United States.

            Rivera-Rideau (2015) analyzed the racialization of reggaetón through media coverage surrounding the genre’s transition into the U.S. mainstream in the mid-2000s that was preceded by the Latin Pop Boom of the 1990s. This genre of music included artists such as Shakira, Ricky Martin, and Enrique Iglesias, who sang in monolingual English, Spanish, and both languages. Latin Pop brought forth wider “processes of racialization of Latinos” and became the “embodiment of stereotypical hypersexuality” (Rivera-Rideau 2015, 131). As a result, lighter-skinned Latino artists were able to assimilate into the U.S. mainstream. Though presenting an urban format, Rivera-Rideau (2015, 132-3) notes that this process of racialization represents reggaetón as “not quite black” through the creation of a “Hurban” category/label (Hispanic and Urban) which encompasses a rigid distinction between Blackness and Latinidad (hip-hop and reggaetón, correspondingly).

            Scholars Balaji and Sigler (2017), with an interest in the link between identity and cultural production, investigated the ways that popular Caribbean genres like soca, dancehall, and reggaetón have transcended their national and regional origins to gain global popularity. They found that platforms like YouTube have enhanced the global appeal of these styles of music, propelling their artists into internationally recognized superstars. Furthermore, they note the shift in the music of these artists to include more interaction with American pop music, suggesting a change to producing these musical genres for transnational consumption. 

            Lately, Rivera-Rideau and Torres-Leschnik (2019) have explored the racial politics surrounding “Despacito” paying particular attention to performance and media coverage of the song. The authors argue that Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee reproduce stereotypes of Blackness and hypersexuality by way of stereotypical reproductions of tropicalized Latinidad. Rivera-Rideau and Torres-Leschnik (2019) conclude by positing that through these stereotypical notions, “Despacito” was able to cross over into the U.S. mainstream market to obtain its current level of success, though we agree the artists represent stereotypical images of tropicalized Latinidad and the notion of the Latin Lover. Furthermore, in addition to producing familiar stereotypical images for non-Latinx consumers, the present article points out that “Despacito” gained international fame through the addition of Justin Bieber to the remix, as well as newer music streaming platforms, which allowed for transnational music consumption and participation in the global music market. In the next section we discuss the consequence of reggaetón’s interaction with a variety of musical genres that facilitated its transition to what we term Hurban Pop Latino.

  1. “Despacito” Surfing the Pop Latino Wave

            Reggaetón was initially regarded as música negra, which narrated the daily struggles of the Afro-Latinx community in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and New York (Marshal 2009). However, the genre’s transition to a more lyrical and thematic identity, engagement with the larger pan-Latinx population, as well as the inclusion of international artists and interaction with a variety of musical styles including salsa, reggae, dancehall, hip hop, among others, has led reggaetón to shift into Hurban Pop Latino. This fusion of musical styles highlights a milestone and a progressive change in the genre and the music industry at large by steering away from historical notions of the origin and race related to primordial reggaetón.

            In regard to “Despacito’s” crossover, Rivera-Rideau and Torres-Leschnik (2019, 95) argue that the song’s popularity in the U.S. was unexpected as Luis Fonsi intended to create a hit for the Latin American market. In examining the reggaetón genre from its historical roots to contemporary hits such as “Despacito,” the genre has progressed from la música negra de los caserios to Reggaetón Latino in the mid-2000s, and has more recently shifted to Hurban Pop Latino. We believe these changes were catalyzed by an interest in creating transnational music capable of surpassing geographic and national borders, without focusing on a particular market.

            Rivera et al. (2009, 60-61) notes that reggaetón music is now crafted and consumed across the Americas and see it as a pan-Latin endeavor. In particular, producers and performers from across “the Latin Caribbean, Latin America and Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S. have embraced the music as a sound of their generation, as a style that signifies their Latino or national heritage as well as dimensions of the global, the modern, and the urban” (Rivera et al. 2009, 61). Over the past few decades, reggaetón has been widespread in those Spanish-speaking regions while in the U.S., it has had a presence since the mid-2000s as a symbol of urban Latinidad.

            To this point, Victor Caballero, the brand manager of 96.3 FM La Mega Los Angeles, comments on the growing popularity of reggaetón and hurban music, “I launched ‘Latino’ back in the day, in 2005, in Los Angeles. It was the first bilingual, rhythmic station in the country. In hurban Latin radio it has always been a struggle to find just the right mix of music. We wanted to find a way musically to speak to all Hispanics” (Derrick 2017, interview). Similarly, in the mid-2000s, other Latinx radio stations switched to a hurban format dominated by reggaetón and pop hits in Spanish, while fewer stations played tropical salsa and bachata hits, including: 106.7 El Sol (Miami) and 97.9 La Mega (New York City), 100.7 La Kalle (San Francisco). These radio stations have begun to accommodate a hurban format appealing to and connecting the diasporic Latinx community in the U.S. and abroad. As pointed out by Rivera-Rideau (2015, 136), the hurban category served as a link between Latinidad and Blackness via the stereotypes associated with poor, urban communities while simultaneously maintaining the rigid separation between two categories in the U.S. racial lexicon.

            Hurban Pop Latino reflects the transition of reggaetón and Spanish pop music into a rhythmic fusion of musical styles. Specific to “Despacito,” Oriana Cruz (2017) notes that the abundance of different Latin styles of music and international musical influences makes it nearly impossible to classify “Despacito” within one uniform musical lineage. Furthermore, Marshall (2017) attributes the song’s success to a sophisticated harmonic chord progression that has been evolving since the turn of the millennium. Related to the musicality of the song, in an interview with Mench (2017), the producers of “Despacito,” Andres Torres and Mauricio, comment that the aim was to produce a “Cumbia vibe but with [the] Reggaeton, and […] not to do a classic Reggaetón track but to do pop.” They further note that they see reggaetón as today’s pop, and that it doesn’t have to be treated “like this urban dark thing” (our emphasis, “The making”). By blending the Latin genres and filtering a classic Reggaetón, the musical linage evolves, hence the producers emphasize it does not have to be stigmatized due to its progression.

            In an interview with Ventaneando (TV Azteca), Luis Fonsi echoes the shift from reggaetón to Pop Latino when he notes: “[l]a realidad es que el pop, hoy día, está sumamente influenciado por el reggaetón porque tiene ese ritmo sabroso que ya no es ritmo urbano, es un ritmo latino que ya es parte de nuestra cultura latina” (Luis Fonsi 2019). (“The reality is that pop nowadays is heavily influenced by reggaetón because of its rich rhythm that can no longer be classed as an urban rhythm, it’s a Latin rhythm that already forms a part of the Latin culture.”)  Accordingly, the evolution of Reggaetón Latino to Hurban Pop Latino is representative of the Latinx community’s engagement with a variety of musical styles due to their inherent proximity to urban culture. These aforementioned elements found in “Despacito” contributed to the song’s relatively easy crossover into the U.S. mainstream market, thus allowing it to achieve global visibility.

            Regarding the musical collaboration between Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee in “Despacito,” Erica Ender revealed that initially the song “was written by Fonsi and me on a guitar. Fonsi decided to call Daddy Yankee who wrote his rap and post chorus” (Derrick and Pawelek 2019, interview). The song enjoyed success in Latin America and the U.S. and reached over two billion views on YouTube within the first 154 days (Weiss 2017). Soon after, Justin Bieber heard it while touring in Colombia and within four days had recorded his part of the remix. With the addition of Justin Bieber, one of the most well-known international white urban-pop artists, “Despacito” opened to a larger listenership for the song. In fact, Beltrán (2017) comments about the popularity of the song in the U.S. saying, “[f]or white Americans to queue up “Despacito” on Spotify, or request it on their local radio station, they need Justin Bieber’s whiteness to make it safe.” As an English-speaking white urban artist, his reputation as a bad-boy with hip-hop swagger made him an ideal addition to the song, propelling it to crossover into the U.S. and global music markets. Battan (2015) notes about his notoriety that, “Bieber plays a tormented but self-assured bad-boy with complicated relationships, a dynamic R&B singer, and a person willing to experiment.” Hence, adding Justin Bieber to “Despacito” was a much-needed vessel to brand the song as a romantic pop ballad with an urban feel which celebrated a nexus of diverse cultural and musical practices.

 

            Outside the diversity of artists that participated on the track aiding in “Despacito’s” popularity, its world-wide success was catalyzed by global consumers and their online mobility within social media and streaming services. The following section delineates demographic factors and the online mobility of U.S. Latinx within streaming services and social platforms as crucial aspects leading to its mainstream success. We resource Appadurai’s “scapes” of globalization (1996) as a theoretical means to allocate popular music consumption and engagement of Latinx and non-Latinos fans in the globalized phenomenon of Hurban Pop Latino. The section allocates “Despacito” as a vessel that underlines socio-cultural functions of popular music by opening a space for non-Latinx music fans into Hurban Pop Latino.

  1. “Despacito” Effect: The Globalized Techno-Latinx

            In the age of mass media, social media platforms, and globalization, “Despacito’s” popularity marks a milestone illuminating the direction in which Reggaetón has been moving to since its pioneering diasporic origins towards becoming a socio-cultural marker of transnational youth in the Americas and a collective signifier of pan-Latinidad as Reggaetón Latino. More recently, its progression to Hurban Pop Latino reflects a further fusion of musical genres, styles, and languages.

            This section employs Appadurai’s (1996) “scapes” of globalization and the role of imagination as a means of initiating a discussion on “Despacito’s” globalized popularity. In particular, we consider the plethora of global streaming platforms and social digital media outlets in order to trace the online mobility of the U.S. Latinx population. Appadurai’s theory on the role of new media and imagination from globalized perspectives offers compelling references about understating “Despacito’s” mainstream popularity, which derives from demographic and technological factors.

 

            Eminent theorist, Arjun Appadurai (1990, 1996, 2001) opened new debates regarding the cultural horizons of globalization. In his consideration of globalization, with respect to the movement of people, objects, and the exchange of information and ideas across diverse boundaries, Appadurai (1990, 290-310) formed the concept of “global cultural flow” within five “scapes” of globalization: technoscapes, mediascapes, financescapes, ethnoscapes, and ideoscapes. These scapes or dimensions refer respectively to global networks of technology, media, finance, the flow of people, and ideas and information.

            A vital point to Appadurai’s theory on the new global cultural economy is the departure from center-periphery, nation-state models (1990, 32). Appadurai (1996, 33-48) proposes to replace the terms used for components such as villages, localities, and communities with the term “ethnoscapes.” Ethnoscapes is how he frames landscapes of stable communities characterized by networks of kinship, (im)migration, and their involvement in mass-mediated imaginary (Appadurai 1996, 33-34). Pertinent to the mainstream popularity of “Despacito” and Pop Latino are Appadurai’s  points of disjuncture among ethno-, techno-, media-, and ideoscapes.

           Ethnoscapes stand out as a locus of social, spatial, and cultural formation of group identities as they rely on imaginary, media and technology. Within these scapes, one encounters processes of globalization that point to transnationalism. Portes et al. (2017, 217) point out that transnationalism “is composed of a growing number of persons who live dual lives: speaking two languages, having homes in two countries, and making a living through continuous regular contact across national borders.” In this regard, ethnoscapes are relevant to the U.S. Latinx transnational community as their narratives derive from shifting landscapes of individuals across borders, roots, and trans-local experiences encompassing diasporic and trans-local communities. Therefore, considering Pop Latino an extension of reggaetón, whose aforementioned trajectory equally mirrors these transnational processes and the role of U.S. Latinx in shaping popular music consumption, deserves further attention.

            Various scholars (Erlmann 1996; Connell and Gibson 2004) have pointed out that the increasing international familiarity with reggaetón in recent years has led to a growing globalized music market. In recent years this process has also been accelerated by the arrival and consumption of new technologies, principally digital streaming services of music and videos (Edmond 2012). Rivera-Rideau and Torres-Leschnik (2019, 93-94) point out that Latin America is leading the way in music revenue globally “with a 57% increase in streaming and an overall 12% increase in revenue, the highest increase for any region internationally.” Their study, however, encourages the examination of the practices of U.S. Latinx music consumers.

            Currently, half of the U.S. Latinx population, which consists of 56 million, is younger than eighteen and accounts for the youngest major ethnic group (Lopez et al. 2018). Due to the socio-cultural and linguistic background, as well as the substantial Latinx demographic in the U.S., this group has a considerable influence on popular music consumption. The concept of people moving through social landscapes and borders also relates to U.S. Latinx consumers as their respective involvement in the use of technology and electronic social media networks is noteworthy. Regarding the consumption of social media amongst U.S. Latinx, “US Hispanics and Digital Usage” (Dolliver 2018) reveals that 80% watches YouTube, 70% of surveyed users follow performers on social media sites, and 65% are social network users. In regard to Nielsen’s Music Study (Schneider 2016)  on streaming services, it states that 88% of U.S. Latinx consumers use YouTube to view music videos, 45% subscribe to audio streaming services, and 95% of people between the ages of thirteen and seventeen own or have access to a smartphone.

 

            Explicitly, the increased U.S. Latinx demographic and their substantial mobility in modern day technologies also relate to Appadurai’s (1996) technoscape and mediascape. In this light, as advanced technology allows individuals a world-wide access to a network of instantaneous information, technoscapes can be interpreted as the usage of modern technologies, such as diverse devices (smartphones, computers, Alexa) capable of streaming services via the internet. In a wider context, the ability to use technology with the speed of a click leads to an increased consumption and reception of popular music and by extension, facilitates the transmission of cultures and languages globally. Appadurai’s (1996) mediascapes respectively, are reflected through YouTube or other digital mass media and streaming platforms that broadcast and transfer information. These services disperse information instantaneously across the globe while influencing individual views about culture, language, and popular music. Furthermore, Appadurai’s (1996) ideoscapes references the flow of ideas, which can be regarded as the transmission of cultures, language and ideology through digital social media platforms. If one factors in techno-mobility and U.S. Latinx demographics and their engagement within the five scapes, these modalities may empower globalized processes and shape the mainstream and global reception and consumption of popular music.

            Streaming services are prominent in influencing pop music globally. To this point, the CEO of Universal Music Latin America and Iberian Peninsula, Jesús Lopez, notes that, “[streaming services have] democratized music consumption, […] it made Latin music increasingly relevant in the charts, and it has amplified our songs and videos to a world stage” (Brandle, 2017). In this sense, platforms such as YouTube, Apple Music, and Spotify stand out as democratized forerunners of music consumption as they open a space for dynamic cross-cultural expressions, identification, or exchange of ideas amongst Latinx and non-Latinx consumers. However, these online platforms differ in comparison to charts like Billboard as they allow consumers a more participatory experience. The ability to comment, like, subscribe, and leave ratings facilitates the active membership and circulation of Pop Latino. Accordingly, this systematic flow and exchange of ideas globally, through social and digital media platforms, exemplifies the ideoscape.

            The dissemination of popular music is further illuminated by “Despacito’s” prominence within streaming services. As of September 2019, “Despacito’s” YouTube video reflects more than 6.4 billion views and over 3 million comments while in June 2021 this number exceeds 7.4 billion views and over 4 million comments. The video views are approaching the global population of 7.7 billion (World Population 2019). In sum, the proximity of the U.S. Latinx youth to technology and online mobility, as well as the participation of universal audiences through online streaming services, are vivid testimonies of socio-cultural practices of transnational music consumption that also bring economic benevolence to sites and music services. This point is exemplified by streaming services like YouTube with 1.6 billion subscribers, Spotify with 200 million subscribers, and Apple Music with 50 million subscribers, whereas the global music consumption of these services respectively represents 85%, 12.5% and 5% (Ingham 2019).  The YouTube platform emerges as a forerunner in creating a popular social space which highlights current musical tastes.

            Furthermore, the services provided by YouTube, Apple and Spotify generate both popularity and revenue. Thus, newly emerging tracks or artists that previously became popular in one region, are able to more quickly gain international fame via their presence and recognition on online platforms, explains Ingham (2019) as he regards the importance of YouTube and other streaming services as contemporary forerunners of popularity and financial success. These platforms allow for participatory fan experience, broadcasting, as well as producing financial contributions, thus correlating with ideo-, media-, and finanscapes. Digital streaming services play a role in altering the global popular music scape by engaging Latinx and non-Latinx audiences, the services and its audience shape both cultural and musical phenomena. Returning to Appadurai’s (1996) role of the imagined in communities of sentiment, in particular, his theory factors in human agency and the role of imagination and technologies, which are useful tools for making apparent the globalized practices of Latinx and universal audiences in Hurban Pop Latino.

Hurban Pop Latino fans enter Virtual Mainstream.

            Appadurai (1996, 4) expands on Anderson’s (1983) concept of imagined communities and postulates that the imagined is a “space of contestation in which individuals and groups seek to annex the global into their own practices of the modern.” Accordingly, imagination yields a productive force that individuals employ to construct and pursue their objectives, form collective allegiances and group identities in the age of modern technologies. Hurban Pop Latino as a socio-cultural practice of the diaspora, or more broadly of the transnational pan-Latinx community, offers engagement in popular music and shapes a common bond for its participants due to transnational community norms, linguistics, and cultural preferences.

            Appadurai (1996, 195) echoes the significance of “electronic billboards” and “the internet.” He proposes that these “new forms of electronically mediated communications are beginning to create virtual neighborhoods, no longer bounded by territory, passports […], but by access to both the software and hardware that are required to connect to these large international computer networks” (1996, 195, our emphasis). In respect to digital mass media and streaming, engagement in musical practices contributes to shaping and delineating group boundaries that form virtual communities of imagination. Namely, the imagination employs human agency which transcends boundaries and allows individuals to construct virtual communities. In effect, for the Latinx listenership, Hurban Pop Latino establishes a mutual space for the enactment and imagination of Latinx identity and Latinindad outside of old-fashioned national ideologies shaped by racism, gender, xenophobia and sexism, while offering an alternative mode of expression through streaming and social media platforms. These processes form borderless virtual theaters of memory, opening dimensions that equally have propelled the globalized popularity of “Despacito” and by extension elevated the scape of Pop Latino.

            Progressing from the borders that listeners of Hurban Pop Latino have transcended, the consumption of music has entered a virtual mainstream – an interactive, undefined space where fans and artists are connected by digital music services and social media platforms, as well as having the capability to interact collectively and instantaneously shape the (viral) success of popular music. As a result, this globalized interaction between fans and artists in turn alters the digital reception and consumption of music. Simon Frith (1987, 345) noted decades ago that music allows people to “place” or locate themselves emotionally, vis-à-vis with musical performers as well as with other fans. Thus, sharing the musical experience nurtures the inclusion of fans in their consumption of music while enabling them to negotiate its popularity and relevance. As a result, newer technologies available to universal audiences create a borderless virtual mainstream which is built and shaped by the collective imagination of the masses.

            This virtual relationship between artist and fans is apparent in Daddy Yankee’s (2017) Instagram post. Once “Despacito” became number one globally, Daddy Yankee acknowledged this milestone in an Instagram video by commenting:

Gracias a todos Uds. los fans por apoyar este movimento este…número uno no es de Daddy Yankee, es de todo el género… asi que la familia, lo logramos… and also thank you to all brothers around the world who have embraced our culture, you guys are definitely a part of it, we have been on this wave for a long time, now it feels good that the whole world gets to surf with us (emphasis ours, Daddy Yankee 2017).

 

This bilingual gesture acknowledges the Hurban Pop Latino community and highlights their collective efforts, namely their involvement in social media and digital music services leading to “Despacito’s” global popularity. Daddy Yankee’s (2017) Instagram post highlights la familia, giving a nod to the Hurban Pop Latino community. Furthermore, his Instagram post pays homage to the genre’s achievement in surpassing its diasporic roots creating a trans-local collective expression. It also appears that by the use of the term “la familia” to refer to fans, this trans-local consumption of music extends to non-Latinx fans of the song impacted by trends in global music consumption. These globalized practices are increasingly more inclusive with respect to the world-wide consumption of pop-reggaetón crossovers, placing “Despacito” as a harbinger of change and a catalyst opening the doors to non-Latinx audiences by acknowledging their cultural endorsement and by welcoming them into la familia.

            As global digital media network users create virtual imagined communities, they surpass borders by dissolving national distinctions and simultaneously interconnect individuals and spaces from around the globe. For these reasons, “Despacito,” with its 7.4 billion views as of June 2021 and top placements on music charts globally, stands out as a phenomenon that highlights the creation of imagined communities which empower and shape global music consumption. Consequently, “Despacito” was able to become one of the most popular songs in the world, a feat that would have been impossible without streaming services, online mobility of masses, and their global participation.

  1. Conclusions

            The arrival of social networks and digital music platforms have changed the tide in the involvement of Latinx and non-Latinx music fans who interact and participate virtually, therefore changing the musical ecosystem of the genre. In this article, we have pointed out the diasporic roots of reggaetón which have progressed through the pan-Latinization and the stylistic shift of the genre to Hurban Pop Latino. The article illuminated how the use of streaming and social media services as the primary mode of music consumption globally creates a borderless musical experience and allow fans to participate in a virtual mainstream experience. Hurban Pop Latino establishes a mutual space for the enactment and imagination of Latinx identity and Latinindad while offering an alternative mode of expression through streaming and social media platforms. As a result, this notion also aids in the popularity of “Despacito” by allowing fans global participation in the shaping and circulation of Hurban Pop Latino.

            Since reggaetón has been moving towards a more diverse sound and has broadened its reach to universal audiences, we believe its transition into Hurban Pop Latino has also shifted the types of artists reggaetoneros include in their remixes, as illuminated in “Despacito,” a remix with the inclusion of Justin Bieber. Reggaetón artists are increasingly showcasing collaborations with English-speaking artists and more recently Portuguese artists. In fact, Hurban Pop Latino collaborations are becoming extremely noteworthy in the music charts, as exemplified by YouTube’s Top 10 hits of 2018. The charts reflected global pop artists holding eight out of ten of the biggest hits of the year were in fact, in Spanish (Ingham 2019). “Despacito’s” aftermath has set a model for forthcoming megahits which highlight the importance of a diversified interchange of language, ethnicity, and musicality. Future research could explore the linguistic and instrumental adaptations of “Despacito” in relation to its acceptance and popularity amongst non-Latinx music consumers. 

 

 

Endnotes

iWe use the term Latinx to denote unspecified gender. Furthermore, it serves as a nod towards inclusion.

ii This term is discussed in section 4.

iii. For a detailed historical and musical overview of reggaetón see: Jillian Báez (2006), Marshall (2008), Rivera Z. et al. (2009), Baker (2011) and Rivera-Rideau (2015).

References

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Lukasz D. Pawelek, (Ph.D. Wayne State University) is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and German in the Department of Humanities at University of South Carolina Beaufort. His research interests encompass U.S. Latinx and diasporic literature, literary representations of nostalgia, collective memory and globalization, and the evolving Latinx identity in the United States; secondary field of interested: Post-Wall Ostalgie memoir and film. Pawelek is a co-founder and co-organizer of the annual Gateway to Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Conference. He established Polyphony Research Group that engages students in undergraduate research, conference presentations and service in the Latinx Community of Lowcountry.

 

Dr. Roshawnda A. Derrick is an Assistant Professor at Pepperdine University. She investigates Spanish-English code-switching in various discourses including literary texts, social media, songs, among others. Dr. Derrick currently serves as an Executive Committee member of the Language Change Forum of the Modern Languages Association. She is also a member of many prestigious national organizations including: The Linguistics Society of America, Modern Languages Association, Latin American Studies Association and American Association for the Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese

 

 

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