Success takes a village, and while the record-breaking hit “Despacito” began with Latin pop singer Luis Fonsi, he’ll forever be associated with the song’s three other writers — Justin Bieber, Erika Ender and Daddy Yankee — and co-producers Andres Torres and Mauricio Rengifo, who together created the song that last July became the most-streamed song of all time and is nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
The story began when Puerto Rican singer Fonsi, who will perform the show on the Grammy Awards tonight, woke up one morning in 2015 with the song’s melody ringing in his head.
“I was home with my family and I woke up one morning with this idea,” he tells Variety. “I grabbed my guitar and ran into the studio. I had a clear picture of how I heard it in my head and I jotted down as much as I could.”
Later that day, he was scheduled to meet with friend and frequent collaborator Erika Ender, a 25-year music-biz veteran. He shared his ideas for the song, which was a contender for his then-in-the-works album and has more of an urban sound compared to his signature pop ballads.
The real test was going to his label and introducing the song to Jesús López, Chairman/CEO of Universal Music Latin America and Iberian Peninsula. Fonsi played it for him on his guitar.
“It was one of those songs that we said had a lot of potential,” Fonsi recalls. “We both said, ‘Let’s do a really good demo and see where it goes.’ After that we heard like 50 more songs [to consider for the album].”
As Fonsi’s new album took shape, he kept returning to “Despacito,” working on it quietly. Eventually he brought it back to López and “played it for him, almost mixed, and it blew his mind,” Fonsi says.
Adding Daddy Yankee to the song, Fonsi says, was an extremely important factor that gives the track something different.
“He made the song explode,” Fonsi says. “We are vocally very different: I have a smooth and melodic approach; he has this rhythmic approach, and the mixture of both made the song so perfect. He has something I can’t do. I’m so happy I made the call that day.” Similarly, producers Torres and Rengifo, Fonsi says, found the right balance between several different Latin sounds, from cumbias to reggaeton.
“I’m getting to know a completely new audience,” says Fonsi, who has spent recent months on tour around the world. “When you see all these beautiful cultures come together it gives me a lot of joy and pride.”
The song quickly caught fire after its January 2017 release, and Bieber — who heard it in a club in Colombia and saw fans reacting to it — was added to a remix, which took the song to a whole other level. It’s fast approaching 5 billion views on YouTube.
“Justin Bieber put magic into it,” says Fonsi. “He recorded in Spanish and added such an important layer to the song that was already known. All of a sudden we had this huge known act singing it, and it opened doors.”
Fonsi calls the success of “Despacito” a “wild ride” that has been one of the highlights in his 20-year career.
“We all dream big,” Fonsi says. “As a little kid I always wanted to be a musician. I was lucky that I knew what I wanted to do early on. I prepared myself and I told myself that someday I wanted a Grammy. Maybe it’s something I visualized, but it certainly caught me by surprise. This is a little bigger than what I dreamt.”