The reggaeton hit “Despacito,” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, is the first Spanish-language song to soar to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 20 years. And that success is showing major label execs that Latin music is more than a niche genre. A Justin Bieber remix of “Despacito,” which had already been an enormous hit around the globe for months, is in part what placed it on the radar of American listeners. But Universal is responding to a market reality that has been evident to fans for some time: Latin music, and all forms of "global" music, have significant audiences.
“We’re actively pursuing new sounds and music that can travel globally and that respect and enhance Latin culture,” Charlie Walk, president of UMG’s Republic Group, told Billboard. “The marketplace is clearly dictating that Latin sounds and lyrics matter. Streaming data doesn't lie, and it now shows us that the world loves this music.”
Still, questions and critiques have emerged about “Despacito's” place alongside reggaeton music, which originated in Afro-Latinx communities and has been historically undervalued as a form of music. Some argue that "Despacito" whitewashes the genre and, in the process, rewards the people who have co-opted it, not those who originated it.
What is certain, at least, is that the song won't be the last chart-topping release to feature a language other than English.