Jesus Lopez, chief executive of Universal Music Latin America, was behind both “Despacito” and the “Macarena”. He says streaming has “democratised music consumption”, making Latin music relevant on the charts for the first time. “In the past we had to convince radio stations to play a song, but now you can be in France or Italy, see a song is popular, and listen to it immediately,” he says.
It took Mr Lopez years to bring the “Macarena” to the US market, eventually breaking in after Bill Clinton danced to the song at the Democratic National Convention in 1996. Hit-making is faster today: “Despacito” reached the global masses within a month. While the song was a hit from the start, drawing 5m views on YouTube within a day of its January release, the addition of pop star Justin Bieber elevated it in the US. Two days after hearing the song in a Colombian nightclub, the Canadian singer recorded a remixed version, and a week later it topped the US chart.
The “Despacito” hysteria also proves the influence of Spotify’s playlists, the largest of which command tens of millions of listeners. “This is not random,” says Rocio Guerrero, head of content for Spotify’s Latin America division, explaining that “Despacito”’s trajectory mirrors Spotify’s formula.
Spotify first adds a song to local playlists, and if it “works”, as measured by Spotify’s algorithm, it gets pushed to regional playlists, and eventually globally. “It’s kind of like a vicious cycle . . . once they enter the global charts, the rest is history,” she says, noting that Latin music has grown rapidly on the service in the past year, with the third and fourth most popular Spotify playlists now coming from the region.
Mr Lopez also thanks Donald Trump in part for the biggest hit of his career. He says some of the appeal of the song to Hispanic consumers comes in defiance of the US president’s comments about immigrants: “We are proud to be Latino right now,” he said.