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“Despacito” is breaking records, making memes, and crossing cultural barriers

Not bad for the hit of the summer.

Facebook kid Niana Guerrero can’t stop dancing to “Despacito.” Suave suavecito!
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s what’s up with “Despacito,” which you’ve undoubtedly heard even from under that rock.

The summer’s Spanish-language megahit from Puerto Rican musician Luis Fonsi and guest Daddy Yankee has been taking over the internet at, ironically, lightning speeds. (“Despacito” means “slowly.”) This week it became the most-streamed song of all time, racking up a staggering 4.6 billion listens across the internet’s streaming services. It’s currently poised to fly past Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” on YouTube to become the site’s most-viewed video of all time, and possibly the first YouTube video in history to reach 3 billion views.

“Despacito’s” rise is a long time coming — it’s the first Spanish-language chart topper since 1996’s “Macarena.” And although Fonsi’s hit got an English-language remix featuring Justin Bieber, it may not have actually been an assist: Bieber’s version only has a paltry 430 million YouTube plays, and Bieber subsequently had to stop singing the song on tour due to audiences’ displeasure that he didn’t know the Spanish lyrics and kept singing “blah blah blah” onstage instead.

Clearly the public loves the unadulterated “Despacito.” And on the internet, that love has spawned more things to love.

Among them is this ridiculously cute meme based on a line from the song (whose lyrics are, when translated, mainly about sex). In the bridge, Fonsi sings, “Que le enseñes a mi boca tus lugares favoritos,” which translates to, “Show my mouth to your favorite places.” Presumably, Fonsi means “places on your body,” but Spanish meme makers have had other ideas. Why not show Luis Fonsi’s mouth the Statue of Liberty, or the pyramids, or Dubai?

“Despacito” is a mouthful of juicily complicated lyrics even before you get to Daddy Yankee’s rhyme-heavy rap. The part everybody seems to actually know comes at the end of Daddy Yankee’s solo and is repeated throughout the back half of the song:

Pasito a pasito, suave suavecito

Nos vamos pegando, poquito a poquito

These suddenly simple, relatively easy-to-remember lyrics in the middle of this complicated song stand out, and are therefore prime fodder for meme-ification. A Spanish meme featuring Gandhi making an inspirational speech that veers off into “pasito a pasito, suave suavecito” has been making the rounds, and everyone else seems to be getting in on the game:

The song has also inspired a glut of wildly different covers, from Luis Graziatto’s viral “smooth” saxophone cover to YouTube musician Julie Anne San Jose’s all-Latina version of the remix:


Despacito ❤️ He take despacito to sexy level Epic ending its simply magical credit Graziatto

Posted by Age Of Tones on Wednesday, June 14, 2017

By far the strangest cover is the eerie autotuned remix of President Trump that went viral earlier this week.

Best Version Ever

‎Posted by Plur Records on‎ יום שלישי 18 יולי 2017

But by far the best contribution to the “Despacito” craze is this adorable montage by internet celebrity kid Niana Guerrero, one half of Filipino celebrity siblings Ranz and Niana. Her brother Ranz Kyle apparently knows just how to get her to dance — every single time.

Hit That Despacito | Ranz and Niana

Everytime this song plays haha! Hit that Despacito!

Posted by Ranz and Niana on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

It’s always a big deal when a multicultural ditty crosses language barriers and makes waves, but it’s especially pertinent now, when, as Fonsi told the BBC, “people want to divide us. They want to build walls.” In fact, among the multiple parodies of the song, one of the most successful is “Ese Gringo,” a barbed comedic address to President Trump about his attempts to disenfranchise Latinx people as well as women, Muslims, mutants, androids, and other alien species.

“Despacito’s” border-crossing internet success is a reminder that while “they” might succeed in building physical walls, they’ll have to work a lot harder to separate us where it really counts: in our hearts, minds, and social media feeds.

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