‘Despacito’: perfect pop or cultural cock-up?

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Ever since the ‘Despacito’ remix featuring Justin Bieber became a worldwide hit, other English-speaking artists have remixed Hispanic songs – Beyoncé, Little Mix, Sia, Demi Lovato… How is this interjection affecting the music industry, the countries and artists from which this type of music originated?

I believe we should always embrace multiculturalism. Music is constantly evolving and this is not the first time that Hispanic music has made it into the English-speaking world – see ‘La Macarena’, by Los del Río in the 90s. Singers such as Shakira, Jennifer López or Enrique Iglesias all come from either Latin America or Spain and are well-known in the UK, the USA, Australia and other countries. I applaud this because I love seeing Latin artists getting the recognition they deserve, which is why I don’t think that this recent interjection helps make Latin music more accepted or mainstream music more culturally diverse.

Justin Bieber’s case is a clear example of why these collaborations are fake multiculturalism

I will avoid going into depth on my own opinion on Bieber, although it’s worth mentioning how he forgot the lyrics to ‘Despacito’ in a live performance, instead saying extremely racist things. I will, however, use his case as a clear example of why these collaborations are fake multiculturalism and not a real acceptance of Latin culture (and its people).

It is extremely difficult for Latin American, and sometimes Spanish, artists to make a name for themselves. In a world in which English is the predominant language, artists with a different first language are already at a disadvantage. Besides that, people from Latin American countries often have to migrate in order to work or have a good education, regardless of their career goals.

Obviously, artists from other backgrounds also have it hard, but we need to understand the barriers that Latin artists have to overcome before they can even be taken seriously – one of them being their mother tongue. In the case of ‘Despacito’, most people didn’t know there was a song prior to Bieber’s involvement. This makes sense in Anglophone countries where the majority of the music in the charts is in English. But still, it wasn’t Justin Bieber’s song. Could you name the original artists? Well, Luis Fonsi has had a successful career since the late 90s and Daddy Yankee is considered the king of reggaetón. They both wrote the song, which was already very well-known in Spanish-speaking countries, long before Bieber. However, he is the one getting the credit, having been awarded a Latin Grammy this year (I mean, come on, he’s not even Latino). So, is the music industry really becoming more culturally diverse? Or is it just focusing on the wrong people?

Coming from a Spanish-speaking country, I would love for people to be genuinely interested in our language and heritage. Sadly, I don’t think that’s what’s happening. Artists like Bieber are getting recognition for the things that Latin artists have been creating for years and years. We may praise the fact that Latin and Spanish music are gaining a space in the English music industry, but we need to understand the power and race relations. I am fine with Justin Bieber being part of ‘Despacito’, as long as Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee receive the credit for it.

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