May 24, 2017


Luis Fonsi Talks 'Despacito' Success, Justin Bieber & Bringing Latin Music to the Forefront

Omar Cruz
Omar Cruz

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee made music history when their "Despacito" remix became the first mostly Spanish-language No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 since "Macarena" in 1996. The megahit already has all the makings of dominating the international markets and your upcoming summer parties, thanks to its infectious melodies, sexy swagger and the new addition of Justin Bieber's smooth feature.

We spoke to the Puerto Rican star about the incredible success of his "Despacito" smash, as well as what fans can expect from his upcoming ninth album. Read on for our chat with Fonsi.

FUSE: First off, congratulations on the success of “Despacito”! That’s my personal song of the summer. Did you pop a champagne bottle to celebrate?
No, that’s still on the to-do list [laughs]. We’ve been working nonstop pretty much since we dropped the single about five months ago. It’s been fun being on this promo tour and getting ready for the concert tour, which starts in a month. But yeah, I haven’t been able to sit down and enjoy a glass of champagne. But trust me, I will very soon!

This is the first Spanish song to hit No. 1 since the Macarena, which is incredible. Why do you think it took so long for another Spanish hit to get so big?
Let me tell you, I was surprised to hear that. You don’t really think about it. Obviously the charts are very important for all musicians, but it’s not something that I live by when I create a song. Once you release an album, you obviously want to be on the top of the list. I would be lying to you if I said it wasn’t important, of course it is. But at the time of the creation when you sit down with a guitar in your hand and you write a song…at least I wasn’t trying to make the next important Spanish song in the United States or in the world. I was just trying to write the best song I could. At no point in time I was trying to write a crossover song either, which I think was important because I think one of the reasons for the song’s success is that it came together very organically. It wasn’t forced or trying too hard from the beginning to break a record or create a statement. It was just always trying to be a feel-good song to make people dance. I wasn’t even trying to make the song of the summer! It was just a nice fusion of what I do, which is more of the pop side, and what Daddy Yankee does, which is more urban. The rest just kind of happened on its own, and maybe that’s why it’s working very naturally.

Sometimes artists these days go into the studio thinking, “Okay, I have to make a No. 1 hit.” I love that you guys did it organically and with passion. That’s way more important in the long run.
One hundred percent. I don’t wanna say I didn’t have any expectations because you always do. You always want to write an important song. But again, at no point in time—from the moment I wrote it—did I expect to have such a great song that would become No. 1 or it to break all these records that it’s breaking. Not only in the U.S., but in Europe and Latin America and all sorts of different platforms. It’s amazing and it’s been a great ride.

And of course “Despacito” was popular even before Justin Bieber hopped on the remix. Why do you think the song gravitates towards people so much?
It’s got a very catchy melody that although a lot of people don’t fully understand every single word I’m saying, the song has become so big in countries where they don’t necessarily speak Spanish. It’s sort of infectious in a good way. It makes you feel like you’re at a beach somewhere even though you’re on your way to work or in a cold place. It’s just transports you to that happy place. And it’s got that right balance between the Latin sound, the catchy pop sound and also urban. Musically it has the right amount of ingredients. I hate breaking it down in such an analytic point of view because the best thing about the song is that it sort of just happened. But nobody has a crystal ball, nobody knows what makes a song a hit. If we did, we would have a bunch of “Despacitos.”

How did Bieber get on the remix in the first place?
He contacted my record label because he heard the song when he was on tour in Latin America. He heard it at a nightclub and saw how people reacted to it. He did a great job singing the verse and the chorus in Spanish, so he definitely added a new dimension to the song.

So many people love it but of course you’re always going to have critics. What do you have to say to those people who think the remix is only popular because of Bieber?
He’s a big star and he makes things shine in a very amazing way. I’m happy that he trusted the song, that he reached out to us and that he wanted to leave the natural aspect of it by him having to learn the chorus in Spanish. I think that says a lot about him, you know? The fact that he took the time out when he was on tour to record it. Even though we had the English lyrics, which was probably the easiest thing for him to do, he said “You know, this song is already big in Spanish. Let me just leave it like the original.” The answer is there. The song is No. 1, so I’m happy.

Would you like to collaborate with more American artists in the future?
Yeah, no doubt. I’m all up for uniting forces with amazing artists, because great things come out with blending styles and mixing languages. I’m from Puerto Rico but I’ve been raised in Miami and Orlando, so since I was a little kid I’ve been listening to music in English and Spanish. So I hope this is the beginning of more things to come.

I wanted to ask about your collaboration with Christina Aguilera on her Mi Reflejo album in 2000. Do you remember what it was like working with her on “Si No Te Huberia Conocido”?
Oh yeah, it was a while ago! It was a beautiful, very melodic song with a big range. She was just starting out…we both were. It was great being in the studio with her and I got to coach her quite a bit on her Spanish because she had some Latin influence. She’s one of the most amazing vocalists out there and it was really cool to join forces with her so early on in my career.

Prior to “Despacito,” you’ve had success overseas. But do you think it’s still hard for Hispanic artists to break into U.S. mainstream market?
For us Latin-Americans, we’re very used to listening to music in English. But if we went to another language, it would be hard for us to listen to, I don’t know, songs in Russian. When people don’t understand what you’re singing, it’s tough to connect to it. So when you’re able to do English or bilingual versions, or things happen in the case of “Despacito” where the language doesn’t become a factor anymore, then you’re lucky to have a song that becomes a hit in all parts of the world.

I always felt like artists—along with yourself—but also Daddy Yankee, Yindel, Don Omar coming from Puerto Rico have a unique quality. Is there something in the water?!
Thank you for that! It’s a question that always makes me smile because we come from such a small island that produces great music. I don’t have a specific answer [laughs], but just thinking of how I was brought up and how my parents taught me to appreciate [the culture]. I guess we’re all sort of programmed that way in Puerto Rico. We use music as an everyday tool to communicate and to come together. We’re constantly dancing and singing, and when I was a little kid I was performing at every street corner. We’re all influenced from an early age and able to kind of polish our art.

And of course everyone will be looking for new music from you soon. Your ninth album is being released this year right?
Yes, later this year I’m coming out with a new album.

In the past your music has been more traditional. But will this one have more of a reggaeton influences?
It’s definitely gonna be more along the lines of “Despacito.” It’s still gonna have some ballads and it’s not all gonna be fusion. But it’s more of an evolution. With every album I try to evolve and grow and take chances. “Despacito” is definitely a few steps forward and you’ll hear more songs like that soon.

The spotlight is on you so heavily now! Are you a bit nervous to live up to the single’s success?
No, no pressure! I’m not scared. I’ve been in this for quite a while and I’m very comfortable with where I am as a songwriter and as a performer. I know I’ve been blessed with the success of the song, and you can’t go in there expecting to use this sort of as a mark to try to stop it. Every song has a different story and I’m very happy with the way the rest of my album is coming out. Whatever song I drop as the next single, it’s gonna be a great one and I’m looking forward to that.

Your first English-language album Fight the Feeling was released in 2002. Would you ever consider doing another one in the future?
Everything has sort of changed as far as doing a full English album or a full Spanish album. For this album I’m doing versions that are completely in English. I speak both languages, but I don’t see it as me doing a full-on crossover. I’m gonna do the same thing I’ve always done with speaking both languages and giving the flavor of being born in this multi-cultural world.

You’ve been in this game for so many years, but who do you think are the next generation of Latin artists to come?
Oof, that’s a broad question because there’s so much talent out there that I still haven’t even heard! Obviously we want new blood and I’m rooting for everybody. I think there’s a really cool vibe right now, not only in Latin music but in general. It doesn’t feel like there’s really aggressive competition between artists. We just want the best songs to be out there. I’m obviously very concentrated on making the greatest album I can make and pushing the envelope, because I feel like every album is a new beginning. So I kind of feel like a new artist a little bit.

Next, watch fellow Latin artist Nicky Jam explain why working with Enrique Iglesias was the best move he ever made: