Inside the History of "Despacito" & Its Game-Changing Impact

From the birth of the song to the moment they found out about their Grammy nominations, Luis Fonsi and Erika Ender tell all

By Diana Marti Jan 25, 2018 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Luis Fonsi Tells All on "Despacito" Music Video

When Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Erika Ender wrote "Despacito," they knew it'd be "special," but they had no idea how they'd make history.  

On January 12, 2017, Universal Music Latin released the song along with a music video that was filmed in La Perla, which is a neighborhood in Puerto Rico. 

But before we can talk about its success and all of the records it broke, we need to remember how it all happened.

The song's lyrics were actually born in 2015 in Fonsi's home in Miami. 

"I woke up one morning with this despacito in my head, and it was pretty much that chorus melody and obviously just the word despacito...that's all I had. So then I recorded it on my phone," Fonsi recalls to E! News. "Then we were at the studio in my house with Erika Ender, she's a great songwriter from Panama, and that's where I said, ‘Maybe we can pick up from this idea that I had. It's a feel-good song and let's just mess around with the word despacito.' That was kind of where we started, and that afternoon we finished the song."

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Fonsi explains he has a process of several months at a time where he solely focuses on songwriting.

"I block out a good amount of time, could be six or eight months, and I just write. I do a lot of traveling, and I do a lot of co-writing with different writers just to start getting ideas out and kind of get a little bit of direction as far as where I'm going to go with the album," the musician said. "'Despacito' came about halfway through that writing process."

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After composing the song with Ender, Fonsi called on his producers Andrés Torres and Mauricio Rengifo to put together his vision for the track. "In a matter of three hours, maybe even less, we had 80% of the production that you hear now. The main sound is there. That was it," the singer says. "That's what got the ball rolling. We put the cuatro, which is the Spanish guitar that you hear in the beginning. That's a very typical instrument from Puerto Rico. That's normally huge for very traditional music. We thought that it would be a very interesting sound to gel both the pop world and the urban world, but also for the song to have musicality and not just be another urban-pop song."

But even then, Fonsi felt that something was missing. That's when the thought of having someone featured on the track was born. And who did they call? Daddy Yankee, of course. 

As Fonsi explains, Yankee was more than just a feature, and he brought a lot to the table. 

"Daddy Yankee added his magic to it. The rap part was all him. He had some amazing ideas for the song as well," the star says. "His featuring was a special on because it was so much more than him just rapping his verse. He really added a creative layer on top of what I had."

After Yankee added his expertise and vocals, the song was complete. Fonsi admits that they knew they had something special, but they never imagined it to reach the level of success that it's currently reaching. 

"We just kept it very humble, all of us were obviously excited. I never like to get ahead of myself," Fonsi explains. "I'm not one of those people that do that. I am very optimistic, and I always think positive, but within reason and never getting too far ahead of the game."

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The original song immediately made it's way to the Billboard charts and was a massive hit around the world, but unprecedented success was on its way. Just three months after its debut, "Despacito" the remix, came to claim its throne.

On April 17, 2017, Justin Bieber joined the track and Fonsi, and Daddy Yankee's Despacito now featured the 23-year-old star. The original song was already No. 44 on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart. The track featured Bieber singing in Spanish and English while Fonsi added a few new lyrics in English, but the essence of the song and it's actual entity stayed intact. 

At the time, Fonsi told E! News exactly how the collaboration between the artists happened.

"Several weeks ago, I got a phone call from my record label saying that Justin Bieber heard the song at a nightclub in Colombia and he wanted to get on it," he says. "Justin had two days off, and on one of the nights, he went to a nightclub in Colombia. There Justin saw how everybody reacted to the song. So the next day he wanted to go to the studio and record it. So I said, ‘Yes, send him the track! Let's do this!'"

Week after week, "Despacito" broke more and more records. Finding its way to No. 1 on the Billboard charts and breaking all the record for the most seen video on YouTube in the platform's history. It's also worth noting that the video that has broken all of these YouTube records and made history is the original video, for the original song with Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, which doesn't include Bieber. Right now, the video is at 4.7 billion streams.

Fast forward to November 2017 and "Despacito" won four Latin Grammys but the writers also found out. Later that month, it was announced that "Despacito" (Remix) received nominations for three Grammy awards including; Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Pop/Duo Group Performance.  

"The day of the announcement, I was in Rome. I had a show that night, so I went along my day to prepare for it, gym, soundcheck, etc.… all of the sudden my phone just went crazy," Fonsi recalled exclusively to E! News. "Calls, texts, whatsapps, emails. I thought: 'Maybe we got a nomination? How cool would that be?' When I found out we were nominated for three major categories; I was so overwhelmed that I didn't even know who to answer first or what to do next. I was lucky to have been surrounded by my tour family. I'm still celebrating."

For Ender, the nominations mean that they'll have more opportunities to create history and to inspire other Latinos because the last time a non-English-language composition won the Grammy for song of the year was in 1959 for "Volare," an Italian song.

"As far as I know, there's only one song in a foreign language, that has been awarded a Song of the Year Grammy, and it wasn't in Spanish, but in Italian. Being able to make a crossover with a song mainly in Spanish," the songwriter, the singer says to E! News. "And becoming (as Billboard announced) the first Latina ever to garner a Song of the Year nomination is such a blessing. I hope it empowers other women, letting them know we can achieve whatever we dream and more.

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"I feel more than happy and grateful for being part of this moment in history as co-writer of 'Despacito'. Besides being a wonderful professional moment for all of us involved in the song, it's also an amazing victory for Spanish language music and culture. 'Despacito' united a whole planet, confirming the magic there is in music."

Fonsi tells us that he never imagined receiving three Grammy nominations, the moment feels like a dream. 

"Honestly, everything that has happened after 'Despacito' came out is something I'm still processing. To have such an impact at a global level took me by surprise. I'm so happy it happened now, almost 20 years after I started my career because I could now thoroughly enjoy it and appreciate every single moment that otherwise, an earlier age, maybe it would have been taken for granted," he explains. "Ultimately, I use these blessings as daily reminders to continue doing my best at all times, to be humbled and grateful and to keep reaching for the stars without taking my feet off the ground."

And although many people credit them for the Latino representation at this Sunday's Grammys, Fonsi thinks that this was all an enormous group effort that's been years in the making. 

"I can't take the credit. There is an incredible group of artists that for years have been working tirelessly to give Latin music the place it deserves. I'm just honored that I was able to help knock the door completely down to continue to share our culture and roots with the world," he says. "The fact that a mostly Spanish song is recognized and that we are one the artists performing at this year's Grammys, it's a big step forward for our community. The Latin sound is present worldwide, and that is something it didn't happen as often as it does now. Music is universal, so what better way to prove this than by coming together as musicians, regardless of genre, culture or language, and work to create something unique."

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