“Despacito” recently became the most-streamed song of all time, just a few months after being released. Because of this, I guess you can expect that song’s smashing success would attract some haters, or for people not to write the most asinine pieces just to ride the wave of the song’s glitter. (Yes, maybe that is what I’m doing here.)
“Vulgar,” “cliched,” and “cheap” are but a few of the slams people feel entitled to take at “Despacito.”
Even legendary Cuban composer Pablo Milanés joined the anti-“Despacito” chorus, arguing that with so many good composers and genres in the Latin music world, it had to be something as superficial, retrograde, easy and vulgar as “Despacito” and reggaetón that conquered the U.S. markets. Milanés was quick to slam Luis Fonsi as (wait for it) a sellout. Yes, the same Fonsi who used to cover Milanés’ songs (Good Fonsi!) but now, for God’s sake, now he collaborates with reaggetoneros (Bad Fonsi!).
Then there is the case of British tabloid The Express who rang this alarm: “You won’t BELIEVE how sexual the “Despacito” lyrics are in English.” Talking about Columbus discovering America. Let’s suppose for a moment that you don’t understand a single word in “Despacito” because after all, most of it is sung in such, such an obscure language. But come on, watch the video—yes, yes, it is about sex… and being sensual… and sexy.
This is obvious even when you watch the video on mute (which you shouldn’t).
For Shaun Kitchener, the author of the absurd Express piece, Daddy Yankee’s most poetic line ever (“I want to see how much love fits in you”) totally crosses the line. Kitchener warns his readers of the theme’s sexual tones and sides with some Malaysian person, which according to Kitchener, already banned the song and “when the Spanish lyrics are translated, it’s not hard to see why.”
Dear Shaun, Spanish is not some mysterious, arcane or exotic language. With roughly half a billion speakers, Spanish is the world’s second most-spoken language after Mandarin. It is spoken as both first and second language in every continent. So I’m pretty sure that the poor translation his tabloid published was completely unnecessary. You see, Spanish is not a “secret” language nor is the song so coded that people don’t know about its sexual tone.
Kitchener makes it sound like song has secret dark sexual meanings of which you are unaware because you don’t know Spanish—which must be the language of sexual deprivation and perversion. This is somewhat ironic (and I offer this with no judgement) because English is the international language of the Kink world (look it up–I did).
But let’s pretend for a moment that Kitchener was trying to write something serious and not looking to gain some followers with his dumb piece. Here are some of the offending lyrics (as translated by Mr. K):
Want you to show my mouth
Your favorite places (Favorite, favorite baby)
Let me trespass your danger zones
Until I make you scream
And you forget your last name
I guess Kitchener’s problem with the song is that there is a Spanish-speaking man who loses his s^%! whenever he sees this woman. The song is all about how the man is going to approach her, which will have to be slowly because her mere presence or the thought of her just unsettles him. Pure attraction. He even asks her to show him the way, which can be taken as asking for consent and even guidance. He wants (more like, he needs) to please her in unimaginable ways to make her his, and to leave a mark.
Though some may think that the song is machista (a generic insult for basically every Latin cultural production), the lyrics actually show the opposite. Take the verse about oral sex. He can’t wait to perform on her, and under her direction. And, as the song says, he won’t stop until she is really pleased to the point of screaming and forgetting her last name (meaning who she is). I guess that this is not the kind of male-pleasing sex that Kitchener and too many males are used to.
Or maybe, just maybe, “Despacito” raised the bar too high for mediocre lovers.
The sexual tones in “Despacito” are raw, dirty, and egalitarian as uninhibited sex should be. But what is extraordinary about this song and others such as Maluma’s “Felices los 4” is how they depart from reggaetón’s original themes—when most of the songs were about males dominating submissive women. Hey, “bien duro” was reggaetón’s battle cry for a long time. That is certainly not the tone in “Despacito,” and “Felices los 4” goes even further with Maluma, telling his lover that if she “wants to have a good time with another that is ok, I will take the deal, we make the bedroom bigger, and the four of us can be happy.” Polyamorous anyone?
And who would’ve thought it? Of all the Latin music genres, it was reggaetón which finally broke the internet with a song with a despacito positive message about sex.
Harry Franqui-Rivera tweets from @hfranqui.