Artist Q&A: Catching Up with Luis Fonsi

Artist Q&A: Catching Up with Luis Fonsi

When we look back on the most popular songs of 2017, “Despacito” will have a prominent spot on that list. It became the first song ever to log 4 billion views on YouTube, and music fans streamed “Despacito” 4.6 billion times in six months, according to Nielsen Music. So, it’s no surprise that the song is in the running for four Latin GRAMMY Awards®. Univision will broadcast the 18th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards® on Thursday, November 16 at 8 PM ET. No matter how many awards “Despacito” wins, the song has already made its mark. We recently caught up with Luis Fonsi to discuss the song, Justin Bieber’s decision to record his lyrics in Spanish and the role that streaming played in the song’s incredible rise to the top of the charts. On another note, we also asked Fonsi to tell us about his efforts to help his native Puerto Rico recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

SoundExchange: You’re currently on tour for the first time since your released 8 in 2014.  This is a great time to introduce your music to a broad audience who got to know you through “Despacito.” What’s being on the road like now that you have a worldwide profile?

Fonsi: Having a hit like “Despacito” has been a blessing. It has opened so many doors to audiences who didn’t know my previous music. It’s a new, refreshing start and it keeps me focused on growing as an artist. Being able to perform in all of these different markets is the most exciting part of it all. This is where I really have the chance to interact with the people.

SoundExchange: We’re really curious to know the story behind “Despacito.” Is it about someone? You wrote it two years ago, but it didn’t make it onto 8. Looking back, was it a mistake not to put it on that album?

Fonsi: One morning, I came up with the “Despacito” concept and melody. That afternoon I sat with my dear friend and amazing songwriter, Erika Ender, to finish it off. She added such a unique touch. We really wanted something refreshing, sexy but not vulgar, catchy and simple, but musical and different at the same time.

SoundExchange: Justin Bieber reached out to your camp to get on the “Despacito” track and was willing to sing the song entirely in Spanish except for his intro verse. That’s something that is almost never done — Latin stars usually jump on Anglo tracks for Latin remixes. Do you think that speaks to the cultural influence of the Latin community in the United States?

Fonsi: Absolutely. Justin could have easily done his part all in English and left the studio a few hours earlier. Instead he took the time to do it in Spanish and not lose the originality of the song. Hats off to him for that. Latin culture and Latin music is influencing everybody. He saw that, and wanted to be a part of the movement. It was great to work with him.

SoundExchange: How did it feel to have the song of the summer? Did you have any idea “Despacito” was so special or that music fans would fall in love with it?

Fonsi: We released “Despacito” in early January. I figured people would be tired of it by summer!!! We knew the song was special, but this has been a great surprise.

SoundExchange: On August 16, you performed the unofficial song of the summer, “Despacito,” live on ABC Network’s Good Morning America. It doesn’t get more mainstream than GMA; the show reaches millions of American viewers daily. Tell us about that moment. How did it feel to perform your record-breaking hit and share the story of the song on that national stage?

Fonsi: It’s amazing to perform “Despacito” on shows like GMA, The Tonight Show, etc. It’s not only big for my career and everyone involved with the song, it’s big for Latin music!

SoundExchange: “Despacito” quickly became a worldwide smash hit. Beyond its incredible stay at the top of the Billboard charts, in August it surpassed Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” as the most viewed video in YouTube’s history. That speaks to the power of the song and the power of streaming. Just how important do you feel streaming has been to your incredible success? Do you think streaming makes it easier for Latin artists to be heard by consumers who may not be your typical fans of Latin music?

Fonsi: Streaming has been extremely important for “Despacito.” I’m 100% convinced that the result would have been different if it weren’t for all the streaming services. Streaming brings the world closer together and gives you that instant response…a game changer!

SoundExchange: Congratulations on your four 18th Latin GRAMMY® nominations, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year. In 2009, your album, Palabras Del Silencio, received the Award for Best Latin Pop Album. How does it feel to be recognized again after so many years? Also, there are lots of really strong nominations this year in the Record of the Year and Song of the Year categories. How does it feel to be included with so many great artists?

Fonsi: In 2009, I received the Latin GRAMMY for Song of the Year for “Aqui Estoy Yo.” It was such a special honor to receive that award. Eight years later, I have four nominations and I’m just truly honored to be recognized by my peers. There are so many great songs out there and the awards are anybody’s to win, but I’m just glad to be celebrating Latin music with people I admire.

SoundExchange: You’ve spoken many times about the damage Hurricane Maria inflicted on the people in your country of Puerto Rico. Tell us about your efforts to help people recover. Is the quality of life improving, and is there still an opportunity to help those afflicted by the devastation?

Fonsi: I’ve had the chance to visit Puerto Rico twice in the last month and there’s so much work to be done. It’s going to take years – not days – to rebuild Puerto Rico. I’ve been delivering generators, food, water, medicine, etc. I’ve also started a fund at to raise money to rebuild La Perla, the town where my video, “Despacito,” was filmed. We already have architects and contractors there working on the plans to rebuild homes and buildings that have been completely destroyed. It’s going to take a lot of work, money, and time to get the island back on its feet and I’m not going to stop working towards that goal.