“Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee has been called the song of the summer. A remixed version featuring Justin Bieber has held the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart since May, and the two combined are the most-streamed in history. In an article on Vox.com, Ithaca College associate professor of music theory, history and composition Alex Reed explains what makes the song so widely appealing.
“Between the smoothness of its backing instrumentals, its midtempo groove, and its repetitive and very familiar chord progression, it’s as if they’ve removed anything that could distract us from the interaction of the voice, the melody, and the language,” says Reed in the article.
Reed, who teaches at Ithaca College’s School of Music, also notes that the song blends the familiar with the unfamiliar, using a well-worn pop chord progression from the ’90s and 2000s in a Spanish-language reggaeton song.
That the song is in Spanish may have helped its popularity in the U.S., according to Reed. “When we hear songs in foreign languages, our hearing is connotative, and not denotative — and actually we often prefer it that way, since music itself is more about evoking ideas than dictating them,” he explains. “Even when we hear songs in English, we rarely really latch onto the lyrics in an expository, textual way.”