Main content

Viva Español: How Spanish language hits conquered pop

By Luke Morgan Britton, 24 May 2018

From crossover kings Luis Fonsi and J Balvin to bilingual superstars Camila Cabello and Cardi B, Latin music is having a huge moment in pop right now. Gone are the days of novelty tunes like Macarena and The Ketchup Song. Instead, Spanish language acts are cool, totally legit, killing radio waves and dominating the charts, as well as influencing the sound of English-speaking artists and our listening habits in both the UK and US.

The reasons for this are numerous. Producer Sebastian Krys, who has worked with Shakira and Enrique Iglesias, recently told Rolling Stone that people are finally waking up “to the fact that Latin music really does get consumed on a much larger scale”, arguing: “You simply can't have a global Number One anymore without having a hit in Mexico and Spain”. Factor in the influence of reggaeton in modern rap/R&B and moombahton on EDM, as well as the rallying behind Latin Americans amid political unease in the US, and this trend shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

We've seen songs like Despacito and Mi Gente dominate in both the Spanish and English speaking worlds, spawning multi-lingual versions, while artists like Cardi and Cabello veer between the two languages, releasing music that blends both.

Now, following reports that Drake is set to sing in Spanish on a new track with Puerto Rican trap artist Bad Bunny, reggaeton star Nicky Jam appearing on the official World Cup song, and the likes of Camila Cabello and Luis Fonsi performing at the Biggest Weekend, it doesn’t appear that this Spanish takeover is slowing down any time soon.

Here’s a rundown of the biggest Spanish language pop tunes over the past couple of years and how they managed to conquer our notoriously mother-tongued charts. Viva Español, indeed.

Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber - Despacito (Remix)

The longest-reigning foreign language number one in the UK, Despacito was also Daddy Yankee's biggest hit outside his homeland since Gasolina way back in 2004. It was already massive in the Spanish-speaking world even before Justin Bieber was brought in for its remix.

While cynics may have scoffed at Bieber’s involvement at first (he had a Latin American tour to promote at the time), the star soon proved his pure intent, originally reaching out to Fonsi after witnessing how a crowd went off upon hearing it in a Colombian club.

Fonsi has said that he was surprised by Bieber's insistence to sing in Spanish, the first time the tearaway star had done so in his career, and despite Biebs appearing to not really know the words coming out of his mouth.

Despacito was pretty much the song of last summer, inescapable even if you wanted to avoid it, and it served as a gateway to Spanish language pop for many.

WARNING: Third party video may contain adverts.

J Balvin, Willy William and Beyoncé - Mi Gente (Remix)

Knocking Despacito off the top of the Hot Latin Songs chart in the US after a whopping 35 weeks, Mi Gente (or "My people" in Spanish) properly introduced Colombian singer J Balvin to an English language audience after previously collaborating with stars like Pitbull and Pharrell Williams.

Balvin saw Fonsi's Bieber collab and he raised him a Beyoncé. Mi Gente itself is actually a remix of French DJ Willy William's earlier hit Voodoo Song, which makes the Beyoncé-featuring version an Inception-like rarity of a remix-within-a-remix. Like Biebs, Bey sang in Spanish for the track, even repeating the feat live at Coachella.

After the original topped charts in most Latin American countries, the Beyoncé co-sign gave Balvin and William a boost in the US, UK and beyond. The original is just as great as the remix, but the latter does come with a video featuring everyone from Diplo (himself a lead advocate of Latin-infused music) and David Guetta to Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, which is a nice added bonus.

WARNING: Third party video may contain adverts.

CNCO and Little Mix - Reggaetón Lento (Remix)

Formed during the first season of Simon Cowell and Ricky Martin’s Spanish language TV singing contest La Banda (think Latino X-Factor), Miami-based boy band CNCO consist of members originating from Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and have released two albums to date. The first spawned standout hit Reggaeton Lento, while the latter includes a remix of that track featuring fellow talent show alums Little Mix.

Unlike Bey and Biebs, Little Mix test their linguistic skills less on the track, with CNCO mostly taking on the Spanish parts, but their presence did help the song go platinum in the UK, giving CNCO their first top 10 single in the UK and Little Mix their 12th. While not as huge a smash in the Latin world as in the UK, this remix did firmly cement Spanish pop's place in the English language charts.

WARNING: Third party video may contain adverts.

Camila Cabello ft. Daddy Yankee - Havana (Remix)

In contrast to the Little Mix/CNCO collaboration, this remix took an English language track and adapted it for a Spanish audience. The original version of 'Havana' already had a strong Latin tinge, with the Cuban-born Camila Cabello singing about meeting a boy in Havana and moving to the US, but her heart remaining in the country of her birth. Its video even parodied a Spanish telenovela.

The track, which topped the UK chart and went double platinum, was released in several different forms, coming with a “Spanglish” version as well as a Spanish-led remix. The latter version saw Daddy Yankee take the place of Young Thug and Cabello reverting to her mother tongue, singing: “No puedo soltarte, no seas tan cruel”. While the original track has been streamed a billion times on YouTube, the Daddy Yankee edition has notched up a very respectable 90 million views. Not too shabby.

WARNING: Third party video may contain adverts.

Luis Fonsi ft. Demi Lovato - Échame La Culpa

Not a remix of an already existing Spanish track, but rather a full-blown original collaboration between a Latin star and a US one. Échame la culpa, which roughly translates as “Blame me”, was Luis Fonsi’s big follow-up to Despacito. Demi Lovato, who is from New Mexico of Mexican descent, veers in and out of English and Spanish on the track, with globally-aimed lyrics like: "Play me like The Beatles, just let it be".

Not quite the ever-present earworm of its predecessor, the singalong reggaeton ballad has nonetheless racked up over 1 billion views. By comparison, its English version, released back in March, has been streamed 2.2 million times, proving that the public’s appetite for Español continues to reign supreme.

WARNING: Third party video may contain adverts.

Cardi B ft. Bad Bunny and J Balvin - I Like It

In April, Cardi B silenced any critics she still had and continued her ascendance to rap royalty with her gauntlet-throwdown debut Invasion of Privacy. One of the album’s highlights, the salsa-inspired I Like It, saw Cardi pay homage to her Hispanic heritage.

Having already released a Latin trap mix of her breakthrough hit Bodak Yellow, the Bronx-born rapper, whose parents hail from the Dominican Republic and Trinidad, stuck to her second language of English on the track but enlisted Latin stars J Balvin and Bad Bunny for a fun-filled number perfectly suited for both salsa bars and clubs.

I Like It proved that 2018 is not only the year of Cardi B, but also another blockbuster twelve months for Latin pop. Start looking forward to your second summer of reggaeton.

WARNING: Third party video may contain adverts.

Like Radio 1 on Facebook, or follow on Instagram at BBCRadio1, and on Twitter at @BBCR1.