Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s song “Despacito” shattered numerous records to become one of the most successful Spanish-language songs in U.S. pop music history. Declared 2017’s “Song of the Summer,” the “Despacito” remix featuring Justin Bieber prompted discussions about the racial dynamics of crossover for Latin music and Latina/o artists. However, little attention was paid to the ways that “Despacito”’s success in the Latin music market demonstrated similar racial dynamics within Latin music, especially in the song’s engagement with reggaeton, a genre originally associated with Black and working-class communities. This paper examines the racial politics that surround “Despacito”’s success in both the Latin mainstream and the U.S. mainstream. We argue that “Despacito” reinforces stereotypes of blackness in the Latin mainstream in ways that facilitate reggaeton’s crossover. In turn, Fonsi himself becomes attributed with similar stereotypes, especially around hypersexuality, that represent him as a tropical Latina/o racialized other in the United States. Through close readings of media coverage of “Despacito” alongside the song’s music video, we argue that it is critical to look at “Despacito”’s success in both the Latin mainstream and the U.S. mainstream in order to examine the complex and contradictory process of crossing over.

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