Big news from Billboard is that our official Latin emissary to the pop world, the “Despacito” of Fonsi, Yankee, & Bieber (LLC), has a new notch to add to its chart belt.
It was already the first Spanish #1 single since “Macarena.” Now it’s the first non-English song to top the all around Radio Songs chart… ever. Or at least since that particular chart began in 1990. Back in 1996, “Macarena” only reached #6 on the radio. Los Lobos’ cover of “La Bamba” topped radio airplay back in 1987, but that was a different time with different algorithms that only took into account Top 40 radio. “Despacito” is topping both Top 40 and Latin radio, and the song’s coattails are spreading. (Watch for “Despacito”-themed Segway tours to sweep Puerto Rico.) Down at #31 on the Regional Mexican airplay chart, you’ll find the mascaraed-and-tattooed norteño softies Siggno playing their own cover version of “Despacito,” while rocking Metallica and Misfits t-shirts in the video. Guess whose version NorteñoBlog prefers:
Unfortunately, Siggno seems to be the only norteño act lifted by the rising tide of “Despacito” drool. Take a look at that Hot Latin chart below. Normally you’d see a couple norteño or banda songs in the top 10; the top 25 often contains ten to twelve regional Mexican acts. Now the top 16 songs are all reggaeton, bachata, or Shakira, a genre unto herself, with the first Mexican acts only sneaking in from #17-21. (Some comfort: there are 12 more of our guys — and they’re all guys — in the bottom 25.)
Billboard notes that Fonsi’s “Despacito” is not only swamping both Top 40 and Latin airplay, it’s selling and streaming the pants off every other Spanish-language song you care to name. This works out well for other, similar sounding songs. When you play “Despacito” on YouTube, the video channel helpfully chases it with another variation on “Despacito”‘s dembow rhythm — for instance, CNCO’s “Reggaeton Lento,” Maluma’s “Felices los 4,” or Shakira’s “Chantaje,” in whose video Shakira goes HAM by walking a pig through a convenience store. All those ancillary streams give their songs a chart boost. “Despacito” is never followed by Christian Nodal‘s gorgeous mariachi-pop “Adios Amor,” which hung out in the Hot Latin top 10 for the first half of the year, or any other regional Mexican song. This is one way the club sound reinforces itself.
Also worth noting in the above-linked article: halfway through 2017, there’s only one regional Mexican album in the cumulative Latin top 10, and it comes not from perennial album seller Gerardo Ortiz, whose very good Comeré Callado Vol. 1 seems to be stiffing. Rather, this year’s biggest Mexican album is the (not quite as good) 2016 album from teen sierreño sensations Ulices Chaidez y Sus Plebes. Under Billboard‘s current album accounting methods, Chaidez’s “album sales” have risen thanks to online streams of his hit ballad “Te Regalo,” which peaked at #12 and charted for half a year.
Ortiz could use his own big single to boost his Equivalent Album Units, but right now his lame sierreño pop “Para Que Lastimarme” is falling from a #15 peak. It’s looking more like Ortiz’s 2015 album Hoy Más Fuerte was, in fact, his New Jersey: “a huge event album that ultimately feels a bit hollow and signals a career decline” (at least in commercial terms). This is something NorteñoBlog totally called; although in fairness, if it proves untrue, I probably won’t retract it. I’ll be sure to consult my journalistic ethics team.
In short, regional Mexican music seems to be going through some summer doldrums, a period of relative unpopularity compared to other Spanish-language music. Its central star, Ortiz, is using a hot sound, sierreño, but his new music is struggling to catch on. Nodal, the singer of the format’s biggest 2017 hit, has yet to release an album. The popularity of “Despacito” is benefitting other songs with more club-oriented electro rhythms. And I haven’t even mentioned that our biggest norteño song, Calibre 50‘s “Las Ultras” (#17 Hot Latin, #1 airplay), is a beer jingle. For light beer. Plenty of blame to go around.
One bright spot comes from Ortiz and his friends/labelmates Lenin Ramirez and Jesus Chairez: down at #26 on the airplay chart we find the three of them singing Chariez’s corrido “Recordando a Manuel.” It’s a spritely guitar-and-banda memorial to the late narco José Manuel Torres Félix, who was killed in 2012. Some sympathy for the devil, please — according to the song, he was a simple country man who only turned to a life of crime when mobsters killed his kids, at which point “el demonio” got him. Regardless of real-life circumstances, the song is stunning. I prefer Ortiz’s small band version on Comeré Callado, which features some jaw-dropping accordion and tuba interplay, but on the single you can enjoy three different guys harmonizing in honor of a reputed psychopath. And the guitar still sounds great! Pick to Click: