A report by Martino Simcik for London’s Guardian.
Despacito is not only a global hit with 2.5bn views on YouTube. It’s also one of the most popular tunes on the terraces – thanks to a group of fans in Argentina
Over the last seven months, Luis Fonsi’s song Despacito has eaten up the global music charts. The song has become a viral phenomenon, racking up more than 2.5bn views on YouTube and even being credited with boosting Puerto Rico’s economy with a 45% spike in tourism.
The music video was released on 12 January and reached one billion views on YouTube within 97 days. Justin Bieber put out a remix of the song in late April, taking it to a new audience and giving the story a political edge. When Bieber garbled the song’s lyrics in a concert in May, singing “I don’t know the words so I say burrito, I don’t know the words so I say Dorito,” he was accused of mocking the Spanish language, exploiting Latino singers and culture appropriation.
The rights and wrongs of Bieber’s remix distracted from another story that was brewing in Argentina. The song was not just a hit on the charts but, thanks to a creative group of football fans in Buenos Aires, new versions were starting to pop up matches around the world. The song’s rebirth as a football anthem began in Buenos Aires, where the San Lorenzo banda Escuela de Tablones (School of the Terraces) heard the song and put out their own version within a few weeks. Their recording picked up a million views on YouTube within six days as football fans started working on their own renditions.
The song has been reworked by fans in Argentina to Tunisia, Brazil, Israel, Korea and Italy, much to the delight of Luis Fonsi. “Thank you San Lorenzo fans,” he said. “You guys were the first ones to take the melody of Despacito and turn it into your song for your team. Being a sports fan, that’s beautiful.”
San Lorenzo fans have been tastemakers on the terraces for some time. Oh San Lorenzo, Van a Ver, and Vengo del barrio de boedo are just a few songs originally brought to the stands by their fans – and they have produced a version of Wonderwall that rivals anything Ryan Adams could do. Even Boca Juniors fan Diego Maradona paid tribute to the flair of San Lorenzo supporters. “San Lorenzo has the most ingenious supporters,” Maradona wrote in his autobiography. “For me they’re the most creative of Argentina: they make the most ingenious songs, they have fun. I love them. I would have liked to play in that shirt.”
Sports journalist Will Dalton, who lived in Argentina for three years and wrote about the San Lorenzo banda for Mundial magazine, says even fans of rival clubs respect the atmosphere at their ground. “The whole matchday experience is like an all-day gig of your favourite band. Not just because the songs are so good and you have a proper sing on the terraces, but everyone is umping around like it’s a festival – even during a dull nil-nil.”
Football has a knack of bringing out our similarities, as shown by the way Despacito has been reinvented by fans from such diverse countries across the world. While the antics of a forgetful pop star created a divisive association with the song, football fans have made it an ode to our collective passion.