Everyone has a theory on the massive triumph of “Despacito.” There’s the tenuous argument that a feature from supreme fuckboy Justin Bieber is behind the song’s success, even though the original was no. 1 on the Latin Billboard charts long before the remix’s release. There’s the theory it’s due to the growing influence of streaming platforms across the globe. And then there’s the idea that the magic of the song lies in a small break in the song’s rhythm before Bieber’s chorus.
Last week, musicologist Wayne Marshall – and co-editor of the influential 2009 anthology Reggaeton – shared his take on the song’s success by removing the break and posting a “fixed” version of the track. “You may have noticed that twice in ‘Despacito’ – just before Justin Bieber leads into the chorus – there is an extra beat or two in the song, an odd feature in the age of grid-based music-making. Audiences and dancers clearly don’t seem to mind this, but DJs probably do,” he writes in the description of the Vimeo clip of the reworked song.
As a Playground piece puts it, the extra beat breaks traditional songwriting structure, adding an element of surprise for listeners and subverting our expectations for standard pop songs. Marshall, however, argues that average listeners “just don’t notice.”
Whichever theory you buy, the extra break makes it a little harder for DJs to beat match or make mash ups of “Despacito.” Marshall explains that the “fixed” version of the song easily matches dozens of other songs that have the vi – IV – I – V chord progression – perhaps most hilariously, The Cranberries’ 1994 song “Zombie.”
Marshall explains that other songs, like “Danza Kuduro” by Don Omar or “Disarm” by Smashing Pumpkins, employ the same chord progression as well – proof that tons of big pop songs often share similar DNA.
As “Despacito” dies a slow death, does the grunge version make it more tolerable? You decide.
Update, 7/27/2017, 2:40 p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the chord progression shared by “Despacito” and “Zombie.” The post has been updated with the correct chord progression.