As you’ve clicked to read this, you’re probably the kind of person who knows what Despacito is but wishes they didn’t.
Join the club.
But what’s so wrong with the music industry today that Despacito can become “the most streamed song of all time”, conquering music charts from the UK to Thailand?
Infectious, hypnotic… and vacuous
That’s basically what sells today. If a song doesn’t talk about sex or romance, the people who still buy music apparently aren’t interested. True, sex and romance are great. But do we really want all our songs to essentially have the same subject matter?
There are, of course, songs with substance that become popular. But when they reach the charts, they run the risk of being censored (just look at what happened with Liar Liar during Britain’s recent election).
The fact is that the music industry has lots of problems. In large part because of the digital age. But mainly because big business has created a race to the bottom as a result of its quest for quick profit.
A profit-fueled industry
The genre of reggaeton – the beat you hear in Despacito – has arguably been around for decades. And it’s long received criticism for its normally misogynistic, violent, and apolitical lyrics – or for just being a “watered-down version of hip-hop and reggae”. But if you’ve been to Latin America in recent years, you’ll almost certainly have heard the beat vibrating off the walls as you walk through the streets.
Reggaeton essentially mirrors the corporate corruption of US hip-hop, pushing lyrics focused largely on sex, drugs, and violence. It’s what companies want. And it’s what they say their customers want. As a result, many aspiring artists from oppressed, deprived, and marginalised communities around the world logically go where the money is. But conscious lyrics and varied subject matter are sidelined in the process.
As Mic‘s Tom Barnes says in his article How The Music Industry Is Brainwashing You to Like Bad Pop Songs:
Research suggests that repeated exposure is a much more surefire way of getting the general public to like a song than writing one that suits their taste… Most people assume that they hear a song everywhere because it’s popular. That’s not the case — a song is popular because it’s played everywhere.
A ‘Latin’ breakthrough?
Mainstream commentators are now calling Despacito a breakthrough hit. And maybe the Spanish-language lyrics have helped, by ensuring that listeners around the world focus on the rhythm rather than on just how meaningless the words are (as a Spanish speaker, trust me – they’re rubbish). But if ‘breakthrough’ means the world will be listening to vacuous reggaeton for years to come, then god help us.
If, however, the success of Despacito means that people who don’t speak Spanish will now be open to listening to the wealth of musical talent the Spanish-speaking world has to offer, then brilliant! But don’t expect to see big business pushing varied or conscious lyrics any time soon.
Just to show that there is such music out there, though, here’s a tiny selection:
1) A song that also put the Puerto Rican neighbourhood of La Perla on the map (as Despacito did)
And another excellent one from Calle 13 for good measure:
2) A song reminding people never to forget the horrors of Latin America’s 20th-century right-wing dictatorships
3) And a wide range of styles and lyrics
The list could go on and on
The above are just a small selection of songs and artists that come to mind, but Spanish-language music has so much to offer the world. It’s just a shame that the likes of Despacito, La Macarena, Ricky Martin, and Shakira have come to represent that music. And the main blame for that lies firmly with the soulless, profit-driven corporations running the music industry today.
– Whatever your personal tastes, always give your support to quality independent musicians and groups. It’s a massive uphill struggle to compete with the resources of big business. And they need your help to keep doing what they do.
– See more of The Canary‘s music coverage here.
Featured image via YouTube