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‘Despacito’ is so catchy because it ‘tricks’ our brains by breaking a basic rule of music

A music producer explains how ‘Despacito’ has imprinted into our brains

It’s being played everywhere. We’ve all heard it, and those that haven’t are boasting about not having done so on Facebook. The control it has over us is so strong, that even those who don’t know it can’t shut up about it. We’re talking about none other than ‘Despacito’, the song by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee – with Justin Bieber in the remix – which is gearing up to be the hottest song of the summer.



But, why has ‘Despacito’ fascinated so many people? The producer and musician Nahúm García has shared his theory on the subject, revealing what he considers to be the secret behind the song. ‘You laugh at Despacito’, he tweeted, ‘but the way it breaks the rhythm before the chorus is a stroke of genius. It’s the key to the song.’

He shared the image below with his followers.

‘I’ve labelled this image so that you can understand visually where the MAGIC of the pause in Despacito lies.’

García is showing us how, just when they sing ‘des-pa-cito’, there’s a pause in the song, which breaks up the rhythm. It’s out of time with the following bar, thereby going against conventional songwriting conventions. According to the musician and producer, this kind of thing – making a key verse fit at a random point with the one that follows – could not happen by chance.

To back up his thesis, he shared the following image too, this time zoomed in to show it more clearly.


‘Look, so that you can see when it comes back, it comes back to a random point. It doesn’t fit, even with full zoom’

As García’s tests show, when ‘Despacito’ was produced, the workflow of the music editing software was deliberately broken. It’s not unusual for techniques like syncopation or retardando to be used to break with the regularity of the rhythm, but normally the beat is changed so that it fits with the rest of the song.

In ‘Despacito’, however, the beat is completely broken up, allowing the ‘des-pa-cito’ to be freely stretched out along the verse, until it settles into a chorus which, straight away, is out of sync. From then on, that original beat is never recovered.

After the first ‘des-pa-cito’, the others are in the right time, but with the first imbalance, the damage has already been done: ‘Despacito’ is in your head and there’s nothing you can do about it. While with a normal song we lose interest after listening to it too much, our brains beginning to anticipate the parts of it that we like, ‘Despacito’, with its renegade chorus, somehow avoids this tendency through its rhythmical anomaly – it’s as if you’re always listening to it for the first time.

It’s ironic that a song called ‘Despacito’ (‘Slowly’) plays with its own internal rhythms like this, using a metalanguage that is so sophisticated it’s guaranteed to ruffle the feathers of all who hate it. The only trouble, in this case, is for the musicians who have to play it live, as there’s no beat to follow – in concerts, this is resolved by playing a prerecorded version of ‘des-pa-cito’.


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