Behind the record-breaking global hit that is “Despacito,” there’s an often unsung heroine.
When the single first began taking shape in Luis Fonsi’s mind nearly two years ago, the Puerto Rican artist called on singer-songwriter and long-time friend Erika Ender for help. The Latin Grammy-winning artist has collaborated with Fonsi multiple times in her 25-year career, but the day the two began to co-write “Despacito” in September 2015 was a game-changer for the both of them.
“We go to his studio and he tells me, ‘I have this idea of a song called ‘Despacito’ and he sings to me the first part of the song: ‘Despacito, vamos a hacerlo en una playa en Puerto Rico, hasta que las olas griten “Ay Bendito!”’ And we started laughing,” the 42-year-old Panamanian-born artist recalled in a phone interview with HuffPost. “Then we started to build the whole song, the whole melody from top to bottom and the lyrics out of the concept of ‘Despacito.’”
Ender said writing the single was “very organic,” with Fonsi on guitar as the two began to shape the first version of “Despacito.” The original was intended as a cumbia but that changed over time, particularly after Fonsi brought a reggaeton artist into the fold.
“Fonsi went through like five different arrangements,” Ender said. “And as people know already, Nicky Jam was part of it at the beginning, but it didn’t go through because of the labels, because he was releasing his own album. After that Daddy Yankee did an amazing job.”
When “Despacito” was first released in January, it became an instant hit around the world. Then, in April, a remix featuring Justin Bieber catapulted the single to the top of the U.S. charts and the song quickly began breaking records, first becoming the first Spanish-language song to reach No. 1 in the U.S. since the “Macarena” and more recently being crowned the most streamed song in the history of streaming.
[‘Despacito’ is] about taking it slow, at first. We live in this rush all the time with technology and everything, sex goes really fast too. You have to treat women the way they want to be treated and I would like to be loved ‘despacito’ as a woman.”
Ender says she broke a record along the way too, becoming the first female songwriter to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 100 with a Spanish-language song.
“As a woman, I’m so happy because we are like 20 men to 1 woman in the entertainment industry,” she said. “The fact that you can ― with hard work, with values, with talent ― get to that top 100 is amazing and it’s a responsibility.”
That sense of responsibility was an integral part of the writing process for “Despacito.” From the beginning, Ender said she and Fonsi discussed writing a song that was respectful toward women.
“I told him, ‘This has to be sensual but let’s do it in a classy way — very smart and clever, so that women have their spot as the human art that we are,’” Ender said.
And it goes beyond “Despacito” for Ender, who says every artist in the industry is accountable for the impact their lyrics have on the public.