What makes a great song? It’s hard to say. Rolling Stone has a definitive list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, but their picks are different from Billboard’s — and they’re probably different from yours. You might think Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” is number one, or you might think the top spot belongs to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”. If you’re the second person, you’re wrong. But to each their own, right?
What’s a little easier to judge (because of math and science and stuff), is which song is the most popular of all time. “Despacito” — the Justin Bieber-guested collaboration between Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee — just became the number one most streamed song in history. But does that make it history’s most popular? Actually, it just might.
On July 19, Universal Music Group reported that the Latin dance track has accumulated 4.6 billion streams across all platforms, surpassing another Bieber by-line: “Sorry”. If you’re one of those music snobs who thinks you’re too cool for “Despacito”, your initial reaction might be: “If Spotify were around in 1967, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” would definitely topple that trash!” Or you could say: “What about Thriller?! The biggest selling album of all time has to be more popular than song most people don’t the words to!?”
Ya, maybe that’s true. I don’t know what math I could use to figure out how record sales compare to stream counts, but I do know that streaming has made music more reliable, convenient, and accessible than ever before. Commenting on his new world-record, Fonsi even said: “Streaming is a connector for audiences worldwide and it has helped my music reach every corner of the planet.”
But wait, hasn’t YouTube been doing the same thing for years? We might not be able to compare the popularity of Michael Jackson vs. Justin Bieber, but we can reasonably compare the success “Despacito” to the success of other songs made popular on the Internet. So far, things are looking pretty good for “Despacito” on YouTube as well. In just six months, Fonsi and Yankee’s music video has 2.6 billion views, placing it as the fifth most watched video ever. BUT, the “Despacito” music video doesn’t feature Bieber’s vocals — and the multiple audio videos that do have up to 427.3 million views each. Some simple calculations (I added the top three Bieb video view counts to the sum of the original video) show that Despacito would have well over 3 billion YouTube views if Justin Bieber was featured in the music video, moving it safely into the number one spot.
My make-shift math experiment isn’t the only credential backing the song. “Despacito” has been No. 1 for 10 consecutive weeks in the U.S., and has held the top spot in Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic…I’ll just stop at C.
Oh, and the song has been credited for single-handedly boosting Puerto Rico’s economy. Pretty crazy right?
What’s crazier is that the original “Despacito” was only released in January, and the Bieber remix didn’t come out until April. The warm weather is far from over, and the song shows few signs of slowing down. Who knows, in 30 years from now, this could be the song that reminds us all of the 2010s: a time when cats were a fashion statement, Chinese restaurants handed out face masks, and the sole thing people cared about was Game of Thrones. Only time will tell if “Despacito” outlives its status as summer song, and becomes the anthem of the decade.
And so, in case you haven’t already heard it enough, here’s “Despacito” one more time. If it’s the most popular song ever, you might as well try to learn the lyrics.
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