How Global Hits Explode and Burn Out: "Despacito" and "Shape of You"

The year 2017 started with two songs that shook the music industry. "Despacito" and "Shape of You" are still the most viewed YouTube videos of all time. We analyzed them to see how these two global bangers exploded and discover just how popular they are today.
How Global Hits Explode: "Despacito" and "Shape of You"
Urban Klancnik

Some songs are destined to top the charts, inspire thousands of covers and remixes, and become earworms all over the world. Ever wondered what propels a global hit, what keeps it going and how long it takes for it to burn out? "Despacito" and "Shape of You" allow us to analyze the life cycle of a massive hit.


From Puerto Rico to every club in the world

Luis Fonsi, although successful in Latin America, didn’t have any worldwide hits before "Despacito", which is #1 according to YouTube views to this day. Daddy Yankee, a hit-maker and house-hold name when it comes to Reggaeton, joined him to create a song that resonated from every loudspeaker in the summer of 2017. In July 2017, it was played around 21M times per day on YouTube. The first factor that set it on the path of success was precisely this collaboration. Daddy Yankee added his flavor and drew in his masses of fans.

The song brought summer vibes in the middle of winter, also featuring Puerto Rican TV host and Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera wandering the streets of San Juan.

The song quickly became a hit in the pair's native Puerto Rico and exploded worldwide after the music video was released on YouTube. It broke the first record when it reached 1B views in a record 97 days. On 6 February 2019, the song reached a staggering 6B views and stills holds the record. True, Latin American hits can get a lot of YouTube views fast as they operate on a large market. Still, while some songs have broken through the 1B threshold (like Daddy Yankee’s "Shaky Shaky", released in 2016), none have come even close to "Despacito". 

How did it become a monster hit in the rest of the world? When it was already gaining momentum, including covers from all over the world, Justin Bieber asked to join the bandwagon with a remix. After the release of the official remix in April 2017, Google searches for "Despacito" rose extremely. It’s undeniable that everything Justin Bieber touches attracts a lot of media exposure. Also, along came his struggles with the live performance of Spanish lyrics in May. It’s interesting that in the three months after the release of the remix, the original got over 1.5B YouTube views, while Bieber’s song got "only" 250M (today it has around 650M). 

Although Latin American artists have a large following among Spanish speakers in the USA, the English verses delivered by Bieber allowed everybody to sing along. That’s how "Despacito" also helped open the global market to a vast array of Latin American artists.

The most views "Despacito" got in a single day was 26M on 16 July 2017. Around that time, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee were both touring. It’s also when the original and the remix combined became the most streamed tracks. In August 2018, daily views started to decline until they became more constant in 2019. In March 2019, the song left the Hot Latin Songs chart.

Fun facts: According to local papers, Puerto Rico registered an unexpected increase in tourist interest after the release of the song, especially for locations such as Club La Factoría and the La Perla district in Old San Juan, which were featured in the video. Ed Sheeran revealed in 2017 that he wanted to record a remix version of the song but Justin Bieber "beat him to it".


"Shape of You" hits the charts after a hiatus

Speaking of Ed Sheeran: if it weren’t for "Despacito", his "Shape of You" would be the most popular song on YouTube. Let’s take it back a bit. In December 2015, Ed Sheeran took a break from his phone, emails and all social media. In December 2016, after a year of music and social media hiatus, he started to tease his new album on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with a blank blue image and no caption. The fans and the media were there for it. Soon he gave them a New Year’s present with a short clip, saying "New music coming Friday!" and later with the words: "The club isn’t the best place to find love."

On 6 January, lyric videos for the first two tracks of the album were published on YouTube: "Castle on the Hill" and "Shape of You". The latter has a Dancehall feel and isn’t a typical Ed Sheeran song. 

At the end of January 2017, "Shape of You" got an official video, in which Ed finds love in a gym, takes a couple of punches and becomes a sumo wrestler.

The official YouTube video for the song reached 1B views in just 99 days, falling short of the "Despacito" record by only two days. During this time, Ed did his fair share promoting it with a series of live performances, from the Brit awards, BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge to the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where he re-created it with classroom instruments, and quite a few stops in between. British rapper Stormzy also joined the party for a remake. Ed was on the cover of Rolling Stone, and media also did a broad follow-up of his story with US Weekly about a "click-bait topic" on going shirtless for the video. The song peaked in April 2017 with an average of 12M views per day on YouTube.

In May, daily views start to decrease. Another spike came when the song was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance at the end of November and controversially won. In light of the #MeToo movement, the crowd expected Kesha to win with her song "Praying", where she describes going through sexual assault – whereas "Shape of You" focuses on a female body. Some boos followed, although Ed didn’t even attend the ceremony. The popularity of the song increased during his North American tour (along with rumors of marriage) and then again in January, when he announced new dates for the Asian leg of the tour. It was also in January 2019 that the song hit 4B views on YouTube.

Even though "Despacito" had more YouTube views, it all went down very similarly for both tracks.

The life cycle of a global hit

Both "Despacito" and "Shape of You" had a massive rise in views in the beginning and hit 1B in less than 100 days. They peaked after four to seven months, after which both songs started to lose their popularity and daily views. In the second year, their popularity starts to stabilize, and today they're both getting 1 to 2M views per day.  

To sum up: "Despacito" and "Shape of You" got the majority of their views in the first year (70 %), 20 % in the second and the remaining 10 % in the third.

And here’s the final factor: they're both unique tracks, something people didn’t expect, which made them cut through the noise and top the charts.



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Urban Klancnik

Urban Klancnik

Guest Writer at Viberate
A journalist, writer, drummer, and music enthusiast. Spent the last 20 years destroying his hearing with Metal and Rock and sharing his experiences from some of the biggest festivals in the world.