We probably should have seen the stumble coming the second news broke that “Justin Bieber Sings in Spanish for ‘Despacito (Remix).’” Hopping on Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s banger was a brilliant decision — by the time the Bieber-featuring remix dropped in April, the original song was already topping charts in 13 different countries with almost a billion views on YouTube, and the Bieber version now looks like the front-runner for Song of Summer — but it’s no doubt new territory for Bieber. The closest he came to the Spanish language prior to “Despacito” was when J Balvin released a Latino remix of “Sorry,” and this time in 2012 when Bieber very proudly said some basic phrases at a press conference in Mexico:
It’s fair to say Justin Bieber does not speak Spanish fluently, nor does he seem like the kind of guy to use Rosetta Stone.
All things considered, though, Biebs performs admirably on the studio version of the song. He cruises through an entire hook in Spanish, places emphasis on the correct syllables, and successfully does the one thing an American singer should do when dabbling in another culture’s music: he blends in. Our own Paolo Uggetti, a native Spanish speaker, says, “The Spanish is solid,” which is about the best review Biebs could ask for.
Alas, none of these things holds true when Justin Bieber sings “Despacito” live, in public. That’s what happened on Tuesday night at 1 OAK in New York City, and it did not end well:
There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break everything down.
JB sang “despacito” when he was supposed to sing “despacito.” One-for-one.
“I don’t know the words!” Oh god. Life came at Justin fast. But bless Justin Bieber’s heart for being forthright. These are the words, by the way:
I am always impressed by musicians’ ability to memorize lyrics. I can’t remember the words to Bieber’s chart-topping “Sorry,” so it’s pretty hard for me to get on Bieber’s case for forgetting lyrics to a song in another language. Especially because it happened sometime in the wee hours at 1 OAK, an establishment where alcoholic beverages are often consumed between the hours of 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., and where approximately zero good decisions have ever been made.
“So I say ‘poquito’ / I don’t know the words so I say ‘Dorito’ / I don’t know the words so I say ‘poquito’”
This is less defensible. Here is a list of Spanish words Justin Bieber knows:
1. Poquito, which means “a little bit,” and you can tell Bieber actually knows what it means by the way he closes his fingers together when he says it.
End of list.
Dorito is not a Spanish word — it is a brand of dusty tortilla chips. Biebs didn’t even do that vaguely offensive thing Americans do when they say an English word and patronizingly add an “-o” to the end. He just went straight for the junk food.
This is the dance you do when you realize you’ve made a big mistake:
After revealing he knows one (1) Spanish word and doing the “oops” dance, Justin Bieber starts to look for a lifeline — for anyone in this godforsaken club who might actually know a word or two of his part in “Despacito.” Alas, the 1 OAK dance floor is a cold, cold place. No one seems willing to admit that they, too, thought Dorito was a Spanish word.
Drowning, Biebs targets our friend from the 16th second and yells, “You know the words!” The man responds, “Ahhhhh.” Everyone has a chuckle — although Bieber’s laugh could also be characterized as a bellowing full of existential angst and disappointment.
This is the point when Justin unequivocally gives up. After unsuccessfully trying to get one last person to sing for him, he just starts singing, “Abba abba abba” and making other undeterminable noises. He is tanking so hard. I think you can hear him say, “I ate a burrito!” while simulating eating a burrito. So to recap: the extent of Justin’s Spanish is informed mostly by food items. That’s not great. The ironic thing is he is so close to saying “Estoy bebido,” Spanish for “I am drunk,” which at least would have been accurate.
Even Bieber’s friends are shook:
That’s actually Alex Pall of the Chainsmokers. If you make a member of the Chainsmokers feel shame, you’ve really accomplished something.
This is the moment that the video cuts off, leaving all of us mortified, wondering how much longer this went on. “Despacito” is still an incredible song, though — we should all learn the words this summer. Especially Justin Bieber.