How Enrique Iglesias' 'Bailando' Became a Hit... And How It Almost Didn't

Billboard

Enrique Iglesias' "Bailando," featuring Descemer Bueno and Gente De Zona, holds the record as the longest-running No. 1 ever in the history of Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart. It not only spent 41 weeks at the top of the chart, but also rose to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, aided by a Spanglish remix (featuring a Sean Paul guest rap), a rare feat for a predominantly Spanish track. And its backstory is just as improbable.

"Bailando" started as a co-write between Iglesias and longtime collaborator Descemer Bueno, but was shelved. But then Bueno revamped it with Cuban reggaeton duo Gente de Zona, and released it online as his own single, without Iglesias. When Iglesias heard the new version, he was blown away, added his vocals to it, and included it on 2014's Sex and Love LP (Universal Music Latino/Republic). The rest is hitmaking historia.

Here's how "Bailando" went from leftover to crossover.


Iglesias: There are things one can't plan. I wrote "Bailando" a year ago with Descemer. We recorded a demo, then Descemer goes back to Cuba and has the brilliant idea of recording it with Gente de Zona and doing a video.

Bueno: Enrique and I worked on the song and kind of left it there. Then I met up with Gente de Zona in Havana -- they added the "I want to be contigo" bridge and the "Oh, oh, oh." It added an important element. That's the new version Enrique heard and got excited about.

Iglesias: A friend of mine called me one day and says, "I just went to Cuba. I was in a taxi, I turned on the radio, this song came up and I loved it." So I went to YouTube to find this song and I said, "Holy shit - I wrote it!" I called Descemer and asked, "Dude, why didn't you tell me?" It's not that we're disorganized, but that's the way we work. Many songs end up on the album, many songs don't.


Luis Estrada, Universal Music Latino: We launched the single in Miami in March, when we released the album to test the market, and reaction was immediate. The three Latin rhythmic stations in the market put it into high rotation. We were still working [previous single] "El Perdedor," which was climbing to No. 1 [on Hot Latin Songs], but we had to rush "Bailando." After Enrique performed at the Billboard Latin Music Awards in April, we knew it would hit No. 1.

Charlie Walk, president the Republic Group (at the time, EVP of Republic Records): There was massive Latin airplay, but we also saw big Shazam and iTunes numbers - without a single play at pop radio. It's one of the few Latin records I've seen react before pop play. We knew we had a hit. Then, [program director] Alex Tear put it on at [top 40] WHYI Miami. That started it on its way to becoming a pop hit.

Iglesias: The whole point is you never know where a hit is going to come from. There's just something about this song.
 
Additional reporting by Gary Trust.
An earlier version of this story appeared on Billboard in 2015.