‘Pepas,’ please: How a song about popping pills at the club became a Miami Heat anthem

·4 min read
Daniel A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com

The moment comes, as big moments often do, late in the fourth quarter of the game.

The ball is moving around the court like wildfire. Miami Heat players are hitting their shots with cold-eyed precision and defending the paint with every fiber of their beings. The mood of the home crowd has shifted from nervous agitation to cocky adulation. The outcome is no longer in doubt.

Victory is mere minutes away. It’s time to play “Pepas.”

The EDM-infused, reggaeton-inspired club hit from Puerto Rican singer and songwriter Farruko (real name Carlos Efrén Reyes Rosado) was released as a single on June 24, 2021, by Sony Music Latin. The Miami Heat began its 2021-2022 season in October. During the season, “Pepas” joined the rotation of songs played at home games to get fans loud and on their feet.

But with its driving beat and ferocious hook, the Spanish-language banger was somehow more compelling than the usual hype music. The team that once wholeheartedly embraced Glenn Frey’s tepid “The Heat is On” as its theme song had a new and raucous anthem of celebration, an aural manifestation of pure joy, and nobody stays in their seats when they hear it.

Heat representatives say “Pepas” isn’t intended to be a victory song but to get fans excited when the team is doing well in the fourth quarter.

“We want our fans to get engaged and be loud to create a home court advantage in a crucial moment. Heat Nation is our sixth man, and ‘Pepas’ helps reinforce that.”

Even the players, who tend to have other things on their minds in the fourth quarter, noticed how fans responded to the song. Earlier this season, Bam Adebayo name-checked the song in a post-game interview (although he thought it was called “Papayas”).

In Spanish, “pepas” means “pills,” as in “Pepa and water for the hangover/everyone on pills at the club,” as the lyrics say in English. Before you clutch your pearls, remember this is Miami, not Indianapolis: We are famous for bad behavior, not virtue. After all, a local porn site famous for filming sex scenes in vans once put in a $10 million bid for naming rights to the arena. (The delicate NBA front office, it must be noted, doesn’t always applaud our irreverence — it has already fined the Heat in these playoffs for an “obscene” gesture from Jimmy Butler.)

So yes, the song is about continuing to party on the daily (“raise your hands and bottles/we always have the movie in play/today we’re going to party until it’s daytime”). But the song has other lyrics that hit home for a Heat fan base used to being scolded in the national media for a variety of alleged offenses. These sins include but are not limited to arriving late to games (chastisers have never faced down Miami weekday traffic); being bandwagon hoppers (isn’t everyone?); and seducing LeBron James away from Cleveland just to win championships (like the Knicks wouldn’t have if they could).

“I don’t care what people say about me,” Farruko sings. “Live your life that I live mine. It’s only one life, enjoy the moment.”

Everybody is enjoying the “Pepas” moment, including the Miami Heat’s relentlessly clever social media team; player Victor Oladipo, who was rehabbing an injury earlier this season but came off the bench to rev up the crowd when the song came on; and Heat broadcaster John Crotty, who was spotted Tuesday night waving a towel to the beat. Even the Florida Panthers got in on the act, playing “Pepas” during its first round playoff series with the Washington Capitols (they won the series, too).

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra confessed to the media he was a little slow to pick up on what was going on.

“It took me five games in the regular season, when our players were getting all hyped up in the huddle, looking around, [I’m thinking] ‘Hey, focus,’ ” he said after a recent game. “And then everybody told me to get my head out of the sand.”

Some minor Twitter controversy erupted when “Pepas” played with four minutes left at Tuesday’s first Eastern Conference Finals game against the Boston Celtics, before the game’s outcome was truly decided. Was it played too early? When asked, player Tyler Herro agreed that it might have been. Bolder fans proclaimed the game well in hand, despite the existence of the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum.

But “Pepas” must be played. After all, you’re unlikely to hear it live in its entirety: singer Farruko has found religion and is now refusing to sing the lines about partying and drugs, according to Billboard Magazine.

All Heat fans can do is enjoy the moment.

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