By Mitch Rice
Unless you’re an expat or live in a border city, you’ve probably grown up listening to music in your native language. In fact, it’s quite rare for a foreign language song to top the charts in the United States. Still, it’s not entirely unheard of. Every once in a while, a song is so compelling that it surpasses the language barrier. Here are seven of the most memorable.
● “Life Goes On” BTS 2020
It is clear that K-Pop has moved from niche to the mainstream. That’s evidenced by the international supergroup BTS. They are easily the most well-known K-Pop group in the USA and have had five number one hits. However, “Life Goes On” really does stand out. It is sung almost entirely in Korean. Even more surprising, the band managed to make this song a hit while receiving very little attention or airplay from radio stations. This is just more proof that streaming services can be just as effective at launching famous acts as major labels and radio station program directors.
● “Despacito” Luis Fonsi Daddy Yankee Justin Bieber 2017
“That’s so said. Alexa, play Despacito” was one of the most popular memes of 2017. That’s just one of the ways the song “Despacito” was memorialized. It was also the number one song for almost 4 months. It’s one of the most popular Latin songs in chart history. However, the version that hit in America does feature Justin Bieber, as well as some English lyrics.
● “Rock Me Amadeus” Falco 1986
Falco was a classically trained, Austrian musician who ditched his classical training to record pop music. He hit it big on the US charts in 1986 with his song, “Rock Me Amadeus”. The entire piece is sung in German except for the title line. It was his only real American hit. However, he did write the song “Der Kommissar” which was also largely in German. However, it only became a hit when another band added more English lyrics to it.
● “Sukiyaki” Kyu Sakamoto 1963
“Sukiyaki” isn’t just a foreign language song. It is one of very few hits that was not recorded in a language-based in Europe. The song started as an exceptionally popular hit in Japan. There it was called “Ue o Muite Arukou” which means “I Look up as I Walk” according to most online translator services. However, the name Sukiyaki (a Japanese hot pot dish) was used as the title when the song was released in the United States. Today, that’s seen as controversial and more than a little offensive, as the song actually addressed the Japanese protests against American occupation.
● “Dominique” The Singing Nun 1963
Jeanine Deckers was a nun from Belgium who spoke French. She recorded the song “Dominique” as a tribute to St. Dominic. It was an unexpected hit because it largely contrasted with the music that was popular at the time. Perhaps people were looking for something upbeat and happy. It is said that Jeanine Deckers was largely oblivious to her fame as she was living in a convent when the song hit. She also made almost no money from the song, because she donated it to her order. Sadly, Deckers struggled with depression and financial troubles. She and her partner committed suicide together in 1985.
● “La Bamba” Los Lobos 1987
“La Bamba” is a song recorded in Spanish that hit the charts twice. What many do not know is that the song is even older than that. It was a Mexican folk song that was first recorded in 1938. In 1958 Ritchie Valens recorded the song and charted at number 22. Sadly, he died in a plane crash shortly after. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded the song again for the soundtrack of the Ritchie Valens biopic “La Bamba”. This is when it became a number one hit. Perhaps the song was more popular because movie producers and the record labels involved translated logos and otherwise made the song more mainstream for American Audiences.
● “Macarena” Los Del Rio/Bayside Boys 1996
This song didn’t just hit the top of the charts, it sparked a huge dance craze. In fact, many people still know how to do the Macarena today. There were two versions of this song. The first was the all-Spanish recording by Los Del Rio. The second was the Bayside Boys remix. This version contained many English language verses. This is the one that really hit.
How to Learn Foreign Language Songs
These songs are best enjoyed when you understand them. A translations guide can be a great help if you want to learn the lyrics you are hearing and understand what they mean. Who knows, that upbeat song may actually be quite sad.
Many people assume that language is a barrier to a song’s popularity. That isn’t always true. A great song, touching lyrics, or catchy beat will always attract the attention of music fans.
Author Bio: Merissa Moore is a professional writer and blogger with years of experience. She enjoys working on culture and education content in particular. Merissa likes spending free time with her friends at the beach and dabbling in guitar.