Almost without fail, the songs that make up international pop music are all in English. What happens if your first language isn’t English? What if you live in France or Indonesia or Turkey or Spain? Do you still listen to pop music in English?
This playlist seeks to reveal to English-speakers what they might be missing out on. Below is a compilation of great pop music in other languages that vary from Korean to Spanish to Hebrew. Check them out and see if you can appreciate pop music without knowing what the words mean!
French: Envole-moi (Fly Me Away) – M. Pokora and Tal
This song was part of an album called Génération Goldman where young French artists covered songs by Jean-Jacques Goldman. This cover brings a contemporary punch to the song while also maintaining the very rhythmic quality of the French language. This is a pop stomper for the ages.
Spanish: Afinidad (Affinity) – Axel
Axel is a huge pop star in Argentina for his pop style that blends the best of adult contemporary and Top 40. This song is a perfect example of that. Every part of this song is full of hooks that will stay in your head for weeks. The arrangement of the song is bouncy, light, and fun, while also including those quick strings that are reminiscent of “Call Me Maybe”. You don’t need to speak Spanish to know that this is a really great pop song.
German: Atemlos durch die Nacht (Breathless Through the Night) – Helene Fischer
Helene Fischer is a big German-language pop star, and as such has fans all around central Europe in countries like Poland, Austria, and her native Germany where German is spoken pretty commonly. It is a little bit surprising for a language as clunky and guttural as Germany to work this well with very rhythmic dance pop. Fischer has also released music in English, but this song is better than any of those songs. Though it is a bit limiting for her career’s international expansion, sometimes singers are just better at singing in their own language than they are at singing in English.
Hebrew: Malkat HaShoshanim (Queen of the Roses) – Eden Ben Zaken
X Factor runner-up Eden Ben Zaken’s second single was one of the Songs of the Summer in Israel, with its old-fashioned accordion intro morphing into a more contemporary Middle Eastern dance jam. Her debut album, also called Malkat HaShoshanim, comes out on Tuesday, and the single is still going strong.
Arabic: Ah Wa Noss (Yes and a Half) – Nancy Ajram
Nancy Ajram is a huge star in the Arab world with songs like this one. She is a contemporary 21st century pop singer and dresses in contemporary fashion as well, which sometimes causes issues with more traditional Arab leaders. Her breathy delivery as well as the song’s urgent strings give it a traditional Middle Eastern flair while also sounding contemporary against other pop songs.
Swedish: Hej (Hello) by Timotejj
Sweden is a pop music powerhouse, but rarely does it ever capitalize on its rich musical culture when making pop music. Girl group Timotejj has made a career on their ethnopop sound, singing in Swedish and inspired by traditional Swedish music with a modern flair. This song has all of the characteristics of Sweden’s best pop music, but the language and instrumentation give it a more traditionally Swedish flair.
Italian: L’amore si muove (Love Moves) by Il Volo
This operatic pop trio has made fans all over the world with its “popera” sound. Their powerful voices are in full force on this Italian-language powerhouse, letting us imagine what classical Italian repertoire might sound like if it were written in modern times. This is the kind of song you and your grandma can agree is a good one.
Korean: Love Me Right by Exo
K-Pop is an unstoppable trend in the United States, with Exo’s album Exodus selling 6,000 copies. It was the largest sales week for a Korean pop artist in the United States in history. Thought having bits and pieces of English in there certainly helps, it is the flashy, contemporary sound and the Korean cultural influences that endear it to American listeners.
Serbian: Molitva (Prayer) – Marija Serifovic – I limited myself to one Eurovision song and I picked this one because it really hits the point that this playlist is trying to make. You can listen to the English or Russian or Finnish versions of this song and you can look up the translation of the lyrics, but you do not really have to in order to understand the song. Serifovic sings with such passion and feeling that you can feel her emotional power without understanding a word she is singing. This is the power of music. Music is a language all its own and can transcend all spoken-language barriers. It is one of the things I love most about music and it is why I continue to listen to music in other languages even though I do not understand a word of the lyrics.