Make your own kind of music: foreign language edition

Hey—it’s a weekend! I say that calls for music. Here’s a song I like that I’ve been listening to this week:


Things I like about this song:

1) Chvrches: I love the spelling. We should really bring the “v” version of  “u” back. Everything wovld look like it was chiseled into a Roman colvmn and mvst be taken seriovsly. (It would also drive your spell checker nuts.)

2) Lighthearted sounding synth pop with dark lyrics. What is it about this juxtaposition that is so appealing?

It’s probably related to the reason English speakers like singing and dancing along to songs where we don’t know the meaning of the words. Which brings me to these guy, the vlogbrothers:


I haven’t watched many of their videos but this one struck a chord with me. (Pun not intended! But I’ll keep it.) I can’t speak to the accuracy of the translations—which I know some have already disputed—given that idiomatic expressions were always the bane of my foreign language experiences. But I think the analysis is spot on. I remember being impressed when Gangnam style, a song containing less than half a dozen English words total, jumped up to near the top of the charts last summer. But after this video I can see it as part of a larger pattern.

(image credit:

The idea that the meaning of a song is whatever you want it to be is only a half truth. Sure, the melody and the intonations of the singer may have an emotional resonance that transcends language barriers. But emptying foreign lyrics of their meaning and substituting our own emotional response? Without thinking about why we are so comfortable doing that? Well, at best it’s an unexamined and simplistic way to enjoy music that isn’t in English. At worst, it means we unconsciously assume that non-English songs are never something to be taken as seriously as songs in English —they’re always, at some, level a parody of themselves,  their language, their country or their culture. And that’s a pretty insincere way to appreciate music if you ask me.

Is there an antidote to this, besides the excellent vlogbrothers translation/commentary? I  think that for a star, we can listen to songs in “fake” or gibberish English written from a non-English speaking perspective! This is one of my favorites:

It might just be me, but  listening to nonsense English-y words makes me hear my native tongue with a totally different ear.


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