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The Beauty of Listening to Music in a Foreign Language

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

On Aug. 21, 2020, K-Pop phenomenon BTS released  “Dynamite,” which was their first single recorded entirely in English. Within the span of 24 hours, the song’s music video gained 100 million views, making “Dynamite” set the record for the most-viewed YouTube video within 24 hours. The all-English song achieved 7,778,950 Spotify streams within one day, surpassing Taylor Swift’s record of 7.742 million streams with her hit “Cardigan,” making BTS hold the title for the biggest Spotify debut of 2020. Finally, BTS officially claimed the title of the longest-charting Korean artist after “Dynamite” spent a total of 32 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. These are quite huge feats for the group, especially considering that pretty much all of their previous music was mainly recorded in their native language: Korean. 

Since the lyrics of “Dynamite” were written in a language that many people across the globe understood, it became a viral hit that would be played on radio stations, covered by countless other artists and influencers on various platforms, and used as background music for social media content, such as TikTok. 

Despite the immense success that “Dynamite” has garnered, there has always been the question of whether singing in a language different from your native tongue deters you from staying authentic. 

Back in 2017, in an interview on the radio program “On Air with Ryan Seacrest,” the group was asked by a fan of theirs if they would ever decide to produce an album entirely in English. Rapper and leader Kim Namjoon then responded that they plan to release “songs with English verses, but we’ll see.”

The release of “Dynamite” has probably turned heads in accordance with that statement. BTS has continued to produce music both in English and Korean, and their success has been growing ever since. 

Despite some of the controversy that BTS met with their first English single, this continues to stand as a potent example of how people from all over the world can still be united by the power of music. 

Yet the beauty doesn’t end there. There is another side of music that I feel like many other listeners do not appreciate enough, and that is foreign language. While many of us may be accustomed to listening to music written in English because we understand it, it can be quite uncommon for people to listen to music in a language they are not familiar with. 

Of course, I totally understand the challenge that comes with this. First, if you listen to foreign language music, you probably don’t know what the song is talking about. Second, it will be much more difficult to sing along with the song. 

However, the truth is that as countries such as the U.S. encounter more globalization, it is more often than not that music in languages other than English will become more common. 

The first time I listened to foreign language music was when my sister played Pentatonix and Lindsey Stirling’s cover of “Papaoutai” by Stromae on our living room TV. Even though the song was completely in French, I was astonished by the ability of the acapella group — none of which are fluent in French — to sing in the song’s native language. As someone who had previously only listened to music sung in all English, this was a very eye-opening experience for me. 

Since then, I have continued to enjoy listening to music from all over the world. I may not understand their lyrics word for word, but they never fail to entrance me into wanting to learn more about their respective cultures and possibly visit their home countries. 

If you have never tried listening to foreign language music, or if you are skeptical about it, I suggest you give it a try. The experience can be different for each and every one of us, but it never hurts to be more open-minded to the global diversity of music. 

After all, music is one way the world can discover more unity. You may never know; small steps like listening to foreign language music may help open doors to stop racial discrimination and invite world peace. 

Lastly, just because a song is recorded in a foreign language doesn’t mean it sounds bad. You may not be familiar with the language of the lyrics, but sometimes the melody, vocal techniques, or instruments used may catch your attention. 

Circling back to the “Dynamite” discussion, one doesn’t need to be quick to judge when a foreign artist decides to record their song completely in English. The intentions behind that may vary, but there is one thing we can guarantee: the whole world is still here to listen. No matter what language music is in, global society is here to take it all in, share it with others, and inspire many to do the same. Especially in today’s Internet age, we can never go wrong with music being easily shared and accessed within milliseconds. With that being said, I encourage you to listen to music in a foreign language when you get the chance. Or if you have done it before, you can try jamming to some more new languages. You’ll never know who will be the next featured artist on your daily playlist.

Gennah Penalosa is currently the social media director for Her Campus CU Boulder. She is a senior studying finance at the Leeds School of Business. When she is not doing homework, you can find her listening to music or drawing the face of a random celebrity.