I’m still thinking about how the Grammys didn’t completely suck this year. We got incredible performances by artists of genres across the board, and surprisingly, the Grammys featured artists who didn’t speak English as their first language. Rosalia performed her hit songs “Juro Que” and “Malamente,” and BTS was featured in Lil Nas X’s medley performance of “Old Town Road.”
I have nothing but hope for the future of the music industry when I see artists performing and speaking in different languages. The world music market has too many talented, more-than-deserving artists who should have the platform and world stage that is the western music market. Sadly, foreign songs and artists making it to the top of the American music charts is a phenomenon that has happened only in the last few decades. America saw one of the original trailblazers for foreign language artists, Shakira, perform alongside Jennifer Lopez during the Super Bowl halftime show earlier this month. Shakira used her attitude, dancing, and Spanish lyrics to create something truly sensational, earning her multiple worldwide hits and a song dedicated to promotion for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Fast-forward to today, new artists are beginning to infiltrate the almost exclusively English music industry of America. For a country that prides itself on the melting pot philosophy of its population makeup, the U.S. doesn’t do much within the pop genre to tap into diverse cultures and languages. It took bands like BTS almost three whole years to be taken even a little bit seriously by American interviewers and radio DJs, and even still their insanely popular albums are discredited. Rosalia, someone who has a wide fanbase across Spain and the U.S., doesn’t receive the recognition her album sales show she deserves.
I want to make the case for music in other languages to those who only listen to music in English. The argument I hear the most is: “I don’t want to listen to music I can’t understand.” And that’s completely expected; a large part of listening to music is the lyrics. I do know, however, that most people aren’t listening to their favorite party song or the latest hit by Dababy for the lyrical content, and those who liked “Despacito” when it was popular weren’t too concerned with what Luis Fonsi was saying. If someone does really rely on the lyrics for choosing whether or not they like the song, just look up the lyrics. Like, for example, when I listened to a particularly emotional song from BTS, I was curious about the message. So, I looked up the lyrics and was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the metaphors and imagery used. It made me appreciate the song, and now I can listen to it knowing what the band is trying to say, even though I don’t speak much Korean.
I urge you to give foreign music a shot. There’s a rapper named Snow Tha Product who switches from English to Spanish in her songs. Her stuff is similar to what’s topping the charts, and you can understand the message of her music without searching the lyrics. Do you remember “Papaoutai,” the French song that went viral back in the mid-2010s? The artist who sings it, Stromae, has so much more than just one track. Even if you’re listening to “Mi Gente” or “Taki Taki,” you’re inviting foreign artists, and therefore a more worldwide influence on music, into American airwaves.
So please listen to music in different languages; doing so can and will broaden your worldview and help you appreciate art from so many other cultures. And maybe we can break America out of its western-centric ideals of what good music can be. We appreciate paintings, classical music, and sculptures from other parts of the world, so why not modern music, too?