Music has no geographical boundaries, nor does it have a given tongue (aside perhaps from The Rolling Stones' logo). Some of the world’s most popular songs are not English.
So, is a song’s popularity in its words? Or is it in the power of its melody? Perhaps, it is the foreign touch that gives it instant irresistibility? How else can the cult following of French artist Serge Gainsbourg by the Brits or the success of German group Rammstein in the U.S. be explained?
Let’s take a little trip around the world and a crash course in languages with these seven global hits.
as made famous by Domenico Modungo and Dean Martin
In 1958 Volare was a classic Italian song, originally titled Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (In the blue that is panted blue). It gained popularity at the Sanremo Music Festival before representing Italy in Eurovision. Domenico finished only third of ten but the public was still smitten. The song went on to top charts in the US and became an instant top seller.
as made famous by Miriam Makeba
Exiled for thirty years for her opposition to apartheid in her home of South Africa, Miriam Makeba traveled around the world with a message of unity. The former car washer, referred to as "Mama Afrika," became a worldwide star, notably thanks to the song Pata Pata sung in her maternal language of Xhosa.
as made famous by Nena
Climbing all the way to number two on Billboard’s Hot 100, 99 Luftballons, whose anti-war sentiment may not immediately be understood, became so popular that it was re-recorded by Nena in English, ironically without obtaining the same success.
as made famous by Ritchie Valens
Originally a Mexican folk song, La Bamba is a rock'n'roll version by the American Ritchie Valens', who kept the songs Spanish origins. It quickly became a major success, peaked at 22nd in the USA and is recognized as a rock standard.
as made famous by Soeur Sourire
This is probably the most unlikely success: a Belgian nun, Jeanne Deckers, known as Sister Luc-Gabriel, alias "the Singing Nun," became number one in the United States with a peppy ritornello in French ...topping Elvis Presley and The Beatles on the charts!
as made famous by Kyu Sakamoto
It is the first and only title in Japanese to impose itself on its American neighbors. And success came for it, simply by changing the title. Originally Ue o Aruko Muite ( I Look Up As I Walk), its new name, Sukiyaki, the name of a Japanese dish and with no relation of any kind to the text, made it possible to conceal the true meaning behind the lyrics that criticized American presence in the country. A total of 13 million copies have been sold throughout the world.
as made famous by PSY
Who could have ever imagined that the first video to reach stratospheric proportions on YouTube, with over two billion views, would be an unknown Korean singer, singing in his native tongue about a neighborhood of Seoul? The songs success is likely due, in part, to its catchy danceable and very funny music video.
as made famous by O-Zone and Haiducii
The Moldavian group O-Zone, part of the last wave of boys-band, invaded in 2004 with Dragostea Din Tei, a Eurodance hit sung in Romanian. The language barrier disappears thanks to the efficacy of the addictive refrain. It seemed as if all of Europe started singing in Romanian as the song became number one in ten countries.
KaraFun is multilingual! Discover our catalog of different languages here. And if there is a particular destination and language that tempts you, discover our "Top of" playlists designated by country. Top US, Top France, Top Germany, Top Spain, Top Italia, Top Netherlands, and more!