You no longer have to sing in English to have a hit
The audience looks bewildered. We’re at the Banter Salon in a thatched cottage in Derry and the Financial Times’s pop critic, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, is playing a snatch of a song. The voices, the music and the melody are familiar, but what on earth are those words?
Those words are German and it’s The Beatles singing I Want To Hold Your Hand. That was one of Hunter-Tilney’s examples of how pop in the old days was far more international in scope than it is now. Back then, acts such as The Beatles and David Bowie went after foreign markets by wooing them in their native tongues. Those days are gone and, with a few exceptions, pop now largely employs English as its main lingua franca. European acts may have German or Spanish or Italian as their mother tongues, but they sing in English.
If you want a big hit, it seems you must sing in English.
At least you had to until last year when a man called Psy came along with a song called Gangnam Style and rode a Korean horse and cart through that particular rule of thumb. The track was a monster hit and it suddenly alerted the Anglo-American pop hierarchy to the fact that there were millions of people out there who were more than ready for pop in something other than the English language.
While many might regard Gangnam Style as last year’s big novelty record, HunterTilney points to the fact that Psy is just one of many K-Pop and Asian acts already accumulating huge fan bases and getting ready to cross over.
Astute cultural observers will not be surprised by this: the late Malcom McLaren predicted as much in interviews during his lifetime, for instance.
Perhaps it’s time for our pop acts to reciprocate: how about One Direction doing What Makes You Beautiful in Japanese?