You no longer have to sing in English to have a hit

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

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?

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