Bilingual Bops, Trilingual Tunes, Multilingual Music

In the words of my favorite guilty pleasure movie, Talledega Nights, “I don’t even know what [it] means but I love it!” Well, that’s not entirely true. I know what the title means, but that’s beside the point. “Artificial Love” is by K-pop boy band EXO. K-pop itself is a genre based on American boy band ideals mixed with intense audiovisual elements. Although the music itself throws in some random English words here and there, most of the lyrics are sung in Korean, which makes it interesting that my friends have found themselves listening to this genre.

In fact, none of my friends that listen to K-pop speak a lick of Korean, yet there they are lip-syncing along to the words like they know what they’re saying. It’s all very catchy I understand, but is that the only thing about K-pop that appeals to my friends? Well, maybe it’s that and the cute boys. I mean—it is, after all, a boy band, which then led me to think: what about American music is appealing to audiences outside of the English speaking dominion?

The United States has done an excellent job of inserting itself where it doesn’t belong, bringing along with it U.S. American pop culture. American films, music, and pop culture icons dominate seemingly everywhere. Let’s take a closer look at the queen and actual goddess, Beyoncé. Beyoncé is the American EXO. She writes catchy tunes, she’s probably the most beautiful human to grace the face of the planet, and she can put on an audiovisual show like no other. Unlike EXO though, she sings strictly in English with no smattering of random words in another language. But is that the only thing that attracts international audiences? Is that all we look for in a pop star no matter the country? Is all we want a beautiful human, or set of humans, to sing ear worms and dance intricate routines?

Maybe not. There are a few artists that have been able to make their way across language barriers because they have the tools to do so, i.e. they are multilingual. There are stars such as Shakira, who sings in English, Spanish, and Arabic; Regina Spektor, who sings in Russian and English; Laura Pausini, who sings in Spanish, Italian, and English; and M.I.A. who sings in English and Tamil. However, these stars tend to stick to one language per track as well as one language throughout their albums. Shakira is great, but she tends to stick with English when she’s in the U.S. and to Spanish when she’s in Latin American countries. Also, she definitely falls into the category of beautiful humans singing ear worms with intricate dance routines. So, does language actually even matter in music?

The truth is, I really don’t know. I’ve taken several courses on music during my time here at DePaul and none of them seem to answer why we listen to what we do—other than because you like it. Music industries have taught me that we like what we like to listen to because marketing has taught us to. If that were the case, how did “Artificial Love” fall in my lap? It wasn’t intended to be marketed toward someone like me. Rhetoric of popular music has then taught me that we like what we like because through music we can find ourselves identifying with artists based on the messages in their music. But if that were the case, how are people in non-English speakers in Japan just as obsessed with Beyoncé? Are these connections beyond language?

Maybe we really just do like what we like because it’s fun and catchy, at least in terms of listening to multilingual music. I’m sorry if you were reading this looking for a definitive answer or a straight forward post. Maybe now you can help with my musings about music and you can take that to the bank.