Music is an important piece of almost every culture. As with many forms of art, you can see the connections between and mixtures of cultures in music. It’s a great place to start to explore the culture and get a sense of what you might hear abroad. As you prepare to go abroad listening to music in other languages is a great way to practice your second language skills.
In this list, we’ve compiled popular songs in a variety of languages to give you a sense of the rhythm, colloquialisms, and culture of the countries you’ve always dreamed of visiting!
BTS is a seven-member South Korean boy band that have been described as the “biggest and most successful name in K-pop in the world.” “DNA” is a heartfelt love-song written in Japanese that describes how a relationship was meant to be.
Though it’s been around since 2013, this pop gem from Belgian sensation Stromae is still hugely popular and finally getting well-deserved attention outside Europe. The song is inspired by Stromae’s experience of losing his father during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
This nuevo flamenco singer takes traditional influences and gives them a modern, R&B flavor. The lyrics of this track are poetic and ambiguous, evoking feelings we can all identify with at one point or another. “MALAMENTE” just won the Latin Grammy for Best Alternative Song.
In this 1983 anti-war protest song, Nena and the listener buy 99 balloons and let them go in a moment of childlike innocence. The balloons are identified as unidentified objects and are perceived as a nuclear attack, sending both “sides” into mass hysteria: “Ninety-nine red balloons, Floating in the summer sky/ Panic bells, it’s red alert/There’s something here from somewhere else/ The war machine springs to life.”
Caetano Veloso, recognized as one of the most influential figures in contemporary Brazilian music, is a Brazilian composer, singer, guitarist, writer, and political activist. The song title means “Little Lion,” which Veloso describes as an ode to “a beautiful young man whose sign was Leo:”
Nyashinski, one of the most influential rappers in Kenya, released “Malaika” in 2017, a tender departure from his previous work.
A true techno classic, this song by Dj Lhasa (Maurizio Braccagni), was created in 2003 and is a great song for those interested in learning Italian. The simplicity and passion of the lyrics make for a truly catching and enduring song.
Angèle, one of 2018’s biggest breakout acts in French and Belgian pop, topped the Belgian singles charts with her French single “Tout Oblier,” which translates to “Forget everything.” She explores the attainability of happiness by simply forgetting the pains suffered in our past.
Carsick Cars are a Chinese indie rock trio who play a huge role in the Beijing underground music scene. In March 2010, 2011, and 2012, they even performed at the world-renowned music festival SXSW in Austin, Texas. Mo Gu, which means Mushrooms, is a fast-paced and energetic song about a man going up to a mountain to gather brightly colored mushrooms.
Sigur Ros are an Icelandic avant-rock band known for their ethereal and experimental sound. While many of their songs feature lyrics in their made-up language of Hopelandic or “Vonlenska,” “Staralfur,” is written in Icelandic and translates to “Staring Elf.”
Music provides insight into a country because art is so often a direct representation of a culture or community. While you’re practicing your language skills through these songs, check out our Study Abroad programs!