Why Music Is Universal

Recently I’ve started listening to kpop, and for my new friends this is strange and somewhat laughable, but for my friends who have known me longer it’s nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve been listening to music in other languages since I discovered German and Russian music in middle school (Tokio Hotel and t.A.T.u. to be specific), and that expanded into listening to quite a few foreign artists.

Today and back then, the majority of the music I listen to is in English, but there’s always been outliers: my first musical love was Selena. I loved the soft ballads and the quick Latin beats of the faster songs, and I didn’t care if she was singing in English or Spanish. You see, music doesn’t need to be in your language for you to love it. Sure, it’s nice to know the lyrics, but if you need to there are always translations available. In fact, so much of the world has their airwaves flooded with American and British music, yet for them it’s just normal, regardless of the fact that they don’t understand a lot of it (at least not without effort). So why do we act like it’s weird for someone who speaks English to listen to music in other languages?

My all-time favourite artist is post-rock indie Icelandic band Sigur Ros, because they know what I mean when I say that music is a feeling, and that the language is just an afterthought. For the members of Sigur Ros, the voice is just another instrument; the lead singer, Jonsi, sings most of their songs in no language at all. Yes, a fair few are in Icelandic, but over half of their discography is sung in what Jonsi calls “hopelandic” – nonsensical syllables sung to the mood of the music. It doesn’t make sense to anyone, so it can make sense to everyone.

When I listen to a Sigur Ros song, I’m not worried about the lyrics. Their songs (and incredibly well-done music videos) tell me a story through dramatic beats and chord progressions. I wouldn’t understand it better in English. If anything, having lyrics would only distract me from the true beauty of the music.

So to every “isn’t it weird listening to music you can’t understand?”: no, no it really isn’t. Limiting yourself to one music market is robbing yourself of so many other sounds and experiences. That’s like saying you should only pick one genre to listen to for your whole life. I mean, I love hip hop, but I still need my indie rock, pop, soul, and (very) occasional country music. And I like to see what those sound like in other countries, with other cultural norms and yes, other languages.

Have you ever listened to a Disney song in another language? My favourite is “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the Lion King. It sounds SO PRETTY in Russian. And Swedish. And probably every language ’cause it’s a beautiful song. My point is: it shouldn’t really matter what language you’re listening to music in, music is an experience, so enjoy it, whatever it is. If I want to listen to bad (relatively) pop music, I don’t care if it’s in English or Korean, I’m going to enjoy it all the same.



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