Ah… English, such a direct language. I often have discussions with people about the nuances of the different languages. Friends tell me that French and Italian are great for flirting, and my mom keeps telling me that different dialects in Chinese have so many words to describe food flavors, impossible to describe in Spanish or English.
However, what about songs?
My favorite songs, my favorite artists in English — 99% of the time, I try not to find the lyrics any longer. Whenever I have enjoyed the songs, looked for the lyrics, 90% of the time I’ve ended up disappointed.
My first language is Spanish, however, I often find myself thinking in English – so, whenever I listen to music in Spanish, my brain begins translating lyrics into English. The repertoire of songs that I actually like in Spanish tend to be songs that are hard to translate literally into English.
Take Peruvian songwriter Gianmarco as an example. Despite what some people may think of him, he’s actually a pretty good composer and lyricist. His song Sortearme en tu Suerte doesn’t have a literal translation in English – Sortear is not used with the suffix -me as a referrer of the first person. Sortear means to raffle, to leave it up to fate. So the actual translation would be “I want to leave myself up to your luck” or considering the sassiness of the lyrics, it could be translated to “I want to toss myself in your luck”.
Son las ganas que me llaman por la noche
Son las penas que me olvido si me miras
Es mi instinto el que me apuesta a que te busque
Es mi almohada la que duerme y que no olvida
/It’s the wanting that calls for me at night
It’s the pain I forget when you look at me
It’s my instinct that pushes me to look for you
It’s my pillow the one sleeping and not forgetting
With a chorus that says:
Quiero sortearme en tu suerte y verte en misa el domingo
Quiero ver que cara ponen el cura y el monaguillo
Quiero sortearme en tu suerte y respirarme tu karma
Quiero tener simplemente un sitio dentro de tu alma
/I want to shuffle myself in your luck and see you at mass on Sundays
I want to see the face made by the priest and the altar boy
I want to shuffle myself in your luck and breathe in your karma
I simply want a place inside your soul.
Spanish song lyrics tend to be overly-dramatic and passionate, a reflection of the culture — a reason why they have different words to refer to girlfriends and boyfriends, and the many words to say I love you, I like you, I want you. Even simple songs in Spanish like Shakira’s Tu (You) sound different in an English translation.
Te regalo mi cintura
Y mis labios para cuando quieras besar
Te regalo mi locura
Y las pocas neuronas que quedan ya
/I give you my waist
And my lips for whenever you want to kiss
I give you my insanity
And the few neurons that are left still
Mis zapatos desteñidos
El diario en el que escribo
Te doy hasta mis suspiros
Pero no te vayas mas
/My faded-colored shoes
The diary in which I write
I’d give you even my sighs
But don’t leave no more
Porque eres tu mi sol
La fe con que vivo
La potencia de mi voz
Los pies con que camino
Eres tu amor
Mis ganas de reir
El adios que no sabre decir
Porque nunca podre vivir sin ti
/Because you’re my sun
The faith which I live with
The strength of my voice
The feet which I walk with
It’s you, love
My wanting for laugh
The goodbye I’ll never know how to say
Because I won’t be able to leave without you
Si algun dia decidieras
Alejarte nuevamente de aqui
Cerraria cada puerta
Para que nunca pudieras salir
/If some day you’d decide
Go away once again from here
I’d lock each door
So you could never go out
Te regalo mis silencios
Te regalo mi nariz
Yo te doy hasta mis huesos
Pero quedate aqui
/I give you my silences
I give you my nose
I’d give you even my bones
But stay here
Comparing those songs with newer or more popular songs, you certainly feel the influence that English lyrics have here with groups singing about love and wanting. Similar things happening to songs in languages like Korean, Japanese and Chinese – Korean being the most influenced by music English in terms of themes of loving and wanting someone.
Japanese music have a certain quality of talking about the seasons and the old times with an old lover, about wanting to meet with someone under the sakura tree. It’s common to listen to Enka songs talking about old letters sent to parents, or the time you spend with your lover watching the summer fireworks. Japanese pop is making a shift towards more commercial pop about wanting and loving someone or even senseless themes.
Super mega boy band Arashi with single Monster is most likely singing about urges…
(Just one) Your hands, (two) the hands of love.
(Three, four & five) I want to hold it while I sleep.
I was born because of you, stay close to me until dawn breaks.
Even if all my memories would be erased, I will look for you again once I’m reborn.
The physical appearance doesn’t matter, hold my heart.
In a full moon night, you have found a monster.
Or the sweet-nearly-gag-inducing My Girl
I want to kindly say thank you wherever you are.
Even if we are far apart, the future will be full of memories.
When I close my eyes, I remember the time I spent with you.
We continue to share the same memories that gently giving us some warmth.
Sure, how can I forget boy band NEWS and their song about blood types, Koi no ABO? Playing with the Japanese cultural reference that you can tell what people are like as couple matches in regards of their blood type.
Believer of formalities
A ‘my pace’ leader
You’ll think that fortunes that tell your affinity are wrong
You’ll just take it as it is, won’t you?
Everyone have things that they’re good at
and things that they’re bad at, right?
Pop your hip and just dance
If there’s a hit song,
Get high with it
Such a cute smile,
Go up to the stage
And how about the Chinese music scene?
Do pop acts pushed by production companies to be the embodiment of sexy and cool, package over talent mean China’s music machine that thrived in talent and variety will begin deteriorating like other music scenes around the world? Will variety soon be extinct as only one genre becomes popular solely based on image and that famous “it” factor? As the Cpop scene begins churning pop acts that begin singing modern songs, which Han Hong calls “vulgar.”
Will poetic songs about one’s city, or one’s memories of a season be chucked out in favor of songs about feeling funny inside when seeing the person you like, humping someone, kissing a girl and liking it just for the fun of seeing a guy making funny eyes?
There’s a brand new batch of Chinese pop idols much more influenced by American musicians, and even with experience in the Korean music scene. Will they be able to infuse their music with the good aspect of each industry, and avoid the superficiality of each?