Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The UK Isn't Completely Averse To Foreign Language Music (Though It Is A Bit)

You won't have noticed, but Sunday marked the end of an important era. After 28 consecutive weeks in which it racked up over a million sales to become the biggest-selling foreign language hit of all time in the UK, Psy's 'Gangnam Style' has left the Top 40.

As most people expected, that gangnamtuan (gargantuan) success has not ushered in a new era of K-Pop hits. During those 28 weeks there's been no sign of Big Bang, Girls' Generation, 2NE1 - NE1, in fact, not performing in the English language. Never mind the next Korean hit, the next big, fully non-Anglo one is still to come - it might even come from Psy himself when he releases his next single later this month; that's if anyone really cares about him any more.

Now obviously the British music industry's inclination towards splendid isolation is well established. Many factors have contributed towards a dearth of foreign language hits since the charts began. Accordingly, your 'Gangnam Style's and 'Dragostea Din Tei's are well remembered, even seen as more than a glut of foreignness in a monoglot market. But looking beyond those, the singles chart reveals itself to be more cosmopolitan than you might think. In fact, there's been what can only be described as a smattering of non-English hits in the past ten years or so alone. The UK music scene isn't as monolingual as it might seem - it's ever so slightly less so.

2002 Preeya Kalidas - 'Shakalaka Baby' Hindi! But Mainly English! (Chart Position: 38)
From AR Rahman's 'Bombay Dreams' musical. Hindi returned in 2009, again courtesy of Rahman; that's if you count the two words 'Jai Ho' as enough to qualify a song as being in a foreign language.

2003 Dare - 'Chihuahua' Spanish! (45)
DJ Bobo scraped into the Top 40 with the original, English recording of this, but Dare's is surely the definitive version. Chartwise, though, they tried to ape Las Ketchup and... Failed, basically.

2004 Nelly Furtado - 'Forca' Portuguese! A Bit! (40)
Whoa, Nelly went back to her roots for the bilingual Official Song™ of Euro 2004. There have been other Portuguese hits, including the also football-related 'Samba De Janeiro' and 'Mas Que Nada' (the latter in various iterations), Junior Jack's 'E Samba', and 'Ai Se Eu Te Pego', which only got to Number 66.

2005 Rammstein - 'Keine Lust' German! (35)
Rammstein have actually had a handful of chart entries. They are all quite loud. 2005 was a banner year for German Top 40 hits, in that there were two: this, and Schnappi's titular ode to a crocodile, 'Schnappi'.

2005 Sigur Rós - 'Hoppípolla' Icelandic! And 'Hopelandic'! (24)
A song most famous for the music rather than the words, but if you listen closely (well, if you can understand Icelandic), you might notice that part of those words are nonsense, written in The Rós's own language of Vonlenska, also known as Hopelandic. Not the only hit written in a made-up language though, for a year down the line...

2006 El Chombo - 'Chacarron' Imaginary! (20)
Released in an attempt for the Christmas Number One, a gibberish classic.

2007 Verka Seduchka - 'Dancing Lasha Tumbai' English! But Also Ukrainian, German And Russian! And Mongolian, Supposedly! (28)
From Eurovision. Partly in English; furthermore some people reckoned the title was meant to be an English double entendre for 'Russia Goodbye'. Verka claimed it was Mongolian for 'Whipped Cream', Mongolians begged to differ.

2008 Tigerstyle - 'Nachna Onda NeiPunjabi! (62)
A minor success after dance duo Signature performed to it on Britain's Got Talent. Not the only Punjabi hit since the turn of the millennium: there's 'Mundian To Bach Ke', Rishi Rich Project's 'Dance With You (Nachna Tere Naal)', Bhangra Knights' 'Husan' and probably some others, but you get the general idea.

2010 Stromae - 'Alors On Danse' French! (25)
Not as massive in the UK as elsewhere in Europe, because foreign.

2010 Die Antwoord - 'Enter The Ninja' Afrikaans! In Parts! (37)
This is like, the only predominantly English rap song with occasional lines in Afrikaans that's been in the chart you've ever heard in your whole life.

2011 Manran - 'Latha Math' Gaelic! (61)
Entered as the result of an organised attempt to get Gaelic into the Top 40. As you may observe, it failed. Back in 1995, however, Runrig succeeded by taking 'An Ubhal as Airde' all the way to Number 18, so there is that.

2011 Paul Mealor - 'Ubi Caritas Et Amor' Latin! (100)
A choral arrangement in Latin! Entering at 100 off the back of some famous people's wedding - a hit in some people's books, if not the one with "Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles & Albums" on the front. (If you were to extend your definition of 'hit' to Top 200 then you'd also have Monkey's Mandarin 'Heavenly Peach Banquet' and God knows what else, but you really don't want to do that.)

2011 Hayley Westenra - 'World In Union' Maori! With Bonus English! (70)
This is debatable. Westenra recorded 'World In Union' in various languages including English and Maori for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Whether people bought the Maori version, or even the half-Maori one used by ITV in their coverage, is uncertain (they probably didn't), but the straws are there to be clutched at. Bryn Terfel and Shirley Bassey did chart with a part-Welsh version in '99 though, that's for sure.

2012 The Gypsy Queens - 'L'Americano' feat The Boys Of Made In Chelsea Italian! (53)
It really is a sorry state of affairs isn't it.