Artists who insist on singing their songs in the wrong language

Last night, I was enjoying a recording of a concert by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Gal Costa, two famous Brazilian artists who I enjoy greatly.

I was listening to a beautiful song, “Dindi”, sung by the soothing angelic voice of Gal Costa.

Ahh… Bliss

“Ah! Dindi Se soubesses do bem que eu te quero
O mundo seria, Dindi
Tudo, Dindi,
Lindo Dindi”

I was almost completely lost in my rapture when suddenly I heard the following unpleasant words escape from her lips:

“Oh Dindi . . .
If I only had words
I would say all the beautiful things that I see
when you’re with me
Oh my Dindi!”


No, she didn’t have a horrible accent. In fact, had the song been written originally in English, it would have been quite pleasant, in an exotic foreign sort of way.

Singing a song such as this in English is just … Wrong!

Do you feel this way about some artist who sings their songs in your language instead of their own?

Do any of you native Germans or German speakers prefer the German version of The Beatles’ “She Loves You” over the English version?

Do you know of any other songs we hear in English that are really better listened to in their original language?

I’m a little embarassed to nominate this, but: 99 Luftballons - Nena.

Strictly for the sake of balance I would like to say that I am not bothered by this practice. Carry on.

I dislike it when I hear an artist singing in a language I know they don’t speak. It’s cheesy. I don’t know why I feel that way, but I do.

And I’ve noticed some artists who don’t normally perform in english have really simplified lyrics when they do, and so I wonder when an english artist sings in another language if the lyrics are just as simple.

Personally I loved Shakira’s Spanish songs so much more than her English stuff. The original Spanish version of “Ojos Asi” (“Eyes Like Yours” on her Laundry Service album) is so much prettier and just… better sounding. More eloquent, I suppose. I think the problem with a lot of this stuff is just bad translation. You lose something of the power of the original words when it’s turned into English. And I agree with plain_jane that it sounds incredibly cheesy and bothers me immensely when an artist sings in a language they don’t speak. I believe I heard a Backstreet Boys song in Spanish once and it made me nauseous.

It’s always the right thing to do, as long as the “wrong language” is German.

My favourite is probably Johnny Cash’s german version of “I Walk The Line.”

Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” works great in german, too.

Ugh, the worst I’ve heard? Stripped, Rammstein. Till Lindemann really should not sing in English (although Engel wasn’t so bad). As much as I revere that man and worship him as a god, that song is the pits >.<

Ok, Till, you may strike me down where I stand now


Kate Bush doesn’t speak a word of Celtic, but her Celtic version of Mná na hÉireann (learned phonetically) is breathtaking, and celtic speakers have said she did a fine job. I also like her versions of “Ne t’en fui pas” and “Un baiser d’enfant” though I don’t speak French and have no idea how well she does. It sure sounds great to me.

I understand the OP though. When I hear an artist sing in a language I don’t understand, I can focus on the voice, the inflections, the emotion, the music. When they then sing in English, I usually focus on the (almost always) banal lyrics. Najma completely ruined herself in my eyes when I heard her sing in English. Yuck. If I want banal lyrics, I’ve got millions of songs in English to choose from. If I don’t understand the lyrics of such songs, fine by me.

I cried with despair when Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins
started singing in English. (I still love them though)

I heard Edith Piaf sing a song in English once. I never want to hear it again.

Shakira, yes, should have stuck to Spanish, IMO. She was elevated, special, interesting then.

Some songs HAVE to stay in their original language to keep the mystery. For instance, when you hear Bulgarian songs by Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares or Trio Bulgarka, they sound mesmerising, alien, otherworldly, fascinating. To know the English translations would ruin the effect, at least in some cases, since a heartbreakingly beautiful song might just be about harvesting crops or shucking corn or something similarly mundane.
I don’t know German, but I like Peter Gabriel’s albums that he re-recorded in German.

Of course, if someone does have lyrics that are important and interesting, then it would be a darned shame not to know what they are.

minor, I assume you are listening to Jobim/Costa, “Rio Revisited.”

The concert was recorded in Los Angeles, for an American audience.

I agree that the english language is annoying, and it’s not a great album

Remember that bossa nova was a joint invention of Americans and Brazillians (more or less), and at the time of that concert, the Brazillians were trying very hard to make some money by reaching the American market.

By the way, I love Brazillian music, so I"m happy with your post. Maybe we can make a thread on the subject.

Speaking of singing in the wrong language, have you heard Cassandra Wilson’s rendition of Agua de Marco on “Belly of the Sun”? Although I love Wilson’s singing, it doesn’t even begin to compare with the various Brazillian versions I have heard, esp. Regina/Jobim’s classic.

I suppose that’s part of it. Here’s an example of one I dislike that should be familiar to all:

English: “Tall and tan and young and lovely, The girl from Ipanema goes walking, And when she passes each one she passes goes ‘a-a-ah!’”

Portuguese: “Olha, que coisa mais linda, Mais cheia de graça, É ela, menina, que vem e que passa, Num doce balanço, a caminho do mar.”

Clearly, this is “The Girl from Ipanema” (a.k.a. “Garôta de Ipanema”)

The English lyrics are well-written, but they aren’t a translation, and they don’t flow nearly as nicely as the proper lyrics.

There’s more to it than that, however: the English lyrics are pretty good, and they sound great when sung by an American singer, but if I hear this song sung by a Brazilian in English, I feel cheated, as if they didn’t deliver the goods.

Yes, that is the album I am referring to. I realized the venu when Tom Jobim gave a nice little “It’s nice to be back in Los Angeles” speech. Nevertheless, when American singers go to Rio, do they sing their songs in Portuguese?

I haven’t heard that one. Are the words the traditional translation by Jobim (scroll to the bottom, past the literal translation)? I have to admit, even hearing a (I believe) Regina/Jobim version, where they mixed Portuguese with English, I was displeased with the shift.

It doesnt bother me so much. I listen to a lot of Synthpop and industrial music made by people who cant speak a word of english but sure can sing in english. Bands like Icon of coil and Wonlshiem do a pretty good job of it , but like Eine Kleine Engel mentioned, some do a horrible job of it.

Rammstein in English was definitely not a good idea.

Actually, I like Astrud Gilberto’s english on Getz/Gilberto. I don’t feel that way about Gal Costa’s and Jobim’s live concerts (e.g., on Costa’s doublt CD “Sings Jobim”), where it sounds too cute.

I don’t know if Wilson sings the Jobim translation or not. I’ll check when I have time. In any case, the translation seems not too good.

I am almost certain that the version of Agua… on Elis e Tom is entirely in portuguese; in fact, I don’t think there is any english on that record. (This is probably the best bossa nova session ever recorded, in my view.)

I forgot to mention that any European opera star that tries to sing American standards (Rodgers and Hart, Porter, etc) almost always sounds ridiculous to my ears.

I personally love Astrid Gilberto AND Nico. The fact they have no idea what the hell they’re singing adds an otherworldy quality to the vocals.

I usually find language swapping bad when the translation is completely off.

The ending to the game Kingdom Hearts was originally called “Hikari” (light) sung by Utada Hikaru in Japanese; for the US release of the game, they had her sing it in English. Her accent is fine, but the song went from being sweet and romantic to… something else, and was renamed “Simple and Clean.” I’ve no idea why. I can’t stand the English version.

Til Lindemann singing in English makes my ears bleed. His cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Stripped’ made me want to hunt him down and fling him off the first floor into a pit of hungry jackalopes. He might have been able to do it well if he translated it into German, but that guy’s accent doesn’t do English.

Nina Hagen (not Nena, of ‘99 Luftballoons’ fame/notoriety [and I love the German version of that song, but haven’t heard the English]), I’m sorry to say, goofed ‘Spirit in the Sky’ when she translated it into German (as ‘Gott im Himmel’). And Nina Hagen is a great singer in both English and German. I suppose ‘Spirit in the Sky’ would be hard to translate, since German’s closest equivalent to ‘spirit’ would be Geist, which could also mean ‘ghost’.

‘Gott im Himmel’, meaning ‘God in Heaven’, just takes the subtlety out of the song title.

You mean like every song ABBA ever recorded in English? :wink:

I was going to bring up ABBA. They never would have reached superstardom if they had stuck to English.

Many people who sing musical theatre record in both English and another language successfully. Angelika Milster, Steve Barton, and Dudu Fisher are my favorites.

My opinion is that you should have a good knowledge of the language you are singing in. And a damn good translation of the song.

It goes the other way as well. The Beatles recorded both “She Loves You” (Sie Liebt Dich) and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand). They were OK in German, but just don’t have the same flow that they have in English.