When people ask me what kind of music I listen to, I usually end up replying, “Just about everything.” Usually, people don’t believe me. I guess that statement is a little inaccurate. I’ve never been a big fan of country music (funnily enough, that’s starting to change; I’m looking at you, Tennessee) or the rap/hip-hop genre, but I’m still willing to bet my horizons are broader than most.
You’ve already read the title. I listen to foreign music.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t listen to it exclusively. I’m not quite that cool. My taste in music is incredibly varied, and there’s plenty of music I appreciate that hails from English-speaking countries. I dance in the mirror to Katy Perry, follow niche alternative bands (I highly recommend Kingsfoil) and rock out to Muse just like you do. I love music. Foreign music simply holds a special place in my heart.
Honestly, it isn’t quite as rare as it might have been 10 or 20 years ago. The global connectivity of the internet has given people like me access to more and more of what you might call “international encounters.” But I’ve always been fascinated by music with lyrics I don’t understand. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is.
I have distinct memories of a 9-year-old version of myself being fascinated by some Native American CD I begged my mom to buy me at Wal-Mart. Riley was a weird kid, and she still sort of is. I popped it in every time I got to ride shotgun and would listen to it on repeat for hours.
I’m fairly sure this is the first time I appreciated the music of a culture completely separate from my own. It served as a serious springboard for my ever-developing taste in music; hopefully some of these will do the same for you:
Okay, so there’s a ton of French music out there, but my favorite artist by far is Zaz. Her stuff is smooth and classy with a little bit of Old World flair thrown in for good measure. It’s got a playful and upbeat sound, which gives it a coffee-shop sort of vibe. Think Modero meets downtown Paris.
Her vocals are pretty heavenly. Maybe it’s just because I don’t understand a single word of it, but everything sounds effortless. It’s the sort of thing you want to listen to as you stroll down the street, hands shoved in your pockets and wearing a new pair of shoes.
This is the one you might have heard of before. After the internet phenomenon that is “Gangnam Style,” K-Pop (which is shorthand for Korean Pop) made its American debut. There were a few people who listened to it before, but for the most part, we were in the dark. K-pop rode the wave of popularity and now has a steady fan following.
The entire genre is a little weird. The music has a lot of Western influence. It’s literally just another country’s pop music, so I can’t promise anything profound or artful out of this, but the beats are catchy.
I’m not particularly loyal to any group, but there’s a few songs I really enjoy. Bangtan Boys (aka BTS) has a dance-track kind of sound. “DOPE” happens to be my personal favorite. Frequently material for my late-night dance sessions.
EXO (which has a total of twelve members) is hardcore boy band material. Their song “EXODUS” gives me Backstreet Boy flashbacks.
Taeyeon is a member of a couple different groups, but I happen to like her solo work the most. It’s more understated. Her song “I” has a Fearless-era Taylor Swift feel.
I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t for everyone. Spanish lyrics can come off strong, but I’ve still managed to build an appreciation for them.
My favorite group is called Pink Martini. They actually aren’t exclusively Spanish. Their lyrics are written in a variety of languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian and beyond. Their Latin-inspired tunes simply happen to be my favorite.
“Donde Estas, Yolanda?” is fast-paced and vibrant. “La Soledad” is classy and seductive. Both feel grandly narrative, like they belong on a movie soundtrack. James Bond, maybe.
Here’s one you probably weren’t expecting.
I happen to have a fascination for everything Iceland, their music included. My absolute favorite is Sigur Rós. Their indie-meets-ambient sound is really singular. I’m constantly loosing myself in the lyrics. Every song is incredible, but these are a few of my favorites.
“Inní mér syngur vitleysingur” and “Gobbledigook” and bright and celebratory. They’re great for jumpstarting your morning or for a little encouragement midday. It’s “happy music” at it’s best.
“Staralfur” has an even pace and pretty melody. It feels like cuddling a loved one under a warm quilt on a cold day.
If I had to make a list of life-changing songs, “Varúð” would make the cut. Yes, it’s nearly seven minutes long, but it’s so worth it. The melody builds from ambient background noise into a beautiful cacophony of musical chaos. I love it. If you listen to any song, please listen to this one.