Multilingual and Non-English

During a typical day, I converse in three languages: French, Spanish and English. Though I learned French as a child and have lived in France for several years now, English remains the most comfortable language for me due to seventeen years of English indoctrination in the American educational system.

That’s one reason why I write my reviews in English. The other is that rock ‘n’ roll (my dominant genre) really isn’t all that popular in France and if I wrote in French, few people would read my stuff. This is not speculation, but fact. Recently I hit the half-million views mark and decided to take a peek at the country statistics:

  • Total Views from English-Speaking Countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand Ireland, Malta and a few others): 464,213.
  • France: 12,356.

Before I go any further, let me ask you something. Do you recognize the guy in the picture?

What? You don’t remember the song “Ue o Muite Arukō?”

Of course you don’t. The executive at Pye Records who discovered the singer and recorded the song changed the title to “Sukiyaki” because it was a catchy term familiar to Brits.

Fun fact #1: The lyrics to “Sukiyaki” contain zero references to the Japanese hot pot dish.

The singer in the picture is Kyu Sakamoto, and “Sukiyaki” went all the way to #1 in the USA way back in 1963. What’s unique about it is that Sakamoto sang it completely in Japanese and Americans still bought the record in droves.

Fun fact #2: “Sukiyaki” wouldn’t have made it to #1 if it hadn’t been sung in Japanese. The guy who penned the song (not Sakamoto) wrote it as a protest against a treaty designed to extend the stay of American armed forces in post-war Japan. Anti-Americanism was a big no-no during the Cold War (and still is today, now that I think about it), so Sakamoto was fortunate that Americans never gave a second thought to what the lyrics were all about.

Fun Fact #3: In the last seventy years, only five purely foreign-language singles have made it to the top of the American Billboard charts.

The vast majority of reviews I’ve written feature music sung in English. Though I certainly enjoy music performed in other languages and love to hear different cultural takes on music, I’ve kinda shied away from writing non-English reviews because my audience is primarily American, and my experience in America told me that Americans have a strong preference for English and little patience with “foreign languages.” I could add “especially the 54% of Americans whose literacy is at the sixth-grade level” but I don’t think they drop by that often.

Well, screw that. Americans need to grow up and engage with the world again. I created the Multilingual-Non-English category to remind me that I don’t need to kowtow to American biases. I’m a big girl now and I can review whatever I want to review, in any language. Therefore, I hereby declare that the late Kyu Sakamoto will henceforth serve as my inspiration to feel free to explore the entire world of music.

Here’s what I’ve done so far; asterisks indicate albums that contain some English.



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