Sometimes *not* using English is the road to commercial success for singers (and other entertainers)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

왕비호 (Wang Bi-Ho), one of my favourite comedians here in Korea. He should definitely think about doing comedy in Japan as well.

Thanks to Larry Sulky for pointing this article out today on Auxlang. It turns out (and not surprisingly as I've been stressing this for some time) that using English isn't really all that impressive for musicians that want to succeed in their own country; in fact, it's usually a detriment. I can also think of a few band here in Korea that shall remain unnamed that experimented with more and more English lyrics a bit after 2000, but most of these songs fell flat, and only after returning to Korean-only did they start to sound good again.

Here's what the article from the Toronto Star says:

A New Delhi-based orthopedic doctor, Sen formed Euphoria in the early 1990s and the group is now widely considered to be India's most commercially successful rock band.

Yet despite its English-language name, Euphoria's breakthrough in India came only after it stopped recording songs in English.

"Switching to Hindi was key," said Sen, sipping a small coffee a few minutes after he left the stage. "English is still not the language of expression in India; it's just the language of communication."

Other pop stars in India are discovering the same thing.

Despite English being the language of commerce in India since the 18th century, not enough young Indians speak the language well enough to connect with English lyrics. And the popularity of Bollywood musicals, with their Hindi song and dance, extends to the recording world, too.

Like the rock group Euphoria, pop star Raghu Dixit, 34, discovered using English didn't work as a way to promote his songs.

In 1999, when Dixit was working in Belgium as a microbiologist, he won a competition and one of his songs was played on a local radio station. It sounded good enough, Dixit said, that music promoters urged him to return to India and start a career as a musician.

But he was told to forget any idea of recording in English.

"I was faking the English accent and struggling to roll my R's," Dixit said. "It just didn't sound real. The truth is, in India, you have 1.1 billion people and only 100 million of them speak English. It's a big enough market that you don't have to do English."

In a similar vein, there are quite a few comedians here in Korea that are hugely successful and have talked more than once about some long-term plans of theirs to eventually become successful in the United States as well (왕비호 is one, 신봉선 too I think). The problem with that is that their humour doesn't really translate all that well into English (not to mention the fact that they don't know English either). However, Japan is a much easier market to break into considering how similar not only the languages are but also the tv shows, and there are quite a few examples of musicians that have succeeded in both countries (and sometimes Taiwan as well at the same time). Boa is probably the best example of that.

There are countless examples of this type, where knowing or studying English just ends up being a detriment in the end where it counts most - commercial success.


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