Translating hit songs

Different types of song translation: How to translate hit songs

Let’s take a little tour of the wonderful world of musical translation and talk about the translation of your favorite songs.

Today, let’s leave legal and financial translations to one side and take a little tour of the wonderful world of musical translation … How about translating and adapting some of your favorite songs…

Different types of song translation

Songs are very often adapted to other language regions, and all the more since these areas are now dubbed markets. These versions can be divided into two groups: those reproduced by the original artist and those reproduced by another one. In the former case, usually, it is about marketing a version which is very similar to the original in all respects (singing, instrumentation, etc.), except that the lyrics have been translated. In the second case, which is more musically interesting, another interpreter, often years later, revisits a song, appropriates it and adapts it to their own language. Here are some examples of these two cases.

Reproduction by the original interpreter: the example of an adaptation into Spanish

When a singer is singing the same song in a different language there is often a problem: the vocal performance and the flexibility of the artist’s pronunciation do not necessarily go together. In such cases, the target market audience can barely make out the songs translated which is what this is all about. Although this is not the case with Italian Eros Ramazzotti’s song in Spanish La cosa más bella this is certainly true with the Spanish version, of Bon Jovi’s hit, Bed of Roses, which was all the rage in the ‘90s. We continue in the same decade with Michael Jackson and his I Just Can’t Stop Loving You; Bryan Adams “Everything I do I do it for you”; Erasure and ”Always”; without forgetting the Scorpions’ classic, Winds of Change. We should also mention Madonna’s attempts in Spanish with “Lo que siente la mujer” (“What It Feels like for a Girl”), Christina Aguilera with “Genio atrapado” (“Genie in A Bottle”), or Backstreet Boys with “Donde quieras yo iré” (“Anywhere For You”), and lastly, Roxette’s aptly-named compilation album launched in 1996, Baladas en Español (Ballads in Spanish).

Versions by another interpreter: example of adaptations from French

Although French versions of UK or US hits were very popular in the 1960s with the yé-yé pop style, French songs also inspired their own adaptations worldwide. The best known is without a doubt  “Comme d’habitude”, by Claude François, memorably coined by Frank Sinatra as “My Way”, and thereafter adapted by singers in their hundreds. However, we can cite more examples:

  • Daniel Balavoine, “SOS d’un terrien en détresse” ⇒ Peter Kingsbery, “Only the Very Best”.
  • Nicoletta, “Il est mort le soleil” ⇒ Ray Charles, “The Sun Died”.
  • Jacques Brel, “Amsterdam” ⇒ David Bowie, “Port of Amsterdam”.
  • Plastic Bertrand, “Ça plane pour moi” ⇒ Elton Montello, “Jet Boy, Jet Girl”.
  • Gilbert Becaud, “Et maintenant” ⇒ Frank Sinatra, “What Now My Love”.
  • Gilbert Bécaud, “Je t’appartiens” ⇒ Elvis Presley, “Let It Be Me”.
  • Charles Trenet, “La Mer” ⇒ Bobby Darin, “Beyond the Sea”.

However, there are also, of course, adaptations of French versions in languages other than English. For example:

  • France Gall “Poupée de cire, poupée de son“ ⇒ Hirota Mieko, “Yumemiru chanson ningyo” (a Japanese version sung by France Gall herself).
  • Michel Polnareff, “La poupée qui fait non” ⇒ Quelli, “La Bambolina Che Fa No No No”.
  • Georges Brassens, “La mauvaise réputation” ⇒ Paco Ibañes, “La mala reputación”.
  • Jacques Brel, “Ne me quitte pas” ⇒ Marlene Dietrich, “Bitte geh nicht fort”.

Discover our translation agency.

This article has been written by Mathieu

Mathieu was born in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. After studying Literature and Linguistic Research, he moved to Argentina where he is currently a translator and a web editor.