Learning English with music? 12 songs to breathe new life into your playlist!
Published on June 5, 2019 / Updated on January 10, 2024
Everybody has heard of Queen, The Beatles, Amy Winehouse, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, U2, The Spice Girls, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey.
Even today, contemporary English-speaking artists like Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Taylor Swift or Beyonce keep filling up stadiums and making crowds sing in unison!
So what is it about music in English that attracts us so much?
The English-speaking world has revolutionised music. It is innovative, daring and experimental: rock’n’roll, jazz, blues, heavy metal and dubstep are some examples of genres that have been given to us by English-speaking cultures and changed the way we see music forever.
Another beautiful thing about music in English is how iconic it is and how it unites people from around the world as a lingua franca. Wherever you travel and whoever you meet, you are sure to make friends with somebody who loves the same music as you do and can sing along to it too!
And the best part about English?
Because it is an economical language compared to Spanish and other Romance languages, it can fit complex meaning into a short sentence or in a couple of words, where other languages need five or more. This makes it easy to create songs that are simple and memorable while keeping the message strong.
Portugal The Man, an alternative rock band from Alaska in the United States, started making music in 2002. However, their greatest hit “Feel It Still” took over the world in 2017. This cheerful, catchy song is often used as an ode to freedom, rebellion and sociopolitical change. Younger people identify with the fresh sound, older generations identify with the message, and everybody loves the groove! The song has also become a meme for the fact that most people have heard it somewhere in ads and can sing at least one part of it, but always take ages to find it by the correct name.
Fragment: “Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now / I’ve been feeling it since 1966, now / Might be over now, but I feel it still”
Born in Virginia, United States, Pharrell Williams is a self-made star in music, entrepreneurship and fashion design who still identifies as a geek at heart. While you are likely to dance to some of his hits on the dancefloor, Pharrell is equally invested in singing about social injustices and African American identity. That’s why “Freedom” has been so well received. It sings about being free from what others say, surviving in a cutthroat society and being able to stay human and in sync with the environment too.
Fragment: “Hold on to me / Don’t let me go / Who cares what they see? / Who cares what they know? / Your first name is Free / Last name is Dom / We choose to believe / In where we’re from/ Man’s red flower / It’s in every living thing / Mind, use your power / Spirit, use your wings / Freedom”
American pop group DNCE helps you to travel to Los Angeles without ever leaving your couch. The band celebrates imperfection, creativity, clumsy dancing and variety with uplifting songs you just can’t ignore! While their strongest single to date has been “Cake by the Ocean”, we selected an alternative song called “Toothbrush”, which celebrates getting comfy with your loved one, letting go of secrets and enjoying time together without pressure.
Fragment: “Baby, you don’t have to rush / You can leave a toothbrush at my place
At my place / We don’t need to keep it hush / You can leave a toothbrush at my place, at my place / ‘Cause I just, I just can’t let you go / Give me something I never know”
It isn’t difficult to understand why Sara Bareilles has become a voice for feminism and LGBTQ+ rights. The American singer from California often writes about being self-sufficient, confident, brave and unwilling to let others take over her life. “Love Song”, “Brave” and “Fairytale” are all examples of that! As for “King of Anything”, the lyrics make it clear that Sara is not here to be bossed around and told what to do!
Fragment: “Let me thank you for your time / And try not to waste anymore of mine / And get out of here fast / I hate to break it to you baby, but I’m not drowning / There’s no one here to save / Who cares if you disagree? / You are not me / Who made you king of anything? / So you dare tell me who to be? / Who died and made you king of anything?”
English singer and songwriter George Ezra is jokingly referred to as the 25-year old singer who looks like he’s 18 and sounds like he’s 45. Indeed, his voice is anything but ordinary, as it has a silky, soothing touch of maturity to it. “Shotgun” is a special song for those who need to take a break from a chaotic lifestyle. Ezra himself wrote it when he traveled to Barcelona and took some time to relax and unwind. The results show in this warm, cheering tune!
Fragment: “There’s a mountaintop that I’m dreaming of / If you need me you know where I’ll be / I’ll be riding shotgun underneath the hot sun / Feeling like a someone”
Some songs have the power to bring us instant joy and energy. “Ultralife” is one of them. Oh Wonder, a duo based in London, surprised everybody after launching two albums that were entirely written, produced, recorded and edited by themselves. They enjoyed instant success around the world and across platforms with their dreamy, electrifying take on indie pop. With this song, Oh Wonder tell us what it’s like to meet someone who brings positivity into our lives and makes us feel alive again!
Fragment: “You gave me hope and now there’s only blood running in my veins /
I’ve never been here before / And I got love falling like the rain / I never could’ve asked for more / I got so much soul inside my bones / Take a look at me now / I’m young, forever in the sun / Ever since you came along I’m living ultralife”
He speaks more than four languages fluently. He sells out stadiums around the world. He’s been a judge for The Voice in France. In fact, France has named him a knight for his services to music, although he’s British. He’s even been compared to Freddie Mercury, although by now Mika has rightfully earned a seat at the table and conquered his own identity as an artist. If you remember “Grace Kelly”, “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)”, “Relax (Take It Easy)”, “Lollipop”, you will happily dance to “We Are Golden”, a celebration of dreams, youth and diversity!
Fragment: “We are not what you think we are / We are golden, we are golden / Teenage dreams in a teenage circus / Running around like a clown on purpose / Who gives a damn about the family you come from? / No giving up when you’re young and you want some”
If there’s a type of music we hope to listen to on a nostalgic rainy weekend, James Bay has created it with “Let it Go” and “Hold Back the River”. He built a reputation for himself with his silky voice, soft guitar and piano tunes. However, the English singer from Hertfordshire returned in 2018 with “Pink Lemonade”, an edgy, energising song compared to his soothing ones. All heartbreakers around the world will love singing along to James Bay’s words!
Fragment: “Don’t fall into my arms / Don’t ask me to repeat it / Don’t suffocate my heart / I don’t know what I’m feeling / Do you wanna talk / Do you wanna talk it through / Swear I ain’t got anything on my mind”
In “Down by the Water”, Scottish singer Amy Macdonald talks about memories and returning to a familiar place where we feel we belong. The music video itself is quite dreamy and mysterious, with winter tones, peaceful landscapes and enigmatic characters. If you think you might recognise her voice, it is likely you have heard her song “This is the Life” back in 2007, when it was impossible to avoid. If you enjoy folk rock and indie rock, you are sure to enjoy Amy’s music!
Fragment: “I tried to call you but you didn’t hear / Darkened feeling what you’re doing here / Where’s your baby? Where’s your girl? / Out in the water, out in the world / I love the way your hair blows in the wind / I love the feel of my skin on your skin / Don’t ever change, don’t ever fall by the way / ‘Cause I’ll meet you down by the water again some day”
Directly from Melbourne, Australia, alternative rock artist Courtney Barnett has been creating controversy due to her witty lyrics and provocative song titles. A left-handed guitarist with a pretty shaky self-esteem, she also makes it her mission to support those who feel different, isolated and victimised by self-doubt. “Nameless, Faceless” talks about being bullied, as well as the fears that often come with being a woman.
Fragment: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them / I hold my keys between my fingers”
It is not an exaggeration to say Lorde changed the way pop music works. In an industry that is typically loud and flashy, this singer from New Zealand took more of a soft, minimalist approach to pop songs that embraces dark feelings as well as good ones. While she got famous for “Royals”, her song “Green Light” is an intense take on a heartbreak and the wish to be free from the anger that comes with it.
Fragment: “I do my makeup in somebody else’s car / We order different drinks at the same bars / I know about what you did and I wanna scream the truth / She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar / Those great whites, they have big teeth, oh, they bite you / Thought you said that you would always be in love”
All of us have moments in which we question everything. We can’t seem to find pure happiness, pleasure or peace of mind. In the best of cases we feel indifferent. In the worst of cases, we feel insecure, overwhelmed and anxious. Canadian singer Shawn Mendes explores this feeling and lets us know that we can battle this uneasiness by asking for help directly. Granted, the singer has other catchy songs like “Stitches”, “Mercy”, “Treat You Better” or “Lost in Japan”, but we thought our list should finish with a strong message of courage and support!
Fragment: “Laying on the bathroom floor, feeling nothing / I’m overwhelmed and insecure, give me something / I could take to ease my mind slowly / Just have a drink and you’ll feel better / Just take her home and you’ll feel better / Keep telling me that it gets better / Does it ever?”
Grow a playlist on your phone dedicated to music in English only – if you prefer, you can even divide it by English-speaking country so you can notice different pronunciation and vocabulary from country to country. Make sure you add these songs – or any others you like – to your playlist and take some time to listen to them while reading the lyrics online. This will help your intermediate or advanced vocabulary go even further!
If you’ve got the songs and the new vocab, but you’re struggling to find someone to practise with, head over to our website and sign up for your Lingoda trial today.