Every once in a while, a song is so good that it crosses borders and language barriers. The most popular songs in different languages are the ones that inspire us to dance, sing, smile or cry with nothing more than an infectious beat or catchy melody.
Aside from bringing us joy, listening to songs in different languages is really useful for language learning. By listening to a variety of songs in the language you’re practicing, you’ll be able to increase your vocabulary and improve your listening skills—while rocking out, of course.
Let’s go through some of the best songs in different languages. Maybe you’ll come away with a few new favorites!
- “La Bamba” by Richie Valens
- “Volare” by Domenico Modugno
- “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto
- “Da Da Da ich lieb dich nicht du liebst mich nicht aha aha aha” by Trio
- “99 Luftballons” by Nena
- “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco
- “Sadeness, Part I” by Enigma
- “Macarena” by Los Del Río
- “Danza Kuduro” by Don Omar
- “Gangnam Style” by PSY
- “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee
- “MÍA” by Bad Bunny (feat. Drake)
1. “La Bamba” by Richie Valens
The well-known song “La Bamba” is actually a Spanish folk song dating back to the 18th century. American singer Richie Valens recorded his version in 1958. The song was put on the b-side of the record for the English-language single “Donna,” and despite being in Spanish, US radio DJs began to play it. La Bamba was “the first Latin-based song to cross over to the pop and rock audience” according to NPR.
2. “Volare” by Domenico Modugno
Another hit from 1958 is the Italian song “Volare”. The tune started its journey to worldwide popularity after winning third place in a Eurovision song contest. From there, the song ended up selling over 22 million copies around the world. “Volare” was on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks and was the first Grammy winner in 1958 for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
3. “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto
The Japanese-language song “Sukiyaki” was initially called “Ue o Muite Arukō” in Japan.
Two years after being released in Japan in 1961, the song got to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US. Sukiyaki was the only song by an Asian artist that reached the top of the Hot 100 chart until BTS put out “Dynamite” 57 years later.
4. “Da Da Da ich lieb dich nicht du liebst mich nicht aha aha aha” by Trio
Known by most as “Da Da Da,” German group Trio’s song “Da Da Da ich lieb dich nicht du liebst mich nicht aha aha aha” achieved a fair amount of success on the charts in over 30 countries; the year after its release, it was No. 2 on the UK charts and No. 3 in Canada.
The song enjoyed renewed popularity and further success on the charts 15 years later, thanks to a Volkswagen commercial that featured the quirky tune. It’s also been used in movies like Private School, Bio-Dome and Thick as Thieves.
5. “99 Luftballons” by Nena
Released by the band Nena, “99 Luftballons” is a super-catchy German tune that unexpectedly became a protest song for the Cold War. Soon after its release, the song became super successful in Europe and Japan. Following that, “99 Luftballons” topped the charts in both the US and Australia, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Though an English version of the song was also released in 1984 and topped the charts in the UK, Ireland and Canada, the German version remained more popular in the US and Australia.
6. “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco
Recorded by Austrian singer Falco, “Rock me Amadeus” was inspired by the 1984 movie Amadeus. A year after it was released, the song became a hit around the world. It ended up being the most popular German-language hit in US history, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
7. “Sadeness, Part I” by Enigma
Language: Latin and French
If you know Enigma, you know this song. “Sadeness, Part I” was recorded by Romanian-born Michael Cretu, and was a worldwide hit. The tune made it to No. 1 in several countries, including Japan, Germany and the UK. It was also one of Virgin Records’ best-selling tracks for years.
Fun fact: While the bulk of the song is in French, there’s also a Gregorian chant in “Sadeness, Part I” that was sung by a Munich-based choir, The Kapelle Antiqua Choir. The choir ended up suing Enigma, who hadn’t gotten their permission to use the sample. They settled out of court.
8. “Macarena” by Los Del Río
Before the version of “Macarena” that we all know, there was a less catchy one. Los Del Río’s original song was well-liked in Latin America, but only moderately popular in North America. That would all change soon.
Florida DJ Caride wanted to play “Macarena” on the radio but the station managers told him he couldn’t play Spanish-only content. Shortly after, two producers recorded English verses to add to the song, as well as remixing it to make it more danceable. That was the birth of the “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix).” About eight months later, the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Pop chart.
9. “Danza Kuduro” by Don Omar
Language: Spanish and Portuguese
“Danza Kuduro” was recorded by Puerto Rican artist Don Omar with Portuguese-French singer Lucenzo. When it was first released, it was an immediate hit in Latin America, and then spread all over Europe. Danza Kuduro eventually secured the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs.
In May 2011, the song hit No. 82 on the Billboard Hot 100; it was also No. 93 on the Canadian Hot 100. By October 2012, Danza Kuduro had sold more than one million digital copies in the US alone.
10. “Gangnam Style” by PSY
It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of Korean artist PSY’s catchy parody song “Gangnam Style”—along with his mesmerizing dance moves. Shortly after its release in 2012, the song and its accompanying video went viral and spread around the world. It got to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was at the top of the music charts in dozens of countries.
In the fall of 2012, Gangnam Style made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the most liked video on YouTube.
11. “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee
“Despacito” was recorded in 2017 by Puerto Rican musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. While this Spanish song was originally a hit in the Latin community, it was Canadian singer Justin Bieber who helped it achieve international success. When Bieber’s vocals were added to the song, it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
12. “MÍA” by Bad Bunny (feat. Drake)
Recorded by Puerto Rican artist Bad Bunny and Canadian rapper Drake, “MÍA” made it to the top 10 spot in 10 countries, including Canada, Switzerland and Argentina. It also made it to the top 20 position in France, Italy, Sweden and the UK.
“MÍA”, in which Drake rapped entirely in Spanish to the delight of fans everywhere, surpassed one billion views with the release of its music video in March 2020.
Jazz up your playlist with popular songs in different languages
You don’t have to understand a song’s lyrics to enjoy it—we hope that’s become obvious from our list above. Adding these popular songs in different languages to your music rotation will liven up your usual monolingual mix. And who knows? You may learn a word or two!
Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and son, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.