Why We Listen to Music With Lyrics We Don’t Understand

A woman listening to music with her headphone

When Words Fail, Music Speaks—Even When It Comes With Lyrics Listeners Don’t Necessarily Understand. Photo: Electravk, Getty Images

A musicologist and music therapist-in-training explain why the language of song lyrics doesn’t always matter.

From French electronic and Japanese indie to K-pop and Spanish jazz, it’s common for people to listen to songs they don’t necessarily understand. Not knowing the language of the lyrics, it seems, doesn’t stop people from liking—and sometimes even singing along to—a song. Cue “Macarena” by Los del Río, or, uh, “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee, later popularized by Justin Bieber (who doesn’t speak Spanish). This isn’t about people who only speak English, either. Many people don’t, yet Megan Thee Stallion’s and Dua Lipa’s “Sweetest Pie” is still topping music charts around the world. Full story.

Romano Santos (VICE) / March 15, 2022

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