Americans are used to exporting their culture. The most popular American TV shows, movies and songs are often also popular around the world.
But right now on college campuses around America, the tables have been turned. One of the most popular songs at the moment is an import from South Korea. It’s Gangnam Style, by PSY, which has been making a splash worldwide.
In the U.S., this song has found its way into some quintessentially American institutions, including the U.S. Naval Academy, where a group of students recorded their own take on the music video:
It’s even been incorporated into American college sports. Here’s the University of Oregon marching band performing Gangnam Style at one of the university’s football games.
But Gangnam Style isn’t the first foreign song to take over American pop culture. Here are four other non-English songs that have made a big impact on U.S. culture.
Dragosteia din tei, by O-Zone – Romania
Americans will almost certainly recognize this song, but they might know it better as “The Numa Numa Song.” This song gained popularity in the U.S. thanks to a viral video of a slightly dorky kid dancing along to it in his bathroom (the kid was Gary Brolsma from New Jersey). According to the BBC, as of 2006 the video had been viewed 700 million times, and the song became a staple at American parties for several years.
Here’s the video that set off the trend…
And an example of how it made its way into American culture.
Jai Ho, by A.R. Rahman – India
It’s probably no surprise to hear that Americans know this Bollywood song, which was featured in the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire and went on to win an Oscar AND a Grammy. A remix by the Pussycat Dolls called “Jai Ho! (You Are My Destiny)” made it into the top 20 of the Billboard charts.
The song also inspired flash mobs across the U.S.. Here’s one by the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”).
While we’re on Bollywood songs, Americans would almost definitely recognize, but almost certainly not be able to name, “Mundian To Bach Ke” by British Indian hiphop artist Panjabi MC. Most have heard the version featuring Jay-Z, released in 2003 as “Beware of the Boys.”
99 Luftballons, by Nena – Germany
This song by German artist Nena didn’t need a viral video or an English language remake to make its way into American pop culture. The song did get an English remake, called 99 Red Balloons, but it was the original German version that rose the U.S. charts in the early 1980s. Today you can still find Americans who don’t speak any German, but can confidently sing along to 99 Luftballons.
Here’s the song being featured in an episode of “Scrubs” from 2003:
Ue O Muite Aruk? by Kyu Sakamoto – Japan
Ue O Muite Aruk? was probably one of the first-ever foreign songs to catch hold in American pop culture – at least since there have been pop music charts – all the way back in 1963. The song went to number one under the title Sukiyaki. Apparently the title Sukiyaki was chosen for the single’s UK release because it sounded Japanese and the original title was too difficult for English-speaking audiences. The song has turned up in U.S. pop music several times since, with a 1981 version by disco group A Taste of Honey, and a sample in a 1985 song by Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh.
Unfortunately, few young Americans today would recognize this song that made such a splash for their parents.
Here’s the original song for your listening pleasure: