First, there was the video: Adele, flip phone in hand, singing into the void about lost love.
Then, there Afropop singer Dela recorded a version in Swahili.
Soon, there was a reinterpretation in Haitian Creole by Saskya Sky.
A reggae version from Jamaican performer Conkarah and his little sister.
A Spanglish version by Karen Rodriguez.
There are versions of “Hello” in Mandarin. In Arabic. The list goes on.
It all got me thinking — what does it take for a song to be so powerful that it inspires not just covers, but full on reinterpretations in other languages?
For Dr. Larisa Kingston Mann, a Visiting Researcher at at the McGannon Center for Communication Research at Fordham University, the practice is nothing new.
“I think people like to kind of speak back to the dominance of English language pop, everywhere,” she told me. “And there’s kind of a thrill in doing that.”
Dr. Mann told me about an old practice in Jamaica — when people pressed records, they would include an instrumental track on the B-side — specifically so that those who bought it could sing the song themselves.
Another scholar, Professor Andy Bennett of Griffith University in Australia, echoed that sentiment. He told me in an email that there are around 2,200 versions of the song “Yesterday” by The Beatles.
The fact that “Hello” sat at the number one spot on the Billboard Charts for ten weeks straight doesn’t hurt. Many songs that inspire so many covers and reinterpretations have topped the charts, he told me.
But it could be that while there’s nothing new about the practice, what is novel is that for perhaps the first time, those reinterpretations are making their way back to North America and Europe.
“I think that what’s interesting is that we in the Global North, or in the sort of colonial metropoles, we’re seeing it now.” said Dr. Mann.
Dr. Mann told me about a video of a teenage girl named Renata Flores performing “The Way You Make Me Feel” in Quechua, an indigenous language spoken widely in Peru in Bolivia. Flores herself said in an interview with The World that she re-interprets songs in Quechua to add value to the language, which was stigmatized after Spanish colonization.
These new music videos and tracks are circulating back to the major markets in large part because of the rise of accessible internet and smart phones.
And while the covers and reinterpretations could simply be seen as an homage to Adele, Dr. Mann says there’s something deeper going on. The new versions send a message back to the major markets which are responsible for so much of the world’s pop music: “Even though we can’t escape you, we can still kind of turn it around, and make you part of us.”
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