Non-English songs that became worldwide hits

From German to Spanish, many non-English songs have been hits both in the United States and on a worldwide scale. This proves you can love a song even if you don’t understand the lyrics!

Dominique” – Soeur Sourire (The Singing Nun)

If you’re a fan of American Horror Story, then the show’s probably ruined this song for you!

The Singing Nun’s life was turned into a 1966 American semi-biographical film starring Debbie Reynolds in the title role. It’s about the life of Jeanine Deckers, a nun who recorded the chart-topping hit song “Dominique” in 1963, singing in French.

Her actual stage name was Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile) but she’s usually credited in English-speaking countries as The Singing Nun. She was an actual nun before becoming a singer, a member of the Dominican Order in Belgium, known as Sister Luc-Gabrielle.


La Bamba” – Ritchie Valens

Ritchie Valens died on February 3, 1959, on what has become known as “the Day the Music Died“. A plane crash in Iowa took the lives of fellow musician J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and rock legend Buddy Holly, as well as that of pilot Roger Peterson.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, he had several hits, most notably “La Bamba”, which he had adapted from a Mexican folk song, transforming it into a rock song that became a hit in 1958, making him a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking rock and roll movement.


99 Luftballons” – Nena

First of all, Nena isn’t just a singer, it’s the name of the band. Second of all, you’ve probably listened to their hit countless times, most of them in German, right?

The thing is that this anti-war protest song from their 1983 self-titled album does have an English-language version (“99 Red Balloons”). However, it’s not a direct translation of the German original, going for a more poetic approach, and it contains somewhat different lyrics that the band disliked, feeling they sounded “too blatant” and even “silly”. That’s why they’ve never sung it live.

American and Australian audiences also preferred the original version, which became a very successful non-English language song, topping charts in both countries, reaching No. 1 on several charts, and No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, behind Van Halen’s “Jump”.

Still, the English translation did top the charts in the UK, Canada and Ireland.


Da Da Da” – Trio

You have to watch the video to recognize this song because you won’t remember which one it is just from the title alone. However, once you do, you won’t be able to get it out of your head.

The song’s full name is actually the crazy “Da Da Da I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha” and it was sung by German band TRIO.

It was a one-hit wonder for them outside their home country.


Ameno” – Era

Now this is an international hit. “Ameno” is a song by French new-age musical project Era (stylized as +eRa+) released in 1997.

It became a chart success in many European countries such as France, Belgium, and Sweden but also in Latin America.

Their blend of Gregorian chants with modern elements and genres became a hit and their debut album, the most exported French album at the time.


Rock Me Amadeus” – Falco

More Germans for this list!

Falco’s only number one hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom, despite the artist’s popularity in Germany, his native Austria, and much of Europe.

Released in 1985, “Rock Me Amadeus” is still one of the most remembered songs of the 80’s.


Gangnam Style” – PSY

Did “Gangnam Style” break the Internet? Well, at least it did render Youtube’s counter obsolete.

The music video by the South Korean pop star PSY surpassed 2,147,483,647 YouTube views, which was the maximum number for the site’s view counter in 2012.

PSY would later release other songs such as “Gentleman” but none would gain the exposure and success of his first international hit.


Despacito” – Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee

Which song could surpass the success of PSY’s “Gangnam Style”? Well, “Despacito” definitely broke all records, a true achievement for a Spanish-speaking reggaeton song!

Beating other successful songs (also in Spanish and of the reggaeton genre) such as “Bailando” by Enrique Iglesias and Gente de Zona and “La Gozadera” (again Gente de Zona, this time with Marc Anthony), “Despacito” topped the charts of countless countries.

A remix featuring Justin Bieber was also released, including some English-speaking bits.


Macarena” – Los del Río

Ranked the “#1 Greatest One-Hit Wonder of All Time” by VH1 in 2002, “the Macarena” is still danced at weddings and parties all around the world.

One of six foreign language songs to hit No. 1 since 1955’s rock era began, Los del Río’s song was an international hit in 1995, 1996, and 1997!

An English version and several remixes have been made and, of course, the duo has never been able to reach success with another song the way they did with “Macarena”. Still, we don’t think they have anything to complain about.


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