Localizing Pop Music: a catchy way to drum up sales?

I was driving in the car with my wife yesterday when Avril Lavigne’s new single “Girlfriend” came on the radio – my wife mentioned hearing that Avril had actually recorded the song in seven languages. Sure enough a quick Google search turned up a couple articles including this one:

Aside from English, the chorus to Girlfriend has been recorded in Mandarin and Japanese for her massive Asian fanbase, as well as Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese.

It’s an interesting concept – the notion of tweaking a song for different audiences isn’t necessarily new but I can’t think of something exactly like this done before. Shania Twain, for example, owes much of her success to the careful adjustment of her singles depending on the type of radio station it would be playing on – While the lyrics were the same the accompanying music would be given a country or pop twist to make it more in line with the nature of the station. Pop stars like Christina Aguilera and Shakira have also recorded languages in other languages but generally they have been different albums and the artist has had some connection to whatever language/culture the album they were aimed at. In this case though Avril doesn’t even speak a second language, let alone seven!

It’s an interesting idea to only change the chorus as well – at the end of the day the key to pop music is a catchy hook/chorus, generally the rest of the lyrics are just there to fill the gaps between chorus’. It’s a very commercial co-opting of the notion that Mandela expressed with respect to speaking to a man’s head versus speaking to a man’s heart. In this case they’ve perfectly targeted a catchy pop verse right at the emotional hearts of Teeny-boppers across much of the planet.

That said, I also thought this little tidbit was an interesting example of how localization still isn’t something fixed by just switching the words though:

“We tried Hindi twice but the diction and the meter of how you sing Hindi versus the western rhythms just didn’t match and we just couldn’t pull it off,” McBride, also the CEO of Nettwerk Music Group, said in an interview on Thursday.

Thanks to YouTube I’ve been able to track down all of the various versions: