Listen to music from around the globe

Why Americans need to broaden their music taste

Aambar Agarwal, Social Media Manager

Just over a month ago, on a sunny summer day, I was bewitched by Stromae. His song “Alors on danse” thrummed through the air from a friend’s phone, stealing my attention with its distinct, unforgettable beat. While listening, I couldn’t help but wonder how I had never heard of Stromae. The song was unlike any other I’d heard, and its rhythm resonated in my head for hours afterward. It was an unmistakable hit.

Yet, had my friend not shown me the song, I likely would have never heard of Stromae. Neither radio stations nor my Spotify playlists showcased his music. Despite his widespread success in Europe, the Belgian singer-songwriter is largely unheard of in the United States. But why?

The answer boils down to Americans’ preference for domestic acts. Aside from a few foreign anglophone artists and the occasional Latin or K-pop hit, Americans rarely listen to songs from outside their country. As a result, Stromae, along with many other foreign artists, are unknown to Americans. Unless Americans change their ways, these artists will remain unknown and Americans will continue to miss out on such striking talent.

American radio stations exhibit this preference quite well. The same set of songs is cycled through whenever I listen to the radio, endlessly on repeat. Every month or so, some songs will be replaced with new, similar pop songs; however, the basic sound seems to stay the same. The songs are nearly always by familiar names, such as Ariana Grande or Harry Styles, and they are practically always in English.

The playlists that Spotify curates and suggests to us are no better. For instance, the songs promoted in the “Discover Weekly” or “Daily Mix” playlists closely replicate the music that I have liked in the past, and the other suggested playlists contain songs that are very similar to each other and my old, liked songs. In these types of streaming platforms, there is no room for discovery; it’s a deadening loop of the same sound.

I believe these platforms need to alter their system. They need to play and curate music from a variety of countries and cultures instead of relying on the same American or anglophone songs.This change could be as easy as playing the current top hits of different countries on the radio or including songs from multiple languages in Spotify-curated playlists.

But for radio stations and music streaming apps to change, Americans must first want to broaden their horizons. And why shouldn’t they? By listening to music from around the globe, they can experience new songs, different languages and novel ideas.

For me, listening to Stromae has been an incredibly refreshing experience. His unique combination of hip hop and electronic music is so different from what I have heard before and is so delightfully catchy. Even without understanding a word he says—as his songs are in French—I can feel the meaning behind his words. And looking up a translation of his lyrics is always so rewarding. His lyrics aren’t frivolous, and are instead rich with the stories of everyday experiences and emotions. Moreover, I’ve picked up quite a few French words thanks to his songs. For example, “Alors on danse,” which translates to “So we dance,” tells the story of why we dance—Stromae says it is to forget our problems. Despite these heavy themes, his songs remain perfect for dancing.

We can find many more great songs and truly expand our worldview by listening to global music artists. So, I urge Americans to forgo radio stations and streaming apps’ feedback loops. Instead, branch out and try diverse artists from different countries and languages; you might want to give the Spotify “Top 50” playlists from various countries a try, ask a friend for their recommendations or even start with Stromae. If so, besides “Alors on danse,” I’d recommend trying out “Up saw liz,” “Dodo,” “Tous les Mêmes,” “Avf,” “Santé” and “Mauvaise journée.” You won’t regret it.