Everything sounds better in English – part two

By | April 5, 2021

There are many reasons why you choose to write lyrics in English. The most important is probably that popular culture in the western world has so far been completely dominated by English-speaking countries. If you want to reach a really large audience, it is English that applies, of course. But there are also features in the language itself that often make it easier to choose English over Swedish. Last week I touched on the fact that it is easy to build sentences with only monosyllabic words, which English abounds in, because they have no built-in accents that possibly clash with the rhythm of the melody.

Even where English has a two-syllable, the second syllable is usually emphasized: regard, believe, alone, define etc. In Swedish, on the other hand, it is more often in the first: opinion, genome, beach, truth, etc. Pop music in the broadest sense builds, in simplified terms, its melodies and harmonies much like the folk music in English-speaking areas has done for centuries, but with new (well) influences of above all African rhythmization in competence. The “English” phrasing in the melodies themselves naturally fits the English language like a glove, but clashes hard with the Swedish, precisely because we have more multi-syllable words that are also emphasized on the second syllable. This is also a challenge for those who want to do mainstream pop in Swedish.


I will think of the artist Woodkid (Yoann Lemoine), known for his suggestive and orchestral pop songs in English, among other things used in trailers for the computer game Assassin’s Creed. He does not pay much attention to emphasis. If the number of syllables matches the melody, that is enough. But he does it so consistently that it becomes a stylistic grip, and therefore gets away with it. Maybe it’s because he’s actually French… Woodkid – Iron (Spotify / Apple Music).

I do not know any Swedish songwriter who uses the same technology, although deviations may occur. Remember, for example, when Ted Gärdestad translated his English hit flop “Satellite” into Swedish, straight off. In the original, the chorus’ rhythm fits perfectly with “satellite”, with emphasis on the first syllable. In Swedish, it is a bit lame because the word then has its emphasis on the third syllable. Ted Gärdestad – Satellite – English version (Spotify / Apple Music)

The mother tongue is and remains more sensitive. There you have all the nuances, implicit associations and references clearer. For Swedish listeners, a strong, Swedish text is incredibly much more striking than an English one. In addition, it is easy to get sloppy when you as a Swede write in English. Phrases and empty clichés pass more easily, where in Swedish they had sounded dishonest or outright naughty. Or as a colleague put it: “Only if you have said ‘I love you’ to someone, and really meant it, you can have it in a lyrics.”

There’s something in it. See you…