What Song Was This Again?
Dubbing is tricky business.
And if dubbing the spoken
dialogue weren't tough enough, dubbing songs
can be downright hellish. To get good lyrics in another language, dubbers have to account for the general meaning of the song, the intent of the song-writer, the grammar of the song's original language, the song's rhythm and meter, how slang and idiom are used in the dubbed language, where the stresses fall in the song due to rhythm/melody, the new language's rhyming schemes compared to the original language and how that
will be perceived in the language, and so on and so forth.
Because of this, a literal translation of a song in a musical is almost always unthinkable, even if it were actually possible. Generally, a dubbed song stays relatively close to the original, with only a few tweaks and minor changes here and there. However, in some cases, the dubbers wander so far from the original the song that results might as well be a completely different piece of music.
This trope should not be confused with a character knowing a song but not knowing its title
or all of the lyrics — we aren't sure what trope that
is, but we'll think of something.
open/close all folders
- The Blue Water dub of Dragon Ball GT has the same melody as the original Japanese version (Dan Dan Kokoro Hikareteku), but with lyrics summarizing the plot (such as "We've got to find them all, gotta find those Dragon Balls").
- While the Portuguese dubs of "Dragon Ball" and "Dragon Ball Z" used the French versions for the melody and lyrics, the "Dragon Ball GT" dub uses the original melody with lyrics akin to the ones used before (including saying the name of the show on the song). This changes the original love/friendship song into one about how Goku is going to kick everyone's ass.
- The Latin American dub of the first series of Lupin III has an odd example of this. It has a much less upbeat melody and includes a lot of lyrics (in contrast to the original Japanese version which was basically "Lupin the 3rd" over and over), but a closer inspection will reveal that it has the same basic melody.
- The Optimum dub of Sailor Moon features a "Moonlight densetsu" cover with rewritten lyrics, called "(The One Named) Sailor Moon".
- This particular dub features several other rewritten covers as well
- The song "Oh Starry Night" was supposedly a rewritten cover of Rei's Image Song from the second season- "Eien No Melody".
- "Ai No Senshi" and "Sailor Team's Theme" both received this treatment, keeping the same tunes but with roughly-translated-into-English lyrics. Though neither song was given an official name, they were respectively called "Tear Our Hearts In Two" and "Let's Fight" by the fans.
- The songs from the dub version of Nerima Daikon Brothers, while sticking to the spirit of the originals, are often very different lyrically.
- Viz Video's Ranma 1/2 song subtitles, as well as dubbed versions of DoCo's OAV songs, were "translated" to fit the melody and the rough spirit of the original lyrics. Fans came to label these "Trishliterations" after Viz Media's Trish Ledoux.
- While Pokémon largely deals with the Alternative Foreign Theme Song, there are a few cases of this such as Team Rocket Forever from the Jigglypuff episode, or the openings from Camp Pikachu, Gotta Dance and Pichu Bros. in Party Panic.
- YTV's Futari wa Pretty Cure Dub has an episode called "Choir Chaos". The choir sings the Japanese ending theme, but guess what happened in the English version? That's right! They sang the same song in English!
- Funimation has managed to avoid this in translating the opening songs of some series', notably YuYu Hakusho.
- Disney does this a lot by virtue of having a lot of songs to dub:
- "Out There" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame gets this with the German and Japanese translations, and likely many other languages. The German version is entitled "Einmal," meaning "Once," while the Japanese version is entitled "Boku no negai", or "My Wish". In both cases, the lyrics can barely capture the gist of the original English version of the song.
- It was retranslated for the stage version in Germany as "Draussen" ("Outside"), which is a great deal closer.
- "Einmal" meaning "Once" is not the most accurate translation. "Einmal" literally means "One Time", which is what Quasimodo is asking for in the English: "One Time Out There". Furthermore, the song repeats the phrase "Es War Einmal" which is literally translates to "It was once" but is more closely similar in meaning to the English phrase "Once upon a time". The song gets a lot of word play with these subtle changes, and its in this word play that it comes closer to the translation than with a blind translation back to English. Just goes to show that this trope works both ways.
- The title of the Swedish version translates to "Sunshine", while the title of the Finnish version translates to "[It] Opens", in the context "A new World opens to me".
- From The Lion King, Scar's Villain Song, "Be Prepared", gets changed a lot. The most famous example is the Finnish version, which is entitled "Vallan Saan", meaning "The Power Will Be Mine."
- But other translations, including French, German, Dutch, and Swedish, keep it as "Be Prepared."
- In Italian it becames "I'll be King"
- In Polish it translates to "Time will come"
- "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" becomes "Feel The Scent Of Love" in Swedish, no innuendo or mixed metaphors intended.
- And in French it becomes "Love Shines Under The Stars".
- In German it's "Could It Really Be Love?"
- The Greek audio track of "Ev'rybody Wants To Be A Cat" from The Aristocats translates this to 'Many Cats Are Musical'.
- In Italy it turns into "Everyone wants to play some Jazz".
- In Germany it's "Cats need lots of music".
- The Jungle Book song "Bear Necessities" obviously does not translate well in the Swedish version (the gist of the song is the same, but the pun is completely lost, although it was replaced by a different bear-related pun).
- And the French version has no pun at all.
- Same with the German version, which goes like "Let's try it the cozy way".
- The French version of "I'm Still Here" from Treasure Planet is translated to "Un Homme Libre" (A Free Man) and becomes less of a song about a boy telling off the universe to something more like 'if you feel like a reject, maybe you should run away'.
- The Spanish version of "Pink Elephants on Parade" from Dumbo.
- "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan became in Brazil "Não Vou Desistir de Nenhum" ("I Won't Give Up On Anyone"), with basically the same gist, but removing the ironic "be a man" parts.
- In Portugal, it also left out the irony, but instead turned the meaning into "Um Terror Frio e Cru" ("A Cold and Raw Fright").
- In the English version of "I Won't Say I'm in Love" from Hercules, Megara argues with the muses and refuses to admit that she is in love with Hercules. The Italian version, however, has her fully admit her feelings to the muses; she's refusing to confess them to Hercules.
- When Charles K. Feldman's Casino Royale (1967) was translated into French and German, it was considered a good idea to also record dubbed versions of Dusty Springfield's "The Look Of Love". Mireille Mathieu not only sang the French version "Les jeux d'amour", but also the German version "Ein Blick von dir". In 1970, she and Dusty re-recorded the English original, by the way.
- There are at least five different Chinese versions of the traditional hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, none of which closely resemble the original.
- The Internationale, the international anthem of socialism, runs into this problem a lot. The original French lyrics are notoriously difficult to translate without breaking with the music (which is so stirring and memorable it's almost sacrilegious to change it), and/or devolving into the lyrical equivalent of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness (which is hard to sing and understand—doubly bad for a song meant to be sung by angry factory workers at a protest). Translation into English has been particularly difficult—to the point that when Billy Bragg decided to cover it, he rewrote large chunks of it entirely—although it doesn't fare well in Chinese, either. The Russian version, on the other hand, has stood up fairly well.
- Is it worth mentioning that the French lyrics of the Canadian national anthem, "O Canada" are wholly unlike the English lyrics? However, the Maori lyrics of "God Defend New Zealand" (the national anthem of guess where?) are a decent approximation of the English lyrics.
- Another famous example is "Comme d'habitude" (As Usual) by Claude Francois, a song about the monotony of life. Frank Sinatra liked the melody though, and reworked the song his way.
- "Kiss Kiss" by Tarkan, which is in Turkish, is a very popular song everywhere but in the United States. When Holly Valance of Australia translated it into English, the lyrics swapped the gender and person. "You're such a slut but I'm in love with you" turned into "I'm such a slut, aren't you in love with me?", thus turning the conflict and attraction in the original and mutilating it into a more wordy version of "Shut Up And Sleep With Me".
- The Japanese translation of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" makes the gist of the song less "I'm from a poor urban background and I thought marrying this guy would allow me to move up to better things but actually he's a good-for-nothing and I'm still just as stuck" and more "I'm an average girl and I thought marrying this guy would bring me excitement and adventure, but actually he works all day and then goes out drinking and I'm stuck at home with the kids." Not the same message at all.
- So basically, they changed "Fast Car" into Paula Cole's "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?"
- Culturally speaking, it's a pretty close approximation, however.
- Jai Ho, from Slumdog Millionaire, originally celebrated a victory. The Pussycat Dolls cover turned it into a love song.
- Basshunter does this at least once. The English version of "Camilla" is your typical Breakup Song, with him obsessing over how he can't forget her and was wrong to dump her. In the Swedish version, he just wants to sleep with her.
- Rammstein plays with this with their english dub of their german song du hast, making the original (intentional) confusion (Hasst/Hast) even more confusing to english listeners.
- Nena's "99 Red Balloons", the English version of "99 Luftballons". Both are about a nuclear holocaust triggered by a stray bunch of balloons, but it's nothing like a line-for-line translation. The spanish version of the song even changes the color of the SINGLE balloon in the song, and it's about having fantastic adventures.
- Blümchen's "Ich bin wieder hier" note , a German-language remake of Rozalla's "Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)" note , has completely original lyrics.
- For several years, especially during The Seventies and The Eighties, German lyricists and singers rewrote countless mostly English songs into German Schlagers with an entirely different meaning, sometimes even reusing the original backing tracks. Examples:
- "Let Your Love Flow" by the Bellamy Brothers became the Cult Classic "Ein Bett im Kornfeld" by Jürgen Drews (with original backing tracks).
- "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down" by The Band became "Am Tag, als Conny Kramer starb" by Juliane Werding.
- "Moonlight Shadow" by Mike Oldfield became "Nacht voll Schatten", again by Juliane Werding.
- "City Of New Orleans" by Steve Goodman became "Wann wird's mal wieder richtig Sommer?" by Rudi Carrell.
- "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath became "Der Hund von Baskerville" by Cindy & Bert. Yes, Heavy Metal gone Schlager.
- The Melodians made "Rivers Of Babylon", an early, raw reggae song. Boney M. made a pop version which became "Die Legende von Babylon" by Bruce Low, sung upon Frank Farian's Boney M. backing tracks.
- Die Strandjungs used to specialize in Beach Boys covers with German lyrics, often with an radically different meaning.
- Not to mention the many many parody translations (and parodies on already translated versions) by German comedians.
- Some Schlager versions kept their original meanings. Examples:
- Melanie sung "Look What They Done To My Song, Ma" in English and French. Daliah Lavi sang the German version "Wer hat mein Lied so zerstört?".
- "Looking For Freedom" by Marc Seaberg became "Auf der Straße nach Süden" by Tony Marshall. Seaberg's, Marshall's, and David Hasselhoff's versions all use the same backing tracks.
- Katja Ebstein's "Wein nicht um mich, Argentina" is a very faithful translation of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" from Evita.
- Udo Lindenberg translated several English songs into German, not only keeping their general meaning, but also often staying as close to the original lyrics as possible while at the same time ditching the then-usual Schlager lyrics kitsch. "Ich sitz den ganzen Tag bei den Docks" ("Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay" by Otis Redding) is only one example. "Sympathie für den Teufel" translates the title of "Sympathy For The Devil" (The Rolling Stones) literally. On the other hand, he also rewrote The Beatles' "Penny Lane" into "Reeperbahn" which is about the demise of Hamburg's amusement quarter during The Seventies.
- Brazil also has a trend to translate foreign songs. At times it can fit. Others, The Cover Changes The Meaning ("Dragostea Din Tei" aka the Numa Numa song got a version about A Party Also Known as an Orgy) or they do a phonetic translation with senseless lyrics (like this, based on David Bowie's "Starman").
- In The Sixties and The Seventies, it was quite popular for singers to record German versions of their own hits.
- The Beatles had "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" aka "Komm, gib mir deine Hand" and "She Loves You" aka "Sie liebt dich".
- ABBA recorded their early hits "Ring, Ring" and "Waterloo" in German, too.
- Cliff Richard covered and modified "Lucky Lips" by Ruth Brown in 1963, and while he was at it, he also recorded the German version "Rote Lippen soll man küssen".
- Pussycat released English and German versions of "Mississippi" and "Georgie".
- "One Way Wind" by the Cats (not to be confused with these or these Cats) is also known as "Sommerwind". Then again, the Cats were a German band.
- "There's No Place Like Home" had a very popular translation into Japanese, keeping the domestic spirit but adding a more religious and vaguely nationalistic sentiment; it tends to turn up a lot in anime set in Japan in the early years of the 20th century (as on the phonograph in Grave of the Fireflies).
- John Desire's infamous Translation Train Wreck of TM Revolution - Hot Limit. What you get when an Italian lyricist tries to translate a Japanese song into English. In fact, just about any song that gets translated from Japanese to English or vice versa fits this trope.
- There's debate about whether the song "Jet Boy Jet Girl" or "Ca Plane Pour Moi" was recorded first, and if one is a cover of the other or if they merely share a backing track. If one is a cover, which seems likely, then it would be very interesting to see which was the second interpretation, as the French is a mostly nonsense song about what an easygoing life the singer has, and the English is about a 15 year old boy in a sexual relationship with an older man. So one of them missed the point.
- Latin pop star Thalia "translated" her own Spanish-language song Arrasando into English as It's My Party. They're essentially two unrelated lyrics set to the same music.
- Anthrax reworked the song "Antisocial" by the French band Trust with lyrics in English. There is also another version in which the singers of both bands trade verses in their respective languages.
- Many fans of the now ex-band t.A.T.u. agree that their Russian songs are better than their translated songs. The English versions are often semi-removed from their Russian counterparts. At times, the story the songs tell (especially from the first album) are a matter of In Name Only.
- It's well-known that "Seasons in The Sun" is an English version of "Le Moribond" by Jacques Brel. When Rod McKuen did the translation he retained the lyrical concept (a dying man addresses family and friends) and the basic lyrical structure, but softened the lyrical tone. Brel's version has a complex stew of emotions (nostalgic, snarky, chipper, regretful) but is centered on the narrator revealing his awareness of his wife's infidelity. McKuen made the song more about reconciliation. For his hit version Terry Jacks eliminated two of McKuen's verses and added one of his own, which drove it deep into sappy territory.
- Chthonic usually have songs with Taiwanese lyrics while international versions have English lyrics. Some English songs still have Taiwanese lyrics in them though, such as "Kaoru".
- Les Misérables was originally adapted to a musical in French. When the English version was created a lot of the tunes were kept, but they had to be extensively rewritten and a few extra songs were added as well. And it worked.
- Kristina, the English language version of the Swedish musical Kristina från Duvemåla, is littered with this even though Björn Ulvaeus (who wrote the original lyrics) helped to translate it. It's really jarring to listen to given how close attention Ulvaeus paid to the source material when he wrote the original lyrics (several lines are direct quotes, or as close as possible, from the novels) and yet with the English language version they didn't seem to give half a damn about accuracy.
- One example is from the song You Have To Be There. In the original Kristina sings: "But you took my child" in reference to her recent miscarriage. In the English version she sings: "First you killed my child, when her life had scarce begun", referring to Anna, her daughter who died more than ten years earlier. It may not seem like that big of a deal if you just listen to the song out of its context but within the musical the whole reason why she questions God's existence is due to her miscarriage.
- When Utada Hikaru's (Japanese) song Hikari received an English language counterpart (Simple And Clean) the song was decidedly not a literal translation of its Japanese predecessor. While the two songs feature the same tune, Hikari and Simple & Clean have radically different meaning lyrics. Which doesn't stop either of them from being Crowning Music of Awesome for anyone who's ever played Kingdom Hearts.
- Same thing for Kingdom Hearts II as the Japanese version used Utada's song Passion and an English version called Sanctuary. Again, both are awesome and since both were written and sung by Utada, there's no real controversy there.
- In an interesting twist, Sanctuary was the one written first, while Passion was the other-language adaptation.
- The European version of the Inazuma Eleven games zig-zag this trope:
- For the first game, they replaced the audio for the opening with a dubbed version of the anime adaptation's first opening theme, Tachiagariiyo. And they took a song about Hot Bloodedness and completely rewrote the lyrics to be about soccer, and very cheesy lyrics at that.
- Thankfully, when the second game was released in Europe, they kept the same song from its Japanese version and made a significantly better attempt at a Woolseyism. The lyrics were still incredibly unsubtle, but at least they retain the gist of the Japanese version.
- Inazuma Eleven Strikers just had its opening theme replaced with an instrumental version. The lyrics were taken out completely.
- The Japanese and English versions of Ashley's theme in WarioWare Touched onwards are pretty much completely different from one another, with the only similarity being the same melody in the background. Super Smash Bros. then remade both versions and put them in the same game, which finally meant English players could hear the Japanese version and Japanese ones could hear the English version as well as their local equivalents.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold had problems with the German dub of the musical number Death Trap. Because the only translation (Todesfalle) is too long to build a song around the word was swapped with Basta (stop or period). The following song was more or less a list of nouns (existing or not) that are recognized with the practice of killing people (machines, turbines, steelrails, plumb avalanches, guillotines, landmines). One of the rhymes was Säurestrahlen/Laserstrahlen (acidbeams/laserbeams). At least one can joke that the newly invented words are part of his former identity's practice to sound more ambitious in job interviews.
- The Finnish version of the DuckTales opening theme. "I'm going to stroke it/'cause your arms are broken!"
- For some reason, the German version of the Ducktales theme mentions Pluto and Goofy, as if they are characters in the show, when they are not.
- The French version. The first line translates to the same thing as the original, but the second verse is changed from "Living just for fun" to "They will make you laugh", the verse after that "Laughter, good times too" is now "Children and even the big people", "When the Popples pop-pop" for you is "Everyone loves the Popples!" and the last line, "They pop up just for you!" is "They come out just for you!".
- The Korean intro has different lyrics. The word "Popples" is in every other sentence, except for the ending.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
- The Italian version of "Winter Wrap Up" is named "Enough with the Winter" and changes the first part of the song to give a negative impression of winter ("In these three months of cold winter we were obligated to don't play, we couldn't go out of our homes and neither work")
- The German version is called "Winter-Ade-Tag" ("Winter Farewell Day"), but most bronies understood "Winter-Tee-Tag" ("Winter Tea Day").