Foreign Artists that Should be on Your Radar
If you want to get to know a country’s culture, listening to its music might get you about halfway there. How the people listen to music, where the genres originated from, what they sing about—it’s all very telling. So look up these artists, but also look up the lyrics, watch the music videos, listen to the instruments, let them lead you to other artists. Whatever you do, discover something new.
By Mallory Beck
BTS (South Korea)
Korea has one of the biggest and most unique pop music scenes in the world. It’s called K-pop and there’s a whole world of it out there. Psy’s Gangnam Style may have introduced it to you, but K-pop is becoming more universal every day. The group BTS recently became the first K-pop group to receive a Billboard music award, and their most popular music video has 634 million views. So if not from me, you would have heard their name from someone soon. Check out their song “DNA”, and bring the views to 634 million and one.
France actually has a law that requires 40% of the music on the radio to be French. This supports French musical artists and keeps the French popular music scene thriving in a world where American pop music has a monopoly. Angèle is a popular French musical artist and my personal favorite on this list. She’s got some Billy Eilish vibes going on, and even though you probably have no idea what she’s saying, you just know the lyrics are beautiful and profound. Try her song “Tout Oublier” (“Forget Everything”) first, and then listen to that whole damn album.
Natalia Lafourcade (Mexico)
Music has a lot of meaning in Mexico—it’s connected deeply to celebration and dancing and family. To me, Natalia Lafourcade has a folksy, vintage sound that feels like eating cold fruit in the summer. Start with “Hasta la Raíz” (“To the Root”), if you haven’t heard of her already, and then go on a spree of discovering the great variety of music that Latin America has to offer.
Kenshi Yonezu (Japan)
Japanese culture is an exciting blend of things that has become super iconic. I think of Anime and Manga, street-wear, films, Pusheen, tech, the list goes on. Modern Japanese music integrates the western genres of rock and pop, but it also has a distinctly different sound. Kenshi Yonezu makes upbeat rock music (J-rock). He got popular from his song “Peace Sign,” which was the theme song for the popular anime My Hero Academia, but unless you like anime theme songs, I recommend listening to “Lemon” first.
Lewis Capaldi (Scotland)
We’re back into English-speaking territory. Us Americans know a lot of the top singers from other English-speaking countries because they show up on our top 40 too. However, you might not know Lewis Capaldi who is somewhat of a Scottish Sam Smith, if you will. Listen to “Someone You Loved” and try to hear his accent.
Dean Lewis (Australia)
Here’s another English-speaking artist that you might know from his song “Be Alright,” which is number 44 on Billboard’s top 100. But maybe you didn’t know his name or that he was from Australia. And you might not have heard any of his other songs, which is a shame because they’re good. A lot of them are overly sweet love songs, but sometimes that’s just what you want. Put him on a playlist with Ed Sheeran and name it “Romantic Sh*t.” Check out his newest song “7 Minutes”.
Honestly I had no idea what kind of music was topping the charts in Germany. Turns out German rap is a thing. A very popular thing. Sido is my favorite artist that I found, and I really liked the song “Tausend Tattoos,” but Capital Bra is an even more popular rapper there. His music doesn’t appeal to me, but it’s interesting to know what is making Germany’s top spot on Billboard.
Jamaican music obviously has a very iconic sound and vibe that comes from mixes of ska, R&B, jazz, and other genres. There’s a lot of history and tradition in reggae, and it has held a lot of messages over the years. We all know Bob Marley, but Koffee is an artist making waves in the modern Jamaican music scene. She’s only 18-years-old and her music sounds like a blend of hip-hop and reggae. Koffee could go on your next party playlist. Her song “Toast” makes you wanna get down.
It’s actually amazing to think that there is a whole world of music out there that will likely never reach our radio stations. Thank God we have the Internet.