In the early 2000s, the UK witnessed a craze of European one-hit wonders topping the charts. These songs remain nostalgic triggers for all millennials and older, proving the importance of melody-driven earworms in songwriting. As a songwriter, I’ve always valued lyrics frequently above all else. However, with the mindset of gaining a deeper appreciation for the art of the catchy vocal hook - let's dive in. Here’s my top songs that I can’t understand. (I mean linguistically, not “can’t understand how people listen to” like Lana Del Rey.)

Dragostea Din Tei - Ozone

This was a very easy starting point for me. The track flooded every music channel, radio station - and most importantly school disco, in 2003. Frequently, a song can be easily identified by a guitar riff or drum fill. The “Ma-ia-hii” intro of this iconic eurodance track doesn’t serve in isolation as the only identifiable factor. In fact, growing up in the UK, it was almost a certainty that when Ozone came on, everybody within earshot would sing it word for word. Did we know we were singing a frankly depressing song about a woman leaving and draining the colour out of somebody’s life? Absolutely not. But we would vaguely scream the words with an inappropriate level of confidence every time. 

Asereje (The Ketchup Song) - Las Ketchup

I apologise for nothing. Sometimes in life, you have to take things for what they are. Some artists make beautiful, intricate songs. Deep in meaning, and emotionally provoking. Others, however, focus on commercial viability through simplicity. Las Ketchup went route one - and to say the focus isn’t on lyrics wouldn’t be unfair, considering the primary hook is nonsense. (I promise - I’m not being culturally insensitive, it’s actual babble whatever your linguistic abilities are.) 

Is there much to comment on from a production aspect? Absolutely not. It’s a basic song, with little variation from a dynamic aspect. But a chorus this catchy has to be admired. And why on earth did we stop making songs specifically partnered with simple dances to accompany? Did we run out of dances?

Les Champs-Elysees - Joe Dassin

This might be a bit of a cultural palette-cleanser here compared to the above… But Les Champs-Elysees is a beautiful song that transports me to a cinematic coast along the south of France. In my mind, in a car with Audrey Hepburn. Which is weird, because I’m pretty sure I’m describing the computer-generated Galaxy Chocolate advert, which doesn’t feature that song. And is set in Italy.

The song has featured in numerous films, as well as being revived more recently on social media by covers and singing videos due to its simple but beautiful melody. As a songwriter, this song is a perfect example of the beauty beyond lyrics. With an elementary level of French, every single word goes over my head, but the subtlety of the melody journeying down and being anchored by the main motif demonstrates the power in every element when it comes to song construction.

Four Kicks - Kings of Leon (and most of their songs prior to 2005…)

Is this a little bit of a silly song to include? Perhaps. However, there’s a truth behind not understanding their early works - and maybe a deeper analysis is needed as to why that is! 

Kings of Leon came onto the scene with their debut album Youth and Young Manhood, achieving success primarily within the UK. Red Morning Light, from this album, would feature on the soundtrack of Fifa 2004 - a game known for their utilisation of under-appreciated indie artists - and from there they continued to grow. The Guardian defined the breakthrough band as ‘the kind of authentic, hairy rebels The Rolling Stones longed to be’. And a large part of their authenticity comes from their unapologetically southern accents. As an avid fan, I love to belt out their songs when listening in the car, but truth be told; I don’t understand a word they say and often find myself confidently babbling. 

There’s a bigger discussion that can be had about their musical evolution. In 2005 they opened for U2, and this feels like a catalyst towards an intentional focus towards creating music that services an area better. The lyrics changed, and the vocals delivering them slowly shifted to a more coherent, but arguably less authentic tone. 

Flyers - Bradio 

In a conscious effort to better my song-writing, I always try to expand my horizons with the music I’ll listen to and musically critique. Korean pop hasn’t ever been at the forefront of my music library, but stumbling across artists like Kyary Pamu-Pamu and Bradio have a lot to offer with regards to unique harmony and construction of composition. The track “Flyers” is just bloody fun. The chord progression is typical of Korean music, stepping out of the typical western progressions to create tension. K-pop utilises visual elements almost equal to the music, meaning the video for this is brilliant in its own sense. There’s a level of simplicity, the band seem to be enjoying the process and it matches the high energy of the track. 

Used as the theme for anime ‘Death Parade’, this song is an embodiment of the culture of K-pop, with a large production including brass section, catchy vocal hooks and epic guitar riffs - love it or hate it, Flyers by Bradio is an absolute anthem. 

I’m aware this is a random list. I apologise for nothing. Let me know if I missed any other tracks that you think deserve to be in the list of best songs I don’t understand!