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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 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.


Examples:


Anime/Manga

  • The Optimum dub of Sailor Moon features a "Moonlight densetsu" cover with rewritten lyrics, called "(The One Named) Sailor Moon".
  • 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 ½ 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!


Films

  • 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 your that this trope works both ways.
    • 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, and Swedish, keep it as "Be Prepared."
      • In Italian it becames "I'll be King"
    • "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".
    • 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.
  • 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.


Music

  • 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.
  • 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".
    • I saw the video for Stella Soleil's cover on VH-1 a bit here in the states...
  • 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?"
  • 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 Break Up 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" [1], a German-language remake of Rozalla's "Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)" [2], 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 "What Have 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.
  • 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.


Theatre

  • 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.


Video Games

  • 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.

Western Animation

  • 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 TMNT series theme sounds quite different in Hebrew.
  • The Finnish version of the DuckTales opening theme. "I'm going to stroke it/'cause your arms are broken!"
  • The French version of the Popples them. 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 of Popples has different lyrics. The word "Popples" is in every other sentence, except for the ending.
  • 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")

Notes

  1. "I'm Here Again"
  2. which in German would be something like "Jeder ist frei (sich gut zu fühlen)"
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