Bailando con Traducción

Although initially I was a bit embarrassed to admit it, over the last six months or so one of my favourite songs has been 'Bailando' by Enrique Iglesias and Gente de Zona, a Cuban reggaeton group. 

What I didn't realise is that I'm not alone. Apparently EVERYONE is enjoying a bit of Enrique right now. In fact, this Summer it peaked at no. 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100, no. 52 on Australia's ARIA Charts and no. 13 on the Canadian Hot 100 (as well as number 1 in a number of non-English speaking countries). Given it can pretty much be counted on one hand the number of times that a non-English song has charted in English-speaking countries over the last ... well, pretty much ever, it's an amazing effort.

Even more incredibly, not only has the original Spanish version of 'Bailando' had over 482 million views on, but an English version featuring Sean Paul has had 61.4 million views, a Brazilian Portuguese version featuring Luan Santana 13.6 million views, and a Portugal Portuguese version featuring Mickael Carreira has racked up 8.4 million views.

Like Shakira, Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias is no stranger to song translation, having released two bilingual albums and a number of singles with both Spanish and English versions such as 2001's 'Hero' and 'Heroe'. However, no-one can deny that something particularly special has occurred with this latest and most successful offering. 

Like all translations and transcreations, each version of this song is somewhat different. No doubt this is partly to appeal to the various target audiences, who may be more or less receptive to certain things. For example, in both the Portuguese versions of the song, Iglesias' part remains unchanged, in its original Spanish version. Instead, Gente de Zona's parts have been altered to allow enough space for the Portuguese-singing guest artists. On the other hand, the English version of the song has been entirely translated into English and 'Spanglish', with the chorus stating: 

'I wanna be contigo
And live contigo, and dance contigo
Para have contigo
Una noche loca
Ay besar tu boca'

Undoubtedly, the song was originally translated for cultural reasons overlaid with financial reasons; by appealing to an English and Portuguese-speaking public in their own language, Iglesias and his team hoped to appeal to a larger audience than they felt was possible with solely a Spanish version of the song. Even the decision to have two different Portuguese versions of the song is incredibly calculated to maximise impact with the culturally and linguisticaly-different Portuguese and Brazilian target audiences.

Gary Trust from recently asked Charlie Walk, executive VP of Republic Records, what he felt was the key to Bailando's success in English:

Ultimately, Walk feels that the Spanglish version of “Bailando” proved that it’s a song that translates, while still keeping the “essence of its DNA. He brilliantly, when we were breaking it at Latin, came up with the Spanglish version. It didn’t hurt his core at Latin, while Sean Paul added another voice familiar at pop.

”In all, it’s a perfect storm. Other markets, including in the Midwest, are now coming on-board. All signs point to people liking it; it doesn’t matter where you are. I call it a tri-coastal hit: from New York to L.A. to Miami, where it started.

”It’s Enrique at his core – it just sounds like him. He went back to being who he is. That’s why it’s a hit.”

Ultimately, the original Spanish version has been the most successful globally, both within and outside Spanish-speaking nations, but it is clear that the various translated versions have been a marketing success.

As Walk pointed out, Iglesias has been successful through his ability to stay true both to the original and to his personal brand. Unfortunately I was not able to find the names of the English and Portuguese translators involved in this project, but in my view they have achieved the ultimate translation goal: to recreate a work so that it will have the same impact on the target audience as the original had on its target audience. The type of people who Iglesias is appealing to through these songs may differ in the various languages (the fact that he has not one but two portuguese versions of the song clearly demonstrates that he is catering to different audiences), but he has still achieved the same outcome: selling records. All in all, it's a true translation success story!