The connection between Spanish and American pop culture

Kaitlyn Richert is a sophomore double majoring in magazine journalism and informational graphics/publication design, with a minor in Spanish. She is studying abroad in Toledo, Spain for winter quarter 2012.

One thing that I learned before I left for Spain was that I would experience “culture shock” abroad, or feelings of disbelief or anxiety once I was thrown into its foreign culture and routine. There would be different food, different clothing, and a different mode of popular culture.

…Or so I had assumed.

Spaniards are fascinated by American pop culture. They dub hundreds of our movies and TV shows to enjoy – anything from flicks such as Forrest Gump and The Hangover to programs such as The Simpsons, Friends and Pimp My Ride. They repeatedly listen to the hip-hop and pop songs that have been played to death on Kiss months before they arrived here – think Katy Perry, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and LMFAO (If I hear Party Rock Anthem one more time…).

It’s hard to feel disconnected from pop culture at home when you can sit in any coffee shop or restaurant and hear Adele’s latest hit or some of the old 90’s tracks like Sweet Home Alabama or Slide. Spaniards even have the Goya Awards (Premios Goya), which recognizes national films. Like the Oscars, they generate buzz months before they air. In the realm of fashion, leather boots, scarves, off-the-shoulder tops and ripped jeans are still sold and worn here in Spain. People don’t leave the house in sweatpants, but generally, the clothing here is similar to that of the US. There is a McDonald’s within a half-a-mile radius of my house (although the prices are conspicuously higher) and when I traveled to Valencia and Barcelona, I saw other various American chains such as Subway, Burger King and Starbucks Coffee.

With all of this in mind, I have come to the conclusion that some of American culture has come around full circle back to Spain, just as the groups of Europeans — Muslims, Christians and Jews – long ago influenced American culture and society.

What’s so compelling about all of this, however, is that most Spaniards lack the desire to learn English. They are, essentially, listening to music and singing along, but they don’t comprehend what they’re saying. With movies, they seldom understand the reality of American culture. My host brother told me that he thinks all colleges in The States experience a young-adult life that resembles that of American Pie. And we all know that’s not true. Spaniards want our culture, they want our creations. But they take the easy way out with movies by dubbing them. Most of the translations I here are inaccurate, anyway.

This strikes me as interesting because I am, more or less, a pop culture fanatic — especially with music. Lyrics are very important to me and I cannot imagine living in a culture where I couldn’t understand most of them. Even at home, when a Pitbull or Shakira song comes on, I think there are enough Americans that can speak Spanish and can understand most of the vocabulary, but we have other options. I’d estimate that about 70 percent of the songs I hear in Spain are sung by American artists.

Don’t get me wrong – Spaniards have their own taste of music, too. Here are a few songs that are always on at the discotectas that I had not heard before I came here. I have grown to love them, and they have made me feel more connected to the pop culture that is true to the country and the language.

Au Si Eu Te Pego – Michel Teló
This song is actually in Portuguese, but it’s still very popular in Europe. I don’t understand most of it, but I just like the song — probably such as the Spaniards like American music, yet don’t understand it.

Loca (Spanish Version) – Shakira
This song is always on wherever I go. The video was filmed in Barcelona, and I was there last weekend. ¡Disfruta!


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