How BTS, Rosalia & 'Parasite' Are Breaking Down Language Barriers in Entertainment

Bong Joon-ho, Rosalía, BTS
Getty Images; Design by Jessica Xie

From left: Bong Joon-ho, Rosalía and BTS

This phenomenon extends beyond the Billboard charts.

Everywhere you look in the world of entertainment, you are reminded that the world is becoming increasingly multilingual.

As my colleague Keith Caulfield reported on Sunday, BTS' Map of the Soul: 7 this week becomes the 10th album or EP that is performed primarily in a language other than English to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 -- dating back to that chart's inception in 1956. Remarkably, six of those 10 albums or EPs have appeared in the past two years. BTS' current album follows three previous releases by the K-pop phenoms, fellow K-pop group Super M's Super M: The First Mini Album, and Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli's.

Another colleague, Xander Zellner, reported on Tuesday (March 3) that BTS' "ON" is the 20th song in a foreign language to make the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- dating to that chart's introduction in 1958.

Seven foreign-language songs achieved the feat in the 2010s, which enabled that just-concluded decade to set a new record as the decade with the most 10 hits in a foreign language. There were five such hits in the '60s, which was the previous record for a decade.

This phenomenon extends beyond the Billboard charts.

When the Grammy nominations were announced on Nov. 20, 2019, Rosalía became the first artist to receive a best new artist nomination for an album recorded in a foreign language (Spanish). Rosalía wound up losing the award to Billie Eilish, but her album, El Mal Querer, won for best Latin rock, urban or alternative album. Rosalía also stands as the only artist to receive best new artist nominations at both the Grammys and the Latin Grammys (two years earlier).

At the 2016 Grammys, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" (featuring Justin Bieber) became the third hit primarily in a foreign language (Spanish) to receive nominations for both record and song of the year. It followed Domenico Modugno's Italian import "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)," which swept both awards at the inaugural ceremony (1958), and Los Lobos' hit cover version of Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba," also in Spanish (1987).

At the Academy Awards on Feb. 9, Parasite became the first film in a language other than English to win best picture. It was the third foreign-language film released in the 2010s to receive a best picture nomination, following Amour (2012) and Roma (2018), making the 2010s the first decade in which three foreign-language films received best picture nominations.

Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho won three Oscars, for co-producing, co-writing and directing the film. This marked the second year in a row that the Oscar for direction went to a non-English-language film; Mexico's Alfonso Cuarón won last year for Roma. Prior to these back-to-back winners, no director had ever won for directing a foreign-language film.

Parasite will likely wind up as the second highest-grossing foreign-language film in U.S. box-office history. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the longtime leader, with a domestic gross of $128.08 million. It's followed by Life Is Beautiful ($57.60 million), Hero ($53.71 million) and Parasite (currently $51.48 million.)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was a bit ahead of the Parasite wave. Its board of governors decided on April 23, 2019, to change the name of best foreign language film (which was introduced in 1947) to best international feature film. The argument was that use of the term "foreign" was outdated within the global filmmaking community and that the new name better represents this category, and also promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking. Parasite was the first film to receive the award under its new name.

At the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 19, Parasite became the first film in a language other than English to win the award for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture.