South Korea’s pop culture exports have come a long way in Latin America since they first pushed their power in the form of Korean electronics, later playing a major role in spreading Hallyu (or the Korean Wave of pop culture and entertainment exports) in the region in recent years. With Latin America being an up-and-coming market for Hallyu as a whole, K-pop acts are now becoming a popular alternative to Western artists. Once completely missing in worldwide tours, Latin American countries like Argentina, Mexico, and Chile are now slowly becoming necessary stops for K-pop concerts, and often overlooked countries like Bolivia and Panama have started to be included as well.
The fandom is so strong that the region has even hosted larger music events that have yet to come to the U.S. or most parts of Europe – ones that are often reserved for Asia. TV shows and conventions like KCON and Music Bank – and even the artists’ own tours – have allowed K-pop acts to connect more deeply with their audience by performing songs in Spanish.
Just last week, Hallyu legends Super Junior, who have been vying for the Latin American market this year, included a cover of Luis Miguel’s “Ahora Te Puedes Marchar” (itself a cover of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Wanna Be With You”) on their latest EP One More Time. Fans on social media commended them for their spot-on pronunciation and their more modern, funkier take on El Sol de Mexico’s classic song.
While Super Junior has the fan support and the courage to feature a cover of a song in Spanish on an EP, most K-pop acts performing in the region reserve their covers as treats for fans at their own shows. Here are just a few of the many times K-pop idols have taken on the challenge of singing in Spanish (and a bonus one at the end in an often overlooked Latin American language!).
Taemin - “Despacito”
The worldwide popularity of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s hit “Despacito” is undisputed. So when the South Korean TV program Music Bank went to Chile earlier this year, it was inevitable that one of the artists would perform the hit. Enter Taemin, a soloist and member of the group SHINee. He opted for the Justin Bieber version and sang in both Spanish and English – sans the rap, of course – and added his own nonchalant sensuality to the rendition.
EXO - “Sabor a Mí”
A few years ago, a clip of a Korean band playing and singing “Sabor a Mí” went viral on Facebook. It features four of the nine members of one of K-pop’s most popular bands EXO, and was a special stage during Music Bank in Mexico. Their rendition blew both fans and non-fans away with their stellar pronunciation and vocal chops. Taking on a classic like “Sabor a Mí” was a bold move, but the members delivered a beautiful cover that even your mom and abuela will love.
KARD -“Mi Gente”
Since dropping their first single in 2016, the co-ed quartet KARD have regularly mixed Caribbean rhythms into their music. Naturally, this garnered them a huge following in Latin America, and they’ve regularly toured throughout the region. In September, KARD held shows in cities like Bogotá and Buenos Aires and, as a special performance for their fans, they covered J Balvin, Willy William, and Beyoncé’s “Mi Gente,” complete with the raps in Spanish and their own choreography.
Astro - “La Bamba”
“La Bamba” is another song that’s celebrated on both sides of the border, and we’ve probably heard every cover and rearrangement imaginable. During KCON Mexico last year, the boy group Astro put a K-pop spin on the Los Lobos version. Their cover is pure bubblegum pop, complete with cutesy antics, playful choreography, and even newly penned rap verses in Korean.
Ailee - “Donde Voy”
For Music Bank Mexico, one of K-pop’s best vocalists Ailee took on Tish Hinojosa’s folk song “Donde Voy” and turned it into her own power ballad. Despite not knowing the language, the New Jersey native conveyed the same emotion of the original song perfectly.
Yoseob from Highlight, Sungkyu from INFINITE, and Youngjae from B.A.P - “¡Corre!”
Sung by Joy Huerta of the sibling duo Jesse & Joy, three members of different K-pop groups came together to sing “¡Corre!” for a special performance for fans during Music Bank in Mexico. Yoseob, Sungkyu, and Youngjae, all main vocalists in their respective groups, harmonized beautifully together and made many fans shed tears with their touching rendition.
JeA - “Adiós Amor”
Originally a banda song by Mexican singer Christian Nodal, soloist JeA (and member of the group Brown Eyed Girls) covered “Adiós Amor” for her YouTube channel. Her sorrowful, stripped-down version is so different from Nodal’s that you’d never guess the original has accordions and trumpets. JeA also covered “Despacito” because it was 2017 and, well, how could you not?
Honorable Mention: NCT 127 - “Ai Se Eu Te Pego”
While not necessarily a song in Spanish, the Brazilian song “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” was a massive hit throughout Latin America and much of the world. And though Brazil has a huge K-pop following, it continues to be largely overlooked when it comes to concert tours and interactions with the artists. For KCON Mexico, the group NCT 127 opted to cover Michel Teló’s version (itself a cover) as a special performance, commemorating their first trip to Latin America. The members sang in Portuguese and even mixed their own playful choreography with the song’s signature thrust move.