Other Tongue: Songs Sung in Fake Languages

In 1999, Sigur Rós’ Ágætis byrjun bewitched a surprisingly broad swath of music lovers with its heavily textural, exceedingly patient approach to orchestral art rock. But hidden within the gossamer folds of that gorgeous album was something even more novel: lyrics sung in the band’s very own made-up language, Hopelandic. Though indistinguishable for most fans from the group’s native Icelandic, this idioglossia became an attractive part of the Sigur Rós mythos—elaborate world-building is, after all, catnip to pop-culture obsessives (shout out to the MCU).

As it turns out, Jónsi and co. were neither the first nor the last to experiment with bespoke jargon. Not all have taken it as far, but some have gone farther: ’70s French prog-rockers Magma record exclusively in Kobaïan, a language from a fictional planet that was apparently also visited by Japan’s ’80s-founded Ruins, who howl in a Kobaïan derivative. New ager Enya adopted her Gaelic-inspired “Loxian” after singing in Elvish for The Lord of the Rings. Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard sometimes slips into a vocabulary she says she shares exclusively with God.

On the chiller end of the spectrum, you’ll find Elton John and Talking Heads employing fake speech in Dadaist thought experiments. And off-kilter interpretations, like Tom Waits grunting in German-esque on “Kommienezuspadt,” or Italy’s Adriano Celentano aping American English on 1972’s “Prisencolinensinainciusol.” There’s a lot of quasi-Latin chant out there, but there’s only so much meditation music one playlist can handle, so we skipped some of those songs to make room for a little novelty: Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping in Huttese, and a certain gang of yellow fellows covering the Village People.