Avril Goes Multilingual For 'Girlfriend,' But Does It Get Lost In Translation?

MTV panel gives singer mixed reviews for foreign-language versions of song.

Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera might have released songs in Spanish, but Avril Lavigne has outdone the lot of them.

Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Japanese and Mandarin — she's covered them all for her single "Girlfriend" (see "Don't Know How To Spell 'Avril Lavigne'? Prepare To Be Scolded"). But how well did she do it?

(Did she get it right? See a MTV News panel dissect Avril's new multilingual single.)

We assembled a panel of our own international experts, ranging from newsroom interns to on-air talent, each fluent in one of the languages Avril recorded in, to tell us how the singer translates the lyrics, including the bouncy chorus ("Hey! Hey! You! You! I don't like your girlfriend/ No way! No way! I think you need a new one/ Hey! Hey! You! You! I could be your girlfriend").

Johnny Degliuomini, MTV News intern: The first line in Italian, "Non amo tua ragazza," she's saying, "I don't love your girlfriend." I understand, because if you use the other verb for "like" it doesn't sound right. And then she says, "I will be your girlfriend." "Sarò tua" means "I will be" instead of "I could be." She couldn't directly translate it because of the tense of the verb. It takes way too long and doesn't fall right.

Ryan Kroft, MTV News supervising producer: If she did it in French, it would take an extra sentence. She wouldn't be able to phrase the song right, so you have to give her that, but I do think "I will be your girlfriend" is a little nastier, a little stalker-y. And there's no explanation for why she couldn't get her mouth around "copine" [the French word for girlfriend].

John Norris, MTV News correspondent: Or "copping," as she says.

Andrew Millard, MTV News producer: It sounds like a drug.

Kroft: It's confusing, because people say, "Maybe she's saying it in a Canadian way," but if she was, she would have a thicker, [more] guttural accent. She's not French-Canadian. But she's from Napanee, which is two hours outside of Toronto, two hours from the French border — it's not like she hasn't had any exposure to it. I would imagine, the punky, wild girl that she is, she went and partied in Montreal as a kid. She probably took French in school, but does she look like somebody who studied hard? [Everyone laughs.]

Lorena Santarem, MTV Tr3s intern: When Beyoncé did "Irreplaceable" in Spanish, you can sort of [hear] the accent, but not as [much]. She took the time, she made the effort. But Avril, when she says "girlfriend" in Portuguese, "namorada," you have to pronounce every part of the word. But instead she pronounces like an American would, just reading it, "Oh, namorada." What, you didn't make the effort to pronounce it right?

Yanina Molina, MTV News & Docs production coordinator: The part that's not translated correctly [in Spanish] is, "Yo sé que me gustas," which means, "I know that you like me." She says ["Yo sé que te gusto," which means], "I know that I like you." That's the only part of the song that's translated incorrectly. It does have a bit of the gringa accent, but I think you have to appreciate her trying.

Kroft: It's like listening to Shakira the first time she sang in English: I don't know what the hell she's singing, but it sounds good.

Millard: But when foreign artists have a song in their native language, in their native country, they often do an American version. Which would you rather have: the song in their native language — the way it's performed in their country — or the bad English translation?

Norris: The fact of the matter is, they would record flat-out in English anyway. The hope of breaking through in an Anglo-centric country otherwise is infinitesimal.

Kroft: Can I ask a question? What language does David Hasselhoff sing in?

Millard: His most famous song after the Berlin Wall fell was in German, I believe. But I haven't listened to enough David Hasselhoff to be an authority on that. [Everyone laughs.] But for example, Nena did two versions of "99 Luftballons." Just throwing that out there.

Kroft: When you listen to Celine Dion sing in English, at least early in her career, does that not irk you, the bad accent? Wouldn't you just rather hear her belt in French?

Norris: Yeah, I guess, sure.

Santarem: But Shakira, she wasn't familiar with the English language, and she is now. She's making an effort. But Avril isn't like, "OK, so I'm going to be a Japanese artist now, I'm going to sing in Japanese." Avril is already an established artist in those countries. I think that's the main difference.

Wen-Ting Yang, MTV News editor: Well, in Taiwan it doesn't matter what language you speak. Actually, the more American, the better. So it doesn't even matter if it's in Mandarin. But I have to give her credit — it is a very hard language to pronounce. She did a pretty good job, actually. She got the tones right. But one verse sounded like she might have said, "You were not a secret," when in Chinese it would be "It's not a secret": "bu shi yi ge mi mi." But it sounds like she said, "Ni shi yi ge mi mi": "You are a secret." Other than that, she's pretty dead-on.

Norris: See, if she had hired all of us, she'd be dead-on perfect!

Lika Kumoi, MTV News associate producer: Her pronunciation isn't too bad in Japanese. But instead of saying girlfriend, they use "anoko," which is "that girl." "That girl is iffy" is what it literally translates to. And then "You need another girl" basically is "I could be your girlfriend." "Anoko wa imaichi" is what they say. The word that she uses for "iffy" is "imaichi," and that's a weird word to say, to fit in a song.

Yang: In the Mandarin version, when she says, "I want to be your girlfriend," it's very obviously cut-up. She sounds like a robot. [Everyone laughs.]

Kroft: I would think for Asian fans it's a pretty big deal that she tried to learn those languages, so you're going to give her a pat on the back and say, "Good for you." But these other languages are not that hard to wrap your mouth around, especially if you're from a French-speaking country, so it's less impressive. It more goes with her image that she's bratty and obnoxious and wouldn't put that effort in. A label person said that she would sing in seven languages, and so she showed up and did it. That's my assessment of it.

Norris: But her persona is also that she doesn't do things she doesn't want to do. It does give me an appreciation for Celine or Shakira, who do end up having careers in a language other than what they grew up with, so props to her for trying.

Kroft: I have a theory: I think the redhead [in the "Girlfriend" video] is really good at languages. But the brunette can't sing in them. [Everyone laughs.]

Norris: There you go. I think you've nailed it. Avril, la version française, c'est loin de parfait, mais merci pour l'effort et bonne chance avec le disque [the French version is less than perfect, but thank you for the effort, and good luck with the album].