The Italian Bruno Mars, the Croatian Hit 'Brad Pitt' Plus 13 More of Europe's Best Songs From 2011 (Video)
Every year in America, a few hits make the jump from across the Atlantic, but the vast majority do not. Obvious language and accent barriers (not to mention licensing deals, or lack thereof) remain the primary reason why so many songs don't venture outside the domain of the EU, Scandinavia and beyond. But YouTube exposes exponentially more Americans to an astounding array of excellent pop offerings. Here, 15 songs from the other side of the pond that are worth checking out.
The biggest music stories in Italy this year were the return of Laura Pausini (who had a massive hit this fall with “Benvenuto”), the ascension of eccentric rapper Caparezza and the Italian media’s obsession with Jovanotti’s latest record. But the most interesting smash comes via new artist, tipped as the Italian Bruno Mars, Tiziano Ferro and his recorded-in-Los Angeles (at Henson Studios) No. 1 Italian single “La Differenza Tra Me E Te.”
Edward Maya’s “Stereo Love” is old news in Romania. And sure, many in America now know Bucharest-based female pop stars such as Inna and Alexandra “Mr. Saxobeat” Stan, but in the small country late last year all the way into this past summer one song was nearly inescapable on Romanian radio stations: Elena Gheorghe’s “Midnight Sun.” The tune was eventually released in multiple EU territories in 2011 and did well (though not quite as well as “Mr. Saxobeat,” which topped the charts in several EU countries).
It’s nearly impossible to narrow down the excellent myriad offerings from France this year into one song. Colonel Reyel owned early 2011 and Mika had a surprise smash in France with his “Elle Mit Dit” which topped French pop charts for over a month earlier this year. But Mylene Farmer had a very good 2011, with multiple hits including the Red One-produced “Oui Mais Non.” Her track “Lonely Lisa” topped the charts in July and offers a window into why France still loves this longtime purveyor of slightly off-kilter pop tunes with wild-looking music videos to accompany the offerings.
2011 was a banner year in the EU’s largest music market, with many artists selling well and furthering massive fan bases all over Austria, Germany and beyond. One of the hottest acts at the moment is R.I.O., which feels very American (a guy from the U.S. actually raps frequently on the slick R&B-meets-dance act's songs that are all the rage on German radio stations at the moment). Nena (yes, that Nena) even had a hit at age 51 with a younger electro act (Die Atzen) via a track called “Strobopop.” But the most interesting song out of Germany this past year may have been duo Boy’s “Little Numbers.” The song, in English, sounds like older Feist material and went on to become a minor radio hit in Germany and Switzerland, thanks in part to this video, which was shot in Barcelona.
The most surprising hit this year from Denmark was a smash that made it to Germany, too. Aura Dione’s offbeat yet catchy “Geronimo” is still making a massive impact at iTunes in Denmark and on German radio; a surprise chart-topper (as big as Lady Gaga or similar), written in part by a German man living in L.A. Have a look below at Dione performing the tune at the Danish Music Awards earlier this year.
Caro Emerald has become something of a sensation in the U.K. (sales-wise, anyway, English music journalists are only starting to catch onto her). Caro's full length, Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor, saw some time in the Top 10 in England and her Dutch label spent a bit of money to film a new video for her retro-sounding 2010 offering "Stuck,” (the new version of the video, seen below, came out in August of 2011). Have a look at an artist that already has a few U.S. boosters (such as Perez Hilton) on board and may well cross over onto these shores in 2012.
The most fascinating music news out of Greece this year was how dance music took over the mainstream. Rising stars such as Nikos Ganos and bigger established names such as Sakis Rouvas had hits with throbbing, pulsing synth-soaked songs such as “Oi Dio Mas.” But it was new names on the scene such as electro duo Playmen who may have made the biggest impact with their anthem “Get You Out Of My Head,” which emerged as a bona-fide 2011 smash both in clubs and at radio and even features U.S. rapper T-Pain.
The biggest story out of Belgium this year in the music world was Gotye’s global smash “Somebody That I Used To Know.” But he doesn’t live in Belgium anymore: he calls Australia home, so can’t really count him as an across the Atlantic artist. But Selah Sue does still live in Belgium and she has been making massive waves all over Europe with a powerful, soulful voice. The singer has made so much of a splash, in fact, that Columbia Records announced earlier this month they have signed her in the U.S. Expect to be introduced to the voice below next year.
The music scene in Poland is diverse beyond what might be expected and 2011 brought a wealth of talent to the table. Edyta Gorniak had a smash with her fantastic “Teraz Tu,” which found its way into TV commercials. Artists of note who sing in English such as Doda and Natalia Lesz also released stellar singles. But one artist who came out of nowhere and won over mainstream radio and other media outlets in Warsaw was Sylwia Grzeszczak. Her piano-based pop song with a soaring chorus “Małe Rzeczy” was an absolute monster hit and won the EMI Poland artist fans both young and old in 2011 all over the country.
Russia produced a dizzying array of hits from a myriad world of pop stars in 2011. So many artists have become stars in the former Soviet Union there is barely any room for Rihanna and Britney Spears these days in Moscow (though both are still liked there). Sergey Lazarev has a long history in the Russian music market and this year he had another hit via “Electric Touch.” The song is in English and sounds similar to Enrique Iglesias’ recent work. Lazarev signed a deal with Sony Entertainment last year and could be one to crack the U.S. market one day.
The biggest pop star in this part of Europe over the past year wasn’t a singer. Arguably no one is hotter in Bratislava and Prague right now than rapper Rytmus. Each video he releases shoots straight to the top of YouTube’s most viewed and stays there for months on end. His wild 2011 hit “Jebe” is now at over 5 million views, a big number for an artist from a smaller country in Europe.
Similarly, Croatian pop star Severina managed to snare around 5 million views for her racy 2011 offering simply called “Brad Pitt” (no, we’re not making this up). The singer is well known in Zagreb and beyond for a sex tape that leaked years ago that arguably a good half of young Croatia has seen online. Her clip below is safe for work, but touches on sexual themes visually, so consider yourself warned.
No country across the Atlantic does pop better than Sweden. Robyn is becoming better known every month that ticks by in the U.S., as anyone who watched Saturday Night Live on Dec. 10 is aware. But Norway, more than Finland, also has a vibrant pop scene that is producing future stars daily. One of the brightest is Gabrielle Leithaug, who was on Norway's version of X Factor and is a fan of Chromeo and the Neptunes. She had a massive hit over the summer with “Ring Meg.”
One of the best up-and-comers from this part of Europe is Dafina Zaeqiri. The singer boasts both Swedish and Kosovar roots, and is big in Kosovo and Albania. She put out several songs in 2011 (including one simply called “My Swag”) but the best was a just-released offering called “Supernova.” An English version of this song is forthcoming and it already features an English vocal hook. The clip was shot in Stockholm.
While the EU reeled from serious economic woes all 2011, one country remembered good old escapist fun: Spain. Juan Magan and Carlos Jean both had big hits featuring hedonistic party vibes this year, but the most fun you might have had in 2011 was via Catalonian Sak Noel and his underground house hit turned radio smash “Loca People.” The track was a surprise success not only in Spain, but also in countries such as Russia, where it cracked the upper echelons of the pop charts there (and Ukraine as well). Barcelona knows how to party, and nearly all of Europe wanted to soak up the club feel of “Loca People” this past year (Swiss/Russian collaboration “Welcome To St Tropez” was another example of a club track turned pop smash in Europe in 2011). Check out the wild and very Euro-sounding “Loca People” below (NSFW for language).