Streaming Helps Local Acts Chip Away at English-Language Pop
Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube help make stars out of homegrown talent.
The list of the 10 best-paid women in music is dominated by American superstars such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift. But nestled at No. 8 is a German singer named Helene Fischer.
Although she’s little known outside her home country, Fischer has shattered virtually every chart record in Europe’s biggest music market since her 2013 hit Atemlos durch die Nacht (“Breathless Through the Night”)—the most downloaded song by a German artist ever. Last year she sold 900,000 tickets to her stadium concerts featuring multiple costume changes, a dress that appears to be made of water, and Cirque-du-Soleil-style acrobatics, topping the Rolling Stones, Phil Collins, and Drake in ticket sales. “Helene Fischer is living proof of what you can achieve with music in Germany,” says Frank Briegmann, who heads the central European operations of the singer’s label, Universal Music. “Her ideas often push the boundaries of what’s possible.”
Fischer, 34, is one of a growing number of local-market musicians chipping away at the dominance of English-language pop. Warner’s Spanish pop star Pablo Alborán topped his country’s album charts last year, followed by Sony’s singer-songwriter Rozalén and seven other domestic artists in the Top 10. In France, Johnny Hallyday is atop the charts more than a year after his death. In Brazil, the local version of country—sertanejo—is the most popular music on Deezer.
The growth of services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and Pandora was supposed to turn the world into one giant music marketplace, with Adele, Beyoncé, and Celine Dion winning fans from Boise to Bangkok. But just as streaming has breathed new life into the music industry, helping expand sales by more than 20 percent since 2014 after a decade of painful declines, it’s propelling previously unknown acts into the mainstream. Locals from places that once largely followed global trends can instantly reach a worldwide audience by uploading songs to Apple Music, Spotify, or YouTube. While record companies still play a role in developing talent, “streaming has leveled the playing field,” says David Price, global director of insight at IFPI, the music recording industry’s global association.
Three years ago, Spotify hired editors in the Netherlands to work with local talent and create playlists dedicated to Dutch music. That attention paid off for rapper Boef, who in 2017 logged 150 million streams in the Benelux countries, breaking records previously held by Britain’s Ed Sheeran. In Germany and Italy, 8 of last year’s 10 most streamed musicians on Deezer were domestic. In France it was 10 out of 10 as the Paris-based company curated playlists for fans of various genres. “In each market, we try to drill down into acts that are making an impact,” says Junior Foster, who manages artist marketing for the service.
Fischer’s success—she’s sold more than 15 million records and had Germany’s top-selling album in five of the past six years—has encouraged music companies to invest more in local talent. Bausa, a German rapper on the Warner label, last year sold more than 1 million copies of his single Was du Liebe Nennst (“What You Call Love”), achieving rare diamond status. Rock band AnnenMayKantereit played on the streets of Cologne until they signed with Universal and shot to fame with a hit titled Pocahontas. Even acts that got their start in the 1970s, such as Herbert Groenemeyer and Peter Maffay, have released big-selling albums over the past year.
While German stars have had limited success outside of their home market, a few foreign artists are breaking into the English-speaking world: Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi and reggaeton rapper Daddy Yankee had a global hit with their song Despacito, which became a meme and inspired a slew of remixes and spoofs. Brazilian singer Anitta has cracked Spotify’s worldwide charts and is getting her own Netflix show. And Love Yourself: Tear by South Korea’s BTS last year debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Universal says it’s willing to back Fischer, already popular in neighboring countries such as Austria and the Netherlands, if she chooses to bring her acrobatic spectacles to farther-flung markets. Will Peoria, Paris, or Perth embrace a German superchanteuse in a water dress?