Sep 20

#14: Es swingt dich in die Knie, denn der Riddim is Hardcore

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For the fifth poll in a row – it’s become a tradition! – we have a bracket dedicated to non-English language pop. This started as simply a couple of groups in the People’s Pop Poll in May, but it’s grown as we’ve done the polls. In the 1990 poll there was almost enough for an entire bracket – in this one we had too many for one, and a certain amount of sleight of hand was needed to accommodate it all.

The foreign language groups are traditionally the least voted-on, which is probably inevitable but of course also a bit of a shame. I couldn’t imagine the polls without them – they’re a window on the world’s pop and an opportunity to judge music almost free of context.

I think this poll has overall our strongest crop yet, with some fantastic and strange tracks in, as well as a couple which are just plain baffling. As usual we have some J- and K-Pop in the mix, but there’s also African rap, Romanian folk, a couple of Brazilian tracks, our first Indonesian and Hebrew entries, and a LOT of stuff from Germany.

There’s not much point in trying to pretend I can rope this stuff together into a trend piece – one thing I will say is that it feels a bit more aligned with anglosphere pop than the equivalent brackets did in 1990. I’ll just list who we’ve got and what to expect. Wikipedia, aid me in my quest!

Berry Sakharof, the “Prince of Israeli rock” (IDK whether this is Prince as in royalty, Rogers Nelson, or both!) released the moody “Monsoon” as the single from his 2001 LP The Other.

Bonde do Tigrao play baile funk, a bass/hip-hop derived sound from the Rio favelas, later much admired by US producers like Diplo.

The upbeat dancefloor-ready “Vacaciones” is from Spaniard Carlos Berlanga’s 2001 comeback LP, sadly also his last before his death in 2002 from cancer.

Celine Dion is a French-Canadian megastar whose English-language work you probably know. She’s here duetting with fellow Quebecois singer Garou.

Die Prinzen are a German group originally formed by members of a cathedral choir. “Deutschland” is at the satirical end of their oeuvre.

Fanfare Ciocaria are – according to their record label – a “24-legged Balkan brass beast” playing ‘gypsy funk’ to delighted audiences across the globe.

Fettes Brot is a slang term for “good hash” – the Hamburg hip-hop veterans had a hit with the less classifiable “Scwule Madchen”.

Iveta Sangalo is a Brazilian pop star – “Festa” aka ‘Party’ was one of her first big national hits.

Indonesian musician Fahmi Shahab recorded his biggest – possibly only – hit “Kopi Dangdut” at least twice, but extensive research (by someone who actually knows what they’re doing) suggests this is the right version.

Lee Jung Hyun’s “Michyeo” aka “Going Crazy” isn’t on Spotify, but I wish it was as she is known as the Techno Queen Of Korea.

Mandoza (who died of cancer in 2016) was a South African kwaito artist, winner in 2001 of the Kora African Music award for the best performer in Southern Africa – his “50/50” makes use of a famous English-language pop hit.

Seeed are a German dancehall, hip-hop and reggae act known for their excellent stage shows. They crop up twice, with singles from their debut New Dubby Conquerors LP.

Soapkills are a cult Lebanese electro-indie band whose “Zizi” is one of two partially English-language tracks in the bracket.

Nigeria’s Tony Tetuila provides the other partly English-language track in the bracket with his hip-hop hit “My Car”.

Utada Hikaru was one of the biggest pop artists in Japan at this point – the pop-trance “Traveling” was an Oricon No.1.

POTENTIAL WINNER: It’s all about whether any of these can actually reach the final groups (which would be a first for something from one of these brackets). What has the best chance? A lot of these have potential – there’s surely something for everyone here – but Carlos Berlanga’s “Vacaciones” might be the most pop-friendly in sound.

BEST TRACK: I nominated Bonde Do Tigrao but was mightily tempted by “50/50” and glad someone chose it, since its irresistible propulsion and great throaty performance makes it the stronger track.

DARK HORSE: Can it still be a horse if it has 24 legs? Fanfare Ciocarla, the “Balkan brass beast”, are catchy and different enough to break out of these groups and perhaps go further.

DISCOVERY: All of them! Well, OK, I knew some of them already, nominated one, and was tempted by another two… so I’m going to pick Beirut’s Soapkills as the thing that’s most genuinely different from anything else I’ve heard. But there are four or five others which I could name too. It’s quite a bracket!


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