In 2010, they were on top of the game in Eurovision. Fast forward 7 years and Germany is struggling to scrap out of last place. The search for new Lena is obviously fruitless, the songs are not even local hits anymore and there seems to be a sense of agony and worry among German Eurovision fans. What can be done to improve their fortunes again? Perhaps a schlager entry can be the key? In this piece I would like to discuss some of the arguments why a genre, which is both loved and popular, but also hated and critically condemned could be a welcome change of Germany’s approach.
No more satellites…
When Germany won Eurovision in 2010, they paved the way for the decade that was to come, by sending a young act with a big radio hit. Also music industry’s increasing involvement with the contest has under the 2010s put emphasis on radio hits even more. But what happens when a country, which was a pioneer of radio pop suddenly cannot find its way to success anymore? After 2012 and Roman Lob’s 8th place, Germany’s results went rapidly downhill and have now reached an absolute rock bottom. 21st, 18th, last (with nil points), last, second last. These results are a disaster for a country with 80+ million people and with music industry as big and diverse as Germany. What makes the matters worse, is the broadcaster, NDR’s absolute lack of knowledge and tendency to complicate their selection with all the superfluous extra rounds. The ratings are poor, the competing artists only newcomers and the selected songs end up being bland. In words of current king of ESC Salvador Sobral, we do live in world of fast food disposable music. But German entries of the past three years can not be even put into a “fast food music” category, but rather under an “already-made supermarket food”, which you eat at once, but crave for a kebab afterwards. Since 1998, Germany has finished in top 10 on three occasions – 1. when Stefan Raab was involved with the selection/song (1998, 2000, 2004, 2010-2012), 2. when Ralph Siegel was involved (1999) and 3. with Michelle and “Wer Liebe lebt” in 2001. Now, with Stefan Raab quitting TV buiness and with Ralph Siegel, uhm…. not doing so well anymore, we end up with Michelle. And which genre does Michelle represent? Schlager.
The Fischer era – when schlager goes mainstream
For many years, schlager genre was something to laugh at and frown upon in Germany. It’s a genre with songs either being sweet (cheesy according to some) ballads or discofox. For a long time, the genre has been associated with elderly audience without any reflection on current pop music. During the 90s and the 00s singers such as the above-mentioned Michelle and Andrea Berg gained certain popularity not just within the schlager audience. However, it took another artist for the genre to really cross over to mainstream and to gain new audience – Helene Fischer. Her song “Atemlos durch die Nacht” is now a diamond-selling single (having sold more than a million copies), which made #3 on German singles’ chart and which made schlager attractive for audiences, which were previously against the genre – in particular children and younger listeners. In the YuGov survey in 2014, 55% of the survey-takers have answered to like German-language schlager music. 77% among the survey-takers older than 50 and 30% of survey-takers in the ages of 18-24. Helene Fischer’s new self-titled album is also the fastest selling album in Germany since rock musician Herbert Grönemeyer’s “Mensch” in 2002 and her previous album “Farbenspiel” (released in October 2013) has so far sold in 2 million copies and made to the list of the best-selling albums in Germany of all time.
And yet not good enough for NDR…
The success of Helene Fischer has made schlager (or pop-schlager with elements and production from modern pop and EDM) have a massive revival in Germany over the past 3-4 years. From a schlager singer (Beatrice Egli) winning the biggest pop talent show Deutschland sucht den Superstar (DSDS, Germany’s version of Pop Idol), to many schlager legends coming back with new, fresh sound and of course – to new, young schlager acts coming on to spotlight, schlager is now an industry on its own, with good record sales and a new audience. However, NDR is very reluctant when it comes to letting schlager songs compete in their national final, trying at every price to avoid the finals be associated with schlager music altogether. Allegedly one of the rules for the potential entries in 2017 was “nothing cheesy”, which could be translated as “no schlager”. Result in ESC? 25th place in the final.
NDR’s neverending story of failure
I understand if a broadcaster refusing a certain genre in their ESC selection process is doing so to keep its good track record (e.g. SVT), but NDR have literally hit rock bottom. The radio pop they’re aiming to send to ESC is bland, vanilla, without any personality and miles away from quirkiness and charm of Lena 7 years ago. The common saying is “Insanity is repeating same mistakes over and over and expecting different results.” NDR is repeating the same mistakes. Sure, they’ve had some of the worst luck in the universe – from a winner of the NF refusing to do ESC in the live broadcast to their controversial internal choice (Xavier Naidoo) causing such backlash that they had to pull him out, but that does not change the fact that they still refuse schlager music in the contest. And if schlager music can do so well in Germany and German speaking area, surely it can have some appeal in Europe as well? If a song like “Atemlos” can appeal to many Eurovision-fans around Europe, who don’t speak a word of German, then surely a song in style of “Atemlos” can appeal to general audience around Europe. All it takes is a good enough song, a competent live performer and a visually attractive performance.
Yes, Helene for ESC – but not yet
My dear colleague Nick wrote an editorial about why Helene Fischer should do ESC. While I fully agree with his piece, I have to be a bit realistic and admit that she is very unlikely to do ESC at this point. I could assume that her management does not want to risk her whole career to possibly flop in ESC and considering she’s a quite polarising name in Germany (one either loves her or one can’t stand her), I wouldn’t want her haters to mock her for “not being good enough for Europe”. That’s why a (pop) schlager entry would come in handy as a test, to see if Europe (and Australia) could go along with it. If it flops, then we can just forget about Helene once and for all. But what if it does well? Top 10, perhaps even top 5? Then NDR would be encouraged and able to convince her that it’s OK to do ESC after all.
So who could be the potential pick for 2018?
I think NDR should do a national final. Drop the Clubconzert thing because it’s not working. Considering the low ratings for DSDS this year, it’s evident that German audience is not that bothered about finding the new “star” for ESC after all, but would gladly vote for an established act instead. Here are my picks for a potential national final in winter.
Previously a singer in the schlager band Wolkenfrei, Vanessa Mai is a young pop-schlager performer, whose debut solo album “Für dich” peaked at #5 on German album charts. She has worked with Germany’s leading pop songwriter Dieter Bohlen and with a song like this one could be a good pick for Germany. By the way, doesn’t she look a bit like Demy?
DSDS winner from 2016. His music is not strictly schlager, but he has performed in a schlager shows and done a duet with Michelle. His debut single “Glücksmoment” also peaked at #1. With his flamboyant style, he would be a hit in the press centre and could at least do well with the televoting. Also, doesn’t this performance ring some bells, when ESC is concerned?
Pop-schlager boyband consisting of Sebastian, Karsten, Dominique and Matt. Released their debut album in 2015 with minor hits such as “Verdammt guter Tag” and “Ohne dich” and gained a certain young fanbase. This is their latest single named “Lange nicht genug”. #eyecandyalert
Former member of the eurodisco duo Modern Talking has tried making it to ESC before, in 2006, when he finished second in the NF. Now he has ditched English and switched to pop-schlager sound in German, which has done reasonably well for him (his latest album “Pures Leben” peaked at #11) and also, interestingly enough, his last music video was filmed in 2018 ESC host city Lisbon.
The Kelly Family or Maite Kelly
The hippie-dressed travelling family of street musicians, who had a HUGE success in the Central and Eastern Europe back in the 90s with songs such as “An Angel”, “Fell In Love With An Alien”, “Every Baby” and “When The Boys Come Into Town”. Already participated in the NF in 2002 with the song “I Wanna Be Loved”, but were unfortunately booed. Just recently reformed and made #1 on German album charts with their comeback album “We Got Love”. One of the former members, Maite Kelly has had a big success as a schlager singer in the duet with the schlager veteran Roland Kaiser named “Warum hast du nicht nein gesagt?” and her subsequent album “Sieben Leben für dich”.
And so we come to the only German act in the 21st century who has finished in top 10 without help of either Ralph Siegel or Stefan Raab. Michelle has fond memories of her time in Copenhagen and has also performed in several Eurovision events organised by ARD. She had quite a comeback in 2013 with a song “Paris” written by former members of the synth-pop/rock group Rosenstolz. She was also one of the jury members in DSDS and has showed several times, that she’s still got it. Her 2016 album “Ich würd’ es wieder tun” also peaked at #6 on German charts. Although “Wer Liebe lebt” was a sweet ballad for 2001, I think she should try with an uptempo song instead. Here’s one of her last hits.
So – to sum it all up
After bland and vanilla radio pop songs which were not even hits in Germany, it’s time for ARD/NDR to give it a shot with schlager. If they went for a schlager entry, there would be opinions, both positive and negative. There would be lovers of the entry and there would be haters. Also, there would be interest, far bigger than what it was during the last 3-4 years. More people would tune in. And at the very least – Germany would have an entry with a certain personality and own character, something that is needed for an entry to stand out. With a stable vocal performance, good and modern visuals and a song which would at least be a domestic hit, even a schlager entry can do well in modern-age ESC. All it takes, is for NDR to wake up and stop pretending the success of schlager does not exist, because based on these sales numbers (especially of Helene Fischer) it clearly does. And no genre should be considered “unworthy” of being in ESC.
What do you think? Do you think a schlager entry could be improvement of Germany’s poor results in the past years? Or do you think something else is needed instead? Discuss in comments below and follow us on social media on @ESCXTRA