Europe’s Indelible Footprint On The Billboard Hot 100

abba

BY RYAN MILOWICKI

This Saturday, the Eurovision Song Contest will host its 61st Grand Final, and the once-insular phenomenon has quickly become a global event. Azerbaijan has become a perennial contender, and Australia finished in the Top 5 with their debut entry last year. And for the first time ever, this year’s ESC Final will be broadcast live on American television. Such a trend might suggest that Americans are finally taking interest in music from continental Europe, but in truth, the influence across the Atlantic spans from the very first Hot 100 chart to the most recent.

If any of you reading this had not heard of Danish band Lukas Graham before the past few months, you would not be alone. “7 Years,” their first foray into the American pop scene, peaked at #2 last month and is quickly becoming one of the year’s biggest hits. Their rise to Stateside success surprising is surprising indeed, but what if I told you that they aren’t even the first group from Denmark to reach the Top 10 in the U.S.?

Such is the vast and fascinating web of pop music in continental Europe. Its markets have a great habit of presciently recognizing global hits (such as OMI’s “Cheerleader” topping charts as early as summer 2014, a full year before its US success). But most importantly, most of the countries have lent America pop hits for the past four decades. Everyone knows that Swedish superstars ABBA (1974 Eurovision winners) are responsible for this European migration to American radio, but the cross-continental impact spreads far beyond any one group or decade.

So let’s take a quick jaunt through the wonderful world of continental Europe, and see what countries have left their respective marks on the Billboard Hot 100. We’ll start with Denmark, and answer that burning question of who has joined Lukas Graham in the Hot 100’s upper echelon. I’m sure they will be quite familiar to any 90s kid:

DENMARK

Starting our journey is quintessential 90s one-hit wonder Aqua, who are the best-selling Danish band of all time. Their 1997 classic “Barbie Girl” has for better or worse come to define the self-aware bombastic nature of late-90s Europop, and its #7 peak on the Hot 100 represented Denmark’s first charting hit in America as well as its first Top 10 single. Aqua’s followup “Lollipop (Candyman)” also reached the Top 40 (peaking at #23), but has been for the most part banished to the dark recesses of deep-cut 90s nostalgia.

Although no other Danish artists beside Lukas Graham and Aqua have had Hot 100 success, two other groups have garnered widespread recognition in English-speaking territories. Dancepop duo Junior Senior had an international club hit in 2003 with the irresistibly catchy “Move Your Feet,” and indie rock duo The Raveonettes had a string of charting hits in the UK between 2002-05, culminating in the Top 40 hit “Love In A Trashcan.”

NORWAY

We’ll keep things in Scandinavia as we move to Norway, home to one of the 80s most-beloved anthems. Norwegian trio a-ha found themselves thrust into the global spotlight when “Take On Me” became a Top 5 hit in the US, UK, Australia, and pretty much everywhere with a pulse. The song has endured to become an immortal pop classic, giving Norway’s pop impact an indelible face. You might not know that a-ha had another Top 20 hit on the Hot 100 with “The Sun Always Shines On TV,” or that they parlayed their breakout 1985 into recording the theme for Timothy Dalton’s first turn as James Bond, the surprisingly effective “The Living Daylights.”

Most associated with its relationship to modern metal, Norway was out of the pop limelight for nearly two decades after a-ha broke them onto the scene. Duo M2M broke the Norwegian drought with the Top 40 hit (#21 on the Hot 100) “Don’t Say You Love Me” in 1999. Almost a decade later, Madcon (a duo with family ties to South Africa and Ethiopia) reached the Hot 100 with their immensely popular cover of The Four Seasons’ “Beggin’.” Novelty duo Ylvis briefly captured the world’s attention in 2013 with their viral hit “The Fox.” And just two years ago, Oslo duo Nico & Vinz captured global attention with their massive hit “Am I Wrong.”

While no Norwegian act, not even a-ha, has gained a significant foothold on the Hot 100 to date, that could be about to change. Poised to become the new face of his country’s music scene, Norwegian DJ Kygo recently became the quickest artist to gain a billion streams on Spotify, and had his first trip to the Hot 100 in summer 2015 with “Firestone.”

SWEDEN

It’s impossible to understate how important ABBA was to the development of the global pop music scene we enjoy today. Building off of the massive US career of its favorite export (including #1 hit “Dancing Queen” and no fewer than 14 Top 40 hits), Sweden has had by far the highest success of any continental European country. Discussing each of these successors in detail could easily inspire 1,000 words, so instead I’ll opt for a brief primer of the Swedish acts of a wide variety of genres to grace the Hot 100 since ABBA:

FINLAND

Darude – Sandstorm, that is all.

But isn’t that more than enough?

NETHERLANDS

The Dutch have a diverse history on the Hot 100, beginning with Shocking Blue’s memorable 1970 #1 hit “Venus.” Other Dutch rock outfits to achieve US success in 70s include Tee Set, who hit #5 in 1970 with “Ma Belle Amie,” and Golden Earring, the group behind the lasting hits “Twilight Zone” and “Radar Love.” One more interesting rock tidbit: the Van Halen brothers were born in the Netherlands, moving to the United States before their 10th birthdays.

In the past 20 years, popular artists from the Netherlands have fallen more into the Eurodance spectrum. 90s stalwarts 2 Unlimited pumped out sporting event standards like “Get Ready For This” and “Twilight Zone” (unrelated to the Golden Earring song). The Rotterdam-based Vengaboys had a few songs hit the Hot 100 in this era as well, most notably “We Like To Party” of Six Flags commercial fame. One-hit wonder group Alice Deejay reached the Top 40 with “Better Off Alone,” whose beat would eventually form the backbone of David Guetta’s hit “Play Hard.”

Modern Dutch DJs who have had some popularity on the US charts include AfroJack (best known for producing Pitbull’s #1 smash “Give Me Everything“), Tiesto,  Armin Van Buuren, and teen wunderkind Martin Garrix.

GERMANY

As we’ve seen with many of these countries so far, Germany’s Hot 100 footprint divides neatly into two categories: rock and Eurodance. The German rock band with the greatest US success was the Scorpions, behind the radio staples “No One Like You” and “Rock You Like A Hurricane,” as well as the Top 10 hit “Wind Of Change.” The German Neue Deutsche Welle movement capitalized on the commercialization of punk and new wave, best represented by Nena’s 1984 smash hit “99 Luftballons” and Alphaville’s “Forever Young.”

But Germany’s most-lasting impact has been seen on the dance side of the equation. Most music historians agree that German group Kraftwerk was the original pioneer of electronic music, and they even reached the US Top 40 in the genre’s infancy. Producer Frank Farian created a slew of “German” groups in the disco era, which consisted mostly of American and British session vocalists including Boney M and Silver Convention. This process came back to haunt Farian a decade later, when the “members” of Milli Vanilli were discovered to be public faces only, a front for unseen session vocalists. In the post-Milli Vanilli fallout, Germany established itself as a Eurodance epicenter, cranking out a multitude of Top 40 hits between 1990 and 2009:

ITALY

Believe it or not, the first non-American #1 single on the Hot 100 came not out of the UK or Canada, but out of Italy. Domenico Modugno’s hit “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu” hit the top of the charts in 1958 and became the international pop standard “Volare.” In the following 15 years, several Italian composers of film scores rose to prominence including Nino Rota (behind the iconic scores of the Godfather films) and Piero Umiliani (best-known for his soundtrack hit and 70s sketch comedy staple “Mah Na Mah Na“).

Inspired by the efforts of techno pioneer Giorgio Moroder (who had a few Hot 100 hits of his own in the 70s, including the instrumental hit “Chase“), a few Italian dance groups found success on the Hot 100 in the 90s. These include Black Box, behind the Top 10 hits “Stike It Up” and “Everybody Everybody“, and Eiffel 65, whose “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” might just be the most infamous 90s one-hit wonder.

FRANCE

Despite being one of the largest countries in Europe, France has had slightly less Hot 100 presence than comparable European powers like Germany. This in part is due to France’s rich linguistic history, and its musical traditions (like chanson and musette) which are chiefly aimed for French-speaking listeners. Nonetheless, there are more than a few examples of endeavors into anglophone audiences.

Although neither achieved widespread US success, French legends Serge Gainsbourg and Edith Piaf were still able to plant a few songs each on the lower rungs of the Hot 100 over the course of the 1960s.

France hit its American stride once dance-oriented genres came to the fore. Interestingly enough, two French producers set up the Village People, and one-hit wonders like Cerrone and Patrick Hernandez represented France in the disco era.

Nowadays, the undercurrents of dance still run through commercial French music, from the uptempo rock of Phoenix to the more synthesized feel of M83, both of whom have reached the Hot 100. But the French DJs are the most ubiquitous modern French influencers on the US charts. The godfathers of French electronic music, Daft Punk, received their overdue American breakout in 2013 (16 years after their first Hot 100 appearance). In addition, some of the biggest names in the EDM world today come from France, most notably genre stalwart David Guetta and current favorite DJ Snake.

SPAIN

Similar to France, European power Spain has had a language-centric dearth of Hot 100 presence. However, the popularity of Latin pop in America has allowed Spanish artists to make forays across the Atlantic, both in English and their native tongue.

The first Spanish act to reach the Top 10 on the Hot 100 was the British Invasion-era Los Bravos. Singing in English, their hit “Black Is Black” reached the Top 5 in 1966 and helped ensure that the globalization of the American charts was not confined to the United Kingdom.

The first family of Spanish pop reached the American charts in 1983 when Julio Iglesias teamed up with country star Willie Nelson for the Top 5 hit “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before“. His son Enrique would carry the torch starting in the late 90s, quickly becoming the most successful Spanish-speaking artist in Hot 100 history. His two Number One singles have been in English, but Iglesias has also had a number of Spanish-language Hot 100 hits, most notably “Bailando,” which became the most successful all-Spanish single since Los Lobos’ cover of “La Bamba” in 1987.

Fairly or unfairly, Spain’s Hot 100 fortunes will forever be linked with the unmistakable superstardom of one song. Over 30 years after their 1962 formation, the Spanish duo Los Del Rio released a remixed version of their single “Macarena,” and the rest is history. Probably the most notorious song of the 1990s, the song spent 14 weeks at Number One, spawned a still common-knowledge dance routine, and gave Spain its biggest hit ever.

BELGIUM

Four acts from Belgium have reached the Hot 100, and each of them are vastly disparate from the others. Although he moved to Australia in early childhood, contemporary one-hit wonder Gotye was born in Belgium. I will focus in more detail on the acts who remained in the country for their popular years.

The third-ever European Number One single on the US charts belonged to Sister Jeanne Deckers, better known as The Singing Nun. Her 1963 surprise hit “Dominique” hit the American market nearly simultaneously to the nascent allure of the folk-pop genre.

15 years later, Belgium got its second Hot 100 appearance thanks to early punk/new wave musician Plastic Bertrand. His 1978 song “Ça Plane Pour Moi” was a global hit, and has become one of the most frequently-used early punk songs across movies and television.

The most lasting Belgian act on the Hot 100 was the Eurodance legend Technotronic, who helped start the genre’s American popularity in 1989 with “Pump Up The Jam” and went on to log two more Top 10 hits in “Get Up!” and “Move This“.

OTHER

Several other countries in continental Europe have provided the United States with hits, albeit with less regularity. The lone Austrian act to reach the Top 40 was an unforgettable one, the man behind the classic 80s hit “Rock Me Amadeus.”

Further east, Romania has become a challenger to France and Sweden in the battle for dance-pop supremacy, as artists like Edward Maya (“Stereo Love”) and Alexandra Stan (“Mr. Saxobeat”) have been responsible for imported radio earworms in the past five years.

Although they haven’t given us a charting hit yet, I’m going to close with tiny Moldova, home to two of the internet’s favorite musical loops. Way back in 2004, O-Zone released the Romanian-language “Dragostea Din Tei,” which lives on to this day as the inspiration for the early-YouTube landmark “Numa Numa.” And Moldova’s 2010 entry in the Eurovision Contest, “Run Away“, will be forever known as a front for the classic meme “Epic Sax Guy“.

So if you find yourself watching Eurovision on American television for the first time this weekend, take it all in and think to yourself how much our own charts owe to the lasting and undeniable influence of European pop. And who knows? The next ABBA or Celine Dion might be out there, waiting to use the ESC platform to launch their careers into global pop stardom.

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