Arts and Entertainment

“Firework” Beats “Feuerwerk”?

A think piece about the influence of American pop music in Germany.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cover Image
By Jenny Chen

Ever heard of Annemarie Eilfeld? Nina Hagen? “LICHT” by Nena? Probably not. How about Shawn Mendes? Miley Cyrus? “Rain On Me” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande? That’s more like it. On average, over 65 percent of all songs on the German charts are by American pop artists. Given the wide influence of American pop music in foreign countries, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that most Germans would recognize American artists more often than German ones.

I recently began attending a boarding school in Munich, Germany. Almost every single store I’ve walked into blasts American pop music over the speakers. One would think that Germans might find comfort in songs in their native language, but during my time here, I’ve generally discovered the opposite. Curious about how German teenagers perceived American pop in comparison to German pop, I created a survey for my fellow classmates to fill out. Most responses came with high praise of the former and criticism of the latter. The general consensus was that American pop songs were simply more pleasant to listen to because the lyrics usually make more sense and fit the musical style better.

So what is the German musical style exactly? Most modern American pop songs are catchy and repetitive, often accompanied by digitally enhanced instrumentals and synthesizers. Music production plays a big role in the development of all American pop music nowadays. German pop often sounds sonically similar to American pop songs, but even then there is a striking difference. Most German pop songs don’t digitalize the singer’s voice, or at least not as drastically as many American pop songs do. There are many German pop songs that sound as if they’ve barely been produced at all due to the dominance of instrumental accompaniment in the mix. On the other hand, there are certain German pop stars, including Stuyvesant legend Wincent Weiss, who create their tracks to mirror the style of American pop. Even then, however, there is little music production done on the actual vocals of the singers.

Back to the lyrics though: it’s not news that the German language is less pleasant to speak and listen to than English. Due to the raspy consonants and additional vowels required, German lyrics are often complicated mouthfuls with strange phrases that sometimes don’t make much sense. Many Germans I’ve spoken to, both teenagers and adults, strongly believe that the English language simply sounds more natural when matched to the melody of a pop song. In response to the survey, one student wrote that American pop music sounded more “fluid” in terms of rhythm, lyrics, and melodies.

Another student pointed out that American pop is marketed on a larger scale than German pop. That would explain why my fellow classmates were familiar with every single pop star I listed on the survey, while none of my friends back home in New York knew any of the German pop stars I introduced to them. When asked about favorite pop artists and tracks, the German teenagers listed only American singers and songs. It’s quite evident that American pop music has had quite an influence on young people in Germany, having taken over almost every stereo in the nation. While it seems to be widely appreciated in a foreign country, the opinion differs a little across the Atlantic.

Americans often disagree on their perspectives on pop music. Some believe that most people only listen to it to follow a trend because they view it as a staple of modern day culture. Some criticize American pop songs for their lack of artistic authenticity, insisting that they are simply cheap crowd-pleasers. After examining responses from both American and German teenagers, it seems it is the latter who hold American pop music in higher esteem.

As of 2019, the American pop industry is the biggest music industry in the world, and for good reason. Songs by American pop artists have stretched to the farthest corners of the world—I must have heard “cardigan” by Taylor Swift at least 20 times during my brief trip to Taiwan—and have dominated music markets in foreign countries. But who knows? Maybe German pop artists like Wincent Weiss will market their tracks more extensively, and soon we’ll be seeing songs like “Feuerwerk” at the top of our charts instead of “Firework.”