I occasionally like a bit of schlager. After a day of Children of Bodom, Xandria and Toten Herzen it’s nice to wind down to the likes of Dschinghis Khan.
In Germany schlager is huge, but Helene Fischer has taken the genre to a whole new level. Check out some of the dates of her 2018 tour:
Olympic Stadium, Munich – 60 000
Berlin Olympiastadion – 60 000
Leipzig Red Bull Arena (two nights) – 50 000 each
Add to that list Hamburg, Gelsenkirchen, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart (Vienna, Basel. . . .) and you have over 600 000 tickets from 13 concerts. But I’m guessing you’ve still never heard of her.
Academics have studied the Helene Fischer phenomenon and concluded she is a wily businesswoman who understands the music industry, its trends and movements, and understands her fans, existing and potential. Watch her Farbenspiel live performance at the Olympiastadion in Berlin (two nights, 60 000 each night) and you’ll see every possible demographic in the audience.
Schlager itself is usually defined as folk music, but in the 21st Century the average ignoramus might mistake it for Europop, that catch-all description of any electronic music not recorded in the UK or the US save for a few Dutch and Swedish trance producers. Fischer walks that line releasing an unremitting stream of modern pop with occasional interruptions to record duets, perform with orchestras and release winter albums that hoover up awards by the dozen. (The look on Til Lindermann’s face as Rammstein lose out twice to Fischer’s Christmas album is a joy to behold; restrained neutrality is the most polite description I can think of.)
And there lies the rub. Take a band like Rammstein. They’re German, sing in German, and have become one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. Best estimates put their album sales at around the 17 million mark. Helene Fischer has sold 14.5 million albums just in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Yes, it looks like we need an academic to explain what is going on.
When I take a liking to a foreign singer, such as Chenoa in Spain or Laura Pausini in Italy I often wonder if I’m listening to the foreign equivalent of Gerri Halliwell: a ubiquitous celebrity that polarises opinion in their own country, but to an uninformed foreigner is judged purely on their musical output.
To my knowledge Helene Fischer has never represented Germany at Eurovison, which is how these singers tend to slip under my radar. I think she presented the results of the German voting either at this year’s Eurovision or last year’s, I’d have to check. But now she’s got her teeth into me and I’m helpless. Her new album is on permanent rotation in my car and I’ve just emptied my wallet buying her back catalogue from an online German retailer that insists on my postcode coming at the beginning of my address.
It won’t stop there. Her 2014 album Farbenspiel has limited edition versions and three live variations on DVD, so that’s another fortune gone if I succumb to temptation. She seems to release a live DVD every year and perhaps that’s where the success is coming from. Forget the ademics and consider Fischer a machine, a relentless artist satisfying an unsatisfiable appetite. The fans want a DVD, give ’em a DVD. Box set with booklets, postcards, three CDs and inner sleeve notes, let ’em have it. Let ’em have it all.
And she can fly. Thunder and lightning during live performances: easy. She can arrange that too. Helene Fischer owns the weather.
Apart from being born in Russia of Volga German parents I still don’t really know who she is, but for now Helene Fischer has assumed control and I don’t mind one little bit.
Watch the following video at your peril lest you get sucked over the event horizon. . . .