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13 Feb 18

Balkan Music Fans Cling to Homegrown Stars

 

A map of last December's YouTube hits shows that music fans in several Balkan countries still prefer their local bands to top international songs – though audiences in Croatia, Macedonia and Romania are now part of the global mainstream.

BIRN team BIRN

At a time when Latin pop hits like “Havana” and “Criminal” battle with Britpop love song “Perfect” for world dominance on YouTube, audiences in most [but not all] parts of the Balkans still prefer their own musical traditions despite the advance of a global pop music culture.

That is what the map of the most-listened-to hits for December 2017, compiled by data journalism collective The Pudding, shows.

Covering YouTube data from over 3,000 cities across the world, the map shows the cultural borders of top pop songs – and, unlike in the rest of Europe, it shows people in most Balkan countries prefer local stars to international pop icons.

This is shown by checking out who leas the YouTube race in each country in the region, and then comparing it to the map of the rest of the world.

If you wonder who still listens to Serbian diva Ceca in 2017, remember that in all the Central Asian republics, the top hit for December was still Korean singer PSY’s 2012 “Gangnam style” while Seattle’s most listened-to song that month was “Beat it” by Michael Jackson, released way back in 1982.

Albania


The song “Skifterja e zemres” ["My heart’s falcon"] is a duet by the well-known Albanian comedian Bes Kallaku and the singer Klajdi Haruni.

Kallaku published the song on September 2017 and dedicated it to his wife, the singer Xhensila Myrtezaj, following their wedding last summer.

The lyrics are written by Kallaku himself as a dedication of his love for Xhensila while the video of the song has footage from their wedding. 

Serbia

The song that topped the YouTube charts in Serbia in December was from the local  “turbofolk" genre, which combines Balkans folk tunes with modern electronic pop elements.

It developed in the 1980s and 1990s in Serbia and, despite being called kitsch, remains highly popular, especially in nightclubs.

"Notorious Liar" is a duet between the most popular turbo folk performer, Svetlana Raznatovic "Ceca", and blind musician Sasa Matic.

It was released on November 29 last year and it was #1 trending on YouTube in the region for weeks, as Ceca is one of the most popular singers not only in Serbia but across the Balkans.

The lyrics are about a man and a woman being mistreated by their respective partners, who do "everything" they want to them.

The songs protagonists, however, stay in their abusive relationships because, as the lyrics say, "at least I know what to expect".

Apart from being a singer, Ceca is a controversial figure due to her marriage to notorious Serbian warlord Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan", who was widely held responsible for war crimes in Bosnia during 1992-95 war. He was killed in January 2000, however, without charges being pressed against him.

She is also known for an alleged assault of a football club official, for which she was acquitted.

Venerated in the Serbian tabloids, on one occasion children from the small northern town of Sremski Karlovci visited her house as part of a field trip with their school.

Serbia’s second largest city of Novi Sad, in Vojvodina, stands apart from the rest of the country. There, Sasa Matic’s song “Sve bi ja i ti" [“You and I'd want it all"] being the most popular song.

Matic’s song is about secret lovers pretending to be just friends, and was the most popular in Novi Sad with over 220,000 views.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

"Deficit" is a turbofolk hit by Dejan Matic, who sings about his sad, unlucky life.

"I am alone, I am in deficit with luck," goes the ballad. The motif about unluckiness is the second most common one in the turbofolk genre, after love.

Bulgaria

The top song in Bulgaria of YouTube in December was Tita’s “Antelope”. In a provocative video, the 18-year old singer, dressed in revealing lingerie, meets her mirror image – who wears similarly titillating apparel – and sings, supposedly to herself:

“You’re an antelope, gazelle/ I will crack your display and your panel/ You’re so juicy, I can’t help trying/ Touching the mirror the entire day”, she sings, then warning herself that if she reaches her mirror image, she will “munch on it, suck it dry, suck it up”.

The video ends on a half-celebratory, half-suggestive note, with a laughing Tita popping a champagne bottle over her satin sheets.

Hristina Hristova, which is the singer’s off-stage name, became popular after her participation in the 2016 X-Factor musical contest. She became the protégé of prolific rap singer Krisko, who is responsible for the lyrics of the pop hit.

Kosovo

 “A pe din qysh” ["You know]" is filler word that the Kosovo hip hop artist Fero uses a lot while talking.

When the song was released last November, Fero said that as soon as he heard the beat he started rapping using his filler word “A pe din qysh” – and finished the whole project in one hour.

Fero has been rapping since he was young but in the last few years he has been working on big projects that have proved popular with audiences in Kosovo.

In interviews, Fero says he has been experimenting a lot with hip hop and he gets inspired by other people’s lives. 

The rapper is a member of a well-known Kosovo-based label, On Records. Following successful solo projects and duets with other artists, Fero told the media he plans numerous projects and duets with other hip hop artists from the same label.

Moldova

Only 19, Ioana Ignat is a rising pop music star both in Romania and Moldova. She was born in Botosani, Romania, but is very popular in Moldova as well.

She started her career after taking part in the popular music contest "Vocea României" ["Voice of Romania - The Voice"] on TV. 

Her December hit in Moldova, "Don't forget me", is a love story. She asks her ex-lover to move on with his life, as their love has ended, but never to forget the memories that they shared together.

Romania, Croatia and Macedonia 

Macedonian and Croatian music tastes seem more mainstream than those in neighbouring former Yugoslav states, according to the map.

Briton Ed Sheeran and Cuban-American singer Camila Cabello’s hits are the most popular in Macedonia and Croatia on YouTube.

The same goes for Romania, which is deeply divided over two pop hits.

Listeners in these three countries appear to have moved closer to the West in their musical tastes, abandoning traditional local variations of turbofolk.

Cabello’s Latin pop song “Havana", the lead single from her debut album “Camila", has had 1.3 million views on YouTube from Croatia and 840,000 views from Macedonia.

With somewhat vague lyrics about finding romance and being torn between two cities, the song was welcomed by critics and audiences alike and is liked across the globe.

Ed Sheeran’s international hit “Perfect" is a close second, with over a million views from Croatia, 3 million in Romania and a couple of hundred thousand in Macedonia.

The artist sings about finding love in a "perfect woman" in his early youth and his intentions to marry her, raise children together and live happily ever after.

The English singer and songwriter has scored success with his ballads, leading to duets with American singer Beyonce and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.