Hello and welcome to a brand new spin-off from the commercially ignored and critically underrated DiS Does Pop. In the innovatively-titled DiS Does International Pop column we’ll be cocking our ear for a Top 40 smash abroad and shining a light on the biggest hits from foreign lands.
Want a sarcastic view of the Eurovision Song Contest that isn’t written by a Guardian staff writer? Fancy dipping your toes into the hyperactive world of J-Pop? Got a burning desire to discover Azerbaijan's answer to Jedward? We’ll be answering most, if not all, of these questions in the months ahead.
We begin the column with a list of the biggest singles you’ve never heard of. Some are good. Some are excruciatingly bad. One of them is by Shakira.
We also got on the phone with Marlon Roudette, a man who last year ruled the German charts with an iron fist for eight whole weeks! What kind of man does it take to achieve such a thing? The kind of man who knows how to tell a good Ed Sheeran anecdote.
The 10 biggest Number 1 singles you’ve never heard of
1) B’z - Taiyo no Komachi Angel
It’s an oft-repeated fact that Japan has more million-selling singles than any other country - although an extremely small amount of those have been written by Western artists. Between 1968 and 2006, only three singles by musicians from our side of the world clocked up sales over the magic million marker in Japan. They were 'To Love You More' by Celine Dion, 'All I Want For Christmas' by Mariah Carey and 'Beautiful Sunday'/'Sleepy Head' by Daniel Boone. No, us neither.
One band who certainly aren’t shy of selling a few records are B’z. The rock duo comprised of Takahiro Matsumoto and Koshi Inaba have scored a Number 1 single with every song they released since 1990’s ‘Taiyo no Komachi Angel’. As you can see from video above, they are loved by an insane amount of fans and Inaba bears a striking resemblance to Jared Leto before 30 Seconds To Mars went truly beyond the pale.
2) fun. - We Are Young
The soundtrack to your summer and you don’t even know it yet. While the world was predicting Madonna would be the Super Bowl big winner this year, fun. had other ideas when they licensed ‘We Are Young’ for a Chevrolet advert. Having already been covered by Glee, all the key ingredients for chart success were in place and sure enough this New York quartet were propelled to the peak of the Billboard Hot 100 with downloads of 1.1 million. ‘We Are Young’ has also hit the top spot in Canada and Australia, as well as the Top 10 in Israel, New Zealand, Italy and Slovakia.
It’s out in the UK on 14 May. It’s going to be huge whether you like it or not. It’s basically the best song Coldplay have never written and we unashamedly love it.
3) Shakira - La Tortura
Many of Shakira’s finest moments have come by the way of an unwitting linguistic turn. Most of you will no doubt be familiar with the “Lucky that my breasts are small and humble...” incident in ‘Wherever, Whenever’. You may, however, not be so aware of the Columbian chanteuse’s success as a Spanish-language singer.
Appealing to the 37 million fluent US citizens, as well as the populations of Mexico and plenty of South American states, ‘La Tortura’ was the most popular Spanish-language track of the noughties, shifting 5 million units. This may or may not have something to do with Shakira’s endless bellydancing in its video.
4) Marlon Roudette - New Age
Take Robbie Williams’ hitmaker Guy Chambers, one of the blokes who used to be in Mattafix, a mellow slice of piano pop and what do you get? The biggest British hit in Germany for 30 odd years, that’s what.
Despite grabbing a slot on the Radio 2 playlist, Marlon Roudette is still yet to have a Top 40 smash in Blighty but he’s clearly a savvy fellow. The land of bratwurst and a ruthlessly efficient economy (stereotypes ahoy!) last year overtook the UK to be the world’s third biggest music market with total sales of US $1,473.7 million.
5) Celine Dion - Pour que tu m'aimes encore
With the re-release of James Cameron’s Titanic in 3D comes a reminder that Celine Dion was once more than a Las Vegas tourist attraction. In fact, the Quebec-born Canadian superstar has a deep attachment to French music.
Having begun her career singing the language of love before becoming a force of nature in English, the ‘Water From The Moon’ hitmaker scored her biggest chart topper in France to date in 1995 with the 955,000 selling ‘Pour que tu m'aimes encore’. Before you judge such an abhorrent show of consumerism, remember this is also the country that also gave the world Daft Punk, Serge Gainsbourg and Phoenix.
6) Tino Rossi - Petit Papa Noël
The biggest-selling song of all time in France (with over 5,711,000 units sold), although its peak chart position is only Number 6. ‘Petit Papa Noël’ is the kind of song that makes us glad we only got a B in GCSE French. That’s because we can to listen to its wondrous Christmas stylings all year round without having a clue what Tino Rossi is banging on about.
7) Big Bang & 2NE1 - Lollipop
While K-pop is a relatively new phenomenon, its popularity is booming in both South Korea and Europe. At last year’s MTV European Music Awards, it was Big Bang not Britney Spears who scooped 58 million votes to win the Best Worldwide Act award. ‘Lollipop’ is the boyband’s collaboration with girl group 2NE1 and was originally dreamt up as a scheme to sell the LG Cyon mobile. Mark Ronson and Katy B’s Olympics collaboration for Coca Cola has a lot to live up to.
8) Jedward - Bad Behaviour
While the Jedward joke was over (for most of us) the moment this hyperactive pair got booted off The X Factor, in Ireland John and Edward Grimes remain a major pop presence. Both ‘Lipstick’, their entry for Eurovision 2011, and its follow up single ‘Bad Behaviour’ reached Number 1, as did the duo’s sophomore album Victory. When the best thing about your video is a brief pause in the music to run through a skit with Perez Hilton, all signs point to ‘fucking atrocious’.
9) Kent - Max 500
From Abba to The Knife to Robyn, Sweden has punched well above the weight of its 9,415,295 strong population for aeons now. For whatever reason, it’s electronica rather than rock that we associate with this titanic Scandinavian nation. The Rasmus were from Finland, we checked. Still, Kent have done a decent enough job of conquering their home nation. Since the chart-topping ‘Max 500’, they’ve gone a bit Embrace but this is decent enough.
10) Chris Rene - Young Homie
If you thought British X Factor contestants had it bad, try being third placed US contestant Chris Rene. His self-penned track ‘Young Homie’ got LA Reid bopping his head like a man with irritable bowl syndrome in the auditions but only mustered a Number 101 on the Billboard charts. In New Zealand however, it rocketed straight to Number 1 without any rhyme or reason.
Interview: Marlon Roudette
Hi Marlon. Where in the world are you today?
I’m in London actually, on the couch. We just came back on Sunday from Frankfurt after a big radio concert to do Terry Wogan.
The album came out in the UK last week, but it was available in Germany in 2011. How did that come about?
Necessity really, we’d been making the album for two and half to three years trying to get a deal in the UK without any success. We were then offered a deal for GAS (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) by the team at Universal in Berlin, they've also signed Lana Del Rey and Gotye as well. They gave us enough money to mix the album and make the first video. We had no expectations really but it was such a big radio record out there that things started to fall in place pretty quickly after that.
‘New Age’ spent eight weeks at Number 1 in Germany. When did you realise it was going to be such a big hit?
I’d been out there for months for the press and the video and I came back for the Notting Hill Carnival. Then Universal rang me up on the Sunday saying, ‘We think it’s going to be Number 1 tomorrow’. For so long I’d had in the back of my mind that it might not work so to get back up there was unbelievable. I think it was the biggest hit by a British artist in Germany for 30 years and then the second single straight into the Top Five.* I just had to pinch myself.
For the record, 'Anti Hero (Brave New World) went to Number 6 in Germany and Number 5 in Austria
Are you recognised much on the street in Germany. I imagine you have an easier time of it over here?
Its funny yeah because, just to name drop, I was hanging out with Ed Sheeran in Germany. He’d just started his European campaign so no one really knew him out there but I was getting mobbed. He was laughing his head off because, the next day he’d be back in Heathrow getting mobbed and I’d be on the 52 bus cruising around.
‘New Age’ was a collaboration with Guy Chambers who’s done a huge amount with Robbie Williams. Who organised that hook up?
He wrote to me on MySpace back in the day when MySpace was a thing. He’d seen a gig I’d done in Berlin with my previous band Mattafix and he loved the show and said, ‘Listen, if you ever want to do some writing just let me know’. I was at a crossroads, Mattafix had just split up, there was a lot of personal, so I said to the manager ‘I just wanna sit down with Guy and see what he’s saying’.
So I found with Guy, despite all the success he’s had, he’s very receptive to new ideas and doesn’t take it personally. He likes jamming and hanging out which was great for me because, I’m not really comfortable within the industry writing set. Just the perfect team. I’m working with him again this week and he was the first person to sit me down and say, ‘You need to need to be a solo artist. Stop messing around.’
And it all worked out pretty well...
Yeah totally. It was good with Guy to repay the faith he’d shown because when I turned up on his doorstep I didn’t have a deal, I wasn’t an 18 year old X Factor winner so he had to show a lot of faith to put a time in.
Being ‘big in Europe’ is almost a mythical achievement when viewed from a British perspective. It seems with you, it was more accident than design?
Yeah. I’d love to sit there and say I knew it was a big European record. It’s just I couldn’t get a deal here, I’d have loved to. Of course, after the Number 1 in Europe all the labels came knocking but it impresses people I think, it creates good headlines on the news programmes. After that it doesn’t mean a whole lot, you’ve still got to do the hard work and tour. It doesn’t automatically guarantee you a whole lot to be honest with you.
I listened to your session on Terry Wogan where you played the steel drum. Is that part of your heritage?
Yeah definitely, I grew up in the Caribbean from the age of nine until seventeen so the steel drum was very important to me. It’s part of my roots and always great on the stage to play live. The way I scan the melodies and rhythms in my music comes from playing the steel pan.
Have you played a gig yet in St Vincent and the Grenadines yet?
I haven’t. As a kid I was always on the talent shows and doing that whole circuit but I’d love to go back with my band and play. It’s a really big deal for them, it made front page headlines when I got to Number 1 in Germany and the Prime Minister rang my mum. There’s a lot of support out there for me.
Matter Fixed is out now in all good record stores via Warner Music
What’s Number 1 in... Greece?
Top of the Greek iTunes chart at the time of writing are Vegas, the debt-riddled nation’s answer to N-Dubz expect not nearly as shit. We’re talking Tulisa solo career rave-pop with a rap verse shoved in the middle. Having come to prominence in 2009 with the ska-tinged ‘Tis manas sou (I agkalia)’ (Your mother’s embrace), ZeRaw, Melina Makri and DJ Airth have seemingly moved into ‘When Love Takes Over’ territory on ‘Pio Psila’. As you can hear for yourself, the results are not altogether terrible although we imagine David Guetta will be popping his lawsuit in the post any minute now.