Ever watched Eurovision and thought, “eastern Europe has outdone itself this year, I could really hear more of this” or pondered, “I wonder what Top of the Pops looks like in Romania and Ukraine?” Here is a (by no means exhaustive) list of stars to start you off on your journey of discovery in eastern European pop.
A huge name in Bulgarian pop-folk music, or chalga, Azis was once voted the 21st greatest Bulgarian of all time. Flamboyant, openly gay and of Roma descent, Azis is also a part-time politician and in 2005 unsuccessfully ran for parliament as a member of the EuroRoma party. Fun sidenote — he is also known for pretending to have sex with men onstage.
Formed in 2006, this girl group from Kazakhstan are one of the hottest brands in the country. According to their Instagram page, they recently took part in a city-wide clean up in the Kazakhstani capital, Almaty — good on you, ladies! And is it not an inescapable truth that wolves feature in all the very best pop videos?
A relative newcomer to the music scene, Dhurata Dora is a rising star in Albania and Kosovo. Born in 1992 in Germany, she is now based in Priština. In this video she combines the big three: hip hop, RnB and excellent capes.
If the name sounds familiar but you could swear this wasn’t the band you fell in love with in the early 2000s, fear not — you are not going mad. First formed in 2000, this Ukrainian girl band trio has had many a change in lineup. The band in its current incarnation was formed through the reality show I WANT to be in VIA Gra and is popular throughout the Russian-speaking world. If you’re looking for tips on how to kill off your significant other, you have come to the right place.
This band’s name means North-Tallinn, a district of the Estonian capital. They first came onto the Estonian music scene in 2007 with their single Problem and sing almost exclusively in Estonian. Their music could arguably be described as something between hip-hop and rock, rather than pop, but their seamless conjunction of rap and a children’s choir on this track seemed simply too special to miss out.
Karl-Erik shot to fame when he reached the finals of TV show Estonia Is Looking For A Superstar in 2012. The video for his latest hit Crazy Stories has a distinctly autumnal feel and sees him go on a journey through winds and rain to post a letter.
Sirusho is among the most popular singers in her native Armenia, and won international fame when she represented Armenia at the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, gaining a very respectable fourth place. Gomesh means “buffalo” in Armenian, while Pre refers to the the sounds made by herders to move them along. In this song Sirusho calls us to be bold: “Arise, and let the world know that your chosen path is just. Your fight is a true one that will prove your honour to the gods.” Stirring.
Angelika is one of Kyrgyzstan’s premier pop starlets, as well as a fashion designer and actress. This song takes us on an emotional rollercoaster through the trials of war, pregnancy, single motherhood and being reunited with a lover returned from battle. Angelika also shows her skills in rowing what appears to be a radioactive boat.
If we can learn one thing from this video, it’s that a trumpet turns a good holiday into a great holiday. A singer-songwriter from Croatia, Lana invites us in this song on a fun-filled summer trip to the Dalmatian coast, complete with much poolside dancing. Lana also owns her own dance studio in Zagreb and is well-known across the Balkan region.
The native of a small town near Brest in Belarus, Maks Korzh is well-known all across the Russian-speaking world for his distinctive voice and mixture of rap and electropop. Maks wrote his first solo song while studying at university in Minsk, after which he dropped his studies in order to pursue music full time. Such is his popularity that in 2013, when presenting his second album, Maks completely filled the largest arena in Belarus, the Minsk Arena — a first in the musical history of Belarus.
After taking part in The Voice of Poland in 2014, Sarsa made her breakthrough earlier this year with her debut single
One of the biggest hits in Russia last year, this track sees Egor Kreed move from his previous rap style towards a pop sound, reaching number one in the Russian charts. Egor used to be known under the stage name KReeD, and first became famous in 2011 when he uploaded his self-made music video Online love to Youtube. Now he enjoys dancing on cobbled streets.
This video features jellyfish, a puppy, an old man in a top hat, fake eyelashes and a gun-toting woman. Polish rock-pop band Video’s All The Same is, believe it or not, one of the more mellow tracks on our list. Formed in 2007, the band has enjoyed a revival in recent months, and seems to have finally recovered after a failed attempt to represent Poland in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2008.
A big star in her native Uzbekistan, Shahzoda also enjoys fame across Central Asia. In this video she attempts to help a little boy by picking up his football from the middle of the road, but is ill-rewarded for her efforts. There is also a rather alarming episode involving a dalmatian and a startled cat, all of which makes Shahzoda late for a very important date.
Originating in the Lviv region, Ukrainian group Dzidzio is made up of Dzidzio himself and his mates Lesyk and Julik. The pink snout at the edge of the screen is the band’s logo, and a reference to the fourth band member — their pet pig, Meison. Reflecting the comedy of their music, the band’s debut album in 2012 was simply titled HA-HA-HA. According to their website, Dzidzio himself is “anti-glamour” and afraid of nothing but spiders and earwigs.
Alina Eremia is a young star from Romania. She made her European debut when she represented Romania at the 2005 Junior Eurovision Song Contest at the tender age of 11, and is known also for her acting role on teen musical series A Bet with Life. She has also been the Romanian voice of Pocahontas and Belle, and has taken part in the Romanian version of Dancing with the Stars. This power ballad sees Alina reveal a variety of instruments from under an array of coloured sheets.
Hailing from the city of Pitești, Randi is known for being part of the Europop duo Morandi but is now enjoying solo success. In Girlfriend, Randi plays a waiter who falls for the young lover of a wealthy businessman. Enjoy the tonal (and chronological) shift as we move from Randi being beaten up to a flashback to a romantic dinner, all within the first minute. The song is catchy enough, but the success is in the storyline.
Although far from the dynamic duo’s most recent hit, this track by Potap and Nastya is a must-listen if only because it speaks to the pain of a Ukrainian winter: just when is summer going to show up? Both originally from Kiev, the pair always inject a generous dose of humour into their songs, often along with some pretty sensational dance moves and outfits.
Czech singer-songwriter Sebastian released his debut single Stray earlier this year, which was a huge hit in the Czech charts. His latest release, Rescue Point, sees Sebastian back with his guitar. Although we may worry for Sebastian’s safety as he enthusiastically strums while sitting on a beam way up in the roof of a barn, and even more so that he may be arrested for stalking, he seems happy enough following his love around the countryside.
This clip features four of our favourite things: ice cream, men dancing in sync in suits, whistling and Moscow State University. Formerly one half of the pop duo Smash!!, Russian star Sergey Lazarev began his solo career in 2005 and has been enjoying success in the Russian charts in recent months. Look out for his cheeky wink at the end of the video.
Yes, this track did first appeal because of its title. But we kept listening for so many other reasons: the unexpected country vibe at the start, the huge cocktail glass, the catchy chorus and happy people that made us want to jump around a little, to name but a few. Born close to Sarajevo but now signed to City Records in Belgrade, Maya is popular across the Balkans. As has been noted elsewhere, Maya’s videos and style are somewhat more wholesome than those of some of her peers. Yes, you did just watch her dancing in a giant cocktail glass wearing hot pants and a crop top, but it’s all relative.
Mgzavrebi, which might be translated as “Passengers” or “Wanderers”, were founded in the Georgian capital Tbilisi in 2006. The group combines traditional singing styles and Georgian instruments, such as the panduri, with modern pop songwriting. In this video the boys are jamming al fresco, together with dancers who not only jump to incredible heights but are also contenders in one of our favourite games — hat or hair?
Text: Elise Morton