Edward Larkey. Popular Music and Society. Volume 24, Issue 3. Fall 2000.
After World War II, West Germany, in its search for a post-Nazi identity, encountered the emerging hegemony of the United States, the political and military leader of the Western world whose culture industry challenged the weakened German cultural elite with a powerful combination of unbridled and unrepentant commercialism, populism, and consumerism. Americanization became a looming threat to conservatives competing for legitimacy in a national-cultural marketplace that was severely discredited by the Nazi-tainted popular culture of the recent past. Some conservatives rallied around pre-Nazi cultural ideals rooted in a romanticized folk culture, seeking a mythical German Heimat (homeland) untouched by the polluting influences of industrialization, massification, and standardization. Other critics, both conservative and liberal, drew upon Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s critique of the “culture industry” (60-150), arguing that mass entertainment discouraged rational contemplation and infected the unsuspecting masses with the virus of unrestrained emotional stimulation and Dionysian excess for which the recent Nazi atrocities seemed to offer the most perfidious examples.
The crisis of German culture in the years following World War II would lead to changes in popular music in terms of language choice and lyric content. At this time German popular music was dominated by three genres: Schlager, volkstumliche, and Volksmusik. Schlager, rooted in nineteenth-century operetta and dance traditions, blossomed into a vibrant form of cultural expression in the 1920s and 1930s and after World War II, served as a vehicle for expressing a variety of feelings—loss, abandonment, loneliness, disillusionment, and hope. Because Schlager is a historically syncretized genre capable of adapting various influences and traditions, it is difficult to pin down its specific characteristics (see Wicke 445-54); in general, however, it employs 4/4 time, orchestral or pop arrangements, and, some exceptions aside, African– American musical characteristics like syncopation and blue-notes are not used. During this same period, an industry producing the volkstumliche (“folk-like”) genre (i.e., commercialized folk music) evolved from a vast number of Heimat-movies, a good example of which is Der Forster vom Silberwald (1954). Popular in the 1950s, these movies are generally characterized by a romantic plot, an idyllic and unspoiled alpine setting, and a hero who saves the country folk from encroaching industrial civilization and falls in love with a country girl while so doing. Like the scores for these movies, volkstumliche employs the melodies, instrumentation (accordion, clarinet and other woodwinds), and vocal patterns of traditional folk music while yet being distinguishable from Volksmusik (“authentic” folk music) (cf. von Schoenebeck 279-92). To many critics, volkstumliche seemed both polluted by the post-war commercial recording industry and too uncritical of the recent past in the form of the politically manipulated folk songs produced under Nazi rule. Contesting that heritage was a folk music movement with roots in the pre-Nazi youth movement, which re-emerged in the early 1950s with affinities to the concurrent folk movement in the United States.
These three genres-Schlager, volkstumliche, and Volksmusik generally used German lyrics; however, by the late 1960s and continuing into the post-unification period successive waves of popular music from the United States and Great Britain brought new genres (rock, and later, rap) into the German popular music scene; this set the stage for continuous competition, contestation, and accommodation of English language use in German popular music. At the same time, influences from within the German-speaking countries, combined with the contestatory impulses of the rock and rap genres, would lead to the increasing use of German dialects, and later, the use of Turkish (a significant minority language in some major German urban areas), resulting in a complex, multiglossic approach to language in several sectors of the German popular music market. Relatedly, in terms of both language practices and lyric content, German pop would turn to more controversial expression, particularly in relation to sexuality, all of which has resulted in extraordinarily ironic and linguistically complex forms of popular music. This paper will examine these developments, and in the concluding section, we will consider how these developments relate to audiences, the culture industry, and the process of globalization.
German Popular Genres and Language Choice
At various stages in the history German pop, musicians have employed non-standard dialects in lyrics to reinforce a sense of regional (in the case of Germany) and even national (in the case of Swiss and Austrian) identities on the defensive because of the dominance of either Standard German (in the Schlager) or English-language pop (distributed by the global, Anglo-American-dominated industry). Considering first the relationship between Standard German and regional dialects: the historical lack of a politically unified center for German culture and language has meant that regional dialects-distinguished from the Standard by lexical, phonological, and syntactical differences (Clyne 4ff.) and based on centuries-old tribal divisions (Alemannic in the southwest, Bavarian in the Southeast, Franconian in the West and East Central regions)-have persisted and achieved political and cultural legitimacy.
In addition to the linguistic vestiges of ancient tribal distinctions, a further distinction exists between Niederdeutsch (Low German; i.e., the northern German plains) varieties, which are related to Dutch and Frisian, and Oberdeutsch (High or Upper German, spoken in the southern regions and equivalent to Standard German, though linguists often avoid the term and its implication that Niederdeutsch varieties are somehow sub-standard). The differences in the two are based on gradually dissipating consonants and other differences stemming from the High German Sound Shift between the Sixth and Eighth centuries in southern German regions and moving north (Clyne 6-7) (e.g., the German word for “I” is sounded as “ich” in High German and “ik” in Low German). This difference is geographically delineated by the “Benrather Line,” a linguistic border running West to East through the Disseldorf suburb of Benrath. The Standard pronunciation is derived from northern German varieties combined with standardization that was the result of Lutheran reforms incorporating East Franconian varieties from the central German provinces of Thuringia and Saxony.
For many speakers of German language varieties, particularly in Switzerland and Austria, the written form of the language represents the official standard against which the Alemannic or the Bavarian dialects are considered regional varieties in Germany proper. For speakers in the north of Germany, many of these southern varieties are barely intelligible, and in Switzerland and Austria, specific terms are used to denote the linguistic differences between the spoken varieties and the official ones-in Switzerland, Standard German is “Schriftdeutsch” (“written German”); in Austria it is “Buhnendeutsch” (“stage German”) or “Binnendeutsch” (“Internal German”).
The “nationalization” of dialects in Austria and Switzerland led to their use in rock and pop songs. Many people, especially among the youth, sought greater legitimacy for dialect as a way to achieve more adequate expression for feelings of alienation, solidarity, intimacy and identity with their linguistic community. Even within Germany, the use of Bavarian, Swabian, or even Franconian dialect in lyrics signaled increased regional self-awareness in the face of linguistic homogenization. For pop bands, vocal artists, songwriters, and audiences, skillful use of dialect lyrics usually plays with and against linguistic knowledge, experience, and expertise with both Standard and dialect, and thus serves to reinforce the in-group solidarity, as well as demonstrating an additional layer of linguistic and artistic expertise and creativity (Ammon 161-78; cf. Woolard 53-76).
Singers in Bavarian dialect in Germany and Austria encounter what is jokingly referred to by musicians as the “White Sausage Line,” an indistinct border in Germany (generally north of the Main river) above which Bavarian lyrics are nearly unintelligible. Viennese groups like Ostbahn-Kurti and die Chefpartie and vocalists like Wolfgang Ambros and blues singer Heli Deinboek encounter this phenomenon, as do singers from the Styrian city of Graz, an important center for pop music in southeastern Austria. Many Austrian bands use dialect-colored Standard German to mark their heritage on the German linguistic periphery while increasing their comprehensibility, and in so doing, their chances for success, on the German-language market (110 million pop.) beyond the narrow confines of Austria (7.8 million pop.). (This interest in negotiating various audiences is also evident in the way the dialect lyrics are placed in relation to the recorded music and the printed information on the covers or in CD-booklets. In order to facilitate lyric comprehensibility, many bands include either translations of their dialect lyrics into the Standard, or provide glossaries for equivalent Standard terms on their CD booklets or album covers.). In Switzerland, however, many bands do not use this strategy: some prefer to use the Bernese dialect, and as a result go largely unnoticed in other German-speaking countries where their dialect is incomprehensible, whereas within Switzerland, Bernese is considered the most artistically expressive dialect, even more so than the Zurich or Basel varieties, the two other major dialect areas of Swiss– German. However, some Swiss-Germans seeking wider commercial success on the international market may employ either French lyrics (like Stephan Eicher) or, to move to our next topic, English lyrics (like the techno duo Yello).
The introduction of the rock genre forced a realignment of attitudes regarding musical genres and language use: Schlager (the lyrics of which generally refrain from social criticism, and countercultural or oppositional content) came to denote conservative, obsolete, orthodoxy with regard to musical taste and social/cultural behaviors, whereas “rock” signified the rebellious, insurrectional aspect of avant-garde or heterodoxic aspects of popular music. At this time, while a number of German lyric writers used English fragments to poke fun at its usage, it increasingly became a sign of artistic prowess and intent, demonstrating global competitiveness and legitimacy, particularly in the rock genre, where its use dominated. Indeed, the introduction of the rock genre and the influence of popular British bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones entailed an imitative phase for German rock bands, which included the use of English lyrics based on these British, as well as American, models.
While Schlager and volkstumliche continued to use Standard German, its use in rock lyrics (as opposed to English) would evolve as a contested form for student and countercultural youth in the German– speaking countries, and, following the imitative phase, bands began to introduce German lyrics. They gained performance experience, cultivated audiences, and were recruited by major record companies, a development beginning in earnest around 1970-1971. Standard German is now the language preferred by nationally visible artists in the Schlager, volkstumliche, Volkmusik, and now the rock and contemporary pop genres (in the rock sector, this includes, among others, Udo Lindenberg, early Nina Hagen, and Herbert Gronemeyer; in the Schlager and pop sector, Udo Jurgens, Roland Kaiser, and Peter Maffay). The new German rock music lyric aesthetic evolved throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s based on the peculiarities of language use in Germany among the three variants (i.e., Standard German, various regional dialects, and English). The use of German lyrics signaled the expectation that a substantial political or social commentary or critique would be forthcoming. Playfulness, experimentation, and irony were qualities developed under the influence of the dialect movement among German, Swiss, and Austrian songwriters; these qualities were later imported into songs using Standard German. This was true for the productions of Udo Lindenberg and Nina Hagen, who started using Standard German in the 1970s. These artists influenced the subsequent punk-influenced Neue Deutsche Welle (“German New Wave”) in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, who continued to exploit the particular rhythmic and prosodic qualities of the German language to convey humorous, ironic, yet socially critical messages, all of which contributed to a broad rejuvenation of German popular song in the 1980s and subsequent decades.
We have been primarily concerned with West Germany, but the use of English in German pop also occurred in the former East Germany (GDR), where such a practice was, at times, a highly-charged political issue. The East German government attempted to create an alternative to the Western popular music in the hopes of counteracting the English and American influence found in the West German music that was favored by most East German youths. As part of this attempt, they banned English for original productions, though they did allow its use in cover versions. Songs using German lyrics were closely scrutinized by the Lektorate (editorial boards), the censorship offices of radio and television stations, and by the state’s monopoly record company. This led to the practice of avoiding censorship through the use of figurative language that allowed nature imagery and personal relationship narratives to represent dissatisfaction with political, economic, and cultural affairs (later we’ll provide a specific example). Also, East German bands from the independent scene increasingly used English as an oppositional identity-marker in order to subvert censorship aimed at achieving conformity to socialist ideology and as a way to repudiate and actively withdraw from the official institutionalized context and discourse of what the government popularized as “GDR Rock.” In effect, these musicians announced that the GDR was an irrelevant context for making music.
The presence of this broad variety of language choice in German popular music has influenced the composition process in several other ways as well. As with song writing in general, sometimes writers and composers will first establish a melody before attempting the lyrics; likewise, a rhyme scheme may precede the lyrics, and certain vocalizations will be needed, regardless of lyric content, in order to complete the rhyme. These vocalizations (referred to as Schimmeltexte in Germany and Schmahtexte in Austria-are idiomatic terms with no precise English translation) are usually derived from English-sounding words and are generally nonsense sounds. The lyric writer finds the suitable German words to correspond with the English-sounding vocalizations in order to shape German rhymes to relate a particular narrative and/or to construct a refrain. This procedure is to some extent influenced by the historical tradition of German pop: often kitschy and cliched, Schlager’s stereotypical rhyme schemes even have a specific label—”Herz- Schmerz” (“heart-pain”) lyrics. The Austrian State Broadcasting Service (ORF) even went so far in the 1970s as to ban what were called “Schnulzen,” sentimental songs that seemed to embody the worst of German song tradition (however, English lyrics with the similar shortcomings were not subjected to the same critique, and the ban could probably be construed as a means of promoting songs in English at the expense of German ones).
Another interesting development regarding English and American influence is found in the way in which many German and Austrian artists have used the cultural legitimacy of well-known pop songwriters from the United States or Great Britain to produce German language cover versions. One prominent U.S. singer/songwriter chosen for this type of reinterpretation is Bob Dylan. Wolfgang Ambros (Austria) recorded cover versions of Dylan songs in 1978 employing Austrian dialect lyrics; Wolfgang Niedecken, lead singer of the band BAP, also recorded covers of Dylan, using the Cologne dialect, in a 1995 recording. Both singers cover “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” but while the Ambros version’s dialect lyrics are included on the inner sleeve of the album, those for the Niedecken version are sung in the Cologne dialect, but printed in the CD booklet in Standard German, with the exception of the title, which is printed as an approximate Cologne dialect translation of the English: “Dat benn ich nit.” Both songs are close in content to the original: the male rejection of a female partner because of his inability to embody her utopian ideal partner and his unwillingness to “settle down” and become that ideal.
But these cover versions may also be done in a way that relates to the particular regional, socio-cultural, and historical context of a given audience, employing interpretations that diverge substantially from the lyrics employed with the original melody. This practice also helps to identify a band with a particular tradition. For example, the Austrian singer Willi Resetarits has built his reputation as the fictitious figure “Ostbahn-Kurti” (his band is Ostbahn-Kurti and die Chefpartie) by reworking songs by U.S. artists like Bruce Springsteen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and even Frank Zappa into Viennese dialect. The familiarity of both audience and artist with the melody of the original often becomes a complementing common referent for the acceptance of the new interpretation, which, as in the Dylan examples, may either be a faithful translation of the original, or an approximate rendition of its meaning (within the confines allowed by individual copyright holders), or a more creative interpretation. One Resetaritis song reworks “I Heard it through the Grapevine” into a question-“wo ham wir hier den Fahrschein?” (“where do we have the tram ticket?”). This interpretation successfully and playfully transfers the feeling of bad luck in the original-learning about an unfaithful mate -into dismay at being caught in a tram without the required ticket (in Germany, one generally buys a tram ticket on good faith, though attendants will perform spot checks).
As with Dylan, Randy Newman’s songs have likewise been a popular choice for German cover versions. Heli Deinboek (Vienna) recorded an entire album of his songs in 1995, including some of most commercially successful ones like “You can leave your hat on” (“Lass den Hut auf”), “Louisiana” (“Miese Manner”), and “Birmingham” (“Oberwart”). Deinboek’s cover of “Birmingham” provides a strong example of the way in which a translated lyric can be creatively reworked in a way that relates to a particular regional situation. Newman’s original version presents a satire of a dimwitted, white working man who glorifies life in the U.S. city of Birmingham, Alabama, while remaining blind to racism and other negative elements. Deinboek turns Birmingham into Oberwart, a small town in the Austrian countryside known for its racial prejudice and where four Gypsies were murdered by unknown assailants in the mid-1990s. Deinboek’s protagonist is a small-town official who dislikes foreigners and sends in his dog “Tasso”-Newman’s dog is “Dan”-to take care of law-breaking foreigners. In a similar manner, the East German band City transposed the decay and despair in Newman’s song “Baltimore” into the East German industrial town of Ridersdorf, a town outside of East Berlin in which the local, state-run cement factory completely ruined the environment. In both songs, the respective cities symbolize environmental and social decay for which there seems to be no solution other than escape: in the original the protagonist flees Baltimore for good; in the cover, the escape from Rudersdorf means going to the West (the song was recorded before the unification) and never returning. In an earlier recording, Udo Lindenberg (West Germany) set “Baltimore” to German lyrics, but his version follows the original very closely, and thus in this case the audience interprets the song according to received ideas in Germany regarding the negative effects of capitalism and urban decay in the United States.
The influence of African-American hip hop culture, and rap music in particular, has in recent years added a new layer of complexity to the multiglossic strain within German popular music. In Germany, appropriated African-American rap and hip hop have provided a way in which African-Americans and African-Germans can become participants in German popular culture; rap also provides Germany’s ethnic minorities (the Turks in particular, a subaltern group in Germany whose experience in some ways resembles that of African-Americans) a way to communicate with the rest of German society. Additionally, rap has allowed elements of African-American hip hop slang to enter German vocabulary, particularly among the youth, and now terms like “dissen” (to “diss,” i.e., to show disrespect for), “bitch,” “posse,” “fucker,” and “crew” are commonly used. The multi-ethnic rap group Fresh Familee, for instance, in a 1993 recording, calls on their audience, and German society in general, to “fuck the skins” (i.e., racist Skinheads); interestingly, the band decided to use this English phrase rather than a translation. Another Fresh Familee rap from a 1994 recording is entitled “Mothafucka,” again borrowing from popular American slang, but with an interesting political twist, for here “mothafucka” refers to Germans who deface the environment, are racist, and pursue selfish goals at the expense of society as a whole.
Along with the use of sampled music from the African-American repertoire to provide rhythm and bass tracks, ethnic minority rap groups often use folk instruments (particularly Turkish) and Turkish and other languages in their rap narratives. Mixing German and other languages has the effect of signaling inclusion or exclusion of a particular group from its audience. The 1995 disc Cartel, which features a number of Turkish rappers, has only one track that uses German lyrics, and in the text accompanying the CD, those who didn’t pay attention to Turkish lessons in school are told (in German) they can send in a postcard if they want to receive the lyrics in German translation. Not surprisingly, Cartel became a major hit in Turkey and helped establish Berlin as a center for Turkish hip hop culture in both Germany and Turkey. But other rappers take different approaches. Aziza-A, for instance, released a CD in 1997 that includes the German translations of her Turkish lyrics in the accompanying booklet, and she raps in German on several tracks and uses some German on others that are primarily in Turkish. Fresh Familiee, to provide an example of yet another approach, address a primarily German-speaking audience, so that even a story about a Turkish worker, Ahmet Gunduz, though it includes Turkish-sounding instrumentation, is sung in broken (“foreigner” pidgin) German.
Middle-class Germans as well as members of ethnic minorities living in Germany have turned to rap and hip-hop as a way of defining themselves vis-a-vis the majority society and as an innovative form of musical and linguistic expression. One of the most commercially successful of these groups is the Fantastische Vier (Fantastic Four), who, in their 1992 release, “Hip-Hop-Musik,” directly address the question of language choice and image. They question the authenticity of those German rappers who in their view promote and idealize a ghetto image and lifestyle; they also attempt to delineate a space for a German, non-ghetto rap and hip-hop. Rejecting what they call “Goldchain-motherfuckers” (in English) for being “zu viel kitsch” (“too much kitsch”), they urge German rappers to stop borrowing from the Americans and instead turn to “deutscher Sprechgesang” (“German chanting speech”), which, they concede, is a controversial means of expression. They proposed replacing English terms that call for audience response with German ones: “heb die hand hoch” instead of “put your hands in the air,” and “hey Leute, was geht ab?” (“Hey people, what’s up?”) instead of “say ho.” Programmatically, they declared that “only in the mother tongue can the game of language-playing function in a fun way,” and believe that “only then can the words be accentuated well,” urging their fellow countrymen to maintain their linguistic self-confidence and self-awareness.
One means of mixing languages-either English and German or Turkish and German-is to intersperse single words (usually borrowing from hip hop) in the other language into a predominantly German text. Another manner of mixing the languages is practiced by Aziza-A in her song “Es ist Zeit” (“It is Time”) urging her fellow German-Turkish countrywomen to assert their rights, and in so doing reject the patriarchal structures of Turkish society in Germany. While her rap narrative is in German, the refrain is adapted from the Turkish folksong “Daracik, Daracik sokaklar kizlar misket yuvarlar” (“Narrow, narrow alleys, in which girls play marbles”) and sung by a male chorus in Turkish. In Cora E’s 1998 recording, “Next Stop New York,” the narrative is in German while the refrain is in English: “From East to West Heidelberg to New York/It’s about where your Head is at/We’re gonna lace this Track with some Rhymes that hit back/Next stop New York-rock on.” This layering of lyric languages is an effective way of addressing several audiences at once, and serves to authenticate and legitimate the addressor to each different audience.
Sex in the Desert and Other Delights: Sex, Language Choice, and Narrative Stance
Sexuality has been a traditional topic of blues and rhythm and blues songs in the Afro-American traditions for many decades, forming the basis for double entendre and metaphor-laden lyrics; as a direct result of this influence, sexuality is one of the most prevalent topics in rock music, and indeed the very term rock and roll, as is well-known, has its origins in a rhythm and blues code term for sexual intercourse. Sex is a major topic in rock music not only because of its obvious inherent appeal, but as for its shock value- as a way to violate what is considered “good taste” and propriety and to signal a kind of rebelliousness that has characterized rock music in general. The sexual-political nexus of rock eventually evolved to encompass topics related to gender conflict, feminism’s critique of patriarchal discourse, and gender identity and construction. These features of American and English lyrics have also found their way into German rock.
In terms of language choice, it is interesting that German popular lyrics show a preference for the English term (“sex”); the formal German equivalents-“Geschlecht” (sex) and “Geschlechtsverkehr” (“sexual intercourse”) -are multi-syllabic mouthfuls almost never used in song lyrics (although Fantastische Vier makes ironic use of the abbreviation for Geschlechtsverkehr-g.v.-in the song entitled “Saft” [“Juice”]). It would seem that the German term doesn’t have the right semantic register for rock lyrics. The English term “sex” refers to intercourse, foreplay, caressing, and other related behaviors, and in this way is more comprehensive than either Geschlechtsverkehr or informal German terms like “ficken” (“to fuck”), “vogeln” (“to screw”), or “bumsen” (approx., “to get laid”). Using a foreign term instead of the more direct and narrow German ones allows a greater degree of emotional distanciation and ironic detachment. As a widely used loanword, “sex” may also denote a certain cultural perception, real or imagined, often connected with Anglo-American-derived consumer culture-assumedly more easy-going, relaxed, and fun.
Throughout its development, German rock has displayed a wide variety of representations regarding the physical and emotional dimensions of sex. Historically, these narratives are situated between a largely male-dominated sexual liberation movement in the late 1960s and the feminist reaction to that movement in the 1970s. In the course of this development, sexual roles have been blurred, and male and female homosexual behavior has become more accepted. To some extent, rock mythology is still dependent on (traditional heterosexual) sexist imagery and narratives regarding the exploits of the male rock-star hero with (largely female) fans, depictions which provide their audiences (both male and female) with mythical, utopian, and romantic illusions about fulfilling their own sexual fantasies. However, some rock or pop songs now challege lyric conventions in innovative ways reflecting the changing attitudes about sexuality that may help audiences to negotiate new sexual identities and gender roles.
A good point of departure is Drafi Deutscher’s “Marmor, Stein and Eisen bricht” (“Marble, Stone, and Iron Breaks”), a song that is situated between the Schlager and rock genres and has remained, since it first topped the German charts in 1966, a favorite among audiences of all ages, most of whom now use it ironically, as it expresses a naive attitude with regard to sexual matters. The refrain of the song celebrates eternal faithfulness and the bonds of matrimony: “Marmor, Stein, and Eisen bricht/aber unsere Liebe nicht/alles, alles geht vorbei/doch wir sind uns treu” [“marble, stone, and iron breaks/but not our love/everything, everything passes on/but we remain faithful to each other”]. It is not surprising that subsequent audiences-with their experiences of marriage, divorce, and separation-should find lyrics like these comical or worthy of derisive trashing when sung in unison at parties, dances, and other gatherings.
Many German rock lyrics deal with sexual experience in terms of disillusionment, disappointment, and detachment. Udo Lindenberg’s song “Bitte keine Love-Story” (“Please, no Love Story”) (1974), is a case in point. The song’s male narrator tells a new-found female companion about his past disappointment in a previous relationship, and, after emphasizing how vulnerable and tentative he feels about pursuing a new relationship, he is surprised by her decision, revealed in the last verse, to pursue the relationship with him in spite of his questionable past. Shortly after the release of “Marmor, Stein and Eisen bricht,” the student movement and the sexual revolution led to radical social-sexual experiments like the notorious Commune I in Munich, as well as very explicit books explaining the techniques of (hetero-) sexual pleasure. While sexual pleasure first because a common theme in the lyrics of English rock bands, the Germans soon followed in the early 1970s.
Earlier we had noted the controversial use of English lyrics in East Germany; similarly, during this same period, sexuality became an important and controversial factor. One such example is provided by Puhdys, an East German band whose popular 1973 song “Geh zu Ihr” (“Go to her”) contains a thinly veiled sexual metaphor, i.e., “Geh zu ihr and lass dein’ Drachen steigen” (“go to her, and let your dragon climb”). But the lyric also supports a more innocent interpretation-Drachen (“dragon”), but also, Drachen (“to fly a kite”). This kind of word-play is a good example of the way in which East German rock bands often eluded censorship. The song’s notoriety was reinforced by its use in Die Legende von Paul and Paula (The Legend of Paul and Paula) (1974), a controversial East German film about a young male Party faithful who forsakes an unhappy marriage to pursue a relationship with a single mother with whom he feels a deep emotional connection. In this film, “Geh zu Ihr” is heard in the background during an almost surreal scene which takes place on a barge floating down the Spree River and in which Paul and Paula consummate their relationship before a gathering of friends and relatives. For a prudish Communist leadership, Die Legende von Paul and Paula and “Geh zu Ihr” represented not only sexual independence, but a declaration of liberation from orthodox cultural and political ideology as well.
The advent of the feminist movement in West Germany in the 1970s prompted women to critique male sexism and to assert their own sexuality. Some male vocalists like Herbert Gronemeyer reflected both the new male insecurity with conventional models of sexual behavior as well as a sensitivity to female sexuality, coupled with a desire to negotiate new gender models based on non-sexist thinking. Some of Gronemeyer’s songs, as well as those by Udo Lindenberg and Wolfgang Niedecken, are characterized by male figures who show a heightened consciousness regarding female sexual pleasure. But a new female sexual assertiveness is best reflected in the work of Nina Hagen. Her 1976 album “Nina Hagen Band,” her first LP after leaving the GDR in 1976, contains several songs which break with the German (Schlager) lyric tradition of avoiding explicitly sexual topics and language. In one of these, “Rangehen,” (“Go To It”) the narrator tries to pick up a man at a party. In another, “Unbeschreiblich Weiblich” (“Indescribably Female”), sentimental notions about pregnancy are decisively rejected as the narrator describes the physical symptoms (“mir ging’s zum Kotzen” [“I feel wretched”]) and rejects the traditional female role (“ich hab’ keine Lust meine Pflicht zu erfullen” [“I don’t want to fulfill my duty”]). Ultimately, she declares that she wants to “bevor die ersten Kinder schrein, muss ich mich selst befre ien” (“liberate myself before I hear the first child scream”). Another song on the same LP (“Heiss” [“Hot”]) has her alone in the shower, masturbating while “talking” with a man of her fantasy, “Mr. Rub-Man” (“Herr Wichsmann”). When her “boyfriend” (another English loan word) enters, she greets him with “Tach Herr Wichsmann/Wie man weiss, isses heiss/ich brauche Wasser,/denn ich schwitze in der Ritze” [“Hello Mr. Rub-Man/as you know, it is hot/I need water/because I am sweating in my crack”] (qtd. in Buhmann and Haeseler 150-51). The narrator has transferred her fantasy-object onto the boyfriend by referring to him with the same, as it were, term of endearment, and he then satisfies her, although it’s not clear just how-possibly with a stream of water aimed at her vagina.
A 1981 release by the New Wave band Ideal called “Sex in the Desert” reflects a similar disillusionment and dissatisfaction with sex in the feminist era. The refrain (sung by the band’s vocalist, Annette Humpe) points out the discrepancy between the desire for sex and the impossibility of satisfaction because of the heat in the desert: “Der Horizont ruckt naher and was keiner weiss/jeder denkt das eine/doch daAr ist’s zu heiss/Sex-Sex in der Wuste” (“The horizon moves closer and what no one knows/everyone is thinking the same thing/but for that it is too hot/Sex -sex in the desert”). Thus the attribute “hot” normally associated with sexual pleasure (as in the Hagen song) is rendered here as a negative attribute.
Yet another negative portrayal of sexuality comes from the band Rammstein; the first track from their CD Herzeleid (“heartache,” also, to suffer from heart disease) is “Wollt ihr das Bett in Flammen sehen?” (“Do you want to see the bed in flames?”), which portrays sex as “a battle,” and equates the band’s identity within a misogynist view of sex and love. In the song’s refrain-“Rammstein Sex ist eine Schlacht/Liebe ist Krieg” [“Rammstein/Sex is a battle/Love is War”] -“Rammstein” of course refers to the band, but could also refer to the “ramming” of phallic aggression. This belligerent stance is introduced by the questions of the protagonist addressing not the singular “you” as in many pop songs, but the plural “you” with insistent questions reminiscent of Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels question to the Germans in the late phases of the Second World War-“Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg?” (“Do you want total war?”). In the middle of the stanza it switches from this question to the narrator’s insistent, rhetorical suggestion that he will “den Dolch ins Laken stecken” and “das Blut vom Degen lecken” (“stick the knife into the sheets” and “lick the blood from the knife”). By explicitly and metaphorically equating sex with war or death, the song questions the motivation of sex as a purely pleasurable and innocent practice, asking “Ihr glaubt zu toten ware schwer/doch wo kommen al die Toten her?” (“if you think killing is so difficult, where do all the dead come from?”). Rammstein’s darkly insistent music lends credibility to a reading of the song as a foreboding, misogynist diatribe. However, a reviewer for the Berliner Zeitung (in an article focused on Rammstein’s lead singer Till Lindemann entitled Till klopft sick auf die Brust” [“Till pounds himself on his chest”]), suggests a more cynical reading, observing that the band’s video and CD “Live aus Berlin” was a “calculated” and “transparent” attempt at provocation with “seemingly controversial topics.”
Both Rammstein CDs play ironically with romantic attitudes, the title “Sehnsucht” is a typical, even quintessential Romantic concept in German poetry and music, which combines the poetic sound of the word with a feeling of desire and sensuousness. Both titles would seem to represent the opposite of what the Romantic movement would be about. However, upon closer scrutiny, Rammstein shares some qualities of musical and aesthetic Romanticism. One of these is the “fantastically formed and generically ambiguous artwork” first theorized by the German philosopher Friedrich Schlegel (Daverio 4). Rammstein concerts aim, as do most rock concerts, at creating a musical experience “as a quasi-mystical event, where the listener gives in to the enigmatic, wondrous, and oracular accents of pure instrumental music” (Daverio 5). In addition, some aspects of the Romantic movement, which idealized artistic uniqueness and creativity, omnipotence of the poetic imagination, synthesizing disparate artistic entities, and others also included selfdestructive and negative aspects as well, with writers like Heinrich von Kleist committing suicide and suffering, raised (by Nietzsche) to a necessary prerequesite to authentic artistic ephiphany and catharsis.
Language , Authenticity, and the Culture Industry
Two types of language use have informed this essay: the first concerns the way in which various artists in the German-speaking countries use various combinations of Standard German, German dialects, English, and Turkish in order to convey both specific lyric messages and a general cultural-linguistic stance within a given musical genre. Standard German lyrics are used by nationally renowned artists to convey meaningful messages across dialect areas, talk about intimate feelings as well as social and cultural issues in a language approaching everyday speech, and negotiate identities on the German regional market within the global marketplace. Dialects are used by German pop artists as a way to reinforce a regional identity among members of their immediate target audience and to represent that identity to audiences from the majority culture of which it, the regional culture, forms an integral part. On a larger level, these practices help situate the global styles of rock and pop music in regional and national space and time; specifically, the use of English lyrics in German pop signifies the intent to participate in the global music industry, reach audiences beyond national borders, and exhibit artistic expertise in the international language of rock-based pop music, though in a way that generally foregrounds the entertainment quality of the instrumental component rather than conveying a particularly meaningful lyric message. Finally, members of the Turkish minority employ their native language to establish their presence and identity in Germany. More generally, the practice of using regional dialect in lyrics reflects a political tension evidenced in all kind of ordinary speech practices-the tension between dominant and non-dominant languages in which the dominant often serves as the criterion for evaluating the minority language (Gal ctd. in Heller 249). Relatedly, the use of Standard German, dialects, and finally, the use of English, in popular songs in the Germanspeaking countries is governed by principles similar to those governing code-switching in the speech of bilingual communities based on “the ways in which the communities are differently situated within the regional political and economic system.” In “code-switching,” bilingual populations employ a specific language in specific situations, which may be used to “establish, cross, or destroy group boundaries; to create, evoke or change interpersonal relations with their accompanying rights and obligations” (Gal qtd. in Heller 247-48).
The second aspect of language choice centered on the ways in which German pop lyrics deal with the topic of sexuality, from the naively couched affirmation of heterosexual love and the institution of marriage in the popular Schlager “Marmor, Stein and Eisen bricht” to a period of Anglo-American influence, including the widespread use of the English loanword, “sex,” to the insecurities of masculine gender roles in the face of feminist assertions of sexual identity and activity, to both East German artists’ use of veiled metaphors and the new explict use of sexual language by artists like Nina Hagen and Rammstein to express anti-sentimental attitudes towards sexuality and relationships -indeed, a total reversal of the Schlager tradition.
Both of these aspects of language usage (language choice and the use of language to explore a controversial topic) are rooted in the performers’ and audiences’ need for credible and authentic expression. But authenticity is of course problematic, as we see in the example of German hip hop, which is constructed and contested by various audiences with various ideas as to what constitutes authenticity. For some, authenticity and credibility consist of projecting the hip hop lifestyle, mode of communication, and attitude onto the social reality of German society, while others, like Fantastische Vier, reject this as non-authentic imitation and appropriation of an alien subculture. While identifying “authentic authenticity” remains problematic, perhaps, in any case, the more important factor here is the way the authenticity problem allows the audience to actively participate in the construction of that authenticty -in pleasurable, playful collusion with the artists, regardless of the transparency of the undertaking or the influence or the audience’s understandable cynicism regarding the possiblity of any product of the market-driven “culture industry” being truly authentic. The Austrian band Ostbahn-Kurti and die Chefpartie, for instance, was a completely fictional construction in which the pseudonymous band members were featured in narratives that were circulated about fictitous exploits in fictitious Viennese clubs. Interestingly, the audience actively participated in the construction of these narratives.
Here we see that irony undercuts the question of authenticity and contributes an element of play, allowing performers and audiences to willfully suspend the manifest character of the lyrics (although because verbal irony is founded on thorough linguistic competence, this kind of play usually takes place in the home language). Irony also allows performers and audiences to violate the boundaries of “good taste” while introducing an element of doubt about the seriousness of the violation or of the intended meaning, as in the case of Nina Hagen and Rammstein. One could argue, for instance, that Rammstein’s “Wont ihr das Bett in Flammen sehen?” does not promote an aggressive attitude towards sexuality but rather serves as a warning, pointing out the negative effect of looking at sex as a “battle” and warning the audience not to engage in the “total war” concept of the Nazi era. In any case, descriptions of the audience would indicate that Rammstein fans are not fanatical warmongers, but are instead “normal” people with a variety of different musical interests and cultural tastes.
We should also note the role played by genre in these interactions between audiences and performers. Song genres help create historically-grounded expectations about the cultural behavior associated with specific audiences and specific expectations about lyric content, as we saw in the case of German pop genres from Schlager to rock. Genres provide musical and cultural contexts, frames for the social and cultural positioning of the lyric message as well as the mood and the attitude transmitted by the lyrics. As Linda Hutcheon’s discussion of genre suggests, song genres help cast the interpretative stance communicated to the listener by the artists and shape the position and attitude of the listener towards the music. But genre may also serve an ironic function, giving the interpreter a frame “in addition to and different from what is stated, together with an attitude toward both the said and the unsaid” (11). Popular music often partakes of this irony, acquiring a polysemic quality that “removes the security that words mean only what they say” (14) and giving it a particular power, as Hutcheon suggests in a more general discussion, to play a role in the negotiation and encoding of authority and power and in the general processes of social discourse (17).
While it is true that the bands may be manipulated by the culture industry into a certain manner of marketing, identity, visual and music presentation, it is also true that the audience, as suggested before, may see through this and collude in the effort at constructing the identity and ironic distance to the band’s ostensible image and identity. Irony, ambiguity, ambivalence, and the use of non-standard dialects allow the bands to employ devices for negotiating and re-negotiating identities through the music with their audiences under continually changing circumstances. Thus we might be able to conceive of multiple and even conflicting identities in a late capitalist society.
The collusive nature of constructing credibility and authenticity by both audience and artist means, on the one hand, that the culture industry is the means for investing the artist with the legitimizing power of his audience, while on the other hand the artist expresses some of the ambivalent and multiple feelings of his other diverse audience community. The audience projects its own utopian and/or dystopian desires on to the artist, and constructs itself as the empowering element of the equation enabling the popularity of the artist to be constructed. This is a part of the common knowledge of what Pierre Bourdieu calls the “cultural field,” in which the participants are aware of the inherent and implicit set of rules and conditions constituting the field (97-250). The Frankfurt School critique of the cultural industries was aimed at enlightening the critical public about the inimical relationship of the industry to “culture,” its manipulative manner with regard to cultural needs and processes, and indifference to the actual content of cultural commodities. To a certain extent, today’s audiences have taken Horkheimer and Adorno’s warnings to heart and are using this knowledge to their own advantage to construct multiple, and ever-changing identities whose material may be supplied by the global entertainment industry to subvert its intent.
In an era in which the global pop music industry has made selected popular musics available on a world-wide basis, the use of lyrics, the particular mixture of languages and images used in popular music on various regional and local markets is an important mechanism for negotiating the changing “global-local nexus” in which global space becomes one of “flows, an electronic space, a decentered space, a space in which frontiers and boundaries have become permeable” and in which “economies and cultures are thrown into intense and immediate contact with each other” (Morley and Robins 115). Within this context, the “local” becomes a “struggle for a sense of place,” in which life histories are embedded “within the boundaries of place, and with the continuities of identity and community through local memory and heritage” (Morley and Robins 116). In this view, the language of the lyrics in German popular music becomes a part of the “relation between globalizing and particularizing dynamics in the strategy of the global corporation” and a “local” that is “a fluid and relational space, constituted only in and through relation to the global” (Morley and Robins 117).