In the 1980s, even people living in the United States, England and other English-speaking countries knew Nena. After the petite German singer re-recorded her 1983 hit “99 Luftballoons” in English as 1984’s “99 Red Balloons,” she had a hit on her hands that introduced her outside of the German language music world. The Neue Deutsche Welle — literally the “New German Wave,” a genre of German music with roots in punk and rock that started in the late ’70s and early ’80s — was making waves internationally. With her charming pop appeal and German lyrics, German language learners can practice and get rocking with Nena.
While you might already be familiar with “99 Red Balloons” you should skip it. That’s right: skip it. While it is an English language attempt at “99 Luftballoons,” it isn’t a very exact or direct translation of the original anti-war song. Instead, go straight to the source and check out “99 Luftballoons” from the self-titled album.
The self-titled album is also the first of four released by Nena and her band as Nena. Think Blondie if Debbie Harry had actually gone by the name. While the band did not end up making much noise, so to speak, internationally, they did well within the German speaking music world. Their first two albums — Nena and ? — both went platinum in Germany and their third album Feuer und Flamme went gold. By the late ’80s Nena had gone solo.
The single-named singer continues to tour and make music. Her most recent full-length release, Oldschool, was released last year and it is her seventeenth studio album! Although she did chart high in the German music charts during the 1990s, ever since 2002’s 20 Jahre – Nena feat. Nena, on which she did updated versions of some of her hit songs including a few duets, she has been back in the top of the German charts.
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Photo © Heiko Laschitzki / Laugh + Peas GmbH, Esther Haase, Alexander Huseby