The World's Most Famous Musicians Americans Haven't Heard Of (Yet!)
Music makes the world go round, and when it comes to rock, pop and country in particular, musicians consider topping the charts in America as making it big.
Still, there are musicians around the globe who have sold millions upon millions of records — and who have been streamed as many times on sites like Spotify and YouTube — who don't get played on the radio in the United States.
Who are these huge stars you've been missing out on, and where can you hear them on constant rotation when you travel the world? We take a look at musicians you may not know — yet! If you haven't heard of the following artists, check them out online and discover what America has been missing.
Germany's Herbert Grönemeyer
The top-selling artist in German history, Herbert Grönemeyer has sold more than 20 million albums, including the country's most popular of all time, "Mensch," certified Gold 21 times over. Another of Grönemeyer's albums, "4630 Bochum," even briefly bested Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on Germany's charts. And he has friends in high places, having collaborated with mega-stars like U2's Bono.
And yet, outside his home country of Germany, mentioning this top-selling musician will mostly elicit furrowed brows. As a writer for "StereoBoard" put it, Grönemeyer is "the biggest selling artist you’ve never heard of."
Grönemeyer actually began his career as an actor, starring in the film "Das Boot" and co-starring with the likes of Julie Christie, Burt Lancaster and Nastassja Kinski in various roles. Acting may not be his main focus these days, but when your home country adores your music this much, why bother acting?
Greece's Nana Mouscouri
In America, Nana Mouskouri appeared on the "Danny Kaye Show" with Harry Belafonte back in 1965. But since that early exposure, fame in the U.S. has largely eluded the singer, even after many attempts to make her a crossover star. (A 1991 "Los Angeles Times" article about an ambitious 34-city North American tour was titled "Is U.S. Ready for Nana Mouskouri?" The answer, it seems, was no.)
But don't worry too much about the musician; she is extremely popular in the U.K., Germany, France, Asia and, of course, her home country.
Think Madonna, Cher and Beyonce are the only one-name female stars? Try asking anyone in Europe and Asia if they know Nana and you'll likely get a hearty "yes!" With more than 230 albums and singles in 15 different languages, Mouskouri is one of the world's biggest female pop stars you probably didn't know existed.
Listen:"The White Rose of Athens"
MØ has charted on America's Hot 100 three times as a featured singer on bigger artists' songs: two by Major Lazer ("Lean On" and "Cold Water," also featuring Justin Bieber) and one by Iggy Azalea ("Beg for It"). "Lean On," also featuring DJ Snake, was a particular hit, netting more than 2.5 billion views on YouTube.
But despite this — and even after playing Coachella in 2015 — MØ is still on the cusp of establishing herself as a solo artist in the U.S.
In Denmark, however, she remains a superstar, taking home four Danish Music Awards. One of her latest works, "Final Song," landed her in the top 5 in Denmark, as well as the top 20 in Norway, the U.K. and Australia.
Brazil's Roberto Carlos
The fifth-best-selling Latin artist has sold more than 140 million records around the world, an astonishing feat.
Beginning his career in 1951, Carlos has been called "O Rei" (the King). On the Latin charts, he has appeared 17 times, with 10 top-10 hits and two No. 1's. Nominated for two Grammy Awards, he won Best Latin Pop Performance in 1988.
Still, he remains far less known outside Latin America than the only four Latin singers who have outsold him: Julio Iglesias, Enrique Iglesias, Shakira and Gloria Estefan.
U2 may be one of the most famous bands to come out of Ireland, but ask anyone while in the U.K. about Westlife, and they'll talk at length about this enormously popular boy band.
Since launching in Dublin in 1998, Westlife has sold more than 12 million albums. Winning the Brit Award for Pop Act in 2001 and 2002, MTV recognized the band as one of the world's best-selling groups in 2004.
Westlife has, to be fair, found some success in the U.S. as well; the tune “Swear It Again” peaked at number two on the U.S. Billboard sales chart, and the band partnered with Mariah Carey on the modestly successful song “Against All Odds.” Mostly, though, Americans have yet to jump on the Westlife bandwagon, embracing the boy-band British export One Direction (before their breakup) with far more fervor.
But Westlife may be poised for its big stateside splash yet. Taking a break from 2012 to 2018, the band is back and bigger than ever. Their new song "Hello My Love" peaked on the U.K. Billboard singles chart at No. 13 in January, and has charted in the U.S. as well.
Listen:"Hello My Love"
South Korea's Blackpink
Search Blackpink on YouTube and you'll see billions of people have watched the all-girl group from South Korea.
Appearing at Coachella in 2019, Blackpink was the first "K-pop" (Korean Pop) girl group to break into Billboard's U.S. charts earlier this year, as well — just three years after forming and becoming an international sensation.
When the group debuted their second album in 2018, they sold 78,275 copies in just one day. So if you haven't heard of Blackpink yet...chances are you will soon!
While K-Pop garners more headlines, J-Pop (Japanese Pop) is also popular around the world. In this genre, AKB48 is mega-successful.
Comprised of between 134 and 193 rotating members of girls from their teens to early 20s, the group won a Japan Record Award of the Year twice, in 2011 and 2012, and has notched a total of 12 overall wins.
In Japan, AKB48 has sold more than 60 million records — far more than U.S. girl group Fifth Harmony, before they split after six years.
The group has yet to make similar inroads in the U.S., though, partly because of understandable controversy. The girls, as young as 14, are featured in provocative clothing and poses in the group's music videos, and their fanbase is infamously comprised of many middle-aged men. Plus, members are not allowed to date, which has raised many an eyebrow.
Mexico's Juan Gabriel
Juan Gabriel, who passed away in 2016, remains one of the most successful Latin artists and Mexico's leading musician in terms of sales. Known as the "Divo of Juárez" for his flamboyant style, Billboard named Gabriel one of the most influential Latino artists in history.
Nominated for six Grammy Awards, he was inducted into the Latin Music Hall of Fame, the International Latin Music Hall of Fame and the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame.
So beloved is the singer that last year his former manager claimed Gabriel faked his death, and fans have anxiously been awaiting his return.
Colombia's J Balvin
The most streamed musician of 2017 on Spotify after England's Ed Sheeran is someone many Americans have never heard of: Colombia's J Balvin. (He also appeared in the top five in 2018.)
More than 48 million people have streamed his music, which includes 19 top-10 hits and six No. 1's on the Latin Billboard charts.
The exclusively Spanish singer collaborated with Cardi B and Bad Bunny for "I Like It," which hit No. 1 on Billboard charts in the U.S., and became the first Latino musician to headline Lollapalooza and hit the main stage at Coachella.
So while you may not recognize his name now, you probably will (and definitely should!).
Australia's Troye Sivan
He may not be a household name yet, but Troye Sivan has been sneaking into America's pop scene for years.
Born in South Africa but raised in Western Australia, Troye Sivan became a YouTube sensation, following a path to fame similar to Shawn Mendes. Although he's not receiving massive radio play in the U.S., he's hit the charts — as well as film — in America.
Five songs by Sivan have entered Billboard's top 100, with his top hit, "Youth," reaching No. 23 in 2016. More recently, in 2018, his song "Revelation" received a Best Original Song Golden Globe nomination for the movie "Boy Erased."
In Australia, meanwhile, he's a megastar, as well as a LGBTQ icon.
Italy's Laura Pausini
Selling more than 70 million records, the Italian singer and songwriter Laura Pausini has a string of trophies on her bookshelves. Winning five ASCAP Latin Music Awards, one Billboard Latin Music Award, four IFPI Platinum Europe Awards, 10 Italian Music Awards and six World Music Awards, Pausini is a music legend in Italy and beyond.
In the U.S., Pausini was nominated for Best Latin Pop Album in 2017 and won in the same category in 2006. But her only English-language album of original songs, "From the Inside," failed to make an impression, and she remains mostly unknown in the states.
Listen:"En Cambio No"
Russia's Lena Katina
Americans actually do know Lena Katina — as one half of the Russia pop group t.A.T.u., which became a worldwide sensation with their hits "All The Things She Said," in 2002, and "All About Us," in 2005.
The former song made a splash around the world, including in the U.S., for its queer undertones; sample lyrics included "When they stop and stare, don't worry me / 'Cause I'm feeling for her, what she's feeling for me," and the video featured Lena and her band mate Julia Volkova kissing in school uniforms. (The song and video have since been criticized as "lesbian posturing.")
Lena, who went solo in 2009, has continued her stardom in her home country of Russia since then, with her 2011 jam "Never Forget" proving particularly successful. But she has failed to make much of an impression solo outside her native country. Both her English-language singles, "Silent Hills" and "Here I Go Again," failed to move the American masses.
France's Francoise Hardy
Debuting in the 1960s, Françoise Hardy is considered a national treasure in France and has been gushed over (and pursued) by the likes of Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Bob Dylan.
Hardy landed in the top 50 in 17 different countries, with 18 songs appearing in France's top 20.
In 2013, her album "Midnight Blues: Paris/London: 1966 - 72" charted on Billboard's Top World Albums, but she has yet to make much of an impact in the U.S. otherwise. Head to France, though, and you'll find that this singer remains a mega-star.
Listen: "Tous les garçons et les filles"
Canada's The Tragically Hip
Many Canadian musicians have topped the charts in America, including Justin Bieber, Drake, Michael Bublé and Celine Dion. So it's ironically tragic that Tragically Hip is one of Canada's biggest rock bands that America has yet to embrace.
The closest The Hip (as they are more often called) came to making it big on the U.S.'s Billboard charts was when the album "Now For Plan A" reached No. 129 — hardly an accomplishment to write home about.
In Canada, however, the band has reached No. 1 seven times and sold 3.7 million albums.
Unfortunately, this is a band that may not have new music to release anytime soon. The band's lead singer, Gord Downie, died of brain cancer in October 2017. The Hip performed their final show in August 2016 and it is unsure if they will continue on without Downie.
Listen:"Love is a First"
Since 2003, the alt-rock band Avial has been rocking India, selling out music festivals and winning myriad awards, including six Jack Daniels Rock Awards and the Footprints Young Achiever's Award.
The group's success has stayed limited to India in large part because their music is designed to so uniquely reflect the country. Albums are entirely in Malayalam, a language spoken only in the South Indian state of Kerala and the Lakshadweep Islands, and songs tackle national social issues.
This is a group that seems to be content with the success its found in its home country. But if visiting India, listening to Avial is a must.