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Culture

No Mr. Nice Guy for This Rising Pop Star

Most of the music played on German radio or MTV is sung in English -- even when it is performed by German bands. But a new talent, Jens Friebe, is taking German pop by storm, even though he sings "auf Deutsch."

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Message from a moody melancholic: "I'll tell you later"

While German-language pop has gotten more airplay over the last few years, many of the songs from Germany that get airplay on MTV are still sung in English. But "Kennedy," by the young singer-songwriter Jens Friebe, is an exception. The song, about the assassination attempt on US president John F. Kennedy, is the first on Friebe's second CD.

Barely 30 years old, the lanky musician is on his way to becoming Germany's newest pop star -- although he is still largely unknown to the public.

Praising the poet

Music critics from top German newspapers are doing their best to change the situation though. They seem to be trying to outdo one another in their praise for the Berlin-based musician. They extol Friebe's subtly poetic texts and singular music style, a mixture of electro-pop, rock and punk.

They are also enchanted by the contradictions in his image. He performs under his given name, Jens Friebe (to German ears more the name of a salesman or construction worker than a rock star), yet on the stage he comes off as a trashy diva, wearing lipstick, glam outfits and a lot of attitude.

While he sometimes gets criticized for his look, it never fails to win him attention.

Jens Friebe

Friebe cultivates a glam image

Friebe's provocations are intentional.

"If you look at the people who become stars in Germany, and compare them with English stars for example, you notice that in Germany, the image of being an average person pays off particularly well," Friebe said.

"If you want to sell a lot of (music) as a German in Germany, and want to make it to the top, then you have to make it clear to the public: 'Hey, I'm just like you. I am a totally typical, average guy, maybe a little uglier or clumsier. Above all I am not arrogant,'" he said.

Intentionally arrogant?

But Friebe is different. One thing that makes him special in the nice-guy German music business is that he shows off his arrogance. In an interview, for example, he doesn't shake hands, doesn't smile, doesn't answer questions he considers "banal," and trashes the music put out by his pop contemporaries (it is all horrible, too pedantic.)

At the same time, his rhythms make you want to sway or dance, even if the lyrics tend to be serious. One song, Counter of Death, calls on all people to give up eating meat and become vegetarians.

Asked what moves him as an artist, Friebe says he is afraid of the collapse of civilization. He can already sense that process starting.

"My songs are about problems like irrationalism and religious tendencies. I am someone who is skeptical and explicatory, but at the same time, I like to expose the fascination of the archaic," Friebe said.

A German generation

"The archaic is gaining influence in astrology, even sometimes in genetics and brain research, and so on. ... I still believe in the educational ideal that human reason is sufficient to understand the world and develop strategies for change."

One thing Friebe does not believe is that he can change the world through his music. Politics can't even manage the job, he says -- it's all show. Friebe portrays himself as a fed up bohemian, one who likes luxury but nonetheless has a head full of socialist ideas.

Given this attitude, he has struck a nerve with young Germans, world-champion consumers who show no remorse about their buying while they go on and on about the unfair division of wealth in the world.

Friebe represents Germany's aimless youth. In one lead he sings: I have a whole lot of goals/ Maybe you have more/ But I also have a lot/ I'll tell you about them later.

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