Schlager queen Helene Fischer reigns at the ECHO Awards | Music | DW | 27.03.2014
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Schlager queen Helene Fischer reigns at the ECHO Awards

Germany's music industry rounds out its annual reunion at the ECHO Awards - short on surprises and even any memorable flubs. But the evening once again offered a glimpse into what's selling in the country's music market.

Helene Fischer on stage at the ECHO Awards

Host and ECHO winner Helene Fischer

For music fans outside Germany, the country's ECHO Awards nominees are sure to raise some eyebrows. The artists nominated in this year's Album of the Year category, for example, were: Andrea Berg, Depeche Mode, Helene Fischer, Santiano and Robbie Williams. "Helene who?" would be a fair question for international listeners - but hardly for music fans in Germany, where the 29-year-old's mix of pop and Schlager has made her a mainstay in the charts.

The 23rd annual ECHO awards in Berlin - put on by the Deutsche Phono-Akademie (German Association of Recording Companies) - were hosted for the second year in a row by the muti-million-selling Fischer. The winners here are decided heavily on the basis of album sales from the previous year. That's in contrast to the show's American and British counterparts - the Grammys and the Brit Award - where industry experts have a stronger say.

As expected, Fischer scooped the Album of the Year prize for her release "Farbenspiel" (Play of Colors), which has sold more than a million copies. She also took home the prize for Schlager of the Year. "Schlager" literally means "hit" in German, but also refers to a folksy pop genre seemingly loathed and loved in equal measure by listeners in the German-speaking world.

Shakira, performing on stage at the ECHO Awards

Shakira added some star power to the 2014 ceremony

Forced humility

In comparison with the Brits or the Grammys, those behind the ECHO Awards often have to content themselves with a dose of humility in dealing with the music world's top hit-makers, who often don't make time to attend the ceremony when nominated. That's true of this year's International Rock/Pop Artist winner, Robbie Williams, and electronic dance music powerhouse producer Avicii with Hit of the Year, "Wake Me Up." Both accepted their awards via videos filmed in advance, in which the less than enthusiastic Avicii was assured the award means something - "really."

That's not to say the show lacks entirely when it comes to international star power. Shakira and Kylie Minogue each took the stage in support of new album releases.

Speaking on the red carpet ahead of the event, Shakira said she was looking forward to presenting her album to Germany. She treated fans to the reggae-tinged "Can't Remember To Forget You." But viewers hoping for a performance as suggestive as the song's music video, in which Rihanna lounges in bed alongside the South American superstar, had to settle for some of Shakira's trademark hip-shaking.

Newcomer British singer-songwriter Birdy also delivered an earnest performance at the ceremony before accepting the award for Best Female Rock/Pop International Artist.

Die Fantastischen Vier, performing at the ECHO Awards

German hip-hop veterans Die Fantastischen Vier delivered a whirlwind number

A tongue-twisting record

Several of the evening's winners were made known in advance, including the Swiss electro-pop duo Yello, honored for Lifetime Achievement. Having not released an album last year, German-language hip-hop pioneers Die Fantastischen Vier weren't up for an award, but they had good reason to take the stage. It's been 25 years since the band gave their first concert. They celebrated the anniversary with a dizzying 250-second medley of 25 of their tunes - voices enhanced with a little bit of help from a portable helium tank.

The Critics' Prize for a national artist went to DJ Koze and his 2013 release "Amygdala." The veteran Hamburg-based producer's album was hailed by influential players in the music press including "The New York Times" and "Pitchfork" for its sleek electro that blends hip-hop and psychedelic influences.

Honored for his political engagement and activism was singer Peter Maffay, a charts mainstay for decades who released his 23rd album in 2013. The Peter Maffay Foundation aims to help children around the world who have been traumatized by crises - including those shaken by the euro zone crisis.

"Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and all of these countries that have economic problems are not far away. The problems there relate to us directly. We definitely don't live here on an island in the West," Maffay told DW ahead of the ceremony.

The four members of the band Frei.Wild in a press photo

Controversial performers Frei.Wild boycotted the 2014 show

Nomination, no prize for right-leaning rockers

The award for Best National Rock/Alternative Group went to Sportfreunde Stiller - and, unsurprisingly, not to the controversial group Frei.Wild.

Coverage of last year's round was dominated by the foursome, which has its roots in the largely German-speaking South Tyrol region of northern Italy. Fellow artists and many in the media had denounced Frei.Wild for lyrics seen as aggressive and sympathetic to right-wing nationalism. Partly in response to high-profile artists' protests, organizers then withdrew the band's nomination in the Best German Rock/Alternative Group category.

This year, things turned out differently for the rockers, who have penned German lyrics that read, "Language, custom and belief are values of the homeland / Without them, we're finished - the death of our people." For the 2014 ceremony, an independent review panel decided the band did not cross the line into support of extremism, and their nomination in the same category got a green light.

But still piqued by the ECHO committee's handling of the affair in 2013, Frei.Wild boycotted the ceremony this time.

Bob Geldorf, flanked by members of Die Toten Hosen at the ceremony

Irish singer Bob Geldorf was on hand to present Die Toten Hosen their award

Familiar faces

Those who take in the ECHO year to year are used to seeing many of the same artists - and controversies. With four awards, German punk legends Die Toten Hosen swept last year's show and were back again now to accept the prize for Best Live National Act.

Organizers say the frequent returns and the piles of trophies already racked up by the likes of Helene Fischer, Robbie Williams or Die Toten Hosen merely reflect the show's democratic approach, rooted as it is in the German music market's actual sales.

Going forward, however, it may at least be time to switch up the MC for the evening. Helene Fischer, at once the returning host and arguably the night's biggest winner, has settled more than comfortably into her role heading the evening - providing none of the flubs that offered some laughs and tense moments last time around.

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