Singer Nena is nervous and giddy all at once. The German rocker, best known for her 1980s smash “99 Luftballons” (later re-recorded in English as “99 Red Balloons”) is about to take the stage and play in front of more than 7,000 screaming fans as the headliner of a sold-out night of ‘80s music that included performance by ABC, Bow Wow Wow and Howard Jones. Add to that the fact that this is this is the first time she has ever played Los Angeles.
One could understand her excitement and trepidation. During her time away from the spotlight, she continued to successfully record and tour in Europe and her native Germany.
Nena and I sat down in her dressing room to discuss her return to the U.S., what’s better this time around and why she thinks American fans prefer to hear her sing in her native language.
Question: Is it true that you haven’t played in America in over 30 years?
Answer: Well, we actually did our first three shows in America in the fall of last year — one in New York, one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles. I had such a great time with those shows that I’m really happy to be doing another one here! And half my band is from America so this is not only cool for me, but for them too.
I’m really happy about it!
Q: How it is possible that back in the 1980s when “99 Luftballons” was such a huge hit that you never played America?
A: I don’t know, really. We toured almost everywhere except the U.S. I don’t have an answer.
But for me it’s even better now because it feels like the right moment. So when you want to do something and it doesn’t happen, you shouldn’t be sad or disappointed because, well, sometimes, 35 years later, it happens! (Laughs)
Q: What do you appreciate now that you might not have back then?
A: Now I can bring my family with me, and not just bring them along — three of my kids play in my band! And I’m happy that I’m here. The audiences are great.
This is our fourth ever U.S. show tonight. I appreciate reconnecting with other bands. Plus I met up with [Tony Hadley] the frontman of Spandau Ballet today and said, “Hey, it’s me, Nena.” He said, “Hey, we haven’t seen each other for so long.”
It’s cool to meet up with all these guys again years later.
Q: Is it a bit like a high school reunion?
A: The feeling is like that. I met most of the guys from the band in the ‘80s when we traveled [and] did TV shows. That’s how we met. And then 30 years have passed. We never had the chance to become close friends except Howard Jones and Kim Wilde. She’s a cool lady.
It’s kind of cool to meet all these ‘80s people again.
Q: What keeps you motivated to keep making music?
A: Well, I just love it. It’s what I do. It’s my profession and what I choose to do in this life. I still enjoy it and have a lot of fun with it. That’s why I still do it.
Q: The song “99 Luftballoons” was recorded in German first, yes?
Q: Who decided to translate it to English?
A: It was the hyperactive record company, because they thought we could sell way more records if we did an English version. I was like, how do you say, “resistant,” because it didn’t feel cool to translate a German song into English. When you write a song in a language, it comes with a feeling that you keep. But when you translate it, something about the feeling is lost.
Q: Were they right? Did you sell a lot more records when translated to English?
A: I don’t think so. You live here and are an American citizen? As far as I know. (Laughs)
Q: Yes. As far as I know as well.
A: (Laughs) Yes. The Americans always preferred the German version. That’s what I know. They still do.
That’s my language. If they don’t like it, I guess I’ll know. I don’t want to bother anybody with my language. I offer it, and people can decide themselves.
Q: Are you most comfortable singing in German?
A: Yes, of course. I love to sing in English too. Sometimes I write a few lyrics in English and it’s really cool. But I couldn’t do it in general. My native tongue is German, and that’s what comes most naturally.
Q: Musically, are you working on a new album?
A: Yes. I have a very good connection to one of the best German rap artists. His name is Samy Deluxe. We did a whole album in 2015 called “Oldschool” and are going to do another album together.
And I’m working on another Nena album as well, which is gonna be released at the end of this year.
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