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20 Hugely Popular Musicians Who Haven’t Gotten Famous in America (Yet)

Superstars abroad, these artists haven’t made much of a dent in the USA

Americans may not always realize it, but the United States is not the center of the world. For every foreign-born artist like Lorde or Shakira who beat the odds and earned massive fame in the States, there's an artist who has achieved megastar status strictly outside the USA. We scanned the globe and found 20 musical giants who get mobbed abroad but can walk down the street virtually unrecognized Stateside. By Daniel Kreps

Courtesy Eppu Normaali

Eppu Normaali

Unlike their Scandinavian neighbors from Sweden – a nation that has given Americans ABBA, Robyn, Lykke Li and so many other mainstream musicians – Finnish artists have struggled to make inroads in the United States. While the Finnish death metal scene is legendary, and Americans may have casually heard of Hanoi Rocks, HIM, and Children of Bodom, not much else from over there is making it over here. Maybe it is because the Smurfs – yes, those little blue cartoon creatures – are among the top 10 best-selling musical artists ever in Finland. But the biggest-selling Finnish artist of all time? That's Eppu Normaali, a punk rock outfit that's been at it since the mid-Seventies. Check out "Tahdon sut," for a sampling of the sound that has captivated a nation better known for cellphones and a high standard of living. 

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images


DDT is the brainchild of Yuri Shevchuk, an outspoken rocker who often uses his lyrics to examine social issues in his native Russia. His reputation earned Shevchuk the nickname "the Russian Springsteen," a moniker he cemented after he had the guts to grill Vladimir Putin about corruption during a public debate. Since 1980, Shevchuk and his revolving door of DDT members have released 20 albums and performed countless sold out gigs, but they've failed to make the same impression in the U.S. There's just no interest in America for Russian rockers who rage against the Putin . . . umm, aside from Pussy Riot.

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Buju Banton

By now, you've may have heard of Buju Banton thanks more to his criminal activities than his music. One of Jamaica's premier dancehall artists, Banton was sentenced in 2011 to ten years in prison on a variety of drug trafficking and firearm possession charges. Prior to that, Banton was a top-selling (albeit controversial) reggae artist who collaborated with the likes of Busta Rhymes, Rancid, and Wyclef Jean. Just when Banton was about to finally break through in America – his 2010 LP Before the Dawn won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album – he was busted in Miami for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. However, many consider the charges against Banton and the conviction "bogus"; essentially, a government informant roped Banton into the situation, and the trial itself was rife with misconducts. Even famed Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree has taken up Buju's cause, so Banton may be able to resume his music career before his prison sentence ends in 2019.

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Charles Aznavour

If you asked a Parisian for a list of French landmarks, they'd list the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and Charles Aznavour. The 90-year-old crooner is a national treasure in his native country, the equivalent of Frank Sinatra to us Yankees. Yet despite the hundreds of millions of records he's sold, his work as an activist and his incredible tenor, Aznavour is basically a blank to the average American. It's not as though language is an obstacle: Aznavour has recorded plenty of songs in English and French-singing Serge Gainsbourg is a cult hero in the States. Aznavour did wind up on Dr. Dre's radar, however, as the producer sampled "Parce Que Tu Crois" on "What's the Difference." Arthouse film fans will also no doubt recognize Aznavour from Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player.

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Imagine if J-Pop had its own massive Vegas-style revue in the heart of Tokyo. Meet AKB48, a girl group that boasts nearly 150 members – divided into five teams and distinguished by wardrobe color, with ages ranging from 12 to 37 – and performs daily at its own theatre. The Guinness World Record holder for Largest Pop Group, AKB48 is a phenomenon in Japan because their success spans so many platforms: live performances, studio albums, video games and television, etc. It's not just a gimmick though, as Japan genuinely loves the group's music: AKB48 has won Billboard Japan's Top Pop Artists award four straight years, and they have the most million-selling singles in Japanese history. Despite unprecedented popularity in Japan, they're mostly obscure over here. In fact, most Americans' first exposure to the girl group came last month when news spread that a saw-wielding man had attacked two members of AKB48 at a fan meet-and-greet in Japan.

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