September 19, 2008 / 5:53 AM / 10 years ago

German band Tokio Hotel whip up foreign frenzy

MUNICH (Hollywood Reporter) - Four fresh-faced rockers are transforming the fringe esoteric image of German pop into the new global teenybopper cool.

Fans of German rock band Tokio Hotel scream during a concert in Lisbon June 29, 2008. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Tokio Hotel — a foursome whose origins date back to 2001 — are fronted by spiky-haired singer Bill Kaulitz, 19. His identical twin brother, Tom, is the band’s guitarist.

Together with their slightly older rhythm section, Georg Listing and Gustav Schaefer, the brothers have sold almost 3 million CDs and DVDs, packing venues throughout Europe and Japan.

Girls in such countries as Poland and France are learning German in order to understand Bill Kaulitz’s lyrics of teenage disaffection. In Israel, where editorial writers worried about the historical ramifications, tens of thousands of fans signed a petition to get Tokio Hotel to play in Tel Aviv last year, and the band obliged — to a huge open-air crowd.

In the United States, the band’s English-language album “Scream” peaked at No. 39 on the Billboard 200, and they won the fan-voted best new artist award at the MTV Video Music Awards in Hollywood earlier this month. The Los Angeles Times described Tokio Hotel as a “young emo-glam outfit” who sound like “the Jonas Brothers covering Guns N’ Roses.”

Tokio Hotel owe their success to “the professional and meticulous work of a team of producers and managers who maintain control over their ‘product’ at all times,” German music journalist Olaf Tost says.

“Bill Kaulitz, with his androgynous, vulnerable and yet energy-laden persona, is something of an emotional anchor in the sea of teenage angst for his fans,” Tost adds.

One of the main members of the Tokio team, producer and co-writer David Jost, describes meeting Bill Kaulitz for the first time as a life-changing event. “I was 100% certain they were going to break the roof in Germany,” he said. “I would have bet the whole German music and media industry on this. But of course I never expected this thing to take off internationally.”

The U.S. fan base was built mostly via the Tokios’ YouTube channel, updated with professionally made and English-subtitled videos at least once a week. The intro to the channel declares triumphantly, “It’s only a matter of time before the hysteria follows them stateside.”

“A band from Germany getting big all over Europe — with the chance of even more — that happens every 20 years, maximum,” Jost says.

Tost is a bit more skeptical.

“They may have some temporary success in the U.S. But for the long term they might not have the ‘special something’ — like (German hard rockers) Rammstein does — that makes them different from other bands,” he says.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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