America Will Love Heintje: 11 Failed English-language Crossovers
International sensations whose popularity failed to translate with American audiences
- •Heintje, I’m Your Little Boy (1970)A veritable juggernaut of kitsch, boy singer Hendrik “Heintje” Simons sold millions of records across Europe in the late 1960s. Heintje was the Liberace of moppetdom, belting out odes to motherhood. And as the 1970s rolled around, Heintje prepared to unleash his brand of misty-eyed sap upon the English-speaking world. But then, biology stepped in. Before Heintje could lodge himself into the public consciousness, his voice changed.
- •Boris Grebenshikov, Radio Silence (1989)Imagine if Bob Dylan, the American icon traditionally used to explain Grebenshikov’s significance as a songwriter and cultural figure, had made his debut with one of his largely forgotten 1980s albums, and you’ll have some idea of the resulting record, a bland flop all too aptly named Radio Silence.
- •Chen Kaige, Killing Me Softly (2002)Alongside Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige was one of the most famous figures of the so-called Fifth Generation of Chinese cinema, attaining unprecedented international success with Farewell My Concubine. And then, he proceeded to the logical next step: an inept, absurdly over-heated erotic thriller starring Heather Graham, which saw him veering into the Skinemax trash heap.
- •Johnny Hallyday, Sings America’s Rockin’ Hits (1962)ohnny Hallyday was a French rock ’n’ roller when there effectively were no French rock ’n’ rollers, which made him both a trailblazer and a novelty act, depending on your point of view and, more importantly, your language. America was not swayed, sadly, but Hallyday has managed to get over the snub: to date, he has sold more than 80 million records worldwide.
- •Jean Gabin, Moontide (1942) and The Impostor (1944)Jean Gabin—the charismatic, world-weary star of Port Of Shadows, Pépé Le Moko, and The Grand Illusion—was one of the most acclaimed leading men of the 1930s, and a major draw in France, where he remains a film icon. Of the three American projects he signed on to, the first two were little seen, and the third ended with him getting fired. Effectively told that he’d never work in Tinseltown again, Gabin joined the Free French Forces, serving as a tank commander.
- •Münchener Freiheit, Fantasy (1988)After finding considerable success in Germany with albums Von Anfang An and Traumziel, Münchener Freiheit decided the time had come to expand its popularity internationally. Indeed, things briefly looked promising for the newly name-shortened Freiheit when the song “Keeping The Dream Alive” made it onto the soundtrack of Say Anything… Unfortunately, when the band subsequently released its full-length U.S. debut, Fantasy, it was soundly ignored, and was the band’s one and only American album.
- •Rain, Ninja Assassin (2009)Korean pop star and actor Rain made his English-language debut in Speed Racer, impressing the Wachowskis so much they recruited him for a starring role in James McTeigue’s Ninja Assassin. Rain, who had the bare minimum of lines, couldn’t make his charisma translate to the English-language market. Despite winning Biggest Badass at the MTV Movie Awards, he’s only appeared in one American movie since, 2014’s Bruce Willis vehicle, The Prince.
- •Akina Nakamori, Cross My Palm (1987) and Seiko Matsuda, Seiko (1990)Seiko Matsuda and Akina Nakamori were two of the biggest Japanese pop idols of the 1980s, and were often seen as being in direct competition. They had one thing in common, though: Bad luck with the English-speaking world. Nakamori made a go at the American charts with Cross My Palm, which was a non-item in the United States. And in 1990, Matsuda's Seiko flopped, despite extensive promotion and a lead single featuring Donnie Wahlberg.
- •Luis Fonsi, Fight The Feeling (2002)Given that he was born in Puerto Rico, raised in Orlando, and graduated from the Florida State University School Of Music, it’s easy to understand why MCA Records looked at Luis Fonsi and thought that they could take his tremendous success on Billboard’s Latin Pop charts and make it work just as well for English-speaking listeners. Unfortunately, their best intentions only proved to be a case of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” phenomenon in action.
- •Pink Lady, Pink Lady And Jeff (1980)In the late 1970s, pop duo Pink Lady was enjoying a level of success in its native Japan not far off from what The Beatles had a decade earlier in the English-speaking world. So in 1980, ratings-desperate NBC was eager to cash in on Pink Lady’s success, so much so that they handwaved away the small problem that neither woman in the group spoke more than a few words of English. Undaunted, NBC launched Pink Lady And Jeff, still infamous as one of the worst variety shows of all time.