By Kelly Hartog, J Post
LOS ANGELES – In 2008, a 24-year-old singer by the name of Hind Laroussi Tahir represented the Netherlands at the Eurovision Song Contest in Serbia. She didn’t even make it to the semifinals.
But 10 years later that singer – who now simply goes by the name Laroussi – is living in Los Angeles; hit the American Billboard’s Top Dance Music Chart at No. 5 in December 2018 with her single “Lost,” and is about to launch her first English-language album.How To Turn Your Smartphone Into a Smart Glucose-Meter (Dario)
Will she follow in the path of international stars such as ABBA and Celine Dion, who got their first worldwide exposure at the annual competition? It’s a matter of luck and talent, but the Eurovision ladder to success sure doesn’t hurt.
While Laroussi has been a star in her native Netherlands for years (she placed third in her country’s version of American Idol in 2003 and has released three albums there), she said her success in the United States after moving here three years ago would not have been possible without her Eurovision experience.
“The exposure I got helped my career 100%,” she said. “First of all, I gained a lot of fans, but most of all it was one of the best learning experiences on how to prepare yourself to be on such a big stage; how to deal with nerves; the large amount of interviews and press conferences.”
Laroussi got her big US break through singer/songwriter Philip Lawrence, who had just finished rehearsing with Beyoncé and Bruno Mars for the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show when he met her.
“When I talk about Eurovision here in the States, I always compare it to the Super Bowl, to let Americans know how big it is,” Laroussi said.
Today, Laroussi is managed by Adrian Miller, who has a long history in the industry, and who is responsible for the meteoric rise of Anderson Paak, who won a Grammy this year for his rap single “Bubblin.” Miller also helped launched the careers of dozens of other artists, including Flo Rider, Sugar Ray and Korn.
The Eurovision Song Contest, Miller said, “absolutely came to light by way of [my] relationship with Laroussi. It tells the story that you can reach an executive by any means necessary all the way in Los Angeles.”
Miller said he believes the value in Eurovision is similar to the value American Idol, America’s Got Talent and The Voice had. “It’s now a new format and an opportunity for the common folk to become involved in the industry,” he said.
And while he believes that Eurovision is very much a part of Laroussi’s own story “with respect to the navigation of her path and journey,” he added, “It’s not like I’m looking at Eurovision on a regular basis, but I’m not running from it either.”
When it comes to discovering new talent, Miller said, “We, as Americans, have to look at the platforms in Europe when we are thinking about breaking out artists here. Music is pretty much something that flows on any continent.”
Miller said he is someone who likes to try to break in artists from outside the US, and Eurovision could be an opportunity for something like that.
“But it’s a little tricky,” he said, “because it’s not like programming that anybody can participate in.”
However, he added, thanks to Laroussi, there is a track record. “She’s created a gateway. Why would you discover gold and not look to see if there were other natural resources available? I’m a miner of sorts. I mine talent. I should be all over the globe doing it.”
THAT SENTIMENT is something that David Renzer and Ari Ingel agree with. Renzer is the former chairman/CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group. He is co-founder of Creative Community for Peace, and Ingel is the organization’s director.
CCFP was established in 2012 and is an entertainment industry nonprofit organization that represents a cross section of the creative world dedicated to promoting music and the arts as a bridge to peace, while supporting artistic freedom and countering the cultural boycott of Israel.
“The entertainment industry is very interested in seeking out talent wherever it is,” Ingel said, “whether it’s Europe or the UK or even some African artists who have recently been making a lot of noise. Drake has been influential in bringing [Nigerian artist Wizkid] to light.”
Nonetheless, Ingel said it’s important to note that the Eurovision contest is very much a pop-driven contest, “and it’s a different sort of sound that they have in Europe: Europop.”
Ingel’s introduction to the contest came through a client of his – Fredrik Thaee – who cowrote and produced the Danish song “Rainmaker” for Emmelie de Forest, who won Eurovision for Denmark in 2013.
“When Frederik showed me the impact [“Rainmaker”] had in Europe and he showed me the tens of millions of views on YouTube it had, it really struck me,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s something the American music industry is paying close attention to, but they’re getting a greater understanding of it.”
Ingel said he believes the perception about European music is changing because of producers like Thaee and others from Sweden, Denmark, Scandinavia and Germany who have moved to America and are working here. He cited Toby Gad, the German music producer/songwriter, best known for cowriting John Legend’s “All of Me,” Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy.”
When Netta Barzilai won the contest last year, “that song got some traction here,” Ingel said, “but it’s difficult [for Americans to get really involved], because they’re not seeing the lead-up to it and getting involved in the excitement of it.” It doesn’t help, he added, that you can watch Eurovision in America only via the online stream of an LGBT website.
He and Renzer both noted that what could drive awareness of the competition and its potential this year is that Madonna plans to perform and unveil two of her new songs.
“CCFP is actually bringing a high-level music entertainment executive delegation to Israel, including African-American executives, and they’re going to be touring the country, and that will include attending the finale of the Eurovision contest,” Renzer said. “We’ve timed [the visit] purposefully around Eurovision.”
Ingel added, “Part of it is to show [the executives] the power and size of Eurovision.” Echoing Laroussi’s comments, he said, “Last year, 198 million people watched the Eurovision, and just 110 million watched the Super Bowl. The size of Eurovision is massive, so we’re doing our part to expose the industry to some of that.”
While they would not reveal any specific names, Renzer said there would be “senior executives from Warner Music Group and Sony on the Israel trip.”
“Executives are looking for talent wherever it can be found,” Ingel said, “and them being able to see these artists live is a huge opportunity for the artists, and I think it’s going to expose American executives to the type of music there is throughout Europe, because a lot of the countries – like Lithuania and Bulgaria and Ukraine and these smaller countries in Eastern Europe – don’t have much access to the American music industry.”
As for Laroussi, she’ll be watching the contest as she does every year.
“I’ll actually be watching with my Israeli friends this year,” she said.
And yes, she’ll be rooting for the Netherlands.
“Their song is really, really good,” she said. “I think they have a real chance of winning this year.”