The Biggest Musical Acts In The World That Couldn't Crack The U.S.

The international music scene is big. For Americans, it's difficult to discern just how big it really is because some international music just doesn't cross over to the American mainstream, or at least very rarely. America, after all, has plenty of musicians on its own. Some international musicians, however, are huge stars, so huge that it's sad that many Americans have never heard of them. Occasionally, those musicians try to break into the American market ... and they fail.

Oftentimes, it's a language barrier. The English-centric U.S. just isn't very interested in German-language pop, for example, or Russian rock. Regardless of the reason, music doesn't work with every single market, no matter how good it is. According to Masterclass, some German pop, however, is recorded in English, and is similar to Western pop and therefore might feel more accessible to listeners.

Sometimes, one-hit wonders will allow international artists to cross over to America; they usually don't stick around long, though. Chart success, after all, is not indicative of staying power. Even if these international musicians do make it into the bottom or the middle of the charts, once again they usually aren't staying for long because they can't fully break into the U.S. music scene. Let's take a look at some of these acts who were superstars abroad, but nobodies in the States.

Girls Aloud

Pop group Girls Aloud were hits in their native U.K., but never really crossed over to the U.S. They were originally created via the talent show "Popstars: The Rivals" in 2002, which chose each of the five members. The group eventually won 21 Top Ten Singles on the Official U.K. Singles Chart, according to Billboard. They also won four U.K. Singles Chart Number Ones over the course of the group, as well as a Brit Award for the song "The Promise", released in 2008 (via BBC). "The Promise" also won a #1 spot on the Euro Digital Song Sales Chart in late 2008, writes Billboard.

Though the group split up in 2013, their music wasn't even released to the American public until 2015, according to Billboard. Therefore, the vast majority of America never really got the chance to know them as a group, and never would after discovering their music too late. Over the course of the group's career, they sold 4.3 million singles and 4 million albums, according to BBC. All of the members eventually went solo and recorded work on their own. In September 2021, former member Sarah Harding passed away, according to BBC. The group got together privately before Harding's death to reconnect.

The Jam

The Jam is a British punk rock group of the 1970s and '80s. Though they were labeled a punk rock band, they were heavily inspired by the British mod groups of the 1960s, such as The Who, writes Britannica. Though they were huge stars in the U.K. as a very English band, they never broke into the international or American markets.

The Jam landed on the U.S. Billboard 200 Chart seven times, but never jumped above #72. As their career continued, The Jam began releasing albums that were more socially aware than some of their earlier work, such as the song "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight," which is about racist violence. Paul Weller, The Jam's frontman, was for a time seen as the main voice of his generation in the U.K. specifically. When he decided to form the Style Council in 1982, The Jam broke up, having existed as a band for nine years, according to Far Out Magazine. The break-up was not amicable, and Weller's two bandmates had no idea he wanted to form a different group. Weller later began a solo career, and hasn't looked back. The Jam has not reunited since, and it isn't likely that they will in the future. Weller's bandmates and new musicians have continued to work together in different iterations; they are currently known as From the Jam, according to Music News.

The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip were a Canadian rock band that ended up going double-platinum in Canada. They ultimately sold over six million albums in Canada, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia. Despite recording some of their work in the U.S., they never got very popular there. However, The Tragically Hip did manage to get one of their songs to the #16 spot on the Alternative Airplay Chart, but never made it higher than that, writes Billboard.

After founding member Gord Downie died in 2017, the rest of the band announced they wouldn't perform under the band's name, explained Global News. They had been together for so long that even when Downie was suggesting replacement singers for after his inevitable death, the rest of the band kept shooting him down and denying his suggestions. The Tragically Hip, therefore, went on a farewell tour in 2016. Afterwards, the remaining band members embarked on a new venture, working with medical cannabis growers Up Cannabis in 2017 and 2018.

Soda Stereo

Soda Stereo is an Argentinian rock band formed in 1982. They never caught on in the U.S., partly due to the language barrier, but also due to distribution and record company issues, writes Culture Trip. They are, however, extremely popular in Latin America.

The three-man band put out seven albums in 12 years, and though they have their roots in — interestingly enough — British rock, their sound is fairly eclectic overall. Soda Stereo broke up in 1997, but reunited in 2007 for a concert tour. Vocalist Gustavo Cerati died in 2014, though the other two members, Zeta Bosio and Charly Alberti, are still alive and have kept the band going. As of 2017, writes Culture Trip, they are still going on tour in Latin America, though they haven't quite made it into the U.S. market — yet.

According to Billboard, Soda Stereo got four songs into the Latin Digital Song Sales Chart, all in 2014, though the highest position was #18. One album each made it onto the Latin Pop Albums Chart and the Top Latin Albums Chart, respectively, in 2017 and 1998.


Rain, otherwise known as Jung Ji Hoon, is a South Korean entertainer who started out in a boy band called Fanclub. Soon after Fanclub experienced commercial failure, Rain began a career as a solo artist, which proved to be much more successful. However, despite almost immediately topping the Korean pop charts as an artist and having several tours on his own, Rain never crossed over to the American mainstream the way Psy briefly did in 2012 with the hit "Gangnam Style," writes Britannica. K-pop is having a resurgence here in the U.S. with the band BTS, so who knows what will happen in the future.

Rain was one of K-pop's most famous musicians in the 2000s. His third album "It's Raining" sold over a million copies in Asia. Rain then went on a tour for the album, in 2005, which covered 14 concerts in eight countries. He is also a film and television actor, writes Pinkvilla. More recently, he began to mentor younger artists who started out on survival shows. Rain did manage to land one song, "Gang," on the Billboard K-Pop 100 Chart, reaching #36.


Sixto Rodriguez, known as a performer by his last name, is a Detroit singer-songwriter who became inexplicably famous in apartheid-era South Africa in the 1960s and '70s via bootlegged copies of his album, according to NPR. Decades later, two South African music journalists and a Swedish director made a documentary called "Searching for Sugar Man" about his music and the consistent rumors that he had died in the decades since his album's release. Why else, many in South Africa asked themselves, would nothing be heard from such a famous musician for decades?

Rodriguez had not, in fact, died and had actually gone back to renovating homes in Detroit, with little awareness of his fame. When the journalists originally reached out to him, he hung up on them, thinking the call was a joke. After the documentary was released, Rodriguez was able to connect with his fans in South Africa, and even hosted several sold-out concerts, according to NPR. His work on the documentary's soundtrack even made the Billboard charts at #5 for a number of weeks (via Billboard). The song "Cold Fact" only made it to the #78 spot in the Billboard 200 Chart in 2012 and 2013 due to the documentary's popularity. Nowadays, Rodriguez is back in the American music scene, regularly performing at large concerts, and Americans are more aware of his music in part due to his wild story.

Youssou D'Nour

Youssou D'Nour is a Senegalese world musician, famous in Africa and Europe. Though he was supposed to have an American tour in 2003 that would have covered 38 cities, he canceled it to deny support for the American invasion of Iraq, writes World Music Central. Therefore, he is much lesser-known in the States; after all, world music is rarely popular for long in the U.S.

D'Nour sings in several languages, according to the Denver Post. He is a charismatic person and artist, and includes several cultures in his work, including Caribbean, African, Muslim, and Cuban traditions. D'Nour also mixes secular and religious messages in his music, which has drawn some controversy according to the Denver Post.

D'Nour served as Senegal's minister for culture and tourism for a year, beginning in 2012, writes Britannica. He did land one Top 10 Hit on the Alternative Airplay Chart in 1989, according to Billboard. D'Nour also landed one song, "7 Seconds," on the Billboard Hot 100, in the #98 spot, in 1994. Youssou D'Nour is a force to be reckoned with, just not in America.

Mando Diao

Mando Diao is an alternative rock band from Sweden, founded in 1999. They are mainly popular in their native Sweden, though they continue to tour across Europe. The five-man band began by touring locally as much as they could, then getting a record deal.

According to Musik Express, they broke into the European music market in 2004 with their second album "Hurricane Bar." During this time, they played an MTV Unplugged concert and went on an 18-month tour around the world, writes Clash Music. In 2006, they released "Ode to Ochrasy," a somewhat disjointed third effort according to Pitchfork. "Ode to Ochrasy," according to vocalist and guitarist Gustaf Noren, is "almost like a concept album based on life on the road. There were so many stories and the more we toured the weirder it got. By the end of it, we felt like we weren't in the real world anymore" (via Clash Music).

By 2009, their singles "Gloria" and "Dance with Somebody" were major hits in Europe. Their 2012 album was written in Swedish, which likely didn't land with an English audience. However, their 2014 album "Aelita" made the #6 position on the Germany Albums Chart, according to Billboard.

Herbert Gronemeyer

Herbert Gronemeyer is one of the best-selling German musical artists, having sold over 18 million albums. He is also well-known as a lyricist. His 2012 duet with Bono, "Mensch" for the album "I Walk,"did land him a 12-city American tour, but he has gone back to German-language albums since. Two of his albums — 1984's "Bochum" and 2002's "Mensch" — are German-language albums that have sold extremely well, writes the Huffington Post; "Bochum" was even more popular in Germany than Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

Gronemeyer has written other English-language work, including an album that had a tour opening in Canada. According to Beyond Music, he has always been an artist ahead of his time. HIs 1984 song "Männer" is a hallmark of 1980s German pop. Gronemeyer's more recent work has tended toward the political. In the 2000s, he began to write music for the stage (via Beyond Music). Herbert Gronemeyer had three albums in the #1 spot on the Germany Albums Chart in 2011, 2014, and 2018, according to Billboard.


DDT is a Russian rock band that formed in the early 1980s in the city of Ufa. They had a North American tour in 2008, but have failed to break into the mainstream. They are very tied to their roots as an underground Russian rock band; DDT was originally classified as an "unofficial rock" band, since bands couldn't legally exist unless they belonged to the state's musician's union, writes The Star. Therefore, due to the secretive history, their fanbase is incredibly Russian in origin.

DDT frontman Yuri Shevchuk is against Russia's President Vladimir Putin and his government, and has criticized him publicly (via The Star). NPR writes that underground Russian rockers were listening to Western rock growing up, and took what they learned into their own bands. Their music began to identify more with the working class, and also began to be more critical of the government. When Gorbachev brought in perestroika, the Russian music scene became much freer. However, with that freedom came fame and record labels, which proved too much for many musicians. Several died as the industry radically changed around them. As a result, DDT began to sink back into its underground roots (via NPR). Today, they mainly play in Russia, for audiences who understand where they're coming from and are nostalgic for their music.

Charles Aznavour

Charles Aznavour was a French singer often likened to Frank Sinatra in his singing style. Despite performing in France for decades, Aznavour never quite broke into the American scene. Born into an Armenian household, Aznavour worked his way slowly into the French music scene as a young man. He passed away in 2018 at the age of 94, according to The Guardian. He also had an acting career along with his work as a musical artist, which he began as a child, having left school to act.

Aznavour began his singing career during World War II, singing in cabarets while his parents worked with the resistance. He was a protege and friend of Edith Piaf. Aznavour sold over 100 million records in 80 countries over the course of his lifetime and he wrote 1,300 songs. Aznavour had an additional 100 songs he sang but had not written. He became particularly famous for his despair-heavy numbers. According to The Paris Review, Aznavour easily pleased crowds. However, Aznavour sang a particular style called 'chanson' (similar to vaudeville music, when referring to Aznavour's career) which eventually was phased out of the U.S. According to Billboard, therefore, just one of his songs made it onto the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart, to the #44 spot.

Tokio Hotel

Tokio Hotel is a German rock band formed in 2001. Despite releasing an English-language album, "Scream," in 2007, only one of their songs reached the #35 spot on the U.S. Billboard 200 Chart. They are, however, popular in their native Germany and Japan, in part due to their name.

Tokio Hotel was founded by brothers Bill and Tom Kaulitz, along with bassist Georg Listing and drummer Gustav Schafer. They started out very young, working as teenagers, and soon achieved a hit album with "Schrei" in 2005, writes American Songwriter.

In 2020, Tokio Hotel rewrote and rerecorded their hit song "Monsoon," which the Kaulitz brothers originally recorded when they were still teenagers. Early in their career, the band generally wrote whatever came to mind at the time, though that approach changed as time went on (via American Songwriter). Now that Tokio Hotel has seven albums under its belt, however, there is strong pressure to write new, outstanding work. Hopefully, they will fully cross over into the American music market soon.