6 Un-American Idols: The Beyoncé of Brazil, the Gaga of Serbia

Jelena Karleusa

Pop music is one of America’s biggest exports: Just try to find a South Pacific archipelago immune to the influences of Madonna or a Berber village unaware of Justin Timberlake. But in 2013—when a star can be born, distributed, and marketed on a laptop—there is an increasing diversity of divas from around the world offering homegrown alternatives to white bread and apple pie. Their music might not be hitting American airwaves anytime soon, but their cultural significance can’t be denied. After all, who better personifies a nation’s zeitgeist than the girl at the top of its charts?



Provenance: South Korea

Age: 22

Instagram followers: 803,000

The front woman of 2NE1, the undisputed queens of the wildly popular Korean subgenre known as K-Pop, CL (aka Chaelin Lee) launched her solo career this summer with the single “The Baddest Female.” The lithe and spunky ballerina–meets–Fly Girl careens in and out of English and Korean, rapping and singing about gold chains, B-boys, and private planes. The accompanying video racked up around 1 million views on YouTube in less than 24 hours, but despite that success, CL vows not to Beyoncé her bandmates to the curb, citing personal exploration as the impetus for stepping out on her own. Where have we heard that one before?


Gaby Amarantos

Provenance: Brazil

Age: 35

Instagram followers: 117,000

Hailing from the backwater Amazonian city of Belém, where she still lives in her childhood home, Amarantos is the first tecnobrega artist to gain widespread national fame. The genre was born in Northern Brazil about a decade ago, as a fusion of “cheesy” pop and cool techno. In the video for “Xirley,” the bodacious Amarantos struts through a kind of Groundhog Day of upward mobility: first entering her apartment in street clothing and, by the endof the song, sashaying down a catwalk in her living room wearing an electrified Carnival getup. She recently visited New York, where she performed in Central Park and toured the city trailed by a documentary-film crew. Expect to hear much more from her next year: She recorded the official theme song for the 2014 World Cup.



Provenance: Armenia

Age: 26

Instagram followers: 18,000

Certain members of the Armenian diaspora have dominated the global tabloids these past few years, but, so far, no Kardashian has cut a full-length album. Perhaps, then, the door is still open for Sirusho (whose real name is Siranush Harutyunyan) to introduce the world to a sound and language largely unknown in the West. Her single “PreGomesh” (which translates roughly as “go buffalo”) blends folksy and militaristic percussion with clubby, driving synth. In the video, Sirusho shows off spirited choreographic maneuvers including dust-kicking and vogueing—particularly impressive, as she’s weighed down by what appears to be every piece of silver jewelry on the planet.


Jelena Karleusa

Provenance: Serbia

Age: 35

Instagram followers: 25,000

Called Serbia’s wannabe Lady Gaga by Perez Hilton, Karleuša, who has been in the postcommunist limelight since 1995, actually predates Gaga as an icon of shock pop. Usually rocking a combination of chains, leather, and a 12-pack, this bottle blonde has an aesthetic that is best described as lethal fetish Barbie, and her music is a hard-edged fusion of Auto-Tune, rap, and trance. Her 2012 hit “Krimi Rad” (“Criminal Work”)—which she sings with a certain Mr. Teca Gambino, who claims to have the “balls of Al Pacino”—is rife with badass lyrics that translate to “insane rims bro” and “when a rapper fucks you, diamonds fly.” Mad skills, indeed.


Haifa Wehbe

Provenance: Lebanon

Age: 37

Instagram followers: 297,000

An enduring star since her teenage years, Wehbe has graced hundreds of magazine covers in her own time zone and has long been a lightning rod for controversy: feuds with rival divas, crash-and-burn relationships, and a taste for revealing clothing that rankles Muslim conservatives. In the video for her most recent single, “Ezzay Ansak” (“How can I forget you?”), amid reminiscences of domestic bliss in an all-white mansion Mariah Carey would be proud to call home, Wehbe, clad in a bodysuit and a glittering cat mask, rappels from the ceiling into a vault of emerald necklaces. Dangerous vanity, it seems, is popular anytime, anywhere.



Provenance: Uzbekistan

Age: 41

Instagram followers: 26,000

Born Gulnara Karimova, this middle-aged pop princess is the daughter of Islam Karimov, the brutal dictator of Uzbekistan who has held power since 1990. Despite the fact that Googoosha, as she is known professionally, is considered by many to be the most hated person in her home country, she breathes blithely existential maxims—“Lives dance and you don’t have to fake it / Lives change and you just have to take it”—over wistful dance tracks. Talk about the transformative power of music.