As the lead singer for the German new wave band Nena, she had a string of hits during the 1980’s, even topping the US Hot 100 to No.2 with the smash hit “99 Red Balloons”. We look back at her life her career on the day she turns 63
German singer Nena turns 63 today
Nena was born Gabriele Susanne Kerner on March 24, 1960 in Hagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, West Germany. She begun her career in 1979 when she joined the new wave band The Stripes that failed to achieve mainstream success. In 1982, living in West Berlin with her boyfriend Rolf Brendel she formed the band Nena. The band became almost immediately successful all over Germany with their first single “Nur geträumt”. The international success came In 1983, when the band released its first album Nena, which contained the singles “99 Luftballons” and “Leuchtturm”. “99 Luftballons” became a number one hit in West Germany and the Netherlands in 1983 and went on to major international chart success the following year, an English version hitting No. 1 in the UK and the original German version hitting No. 2 in the US, behind Van Halen’s “Jump”. “99 Luftballons” was also a huge hit in many other countries, and to this day it is one of the best-known German rock songs in many parts of the world. In May 1984 while on a tour in the UK, Nena made the headlines of the British red-top press for having unshaven armpits.At the time this was not uncommon in continental Europe but was considered unusual in English-speaking countries to the extent that some people consider it explains the commercial failure thereof the follow-ups to “99 Luftballons”. Nena, baffled by the attention generated, asked the girlfriend of her manager to shave her and has remained clean shaven ever since. Referring to the “huge indignation” the issue raised, Nena, in her memoirs published in 2005, wrote, “Can a girl from Hagen, who dreams of the big wide world and is in love with Mick Jagger, have no idea that girls can’t under any circumstances have hair under the arm? Yes she can. I simply had no idea!”
Although “99 Luftballons” was Nena’s only hit in the English-speaking world, the band continued to enjoy success in several European countries in the following years, even with their German-speaking songs such as the catchy new wave hits “Leuchtturm” and “Irgendwie, irgendwo, irgendwann”. But despite the rare international success for a German band, they split in 1987 and Nena went solo thereafter. Nena’s first solo album Wunder gescheh’n was released on 5 November 1989. The title track (German for “Miracles Happen”), composed by Nena herself, relates to the fact that Nena was at the time pregnant with twins, but release of the album that appeared just four days before the fall of the Berlin Wall (on 9 November) and the fact that she performed the song at the end of the Konzert für Berlin three days later has ever since associated it with that historic event. It was to prove to be her last major hit of the 20th century as throughout the 1990s her albums and singles – although often critically acclaimed – were less commercially successful. In 2002, Nena celebrated her 20th anniversary on stage with the album “Nena feat. Nena”, a disc consisting of newly arranged recordings of her hits from the 1980’s. This album marked a “comeback” for Nena, and spawned a number of successful chart entries. The remake of “Anyplace, Anywhere, Anytime” as an English-German duet with Kim Wilde was a hit in various European countries, reaching the No. 1 spot in the Netherlands and Austria, and No. 3 in Germany, in 2003. Since 2009, Nena’s releases have been published by her own record label, The Laugh & Peas Company, which also promotes the work of her daughter’s group (Adameva) and that of one of her protegé’s from The Voice of Germany, Sharron Levy. In addition to citing the Ramones, David Bowie and Debbie Harry as early influences, Nena’s main artistic source of inspiration and her favourite band is the Rolling Stones. Nena has covered their songs in concert and on her 2007 “Cover Me” album. Nena is also an activist and although she said she disliked the English version of “99 Luftballons” because it was too “blatant” and that the Nena band was neither political nor a protest band, she has occasionally publicly lent her name in support of political causes. She supports “Ehe für alle” (marriage for everyone) and, as a mother of five, a campaign against the German government’s plans to scale back the state provision of midwifery services. Nena is also a vegetarian and won the PETA (Germany) award for “Sexiest Vegetarian of the Year 2010” Nena begun a relationship with Swiss actor Benedict Freitag shortly after the band separated in 1987, together they had three children, the first being Christopher Daniel, who was born disabled allegedly due to medical mistakes made during the birth that caused Nena to go into cardiac arrest.He died at the age of 11 months. In 1990 they had twins, Larissa Marie and Sakias Manuel. After the couple split, she had two children, Samuel Vincent (1995), and Simeon Joel (1997). with drummer and music producer Philipp Palm. The couple and the four children currently live in Hamburg. Since 2010, her twins Sakias and Larissa have appeared as backing singers on stage and on her albums, and her youngest son Simeon joined her on stage playing keyboards during her first concerts in 2015.
Look back at the Nena music video for “99 Luftballons”
Listen the compilation “Nena – Definitive Collection” on Spotify
Watch more 1980’s related videos
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