A look back at O-Zone, Dragostea din Tei and Numa Numa
Today marks a milestone for both music and the Internet. A few hours ago, Psy’s Gangnam Style became the first video on YouTube to break 1 billion views, a truly admirable achievement in a world where reaching 1 million views is noteworthy. I do want to take a moment to congratulate Psy on the achievement, but I don’t feel there is much left to say after my article on him and Gangnam Style last month. Instead, I’m taking a deeper look at something that article sparked.
You see, when I was talking about Psy, I mentioned that he is perhaps the first in a long line of foreign artists that will benefit greatly from the era of digital globalization, with other examples this year alone ranging from Australia’s Goyte to Canada’s Carly Rae Jepspin. As I mentioned there, while they may be the first to truly benefit from it, they are only the latest crop in foreign music stars to go viral, the first of whom came back in 2004, a Romanian rap/dance group by the name of O-Zone, whose work and impact I shall look at today.
Formed by a trio of Moldovan musicians, Dan Balan, Radu Sirbu and Arsenie Todiras, the trio known as O-Zone moved to Romania, where they quickly became staples of the Bucharest dance and rap scene. It would be here they would release their first and only album, DiscO-Zone, which would prove to be a smash hit, charting across Europe and Asia, most notably Japan where it went triple Platinum. This is helped by a solid track listing of songs where thanks to good hooks and solid beats, not knowing Romanian does not hinder enjoying the music, spearheaded by the likes of ‘Fiesta de la Noche’, ‘Numai Tu’, ‘Despre Tine’, and of course, ‘Dragostea din Tei’.
‘Dragostea din Tei’, ironically written as a filler track on DiscO-Zone, would become the song the band would to this day be best known for. The song itself, which pokes fun at young love, features a catchy hook, nice beat, and the now immortalized chorus, as well as a music video that features anime-cutaways and the band dancing on the wing of an airplane in mid-flight. Charting at number one all across Europe, and later in Japan, where it would remain at number one for all of the Summer of 2004, to this day the song remains a perennial hit in the Eurobeat scene, and has been sampled or covered by everyone from Swedish metal bands to American rappers.
Of course, what it is perhaps most famous for is being one of the first viral hits, where thanks to sites like Newgrounds, both the song itself and various parodies, most famously the Numa Numa Guy, have made it an Internet staple for almost a decade, though ironically, those parodies likely kept the song from being accredited to O-Zone in the USA. As mentioned before, the estimate for total views of the song hover around 700 million, which given it achieved the lion share of that came before the existence of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or almost any social media or Web 2.0 sharing applications, is utterly mind-boggling.
As for O-Zone itself, the band split up back in 2005 when they decided to pursue various solo projects – today, Radu Sirbu and Arsenie Todiras are staples of the Eastern European dance and rap scenes, while Dan Balan has struggled to establish himself in the American music scene, to varying degrees of success.
While the band itself may be gone, I would say their impact is still being felt today. Many people, myself included, pinpoint the moment Dragostea din Tei went viral as the moment the American pop scene shifted from its rap/boy band phase from the early 2000s to the still running dance/club phase, which is heavily influenced by Eurodance music, which O-Zone sparked something of a mainstream in the US, with the likes of Basshunter, Cascada and Daft Punk becoming staples of the American music scene alongside Eurodance influenced artists like Lady Gaga, Chris Brown, Usher and Rihanna, the latter of which directly owes her career to O-Zone, as her guest spot in TI’s ‘Live Your Life’, which samples the hook from Dragostea din Tei, is considered her breakthrough moment. As I mentioned in my article on Psy, that they achieved this much of a measurable impact without mainstream success makes me wonder just how Gangnam Style will change the game.
So while you can turn on the Top 40 to hear some of the way’s O-Zone shaped pop music, I highly encourage you to check them out for yourself – DiscO-Zone has been a favorite album of mine for years, and many of the people I share it with have given the album a place in their collections as well. So give it look and give it a chance – with a little luck, maybe the band that swept Europe by storm will find a place in your playlists as well.