On Dec. 8, 2018, Bebe Rexha tweeted a photo of herself and Dua Lipa captioned: “Two Albanian girls nominated for 2 Grammys. To all the Albanian girls and all the girls around the world, anything is possible so keep following your dreams and keep on breaking the mold.” And on Jan. 28, she shouted out two more Albanian talents: “I want a collab @DUALIPA @RitaOra @avamax.”
Rexha’s tweets hinted at a recent surge of Albanian artists on the Billboard Hot 100 in the past year. She broke the record for the most weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart -- 50 for “Meant to Be,” with Florida Georgia Line. Lipa led Mainstream Top 40 for four weeks with “New Rules,” Ora had two tracks enter the Dance Club Songs top 10, and Max broke into the Hot 100’s top 20 with her debut hit, “Sweet but Psycho.” All four artists have Albanian parents (though they were all born elsewhere: Ora in Yugosla, the present-day Kosovo; Rexha in Brooklyn; Lipa in London; and Max in Milwaukee).
Singer-songwriter Njomza, a co-writer of Ariana Grande’s Hot 100 No. 1s “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings,” is another artist with Albanian heritage scoring chart success. Born in Germany and raised in Chicago, she says Albania’s transition from Communist rule to a democracy in the early 1990s fueled her generation’s creative breakthrough. “If there is something driving this, it’s the ambition we have as a nation,” she says. “The drive to create a better life.” Says Max: “My mom always told me we’re the way we are because we’re Albanian. We’re a bit crazy, and we never give up. It’s in our blood.”
Two Albanian girls nominated for 2 Grammys. In my heart we already won. To all the Albanian girls and all the girls around the world, anything is possible so keep following your dreams and keep on breaking the mold. @DUALIPA@RecordingAcadpic.twitter.com/gq83rh6jXV
Njomza says the country’s popular formats are EDM, pop and rock -- EDM a relatively new development after it was banned under Communist control until the start of the ’90s. “Not only [are Albanian] artists doing well [stateside], but there’s a great community of artists there,” like rappers Lyrical Son and Capital T, and singer Dafina Zeqiri, all of whom play throughout Europe. Adds Njomza: ”It’s a country that’s progressing.”
This article originally appeared in the April 20 issue of Billboard.