“Coolifying” Germany’s Past and Present: Reading the U.S. Popularity of Rammstein’s “Du Hast”

S. Alexander Reed

Presented (in edited form) at IASPM-US / IASPM-Canada 2007 Conference, Boston, 29 April, 2007


By the time Slash Records released the eastern German rock band Rammstein’s American debut, Sehnsucht, on January 13th, 1998, the band was already tremendously popular in Europe.  American radio was quick to pick up on the record: “We played it once, and the phones just went out of control,” remarks Dave Richards, the program director at WRCX in Chicago.[1]  Throughout the summer following its release, the album’s popularity soared as its flagship single, “Du Hast,” occupied Billboard’s Active Rock charts for 23 weeks, peaking at #10.[2]  The success of this song led both to its inclusion the following year on the blockbuster film soundtrack to The Matrix and to a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance.

What makes “Du Hast”’s American success arguably unique is that it is sung entirely in German.[3]  I believe that while in many cases foreign language pop music is at a disadvantage in achieving popularity among American audiences, this song is greatly strengthened by the German-ness that Americans in 1998 perceived in every aspect of it.  In this essay, I offer a reading of “Du Hast” that interprets its popularity to have been predicated on its German-ness.  Then I shall illustrate how the song’s German-ness can mediate an identity for a listener, and thereby resonates sufficiently in certain cultural demographics to account for its commercial success.

In this case, I define mediation of identity as the process by which a person creates or elaborates his or her own identity as an interpretant result of an extended associative chain as set in motion by a sign (e.g. a song, a piece of art, an article of clothing).  The process is mediational because the intermediate associations in the chain do not pertain directly to the obvious content of the sign or of the person’s character.  In this way, mediation of identity differs from a direct association of self with the sign in question, as one is more prone to experience when exposed to signs whose surface narrative and identity-related textualities do pertain directly to the self, such as “Amazing Grace” or “Gangsta’s Paradise.”

In portions of this writing, I employ Charles Peirce’s model of semiotic trichotomies, as interpreted by Thomas Turino.[4]  Briefly and inasmuch as it relates to this study, Peirce outlines a non-autonomous schematic for describing chains of semiotic associations.  The base trichotomy is the sign - object - interpretant system, in which the sign is that which signifies to the subject, the object is that which is signified, and the interpretant is the reaction it creates in the subject.  In describing the function of the sign, Peirce denotes a secondary level of trichotomies.  The first, pertaining to the sign itself, contains the qualisign, a pure quality, sinsign, an instance of a quality, and legisign, a general type according to the quality.  Next he outlines how the sign relates to the object.  The three levels of relation are the icon, an apparent resemblance, index, association by co-occurrence in experience, and symbol, an association by linguistic connection.  Finally, Peirce categorizes three ways in which the sign is interpreted by the subject: as a rheme, a possibility of experiencing it, a dicent, an actual personalized experience of the sign, and as an argument, a linguistic experience of a sign with which neither Turino nor I use to a notable degree.[5]



(that which signifies)


Kinds of sign:


(pure quality)

(instance of quality)


(general type)



(that which is signified)


Sign/objects relations:


  (direct resemblance)


  (experiential co-occurrence)


  (linguistic connection)



(effect on observer) 

Sign/interpretant relations:




(experiential reality)


(linguistic experience)

Fig. 1: Basic Peircian trichotomies of semiotics following Turino


Turino is chiefly interested in the first two levels of this semiotic process:

Within the Peircian framework, higher level signs and effects (Thirds, Seconds) contain the lower levels (Seconds, Firsts).... In order to understand music’s special potential for creating emotional effects, I am interested in probing the instances in which semiotic chaining is halted before reaching the level of Thirdness (symbol, argument, linguistic-based interpretants).[6]

By focusing on the subconscious associations in the subject’s chaining process, rather than an argument-symbol being the most intense experience of a sign, Turino recognizes the potential of the dicent-index:

Dicent-indices are among the most direct and convincing sign types because they typically are interpreted as being real, true, or natural.  They are often taken for granted and apprehended with a part of our awareness that does not involve linguistic-based signs (i.e. at the levels of feeling...).[7]

As it pertains to my argument, I clarify in advance that in the course of this investigation, I rely on individual words and adjectival objects to describe a subject’s steps in the associative chain.  That I rely specifically on language to denote qualities and objects does not mean that I expect the listeners of “Du Hast” to produce the same adjectival descriptors for their own experiences of the song.  I merely use such labels as “place holders” for associations that may be more viscerally felt than otherwise verbalized.

Through Turino’s investigation of Pierce’s model, he provides an apparatus especially well developed to describe the different levels on which music affects people.  In particular, it is helpful in understanding how the audience personalizes the apparently impersonal nature of “Du Hast”’s signification of Germany.  Pierce’s system additionally allows us to understand and articulate the ways in which Rammstein’s American audience may be aware of musicological concepts such as Beethovenian heroicism and Wagnerian intervalic language — concepts that contribute to its German-ness.

The Resonance of Germany in “Du Hast”

In establishing the German-ness of “Du Hast,” the starting point is, of course, the fact that the song itself is sung in German.  To understand the issues at stake, one must see that language itself as a concept, beyond its individual words and their deployment, can signify a tremendous number of further musical and artistic attributes.  To much pop music around the world, English is the status language — even in non English-speaking countries — for while English-language pop music enjoys success in nearly every corner of the world, foreign-language musics are largely localized; China, for example, is the near-exclusive market of Chinese pop music.  When American audiences are confronted with popular music in a foreign language, therefore, the listening experience is quite different, as the language itself in which the song is sung can be more important to this audience than the words it might convey.[8]

Popular music scholarship that focuses chiefly on the lyrical content of the music in question is simply not equipped to address these issues of perception in language.  Furthermore, until fairly recently, most writing on pop and rock has given insufficient consideration to the music’s non-lyrical information.  In doing so, some scholarship has missed a more complex and convincing interpretation not merely of issues surrounding language, but of all manifestations of meaning in popular music.

The dominance of English in popular music has come at the expense of specific cultural association that audiences — foreign or native to the tongue — might have with English.  American audiences in particular take for granted that pop songs they hear in their daily lives will be in English and that therefore the linguistic significance lies in the text and not in some indirect association with a signified culture.  This is duly reflected by the songwriters of most American pop and rock, for whom English may be the only language in which they are capable of writing a song, and hence a default rather than a conscious decision.

American audiences are therefore unaccustomed to shifting from a direct textual level of interpretation to an abstract linguistic level of creating meaning for a text.  Indeed, to an audience unfamiliar with a language, the text’s interpretive meaning is largely subjective and may be little affected by authorial intent.  In spite of (or perhaps in part, because of) the limited number of foreign language pop songs marketed to stateside audiences, white Americans have formed and reinforced stereotypes and associative reactions to other cultures.  The only non-English language to have enjoyed multiple hits in U.S. is Spanish, and the overwhelming majority of these Spanish-language hits have been by Latin American artists and have carried a distinctly upbeat vibe.  This has led much of the white American public, particularly those who do not speak Spanish, to hear no greater social discourse at work in songs like “La Bamba,” “Oyé Como Va,” “Rico Suavé,” and “Macarena.”  Instead, these songs are overdetermined by markers of “party music,” including major keys, sensual beats, and brightly-mixed horn riffs.  That many artists such as Gloria Estefan freely mix Spanish and English in their songs both pays tribute to the massive Latin American culture within the U.S. and suggests the compatibility of the two languages to those who are unfamiliar with Spanish.  This active and exciting cross-fertilization presents Latin American culture as accessible and friendly to the music’s audience, reinforcing the “good time” flavor that has been projected persistently and probably inappropriately onto an enormous body of music.

Perhaps no nation however casts so strong and so dark a shadow on the twentieth century as Germany, and that its history of scientific, philosophical, and artistic grandeur is so entwined with the realities of the Third Reich has made post-W.W. II use of German language in art and music difficult in some ways for many to appreciate.  In light of this, it is unsurprising that it took America more than fifty years after the war before it so actively embraced a piece of German-language popular music.

Establishing that “Du Hast” is a cohesive musical sign for Germany, I show that the song’s individual musical ingredients contribute both indexically and iconically toward Germany as an object.  In E minor, “Du Hast” is driven by a relentless guitar riff played through brilliant metallic distortion in overdubbed octaves.



Fig. 2: Thematic riff in “Du Hast,” as played repeatedly throughout the song

The bass guitar also plays this riff an octave lower, in a simplified form, during the song’s verses.

The energy of “Du Hast” comes additionally from the conspicuous use of techno synthesizer sounds, opening with a rave staple filter sweep effect on the solo synthesizer line that commences the song.  The drums are a seamless mixture of acoustic and electronic sounds that borrow both from techno dance music and from more traditional heavy metal.  Finally there is the vocal delivery, which is spoken gruffly in the verses and sung in the chorus in a manner bearing more in common with Dietrich Fischer-Diskau than with Axl Rose.  While all of these musical ingredients produce effects that contribute toward the German-ness of the song, “Du Hast”’s creation of Germany as an object is chiefly a product of sonic qualities less concrete than a tempo or a mode.   Before connecting them directly to the interpretant experience of German-ness, I will describe these qualities (which I have labeled epic, military, romantic, and technological) and the means by which they are achieved.

Rammstein’s song connotes a sense of the epic through several means.  It communicates on a grandiose and superhuman level via its iconic creation of large performance areas and large performing ensemble, and its mimicry of antique musics, thereby signifying timelessness. 

The notion of performance space as connoted by sound is an acoustic one, determined by the ear’s ability both to measure reverberations and sound reflections and its ability to analyze these sounds for directionality and equalization effects.  Delay and reverb are used throughout the song subtly as they are in nearly all pop and rock music, but the flammed tom-toms that herald the guitars’ entrance echo distinctly and with a long stereo delay to simulate the sound bouncing off distant walls.  Acoustically, the lack of early reflections in this sound and also in the audible delay on the vocals in the bridge implies that not only is the performing space large, but that it is simply shaped, with hard and large walls.  The psychoacoustic translation of this data might suggest a cathedral or at least a space beyond the size of any ordinary dwelling or recording environment.  Whether it is an ecclesiastic association a listener makes or merely one of a concert hall, that the piece requires such expansive space implies that the song itself is gigantic — that it is important.

Second, the association with large performing ensembles comes chiefly through the use of synthesized choir and orchestra, which despite sounding obviously not “real,” nevertheless translate from sound to imagery as a legion of classically disciplined musicians.  The choral cadence that occurs before the singer shouts, “Nein!,” as well as the string gestures in the bridge, rid the song of a rock ‘n’ roll levity and impart it with a dire sense of importance, seriousness, and purpose.  Such a perception ties into to layman associations with romantic and classical music, the most immediately familiar context for orchestra and choir.  While by no means classical unto itself, “Du Hast” still evokes a sense of art, greatness, and sophistication.

Furthermore, classical music is antique but still enduring — what Raymond Williams calls “residual.”[9]  By listening to classically-infused music, an audience temporarily inserts itself into a tradition older and larger than their human experience.  Tied in with a historical richness in classical music, or in this case, classical sounds, are notions of religious grandeur, social aristocracy, and the heroicization of the composer, which combine to resonate in an audience the feeling of being larger than life: closer to God, status, and eternity.

The second quality of “Du Hast” that I address is the “military” nature of the song.  As with the epic, elements of the song signify military associations iconically both directly and through intermediate steps.  Rammstein achieves a military mood chiefly through rhythm, vocal delivery, and lyrical content.

The rhythm of “Du Hast” recalls the marching of feet in a strict rhythmic pattern with an accent on each measure’s first beat.  Nearly all of the drumming in the song expressly avoids the upbeat accents that dominate rock music.[10]  The rhythm of the guitar line reinforces this notion through pitch, highlighting the start of each measure with its melody’s only deviation from E.  The march signification is undisturbed by overemphasis on any upbeat or uneven subdivision; this is made clearer by the verse’s vocal delivery:




Fig. 3: Vocal rhythm in verse of “Du Hast”

In the verse, the recorded vocal track itself is also perceived as an aggressive but calculated performance.  The extraordinarily low (and undeniably male) unpitched verse overemphasizes the hard consonant sounds “d” and “t” while hissing on the “s” in “hast.”  Till Lindemann, Rammstein’s singer, overstates the “grain” in his voice to create a rougher sound, and his slow, precise, and even speaking connote iconically the emotionless harsh nature that one associates (perhaps indexically) with all things military.[11]

The final means by which militaristic aggression is signified is not built into the German recording in question, but instead it concerns the American audience’s interpretation of the lyrics.  The album Sehnsucht contains an English recording of “Du Hast,” which despite being completely ignored because of the German version’s popularity, was presumably heard at least once by those who purchased the album.  In a clumsy translation of the song, ridding it of all its double entendre, the English version declares, “You hate me” where “Du hast mich” appears, opting to translate “hasst” rather than “hast.”  The verb “hate” is used fourteen times in the English version of the song, and even though listeners championed the German recording, those who own the album certainly carry their literal English understanding over to their German listening experience, knowing, regardless of the song’s actual original text, chiefly that “Du Hast” concerns a hateful dialogue of defiance.  Even without the assumption of “You hate me,” the chorus shout of “Nein!” embodies conflict and negativity.  Indeed, “nein” may well be the only German word that some American audiences know.  The song’s basis in spiteful and aggressive conflict aids in the object suggestion of military character.

The third descriptor of “Du Hast” on which I focus is “romantic.”  Certainly the song’s aggression is at odds with popular conceptions of romance, but the historical and literary meaning of the word is in fact supported by the song.  In western art music, romanticism has long been associated with the rejection of restrained order and understated balance in favor of asymmetrical leaps, swooping and angular gestures, and exaggerated motives.  Perhaps the most canonized musical paragon of romanticism, the Liebestod from Tristan Und Isolde, initiated a veritable cult of obsession based on its opening four tones, an uneven minor sixth leap followed by half steps.  The dramatic sense of longing associated with, if not implied and even instilled by this intervalic motion broadly identifies this gesture across western culture as a romantically powerful one.  This works both indexically as a dicent of the personal experience of unchecked emotion — the unbridled sound of crying or sex — as well as iconically from a cultural standpoint: when one hears a leap of a sixth followed by half steps, one associates it with similar musical experience, such as the Lacrimosa of Mozart’s Requiem — both haunting and historically grave.[12]  The combination of these iconic and cultural effects of hearing similar melodic function compounds into something of a feedback loop.  The more leaping (sixths) and stumbling (steps) themes one hears, the more one connotes them as being romantic and longing.[13]

It is no great surprise then that the chorus of “Du Hast” is a setting of German wedding vows.  It is logical for the songwriters to treat romantic (and tragic, for the vows are denied) subject matter with romantic music, and regardless of the American audience’s lyrical ignorance, I contend that this romantic sense of longing carries through in the chorus’s melody on its own:


Fig. 4: Melody of chorus in “Du Hast”

The Wagnerian leaps of sixths created by the low B-C within the line allow for two possible interpretations of the melody.  The first focuses on the intervalic language, hearing the passage from note to note and thereby supporting romantic signification via the Liebestod associations and the semi-literal mimicry of reaching or swooning.  The other listening emphasizes the line’s upward trajectory to a peak and views the low B-C as an interruption.  This particular examination emphasizes the romantic by an entirely different means in which the theme is one of struggling against the gravity of lower pitch and interruption by non-scalar motion.  A heroic quality is imbued in the arrival at the high B.

The “heroic” struggle of a theme’s emergence and development from a quiet and tenuous whisper to an expansive and unanimous statement of confidence is a defining characteristic of much romantic music.  Some — Vera Micznik, for example[14] — have viewed such music as a reflection of literary form: introduction, struggle through adversity, and consequent victory and growth.  These musical processes appear notably in the final movements of both Beethoven’s and Mahler’s respective ninth symphonies.  Indeed, Beethoven is historically associated with heroicism as exhibited by his treatment of themes. 

“Du Hast” mimics these allegedly German romantic paradigms clearly through its vocal delivery.  This heroic process is audible regardless of a listener’s understanding of German.  The vocal entry of the song is as follows:

Du hast
Du hast mich
Du hast
Du hast mich
Du hast mich gefragt
Du hast mich gefragt
Du hast mich gefragt und ich hab Nichts gesagt

The lyrics’ exposition begins at its most truncated, fragmented, and weak; the song has not yet developed enough power to deliver its full message.  Even as words are added onto the ever-present “Du,” the sentence collapses, rebuilds again, and repeats until finally in the ninth attempt of its Sisyphean delivery does Till Lindemann successfully deliver the line.

While this does not necessarily mirror any particular Beethovenian structure, it follows in the same tradition of the heroic.  This heroicism, much like the romantic employment of sixths followed by stepwise motion, depends both on its formalistic signification of strife toward a goal as well as the musicocultural connotation of the compositional practice.  In this particular case, it is not reasonable to assume that Rammstein’s American audience is familiar in any meaningful way with Wagner or even Beethoven.  But nor is reasonable to assume these consumers’ full visceral ignorance of the cultural context and meaning of the classical music by which they have been previously presented with these emotive musical ideas. 

Another simpler means by which “Du Hast” imparts romanticism is through the female choir vocals that appear in the chorus.  Though obviously processed and/or even entirely synthesized, the whole notes “sung” by the female voices on the syllable “ah” function in two ways.  The first is that they provide a significant counterbalance to the inescapable maleness of “Du Hast.”  The angular, rigid, goal-oriented song and the low gruff vocals, when combined with its aforementioned military nature engender the song in such a way that the brief sound of women’s voices establishes a dialogue between male and female (as indeed both the German and English lyrical narratives do).  Built around a VI-V-i cadence, the sudden introduction of a sonically softer and more iconically feminine sound resonates dicently with a male adolescent audience, signifying as an object some presumed real experience with females.  There is also a tremendous amount of conflict at work in this moment.  Instead of singing continuously, the female vocals appear only briefly within the piece and are themselves interrupted by the male insistence of “Nein!”  This tension contrasts other aspects of their appearance in the arrangement; the voices sing every time the song reaches its structure’s only authentic cadence, aligning them with the release of tension and reinforcing the soothing nature of the female choir’s smooth acoustic texture.  To the male listener, who is the primary intended audience, this dicent icon of femininity both as a cause of and a release of strain embodies the larger struggle and experience with romanticism within the individual lives of the song’s listeners.

The final contributor to the notion of romanticism in “Du Hast” concerns the style in which Till Lindemann sings the recorded song.  Aware of the influence of Wagner[15] and Slovenian opera singers-turned-industrial concept artists Laibach[16], Lindemann’s bass singing is very clearly intoned and features intentionally darkened vowels, contrasting with the bright and casual approach typically taken in rock music.  Instead of opting for lyrical clarity and a natural speechlike tone, Lindemann even uses vibrato — a rare occurence among male rock singers.  Music magazines consistently refer to his singing as “operatic,” which despite being untrue nevertheless reflects the mass public’s perception that his trained voice is more at home singing Der Freischutz than “Love Me Do.”  Given that the aggression of Rammstein’s music betrays liturgical association, and that one cannot expect the American hard rock audience to be versed in lieder, opera is the default association that this audience draws, for hearing a foreign language in so uniquely rich a voice can signify the listeners’ previous musical experience with similar voices and languages — likely a peripheral knowledge of romantic opera.  Opera’s inherent capacity for narrative (of which one can assume this audience is aware) and its heritage in tragedy are both known, even if only through popular caricature.  Thus when Lindemann sings, Americans assume a narrative and tragic element in Rammstein’s music because of his vocal technique, and in doing so, are placing the songs directly into the cultural romantic tradition of European opera.

“Du Hast” therefore strongly signifies the romantic in a multitude of ways, and nearly every aspect of the song, particularly the chorus, supports this romanticism.  The intervalic language employed is the same that Wagner, Mozart, and countless others have used to connote longing, love, and tragedy; the melodic and textual exposition is remarkably heroic in the Beethovenian sense; the gender discourse enabled by the selective presence of women’s voices allows the audience a reflection on its own sexual associations; the singer’s voice draws the audience toward narrativity and cultural experience with opera.  Through these musical aspects, one can recognize that “Du Hast” as a romantic song is not in conflict with its militaristic or epic nature, but that it in fact compounds their strength and complexity. 

The final descriptor that “Du Hast” signifies as an object is “technological.”  The instrumental performances on the song are not only technologically grounded in the origin of their sound production and recording, but they are signs for technological objects.  In exploring the signification of technology in the song, one needs to address the recording’s use and processing of guitars, drums, and synthesizers.

The electromagnetic signal of an amplified guitar goes through a many steps (especially when recorded and mixed) before it becomes acoustic energy to the ear.  The extreme distortion through which it is processed in hard rock music equalizes, phases, and amplifies the sound wave and in doing so, creates a much more brilliant, full, and also more aggressive sound than an unamplified guitar produces.  By overmodulating the signal and thus squaring the wave, distortion makes the sonic spectrum more complex and non-harmonic; seemingly unrelated and often very high frequencies are grossly boosted as a result.  This nonharmonic and complex spectrum does not resemble the sound produced by any orchestral instrument, but instead, laden with non-harmonic and very high overtones, more closely resembles the sound of scraped or pounded metal.  When one hears bright overdriven guitars such as those that are “Du Hast”’s backbone, one witnesses the iconic rheme of raw man-made materials.  Distorted electric guitars, put simply, sound like machines. 

With the genre’s dependence on distorted guitar sounds, “heavy metal” is a surprisingly appropriate moniker from an acoustically demonstrable standpoint.  A staple of “industrial” rock (a descriptor frequently invoked in the popular press to describe Rammstein), the guitar sounds in “Du Hast” serve as commentary on humankind’s relationship with technology.  Frith explains that because of the physical human interaction in playing a guitar, it is perceived as a more authentic and natural instrument than a synthesizer.[17]  Dependent on technology, the distorted electric guitar can be seen in this light as the interface between the erotics of performance and the technological inorganicism of machine improvement.  This is why despite often being no less digitally affected and filtered than other recorded electronic music, heavy metal is still seen by many as more natural or “real.”  The physical connection between fingers and guitar strings represents to listeners a microcosmic dialogue between man and machine.  In addition to the genuinely metallic sound of the guitar, it goes without saying that machines, even powerful computers, are necessarily involved in Rammstein’s guitars’ sound production itself.

Similar lines between organic and technological sound are blurred in the case of the song’s drums.  While most of the kick drum and open hi-hat rhythms on the track are identifiable as having plausibly been played on real instruments, the drums played at the end of the song’s bridge — particularly the kick drum — are of a noticeably different sound quality than has previously been used in the song.  In fact, when the verse/chorus rhythm returns after this bridge, careful listening demonstrates that the kick drum used nearly everywhere in the song is in fact distorted and highly processed.  Furthermore, the blatant use of synthesized rhythm loops in verse two reveal a much less subtle use of technology.  In hearing such unmistakably synthesized percussion, the audience’s recognition of the man/machine duality shifts from the subliminal to the conscious.  The semiotic process here is circular: indeed, the only iconic or indexical objects associated with distorted kick drums in music are other musical uses of distorted kick drums; the same is not necessarily the case for the brighter and more harmonically rich snare drum.  While this may seem initially problematic, it is not: distorted drum sounds are a staple feature of a great amount of industrial music, a subcultural technology-driven music genre with which the audience of “Du Hast” on some level familiar.  By abstracting its drum sounds from their associations of humanly-produced sound and thereby signifying another music more overt in its treatment of humankind’s relationship to technology, “Du Hast” is able then to convey yet another level of technologically-oriented discourse.

Last, perhaps the most overt use of technology in modern music is the use of synthesizers and other purely electronic instruments.  In contrast to distorted guitars, synthesizers, because of their lack of direct erotic connection to the human body, signify a different level of humankind’s interface with technology.  They are a product of the digital age rather than the industrial age, and from this, the associative chain of rhemic indexical objects and signs can easily point toward computers, telecommunications, and ultimately, detached sterility.  The two chief instances of identifiable synthesizer lines in the song are its very opening — a rave-like 16th note pattern played on a heavily modulated phased sound — and in the final instrumental descant with which “Du Hast” concludes — an ornamental figure played on an analog sawtooth wave pattern.  Both of these sounds are in high registers and sound inorganic or “cold” due to the relative lack of frequencies between 100Hz and 800 Hz.  Because these sounds are at the forefront of the mix when they occur, the listener is compelled to acknowledge them as signs.  The former of these synthesizer sounds features a filter sweep through its frequencies, a feature found almost exclusively in electronic music, and beyond that, almost universally in techno music.  Techno is among the few popular music genre to be exclusively made on electronic instruments; even the human voice is left out of techno and rave music.  The iconic signification of techno as an object connotes a total dependence on and embracing of technology.  Even the word “techno” is an undeniable icon of “technological.”  The latter synthesizer sound is a simple one found both in vintage electronic music (which was, incidentally, largely made by Germans) and in everyday “beeps,” such as a truck backing up or a “walk” signal flashing.  This purity and simplicity of wave does not exist outside technologically-produced sound, and at least on a direct objective level, the listener may then confer upon it, both iconically and indexically, a technological association.  Furthermore, the ostinato pattern played on the synthesizer is quantized to the beat and is of uniform dynamic and articulation.  The perceived inhuman-ness of its delivery suggests not only a technological means of sound production, but also of instrumental performance.

From the guitars’ distorted metallic spectrum, the drums’ processed industrialism, and the synthesizers’ techno/logical cultural baggage, one begins to understand how and why “Du Hast” signifies technology itself as a descriptive object.  It connotes technology on a bodily level via the guitar, on a recreational level via the icons of musical genre in the drums, and on a cultural level via the computer-generated digital sounds of the synthesizer.

On their own, the four identified descriptive objects of “Du Hast” — epic, militaristic, romantic, and technological —do not induce an interpretant creation of Germany, but along with this critical reading of the recording, one must also interrogate the fact that American audiences uniformly and actively chose to hoist the German-language version of the song to success while largely ignoring the English version that appeared on the album.  A linguistic hybrid (the “International Version”) was released on the single, yet DJs and audiences alike consistently wanted their listening experience of Rammstein’s “Du Hast” to be entirely centered on the German version.  Rammstein’s Richard Kruspe comments that “... the U.S. DJs at radio stations refused to play the English song, they wanted to play the original German song. That was when I understood that you couldn’t jump from one language to another, because it does change the song. The German language is very important to go along with the music, it fits the music, and is an important part of the picture.”[18]  The discomfort in hearing an accented German singing the song in English is not merely a empathic response to Lindemann’s own unfamiliarity with English,  but the reason German “fits the music” is because to Americans, the cultural legacy of English does not resonate with the epic, the militaristic, the romantic, or the technological in the way that German does.

One way to clarify this connection is to begin with the assumption that the German language and hence German-ness is among the first immediate impressions an American audience has of the song.  This sign begins the Peircian semiotic process of object signification.  To a young American subject, Germany has several connotations, including but not limited to its economic and cultural visibility in the western community, its involvement in World War II, its cultural legacy of philosophy, literature, art, and music, and its stature in the history of science and engineering.  These are not merely academic points, for such associations are referenced every day in pop culture without thought or question.  Volkswagen commercials play up the notions of German engineering; the stock “mad scientist” characters in entertainment are conspicuously accented; Saturday Night Live’s “Sprockets” skit overtly parodies the German influence on film and the intellectual history of the avant-garde.  In short, while shallow stereotypes involving clothing styles and strudel may be signified by the German-ness of the song, it is not unrealistic to expect young Americans to arrive at the aforementioned larger-scale objects.

When the audience transposes sinsign associations of cultural dominance, World War II, the arts, and science and engineering, to the legisign level, their new signs are generalized essences — epic-ness, militarism, romance, and technology —of the examples just given.  The possibilities of snowballing and shifting within the Peircian model allow these signs also to be arrived upon as objects, and having already argued that “Du Hast” signifies the epic, militaristic, romantic, and technological as objects, it follows that the nature of the song and the recording reinforces the German-ness set in motion by the language itself.  In German, the song resonates thoroughly to a listener because both the mode of expression (the language) and the expression itself (the musical semiotics) are in full agreement and unity with one another.  When the song is sung in English, there is no such connection between text and sound.  The song at its most basic formal level becomes dissonant, nonsensical, or worse, oxymoronic.  Both the band and the popular press recognize “that their innate German-ness is the very thing that has seen them embraced….”[19]

The Resonance of Germany in American Youth

Explaining the resonance within the song and identifying its innate German-ness, however, is not sufficient to understand why American youth embraced “Du Hast.”  There is plenty of quintessentially French, Brazilian, and Chinese music that does not get nominated for Grammys.  It is important to understand how a young generation who made “Du Hast” an American hit was capable of interpreting 20th-century Germanic quasi-nationalism on a level that is both personal and apolitical, or at the very least, non-Nazi (for indeed, any genuine suspicion of the song’s or the band’s Nazism by an audience would immediately squash the record’s commercial potential).  The key to understanding this process lies in a disassociation with the past.  World War II is now taught in high school classes by teachers who never experienced it, and is a chapter in the same book that documents the Renaissance and the French Revolution.  At the cusp of the 21st century, 1998’s hard rock youth culture was sixty years removed — a near eternity to a teenager   — from those who witnessed and took part in the second World War.

Furthermore, the era-signifying images with which media, music, and fashion inundate youth borrow so haphazardly from Ancient Egypt, Victorian England, 1920s swing, Beatniks, hippies, and 1980s materialism that on the most superficial and visual levels, history is a singular unit with all its parts equal, a giant closet to plunder for the perfect outfit.

This recontextualizing of historical fragments is not a postmodern gesture, however.  There is no randomness in the girl wearing cowboy boots, a Scottish kilt, and a vintage whalebone corset.  Nor is the Gregorian chant a techno DJ plays over a rave beat meaningless and lacking spirituality.  What does happen, however, is that the signs’ native ideologies are derailed.  To concern one’s self with the specific clan tartan or the text of the monks’ chant is to miss the point that these disparate and recontextualized signs are being employed at all.

While in the case of Rammstein I focus more on the language, imagery, and cultural associations of Germany than some of the possibly unrelated signs used by the American youth culture that popularized them, my point remains that young Americans are trained both through formal education and daily exposure to popular culture to focus on a shallow conception — in this case, of Germany’s history — rather than a deep reality. 

Questions about Rammstein’s associations with Nazism have come up especially often.  In the band’s 1998 music video for the song “Stripped” (a cover of a hit by Depeche Mode, and Rammstein’s only English-language single), Rammstein used footage from Olympia, Leni Riefenstahl’s film on the 1936 Olympics.  Because Riefenstahl was typically regarded as complicit with, if not actively fanatical about, the Third Reich, Rammstein came under scrutiny from the public.  London Records, the band’s British label, issued a press release entitled “Nazis?  HELL NO!” as a response to the public concern surrounding the video:

... “We are not Nazis, Neo-Nazis, or any other kind of Nazi. We are against racism, bigotry or any other type of discrimination.” They added that they had used the film simply as an example of a visionary work of art, rather than to endorse Nazism or fascism....
The band are humanists... They eschew any connection to the Neo-Nazi movement or the philosophy of the Third Reich. Furthermore, Rammstein believe that good art knows no political allegiances, thus, the Leni Riefenstahl footage they used for “Stripped” is an expression of good art rather than an endorsement of Nazism. By using these images outside of their original context and in combination with other media (the Russian newsreel footage, the music of Depeche Mode sung in English) the band hopes to create a collage that conveys a broad range of emotions.[20]

By explicitly denying racism, Nazism, and discrimination as a whole, Rammstein was able not only to placate the worries of its fans (who wanted very much for the band to be “ok” for them to listen to in their own minds), but also to elevate their status as artists in the process by invoking collage and multinationalism and by implying that context is necessary in understanding and responding to art.

But certainly Rammstein was aware of the possible implications and controversy of the video when they made it.  Till Lindemann was born in 1963 and grew up in East Germany, as did the rest of the band.  The band’s geography and relatively advanced age suggest an especially high degree of self-awareness with regard to all things Nazi.  It is through this self-awareness of their place in society that they are able to negotiate such artistic decisions as the Riefenstahl footage, and in fact I find it unlikely that they would have used the clip had they thought it would garner no such reaction.  Rammstein’s audiences are also savvy in their use and interpretation of imagery.  Extreme shock tactics used by counterculture teens, artists, and musicians are what Jon Savage calls a “time honored technique to make sure what you have to say gets noticed,”[21] and in identifying the practice as such, he significantly distinguishes “what you have to say” from the means by which it “gets noticed.”  That subculture teens and the fans of Rammstein are fully aware of the band’s (and their own) use of Germanic idioms indicates their ability to differentiate the associative ideologies of the music’s presentation from the songs themselves.  Additionally, ever since the 1960s and arguably earlier, youth culture has seen itself as the focus of mainstream films, news, mass-marketed books, and television, even if only as caricature.  This portrayal of youth and the implication that the “normal” world knows about them and even endearingly compartmentalizes them subverts youth culture’s ability to take itself completely seriously by believing in its own uniqueness or privileged understanding of the world around it.  Many young alternative music listeners are downright self-mocking when it comes to their respective “scenes.”

From this self awareness and the aforementioned historical abstraction, one concedes that Rammstein’s fans are several steps removed from blind subscription to or support of Third Reich modes of thinking.  Given the extreme taboo on actually supporting Nazism, it would even be appropriate to hypothesize that fans are able to enjoy Rammstein and “Du Hast” in part because they are secure in their own intersubjective non-Nazi understanding of the song and artist.

One can further distance Rammstein from Nazi ideologies by contrasting them with bands that are openly (Neo-) Nazi.  A large list of these groups (all of which are unknown to a common rock audience) is made available by an organization called National Socialist Black Metal, which also provides an outline of beliefs and practices in Nazi heavy metal music.[22]  Nazi rock is not to be confused with Skinhead and Oi! music, which owe more to KKK-like white supremacy movements than to Hitler’s ideologies.  Those particular genres reflect a non-Nazi basis in their overtly punk musical sound and heritage.  Punk is nonpretentious, based in reality, and addresses problems from a working class utilitarian angle, while self-acknowledged Nazi bands idealize and invoke a mythological and pagan ideal of life.  With band names such as Thor’s Hammer and Bathory and gothic fantasy album art, these groups present themselves in mystical and hence abstract and superhuman settings.  Modern Nazi music embodies much that punk music does not: it romanticizes the past and places the present in relation to it, it bears pretentious metaphorical lyricism rather than concrete societal discourse, it romanticizes itself, and it is chiefly Scandinavian, German, and Polish while Skinhead and Oi! punk are mostly British and American phenomena.[23]  In its use of mythology (genuine or invented), Nazi music differs from Rammstein’s, which on its most general level appears to focus on modern and direct interaction between humans and the dismantling and reassessment of cultural assumptions of roles within family, sex, marriage, and social situations.  While Rammstein is militaristic and German, most Nazi metal is sung in English, and much of it is slow and brooding, rather than march-like.  By employing long droning guitar tones, open fifths, and excessive song length, Nazi metal is more concerned with associating the listener’s sense of majesty and awe with the politics of the music.  Much modern Nazi propaganda attempts to do this by overtly appealing to those with interests in paganism and idealistic environmental conservationism.  Rammstein, on the other hand is almost entirely based on short guitar riffs and concise pop songwriting — no song on Sehnsucht is even five minutes long.  References to pagan Germanic mythology are nowhere in Rammstein’s music.  Unlike Nazi metal, Rammstein also lacks guitar solos and places no emphasis on instrumental virtuosity. 

If these musical data were not enough, there is no precedent within popular music of a band being labeled Nazis without their acknowledgment of Hitler’s politics as at least an influence.  When Rammstein “eschew any connection to... the philosophy of the Third Reich,” they cut themselves off from the Nazi music scene, which given its small size, appears to be characterized by solidarity amongst both artists and fans.  With no support of discrimination or social Darwinism and an explicit denial of the politics in question, only the band’s savvy in controversial collage and public’s visceral associations of Germany with Nazism stand even to suggest a connection.

Yet the German-ness of the entire ordeal is still central to the experience, else the song and band would not have been so popular in America.  Again, using descriptive objects within a Peircian framework, I will show that song’s U.S. audience of young middle-class white males personally connect with a non-threatening Germany they perceive to be “cool,” tragic, and powerful.

Because “coolness” reaffirms the highly discriminating taste, intellect, and aesthetic instinct of those who witness it, thus making them feel cool themselves, it necessarily requires an audience.  When an exclusive group of people collectively recognize the coolness of something, it is in fact their perception of their own coolness in having found something newly cool that makes the item, image, or trend in question, cool.  Once the exclusivity of a cool thing’s audience is compromised, it is no longer cool, because no longer does it reward anyone’s discriminating taste, thus it loses the ability to make people feel cool themselves.  This is clearly a self-reflexive and problematic concept, and precise meanings of “cool” may be specific to place and time, but there are a few unversalities of cool that may help us to understand both its general nature and specifically how Germany embodied it to young Americans of the late 1990s.

Coolness mixes and recombines cultural signs in a way that suggests unconventional thought, complexity of meaning, and authenticity, which is what makes cool so difficult for the uncool to mimic successfully.  Each of these characteristics suggests effortlessly finding, rather than placing, one’s self at the vanguard of progressive cultural change, which is perhaps the ultimate act of coolness.[24]  Though clearly an oversimplification, Germany as the birthplace of the Reformation, the Green Party, and nihilism, is historically associated with modes of thought that are distinctly divergent from the presumptions of the spiritual, philosophical, social, and political norms of their time and place.  This individuality also ties in with unorthodox artistic practices and movements, and from there, with young Americans’ perception of Germany’s preeminent role in the avant-garde.  It is chiefly through these associations that Germany can be considered cool.  Germany as a sign still bears tremendous complexity of meaning because of its unstable past both as aggressor against and benefactor to the western world and its conflicted present as a world power, both idealized in perception and mocked in caricature for its philosophical and social climate.  Furthermore, despite being one of the world’s few male-gendered nations, the Fatherland is ineffably viewed in pop culture with other European nations, such as England, by many Americans through a subtle lens of assumed homosexuality.  In an October 1999 issue of Metal Hammer, a member of the American band Fear Factory alludes to Rammstein and their nationality: “We have enough on our plate with our own politics without being interested in the problems of German bands or the question of whether they are gay or not. By the way, are they gay?”[25]  These subtle implications manifest themselves in relation to the Third Reich as well as to the allegedly open and liberal artistic environment that some Americans may conflate with Germany.  Though this investigation is not the place for an exhaustive view of Germany’s stereotyped sexual poetics, there is a clearly a complex machinery at work in determining these factors of perception in America.  Germany is the confluence of many strong and complex — even conflicting — associations in culture, historical and present.  This intricate multitude of meanings illustrates why Germany can be cool while other nations whose cultural associations are significantly more unilateral, have not been and cannot be cool.  Last, Germany’s authenticity is tied both into its traditional societal heritage in the past (because of its influential artistic and industrial history, western idioms in the cultural products of Germany appear as native, rather than appropriated) and into the present necessary awareness of and repentance for its own misdeeds (there is nothing inauthentic about the Holocaust, nor does modern Germany deny any part of it).  At the crux of highly individualized philosophy and practice, endless contradictory cultural rhemes and dicents, and authenticity of past and present, Germany availed itself to coolness in a liberal 1990s America.

Germany’s image as a tragic entity is perhaps more difficult for Rammstein’s American fans to articulate than it is for that audience’s parents.  This is because the sad tragedy of Germany is in its dissociated history, of which the younger generation might be only subliminally aware.  They are certainly however of age to recall the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and with that memory comes the shadow of communism and the pity toward the Eastern Bloc that early in their lives replaced fear.  When this contemporary vision of Germany is paired with the history book past of the Third Reich, a greater sense of historical continuity and causality is afforded to young generations through a connecting suture of perceived national guilt and search for identity. 

The politically implemented vergangenheitsbewältigung[26]-driven policies served as a constant reminder both to Germany and to the world of the necessity of national atonement.  In fact, the national recognition of fault and Germany’s reversal in its inability to change the past follow Aristotle’s model of effective dramatic structure in tragedy as laid out in his Poetics.[27]  Beyond recognition and reversal, he cites suffering as the final crucial ingredient, which in Germany’s case manifests as the split into two nations.  In this respect, young Americans, unable to villainize categorically the civilians of a nation at large, view German history through the media’s lens and hence as classic tragedy.  Without a direct memory of the war, this American generation perceived the period of the Iron Curtain as the German people’s penance for their complicity to Hitler’s command.

Germany’s momentous departure from classic tragedy is, of course, what lies beyond the suffering: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 1990 reunification of East and West.  The fall of the Wall in particular was far more symbolic than it was politically important.  Given its timing with the collapse of communism in Romania and the incipient instability and ultimate dissolution of the Soviet Union, it heralded the end of the Cold War, and consequently, the end of World War II’s shadow over history.  When Germany reunited a generation after its split, it had endured the most severe term of its punitive sentence, and in the eyes of many, was forgiven, if not redeemed.  Furthermore, the reunification eased an internal dissonance that “... not only were there now two Germanys, but there had been two German pasts,”[28] allowing a more fully realized national imago and a final overcoming of adversity in the tragic-ness of Germany.

The last adjectival object of Germany is that it is powerful.  In the eyes of Rammstein’s American fans, Germany is powerful from military and cultural standpoints as perceived through personal experience, media, and history.

Despite the postwar demilitarization of Germany, its 20th-century legacy of tactical conquest and weapons innovation are second perhaps to no other country’s.  While the details and facts of Germany’s military preeminence come chiefly through schooling and media, some modern day youth encounters with teutonic militarism occur in the arena of fashion.  As nearly any counterculture youth of the day can attest, one of the clothing staples of the mid-1990s alternative music scene (of which Mimi Schippers has written a detailed account and from which many of Rammstein’s fans come) were military-issued jackets, nearly universally with a West German flag embroidered on the sleeve.  That these jackets were so ubiquitous among teenagers a few years prior to Rammstein’s hit establishes both the precedent for recognizing Germany as a military power across time and also the overt practice of employing Germany (or its flag, which is indexically related) as a personal sign. 

The powerfulness of Germany is further supported by their cultural dominance in the arts and industry.  Historically, German works predominate in classical music, theology, philosophy, and engineering, and are also a significant presence in canons of literature, art, film, and physical science.  German language is taught in American high schools alongside Spanish and French, and German corporations are highly visible players in the world market, maintaining — until the introduction of the Euro — the Deutschmark as one of the strongest and most stable currencies in the world.  The totality of these features is that to a culturally aware American in 1998, Germany was a high-profile western power.  From history and modern economics, one may construct (perhaps incorrectly) a view of Germany as the most powerful non-English speaking nation in the western world.  Its presence in American education, high society, corporate advertising, and news translates for many into a mediated perception of cultural power.

Having understood three possible primary descriptive objects for Germany as a sign — cool, tragic, and powerful — one can now at last begin to see how the Germany signified by “Du Hast” mediates an identity for American youth.  By connoting coolness, tragedy, and power, this Germany does not reaffirm latent qualities in its audience, but simply put, instead embodies that which the audience wishes to become.

Because the coolness one acquires in recognizing something else as cool is entirely an internally-perceived quality (and hence nothing and no one is inherently cool: ”cool” is a conspiracy of mass narcissism), within the experience of hearing “Du Hast,” Rammstein’s listeners are not cool until they pass judgment on the song.  This allows their own tastes and visceral musico-erotic reactions — in reality unbounded by any Platonic coolness — to be coded socially into a self-congratulatory experience, whether or not they enjoy the music or even judge it to be cool (for it is just as cool to deem yourself and your tastes too exclusive to allow the coolness of a particular song, style, or person).  Hence an object (Germany, which also through Peircian associative processes becomes a sign) with so much potential to be considered cool because of its connotation of nonconformity (the exclusivity of cool), complexity (the intellectual prestige or “hipness” of cool), and authenticity (the “real” of cool), gives the audience an especially potent interpretant opportunity to feel cool, thereby transferring the nature of a sign onto itself.  It is through intermediate adjectival objects that signs’ magnitude and possible perceived incompatibilities with the self are bypassed, allowing Germany as a whole to mediate a young American’s subjective desire to become cool.

The desire for tragedy in the lives of young Americans seems initially paradoxical.  After all, given that misery is in this case an element of tragedy, who wants to be miserable?  However, in viewing rock music as a mode of expressing frustration and pain, James Hannaham explains the shift that occurs when the audience to whom the genre’s pain is not native becomes the next generation of rockers:

Once rock ‘n’ roll became the engine of American youth culture, however, the social meaning... was altered.  The pain described could be not only felt by the singer but fetishized and focused inward as well.  Pain could be treated not just as something to express, but something to strive for.[29]

Hannaham connects this striving for pain directly with the Gothic subculture, a youth movement based on depressive music, a (frequently tongue-in-cheek) fascination with death, and a closet stocked with black lace, black leather, black velvet, black vinyl, black hair dye, and black eye makeup.  Rammstein is peripherally associated with the goth scene, primarily because of the band’s aesthetic iconography and the epic qualities of their somber music as I described earlier.  While not all their fans are goths, Rammstein’s signification of tragedy in the German-ness of their music appeals to a range of young white middle-class Americans who, three years before September 11th,  had no uniting adversity by which to define their generation with reference to their individualities.[30]  The identity of American generations in the 20th century is established in reference to war and strife, and for this audience born between 1975 and 1985, there was no Great War, no arch enemy, no real threat to them.  The economic affluence of the mid 1980s and late 1990s meant that the crises in the lives of this generation were to be internal.  The triumph over adversity, or more generally stated, the resolution of a conflict, is to many young people (as demonstrated endlessly in literature and media) a necessary rite of passage in their metamorphosis into adulthood, completeness, wisdom, and experience.  With no external adversity to overcome and thereby step beyond their current selves, many young Americans of the 1990s might have felt the need to find or create an idiosyncratic and personalized adversity somehow, allowing the possibility of their own individual triumph and reunification as proof to themselves of their strength and worth.  While it would be foolish to ascribe any causality between this claim and the higher incidence of depression among American youth or the highly publicized increase of shootings and violence in American schools, these are indeed symptoms of a cultural change in which inward focus on the individual — encouraged by the lack of a collective or uniting crisis — may act as an important agent. 

By creating their own internal and hence invisible crises, these young Americans can allow the adversity to be as colossal as they wish because it is not bounded by the reality of a cultural situation.  The famously introverted and self-tragedized Sylvia Plath, in her poem “Daddy,” a complex plea to and diatribe against her father, places him in the role of Hitler and herself in the role of the Jews of the Holocaust:

I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You-
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.[31]

In exorcising her own inner and idiosyncratic conflict, Plath is able to use the Holocaust (in a carnival of bad taste) as a metaphor for her personal crisis and tragedy because the outside world is not privy to her feelings and her psychological reality, and thus must trust her to construct and convey her own suffering.  Therefore as the sole arbiter of her inner experience, she sets up tremendous adversity so that in the poem’s final line, “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through,” her victorious transformation is all the more poignant.  The greater the crisis to be overcome, the more meaningful its subject’s victory is.  Thus is it more rewarding for a young American to overcome angst akin to global tragedy than it is to overcome the mental pain of a metaphorical stubbed toe.  In seeking this kind of identity mediation and aggrandizement of suffering, the act of listening to music immersively can be a creative process, just as writing a poem.

“Du Hast” resonated with so many young Americans because they, in listening, were offered the potential of significant and triumphant growth and change by aligning their own inner conflict with the tragic story of Germany that the song tells.  By matching the possibility — the rheme — of a tragic Germany to the experiential reality — the dicent — of the tragic self, the song can be enormously meaningful and cathartic to this audience seeking to define itself by tragedy.  Likewise, the reunification and absolution of Germany suggests another shift from rheme to dicent in the listener, allowing a promise of resolution, wisdom, and strength to be nurtured in the listening experience.

Just as the coolness of Germany they interpret through the song allowed American youth to feel cool and the tragedy of Germany allowed them to become tragic, that Germany is powerful likewise empowered this audience, not only in the indirect sense of eventual triumph over tragedy, but in an immediate associative projection.  Germany’s military and cultural strength does not directly represent a human social condition, but by virtue of its conceptual magnitude and impersonality as a large-scale source of power, it mediates a large-scale superhuman identity via an implied transcendence of powerlessness.  A sensual and immersive listening to “Du Hast” connects a young person with tremendous aggression, self-control, and dominion over his surroundings by way of its Germanic implications of power.  This powerful interpretant feeds back into the acoustic and erotic power in the recording — the exceptional degree to which, as McClary and Walser would say, “it rocks.”[32]

When one realizes that by transferring American youths’ associations with Germany onto themselves, this audience was rewarded with the abstract qualities it so desperately sought — coolness, tragedy, and power — one sees why the German language version of the song struck such a nerve in U.S. culture.  Though there are several links in the “unfolding of signs in the mind”[33] between hearing “Du Hast” and being coolified, tragedized, and empowered, they need not all be acknowledged consciously by the listener.  The thought process in first hearing the song instead probably touched only the central two points of my discourse, and a listener’s likely narrative verbalization of this process would have been, “German.  Awesome.”

To summarize the “German” half of this reductive utterance, the epic, militaristic, romantic, and technological qualities of the song create collectively a polysigned barrage that on every front reinforces both the language in which it is sung (German) and the youth cultural associations of Germany, past and present.  The “awesome”-ness of Germany as a primary sign, concisely stated, is first dependent on an audience who, through their ability to separate the song from a Nazi statement, through their dissociation with the past, and through their observation modern Germany, is able not to villainize the nation as signified by the song.  From this open-minded view of Germany, the listeners can associate social qualities with it: cool, tragic, and powerful.  These are the social qualities they both lack and desire as a young generation, and by being presented with not just a human example of these qualities, but a gigantic and superhuman embodiment of them, these listeners are able to feed off the abstraction of all it connotes, using the intermediate objects to in the associative chain to bridge the gap between who they are and who the song allows them to become.  “Du Hast” was a hit because it found a new way to provide transcendence that was intensely complex and congratulatory to its young American audience.

[1] Reese, 1998: 131

[2] Billboard, 1998

[3] The single “99 Luftballons,” by Nena, was released both in its original form and as an English-language song, “99 Red Balloons.”  Charting the exact success of the single is somewhat problematic, as the U.S. release featured both versions and reached the Billboard top ten charts in February and March of 1984.  In the U.K., it was the English version that hit number one.

[4] Turino, 1999

[5] Less interested in music’s Thirdness, Turino gives little suggestion as to where or how it manifests.  Though I do not attribute it in this paper to “Du Hast,” I believe that the human voice as sign and musical form as structure can potentially exhibit it. 

[6] Turino, 1999: 232

[7] Turino, 1999: 229

[8] This is comparable to situation of opera in the 19th century.  It enjoyed continued European popularity, but while most of the genre's greatest successes had previously been in Italian, nationalism and nationalistic stereotyping (both foreign and domestic) gave rise to thematic and generic associations with certain languages in music.  Germany, France, and Italy all developed musical stereotypes that in many cases were self-perpetuating.  Foreign opera was widespread throughout the west, and major portions of these audiences were surely unfamiliar with the language of performance.  Yet these audiences actively sought out opera in specific foreign tongues to suit their dramatic expectations and moods.

[9] Williams, 1977

[10] This rhythmic scheme, when combined with the near total lack of syncopation in the song, practically divorces “Du Hast” from rock's foundations in African-American music.  Iggy Pop’s comment applies here: “Heavy metal is the first kind of rock and roll that dropped the African influence in music.  Heavy metal is white… and it has a lot of fascist overtones…” in Ehrlich, 1997.

[11] Barthes, 1977

[12] More immediately recognizable to the song's audience might be the interval's use in film scoring; minor 6th-based themes in Star Wars and 1492: Conquest of Paradise leap to mind.

[13] Rammstein is no doubt themselves aware of the romantic connotations of their music.  Sehnsucht, the album on which “Du Hast” appears, literally means “longing” in German.

[14] Micznik, 1996

[15] biwidus.ch/text/t06/0696.html claims that Rammstein themselves have admitted to being influenced by Wagner's music.

[16] Playboy2001

[17] Frith, 1986: 268

[18] Maximum Ink, 1998

[19] Yates, 2002

[20] London Records, 1998

[21] Savage, 1983

[22] www.nsbm.org

[23] ibid

[24] More extensive and intensive writing on the notion of “cool” has been conducted, but a deeper linguistic, cultural, or historical investigation within this paper is not entirely relevant to my usage of the term.  See Rice, 2002 for a deeper discussion and bibliography.

[25] Weckmann, 1999

[26] This word specifically refers to the German national guilt for World War II and the Holocaust.

[27] Aristotle, 1997

[28] Dornberg, 1975: xii

[29] Hannaham, 1998: 79

[30] Since September of 2001, American taste in rock music has decidedly shifted away from epic production values, heavy metal aesthetics, and themes of large-scale tragedy.

[31] Plath, 1981: 222

[32] McClary, 1990

[33] Turino, 1990: 223


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Barthes, Roland. “The Grain of the Voice.” Image, Music, Text, Trans. Stephen Heath.

New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. 179-189


Baudrillard, Jean. Symbolic Exchange and Death. Iain Hamilton Grant trans. London:

Sage, 1993.


Billboard Magazine, v110 n32, August 8, 1998.




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Micznik, Vera. “The Farewell Story of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.” 19th Century Music, 20,  no. 2, 1996.

Plath, Sylvia. “Daddy”. The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath, ed. Ted Hughes. New

York: Harper, 1981.


Playboy Magazine (Polish edition), November 2001. (as cited from www.dierammsteinsonne.com)


Reece, Doug and Wolfgang Spahr. “Rammstein Hits U.S.” Billboard Magazine,

August 1, 1998. v110 n31 p.130-1


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CTHEORY. 5/10/2002 www.ctheory.net.


Savage, Jon. “Introduction.” in RE/Search #6/7. San Francisco: RE/Search, 1983.


Schippers, Mimi. Rockin’ Out of the Box: Gender Maneuvering in Alternative Hard

Rock. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002.


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Walser, Robert. Running with the Devil : Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal

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Boring?” Metal Hammer. October, 1999.  (as cited from www.links234.jp)


Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.


www.nsbm.org viewed 11/02/02


Yates, Catherine. “The Great Escape”. Kerrang!, 12 October, 2002.  (as cited from uk.geocities.com/sue_lindemann2002)