To add to the confusion, Schlager actually means two separate, or at least distinguishable things. I couldn't really disagree with the expats quoted in that blog ("'horrible,' 'nasty,' 'wretched,' 'pathetic,' 'crappy,' and even 'infernal'") when it comes to present-day Schlager (the stuff that we deviously send to the Eurovision Song Contest). Concerning pre-war U-Musik -- pop avant la lettre, if you will -- Schlager can refer to about anything that was popular at the time, so a far wider range of quality is to be expected. I suspect poor old Schlager had to move over a bit when pop and rock entered the German music scene and the German vocabulary. Not a bit, indeed, but so far that it fell off the bench.
Maybe you can go on and subdivide present-day Schlager in gramps-granny-bratwurst-bierzelt-Schlager on the one hand and hip camp gay-scene Schlager on the other hand, with some overlap. Wolfgang Petry and Roland Kaiser to the left, Patricia Kaas and Rosenstolz to the right. (I admit I actually like the latter, inexplicably. They must be under some contractual obligation to include at least one cringeworthy line in every lyric. But their music helped me through a tough time in Uni and my brother through cancer treatment, so by me they can do no wrong.)
Even if it's actually true that Schlager is a typically German aberration, many Schlager singers who became popular here were/are foreigners. Zarah Leander (her 100th birthday was just last week, btw) and Johannes Heesters in/since the 1930s, for example; when I was a kid, you could hardly watch tv for five minutes without hearing Karel Gott, Mireille Mathieu or Nana Mouskouri -- or so it seems to me now, in hindsight. I've been told that Mouskouri was one of a number of artists who catered to very different audiences in different countries and adapted their output accordingly. Schlager in Germany, chanson in France, something like that. I'll put a few names in the poll.
A propos Zarah Leander: Wikipedia claims Nina Hagen had a "major club hit in America" with a Leander cover. I didn't know that. I don't get out much these days, so it's always hard to tell how famous Germans that are world famous in Germany are in the world. I remember Hagen covering Leander, though. She has the right voice for that kind of music, no doubt. Leander was the big movie star in Nazi Germany -- until she went back to Sweden in 1943, anyway. Surprisingly to nobody but herself her career seemed to be over at that point, but she did get it moving again eventually. In the 1950s she became a gay icon in Germany, the German Judy Garland in a way, and to this day no third rate travesty act is truly complete without a Leander impersonation. Listen to that voice, and you'll understand.
The word "Schlager" found its way into other languages. I have an old cassette somewhere in this dump that I bought years ago in Warsaw, "Szlagiery starej Warszawy" ("'szlagiers' from old Warsaw"), with pre-war songs. I'm not quite sure what exactly szlagier meant then and means now, if it's still being used at all. The current word for hit is "przebój". Finnish has the word "iskelmä", derived from iskeä (to hit, to beat). Seems reasonable to suspect a loan translation from German or some intermediary form in a third language; admittedly this is speculation. At any rate, the word refers to the sort-of pop Gramps and Granny would hear, basically like "Schlager". Somebody who didn't like the genre, apparently, invented the word "itkelmä" which means the same thing, but is derived from itkeä -- "to weep".
|< The Side of the Decided | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >|