This summer, singer Era Istrefi, a 22-year-old olive-skinned Albanian singer from Kosovo, went from complete obscurity in the U.S. to an all-out Internet sensation. Her international hit “Bonbon,” has reached close to 180 million plays on YouTube, and she’s clearly got the makings of a bonafide pop star, with attitude and talent to spare.
Already huge in her home country, now she’s set her sights on success Stateside. She has signed with industry powerhouses Sony Music Entertainment and Ultra Music for representation in the U.S.
But what must be going on in her mind, especially coming from an East European country, where dance is not as popular as it is in the US. She speaks her mind, in an interview with noisey.vice.com.
Did you ever expect “BonBon” to become a global hit? Why do you think it’s exploding like this?
No! It’s the first time in history that an Albanian-language song is becoming a global hit—it’s never happened before so how could I expect it? I think it’s something to do with the way that music can be so powerful. When it transmits the right kind of energy, it can break all the boundaries. And I personally think that the Albanian-language [lyrics] actually make the song sound more unique.
What’s the song actually about? What inspired you to write it?
What inspired me to write it really was the fear of being single and the fear of walking this world alone. I wanted to create something which pushes people to feel independent and to love themselves and have fun. The only thing that matters in the end is who’s having more fun. That’s my main goal in life!
A lot of people have pointed out the Rihanna vibe on “BonBon,” but who are your main musical influences?
My musical influences are kinda everywhere. It’s so hard to choose between them, but if you want, I can mention some? Well, Rihanna is obviously one—I can simply say that I grew up in the Rihanna generation. And when I was 16 I discovered Jamaican music, so dancehall and reggae really, really inspire my music.
And what drew you to Rihanna?
Rihanna is the type of girl… I think that she breaks the limit and she doesn’t care about being that civilized and formal. She expresses herself the way she is unapologetically, and that has inspired me the most because that’s brave. For me, it’s really brave. At the moment I’m also listening to all of Drake’s hits. I love the fact that he did dancehall this year with Popcaan. I knew very early on in my life that Jamaican music can be so powerful; it just makes me feel good and brings out my positivity.
What’s the music scene like in Albania? Do you think more Albanian artists can score global hits?
I live in the main town and once you become famous there, you become famous all over Albania. It has its opportunities to express yourself and share your talent —have shows, have fans, have amazing moments. It has everything an artist needs. So far, I’m the first and the last to become so huge in the music industry all around the world with Albanian-language music. But in the future, why not? I’m optimistic that you’ll be hearing more Albanian-language music because we have many, many talented artists in Albania and I expect great things from them.