Albania isn’t known for its pop music. It’s barely known at all. If you search Google for images of Albania, you get postcard-ready shots of low-slung beach towns…and pack horses. The small European nation—bordered by Kosovo, Greece, Macedonia, and Montenegro—briefly trended in March when GQ ran a feature about burrneshas, the aged virgins who dress like men in the Albanian Alps. Otherwise, it’s been a quiet couple of decades for Mother Teresa’s homeland.
Dubbed the “Madonna of Albania,” Bleona Qereti is the biggest selling artist in Southeastern Europe. Her seven albums have shifted millions of copies, and she’s a darling of European fashion mags, but she’s still relatively unknown in the US. She’s banking on her single “Take it Like a Man” (and its strategic marketing to gay audiences) to change that.
Bleona began her career at age five, performing in The House of Pionieri—Albania’s version of the Mickey Mouse club. She was the lucky little starlet chosen to present flowers to the Prime Minister and other government dignitaries. At age nine, she earned her diva bonafides by producing her first solo concert for an audience comprised of the Albanian Secret Service.
Her debut album, I Run My Own Game, dropped in 1998, along with a music video that was the first in Albania’s history. She became synonymous with grueling arena tours—80 concerts per year throughout Europe, often performing for crowds of 100,000 berserk fans. In 2006, she became the youngest person to win a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Albanian VMAs (yes, they exist).
She first wormed into American ears at Webster Hall in New York, followed shortly after by a performance at Donald Trump’s private Palm Beach club Mar-a-Lago. There she was introduced to record producer David Foster, best known for his work with Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. By 2009, she was at the Grammys begging Timbaland to collaborate. JT’s blue-chip producer initially brushed her off—”Bleona who?”—but she apparently worked her charm offensive. He’s featured on “Take it Like a Man.”
The single premiered at the Las Vegas Pride festival in 2013 and was performed again at Jeffrey Sanker’s White Party in Palm Springs this April. Like Lady Gaga pre-The Fame, Bleona is looking to gay audiences to help her go viral. Even if the gambit doesn’t pay off, you get the impression she’s charging full steam ahead. She officially became an American citizen (step one on the path to stardom), and recently wrapped production on a reality show about her life that will air later this year. Her next tour will soon take Europe and Australia by storm.
Plus, as she writes on her website, there’s always Hollywood to fall back on if this music thing doesn’t pan out: “I have an acting degree in the Stanislavsky method so more acting is also a plan for the future. I’ve already made a film with Steven Seagal and I have so much left I want to achieve.”
For more, visit Bleonaworld.