Our research

In comparison to the connection between party politics and popular music in Austria, Hungary, Sweden and Italy the situation is somewhat different in Germany. Although the right-wing populist party “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD) has received a substantial portion of the electoral vote and is represented in both the German Bundestag and in all state parliaments, there are no “mainstream” musicians who publicly declare their support for said party, or perform live at their political gatherings. Nevertheless, music plays an important role for the AfD, though this is mostly achieved through the appropriation of music regardless of the political background of the original performers. 

With that in mind, there are German speaking “mainstream” musicians that performatively express (right-wing) populist positions through their music, during concerts or in interviews, or a combination of these situations. A clearly observable framing of “we against them” – in the sense of “the people” against an “elite” of some kind – emerges across genre boundaries (from rap to pop to Deutschrock). As such, in addition to the musicological elaboration of populist motifs in music and performances, we placed particular importance on the level of reception. The main question is whether concertgoers perceive populist undercurrents in the music or the performances as a whole. For this purpose, we attended concerts of well-known musicians (e.g., Kollegah, Xavier Naidoo) and conducted interviews with concert attendees so as to consider if and how concerts of such musicians potentially invite populist identification.

Unfortunately, due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our field research had to be suspended, though this enabled us to subsequently engage with the question of whether and how the colloquially referred “Corona crisis” offers new opportunities for – and poses new challenges to – the normalization of populist discourses, particularly in relation to popular music. 


Prof. Dr. Mario Dunkel is Juniorprofessor (assistant professor) of music education at the Music Department of the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany. He holds a PhD in American studies from TU Dortmund University. His main research areas are music and politics, the history and practice of jazz, as well as transcultural music pedagogy. He is the principal investigator of the European research project “Popular Music and the Rise of Populism in Europe” (2019-2022, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation). Contact via email

Anna-Lena Engelke is studying for a Master of Education in Music and German and a Master in Musicology at the Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg. She has been working as a student assistant for this project since 2019.

Dr. Reinhard Kopanski (*1978), Master of Arts degree in Musicology, Politics and Media Studies in Bonn, graduated 2012, thereafter lecturer in Bonn. 2014–2021 research associate at the University of Siegen. PhD in musicology in 2019. Since June 2021 coordinator of this research project. Research fields: music and politics/ideology, metal music, music and technology, amongst others. Associated member of the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) “Transformations of the Popular” at the University of Siegen (funded by the DFG). He is on the executive board of the International Society for Metal Music Studies. Contact via email

Dr. Anna Schwenk is a habilitation candidate & postdoctoral researcher in the project “African Music and Politics: Negotiations of Violence in South African Popular Music.” Within the project, she is primarily responsible for the empirical investigation and theorization of the question how political violence is negotiated in and through popular music in South Africa. The project, which is part of the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) “Transformations of the Popular”at the University of Siegen, is funded by the DFG, Germany’s major self-governing organization for science and research.
Before joining the CRC, she coordinated as a postdoc researcher in the transnational project “Popular Music and the Rise of Populism in Europe,” funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. Remaining associated with this project allows her to explore the commonalities between political uses of music in most different contexts, be it pandemic-skeptical protests in Germany or Fees Must Fallmobilizations in South Africa. Anna Schwenck received a PhD in sociology from Humboldt University Berlin. Based on a combination of participant observation, in-depth interviews as well as online and archival research on young leadership summer camps organized by the Russian state, she theorized how authoritarianism and neoliberalism may combine in flexible authoritarian regimes. She received a MA in Social Sciences from Humboldt University Berlin, and a BA in Cultural Studies from Viadrina European University, Frankfurt (Oder). Contact via email

Simon Wehber (*1989), Master of Education in Music, English and Mathematics, graduated 2017. Since 2017 research assistant at the Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg. Working in this research project since May 2021. Research fields: music education, focus on didactics and music teaching at secondary schools. Contact via email

Our publications

Dunkel, Mario. 2020. ‘Zusammenhänge zwischen Populismus, Jazz und afrodiasporischen Musiken als Ausgangspunkt für Demokratiebildung’. In: Positionen! Jazz und Politik, edited by Wolfram Knauer, 79–100. Hofheim: Wolke-Verlag.

Dunkel, Mario. 2021a. ‘„Dorfkind und stolz darauf“: Populismus in Musikkulturen als Musikpädagogisches Handlungsfeld’. In: Die Tonkunst 15 (2): 148–57.

Dunkel, Mario. 2021b. ‘Populismus und autoritärer Nationalismus in Europäischen Musikkulturen als musikpädagogische Herausforderung’. In: Zeitschrift für Kritische Musikpädagogik (5, Sonderedition): 121–37, https://zfkm.org/sonder21-Dunkel.pdf.

Dunkel, Mario. Forthcoming. ‘”Echte Männer sind Gewinner”: Ästhetische Auseinandersetzungen mit autoritärer Männlichkeit in gegenwärtiger populärer Musik.’ In: Üben & Musizieren.

Dunkel, Mario, and Reinhard Kopanski. Forthcoming. ‘Popular Music, Populism in Germany, and the Politics of Critique.’ In: Populismus kritisieren, edited by Evelyn Anus et al. Vienna: mdwPress.

Dunkel, Mario, and Reinhard Kopanski. Forthcoming. ‘Pop Stars as Voice of the People: Xavier Naidoo, Andreas Gabalier and the Performance of Populism During the COVID-19 Pandemic.’ In: Popular Music and the Rise of Populism in Europe, edited by Mario Dunkel and Melanie Schiller. London: Routledge.

Dunkel, Mario, and Tonio Oeftering, eds. Forthcoming. Politische Musik als Handlungsfeld politischer und musikalischer Bildung. Münster: Waxmann.

Dunkel, Mario, and Melanie Schiller, eds. 2022. Special Issue of Popular Music on ‘Popular Music and Populism’. Popular Music 41 (3). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dunkel, Mario, and Melanie Schiller. 2022. ‘The People versus the Power Bloc? Popular Music and Populism.’ In: Popular Music 41 (3): 281–292.

Dunkel, Mario, and Melanie Schiller. eds. Forthcoming. Popular Music and the Rise of Populism in Europe. London: Routledge.

Dunkel, Mario, Melanie Schiller, and Anna Schwenck. 2021. ‘Researching Popular Music and the Rise of Populism in Europe’. In: IASPM XX Proceedings, edited by Kimi Käki, 31–34. Turku: International Institute for Popular Culture.

Dunkel, Mario, and Anna Schwenck. 2022. ‘Autoritäre Männlichkeit als (musik-)pädagogische Herausforderung: Eine qualitative Studie zur Kollegah-Rezeption’. In: HipHop im 21. Jahrhundert: Medialität, Tradierung, Gesellschaftskritik und Bildungsaspekte einer (Jugend-)Kultur, edited by Thomas Wilke and Michael Rappe, 97–125. Berlin: Springer VS.

Ginkel, Kai, Anna Schwenck, Melanie Schiller, André Doehring, and Mario Dunkel. 2021. ‘Populäre Musik als nationalistische Ressource? Vergleichende Schlaglichter auf AfD, FPÖ und die Schwedendemokraten (SD)’. In: „Pop the Nation!“. Das Nationale als Ressource und Argument in Kulturen populärer Unterhaltung und Vergnügung, edited by Manuel Trummer and Marketa Spiritova, 93–112. Münster: Waxmann.

Kopanski, Reinhard. 2021a. ‘Wir rufen Deine Wölfe – Der Reiz des Neofolk für die extreme Rechte’. In: Die Tonkunst 15 (2): 168–181.

Kopanski, Reinhard. 2021b. ‘Voicing Outrage? Ignoring the Matter? Explaining the Problem! – A Model of Analysis for Engaging with Aesthetic References to National Socialism during Times of Emerging Far-Right Populism Using the Example of Rammstein’s Deutschland’. In: Zeitschrift für Kritische Musikpädagogik (5, Sonderedition): 138–60, https://zfkm.org/sonder21-Kopanski.pdf.

Schwenck, Anna (2022). ‘Die Idylle des Andreas Gabalier’. In: Basaltblume 1, December 8, 32-38. www.demos-ww.de

Schwenck, Anna (2022). ‘Russia’s Good YouTubers? Digital Entrepreneurship and Heroic Masculinity in the Service of Flexible Authoritarianism’. In: Europe-Asia Studies, 74 (7), 1166-1189. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09668136.2022.2110217.

Schwenck, Anna. ‘Performances Of Closeness and the Staging of Resistance with Mainstream Musics. Analyzing the Symbolism of Pandemic Skeptical Protests’. In: German Politics and Society. (Accepted: To be published in early 2023).

Schwenck, Anna, Antje Daniel, and Fabian Virchow, eds. ‘The Protests of Pandemic Skeptics in Germany and Austria. Prismatic Perspectives’. Special Issue of German Politics and Society. (Accepted: To be published in 2023).

Schwenck, Anna, and Mario Dunkel. “Populism, Music and the Arts.” In. Research Handbook on Populism, edited by Yannis Stavrakakis and Giorgos Katsambekis. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing. (Accepted: To be published in 2023).

Public Appearances (Selection)

Dunkel, Mario. ‘Was Reinhard Mey der AfD vorwegnahm – Mario Dunkel über Populismus und Pop’. Interviewt von Ulrich Biermann. Deutschlandfunk. 09. Februar 2022.

Matthies, Robert. 2022. ‘Politik der Herzen’ In: Die Tageszeitung (taz), 31.01.2022: 27, https://taz.de/Wissenschaft-ueber-Pop-und-Populismus/!5829030/