Next-Gen Nederpop counterculture

Next-Gen Nederpop: The countercultural practices of Goldband, Froukje, and MEROL

18 minutes to read
Michelle Saris

The realm of popular Dutch music has recently witnessed the rise of an alternative music culture, where artists like Goldband, Froukje, and MEROL have emerged as pioneers. With a combined number of 2.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify as of January 29, 2024, these artists have captured the attention of a wide and diverse audience, breathing new life into the alternative music scene. While music might be an escape or a distraction for many, these artists use the artform to bring attention to issues present in society. Especially younger generations and adolescents feel drawn to their perspectives on topics such as the climate crisis, feminism, and politics. 

This article examines Goldband, Froukje, and MEROL as three artists at the forefront of a new wave of Dutch popular music and how they serve as a voice for a generation seeking social change. They are most certainly not the first nor the only ones to express criticism to the existing order through music. Socially relevant themes have been covered in songs long before Froukje or MEROL even existed: from Nederpop in the ‘50s to bands such as Doe Maar and Het Goede Doel in the ‘80s.

Much like their predecessors, these three artists make statements in their songs which force you to think about the state of society, each in their own way. With her poetic lyrics and hidden messages, Froukje manages to discretely touch upon topics such as racism or a higher purpose. MEROL does the opposite and is much more explicit in her lyrics. Finally, Goldband are quite known for not only singing about, but also doing controversial things such as snorting cocaine on stage. Together, these artists show that things have changed since they are now a part of a distinct wave, which includes moving from pop and rock to a more evolutionary mix of musical styles, as well as the democratisation of the music industry due to the rise of digital media.

Using the concept of sub- and counterculture by Szeman and O’Brien (2017), this article explores how artists like Goldband, Froukje, and MEROL move from criticising the norm to becoming the new popular culture. This is done by first sketching an overview of the history of Nederpop, after which responses of the public to these artists' music and their actions will be analysed. Lastly this article will explore the sociocultural functions of the so-called 'Next-Gen Nederpop'. 

The History of Nederpop

From rock-’n-roll to Nederpop

Nederpop - pop music combined with the Dutch language - originated at the end of the 1950s as a result of the popularity of rock-’n-roll in the United States (Rijven, 2008). Before this, most popular music was made in English, even by Dutch artists, and it was very unusual for pop music to be sung in the Dutch language. The reason for this is that pop music has its roots in the United States and the United Kingdom, which are English-speaking countries (Rutten, 1995). During the years, Dutch artists appropriated pop music to their own culture. By using the Dutch language, people who did not speak the language were ruled out from listening to it. Therefore, it weakened the position of the English language within the pop music scene (Rutten, 1995).

Important names from the beginnings of Nederpop are, for example, Peter Koelewijn, Boudewijn de Groot, and Rob de Nijs. These artists made way for other Dutch artists during the 1960s to also start making music in the Dutch language by scoring multiple hits. Their music expressed social and political commentary which resonated with the youth culture of that time. An example of this is the song Welterusten mijnheer de president’ by Boudewijn de Groot from 1966. This song criticises the Vietnam War and is considered to be the first protest song in Dutch (Ham, 2021).

The rise of Next-Gen Nederpop

While the previously mentioned artists were heavily influenced by rock-’n-roll, blues, and beat music, other genres came up in the 1970s. Symphonic rock, disco and punk became popular during this decade. However, the Dutch language disappeared again as most music by famous groups was sung in English or even French. 

During the 1980s, a new wave of artists rose to popularity within the Dutch music scene. Important artists during this decade were Het Goede Doel, Frank Boeijen, Normaal, and Toontje Lager. However, the band Doe Maar took the lead in this with their infectious blend of reggae, ska, and pop. Their lyrics were socially conscious and touched themes such as nuclear warfare and existential crisis within their songs ‘De Bom’ and ‘Is Dit Alles’. This, combined with their energetic sound and their rebellious image, made the band a huge success and gave them the solidified status as icons of Nederpop. Het Goede Doel also made significant contributions to Nederpop during the 1980s. Their songs talk, just like Doe Maar, about socially relevant topics, such as poverty, inequality, and the impact of globalisation. In 1983, 55% percent of the songs in the hitparade was sung in Dutch. In the period between 1974 and 1980, this percentage was never above 38% (Rutten, 1995).

Their lyrics were socially conscious and touched themes such as nuclear warfare and existential crisis within their songs

When Doe Maar broke up in 1984, many record labels thought there was not much of a market for Dutch music anymore and some decided to stop actively promoting artists who made their music in Dutch. This resulted in a downward spiral for Nederpop.

In recent years, Dutch pop music has made its way back to the radio and the mainstream. While during the 2000s and 2010s artists such as Jan Smit, Nick & Simon, and Acda en De Munnik were big, their audience was different from the audience of Doe Maar in the 1980s or the audiences of Froukje, Goldband and MEROL in present times. This is mainly because these artists were not necessarily part of a counterculture. They did not criticise society nor did these artists really talk about stigmatised topics in their music. What was big during this period of time was mostly Nederhop, instead of Nederpop, which refers to Dutch hip-hop and rap music. 

The end of the 2010s and the beginnings of 2020s are signified by young new artists who, just like their predecessors from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, aim to discuss socially relevant topics in their music and who want to push the boundaries of society. Goldband, Froukje, and MEROL respectively released their first songs in 2019, 2020, and 2018; they thus truly represent a new generation of Nederpop artists. Therefore, this paper will refer to their genre as Next-Gen Nederpop from now onwards.

Popular culture, subcultures & countercultures 

Countercultural creations 

Szeman and O’Brien (2017) define subcultures and countercultures as cultural groups which exist outside of the mainstream. By definition, these cultural groups are antagonistic towards mainstream culture and, more often than not, they challenge existing norms, values and ideas that are prevalent in mainstream culture.

What is interesting about the new emerging group of Next-Gen Nederpop artists is that the majority of these artists have made statements against the existing order of things. As MEROL’s biography on her website (n.d.) says: “(…) she is not scared to be direct and explicit and hold a mirror up to society.” Likewise, Froukje’s first song ‘Groter Dan Ik’ (Grater than me), which was released in 2020, is a protest song concerning the climate crisis. Finally, Goldband are regularly testing the boundaries of ‘what is normal’. 

Considering these rather antagonistic moves, the emerging Next-Gen Nederpop industry could be falling into the category of countercultures. According to Szeman & O’Brien (2017, p. 263), “countercultures pose an explicit challenge to the existing order of things” and the goal of countercultures is “to change the world”. Countercultural activity thus always has a political goal. Though not everything that originates from the Next-Gen Nederpop industry is explicitly political, a main part of their music and messages challenge society, politics, or ‘the mainstream’.

The creation of popular culture

Although subcultures and countercultures predominantly attack popular culture, Szeman & O’Brien (2017) have noted that these attacks often come through the creation of new types of popular culture. That is to say, the behaviour portrayed by subcultural and countercultural groups can ultimately be absorbed into mainstream culture, or even taking the front stage in popular culture. Thereby, the norms, values, and ideas associated with the sub- or countercultural group are ultimately rendered to be ‘popular’ norms, values, and ideas.

This process falls in line with Gramsci’s (2009, as cited in Storey, 2018) idea of hegemony, which refers to the way in which “dominant groups in society, through a process of intellectual and moral leadership, seek to win the consent of subordinate groups in society” (Storey, 2018, p. 10).  

Popular culture is a field where ideas on dominant norms, values, ideas and cultures are constantly contested and negotiated.

Gramsci’s concept of hegemony has been widely used to explain popular culture. Theorists who adhere to this concept to define popular culture see it as a field of ideological struggle between dominant and subordinate cultural groups. In other words, popular culture is a field where ideas on dominant norms, values, ideas and cultures are constantly contested and negotiated. The field of popular culture is, therefore, never set in stone. 

Nederpop(ular culture)

As demonstrated above, sub- and countercultural groups can ultimately grow out to be part of popular culture. As this article demonstrates, this also applies to the three artists mentioned. Popular culture, as Storey (2018) said, is not an obvious term to define. For the sake of clarity, however, we will adopt a view of popular culture as a cultural form that is dominant and well-liked by a great number of people (Storey, 2018; Szeman & O’Brien, 2017).  

The emerging Next-Gen Nederpop industry can be identified as countercultural, since many artists in this industry are socially or politically engaged. This stands in contrast with artists who were popular in The Netherlands ten years ago, such as Jan Smit.

The Next-Gen Nederpop industry is continuously growing in its popularity, and many acts – such as Goldband or Froukje's – are now considered to be some of the biggest acts in the Netherlands. For example, Goldband were the highest-ranking ‘newcomer’ in the Top 2000 songs of the Netherlands in 2022 (NPO Radio 2, 2022). Therefore, the industry constitutes a big part of recent Dutch popular culture. These artists are especially popular in contemporary youth culture. This is interesting, since Szeman & O’Brien (2018, p. 263) have noted that sub- and countercultures are “often identified with youth groups, and youth culture in particular.” 

An important thing to note about Next-Gen Nederpop, then, is that these artists are perhaps inherently countercultural, but considering the major contribution they make to the current landscape of ‘popular music’ in the Netherlands, these artists have grown out to be an important player in Dutch popular culture. 

Testing the limits: an analysis of the Dutch alternative pop music industry 

As we have previously mentioned, the Next-Gen Nederpop industry has some countercultural traits. In the next section, we will analyse the production and consumption of this new type of popular culture from the perspectives of Goldband, Froukje and MEROL respectively. Specifically, we will look at how these artists perform - both at festivals and at concerts - and how they are represented in the news and on social media, to see how these artists and others connected to this type of popular culture use the Next-Gen Nederpop music as a way to express their voices. 


Goldband are not afraid to push the boundaries of what is considered to be normal. Their out-of-line behaviour, like the performance where one of the band members publicly used cocaine on stage, is extensively reported in the media and received a great deal of criticism. According to media reports, this was a startling incident (Telegraaf, 2023; RTL Boulevard, 2023; AD, 2023; Pauwels, 2023), and many people on social media commented on it. For instance, someone tweeted: 

“What a shame, amazing band from The Hague. They achieve genuine success and proceed to openly use cocaine on stage as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. Which it isn’t. But it is understandable that young people might believe that with examples like this. Sad. #Goldband” (translated) (figure 1). 

Figure 1

Others were not as surprised, as another person tweeted: 

“Kind of grotesque to stand on a stage sniffing, but I also have to laugh a little at the people who are so shocked now. That Goldband has a song that literally goes on about coke for four minutes, what were you thinking, that they would be standing there with green tea and a Snelle Jelle?” (translated) (figure 2).

Figure 2

This tweet claims that since they had a four-minute song about cocaine, which is called ‘Witte Was’, cocaine sniffing on stage was to be expected. So even though it is a radical move, it is within the character of the band. The band member who sniffed cocaine later also commented on this during the talk show Khalid&Sophie. He said: 

"I didn't have to do it [..] I think it's older than the Bible for people to use mind-altering drugs. It's been happening for thousands of years. I think there's a pretty narrow-minded attitude about it." (translated) (BNNVARA, 2023).

Although drug usage has become relatively normalised in The Netherlands, this action still stood out to both the media and the public due to the fact that usually drugs are not used as openly and visible as Goldband did.  

Goldband are not only radical in their actions, but also use their songs to counter the current state of politics. For example, the song ‘Tweede Kamer’ featuring Sophie Straat criticises politics in the Netherlands. They highlight the fact that there is an unequal distribution of gender in the Dutch political system. To give some numbers: only a third of the people in the Dutch House of Representatives is a woman. Goldband want to draw attention to this issue and encourage people to vote for a woman. For instance, a lyric from their song goes: “Give me feminism, it is time. I just want women higher up on the election list” (translated). This song is a call to action to the Dutch public to only vote for women in the elections to change the existing status of the Dutch parliament. 

The band knows their image and what they are doing in the public sphere. Their attitude is predominantly antagonistic towards existing ideas of appropriate behaviour in the Dutch music industry. It can be said, therefore, that Goldband are challenging prevailing norms through their performances and music in the Next-Gen Nederpop industry. Thereby, they are expressing their voices in the Dutch public sphere. 


Something that characterises Froukje is that her lyrics are usually socially or politically engaged. As she said herself in an interview with VPRO 3Voor12: “I find it important to discuss themes that are relevant in society” (translated) (Pisart, 2022)

One of Froukje’s first songs - and simultaneously one of the most popular and evident examples of her socially engaged lyrics - discusses the climate crisis. Groter Dan Ik’ was released in 2020 and is, simply put, a protest song against the current state of the climate. The song quickly gained a lot of popularity after its release. It is interesting to note that the reason why this song resonates with a lot of people is precisely because of its socially engaged lyrics. For example, one fan commented on the YouTube-video of ‘Groter Dan Ik’ saying: 

“It’s not only a good track! This is just so true and I’m glad you are spreading the message. I hope it also resonates with others <3 Keep it up Froukje! x” (translated) (figure 3). 

Figure 3

Other songs that have social commentary include ‘Goud’ [Gold], which addresses capitalism and the drive to make a lot of money, ‘Onbezonnen’ [Careless], which was inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement, and ‘Een Man Die Nooit Meer Huilt’' [A Man who Never Cries Again] which is a story about rape told through the eyes of the rapist. As becomes clear from Froukje’s discography, her songs concern a wide range of topics and address several issues in our society. 

A big part of Froukje’s success comes from her meaningful lyrics. Fans have previously called her: “(...) the voice of our generation” (translated) (figure 4) and this might even be true.

Figure 4

Froukje is constantly challenging the existing order of things through her lyrics. Therefore, she and her fans are expressing their voice through her Next-Gen Nederpop music.


MEROL is the powerful alter ego of Merel Baldé. Her songwriting has a political undertone. She writes about feminist topics, teenage experience, and many more relatable subjects. Her music is supposed to trigger people; songs like ‘HOU JE BEK EN BEF ME’ [Shut up and eat me] fit into this narrative. Many people criticised this song and deemed it inappropriate while others loved how bold the song is. Comments on her performance at VRT1 were for instance: 

“Hahahahah is this serious? I literally see the elderly in the audience thinking "am I hearing that right" and this chick is still going on dead serious aaahh crazy!!!” (translated) (figure 5).

Figure 5

And: “This is golden, this is history.” (translated) (figure 6).

Figure 6

The first comment shows how her lyrics can be kind of shocking, as she uses crude words in her songs that are not perceived appropriate. However with this radicality she also wins over a lot of people who love how bold she is. Her lyrics have social and political value and she is not afraid to speak up. Altogether, MEROL and her fans are socially and politically engaged and are able to express their voice through producing and consuming her music.

Sociocultural functions of Next-Gen Nederpop

Popular music and politics

Politics and music have been connected for some time now (Street, 2003). Politicians can, for example, use music in their campaigns to establish a certain image. Besides, using music as a politician can make you more credible (Street, 2003). Popular music can also help the public engage in politics, as it can motivate people to take political action and influences public opinion (Caiani & Padoan, 2023). It has this effect on the public as music can evoke certain emotions (Caiani & Padoan, 2023; Street, 2003). Therefore, music can be seen as a form of speech through which the artist can influence and represent the dominant public opinion. 

Goldband, for example, released a song named ‘Tweede Kamer’ [House of Representatives] about the unequal division between men and women in the House of Representatives in the Netherlands. They criticise this unfair distribution and call on the population to vote for women instead of men to create a more fair distribution between men and women. This song shows that Goldband are politically engaged. As noted above, popular music can represent the (political) beliefs of a big part of the population. The sheer popularity of ‘Tweede Kamer’ can indicate that the sentiments expressed by Goldband in this song resonate with a large part of Dutch society. 

Music can be seen as a form of speech through which the artist can influence and represent the dominant public opinion. 

Froukje is politically and socially involved with her music as well. The song ‘Groter dan ik’ discusses the climate crisis and calls upon the public and politicians to do more about climate change. In this song, she talks about the fires in Australia in 2020 and how she is unable to stop the fires on her own. With 'Groter dan ik', Froukje shows that it is possible to make changes and stop the climate crisis by addressing it and making a plan. The lyrics also mentioned that “The Hague”, referring to Dutch politicians, need to do more. In short, Froukje addresses several societal issues in her songs and aims to normalise talking about these issues. 

MEROL, too, sings about issues with a political and social undertone. With her song ‘HOU JE BEK EN BEF ME’, she wants to start a conversation about the double standards for women in society and in politics. She does so by singing about having a one-night stand. In society, it is uncommon for women to talk about sex this openly and have one-night stands, while it is accepted for men. MEROL shows this double standard by going against it and actively changing the narrative in her song. Thereby, she is trying to alter the existing stereotypes that surround gender and sexuality.  

It might seem that these three artists engage in different issues, topics and even realms of action - such as politics and sexuality. Though these artists all have a common denominator: they are all actively trying to broaden or challenge the existing norms and values of society. Some of these artists have been called the “voice of this generation” and, given the enormous popularity of these artists, this title fits perfectly. Goldband, Froukje and MEROL are frontliners of the youth. With their songs and performances, they consistently challenge the status quo. This, in term, also gives fans a platform with which they can express their own voices, which is exactly why Next-Gen Nederpop matters socioculturally. 


This article explored how a new generation of Nederpop has come into existence and moved from counterculture to popular culture. By applying Szeman’s and O’Brien‘s (2017) theory on sub- and counterculture, this article explained how something that has started out as a counterculture critiquing aspects of popular culture is now absorbed into the mainstream. 

Through mapping out the evolution of the Next-Gen Nederpop, it has become evident that there is a gap of almost twenty years between these artists and the last group of artists that used music to voice concerns about society or make political statements in the Netherlands.

This article showed that the music written by Goldband, Froukje, and MEROL as well as the political statements made in said music has a sociocultural function that speaks to a new generation; challenging the norms. These artists all critiqued the previous mainstream within their songs and ultimately ended up in  popular culture by doing so. This caused their countercultural opinions, ideas, and anthems to be a part of popular culture, therefore constituting a big part of the current rationale of the Dutch youth, which proves that music is a powerful tool to rewrite the rules. 


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