“Gimme Gimme Gimme” a Swedish pop band gone global. “Won’t somebody help me chase the shadows away.”
I remember the first time I heard ABBA as a kid. It was life changing. My little sister went through an intense disco phase at a very young age and today she is still obsessed with Mamma Mia. So in my world, ABBA lives on forever and it wasn’t until much later in my life that I found out they were from Sweden. So I thought that for this week’s playlist it would be exciting to explore the evolution of the Swedish popstar, beginning with ABBA, and then to other icons like Avicii, Robyn, and Snoh Aalegra.
So you may be wondering, why does the Swedish pop phenomenon begin with ABBA? The answer to that is Eurovision, a competition held by the European Broadcasting Union since 1959. It is the longest aired international television contest with nearly 50 countries that are eligible to participate. I would highly recommend watching a few of the top Eurovision performances on YouTube to grasp a better sense of how bizarre the song contest can get. Sweden, in fact, has the second highest number of victories, following Ireland, and their first Eurovision winner was Waterloo by ABBA in 1974. Post-Eurovision ABBA continued to rise to the top of the international charts because of their catchy disco beats and English lyrics. One thing I know for sure is that without Dancing Queen and Mamma Mia, the world would be such a different place.
The continuation of Sweden’s influence in the global pop world manifested through producers and songwriters. Mega pop hits like “Hit Me Baby One More Time” sung by Brittany Spears and “ I Want It That Way” sung by the Backstreet Boys, were written by Swedish songwriter, Max Martin, through Cheiron studios. How can this be? According to The Atlantic, one main reason that Sweden is so influential in the pop music world is that the government incentivizes it. “Sweden’s public policy helps groom next-generation pop stars at an early age. A 2004 Swedish-language study reported that 30 percent of Swedish children attend publicly subsidized, after-school music programs”. Max Martin is an alumni of programs like these and is the one to thank for many of our favorite pop hits in the last couple of decades. The list of American pop singers who used Swedish songwriters and producers goes on and on, including current singers such as, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Adam Levine, and Lady Gaga.
In the 2000s, Swedish musicians further evolved the genre of pop and started to incorporate more electronic dance musical elements. This evolution is best showcased through Swedish superstars such as Aviici and Robyn. On the playlist, you can hear some classic examples from these artists like, “Wake Me Up”, “Hey Brother”, and “Fembot”. Robyn and Aviici’s mix of electronic and house music continued to expand the boundaries of the Swedish pop world. Robyn is especially monumental as a prominent international female act with over three Grammy nominations and ten top hit singles. In the playlist, I included two songs from her 2010 album, Body Talk, that invents a futuristic femme musical universe that is truly out of this world.
The Swedish pop world, however, does not stop at EDM and it’s important to note that the Swedish music scene, like their population, is not as homogenous as you’d imagine. Snoh Aalegra is a great example of the ethnic and music diversity of the country. As a Swedish-Iranian singer, Snoh Aalegra is inspired by Soul/R&B heros like Sade, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, etc. For me, her music combines the best of the Swedish and American music worlds and continues to challenge the boundaries of Swedish pop culture.
On a final note, one statistic that you should let sink in is that according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, Sweden is the #1 exporter of chart music relative to GDP in the world. That is huge! From now on, I know that I will give more credit to Sweden for the pop songs we know and love. I hope our fellow Jetset readers do the same and continue to jam out to ABBA’s greatest hits!