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The Swedish Pop Phenomenon

Sweden and Pop music: a match made in heaven it seems. Why? Why is this music success coming from a country in northern Scandinavia – a country with a population of less than ten
million? One must admit it’s a bit remarkable in regards to the impact it has had relative to it’s not so huge population. So… why?

The beginning of the of the export of Pop music

Well, with regards to successful music exports, perhaps it all started with the pop group Abba.

After they had won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, UK, in 1974, they had big success
in most English speaking countries (for example the UK, Australia, Canada, South Africa,
also in the US but to a lesser extent than for example the UK). It’s a bit unclear how many records
have been sold with group, figures ranging from 150 – 500 millions. Then following that you had
Europe and Roxette in the 80’s selling millions and millions, Europe, a hard rock band with for
example hit number one in 26 countries with their single The FinalCountdown, and Roxette with
for example 4 number ones in the Billboard Top 100. The music exports achieving success
continued on in the 90’s but more on that later.

So, going a bit deeper, leaving certain artists and bands aside. Are there certain conditions in the
country that have faciliated this devolopment?

The Musical Environment

One thing that comes to mind being a Swede (and musician) myself is that there’s like a musical
infrastructure so to speak that people easily can maneuver in and have access to. For example the
various churches and denominations with musical traditions of their own, where people start
early to perform, interacting musically with others, and the networks that exist in these contexts
that can lead to various opportunities to get experience in the music field. Another thing that
comes to mind is the state subsidized music “schools”, that exists all around the country. They are
not regular schools but a place where parents can bring their kids to sing or learn an instrument
from an early age. Also leading to possibilities to perform and interact musically with others. The
later example is something the Swedish producer Max Martin has stressed the importance of,
mentioning the importance it had to him personally. In addition to the two examples I just gave
there are other educational associations of various kinds offering music courses etc, and then you
have of course the higher educations, the music universities and so forth.

Max Martin, Cheiron, and the Swedish influence

By the way, speaking of Max Martin. There is of course another phenomenon that must be
mentioned here, I said I was going to get back to the 90’s, and then the studio complex Cherion
Studios, located in the middle of Stockholm, has to be brought forth. This was where the music
producer Dennis Pop got going, that was behind the group Ace Of Bace that for example charted
no 1 on the Billboard chart as well, as well as other artists. Max Martin then became the figure
that continued it all along with others. Many of the most well known artists worldwide started to
work with Swedish producers and songwriters, and it became some sort of a trend. This started
some kind of revolution in Sweden where studios popped up everywhere, many of whom
attempted to copy the success (and sound) of Cheiron. Regarding the sound, it was a specific
sound, I know because I was doing quite a lot of session vocals in various studios at the time and
often they wanted it in a certain way, it can seem a bit dated perhaps if you would listen to some
of it today. You had the specific “boyband” sound for example, with bands like Backstreet Boys,
Westlife and others. There were also other trends going on, with songwriters starting to write for
the Asian market, which also has been continuing. So the songwriter and producer trend has been
very strong in Sweden since the 90’s. It also of course coincided with the technical developments
with music recording becoming more and more computer based and less dependent on analouge
equipment, making it easier for people to start honing their craft, that also contributed to all this
people starting to produce and write music. From the 90’s up until now Swedish composers have
been behind many hits with the most well known pop artists worldwide, artists like Taylor Swift,
Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, the list goes on.

You also have a lot of other Swedish artists, composers and producers that could be mentioned of
course. And you also have a strong presence of artists singing in Swedish, focusing on the
Swedish or Scandinavian market and not necessarily are looking to export what they do, and that
has been going on all along too. You have various trends, from indie pop, jazz, etc, etc, not
everyone has been looking to the commercial mainstream pop music at all, so there is a quite
wide array in the style of music in the country.

So the combination of seeing many others succeed with their music, being role models, bringing
inspiration and experience to others, with these various existing networks that people can have
access to, to meet new people, develop their craft, that I think would at least be to begin
understanding this.