The Swedish Music Invasion

If, ten years ago, you had told me that one of my favourite songs of 2012 would be two Swedish girls singing about an American country legend… I’d probably have laughed right in your face. I’m pretty sure that anyone would have done the same thing. After all, how on earth could that happen? It would be ridiculous.

Such has been the massive influx of Swedish music to the UK in the past decade though – and particularly over the past couple of years – that it’s a statement that’s easy to believe. How could our perceptions of music change so quickly though; modern Swedish acts becoming a legitimate force in the British music scene would have seemed impossible. That’s probably because the British music industry was, and still is to a large degree, something of an an insular beast. Other than Trans-Atlantic artists, the public seem to mainly focus on “our” acts, buying their records in droves while radio stations play much the same. So why have we started to turn towards the Scandinavian nation?

One could see that there’s a deep seated affinity for the Swedish that dates back nearly four decades. It first appeared when a little known group by the name of ABBA rocked up in Brighton in 1974. On a fateful April evening, they powered to victory at the Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo” and ever since then, we as a nation have never fallen out of love with them; the prime example of this being the continued success of Mamma Mia, both in the West End and in film (it remains the fastest selling DVD in British history). That particular affinity only seemed to apply to ABBA themselves though, as other Swedish singers didn’t light up the charts for decades to come – with only light success for the likes of Ace of Base and Roxette.

While the performers struggled through, Swedish songwriters began to make their mark. Max Martin hit the scene in the late 90’s, making his mark by writing “…Baby One More Time” for Britney Spears, as well as hits for the likes of ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. He’s still helping to write some of the biggest hits of the moment, including “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” with Taylor Swift. Andreas Carlsson similarly had success working with a number of pop acts, including writing several songs for Westlife.

Perhaps with this Swedish edge to music we were getting from America, it became easier for Swedish acts to start to get their foot in the door. Within six months of each other in 2007-08, Robyn and Basshunter – both big Swedish acts – hit #1 in the UK Singles Chart. September and Agnes also had considerable success with their euro-dance/euro-pop singles “Cry For You” and “Release Me” respectively. It was around this time that I really started getting in to those genres too, perhaps explaining my fondness for the country.

You can imagine my annoyance when everything suddenly went quiet again then. The Swedish music scene itself seemed to hit a stumbling block, stuck in the same old ideas. American acts began to rise in popularity in the national music charts – in 2009, they practically tied in terms of weeks at #1 with the Swedish acts, something previously unseen. Even at their former stomping ground of Eurovision, where they had successive disappointments (by their standards) towards the end of the decade, ultimately leading to them failing to qualify for the final in 2010, which provoked something of a national crisis.  There was a need for new blood and a new approach to music.

In the past 18 months or so, that explosion of new talent and creativity has really hit home and spread throughout the continent. Swedish DJs like the Swedish House Mafia, Avicii and Icona Pop have worked their way in to the British music scene, working on solo projects and big-name collaborations. It’s easy to note that their own brands all have a much more serious and refined air to them than Basshunter’s attempts back in 2008, perhaps explaining their growing popularity whilst his has waned. Two years after failing to make the final, they won Eurovision with one of the most dominating performances in the contest’s history, thanks to Loreen and her #3 UK hit “Euphoria“.

The different genres, as mentioned earlier, have also proved to be important in their music scene’s revitalisation. Metal band Dead By April have proven a hit with live crowds in the UK and are shortly embarking on a full-blown UK tour in May. The Americana-folk inspired First Aid Kit have set British critics alight with their incredible second album, “The Lion’s Roar“, which ranked high up in many “Best of 2012” album lists. Their song “Emmylou” – the song I referred to in my opening paragraph – introduced me to them and drove me to instantly pick up the full album from iTunes.

Which leads me to why I believe these acts have suddenly started to make it big in the UK. We’ve become used to accessing our music digitally and through a number of different sources in doing so. Whereas acts like First Aid Kit might not have been able to get their albums in to UK record stores or on to the radio in the past, online music stores and streaming has allowed them to get themselves noticed to a wider audience. Spotify itself was born as a Swedish start-up company in 2008 and acted as a signal for how the Swedish music scene was willing to adapt to get noticed. People can now share songs through websites, blogs and social media; Melodifestivalen, the Swedish selection show for the Eurovision Song Contest, trended higher in the UK than the Saturday night entertainment on offer this past weekend.

I can only say that, in my opinion, the diversification of the British music scene and the introduction of these Swedish is a great thing and something that has been sorely needed for many years. Let’s hope it stays that way. Finally, I’d like to throw out some recommendations for great Swedish songs of the past year if you wanted to have a listen through:

Emmylou” by First Aid Kit – This ode to Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and Johnny & June Cash is truly magnificent.

My Heart is Refusing Me” by Loreen – A reworked version of her first single, re-released as a follow up to Euphoria.

Här kommer natten” by Miss Li  – A cover version of an original song, delivered in Miss Li’s signature quirky style.

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