Young Scandinavians frequently spice their sentences with English words and phrases and hardly seem to notice they’re doing it. Many Scandinavian pop artists perform their songs in English, but not all of them. Having the courage and integrity to write and sing in their native language, they miss the opportunity to be heard by a huge English-dominated audience. Here’s an overview of some old, but mostly new Scandinavian ‘pop’ music, Scandinavian pop music to enjoy.
In recent past years, the pop, indie, hip-hop and electronic genres have dominated the popular music scene in Scandinavia. It’s sufficient to mention Tove Lo, Marlene and Tove Styrke from Sweden and Astrid S from Norway.
The fuzzy nighttime jams of the Norwegian trio Sassy 009 deal with romance in an abstract yet intimate way. Their poignant, sticky lyrics will get right under your skin.
Sweden’s jazz-pop group Bo Kaspers Orkester would probably command a worldwide audience if they had written and sung in English. But give it a try and listen to Vi kommer aldrig att dö (We’re never gonna die) and I think you get my point.
Schmerz from Norway recently released their self-directed video “have fun” which proves a new level of brilliance for the duo. Like much of the best Scandinvian pop and pop adjacent music (The Knife, Royksopp, or jj, for example) Schmerz’s sound is hard to place. They draw influence from club music, industrial sounds, R&B, and present them in a new way. The duo of Henriette and Catharina produce, program, and sing all their own music, and direct their videos too, taking total control of their own vision. Schmerz’ 2017 EP Okey shows off all the different facets of their sound and its centerpiece “Because” (originally released in 2016) is still a standout. The duo is currently signed to British label XL Recordings, which seems like the perfect partner to help bring their boundary pushing sound to as many people as possible.
When it comes to pop music, it seems that Scandinavia can do no wrong. Sweden has had a long, beautiful relationship with pop music. In the ’70s there was ABBA, in the ’80s there was Roxette, and in the ’90s there was Ace of Base and The Cardigans. In recent decades, Scandinavia has become a hotbed for forward-thinking music steeped in pop sensibility and experimental tendencies. There is something special about the pop music coming out of this region.
The psychedelic rock group The Savage Rose are probably Denmark’s Rolling Stones in terms of longevity, and their debut 1968 album has been a pop and rock classic.
Sigrid from Ålesund, Norway had her breakthrough with her internationally recognized hit “Don’t Kill My Wibe”. This rising star was raised on Joni Mitchell and Adele and has been entering various best-of lists. She delivers fun and carefree tunes. The sky is truly the limit for the young Norwegian.
Norwegian bands are the acknowledged masters of Death Metal, Black Metal, Thrash Metal, Speed Metal and, of course, Viking Metal and Enslaved are the undisputed kings. You can hear the whole of Vikingligr Veldi, their debut album, here.
Swedish Baba Stiltz used to be a ballet dancer, but now spends his time crafting robust and romantic house-pop songs. Always slightly off-kilter, his music is eminently danceable, with vocals drizzled like honey over blissful beats.
Also from Sweden, Lykke Li started to getting noticed after releasing her Little Bit RP in 2007. However, it wasn’t until her debut album, Youth Novels, that she really took off. Proving herself capable of melodically striking hits, mournful ballads, pouty pop, and retro-tinged doo-wop and soul, the Swedish songstress served a little something for everyone.
On her debut single “My Soul, I,” 23-year-old Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Leone creates a sparse, lonely landscape, revealing an unnerving talent for lyrics that cut right to the bone.
The duo Blondage from Copenhagen, Denmark has honed their chemistry and sound for years, collaborating initially as Rangleklods, and their work as Blondage is proof that icy cool, progressive pop can still have plenty of warmth to it. The duo certainly showcased a penchant for quality over quantity with singles like “Stoned” and “Boss.” Comprised of Esben Andersen and Pernille Smith-Sivertsen, the pair consistently craft not only inescapable hooks and melodies, but rich, textural instrumentals that are consistently rearranging each song’s sugary core.
Jakob Ogawa comes from Norway and makes the same kind of gooey psych-pop that Connan Mockasin does so well.
Little Dragon from Sweden cemented their place as experimental pop darlings with 2011’s Ritual Union, making fans of everyone from Questlove to Big Boi. They followed it up with 2014’s Nabuma Rubberband, and won again in 2017 with the excellent Season High, not least due to the effortlessly cool voice of lead singer Yukimi Nagano.
The Norwegian pop artist Fanny Andersen debut single “Not a Toy” had a don’t-fuck-with-me message; her forthcoming music — including a Danny L Harle collab — promises to keep that confidence, as well as embracing new sounds.
Okay Kaya from Norway spent a good portion of 2017 nurturing her acting career, with tangible results. Just a month into 2018, however, Okay Kaya returned with a stunning new single from her upcoming debut album. It’s called “IUD,” and comes with a mesmerizing video that treats the heady subject matter with a subtle, deft touch.
Norwegian teen Jimi Somewhere’s “Escape” is a warped electronic pop song about wanting to escape the dark and depressing winter and finding somewhere magical instead.
Anna of the North from Norway rose to fame in 2014 with her breakout single “Sway.” She left Australia to come back home, and the foundations for her debut album “Lovers” were laid. Each single earned her more fans, until all of a sudden Anna was in impromptu jam sessions with the likes of Steve Lacy and Tyler the Creator. Her two guest appearances on Tyler’s Flower Boy brought her to the mainstream, but Lovers was the underappreciated triumph that will propel Anna of the North to a massive 2019.
The Norwegian singer-songwriter ARY emerged with a startlingly captivating, low-budget, DIY debut video “Childhood Dreams.” If that performance is one to go by, she’s set to turn heads in 2019.
Danish Karen Marie Ørsted, aka MØ, is another Scandinavian artist making electro-pop with a shimmering, glimmering surface and razor-sharp edges. Coming across as somewhere between Grimes and Jessie Ware, but with her own inimitable style, MØ has a wonderfully powerful, easily recognizable voice that contains just the right mix of childlike wonder and gritty realism. She broke out with the 2013 EP Bikini Daze, then made two studio albums, and returned to EPs with When I Was Young in late 2017. Her biggest moment to date was a star-making performance as the featured vocalist on Major Lazer’s global smash hit “Lean On.”
Tove Styrke from Sweden releases a new breakout album, Sway, in May. She will be heading out on tour with Lorde in March—her cover of the latter’s “Liability” is worth a listen. In the meantime, she’s been releasing a flurry of follow-ups to 2015’s Kiddo – “Say My Name” and “Changed My Mind” are two recent singles that show Styrke has only gotten sharper with time, still fully capable of tight, rhythmic melodies backed by snappy production.
Norwegian Hanne Mjøen would fit perfectly on a playlist between more established Scandi-pop artists like Marlene and Astrid S (who Mjøen supported on tour this fall), but brings a slightly artier side to her music and videos, too.
The producers behind Miike Snow from Sweden, Bloodshy & Avant, know how to make pop music. They’ve produced for Sky Ferreira, Britney Spears, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Kelis, and other big name, radio-friendly stars. For Miike Snow, they took a different route. They partnered with New York-based singer Andrew Wyatt for electronically driven pop music that’s slightly less radio friendly, slightly more experimental, and just as catchy.
A Danish electro-pop band, Off Bloom, is based between Copenhagen and London, with killer hooks and a couldn’t-care-less attitude.
Though she’s part of Scandinavia’s new school, Swedish Skott didn’t take a traditional route to the limelight. She was only introduced to contemporary music in her late teens, having grown up in a countryside commune. She’s made up for lost time with hits like “Porcelain” and “Glitter & Gloss,” but 2019 is going to be Skott’s biggest year yet. The Stay Off My Mind EP is some of her most direct music yet. She’s realizing her vocal strengths and is working with a band of longtime friends—it shows in the music.
Ina Wroldsen from Norway has already written for Britney Spears and Calvin Harris, but her own music is way weirder. Her debut single “Strongest” is about the fall-out of a father cheating on his young family, sung with expressive, Sia-esque vocals.
José González, armed with little more than his guitar and a deceptively gentle voice, has become an icon in his native Sweden—and he’s not doing too badly in the rest of the world, either. His two acoustic albums Veneer (2006) and In Our Nature (2007) jumpstarted his career, and González returned to the studio in 2015 to release Vestiges & Claws. He commands a meditative presence on the microphone, letting his pick work do the heavy lifting on beautifully understated songs like “Crosses,” and “Killing For Love.” His most famous song, however, was written by fellow Scandinavians The Knife—González’s cover of “Heartbeats” is worth listening to.
Robyn from Sweden is a pop star through and through, and has been bringing Scandinavian pop to the world since her first big international hit “Do You Know (What It Takes)” in 1997. Over the course of seven studio albums Robyn has consistently innovated within the dance-pop genre. While many people may only be familiar with her biggest hits (“With Every Heartbeat,” “Dancing On My Own,” “Indestructible”), her recent work is full of incredibly catchy, incredibly varied production.
There’s one way to get famous: write an excellent song, shoot a homemade video, put it on YouTube, and wait a few months. Let YouTube’s recommended videos algorithm do the rest. Boy Pablo from Norway did just that. He had amassed an impressive collection of songs before “Everytime” took off – he’s one of Norway’s brightest young rock stars.
The Knife from Sweden makes undeniable hits – the kind that could translate in any country, any genre, any style. It was with the duo’s “Heartbeats” that the Dreijer siblings started getting noticed around the world. But instead of trying to recreate “Heartbeats” and breaking through to commercial success, they avoided media, didn’t tour until 2006, refused to show up to awards shows (even when they won several Swedish Grammys), and with each album they got more experimental. In 2009, Karin Dreijer began a successful side project as Fever Ray, and The Knife’s latest album Shaking The Habitual (allegedly their last) won the 2014 Nordic Music Prize.
The Danish trio Chinah emerged at the end of 2015 with sultry pop gems like “Minds” and “Away From Me” which were all brought together on a 2016 EP Once The Lights Are On. With two producers, Simon and Simon, providing shape-shifting electronic backdrops for singer Fine’s crystalline vocals, Chinah provides a subtle take on synth-pop. On 2017 project Chinah expanded their scope with bolder production choices and more uptempo electronics, but, as with so many Scandinavian artists, the strength of the songwriting is central to everything they do.
The Norwegian group Röyksopp blur the lines between pop and experimental electronica in much the same way as The Knife, and their undeniable talent has been recognized by other Scandinavian stalwarts. The duo has collaborated with Robyn (on one of their biggest hits “The Girl and The Robot”), Karin Dreijer Andersson (of The Knife) and Lykke Li. Röyksopp came to international attention with the release of 2009’s Junior, a powerful, propulsive collection of electronic pop songs that were as much influenced by house and techno as any pop music. Their music has only gotten better and more popular with time—their last album, 2014’s The Inevitable End, was the group’s last “conventional” studio album, but they’ve continued to create in a number of new and exciting ways.
The dark and intriguing sound of Danish Kwamie Liv proved to be a force to be reckoned with, making a mark on the landscape of Danish music with her alluring, sensual vocals and minimalist electronic production.
A powerhouse singer, Seinabo Sey from Sweden has one of those voices that can anchor light, infectious production and imbue it with major emotional heft (think Sampha or Jorja Smith). The daughter of West African musician Mawdo Sey, Seinabo thrives atop energetic percussion and rolling piano chords, incorporating aspects of R&B, folk, reggae, and blues into a rich pop sound that particularly soars on tracks like “Hard Time” and “Younger.” Though she hasn’t released a full-length record since 2015’s Pretend, Sey’s music still sounds completely fresh, meaning whatever she drops next will surely knock well into the 2020s.
You could have predicted that the Swedish duo Icona Pop would have a solid career ahead of them when you heard “Manners” back in the beginning of 2011. However, you probably wouldn’t have predicted that a little over a year later the duo would break the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, but that’s what they did with the Charli XCX-assisted “I Love It.” The duo has capitalized on every opportunity since, with both critical acclaim from the early-movers and mainstream success with radio plays, song placements, and hit singles.
The Norwegian group Klangstof’s lead singer Koen Van Der Wardt is actually Dutch, but he moved to rural Norway when he was 14, and the group has honed an expansive sound, with huge guitars and airy vocals creating moods inspired by Tame Impala, Radiohead, and Kendrick Lamar. The group returned last November with the Everest EP, and have been touring steadily ever since. It’s no wonder—these guys have a massive sound well-suited for live shows, and it’s about time you find out why. Since emerging in 2015 the group has built up an impressive catalog of experimental rock and pop songs.
Jj from Sweden is a duo consisting of Joakim Benon and Elin Kastlander. They make music that is both accessible and deliciously different. You could put jj on in the background and the glittering production and saccharine vocals will lull you into a sense of gentle calm, until you realize that the angelic voice is adopting American rap lines and singing, “Fuckin’ insane/The fuck am I sayin’/Not only am I fly, I’m fucking not playing.” Sadly, the mysterious duo release music only sporadically, but their 2014 album V is proof the group can make magic whenever they want to.
It wasn’t until the Swedes’ Peter Bjorn & John third LP that they gained some traction in North America with “Young Folks.” You couldn’t go anywhere in 2006 without hearing that carefree whistle. It was an early taste of music crafted by a Swedish band that caught fire in the mainstream. In some ways, PB&J could be considered as pioneers of the current landscape of indie pop, dominated by a wildfire of Swedish music.
Kristian Matsson, artist name The Tallest Man on Earth, first turned heads with “The Gardener” in 2008, but he burst onto global music radars in 2010 with his sophomore album The Wild Hunt, with rasping vocals ringing out over fervent strum-alongs like “Burden of Tomorrow” and “King of Spain.” The emotion streams forth unhindered in Matsson’s songs, and the two albums he’s released since that breakout moment have earned him an international following. He works in open guitar tunings, much like his early inspiration Nick Drake—though The Tallest Man on Earth is most often compared to Bob Dylan. His poetic lyricism is the stuff of legend, a feat all the more impressive considering English is his second language.
Nervous Nellie, a four-piece Swedish group made up of two sets of brothers, could write straightforward, chart-topping indie-pop songs if they wanted. You can hear it in their choruses, in the clean, crisp production, and in the way their songs are carefully pieced together. But rather than going down that route, the band combine anthemic choruses with interesting twists and turns, little human touches that make the music connect, never more than on the brilliant “Gloves.”
Swedish Beatrice Eli’s vocals are strong and accessible, with a soulful tinge that keeps her delivery interesting and engaging, whilst the production follows a similar formula, successfully straddling the divide between straightforward and experimental. Listening to her two-track debut EP it’s clear that Eli is as comfortable professing her love over pounding drums and bright synths as she is telling an erstwhile partner that “it’s over” accompanied by a choppy but funky guitar riff. Beatrice Eli is currently in the studio working on her debut album.
Twin sisters Elektra and Miranda Kilbey are technically as Australian as they are Swedish, having spent their entire lives hopping back and forth between the two countries thanks to their parents, but we couldn’t exclude them. The twins calling themselves Say Lou Lou have lush, dreamy voices which paired with cinematic production makes for some emotive and memorable indie pop, and with their recent collaborations with artists such as Chet Faker, it looks like the twins are on a roll.
Scandinavian pop music often seems to have elements of melancholy or even menace that make it stand out from the painfully bright, overly upbeat sounds that we might associate with American pop. The music of Swedish NONONO, who are made up of production duo Astma and Rockwell and singer Stina, incorporates both the light and the darkness, with songs like summer synth-pop delight “Pumpin’ Blood” standing in contrast to the eerie lilt of “Like The Wind.” Having already proved they are far more than a one trick pony, it will be interesting to see where NONONO are headed next.
With The Knife leaving behind the sound that made them famous and moving towards ever more brutal, challenging sounds, someone needs to take up the mantle of making dark, moody, but incredibly catchy electro-pop, and it looks like that someone is Kate Boy. Consisting of three Swedes and one Australian (lead singer Kate Akhurst), the band’s success is built on the propulsive, synth heavy production, which is the perfect foil for Akhurst’s powerful vocals.
Monica Birkenes, the voice behind Mr. Little Jeans, moved to London then L.A. to pursue a career in music, but it was not until she released a stunning, haunting cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” that people began to take notice. With a delicate voice that is sometimes reminiscent of Lana Del Rey, Norwegian Birkenes describes her sounds as “pop that dances left of center,” and the slightly wonky electronic production that she uses confirms that description.
Elliphant stunned her audience with her self-titled EP which she dropped a year ago, and since then she’s continued to blend pop, hip-hop, and electronic styles with consumate ease, calling to mind the wild eclecticism of M.I.A. at her most punishing. Calling Elliphant the Swedish M.I.A. might even be doing her a disservice though, as she has proved (on “Live Till I Die” for example) that she can more than hold her own as a straight-up singer, with a voice that is as likely to soar through a chorus as it is to spit through a verse.
Niki & The Dove are Malin and Gustaf from Sweden, a duo who had its breakthrough late 2010 with the early versions of the sweeping “DJ Ease My Mind” and “Last Night,” both of which eventually appeared on their impressive, inventive 2012 debut album Instinct. Malin’s voice is malleable and unpredictable, leaping from strident highs to earthy lows, while the lyrics are full of the kind of vivid imagery that Natasha Khan (of Bat For Lashes) does so very well. Add to that delightfully organic feeling production, and this duo have all the pieces in place to be successful for a long time to come.
Tove Lo is definitely a name to watch out for if you love good, wholesome pop music. The infectiously catchy “Habits” Is a track that stays just the right side of corny, and has the kind of hook that worms its way into your head without you even noticing, and then never leaves. Lo is another musical gift from Sweden.
Fallulah (real name Maria Apetri) has established quite the reputation for herself in the Danish music scene, having won numerous awards and accolades. “Out Of It” is an example of what Aperti is capable of – thumping, infectious instrumentals and some powerful yet delicate vocals, yielding a perfect balance.
In the history of Scandinavian pop music, there has been no shortage of enduring melodies, massive hooks, and sweet, immediate songwriting. Acts like ABBA, Ace of Base, and Roxette all brought their own flavor, but Denmark’s Kill J is adding a little edge to the format. Favoring forward-thinking production and sharp, provocative lyrics, Kill J has the big choruses and pop structure, but her songs are far more confrontational and challenging than your typical pop earworms. Kill J writes, produces, and performs, and she’s got the skill and the confidence to pull off some of the most exciting and interesting new pop music coming from Scandinavia.
Scandinavian Pop Music to Enjoy, compiled by Tor Kjolberg