How did three countries famous for flat-packs and meatballs, export of bacon, fish, oil and gas manage to be three of the leading exporting countries of pop sound?
It all began with Abba’s Waterloo in 1974, and the group continued to produce international hits for nearly a decennium, followed by Ace of Base in the early nineties.
Then came Denniz Pop, also from Sweden, who was a popular DJ at trendy Stockholm nightclubs during the 1980s. His real name was Dag Volle, and has been named the Godfather of Swedish pop. Together with Dr. Alban, a Nigerian dentist, he produced their first big hit Hello Afrika. This 1990 release was their first international success.
Swedish songwriter Max Martin wrote several hit songs for artists like Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift. The album “1989”, in which half the songs were co-written by Martin sold almost 1.3 million copies in its first week. Martin served artists as disparate as Frank Sinatra, George Jones and Whitney Houston.
Only Paul McCartney and John Lennon have had more US chart toppers than Martin – and if you include top ten hits, he is the most successful in pop history with 54 (ahead of Elvis, Madonna, and The Beatles).
In the beginning of 2000 Stockholm residents Tove Lo and Mapei reinforced the fact that Swedish pop was reigning in the English speaking landscape.
The Norwegian Group A-ha achieved their biggest success with their debut album Hunting High and Low. The album peaked at number 1 in their native Norway, number 2 in the UK and number 15 on the US Billboard album chart. The songs Take On Me and The Sun Always Shines on TV became international hits in 1986.
The best known international Norwegian artists in recent years are:
Aurora reached no. 9 in UK with her song Half the world away.
Coldplay reached no. 6 in UK with their Hymn for the Weekend.
Derulo, Jason reached no. 5 in USA with his Wiiggles.
Harris, Calvin reached no. 2 in UK with his How deep is your love.
Kygo reached no. 20 in UK with his Stay, and no. 8 in UK with his Firestones.
Madcon reached no. 3 in Germany with their hit Don’t worry.
Nico & Vinz reached no. 1 in UK and no. 4 in USA with their Am I wrong.
Posner, Mike reached no. 1 in UK, no. 6 in USA and no. 5 in Germany with his hit I took a Pill in Ibiza.
Walker, Alan reached no. 7 in UK and no. 1 in Germany this year with his hit Faded.
In 2000 Denmark joined the international Scandinavian pop sound with artists like Trentemøller, WhoMadeWho, Efterklang, The Astroids Galaxy Tour and the electro-pop starlet MØ. Since then, and in fact before, there has been a wave of artists doing wonderful things in this small Scandinavian country.
The best known international Danish pop artists in recent years are:
Agnes Obel (her debut album Philharmonics went double platinum in France and and Belgium).
Alfabeat had a hugely popular hit around Europe, The Spell. It sparked Alfabeat’s international success.
Aqua is the best-selling Danish music group ever. Aqua is especially known for their worldwide hit Barbie Girl. Aqua is a Danish-Norwegian pop group which enjoyed huge success in the late 90s.
Asbjørn, who now lives, sings and dances in Berlin, built up his fan base with a series of visually striking videos. He is describing himself as a Danish pop kid with a relentless urge to dance.
Blaue Blume is a Copenhagen-based band, where singer Jonas Smith is loved for his cooing falsetto. The group has performed both at London and Berlin’s Ja Ja Ja events.
Broken Twin is singer-songwriter Majke Voss Romme who has crafted an intensely personal world around her music. Her debut album May was mixed by Ian Caple who’s known for his work with Tindersticks, Tricky and Late Bush.
D-A-D had an international breakthrough with the large rock hit single Sleeping My Day Away in 1989.
Dinner is an alias for pop-artist Anders Rhedin, who is calling Copenhagen, Berlin and Los Angeles home.
Fabricius-Bjerre, Bent is the composer of the instrumental Alley Cat from 1960, which is still hugely popular today.
Infernal reached high chart positions all over Europe and in Australia with their song From Paris to Berlin.
Linkoban, a rapper-singer is known for her eccentric, wholly impressive stage presence. The track “Like This” from her 2013 debut album OX received widespread attention from Boy George, Danish and Swedish radio and BBC and was used on Stella McCartney’s Paris runway show.
Whigfield achieved a no. 1 on the UK chart for 4 weeks with their song Saturday Night.
This is an impressive achievement considering that Saturday Night was Whigfield’s debut single.
As a Scandinavian music lover, I say “Thank you for the music!” and I apologize for all the fine Scandinavian artists not mentioned in this post.
Feature image (on top): Kygo
Scandinavian Sound of Success, compiled by Tor Kjolberg