Sweden: Thank you for the music

From Abba to Tove Lo, here’s a quick look at just some of the Swedish bands that have dominated the global music scene, as reviewed by journalist and editor Emma Barlow…

Sweden may be small (as in, not much bigger than the population of London small), but the Scandinavian nation has a reputation for producing some truly phenomenal pop music. It’s often quite a specific type of pop music – one that blends sunny sing-along melodies, catchy choruses and sparse or electronic beats – and the world can’t get enough of it. So much so that the country is the third largest exporter of pop music behind the US and UK. But how did it all start? Well, with Abba of course.

Nowadays it’s easy to resign Abba to the piles marked ‘cheese’, ‘guilty pleasure’ or ‘for karaoke only’ but with a remarkable 380 million sales worldwide, the Swedish foursome was – and is – a sonic force to be reckoned with. Of course, the band has got an amazing repertoire (Knowing Me Knowing You, anyone?) but the group were very important for firmly placing Sweden on the map of musical big hitters and paving the way for many acts much later on.

Acts like Robyn, whose music epitomises the sunny pop sounds of her homeland and has made her an international pop star. Her track Dancing On My Own is now almost as impossible to avoid at any club or disco as a couple pawing each other in the corner, or queuing for the ladies. And rightly so! Robyn doesn’t so much make pop songs as modern day pop anthems, with her emotional but crucially not over-romanticised lyrics appealing to pretty much everyone.

Like Robyn, Lykke Li creates fantastic pop music that somehow manages to sidestep the mainstream. Her 2008 breakthrough single Little Bit, with its minimal production was (and is) a welcome relief from the bombastic and highly produced sounds of her US contemporaries, and she’s not afraid to push the boundaries of the pop genre.

In the mid-1990s it was The Cardigans who were being played loud in the bedrooms and on the Discmans of Scandi-pop fans. The band really exploded when their track Love Fool appeared in Baz Luhrman’s cult adaptation of Romeo and Juliet in 1996. The soundtrack actually boasted not one Swedish smash hit but two, with The Wannadies’ iconic You and Me Song also featuring.

But Sweden doesn’t just do pop music. Sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg, otherwise known as First Aid Kit, burst onto the music scene in 2007 and proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that Swedes can do folk too. They’re known for their beautiful close harmonies and a sound that’s reminiscent of some of the amazing American female singers of the 1970s. In fact the duo even made the legendary Patti Smith weep when they beautifully covered her song Dancing Barefoot at the Polar Music Awards in 2011.

For fans of acoustic guitars and intimate indie there’s Swedish bands like Junip and the equally great Tallest Man on Earth. Junip’s lead singer Jose Gonzalez brought his particular breed of Swedish music to the masses with Heartbeats, (otherwise known as the soundtrack to that advert featuring brightly coloured bouncy balls), and the smooth-voiced Swede also contributed his music to the soundtrack of one of the year’s best indie flicks, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

One of the latest Swedish acts to make it big abroad is 28 year-old Tove Lo, best known for her track Habits (Stay High) and perhaps best summarised as an edgier, hornier Taylor Swift! But if you feel like Tove or any of these artists have passed you by then don’t worry, the next wave of Swedish acts is never far away.