From ABBA to Robyn, Avicii, and super-producer Max Martin – a songwriter only topped by Lennon and McCartney when it comes to scoring US No 1 singles – why is Sweden so extraordinarily good at making pop music? It’s a question I’ve pondered a great deal over the years. I’m married to a Swede and spend a lot of time in the country, so my Scandiphilia runs deep.
The answer is an unknowable blend of different things – all from good access to free music schooling for kids (“I have public music education to thank for everything,” said Martin in 2001), to a grounding in the age-old folk, schlager and communal singing traditions which helped produce ABBA. Speaking of whom, undoubtedly a healthy dose of confidence and pride still flows from Sweden being home to arguably the greatest pop band that ever was.
Some even point to Sweden’s long, dark winter nights as an influence on its melancholically majestic music. For my part I’ll add the following, less romantic observation: Swedes watch a lot of music television. Something which I think has a peculiar and pervasive influence, sufficient to help make them about the most pan-generationally engaged, informed and aspirational music nation on Earth.
From music competitions to music quiz shows and frequent broadcasts of rock, folk, classical and opera concerts, Swedes not only watch far more music-based mainstream programming than we do, but also a broader range.
A cultural comparator from British television might be the centrality of comedy to our viewing habits. Where we watch countless panel quizzes or primetime stand-up revues packed with household-name comics, Swedes spend evenings glued to programmes such as Allsång på Skansen – a summertime staple in which a disgustingly tanned and healthy-looking live audience in Stockholm sing along en masse to well-known Swedish songs with domestic musical guest stars.
Or Så mycket bättre, a reality show which sees a random clutch of famous Swedish musicians live together in a lush country hotel, covering each other’s tunes, getting drunk, pouring their hearts out and invariably sharing a nice cathartic cry.