By Alexander Brett, First year French and History of Art
'Sweden’s disproportionate contribution to world pop is the subject of a new BBC documentary', Alexander Brett reviews and explores the second revolution of Swedish Pop.
When I mention the words ‘Swedish pop’ you’re probably only thinking of one thing: ABBA. But Sweden has also produced such acts as Avicii, Zara Larsson, Robyn, Swedish House Mafia, Roxette and The Cardigans. Since 2008, it has been home to the world’s largest music streaming service, Spotify. Sweden’s disproportionate contribution to world pop is the subject of a new BBC documentary, Flat Pack Pop: Sweden’s Music Miracle, produced and presented by music journalist James Ballardie, whom I spoke to over the phone last week. His programme centres on the short but prolific life of producer Krister ‘Dagge’ Volle (better known as ‘Denniz Pop’), one of the most influential musical brains you’ve probably never heard of.
Denniz Pop started his career at the Ritz underground nightclub in Stockholm. With ABBA at the height of their popularity abroad, Sweden was fertile ground for new talent. State support picked up aspiring musicians, keen to capitalise on Sweden’s unlikely image as a home of pop music. Denniz Pop took this and ran. Before long Denniz Pop and fellow Ritz DJs had founded their own record label, SweMix, taking hits from around the world and remixing them with a distinctly Swedish flavour. The team were soon taking on clients that included the Backstreet Boys, 5ive, Dr. Alban and Ace of Base. The songs they produced were methodical, as the team were following the rules of Scandinavian functionalism pioneered by companies such as Volvo, H&M and IKEA.
'Swedish music is all about technical achievement,' Ballardie explains, 'but being clever within a formula.'
Working with such famous acts meant the musicians became, almost overnight, incredibly wealthy. This was course for embarrassment in Sweden, a country ruled for decades by a semi-communist Social Democrat party and a set of pan-Scandinavian social codes known as ‘Jante Law’. The Social Democrats forbade old money and a class system, while Jante Law forbade the flaunting of new money. Many artists solved this dilemma by moving to the United States, though Ballardie is sceptical this was the case.
'America was simply where the talent lay,' he says, 'so I don’t think they all moved because they were ruthless capitalists. It just made more business sense.'
America, for SweMix, was undoubtedly where the talent lay. In 1998 they took on their most ambitious artist yet: Britney Spears. Jörgen Elofssen, a jingles writer, was brought in to provide unique input and this, merged with SweMix’s formula, created the sound of Spears’ first album and her most famous song, Baby One More Time. SweMix divided into three teams to create the album, competing against one another for a common goal. But it came as Denniz Pop died of stomach cancer, aged just thirty five. Max Martin took over as his successor and, though SweMix continued to churn out hits – producing three of Westlife’s number ones – it soon disbanded.
Literally had no idea that like of Britney, Backstreet Boys and Westlife were produced in Sweden 🇸🇪 #FlatPackPop— Richard Upton (@richupton1970) February 15, 2019
'It was like the Beatles after Lennon’s death,' says Ballardie, 'the spirit of just ebbed away.'
Max Martin moved to Los Angeles to produce hits that include Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood, Katy Perry’s Hot ‘n Cold, Justin Timberlake’s Just Dance and The Weeknd’s Can’t Feel My Face. He’s now the third most successful producer in history (after only John Lennon and Paul McCartney) and has twenty two American number ones to his name.
So why should Sweden – of all places – have become such a pop mecca? Ballardie thinks some explanation may lie in its long months of darkness combined with an effective musical education programme.
'I remember when I was at school,' he says, 'we had recorder lessons and so on. I think Sweden’s musical education was just a hyped up version of that. But, of course, when combined with their surroundings, Swedes were more interested in picking it up.'
Whatever the explanation, like Volvo cars and IKEA wardrobes, hot Swedish tracks continue to fly off the production line. And, with a new generation of singers firmly established, this shows no signs of slowing.
Watch the documentary here.
Featured Image: Denniz Pop/ BBC Four
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