Waterloo, Mamma Mia, Fernando, Voulez-Vous, Dancing Queen.
A soundtrack to the 70s. An era where disco, glam rock and Euro pop ruled the airwaves and the dance floors.
A time when Swedish popular music was at its greatest; defining, revolutionary… ageless. The year was 1974, and ABBA had entered the stratosphere of pop music history with their victory in the Eurovision Song Contest. The plethora of multi-layered songs that followed created a cushion of aural seduction that had widespread universal appeal, eventuating in a staggering 370 million records sold. U2’s Bono aptly summed up the lasting legacy of the pop super-group: “I think ABBA have a pure joy to their music, and that’s what makes them extraordinary.”
Sweden had produced an act that had the musical credibility and innovative visual aesthetics to successfully carry the weight of the country’s global hopes and dreams. Following the disbandment of ABBA in 1982 however, the dominance of Swedish popular music abruptly came to an end. Since that time, Sweden has struggled to unearth an act that could maintain the cultural legacy that the populace had become accustomed to.
Moderate success was achieved by pop rock duo Roxette in the 80s and Ace of Base, who did particularly well in America in the 90s. Since that time, the torch of Sweden’s flickering musical flame has been carried on the solitary shoulders of the supremely talented, though largely underrated, Robyn. After some initial success in 1997, Robyn reappeared ten years later with a distinctive electro-pop sound that garnered critical – if not equivalent commercial – validation. She has preserved her winning experimentalism to this day (see ‘Dancing on My Own’ from the Body Talk series) and has been awarded for her efforts with several Grammy nominations.
Notwithstanding the continued presence of Swedish popular music throughout the decades, it seems that a resurgence in the quality and viability of Swedish music has only just been gaining steam over the last few years. One need only look to the events of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest (held in Sweden this year) to see the rejuvenation of Swedish music. The anthem of this year’s contest, ‘We Write the Story’, was penned by none other than rising global star Avicii along with Benny and Björn of ABBA fame. This musical and cultural convergence was coined ‘the merging of two generations of Swedish pop royalty’.
Though it is a bit of a stretch to consider Avicii (at this point in his career) in the same ilk as legendary icons ABBA, it emphasises the link between the past and the present; the old welcoming the new in the hope that their shared home can once again bear witness to further musical and cultural glory. And ABBA certainly has a history of acting as a catalyst for musical resurrection. Madonna revived her music career and reinvented her ever-changing image with her 2005 hit single ‘Hung Up’, which seamlessly sampled the beat of ABBA’s ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight).’
Swedish music, it seems, has experienced a similar level of rediscovery. Though they have recently split, Swedish House Mafia enjoyed immense success on the Australian and British charts, with their final single ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ reaching the top of the charts in both countries, as well as the top ten in America. Similarly, Icona Pop achieved success with their smash hit ‘I Love It’ featuring Charli XCX, and have recently released their second single, ‘Girlfriend.’ The most commercially viable artist to come out of Sweden in recent times however is Avicii, whose single ‘Wake Me Up’ currently sits at #1 on the ARIA charts. The song, featuring vocals from ‘I Need a Dollar’ singer Aloe Blacc, is the first single off Avicii’s forthcoming debut album #TRUE. Considering where these artists come from, it is no surprise that they all belong to the genre of dance/electronic/pop. They hold the same belief as ABBA: that music’s purpose is to inspire, to emote and to liberate the soul.
The promise of Swedish dominance lingers in the air yet again. But only time will tell if any of these artists can follow in the footsteps of their cultural predecessors and revolutionize the scene of popular music once more.