Yesterday, I wrote about Icona Pop and their awesome song “I Don’t Care,” and when I was researching those fierce pop ladies, I found out they were from Sweden.
Of course. Because Sweden is the birthplace of 64% of all great pop music. It’s a mathematical fact.
I don’t pretend to know why. Do they teach kids about catchy hooks in Stockholm? Does the krona have a picture of Michael Jackson on it? Who can say? But whatever the reason, the Swedes have got pop music on lockdown.
Here are 5 artists who prove that when you want to go pop, you’ve got to go Swedish. But keep in mind, this is just a sampling. I’ve listed some additional Swedish artists under each entry to help you find even more juicy sounds.
Why her? Because she is the most exciting dance-pop artist of the last twenty years and arguably one of the most accomplished dance-pop artists in history. She may not have the massive record sales of some of her peers, but her ability to blend ice-cold production with warm human emotion gives electronic music a heart and soul. Plus, her persona—a fierce but bruised badass who has learned to wipe the mud from her eyes without giving up on kindness—is unique and fascinating.
Key songs: “Dancing On My Own,” “Call Your Girlfriend,” “Be Mine!”, “Who’s That Girl,” “Do You Know (What It Takes)”
See also: Lykke Li, Neneh Cherry, Kleerup
Why them? Because they’re one of the most successful pop groups in history. Ever. Because even the hippest hipster and darkest goth has a hard time resisting their glossy sound and soaring melodies. Because their music is good enough to survive the artistic bankruptcy of Mamma Mia! (Even Robyn references them. Her song “Dancehall Queen” is a play on “Dancing Queen.”)
Key songs: “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Fernando,” “SOS,” “The Winner Takes It All”
See also: Blue Swede, Europe
Why them? Because it’s hard to deny the songcraft of Per Gessle and the vocal power of Marie Fredriksson. Because the duo is just as good with power ballads as they are with feel-good anthems. Because they had a song on the Pretty Woman soundtrack, for God’s sake. When I was making this list, I was torn between Roxette and Ace of Base, since they both make delicious pop treats, but I ultimately chose Roxette because their songs are just more substantive. (But no disrespect to Ace of Base. I still see the sign, and all I want is another baby. If by “baby” you mean “handful of caramel corn.”)
Key songs: “It Must’ve Been Love,” “Listen to Your Heart,” “Dressed for Success,” “Joyride,” “Stars”
See also: Ace of Base, The Cardigans
(4) Jens Lekman
Why him? Jens Lekman is nowhere near as famous as everybody else on this list, but he is still amazing. An unusually witty and insightful singer-songwriter, his music is really hard to classify. Sometimes, it sounds like bossa nova, sometimes it has the swirls and swooshes of classic disco, and sometimes it’s a stripped-down, acoustic experience. But no matter what, his lyrics are always incredible. And don’t we all need a song like “A Postcard to Nina,” about Jens’ funny-sad attempt to pretend he’s a lesbian’s boyfriend, just so her dad won’t find out she’s gay? Yes. Yes, we do need a song like that.
Key songs: “A Postcard to Nina,” “Black Cab,” “Erica America,” “The Opposite of Hallelujah,” “I Know What Love Isn’t”
See also: First Aid Kid, The Hives, The Soundtrack of Our Lives
(5) Max Martin
Why him? As a producer and songwriter, Max Martin has created some of the most iconic pop songs of the last 16 years, including the biggest hits of Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Maroon 5, Katy Perry, Robyn, Pink, and N’Sync, and Backstreet Boys. It is impossible to discuss the modern pop moment without him.
Key songs: “…Baby One More Time,” “Fuckin’ Perfect,” “Since U Been Gone,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “I Want It That Way”
See also: Swedish House Mafia, Avicii
Mark Blankenship has never been to Sweden, which is crazy. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship