2014 will mark the fortieth anniversary of ABBA winning Eurovision for Sweden. The band romped home to victory that night with the song ‘Waterloo’, which then went to Number 1 in 10 countries. Not only that, but it was the start of ‘ABBA’, the pop culture phenomenon.
Why were ABBA so successful? Ivan Hewett, of The Telegraph, argues that “The chirpy, catchy surface sound draws you in, and once you’re in you feel secure because the iron grip of the song’s structure leads you by the hand.” This, coupled with their skill at writing a contagious chorus, is what made them.
Forty years on and a new group of Swedish artists are making the best new music in the world.
One act that has a lot in common with ABBA is Ace Wilder. She understands what makes a good chorus. In particular, breakout hit ‘Busy Doin’ Nothin’’ has an ear-worm hook that is not too dissimilar from the likes of Icona Pop and Avicii. In fact, if you put ‘I Love It’ and ‘Wake Me Up’ in a blender, you’d get ‘Busy Doin’ Nothin’’ (don’t try this at home kids).
But that’s not all she has in common with ABBA. She was one of the 32 entries in this year’s Melodifestivalen, which is the country’s Eurovision selection show. The contest takes place over six weeks, and the final was watched by 3.3 million viewers (the total population of Sweden is 9.6 million). She didn’t win (she lost by two points to Sanna Nielsen and her MOR ballad ‘Undo’), but songs like ‘Bitches Like Fridays’ highlight a popstar with global potential.
Another star that writes a good chorus is Tove Lo. Perhaps ‘good’ isn’t the right word though, given that her choruses are barnstorming. She describes her music on Facebook as ‘dirrrrty POP’, but it’s also the kind of music perfect for screaming at the top of the Shard (anthemic, in other words).
She’s already making waves here in the UK, with Zane Lowe making ‘Habits’ his hottest record on Radio 1, as well as the remix ‘Stay High’ being the ‘Track of the Day’ on the station. The latter has also been sitting just outside the top forty on iTunes for the past few weeks. EP ‘Truth Serum’ is a triumph, with songs like ‘Not On Drugs’ and ‘Paradise’ highlighting her enviable lyricism (she got the word ‘twinkie’ in ‘Habits’). She was also one of the writers on Girls Aloud’s call-to-arms ‘Something New’, which was their best song since ‘Call The Shots’.
Girls Aloud aren’t the only amazing pop beings to hire a Swede to assist them on a song, Katy Perry has too. Anyone that has heard the ‘Dark Horse’ star’s third opus will have heard the voice of Sabina Ddumba on ‘Walking On Air’. She sings the bit at the beginning (ie the bit that sounds like it has been taken straight from 1992).
According to her Facebook, she ‘found music aged six’, and this experience is something evident in her music. She rehearses with a gospel choir ever week (they too feature on ‘Walking On Air’), and this reflects in her voice (imagine if Adele was a gospel choir singer and you wouldn’t be a million miles away). In fact, her debut single ‘Scarred For Life’ sounds like a Joel Little-produced (Lorde, Broods) Adele song – ie an exciting prospect. The official video is particularly striking too, formed of mostly close-ups of Ddumba’s face. ‘Wrecking Ball’, however, this is not.
Not all artists though are yet to get a big break. One such artist is If You Say So who, despite having only one single and under 500 Facebook fans, is properly fantastic. Not only could she be a model – the ‘If You Say So’ aesthetic is very ‘English rose’ – her debut single ‘Paint Me’ is a slice of sophisticated-pop pie. It sounds like it was written for a film, so has a certain grandeur to it.
It’s probably a good moment to point out that she is not in fact Swedish. She was born in South Africa, but has been travelling around the world for her whole life (she’s in Stockholm now so she counts, right?). Fun fact: she learnt to play the guitar in Cuba. Regardless of her definite location, ‘Paint Me’ is still a tune. Guess what happens in the video though? She does some painting in a shipyard. Obviously.
But it’s not just the solo artists that are fucking amazing. Say Lou Lou are twin sisters Miranda and Elektra Kilbey, who are half Swedish and half Australian. They threw a few songs out between 2012-2013, but since have come into their own. Their music is atmospheric; it falls somewhere between dream-pop and gloom-pop. They’ve toured with fellow mood-pop purveyors London Grammar and Hurts. But don’t call them the female Hurts (the awkward rock second album needs to be avoided).
One thing they’re really good at is the b-side. Last year’s ‘Better In The Dark’ was over-shadowed by its b-side ‘Beloved’. The song was co-written by Hannah Robinson, who wrote: ‘Some Girls’ by Rachel Stevens, ‘My Delirium’ by Ladyhawke and ‘Me and My Imagination’ by Sophie Ellis-Bextor. It was never going to be shit, but they’ve outdone themselves here. Clever lyricism (‘cold shots from your embrace, love is a facade for hate’) is matched with a shimmering instrumental to create the best electro-ballad by a girl group since ‘Call The Shots’. Next single ‘Everything We Touch’ could be their first shot at chart glory though, managing to sound radio-friendly yet still Say Lou Lou.
At the time of writing, Sanna Nielsen’s ‘Undo’ is the second favourite to win the Eurovision Song Contest. If she does, it’ll mark the second win for Sweden in three years (following Loreen’s monster ‘Euphoria’ in 2012). Forty years since Abba and Swedish pop is stronger than ever.