Aita Katta (Swedish Boyfriend), by 48-member (!) girl band AKB48 has rocketed straight to the top spot after a week of heavy rotation on MTV and Japanese radio networks.
“Suddenly everyone’s talking about this Swedish boyfriend from Malmö. I think mainly they like his turning torso,” quipped Katsunari Shikibo, head of the band’s AFD record label.
“We’ve had to replace Katsuki, the girl who wrote the song, since she moved to Sweden. But she’ll be hooking up with the rest of the girls when they tour Sweden in May,” he added.
Sweden and Japan have maintained close cultural relations at the grassroots level in recent years. As fashion watchers in Sweden’s main cities will know, the biggest J-pop artists all have a devoted following in Sweden.
And with Japanese artists developing a similar fascination for the home of many of their fans, references to Sweden have become increasingly common in the Japanese pop charts.
The Swedophile trend, often referred to in Japan as Swe-J, came to national attention in February 2008 when Yokohama popsters Sabarashii Mu-Su (Stately Moose) swept into the top twenty with the guitar-driven foot stomper Koozan (Ore Mining), a track inspired by a journey made by the band to Kiruna in northern Sweden.
Nagasaki three-piece Kimagure Eiga (Moody Movie) continued the charge in August with the release of Burondo (Blonde), a J-pop floor filler replete with lyrical nods to the turbulent career of actress Britt Ekland.
Sweden and Japan may seem strange bedfellows at first glance, but veteran record producer Yashitin Mi argues that the Swe-J movement is bolstered by the countries’ shared love of the natural world, consensus-driven decision making processes and, not least, a predilection for synthesizer pop.
“Swe-J also has obvious parallels with Tokyo-Kiwi,” said Mi, referring to the jangle pop from New Zealand that exerted a huge influence when introduced to the Japanese New Romantic scene in the early eighties.
But Swe-J has not been without its growing pains. In the days before Christmas last year, the movement had its first Blur meets Oasis moment when the lead singer of Sutokkuhorumu (Stockholm) accused Osaka glam rockers Kulturhuset of bandwagon-jumping.
“They seem to think Robyn is the singer from The Cardigans,” scoffed guitarist Keito Nogo in an interview with a leading music magazine.
Kulturhuset took the feud up a notch when they changed their name to Ixetebori (Gothenburg) and promptly released the power pop anthem Sutokkuhorumu Kainashi (Stockholm sucks).
“This battle of the bands even provided the inspiration for Swedish artist Maia Hirasawa’s new album GBGvsSTHLM,” said Mi.
But for now AKB48 are the undisputed queens of Swe-J. And with Swedish Boyfriend unlikely to be dislodged from the top spot any time soon, it may not be long before the giants of the genre start filtering through to the download charts and dancefloors of Sweden.
AKB48’s number one hit, Aita Katta (Swedish Boyfriend)
April Fools’ Day update
It’s midday in Sweden and custom dictates that we now reveal our chicanery, skulduggery and general tomfoolery.
As many readers no doubt have guessed, the above article has very little basis in fact bar a couple of notable exceptions:
Maia Hirasawa really is a Swedish artist and she really has just released the album GBGvsSTHLM.
And AKB48 is very much a real group but Aitakatta (I wanted to meet you) was a hit in 2006. But the band has in fact released a new single today. No, really.
Find out more on the websites below.