Why do sweaty Swedes sing along to pop stars?

As The Local's Elodie Pradet joins blanket-toting families and salivating Håkan Hellström fans at the summer stage Allsång på Skansen, she discovers the heart of Swedish music appreciation, and the inclusive singing at the weekly event dubbed mass hysteria by its critics.

Why do sweaty Swedes sing along to pop stars?

I have been living here for eleven months and after a high marks on a university paper about music culture in Sweden, I thought I was pretty well-informed about the subject of music. So I left the library to go out into the world and learn about concert culture in Sweden.

At gigs and festivals, I noted how Swedish people remained quite idle despite the tunes. I had learnt that all Swedish artists start performing ten minutes late. I’d taken note of people taking the chance to leave during the second-to-last song of the concert. I knew that chanting “en gång till” (‘once again’) for an encore was actually a way to pinpoint that second-to-last song, when people took flight to avoid the scrum of a mass exodus.

And even though at every concert or festival I went to, I saw someone singing, the subdued atmosphere meant that I felt no closer to the artist than I would in front of my television or on Youtube. I was not in communion with the artist. I was not experiencing something, I was watching something happen. A concert in Sweden has always been for me a calm, sober, not too much, not too little experience. Yes, a concert in Sweden is the perfect place to understand the word lagom.

At least, that is what I used to think.

That all changed this week, on Tuesday evening, when I entered the Stockholm outdoor museum Skansen at 4pm; when I saw girls with Håkan Hellström bags on their shoulders in the queue, when I saw families going up the hill toting picnic baskets and blankets. Some had binoculars with them.

RELATED STORY:Håkan Hellström: Indie darling to stadium rocker

I admit, I went there to see Håkan Hellström. I had simply no idea about this mass hysteria that was Allsång på Skansen. People warned me. Some said they were not “really a fan of Allsång”, some others “not really a fan of Håkan”. Me, I was just this innocent groupie going to Skansen because, well, it was a beautiful sunny day in Stockholm and my Swedish idol was playing up on that hill at a really decent price. All the folklore surrounding the televised summer concerts at Skansen was just added value. I just thought that a concert with a big pop star in an outdoor museum would be a funny experience. It ended up being a lot more.

I did not know how to translate ”Allsång på Skansen” to English, but I found out quickly what that loaded term meant. The entire afternoon every Tuesday during summer, public service broadcaster Sveriges Television (SVT) films host Måns Zelmerlöv yelling his introductory “Skansen, Sverige, nu kör vi!” (‘Skansen, Sweden, let’s go!’). All while an enormous undulating crowd of sweaty Swedes hold lyrics books and sings along. Alright, Allsång kinda means sing-along.

If you just don’t understand what is special with music culture in Sweden, go to Skansen one Tuesday summer evening. People sing together, no one is stressed about how awful their voice sounds. No ashamed people in the audience. If someone isn’t singing, it’s probably because they don’t know the words, nothing else.

If you don’t understand the legendary lack of hierarchy in Swedish society, go to Skansen one Tuesday summer evening. The best place to understand that Swedish society is just one big community of people that dress the same, sing the same, and like to do the same thing. Once again, it will be hard to find people who stand out in the crowd.

Nobody will try to show you how well they can sing, but everybody will sing-along as best they can.

Elodie Pradet

Follow Elodie on Twitter here

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What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.