If you look around the Swedish pop landscape today, one thing becomes obvious – it is dominated by the female of the species. The most recent successful Swedish export, Tove Lo, who we've been banging on about for a year, has just hit the UK top ten with her debut single, Habits.
Tove Lo - Stay High (Habits Remix)
Last year's big exports included Icona Pop, the female-fronted NONONO and Frida Sundemo (all tipped by thelocal.se). Only the cheesy country-house of Avicii has kept the flag flying for Swedish men.
This year's most eagerly anticipated Swedish albums are almost all due from women. Robyn, Lykke Li (see below) and First Aid Kit will all drop albums over the next couple of months. It's not just the fact that women are making popular, big-selling albums either. All of the above have enjoyed critical acclaim too – these are artists making seriously good pop, music that will have a long shelf-life.
First Aid Kit – My Silver Lining
Men, conversely, are not faring too well. Apart from the estimable Håkan Hällström and Jose Gonzales, and the creaking bones of Kent, perhaps, men just aren't making very interesting music. Indeed it appears to be male artists who seem to be mainly responsible for the cheesier, less imaginative, pop hits – Darin, Robin and Erik Saade all spring to mind here.
Why is this happening? Why is it women who are revitalizing pop music by ripping it up and starting, seam by seam, to construct something new, exciting, and ultimately, innovative? And why are men being left behind?
One of the reasons is that most of the new breed of women are writing their own music and their own lyrics. These women address sex and love in new ways. Not in the clichéd way of male artists, who seem to have run out of gas when it comes to writing about relationships. For the likes of Tove Lo and Lykke Li writing about sex isn’t something to be feared but to be tackled head on and with crippling honesty. Both Lo and Li share a kind of desperation that not only feels authentic, it feels new.
With the music itself, women also seem to have the courage to try different things. Perhaps inspired by some of the wondrously unconventional music produced by Karin Dreijer of The Knife and Fever Ray, female pop artists such as Alina Devcereski and Robyn don't slip easily into stereotypes – their music sounds like nobody else's. Crucially, however, they always remember the importance of a big, fat tune. As Gothenburg singer Frida Sundemo says, “I definitely feel like it's women's turn to claim some space in the music industry. Not only as singers but as songwriters, producers and musicians as well. I guess I share this feeling with most women in the business and hopefully our efforts have now started to pay off.”
Robyn & Röyksopp - Do It Again
The interesting thing is that where Sweden goes, so the world follows. Today, a greater proportion of women than men complete upper secondary education in Sweden. Significantly more women than men also participate in adult education. Women comprise roughly 60 percent of all students in undergraduate university studies and almost two-thirds of all degrees are awarded to women. Sundemo agrees that Sweden's focus on women's rights is paying off: “I've really felt the winds of women's rights blowing in Sweden lately.”
Women are enabled and emboldened in Sweden, so Swedish pop is unlikely to become less female-heavy. The same could well soon be true of the global pop market. Where does that leave men? Behind the mixing desk, perhaps? Strumming a guitar in a session band providing music for a female star? But making great, original pop music? No, Swedish sisters are doing that for themselves.
ALBUM OF THE MONTH
I Never Learn
LL Recordings ****
Lykke Li is fast becoming Sweden's most fascinating pop star. 2008's Youth Novels was sparkling electro pop writ large, while 2011's Wounded Rhymes moved towards 50s and 60s-tinged indie rock. I Never Learn, the third in Li's trilogy about life for a modern twenty-something female, is different again, a collection of utterly heartbroken ballads that veer from the forlorn sparseness of Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone through the Phil Spector-meets-Rihanna pomp of No Rest For The Wicked to the rain-drenched, tambourine-driven sob of Never Gonna Love Again.
Li has tried to disguise her pop smarts with a coat of heavy melancholy but be warned – the songs here are every bit as addictive as those on her first two albums.
Lykke Li – No Rest For The Wicked