Why Sweden has been annoying you for years

There are few things more tedious than the overdone pop hit. You know the kind: catchy and enjoyable the first time you hear it, but after repeating from every shop, car and club there is, it soon morphs into a nightmare. Did you know that one country is to blame for it all? Here's why Sweden has been been annoying you for years (and making a fortune while doing so).

Why Sweden has been annoying you for years
Already heard enough Justin Timberlake for a lifetime? Blame Sweden. Photo: Martin Meissner/AP/TT

Song: Toxic by Britney Spears

Culprits: Bloodshy & Avant

In 2003 Britney Spears still ruled the world, and not a hair on her head had been shaved. That year marked the release of arguably her catchiest – and after enough repetition, one of her most annoying – hits. There’s no denying Toxic is an expertly crafted pop song, but by the 100th repeat the hook (you know the one we mean) starts to something like a dentist's drill driving into the skull.

Swedes Pontus Winnberg and Christian Karlsson are to blame. The duo, also known as Bloodshy & Avant, produced and wrote the song, which was originally offered to Kylie Minogue (who rejected it) before Spears snapped it up.

It became a huge hit, earning Gold certification in the USA and earning Winnberg and Karlsson a hefty pot of gold in royalties. By 2007 they had made 60 million kronor ($7 million) from the record, and with plenty of airplay since, that figure will certainly have grown. 

Song: Moves Like Jagger by Maroon 5 

Culprit: Shellback

The song that could have made whistling a crime punishable by death, Moves like Jagger was everywhere in 2011, its summer release and simple but effective refrain combining perfectly to guarantee seemingly endless airplay.

Karl Johan Schuster, also known as Shellback, was one of the key architects. Both a co-writer as well as a producer of the hit, Shellback was hailed as “brilliant” for coming up with the tune by Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine. No wonder considering the success it brought the band.

It gave Shellback plenty of success too, going to number one in the USA and eventually being certified 6x Platinum in the country by shifting over six million units, which no doubt helps to pay the bills. The Swedish writer and producer normally works in tandem with an even more successful musical compatriot (more about him later), but not on this track.

Song: Bye Bye Bye by NSYNC

Culprit: Kristian Lundin

Yes, there really was a time when Justin Timberlake was little more than a member of a Backstreet Boys clone that included a guy who was genuinely called 'Lance Bass'. That was still the case in January 2000, when NSYNC dropped the single that would eventually become their first number one on the US pop charts.

Repetition and alliteration are the keys to Bye Bye Bye, or rather, a Swede was the key to figuring that out. Kristian Lundin co-wrote and produced the track, eventually being nominated for a Grammy for his work on it. The album it was on sold a record 2.4 million copies in its first week alone and eventually went 11x Platinum, so we’d imagine the Swede is quite happy to have knocked out this obnoxious pop number.

Song: Poker Face by Lady Gaga

Culprit: RedOne

One of the highest selling singles of all time, Poker Face was the song that solidified Lady Gaga as a superstar, going to number one in just about every country you can think of and being certified 10x Platinum in the USA by 2015. All but the biggest Gaga diehards would admit that the tune was a tad overplayed at its peak though, the borderline unintelligible “muh-muh-muh-muh” and stuttering “ face” hooks not quite so pleasing on the ear by play number ten thousand.

Like it or loathe it, none of that could have been possible without Nadir Khayat, better known as RedOne, who co-wrote and produced the song. A Moroccan-born Swedish citizen, his story is a rags to riches fairytale, which included spending time homeless in Sweden after he moved there aged 19 to pursue a career in music, and even a spell selling vegetables at the well-known market on Stockholm’s Hötorget.

RedOne had to work tirelessly for almost 20 years before he made it big with Lady Gaga, but with an estimated net worth of around $20 million, it was probably worth it. He was also behind only marginally less annoying Gaga number Just Dance, and has gone on to combine with Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias to name a few.

Song: Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake

Culprit: Max Martin

For proof that the Swedish art of writing digestible, certain-to-be-overdone pop is alive and well, look no further than Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling, undisputed winner of this summer’s PLEASE NOT AGAIN award for being played to death by every nightclub DJ around with access to a Spotify playlist.

Already 3x Platinum in the USA only four months after its release, the song was co-written and produced by Shellback and, more importantly, Max Martin. The latter is, hands down, the king of writing and producing pop hits, with no less than 22 Billboard Hot 100 number one singles to his name, with the hits stretching back from 1999 through to the present day. Notably annoying highlights include Britney Spears’ …Baby One More Time, Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl and Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood.

All joking aside, there’s no denying the brilliance of the writers on this list, and even more so when it comes to Stockholm-born Martin. The Local profiled the mysterious Swede earlier this year, so take a read through that, then just dance, dance, dance. Oh dear.


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.