Easily the most popular pop act in the nation’s history, Abba set the bar — and a very high one at that — for a long legacy of incredible music. The Swedish pop group had about 1 billion No. 1 hits overseas, “Dancing Queen,” even making it to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 stateside.
The third best-selling Swedish act of all time, Ace of Base are in many ways the quintessential pop group (just try going to karaoke without having someone bust out “The Sign”). They’re from Gothenberg, a town that at the time was mostly invested in local heavy metal, so they’re impressive on many levels; and with a hit repertoire including songs like “All That She Wants,” “The Sign,” and “Don’t Turn Around,” they’re pretty impossible to ignore.
Critical darlings The Knife are an electronic music duo of siblings from Stockholm famed for their complex arrangements and, recently, their political philosophy (their most recent album, Shaking the Habitual deals with questions of social justice), which is totally fun to listen to and care about.
Fever Ray is Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife: equally critically acclaimed, equally awesome. The electro-pop project has peaked on album charts both in Europe and in the United States.
Avicii is only 23, and in that short amount of time has managed to bring his unique brand of Swedish house from the dance hall to radio and beyond. Since 2011, the dude has been ranked one of the top five DJs of the year, and he continues to gain more and more fans.
Without Swedish House Mafia, there probably would be no Avicii, so that’s saying a lot. The dance music trio might be the most famous of their given genre, and with good reason: Axwell, Steve Angello, and Sebastian Ingrosso bring it.
Since the breakout of everyone’s favorite party anthem, “I Love It,” it’s hard to imagine the duo going anywhere but up.
Take a beautiful soprano, tell her to sing electro-pop overlayed with brass and string instrumentation. The result is Lykke Li, one of Sweden’s many pop goddesses. Oh, and she’s collaborated with David Lynch, which basically makes her the coolest person ever.
There was a time, in the early 2000s, when everyone in the world was hungry for garage rock. The Hives were at the forefront, feeding into our needs, releasing albums with titles like Veni Vidi Vicious, reminding us how cool matching black leather jackets and guitars could be/are. A hat tip to them!
Still a fairly obscure indie pop act, Makthaverskan (pronounced Mah-tahk-ver-skan) are part of a breed of new feminist pop, dealing with issues of rape, relationships, and female empowerment… so much so that Makthaverskan roughly translates to “strong woman,” in English. Cool, right?
Unlike the other acts on this list, mostly from Stockholm, Gothenberg, or Malmö, the Cardigans hail from Jönköping, which sits on Vättern Lake/is totally breathtaking/I’m pretty sure is 100% impossible to pronounce. They’re more than just beautiful people from a beautiful place: The band has sold over 15 million records worldwide, and their biggest hit, “Lovefool,” went platinum stateside and was used in the Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes version of Romeo + Juliet and the incredibly awesome 1999 film Cruel Intentions.
El Perro del Mar translates to “Sea Dog” in Spanish, a term that in Swedish refers to an experienced sailor/seaman. The project of Sarah Assbring is sweetly sad pop music, basically the best kind of music ever.
Guys, IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. What else needs to be said?
Singer-songwriter, DJ, rapper… Neneh Cherry can do it all. But before she managed to combine pop and hip-hop in super interesting ways, Cherry was in a series of short-lived punk bands. So when I say she can do it all, I mean ALL. OF. IT.
Following Abba for the spot of the second most successful pop act in Sweden’s history, she’s hit No. 1 four times in the U.S. alone with “Listen to Your Heart,” “Joyride,” “It Must Be Love,” and “The Look.”
Jonas Erik Altberg aka Basshunter is one of the country’s better-known electronic acts, and his first album was titled LOL <(^^,)> so I don’t think further explanation is required.
Because in 2006, it was impossible to be a human and not hear “Young Folks.” The damn thing was everywhere, featured famously in prime-time television shows like Gossip Girl and How I Met Your Mother, and video games like Fifa. Most importantly, it inspired a few years of whistling in songs, which is still totally awesome.
Once upon a time Sweden was all like, “We need a young, attractive Bob Dylan-esque character.” Kristian Matsson aka The Tallest Man on Earth (in reality, he is average, maybe even a little below average height) came to his country’s call. The result is often romantic and melancholic extremely accessible folk songs. Dude has even toured with Bon Iver.
First Aid Kit is the folk indie duo of sisters whose beautiful music verges on Americana, which may speak to why they’re so popular in our native land! Big supporters of the duo include Bright Eyes and Jack White.
This is the sound of being chill.
They’re a Swedish post-rock/indie rock band that titled their first album Living in America. You do the math!
Proof that early ’90s pop-punk wasn’t exclusive to Southern California: Millencolin were about as Warped Tour as they come, even taking their name from the skate punk trick, “melancholy.” Plus, they were included on the soundtrack to the video game Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 alongside the likes of Rage Against the Machine and Bad Religion.
Recent Sub Pop Records signees Niki & the Dove are a current act on the rise: indie-electronica at its finest. The band prides itself on truly understanding and representing the feel of a night club — their single “DJ, Ease My Mind,” captures the euphoria felt at 3 a.m., when you’re a few drinks in and dancing with an attractive stranger and makes it headphone-ready.
He might not be a household name to you, but he very well should be. Mr. Martin is a Swedish producer/songwriter who has written and worked on basically every great pop song ever, including but not limited to: Backstreet Boys’ “Quit Playing Games With My Heart,” “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” and “I Want It That Way”; Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I Did It Again” and “…Baby One More Time”; Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life”; Kelly Clarkson’s “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” “My Life Would Suck Without You,” and “Since U Been Gone”; Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” and “F***ing Perfect”; and Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
Also, basically every Katy Perry song ever: “I Kissed a Girl,” “Hot N Cold,” “California Gurls,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” “E.T.,” “Part of Me,” “Teenage Dream.” Take a deep breath — that’s only the beginning.
From the small southern town of Borlänge, Mando Diao creates alternative arena rock, the kind that becomes immensely popular in Western European countries before reaching U.S. shores. But after recording a MTV Unplugged concert in 2010 with guests like Ray Davies of the Kinks and Lana del Rey, it’s hard to imagine that an avid music fan would be unfamiliar with their music.
It is 100% impossible to talk about any Scandinavian country without mentioning some variant of metal, and Sweden’s Opeth is one of the most progressive and well known in the genre. I mean, the band’s ninth full-length album, Watershed, peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard 200.
Sweden’s metal scene isn’t only Opeth; there’s also Meshuggah, who are constantly and consistently regarded as one of the most popular heavy metal bands in the region.
Sweden is often regarded as one of the main hubs for twee music (move over, Scotland!). Love Is All is exactly that; their music a hybrid of sweet lo-fi recordings and melancholic lyrics. Did I mention they also have a saxophonist?
A popular band of producers, famous for Miike Snow but also for their work with others: Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg operate under the name Bloodshy & Avant, collaborating with acts like Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears.
America had The Strokes, Sweden had Shout Out Louds. Though only one of those bands went on to superstardom, Shout Out Louds did sign to Merge Records, one of the larger independent labels, and continues to put out some great stuff.
The queen herself. May we all pray to the altar of Robyn forevermore. Amen.
Here’s the playlist on Spotify.
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