Five Scandipop Artists to Watch in 2013 The European region of Scandinavia (officially Denmark, Norway and Sweden) may be small and sparsely populated but it punches well above its weight in popular music, so much so that Sweden is now one of the biggest exporters of pop music in the world. Per capita, only the USA and the UK do pop on a bigger scale, which is rather impressive given Sweden has less than 10 million inhabitants.
The dominance of Scandinavia on the world pop music scene began in the deep dark depths of the 1970s when the mighty ABBA scored massive hits worldwide and established a popularity that shows no signs of diminishing more than 30 years after the band broke up. ABBA's success not only opened the eyes of record company executives to the talent existing in the backwaters of Europe but also gave countless young Scandinavian musicians the inspiration to follow their musical dreams.
Since ABBA, the pop world has been flooded with Scandinavians with a canny ability to write a killer melody - a-ha, Roxette, Ace of Base, Europe, Neneh Cherry, Aqua, Kings Of Convenience, Royksopp, Robyn, The Hives, Basshunter, Swedish House Mafia… the list goes on. The success of musicians from Scandinavia has reached such heights that it is now one of the very few regions of the world to have a musical genre named after it – Scandipop. Perhaps those long winters with no sunlight encourage creative genius?
Scandipop is instantly recognisable yet difficult to define. Perhaps best described as pure pop, Scandipop artists are the best in the business at creating hook laden, melody driven, three and a half minute masterpieces that whack you over the head to get your attention and make your spine tingle and your feet tap, before driving an unstoppable aural/head rush through your body, leaving you nothing less than exhilarated. Impeccably produced, usually drenched in electronica, Scandipop is both timeless and bang on trend, if not so far ahead of trend you won't realise how good it is for another decade.
With fistfuls of new Scandipop artists appearing almost every day (check out Scandipop.co.uk and prepare to be lost for several days) it can be hard to sort out the gems from the merely average. To help you through the maze, this list introduces you to five of the best new Scandipop artists on the scene today. Find a quiet spot, plug in your headphones and get ready for the head rush…
Maya Vik channels the 1980s like...well, just like someone from the 1980s really
Voted Norway's most beautiful woman in 2007, Maya Vik started her musical career playing bass guitar for indie bands Furia and Montée, the latter winning a Norwegian Grammy in 2009 for best band. For her first solo album, 2011's Château Faux-Coupe, Vik radically changed genres from rock to a heady fusion of funk and electro-pop infused with a liberal dose of the 1980s, a style she expanded and improved upon with last year's Bummer Gun.
First single On It (Kapow!) is stunning, chock full of dreamy melodies, feather soft vocals and an absolutely killer chorus, all set to an insistent electronic beat that rushes headlong from start to finish without pausing for breath. It also manages to sound more like the 1980s than anything this side of Bananarama riffing with The Human League (which, by the way, is a good thing).
Second single Bummer Gun is in much the same vein, brooding verses and an explosive chorus (especially after the dub-step inspired bridge) but is harder and wraps twenty-first century grime around a heart anchored firmly in the 1980s. Not just inspired by the 1980s, on Bummer Gun Vik has recreated the music of the era so expertly that one listen to the pulsing bassline, synthesizer blips and multi-layered vocals will instantly transport anyone over the age of 35 back to their first Blue Light Disco.
Other highlights on the album include Be The One, a duet with Justice vocalist Morgan Phalen which tells a bittersweet tale of a couple falling apart, and in a nod to Vik's 80s inspiration, a cover of Ready For The World's 1985 hit Oh Sheila.
I still have no idea what a Bummer Gun is, but when they sound as good as this, I'll take several. Bang bang.
Swedish group Le Kid formed in 2008 when producers and songwriters Felix, Marta and Anton recruited singers Johanna and Helena to front 'your new favourite band'. Debut album Oh, Alright! appeared in 2011 and was something of a curate's egg with clever pop gems like We Are The Drums rubbing shoulders with the so-bad-it's-Steps We Should Go Home Together.
Recent work has been streets ahead of their debut, with their last two singles approaching something close to pop genius. Human Behaviour, released last year, is one of the most stunning, addictive and exhilarating, not to mention downright sexy, pieces of pop music ever released (possibly). A dark, throbbing piece of electro-sex punctuated with a staccato 'oh-oh-oh' riff, the track references our very own Olivia Newton-John with its 'let's get physical' refrain but the similarities with ON-J's coy 80s classic end there. There are no double entendres or winks for Le Kid, they just want action - 'my shirt is bursting at the seams/and my heart is pounding like a drum machine' the girls assert before growling 'we're nothing but animals/it's human behaviour'. Absolutely intoxicating.
Follow up single We Are Young hit the airwaves last month and is another spectacular piece of pop. Its rollicking beat and football-crowd-chanting chorus manage to perfectly capture the joy of youth in three and a half minutes, and certainly much more effectively than the unrelated song of the same name by dreary indie rockers Fun. If you don't wish you were 23 again after hearing this, you may as well roll over and end it all.
Don't miss the accompanying video clip, shot by the band on their iPhones as they lark around Stockholm being young. It may be simple and cheap but it's also a resounding lesson in how personality and charisma in pop music is more about showing the real person behind the charade and less about sticking a lump of meat on your head.
As a final note, fans of authentic rock (yawn) might want to avoid Le Kid in case they stumble across the band's pop version of The Killers Mr Brightside. I know I'm not going to change your mind indie rock lovers, but Le Kid's version is actually a lot more coherent and delivered with far more emotion and passion than the original. Could it even be…better? And you can dance to it. Try it – you never know.
Danish singer Vinnie Who (born Niels Bagge Hansen) veers more into indie music than any other of the artists in this list, however we're hardly talking Nirvana or Green Day here. If such a thing as indie-disco exists, Vinnie Who has the market cornered. Androgynous, with a high-pitched voice at times soaring into falsetto, Who's music is diverse and encompasses disco, soul, funk, indie and electronica without ever straying far from a firm base of pop.
Who first came to prominence in 2010 with his debut album Then I Met You for which he received three Danish Music Award nominations. The album's second single What You Got Is Mine is still his career highlight, a stunning slice of electro-pop that should be in the music collection of anyone who professes to have even the slightest interest in pop. There are enough hooks in the song to not only land several school of fish but to give you a pop high you won't come down from in a hurry. With an addictive pulsing beat, electric guitar loop and pseudo orchestral strings (very reminiscent of Madonna's Die Another Day, for those old enough to remember 2002) every instrument in the business is thrown in, all held together by Vinnie's vocals bouncing all over the place. The outro is perhaps the most delicious part of the song – an instrumental that builds and builds with intensity before abruptly dying. Highly recommended.
Who's second album, Midnight Special was released in February this year and has already outperformed his debut in his home country, peaking at number four. The album is again an eclectic mix of styles. First single The Wiggle is pure 70s disco, and comes complete with a intriguing video clip which follows two stony-faced drag queens as they mosey around Copenhagen on Segways. As you do. Other standouts are Femme Fatale, its piano melody lending the track a lazy Californian sunshine vibe, and the contrasting frenetic electronic blips and mellow guitar strums of Nothing's New.
Sometimes a challenging listen, Vinnie Who is making some of the most interesting Scandipop around and is well worth seeking out. If you are making your way to Europe this year, Vinnie will be appearing at music festivals across Denmark throughout the northern summer.
When you first hear Ester Ideskog, better known as Vanbot, odds on the word "Robyn" will loom large in the pop corner of your brain. You won't be the first, or the last, to note the similarities with the all-conquering Queen of Scandipop. At times, the resemblance is uncanny – same moody synthesized melodies, same teary 'ooh me heart's broken' lyrics and spookily similar voices. Vanbot doesn't quite reach the same heights of pop ecstasy as Robyn, but a poor-man's Robyn is still better than a large swathe of the so-called pop artists on the charts at the moment.
Vanbot's self-titled debut album was released in 2011 and instantly created a buzz. First single Make Me Break Me is a fantastic slice of electro-pop, with Vanbot doing her best high-pitched shouty voice over a cracking bassline. As good as Make Me Break Me is, album track Lost Without You easily outshines it. A sweeping, moody piece of gorgeousness, it's the kind of thing Swedish popstrels seem to do so well – a downbeat, tear-stained ballad set to a thumping electronic beat which strangely makes you want to weep more than if it was set to a melancholy piano. 'I thought I'd failed for the last time baby/You've been a stranger…I'll close my eyes and maybe the wounds will heal/Cause I never knew, I'm lost without you'. Sniff.
After disappearing in 2012, Vanbot's second album is to be released later this year. Two singles have already been released and suggest this album will be just as good as her first. Hold This Moment isn't a million miles from Make Me Break Me but with a much harder electronic edge, whilst When My Hearts Break starts off with a groovy, mellow verse before exploding into an completely unexpected ABBA-style cacophony of a chorus. Unexpected, but like most of Vanbot's music, definitely in the really rather good camp.
You may never have heard of Norway's Gabrielle Leithaug, but out of all the artists on this list she is the only one who can legitimately claim superstar status. Another point of difference is that unlike most of her peers she sings in her native language - none of that English malarkey for her.
One of Norway's most popular stars at the moment, Gabrielle first came to prominence on the Norwegian version of The X Factor in 2009. Despite being voted off by the public and finishing in seventh place, her debut release two years later sent the country into something of a pop frenzy. Ring Meg soared to number one on the charts, going platinum ten – yes, ten – times over and broke records as the most streamed song in Norwegian history. The album Mildt Sagt followed and was full of perfectly acceptable, if completely uninspired, pieces of pop. It was only with the final two singles from the album, Høster and Løkken, that a glimmer of Gabrielle's real talent was revealed, something that was only sporadically evident before. Løkken in particular is a gorgeous piece of subdued, stripped back pop, poles apart from the perky candy pop of Ring Meg.
Gabrielle's second album is due later this year and the first single, Regn Fra Blå Himmel (Rain From A Blue Sky), was released in February. Vastly superior to anything the singer has released before, it is further proof she is growing as an artist and is shaping up as one of the most talented and exciting singers in Norway today. A moody, grimy, downbeat pop gem, it shows off Gabrielle's stunning voice to full effect and despite the language barrier the obvious pain and emotion in the lyrics is evident in every note she sings. It's a complete change stylistically from her earlier singles and all the better for it.
The song's promo video is equally compelling and well worth watching. Throwing off her pretty girl-next-door talent show past, Gabrielle is unrecognizable as an angst-ridden, hoodie-wearing delinquent prowling the streets of New York with her BFF and a baseball bat, shoplifting, stealing cars and setting teddy bears on fire (don't ask).
Gabrielle has matured enormously as an artist over the last two years and if she continues to pump out music as amazing as Regn Fra Blå Himmel, this is one Scandipop artist to keep your eye on. Gabrielle, I may have no idea what you are singing about, but I think I love you.