Sweden is the third largest exporter of pop music in the world today, after only the United States and Britain. Think about that. While Japanese pop groups are big in their home country, and the same can be said all over the planet - France, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Italy, India, etc. - not even musicians from Ireland or Australia have conquered the world like the Swedes have. Why is this? Why, when neighboring Norway could only export one-hit wonders a-ha and cult performers Röyksopp and Sondra Lerche, Denmark just gave the world novelty act Aqua and Finland has produced nothing notable since Jean Sibelius? (Iceland, to their credit, has gotten a lot of pop music mileage for a country of just 250,000 souls: Björk and the Sugarcubes, obviously, but also GusGus, Sigur Ros, and Emiliana Torrini.) But there's something about those Swedes. Maybe it's that killer combo of incredibly good looking citizens and Scandinavian business acumen, matched with a rare extroversion for a Northern European people. But they've been cranking out tons of internationally recognized products: Volvo, IKEA, Ericsson, Saab, Björn Borg, Greta Garbo... and the following nine popular music acts:
- ABBA. Swedish pop music begins and ends here.
- Europe. "The Final Countdown" and big hair.
- Roxette. One of the most popular acts in the late '80s. "The Look", "It Must Have Been Love", and so forth.
- Ace of Base. Picking up where Roxette left off (though its two-girl, two-guy formation reminded more people of ABBA), this early '90s group sold over 32 million albums worldwide. Remember "The Sign"?
- The Cardigans. Alternative rock band had a big hit with "Lovefool" in the mid-'90s.
- Yngwie J. Malmsteen. Heavy metal guitar god.
- Neneh Cherry. Yes, the "Buffalo Stance" singer/rapper was born in a small town in Sweden (to a Swedish mother and a Sierra Leonean father - the "Cherry" comes from her American-born stepfather, jazz musician Don Cherry) and, after stints in New York and London, now mostly divides her time between her hometown and Stockholm.
- The Hives. Of the many alternative rock bands to come out of Sweden in the last 10 years, The Hives probably made the biggest splash - and they also helped reinvent rock and roll fashion.
- Whale. It's too early to tell which of the tons of hip Swedish groups will leave the biggest mark in pop music. There's too many to choose from: Sahara Hotnights? Peter Bjorn and John? The Teddybears? The International Noise Conspiracy? The Shout Out Louds? The Soundtrack of Our Lives? So while the debate goes on, I'll offer the final slot on this list of nine to the crazy band Whale, who gave us "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe", still one of the loudest, rockingest, semi-hit songs of the '90s.