Recording Studio: From Abba to Icona Pop, from Roxette to Robyn, Sweden’s reputation for pop superiority has spanned decades, and it continues today. But the arrival of Ace of Base helped usher in the “Swedish Music Miracle,” a period of time from about 1990 to 2003 when Sweden’s musical exports were at their economic peak. A 1999 report from Sweden’s Ministry of Finance found that royalty payments to Sweden from foreign markets were twice the U.S. per capita figure. Today, according to other reports, Sweden is the third-largest music exporter in the world behind the U.S. and the UK. In 2003, Swedish recording studio music exports began to decline, but behind the scenes, the country’s pop talent has remained active: In May of 2012, half of the top 10 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 were written or produced by Swedes.
For a 2010 article in the peer-reviewed journal FOCUS on Geography, Johansson examined the scholarly literature about Sweden’s economy, politics, and geography to develop eight theories behind his country’s hits.
Recording Studio: Sweden Loves Its Role Models
In the 1970s, tennis player Björn Borg and alpine skier Ingemar Stenmark rose to international prominence as Swedish athletes, inspiring unprecedented numbers of Swedes to take up those sports themselves. Johansson suggests the same could have very well been true for music: After Abba’s early breakthroughs, more Swedes made plays for global pop success.
One critique of this theory identifies the lag time between Abba’s initial popularity and the next Swedish mega-hit, Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” which topped charts in a dozen countries more than a decade after Abba first got big. But Johansson argues that developing a country’s music industry takes time, and there’s evidence that the Abba operation played a key role in maturing Sweden’s pop-music community. He cites a Swedish-language paper from 2004 that credits Abba’s manager, Stikkan Anderson—who hired mostly Swedish staffers to help produce the recording studio band’s music, videos, and tours—with incubating Sweden’s music industry personnel. Other studies claim Abba’s simple, almost nursery-rhyme-like melodies and lighter, vocal-heavy production—in contrast to English and American pop music’s bass- and drum-heavy styles—pioneered an influential, region-less sound easily appreciated by foreign countries.