The in-joke in the Swedish music industry is that its composers are as successful as Ikea. Not only is the Scandinavian country a multiple Eurovision Song Contest title-holder, it also provides other countries with hits.
As seven-time champion, Ireland tops the table of countries with the most ever Eurovision Song Contest wins. In second place, with five notches on its microphone stand, is Sweden - tied with Great Britain and France. The Nordic nation's success story began in 1974 when Abba stole the show with "Waterloo." Ten years later, the Herreys "Diggi-Loo, Diggi-Ley-ed" their way into the judges' hearts, only to be followed by Carola and Charlotte Nilsson in 1991 and 1999 respectively. And then last year in Baku, Loreen and her wannabe mystic "Euphoria" secured the ESC title another trip to Sweden.
But given that four of the ten top songs in the final were either Swedish productions or co-productions, many of her musical compatriots also walked away with winning smiles. Besides Sweden itself, Azerbaijan (4th place), Italy (9th place) and Spain (10th place) also got as far as they did on the back of Swedish pop. And it doesn’t stop there. Sixteen of the 42 participating countries ordered their 2012 songs from the Scandinavian country. In 2011, the situation was similar, and "Running Scared," the winning track sung by Azerbaijani duo Ell & Nikki, was another Swedish creation. And the list goes on. So what’s the deal? Is Sweden slowly claiming the Grand Prix as its own?
Mainstream in demand
Irving Wolther, linguistic and cultural scientist at the Hanover University of Music, speaks in terms of a "Swedenization" of the ESC. And he should know. Not only is he the driving force behind the founding of the first ever German Eurovision fan club, in 2006 he wrote the first ever doctoral thesis about the contest. While it was once commonplace for each country to sing in its own language, he says, it has long been deemed more appropriate to sing in English.
"For many countries, winning the contest is so important that they will do anything - sometimes even deny their own culture - in the process," the lecturer, aka "Dr. Eurovision," told DW. "Many people are not aware that a large part of mainstream pop that belts out of our radios is of Swedish origin." In the case of Eurovision, he adds, talent is cherry-picked in order to present Europe with something easily digestible in the name of the participating country. The strategy worked well for Azerbaijan, which hired a Swedish team three years in a row, and hit third time lucky two years ago.
Even a certain person called Edda senses a "Swedenization" of the ESC. On her blog, she is predicting that Georgia will be this year's winner with its contribution by Swedish songwriters Erik Bernholm and Thomas G:son. The latter composed last year's winning song "Euphoria." Not that that necessarily make him a great musical talent in Edda's view. "He composes according to the principles of a lottery player," she said. "He has tried to take part in the ESC with 64 similar-sounding songs, which means statistically, he has a greater chance of winning again."
Sweden's success is no great surprise to music experts. Despite its modest population of 9.5 million, it is the third largest producer of English-language pop and rock music in the world following the US and the UK - and has been for a while. The Swedes have a presence right across the genre spectrum: with hip artists such as Lykke Li, who sang the 2012 summer hit "I Follow Rivers," rock band Mando Diao and hit parade pop from Roxette to The Cardigans. And that is to say nothing of Abba, whose fans are still mourning the band’s split three decades down the line.
Off-stage and behind the scenes, Sweden is doing well too. Ever since Abba won Eurovision in the seventies, international giants from Madonna to the Backstreet Boys and Lady Gaga have been ordering songs from the northern beauty. British daily The Guardian recently wrote that barely a week goes by in which a song written by a Swede doesn’t make it into the top ten somewhere in the world. And because the country has an image of friendly harmlessness, nobody begrudges it such hegemony.
Starting young, marketing and anti-depression therapy
But how they do it? One point is that Swedish schools offer music from an early age and make sure there are enough instruments and practice rooms to go round. Another is that for many families, making music during the long dark winter months is a part of daily life: killing time and melancholy besides fostering musical talent. And then there's "Export Music Sweden," an organization dedicated to marketing Swedish music internationally, helping to launch young Swedish musicians and establishing successful networks.
In Sweden, casting for the Eurovision Song Contest is an extravaganza. The preliminary selection stage is known as the "Melodifestivalen" and is held in the far north of the country. Round after round, musicians and singers from all over the country compete. But unlike in Germany, unsuccessful participation does not mean an end to the artist's career. On the contrary: for Swedish artists who really want to succeed, taking part in at least a couple of Melodifestivals is nearly a must.
"What’s important is a real passion for individuality," Linda Carlsson told DW. "In Sweden, most musicians want to create their own sound because they know that it is the only way to be taken seriously in the rest of the world." Known as Miss Li in the pop world, the 31-year-old says it doesn't make much sense to copy American and British role models. Her songs enjoy success in Sweden but have also made it onto the US television show "Gray’s Anatomy" and been used in international advertising campaigns.
This year Robin James Olof Stjernberg will be representing Sweden with the pop ballad "You." The favorite among bookies is Denmark's Emmele de Forest. But even if she were to prove them right, the victory would still at least partially Swedish. The artist was born to a Swedish father and grew up in Stockholm, and even the design of trophy she would receive was Made in Sweden.