Let’s see: Sweden gave the world ABBA, Cardigans, Europe, Roxette – and a few other acts. And around this time every year, the country goes completely crazy over the national qualifiers for the Eurovision Song Contest. If you didn’t now any better, you might be excused for believing that Melodifestivalen was the Eurovision Song Contest.
Denmark … well, our claim to pop music fame is Aqua which was fronted by a Norwegian singer.
Need we say more?
Why have Denmark and Sweden differed in musical performance? After all, both countries – like all Baltic countries – have a great choral tradition.
The usual explanation for the Swedish success in the world’s recording studios has been political: As part of the cradle-to-grave Welfare State, Swedish local councils created and supported a comprehensive network of afternoon musical schools and at one point the investment – which may have been motivated partly by a desire to keep the kids of the streets, partly by an ideal of artistic participation – paid off. Denmark also had afternoon music schools for children but the Danish system was never developed as comprehensively as the Swedish (the Swedes are nothing if not comprehensive and systematic).
But maybe we need a supplementary explanation. The [insert nation] Idol craze has swept both countries recently and Danish commentators have pointed out that non-conformist churches have been mass-providers of singers. My impression is that non-conformist (often Evangelical) churches are relatively bigger (and definitively much more prominent in the public) in Sweden than in Denmark, and even though Sweden has and has had its share of stern no-fun pietist movements, Sweden in some ways seems closer to American Evangelical than North European Lutheran traditions.
So perhaps what was needed for the big pop bonanza was a fertile combination of a Social Democratic welfare state and American Evangelism?
I should point out, in all fairness, that Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame is an out-spoken secularist.