Lyor Cohen had a hard decision to make. He wanted to get Migos, the burgeoning Atlanta rap trio, out of Atlanta to finish recording their debut album. After a year and a half the group had become veritable kings of the resurging Atlanta hip-hop scene: remixes from Drake, millions of Twitter followers, weekly shows and club appearances earning them $40,000 a night, the works. But after performing at the EDM mecca TomorrowWorld, both Migos and Cohen, the executive of 300 Entertainment to which Migos is signed, saw the potential for the three to become a massive crossover success. So where to send Migos to finish their debut album? He could send them to New York where the biggest names in hip-hop from past and present live. Or to LA, the hub of American electronic and pop music. Or to Chicago where the rappers of the drill scene are the sonic cousins of Migos’ trap sound. But ultimately he made a seemingly oddball choice: Sweden. What Cohen knew and what the world is quickly finding out is that Sweden and it’s neighboring countries are rapidly becoming a hotbed for what’s next not only in rap but in pop, rock, and electronic music.
The modern Scandinavian invasion of American pop music started with a man named Karl Martin Sandberg. After honing his production skills on Ace Of Base’s sophomore album The Bridge, the Stockholm native was recruited to work on the debut album from an American boy-band called the Backstreet Boys. “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart),” “Everybody,” and “As Long As You Love Me” were all co written by Sandberg, who by then was going by the moniker Max Martin. Since the late ‘90s, he’s worked with everyone in American pop from Britney Spears to Taylor Swift, weaving in conspicuous elements of European pop and dance music. “Baby One More Time” was Martin; “Hot n Cold” was Martin; “Tik Tok” was Martin. Since the Backstreet Boys went platinum, America has had a steady stream of Swedish influence in its pop music. But the music industry has changed unfathomably since Max Martin began crafting the signature sound of the early 2000s. The Internet has replaced physical stores as the marketplace for music. With platforms like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and even iTunes, there’s an infinite shelf space for artists to release music. As radio has gotten more generic and access to music has gotten easier, listeners’ tastes have gotten more esoteric. Our desire for music, regardless of genre, that incorporates new sounds in a unique way has grown as our exposure to music from the far corners of the Internet (and the world) has increased. This is great news for non-American artists looking to break into the American market. All of a sudden, artists from all over the world are essentially releasing music in the same store as the hit makers that Max Martin helped launch to platinum status.
This brings us to 2014, where we’re in the midst of a full-flung invasion of artists from Northern Europe. Magnus Høiberg, a 26 year- old Norwegian who goes by Cashmere Cat, is quickly becoming a go-to pop producer much in the same way Max Martin was. With production for Ludacris, Ariana Grande, Juicy J, and support from American EDM tastemakers, American pop and electronic music is getting a heavy dose of the bright glittery synths distinct to Cashmere Cat and his Scottish labelmates of LuckyMe. Outside of production, artists like MØ, Mapei, Lykke Li, Tove Lo, Iceage, and Little Dragon have found large American audiences for their unique blend of experimental pop, indie rock, and Nordic influence. While these artists have an influences that span the globe, they all incorporate a unique IKEA-esque minimalism. Lykke Li’s sparse new album incorporates production from Björn Yttling of Swedish rock band PB&J.
The genre to receive the most recent Scandinavian takeover is hip-hop. Taking cues from cloud rap titans like Lil B and ASAP Rocky, and borrowing the slurred, emotional autotuned flows of Future, the Swedish teenagers that make up the Sad Boys and Gravity Boys groups have taken American hip-hop by a storm. The vocalists Yung Lean, Bladee, Thaiboy Digital, and Ecco2k rely heavily on themes of negative emotions (loneliness, sadness, depression) and comically alternate between scenes of confessional loneliness and distinctly American materialistic braggadocio. Fellow Stockholm natives White Armor, Yung Gud, and Yung Sherman, make up the core of the production team behind Sad Boys and Gravity Boys. The three producers have crafted a sound that mixes southern American hip-hop drums with European dance music synthesizers. The result is a unique blend of sounds. Slowed down, reverby vocal samples and drums that would be at home in a Clams Casino beat are backed with synthesizers that would be right at home in a Euro-trance song. So far, the groups have done a European tour, an American tour, and are currently touring North America playing music from Yung Lean’s debut album before returning back to Europe to tour again. Yung Gud and Yung Sherman both have deals with electronic music labels to release solo projects, and Gud toured Europe this past fall performing as a DJ. All this has taken place in the past year.
Thanks to internet music-sharing platforms like Soundcloud and social media tools that allow artists to share their music without the bounds of traditional distribution methods that impose extra costs for sharing music overseas, our access to (and taste for) non-American music has expanded past traditional European pop acts like ABBA. And the same is true for artists and fans in northern Europe. There would be no Yung Lean without his American influences; Mapei would have a much harder time marketing her music without her 34,000 Soundcloud followers; and where would we all be without the prolific Björk, who’s used the tools of the Internet to market herself and stay relevant over the course of her 20-year solo career? The Internet has ushered in a Northern European invasion of new artists who are quickly finding their American fans have a taste for their sonic fusion.