For a country of 35 million, Canada punches far above its weight when it comes to exporting its music to the rest of the world. But then there’s Sweden. With fewer than 10 million people, the country is a musical monster.
There’s the unending parade of cool indie artists: Lykke Li, Tove Lo, Peter, Bjorn & John, The Sounds, The Radio Dept., The Shout Out Louds, The Hives. And let’s not even start on Sweden’s role in metal. Or that Sweden is the birthplace of Spotify.
Sweden gave birth to ABBA, a group that has sold nearly 400 million albums, second only to the Beatles. It’s also the home of Max Martin, the producer/songwriter who crafted megahits for the Backstreet Boys, ’N Sync, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, P!nk and Taylor Swift. He’s produced more No. 1 hits than anyone except George Martin — and he had the Beatles.
He didn’t even mention bands like Ace of Base and the Cardigans from the ’90s, or Icona Pop from a few years back, with that annoying song about a vengeful ex-girlfriend discarding her ex-boyfriend’s belongings, and stupidly driving her car into the river, celebrating vindictive, feral female sensibilities…
So how did this sparsely populated northern European country become such a global powerhouse?
A good question. His answer is most interesting, and instructive:
The answer starts with the 1940s, when cultural conservatives and church leaders banded together to protect the country’s youth from the “dance-floor misery” of degenerate music coming from America. They set up a system of music schools — no tuition, free use of instruments — to show the young how morally uplifting classical music could be.
By the 1960s, the system diversified into other genres of music. While this diluted the original intent of streaming the young into the classical realm, it offered kids more and more opportunity to discover what musical talents they had.
Coupled with government subsidies for rehearsal space (and sometime for just rehearsing), a network of musically inclined people took root across the country. Ideas were exchanged quickly and efficiently. Tightly knit musical communities were created.
This sort of support and social networking brought the people in ABBA together. And when they hit it big, there was a sense across the country that if they could do it, anyone could. Since then, there’s been a real can-do spirit amongst the musically inclined in Sweden. Now the country exports more than $150 million US in music sales to the rest of the planet, the largest per-capita in the world.
It was a social engineering experiment gone wrong, but things have worked out just fine.
Well, I beg to differ that it’s been ‘just fine’, i.e. a positive thing, overall; I’d gladly do without many of the aforementioned Swedish bands AND the American ones for whom Swede Max Martin penned several hits, apparently.
But it is instructive for us reactionaries.
Recall O’Sullivan’s First Law: “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.”
(This is actually a restatement of what many call Robert Conquest’s Second Law of Politics.)
However, being conservative is not enough – as we see with the example of Sweden and popular music. (Perhaps because of Robert Conquest’s Third Law of Politics: “The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.” Which appears to be what happened, eventually if not initially, in Sweden, with their state-funded classical music schools.)
Perhaps we need a new maxim; if someone else hasn’t already come up with it, Will S.’ First Law of Politics:
Any organization or institution not explicitly reactionary from the get-go, will over time become progressive.