cover story Features July 3, 2019

Why do Swedish songwriters dominate the pop music charts?

Why do Swedish songwriters dominate the pop music charts?
Image: Shellback, Justin Timberlake & Max Martin

The world’s biggest artists are looking to Swedish songwriters for a template of what works on mainstream radio, playlisting and the pop charts.

Tackling the dark side of vulnerability, our Swedish brothers and sisters have tapped into a songwriting goldmine with pure emotions and heartfelt sentiments in a polished and well-produced format.

Emotions aren’t a new thing to songwriting, but it’s the way they structure narratives that have captivated listeners, artists, radio and A&R executives.

Weighing in on the songwriting trend, Nova Network head of music Scott Baker-Smith admits audiences will always connect with genuine portrayals of vulnerability.

“The audiences locally will always respond to the strength of the song,” he tells TMN.

“A hit is a hit no matter what style or genre it is. However, the trend for breakup songs has always been there. If a song is evocative through its lyrics, the audience will connect to that”.

Max Martin and Shellback are two of the biggest names in pop production.

These two Swedish-born producers have worked on some of the biggest pop songs of the past twenty years. They’ve collectively earned credits on records by Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, P!NK, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd and Justin Timberlake. Their individual rosters are impressive.

Looking at the ARIA Singles Chart, both Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber’s ‘I Don’t Care’ and Avicii’s ‘SOS’ with Aloe Blacc appear in the Top 20 and were produced and co-written by Swedish songwriters.

‘I Don’t Care’ has also been at the summit of the TMN Hot 100 Airplay Chart for the last six weeks, and early data suggests that run could soon extend that run to seven. For its part, ‘SOS’ has been on the Hot 100 for eleven weeks and is currently at #15.

The charts are also heavily saturated by neighbouring Norwegian songwriters and producers.

On the local front, Illy recently enlisted in the help of Swedish duo LIAS and Priest for his new single ‘Then What’. “I’ve loved collaborating with artists,” Illy told triple j, “and I write my own stuff, but [LIAS and Priest] really add their magic and talents to it.”

Proof that heartbreak continues to resonate with listeners can be easily seen in hits like Mark Ronson’s ‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’ featuring Miley Cyrus.

This emotional connection originates back to the early pop days, where Swedish artists first introduced their bold and emotionally enforced material. It didn’t matter where the song was coming from because it was relatable and honest, which is the raw power of music.

“The influence of those territories have always permeated through pop, way back from ABBA to the Zomba/Jive domination 20 years ago. Again, we love a song no matter where it comes from,” says Baker-Smith.

Looking at the local industry, Baker-Smith believes there are some homegrown favourites who have embraced this writing approach extremely well.

“Sarah Aarons is an amazing songwriter who captures heartbreak so honestly. Amy Shark and the tone of some of her songs have it. And Troye Sivan has had some melancholy in his work that has connected with listeners too.”

Independent singer-songwriter Hazlett recently returned home to open for Conrad Sewell on his national Australian tour after a stint based in Sweden. After struggling to get his foot in the door of the Australian market, he jumped at the opportunity to head to Scandinavia after a Swede reached out and endorsed his creative vision.

Spending time there to write and produce with local collaborators, the Brisbane singer-songwriter found their vulnerability most appealing to his artistry. With the language barrier allowing him to let down some vulnerable walls, he found their lyrical structuring intriguing.

“Melodically Swedish songwriters and producers are so unique and I think it comes from their language as it’s so melodic,” Hazlett tells TMN.

“With English being their second language, they don’t have inhibitions about throwing crazy words or half baked ideas out there, which takes you to a different place.”

Consumers want to connect with something real and honest. Audiences want to escape the misery of their everyday life – to relate to someone so they don’t feel alone.

Through opening themselves up and allowing their broken English to paint a story, Swedish songwriters have paved a path to an exciting future of emotionally driven songs.

Pop songwriters like Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, Teddy Geiger, Greg Kurstin, Sarah Aarons, Leland and Sasha Sloan have embraced this concept and are ready to continue delivering the feels.

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