“B is for balance/I, for intelligence/T stands for tough, trouble, truly terrific/C for courage/H, bitch, holy,” sing Elliphant and ALMA, consecutively, on the song ‘bitches’. Swedish singer Tove Lo is the mastermind behind this leather-whip, power anthem to women and features fellow Swedish singers Elliphant and Icona Pop, with additions from Finnish star ALMA and the UK’s Charli XCX. Imbued with collaborative feminine energy, this contemporary Spice Girls hit professes sexual agency like a stiletto to the temple. Tove Lo is one of many female Scandipop artists bringing rock-star attitudes into pop music.
In the 60s, pop music was synonymous with rock. During its infancy, rock was sensationalised by younger audiences, providing anti-establishment counterculture ideologies, but it was difficult to separate it from its defining quality. It’s on the radio, so, it’s pop music. Contrary to this, it did not lose its integrity. Rock/pop was a laboratory of sound, utilising experimentation to fragment and form fusion subgenres such as grunge, indie, electronic rock, garage and synth-pop while revolting against conformity. When rock and pop were made separate entities again, the latter received criticism – its melodies, stylisation and lyrical content was far inferior to that of rock. Pop music became synonymous with chart music. Songs were labelled mere billboard hits that would soon fade from importance, dissimilar from the fist-to-the-sky of rock music, whose musical, ideological dissidence prevailed. And yet, in 2018, critics are consistent in their appraisal of pop music. No longer shunned as the shallow younger sibling of indie or rock music, pop’s worth increased tenfold, and its reclassification is indebted to the work of female Scandipop artists experimenting with the craft, allowing their female and queer audiences to find meaning within it.
‘Scandipop’, as it is nicknamed, is not a new genre. Born from the Scandinavian countries Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but not exclusive of Nordic countries such as Finland, it has existed for decades. ABBA remains a household name for introducing Scandipop overseas from their home in Sweden. By magnifying or eradicating pop music tropes, ABBA popularised the genre with their playful nature, and contemporary female artists emulate this willingness to embrace pop by experimenting and introducing feminist perspectives to it. Citing Scandinavia’s creative culture as the source of their success, Swedish singer-songwriter MY says pop runs in the water: “We’ve got so many female role models, great pop writers. There’s lots of equality here.”
But Scandipop resonates with other oppressed communities, too; ABBA have provided influential, fan-certified ‘gay anthems’ to queer groups since the 70s. Contemporarily, artists with large queer fan bases have brought the genre to the stages of the UK, Canada and the US – Katy Perry and Lorde had Sweden’s Tove Styrke open for their Witness and Melodrama tours, respectively – because of Scandipop’s link to diversity. Similarly, MØ’s own UK tour brought an unexpected, transgressive energy to the stage; her show at the O2 Ritz in Manchester saw commotion as she leapt into the largely young, queer crowd. Surfing over her fans, microphone in hand, MØ was enveloped by the mass as she remained singing, engrossed with the power of her music and adoration from fans. Knowing her Scandipop was completely rock and roll, MØ provided release for her female and queer fans similarly to how rock had for non-conformist youths.
Scandipop’s success is not only a testament to the undeniability of feminine and queer power, but its unpredictability. By introducing new, abrasive melodies or reinvigorating pop rules by emphasizing tiny eclectic sounds, Scandipop plays with our expectations of what we want to hear on the radio. Just as rock deconstructed sound, lyricism and political belief, Scandipop is crafted regardless of preconceived notions of femininity and pop, cementing its legitimacy in music criticism and reiterating the 1960s notion that pop and rock are synonymous – because they play by different rules. Scandipop is a queer, feminist genre.
It’s clear in the music. Tove Lo’s feminist albums Lady Wood and Blue Lips have enamoured fans with their desire to desensitise audiences to female sexuality – Lo’s trance, dance anthem ‘disco tits’ explores the pulsing energy of feminine desire. Elsewhere, on the Ume River, sits the city Umeå in north east Sweden, where reflective love-letter poetry collides with jittering, robotic sounds on Tove Styrke’s recently released third studio album, Sway, which explores minimalist pop and the psychology of love following her acclaimed sophomore album Kiddo. On the latter, a track titled ‘Even If I’m Loud It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking to You’ blends electropop and feminist folk rock as she addresses those who perceive pop to be, quite frankly, just noise – ‘I know you feel that pop doesn’t really have a clue/But even if I’m loud, it doesn’t mean I’m talking to you’. Over 800 miles away, loyal collaborator to Diplo, MØ, works on the follow-up album to her acclaimed debut, No Mythologies to Follow, much of which was recorded from the singer’s home in Ubberud, Denmark. Her new, nostalgic addition to pop, ‘Sun in Our Eyes’, slickly blends electronic music with the vibes of a feminine, extra-terrestrial Coachella-Woodstock hybrid event. ‘Just ride that wave until we’re higher than life,’ she instructs. And she knows that’s what they are doing.
Scandipop has a long list of women revolutionising pop, including Dagny, Lykke Li, Zara Larsson, Sigrid, Robyn, Skott and more, and they are famed for their bold use of sound. For audiences, this means a new wave of pop/rock music – it is romantic turmoil; it is dance music; it is feminism, queerness and equality; it is seeing women do it anyway when critics say it should not be done or it has been done before. Like a fist to the sky, Scandipop is putting rock and roll back into pop music.
Words by Otis Robinson.
Words by HQ