Do you remember a time when the pop that came out of mainland Europe ranged between ABBA and 2Unlimited, with a wealth of forgetful, over-blown, synthetic rubbish appearing during the intervening years? Music aimed at the lowest common denominator followed the direction of Eurovision out of the continent.
In the name of balance it wasn’t all terrible and in recent years, particularly within Scandinavia, the highlights have done their best to evolve rapidly, now producing cutting edge music and stylish pop stars with a global potential. You can look at the success of Lykke Li, or the ice-cold Fever Ray and the shared aesthetics of The Knife, or switch to the most recent artists such as Oh Land, LCMDF and Nikki & The Dove, the latter of which are so advanced in the evolution that they’re found unashamedly revisiting bits of Eurovision and all it’s theatrics, without a hint of irony.
In the last few months the blog focus has been on a new duo from Stockholm, Sweden, who go by the name Icona Pop and they seem to be the missing link between the synthesized pop past and the recent set of more grown up contemporaries. Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo deliver pop music that isn’t running from the past or stretching out for the future, but actually linking up the two with a reassuring confidence.
Upon first hearing Manners you get it all – clapped beats, fizzy electronics, cute female vocals and a Sesame Street chorus. It’s verses are like the narration of a teenager’s diary, before the youthful confidence comes storming in, “take a second look and you’ll see, there is no one like me“. It’s a punchy pop song that has a wonderful blend of obvious hooks, big choruses and a chart-ready appeal, yet it’s still drenched in buckets of ice cool undertones.
Tracks like Top Rated and Still Don’t Know continue to offer up the kind of radio-friendly songs that Simon Cowell usually does his best to brutally pillage, which makes the releases through independent labels such as Neon Gold and Kitsune seem an impressive juxtaposition to their obvious appeal. Classic pop subjects that visit positive/negative narratives, such as jumping into love or dealing with heartbreaks, are going to net the teen market, especially when they’re married up with beats that you can dance to and sing-along choruses that only ever start after a well-placed momentary break in the beat.
Modern pop producers, usually employed by the sickly reality talent shows, have spent years forcing more credible musicians – whether they’re from Europe or elsewhere – to do their best to steer clear of this brand of obvious, empowering teen pop. However, Icona Pop have shown us you can do it and still avoid the tacky pitfalls. Once again Sweden is leading the charge with the sound of real pop. (MB)
ICONA POP – MANNERS
ICONA POP – STILL DON’T KNOW