Why Do Swedish Bands Sing In English? (Abba, Roxette, More)


Like many countries where English is not the first language, it is peculiar to discover that some of the most popular bands originating from Sweden almost exclusively sing in English. So why would Swedish bands choose not to sing in their native Swedish but rather focus on making songs in English? 

Many Swedish bands choose to sing in English because it is a widely spoken language, whereas Swedish is not. Therefore, singing in the unofficial “universal language” of the world allows bands to gain wider appeal with international audiences, music studios, and agents. 

What are Sweden’s most well-known English-speaking bands? What styles of music do Swedes like the most? Why do Swedes like heavy metal so much? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Swedish concert
What are Sweden’s most popular bands? See below

What Are Sweden’s Most Well-Known English-Speaking Bands?

It’s important to know that most Swedish people can speak English fluently, which means there are seldom inconsistencies in pronunciation when Swedish bands sing in English.

However, to fully understand this phenomenon, it’s important to know the history of Swedish bands and the styles of music that are popular in Sweden.

To understand why Swedish bands often choose to write and perform songs in English, we need to look at some of Sweden’s most popular bands that chose to sing in English and how this translated into international acclaim, recognition, and sales.

Some of Sweden’s most well-known English speaking bands are: 

  1. Abba
  2. Roxette
  3. Ace Of Base
  4. Swedish House Mafia 
  5. The Cardigans
  6. The Hives
  7. Europe
  8. Bathory
  9. Ghost
  10. Meshuggah

1. Abba 

Abba is Sweden’s most successful band of all time, having sold over 400 million copies of their albums, making them the 3rd highest selling band of all time! 

Upon winning the 1974 Eurovision with their hit single “Waterloo,” Abba went on to become the definitive pop sound throughout the 70s and early 80s. Consequently, Abba became the template for many Swedish bands looking to break into the international market by singing in English.

2. Roxette 

Formed in 1986 by Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle, this Swedish pop duo found fame in their native Sweden before dominating the international pop scene in the late 80s and early 90s. At the time of writing, Roxette is Sweden’s second-best-selling musical act after Abba.

3. Ace Of Base 

Formed in 1990 by three siblings and one of their friends as a school project, Ace Of Base capitalized on the early 90s pop-techno sound by incorporating technology into the recording, production, and editing process of their songwriting, which included the use of English lyrics to appeal to a wider audience.

4. Swedish House Mafia 

The popularity of electronic dance music in Sweden and internationally saw the rise of three prominent Swedish DJs: Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso, and Axel Hedfors. Their success culminated in the creation of the progressive house supergroup in 2008, known as the Swedish House Mafia.

Like Abba before them, the trio would go on to define the EDM sound of the late 2000s and early 2010s before taking an extended hiatus in 2013. 

Swedish rock
What musical styles do Swedes like best? See below

5. The Cardigans 

Despite having a distinctly British-sounding name, accompanied by an equally British-sounding alternative rock sound akin to bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Cardigans were formed in Jönköping, Sweden, in 1992.

Having achieved international acclaim in the late 90s and early 2000s through distinctly modern means, such as featuring on video game soundtracks such as Gran Turismo in 1998, The Cardigans have gone on to sell over 15 million album copies at the time of writing. 

6. The Hives 

With a similar trajectory to The Cardigans, albeit in the garage rock/punk scene and its revival in the early 2000s, The Hives established themselves as one of the most popular and critically acclaimed rock bands to arise out of Sweden throughout the 2000s and into the early 2010s.

7. Europe

Formed in 1979, Europe cemented itself as the quintessential glam-rock band the world over with their hit single “The Final Countdown” in 1986. 

Although they continued to find success with other singles in the top 40 of the US Billboard Hot 100 list, there’s no denying their longevity, with The Final Countdown being recognized as a staple of New Year’s Eve playlists for years; to come!

8. Bathory 

Venturing into darker territories, while Bathory may not be a household name for non-metal listeners, they are synonymous with the creation of both Viking metal and black metal during the mid-80s and early-90s. 

This international success and intervention formed the bedrock of Swedish/Nordic bands to follow and their dominance in the heavy metal genre. 

9. Ghost

Known for theatrics, frightening costumes, and larger-than-life performances, the formation of Ghost in 2006 by Tobias Forge led to a revolution in rock and metal scenes throughout the late 2000s and into the mid-2010s.

10. Meshuggah

As a culmination of both Sweden’s heavy metal scene and the desire to push the envelope in terms of technology’s role in music production, Meshuggah has been identified as a pioneer in both fields, given its enormous influence in the tech-metal scene over the past 27 years.

Swedish music
Why do Swedes like metal so much? See below

What Styles Of Music Do Swedes Like The Most?

The results of a 2020 survey found that the most popular genre of music in Sweden is pop music, with 54% of respondents identifying this as their favorite genre. 

This was closely followed by rock music at 45%, although vintage pop/rock and hard rock/metal came in at 3rd and 4th place with 28% and 26% respectively, which points to an overall positive association with rock music.

Curiously, electronic/dance/EDM came in at 5th at 21% and tied with classical music, suggesting that the progressive house scene has taken a dip in popularity in recent years despite Sweden’s global influence.

Why Do Swedes Like Heavy Metal So Much?

Like many Scandinavian countries, Sweden has a deep love and appreciation for heavy metal. While it can be very difficult to determine why exactly certain genres of music are popular in certain countries, researchers have identified seven primary variables concerning the popularity of heavy metal:

1. The percentage of the population that is secular

2. The country’s latitude

3. Whether the country is Scandinavian

4. The percentage of the population that are young males

5. The number of concert halls

Analyzing all the above points would require a full research paper (of which a few have been published). Consequently, the popularity of heavy metal in Sweden can best be associated with an appreciation for Viking culture and music, coupled with a largely secular country that promotes freedom of expression. 

As one of the hubs of heavy metal, it is understandable why these bands would opt to sing in English to spread this genre globally to other countries where metal is popular.

Conclusion 

Given the immense success of Swedish bands that choose to sing in English and Sweden’s leading role in popular genres such as heavy metal, it is likely that the use of English as the language of choice when producing Swedish music will continue!

References:
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