Sweden: the spiritual magic of ‘joiking’

We have all experienced moments of beauty in our lives. One of mine is something I experienced on a trip to the North of Sweden in an town called Hemavan.

The resort we stayed at had a restaurant at the bottom of a ski slope. One day when we were in there, a Sami man climbed up onto the small stage and began to sing an enchanting song. He was dressed in traditional blue and red Sami dress, and through the large windows behind him we could see reindeer high up in the snowy landscape.

It is a beautiful, serene image that is forever etched in my mind.

A contributing factor to the impact this had on me is how the man was singing. In fact, he wasn’t singing, he was ‘joiking ’. What, you might wonder, is joiking ?

Joiking is not a song as such, but a melodic sound that is integral to Sami culture. It is used to express relationships to people and nature. Traditionally, joiks have no lyrics, consisting of chanting, not unlike that found in some Northern American Indigenous cultures. They can also include mimicry of animal sounds.

Like in the restaurant, joiks are often performed for entertainment. However, they can also have a spiritual function. In past times, a noaidi (Sami shaman) could perform joik whilst beating on a Sami drum with bones to contact the spiritual world.

In Sami culture, most people are given their own melody, like a signature tune. This leads to the Sami saying that they are “joiking someone” rather than “joiking about someone”. Most joik melodies are about people, but also animals and places can have their own joiks. Animal joiks are often about wolves, reindeer, or birds such as ducks.

During the Christianization of the Sami from the 1700s onwards, joiking was considered sinful and was banned. But it survived and today is included as a frequent part of Swedish cultural events. Most recently, a Sami artist was televised joiking in a celebration of Crown Princess Victoria’s birthday in July.

If you’d like to experience some traditional and modern joiking, check out the links below. You will be captured by its melancholy and immediately transported to the mountains and plains of northern Sweden.

Swedish hits 10+++++

Sweden is one of the world’s largest exporters of pop music and has a huge industry of songwriters and musicians. In previous posts, we’ve looked at singers and artists who are Swedish. And there are many more who weren’t mentioned, such as Robyn, Zara Larsson, Neneh Cherry, Leila K, Army of Lovers, The Hives, Alcazar, Tove Lo, Mabel, to highlight a few notables.

However, in today’s tenth and final installment we shine the light on all those songs that have Swedish hit makers behind them, even if the singer wasn’t Swedish.

Sweden’s most famous hit-maker is probably Max Martin. This song-writer and producer has created hits for artists such as Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Backstreet Boys, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and the Justins Timberlake and Bieber, to mention a few. Hits such as Hit me Baby One More Time, I Kissed a Girl, I Can’t Feel My Face are his. Consequently, his net worth is estimated at 2.1 billion crowns and he has won songwriter of the year 11 times. He has written 23 Billboard number 1’s, surpassed only by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In September 2010, he had four songs in the top 5 at the same time. In 2016, he was awarded the prestigious Polar Prize, Sweden’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize for music. The prize recognised his achievements as a prolific song writer and producer.

Another Swedish hit-maker is Redone. With roots in Morocco, he is the writer and producer behind Lady Gaga, with hits such as Just Dance, Poker Face and Bad Romance under his belt. Other than Gaga, he has produced Jennifer Lopez, Usher, Enrique Iglesias, One Direction and Nicki Minaj to mention a few.

A third Swedish hit-maker is Shellback. He works closely with Max Martin and has written songs like Pink’s So What, Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off and Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger. With Martin, he also wrote the mega hit Can’t Stop The Feeling for Justin Timberlake. After Max Martin, Shellback has the record for the most number 1 hits on the Billboard charts written by a Swede. He is still active although suffered a burn out a few years ago.

Thomas G:son is another Swedish song-writer who moves in very different circles than the three mentioned above. He is the king of Eurovision and is the Swede who has had the most songs represented in the domestic and international Eurovision Song Contests – 56 in total. His songs have been sung by iconic Swedish singers such as Carola, Kikki Danielsson and Charlotte Perelli. His only winning song in the finals is, however, Euphoria sung by Loreen.

Swedish hits 8: Now You’re Gone

Sweden is one of the world’s largest exporters of pop music and has a huge industry of songwriters and musicians. Today we look at the Euro dance hit ‘Now You’re Gone’ by singer, producer and DJ – Basshunter. Did you know he was Swedish?

In 2006, Jonas Erik Altberg, known as Basshunter, released a song in Sweden called ‘Boten Anna’. The song became a massive hit and reached number 1 in Sweden and many other European countries.

In 2008, an English version was released. The title was ‘Now You’re Gone’, and it shot to number 1 in the UK and is the second longest Swedish song to remain in that position on the British chart. Only . ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ has been number 1 longer. Eventually he was dethroned by Duffy’s mega hit ‘Mercy’. The YouTube video to ‘Now You’re Gone’ has been viewed over 200 million times.

Basshunter was more famous in the UK, and around the world, than many Swedes might realise – in 2010 he was asked to participate in the British Celebrity Big Brother. In the end, he came fourth. He carried out several sold-out tours in Europe, UK, NZ and Australia. He also performed at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

Although he released 6 albums, he never achieved as viral a success as ‘Now You’re Gone’.

Swedish hits 7: Wake Me Up

Sweden is one of the world’s largest exporters of pop music and has a huge industry of songwriters and musicians. Today we look at the infectious dance hit Wake Me Up by legendary Swedish producer, songwriter and DJ – Avicii.

Written by Avicii et al, Wake Me Up was released in 2013 and was the highest charting dance track of the decade. It peaked at number 1 in 22 countries and was in the top 10 in many more. This thumping dance song was the first ever dance/electronic song to sell over 4 million copies in the USA. The vocals on the track are written and sung by American soul singer Aloe Blacc.

In 2014, the song passed 200 million streams on Spotify, making it the most streamed song ever at that time. To date, the song’s YouTube video has been watched almost 2 billion times!

Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2018. He left a legacy of many hit songs such as Hey Brother, Without You and Addicted to You. As such he is the fifth most successful artist from Sweden in terms of record sales.

In May 2021, Stockholm’s Globe Arena changed its name and is now officially called the Avicii Arena. This isn’t only a tribute to Avicii but also a symbol for an initiative that works to prevent mental illness among young people throughout the country. Avicii Arena will be the beacon of hope and meeting place for the initiative. Hopefully it will help to wake us all up.

Swedish hits 6: All That She Wants

Sweden is the third largest exporter of pop music after the USA and the UK. Today we look at Sweden’s third most-selling band of all time, Ace of Base, and their biggest hit All That She Wants.

Ace of Base were a 2 men, 2 women construction in classic Abba style. Three of the members were siblings and they took their name from the fact that they rehearsed in a basement. The single All That She Wants was released in 1992, and hit the top of the charts in thirteen countries including UK and Australia. It sold platinum in USA.

The song was written by Jonas Berggren and Ulf Ekberg and was part of the album The Sign, which is one of the most successful debut albums of all time. It was the first album to ever spawn three number 1’s on the USA Billboard chart – The Sign, Don’t Turn Around and, of course, All That She Wants.

The song’s lyrics say ‘all that she wants is another baby, she’s gone tomorrow’ and depict a promiscuous woman looking for another lover. It’s has a predatory tone that doesn’t really age well, today it could be accused of ‘slut shaming’.

That said, Ace of Base’s music has influenced many of today’s artists. Stars such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Robyn and Clean Bandit have all cited them as sources of inspiration.

Swedish hits 5: The Look

Sweden is the third largest exporter of pop music after the USA and the UK. Today we look at iconic duo Roxette’s biggest hit – The Look. You knew they were Swedish, right?

Swedish double act Roxette had numerous number 1 hits including ‘It Must Have Been Love’, ‘Joyride’, ‘Listen to Your Heart’ and ‘Dressed For Success.’ However, it was their 1989 hit ‘The Look’ that became their biggest – marginally. Topping the charts in 25 countries, the song was the biggest selling song of the year and their first US Billboard number 1.

Roxette consisted of Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson, both from small towns in southern Sweden. Per Gessle wrote The Look and the song has been covered by several artists and in several languages including Cantonese. According to Gessle the strange lyrics of the first two verses were just scribbled down for something to say and then somehow were never changed. That explains weird lines such as ‘she’s a juvenile scam’, ‘tasty like a raindrop’ and ‘kissing is a colour’.

Roxette is Sweden’s second most successful music group of all time, after Abba. However, both singers also had successful careers outside of Roxette – Marie as a soloist and Per mostly with his Swedish-singing pop rock band Gyllene Tider.

Marie Fredriksson died in 2019, aged 61, from health issues relating to a brain tumour diagnosis. She left behind her a legacy of strong hits, and the lasting image of this leather-clad woman with cropped peroxide hair. She certainly had The Look.

Swedish hits 3: The Final Countdown

Sweden is the third largest exporter of pop music after the USA and the UK. In this series, I will include hits that you may not even know are Swedish and ones that are so Swedish, they almost smell of meatballs and aquavit. The third hit is the classic rock anthem The Final Countdown. Did you know it was Swedish?

The Final Countdown was written by Joey Tempest and released by Swedish rock band Europe in 1986. The song is as synonymous with the band as their 80’s poodle haircuts. It achieved number 1 position on the charts in 25 countries and top 10 in many others. The album, The Final Countdown, sold over 15 million copies and is still today frequently streamed.

Joey Tempest, who’s real name is Joakim Larsson, wrote many other successful songs such as Rock the Night, Cherokee and Open your Heart for Europe, but The Final Countdown was their biggest hit. In an interview Tempest said that the song was inspired by David Bowie’s Space Oddity, although the similarities evade me I have to say.

The band Europe were, and remain, enormously popular and no after ski drinking session, anywhere in the world, would be complete without the iconic tunes of The Final Countdown belting out into the night.

Swedish hits 2: Lovefool

This series is about hits that you may not even know are Swedish and ones that are so Swedish, they almost smell of meatballs and aquavit. In the first post, we talked about Waterloo by Abba. This time we focus on Lovefool by The Cardigans.

This song, written by Peter Svensson and Nina Persson, was released in 1996 and marked the international breakthrough for this Swedish rock band. It was a massive hit in the UK and USA and was featured in the film Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Tne Cardigans also appeared in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 where they performed Lovefool at a graduation party.

The album which contained Lovefool sold platinum within three weeks in Japan, and gold in the US. The Cardigans were a very successful band selling over 18 million albums. They still tour occasionally today. They had several other hits such as Erase/Rewind and My Favourite Game but nothing achieved the huge global success of Lovefool.

Swedish hits 1: Waterloo

With the Eurovision contest over, it is safe to say that Sweden’s song won’t be an international hit. Sweden does generally well in the competition, partly because they take it very seriously and partly because they have many talented song writers, singers and musicians. In fact, Sweden is the third largest exporter of pop music after the USA and the UK.

So this has inspired my next series – Swedish hits. I will include hits that you may not even know are Swedish and ones that are so Swedish, they almost smell of meatballs and aquavit. The first hit – an obvious choice – is ABBA’s Waterloo.

ABBA represented Sweden in 1974 in Brighton and won the competition. It was Sweden’s first win of six, and it catapulted ABBA into a legendary career. The song itself was a huge international success, achieving number 1 chart positions in 8 countries and the top 10 in countless others.

The song, written by Andersson, Ulvaeus and Anderson was originally given the much worse title of ‘Honey Pie’. The song was voted the best Eurovision song from the competition’s first 50 years and has somehow come to symbolise the contest because of its catchy tune, memorable lyrics and ABBA’s camp outfits.

Waterloo wasn’t ABBA’s most successful song however. Dancing Queen is their undeniable biggest hit, followed by Super Trouper and Knowing Me Knowing You.

After a decades-long hiatus, ABBA has announced that they will be releasing new music this year. This has been met by ecstasy from fans all over the world. Let’s hope that the songs are not a disappointment and that Abba finally faces its waterloo.

Sweden chooses its song for Europe

Finally, after six long weeks of televised qualifying competitions, Sweden voted for the song to represent the country in the Eurovision Song Contest. Called ‘Voices’, the song is about everybody’s right to be be who they are and to be heard. The song won far ahead of its nearest competitor.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the winning song is actually the singer. His name is Tousin Chiza, but he is known as Tusse. In 2019, he won the Swedish equivalent of Pop Idol.

The 19 year-old singer came to Sweden as an unaccompanied child refugee, fleeing the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009. He ended up in the small village of Tällberg in county Dalarna where he still lives today and has an adopted Swedish family. He has been widely criticized for his appearance, as he often wears non gender normative outfits.

This is a moment where the lyrics of the song and the artist are closely connected, which possibly explains its popularity and success in the competition. Tusse sings:

There’s fire in the rain
But we’ll get up again
We’re thousand miles apart
But we’ll overcome
I’ll never let you down
World is turning us around
But I feel it in my heart
Let’s make a brand new start
Can’t stop us now, forget the haters
Get up and live and make it matter
There’s more to life so go ahead and sing it
out’

It’s certainly a song that is a product of its time and it remains to be seen if the message resonates with the voters of Eurovision.

On 22 May in Rotterdam, Sweden will get the answer, and we will see if Tusse is Sweden’s 7th winner. If so, Sweden joins Ireland as the country with the most Eurovision wins since the competition began.