The Death of a Swedish Icon

Lill-Babs-2015

Today, the news of a death reached the Swedish people. The death of an icon. At the age of 80, popular singer Barbro ‘Lill-Babs’ Svensson passed away. Lill-Babs is little known outside of Sweden, but in Sweden she was an icon, a part of the soundtrack of many Swedes’ lives – she was Sweden. To get a grip on her status in the country, think the UK’s Cilla Black, and France’s France Gall – with that combination of untrained vocals and girl next door sex appeal – and you come part of the way.

When I moved to Sweden over 20 years ago, Lill-Babs was possibly one of the first Swedish celebrities that I got to hear of. She was constantly on the tv, on chat shows, in theatres, in concert halls, in the tabloids, in reality programs, in magazine articles and firmly positioned in the national memory. Her modest origins from a small village in rural Sweden contrasted intriguingly with her show-biz lifestyle, her many love affairs and bankruptcies and her glamorous media-trained daughters. She seemed to balance the ability of staying true to your roots with the bravery of a sexually liberated woman surviving decades in a man’s world. In older days, blonde hair, tanned skin, moist lips, bling and leopard print were her signum, along with her distinctive raspy deep voice. She impacted everybody it seems. Even the King of Sweden announced his condolences today saying he will remember her warmth and exuberance.

I had the pleasure of seeing the ‘Lill-Babs Show’ in 2015, when she was 76 years old. She gave annual dinner shows at the Swedish venue called Playa del Sol on Gran Canaria. As I happened to be there on holiday, I went with some friends to watch her perform. I admit I was a little sceptical going in, but I was blown away. There on the stage stood a woman, slightly ravaged by the years, but with a warmth and a humour that is rarely seen. Her energy and professionalism swept us all away and the crowd went wild – well as wild as they could given the average age was about 70. She sang her classics from the previous 6 decades and told cheeky, saucy jokes to the audience. I felt that I wasn’t just seeing a concert but I was having a thoroughly Swedish experience, somehow immersing myself into Swedish popular history and culture. There, on the stage, was not only a singer but a living legend.

April 3, 2018 Lill-Babs died after a short period of illness. She takes with her a piece of Swedish history, an echo of a Sweden long gone. Her legacy is the openness with which she invited the Swedish people into her life – warts and all. I am sure she will not be easily forgotten and that her voice will be echoing loudly through many a Swedish home this evening.

The scandalous obsession with Swedish schlager

jag-aelskar-schlager

Sweden has proven itself to be a musical nation – topping pop, rock and dance music charts all over the world for decades. After the USA and the UK, Sweden is the world’s largest exporter of pop music, which says a lot for a country this size. But there’s one type of music we should be grateful for. And by that, I mean grateful that it generally doesn’t get exported outside the Nordic region and Germany. I am talking about the odd Swedish music style called Swedish ‘Schlager’. It is unfathomably and inexplicibly popular in Sweden.

What is Swedish schlager music you may wonder? Let me attempt to explain.

It is a style of popular music The style emerged in Europe after World War 2 as a backlash against American rock and roll. The style uses very simple patterns of music and they are either sweet, highly sentimental ballads with a simple, catchy melody or light pop ditties. Sometimes the songs integrate folk instruments. Often the lyrics are about love and relationships. Titles such as ‘Good Vibrations’, ‘Take me to your heaven’, ‘Captured by a storm wind’ give you an indication.

To get the idea of what schlager is, it’s best to think about the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s more or less that type of music. In fact, the competition and the selection trials are often referred to a ‘Schlagerfestivalen’ in Sweden – the festival of, yes you guessed it, Schlager.

Schlager music might not be intellectually challenging but it is disgustingly catchy. It is old fashioned, simplistic and annoying. But it immensely popular around the  country and is almost always the music that gets played at parties once people have had a few too many drinks and dare to approach the dance floor.

Tomorrow night the trials begin for who will represent Sweden in the international final in Stockholm in May. And Swedes take this very seriously. More people watch these trials than watch televised sporting events or royal weddings. And tomorrow’s trial is already making the headlines. Tragic schlager hasbeen, Anna Book, was disqualified as it turns out her song was involved in 2014 in Moldavia!! Shock! Horror! Poor Anna Book is devastated and the media is calling it a sensational and tragic scandal.

  • People dying in make-shift boats as they flee for their lives across the ocean is a scandal.
  • Gangs of masked men marauding through the streets of Stockholm and attacking immigrant children is a scandal.
  • That over 20% of Sweden’s population vote for a right-wing racist party is a scandal.
  • That young women get groped and physically abused when they are in public places is a scandal
  • That health care, elderly care and education are rapidly deteriorating in Sweden is a scandal

Anna Book being disqualified from a music competition is not a scandal.

Maybe some people are so obsessed with the inanity of schlager and Eurovision that they can’t lift their eyes and focus on more important issues. For me, that’s a sensational and tragic scandal.