Sweden is the first country in the world with its own phone number: 46-771-793-336. If you call it, usually, one of the regular, everyday Swedes will answer the randomly routed call to talk about whatever you want. But don’t waste your time this Saturday night — the Swedes will be busy singing their hearts out.
On May 14, Sweden will host the most-watched non-sporting event in all of Europe — the Eurovision Song Contest. With over 180 million total viewers, Eurovision’s audience dwarfs even the largest Super Bowl audience in history: 114 million.
Last year, Sweden’s own Måns Zelmerlöw took first place in the contest, earning the country the honor of hosting this year’s pan-national event. But Zelmerlöw was not the only Swede to make it to the final. A full 10 of the other country’s 2015 finalists’ teams included Swedish songwriters, arguably making Sweden the most well-represented country in the contest.
Since 1974 — the year Sweden’s legendary pop group ABBA took first place — Sweden has been a powerhouse in not only the Eurovision Song Contest, but in the global music scene. Currently, Sweden is the number one producer of chart-topping pop songs in the world, which is incredible considering the population of the entire country is not even as large as that of Los Angeles.
Some people might scratch their heads right here and think, “Wait a minute … I never hear any Lars Nilssons or Björn Borgs on the radio!” And while that may be true, the reality is that many of the best, catchiest, most popular songs you hear from the biggest names —Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Katy Perry, Adele, Ariana Grande and more — actually come from Swedish writers, producers and DJs.
Max Martin, anyone? What about Shellback? Avicii, Robyn, Swedish House Mafia, Denniz Pop, Tove Lo, Alesso, Axwell, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on and on, and chances are you’ve heard of some of them, but don’t quite understand just how big they are. If you don’t know any of those names, you definitely know this one — Spotify, another Swede at the top of the music game.
So why is it that this small, half-frozen country consistently tops the charts in the music world?
The Swedish education system not only allows for creative training in music, among other arts, but actually highly encourages it. The country recognizes that not everybody needs to be a doctor, accountant or lawyer, so there is a cultural celebration of the study of music and art as something valid and important, rather than something secondary and wasteful.
Of course, countries need doctors, accountants, lawyers and all that, as well, but there’s something to be learned from a culture that recognizes the difference between a stick and rock: you can’t make one into the other. So, why do we try to do just that with children? Some are creative geniuses, others are wired for law, and that difference is okay.
The country recognizes that not everybody needs to be a doctor, accountant or lawyer, so there is a cultural celebration of the study of music and art as something valid and important, rather than something secondary and wasteful.
In a time when recess, access to music, art and various other “extra-curricular” activities is being cut in the education system in America, it’s important to recognize that we are not only taking away “fun,” but a crucial part of the development of an entire profession and culture in this country. The USA is still the number one producer of music in the world, but if Sweden were the size of the United States, would that still be true?
This year, keeping with tradition, Sweden is one of the favorites to win the Eurovision contest, demonstrating for the hundredth time that, although the country is not perfect, it’s pretty damn close when it comes to pop music. But hey, if you don’t believe me, go ahead and give Sweden a call … just not on Saturday.
Émile Nelson is a Swedish-American speaker and author of The Fika Fix.