In the past I would always answer this question in a split second: Sweden, of course! But these days I can skim through the whole Swedish top 100 and see nothing particularly exciting. In fact, there’s very little quality pop music coming out of Europe whatsoever at the moment. Every month I go through the singles charts of all the major pop-producing countries on the hunt for great new songs to include in my Top of the Poptastic list, and recently it’s been taking less and less time. This is partly because the charts look increasingly the same in every country in the world (Katy Perry, Pitbull, David Guetta… yawn) but also because most of the new songs I come across are so rubbish it only takes 20 seconds on YouTube to discard them.
This is nothing new for countries like America and Australia, where taste levels have been consistently dubious over the years I’ve followed their charts, but for European countries like Sweden, Holland, Denmark and Norway to let me down is very upsetting. They’re still producing pop and they still achieve a reasonably strong showing in my monthly chart, but I remember the days where my end of year top 25 would be 50% Swedish, if not more. These days we have Eric, Tove, Ola etc and they’re very good but where is the really amazing stuff? Where is the BWO of 2011? Where is the new Robyn, the new Darin, the new Erik Hassle? Where is that flawless, life-changing pop album that puts everyone else to shame?
It shows how important Swedish artists have been to the quality of pop music over the past few years that when they’re not pulling their weight, it’s hard to find anything that deserves to be at the top of my monthly chart. There are plenty of tracks that deserve to be in the chart, but few that deserve to be at the top. And the same goes for the major US artists whose good songs are usually elevated by amateur pop fans (aka music critics) to being ‘amazing’ just by virtue of notoriety. Britney, GaGa, Rihanna, Beyoncé… none of them are living up to their past successes, and no-one has arrived on the scene this year to take on their legacy. I don’t think Natalia Kills is quite going to cut it.
Luckily the UK has been making me quite proud recently. For once we are not just competing with the rest of the world in the pop stakes, but we’re actually outdoing everyone. My favourite pop songs this summer haven’t all been created in the UK, but they’ve all been performed by totally British pop artists. Over the past few months I’ve been obsessed with Swagger Jagger by Cher Lloyd, Don’t Know Why by Soundgirl and Best Damn Night by Six D. The Wanted have also been earning their place in the UK boyband family tree with consistently strong and very British-sounding pop songs (all thanks to the genius of Ed Drewett, of course). And then there’s One Direction – we’ve only heard 10 seconds of their debut single so far but there’s no doubt, with the calibre of writers involved, that their album is going to be a total masterpiece.
So while I’m very sad that my beloved Swedes and their European neighbours are letting me down, it’s extremely exciting to see British artists lead the way in releasing the best pop music in the world this year. There will always be some half-hearted efforts that give pop music a bad reputation (I’m looking at you, JLS) but when I come to look back over 2011 it won’t be those songs that I’ll remember. It’ll be the 100 times I listened to Best Damn Night without being bored of it, Cher’s revenge over the haters when Swagger Jagger gets its deserved no.1, and One Direction making music far too good for their fans (who’d be happy with an Inju5tice cover, let’s be honest). I don’t think 2011 is going to be a year I remember for its great music, but I’ll definitely remember it as a great year for British pop.
And a cute year too…