One thing which I often complain that the UK is missing is attractive young male solo artists. In Sweden, this complaint could never be made, and I think that’s actually a token of how much more gender equality they have achieved. I believe that the reason why male artists who appeal to young girls are few and far between in the UK pop scene is because the record labels and the media outlets which promote their wares are still very much dominated by straight men who a) don’t understand the young female audience and b) (more subconsciously) are threatened by attractive young men who promote an ideal type of man to women that is the opposite of themselves.
The Swedish male pop stars tend to be sweet-natured, charismatic, well-groomed young men who are interested in things that young girls tend to find interesting too, particularly singing and dancing, pop music and fashion. They give girls a high standard of what they can expect from their future partners, and while it’s obvious that few girls are going to wind up with a boyfriend as perfect as Eric Saade or Måns Zelmerlöw (above) (we can only dream…), the fact that Swedish boys have these idealised figures to compete with gives them incentive to make a lot more effort. It’s easy to see why the men in control of our music and media companies wouldn’t want that.
Looking back over the past ten years, the only UK artists I can think of who fit this criteria are Gareth Gates and Shayne Ward. And what a pitiful pair of heartthrobs they were. They both had short-lived careers which were curtailed by lack of support by their record labels. Neither of them were properly developed in the way that even a British female pop artist would be. The labels’ approaches were simply to find out who the current top pop writers and producers were, get a few songs from them (doesn’t matter if they’re any good – girls don’t listen to music, they just look at the pictures, after all) and sling it on an album. If it’s not a success, oh well, guess we’ll have to drop them!
In contrast, Swedish male pop artists move with the times, and in some cases (such as Darin’s work with RedOne and Robyn before either were internationally known) are ahead of them. It’s also quite common for them to make substantial changes to their style to keep their music fresh and exciting, for example when Darin (above) moved on from the RedOne urban-pop style to a new, more traditional pop sound on his last album, and when Ola ditched the boring balladry of his debut album to pioneer a new style of Swedish pop on tracks such as Natalie and SOS which has given him a distinct niche within the Swedish pop scene.
The problem with this discrepancy between the gender politics of Swedish music and that of most other countries is that it’s very difficult for these artists to gain success outside of Sweden. However, tonight one of them gets the chance to do so, as Eric Saade (below) represents Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest. Eric came to Swedish pop fans’ attention in a big way when he entered Melodifestivalen (Sweden’s Eurovision qualifier contest) in 2010 with a super-catchy track called Manboy. He came extremely close to winning but sadly just missed out, so when he entered again in the 2011 contest with an equally strong track, Popular, the Swedish public rectified their mistake and he sailed to glory.
Tonight we will see if Eric can lead Sweden back to their rightful place as Eurovision champions. Good luck Eric! Do it for Sweden and for the teenage girls of the world. And for me! If you can’t wait til this evening to get your fix of adorable Swedish boys singing and dancing, here’s a playlist I’ve handily compiled to introduce you to some of the very best of Sweden’s pop heartthrobs. Enjoy and let me know your favourites!