Ida Maria and a Brief History of Scandinavian Pop

Norwegian pop-punk damsel Ida Maria is making a serious run at American stardom, and that's awesome. We love, love, love Scandinavian pop stars, with their plump cheeks, slick sounds, and oh-so-slightly fractured English. We like the way they dress, too — stylish, but dated by at least five years, like hipsters in Kansas.

Ida Maria's upcoming show is welcome for another reason: It puts a positive capstone on what, after all, was a decidedly "down" decade for Scandinavian pop music. Unlike the '70s (ABBA). '80s (a-ha) and '90s (Ace of Base), the not-so-roaring '00s lacked that one definitive ESL crossover act. If the 24-year-old Maria does make it big, she'll join a long and sometimes listenable tradition. Forthwith, a brief domestic history of Nordic rock.

1974: Swedish glam-pop legends and rumored wife-swappers ABBA score their first big hit in the U.S. with "Waterloo," which goes all the way to number six on the Billboard Hot 100. The group will prove even more successful in the United Kingdom, where a whole generation of talentless ABBA imitators would single-handedly keep afloat the nation's beleaguered gay-looking-pantsuit industry.

Ida Maria
Ida Maria

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Ida Maria is scheduled to perform Wednesday, June 24.
Martini Ranch in Scottsdale

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1985: Pretty-boy New Wave trio a-ha becomes the first act from Norway ever to score a number-one single in the U.S. with "Take On Me." Lead vocalist Morten Harket croons that "I'll be gone/In a day or two," and he's right. After 1986, the band doesn't tour the U.S. for two decades.

1986: Europe's "The Final Countdown" thunders to number eight on the Billboard 200, propelled — experts would later agree — by the most freakin' awesome keyboard riff in the history of mankind. Within a year, guitarist John Norum abandons the Swedish heavy metal outfit, voicing distaste with the "spandex, poodle-rock type of thing."

1988: Iceland's The Sugar Cubes release their excellent surrealist pop-rock album Life's Too Good . . . but Iceland isn't technically part of Scandinavia, so it doesn't count.

1988: American exchange student Dean Cushman hears Roxette's "The Look" while living in Sweden and smuggles a bootleg copy of the song back to his hometown of Minneapolis, where it enjoys heavy airplay on local radio station KDWB (101.3 FM). Emboldened, EMI releases the future number one song commercially — thereby cementing Cushman's dubious reputation as the Typhoid Mary of ESL rock.

1993: Bucking the naysayers, Arista Records chief Clive Davis signs Ace of Base to a distribution deal and reaps the rewards when the ABBA soundalikes score a monster hit with "The Sign." Revelations that Ace of Base founder Ulf Ekberg had once been a member of a Swedish white power band called Commit Suicide fail to sully the band's spotless artistic reputation.

1995: Declaring "leather is for empty, little people," Norwegian glam-punkers Turbonegro transform themselves into a denim-and-mustache band and embark on their "NAMBLIN in the '90s" U.S. tour, auguring a bleak decade for ESL rock.

1997: Heretofore known for windmills, high-quality porn, and self-consciously "artsy" filmmaking, Denmark finally comes through with a Top 40 single, albeit one so insufferably lame that it quickly becomes a trope for self-mocking inanity: "Barbie Girl," by overdressed Europop group Aqua.

1997: Swedish pop etherealists The Cardigans appear on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210, which may have been its "jump the shark" episode. (That, or the one where Kelly joins a cult.)

2002: Norway's Dimmu Borgir becomes the first European "black metal" band to chart in America. Unfortunately, black metal's signature shrieking vocals, double-kick drumming, and underpinnings of neo-Nordic supremacy prove too hardcore for our puny American sensibilities, and the band never enjoys mainstream U.S. success.

2008: Picking up the slack for their Scandinavian brethren, ABBA finally scores its first number-one album in the U.S.: the soundtrack for Mamma Mia! The Movie.

2009: Björk-eyed Norwegian grrrrrl rocker Ida Maria scores a modest hit with her single "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked." So, is she a 21st-century Chrissie Hynde or a lutefisk-scented Katy Perry? A nation holds its breath.

 
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