Made in Finland: popular music studies

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image: Finnish band Lordi perform Hard Rock Hallelujah at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest.
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Credit: Indrek Galetin

How did a country of a million sad songs finally become the winner of Eurovision thanks to Lordi? What happened in Finnish popular music around the turn of the last century and is there something preventing Finland from reaching Sweden’s level of success in pop music?

These are some of the questions the authors address in Made in Finland: Studies in Popular Music, which is the first anthology published in English outside Finland and devoted to research on Finnish popular music. It was edited by Toni-Matti Karjalainen and Kimi Kärki. Karjalainen was recently appointed professor of arts management at the Sibelius Academy at the University of the Arts in Helsinki.

The history of Nordic music is strongly characterized by its search for its own identity between East and West, the local and global scene. Besides the cultural heritage and local myths, this story is also shaped by the strong presence of nature, the four distinct seasons of the North, the weather and the general melancholy associated with Nordic music.

“More often than not this story has left its mark on darker musical genres like heavy metal, but it is also relevant in Finnish schlager (iskelmä) music, Finnish rock, not to mention the music of Sibelius and other classical figures who have influenced pop music, “says Toni-Matti Karjalainen.

Millennium changed the game

Popular music has had its own role in how people have been affected by cultural influences. In Finland, it absorbed both Slavic and Anglo-American characteristics. According to Karjalainen, Finnish tango and schlager music are examples of the fusion of Eastern and Western influences.

Until the end of the 1990s, Finnish music was predominantly turned inward. Festivals, performances, and the country’s music industry in general were primarily aimed at local markets. Then something happened.

In 2000-2001, hiphop duo Bomfunk MC’s climbed the charts, and their hit Freestyler became the best-selling single in Europe. In 2000, the “love metal” band HIM peaked on several international rock charts, and electronic dance music artist Darude became a worldwide phenomenon with his single Sandstorm. The song is still regularly performed around the world.

“All of a sudden, several different artists and musical styles made an international breakthrough almost at the same time. It seemed that the international music scene had discovered Finland overnight,” describes Karjalainen.

There is also statistical evidence for this change. In 2001, the market value of Finnish pop as an export was five times greater than in 1999.

And the success continues. In 2003, Finnish rock band The Rasmus gained international fame, and many of the group’s albums were certified gold and platinum. Heavy metal bands, especially Children of Bodom and Apocalyptica, also started to gain fame, and the genre eventually became a well-known Finnish phenomenon. Around the same time, Nightwish began its ascent to become the largest Finnish music export.

“Lordi’s completely unexpected victory at Eurovision in 2006 was sort of the culmination of Finnish pop music’s worldwide reputation.”

Bigger successes to come?

Finland is still not as successful as Sweden, which is often considered the third largest music exporter in the world. However, Finland has gained notoriety in recent years and the authors of the book predict that international success may be right around the corner in the 2020s. “It seems that different forms of pop music have started to conquer new territories of major way, ”said Karjalainen.

Today, the reign of the translated schlagers is only a distant memory. So what is the status of Finnish pop music these days?

“Nowadays, the popular Finnish music scene is a combination of unique Finnish cultural characteristics as well as the collective identity it shares with other Nordic countries. In fact, Finland has several ongoing music export collaborations with its neighboring countries, ”said Karjalainen. Remarks.

A series of international publications as a publisher

Kärki and Karjalainen’s book features 13 academic papers that examine the history and phenomena of popular music from various angles. It will be published as part of the Global Popular Music Series by renowned global publisher Routledge.

Articles in the book cover a range of topics including popular music of Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority, Finland as a heavy metal nation, Finnish rock (suomirock), the influence of British pop on Finnish popular music. , the musical culture of the Finnish-American labor movement and underground music in Finland.

“While planning the book, we have also tried to make it interesting for the many Finland lovers and friends of Finnish music around the world. For example, the book features an interview with Tuomas Holopainen, which may be of interest to some number of Nightwish fans, ”says Karjalainen.

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