Swedish pop sensation profiled...

Scandi sensation Veronica Maggio is a modern day musical anomaly. Despite being the epitome of Swedish pop dominance – having bagged herself nearly every music award the country has to offer and released a string of hit singles, including the seven times platinum ‘Jag Kommer' – she remains an artist rarely recognised outside the confines of her homeland. It’s a strange concept for a major-label signing of her repute, however, Maggio’s desire to shun English in favour of her less internationally successful native tongue, has led her to become something of a national treasure.

Today sees her leave behind the soundproofed confines of the recording studio, in favour of the vast, Brutalist architecture of Stockholm’s Filmhuset – an overwhelming mass of concrete, home to the singer’s first leg of tour rehearsals. The show’s secrets lie concealed behind an industrial steel door, a setting that lends itself more to the set of Guy Hamilton’s Goldfinger, than to the melodious tones of one of Sweden’s most celebrated pop stars. Maggio’s fifth studio album, ‘Den Forsta Ar-Alltid Gratis’ (The First Is Always Free), was released a little over a week ago and already finds itself sitting pretty atop the Swedish album chart. Its success is no real surprise, coming from an artist whose last two albums have both seen a staggering ten singles chart at once on the Sverigetopplistan — the Swedish equivalent of the UK Top 100.

Maggio’s latest musical offering is yet another pop triumph, combining pacing, urgent melodies, with uplifting, hook-heavy choruses. “I really like the happy/sad combination,” she remarks of her latest material, clearly deep in thought. “There’s a lot of melancholy in it, but there’s also something euphoric… I tended to write darker lyrics because it was always nighttime. I was still in the process of playing live lots, so I sort of surprised myself. You know Niki & The Dove? I bumped into them in the airport in LA – I’d just been to Coachella to get inspired and they’d been playing there with Skrillex. They were so chaotic and so much fun. We just hooked up when we got home, rented a studio for a couple of days, and had the best time.”

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Despite the initial abundance of up tempo frivolity, the album’s 13 tracks contain a distinctly sinister undercurrent. It’s true to say past albums like 2009’s 'Satan i gatan’ (Satan In The Street), and 2013’s ‘Handen i fickan fast jag bryr mig’ (Hand in My Pocket Although I Care), both contain a satisfying blend of indulgent buttery pop, with a handful of shade thrown in for good measure. However, from the opening lines of “Är född med trubbel i mitt blod / Gör sånt jag inte borde” (translated literally as “Born with trouble in my blood / Doing something I should not”), lyrically, ‘Den Forsta Ar-Alltid Gratis’ sees the singer venture into altogether darker, uncharted territory.

It’s a juxtaposition initially lost on me as a native English speaker, whose patchy Swedish stretches about as far as ‘kan jag få en öl, tack’, roughly translated as ‘can I have a beer please?’ Living in a world where international charts are dominated by English lyrics, and despite Sweden’s pure pop prowess, the success of native speaking talent like Veronica Maggio seems all but confined to their respective homelands.

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I wasn’t able to find my own identity...

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“I started writing in English when I was really young, but I just wasn’t good enough.” she recounts, “I was mimicking things I’d heard and I wasn’t able to find my own identity.” It was upon joining forces with Swedish writer Stefan Gräslund, that she began approaching the writing and recording process in an entirely different way. “I thought it was fun to sing somebody else's lyrics and sing in Swedish because I hadn’t done that before,” she says of 2006’s Vatten och bröd (Water & Bread). “I didn’t write any of the lyrics on that one, but that in itself represents a time when I was new to it all. It feels like the whole album is very apologetic. The sounds and the way I sing are almost childish.”

Maggio’s certainly come a long way since her debut. With five albums (three of which reached number one) and nearly a decade’s worth of performing under her belt, she’s become one of Sweden’s best loved festival staples. “Right now it’s all a lot of fun.” she remarks, wide eyed and with a gleeful grin. “At the beginning, when you haven’t played your new material before, it’s like hearing it all for the first time.”

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It’s like hearing it all for the first time...

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Today’s rehearsals come ahead of a summer schedule overflowing with festival headline slots and national stadium appearances. That being said, the prospect of entertaining a capacity crowd at Stockholm’s Olympic stadium is something of a new concept for this petite pop powerhouse. “For me, that’s not just another gig. It’s 30,000 people in one arena, which I’ve never done – except at festivals. This time it’s different. It’s only me.” It’s hard to determine whether the emotions flickering across her face are born out of fear, excitement, or a combination of the two. Appearances can be deceptive, and despite an afternoon spent commanding the stage under the full glare of a stadium-sized lighting rig, it’s easy to forget that Maggio too is only human.

“At bigger festivals I just want to breathe into a bag. I’ve been surprised by the amount of people and the amount of support you get at that one moment. With the Satan i Gratan (Satan In The Street) album, they would book me really early in the afternoon. They gave me a bad spot because they weren’t counting on so many people coming. I didn’t look out on stage before I went out, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s just another day’, and I got up on stage and there were like 50,000 people in front of the stage! I remember thinking, ‘SHIT! We should have rehearsed!’”

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This time it’s different. It’s only me.

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As a country famed for spawning pure pop greats – from the likes of ABBA and Ace Of Base, through to more modern exports like Tove Lo and mega-producer Max Martin – it’s safe to say there’s something special in the Scandinavian water. “I think the biggest thing we have is our music education – we have these music schools and everything is free. We had eight or nine hours of music every week,” recounts Maggio. Weighing in on the debate, Philip Ekström, lead singer of Swedish band, The Mary Onettes has gone on the record as saying, “I feel that it's more about what you create in Sweden. It's really never about becoming famous. It's about being good at something. To sacrifice your life to something that you believe in.” It’s certainly food for thought.

Based on chart domination alone, Sweden is a nation producing more hook-filled power pop per capita than anywhere else in the world. And whether or not the nation’s education system or musical integrity have a pivotal role to play, there’s something to be said for this musical realm where blissful synths and soaring choruses keep you hooked, without understanding a bloody word they’re on about.

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Words: Danielle De Wolfe

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