Liam – January 14, 2019
A few weeks ago, I was picking up tacos from a favorite neighborhood taco joint when I ran into my friend James. I was power-walking down the sidewalk like a 1980s mall-walker on an Orange Julius sugar high in an effort to get the tacos home before they got cold. I nearly bowled him over.
“Liam!” he shouted as he grabbed the sleeve of my jacket, slowing me down.
I forgot about the cooling tacos because I hadn’t seen James in a while. He used to live in the neighborhood—just across the alley from us—and we would often drink beers on one or the other’s porch while listening to music. We had similar taste in music and beer, so it was always a good time hanging out.
“Dude,” he said, his voice full of excitement, “You need to listen to the band Iceage (picture above). It’s probably the best punk rock I’ve heard in a long, long time.”
We caught up a bit more; he asked how my wife Amy was, told me he got divorced and was much better off, said that his microgreens business was doing well. We hugged and I bolted home to enjoy the tacos with Amy. And then I listened to Iceage.
It turns out Iceage is from Copenhagen, and it’s no wonder Newsweek called them “Denmark’s Greatest Punk Band.” They’re pretty great. James wasn’t kidding.
But the thing about punk bands is that they so rarely reach the status of fame and fortune they deserve. (As if they would want that, because wanting fame and fortune wouldn’t be punk at all, now would it?) Respected and influential as punk bands may be, it’s the pop stars that make the headlines, garner the millions of YouTube views and land appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Saturday Night Live. And there’s a scientific reason for that: pop music is designed for the masses. And, well, the Danes really love their pop music.
One darling of Danish pop right now is MØ. Karen Marie Aagaard Ørsted Andersen—MØ’s real name—grew up in Ejlstrup and discovered an interest in music when she was seven, thanks to the Spice Girls. You might remember them; they were a pretty big pop group in the late 1990s. As a teenager, MØ’s musical tastes shifted to punk rock, Nirvana, Black Flag, Sonic Youth, and others. When you listen and look at MØ’s music today, the pop/punk influence is obvious, and it pays off.
Long before MØ was making hits, there was, of course, Aqua. The pop-dance group blew the borders off of Denmark and took the world by storm with their 1997 hit “Barbie Girl.” For a brief moment, Aqua was perhaps the biggest band in the world. Their funky dance song sounded fun, but its meaning had a darker tone that addressed feminism and what we expect of our women and our mates. If, by 1997, the thrill of LEGOS hadn’t made Denmark seem really awesome, Aqua’s brand of pop certainly did the job.
Denmark has never had a pop star that generated its own Beatlemania or Bieber Fever or Michael Jackson fanaticism (however, Sweden’s ABBA was, and still is, a pop phenomenon). That could be because the Danes don’t value celebrity as overtly—or grotesquely—as larger countries like Britain, Canada and the U.S. do. One Danish columnist wrote in 2014 that “Danish fame is rendered even less meaningful in a country where it often seems like everyone knows each other.”
Fame, it seems, doesn’t matter as much as the music. But that might change as it continues to become easier for music to spread across oceans and borderlines, thanks to the multitude of streaming services and video platforms. And online travel and culture magazines like Culture Trip are doing a great job of giving visitors insight into what makes countries unique and great beyond their traditional food and already popular cultural festivals. If you want to know about a country, its music can tell you a lot.
Music is the one true universal language. Whether it’s pop, jazz, choral, classical, punk, rock, rap, country, new wave, dance, etc., music is an important part of the human experience. The Danish Home of Chicago makes sure to have music-related events almost every month. There were a couple of choirs that performed at the home in December. Because what would the holidays be without music? What would anything be without its own soundtrack? The Danish Home’s recent outing to see “Lady in Denmark” about a woman obsessed with Billie Holiday drove those questions home even further.
Ultimately, Danish pop music isn’t all that different from any other pop music from any other country. And that’s okay, because good pop music needs to only be one thing: scrumptious to our ears. What’s nice is that the Danes are doing their part to feed our hungry ears.