By Jon Blistein
Stockholm-based producer Klas Ahlund wracks his brain for the name of an old Swedish folk song when he hops off the line for a second, holds a distant conversation, then returns with a guitar and the promise, “I’ll play it to you, I remember how it goes.” A melody mourns across the Atlantic, steely, stumbling, but somehow warm. Suddenly he stops with the cold squeak of acoustic strings and laughs: “It’s very, very sad stuff.”
A producer, songwriter and a member of the band Teddybears, Ahlund’s work over the past decade has solidified his place among Sweden’s latest crop of pop maestros and hitmakers. He’s helped craft tunes for Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, Ke$ha and Madonna. He’s been Robyn’s go-to producer since her 2005 self-titled. Most recently he co-penned two tracks on Katy Perry’s Prism alongside the pop star and The Swedish Pop Master Himself, Max Martin: the silly, sunny hashtag banger “This Is How We Do” and the ebullient throwback house jam “Walking On Air.” Ahlund is equipped with an arsenal of heavy kickdrums and a mind ripe with synth lines proven to promulgate dancing plague like it’s 1518, but when he finally does find his guitar and plucks out the opening chords to “Visa från Utanmyra,” it’s unsurprising that he credits the traditional Swedish song with making such a big impression on him.
Since the mighty of ascendance of ABBA in the 1970s, Swedish pop has maintained consistent, if not somewhat overlooked, presence high up in the charts of the United States and Britain. Martin, in particular, has become arguably the most important, successful and ubiquitous pop songwriter of the past two decades, gifting his pristine melodies to the world through vessels like Spears, Ace of Base, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Kelly Clarkson, Pink and Taylor Swift. And while his protege Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald is a Rhode Island native, the current hit king learned the ins and outs of melody well from his Scandinavian Obi-Wan — and subsequently passed them along to his own students, Benny Blanco (Virginia) and Cirkut (Toronto). Of course to say the style of all four is definitively Swedish would be outrageous considering the wide array of influences exhibited in all their works, but the constant remains a stunning capacity for melodies that grab you within a few seconds and refuse to let go.