Ida Maria Carries A Heavy Scandinavian Pop Burden

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.

But Ida Maria's rise is welcome for another reason, though: 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 has lacked a definitive ESL crossover act until just this past year as Maria and her fellow Scandinavian pop cohort Lykke Li starting making waves stateside.

So, it stands to argue that, if the 24-year-old Maria does make it big in the waning '00s, she'll join a long and sometimes listenable tradition. Hence the following brief domestic history of Nordic rock.

1974: The Swedish glam-pop legends and rumored wife-swappers in ABBA score their first big hit in the United States with "Waterloo," which goes all the way to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The group will prove even more successful in the United Kingdom, though, where a whole generation of talentless ABBA imitators will single-handedly keep afloat the nation's beleaguered gay-looking-pantsuit industry.

1985: Pretty-boy New Wave trio a-ha becomes the first act from Norway ever to score a No. 1 single in the United States 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 United States for two decades.

1986: Europe's "The Final Countdown" thunders to No. 8 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: 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 No. 1 song commercially.

1993: Bucking the naysayers, Arista Records chief Clive Davis signs Ace of Base to a distribution deal and reaps the rewards when the ABBA sound-alikes 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.

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 its Scandinavian brethren, ABBA finally scores its first No. 1 album in the United States: 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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Craig Outhier