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Internet pop

| Luise Steinberger, Financial Times Deutschland

In recent months, several books have been written about the IT industry by former pop musicians. The Swedish artist Alexander Bard has abandoned the group Army of Lovers and, with the book «(Inter)netocrats», has instead become a recruit to the continually growing Internet army. The musical ambitions of Cell founder, Christer Sturmark, were crowned to a somewhat lesser extent, but his ventures into the new economy were all the more successful, as he describes in his book «With passion as the driving force».

One might think that these pop artists are attempting to surf waves where they shouldn’t be, but the fact is that the reverse is the case: The music culture has paved the way for the Internet world. And now it’s time to sum matters up.

For a German during the 70s and 80s, the Nordic countries were synonymous with Swedish Volvos, Norwegian oil, Danish cheese, Finlandization and Social democracy. And pop music of course.

Way back in the 50s, the German public had already adopted the female hit singers, Wenche Myhre from Norway and Gitte Henning from Denmark, as their own. And then, when the Swedish group ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, the dam burst its banks:

Nordic pop artists just flowed out into Europe and on into to the world at large.

The trick was quite simple but brilliant: the Nordic artists adapted themselves like chameleons, they sung in the language of the target country or English, and hardly anybody realised that Wenche and Gitte, Europe, A-ha, Roxette, Dr Alban or, in the 90s, Aqua came from Sweden, Norway or Denmark.

There grew within the Nordic music industry a special knack for marketing pop to a young public. When the Internet arrived, with numerous dot.com companies needing to be launched, this knack was just what was wanted.

The founders of the Boxman musiccommerce site, for instance, worked on marketing the pop group Roxette before they jumped on the Internet bandwagon. Granted that not all founders of Internet companies came from the record industry, but the music aspect brought with it the culture of that industry.

«Ideas are perhaps less important – what is important is the packaging,» says the founder of Boxman, Ola Ahlvarsson, citing the Spice Girls as an example of a successful project.

«Not a unique idea, but really well packaged.»

One idea, a lot of marketing, a lot of design - that’s the way company after new economy company were started – and in a trice young Nordic entrepreneurs ended up in flashy offices in London and elsewhere, where billions of venture capital is floating around. Not always that successful, as is well known. But you have to take the odd setback, not all artists become rich and famous, either.

The objective is nevertheless to create web superstars. And many of them will certainly succeed. The question is however – precisely as in the pop industry – whether success might come with too high a personal price for the individual, in this case the staff in the company.

In many dot.com companies they work round the clock, virtually living at the office, and are happy that the boring, old-fashioned boundary between job and private life has been eliminated.

The term ‘working environment’ is Greek to most young IT workers. Not even ‘mouse arm’ (RSI), an occupational injury afflicting more than a million people in the Nordic countries, is viewed as a proper problem – it is instead joked off as something that only affects old women in conventional offices. It’s all a matter of success, because success is personal development, is life.

To relax, they play a quick computer game or at most take a quick trip to the gym – with a Diskman playing the latest hits into their ears. It is perhaps more than symptomatic in this era that the Norwegian «Stress» chain sells both sports clothes and audio CDs – both in shops and on the Internet.

This article was published in October 2000.

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