Tuesday, June 8, 2010

10 Days with Europe's Top 10 Pop Music Scenes. #1.

Number 1: Estonia. 14.17% GREEN (14.17% of that country's charting songs earned top marks on my spreadsheet)

Yoda once said, "Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For we shall soon establish that my size has little bearing on my abilities. For the size of one—" and on and on he droned. But he had a point. Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million, tops my list.1

Estonia borders Russia by land, but Finland is just a short hop across the Baltic. Estonia caters to a small Russian music scene, but it is clear that on a cultural level Estonians relate most to their Scandinavian neighbors (by contrast, Latvia and Lithuania feature far more Russian product on their charts and Russian attitude in their own songs).

Sometimes Estonia and Finland seem to be participating in a music-exchange program. Estonia's Y2K-era Eurodance hitmaker Caater partnered a lot with Finland's K-System, and in 2006 Finnish metal legends Nightwish chose to unveil their new singer at a secret gig in Tallinn.

But Estonia's artists are pursuing their own weird and wonderful agenda. They remind me a bit of the quirky introverts in Iceland's music scene. However, the Estonians seem to be having more fun.

Throughout Europe you see too many MCs who continue to party like it's 1999, bland rock bands rewriting the same old tunes, beautiful young women warbling torturous confessional ballads, and how many leggy girl groups does the world need, anyway?

Estonia, by contrast, keeps looking ahead (their leggy girl group, Vanilla Ninja, threw in the towel years ago), and they tackle things with a spry spirit of inventiveness. They are fond of electronic sounds, and so am I, hence my chart bias. Consider one of my favorite songs, the HU?'s "Sa meeldid mulle," which, in addition to exhibiting the verse/chorus/verse appeal of a catchy pop song, might also be the most beautiful drum & bass tune I have ever heard.

Their music scene's independent streak befits a country that, in going its own way, has become the clear economic leader of the Baltic region (they will adopt the euro in 2011). Estonian software developers gave us Skype. Estonia's March 2007 parliamentary elections "were the first in the world to include voting via the Internet."2 3 Estonia is also "the least religious country in the world" which, from my atheistic perspective, is also appealing.

So it's time you hugged an Estonian—if you are fortunate enough to find one.

The following list includes an Estonian Idol winner warbling something more appropriate for a NYC art band, a Eurovision song contest entry that sounds like something cooked-up by Brian Eno, and two groups featuring hot chicks and violins. Heck, I even tossed in a song from a former Vanilla Ninja-er.

Birgit Õigemeel - Moonduja
Glow - Kui möödud sa (Feat Kelly)
HU? & Kare Kauks - Miks mõni asi on nii hea
Laura feat Tafenau - Lihtsad asjad
Lenna Kuurmaa - Rapunzel
Malcolm Lincoln - Siren
Mimicry - Right Back Home
Urban Symphony - Päikese poole
Vaiko Eplik & Eliit - Kosmoseodüsseia
Violina - Sellel ööl (feat Lenna Kuurmaa)

1 A future essay will examine the relationship between size of population and the quality of a country's pop music scene.

2 Nations in Transit (2008 Edition). Freedom House. p.221

3 Newsweek's Steven Levy, in a Washington Post piece called "Pay Per Gig" published 30 January 2008, wrote that "in terms of penetration, we are in 24th place -- behind Estonia -- in the international broadband competition." I really hate that sort of writing. It attempts to shock the reader into saying, "We're behind ESTONIA!??!" when the reader 1) probably knows nothing about Estonia and 2) if he or she did, would realize that it is quite reasonable for that country to have a decent level of broadband saturation. The real point, of course, is that the USA is in 24th place--but why piss on Estonia to drive that home? Perhaps this is why Newsweek's fortunes have fallen so far in 2010. See also Michael Moore's condescending treatment of Slovenia in the movie Sicko, where he announced with comparable dumb incredulousness that the USA was "just slightly ahead of Slovenia" in terms of the quality of its health care.

The rest of the best:

#2: Finland
#3: Croatia
#4: Slovakia
#5: Bulgaria
#6: Sweden
#7: Lithuania
#8: Ukraine
#9: Slovenia
#10: The Netherlands

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