Styles & Forms | Europop

Camp. Trashy. Lightweight. Throwaway. Exploitative. Fraudulent. Europop has drawn all those insults and more, and remains, after 30 years, most popular among those with a love of kitsch. Nevertheless, the danceable pop of early 1970s mainland Europe has had an enormous influence on manufactured pop, as well as all house and disco-derived dance music.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, America and Britain dominated global pop trends. Although Europe had already delivered some uniquely indigenous pop artists – most notably, the sophisticated, seductive pop suites of France’s Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy, and the seminal electronic ruminations of Germany’s Kraftwerk in the early 1970s – Europop as a universally recognized pop language was created in the mid-1970s by two very different artistic teams. One prioritized the song, while the other pioneered a new sound. All subsequent Europop blended the two on some level, but never with such artistry and impact.

Swede Soul Music

ABBA formed in 1971, after the four members had already become folk-pop stars in their native Sweden. It was 1974 before songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and lead singers Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, achieved the international breakthrough they craved, winning the annual Euro trash-fest that is the Eurovision Song Contest with the arrestingly odd-but-irresistible ‘Waterloo’. The two married couples (Björn and Agnetha, Benny and ‘Frida’) went on to conquer the world (although Britain and Europe favoured their innovations more than America) with an unbroken string of million-selling albums and singles, purveying an increasingly perfect and increasingly lovelorn blend of sweeping melody, glistening production and Beach Boys-meets-Mamas & The Papas-influenced harmony pop. Yet the sometimes surreal imagery produced by the Swedes’ second-language English, and Benny and Björn’s singular MOR-tinged songwriting style, created a pop language that transcended their US and UK influences.

The band fell apart in 1981 under the strain of both couples’ divorces, with Benny and Björn scoring major successes as writers of stage musicals, and Agnetha and Frida drifting into reclusive retreat after lack of solo success. But, in seven short years, ABBA had become the biggest pop group since The Beatles, while simultaneously proving that you did not need a rock attitude – or good dress sense – to create affecting and original pop artistry.

Sex And Synths

Meanwhile, in Italy, a veteran Italian producer and a Boston-born star of German stage musicals were inventing what we now know as dance music. In 1975, Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer caused a sensation with the 17-minute epic ‘Love To Love You Baby’, whereby Ms Summer moaned her way to orgasm over a low-tempo synthesized version of Philadelphian orchestral disco-soul. This was followed in 1977 by, arguably, the most influential dance record of the modern era, ‘I Feel Love’, a chugging, churning, futuristic disco machine based on one repetitious, but subtly developing, electronic drone-riff. It made Summer a superstar – the first and biggest disco diva.

The pair went on to make hit after hit with synthetic...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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