Popular Music History, Vol 8, No 3 (2013)

How English became the language of pop in Denmark

Henrik Smith-Sivertsen
Issued Date: 30 Mar 2015


In popular music history, the first years of the 1960s have traditionally been described as ‘in-between years’, dominated by soft and commercial teen music. This article argues that the years between the golden age of rock ’n’ roll and the arrival of The Beatles were very important, at least outside the Anglo-American sphere. During those years English became the language of not only popular music, but of youth music. Using a collection of letters written by Danish teenagers from 1962 to 1965, it is demonstrated how this process took place in practice. The letters, all sent to a Danish weekly magazine, were especially addressing musical topics. They generally reflect a major public debate on popular music taking place in Denmark during those years, and therefore reflect pro/contra positions concerning the rather new Danish term, pop. As is shown, this neologism was interpreted in various ways, but its young protagonists especially associated it with songs in English. Conversely, many associated Danish language songs with old fashioned styles and practices. In particular, the practice of translating songs into Danish was targeted by both aesthetic and moral arguments, an illustration how English had became the sound of pop and, by extension, of youth. These positions and attitudes towards style and language found in the letters reflected the general assumption in Danish media that young people preferred Anglophone popular music. The letters are concrete examples of negotiations of genre and culture at the time when the mediascape changed radically both in Denmark and internationally. By 1964 the linkage between English and youth was well established and the success of the British Invasion well prepared for through the preceding years of pop.

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DOI: 10.1558/pomh.v8i3.26932


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