Written by Gisle G. Stokland
The success of Envy’s 2011 breakthrough track ‘One Song’ pales in comparison with the performance of the Norwegian hip-hop duo’s latest single ‘Am I Wrong’. Sereba and Vincent Dery, signed to their own label 5 Star via Parlophone Norway, have pulled of a number of feats this summer and autumn; ‘Am I Wrong’ quickly went to the top of Norway’s iTunes sales charts but, perhaps more surprising, repeated the feat in Sweden and Denmark backed by Danish Radio P3 and Swedish stations Mix Megapol/Rix FM and NRJ. The timeless crossover/world-musicesque track, produced by Will IDAP alias Nasty Kutt, has also reached no. 7 on the global Spotify charts, previously a predominantly Swedish domain. Envy’s Scandinavian success has earned them global attention, and recently the duo traveled to Atlanta, LA and NYC, reportedly to assess several major contract offers.
It is not an everyday occurrence for Norwegian music to perform strongly on Swedish and Danish charts. However, former EMI Norway CEO Bjørn Rogstad felt confident that Envy was destined to match their domestic success on a broader international level:
– I knew that Envy would get an opportunity to launch across the Nordics. EMI’s Nordic set-up offers artists with a clear export potential a coordinated launch throughout the territory, says Rogstad and adds that he, in his position as VP Marketing Nordic, was instrumental in setting up the platform.
The Norwegian music industry veteran opines that success on the Swedish market is key in raising awareness in other territories:
– Success on the home market might trigger some interest, but is seldom enough to create the momentum needed to bring an artist onto a global stage. What happens when a domestic success turns into a Swedish success is that all, and I mean ALL, key international players turn their attention to what’s happening. Our next focus is to take Envy past the Nordic market – the history has just begun, says the enthusiastic former EMI CEO.
In Rogstad’s view, the two Norwegian 23 year olds have managed to reach the top of the Swedish and Danish iTunes charts partly because the duo’s Norwegian origin has been played down.
– Traditionally, the Swedish music industry has branded Norwegian music as what it is; just Norwegian music. For the Swedish media, it appears about as sexy as Polish music does for the Norwegian press and radio stations. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with either Polish or Norwegian music, but this is exactly why Envy was branded as Norwegian in the first place. I’d go as far as saying that Envy isn’t really viewed as Norwegian in the Norwegian market place. This holds true even more so in Sweden and Germany.
Norwegian music’s poor track record on the Swedish market can be traced back to a number of factors says Rogstad. A combination of few past successes and the Swedish music industry’s inherent skepticism to music that is not of Anglo-American or Swedish origin has not made things easy for Norwegian acts, but there are signs of an improving climate.
Says Rogstad: – This is an internal problem within the Swedish record labels, and not, as some have voiced, a consumer- or media-driven phenomenon. The Swedish music industry is also going through a generational shift – the new generation of execs is less preoccupied with music’s origin and focuses more on its potential. Combine this with a Norwegian music scene that has taken quantum leaps in terms of quality and potential and you’re left with many Norwegian acts that are destined to cross borders in the near future.
Norwegian Radio Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) music journalist/music industry commentator Asbjørn Slettemark is impressed with Envy’s Scandinavian success and is eagerly awaiting the continuation of the story. Says Slettemark to Music Norway: – This is a massive feat. In later years, some Norwegian acts have gained a foothold in Denmark and Sweden, at least seen in comparison to the meagre 90s and early 00s, but to reach the top of the charts in these countries is a show of force.
Slettemark shares Rogstad’s view of a Swedish record industry that is slightly condescending toward Norwegian music: – Traditionally, Sweden and Denmark have perhaps been viewed as trendier and more hip than Norway, and the music industries of the two countries might have seen Norwegian acts as less than potential. In the light of such successes as Kaizer Orchestra’s Danish dominance and Donkeyboy’s Swedish chart successes, the preconceived notions have been challenged and Envy is now in position to pass on that heritage.
Envy’s manager Amanuel Kidane praises Parlophone/EMI Norway’s efforts, and is adamant that the ambition was clear from the outset: to spread ‘Am I Wrong’ beyond Norway’s borders. – It’s really rewarding to see that we have succeeded, says Kidane to Music Norway. I feel that our success can be traced back to the very fact that Envy is a strong live act and that ‘Am I Wrong’ was accompanied by a video portraying the duo as likeable guys. The track has lived a life of its own and crossed borders all the while EMI in Norway, Sweden and Denmark has put down massive efforts to back it up.
Kidane is reluctant to shed light on the outcome of Envy’s recent US-excursion, but according to Music Norway’s sources, the duo was flown in by several major US record labels. – The status after our US-trip is simply that we met some good people – we’ll see what the future brings… After all, the guys just went over the pond to shop for clothes, concludes Kidane with an ambiguous laugh.