Magazine article Foreign Policy

Soft Rock Power: Has American Cultural Dominance Met Its Waterloo?

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Soft Rock Power: Has American Cultural Dominance Met Its Waterloo?

Article excerpt

FOR DECADES, the world has considered business giants like IKEA and Saab the bright lights of Swedish industry. Yet the real symbol of Sweden's economic power is not the Poang chair or the Gripen fighter jet, but the catchy choruses of the 1970s pop supergroup ABBA.

To study the globalization of culture in recent decades, Joel Waldfogel and Fernando Ferreira of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School examined a dataset that has been mostly overlooked by economists: pop charts.

Waldfogel and Ferreira analyzed every song on the hit lists of 22 countries between 1960 and 2007. They then compared each country's share of the popmusic market with the size of its economy.

Not surprisingly, American hits dominated, accounting for 51 percent of music sold over the period. Adjusted for GDP, however, Sweden takes the top spot--followed closely by Britain. Despite fears of pernicious cultural Americanization, more people around the world are listening locally: Foreign artists now account for just 30 percent of each country's pop hits, down from about 50 percent in the 1980s.

Then again, the world's most popular artists, no matter where they're from, often perform rock, R&B, and hip-hop tunes that are unmistakably American in origin. …

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