Norway is a great country to visit for its landscape; however, this country has a lot more to offer. Among others, Norway has produced many great artists, writers – and musicians. In this post, I will tell you more about popular music from different corners of Norway. I will share some videos with you with different kinds of music made by artists from different parts of the country. You will probably like some tunes better than others, and you can easily skip the ones that you don’t like.
I want to show you that there is a lot of variation within the Norwegian music scene. We all have different tastes, and if you find an artist that you love, you can do some extra research yourself. I usually do not provide external links, since you can easily find more music on YouTube or Spotify. The lyrics of all the tunes that I present are also to be found online.
This journey will bring us to different places in Norway. However, most important is the music, and in this post you will be able to hear a variety of popular music. The selection is based on what I found to be representative of popular Norwegian music over the last few years.
On the map below you will see the places in Norway that I mention in this blog post.
If you already speak some Norwegian, you will probably realize that not everyone sings in standard Norwegian. Some artists do, but not all of them. This may be a challenge if you want to learn Norwegian, but on the other hand it may also be useful – it is after all necessary to get used to this variation in the language.
Music from the city and from the country
We start in the Oslo region, with artists who come from that area, or who sing with that kind of accent. Our first artist is Chris Holsten, who has been tremendously popular the last couple of years. Here comes “Smilet i ditt eget speil” (The smile in your own mirror).
In Holsten’s video, you see landscapes from different places in Norway, some of them far from Oslo. However, the capital city is also beautifully situated within forests, islands and hills, although it is different from the fjords of Western Norway.
The next tune is by the band Halva Priset. It was set up by Peter Bjørklund Kristiansen, who previously known under the pseudonym Katastrofe. Kristiansen is primarily known for his party music, but sometimes, you will hear something that is more serious. Our next tune, “Den fineste Chevy’n”, is a good example. Here, you hear an acoustic version in cooperation with Maria Mena.
When going to other places, you easily realize that much of Norway has a love-hate relationship to its capital. The way people speak in Oslo is often considered to be the more “correct”, although you will hear different accents and dialects when travelling through the country. Sometimes you can even hear this variation in the same song, like in this duet with Emma Steinbakken and Aslag Haugen.
Emma uses standardized Bokmål, while Aslag from the band Hellbillies sings in his dialect from Ål (Hallingdal), which is closer to Nynorsk.
The original version by Hellbillies has the title “Eg gløymer deg aldri”.
Nevertheless, the duet presented above is also to be heard in the tv series Rådebank, produced by the Norwegian broadcasting corporation, NRK. This series is about the Råner, young people in smaller towns who spend a lot of time driving around in their cars, without having any specific goal. They used to have (and still often have) a negative reputation, even though this may have changed a little in more recent times.
The phenomenon Råner has also been described by the group “Hagle”, whose members live in Mysen, only 60 kilometers form Oslo. It is situated in the Østfold, region, and the Østfold dialect generally has a lower status. However, the members of “Hagle”, are proud of their dialect, as you can hear in the next tune: “Rullær”, meaning “rolling”. And that’s what they do, they keep rolling (driving) around all the time. By the way, in standard language it is called “ruller”.
Hagle has collaborated with various other bands, including Halva priset.
Music of the fjords
In Norway, speaking dialect is common, and contrary to people from Østfold, people from Bergen are not ashamed of their dialect at all. The inhabitants – the bergenser – are very proud of their city, its historic centre and its beautiful surroundings. Bergen is the second-largest city of Norway and the largest in western Norway. It also fostered two of Norway’s most important musicians in the 19th century: Edvard Grieg and Ole Bull. In our times, music from Bergen has reached the tops of the hit lists on some occasions, and there is one particular singer that we need to mention – Gabrielle.
Here, you will hear “Fem fine frøkner” (Five nice ladies)
Skam (meaning “shame”) is a Norwegian TV-series that has achieved world-wide fame. It describes the life of teenagers in Oslo, with all challenges that they encounter. In the series, you also see a love affair between two boys while the tune “Fem fine frøkner” can be heard in the background.
The success of this series in Norway has inspired TV producers in different countries to produce their own version. This is why you may know skam in another version from your own country.
But let’s go back to Western Norway. In the southwest lies Stavanger, a charming old town with many white wooden houses. It is known as Norway’s oil capital, but has remained a medium-sized city, with its own strong identity and its own dialect. This is also where the band “Stavangerkameratene”, (the Stavanger friends) comes from, who sing in their native Stavanger dialect.
Here, you will hear their tune “Bare så du vett det” (Just so you know).
In the west, where there are quite a few other towns to visit as well. One of these places is Haugesund, a relatively small town situated between Stavanger and Bergen. The best-known band from Haugesund is probably Vamp.
Because of the many fjords that intersect the west coast of Norway, going from one town to another often takes a while. Nevertheless, making the journey is certainly worth the effort. If you go north of Bergen, you will come to the Sognefjord, the longest of all Norwegian fjords with some of the most amazing sceneries of Norway. This is also where Eva Weel Skram comes from. This video is from Oslo, but you will hear a genuine fjord voice from Sogn.
A country of folk tunes – and rock’n roll
Gåte is based in Trondheim in central Norway, but they use Telemark dialect and Nynorsk in their lyrics. They have modernized a few old folk tunes, as you can hear in their presentation of the epos Bendik & Årolilja, a love song that has its origins back in the Middle Ages.
Upper Telemark (Vinje area) used to be an isolated area, and some old folk tunes are only known in that dialect – Telemål. It is considered to be a very poetic dialect, which is why also today, musicians use Telemål when singing folk songs. The area has also fostered an impressive number of talented musicians, including Odd Nordstoga.
Norstoga has also been working closely with another musician from the same area, Ingebjørg Bratland.
But let’s go back to Trondheim again, which is the major city of the central Norwegian region Trøndelag. Some people call it a city of rock, and it is also the home town of the rock band Dum Dum Boys. Here you can see “splitter pine”, from 1989. An old tune, but with enough energy to interest people today:
Music of the Arctic
Northern Norwegian has its own specific melody, it almost sounds like people are singing while they are talking. No wonder some of the most impressive Norwegian voices come from the north. One of them is Kari Bremnes from the Lofoten islands, north of the arctic circle.
Sondre Justad is another artist from the same area. He is a sporty guy who has performed in places where you would not expect it, including the peak of a mountain. This concert was held right outside the village where he grew up, Henningsvær. Enjoy!
The world can be a beautiful place, but sometimes life is horrible. In June 2022, during the Oslo pride week, Norway was surprised by a terrorist attack at a gay bar. Sondre Justad was present at the memorial service that was held shortly afterwards. He performed a song that is a tribute to love of different types – “Ikke som de andre”.
Northern Norway has also fostered many other great voices. Halfdan Sivertsen from Bodø has been popular for decades all around Norway for his songs which have themes that ordinary people can recognize. Another Northern Norwegian, Kristian Kristensen from Harstad, has been active the last few years, and I hope that he will continue for many more years. Here comes “Kan du lære mæ”?
Our musical journey goes all the way north to Karasjok, a Sami village surrounded by wilderness. The Sami language is very different from Norwegian, as you can hear in the next video. We will see Mari Boine, probably the most successful Sami musician ever.
The immigrant community and their influence on Norwegian music
Oslo is also known for its immigrant community. They have made their imprint on daily life, also as second and third generation immigrants who speak Norwegian and feel like being Norwegian. However, they don’t always feel accepted by the Norwegian society.
The singer with the artist name Hkeem is of Nigerian and Ghanaian origin, but he grew up in Oslo. He sings in Norwegian and has made rap music based on the idea that non-white people need to stand up for their rights. The title of the next tune is “fy faen”, which is a way of swearing, and should therefore not be said too often. However, it can also be a good way of expressing your own frustration, as we can see in the next video.
The hip-hop duo Karpe is one of the most popular bands in Norway right now. It has made an important contribution to the development of Norwegian music during the last 20 years. Their parents came from abroad, but Magdi and Chirag make lyrics in Norwegian, often related to the life of immigrants. Although primarily known as a hip-hop band, Karpe also makes other music that fit into other categories. The next tune, PAF.no, is based on a Tunisian traditional song (the tune itself begins at 2:10).
PAF.no is not only the title of the tune, but also the name (and the web address) of a charity foundation that the duo has set up.
Music just for fun
Music can sometimes be too serious, so I would like to finish with something that is less so. The next tune is Vidar Villa’s “Moren din” (your mother). The vocalist (whose first name is Vidar) is saying that he is in love with the other guy’s mother.
The mother in this video is Mia Gundersen, a singer from Stavanger. As you can see, she is certainly up for a joke.
A good party song could also be nice to cheer you up, or to make you stay in the right mood. Here comes “Pinne for landet” (a drink for the country) by Freddy Kalas.
By the way, the meaning of the word kalas is “party”. An excellent alias, in my opinion.
The biggest stars of Norwegian music?
I will finish by mentioning two artists who have been active for many years. Wenche Myhre is Norwegian, but she has also had success in a few other countries and performed tunes in several languages.
The original title of the next tune is “en chantant”, composed and sung by the French singer Michel Sardou. Here, you will hear Wenche Myhre performing the Norwegian version: “vi lever”. It is organized as a sing-along on Fredriksten Fortress in Halden, next to the Swedish border. This was organized during the corona pandemic, which is why there aren’t many people present.
Wenche Myhre also had an active career as a singer and TV-presenter in Germany for many years. Myhre’s performance of the German version of this tune, “Wir leben”, was also successful in German-speaking countries.
Wenche Myhre did not make the translations of this song herself, the Norwegian version was written by Jan Eggum, another well-known Norwegian singer.
The last singer that I want to present is Jahn Teigen, one of the most popular singers ever in Norway. His international adventure was not very successful: He got zero points for “Mil etter mil” at the Eurovision song contest in 1979. But he never gave up, and the Norwegian people never stopped loving him, for his voice and for his humorous style. Unfortunately, we will never see him perform again – he passed away in early 2020. Now you can listen to his love song “Det vakreste som finnes”.
I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to music in the Norwegian language. This blog post was not meant as a comprehensive guide, but I have tried to make a selection that includes different kinds of music. There are certainly many other artists who are worth mentioning. If you look for music that was popular some years ago (and to some extent, still today), you could check out Lillebjørn Nielsen or Øystein Sunde. Together with Jan Eggum and Halfdan Sivertsen they also formed the group Gitarkameratene for a few years.
DeLillos or Postgirobygget are two other examples of groups that used to be very popular, and still are. However, if you want to know more about the music that is on the hit lists right now, you should check out the YouTube channel Norwegian music 2022 or a couple of Spotify’s channels, like Top 50 – Norway or Norsk Hiphop & Rap.
Do you want to learn more about Norway and the Norwegian language? There are different articles to be found on this blog. You are welcome to have a closer look.
Do you want to learn Norwegian yourself? Or do you want to master it better? Listening to songs can be an integrated part of the learning process.
However, you will need some basic knowledge of the language first, for which a good language teacher can be of great help. norwegian.online offers private Norwegian online language lessons. Check out this website to learn more.