Does your country have a band that only people from your country really ‘get’?

In Canada we just lost Gord Downie, the frontman for The Tragically Hip.

The Tragically Hip on their farewell tour. (Mike Homer)

If you Google “Canada’s band” you receive countless results with writers and editorials extolling the virtues of the Hip and their role in the Canadian psyche, using phrases like “the Hip has mapped this country through song”, “Their songs are stitched into the collective subconscious of this country”, and “They have achieved an iconic status, one that makes them synonymous with Canada”.

In attempting to explain their place in Canada to an American audience, the New York Times wrote “Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close.”. Yesterday they were played on pretty much every radio station all day, their final concert was broadcast nationally, and hockey teams and cities across the country lowered flags and jerseys to mark Downie’s passing.

I am curious if other countries have bands that occupy this place in the national psyche. It’s not enough that they be a wildly popular band from your country — Arcade Fire, Nickelback and the Guess Who, not even Drake would qualify for Hip status in Canada. There has to be some notion that the band helps explain your country (even if not everyone agrees).

To give you a better sense of just how weirdly Canadian the Hip are, consider they had nine number one albums here, all multiplatinum, and yet only one (the most recent, released last year) even cracked the top 200 in the United States (number 178). Even an appearance on Saturday Night Live (at the insistence of Canadian cast-member Dan Aykroyd) failed to make inroads.

So in my mind, to be a version of the Hip there are three key qualifiers:

  • wildly popular in your country
  • relatively unknown internationally
  • viewed by many as being indelibly linked with your country’s psyche and identity

I’ll share some contenders after the jump but I’d like to hear your own contenders. You can leave a reply in the comments here, I’m on Twitter @akurjata or I’ve made a post in the r/music subreddit.

Interested to hear your takes and stories!

For what it’s worth I’ve found what I think are a couple of contenders for other countries.

Australia — Cold Chisel

I’ve never heard of Cold Chisel before but when I googled ‘uniquely Australian I came across this post which reads “You think Australian rock and you think Cold Chisel” (big talk for a country that produced AC/DC). Elsewhere lines like “the sense of nationalism, the feeling that for many groups the music being played was indelibly Australian” and the fact they have nine top ten albums in Australia with little knowledge of the band elsewhere makes them feel pretty Hip-like to me.

Sweden — Kent

This blog post describes some pretty Hip-like situations for the Swedish group Kent.

“First, to tell you something of their influence: In 2013, Ola Johansson dedicated an entire academic paper in Fennia, the International Journal of Geography, to the subject of Kent and what they mean to Sweden. While Fennia is obviously Finnish itself, oddly the paper made comparatively little mention of these Finnish roots, choosing to argue that their identity is a reflection of class issues and being from “an archetypical [sic] Swedish small city”, Eskilstuna.
“In 2016, in honor of their career, Sveriges Radio P3 dedicated a fifteen-part series to Kent over this spring and summer.”
“According to the Stockholm daily Dagens Nyheter, ‘What Kent have accomplished is unparalleled in Swedish popular culture’ (Wahllöf 2005). The Expressen newspaper states that Kent’s most popular songs are ‘received as national anthems’ (Nordström 2007: 244−245). Kent even ‘represent Sweden better than any other band,’ writes the music journal Musiklandet (Gustafsson 2003). And in an anthology of the band, the editor uses overtly Swedish metaphors when he writes that Kent is ‘as deeply rooted among the people as herring and aquavit’.”

So now curious if Australians and Swedes would feel the same way!