Darin: An Idol Two Decades at the Top
An Idol two decades at the top
You’d need to search the length and breadth of Sweden, and ask the question to a lot of its inhabitants, before you stumbled upon a Swedish person who didn’t know who Darin is. The avenues they’ll know him through will differ – be it the perennial presence of his music on the radio, his career-defining turn on Så Mycket Bättre, his interval act at the Eurovision Song Contest when it was hosted in Malmö in 2013, or his humble beginnings on the TV show Idol – but know him they most certainly will. released music exclusively in Swedish. “Writing and singing in Swedish is amazing, and I’m gonna continue doing that, because I love writing in Swedish,” ponders the artist, “but it does limit it to Scandinavia of course.”
It was at this Idol audition, on the very first series of the show in 2004, that a 16-year-old Darin Zanyar first came to the attention of Sweden. As is often the case in these situations, a powerful singing voice belied the shy auditionee it was coming from. But as is actually quite rare in this sphere, it’s a singing voice that is still something of a radio staple almost two decades later; something that most artists – those who have come through reality TV or otherwise –can only dream of.
“It’s insane. 20 years,” reflects Darin, who hasn’t been keeping track of the remarkable anniversary he’s been hurtling towards. “It feels crazy and cool at the same time. That I’ve actually been able to do this for such a long time. Some of the things feel like they happened yesterday – while some of them feel like they happened 50 years ago,” he laughs. “It does feel like a long time ago,” says Darin, when asked about those first few years. “It was a different world back then.”
In the many years since then, he’s racked up no less than seven number-one albums in Sweden, and kept things interesting for his fans – and for himself – by dipping in and out of musical eras. For one eight-year period – arguably his most commercially successful, on both streaming and radio – he recorded and Last year, however, he returned with yet another new sound, a stylish new look, and he was singing in English again. And it’s certainly not the case that he’s limited himself to Scandinavia anymore. The first single, Can’t Stay Away, is currently serving as his debut hit single in Italy, for example, where, at the time of writing, it’s the highest placed Englishlanguage song on the Italian radio airplay chart.
For his latest batch of English-language releases, Darin has worked with a new bunch of songwriters, something which, by this point in his career, he knows is important in order to keep things interesting: “I always get inspired by new things. Things that happen in my life – new people that I meet and new people
that I work with. Everyone works in different ways. Everyone thinks in different ways, too. That’s why it’s so nice to collaborate. That’s one of the great things about working with other people – you get inspired.”
From the very beginning, Darin has been involved in the writing process for his music, something he is just as passionate about as he is about performing. And with every new team of collaborators for every new album, he’s cherished the experience of learning something new each time. “That’s the way for me to think when it comes to most things in life. You can always learn more. You’re never finished learning, I feel. You can always develop, evolve, learn more things, try things in different ways. That’s the best way to think, especially when it comes to creative things.” And what’s the most important thing he’s learned in the writing process after all this time? “It’s about experience when it comes to lyrics. It’s about living life and then writing about it.”
In his most recent songs, Darin now has the freedom to write from a more personal perspective than ever, having used the occasion of International Pride Day in 2020 to take to his Instagram and share with his followers the revelation that I’ve had the success I’ve had back home in Sweden. But I’ve done music in Swedish for so many years now, and I’m looking forward to all these new songs in English. To be able to share the music with even more people. That’s very exciting for me right now.”
But then he’s also keen to not get too bogged down in the grand plans, keeping his feet firmly on the ground, all too aware that it is this more modest approach that has contributed to getting him where he is now. “I’m a lot in the now. And a little bit in the nearest future. That’s the way I think. Maybe that helps me be creative.”
If he thinks only in terms of the near future, then it’s pertinent to ask what that near future holds for Darin. Can we expect an outlandish new musical era to be ushered in soon? Mercifully, he knows what his fans want from him, what works for him, and what he wants for himself, too. “I love pop music. That’s the genre I grew up with and it’s always gonna be the one I like listening to the most. Even though I listen to everything –I listen to jazz, I listen to Spanish music a lot and French music, all kinds of genres – I’m always gonna love pop music the most.”
After 18 years in the game, and at the top of his game, it’s this admirable commitment to the genre that has seen him become such an integral part of it.
that he is gay. “It was the right timing for me. And that’s the most important thing. For it to feel right for you. Not doing things for other people.”
It was a statement that was met with – thankfully – universal support from the Swedish media and music industry, and from his fans, some of whom had been with him for 16 years at that point. And it’s ended up moving things in a positive direction for the singer, too: “I love to write. And I think that helped a lot with the coming out. Plus, it gave me a whole new energy. To be honest, it’s more fun now for me than it’s ever been, creating and releasing things. Especially when it comes to the visuals and the fashion, and trying out new things. For example, the music video to Can’t Stay Away; I don’t think that would have been the way it was had I not come out.”
With so much achieved – on both a personal and a professional level – in these last two decades, it’s intriguing to know how an artist looks ahead and thinks: ‘right, what next?’. But Darin does at least have some idea of his hopes for the near future, from the perspective of where he finds himself today. “I’m very happy with what I have achieved. I don’t take anything for granted. I’m so happy that I’ve done the things that I have –
Can’tStayAway single cover design.
Ten key trends and milestone moments in Scandinavian cultural history
1.Garbo, Bergman, and the art of silence Swedish Hollywood superstar Greta Garbo and renowned director and screenwriter Ingmar Bergman never actually worked together, despite both being known for the same understated, melancholic, dark expressions. But they were both highly influential and lauded in the world of cinema, and both central to the view that was emerging throughout the world during the 1900s of Sweden as a sombre but picture-perfect place.
2.ABBA’s Eurovision Song Contest victory Sweden may be the country with the second most Eurovision wins, but few victories compare with that glorious 1974 glitter fest, when ABBA won with Waterloo. No Swede has ever mentioned being Swedish outside of Sweden since without someone exclaiming, ‘Oh! Sweden! ABBA!’ So long, Bergman-esque bleakness; this is glam and glitter all the way.
3.The ‘90s chart pop wave We’ll bet money that, if you were young during the ‘90s, you know most or all of the lyrics to Ace of Base’s All That She Wants, Whigfield’s Saturday Night, Red-
Ace of Base albums and artwork. Photo: Shutterstock The Öresund bridge, world-famous since its central appearance in the Nordic Noir hit series TheBridge. Photo: Shutterstock
nex’ Cotton-Eye Joe and Aqua’s Barbie Girl. The list goes on, and while it’s hard to say exactly what it was that made the Scandinavian ‘90s pop era so illustrious, illustrious it was – and with a bit of hindsight, we can even take pride in it.
4.Nordic Noir It started with Beck and Wallander, but it was perhaps The Killing that sealed the deal, with The Bridge crowning Nordic Noir as not just a craze, but a wide-spread succession. Versions of the Sarah Lund jumper popped up in every high-street fashion shop and tourists flocked to Malmö to do the tour and visit the bridge itself. With strong yet three-dimensional female heroines moving through well-designed, minimalist environments, some say Nordic Noir did more for Brand Scandinavia than any consciously commissioned branding campaign ever will.
5.Spotify and a new way to consume music Love it or loathe it – as the first music streaming service to offer a subscription model and unlimited streaming, Sweden’s Spotify might just have changed the way we listen to music forever. Arguably, while the streaming giant took a bit of a hit on the stock market initially, it’s likely that not even Neil Young and Joni Mitchell withdrawing their back catalogues in response to a certain podcaster’s approach to pandemic analysis
will change the fate of the music listening market.
6.Hygge and other lifestyle trends Fancy some ‘hygge’ with that cup of tea, or some ‘lagom’ with your daily bike ride to work? Why not top up on ‘sisu’ during a particularly challenging hike, or soak up on easy-going ‘friluftsliv’ with some mushroom foraging? Some of last decade’s Nordic lifestyle trends were more successful than others, but together, they helped to cement the reputation of Scandinavia as a cosy, balanced, healthy haven of nature and equality.
7. SKAM and teen culture from Norway Less ridiculous than 90210, a million times more real than Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and years ahead of Sex Education, Norway’s SKAM (which means ‘Shame’) became an overnight hit, depicting in raw and honest and sometimes uncomfortable ways the challenges and thrills of teenage life. Covering everything from sex and eating disorders to religion, homophobia and, naturally, love, it simultaneously manages to showcase some of Scandinavia’s greatest strengths, but in subtle ways that truly pull on the heartstrings.
8.Trolling Trump When Sweden’s then climate minister Isabella Lövin tweeted a photo of herself
Frozen. Photo: Shutterstock Hygge. Photo: Shutterstock
signing a climate bill surrounded by only female colleagues, including one heavily pregnant, which very clearly mimicked that of then US President Trump signing the abortion global gag rule surrounded by suited men only, there was little doubt that she knew what she was doing. And sure, that’s politics, not culture, but in the context of a Swedish government that promoted itself as explicitly feminist, in the very same year that the #metoo movement was eventually reborn, we’d like to insist that the move was not just political but also very much cultural indeed. 9.Disney goes Nordic Did you know that Arendelle, the home village of princesses Elsa and Anna from Frozen, was based on a number of different Norwegian locations? It may have been subtle at first, but with the roping in of Norwegian Aurora on unmistakably Nordic backing vocals for the Frozen 2 theme tune, Into the Unknown, Disney made it clear beyond doubt that the magical universe that’s home to Olaf and Sven (as if the names didn’t give it away) is Scandinavian and nothing else.
10. Iceland, Eurovision, and woke culture We’ve had Scandinavian wildcards in the Eurovision Song Contest before, but Daði and Gagnamagnið are in a league of their own. Not only was their 2020 contribution to the competition that never happened a true banger that went viral on TikTok, but with adorable, nerd-chic outfits and the pansexual flag taking pride of place during their video performance for last year’s semi-finals, they immediately won over every queer and woke music fan out there and continue to be a much-loved phenomenon to this day. Credit also to Iceland’s industrial techno band Hatari, who made no secret of their love of queer kink when representing their country at the Eurovision Song Contest the year before Daði and Gagnamagnið took the rein. Perhaps Iceland has found its Eurovision niche?