Oslo, Norway and the strangely unfamiliar

Since June 22, five student reporters have been publishing from the field on music, entertainment, and culture and all things Norwegian.

Last year, HPR, my former collegiate reporting stomping grounds, joined forces with my journalism study abroad program (www.ieiMedia.com/oslo) to offer students a chance to publish and readers a different view of the world. ieiMedia employs journalism faculty in the summers to produce international experiential reporting programs for U.S. and Canadian students.

Some programs are in very warm, exotic locations. After two summers on their faculty in Nice, France and Florence, Italy, and a previous summer in China with the University of Jamestown, I set my sights on something a little less warm, but just as exotic – Oslo. And shortly you’ll see why we’ve affectionately titled the program, “Oslo Rocks!”

The settlers of North Dakota and the upper Midwest were predominantly Scandinavian, with German, Eastern European and others sprinkled in. But again, so many Norwegians! While Minnesota has the most total Norwegian Americans at 800,000 (16%), North Dakota has the highest per capita rate at 27%, according to the most recent U.S. Census.

If we’re going to be reporting abroad, it makes some sense to provide the audience with a common ground. We both have hard winters. We are both mostly Caucasian. We both have immigration issues – Norway’s being mostly with Roma, ours mostly with, well, non-Caucasians.

An Oslo tourism pamphlet injected some comedy into Norwegian politics. It advised: “When in Oslo, remember that immigrants are good and we must protect the wolves. When anywhere else in Norway, remember that immigrants are bad and shoot the wolves.” Kinda sounds like the Fargo-North Dakota relationship to me.

That’s where things get interesting. In many respects, but not all, Norwegian Americans have fallen pretty far from the family tree. And North Dakota and Norway are as far from each other in terms of culture and politics as we can get in the West. Norway adheres to democratic socialism with a legacy monarchy. Norway also had a state church until last year, which holds more than 70% of the citizenry as members even though atheists and agnostics account for the largest demographic.

Two of our student reporters followed along with a tour group from North Dakota led by Carrol Juven of Juven Tours and Travel. Radio personality Scott Hennen was also on the trip and brought several of his listeners with him. I was there as several of the tourists discussed the differences between Norway and home. One said, “Norway is a great place to visit, to see the beautiful countryside and fjords, and to visit relatives. But I would never live here, because the way they do things is just un-American.”

Yet there’s one other slightly important distinction that piqued my interest in bringing student journalists to Norway. On average over the last decade, 65% of Norwegians annually attended at least one of the country’s record-setting 1500-plus music festivals (with highest attendance at pop/rock festivals).

Norway, with a population just shy of Minnesota’s, is the world’s 20th largest market for recorded music. The U.S. has the world’s largest total market for streaming music, earning approximately $5.00 per American. However, Norway has one of the largest per capita markets for streaming, earning just over $21.00 per Norwegian.

Norway is famously the home of the Black Metal sub-genre, and sits on top of world rankings for most metal bands, with Sweden and Finland. In an odd study by TheAtlantic, the Metal genre’s popularity can be correlated to a country’s happiness and contentment. Now, however, Norway is a growing producer of electronica – at one point last year Norwegian electronica owned three of the top 20 most played songs on Spotify.

So no matter if it’s Grieg or Mayhem or Alan Walker (Who? 1.5 billion on YouTube and 1 billion on Spotify), simply put, Norwegians love music. Long gone are the days when Norway was “The Land of the Vikings.” In 2015, Bloomberg called Oslo “The Nashville of Europe.”

These are the exotic circumstances that our student reporters find themselves in. Someplace that should be so familiar, but strangely isn’t.

Our student reporters don’t just come from North Dakota, however. They come from every corner of the U.S. and Canada with a mission to dive into Norwegian culture head first through its music scene. In 2016 and 2017, our teams reported on eight different festivals (most more than once); interviewed over 30 Norwegian, U.S. and international music acts; and photographed over 100 performances.

But that’s just scratching the surface, as our teams dug deep into music genres, scenes and beyond: squatting, street art and vandalism, religion, country life, politics, immigration and minorities, crime, alternative lifestyles, peace and so much more.

For our complete collection of work including student blogs, photo and video galleries, and much more, visit www.oslorocksblog.com.

We’ll see you again in 2018 when we will once again explore just how much Oslo Rocks!


[Editor’s note: Steve Listopad is the Oslo Rocks Program Director at ieiMedia. A complete version of Steve’s editorial and related coverage are on our website at http://hpr1.com/index.php/opinion/editorial/ and http://hpr1.com/index.php/feature/hpr-abroad/]