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How Swedish pop conquered the world

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The week’s best arts and culture reads – including the future of the rock’n’roll hall of fame, a review of the new film Noah and a history of slang.

It’s a living
Jerry Stahl | Bookforum | 1 April 2014
Nikil Saval’s Cubed, a “lush, funny, unexpectedly fascinating” history of office work, tells “how authority maintains authority, and how the subjugated stay subjugated”. It captures “the mood of barely controlled panic” that “suffuses most American offices”, and which flows through “every element of overmanaged, time-sucking, keystroke-counting” office routine. This is a “masterpiece”, packed with “weirdly riveting vignettes”.

The rock and roll hall of fame of the future
Steven Hyden | Grantland | 1 April 2014
The induction of Pearl Jam into the Hall of Fame is almost a foregone conclusion: they were “the last archetypal rock band that was insanely popular”. Radiohead is the next sure bet, as “the last archetypal rock band that was insanely popular and then consciously decided to become less popular”. Eminem? Probably. Beyoncé too. But Coldplay isn’t quite cold yet. LCD Soundsystem is a “long shot”. And The Strokes have pretty much lost their chance.

Alphabetising
Ilan Stavans | Lingua Franca | 31 March 2014
An agreed order for the letters of the alphabet was essential in the days of printed books: how else would you find your way around a dictionary? But in digital texts alphabetical order ceases to matter. The search engine finds what you want. You need to know what letters are available, but BAC will do as well as ABC. Hard for older readers to grasp, but the alphabet is becoming “simultaneous and not sequential”.

How will the wolf survive?
David Byrne | 31 March 2014
Music streaming is great fun for consumers, but tough on musicians. The percentages are tiny, the accounting is opaque, and most of the streams are free anyway. The iTunes era is already looking good by comparison. Perhaps this is progress, and musicians will adapt, but it doesn’t feel that way. Here are three suggestions to improve the balance: abolish free streaming, split revenues 50/50, and share the data.

The six of coins
Jessica Crispin | Ohio Edit | 31 March 2014
How to tease meaning out of a tarot card. “The Six of Coins is about a lopsided balance. The man on the card has two beggars before him. He is only giving money to one, and yet the scale he holds is balanced… If you are the beggar (and we are all, all of the time, the beggar in front of someone), who are you holding your hand out to for help? And what behaviour are those people going to reward?”

Noah is a hot, wet, cinematic mess
J Hoberman | Tablet | 31 March 2014
Russell Crowe plays Noah as “a sort of two-fisted Buddhist for whom all life is sacred”. He is “recognisably Hollywood” but also “scarily Old Testament.” Aronofsky’s “entertainingly lurid” film is “the most eccentric Old Testament adaptation to come out Hollywood since John Huston’s The Bible“. And, with all due respect to The Ten Commandments, it is “the most Jewish biblical blockbuster ever made.”     

A load of bullocks
Nicholas Shakespeare | Telegraph | 30 April 2014
Review of Language! and Odd Job Man by Jonathon Green, Britain’s greatest living lexicographer of slang. “He is the Dr Johnson of slang, its Putin, its Mr Toad, its Dickens”. His predecessors include Francis Grose (1731-91), “who was so fat that his servant had to strap him into bed every night”; and John William Hotten (1832-73), “a workaholic pornographer who died from a surfeit of pork chops”.

Swedish pop mafia
Whet Moser | Pacific Standard | 24 March 2014
How Sweden came to dominate world pop music: by mistake. In the 1940s Sweden resolved to teach all schoolchildren classical music as a defence against American dance music. Later generations redirected their musical training. “What Nashville is to country music, and what Silicon Valley is to computing, Stockholm is to the production of pop. Sweden is the largest exporter of pop music, per capita, in the world”.

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