One of the most pleasing pop groups of the alternative era, the Cardigans specialized in sugary confections that would grow annoying very quickly if they weren't backed by solid musicianship and clever arrangements. The band's 1995 breakout album, Life, reflected the Cardigans at their most saccharine — the sunny disposition of vocalist Nina Persson being the major argument in favor — and critics inserted the group into the space age pop revivalist camp. The Cardigans later proved that they were more difficult to pigeonhole, however.
Even the band's origins showed that their later appearance was quite misleading; two heavy metal fanatics formed the group in October 1992 in Jonkoping, Sweden. Guitarist Peter Svensson met bassist Magnus Sveningsson in a hardcore group, though he had previously trained in music theory and jazz arranging. The two later grew tired of metal and decided to form a pop band with vocalist Nina Persson — an art-school friend who had never sung professionally — plus keyboard player Lars-Olof Johansson and drummer Bengt Lagerberg.
All five Cardigans moved into a small apartment in 1993 and began recording a demo tape that entered the hands of producer Tore Johansson later that year. He liked what he heard and invited the group to record at his Malmö studio. Signed to the dance-oriented Stockholm label, the Cardigans released Emmerdale in May 1994. The single "Rise & Shine" became a hit on Swedish radio soon after the release of the LP, and a readers' poll in Sweden's Slitz magazine voted Emmerdale the best album of 1994.
The Cardigans spent the last half of 1994 touring Europe and recording their second album. A satirical response to their moody debut, Life showed the band at their most upbeat, including an angelic picture of Persson in an ice-skating outfit for the cover. Released in March 1995 — with several re-recordings of songs from Emmerdale — the album eventually sold one and a half million copies worldwide and became especially popular in Japan, where it achieved platinum status.
A deal with Minty Fresh gave the Cardigans an American release of Life in spring 1996, and the group played eight sold-out shows in the U.S. that summer. The American major labels began to notice the attention, and Mercury signed them soon after. First Band on the Moon, released in September 1996, de-emphasized the pure pop in favor of abstract arrangements and some rather violent themes. Nevertheless, the infectious single "Lovefool" became a radio hit by early 1997, and First Band on the Moon eventually reached gold status in America, as well as platinum certification in Japan (just three weeks after its release).
Gran Turismo followed in 1998, though it lacked an obvious hit and led to a long hiatus for the band. Finally, the Cardigans returned in 2003 with Long Gone Before Daylight, marking a clear transition with confessional material closer to the singer/songwriter tradition. Super Extra Gravity followed in 2005, which hit number one in Sweden. By 2006, the band had gone on hiatus. Persson worked on solo material, releasing songs as A Camp and under her own name, while Svensson and Lagerberg issued music as Paus. (Lagerberg also worked with Johansson under the name Brothers of End.) The group reunited for occasional live shows during the 2010s, although without Svensson, who by this time was spending more time on pop music, writing and playing for an array of pop stars produced by Max Martin (One Direction, Avril Lavigne, Ellie Goulding, Ariana Grande, and Meghan Trainor). ~ John Bush