NEIKED is a music duo like no other. The group’s two biggest hits, ‘Sexual’; and ‘Better DayS’, have
amassed 1 billion and 1.5 billion streams respectively. ‘Better Days’, an irresistibly wistful pop-funk
bop featuring vocals from British singer-songwriter Mae Muller and American rapper Polo G, went
platinum in the US and cracked the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 last year after spawning its own
viral TikTok challenge. And yet, NEIKED’s members Mikael Rabus and Victor Rådström admit they
used to think of themselves as “involuntary artists”. To understand why, we need to peel back to the
very beginning.

Rabus and Rådström met at Musikmakarna, a prestigious music school in Örnsköldsvik, a small town
in the north of Sweden. “Over the last 20 years, this school has produced some of the most prominent
artists, songwriters and producers”; Rabus says – Taylor Swift collaborator Elvira Anderfjärd,
acclaimed singer-songwriter LÉON and Martin Garrix co-writer Kristoffer Fogelmark are among its
alumni. “And I could say that’s because the town is so boring that there’s nothing else to do there! But
actually, it’s because the place is a melting pot of creativity: everyone gets their own studio and
starts collaborating with one another”.

Though Rabus and Rådström knew one another at Musikmakarna, they only formed a proper
partnership a few years later, when they were both living in Stockholm. Rådström was working as a
songwriter and producer who at one point had three songs in Sweden’s Top 5 simultaneously; Rabus
had moved into music publishing, but together they decided to try their own, distinctively DIY artist
project. They bonded over eclectic musical influences – everything from Talking Heads to The Killers,
and Chic to classic Motown – and put no boundaries on their own sound. “Victor had all these really
great records on his hard drive: they weren’t commercial necessarily, but we liked them”, Rabus
recalls. “So the idea was to do this experimental project where nothing fits into any box or genre. A lot
of so-called industry experts like radio programmers told us our music was too quirky to take off, but
we loved the idea of dropping any kind of record at any time we liked.”

By now, it was 2015, and the duo shrewdly realised the music industry was changing. Record labels,
so obsessed with pigeonholing artists in a way that would have stifled NEIKED, were no longer such
all-powerful gatekeepers. So instead of courting a record deal, the duo went straight to Spotify, an
innovative Swedish streaming platform that had yet to become the global juggernaut it is today. “We
knew that Spotify’s playlists were becoming a big driver of records, and we had a great relationship
with Spotify, so they started featuring our records on their playlists”, Rabus says. “We dropped a
couple of weird records – one in Swedish, the other in French – and then the third one we put out
really took off.”

That third record was ‘Sexual’, a super-catchy dance-pop tune featuring the playful hook: “I’m feeling
sexual, so we should be sexual.”  Soon, Rabus and Rådström’s phones seemed to be ringing
constantly as record labels clamoured to sign them. NEIKED was at a crosswords: the duo wanted to
remain independent because their project was rooted in not playing by the rules, but Rabus and
Rådström knew a major label could take ‘Sexual’ to the next level. So, in a well-judged compromise,
they signed a “very short” contract with Polydor and Republic to give their hit the push it deserved.
The plan worked when ‘Sexual’ cracked the top ten in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand,
Belgium, Spain and Norway. Rabus credits the labels with “breaking our record globally and turning it
into this phenomenon”. However, success came with expectations that NEIKED’s members weren’t
yet ready to fulfil. When they were booked to perform in BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge, their “very real
social anxiety”; kicked in, so they sent four friends in baseball caps to represent them. Rabus and
Rådström started referring to NEIKED as a “massive collective”  instead of a duo to deflect the
attention away from them.

The post ‘Sexual’ period was a “really stressful” one for the duo. Rabus and Rådström turned down
some “really big record deals” so they could stick to their original plan of releasing what they wanted,
when they wanted. “We weren’t ready for a long-term deal”, Rabus says. “Everyone expected us to
make a second ‘Sexual’, but the whole point of the project was to be experimental, so we were never
going to do that.” Instead, NEIKED remained independent and self-released 2019’s Best of Hard
Drive, an album Rabus describes as “very strange”. “We did what we said we were going to do, but
we also spent nearly all the money we made from ‘Sexual'” he says. “We were really on a downward
trend, and then Covid happened.”

At this point, NEIKED could easily have faded into obscurity. However, Rabus and Rådström were
convinced that “one really big record” could put the project back on track. That record was “Better
Days”, which they licensed to Capitol Records in a one-single deal. A clever TikTok campaign co-
ordinated by the label, NEIKED and Creed Media (an agency run by childhood friends of the duo)
really hit the target and “Better Days” became a huge global hit. “So, that’s where we are right now
with the project: we’ve had seven years of really high highs and really low lows”, Rabus says. “Now,
we’re in this middle ground where we want to be independent, but we’ll license our radio-friendly
records to major labels while self-releasing our experimental tracks.

“One of NEIKED’s radio-friendly records, “I Just Called” with Anne-Marie and American rapper Latto,
has just come out after being licensed to Warner. It’s another box-fresh summer bop on which Anne-
Marie flips a classic Stevie Wonder record on its head by singing: “I just called to say I hate you.”
Rabus says that getting Wonder’s blessing was key: if the soul legend hadn’t liked their reimagining of
‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’, “that would definitely have been a deal-breaker”.

At this stage, Rabus and Rådström are no longer the “involuntary artists” of old. “We want to do
videos, we want to do interviews, we want to play live: we’re both multi-instrumentalists with a history
of playing in bands, so touring is a priority for us. “We’re all about building the NEIKED brand” says
Rabus. This time around, they know exactly how they're going to maintain their upward momentum.
“After ‘Sexual’, we didn’t have too many records ready to go. And the records that we did have were
all quite weird”, Rabus says. “But now, we have way more records ready to go, and many of them
sound like hits. The aim is to make brilliant songs with the most exciting vocalists and musicians in the
industry: you’re definitely going to be hearing a lot from us this year.”.


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