Army Of Lovers at Melodifestivalen

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This week, Swedish TV SVT, has announced the hosts for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest as Måns Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede. I’m really excited about this, as I like them both very much. But as much as I love Eurovision, I’m more of a fan of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals leading up to Eurovision. Eurovision is fun, but Melodifestivalen has passion. While the UK looks at Eurovision as a bit of a joke, the Swedes take Melodifestivalen very seriously.

But one of the things which has kinda annoyed me in recent years has been the tendancy for Swedes to sing in English. Yes, I know Swedish is not exactly the universal language of pop. But when ABBA, for example, won Eurovision in 1974, they sang in Swedish at Melodifestivalen, and then in English at Eurovision. I think this is a cool model. As much as a universal language interests me, I’d like to think people could speak their own languages too.

Also increasingly, I’ve noticed over the last few years an awful lot of Swedish pop singers have only been singing in English. But in the last year I’ve noticed a few Swedish singers have discovered their “Swedish Pride”. Interestingly, some of the most obvious ones have been the children of immigrants. I wonder if this is a response/reaction to the rise of the anti-immigration party, Sweden Democrats, or am I reading too much into it? Here’s a few examples:

Also lately, I’ve seen some great pop clips with some really strong imagery from Stockholm. Here’s a few examples:

I actually recognised someone from the last clip. Small world.

Måns Zelmerlöw at Stockholm Pride

Måns Zelmerlöw at Stockholm Pride

The first time I saw Måns Zelmerlöw perform live was at Stockholm Pride in 2008. At the time, I think he really only had one hit song, “Cara Mia”. Eight years later, he was back at Stockholm Pride, and performed that song again. Last night he also sang another previous hit, (and Eurovision/Melodifestivalen entry) “Hope And Glory” as well as “Heroes”, the song which won him this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Although I was close enough to touch him, I didn’t. Sweden has laws about that kind of thing :)

Måns Zelmerlöw at Sweden's Gay Gala

Eurovision 2015

There was a moment about half way through the voting when it looked like Russia was going to win. For what it’s worth, I’d taken a break from watching the contest to take the garbage out and had missed their entry, so I had no idea what the fuss was all about. In the Green Room, Conchita Wurst kept telling the woman from Russia she deserved to win. I’m not entirely sure the Russian viewers would have seen this, as there was a lot of talk on social media, Russian television had censored Conchita. Shortly afterwards, thankfully, Måns Zelmerlöw began to take a lead, and there was a clear moment when it became obvious he would win.

Måns wasn’t actually my preferred candidate. At Melodifestivalen (the Swedish finals leading to Eurovision) I was actually supporting Jon Henrik Fjällgren, the Colombian-born, Sami-raised reindeer herder. However, my philsophy around Eurovision is that, like footy, you should always support your team, and so when Måns was announced as the Swedish winner I threw my support behind him.

Måns Zelmerlöw
Måns Zelmerlöw at Stockholm Pride 2008
He’s not without controversy, though. Even though I first saw him perform at Stockholm Pride in 2008, and he made a spectacular nude performance at last year’s Gay Gala in Stockholm, he’s been getting a reputation on a number of websites as being homophobic. He made some comments on a Swedish TV show last year along the lines of it being “more natural” for men and women to be together because of their capacity to have children. Before the program went to air, he sought to have the comments removed from the program. Soon afterwards he issued a strong apology. The “word on the street” is that he isn’t homophobic.

That aside, Heroes is a pretty good song (memorable in lots of ways) and the concept and performance of the presentation was excellent.

I thought it was terrific that Sweden and Australia both exchanged twelve points. I’ve written before there’s an odd connection between our two countries in lots of ways: almost exactly opposite geographically; a sparse population, though most people seem to live in a small area; and of course, people in both countries drink too much. BTW, Måns visited Australia a few months ago and seemed to enjoy himself.

Throughout the day I’ve received quite a few emails, social media interactions and text messages all with basically the same message: “Have you booked for Sweden yet?” Am I really that obvious? Yeah, I guess so. Tickets don’t go on sale until much closer to the event. I will, however, start looking around for accommodation for next year.

Midnight Boy

Melodifestivalen 2015 #4

As the opening beats from “Don’t Say No” by Midnight Boy came from the speakers of my television, for just a brief moment, I was transported back to the 80s and to Brisbane’s (in)famous nightclub, The Beat. Back in those days, Joh Bjelke-Peterson was still the Premier of Queensland, and I was a young man about town who would often head out on Sunday nights with friends to dance to tracks like “You Spin Me Round” (by Dead or Alive), “Relax” (by Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and others. Both the music and lyrics of “Don’t Say No” are highly reminiscent of that era.

It was an unexpected welcome opening for the fourth heat of this year’s Melodifestivalen, the competition which chooses Sweden’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. It was a heat I was anticipating very much due to the Australian connection. Days before Australia went on to announce Guy Sebastian (yawn) would represent Australia at this year’s contest, we already had an Australian connection. The band JTR were born in Sweden, but lived in Australia for about a decade, before returning to Sweden a few months ago. They have an Australian step-father, I understand, and while living here, competed in the X-Factor television show. I thought their song and performance were both quite good, and so was pleased they made it through to the final in a couple of weeks time. Oh yeah, and they lived in Logan City, a place where I associate with “losing my virginity”. :) Another story.

The other “Australian connection” (albeit a slim one, he recently holidayed here) was Måns Zelmerlöw. I’ve been a fan of his for a few years. He sings well, he performs well, and he’s pretty easy on the eye (check out this image on his Instagram account and you’ll see what I mean). The song wasn’t all that memorable, but he performed it well, and the presentation was a little more interesting than the usual stand on stage and perform routine, interacting with animations on the screen.

Aside from those three, there was nothing particularly exciting about the remaining entries. “It’s like it’s still 2009”, my friend Graeme said the other week, remarking the formula has become a little stale with the same song-writers every year, and an apparent cookie-cutter approach to selecting the singers and the songs. After the nightmare of last year’s co-presenters, things have improved this year, with Robin and Sanna being good choices. But what was with the comedy appearance by the contest’s producer, Christer Björkman? My feeling is that he has done a terrific job over the past decade with the contest, but maybe it’s time for him to move on, allowing for a regeneration of the contest.

Having now seen all four heats, I’ve decided my firm favourite is Jon Henrik Fjällgren, the reindeer herder from a Sami community up north. Andra Chansen (second chance) is this week, and then a week later, Sweden will choose its entry for Eurovision. It’s a shame we didn’t go through a similar selection process for Austraia.

Melodifestivalen 2015 #3

Even though I’m no longer part of the culture of “Friday Afternoon Work Drinks”, I do remember this stage of my life very well. You would go to the pub, talk about work, and then, as the drinks kicked in, you would turn to other topics, and before you knew it, you were in a dodgy karaoke bar singing “Dancing Queen”. Through your “beer ears” you thought you sounded okay, when it fact you sounded pretty awful. And what happened to remind you of this was the appearance on stage of your workmate (who had ditched his tie and jacket) and who suddenly revealed to everyone he had a really great singing voice.

That guy was a contestant in the third heat of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish competition which selects a contestant for the Eurovision Song Contest, and his name was Andreas Weise. When he appeared on stage, I thought he would be another boring old male blonde Swede who would sing something of little consequence, only to be forgotten about minutes later. In fact, his performance was one of the best in this heat.

Along the way there were other tracks such as “Insomnia” by Ellen Benediktson (good, though probably a little too similar to Loreen’s “Euphoria”); “För din skull” (For your sake) by Kalle Johansson (boring); “Living To Die” by Andreas Johnson (the songs title says it all, it’s time for Andreas Johnson to move on); “Don’t Stop” by Isa Tengblad (boring in my view, but popular with the tweens); and “I See You” by Kristin Amparo (gorgeous voice, though I can’t remember the song only half an hour after having watched it).

But my favourite of the heat was “Jag är fri (Manne Liem Frije)” (I am free) by Jon Henrik Fjällgren. He won Sweden’s got talent last year with a song about a friend who died. Though originally from Colombia, he’s part of the Sami community and works by day, seriously, herding reindeer. The song he sang was “rousing” and “catchy” and sung in “Joik” which is a traditional Sami form of song. A big call to make at this stage, since there’s still a further heat to go, and then “Andra Chansen” before the final, but I think he has a really good chance of representing Sweden at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Unfortunately the video of his performance isn’t available online yet, but here’s the video from when he won Sweden’s Got Talent.

Update – The video clip for his song has now been uploaded

Who needs an Australian entry in Eurovision, when we might already have one?

Who needs an Australian entry in Eurovision, when we might already have one?

There’s a lot of excitement today in Australia about our confirmed “wild card” entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

I actually seriously think much of Europe would vote for Australia out of “sympathy”/”admiration”/”a sense of fun”, and with the large number of expats in Europe (about 1-million), I genuinely think next year’s contest could be held at the Sydney Opera House.

But of course Australia already has an entry (of sorts), participating in Eurovision in the forthcoming fourth heat of Melodifestivalen with the band JTR. They’re up against a lot of competition, but you never know. And if they miss out, they could be the Australian entry. :) Well, the flights would be cheaper from Stockholm than Sydney.

The article below explains they lived in Australia from 2006, because that’s where their step-father comes from. Brissie, to be precise. But they moved back recently.

This item shows at least one of them has picked up an Australian accent, at least

TR är gruppen som slagit igenom stort i Australien. Nu är de redo att ta över Sverige – och Melodifestivalscenen.
JTR består av tre bröder från Alingsås som slog igenom i X-Factor Australien 2013. De slutade på en sjundeplats i tävlingen och slog igenom stort i Australien där tävlingen följdes upp av radioturnéer, albumlansering, miniturné och showcases.
På hemmaplan såg man bland annat killarna i Lotta på Liseberg i somras då de framförde singeln ”Ride”. De var även förband åt The Fooo Conspiracy vid deras show Vertigo i Stockholm och Göteborg. JTR’s första album hette ”Touchdown”.
Trots framgångarna utomlands, ser killarna Sverige och Alingsås som sitt hem. Sedan 2006 har de bott periodvis i Australien eftersom deras styvpappa kommer därifrån.

Eurovision Song Contest

There was a time not so long ago when I used to host an annual Eurovision Song Contest party. A whole bunch of us would gather together. We had score sheets. We had trophies. We had snack food based around different European cuisines. We revelled in the trashiness of it all. We constantly tried to outdo each other with smart-arse, bitchy comments. As the years went on I felt less inclined to hold these parties. There was a certain sameness to it every year. The longer the contest, the more difficult it became to go to work on the Monday morning. But the killer for me was I started to take Eurovision seriously.

I started to see through the “trashiness” of it all, what I call the “Woganification” of Eurovision, to see something really worthwhile and enjoyable, that you could enjoy without the need to trash it. I used to love Terry Wogan’s commentary, but over the last few years I’ve begun to realise the really negative impact he’s had on Eurovision in the UK directly, and in Australia indirectly. In the UK, his constant trashing of the entries (with a heavy dose of UK-centrism and some degree of xenophobia) has indirectly led to a situation where the contest isn’t taken seriously, and why they keep putting up such awful acts, in my view. Indirectly, the years of his commentary being shown in Australia has led to something similar: a situation where Eurovision is defined in the public discourse only through the glitter, the camp, the trashy.

I’m not denying the glitter, the camp, and the trashy (as they’re elements of Eurovision I really love), but I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the half-arsed lame, sledging comments on places like Twitter. Every many (with a Twitter account) and his dog watching Eurovision seems to think they’re the funniest new comedian or bitchiest new drag queen on the block. I’m also completely sick and tired of the SBS coverage where it’s become the Sam and Julia show. The killer for me, this year, was during the second semi-final when they actually began making comments OVER the song.

So this year I decided to avoid all of the shenanigans of a Sunday night watching the delayed SBS commentary. Instead, I got up early yesterday morning and watched the live coverage from SVT. As it was in real-time I didn’t have to worry about the stupid all day Sunday media blockout, avoiding the results. I also got to enjoy a coverage which was amusing and with affection, and where the commentators didn’t speak over the top of the songs, nor over the top of important parts of the show, and where it wasn’t all about them.

With that rant out of the way, these were my Top 3 this year.

1/ The Winner – Conchita Wurst : A great song, performed with passion, and with a great novelty act.

2/ The Wooden Spoon – Twin Twin : Despite the fact this song finished last, I thought it was great fun, had a good tune, and I really loved the fact it was the only song in the final not in English. This is the video version, by the way, since their live performance was rather dull, and out of tune.

3/ Sweden (of course) – Sanna Nielson : I actually think the song is rather boring, but when you support Team Sweden, you have to support the team.

Having been to Melodifestivalen (the Swedish finals) on a couple of occasions over the last few years, where the Swedes take it seriously, where they genuinely try to compete with a great song and a great performance, and where the public really looks up to those who enter the contest, I’ve begun to realise there’s another way of seeing Eurovision. It’s the difference between laughing WITH them (which is what the Europeans do) rather than AT them (which is what the UK and Australians seem to do).