Grant and I were dressed for the part. Grant is wearing a Pirate Bay Party t-shirt, while I am wearing a Swedish football team t-shirt.

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).

Melodifestivalen 2014 #4

Alcazar performs at Stockholm Pride
Alcazar performs at Stockholm Pride

Ah yes, I remember it well. It was Stockholm Pride in 2011, and Graeme and I were there in the front row for the final ever performance by legendary Swedish pop group, Alcazar. There was a real sense of sadness in the crowd, as Alcazar had delivered so many wonderful pop music memories.

The sadness didn’t last long, because eventually Alcazar would make a comeback, and another, and another. And thank goodness they have, because they brought a really great excitement for the opening of the fourth heat of Melodifestivalen, the finals which choose which song goes on to represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest.

In many ways their entry was going over old ground. Their song sounded like just about every other Alcazar song from the last five years (Fredrik Kempe made his fourth consecutive appearance in this year’s competition), and their dance routines are in desperate need of an update. But they’re Alcazar and the Swedish public loves them. Well, more than they did last year anyway, when they never made it to the final. This year, thankfully, Alcazar made it through.

There was a lot to like about the songs and performers in the fourth and final heat. The second track “Fight Me If You Dare” by I.D.A was a surprise favourite of mine. I also really liked “Hollow” by Janet Leon. Sadly, neither made it through to either the final or Andra Chansen. Anton Ewald, a favourite of mine from last year, thankfully did make it through, though the song he has this year is not up to the standard of last year’s hit, “Begging”. Still, he’s a terrific dancer and quite a cutie.

The hosts for the television presentation weren’t as awful as they’ve been in previous weeks. Still awful, but not as awful.

Melodifestivalen 2014 #3

“Oh my God, it’s The Footy Show”, I thought to myself as I watched the opening moments of the third heat of this year’s Melodifestivalen, the Swedish selection process for the Eurovision Song Contest. A big boofy bloke in a dress is always hilarious, isn’t it?

Well, no actually. Even though the audience laughs, uncomfortably, there’s nothing amusing about the hosts for the contest this year. I’m sure they’re lovely people, but as hosts for Melodifestivalen, their humour comes across as self-indulgent, forced, and ultimately, fairly lame.

Despite the awful hosts, I quite liked a lot of the songs on this week’s show. The opening “Nine Inch Nails” inspired rock and roll song was great. The second track, “Red” by EKO was also really impressive. A day or so later, I’m still singing along to the chorus of “All We Are” from State Of Drama. But as soon as the songs were over, and having endured the awful interval act, I switched the television off. I caught up with the results on Twitter.

There’s something deeply unsatisfactory about this year’s Melodifestivalen. As @scandipop tweeted, “Oh God even Björn Gustafsson is dying on his arse. Why can’t they get anything outside of the songs right this year?!”

My other favourite tweet about the night was about Shirley Clamp. Wickedly, @melodipopvision observed “(Shirley is just out the back, swigging on a bottle and fielding calls from Stockholm gay clubs about the #melfest finalen weekend.)” I love Shirley Clamp. She’s had some really wonderful songs over the years, and would probably be called as “Melodifestivalen Royalty”. That’s the problem I guess. In the same way the tele-voting has rejected the likes of Alcazar and Army Of Lovers in recent years in favour of the younger “Idol” acts, disappointingly, Shirley never even made it to the second chance heat.

The other great comeback of the week was the duo by Dr Alban – “Sing Hallelujah” – and Jessica Folker. On paper, there was so much potential. In reality, there was too much Dr Alban and not enough Jessica, unfortunately. They made it through, but only just.

Though the selected artists might change, there’s one constant in Melodifestivalen this year: the weekly appearances of song-writer, Fredrik Kempe. My friend Graeme thinks I’m too harsh in my criticism of Kempe. For his part, Graeme recognises that Fredrik has contributed some really great songs to Melodifestivalen over the last few years, and that, being a smallish country, the song-writer gene pool obviously doesn’t go that deep. For my part, I don’t think it’s acceptable that his songs have been selected in all three heats so far. Surely he’s not back next week for the fourth?

That said, if I had to choose between never seeing Fredrik Kempe again, and never seeing this year’s Melodifestivalen hosts again, Fredrik would win hands down.

Little Great Things, featuring Charlie and Felix Grönvall

Melodifestivalen 2014 #2

Nanne Gronvall och jag
Nanne Gronvall och jag

There was a real sense of déjà vu in the second heat of this year’s Melodifestivalen, the contest which decides which act will represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest.

In 2005, in controversial circumstances, Sweden chose Martin Stenmarck with his song “Las Vegas” (which I liked a lot) over Nanne Grönvall with her song “Håll om mig” (which I liked a lot more). Nanne had the popular vote (chosen by viewers), but was trumped by Martin who had the jury vote (chosen by a group of experts). There was a public outcry over the result, and the rules surrounding Melodifestivalen have since changed.

Nanne is a fantastic performer who I’ve seen perform on a few occasions and actually met once at a shopping centre performance in Stockholm. I shot this Youtube clip at Stockholm’s Paradise nightclub.

Martin Stenmark is back as a contender in Melodifestivalen this year.

Little Great Things, featuring Charlie and Felix  Grönvall
Little Great Things, featuring Charlie and Felix Grönvall

But so too was Nanne. Or to be precise, her sons Charlie and Felix and their band “Little Great Things” were competing against Martin Stenmarck and several others in the second heat of this year’s Melodifestivalen. Or to add to the sense of the musical dynasty Charlie and Felix came from, their father is Peter (who was an 80s/90s pop star in Sweden), and their paternal grandfather is Benny Andersson from ABBA.

In the end, their song wasn’t that great and never made it through to the final (while Martin Stenmarck did).

After my disappointment with last week’s heat, I was slightly more impressed with this week’s contenders, though I still don’t think there’s been a serious contender for Eurovision yet

Pink Pistols, Sanna Nielsen and  Little Great Things
Pink Pistols, Sanna Nielsen and Little Great Things

Sanna Nielson was back with another predictable Frederik Kempe ballad (though she performed it extraordinarily well, I thought). There was some nameless country music act. There was a dance number written by Thomas G:son (who wrote the Eurovision-winning Euphoria). There was also a band called Pink Pistols (which included two drag queens and a guy called Mikael – who I’ve also met – from the band Hallå hela pressen) which I thought were okay. But with the exception of Pink Pistols and the band, Panetoz and their rap/reggae number “Efter solsken” (After sunshine), it’s all very safe, predictable and rather boring. Panetoz, by the way is a band with members originating from Gambia, Ethiopia, Angola, Congo and Finland-Sweden.

So in summary, Heat 2 was better than Heat 1 (though the show’s hosts haven’t improved), but there’s still nothing which I think stands a serious chance of representing Sweden at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Melodifestivalen 2013 Hosts

Melodifestivalen 2014 #1 – The Melfest Crisis

For the last few days I’ve been struggling. I’ve been unable to decide if it was the songs or the hosts of this year’s first edition of Melodifestivalen which were the most underwhelming. That’s why it’s taken me a few days to compose a post, whereas I’m normally quite speedy to offer my opinions on the Swedish finals which lead to the Eurovision Song Contest. Finally, a few days later, I’ve concluded it’s both.

Each year, through a series of nationally televised finals, the Swedes choose an entrant for the Eurovision Song Contest. Most years, I actually think the vast majority of the Swedish entries are far more interesting and entertaining than those offered by the rest of Europe. The Swedes have a fantastic recent track record of putting on a fantastic live television event, and often choosing “the right song” to contest Eurovision. Often they’ve got it wrong, but in the case of Loreen with her song “Euphoria” they got it spectacularly right.

With a long history of schlager, and a more recent history of “pop idol” (and the like), the recent Swedish finals have been a combination of the “traditional” and the more “contemporary” with the occasional whacky number thrown in, including Bjorn Ranelid and Army Of Lovers.

Unfortunately, the first round of this year’s Melodifestivalen has left me totally underwhelmed, and why it’s taken me a few days to compose my thoughts. As Peggy Lee once sang…

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

The first edition was very disappointing. In my view, there were very few memorable songs. There were some catchyish songs, I admit, but nothing which I thought would stand a chance at representing Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest.

As you listen to the commentary from the hosts, the constant refrain seems to be “They competed in Melodifestivalen in 2009 and came fourth” or “They were a contestant on Swedish Pop Idol and came second”.

Speaking of the hosts, they are so incredibly lacking in charisma this year, compared with previous years. Can you really imagine this year’s team being able to carry off something like this?

Melodifestivalen 2014 - Fredrik Kempe
Melodifestivalen 2014 – Fredrik Kempe

Another problem seems to be the limited pool of song-writers who compete. As much as I loved Fredrik Kempe and some of the songs he has contributed in recent years, I groaned when I saw him appear again this year. I liked his song. But like all of his tracks, his lyrics are terribly simplistic. And there have to be other songwriters in Sweden aside from him surely? Why aren’t we seeing the likes of the Swedish House Mafia team competing? Why is it (seemingly) third-rate hasbeen or rock wannabees who are writing the songs? (Those questions were probably more rhetorical than anything).

I’m hoping the second heat will see an improvement.

Petra Mede hosts Eurovision

Eurovision 2013

“So do you think all the Eurovision Parties in Sydney will always be shit, or do you think they’ll ever get better?”, a friend of mine asked me as we shared a drink last night. She’s from England, she’s attended Eurovision, and for the last few years she’s been living in Sydney. That’s how we met, actually.

“I think the problem is that in Australia we’ve fallen for the UK-mindset about Eurovision. That it’s camp, it’s trashy, it’s tragic, and it’s terrible”, I told her. In many respects, I think the media coverage of Eurovision treats the contest as a bit of a joke. It’s ABBA. It’s Disco Balls. It’s Mardi Gras. It’s all of that “stuff” you laugh at if you want to re-inforce an insular world-view.

Having been to a few of the bigger parties in Sydney over the last few years, I’ve yet to find one that takes the contest seriously. A contest where they don’t rely on the usual cliches about tacky costumes, bad English, and so-called “voting blocks”. The reality of this year’s contest is that Eurovision is generally speaking very slick, sophisticated, and definitely not the “amateur hour” that’s it’s often portrayed to be.

This is particularly the case with this year’s contest hosted by Petra Mede, who I think should be made the permanent host of Eurovision. She’s such a class act. She delivers the script beautifully, but then she can also deliver a wonderful dead-pan remark right off the cuff. For example, when one of the country officials was delivering the votes and was gushing about how good the contest was, she simply said “Oh that’s nice”. And when it was clear next year’s contest would be held in Denmark, she simply said “That’s twenty minutes down the road”.

One of the great highlights of this year’s concert was the interval act. Through a song and dance number, Petra sought to explain Sweden to the rest of the world. Of course, there were lots of jokes about ABBA, IKEA, Vikings, The Muppet Chef (and so on), but there were also some very funny jokes which probably made little sense outside of Scandinavia. The recycling, the queues, not talking on public transport, meatballs “seasoned with a bit of horse”. The bit about milk? It’s because something like 60% of the Swedish population is lactose intolerant, the highest level in the world, apparently. I’ve watched the clip several times now, and every time I watch it, I pick up a new line. Fantastic stuff, which showed the Swedes could laugh at themselves with sophistication.

The last time I really enjoyed an interval act was when Norway hosted the contest and they staged an international flash mob. In stark contrast to the humour of Petra’s half-time act, this was a beautifully touching moment about Europe coming together in song.

I eschewed the ritual of watching the SBS delayed Sunday night telecast of the Eurovision Song Contest this year and instead got up early to watch the contest live. As the votes from the different countries coming through were beginning to indicate Denmark was probably going to win I faced the dilemma: I couldn’t actually remember the song. In contrast, there were lovely sweet songs like “Tomorrow” by Gianluca Bezzina from Malta and “Love Kills” by Roberto Bellarosa from Belgium; the vocally amazing performance of “It’s My Life” by Romanian counter-tenor, Cezar; and the pop protest, “Marry Me” by Krista Sigfrieds from Finland. Despite the earlier memory-loss, I finally remembered the winning song. It’s quite good, though I doubt it will go down in history as one of the great moments of Eurovision.

Having watched it earlier in the morning, I was able to spend my Sunday in a fairly normal way. I didn’t have to avoid the media all day for spoilers and I didn’t have to sit up until nearly mid-night to find out the results. Personally, I would love to see SBS do what they’ve done with the Academy Awards, The Grammys and so on, and run it live, and then replay it later at night. The media world has changed, and the idea of people having to wait twelve hours to know the results is all a bit silly. They could run the version without commentary at 5am, and then have Sam and Julia on, as per usual on Sunday night. I doubt it would have much of an impact on night-time viewing figures.

Robin Stjernberg, Martin Rolinski, Shirley Clamp and others at the opening of The ABBA Museum in Stockholm

Lycka till Sverige!

It’s no wonder Sweden won last year. Loreen had a great song in “Euphoria” which she performed very, very well. In ten or twenty years time, I’m pretty sure it will be regarded as one of the “great moments” of Eurovision.

Even though “You” by Robin Stjernberg isn’t in the same league, of course I’ll be supporting Sweden in this year’s contest. I figure following Eurovision is like following a footy team – you choose your team and you stick with them through good and bad.

It’s not that “You” is bad, it’s just that it’s not as good as “Euphoria”. I quite like the song actually. I think it’s very catchy, had a terrific “yodel” piece in the middle, and I think Robin has a good voice. I hope he does well, especially as I have fond memories of being in the audience when he emerged as the winner in the nail-biting Swedish final. The last time I attended a Melodifestivalen final was the year Sweden failed to quality for the first time ever for the Eurovision final. I hope I haven’t jinxed him.

In contrast with previous years I have no great plans for watching the contest as it’s replayed on Australian television on Sunday night. Instead, I’ve decided to get up early and watch it live via Swedish TV. I can understand how important it is for countries where English isn’t widely spoken to have a local translation. But since the contest is almost completely delivered in English (with occasional bits of French), I don’t feel the need (personally) for having an additional English-language commentary.

And besides, I’m sick of spending all those Sundays avoiding the news with our delayed telecast. I think it would be great if SBS offered a live feed (without commentary) on the Sunday morning for those freaks (like me) willing to get up early to watch it. The hard-core audience is small enough so that it wouldn’t have much of an impact (if any) on the Sunday night screening.

Lycka till Sverige!