Viktor och Samir

Melodifestivalen 2016 #1

Over the last couple of years, there’s been an inverse relationship between the quality of the songs and the quality of the program presenters/comedy interludes for Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals which lead to the Eurovision Song Contest. In recent memory, the combination in 2012 of Sarah Dawn Finer, Helena Bergström and Gina Dirawi was probably the best, combining intelligence, talent, and humour. In contrast, the low point was definitely 2014, when the program began to resemble The Footy Show. It was great to see Gina and Petra Mede together, as I watched the show this morning (Australia time).

I concede it must be a difficult thing to decide who should host. On the one hand, you have the (hopefully) artistic vision of Christer Björkman, on the other you have the demands/requirements of Swedish TV bureaucrats. I can’t help but feel some of the recent decisions about program presenters have been the result of a “committee vote”.

And then you have the songs themselves. I have previously written about the apparent problem of having too few songwriters contributing the songs. Fredrik Kempe was back again this year, and I can only presume he’ll be back again over coming weeks. Though he has contributed some terrific material to Melodifestivalen, I can’t help but feel his apparent cookie-cutter approach to songs and artists (Popular and Manboy by Eric Saade were basically the same song) adds little to the contest and doesn’t really advance the plot much.

For me, there were no outstanding songs this year, though there were many songs I liked. Last year, for example, I really liked “Groupie” by Samir and Viktor as a “fun, topical song with a great tune”. This year, their song lacked a little of the same appeal, ultimately resulting in them taking their shirts off to, presumably, add to their appeal to voters. Yeah, well, it worked for me:) Last year, I didn’t really like Ace Wilder’s song “Busy Doin’ Nothing”, and this year I quite liked her song. “Mitt Guld” by Pernilla Andersson, “Aint No Good” by Mimi Werner and “Constellation Prize” (what a stupid name for a song” by Robin Bengtsson were all quite good, though nothing special. “Rik” by Albin and Mattias was quite dull, and I thought it could have been an entry from a decade ago. And of course, poor Anna Book’s “”Himmel för två” failed to make it, disqualified in the days leading up to the heat. As good as all the songs were, none of them really shined for me. I’m hoping the following weeks will bring forth some songs worthy of representing Sweden at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Three more heats to go, and then Andra Chansen, and then the final.

 

Army Of Lovers at Melodifestivalen

På svenska

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

Melodifestivalen 2015 #2

I’m quite a fan of the Swedish pop singer, Magnus Carlsson. To be precise, Magnus who was in Swedish pop bands Barbados and Alcazar, not Magnus Carlson (one “s”) who was in Swedish indie band, “Weeping Willows”. I even met him once, briefly, at a bar in Stockholm (see photo below). Although his obsession with recording Christmas albums is something I still don’t understand (beyond the fact they sell well), he can be relied upon for really great pop tunes. His self-titled solo album remains a firm favourite. Along the way, he has released songs in both English and Swedish, and has competed in Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals leading to Eurovision on several occasions. Thus, when I heard the news a few months ago he would be competing again this year, I was pretty excited.

His song this year, “Möt Mig I Gamla Stan” (Meet me in the old town (part of Stockholm)” is “classic” Magnus Carlsson, and although I like it, and it has made it through to the final, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a bit “old school” to make it through to Eurovision. Over the last decade, with one or two exceptions, the Swedes have tended to vote for younger, more contemporary sounding singers and songs than the classic “key change schlager” songs they’ve been known for many year.

Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm
Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm

Aside from Magnus, there were two other songs which stood out for me this week for completely different reasons. Even though they were a bit off tune in their performance, and there’s nothing much to the tune, I thought “Groupie” by Samir and Viktor is a bit of fun, with a lyric that declares the end of the “selfie”. Totally forgettable, of course, but they had a good energy, even if the song was pretty rubbish and they couldn’t really sing. I also really liked “Forever Starts Today” by Linus Svenning, who competed in last year’s contest with “Bröder” also. It’s one of those rousing Eurovision sing-a-long numbers with a killer hook. Linus is a young guy with tats who, in Australia, probably wouldn’t be caught dead competing in a Eurovision pop song contest, but who in Sweden is totally at home.

Other competitors this week were: Emelie Irewald with “Där Och Då Med Dig” (a nice enough ballad); Neverstore with “If I Was God For One Day” (a fairly dated sounding 80/90s power ballad); Marie Bergman and Sanne Salomonsen with “Nonetheless” (a pretty song with lovely harmonies); and Mariette with “Don’t Stop Believing” (pretty good song, powerful, and with a slight Tory Amos feel to it).