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.

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).

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

http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2015/01/logan-x-factor-band-jtr-now-wants-to-represent-sweden-at-eurovision.html?site=brisbaneprogram=612_breakfast

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.

Melodifestivalen 2015 #1

The “car crash” that was last year’s Melodifestivalen (the Swedish competition which chooses an entrant for Eurovision) hasn’t, so far, been repeated this year. Although the songs last year were reasonably okay, the hosts were terrible. The biggest problem with last year is the hosts seemed to have been under the impression (or were told) they were more important or interesting than the songs. Their seriously un-funny humour (especially the guy) meant I stopped watching the entire broadcast.

This year they’ve tagged a comedian, Robin Paulsson with a singer, last year’s winner, Sanna Nielsen, and it seems to work. The “comedy” mostly has a musical element. Sadly though they’ve brought in another lame comedian in what I think is probably an attempt to broaden the show’s appeal. It’s kinda like the lame “family humour” previously found on “Hey Hey It’s Saturday” I guess. The Swedes seem to have a “thing” for “wise cracking nerd comedians”. While previously they’ve had some wonderful moments from the likes of Björn Gustafsson and Sarah Dawn Finer (as Lynda Woodruffe), there’s something awfully unfunny about this year’s comedian whose name I can’t tell you, as I can’t be bothered to look her up.

My other big complaint last year was the dominance of song-writer Fredrik Kempe. He’s back again this year, having co-composed the winner of the first heat. He has some additional songwriters this year, and it shows, as the song is less predictable than the usual Kempe number. Hey, the lyrics even make sense. I suspect, they probably wrote most of the song, but have used Kempe’s name to attract Eric Saade as the performer, and to gain a place in the contest. The song’s not bad, and will probably end up as Sweden’s entry for Eurovision due to Eric’s popularity with Melodifestivalen voters, but I don’t think it’s as strong as his previous entries.

There were a couple of surprise numbers for me in the first heat. I quite liked the rap song co-written by Måns Zelmerlöw (“Det rår vi inte för” by Behrang Miri feat. Victor Crone ) and the song by Daniel Gildenlöw “Pappa” (quite touching). But there were some duds as well, such as “I’ll Be Fine” by Molly Pettersson (she was almost off-key), as well as “Hello Hi” by Dolly Style and “Can’t Hurt Me Now” by Jessica Andersson which I thought were far too formulaic.

It will be interesting to see how Melodifestivalen pans out this year. Given the criticism of last year’s contest, I hope they’ve re-invented the competition somewhat, as I think they really need to. As wonderful as Christer Björkman has been running the competition for the last decade or so (he’s done some great stuff), I wonder if it’s time to find someone new to re-invent things?

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.