sweden

welcometosweden

Welcome To Sweden

For a few years I’ve toyed with the idea of living in Sweden for a year or two. However, there are a few reasons which have stopped me. Money is, of course, an issue. The fact that I’m 48 years old is also an issue. But there’s also been a fear it could all turn out to go terribly wrong.

I’ve read blogs and have spoken to a number of people who’ve told me it’s not as easy as it seems on the surface, even if I could overcome some of those issues. Although Swedes speak exceptional English, there are lots of cultural subtleties and a lot of unspoken cultural barriers which means it’s not always easy for someone from another country to settle there.

Or maybe I’m just over-thinking things?

So it’s with some interest that I’ve watched the first two episodes of “Welcome To Sweden”, the new TV4/NBC program which has commenced. Curiously, the program is based around the life story of Greg Poehler (brother of Amy from Saturday Night Live). Bruce made the decision to move to Sweden a few years ago, and has made a career doing stand-up. The fact his sister is Amy (and she was the program’s producer) undoubtedly helped pitch the idea of a program about a bloke who moves to Sweden both to Swedish TV and to NBC. I’m sure it also helped with guest appearances by the likes of Will Ferrell.

But all of that said, it’s also a very funny program. I’ve watched the first two episodes so far and have laughed out loud on many occasions. Having a knowledge of some of the quirkiness of Swedish culture has definitely helped. Noticeably, the humour is affectionate, as the lead character called Bruce learns about Swedish character.

Hopefully, the programme transcends the Swedishness of it all when it makes a debut on NBC later in the year. That said, there’s a lot of Swedish language in the program, which undoubtedly will be eliminated when it appears on American TV. I can imagine there’ll be the occasional word or phrase here or there, but the Swedish version of the program contains probably far too much (requiring subtitles) for a mainstream US audience.

Anton Ewald

Melodifestivalen 2014 #4

Alcazar

Alcazar

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.

Anton Ewald

Anton Ewald

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.

It's not The Footy Show

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.

Hilarious Comedy :)

Hilarious Comedy :)

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.