Melodifestivalen: “It’s a dictatorship! Abuse of power!”

Storm clouds are gathering round this year's Melodifestivalen and competition organiser, Christer Björkman. Swedish pop artists, music business insiders, TV executives and journalists are all up in arms at the behaviour of the man seen as having too much power in deciding the line up for the annual song fest - Sweden's biggest TV event.

The last straw for many seems to have been Björkman’s final wild card selections for the 2005 competition, announced this week. An uninspiring list was headed by Danish star, Nanne Grönwall. Coincidentally, Grönwall and Björkman are close personal friends and recently toured together.

Or is it coincidence….? Unsuccessful applicant, Pernilla Wahlgren, was in no doubt when she told Aftonbladet:

“I question how he can sit on his high horse and decide so much. Everybody knows he lets his mates jump the queue.”

She has no shortage of backers, although most of them, fearing for their careers by getting into Björkman’s little black book, prefer to speak off the record. An industry insider told the same paper:

“Everybody knows he favours his friends at the same time as he blanks those he doesn’t like.”

Wahlgren would presumably be one of those he doesn’t like. According to the artist herself, known mostly for her performances in stage musicals, Björkman told her she was too old and not suitable for the competition. Last year, one of Björkman’s wild card picks was another stage artist, Petra Nielsen.

1999 winner, Charlotte Perelli, is the only artist willing to speak out openly who doesn’t have a personal bone to pick.

“It’s dangerous and regrettable if one person sits in a position where he can make or break artists. That’s not what the Melodifestivalen is all about.”

A third charge against Björkman from this year’s competition concerns his partner, Martin Kagemark. Although Kagemark has been prevented by Björkman from entering the competition in his own right, he has got a place as one of the backing singers on the show.

Björkman has been raising eyebrows since the 2003 competition. At the time, he had released an album of his own, which was distributed by song-writer Bobby Ljunggren’s company. It then emerged that a disproportionate number of songs in the 2003 line-up were written by none other than Bobby Ljunggren.

GP, whose music correspondent has called for Björkman to resign, has also discovered that one of the judges on the selection panel which chooses 28 of the 32 songs in the competition, also sits on the board of Christer Björkman Artistproduktion AB.

“Never thought about it,” said the man himself.

What Björkman and the show’s SVT producers do seem to be thinking about is their communications.

“[Some of the criticism is warranted] inasmuch as I and my colleagues have sometimes been naive. In an operation the size of Melodifestivalen there are always things that are obvious to us, but which others interpret differently. Those of us working on Melodifestivalen, including the SVT leadership must be clearer.”

Thomas Hall, SVT’s project manager for Melodifestivalen agreed:

“SVT as a whole and those working on Melodifestivalen must be better at communicating. We need to explain to everybody how the various stages of the show work and who’s responsible for what.”

Both men denied categorically that any favouritism was shown towards particular artists. Björkman told Aftonbladet:

“Of course I know a lot of the artists who take part. It’s part of my job to have a lot of contacts. I realise that this isn’t a job that’s likely to make me Mr Popular. A lot of people are necessarily disappointed.”

Hall added:

“I’m so involved in the whole process [of selecting artists] that I would have noticed if Christer had been fishing for dinner invitations.”

Sources: Aftonbladet, Göteborgs Posten