Every year, Sweden’s competition to choose an artist to represent the country at the annual Eurovision Song contest interrupts the February doldrums like a bright ray of springtime sun.
This year’s contest, which starts in Gothenburg on Saturday, features 32 musical acts representing a range of musical styles and talents.
Some of the acts, like electro-pop sensation Alcazar, have received international acclaim. Others, like Bodies Without Organs (BWO) are perennial entrants with a loyal, albeit mainly local, following.
In sum, it’s a musical mishmash which can sometimes leave one’s ears ringing, but which never fails to leave viewers smiling for one reason or another.
It’s hard to underestimate the magnitude of the Melodifestivalen’s ability to keep Swedes glued to their sofas every Saturday night from now until the finals, set for March 14th in Stockholm’s Globen Arena.
In 2007, for example, the Melodifestivalen finals drew 44 percent of the Swedish population, a figure which dwarfs the 32 percent of Americans who tuned in to watch that year’s Super Bowl.
Hosting the competition this year is popular stand-up comedian and actress Petra Mede, a native of the Gothenburg area known for her role as the deadpan host of the satirical morning news programme Morgonsoffan (‘Morning Sofa’).
The first round of the competition, set to start at 8pm on Saturday on Sveriges Television (SVT), features eight of the 32 artists.
The qualifying rounds continue through the remaining Saturdays in February, with two artists from each round earning a spot in the finals, and two others earning a spot in a “Second Chance” round.
One new twist to this year’s contest is the addition of a jury of international stars to increase the odds that artists who advance in the contest will place well in the Eurovision Song Contest, slated to take place in Moscow later in the spring
Early favourites, according to the gambling website Betsson.com, include former Swedish Idol contestant Måns Zelmerlöw, who made it to the Melodifestivalen finals back in 2007, as well as the duo of Anna Sahlene and Maria Haukaas Storeng.
Sahlene placed fifth in the 2006 competition, while Storeng, a native of Norway, represented her home country in the 2008 Eurovision contest with her hit Hold On Be Strong.
All eyes will be watching to see if she can make it to the finals again, but this time carrying a Swedish flag.
More international flavour will be added to this year’s competition with the half-British pop crooner and 2008 Melodifestivalen veteran Amy Diamond, as well as the the American-British Sarah Dawn Finer, who was a finalist in the competition.
While the odds makers have their choice, Aftonbladet’s Markus Larsson, is putting his money on Alcazar, one of the bands set to take the stage on Saturday in Gothenburg.
He calls the band’s song “the most well-written and pretty song” of the competition, following a preview on SVT’s website.
“It feels like Alcazar has seldom been as purely Alcazar as now,” he writes.
Only time will tell if the Swedish viewing public agrees.
See all the contestants: Photo Gallery