Loreen visits Azerbaijani women’s shelter

On Friday, Melodifestivalen winner Loreen visited a women’s shelter in Baku, proving that her visit in Azerbaijan is about more than just bringing home a European Song Contest win.

Loreen visits Azerbaijani women's shelter

“Their stories move me. It’s something I can relate to,” Loreen told national newspaper Expressen.

Swedish singer Loreen is in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, as the Swedish contestant in the annual European Song Contest, set to hypnotize viewers across the continent with its glitter and glamour next Saturday, May 26.

However, there’s more to her visit than a song-and-dance performance.

Azerbaijan’s hosting of the European Song Contest has been debated, as the country has been criticized by several human rights organisations.

According to organisation Human Rights Watch, press freedom is very limited, as are public protests, religious groups are restricted, and torture and ill-treatment in police custody occurs unpunished.

On Friday, Loreen visited a women’s shelter, and told them her own story from her childhood years in Morocco.

“My cousin was married off when she was 13, to a 40 year-old man. The same might have happened to me if my family had stayed in Morocco,” she told Expressen.

Through visiting the women’s shelter, Loreen hopes to be able to help their situation and raise awareness.

“It was important for me to tell them that sticking to your dreams is important, no matter what. Otherwise we can never achieve change,” she said.

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Melodifestivalen fever set to sweep across Sweden

Get the popcorn ready and sound proof your homes – it’s that time of the year again. Melodifestivalen, Sweden’s six-week long road to Eurovision fame, kicks off on Saturday.

Melodifestivalen fever set to sweep across Sweden
Some of the artists set to compete in this year's Swedish Melodifestivalen. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

But euro pop fans with gambling inclinations need not reach for their wallets. Shaken by the 2014 scandal of voting manipulation and infamous voting robots, state-backed firm Svenska Spel has announced it will not offer any Melodifestivalen betting this year.

“We cannot guarantee safe gambling for our customers. We need to be completely sure of how the conditions of the event and the vote monitoring will work,” Svenska Spel press officer Johan Tisell told Swedish newspaper Expressen.

This is despite broadcaster SVT announcing a change to the voting rules this year – one telephone account may now submit no more than 20 votes at a time – after it was reported a so-called voting robot had been used on at least one occasion in the past couple of years. The robot automatically calls the voting phone lines and can submit up to 2,500 votes for one number.

Generally known as the show nobody claims to watch but everyone has seen, the Swedes have a rather complicated relationship with Melodifestivalen. Some love it, others hate it and some love to hate it.

But strike up a conversation with any Swede and they will unfailingly slip into the conversation that Sweden is one of the most successful countries in the Eurovision Song Contest – Loreen took home their fifth victory with ‘Euphoria’ in 2012 – sharing their second place with France, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom behind Ireland, which has racked up an impressive seven victories over the years.

Yay or nay to Sweden's annual Mello meltdown?

For those who love the competition and are not afraid to say so, Melodifestivalen has launched a new app where viewers can show off their votes to their friends – and snoop on their neighbours’ voting preferences.

“When you use the app it creates real-time engagement and we hope it will bring the big live event a little bit closer to those at home watching on TV from their couch,” Christel Tholse, Melodifestivalen 2015 manager, told SVT.

The first group stage kicks off in Gothenburg on Saturday, with a line-up of seven artists including manga-inspired dollhouse band ‘Dolly Style’ facing off with rap artists Behrang Miri and Victor Crone.

Meet Sweden's Eurovision hopefuls

28 acts in total are set to compete in four group stage competitions, followed by Andra chansen ('second chance') on March 7th where the runners-up vie for a place in the Swedish final in Stockholm on March 14th, the winner of which will represent Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna on May 23rd.