“Sweden’s biggest and most successful commercial TV project is broadcast on the ad-free (?) SVT," sniffed Moderate MP Lars Beckman on Twitter last week. Yep, the juggernaut that is Melodifestivalen returned to our screens for yet another year on Saturday night. It’s easy to dismiss the show if the thought of six weeks of schlager is enough to make you move to Norway (where they have their own version, sorry). But given that 44 percent of the Swedish population tuned in to watch last year’s final, you have to be fairly blinkered to think it isn’t of cultural relevance.
Melodifestivalen is also a gift for media folk in the cold, dark months of winter, where not much is likely to happen from a celebrity perspective. SVT is delighted to have a captive audience at home, while newspaper reporters (not just the tabloids) and bloggers follow the tour around the land, updating us on every detail of the performers’ experiences. Hit a bum note in a rehearsal? Critiqued in seconds. One drink too many at a welcome party? Snapped. The female presenter doesn’t shave her armpits? 300 words typed, spell-checked and open to comments immediately. This year, the situation has got even more meta as the Aftonbladet newspaper will live-stream video of its reporters driving from Stockholm to that week’s venue. Think Big Brother in a car with regular toilet breaks.
The aim of Melodifestivalen is to find a suitable entry for Sweden to send to the Eurovision Song Contest – but that has arguably changed over the past few years, as viewing figures increase. Indeed, there’s a notable difference in the amount of people who bother to ring or text, and those who are happy to let the experience flow over them in a Cheez Doodle-addled haze. Saturday’s show opened with a fairly bemusing declaration of musical war against Denmark, the current Eurovision champions. Urging Sweden to burn its flutes (as used by the Danes in their winning song), it was supposed to be the key to victory. No one dared to mention that Sweden winning Eurovision so soon after hosting it last year in Malmö would actually be a bit of a pain and a serious drain on SVT’s budget. Faced with a choice between Eurovision and hit game show På spåret…
There were eight songs in competition in Malmö on Saturday – but to be honest, none were especially memorable. Yohio is a Japanese manga self-creation, appearing in the contest for the second time after having victory snatched from him last year when a jury of foreign judges didn’t give him enough points. The 18-year-old’s brand of music is, strangely enough, MOR rock (middle-of-the-road). Very inoffensive and perfect for the Rix FM crowd. He won the show, of course.
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Also of note was Helena (or Elena) Paparizou, a Swedish singer with Greek parents who won Eurovision for Greece in 2005. Unsurprisingly, she had the strongest performance given that she’s probably had the most practice, but a Swedish voting public is never kind. She only made it to the ‘second chance’ round. Her ‘place’ was taken by 18-year-old Ellen Benediktson, who performed a ballad called Songbird. Comparisons to the ill-fated Anna Bergendahl (who committed the ultimate schlager crime of failing to make it to the Eurovision grand final in 2010) abounded, but the teenager quite sensibly instead focused on performing the age-old ritual of spraying the journalist pack with a bottle of champagne at the after-party.
Mello highlight: I won a couple of quid after betting on Yohio to get first or second place.
Mello lowlight: A marked deterioration in the comedy following the departure of the usual writers. Must try harder.
Next week: Linköping sees the return of Martin Stenmarck and Sanna Nielsen.
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David Jørgensen is a writer and editor who loves schlager and lives in London. Follow him on Twitter here