Europe's annual Eurovision Song Contest is not a big draw in all countries, but in six-time winner Sweden even the qualifying process is huge, televised by public broadcaster SVT as 'Melodifestivalen' over six weeks in February and March.
As you know, there's no glitter and cheesy lyrics without at least one or two controversies (read about some of them here) and this year the use of an English swearword has raised the hackles of viewers.
The criticized word slipped out when co-host Clara Henry shouted “this is Melo-fucking-difestivalen” as she opened the show last Saturday, with co-host Hasse Andersson and David Lindgren later repeating it.
“We sat there as a family of five watching it last Saturday at 8pm. I'm English, my wife's Swedish and we have three kids between five and ten years old,” viewer James Kemp told The Local.
“We were left utterly gobsmacked when two minutes into the programme it began. 'Melo-fu*****-difestivalen.' We switched it off. Thought we'd put it on again later to see the short review of the songs, but that was a big mistake – got hit with a 'mother-fu****' almost directly,” he wrote in an e-mail.
He is not the only complainer. Both native Swedes and immigrants left angry comments on SVT's customer service forum, with another viewer, called Jason, writing: “As a father in a family that speaks both Swedish and English I was shocked at the usage of my language and my children's second language in Melodifestivalen, is this the English my children should learn from watching SVT? Is this how SVT thinks Swedish kids should talk if they visit another country? You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
READ ALSO: When Swedes swear, they do so in English
SVT apologized to those viewers who found the word offensive, but defended its use.
“In this particular case, it is a common expression among young people where the word referred to is an expression of something great and something you are proud of. It was used to give greater emphasis to the name and the programme,” responded Melodifestivalen project manager Anette Helenius.
The Local has contacted SVT for a comment.
Any readers disgruntled about missing the controversy will get another chance this weekend, when competitor Lisa Ajax performs her song 'I Don't Give A' in Saturday's qualifier. It features the word that rhymes with duck ten times, which means that if it wins, the lyrics will have to be changed. Foul language is banned by Eurovision organizers EBU and for example British broadcaster BBC does not allow the word before 9pm.
It is not the first time foreigners raise their eyebrows at Swedes' comparatively liberal attitude to swearing, where for example the world 'shit' (or 'shit pommes frites') is frequently used by children without parents batting an eyelid. Unlike in some other countries, Swedish television media is seldom censored for crude linguistic content and so even recorded programmes feature any swear words uttered, without the protective bleep which is common in for example the UK and US.
READ ALSO: 'Hey expats, let Swedes swear in English'
Researchers have also found that English is increasingly being used not only in daily speech but also when it comes to cussing and swearing – a trend likely to keep growing, experts say.
“I think that the Swedes' approach to swearing is different in a number of ways. These are generalizations of course. Swedes tend not to be so guarded with their language in front of children, they don't mind being a bad example as far as swearing goes. Swedes have borrowed swear words from English having seen them be used in film and music, and think it's perfectly OK to use them, even when they actually don't understand in what context or situation it is acceptable,” said Kemp.
“TV seems to have no filter. Graphic trailers advertising evening shows pop up during the day, in ad-breaks in the middle of a family programme. The fact that the content is inappropriate does not seem to be considered, presumably because there are no clear rules.”
It is not the first time Melodifestivalen comes under fire over four-letter words.
Host Anders Jansson used the expletives several times on the 2014 show, and when Sweden hosted Eurovision Song Contest in 2013 a sketch featuring a comedian describing in vivid terms what he was going to do with someone's mother (we will leave it up to your imagination, or you could watch the clip here) was cut from the European finals at the last minute.