How Melodifestivalen became Sweden’s favourite children’s programme

One key difference from the Eurovision Song Contest to the Swedish try-outs is the amount of children present at each of the shows. But what is it that makes so many children love Melodifestivalen so much? ESC Insight's Ben Robertson investigates.

How Melodifestivalen became Sweden's favourite children's programme
The Melodifestivalen audience in Gothenburg this year. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

If you go to the Eurovision Song Contest and look across the audience you see the most eclectic bunch of people from all over Europe for a huge party. Everybody is dressed up in their brightest outfits and their costumes are as loud as their cheers as they clap along to anything with a beat.

If you head to Melodifestivalen you'll see much of the same. Except people are more likely to be from Eskilstuna than Estonia. The bright outfits are possibly a touch toned down, but made up for by bright feather boas, LED lit-up hats and homemade signs supporting their favourites. This subtle party look doesn't tone down any clapping along though – nobody catches onto a beat faster and more enthusiastically than a Swedish audiences.

These are all tiny differences. The big difference comes when you look around the room. A Eurovision audience is made up mainly of adults. A Melodifestivalen audience is dominated by families with small children. What is it about Melodifestivalen that makes it such a hit with children in a way Eurovision doesn't?

Melodifestivalen is popular with families with children. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Unlike the Eurovision Song Contest, one feature of Melodifestivalen is the control that SVT, the Swedish public broadcaster, has on the acts that enter. They aren't all chosen through a selection jury focused on choosing the best songs, half of those that enter each year are acts completely chosen by SVT. Generally speaking, these are names that diversify the competition and ensure it reaches out to all parts of Swedish society.

Among the examples in this year's competition we have Anis Don Demina and Klara Hammarström. Anis is a rapper and DJ yet is equally as famous as a YouTuber with approaching 500,000 subscribers. Klara Hammarström has released music before Melodifestivalen, but is far better known as an upcoming equestrian and reality TV star.

That's to go along with the usual list of Idol entrants and former Melodifestivalen participants that so many kids already adore. What Anis and Klara can do is bring to SVT's flagship programme their own fanbase cultivated in their separate social media bubbles.

This is clear to see with Melodifestivalen's voting system that was brought in during 2019. The majority of voting happens on the Melodifestivalen app, and voting blocs are created based on the user's age. The youngest bloc goes from 3 to 9 years old – a bloc with a taste more musically different to its neighbour bloc (the 10 to 15 year old bloc) than any other age category.

The child-friendly Melodifestivalen app. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Finally as well, there's also the issue of timing. Melodifestivalen runs one hour earlier than the Eurovision Song Contest, starting at 8pm. This is late for children, and many will get special permission to stay up feasting on sweeties and fizzy drinks in their quest to stay up, but this time slot still makes it a slot for family entertainment.

That extra hour later of start time just puts the Eurovision Song Contest out of reach of being a competition for all. Back in the preparations for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest, SVT proposed moving the start time for the Eurovision Song Contest one hour forward. That suggestion didn't happen – and it's just another reason why Eurovision just has such a different and smaller popularity in Sweden to Melodifestivalen.

Hooked Before They Can Even Talk

What is most fascinating though is how SVT manage to get children hooked on Melodifestivalen at these very early ages. 

Let me present to you the TV show Bolibomba, SVT's flagship programme for children under the age of five. The main character, Draken, is played by an actor in a green dinosaur costume. The show is being played out live around Sweden when towns are hosting the Welcome Party to thousands of small Swedish children.

The main character of SVT's flagship programme for young children. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Part of Bolibomba's programming is directly Melodifestivalen related. For a selection of the songs in the competition, Draken taught the children how to dance along to their favourites. Each of the competing artists also had to take part and follow Draken's lead. It's somewhat jarring from an adult perspective seeing these artists in a whole new character of preschool entertainment.

It goes further. A separate series of Bolibompa Baby is aimed at children under the age of two. The available songs made into animated format include many traditional Swedish traditional songs…and a few Melodifestivalen classics like 'Det gör ont', 'Håll Om Mig' and the 1999 winner 'Tusen och en natt'. Except that last song is translated into 'I want to have a cat.'

So if you are wondering where these Swedish children pick up their love of Melodifestivalen from, it's happening before you, or they, even realise.

Ben Robertson is covering Melodifestivalen 2020 for both The Local and ESC Insight.

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LISTEN: Who’s in the running to represent Sweden in Eurovision

Ben Robertson has been following Melodifestivalen around Sweden for the past six weeks. Ahead of the final on Saturday, here are his thoughts and predictions on the 12 remaining songs competing to represent Sweden at Eurovision 2020.

LISTEN: Who's in the running to represent Sweden in Eurovision
Finalist Paul Rey performing during the earlier heats. Photo: Naina Helén Jåma / TT

Victor Crone – Troubled Waters

This is Victor's second Melodifestivalen appearance, after taking part in 2015. He also represented Estonia in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019.

Despite a different songwriting team, Troubled Waters builds on that same 'Avicii-lite' sound that's bound to be popular on radio stations across the country and makes it a great show opener.

Ben's view: I prefer this song to Storm, and Victor's voice sounds strong. Pleasant if not particularly groundbreaking.

Prediction: Feels like the kind of song lots of people will like but few will love. Competing to beat Robin Bengtsson, another male soloist in the lineup.

Paul Rey – Talking in my sleep

Paul Rey has tons of global musical influences, born to a Finnish father and Chilean mother and having spent years in the US recording music with Quincy Jones and Snoop Dogg. He is the only artist of the remaining 12 making his Melodifestivalen debut.

This is a very modern take on the ballad; gone are the overblown dramatics, key changes and power vocals – instead Talking In My Sleep holds a simple hooky melody that builds through the three minutes on stage.

Ben's view: A perfectly functioning song that builds nicely. My biggest question mark is about the ability of the artist rather than the song to emote and tell the story effectively.

Prediction: Likely to score better with the juries than the public vote. Sneaking into the top five would be a great achievement.

The Mamas – Move

The Mamas helped John Lundvik win Melodifestivalen last year with Too Late For Love. Three of them returned to perform Move which gives the pop-gospel smashup we were all expecting. Expect big vocals and something danceable for all aged from three to 93.

Ben's view: The Mamas are great performers, although I wish the track was just a bit less generic, especially in the post-chorus.

Prediction: Top five seems likely, it would be a surprise to challenge for the win however.

Mohombi – Winners

Mohombi is back in Melodifestivalen after his 2019 song Hello that became a favourite in preschools across Sweden. Mohombi left life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a teenager to move to Sweden, and has forged a musical career spanning both the European and African continents with success.

Winners is a pop song track with a slightly oriental mix, especially within the verse. Expect plenty of charming the camera from popular Mohombi during the three minutes on stage.

Ben's view: A fairly anonymous song saved by Mohombi's presence.

Prediction: He's too popular to be last, surely?

Hanna Ferm – Brave

19-year-old Hanna Ferm competed last year in Melodifestivalen with Hold You, a duet with Liamoo.

Brave is on the quirky end of pop, with frantic phrasing and hooks that sink into your vocal chords after just a couple of listens. You will be whistling along.

Ben's view: This isn't for me. I may sing along, but I'm craving a deeper meaning and spend the three minutes wondering what Hanna is being Brave about.

Prediction: Top half but unlikely to be challenging.

Mendez feat. Alvaro Estrella – Vamos Amigos

Mendez came to Sweden from Chile along with thousands of other families during the 1980s. He grew up in Farsta outside of Stockholm and fell into a community of crime and drugs, but music was his release. He was in the final of Melodifestivalen 2018, finishing last, but finished second in 2002.

Mendez's musical career has taken him to stardom here in Sweden but also back home in Chile with many other stops in between. This song unsurprisingly has many elements in it from the second wave of Latin music infiltrating Western pop, with Mendez rapping alongside Alvaro, also of Chilean upbringing, singing the chorus.

Ben's view: There are a few nice melodies in here, but nothing that hasn't been done before and likely to get lost in this final field.

Prediction: Juries were the reason Mendez came last in 2018. This should score better with them than that effort, but not being last will be a success for this duo.

Dotter – Bulletproof

Johanna Jansson is the Arvika-born artist known as Dotter (Daughter), coming from an image of being a daughter to mother Earth. Despite releasing a few singles since her 2014 debut she is better known as a songwriter.

Together with Dino Medanhodzic and Erik Dahlquist they have loaned influence from Sia for Bulletproof – a big production mid-tempo arena pop number.

Ben's view: I happily admit that this isn't my normal style, but the laser glitter ball effect is fantastic and Dotter has hugely grown as a performer.

Prediction: Currently the favourite, and is getting tons of vocal support on social media, especially from abroad. Would have been a shock victory a month ago, now would be a shock if not in the top three.

Robin Bengtsson – Take A Chance

'Robin won Melodifestivalen in 2017 and his appearance on Let's Dance last year made him even more likeable to the Swedish TV watching audience.

Set in London, this arena singer-songwriter style track has a great clap-a-long verse mixed in with a chorus melody that took me straight to the heydays of iconic Swedish superstars Abba.

Ben's view: Nobody oozes sexiness down the camera as well as Robin this year, but musically this runs out of good ideas by the first minute.

Prediction: Mid-table.

Mariette – Shout It Out

Mariette broke history by becoming the only artist ever to qualify for four Melodifestivalen finals in just four attempts. Shout It Out is a driving powerhouse of a song about letting go of your doubts and trusting your heart.

Ben's view: Mariette is such a strong on-stage character and that drives the song's message home well. That said, musically it doesn't offer anything new and creative to be in Eurovision contention.

Prediction: As Mariette has finished third, fourth and fifth previously… sixth?

Felix Sandman – Boys With Emotions

Felix Sandman has been here before, but his earlier floppy-haired look has been replaced by a bleached and shaven look, and the attitude to match.

Boys with Emotion' is a challenging track, written and recorded in LA and sounding and looking like a piece of MTV circa 1995. This is a song with a central theme encouraging men not to hide their feelings.

Ben's view: This takes a few listens, but I adore the slick production both musically and visually. The message does come across as rather abrupt, but that's partly the point and this is as much art as music.

Prediction: Dark horse for victory. Felix has over 500,000 Instagram followers and a song that I hope a jury will appreciate.

Anna Bergendahl – Kingdom Come

Anna was the only Melodifestivalen winner in Sweden's history not to qualify to the Eurovision final back in 2010.

True to Anna's style with her enchanting voice in focus, this is a frantic clap-a-long track at 148 bpm with grandiose-sounding lyrics that in reality mean very little. Six hunky male dancers in kilts do little harm.

Ben's view: For those in those Eurovision and Melodifestivalen bubbles, this is the song that's going to be filling our dance floors for months to come. Judge us accordingly.

Prediction: It's in the mix. Anna's hugely popular amongst the older Melodifestivalen voters, the question will be if enough children button-bash their apps to push her from top three to victory.

Anis Don Demina – Vem E Som Oss (Who is like us)

Anis Don Demina is here for his third Melodifestivalen appearance after playing saxophone for Samir and Viktor in 2018 and featuring on Mina Bränder last year.

This song is a shoutout to all of Anis' fans with an uncompromising rap and uptempo chorus that's going to be another relentless loop around Swedish preschools for the next year. Learn for yourself the Swedish slang word 'Shurda' – the kind of guy who's part of Anis' fun-loving gang.

Ben's view: Brilliant staging, full of energy and a superb crowd-pleaser, this is a great twist on pop music with local flair.

Prediction: Chanceless with international juries and anybody over the age of 40, meaning it would be amazing if this gets anywhere inside the top ten.

And that's your Melodifestivalen line-up. You can still buy tickets to see the show live or one of the two rehearsals beforehand inside Friends Arena. Alternatively tune into SVT 1 at 8pm on Saturday, March 7th.

You can vote by ringing or sending a text during the show, or you can download the Melodifestivalen app to vote for free.

The winner of Melodifestivalen is set to take part in the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest's first semi-final in Rotterdam on Tuesday, May 12th.

Ben Robertson is covering Melodifestivalen 2020 for both The Local and ESC Insight.