The sad decline of Sweden’s Melodifestivalen

13 March 2015

All songs of the 2015 final previewed

For the first time ever, I considered waking at 5am to watch a Melodifestivalen live. Being awake at such an ungodly time on a Sunday morning is a struggle for this night owl, so there needs to be extra special reason. I’ve only ever done such a thing three times before, and that was for Estonia’s national finals of 2015, 2014 and 2012. I would have bypassed 2015 had the line-up not been so good. In 2012 and 2014, I was up to cheer for my favourite singer, Lenna Kuurmaa.

Traditionally I watch NFs on delay, carefully blocking parts of the screen with books so I don’t see the result from social media feeds. I did that this year for Denmark, Iceland, Hungary, Finland and Ireland. Often this method is preferable because it bypasses advertising and chit-chat. For instance, Iceland takes 2.5 hours to produce a winning song from just seven. Ireland was almost as long with just 5 songs. I ended up watching that in 30 minutes. In contrast, Estonia breezes through its 10 songs and results in about 90 minutes, and the segues and interviews are often quite funny, despite not knowing the language.

Sweden's flag at half mast

Sweden’s flag should be at half mast after the nadir of year’s Melodifestivalen

Sweden has been on a downward trend for a few years now. It’s especially sad because, of my entire CD collection, most of it is from Sweden. There’s a real soft spot for the country, which right now has Molly Sanden in my top echelon of currently favoured artists. Each year I watch all MF finalists on youtube, and then been content to sleep on that and wait for the results next day. Most of it has been the songs; the rest of it has been Sweden’s often bizarre choice of a winner. Nothing exciting about getting up so early to sit through a solid proportion of rubbish and be disappointed with the winner. At least give me a decent show. This year, Sweden has hit its nadir, degenerating into a cesspool of generic, cheap Swede-pop as the overwhelming theme for its finalists. Five of the 12 “artists” are either solo pretty boys or teeny-bopper boy band. Give me a break.

Before further lamenting the contest itself, here’s a preview of all songs, with scores out of 10…

01 Samir & Viktor – Groupie 

If you took a 10-second burst mode selfie at any stage of the song, then this is a just a 3 minute version of it. Superficial and repetitive. At least I learnt a new slang word that didn’t originate in Australia. In the country that invented “selfie”, we’re probably still on the verbose “group selfie”. Come on! 2

02 JTR – Building It Up

I was on another screen as this loaded and thought I was listening to a young girl. A bit of surprise to see 3 boys. Generic boy-band pop does nothing for me. To then add whiteboy rap as well? That’s a further insult. Sorry! 3

03 Dinah Nah – Make Me (La La La)

OK, now we’re pumping. Really smooth through the choruses and huge, loud choruses. They are a bit empty, which does hurt the song overall. 6

04 Jon Henrik Fjällgren – Jag är fri

This is interesting, and weird. It sounds like one long jingle for an airline. It lacks the substance to match its hugely addictive qualities to really excel. 6

05 Jessica Andersson – Can’t Hurt Me Now

Nice to see such a familiar face back. Nice simple ballad and sung well. 6

06 Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes

Ho-hum. Remove the graphics and it’s ho. 5

07 Linus Svenning – Forever Starts Today 

I was listening to this while in another window thinking it’s quite pleasant, flipped back and got a fright. Ignore that distraction, and it’s ok. 5

08 Isa – Don’t Stop

Cheap, bubblegum pop. Pass. 4

09 Magnus Carlsson – Möt mig i Gamla stan

As usual, smooth voice, nothing much to the song – unlike his “Lev livet” way back in 2006. 5

10 Eric Saade – Sting

I hate the hair. It starts well and becomes a bit derivative once the choruses start. 5

11 Mariette – Don’t Stop Believing

Something a bit different. Even though it doesn’t climb the heights it’s trying to climb, it’s interesting and performed well, and gets something for originality. 7

12 Hasse Andersson – Guld och gröna skogar

Something a lot different. Stands out from most of the pop gibberish. While this country/folk is generally excruciating to the ears, if I had a choice of listening to one of these or three of Mans, Eric and Magnus, give me this any day. 5

Summary

A total score of 59 at a reprehensible average of 4.9. The better ESC shows rate at 7, as did this year’s Eesti Laul. Quite simply it’s the worst MF final line-up that I can recall. I really don’t care who wins; I’m developing a headache just listening through all the songs. There’s no way I’m watching live and go through that hell again. I’d probably go Jessica to win based more on historic appeal, or Jon Henrik as a bold and interesting pick, or Mariette if I was really pushed for a song, since she did rate highest. Mostly I have three words ringing in my head: Bring back Sanna.

How did it all go wrong?

Two problems. The move from a single show to four semi finals in 2002 has not only diluted the talent, the demographics of those voting leads to all the cheap Swede-pop from each semi final moving to the final. This effect has been actually fostered by the decision a few years ago to add extra dancers on stage and, much worse, backing track vocals. This now makes it possible to artificially transform an otherwise insipid song into something with far more energy and appeal, and also gets more of such songs into MF itself. For a good 5 years, the quality of songs in MF survived. Now ballads and more artistic songs simply can’t compete, nor are they the tight of songs in which such artificial manipulation would benefit. Other countries, notably Denmark and Norway, have cut back to single night affairs of just 10 songs. Estonia has a tried and proven formula of 20 songs over two semi finals and then a 10-song final. Sweden only takes two of its semi finalists directly to the final, further pushing the focus of a song into a very narrow and homogenised bracket.

The second problem is created from the first: the more publicity the artists get over such a  protracted process (six weeks, including the second chance round, then add pre-publicity), the more the public becomes fixated with artists rather than songs. It almost becomes like football, cheering for your favourite artist rather than selecting the song that most appeals. This history of poor winners started in 2007 with The Ark, which had a terrible song and promptly tanked at Eurovision, as did 2008’s Charlotte Perrelli (after needing a jury wildcard save in the semi). Perrelli just won MF ahead of Sanna Neilsen’s superb “Empty Room”, which still irks me. 2010’s Anna Bergendahl was the quintessential “story over substance” selection, which became the first Swedish song to fail outright in the semis. Robin Stjernberg’s “You” in 2013 was just horrid – again, riding on the back of a nice story, especially coming from the second chance round. Read more 2013 here. Sweden surely couldn’t stuff up with Loreen and Euphoria in 2012, and thankfully redeemed itself with Sanna Nielsen in 2014. Read more about 2014 here.

There’s also a problem with the voting – something that other countries also get wrong. Despite the supposed 50/50 split of jury and televote, it isn’t! The jury as an entire group never awards maximum points (all juries must give 12 points to the same song to achieve this) while the winning song on televote always get maximum points. Take 2009 as the best example. Mans Zelmerlow won the jury and got 96 points (the raw jury total). For winning the televote, Malena Ernman got 144 points, which calculates to a 40/60 split. How can this be? Surely winning either of the categories entitles you to the same points. It does in ESC, where you get 12 points each. On jury, Ernman finished 8th and got 38 points; on televote Zelmerlow finished 5th and got 48 points. Sweden adds the points directly together, so Zelmerlow’s 96+48 lost to Ernman’s 38+144.

The key to understanding the voting flaw is to understand that Zelmerlow ranked first and fifth over the two voting categories compared to Ernman’s rank of eighth and first. With their first places nullifying each other, anyone with basic numeracy skills knows that Zelmerlow’s fifth is a higher place than Ernman’s eighth. On that basis, to redress that injustice, Mans Zelmerlow would be the rightful winner of Melodifestivalen for 2015.

Watch all the songs here

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2 responses to “The sad decline of Sweden’s Melodifestivalen

  1. Pingback: Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix – the triumph of quality over quantity | Mr Eurovision Australia·

  2. Pingback: Eurovision 2015 Vienna – Final Review | Mr Eurovision Australia·

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