It’s that time of year for my favourite musical hobby… Melodifestivalen! For my North American friends, let me explain: Melodifestivalen is a song contest that takes place in Sweden every February and March, in order to pick the country’s best new song to compete against the rest of Europe in the Eurovision Song Contest in May.
While we don’t hear a lot about Eurovision here in North America, there are definitely some artists you know who have competed in the competition over the years, including Céline Dion, France Gall, Nana Mouskouri and this Swedish band you might have heard of.. ABBA!
I have been following Melodifestivalen thanks to the ongoing improvements in the Internet! The first year I tuned in was 2005, listening over the Internet, thanks to the Swedish national radio network (sr.se), and even then, my connection wasn’t entirely continuous… I think those were my last days of dial-up connections. It was like I imagine it would have been before TV’s were invented! But it was still very enjoyable and very exciting nonetheless. But as the years went on, connection speeds and technology improved, to the point that now instead of radio, I can watch it from the Swedish TV network (svt.se), in HD, with only the occasional little swirly thing in the middle of the screen. It still blows my mind that I am able to watch a European musical program, LIVE, as it is happening overseas!
Why do I follow it is another question entirely. In the early 2000’s, I have to say I got rather bored with the pop music scene here and took to the Internet and TV to find alternatives. Around the same time, a new Canadian TV channel, BPM TV, launched and opened up my musical world exponentially, showcasing dance music videos from around the world. It was during their request show that I was introduced to pop-dance band Alcazar. It was love at first sight! Their song “This Is The World We Live In” was really fun, catchy and upbeat. It definitely struck a chord with me! I soon discovered that this was the prevailing theme in their entire discography and I became an instant fan.
It was the kind of pop music I was missing from what my local radio stations were delivering. So that is when I started listening to Swedish Top 40 radio stations over the Internet… on a daily basis.. and found even more bands like Alcazar and the whole pop genre I had been craving for so long. It was great! They called it schlager!
It was that one wintry Saturday in 2005 that all I kept hearing through the Swedish DJ’s commentary between songs was the word Melodifestivalen over and over, so I took to the Internet to find out more. That is when I discovered the musical competition, and what a coincidence, Alcazar was competing that year! So I found out when the competition took place and listened to it via Swedish Radio. Unfortunately Alcazar did not win, but the experience resonated with me sufficiently that I continued listening then watching year after year and had the good fortune of visiting Stockholm in 2008 and 2009, specifically for Melodifestivalen finals week (… that was on the Bucket List)! It was worth every penny! I even got to meet some of the artists including my musical heroes, Alcazar! They were so sweet, so kind and so generous in taking the time to chat, sign my CD, take a picture and patiently listen to the Swedish I had worked so hard to learn (…3 years’ worth of classes!). That was truly a moment in time I will never forget!
Here is how it works: Melodifestivalen lasts 6 weeks: During each of the four Saturdays in February, there is a competition held in a different Swedish city, as 8 musical acts battle it out for 2 finalists spots and 2 spots in a second chance competition. The range of music is varied as you can hear anything from pop to dance to rock to folk to rap, frankly anything you can imagine.
In week 5, the 8 acts who won a spot in the second chance competition, perform their songs again and battle it out in a series of musical duels until there are two acts left, who will go to the finals.
Week 6 is the grand finale in which the top 10 acts compete for the “songbird” award and the right to go to Eurovision in May. Trust me, the Swedes put on quite a show, to celebrate the event in grand style. I could not imagine missing it!
The ratings are pretty remarkable as I just heard this past Saturday’s show brought in over 3 million viewers for a population of around 10 million. For the 2013 finals, ratings topped around 4 million viewers… so it is fairly popular and well embedded in Swedish pop culture (whether certain Swedes are reluctant to admit it or not).
Each European country has their own system for selecting their Eurovision song and to date, I have been able to catch programs from probably 15 other countries (again, thank you Internet Gods!) which is an amazing cultural experience. The fact that I may not understand the language does not matter much as pop music is universal, as much as the competitive spirit and the sight of happy performers getting crowned as the winners. It’s great!
I am not a big fan of winter sports, perhaps because as a child I was often kicked out of bed before 7:00 to go skiing before anyone else got there (My dad liked skiing in “fresh powder” and you can’t really do that at 4:00 in the afternoon) Anyway, Melodifestivalen is my winter sport now and my annual opportunity to fill up on great pop music and get my Swedish linguistic skills into shape!