With voting numbers down and the knives out among the Swedish press, the utter lack of occassion or spectacle has killed Melodifestivalen 2014 stone cold dead.
Last night was the fourth semi-final of Melodifestivalen, and bits of the opening number pretty much encapsulated what this year's programme was all about. On the catwalk leading from the Green Room to the stage, two people complete with fencing costumes and foils danced back and forth, over and over, pretending to spar with each other. There was no hint of skill involved, just a choreographer telling these two to jump back and forth until the music stopped. And that, my friends, is a good allegory for how Melodifestivalen 2014 has gone - people not doing anything genuine, but going through the motions to make something that looks nice on TV. Singing on key? Optional. A sense of something special to look forward to? Lost. More songs that would sound dated even if they came out when their genre was popular? Totally possible.
This year has been the worst Melodfestivalen since the current format began in 2002, and I have watched it every year for the past 13 years. In the early days, videotapes came weekly from Sweden to my home in London, which I devoured and rewatched. Then discovering a Swedish pub in London showed Melo live brought me down there for weeks in the depths of winter. This broadcast was so popular among Swedish ex-pats and various other Eurovision fans that sometimes the Swedish church across the street had to be opened up to accommodate the crowds. Then moving to Sweden meant that I could watch it on TV, or easily head to where the heats were taking place. But this was the first year where I finally lost patience with the whole affair. The format is old and the songs are worse than ever. Even the afterparty I attended after the Malmö heat was dull as hell - contestants went through the motions for the press but it was there was no enthusiasm in the air. Maybe I missed something since I was outside the party getting stoned with Mahan Moin's sister (who I used to work with in Malmö), but I needed SOMETHING to liven up the evening.
Below is my analysis of why Melodifestivalen finally collapsed onto itself and some ideas about what could be done to improve the contest for 2015.
The hosts have zero chemistry.
All is forgiven if there are a rash of bad songs as long as the hosts are funny and look like they are giving their all. How can you compare the outrageous Sarah Dawn Finer (competitor in 2007 and 2009, co-host in 2012 plus Linda Woodruff's amayzin appearances) or charming Kristian Luuk (hosted 2007 and 2008) with this year's Anders Jansson in a dress? Milton Berle, an American comedian, appeared on his TV variety show in drag - in 1956. It was funny then. Hosts in previous years threw themselves into the program, willing to do whatever was thrown at them. Even if you don't understand Swedish, the feeling each year was that the hosts were there to lead the programme, but also entertain. This year, a combination of terrible scripts making jokes at the expense of the hearing impaired and a lack of chemistry between Jansson and Nour El-Refai meant that the show stopped cold each time they appeared. This is a shame, especially as Jansson is one of Sweden's funniest improvisational comedians. And he did female characters better than Milton Berle:
Fix for 2015: Hosts who are more than just comedians. Usually Melodifestivalen gets this completely right, but they made a mistake selecting these two. At least last year, Danny Saucedo may have struggled at first with hosting but grew into the role quickly, and had so many other talents which were used to the show's advantages. This year Jansson and El-Refai looked increasingly pained to appear each week. Each year at least one host was willing to make a fool of themselves for a laugh, but in a smart and clever way.
The songs fucking sucked.
The "Melodi" part of Melodifestivalen was a disaster through and through. This is a complex problem to analyze because there are many factors, known and unknown, that go into the selection of the 32 songs each year. Also, what people consider "good" is totally subjective, so I'm just speaking here from my point of view. There is apparently a desire within Melodifestivalen to make things as diverse as possible, not only because that is the typical Swedish fair way of doing things, but also to get in as wide an audience as possible. To Melodifestivalen's credit, it is one of the few shows on Swedish TV that everyone can find something they like, with viewers from 8 to 80 being able to latch on to something.
The goal to pick a song that will do well in Eurovision, the main aim of any national final, was completely lost this year. Unfortunately, years of shows like IDOL or THE VOICE means that the audience's tolerance for crap and off-key singing has risen, along with the need for some kind of backstory to make the act more interesting. Forgive me, but wheeling out Ellinore Holmer last night, who talked about having Asperger's, to come on in a Disney princess dress and sing off-key, is not what the audience is tuning in for week after week. Why subject us to that shit, so we can go "awwww, poor girl, she's so brave"? A song like hers has no chance to go anywhere in Melo, and she would be right out of the semi-final in Copenhagen if the song won in Sweden.
A handful of record companies are involved in the selection process and submit new artists they want to promote, people in need of a comeback, and a few random others, with songs written by the same bloody writers you see every year. It's a mafia. There is no heart in the selections, and virtually no genuine talent. Alcazar are the only act out of 32 who really understood what it is to put on some kind of entertaining show. Unfortunately, the commercial side of Melodifestivalen has taken over from anything that could resemble something exciting for Eurovision. The show has given up its pretentions to send something good.
Fix for 2015: Pick more songs that thrill, not songs that fill a quota. That's how it feels now. One girl with a ballad, three metal bands who never qualify in the semi-finals, and "State of Drama". State of Drama should be banned from the contest. They are the most bland, boring band in existence. Also, artists should have who appear one year should take one contest off, and not come back for another round the following year. There are more artists in this country to choose from than bringing back YOHIO and Anton Ewald for three minutes of pitchy singing. When you start thinking, "Well, Anton Ewald didn't sing THAT badly," then you're in trouble.
Something has got to give when it comes to songwriters.
Sweden is a country that has a tremendous amount of songwriters and a brilliant sense for catchy melodies that are able to craft great pop music. So why do the same people appear over and over in the songwriting credits, writing in any style that is technically perfect but has no heart in it? It would be OK if the songs were any good, but they were all almost instantly forgetable. Is that all the country has to offer? Really? The whole thing has become way too cozy, with few others trusted to have songs ready for Eurovision. This is insane. Fredrik Kempe was credited for three songs this year, Joy and Linnéa Deb were involved with FOUR songs, with three of them in the worst of the semi-finals (Week 3).
Fix for 2015: Songwriters can only have one song in the contest each year. The tradition behind the scenes is that a songwriter given a credit may have not actually been involved in writing - just production - which leads to a three-minute song having six credited writers. Doesn't matter, really. Make room for other talents and more singer-songwriters who have a chance to represent Sweden. There has to be something more than the pastiches of pastiches on offer this year from the same people returning over and over.
The lyric "undo my sad" is not grammatically correct.
Has Sweden really reduced itself to hilariously bad Eurovision lyrics like "the day before marriage I / went out so long in the night"?
Fix for 2015: A better guide to English grammar bought on Amazon.com.
The sense of spectacle has gone.
Fix for 2015: Bring back Edward af Sillén, one of the writers who oversaw some of Melodifestivalen's best years. This site has been critical of some of the things he has worked on in the past, but this is someone who understands campy, fun humour, which has given Melodifestivalen a unique lift that other shows on SVT can't come close to. And with Melodifestivalen being the most watched show each year for this network, it deserves the best. His absence this year has been noted by the public as well, even if they don't know who he is, with ratings dropping and the number of voters hitting record lows.
Broadcaster SVT is arrogant in the face of criticism.
In 2010, another pretty dull year for Melodifestivalen, SVT came out and said that the Winter Olympics were affecting the drop in viewers. And funnily enough, the same excuses are being wheeled out this year. Last week in Malmö's paper Sydsvenskan, Christer Björkman said "there will be tough compeititon from ice hockey." - a match involving the Swedish team in Sochi which overlapped the start of Melodifesetivalen by a haif-hour. But this is just the start of it. A live show being produced week after week that faces criticism is something that can be played with to make it better or run smoother. (this is my experience as a producer of live events for years) Taking this annoying stance, again from Sydsvenskan, Björkman says:
SVT follow the script and do not intend to make any changes in the remaining programmes.
"No, we've been planning this for some time and we don not evaluate programs until spring. We have mapped out a route that begins in a program and ends in the final. The plan was made long ago, and we believe in it," says Christer Björkman.
Puh-lease, honey. Nothing is set in stone if the show doesn't work. But none of the powers that be want to deal with a drop in quality. No wonder the Swedish press has felt betrayed by the contest. Martin Söderström from Aftonbladet, which one-third of Swedes read each day, said last night:
The air has gone out of Melodifestivalen. 2014 feels tired, poor, [and] unengaged. As if those in charge do not give a shit about whether it will be great or not.
Expressen, Sweden's other huge paper, said:
Right songs won. Otherwise, it was mostly wrong. Melodifestivalen's approach to humor has become a joke.
Fix for 2015: Listen and respond to your critics in a sensible way. If you are asking people to spend money to vote for something, then they have an absolute right to discuss what they are spending their money on. If you encourage people to follow each bit of news during the contest, then they are going to have a vested interest. You can't have this and a bunker mentality at the same time. The press are supposed to be there as a counterpoint if needed, and ultimately a lot of locals will start to believe the opinions they read, which in the case of this year have been universally negative.