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The Cult of Bert Karlsson or why is for many Swedes “schlager” a synonym for Melodifestivalen?

I often read comments within the ESC fanworld about the styles of music in Melodifestivalen. People are expressing their concerns saying how MF is too narrow music-wise and that other genres apart from traditional schlagers should get recognised as MF’s genres. Moreover, people think that because of MF favouring schlager, that many top artists refuse to compromise their musical integrity to take part in MF, despite the possible promotion and boost in sales. Now, over the past 5-6 years MF has been drifting away from schlager, particularly embracing clubby pop and teen pop instead. However, people are still not happy. They think MF should be even more diverse and therefore attract even bigger names into taking part.

The opinion of these people is of course totally fair. Swedish music industry is facing a tough competition from UK and USA and adapting to trends set by the worldwide stars and producers is nowadays a norm to survive. Physical (and digital) albums don’t sell as much as they used to, artists don’t get a decent compensation from streaming services like Spotify, music industry is focusing on social media marketing rather than “traditional” PR in order to get revenue, taking part in reality shows like Så mycket bättre and doing massive summer tours is what is artists’ main source of income nowadays. Pop has taken over from schlager, export is crucial.

But for general Swedish audience, despite the state of the music business, “schlager” is still the synonym for MF. Now why is that? To get the answer to my question, we have to go way back in time, to 70’s and 80’s, when one man was “in charge” as the super manager, the record company super boss, the marketing super machine – BERT KARLSSON.

Bert Karlsson, after working as a chief of a grocery store in his hometown, Skara(in western Sweden, near Gothenburg) and of several bingo arenas, Bert then started a record company, Mariann Gramofon. That was in 1972. Some years passed and he had what he thought was a perfect song for Melodifestivalen in 1977 – “Guenerina” by Paul Paljett. The selection jury however disagreed and rejected the song. Bert, totally furious released this song and 15 other rejects on a compilation LP, on which, according to MF experts most of the songs were better than the songs on the actual MF, where its winning song, “Beatles” by Forbes finished on last place in Eurovision. “Guenerina” sold very well, made #1 on the prestigious radio chart Svensktoppen and Paul Paljett won many awards. Bert – SVT – 1 – 0. In his first year already. So in 1978 some of “his” songs made it to the line-up, the most famous one being “Miss Decibel” by the dance band (dansband) Wizex (including Kikki Danielsson as the lead singer). Wizex andBjörn Skifs had ended on a tie and the latter eventually won the tie-break vote and went to Eurovision where he – legendarily – forgot the lyrics at the beginning.

A year passed and in 1980 his record company was behind 4 out of 10 songs in the line-up. In 1981 2 out of 5 songs were from “his” artists (now being Sweet’n’Chips and Janne Lucas) and a year later his very first win happened. Song was “Dag efter dag”, written by Lasse Holm and Monica Forsberg, Kikki Danielsson and Elisabeth Andreasson were the singers and the duet’s name was Chips. Having a “pimp” slot and winning convincingly in Sweden, new stars were born. Finishing on a respectable 8th place in Harrogate this set foundations for what was to come a year later. The venue was Palladium, Malmö, the date was set on February 26th, 1983, the host was Bibi Johns. The line-up in general that year was quite mediocre – Kikki Danielsson (who had gone solo from Chips)’s song was ok, but the other 8 were nothing to write home about. And then came the final entry of the night, “melodi nummer 10″. The final entry was “Främling”, the artist a completely unknown schoolgirl at the tender age of 16 by the name Carola Häggkvist. Bert had signed Carola 2 years earlier and was setting up for her breakthrough for quite some time and that night it finally happened. The voting that nght was the most boring voting ever in the history of MF, with Carola getting the maximum points from all the regional juries, so the host actually said “This is not exciting whatsoever!”. That night a breakthrough of epic proportions was made, not only in MF, but in Swedish music in general. Carola was heavily featured in all the newspapers after her MF win, Eurovision that year was watched by 6.8 million people in Sweden alone, that is 84% of the entire population at the time – the record still to be broken ever since. Carola’s debut album is the most sold album by a Swedish artist ever, her summer tour broke all the records and her squeaky clean image gained her loads of fans as well. Carola’s follow up albums also sold very well, but as soon as she wanted to ditch the bubblegum schlager-pop image, the record sales weren’t as good as previously. Over the years loads of female artists have tried to have an epic breakthrough like Carola had – none of them have even come close. Carola’s just hit a new #1 on iTunes chart with her Ola Salo cover from Så mycket bättre – 31 years after her breakthrough. Impressive.

Back to the story, after Carola’s epic breakthrough Bert was laughing all the way to the bank. Many people (both fans and general audience) still believe Carola was the moral winner of Eurovision that year, but the actual win in ESC happened just a year later, with Bert’s new act, 3 Mormon boys by the name Per, Louis and Richard Herrey. They managed to win both MF and the contest in Luxembourg and created a boyband hysteria which hadn’t been experienced before. The boys needed a police escort when arriving to their concerts, they had to move to Copenhagen to be able to live as normal life as possible and they also won the Eastern European version of Eurovision a year later – the Sopot Festival and therefore also gained a loyal Eastern bloc following. In MF one of the contestants sang worse than rehearsed, it was Elisabeth Andreasson, one of the former members of Chips and Bert had his plans for her launch.

He took her over to Norway and introduced her to Hanne Krogh and the new duo was born – Bobbysocks. As Kikki Danielsson won MF and Bobbysocks MGP Bert had now double chance of winning Eurovision – and it happened again. Now for Norway. “Seier’n er vår – endelig!” – FINALLY the Norway which had been ridiculed with bad results before, could taste their first ever Eurovision win. Kikki finished 3rd. So two songs by Mariann in Eurovision top 3. Not bad, not bad at all.

1986 came, MF was held in a slightly revamped format, with music videos being shown in the first round. And Bert had 4 songs (out of 10) in the line-up, among which we can find the top 2 of the night – “E de det här du kallar kärlek” by Lasse Holm and Monica Thörnell and “Kärleken är evig” by Lena Philipsson. Lasse Holm, previously the songwriter of 3 winning entries now won as a singer and Lena Philipsson had a breakthrough as an artist back then. In 1987 again the top 2 were Bert’s artists (Lotta Engberg and Arja Saijonmaa) and also “Dansa i neon” by Lena Philipsson made the super-final. However, then the team at his record company broke apart. Lasse Holm and Torgny Söderberg went on to form their own companies and suddenly Bert’s influence in MF was reduced rapidly the following year as he had lost the majority of the artists he had previously worked with. The results got worse and new people were set to take over. In 1991 as Carola (then no longer at Mariann) won both MF and ESC, he started his career as a politician, running the populist party Ny Demokrati (New Democracy), which policies were critical to immigrants and it looked as if his career as a record company boss couldn’t be more far away. It’s also because of his political career, that many Swedes hold a grudge against Bert nowadays. “Seeing Bert in the cooking show, the old racist looking like a friendly uncle. What is with this world?!” is just one of the angry comments in the social media. Also his influence was non-existent in MF the following years as well. In 1992 he had to be credited as a lyricist of a song “Venus Butterfly” by a girl group Angel (as the original lyricist, Nick Borgen couldn’t be credited due to not having a Swedish citizenship.). The song flopped and Angel’s career was over. In 1993 Nick Borgen could take part and finished second (due to televoting being introduced, which was won by Arvingarna) and the rest of the 90s were more or less silent years for Bert and his record company in MF. But in 1999, after making a dance band revival for a while, a comeback in MF happened with a bang.

In 1999 a dance band singer Charlotte Nilsson won MF with her song “Tusen och en natt”. The song got translated into English and won the whole Eurovision in Jerusalem as well. Bert was “the king of the game” again. Same year a dance/schlager band Friends were formed in a reality show on TV4 and another group, Barbados won their first Grammy for the best dance band. And they were Bert’s best bet in MF the following year, along with the Gothenburg’s Latin diva Javiera – neither of them won, but both got a wide recognition by the general audience and schlager was slowly making a revival again. 2001 was the year when again the top 2 of MF was by Bert’s artists – Friends and Barbados, with another dance band, Date also taking part. In 2001 the idea was developed at the SVT’s headquarters, to revamp the MF format and bring it closer to the people, with 4 semi-finals and a final in Globen. Bert’s chances increased even more with this change and the amount of artists that were signed to his label was much bigger the following year. One act that he’d written off previously, the female trio Afro-Dite got signed with his label as soon as they qualified to the final, the super trio Kikki, Bettan & Lotta (his previous protegees) made big comeback and Barbados, Friends and Javiera made it to the final again.

In autumn 2002 Bert launched a new reality talent show – Fame Factory, taking inspiration in Spanish Operacion Triunfo. And in the first season already, several hopefuls were ready to taste some MF glory – Mathias Holmgren, Andres Esteche, Markus Landgren and a new duet, Fame, consisting of Jessica Andersson and Magnus Bäcklund (who had won the show). After making it to the final, Fame were immediately tipped to be the front-runners for the victory in the final in 2003 – and indeed, 20 years after Carola’s overnight success, two fresh faced artists had their big breakthrough again. Fame won with a considerable margin and Fame Factory was more popular than ever. Jessica and Magnus also finished on a great 5th place in Eurovision and after a summer tour and a new participation the following year the duo took a break at the beginning of 2006. Magnus released a solo album, which sold well and Jessica is now one of the household names in Sweden. I already wrote about the impact their song, “Give Me Your Love” had on me and I stand by every word I wrote back then.

In 2004 Fame Factory contestants failed to win MF, but his former artist won it all – Lena Philipsson had a big comeback with her Orup-penned song “Det gör ont” and both the song and her album were big success, sales-wise. However, in the year that followed – 2005 – Bert’s influence was starting to be lesser again. His label was facing challenges, so the contestants in the final season of Fame Factory (among which we can also find Linda Bengtzing) weren’t properly launched at the music market. It was apparently also a time when Bert was facing a severe illness. In 2006, the final year of his record company many songs of “his” artists did well in MF and his biggest discovery, his own Diana Ross, his own Kylie, his own Britney – Carola – made a huge comeback and was considered a favourite to win all along. She won, with a song co-written by one of Bert’s songwriters who brought the schlager revival to Sweden back – Thomas G:son. The last Fame Factory winner, Sandra Oxenryd won the Estonian final in the same year. And it was in 2006 when Bert sold his record company to Warner and the Mariann era was over. His last big discovery were the sisters Sandén (Molly, Frida and Mimmi, who represented Sweden in Junior Eurovision in their respective years – 2006, 2007 and 2009).

Taking this story into account one starts to realise why Swedes associate MF with schlager. Bert did not create just hits-for-the-moment with his artists and his songs – he created legends and the schlager songs (especially from the 80s) are evergreens still deeply enrooted in people’s minds. After selling Mariann to Warner, Bert has been making different statements in media about his views on development in MF. In 2010 he openly criticised Anna Bergendahl’s song, putting his faith into the Danish entry – “In A Moment Like This”, written by 3 former Mariann’s songwriters. And indeed – Anna failed to qualify, while Denmark finished 4th in the final. This winter (in 2014) he criticised MF’s development, he thinks that with drifting away from schlager the contest was losing its soul and that songs nowadays are too mediocre and that nobody remembers them a year later. Within the fanworld, many people initially disagreed, but the majority of predictions he had made to the media some weeks prior to 2014 contest actually came true – he tipped about Ace Wilder before anyone had a clue who she was – she eventually had the biggest hit of the contest.

Bert is not really a fan of Jante’s law (the law of average), he’s not late to point out his influence in MF, how “he’s the best” and how “he build the whole shebang to what it is nowadays”, a statement that gains him both fans and haters as many people believe he had exploited some of the artists to gain a quick money. For me – while I disagree with his political views (as I do believe in cultures being able to mix) I have to give him the credit for the music “his” artists and songwriters made – he definitely could recognise good melody, catchy chorus and a fabulous keychange. He had a gift to spot timeless songs, that are now classics. His legacy in MF and ESC will live forever, even after he’s no longer on this world. And because of his legacy I don’t think schlager will ever leave MF no matter how much some people want. He had a chance, he took it and changed MF for ever.


Melodifestivalen voting robot-gate emerges

Today a major scandal shook up the world of Melodifestivalen. A person coming from Western Sweden has claimed on P4 that he managed to establish a computer technique which can send several hundred votes in just a couple of minutes. Same person has claimed how he helped a songwriter in one of recent years' contests to gain 2, 500 votes in order to proceed to further rounds. Initially the songwriter was skeptical to the voting robot technique, but eventually agreed to do the deal as success in the competition prevailed. Same person is also claiming how many record company executives have call centres and mass-vote for their songs to make it through in the competition. Christer Björkman initially claimed that these events are technically not cheating, but are highly un-ethical and immoral. 

As a consequence SVT with the project leader Maria Ilstedt has had a press conference on the matter and they introduced a new rule where in case of any automatic voting an entry can be disqualified. No voting limit has been set. Svenska Spel, the betting agency, has stopped all bets on Melodifestivalen until the issue is cleared out. 

Aftonbladet pointed out several examples on how entries qualified with a very small margain (i.e. Patrik Isaksson missed out making it to Andra Chansen by just 41 votes back in 2008, or last year when Robin Stjernberg (who ended up winning the whole show) beat out Martin Rolinski on a bit more than 2,500 votes. Or the notorious 2005 final, when there was just about 4,000 votes between 2nd and 3rd placing entry with the televotes, Martin Stenmarck and Caroline Wennergren. If the latter got 4,000 votes Nanne Grönvall would have won the whole competition. Or the 2004 Andra Chansen when the difference between Shirley Clamp (who qualified) and Karl Martindahl (who missed out) was just mere 526 votes. 

Bert Karlsson has claimed that a "Webjoker" competition (a contest to select the best entry among new, amateur songwriters, which went on from 2010 to 2012) was a full-on cheating and that he got an offer to pay 300,000 SEK to make it to the competition. Webjoker was a competition with low interest from the mass-media and with low voting numbers, which paved the way for the finalists to mass-vote for themselves. 

Got to say that this shocked me more than I thought. MF is one of the things I have a big passion for and just the thought that some of my favourite artists/songwriters made it that far in the competition due to bought mass-votes is worrying me and I hope with all of my heart that my favourite artists/songwriters are ethical enough to not do this. 


TOP 10 - non-winning Mello entries 2002-2013

So in March 2013 I did a top 10 of my favourite songs that didn't win Melodifestivalen in its current format, so from 2002 on. As 2013 was quite a weak year (OK, it was actually totally shitty and in the final only Robin's, Ulrik's, Ralf's and Louise's songs sounded legit), so no changes were made since then. 

The "bubblers", songs that just missed out (in random order)

Lisa Miskovsky - Why Start A Fire (2012)

Lili & Susie - Show Me Heaven (2009)

Sanna Nielsen - Hela världen för mig (2003)

Martin Rolinski - In & Out Of Love (2013)

Danny - In The Club (2011)


And now off to business, the top 10 is:

10. Shirley Clamp - Min kärkek (2004)

It's interesting to see this song's journey. This song - and Shirley - went from pale 4th place in her semi in Malmö to barely coming second in Andra chansen to actually getting 110 points from the Swedish viewers in the final. Of course, Shirley's performance in the final is one of the reasons for the sudden shift. With some change of styling and self-confidence it's like the viewers saw a whole new Shirley in Globen that night. And a new schlager diva was born! She's back this year, with another midtempo song, written by Ljunggren as well. Maybe a new Min kärlek in sight? Time will tell. 

9. Timoteij - Kom (2010

2010 was another abysmal Mello-year. All of a sudden there were a whole bunch of unknown singers and the "real music" fixation was starting to take over, all the catchiness from the europop anthems from previous years was suddenly gone and it seemed like SVT didn't give a damn to send a competitive entry to Eurovision anymore. However, in the middle of all the misery there were some gems. And this was one of them. Dat intro people! 4 cute Swedish girls singing an ethnopop anthem which was mixing Nordic and Oriental elements and which had a keychange? Count me in!!! 

8. Sanna Nielsen - Vågar du, vågar jag (2007)

Ah, the mid-00s Mello. The era of schlager/europop anthems, one being better than the another. And this one is as epic as it can be. I remember papers trying to make it seem like "Evighet"/"Invincible" copy, which I don't get at all, but - each to its own. This is, for me, still Fredrik Kempe's finest moment, from the slow intro up until the bombastic keychange and the entire last chorus with "Give Me Your Love"-esque bit just brings a gigantic smile on my face. Sanna was underrated with this one, IMO she should have finished top 3 in the final in Globen (to which she qualified through Andra chansen).  Fabola! <3

7. Jenny Silver - Something In Your Eyes (2011) 

One of the last pure schlagers in Mello until now. And what a corker it was! Written by the same writers who did Denmark's Eurovision entry from year before "In A Moment Like This" (which was ironically a Mello-reject), this was a great tribute to ABBA and its sound in Mello. It's a homage of "As Good As New", "Mamma Mia" and "Kisses Of Fire" and Jenny strutted her way to every schlagerfreak's heart with that Rickard Engfors' performance. Mello goes Kylie and a song which should have qualified to the final. 

6. Pernilla Wahlgren & Jan Johansen - Let Your Spirit Fly (2003)

Mello 2003 is the year which will always have a big place in my heart - its winners, Fame with "Give Me Your Love" are the reason I'm a fan of Eurovision, Mello, Sweden, Scandinavia and - all in all - the reason I'm blogging here. But that final was so fabulous, I can't even. In my top 3 are Fame (for obvious reasons), Alcazar (my favourite pop group, but I'll come to them later) and - Pernilla & Jan. This song was written by Ola Höglund and Anders Danvik (the latter wrote several Pernilla's singles) and it's an uplifting number, sung by two professionals and veterans in the competition. It doesn't try to be cool, it doesn't try to be credible and yet it's taken seriously. Miss the times when such entries actually had a chance to win.

5. Kikki, Bettan & Lotta - Vem e de du vill ha (2002) 

Continuing in the "not cool" route and this one takes it to the whole new dimension. This doesn't want, nor pretend to be cool whatsoever. This is a happy cabaret ditty performed by three veterans in the game and boy do these ladies deliver! The chemistry is amazing between them and there's a genuine joy in the performance and everything is done with an amount of irony as well. Amazing and one of Thomas G:son/Calle Kindbom's finest songs! It would be fabulous seeing this gem in Tallinn and no I'm not joking.  

4. Linda Bengtzing - Jag ljuger så bra (2006) 

Linda is Kikki, Bettan & Lotta all put together into one person. And with extra vitamin and sugar added. Gosh, I love her! She's such an energy bomb all the time, she doesn't want to be cool either and never takes herself too seriously. And of course, her Mello songs have been pure schlagertastic joy, all 12 minutes of them. But this one takes the crown as her best. So tongue'n'cheek, so catchy, so crazy! Love it, just love it! Linda's back in Mello this year with something "different" than before. Let's hope it's not too different.

3. BWO - Lay Your Love On Me (2008)

This, ladies and gents, is Alexander Bard's finest work in Mello ever. The "Oh Mama" part of the chorus ("Oh Mama" is Bard's composition as well, together with Tim Norell and Ola Håkansson, together they formed the songwriting trio Norell-Oson-Bard, which was a Swedish equivalent of Stock-Aitken-Waterman), the "Hung Up" riff in the beat, the whole performance, it's just 3 minutes of epicness. Add the fact that Martin Rolinski is quite easy on eyes (to put it mildly) and you get an entry that (sorry Charlotte and Sanna, I love you both, but) should have won the contest in 2008. 

2. Nanne Grönvall - Håll om mig (2005)

It's crazy how my first Mello final I saw live ended up with me having a complete meltdown after it was over. Nanne was the hot favourite to fly Sweden's flag in Kyiv and she was also my favourite. But the juries on the night went - nicely put - bananas. Suddenly Nanne, instead of having a comfortable lead over the rest, was scraping somewhere on 3rd-4th place and it all started looking very worrying for her. I still had hope that the televoters would manage to crown her a winner afterwards - but 3 points difference between her and eventual winner Martin Stenmarck were enough for the latter to take the Sångfågeln and go to Kyiv. He got 110 points from the televotes. However he got a bit more than 100,000 votes, while Nanne got approx. 375,000, three times as many as Martin. I've never really gotten over that final to be perfectly honest. Eventhough I "forgave" Martin after he released his single "Sjumilakliv", I still haven't played his 2005 song more than twice in these 9 years. So the verdict - Nanne should have won. She would have had some good chances for top 10 or even top 5 result in Eurovision as well, me thinks. 

and so we come to my #1

1. Alcazar - Stay The Night (2009)

I've been an Alcazar fan since autumn 2003, since their album "Alcazarized" to be precise. And when they made a comeback with their new member Lina Hedlund back in 2007 I was a bit skeptical. Would this really work? Where's Magnus? Is the industry ready? Shortly afterwards, however, they dropped their single "We Keep On Rockin'", which sounded ok to me and I got hope that this would work out after all. Then "Inhibitions" came and I was baffled - where is the Alcazar I know?! Where are tracks like "Someday" or "Physical"?! This is not right! But then they were announced as one of the artists for Mello in 2009. OK, "Stay The Night", sounds like "Knock On Wood", k... this is interesting. The 1 minute preview didn't give me much, but when I saw that performance - there I was, completely blown away and my Alcazar-love came back with a venegance. It was amazing seeing them qualify directly to the final and apparently in Globen they got by far the biggest cheer from the audience during both dress rehearsals. Of course I wanted them to win, but had other favourites as well and was happy with Malena winning afterwards. But now, 5 years later I think Alcazar should have won. Their song countinued to live further and who knows how it would have gone for them in Eurovision itself(also note that Andreas is both openly gay and HIV+ so it would be interesting to see the reaction of the Russian media and public, there were even speculations that he wouldn't be able to get a visa to Moscow because of his health state). However, this year, after making a momentum last year as an interval act, Alcazar are back in Mello. And they're the act I support very passionately this year. They've been close to winning three times and they would deserve the Sångfågeln so much. Let's see how it all goes for them. Currently they are set to become the hot favourites to win as their odds keep on shortening more and more as the weeks go. Hope they'll get it right.  


So this is it. My top 10 of non-winning Mello entries from 2002-2013. Hopefully you'll like some of the songs in my top. :-)



PS You can vote for your favourite Melodifestivalen songs here. Your top 100 of MF entries will be broadcast by on 7 March, the day before this year's Swedish national final!




Mello 2014 - stage sketch revealed

SVT has revealed the sketch of the stage for 2014 Melodifestivalen. They're aiming to provide more colours, more light effects and moving LED decor for the viewers. The standing audience is present only on the sketch as audience will be seated around the stage as usual (eventhough they tend to stand up quite often during the show)

Technical sketch over the stage setting in the arena you can see here (in Swedish, as a PDF file)

I think the stage and the setting are somehow a combination of 2009 and 2006 one and it looks good, but I'm going to wait for the whole stage to be live in the arena, before I can make my full judgement. 

What do you think about Melodifestivalen stage? 


Spotted - 3 schlager queens get together!

Pernilla Wahlgren, Carola and Lena Philipsson got together for Lena's birthday on Sunday. First Pernilla, Carola and some friends surprised Lena in a restaurant in Sthlm and then they spent rest of the night in Lena's place. 

Fabulous innit? And it blows papers' theory of Lena and Carola being archenemies out of the water as well! 

We need a collab somehow between these three... in Mello, perhaps? :-P 


Here I am!

So welcome to my new home, everybody! 

My name is Katja and I'm the Melodifestivalen freak whose story was published last August on I love schlager, especially Scandinavian schlager (although I've become a proper Helene Fischer & Beatrice Egli fan too over the past year hehe) and I've been captured by the whole Melodifestivalen madness since 2003. Yeah, back when Facebook and Twitter weren't even around. For some it seems like eternity (Yes, Carola, talking about you!), for me it sometimes feels like yesterday. 

I'm 25 and in this blog I'll present you some of my views and observations from the schlager & Mello-world. 

Mi casa es su casa! Enjoy and - inget konstigt alls! 



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