Monday, May 02, 2016

Eurovision 2016 pre-rehearsal rankings

Just getting my rankings down here before the rehearsals start and then it will probably all change!

LATVIA
NETHERLANDS
RUSSIA
FRANCE
SERBIA
SWEDEN
BULGARIA
CYPRUS
GEORGIA
NORWAY
POLAND
ESTONIA
BELARUS
ITALY
DENMARK
ICELAND
AZERBAIJAN
UKRAINE
AUSTRIA
BELGIUM
FINLAND
SPAIN
UNITED KINGDOM
GERMANY
ISRAEL
SAN MARINO
SLOVENIA
LITHUANIA
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
IRELAND
MONTENEGRO
ALBANIA
AUSTRALIA
ARMENIA
FYR MACEDONIA
MALTA
HUNGARY
CZECH REPUBLIC
CROATIA
GREECE
SWITZERLAND
MOLDOVA

Notes from National Finals: Melodifestivalen - The Final 12.03.2016

Normally on Melodifestivalen final night I would be at home, laptop connected to the telly, but 2016 was different.  I was on a weekend break to London with faithful travelling companion, only managing to catch the first few songs on my tablet before we headed out to dinner.  I would catch up with the final later though.  Despite my disappointment at the standard of songs in Melfest this year, and the trend towards generic radio hits, I guess it must be said that most of the songs in the final deserved to be there.  But did the presenters?

During this year's heats Gina Dirawi had a different co-presenter every week, as a nod to the past (15 years of the current Melfest format); for the final, her co-presenter was bringing things right up to date.  William Spetz is one of those modern-day bloggers/YouTube celebrities; we have a lot of them over here too, but I can't say how good they are as I'm way out of that demographic.  Anyway, young Mr Spetz was just a little too plastic for me but he did ok I guess.

Thankfully no musical numbers to open the show - just a theatrical reading by Stina Ekblad - and a surprisingly short opening; only 10 minutes!  The postcards featured the various artists having a look round Friends Arena.  By the way, I really liked the backing music to the postcards this year.


1.  "Hall om mig hårt" - Panetoz
They have become a tighter and more professional outfit since their first appearance in Melodifestivalen, with snappy choreography adding to their usual goofy dancing around.  I know a lot of the fan community don't like Panetoz but they do bring a much-needed feelgood factor and they absolutely deserved their place in the final.


2. "My Heart Wants Me Dead" - Lisa Ajax.
Toilet rolls and too-short dress aside, this song had definitely grown on me since its heat and since that time it has booked a place in my annual top 50 chart.  Of course it has a great similarity to Zara Larsson, but that can only have been a good thing, such is young Ms Larsson's growing worldwide popularity.


3. "We Are Your Tomorrow" - David Lindgren.
Unfortunately the title of this calls to mind a cringeworthy charity song, and the best bit about it is him farting around with lasers in the first minute of the song.  No offence to David, he sings and dances well, but he never really presents a strong enough case to represent Sweden at Eurovision.


4. "Kizunguzungu" - SaRaha.
Petra Marklund lookalike Sara brought life and exuberance to this year's contest and 9th place in the final wasn't too bad for an unknown debutant.  And it had a key change, what more does a Melfest song need?  Kizunguzungu was infectious, and fun.


5.  "Human" - Oscar Zia.
Oscar co-wrote this with highly rated duo Smith and Thell.  He's a very attractive young man (I think my mum would have liked him) who came out prior to the contest and said that this was a very personal song for him.  He would go on to win the international jury vote (although not for the first time in Melfest, that was eventually overruled by the televote) and you can see why; the song's dramatic staging and sharp camera angles recalled a music video and seemed to capture the spirit of a modern-day song contest which is about more than just a song.


6. "Don't Worry" - Ace Wilder.
This is another song which fits the modern-day Eurovision template - if it's no longer about the song, but about the whole visual package, then this was definitely the finished article.  From the twirling light-boxes to the fabulous choreography of her backing dancers, every Swedish Eurovision box was ticked.  And what Ace lacks in vocal power she sure as hell makes up in charisma.

Lynda Woodruff time!  Mans Sell-Me-Love! Bjorn Bjorg! Josephine Born-in-a-Bush! Juicy Burger! Nubbe and Helan Gar! This is hope and this is glory!  Some fans may be a bit fed up with this sketch, but she is still one of the heroes of our time :)



7. "Constellation Prize" - Robin Bengtsson.
Like fellow finalist Lisa Ajax, Robin is yet another artist who got his big break on Swedish Idol. And once I got over my initial annoyance at the stupid song title and the similarity between this song and "Stole The Show", I actually began to really like this song a lot, and of all this year's finalists I would hope that he really gets a meaningful career out of this.  My favourite song of the night.  And on a completely shallow note, who could resist those piercing eyes...?


8. "Youniverse" - Molly Sandén.
My main gripe with this song is the stupid spelling of its title.  Otherwise Molly gave an excellent vocal performance - I still think and hope she will represent Sweden some day, but hopefully with something less overblown and contrived than this.  Although I have to say that the ending of the song is excellent, chills-down-the-spine stuff.


9. "Put Your Love On Me" - Boris René.
Boris is a kind of Bruno Mars/Olly Murs hybrid, with the commercial appeal of both artists, but also with the appealing underdog-vibe.  His day job is football, rather than singing, and anyone who sings "you got my heart in a litter box" (well it sounds like that anyway) just makes me smile.


10. "If I Were Sorry" - Frans.
This is introduced with a reminder of that awful Zlatan song.  But Frans is now 17 years old and this is his big break at an 'adult' pop career.  "If I Were Sorry" is the anti-"Heroes" with minimal staging and the corniest cockney accent since Lena - although he did actually live in England for a while so it's more authentic I guess - and it's everything which a Swedish Eurovision entry shouldn't be. Not a wind machine in sight.  It's a Eurovision song as sorry-not-sorry hashtag, and he's also tapping into the whole demographic of the Ed Sheerans and the Justin Biebers and the less-is-more acoustic trend. It's more Kedvesem than Euphoria/Undo/Heroes.  Do I like it?  Well...yes, in a way, because there is something natural and unforced about it; and in a year of national finals/selections dominated by Sia wannabes, this turns out to be a very welcome distraction.


11. "Save Me" - Wiktoria.
Where Frans was the lowest of the low-key, Wiktoria Johansson was just trying too hard, suffering from that over-singing disease which blights every talent show going.  "Save Me" managed to tap into the country-pop trend which had been popular over the last couple of years, but left me cold. I could see her back at Melodifestivalen again, if not next year then definitely the year after.


12.  "Bada Nakna" - Samir and Viktor.
In 2016, SVT finally got the message that we're fed up with all the Kempe songs every year as he only had one - yes, only ONE! - song in Melfest 2016.  It's this one.

Samir and Viktor are of course the perfect modern example of fame-over-talent and their vocal ability (or lack of it) seemed more exposed here than on "Groupie".  It wasn't the only thing being exposed though, as S and V targeted all kinds of demographics and took their tops off.  For some reason this reminds me of a song which a national football team would record for a tournament such as the Euros or the World Cup!?!

So, songs over, it was interval act time.  After Jonas Gardell's "schlagerskolan" it was time for last year's Melfest winner - who also went on to win Eurovision - and a reinvented version of "Heroes", slowed down and with children in place of the little balloon-men.  I'm guessing that we'll get something similar at Eurovision.

With Måns having done his thing, it was time for the international jury votes.  Well, where would we be without a bit of Klitos Klitou (!) and also the fabulous Maja Keuc who speaks brilliant Swedish!

By the end of the international jury vote, Oscar, Frans and Ace were top 3.  Whilst the televotes were being counted it was time for a medley of some of Melodifestivalen's greatest hits of the past 15 years, including Mendez, the Brandsta City Slackers, Timoteij, Mariette, Linus Svenning, Sarah Dawn Finer (who is looking great these days!), Magnus Carlsson, Caroline af Ugglas, Andreas Johnson, Nanne Grönvall, Anton Ewald, Kikki and Bettan, Charlotte Perrelli, After Dark.

Oh, and Martin Rolinski.  Still got it, never lost it :)


With our memories jogged it was time to go back to the present for the televoting results.  What immediately struck me was the closeness of the vote.  Frans won with only 68 points rather than the usual over 100 expected of a winner.  He's the youngest winner of Melodifestivalen since Carola - but only 14% of the Swedish public liked "If I Were Sorry" enough to vote it as a winner.  So why didn't the whole of Sweden get behind their entry?  Perhaps they saw the result as a foregone conclusion anyway?  I guess we'll never know.

It would be fair to say that "If I Were Sorry" has not been welcomed by a large section of the Eurovision fan community, who expect Sweden to send a different type of song, sung by a different type of singer.  But it is 2016, and love or hate it, Sweden has sent something very contemporary and I'm predicting a definite top 10 result.  And I'm not sorry, no.




Notes from National Finals: Melodifestivalen 2016 - Andra Chansen

Halmstad, 05.03.16.

The show opened with a rendition of "Skyfall" by Gina Dirawi and her two co-hosts for the evening - Peter Jöback and Ola Salo.  It's not the first time Andra Chansen used a Bond theme to ramp-up the duel-drama: how could we forget Melfest 2010 and Mr Zelmerlöw's take on Duran Duran! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5T4mkBHruI

Peter and Ola also performed a smashing uptempo pop song called "Sing Me Out" in the interval act, which for me was much better than many of the songs in this year's Melodifestivalen - The Ark may be gone but this sounded like the great lost Ark song, with its pounding and dramatic chorus and finale.

The other big interval act this week was Hasse Andersson, perhaps in recognition that he qualified from Andra Chansen last year.  He also showed up this year's entries, many of which are just too calculating and cynical and lacking the warmth and fun of "Guld och gröna skögar"

I used to hate Andra Chansen because of the repetition of the songs in the duel/knockout format but the current format is much better: 4 duels, with the winner of each duel earning a place in the final.


Duel 1:
"Håll om mig hårt" - Panetoz vs "Hunger" - Molly Pettersson Hammar.
Winner: Panetoz
Ha!  I got great pleasure from this result.  No offence to Molly, but her over-singing of this non-song just irritated me.  Panetoz on the other hand brought fun and energy and absolutely deserved that place in the final.  Oh, and they retweeted one of my Twitter comments so I will probably love them forever!  This song also received the most votes of any in Andra Chansen this year.


Duel 2:
"Rik" - Albin and Mattias vs "Put Your Love On Me" - Boris René.
Winner: Boris René.
There was only one song I wanted to win this duel - and sorry Albin and Mattias, but it wasn't yours. Maybe I would love Rik more if it wasn't such a shameless re-write of Din Soldat.  I like them though, and would hope that either or both of them would return in future with a better song.


Duel 3:
"I Will Wait" - Isa vs "Kizunguzungu" - SaRaha.
Winner: SaRaha.
The most closely-fought of the duels, with not much of a margin between the winner and loser.  The voters made the right decision, sending a catchy and fun song - which has gone on to be a big radio hit in Sweden - over a disappointing ballad which would just have got lost in the final anyway.


Duel 4:
"Rollercoaster" - Dolly Style vs "Bada Nakna" - Samir and Viktor.
Winner: Samir and Viktor.
An unsurprising win for the darlings of Swedish tabloid-land, making a splash on stage. Just like last year, they qualified from AC to the final.  But novelties wear very thin very quickly, as S and V were about to find out in the final.  As for Dolly Style, I just wonder if this is it for them, or will they return to a future Melfest in yet another incarnation of the group?

So the final line-up was known, and Friends Arena prepared for the big showdown.  Who would get to represent Sweden as defending champion in this year's ESC?

Notes from National Finals: Melodifestivalen 2016 - Week 4

Week 4: Gävle 27.02.2016

Melodifestivalen headed to the home of this wonderful creature!



Of course the Christmas goat was long gone by February and the town was the centre of attention for a different reason.  Week 4, a.k.a. "the one with the winner" also had a good reason to watch, as the week's co-presenter was none other than the mighty Sarah Dawn Finer.  She and Gina kicked the show off in style with a Swedish re-write of Guy Sebastian's "Tonight Again".  



There was also a very emotional interval act with a number called "Hela Sveriges Sång" with Gina singing in Arabic, Sarah singing in Hebrew and special guest Jon Henrik Fjällgren doing what he does best, a bit of jojk.  

Going direkt
"If I Were Sorry" - Frans
"Youniverse" - Molly Sandén

But what of this week's entries?  The general expectation before this year's contest was that it had Molly Sandén's name on it, and it was no surprise when she was awarded the mythical "pimp slot" in the final heat. But before even hearing the song, I was majorly cringing over the title - "Youniverse" (oh FFS!) And by the time Molly finally performed the song, I cringed again.  Ridiculous staging - check!   Stupid hand-choreography - check!  And what a disappointing song - check! 

Don't get me wrong.  I like Molly.  She's had some good hit singles, she is talented, gorgeous and a great role model for young women.  Oh, and she is also one half of Swedish pop's golden couple - the other being Danny Saucedo, who co-wrote this song with Molly.  Now I get the sentiment, but the end result was just disappointment.  A bit like Melodifestivalen 2016 (with very few exceptions).     Molly did make it to the final; but she was about to be eclipsed by a teenager making his Melfest debut.  

The last time we saw Frans Jeppsson Wall, he was 7 years old and annoying the life out of us with that song about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  10 years later, he came back with a song which should really have been titled "If I Were Marmite" such is its capacity to divide fans.  We know how it all ended of course....

Andra Chancers:

"Håll om mig hårt" - Panetoz
"Rollercoaster" - Dolly Style

Panetoz have their critics in the fan community, but I was glad to see them back again.  I previously described them as a Swedish version of Magic System (the Ivory Coast band who have enjoyed a long and successful career in France) and this year they brought another variation of their successful formula of Swedish and African upbeat pop fusion.

Dolly Style put the Sugababes to shame when it comes to line-up changes.  Despite the songwriting pedigree (G:son/Boström) I wasn't sure if there was enough life left in the novelty for it to match the appreciation of the now-iconic "Hello Hi" among the fandom.

Going home:
"Runaways" - Eclipse
"Du Tar Mig Tillbaks" - Martin Stenmarck
"Killer Girl" - Linda Bengtzing


Unfortunately these days Melfest is so watered-down and generic that even the songs described as "rock" are a long way from that.  Every rock song in Melfest is automatically compared by me to "1000 Miles" and "Runaways"fell well short of that standard.



I doubt very much if either Martin Stenmarck or Linda Bengtzing will think about returning to Melfest.  Times have changed and these are dark times for singers who are either older or from a time when schlager still ruled in the contest.  For me though, one thing unites Martin, Linda, and the Tommy-Patrik-Uno trio from week 2: the songs just weren't good enough.  And even though Mr Björkman claims that it's no longer about schlager or songs but it's about the whole picture, the fact remains that a well-performed good song will take you a lot further than the forgettable songs which these artists delivered this year.  And in any case, why does Björkman/SVT allow these artists to enter if the songs are falling short of expectations?  Or is there a more sinister explanation - allow substandard entries which subsequently do badly, which in turn will then deter schlager/older artists from entering future contests?

Notes from National Finals: Melodifestivalen 2016 - Week 3

Week 3: Norrköping 20.02.2016

Unfortunately SVT's usually reliable web stream kept breaking down and as I also had other stuff going on that evening, I therefore had to watch later on catch-up. It appears that SVT had finally got the memo about annoying musical-style numbers, so tfor this week's interval acts we were treated to a stand-up routine by co-host Henrik Schyffert and Gina showing off her contemporary dance skills.

Going direkt:
"Human" - Oskar Zia
"My Heart Wants Me Dead" - Lisa Ajax

It was the second time (or technically third time if you count him backing Behrang Miri) in Melfest for Oscar Zia.  Like Isa, he came back with a ballad; but "Human" was in a different class from "I Will Wait" and its simple but dramatic staging was impressive.  So it was no surprise to see him reach the final.

The other finalist tonight was Idol winner Lisa Ajax with yet another ridiculously-titled song: "My Heart Wants Me Dead".  Ridiculous staging too, with all that toilet roll hanging from the ceiling.  I must admit that at the time of Melodifestivalen I couldn't stand this song but it later grew on me. I had a problem with its similarity to Zara Larsson's "Uncover".  Not an obvious similarity, but a similarity nonetheless.

Andra Chancers:

"Put Your Love On Me" - Boris Rene.
"Kizunguzungu" - SaRaha.

So let me get this right - Boris is a singing footballer?  What is it with Sweden and singing footballers? (Hello, Kevin Walker!).  In a year where virtually none of the Melfest songs had any immediate impact on me, along came Boris with this ridiculously catchy radio-friendly pop song. Just one gripe: is my heart in a little box, or a litter box, or a letter box??

Just before you start to scream 'cultural appropriation', SaRaha grew up in Tanzania and has recorded some very catchy pop in Swahili so there is a lot of authenticity here. Yes it is very similar to "Waka Waka" but for once I'll allow a bit of plagiat.  Extremely infectious Afropop and refreshingly different at Melodifestivalen. Sara Larsson (that's her real name, not to be confused with Zara Larsson!) co-wrote this with Arash.


Going home:
"Weight of the World" - Smilo.
"You Carved Your Name" - Swingfly feat Helena Gutarra.
"Kom ut som en stjärna" - After Dark.

Keeping up the tradition that nothing good can ever come of a Svensktoppen Nästa qualifying place, but at least Smilo (pictured above) tried, bringing some EDM/tropical house fusion to the proceedings.  *Update: this song has also grown on me since the contest!*


Swingfly's song was a shock non-qualifier for me - I thought it would sneak an AC place at least, going by the songwriting pedigree (Jocke Åhlund, Andreas Kleerup). But maybe it was just because the song just wasn't as good as "Me and My Drum", the whole thing lacked the charm of that previous success and the staging was a little on the amateur side.


So, by week 3 of Melodifestivalen, the plug was pulled from the schlager life support machine and the time of death was declared.  But After Dark gave it a fabulous feathery costume-changing key-changing send-off.

Looking back now, week 3 was my favourite heat in this year's contest: better songs and finally a glimmer of hope that there would be some songs I would enjoy, and play, long after the contest was over.

Notes from National Finals: Melodifestivalen 2016 - Week 2

Week 2: Malmö, 13.02.16.

Another week, another "skandal".  Charlotte Perrelli was due to be Gina's co-presenter this week, but had to take a much lesser role due to conflict of interest as she is also appearing in an ad campaign.


By week 2 there was already a lot of talk about the "death of schlager" so the "save the schlager diva" interval act sketch was very timely indeed - and then Charlotte went on to perform a storming schlager-diva anthem, a Swedish-language re-write of Helene Fischer's "Atemlos Durch Die Nacht" (which I always think of when I hear this year's Danish entry "Soldiers of Love")

Direkt till Friends:
"Save Me" - Wiktoria (aka any Avicii-style dance/country/hybrid crossover song)
"We Are Your Tomorrow" - David Lindgren (aka "Sun is Shining" by Axwell and Ingrosso)

Wiktoria - a new name getting some promotion in the fabled "pimp slot".  However, the use of light projections onto clothing is now getting a bit old.  Time for some new gimmicks eh? Meanwhile David Lindgren - or should that be "Lind-groan" as that was the reaction from many of the fans - mad his big comeback with a stupid song title, lots of lasers and oodles of plagiat.  The similarity of this to "Sun is Shining" nearly had me falling off my chair.

Andra Chancers:
"I Will Wait" - Isa
"Hunger" - Molly Pettersson Hammar

Prior to this heat, two of last year's returnees were tipped to qualify to the final.  But Isa and Molly Pettersson Hammar had to settle for a spot in Andra Chansen.  IMHO, Isa made a big mistake coming back so soon with a ballad.  She should have returned with another uptempo song in a different style from "Shake It Off" oops I meant "Don't Stop", then missed a year, then returned with a ballad.  The staging of "I Will Wait" was just too dark, it wasn't much of a song and all in all it was a missed opportunity.  With a large number of songs in this year's selection, the Debs-and-Anton are in danger of becoming the next Freddie Kempe and spreading themselves too thinly.  There should be a rule in all song contests, not just Melfest, that a songwriter or songwriting team should only be allowed one entry.

As for Molly, victim of the app-skandal of 2015, she came back with "Hunger" what for me was an intensely irritating song, a repetitive scream-fest, the kind of song which the fanboys lap up.  Yes we know she can sing, but there is just something missing here.  There seems to be a lack of sincerity, it's all very cold and clinical, and I just didn't - and still don't - like this song at all.


Going home:
"Faller" - Krista Siegfrids
"100%" - Victor och Natten
"Håll mitt hjärta hårt" - Patrik, Tommy and Uno

In another time and another place Krista (pictured above) could be the next schlager queen-in-waiting, but with schlager apparently on its last legs, that post remains vacant. I quite liked this though and I don't think we've seen the last of her in a song contest.


As for "100%" by Victor och Natten, well I thought that was a nice catchy song which deserved to do better.  It was the type of song I could see Albin and Mattias doing.


These are not good times for the "oldies" at Melodifestivalen.  Hasse Andersson bucked the trend last year, but what's the point of having the combined talents of three of Swedish pop's 'elder statesmen' Patrik Isaksson, Tommy Nilsson and Uno Svenningsson enter to go and spoil it all with a snoozeworthy toilet-break song like "Håll mitt hjärta hårt"?

Conclusion: a disappointing week in a so-far disappointing year at Melfest.  Would week 3 be any better?

Notes from National Finals: Melodifestivalen 2016 - Week 1


Back in November, after weeks of rumours and revelations, when SVT revealed its line-up of songs and artists for Melodifestivalen 2016, my immediate thoughts were - "it's deja vu all over again"; an incredibly high number of returning artists and very little in the way of surprises.

Although some artists in recent years have used Melodifestivalen for the sole purpose of promoting new material and reaching out to a wider audience, rather than focusing on the actual competition element, Melfest has become a "bubble" for a number of Swedish artists.  You're a big fish in a small pond - you may not enjoy any kind of commercial success outwith that bubble, but inside the bubble there's the name-recognition among the Swedish and international Melfest fan community, and one one more chance to wow that TV and internet audience with your latest song. But in these days of fleeting fame and the throwaway nature of listening to music it's unlikely that a Melfest appearance would be the launchpad for career longevity.

My other thought when I saw the line up was that returning artists = diminishing returns.  Coming back for a second/third time, you can bet that the song will never be as good as the first one.  So I wasn't building up my hopes too highly for Ace Wilder, Isa, Oscar Zia, Panetoz, Molly Pettersson Hammar, Swingfly, Pernilla Andersson or Dolly Style, all "second-timers" at the contest and most of whom, it could be argued, have not really enjoyed any significant success since their Melfest participation - I exclude Samir and Viktor from this list though, as they followed up "Groupie" with "Saxof*****gfon" which was also a big hit in Sweden, and they (or at least Samir anyway) never seem to be too far from the Swedish tabloids.

In a previous post from last summer  http://europecrazy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/summer-rewind-2015-allsang-remains.html I had predicted Dinah Nah, Ida Lafontaine, David Lindgren and Bruno Mitsogiannis to make an appearance in this year's line-up.  Of these artists I thought Dinah was the most likely to make a quick reappearance - I definitely think we'll see her back at some point.

2016 marks the 15th anniversary of the current Melfest format and to celebrate, SVT gave us a new opening title sequence.  Have to say I miss the map of Sweden :(

As well as returning artists, there was a returning main presenter too: Gina Dirawi, accompanied by a different co-host every week.

Week 1: Gothenburg, 06.02.16

Gina's co-host was none other than soon-to-be-returning ESC host Petra Mede, and she completely stole the show.  Something else stole the show in week 1 - well, there's nothing like a good old schlager-skandal to keep Melodifestivalen in the headlines and the first week delivered that.


Anna Book would have been celebrating the 30th anniversary of her debut appearance at Melodifestivalen in 1986 with "ABC", by returning with a song called "Himmel för två", with lyrics by the very successful Swedish author Camilla Läckberg.  That was until the clips of week 1's songs went online, and it was quickly spotted that "Himmel för två" was not as original a song as first thought.  For the tune had a past life: it was previously been submitted to the 2014 Moldovan contest and sung by a Moldovan singer Felicia Dunaf.  Although the song didn't progress beyond the early stages of the contest, it found its way online.

So "Himmel för två" was disqualified immediately.  Poor Anna was completely left in the dark and didn't know anything about the song's past life as "Taking Care of A Broken Heart".  Needless to say she was devastated, but SVT did the decent thing and allowed Anna to perform her song as interval act in week 1.  IMHO I prefer Felicia's English language version of the song to Anna's version, and I don't think "Himmel..." would have qualified to either the final or to Andra Chansen.

The other interval act in week 1 also took us back to 2002: none other than Las Ketchup with "Asereje" which I will always remember as the big holiday hit from our summer holiday in France that year.

A music contest or....a musical?

I've had this major gripe over recent years about Melfest and what it really wants to be.  A song contest?  A comedy/sketch show?  Or....a musical?


Melfest 2016 opened with a song by Gina and Petra - "Hela Sveriges Fest" and by the time that was over, we were onto the convoluted introduction which seems to get longer with every passing year, and the time-wasting, padding and repetition gets more tiring by the year.  But I guess that Melodifestivalen (and a number of other national finals) and indeed the Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals and final have been affected by what I call the "X Factorisation" of TV.  Repeats, recaps, repeats of recaps, 'coming soon'/'previously on...' etc.

In week 1 of Melodifestivalen, it felt like the "musical" numbers took precedence over the actual songs in the contest.  OK so they put the lyrics on the screen which help those of us with a decent enough knowledge of written Swedish to "get" the comedy, but I found the whole thing tiresome.   "Allt är Eurovisions fel" (performed by Gina and Petra pictured above) basically referenced SVT having to host the contest again and cut back on all the other programme budgets including "Doobidoo"; cue a guest appearance by host Lasse Kroner.  (Note to SVT: I know you're only having a laugh with this one but please don't axe Doobidoo!!)

There was one very funny sketch in this year's Melfest though: the running gag of "proper" Swedish acting talent, giving some almost Shakespearian renditions of Melfest lyrics.  Week 1 gave us "Groupie" as interpreted by Stina Ekblad; subsequent weeks would see the likes of Krister Henriksson, Lena Endre and Mikael Nyqvist (all familiar faces to us Nordic Noir fans) bringing some gravitas to Melfest golden oldies by Kikki, Bettan and Lotta, Linda Bengtzing and Timoteij.

Direkt till Friends:
"Don't Worry" - Ace Wilder (aka "Get Get Down" by Paul Johnson)
"Constellation Prize" - Robin Bengtsson. (aka "Stole The Show" by Kygo)

Yes, it appeared very quickly that Melfest 2016 was going to be a "sounds like" contest.  But I would agree with week 1's finalists: although "Don't Worry" was no "Busy Doin' Nothin'" the staging, choreography and production values were streets ahead.  As for "Constellation Prize", I'd previously written it off as a song with a ridiculously stupid title.  (Indeed, there were many songs in this year's Melfest with ridiculously stupid titles).  But then Robin took to the stage and all was forgiven. The simple but effective lighting - either that or I want the name of the detergent Robin washes his shirts with! - was just perfect; and Robin himself was just perfect too.

Andra Chancers:
"Rik" - Albin and Mattias (aka "Din Soldat" by.....Albin)
"Bada Nakna" - Samir and Viktor.  (the natural Melfest successors to Sean Banan)

Readers of this blog may remember that I loved "Din Soldat" so much that it was my favourite song of 2014.  So much was expected of "Rik" but all I felt was disappointment; this was basically, "right guys... we want another song which sounds just like the big hit!" in other words, an inferior soundalike.

A big shock as Samir and Viktor were expected to go direkt, but I was relieved that they didn't. They are now occupying that Sean Banan-sized slot in Melfest, you know the one - a novelty act with a huge fanbase, and inevitably denying a qualifying place to a more deserving artist/song.  Yet I can't hate S and V - they bring some much-needed fun. but "Bada Nakna" was just too over-egged and if I'm honest, I preferred "Groupie"!





Going home:
"Mitt Guld" - Pernilla Andersson
"You're No Good" - Mimi Werner

With only 6 songs left in week 1's line-up, it was just a bit more embarrassing for the losers as only 2 were eliminated.  I don't think Pernilla Andersson will be hurrying back to Melfest any time soon, although I could see Mimi Werner returning at some point, preferably with something more original than 2016's Jolene rip-off.

By the end of week 1, all I felt was let down.  Perhaps I need to lower my expectations of "Europe's biggest and best national final"?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Eurovision Memories Part 7: vibrating bras and a Norwegian miracle

Can't believe it's been over a year since my last Eurovision Memories post.  We left the story at 1984 - the contest I couldn't remember - so let's move on to the following year, before I fast-forward to my 2016 posts!


By the time 1985 came round, I had fallen back in love with Eurovision again, because Sweden was going to host it.  After the shambles of 1984, SVT took up the challenge of producing a contest to remember.  Most of that was down to its charismatic presenter.  Long before Petra Mede was wisecracking her way to ESC notoriety, we had Lill Lindfors, who kicked off the show with the maximum cheese overload of "My joy is building bricks of music".  What an impression she made on the TV audience later that night with her (very deliberate) skirt rip/'wardrobe malfunction'.  It was pretty daring in those days though!


Gothenburg's Scandinavium was the venue for the 1985 contest.  Unusually, Terry Wogan was commentating from London rather than Gbg as he was unwell at the time, but was still in good form back in those days.

I wasn't too thrilled by the stage set at the time - random climbing frames and mesh - which was obviously going for a Nordic minimalist look.  It still doesn't thrill me, and reminds me of a variation on the Melodifestivalen 1984 set.  But what about the songs and singers?

Well, we were still slap-bang in the middle of the 80s so there was lots of big hair, big frocks, big shoulder pads and big orchestral arrangements.  For the younger fans of the 21st century contest, they may be surprised to see the postcards showcasing the songwriters, rather than the singers, in various locations in Gothenburg.  But that's no surprise really - back in those days it really was just a "song contest", the focus was more on the songwriters and the winner's trophy always went to the songwriters rather than the singers.

When looking back now at ESC 1985, there are very few songs from that contest which I would listen to today.  So in retrospect I guess it wasn't really that different from the preceding year, the ESC "annus horribilis" of 1984, but at least you could always rely on SVT to put on a better show.  80s Eurovision was certainly a different world.  In 1985 I was listening to mainly indie/alternative music which was very different from anything in ESC, but I always had room for all kinds of music.


Back then I didn't know what "schlager" was, but my favourite song from 1985 had a definite schlagery tone.  As with many winning songs, I often prefer the host country's song from the following year to the previous year's winning song.  (I'll cover this in more detail in a future Eurovision Memories post). So it was in 1985.  After watching the annual preview show on BBC1, "Bra Vibrationer" - which is not a song about vibrating bras, as Lill explained! - became my pre-contest favourite.  Kikki Danielsson gave a confident performance of the song, although it was sadly accompanied by two irritating backing dancers who were probably a prototype for Carola's equally irritating dancers in 1991 and in various other incarnations of Melodifestivalen.  It was interesting of course to see Kikki competing in 1985 against her former Chips colleague Elisabeth Andreassen; the two singers would later reunite in Melodifestivalen 2002 along with Sweden's ESC 1987 representative Lotta Engberg as Kikki, Bettan & Lotta.


My other favourite song was the Italian entry, "Magic Oh Magic" which saw the return of Romina Power and Al Bano to the contest after 9 years.  Romina looked better than she sounded. although Al being Al, he made sure that he would be heard above everyone else anyway.

By 1985, the UK was still achieving top 10 placings at ESC, although back in those days 6th and 7th were looked upon as a bit of a failure.  How times change!  Imagine if the UK got a 6th or 7th place now - it would feel as if we'd won it.

As usual, the Song for Europe line-up featured a number of unknown singers as well as 70s hitmaker Alvin Stardust with "The Clock On The Wall" which let's just say was very influenced by "Green Door" which was a no.1 hit for Shakin' Stevens.  After the numerous manufactured groups put together to represent the UK, it was a big change to send a solo singer again for the first time since 1974.


Vikki Watson looked like she'd walked straight off the set of Dynasty.  But she was, and probably still is, a rarity for the UK at Eurovision, as she co-wrote her own song "Love Is...".  She also performed it very well and achieved an excellent result of 4th place, ahead of more fancied entries from Israel, Italy, Spain and Denmark.  However, like many of the other songs in the 1985 contest, it was very old-fashioned and out of touch with contemporary pop music, and didn't make the top 40.  Listening back now to "Love Is....", well yes it's old-fashioned, but it is actually better than I remembered.  It's one of the UK's most underrated entries from that time.

But no-one was to match the exuberance of Bobbysocks!  A duo so exuberant that their name ends in an exclamation mark!  (But I still don't know to this day why Hanne was wearing a parachute for a skirt).  Anyway they performed the hell out of "La Det Swinge" with bags of charm, charisma and above all - fun!  A quality sadly missing from most of today's ESC entries (yeah, yeah, I know, I'm old and all that, but just sayin').


Even now, their sheer joy at winning is a joy to watch.  Who would ever have believed that the country renowned for "nul points" or low placings on the scoreboard in the 70s and early 80s would actually go on to win Eurovision?

Hanne and Bettan continue to be a vision in purple lurex; they stole the show at the Eurovision's Greatest Hits last year and regularly pop up in Melodi Grand Prix to provide a nostalgic interlude.

The London Diaries: Day 3 - Sunday 13th March 2016

Our final day in London before returning home.  As our flight wasn't until the evening, what would we do between checking-out of the hotel and going to the airport?

The answer: a sightseeing bus tour, but rather than hopping-on and hopping-off, we would just stay on the bus.  A wise decision, thanks to the city's very congested and gridlocked traffic.  This on a Sunday too!  I wouldn't like to see how bad it gets in morning and evening rush-hour.  No wonder why everyone uses the Tube.

The bus set off from the gigantic Madame Tussauds wax museum - that's one for a future visit, I think - and proceeded to head on an epic 3 and a half hour journey covering a number of different areas and landmarks. It's a great way to pack in the tourist attractions without wearing yourself out and also gives you a great idea of just where everything is in the city.  I particularly enjoyed crossing Tower Bridge, seeing the Shard and the Tower of London and brief glimpses of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, as well as seeing "how the other half live" in Knightsbridge and Kensington.  Here are a few of my photos taken from inside the sightseeing bus.

 Above: a classic British telephone box, outside the Waldorf Hotel.

 Above: Tower Bridge in the distance. 

 Above: the Tower of London and a little bit of the Gherkin peeking out!

Above: The Shard. 

 Above: a very fleeting glimpse of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.

 Above: an unusual bus tour on a classic London red bus.

Above: Harrods. 

Our tour eventually came to an end and we had just enough time to grab a quick lunch before getting a packed Stansted Express train back to the airport for our flight home.  

Although we only had a very short break, we achieved a lot over three days and I can honestly say that London exceeded my expectations.  We had a great time, thoroughly enjoyed going to see Fulham (despite the final score), the Sherlock Holmes Museum was very enjoyable, and the Big Bus Tour was a relaxing way to see many of the main attractions without having to explore on foot.  

The only minus point is that London is a very expensive city.  Entrance fees for attractions are high, the cost of public transport is pretty steep and drinks prices are on a par with Scandinavia! So please bear this in mind if you are planning a holiday in the city.  

We are definitely planning to return to London again, possibly next year all being well, and hoping to make a return visit to our newly adopted football team as well.  Come on Fulham!

So we will soon be off on our travels again, this time to another capital city, Madrid.  Tapas and flamenco await!

The London Diaries: Day 2 - Saturday 12th March 2016

Winding our way down to.....


On Saturday morning we returned to Baker Street for our first planned activity of the day. Now we are not "museum people" and usually avoid conventional museums on holiday unless it is something specific or unusual which has sparked our interest.  In previous years for example we've visited the Museum of Communism (Prague), the Chocolate Museum (Cologne), the DDR museum (Berlin) and the particularly harrowing Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (Riga).  So this time we were off to a museum dedicated to the world's most famous fictional detective.



Of course everything about this place is fictional - it's not really situated at 221b Baker Street, but it is all very well done and very authentic.  You enter through the well-stocked gift shop, packed with some very pricey souvenirs, then upstairs to the actual museum which is spread across separate floors.  You get to see Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and Mrs Hudson's living quarters, as well as some scary scenarios from the books.  I also enjoyed reading the letters sent from all over the world.


 



Faithful travelling companion is a big Sherlock Holmes fan (the old-school version, none of this Cumberbatched modernisation) however I've never read the books or watched the films or TV shows. After visiting this museum it has definitely got me interested in reading the stories.  More to add to my backlog....!

I would definitely recommend a visit to the Sherlock Holmes Museum but if you are planning to visit, get there early or you will have to join a very long queue to enter.  It is a very small museum and only a very limited number of people can be admitted at one time.  The queue was stretching down Baker Street by the time we left the museum just before lunchtime. By the way, wasn't the "policeman" on the door a very "arresting" sight????


Next it was off to the Tube station to head for this afternoon's main event.


Here is the very rare sight of an empty Tube carriage.  It wouldn't be empty for long as it would quickly fill up.  The train was Wimbledon-bound, but our destination today was Putney Bridge station.

The journey from Edgware Road to Putney Bridge took just under 15 minutes.  Why Putney Bridge? Well, you will remember that I mentioned that we were going to a football match.  As it was impossible to get Premiership tickets, we then looked at the Championship and after some research we chose the match between Fulham FC and Bristol City.

After a pub lunch in Fulham High Street we made our way to Fulham's ground, Craven Cottage which is situated in a very upmarket and civilised area, down by the Thames.  I wonder if this rowing crew were in training for the Boat Race or the Olympics?


We were seated in the Johnny Haynes Stand, which is named after the club's most famous footballer. There is also a statue of him outside the ground.


We were seated just a few rows back from the pitch with a very good view.  Bristol City brought a large and very vocal travelling support.  They chanted and sang all through the match whereas Fulham's fans were a very quiet bunch!  The weather over the past couple of days has been dry and cold, and we thought it may be a lot colder down at the riverside however the sun came out today and it turned out to be a very pleasant spring day.  Pity the full-time score wasn't so pleasant for Fulham...


It was looking very good to start with.  Fulham scored just a couple of minutes into the match and dominated the first half.  Unfortunately as the old cliche goes it really was a game of two halves and Fulham completely lost their way in the second half.  Bristol City equalised and then scored in the last minute of the match.  Yet despite our newly adopted London team losing their match, we both really enjoyed the experience and would definitely do it again if/when we return to London.

After that long walk back to the Tube station through Bishops Park (where we'd spotted a squirrel earlier!), we eventually headed back to the city centre.  There was another big event going on tonight, none other than the Melodifestivalen final.  Now I know that there are certain locations in London where you can watch the big event, but due to our other commitments today, there just wasn't the time to fit that in.  Instead I had to settle for the first hour of the contest on my tablet, with a lot of stop-start buffering and I managed a catch-up viewing on my return home anyway.  This is probably the first time I haven't been at home for a Melodifestivalen final, but I'm not sorry, no (!)

Besides there was the small matter of our Saturday night dinner date.  We didn't go too far away and visited a small local Indian restaurant which provided some tasty food and a very relaxed atmosphere. After dinner, it was pub crawl time again.  Well, if you could call two pubs a "crawl".  Firstly to a surprisingly empty Metropolitan Bar (Wetherspoons) where I checked the Melfest result on my tablet.


We later ended up back in The Globe on Marylebone Road (above) which had good music - bonus points to them for playing New Order's Tutti Frutti by the way! - and a good atmosphere, and the perfect way to end our Saturday night.