And as is traditional by now, Sweden is one of the last countries to choose its representative and this year, the singer and song which will defend their Eurovision title, following in the footsteps of Lasse Berghagen, Kikki Danielsson, Christer Björkman and Roger Pontare. A big ask...
Friends Arena, the recently built new national football stadium situated in Solna, is big. Extremely big. And it's full of people waving balloons, banners, wearing daft hats and feather boas which can all only mean one thing: it's time for the 53rd running of the Melodifestivalen final!! It's a new venue for the final which has been hosted at the iconic Globen for the last few years.
On the whole, Melodifestivalen season 2013 has been a big disappointment, I think it would be fair to say. So I never thought it would give us one of the best finals of recent years, culminating in a gripping finale.
But on with the show.
In the opening number, "Du Ska Till Malmö" (or "Kisses of Fire" as we all know it) this year's presenting duo Danny Saucedo and Gina Dirawi were joined by two other duos who had presented Eurovision when it was staged in Sweden: Anders Lundin and Kattis Ahlström (2000) and Harald Treutiger and Lydia Cappolicchio (1992), along with 2013's Eurovision presenter Petra Mede. (By the way I had a little bit of a crush on Harald when I watched the ESC final on TV back in 1992).
Between this and Danny and Gina's long intro, the songs don't get going until almost 15 minutes later. By the way, here at EuropeCrazy HQ, Mum told me earlier in the day that she wanted to watch the final. Which slightly surprised me as she hadn't been so enthusiastic about the preceding weeks' heats, however she wanted to see it through to the end. As long as there was a decent internet stream of course.
Unlike previous years, there is no big presentation of the contestants, which was sometimes a little embarrassing anyway. I'm still not impressed by the catwalk-intro though, but when you're walking down it to "Calleth You Cometh I" by The Ark then all is forgiven. That was the intro-music for Ulrik Munther performing "Tell The World I'm Here". This was one of the big contenders in 2013 although I wasn't sure if being drawn first in the final would be a good or bad thing. As it turned out, this fine anthemic number set the tone for the evening. Iremember that someone had written on the internet that this would be a good song for an Idol/X Factor winner. Mum hadn't heard the song until the final, but she approved.
M: He only looks about 14. Better than Justin Bieber. Better looking, better singer.
L: Mind that shooting star Ulrik! I still like this and I think it will do very well.
After his success in last year's Melodifestivalen, which provided a good launchpad for his career, David Lindgren effortlessly cruised to the 2013 final with "Skyline" which was such a carbon copy of Danny Saucedo's "Amazing" that it wasn't possible to enjoy it in its own right. That, combined with the silly finger dance and his irritating presentation of the song, not to mention the downright stupid choreography made it one of my least favourites on the night.
L: Melodifestivalen this year is a young man's game - he just seems too "old" now.
M: He's not old!
L: This song's been killed by choreography. And dubstep breakdowns are so 2012.
State of Drama walk the catwalk to Muse. They were unknown before the contest but this will be a good boost to their career. The radio-friendly "Falling" is one of my favourite songs in the final. We don't really have much more to say about the song, the band and their performance, so we both just sit and enjoy it. And mum still likes the keyboardist with the big hair :)
There's a big cheer when the name of Anton Ewald is announced. Could he be the first singer from Andra Chansen to win Melodifestivalen? It certainly looked good for him as "Begging" topped the iTunes singles chart prior to the contest and he is definitely this year's big breakout star. Hell, I'll even forgive Fredrik-Lord-Smug-of-Smugsville-Kempe for co-writing this.
M: I'd vote for him. Actually, can I adopt him?
L: This has really grown on me although I don't know how it would go down with the Eurovision voters.
M: This is the best so far.
M: That's some stadium!
L: Yes it's so big, the back rows probably have their own postcode :)
Melodifestivalen 2013 has been all about the boys, with only one female artist in the final. Louise Hoffsten was next on stage to perform the ridiculously titled "Only The Dead Fish Follow The Stream". Which then unleashed a torrent of fishy puns at EuropeCrazy HQ.
L: I don't want to 'carp', but...
M: Is this a 'sole' song? Is she a 'sole' singer?
L: I think this one might 'flounder'.
M: What's she 'cod' again? I don't like this but there is a 'plaice' for everything I suppose.
L: Last 'plaice' probably. When the seagulls follow the trawler....
(by now both of us have collapsed into a fit of the giggles...!)
Something's been missing over the past couple of weeks. Danny Saucedo's chest, to be precise.
So why was Danny dressed up as a strippagram fireman then? A tenuous link to introduce Ralf Gyllenhammar and his "Bed On Fire". Mum hadn't heard this one the other week so I explained that there would be pyrotechnics! Drama! And a man screaming "BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURRRRRRRRRRRRNNNNNNNNNNN!!!"
L: Do you like this one?
M: I've got mixed feelings about this. I don't know who would vote for it. It's too....complex.
L: But it's very different. And it's a grower too. I still like it, although I don't know why.
So how about a bit of Ravaillacz and "En Riktig Jävla Schlager" then?
M: There's nothing wrong with this!
L: I think you like a bit of schlager now and then.
M: What's schlager anyway?
I decline to explain the concept of schlager to mum as it would probably take all night. So let's just, um, 'enjoy' the song and where else would you get lots of lovely sweary words on primetime TV on a Saturday night? (Later on I find a translation of the song and the concept is more than a little reminiscent of "Refrain Refrain" and the lyrics less controversial than I'd first thought).
Oh no it's time for Sean Banan or Sean Banana as my mum calls him. "Copacabanana".
Yet again Mr Banan doesn't see fit to do the catwalk strut which this time he leaves to some old bloke dressed in Banan clobber, to the soundtrack of "Gangnam Style".
L: I'd rather they sent Gangnam Style than this.
M: What's he rapping about? Is it funny?
L: Probably not. He wouldn't be funny in any language. Unless you had a mental age of 5.
As he throws everything and several kitchen sinks into his 'performance' it's time for the grand finale...
Melodifestivalen has it all. You want a man in a giant nappy being hoisted up on angels' wings, you got it.
M: Well at least he doesn't take himself too seriously!
Danny fights off leftover ticker tape and introduces Robin Stjernberg. Which is one of those names which I love to hear Swedish people pronouncing and then immediately realise that I will never ever reach that level of competency in Swedish. This year's Andra Chansen has produced two serious contenders for a change, and Robin has a great draw position to perform "You".
Strangely I have mixed feelings about "You". It is a total grower, and I like it, but it is not a great song. Robin brings greatness to it though and he absolutely sells the song. In the same way as Loreen did with "Euphoria".
Unfortunately my major gripe here is with the silly choreography. This may be a selling point to some but not to me. If you ever watched "So You Think You Can Dance" you'll remember the 'lyrical' routines which this just put me in mind of. Ditch the silly dancing please: Robin is good enough to just be on stage on his own.
M: He's very good but there's not much content in the song, it gets a bit too repetitive after a while.
L: I guess you could say that about a lot of songs. It has really grown on me and he totally deserves to be in the final. I think this will do very well but I'm not sure if it'll win. It's wide open this year and I'm still none the wiser!
Last but not least, here's Yohio! In that all-important last spot in the draw which says that SVT want him to win this thing, singing "Heartbreak Hotel".
M: (indignantly) You can't steal that song title!
L: I'm a little bored by this now.
M: The song is ok, quite good.
L: He's got a really distinctive image, the song has a memorable melody and that's a good songwriting team, yet there's something missing. There's no passion, it's too...empty.
Whilst the recap is screened, Mum is still singing the praises of "En Riktig..." and more worryingly, singing along with Copacabanana (!)
Camilla, recently sacked from Army of Lovers, makes a cameo appearance as this year's backing singers are introduced. Oh the irony....anyway I'm actually surprised to see that there are real live backing singers, as this year's Melodifestivalen was a bit too "Memorex" for me (80s reference: younger readers should ask your mums and dads about that one).
And now one more VERY special guest....it's the return of (drum roll.....) LYNDA WOODRUFF!
Yes, the hapless EBU lady was back from B'ku, Aserjeban and this time she was getting her hosting cities in a twist and had an encounter with "spit cake" before deciding to head to Copenhagen for a pint :) I wonder if she'll turn up again in Malmur on 18th May??? Love her :))
Lynda is the terrific comedy creation of Sarah Dawn Finer of course, but she's so convincing and has now taken on such a life of her own that you forget she's not real)
As is now traditional at Melodifestivalen, we are treated to an 'alternative' performance of the previous year's winner. This time it's "Euphoria" performed by a children's choir.
M: How do I know this song.
L: It's "Euphoria". Which won Eurovision last year.
M: Oh, so it is.
It's a fine and touching performance and they are joined by Loreen for the final chorus. The performance gets a standing ovation in Friends Arena.
Danny and Gina have now changed into their 'voting-costumes'. With all those smelly men in the green room, Gina decides to get the air freshener out and starts spraying! There's a missing Ravaillacz who has gone off to do a theatre performance whilst Ralf seems to have conceded defeat as he's changed into some denims. Gina then accessorises his look with a shiny hat and a red feather boa.
The web stream tonight has been exemplary, by the way - best all season.
By now, mum has dozed off in her chair just in time for the voting. I let her sleep though and watch the jury vote unfold.
Cyprus give 8 to Anton, 10 to Yohio and 12 to Banan. This is not good.
Spain give 8 to Robin, 10 to State of Drama and 12 to Louise. Have decided this voting is going to be bonkers.
The Italian jury spokesman makes a joke about the Colosseum being built to host the ESC. They give 8 to Banan, 10 to Robin and 12 to Ulrik. This voting is all over the place.
At this point Ulrik is in the lead, Banan 2nd and Louise 3rd.
Over to Iceland, who get it right with 8 to Ulrik, 10 to Anton and 12 to Robin.
Chiara delivers the Malta votes. In totally random style they give 8 to Robin, 10 to Anton and 12 to David.
Gina pretends to be the Ukraine jury spokesperson. They give 8 to State of Drama, 10 to Robin and 12 to Ralf! This voting is becoming more random by the minute, but Robin is doing well. The big shock at the moment is how badly Yohio is doing with the Euro-juries.
Israel give 8 to David, 10 to State of Drama and 12 to Robin. Woohoo!
Robin, Ulrik and State of Drama are now the top three.
Bruno Berberes gives the France vote: 8 to David, 10 to Robin and 12 to Ulrik.
Anton is only 5th now and his chances seem to be slipping away.
But here now is Simon Proctor (who is this guy and how did he get this job?) with the UK jury vote results. 8 to Ralf, 10 to Banan and 12 to Ulrik. And crucially, nothing to Robin. It's reassuring to know that the UK jury is as out of step with all things Eurovision as ever.
Yohio is bombing in the jury vote: 2nd last at this point.
Croatia next: 8 to Ulrik, 10 to Anton and 12 to Robin. Finally to Germany, whose jury spokesman cheekily manages to sneak in a mention of Cascada before giving 8 to Robin, 10 to Ulrik and 12 to David.
Mum wakes up just in time for the end of the jury vote and the final interval act whilst the televotes are being counted. Unfortunately for her, she also gets to witness the communal worshipping at the altar of Saint Carola of the Blessed Yellow Jumpsuit, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of "Främling" with an updated version of the song and dressed in a bizarre outfit (which presumably had some symbolism of her breaking free from her 1983 self, or summat). With the obligatory wind machine of course.
Now you will have guessed that I am not or never have been a fan of Carola, although I will admit to liking "Främling". I just think she's too full-on, too full of her own importance, and always seems to come over as false and lacking any humility. Admittedly she owns the stage, milking every moment and leading an acapella audience singalong at the end.
M: (to Carola) Away off and get your tea!
Danny gives Carola some yellow flowers to match her outfit.
Let's get to the televoting results. I explain to mum that voting percentages are translated into random points. This is nerve-wracking. After all, this is the part when "Hope and Glory" loses out to "La Voix"; the part when "Keep On Walking" loses out to "This Is My Life", right? Need I say more???
2.6% = 12 points to David Lindgren. It's all backfired for him this year and he claims that he won't be back next year. Oh they all say that, don't they! I think he will be back at some stage but preferably with a different song genre. And preferably something more original.
3.7% = 18 points to State of Drama. As I have been saying for the past couple of weeks, this will be a massive boost for them and they're going to do very well out of this experience.
6.7% = 32 points to Ravaillacz. How bizarre, that they get more votes than State of Drama!
8.5% = 40 points to Ralf Gyllenhammar. I expected him to do better in the televote: oh well, maybe the novelty had worn off tonight. We will definitely never see him in Melodifestivalen again, but he'll get some good album sales out of this, no doubt.
8.7% = 41 points to Sean Banan. I guess that the 8.7% were sitting up long past their bedtime.
9.4% = 44 points to Ulrik Munther. Third place overall is a pretty respectable showing. I can see him doing Melodifestivalen again but not next year. He should come back when he's a little older, I think.
10.4% = 49 points to Louise Hoffsten. She'll be pretty happy with this as I don't think she was in the contest for the same reason as many of the others. A high-profile launch for her new material - job done.
12.5% = 59 points to Anton Ewald. So Anton says goodbye to his hope of winning this year's Melodifestivalen, but you wouldn't bet against him coming back Eric Saade-style and winning it. "Begging" is Anton's "Manboy". Now all he needs is a (more contemporary, less schlagery version of) "Popular" and it's on.
What's very clear is that there is no landslide winner, but the voting percentages are all smaller and closer than you'd expect in a final. It has turned out to be a closer and more enjoyable contest tonight than the underwhelming season which preceded it.
15.8% = 75 points to Robin Stjernberg. Has he won it? Oh wait...we need to see how many points are going to Yohio, who's won the televote......
21.1% = 103 points to Yohio. Which means.....
Robin Stjernberg wins Melodifestivalen 2013! We'll never forget the look of absolute shock on his face as the victory was announced, nor his humble manner in which he accepted his victory. And then there was that emotional reprise. I haven't seen such raw emotion in a song contest performance in years. By the end of it all, my nerves were totally shot to pieces. And it's all because of youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu Robin!
Above: "It's his turn now!" Outgoing Melodifestivalen winner Loreen passes on the trophy, and the honour of representing Sweden on home soil, to young Mr Stjernberg.
1. "You" - Robin Stjernberg - 166 points
2. "Heartbreak Hotel" - Yohio - 133 points
3. "Tell The World I'm Here" - Ulrik Munther - 126 points
4. "Begging" - Anton Ewald - 108 points
5. "Only The Dead Fish Follow The Stream" - Louise Hoffsten - 85 points
6. "Copacabanana" - Sean Banan - 78 points
7. "Bed On Fire" - Ralf Gyllenhammar - 73 points
8. "Skyline" - David Lindgren - 69 points
9. "Falling" - State of Drama - 68 points
10. "En Riktig Jävla Schlager" - Ravaillacz - 40 points
Is Schlager Dead? Discuss.
There was no "real" schlager in the 2013 final, only a schlager parody which came last. This year's winning song, "You" is a contemporary, modern song for the 21st century Melodifestivalen and Eurovision. It's a million miles removed from the mythical Swedish schlager stereotype which is now only perpetuated by certain sections of the internet fan community, who refuse to believe that schlager is dead. It's 2013. Melodifestivalen has evolved and moved on. Maybe it's time everyone else did too.
THE NEXT DAY...
Since last night, the Swedish tabloids have been at their usual 'rätt låt vann' shenanigans and whipping up a controversy which is threatening to rival the great Martin Stenmarck/Nanne voting scandal of 2005, where the public vote was overturned by the Swedish juries. It's not the first time that the public have disagreed with the Swedish or international jury vote. No matter what country, the fact remains that you cannot always trust the voting public to make the right choice. (Sorry to bring up old wounds, but 2010 still angers me even now).
Having said all that, I want to apologise to Sweden for the shame of our British jury (whoever they are) for giving 10 points to Sean Banan. Not in my name! I have no words.
IMHO, Robin will get a better result in ESC than Yohio would. I hate to say it, but the fact remains that there are many viewers in various participating countries in ESC who do not have such an enlightened attitude to gender stereotyping and may struggle with Yohio's image. "You" is not a great, classic song: neither was "Euphoria". But what the two songs have in common is performers who sang and performed the hell out of their songs, with a passion and a quality which reaches out and makes a connection with the viewers. Yohio, whilst an impressive performer for one so young, did not make that connection and left me cold. If this is what Robin did with a song like "You" imagine what he could have done with, say, "Tell The World I'm Here"? Sweden could then have been looking at two consecutive wins. And you never know, the way the national selections have gone this year they maybe still could!