Monday, May 02, 2016

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 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"?

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