Hours after the Swedes have watched their 10 finalists for the Eurovision national final and decided on a winner for Melodifestivalen, I’m finding it difficult to summon the strength, enthusiasm or the necessary concentration to pen my thoughts on the whole affair.
This may possibly have something to do with the pre, during and post- show drinks I consumed and the extent to which I underestimated both the punchiness of Swedish beer and the importance of eating enough during the day before drinking it. I didn’t get much sleep last night and what I did muster wasn’t terribly comfortable. I have been a low-powered blogger for most of the day as a result.
Perhaps I shouldn’t really be surprised. This isn’t just about burning the candle at both ends, or merely because of drinking on an empty stomach. There was something else at play here, I think. Something unique to the Melodifestivalen.
I arrived at the Globen in Stockholm and hour and a half before kick-off. From a distance the location looks industrial. Once there, both outside and in are clean, warm and enticing. Not in any way the alienating experiences some arenas can be.
One look at the empty auditorium ahead of the beginning of the show reminded me of the sheer scale of this event. With space for 16,000 and tickets at a premium for the event, this is a key event in the calendar. The event wouldn’t be here if the organisers didn’t think they could sell the tickets. A trusted brand which delivers on its promise year on year. Melodifestivalen is listed in the What’s On catalogue available in the tourist office as a notable Spring for visitors to the city. This isn’t just TV, this is Sweden’s national day.
That seems to be reflected not only inside the Globen auditorium but outside too.
The niche-worldwide interest in this particular event – like Eurovision itself – isn’t obviously reflected in the majority of the audience who trek to the complex for the event.
Instead, what I see are hoards of families, dressed up for the evening in pink cowboy hats and fake feather boas convening for a big night out. It seems as though, this is as much a part of their annual tradition as Christmas or a national holiday. It is almost as though this event affords its audience a period of constructed, ever-reliable bliss. An island of Eurovision before the actual Eurovision. Innocence framed in a TV running order of competitive songwriting and performing, there to be immersed in at home or in the hall.
But it goes further than that. Melodifestivalen offers a narrative backdrop for journalists too. So many performers, so many individual stories. A seemingly never-ending series of permutations. Intrigue, gossip, fact or fiction. I don’t need to speak or have the ability to translate Swedish, just one look at the front page of Swedish newspaper Expressen makes it clear Melodifestivalen is currency here.
I’m a realist though. As much I’d like to think that this is yet more vindication for my love of a competition I’ve followed for years, I can see there’s an ecosystem here. A business. An audience hungry for entertainment, similarly hungry for news, merchandise and the music that comes from it.
The atmosphere inside the hall is as I would have expected such a large venue to be. Electric. When I take my seat – B22 in the gods of the Globen – the warm up man on stage bearing more than a striking resemblance to the long haired bearded man who served me my pre-show drinks, is warming-up the audience by offering all sorts of reasons for the crowd to break out into hysterical cheering. Here in the arena, the 16,000 strong audience is the most potent of cast members. Poised like a coiled spring, when released the effect of the amassed crowd’s cheering is breathtaking, very nearly emotional.
It’s impossible not to get swept along by this experience. It is something similar to be shoved in the chest every time the crowd roars. When that background hubbub is overlaid by more localised evidence of unbridled enthusiasm for the acts performing on the stage seemingly miles away from our seats, then proof of the enduring appeal of Melodifestivalen is obvious. You can ask as many questions as you possibly can from a journalistic perspective to gain an understanding of how this programme is important to Sweden. Often, the most pragmatic route is just witnessing it yourself.
Put crudely, people wouldn’t clamour to buy arena tickets and then cheer like mad things when they’re in their seats unless they were motivated enough to buy tickets to attend and genuinely excited by the prospect of being there. 16,000 people can’t be wrong.
The two ladies sat to my left are quick to smile and say hello as I sit down. Long curly blonde hair and warm smiles, they both volunteer me their own personal commentaries as each of the ten acts performing tonight do their final run from the back of the arena, through the audience and on to the stage for their final (hopefully) vote-winning performance. What acts my new-found audience pals like and what they don’t like isn’t really the important thing here. Despite being miles away from the stage, both of them are completed engaged with what’s going on. They’ve come with their favourites – and only a small number of songs they don’t like – and they’re behind them wholeheartedly. That is a nice thing. Infectiously so.
With the exception of only one of tonight’s acts – Topcats – I’m hearing the songs which are causing the crowd to go wild for the first time this evening. What’s common to all of them is a breathtaking commitment to high production values. Every act delivers a convincing – almost faultless – performance. As a result of this and coming to the entire ‘repertoire’ fresh, choosing between the songs is easy. It’s instinctive. It taps into the very core of a Eurovision fan. Whatever the number is that takes me on an unexpectedly but retrospectively vital journey to heaven and brings me back down to earth a good deal happier than I did when I left, is the winning song.
However, the result is generated by part telephone votes, part international juries. So it’s worth paying attention to the cheers at the end of each performance, just for a spot of audience reaction. All the acts register a base line than anyone having to stand on stage and witness would no doubt have an emotional reaction to. But others – like favourite Loreen’s Euphoria, Dead by April’s Euro-metal number Mystery, Lisa’s Why Start a Fire? and Molly Sanden’s Why Am I Crying? – judging by the increased level of cheers have a more considerable following. By the end of the evening however, it’s the final number Amazing from Danny that has my backing. It’s an arena-pleaser and musically has – in my opinion – the most edge over the other numbers.
Maybe it was too many beers. Maybe it was the highly-charged atmosphere which led me to conclude that there would be a surprise win for Danny. That favourite Loreen’s Euphoria wasn’t as satisfying as social media led me to believe and that in winning, Danny will make me triumphant over the rest of the world. In Danny winning, I’d show everybody I knew instantly what was a good song and what wasn’t and why I should as a result be made Eurovision Overlord because of my innate observational skills.
If you listen to the audioboo I made of the entire evening, you’ll hear how I was a little taken aback when reality slowly and finally dawned on me. I arrived to the arena late for the results to see Danny being hugged by Loreen. Was she consoling or congratulating. Not speaking the lingo made things a little difficult.
A few seconds later, all became obvious. Loreen’s win was – without doubt – well-deserved and well-received. And maybe – like one of the ladies who sat next to me promised – Loreen’s song will grow on me. It won’t be out of place in the Eurovision semi-final running order later in May. Although quite whether it has enough to coast Sweden through to the final, remains to be seen.
What I’m touched by as I leave the Globen is the sincerity of the entire event. There is no sense of post-show carnage. People leave just as happy as they did when they arrived. Exits are passed through in a calm and orderly way. There is no tangible sense of high expectation that Sweden will triumph in Baku, nor any fear of disenchantment if the country fails to qualify. It is almost as though the Eurovision is an addendum to Melodifestivalen. Good mental housekeeping.
A tremendous evening spent in the infectious company of 16,000 hugely excitable Melodifestivalen lovers. That really can’t be bad.