Sweden know about Eurovision, they stage it with panache and, when they want to win, they go at it all guns blazing. Their productions are polished and their hunger is insatiable. Swedish domination at the Contest isn’t just seen in terms of their wins, second, third and fourth places, but also by the number of Swedish songwriters, producers and performers who end up ‘working’ for other countries in the contest. If you see anything that looks or sounds good, there’s a high chance there’s Swedish involvement somewhere.
That dominance has helped transform the competition in the past ten years both musically and visually – Eurovision is a polished affair because of it. But it’s also fuelled a growing resentment towards the country. Some fans complain about the way the Contest is gradually morphing into a Europe-wide version of the Swedish Melodifestivalen. Others, inexplicably, point the finger at the country because of its ongoing success and its runaway winners, as though success at Eurovision is a bad thing. (Be sure to read Jasmin Bear’s Bitter-Swede Symphony: Why We Love And Hate Sweden at Eurovision for more on the subject).
Head of Swedish Delegation Christer Bjorkman certainly hasn’t done himself very many favours this year pointing the finger at former commentator Terry Wogan, blaming him for having spoiled the Eurovision and, in the process, making it difficult for any artist in the UK to seriously contemplate participation. He may be right – it’s a divisive point, especially in the UK – but in the run up to this year’s contest in which Sweden are itching for a second consecutive win, Bjorkman’s comments project him in an arrogant light.
All of that colours my view of this year’s Swedish song. Seventeen-year-old Frans’ ‘If I Was Sorry‘ is an incredibly polished affair, with a distinctive sound which cuts through the usual Eurovision soundtrack far more successfully than Russia’s up-tempo whirlwind. I still struggle with Frans’ contrived voice. He clearly wants me to believe that his vocal affectations reflect a world-weary sense of cool. But the overly-cool twang he uses is so at odds with his age that he ends up annoying me almost as soon as he’s started singing. That’s when the background assumptions, knowledge, hearsay and opinions start clouding my otherwise objective view of the song. I end up at the end resenting the precision taken when producing the track every time I hear it. And that’s why I end up hoping that, like Russia’s song, I hope it ends up lower in the leaderboard, disappointing the great many who assume it has a chance of walking the contest.
I’m not especially proud of that view. I’m just being transparent. Viewers on the Saturday night final won’t have their judgements clouded by such petty gripes as mine. So, fairness will prevail I’m sure. For me, Sweden’s song doesn’t live up to the hype. The hook is cute but because it never really gets developed (and because there isn’t that much more material in the song) the seemingly constant repetition of that hook makes me get bored with it quickly. If there hadn’t been quite so much hype, then I might have given it a second chance.
Listen to ‘If I Were Sorry’ then listen to a new arrangement of last year’s winner of ‘Heroes‘ seen at Melodifestivalen and see the difference. Last year’s song had a depth to it and a fundamental quality that made it possible to rework into something incredibly touching. ‘If I Were Sorry’, like Russia’s song this year, doesn’t come close in comparison.