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Music Monday: Sweden’s Incredible Melodifestivalen

After a sorry week on X Factor, Robyn Gallagher heads way north to televised music comp perfection. //

The Eurovision Song Contest is easily the greatest television musical extravaganza, but a couple of months earlier there’s another show that’s almost as good. It’s Melodifestivalen, the Swedish national competition to select their Eurovision entry – and it’s amazing. Melodifestivalen translates to the very accurate “melody festival”, but fans just call it Melfest.

Melfest is a huge deal in Sweden. 3.7 million Swedes tuned in to the 2015 Melfest final – and that’s in a country of 9.6 million. When a show in New Zealand gets that kind of viewership, it’s usually rugby.

It’s bigger than the NZ Music Awards, the Silver Scrolls and an X Factor final combined, only without the awkward presenters, boring speeches or bitchy judges. And the staging is so slick that it makes = X Factor look like an under-rehearsed school production.

The competition attracts Sweden’s best and brightest. It’s where ABBA got their start in 1974 with the original Swedish version of “Waterloo” and it’s where Loreen’s Eurovision-winning “Euphoria” captivated its first audience in 2012. It’s a place where pop careers are launched, comebacks are made and legends cemented.

After four weeks of semi-finals and one second-chance show, the 12 finalists were assembled at Friends Arena in Stockholm, ready to put their talent to the test. Swedish broadcaster SVT streams the whole thing for anyone to watch, so at 8am on a Sunday morning, on the other side of the world, I gleefully tuned in. These were the highlights.

The Swedish TrendPrince

Samir & Viktor are super cool. Samir is a reality TV star and Viktor is a fashion blogger, which means they are the Swedish equivalent of NZ X Factor coulda-been stars TrendPrince – and with about the same level of musical talent. The difference is, Samir & Viktor have a good songwriting team. Their entry ‘Groupie’ is a joyful celebration of taking a “groupie” – a selfie with a group of friends. It’s super catchy and is just an English translation away from being a mega hit.

The Loser

Such is the quality of Melfest that even the last-placed song is still actually quite good – not to mention all the great tracks that didn’t make it out of the semi-finals. Dinah Nah was part of a ’90s pop group and made a comeback with the floor-filler ‘Make Me (La La La)’. Through a cruel twist of fate it placed last at the final, but it’s still a banging tune and Dinah and her dancers put on a great show.

The Legend

Hasse Andersson is a beloved music legend in Sweden, but prior to this year he’d never done Melfest. His jaunty country romp ‘Guld och Gröna Skogar’ (Gold and green forests) might sound dated to New Zealand ears, but at Melfest it brought the house down. When everyone is taking the competition’s quest for pop perfection very seriously, it’s nice to just have a hoedown.

The Diva

It can’t be a Eurovision national selection without a diva belting out a power ballad. In this case it was newcomer Mariette and her dramatic song ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. She delivered it with dramatic, gothic staging, including the power combination of a cape and a wind machine. Mariette impressed juries and viewers alike, managing third place.

The Northern Lad

Jon Henrik Fjällgren has a great backstory. He was born in Colombia and adopted by an indigenous Swedish Sami family. He grew up as a reindeer herder and learned traditional Joik music. His song “Jag är Fri” (I am free) came second in Melfest. It seemed to really strike a chord with viewers, with its simple, traditional and emotional feeling. A perfect contrast to all the shiny pop.

The return of the Manboy

Eric Saade is a recent Melfest legend. He came third in 2010 with ‘Manboy’ and won in 2011 with ‘Popular’, which went on to place third at Eurovision in Düsseldorf that year. ‘Sting’ was his comeback, a diss song to all his rivals. It’s a bright, fun and energetic English-language popstravaganza – Eric doing what he does best. It placed fifth at Melfest, but it was up against some really strong competition.

The Winner

There’s some kind of voodoo going on here. A former Idol contestant singing a song about heroes, with a children’s choir and gimmicky staging – it sounds like it should be a massive cheese fest, and yet it’s a brilliant and everything works. Måns Zelmerlöw’s ‘Heroes’ is completely amazing and perfect and uplifting. It helps that Måns is super charismatic and a great singer – and a hugely popular star in Sweden. But it wasn’t just the Swedish public voting for some Måns love. The international jury gave him an unprecedented 122 out of a possible 133 points. ‘Heroes’ is now the bookies’ favourite to win Eurovision.

The Secret Star

One of the unexpected stars of Melfest 2015 was sign language interpreter Tommy Krångh. He didn’t just interpret the lyrics, but put everything into his performance. This song, “Möt Mig i Gamla Stan” (Meet me in the Old Town) by Magnus Carlsson, only placed ninth in the competition, but Tommy made it the winner in the world of viral web lolz. And if there’s anything that sums up the spirit of Melfest it’s this – a middle-aged sign-language interpreter just letting loose and having a ball.

Enjoy the Melfest experience in its entirety! Watch the regular broadcast here, or for a special treat watch the sign language version here.

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