Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Låt oss börja här och nu

For the next month and a half, this blog is likely to become incredibly Melodifestivalen-centric. Given that not everyone probably knows what Melodifestivalen is, though, here's a post to explain what all the craziness is about.

If you're European, you're probably familiar with Eurovision. If not, it's an annual cross-Europe song contest that involves any country that chooses to participate selecting a song. Then, over the course of a few nights in May, the songs are performed and broadcast on TV; the songs can't be longer than three minutes, must be sung live, and are often accompanied by some sort of memorable performance staging or gimmick (like a dance routine or elaborate clothing). All the participating countries have a chance to vote for their favorites (you can't vote for your own country's entry). A country's votes are distributed as points for their favorite entries, the points for all the countries are addd up, and a winner is chosen. ABBA and "Waterloo" are one of the contest's most famous winners, but, despite the contest's connotation of cheesy pop, the past three years have been won by Finnish metal, Serbian power balladry, and Russian Timbaland ballad mimickry.

There's no one way for a country to select what its Eurovision entry will be. Some countries have a panel that makes an internal selection of the artist and song (Eurovision is technically a song contest, but understandably who performs it and how it is performed often has an effect on the results). Other countries have their residents telephone in to vote amongst numerous candidates or, like Sweden, mix phone votes with jury votes. These one country voting processes to determine Eurovision representatives are called national finals, and Melodifestivalen (literally, the Melody Festival) is Sweden's national final.

Melodifestivalen takes place on six consecutive Saturday nights. The first four consist of semifinals, with each semifinal including eight acts. The fifth night is a second chance round for acts that just missed out on qualifying to the final from their semifinal. The sixth and final night is, of course, for the final. There can be year to year variations in exactly how the qualification process works, but for introductory purposes, that's probably all you need to know.

What will you see during your typical Melodifestival semifinal? As mentioned, eight acts will perform songs, some in Swedish, some in English, and some in other languages entirely. In Sweden, Melodifestivalen is often associated with schlager (meaning "hit"), a style of music which isn't limited to Sweden but, in my opinion and that of many others, has reached its acme there. I'm still awful at describing what schlager sounds like, but it's pretty easy to get a feel for what it means by listening to examples, and one of the best examples of modern schlager was Linda Bengtzing's "Jag ljuger så bra" (see below). Schlager songs are usually instantly catchy, insistent, and include a key change after the middle 8. They're often but not necessarily sung by women.

However, songs from all genres are welcome--or at least, welcomed by SVT, the broadcaster that hosts the show. There are certain songwriters whose names frequently pop up and are associated with the contest, as is true for some artists (though it's worth noting that a songwriter can have multiple entries in Melodifestivalen but a singer can only perform one song).

Melodifestivalen has a large gay following, both inside and out of Sweden, and many of its songs have or take on a great camp appeal, but its popularity in Sweden is broad, with nearly half of the Swedish population tuning in to view the Melodifestival final.

What it all adds up to is multi-week Swedish song contest that features what I see as some of the best music being made--admittedly with a tendency towards pop with an instant appeal--with the hype, speculation, and excitement surrounding it making it even more of an overwhelming but fun experience.

(Yes, the Lena Philipsson picture is from Eurovision, but it's the best I've got and it's basically the same. I also could find any decent pictures from a "Cara Mia" performance that wasn't just a rehearsal. While I'm here in the footnotes, I might as well add that I welcome any suggestions on this--as I said earlier, there are many far more qualified people out there to write a post like this one and, if you've never heard of the contest before, you may have some big question I didn't answer.)


Aaron said...

Thanks for the post!!! - I really appreciate it!

One thing though - What are the numbers of the qualifiers like... How many people go through from each semi - and how do they select the second chance people - and how many second chances are given???

Poster Girl said...

It's no problem :D Good questions! There have been some changes this year. If I understand it, here's how the qualification process works.

The eight acts perform their songs. People phone in their votes and the top five acts are announced (though without revealing their order). People continue to vote, but just for those top five acts. The telephone voting lines are then closed. The act with the most votes faces off in a "duel" against the act with the fourth most votes and the act with the second most votes faces off against the act with the third most votes, a la seeding at sporting events (the fifth act is eliminated). The acts' earlier performances are replayed and people vote again. The act that wins each duel goes onto the final.

OK, with me so far? What you end up with is two acts that qualify directly the final out of that semifinal (the two acts that won the duels). The two acts that made it to the duels stage but lost their duels go to the second chance round.

The second chance round has eight acts (two from each of the four semifinals) competing; two of those--the two with the most votes after performing again--qualify to the final.

It doesn't end there, though, and it's here where I get a little confused about what's going on. What I think happens, though, is this: an international jury also chooses their favorite act from each semifinal. If the jury's favorite from a semifinal qualified to the final on its own, then the jury's second favorite becomes the jury's choice of that round; if the jury's second favorite also qualified directly to the final on its own, then the jury's third favorite becomes its choice for that round. By the end of the four semifinals, you have four jury's choice acts. At the end of the second chance round, the jury looks through those four acts (from the four semifinals)--keep in mind that, for example, one of the jury's four choices might have qualified to the second chance round but then not taken top two in the second chance round and so isn't qualified for the final yet or may not have qualified for the second chance round at all--and chooses their favorite out of those, and that act is qualified to the final.

The final, then, has eleven songs in it: eight directly from the semifinals (two from each of the four semifinals), two from the second chance round, and one more chosen by the international jury.

In the final round, the winner (and other rankings) are determined by combining the votes of telephone voters and votes from juries in cities around Sweden as well as the international jury.

I know that may sound confusing, so if you still need anything cleared up, just ask!

Aaron said...

That's one huge comment!!

Thanks for letting me know - You've got it perfectly!