The first Melodifestival semifinal takes place this Saturday and, as before, I'll be running down the artists and the songs the Sunday beforehand. Keep in mind, though, that I have absolutely no inside connections, so all these posts are meant to do is serve as a gathering of information scattered throughout the Internet already. As always, it is to the sites below that all the credit for this information goes to, and any mistakes are my own (please feel free to correct them in the comments or add more information or thoughts).
Sources: SVT, Gylleneskor (1, 2, 3, 4), QX (1, 2, 3), Schlagerprofilerna, SR, Just Marie, Jonathan Fagerlund's MySpace
(I'm toying with putting up a "what is Melodifestivalen?" post for people who have no idea what I'm talking about; there are people out there far better qualified to do that sort of thing, but considering the contest will dominate this blog for the next six weeks, I probably need to go over that.)
1.) Nina Söderquist, "Tick Tock" (Johan Lyander/Matti Alfonzetti)
A singer who, after winning a televised contest, has been performing as the Lady of the Lake in London's West End's production of Spamalot, Nina should probably be expected to bring a big voice to "Tick Tock," an up-tempo rock diva song full of energy and with just a bit of flamenco. Songwriters Johan Lyander and Matti Alfonzetti also composed the Poodles' 2006 entry, "Night Of Passion," another rock song. Nina says "Tick Tock" isn't "Melodifestival rock"--a little more unusual than that--but it's suitable for a schlager festival since it's a little softened up, though still fairly tough. As of a few months ago, there were plans for an album.
To watch: Nina singing the Swedish version of "Find Your Grail" from Spamalot (if you're interested in hearing her voice turned towards chart music, her MySpace has some songs to listen to; they include some of that hard '80's guitar sound)
2.) Jonathan Fagerlund, "Welcome To My Life" (Samuel Waermö/Didrik Thott)
Teenage singer Jonathan may have spent some time in a sketchy Lou Pearlman-backed boy band (the same one his friend and last year's Irish national final contestant Donal Skehan was in), but he's been solo for a while now. In that time, he's released a debut album, Flying, and three singles, two of which made it onto my "Favorite Singles of 2008" countdown. His sound on that album is one man boy band pop, though with the production favoring a "real instrument" sound (including guitars) instead of the obviously electronic sound of a boy band like, say, 'N Sync or Backstreet Boys. The album was too far on the ballad side for my taste, but the description of "Welcome To My Life"--a positive and happy up-tempo pop song with lyrics that are somewhat biographical--gives me hope that "Welcome To My Life," co-written by the man behind the Flying project, won't fall into that trap.
Still, I'd call it highly unlikely that "Welcome To My Life" is going to be disco-friendly material, which means I'll be surprised if Melodifestival fans (besides me) take it to their heart. Jonathan's a pretty untested live performer, too, so I'm pretty worried (or skeptical, if you're being less generous) about the performance. He's hardly a big name going into the competition, so any publicity and increase in awareness is probably a win for his management, but the odds of him progressing past the semifinal are generally not seen as that good. Jonathan did mention a few months ago that he'll be releasing an album in conjunction with Melodifestivalen, full of pop tracks whose tempo will generally be sped up and which are a little rocky. Samuel Waermo (the main man behind his last album) and Didrik Thott, the songwriters of "Welcome To My Life," wrote a lot of the songs on it.
To watch: the music video for "Playing Me"
3.) Shirley Clamp, "Med hjärtat fyllt av ljus" (Ingela "Pling" Forsman/Bobby Ljunggren/Henrik Wikström)
This entry marks the return of a Melodifestivalen stalwart after a break of four years from the competition. Calling someone a stalwart after only appearing in the contest three times might seem like a stretch, but her second and third entries embedded Shirley deeply in the hearts of many Melodifestival fans. "Min kärlek," her 2004 entry, is arguably (or really, not that arguably at all) a modern day schlager classic. Since 2005, though, she's released two solo albums that left fans of up-tempo schlager feeling out in the cold.
Her entry this year, "Med hjärtat fyllt av ljus," is described by its writers (the same as those of "Min kärlek," but they write so many songs that appear in Melodifestivalen that that's no indication of what the song will sound like) as a vocally demanding melodic mid-tempo song about being in the middle of life and realizing its true worth. Shirley has called the song a ballad but said that it almost feels mid-tempo due to its swing and that it is more like her two previous Melodifestival entries (though more mature) than her last album. She also compared it to "Min kärlek"'s verse melody. If you're feeling disappointed by Shirley returning with a ballad, you might want to be upset with one of "Med hjärtat fyllt av ljus"'s songwriters, Bobby Ljunggren; Shirley says she was sure she'd come back with a disco number as a gay icon queen with glittery clothes and loads of dancers--her record company agreed--until Bobby told her he'd written a song for her and she heard "Med hjärtat fyllt av ljus."
On the album front, Shirley will be releasing a best of album on March 11 to tie in with her appearance in Melodifestivalen. That might be a disappointment to those people who want an album to make them forget her last two as quickly as possible, but there is some hope: she's releasing another album next year, one which she says will have bigger and more up-tempo tracks, a little like "Mr. Memory" (her first Melodifestival entry, and yes, I know, that was in English and the Swedish version is "Äntligen," but those are her words), fast and in Swedish.
To watch: her performance of "Min kärlek" at the 2004 Melodifestival final
4.) Scotts, "Jag tror på oss" (Lars "Dille" Diedricson/Martin Hedström/Ingela "Pling" Forsman)
The dansband Scotts rose to fame in 2008 through the televised dansband competition Dansbandskampen. They ultimately took second, but their album has been selling well in Sweden. Much of the focus during their run on the TV show was on blonde lead singer Henrik, but even someone who took on a semi-heartthrob status for some parts of the Swedish population is unlikely to stop many Melodifestival fans from wishing that Linda Bengtzing, who sang the demo of "Jag tror på oss," was in the competition instead of Scotts, even though it was never likely that Linda would compete. "Jag tror på oss" is said to be an energetic catchy pop-rocky song--fast Swedish guitar pop with a sharp chorus--about love with obstacles; Scotts say the chorus will get stuck in your head. The group's popularity on an earlier television show has led some to speculate that they will be likely candidates for the final.
To watch: the group performing Robbie Williams's "Angels" on Dansbandskampen
5.) Emilia, "You're My World" (Emilia Rydberg/Figge Boström)
Emilia had an international (though not American) hit in the late '90's with "Big Big World." She released two albums before not releasing anything until 2007, when she made a Swedish language comeback. After that album, though, she's released two English language singles, both covers of songs from Elin Lanto's first album. Her entry is described as a tribute to those we love and the warmth they give us; she says it has a little soul in it.
To watch: I should probably embed the music video for "Big Big World," but I prefer "Good Sign," taken from that same album
6.) Alcazar, "Stay The Night" (Anders Hansson/Mårten Sandén/Andreas Lundstet/Therese Merkel/Lina Hedlund)
Alcazar are most known internationally for "Crying At The Discotheque," released in their original three person incarnation of Andreas, Tess, and Annikafiore, but both their appearances in Melodifestivalen up to this point were in their four person combination of those three and Magnus. Both those appearances were with great camp pop songs that deserved better than having to go through the second chance round to make it to the final, even if most of the songs that beat them out were at least good songs, too (though make it to the final they both did--Alcazar took third there both times, beating out one of the semifinal songs originally ahead of them the first time and both of the songs originally ahead of them the second time).
Their return to the contest that gave their Swedish popularity a real boost will be in their latest formation of Andreas, Tess, and Lina, who will be performing a modern party-friendly pop song with odd harmonies and in the style of the music they're making now. Let's hope it's more "We Keep On Rockin'" or, better yet, the so far only partly heard "Burning" than "Inhibitions" (though given that the track is co-written with Anders Hansson, it's more likely to be like "We Keep On Rockin'" or "Inhibitions" than "Burning," since he wrote those first two). Tess says that "Stay The Night" sounds like a combination of the group's earlier hits while Andreas says it's a little comparable to "Knock On Wood." It's said to be a good song, of the same level as their earlier entries, but a little less schlager and more on the cool side. It's safe to say that "Stay The Night" is likely to be enjoyed by fans of the contest who look to it for great pop, especially of the up-tempo sort. I love this group so much--I'm really hoping they've got something great for us.
Their new album has been a work in progress for quite some time, so I'm hoping we'll get a release in the next few months. We've already heard at least part of three tracks on it and the group says the album will have songs by Anders Hansson (of course), Danny, and Pet Shop Boys on it.
To watch: I can't choose between their unforgettable performances of "Not A Sinner Nor A Saint" or "Alcastar" (their 2003 and 2005 Melodifestival entries respectively), so here are both
7.) Caroline af Ugglas, "Snälla snälla" (Caroline af Ugglas/Heinz Liljedahl)
Caroline, a soul-voiced singer who once released an album made of Swedish language Janis Joplin songs, isn't exactly someone I was hoping would return to the contest. Maybe her retrosoul narrative ballad, a "typical Caroline track" a little quieter than her previous entry that deals with unhappiness in love, will surprise me, but I'm not counting on it. She has a new album coming out March 18.
To watch: her Melodifestival 2007 performance of "Trör på dig"
8.) Marie Serneholt, "Disconnect Me" (Peter Boström/Tony Nilsson)
As the blonde female member of A*Teens, Marie helped make some of the best pop of the past ten years. Her 2006 solo album continued on in that pure pop vein and featured some great songs (though not all of them were), but didn't sell as well as was probably hoped. Luckily, she's returning to the world of releasing pop with a song penned by Tony Nilsson and Bassflow, two people you all know I love by now (Ola's best songs from his second album on, Elin Lanto's "Discotheque," Johan Krafman's music; Bassflow without Tony has also co-written or produced an amazing number of brilliant tracks, including Charlotte Perrelli's "Hero").
"Disconnect Me" is described as having a pinch of John Barry (a James Bond composer) and a little electro. It's warm, with Mediterranean influences (Marie says the Mediterranean feeling of Helena Paparizou's "My Number One" is in "Disconnect Me" too; she also calls the up-tempo song pure pop and compares it a little to Ani Lorak's "Shady Lady" and Kalomoira's "Secret Combination"), and a joyful song (despite the lyrics about the end of a love, Marie says it's about being strong and beginning something new). Marie also says the song is spicy and exotic. Marie has the potential to be a great popstar, but, even if the song is good (as it is said to be), singing live could be a problem--we'll have to see how it goes for her on Saturday. In good news, Marie is currently working on a new album and says she wants to keep working with Tony and Bassflow (yes! Finally, someone does more than a few songs an album with them) and maybe one more composer. It'll be in the same style as "Disconnect Me," commercial pop with a lot of rhythm.
To watch: the music video for "I Need A House," the second single from her debut solo album
If I'm making guesses at my favorites from this semifinal without hearing a bit of the songs, I'd go for Alcazar and Marie, with Shirley and Jonathan just a little behind (Shirley could easily be the favorite for me or disappoint). Scotts and Emilia are possibilities. And maybe Nina. The songs for each week's semifinal will be uploaded on SVT's official site for listening from 9 PM Swedish time on Friday, meaning 3 PM EST. The show will start on Saturday at 8 PM Swedish time/2 PM EST. I'm nervous I may miss the beginning--I'm going to do everything I can not to, but it might happen anyway.