If you do not usually tune in to Melodifestivalen, Sweden's contest to select an entry for cross-Europe song contest Eurovision, today is not the day to start watching.
Usually, Melodifestivalen--literally, the Melody Festival--is a reliable source for well-written songs, most often of the pop type. Tonight's semifinal, the third of four that introduce new songs before a second chance round and a final, is a disappointing step back in song quality compared to both this year's previous two semifinals and the contest's previous editions.
That's not to say you won't be in for a good time if you tune in to the web stream that will be available at 2 PM EST. At this point, Melodifestivalen is a slick entertainment production. Sure, the artist introduction packages have sometimes been running a bit long this year, but tonight's semifinal will feature what reports say is the best intermission act yet: Lena Philipsson, 2004's winner, performing an English hard rock version of her classic '80s Melodifestival track "Dansa i neon."
You'll also see one of the top contenders for this year's top placing. Young Eric Saade, the breakout star of last year's Melodifestival, will be performing "Popular," an uptempo pop song that is practically unnecessary in terms of him making it to the finals--Eric advancing is the closest you'll get to a sure thing in Melodifestivalen this year. Whether you fall for "Popular"'s pulsing hard beat or not, the best thing about Eric has always been his eagerness and dedication to putting on a show. Eric's strong dancing skills and a glass-shattering stage gimmick promise a strong overall performance package.
The problem viewers will run into this week, though, is that the songs are generally enjoyable but not exceptional; there isn't anything to stir up the fiery, passionate devotion that promises heartbreak when one's favorites don't advance. Most of the players--including Linda Sundblad, Sebastian, Shirley Clamp of Shirley's Angels, and Sara Lumholdt of A*Teens--have been involved in better songs in the past, even if their offerings this week are not bad per se. It's instead a matter of songs that, one suspects, will in the long term reveal themselves to be three star affairs instead of the four and five star songs one hopes for in a contest of such prominence.
Still, even in an off week, Melodifestivalen will be must-watch viewing for me. A good performance can make you temporarily overlook a song's shortcomings. Most of all, though, even when the songs fade down the stretch, the contagious enthusiasm surrounding the online conversation about them rarely does.