OGAE UK at Melodifestivalen

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We sent OGAE UK member Liam Eaton off to Stockholm to head backstage at one of the biggest national finals of the season, the behemoth that is Melodifestivalen. Here are his thoughts.

When you hear the words Melodifestivalen so many people come into your mind. One of the most famous will of course be ABBA 1974, or what about The Herreys winning in 1984 with the song we all know so well Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley. Then of course there’s Carola with her 1991 Eurovision winner Fangad Av En Stormvind. More recently, Sweden has produced some songs that have the potential to be Eurovision classics, whether they be from Eric Saade, Loreen, Sanna Nielsen or Måns Zelmerlöw. I am sure that after just mentioning a few, that you have had to stop reading and sing the song. If not then you are not a true Eurovision fan.

I have been traveling to Sweden for the past 3 years to watch Melodifestivalen, and every year it has been a real eye opener on how the Swedish take Eurovision. This is the biggest singing competition within Sweden. Almost half of the county were watching the final on their TVs on Saturday 12th of March 2016. This actually made Swedish television history, with a record number of votes – by phone, text or app – of over 12 million! The winner, Frans, won by nearly 800,000 votes with Oscar Zia coming second.

I am a massive lover of Eurovision and have been for a few years, and it disappoints me that many of my friends and family don’t even know that Eurovision still exists or if they do they see it as the UK artists giving it one final go before their career ends. I’m not knocking the UK but just asking to put a bit more effort in and it is great that this appears to be happening this year with Joe & Jake and their new selection process.

Melodifestivalen starts as soon as you step off the plane in Stockholm, you see it everywhere, you can even tastes it – literally, as delicious cream cakes with the Melodifestivalen logo are being sold in the bakeries. The sponsors of Melodifestivalen will dress their shops with feather boas, endless amount of glitter and disco balls. The whole country comes together and makes it almost like a second Christmas. The atmosphere in Stockholm is just electric, with the clubs and bars playing the finalists’ songs over and over in the days and nights leading up to the grand final. For anyone that has never experienced a massive party week dedicated to finding the next song for Eurovision, well, you’re in for a surprise!

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the welcome party in Stockholm hosted in the City Hall. There is no expenses spared, champagne on arrival that was constantly being topped up. The President of Stockholm’s City Council welcomed me with open arms and was happy to have my photo with her I talked to her for several minutes explaining that I was from the UK, and she was quite surprised to find out that I had travelled so far for the competition. Dinner was provided with a sit down meal – and the food was just out of this world, with more wine than you could imagine! Sitting in the gold room with the artists was a moment that I will never forget. Stockholm had welcomed me with open arms and made me feel part of a family. And this is very fitting with the Eurovision slogan this year – wherever you are in the world “Come together” and this was in the minds of everyone.

Throughout the week there were a lot of events where I had the opportunity to meet all the artists and see them practice on stage and the feeling that I got from everyone was that they were all there to have fun. Yes it was a competition but it was like one big family. This was shown throughout the press room, where you had the opportunity to speak to whoever you wanted. I spent 2 minutes with Christer Björkman who sang in Eurovision back in 1992, and has worked his way up to Executive producer of Melodifestivalen. He commented on the fact that Sweden is changing and it is at a crossroads; no longer is the Swedish schlager music guaranteed the same success that might have been afforded to it a decade ago. The music is changing and a lot of younger viewers are voting for a new style of music and with new technology that is being produced it’s become even more about the technical side of things. The stage has to become apart of the performance.

If you watched the final on TV then you watched something special, as you can see Sweden has changed from the interval act, with the past meeting the future.  Over 20,000 seats at the Friends Arena sold out, even before people knew who the final acts would be! Being in that arena the atmosphere, the cheers and the party atmosphere all came together. It is on the same level as being in the audience of Eurovision, everyone should go at least once. I started going in 2014 and have just celebrated my 3rd year of going, and the experience has just got better and better every year. Who knows what is in store for Sweden in Eurovision but there are a lot of good songs this year. I feel it might be an unexpected winner but it all depends on the night.

Overall Melodifestivalen 2016 was a real mixed bag of songs but I think there were so many good songs it was hard to choose the right one. I think Sweden have made a good choice but we will just have to wait until the night of the final when we all reset our clocks and start counting down the days until Eurovision 2017. I would say the highlight of my trip was meeting so many people, the saying goes you should never meet your idol. However I met three in one night, much like the 3 crowns of Sweden, I was among royalty: Sarah Dawn Finer (Lynda Woodruff) is such a down to earth person, there was the fantastic Nanne Grönvall and the one and only Charlotte Perrelli. Meeting all these people in one room made my night and to spend time talking to them was the highlight. I would recommend anyone who loves Eurovision to at least go once in your lifetime, it will be a moment you will never forget.

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