For Swedes, unlike in the UK, Eurovision is not a complete joke
We have a 25-year-old childminder. She’s young and hip (unlike me since I still use the word ‘hip’). But when I asked what she was doing for her birthday, I was surprised by her answer: “Oh it’s super cool, my boyfriend got us tickets for Melodifestivalen!!“
Melodifestivalen is the Swedish qualifying competition for Eurovision. It takes place over multiple Saturday nights, is a fixture for families on primetime TV, and it culminates in a live final with an enormous studio audience (pictured above) in a tumult of excitement over who will be chosen as the Swedish entry.
If you’re from the UK, you might want to read that last paragraph again. Yes, I’m talking about the Eurovision qualifiers here…
The most famous aspect of Eurovision in the UK is the phrase ’nul points’ — meaning ‘no points’ — which refers to Jemini (2003). Her appearance was pointless in every sense. The British entry has only scored nul points once, but that doesn’t mean there has been a lot of success — the UK has finished outside the top ten for six years in a row.
This does not jive with the British sense of victorious entitlement. Finishing outside the top ten — or, indeed, outside the top one — triggers accusations of bloc voting among the ex-Soviets and rank disloyalty among the former colonies.
But having failed to beat them, the UK also refuses to join them. Instead we send decreasingly serious entrants to the competition. This year’s contenders, Joe & Jake, met on a second-rate TV talent show. Jake didn’t even make the live finals of the show.
This truly is a bad sign. Joe & Jake were described by The Telegraph as “two-fifths of an alternate universe One Direction. This may yet turn out to have been a terrible decision by the British public”. But, the paper continues, “it could so easily have been worse. They’re no Scooch, Daz Sampson or Jemini. And they’re much better than last year’s Electro Velvet.”
At least the UK is taking a year’s break from reanimating the corpses of aged popstars such as Bonnie Tyler* (2013, finished 19th) and Engelbert Humperdinck (2002, finished 25th).
Compare this with Sweden. The Melodifestivalen finale featured several of Sweden’s top popstars, artists with a real track record who have attempted over and over to win a coveted place in the main Eurovision event. It might be hard to beat this year’s Swedish entrant, Frans, who looks like an ugly Bieber but does sound a bit like him if you close your eyes for long enough.
The Eurovision final takes place tomorrow (16 May 2016) here in Stockholm. Yesterday we went to one of the semi-finals. I hadn’t quite realised that this would be a contest between the smaller nations who need to qualify for the final. Sadly we missed Minus One from Cyprus and Jüri Pootsman from Estonia, but we were treated to Donny Montell from Lithuania and Ivan from Belarus, who was joined on stage by… himself, stark naked and singing to a wolf. It was absurd but also absurdly fun.
Two years ago, my wife and I went to an outrageous birthday party in Paris. A tall, striking, and bearded Parsien dressed as Conchita Wurst stopped the party and sang the 2014 winner’s song ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ with backing vocals from six fellow Frenchmen in spectacular drag. I can only hope that this year’s Eurovision winner lives up to that.