Sweden’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

There ain’t no Melodifestivalen that the Mamas wouldn’t move.

The Mamas are Ashley Haynes, Loulou Lamotte, and Dinah Yonas Manna. Alongside Paris Renitsa, they were John Lundvik’s backing singers when he represented Sweden at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. Notably, Ashley quit her job in Washington, DC after her boss wouldn’t give her time off to perform “Too Late for Love.” That risk has certainly paid off as The Mamas are now signed with Universal Music Sweden.

“Move” was written by Melanie Wehbe, Patrik Jean, and Herman Gardarfve, who composed “Rain” for 2019’s Swedish Idol winner Tusse. Melanie co-wrote Leonora’s “Love Is Forever,” which delivered a 12th place finish for Denmark at last year’s Song contest. Patrik co-wrote Kenny Duerlund’s “Forget It All,” an entry in this year’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix. Herman has never written a song for Denmark, but he did co-author Robin Bengtsson’s 2018 song “Liar.”

The Mamas were the first act to perform in the first heat of this year’s Melodifestivalen and were given the honors of closing out the whole shebang. It was a nail-biter, though: they were tied with Dotter after the jury vote and won the televote by one point. Talk about squeaking out a win.

We’ve liked “Move” from the first moment we heard it. It’s family-friendly, gospel-influenced schlager, as radiant as sunbeams and almost relentlessly chipper. It’s not unique: we recognized some familiar tropes, including a breakdown to get the audience clapping, references to mountains and vast bodies of water, and lyrics that can easily be interpreted in either religious and secular contexts. Usually all of that is an anathema to us because we’re recovering teenaged goths, but it works for us here.

Of course, we have to admit that we were a bit biased towards the American in the competition. Goodness knows there have been so much Swedish influence on the American pop charts over the past few decades, so it’s nice to get one back.

Sweden’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

Sweden had a weird result at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest. They racked up 253 points from the jury, but only received 21 points from the televote. Did the slick staging leave viewers cold?

This year, Sweden responded by overwhelmingly selecting a song that relies on the likeability of its singer rather than elaborate stage props. See, Europe, they do remember when it was just a song contest!

John Lundvik won a bronze medal in the 4×100 meters relay at the 2005 Swedish Championship before becoming a songwriter. His big break came when he co-wrote “When You Tell the World You’re Mine” for the wedding of the Crown Princess of Sweden. He finished third at last year’s Melodifestivalen with “My Turn” and co-wrote this year’s United Kingdom entry “Bigger Than Us.”

There is a lot to like here. “Too Late for Love” is effervescent and joyful, belying the desperation in the lyrics. John is a charismatic singer with a sparkling stage presence. We enjoyed seeing him interacting with his backing singers during his Melodifestivalen performance instead of relegating them to the side of the stage.

We also love the fact that backing singer Ashley Haynes quit her job and moved to Sweden when her boss in Washington, D.C. wouldn’t give her time off to participate. Which sums up a lot about Washington, D.C. actually.

By itself, “Too Late for Love” is a good song. When we start comparing it to the other entries that speak to us this year, it begins to suffer a bit. It lacks the grit of “Soldi,” the emotion of “Arcade,” the snarl of “Chameleon,” the grandeur of “Better Love,” the pop of “She Got Me,” or the pomp of “Scream.”

That’s an elaborate way of saying that we like it, but we like other songs better. That doesn’t mean we aren’t chair-dancing along when it comes on in the car.

Guest Post by Kid Lemur: Sweden’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

A new feature on Eurovision Lemurs: a guest post! Kid Lemur (who is currently in 3rd grade) wanted to weigh in on one of the most talked about entries in our household. When asked why he wanted to write this post, Kid Lemur informed us “because I can.” So be nice y’all.  🙂

Benjamin Ingrosso is pretty well-known in Sweden. This song is pretty good but it could use a few things that are different though. Like I think the background should be different. I don’t think that a bunch of lines does the trick. I think there should be something else that’s not lines. He started singing at the age of nine! That’s amazing! The evolution of him is incredible! He has some incredible talents like singing, performing (it would be better if he did not have that stupid coat) etc. “Dance You Off” is a good song but the lyrics are really weird…. Like “I just want to da-da-dance you off.” What does that even mean? It’s a good song but to be honest Sweden doesn’t have a good chance at winning this year. I mean it’s a good song, but they’re not winning. Like seriously, how does this win?!?!?!? But I feel like he is too focused on winning that he can’t make the song to be as good as he wants it to be.

Sweden’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Benjamin Ingrosso reigned supreme in what many regarded as the worst…Melodifestivalen…ever…  Here’s “Dance You Off.”

Benjamin Ingrosso comes from a multi-generation entertainment family. His parents are singer Pernilla Wahlgren and her former backing dancer and now restaurant owner Emilio Ingrosso. His grandparents are actors, his uncle is a singer, and there’s a family tie to Swedish House Mafia in there as well. When he was 9, Benjamin represented Sweden at the 2006 Melodi Grand Prix Nordic (the Scandinavian equivalent of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest). He followed that up with a foray into pop music and then musical theater. He won Let’s Dance 2014, Sweden’s version of Dancing with the Stars. Benjamin landed on our, and most other Eurovision fans’, radar last year when he entered Melodifestivalen with “Good Lovin’,” which finished 5th overall. We had extensive thoughts (for better and worse) about him at the time, which you can read about here.

In 2018 we find that our relationship with Benjamin Ingrosso is no less complicated than it was in 2017.

Benjamin Ingrosso’s lane is pop teen idol with R&B influences, similar to Justin Timberlake or Justin Bieber. “Dance You Off” is austerely produced dance-pop with an R&B flair that keeps him in his falsetto for most of the time. It’s radio-friendly and has a memorable hook. Vocal-only captures on YouTube provide evidence that he sings well live, and he knows how to work a camera. We love him.

Word from Portugal is that organizers are planning a minimalist stage with simple lighting and no LED screen for Eurovision. Rather than let another organizer’s stage undermine their performance, Sweden’s solution is to bring their own. Benjamin is showcased against a full backdrop of fluorescent lights, which fill the frame. “Dance You Off’s” concept is so slick, so tightly edited, and so elegant we are certain we will be seeing it again in May.

However, Benjamin Ingrosso has an inner saboteur. Despite his best efforts, in both Melfest 2017 and 2018 there was a thing about his presentation that made it land left of center. In Melfest 2017, it was the age-inappropriate wardrobe choice and the uncomfortable lyrics. For Melfest 2018, he fixed both those things, but there was the JACKET. Ugh, the jacket. It kept getting in his way. And the come hither look he kept giving us was not sexy, it was creepy. So our first reaction to “Dance You Off” was “We like him. The song is ok. The staging is very good. But it’s not enough.” And then nothing else showed up in Sweden, and we were rooting for him to win.

It’s telling that the Swedish delegation opted to submit his musical video to Eurovision instead of the Melodifestivalen performance (which has been Sweden’s customary practice). We surmise that team Christer Bjorkman et al will be giving Benjamin some notes between now and May. Hopefully that will help him, but that inner saboteur can be a tricky demon.

To us, Benjamin Ingrosso is an intriguing figure. We like his music and so much about him is appealing. Then he does something to undermine himself. He can’t help it. It gives him layers, to the point where he earns a place alongside Donny Montell in our pantheon of patron saints. We wish him the best.

Sweden’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Robin Bengtsson has won Melodifestivalen and will represent Sweden at Eurovision with “I Can’t Go On.”

Bengtsson finished third in Sweden’s Idol 2008 and has gone on to have top 10 hits with “Another Lover’s Gone” and “Constellation Prize,” with which he placed fifth in last year’s Melodifestivalen. “I Can’t Go On” was written by David Kreuger, Hamed “K-One” Pirouzpanah and Robin Stjernberg. Stjernberg represented Sweden with “You” at the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest. Kreuger and Pirouzpanah co-wrote “Undo” for Sanna Nielsen, as well as Alcazar’s “Blame It On the Disco.”

We have complex feelings about “I Can’t Go On.” It’s smooth and catchy, and it’s elevated by the staging, which starts off all Justin Timberlake backstage at Saturday Night Live and then gets all OK GO’s “Here It Goes Again.”

However, “I Can’t Go On” is not without its flaws. It is a triumph of style over substance. As such, Bengtsson needs to perform it as stylishly as possible or else it comes off as a bit smarmy and exposes the inherent mediocrity of the song.

In particular, the original lyric contained the line “when you look this fucking beautiful,” which was repeated 10 times during its first performance. (It’s so cute when Swedes swear in English.) Seemingly realizing he had a shot to win, Bengtsson changed the lyric for the Melodifestivalen final to “when you look this freaking beautiful.” It’s not an improvement by any stretch of the imagination, but the songwriters had painted themselves into a corner with a needless swear word that added nothing to the song. We’re not prudes, by the way. We just didn’t see the fucking point of the original lyric.

Bengtsson was behind in the betting odds going into the Melodifestivalen final and it always felt like he was a part of the conversation without ever being anyone’s outright favorite. In the end, he finished third in the televote and only got the full 12 points from three of the 11 international juries. However, he did get eight to 12 points from all but two of the juries. People like to focus on the douze points at Eurovision, but the key to doing well is getting those mid-to-upper range of points. The results of Melodifestivalen prove that in microcosm, which is convenient for us since Eurovision now uses the Melodifestivalen scoring system.

We’re not saying that “I Can’t Go On” is your next Eurovision winner. There are a lot of stronger songs in the Song Contest this year. But there weren’t a lot of stronger songs or better performances at Melodifestivalen this year and that was good enough for Bengtsson to book a ticket to Kyiv.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Ides of March Edition

Beware the Ides of March, but beware the Eurovision Song Contest entries from San Marino more.

San Marino: Serhat – “I Didn’t Know”

For those of us who first came to Eurovision for the campiness, the past decade has been relatively slim pickings. Sure, you sometimes get a countertenor on a plinth or an Albanian Gumby impersonator, but most countries are increasingly taking this seriously. Fortunately, San Marino and Serhat have teamed up to offer us a slice of old school hokum that has transported us to a magical land where that strap-on monocle is an actual thing that people actually wear. We want to vacation in Manfred T. Mugler’s artistic vision. With any luck, the staging of this least self-aware miracle will live up to the amazing video. San Marino, don’t fuck this up.

UPDATED 03/21/2016: They fucked this up. Since we posted this review, San Marino decided to use the disco remix of “I Didn’t Know” as their Eurovision entry. Sadly, the original video has been scrubbed from the Eurovision YouTube playlist. Why do you got to stick it to the Manfred, San Marino?

Continue reading “Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Ides of March Edition”

Sweden’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

At Eurovision, there are some years where it’s an open contest. And then there are the years where Sweden nails it. Here’s your next winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, Måns Zelmerlöw with “Heroes”:

As fans, moments like this are few and far between, and we live for them. “Heroes,” how do we love thee? Let us count the ways.

We love Måns. Måns is a beloved figure among the Eurovision devout. He had two prior strong Melodifestivalen showings in 2007 and 2009, and he co-hosted Melodifestivalen in 2010 (where, notably, he sang “Eye of the Tiger” with Dolph Lundgren). Like Sanna Nielsen last year, it was starting to look like he was going to be one of the greats that would never get his shot.  We’re over the moon for him.

We love the song. Detractors have pointed out that “Heroes” bears a not-so-subtle similarity to David Guetta’s “Lovers on the Sun.” No question, it does. The Ennio Morricone spaghetti western-inspired pop sound recently popularized by Guetta and Avicii is present here: the verses have similar melodies and tempo, and there are some similar transitions between verse and chorus. But this weakness is also a strength. Musically, the song doesn’t follow the “Eurovision template.” When people are saying it sounds like David Guetta, they are tacitly acknowledging that song is modern Swedish pop, consistent with the Swedish pop that currently fills the airwaves. Further, we maintain that “Heroes” is actually the better song. The chorus is more engaging, and the lyrics of “Heroes” are in line with the Wild West theme.

We love the lyrics. “We are the heroes of our time, but we’re dancing with the demons in our minds.” It’s an inspiring idea. And while the music eschews the Eurovision template, this message is universal and easy to understand. It’s a great example of deviating from the formula just enough.

We love the fit between song and artist. Måns’s decision to return for 2015 was surely because he believed he had found the right song. He has. In this performance of “Heroes” he hits every beat. He’s vocally great, he engages with the animation in his staging, he’s likable, he’s sexy, he’s joyful.

We love the staging. The concept has Måns alone on stage, interacting with animated characters. At the bridge he transitions to a rotoscoped extreme close-up, then to a extreme close-up on camera, and finally ending up stage center with the crowd. It’s practically a music video, staged live. “Heroes” has one of the most creative stagings we have ever seen at Eurovision, a national final, or an award show. It’s simply jaw-dropping.

We love that it will translate. Swedish artists have been getting smarter about coming up with staging concepts that play well at the lavish Melodifestivalen and yet can also be adapted to the stricter requirements of the Eurovision stage. To stage this song, they need the backdrop, a bench, and some specific camera angles. Without the need for backing dancers, Sweden can use its 6-person limit to staff a team of backing vocalists who can take on the chorus parts and vocal doubling.

“Heroes” sailed to victory at Melodifestivalen this year. That’s no slight on the competition — the caliber of song in this year’s contest was unusually high — it’s an indicator of how good this song is. It’s hard to imagine that anything else will be able to put up a fight in Vienna.

Sweden’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Melodifestivalen, the big kid on the block, wrapped up this weekend. It was an unusual year in Sweden. Aftonbladet reported decreased ratings and increased criticism; this year Swedish public seemed to tire of the production value. In one respect the Swedes had a point: the production was a little low rent. In previous years we’ve had Dolph Lundgren singing “Eye of the Tiger,” but this year, delicious pastries? However, Christer Björkman’s song choices seemed very much the usual fare: multiple options from Fredrik Kempe, multiple options from Bobby Ljunggren, sentimental favorites from previous years, Eric Saade wannabes, etc.

The comfortable routine was very nearly upstaged by Ace Wilder, a Kesha contemporary, who came out of nowhere to hit #1 in the Swedish pop charts and got within an inch of winning. But, not to worry. In the end, the Swedish voters made a sensible choice. Here’s Sanna Nielsen and “Undo”:

“Undo” is a solid ballad. Songwriter Fredrik Kempe has laced the refrain with a distinctive song hook and satisfying musical resolution, so important considering how many times we have heard songs like these before. It’s successful, and the song stands out in a crowd.

Sanna Nielsen is a sympathetic winner, a solid singer who for years has been a Eurovision hopeful. This was her seventh time competing on the Melfest stage. In her previous attempts, she always made the final (no small feat in itself), but always came up short. Sometimes, as in the case of “Empty Room” in 2008, painfully short. In that year, she convincingly won the public vote only to be spiked by juries who favored Charlotte Perrelli’s “Hero” (and we all know how THAT turned out).

Nielsen is a statuesque beauty, and she’s blessed with a pure tone that’s well suited to big ballads like these. In Melfest she was presented as a solo act. For Copenhagen, where no backing tracks are permitted, it will be a relatively straightforward task to beef up her vocal with backing singers. The Melfest-to-Eurovision transfer should go fairly smoothly. Sweden’s choice, however, was made from the head and not the heart. It’ll do fine for them in May, but I don’t think it’s our next winner.

Sweden’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

Robin Stjernberg has won the 2013 Melodifestivalen with the song “You,” and will try to follow up Loreen’s 2012 win when the Eurovision Song Contest is held on home turf in Malmö.

“You” is a pure pop number: upbeat and catchy, and performed by a good looking guy with a slick, boy-band-ish voice. I admit that I found that yodeling chorus (You-oo-OO-oo-OH-OH) a bit grating after awhile, and during the final, Stjernberg went a little harsh trying to sell the end of the song.

But why quibble? It’s a pretty good song, and a great story: Stjernberg qualified for the final out of the Andra Chansen (Second Chance) round, which as far as I can tell has never happened, at least in a long time. Interestingly, “You” finished second in the public vote behind Yohio’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” but the latter song did poorly with the international jury. Even though the jury vote was a small percentage of the total, it was enough to keep Yohio from claiming the Melodifestivalen title.

I’d say that we’re not expecting “You” to produce back-to-back Eurovision wins for Sweden. But considering that we’re not expecting anyone to win Eurovision this year, who knows if Stjernberg’s luck will continue in May.

Sweden’s Eurovision 2012 Entry

After weeks of feverish speculation, Sweden has decided on Loreen and “Euphoria”:

With familiar songwriters (Thomas G:son and Peter Boström) and Mortal Kombat beats, “Euphoria” operates well within the parameters of Swedish pop. But unlike a lot of schlager, “Euphoria” is powerful and taps the emotions. Loreen’s voice is a great fit for the song, and her vocal is transcendent. Her performance includes dance movement that seems influenced by martial arts that at first seemed weird to me, but as the performance went on I decided that it was distinctive. Taken together, it adds up to a work with a fair amount of depth and substance. I believe “Euphoria” is one of the best songs to come out of Sweden in a decade.

Another thing I like about this entry is that it should adapt well to the Eurovision stage. In the past, some of Sweden’s larger productions have struggled to adapt Melodifestivalen staging to Eurovision’s 6 person limit and live backing vocals (cough cough Malena). Loreen’s staging is just two people, so it won’t be hard to add a backup singer to mirror her vocal where she uses backing tracks.

“Euphoria” emerges from a particularly boring and predictable Melodifestivalen. There was a real dearth of quality entries this year. We actually turned off two of the Melodifestival semifinals in disgust, and I fell asleep at one point during Globen. The only other song in the running was Danny Saucedo’s “Amazing,” which finished in 2nd place.

A few words about Danny Saucedo. I like him. He’s the consummate showman, a talented dancer and has a real knack for making fun, disposable pop music. And my impression is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. “Amazing” had fantastic production value–a Tron-inspired concept with black lighting and light up costumes, and taking full advantage of Danny’s hip hop dance skills. However, “Amazing” has one of the stupidest lyrics ever. Case in point:

“I’m feelin’ great, I’m feeling awesome
Let me explain
You are the reason I breathe
I think you’re amazing, amazing
You’re a-a-a-a-amazing
That’s what you are”

Seriously, these sound like they were penned by a 10-year-old. Last year “In the Club” and now this. I hope Danny gets the nod one year, I really do. But to do it, he really needs to find a better song.