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What is Schlager, and is there an Ultimate Schlager Song? Written by on January 28, 2011 | 15 Comments

If there’s one genre of music that you expect from Eurovision, it’s schlager, the high energy, adrenaline infused, dancefloor filling pop sound that crops up in every contest. To find out more about Schalger though, we needed some experts to talk us through what it really means, and if any one song typifies the look. Step forward the Schlagerboys…

Our Schlagerblog is always searching for the ultimate schlager song and performance. When Ewan and ESC Insight asked if we could discuss “the definition of schlager”, we thought the best thing to do would be to make a list of the things we love to see in a good schlager song and see if we could find any elements that are always cropping up and mark out something as Schlagertastic. You know what, it was pretty easy spot the hallmarks of a classic.

Having a dramatic key-change

Or preferably two. Ideally it needs to be a great big soaring Lord Thomas of G:Son key-change like Anna Book’s “Samba Sambero” and not one of Fredrik Kempe’s clunky key-changes, where the music stops and the then they key-change kicks in (see  Måns Zelmerlöw’s “Cara Mia” or “Hope And Glory”). Early key changes are wasted – Trax’s “Du er fuld af løgn” has one for the second line. Bobbysocks “La Det Swinge” changed key for the second verse and thus set the bar; no key change should come before this. The other extreme is a key change coming too late; there should be at least a whole chorus following a key change. Dropping a surprise key change in with ten seconds to go is all very exciting but then it’s over too soon (see Linda Bentzing’s “Alla Flickor”, which reminds us; if you’re going to do a soaring key change, do it properly)

The slow beginning that changes gear into a schlager stompers

Nothing gets us more excited than a song kicking in for the first chorus after a dramatic build up during the first verse. See Shirley Clamp’s “Att Alska Dig”, Fredrik Kempe’s “Finally”, or Hera Björk’s “Someday” for the best examples of how to do this. All the best songs give you a chance to stake your place on the dance floor for the first bit before launching in to a stompathon and mass singalong half way through.

Add in the memorable dance routine

Or at the very least some synchronised strutting. In fact sideways walking can have as much impact as a dance routine, demonstrated in every Israeli entry during the 1980s. Hera Björk understood this when she incorporated a bit of sideways walking into her performance of “Je Ne Sais Quoi” in the second verse.


The best schlager almost always has to be accompanied by a wind-machine. This has been the law ever since Carola shorted out the fuse at Cinecitta in 1991 and had to perform “”Fångad av en stormvind” to blank looks from the audience in the hall as they apparently couldn’t hear a thing. Other iconic uses of wind-machines have included Olivia Lewis’ Eurovision performance of “Vertigo”, and Regina’s wind-machine moment from 2009, when the group stood in the centre of the stage like extras from Les Miserables holding a billowing flag in the air and then letting it float to the back of the stage.

Use of Props

Olivia Lewis demonstrated one should never shy away from props; she chucked just about everything at her performance in Helsinki including blokes in gold body paint playing violins and banging giant gongs, backing singers doing a spot of synchronised fan fluttering, wind-machines and finally the blokes waving a couple of tea towels frantically after the key change. Props are hardly ever a bad thing, even Jari Sillanpää’s angel wings were fab.

Schlager Divas

To be totally schlagertastic a song generally has to be sung by a schlager diva. Or a drag queen. Blokes only occasionally do schlager successfully, “Stay the Night” anyone?

Fabulous Frocks

The outfits are always important. The singer has to look completely fabulous and glamorous. DQ understood this when he sang “Drama Queen” in Helsinki. He also understood that having a frock change was key to schlager success. Dames Cheryl Baker and Jay Aston launched the iconic frock change thirty years ago during “Making Your Mind Up”. Guri Schanke took it to an extreme in 2007 by having three frocks revealed while she sang “Ven A Bailar Conmigo”, and one of these reveals incorporated excellent prop-use, namely bloke dancers waving giant pink feathers in front of her to spare her modesty.


Fabulous shoes are a pre-requisite for any schlager diva. Sandra Oxenryd wore glamorous, thigh-high white boots for “Looking Through My Window” and Anžej Dežan wore shoes the colours of the Slovene flag the same year. The archetypal schlager shoes are clearly The Herreys’ golden boots, although one of the best frock and shoe combos has to be Ani Lorak’s glittery stilettos that matched her silvery outfit and played a key role in her performance in Belgrade as she clambered about on those lightboxes. Velvet Inc also deserve a mention for the fab shoes worn during their performance of “Tricky” in Norway MGP 2009.

The ultimate three minutes of Schlager?

And is there an ultimate schlager performance? Well obviously it’s Carola’s seminal performance of “Evighet” at the Gothenburg heat of Melodifestivalen 2006. It’s unlikely that anything could ever top this performance. Carola struts around the stage, with a catwalk specifically made by SVT for her. She has dancers with flags, huge hair that she tosses around while about fifty wind-machines are set at gale-force level, and “Evighet” has just about the best key-change in the whole history of key-changes. And it’s Carola, for heaven’s sake. Carola is schlager.

Thanks to the boys for that, although I do wonder if there will be some debate in the comments on their choice of Carola as the ultimate schlager, let handbags commence! When that’s all over don’t forget to swing by the

Schlagerblog as Melodifestivalen and the rest of the National Finals surprise, amaze and delight The Schlagerboys.

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Have Your Say

15 responses to “What is Schlager, and is there an Ultimate Schlager Song?”

  1. Jam Tart says:

    This is what makes Eurovision a laughing stock amongst serious songwriters and recording artists. If the gay over-40’s stop going on about key changes, dramatic build up / endings then more serious artists will look to enter. I know many famous artists who have declined invitations based on perceived ‘song requirements’. If you look at the songs that have had the biggest impact on the voting by removing the neighbour / diaspora votes over the last four years, none have any of these elements.

  2. Ewan Spence says:

    With no one genre standing out as “the genre to choose” in terms of winning songs I think that’s being a bit harsh. Perhaps you’re looking at it for a UK perspective, in which case the idea of a typical Eurovision song pushed by the media makes more sense. But in terms of laughing stock? No I don’t think so. For example, how many of the elements here would apply to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face? You know, that song by RedOne, who’s entered this year’s Melodifestivalen with Love Generation?

  3. Phil Tipton says:

    Say no more.

    Some of today’s best pop music has schlager running deep inside its core. Just like any other genre it has it high and low points, but Eurovision would be a poorer place without it.

  4. I agree very much with what Jam Tart said. Thankfully not many ESC songs are as predictable musically as schlagers

  5. David says:

    While ESC may be a laughing stock in the UK, many countries do take it *much* more seriously and include Schlager-type songs in their national selections. Can ALL those expert selection panels, tv, radio and music industry experts in ALL those countries be wrong I wonder?

    And as for the article – Schlagertastic boys! I’m off for a play with my microphone stand and wind machine!

  6. Sue says:

    I found this very useful. Thank you. I don’t think the UK’s poor performance can be entirely due to bias in the voting (Jam Tart). Eurovision is to music what Disney is to cinematography. You might not like it but that’s no reason to knock it. Schlager for Schlager’s sake. Why not?

  7. Kevin Manley-Green says:

    Jam Tart has missed the point. The Schlagerboys were asked to write about “What is Schlager, and is there an Ultimate Schlager Song?” not about any other “serious” genre – and why does he think that the writers of Schlager aren’t serious about what they do?. In a democracy we are all entitled to our own views and have a duty to respect that others will differ.

    I look forward to many more evenings at Shlagertowers with “gay over-40’s … going on about key changes, dramatic build up / endings” – and we’re not all over 40 you know.

  8. Fred says:

    What Schlagerboys write is usually meant tongue-in-check. The like schlagers, but they often overdue it, so they try to be funny. Sometimes I think they are, sometimes not.

    Generally I agree with Jam Tart. I don’t like schlagers. But I also keep in mind that what Schlagerboys write is not meant be taken literally.

  9. Mark says:

    Schlager is what gives Eurovision its theatricality and without that what would we have? A three-hour long line-up of bland ballads and central European ethno-pop that would have been shelved years ago in the UK. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but without it Eurovision would much the poorer.

  10. BBAnne says:

    No mention of the all important air-punch at the end of the song, but all in all a perfect Schlagerboys article!

    I have to agree with Evighet as the epitome of Schlager, the key change always gives me a lump in my throat 🙂

  11. PJ says:

    Great article! 🙂

  12. Mighty M says:

    Ooh how very cynical Jam Tart! I happen to be a gay man in my 20s and have ALWAYS loved the schlager! There are many things that have made Eurovision equally loved and loathed… how it takes itself so seriously, the often horrendous presenters and more often than not, the “what on earth was that?” performance of songs that defy description… Slovenia last year anyone? Certainly not Schlager but hardly the cutting edge of contemporary music either. Eurovision is embraced for its musical madness, Schlager being a very important piece of its absurd but delicious pie!

  13. Chris K says:

    Much like the comments above, there are alot of different ideas of what is a decent ESC song. Schlager is one that has many examples and if you watch the Melodifestivalen you will be in nirvana. I judge songs on their merits as opposed to their style.

    I commend the boys on their effort. I had no idea what made a Schlager song and I now feel enlightened. But, shoes are not a prerequisite for anything. Yes, the people wore them, but thats about it. [Not a shoe person as u can tell] he he

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