Earlier this week we published this article with our top nine reasons why Melodifestivalen is awesome and why every year Eurovision fans are counting down the days to its start. However the six week extravaganza is far from perfect. Melodifestivalen can easily be argued as the most exciting or highest quality selection format, but there are still some gripes that exist. Ben Robertson gives the alternative viewpoint, listing his top seven ideas to change in Melodifestivalen.
Make Sure You Are Actually Singing
Melodifestivalen has a few subtle rule changes from Eurovision which can be argued as producing a better TV show, but also make the contest lose credibility and create as many problems as they solve. The first of these is the rule allowing vocals to be pre-recorded on the backing tracks. While Junior Eurovision allows this to be used, the Eurovision Song Contest insists that all songs must be sung with live vocals.
The pre-recorded vocals can successfully remove some of the risk of performing an entry, but can also make it sound completely different once removed. Sweden’s first such foray with this rule change was in 2009 which created a winner that depended on them. ‘La Voix’ was not the same song at all with those live vocals in Moscow that just could not replicate the impressive choral effect from Melodifestivalen and the lack of impact contributed to the lower than expected position that year.
At least for the Melodifestivalen Final the rules should be adapted to ensure the Swedish televoting public gets the chance to hear a version with live vocals. This should not be a burden for songwriters or performers as even with a live backing vocal allowance SVT does provide a backing choir for the shows.
Disco Balls, Glass Smashing And Seventeen People On Stage
They know in Sweden that a Eurovision performance needs to have a good song, but it needs to look good as well. It is little surprise then to see the visual gimmicks used are top-quality and are the culmination of months of planning and preparation. Firework display are choreographed to perfection, the dresses costs thousands of any currency to create and the dance steps are drilled after hours and hours of studio work for getting every last drop out of those three minutes on stage.
Some of these extras have become synonymous with the songs that compete in Melodifestivalen nowadays. Alcazar’s glittery disco ball and Eric Saade’s glass box delivered iconic moments that have lived with the contest years after their performances.
It just goes a little bit too far however. For Eric Saade in Melodifestivalen they had plenty of time in the show to clear up the floor and ensure everything was health and safety compliant. That simply is not true for Eurovision where the stage needs to be cleared, cleaned and set up for the next act in a thirty second window. SVT knew this and still allowed a song to compete with a performance gimmick that was never going to be practical for Eurovision and even cutting those glass smashes from three to one still made for some of Eurovision’s most stressful rehearsals ever.
SVT should be allowing loads of creativity in their performances without any question, but they also need to keep a check of what is realistic for Eurovision. The space race to create the best show needs to be taken step-by-step not in leaps and bounds so that they are practical for any host broadcaster organising the Song Contest in May. And when SVT themselves are hosting (like in 2013) they should know better than allowing a seventeen person ensemble running around the audience compete in the Melodifestivalen Final when none of the gimmicks contained would ever be practical for the stage they were designing in Malmö. The viewers and voters deserve better consideration of this to make it a fair contest to find a Eurovision winner.
The Order Of Songs Is Significant
It is something that we all on ESC Insight have investigated in great detail and we are confident in the mathematical assertion that theon the success of a song in the Eurovision Song Contest. In general the later songs perform the better it will do in the Contest. With Melodifestivalen and a smaller set of songs you could argue that this effect is smaller, however looking at similar producer-led shows such as Idol the bias is percentage wise .
SVT have championed a producer-led running order in Melodifestivalen almost exclusively for many years. This has benefits for the TV aspect in mixing up the variety of songs and artists and being able to use that to generate more tension, excitement and humour as we move from one song to the next.
However this meddles too much with the competitive nature of the competition and creates scenarios that are too predictable yet too unlikely to replicate in Eurovision. Malena Ernman and Eric Saade won Melodifestivalen while being drawn last in both their Semi Final and Final (something essential for Eric so that the glass could be cleared) and certainly the tradition is that the bigger names are kept towards the end to generate more interest. Traditions for other songs are not seemingly sacrosanct; opening songs are up-tempo to get the party started with the songs drawn no. 2 and just before the end are downbeat as tempo changes through the show as even casual viewers now come to expect without fail. SVT’s version of a running order is now too predictable, too formulaic and too tired.
I have a radical idea for SVT to generate interest in the show but to remove any possible negativity and suspected bias that could lie in their creation of a running order. With Melodifestivalen being such a big draw for the Swedish public would their be a demand each week to film the running order draw live on national TV as happens in the UK with the FA Cup draw? That way media interest and viewer interest is lit up in anticipation to the order created on the Saturday night and discussions begin about what are good and bad draws but SVT can not be criticised for the way the cards lie. This happened once for Andra Chansen duels and could be extend to be bigger in the future. Win-win, no?
Be Honest And Fair About How The Songs Are Selected
To enter Melodifestivalen you should submit your song to the Melodifestivalen jury which sits every year made up from a collection of SVT staff, experts on the competition and interested members of the public who then choose the best songs to compete. Kind of. 50% of the songs in the final 28 this year come from the jury, whereas the other half have been chosen by Mr. Melodifestivalen Christer Björkman and the team at SVT, a number that has increased from one song to four songs and now half of the songs as his tenure with SVT has lengthened. The control that one person has on the Contest is great and needs to be used carefully.
Part of this is about being able to use musical contacts in the industry to entice artists to take part, as well as ensuring a variety of acts and genres that will make the whole experience a good thing. Sometimes this push comes at a loss of perceived song quality but as long as the jury works well to find great songs that should not overall be a significant problem.
However that jury process needs to be one where it can be trusted to work effectively. In the past they have not listened to every entry submitted, some being removed by SVT before the group came together. They were given instructions on which types of songs to choose to fill genre specifications, which surely in this 50/50 system should be the requirement of SVT to provide balance, not the jury. If a jury exists they simply need to be given all the songs and get on with it. We would argue that the jury needs to be made completely of members who do not work on the SVT production team to help this impartiality.
Turn Svensktoppen Nästa Into An Actual Route For Melfest Songs
Svensktoppen Nästa is a competition ran by Sveriges Radio to find the potential next stars of the Swedish charts. For the last three years SVT have kindly offered the winner of the competition a place in the starting line up of Melodifestivalen. The catch here is that Svensktoppen Nästa takes place in August, meaning that the winner must ditch their winning song and create another entry to send into the semi finals in February.
This is a lost opportunity to create a buzz about new artists and their best work. It worked well in Germany last year as Elaiza came through the wildcard round and all the way to Copenhagen, but one solitary rags-to-riches tale captured televoters imagination arguably a little too well. Also the history of Melodifestivalen’s Webbjoker competition where unsigned artists could place songs online has been of interest to only the super geeks to the Eurovision bubble and the song quality has been sub-standard. Currently the tokenistic amateur entrant in Melodifestivalen is one picked out from many hundreds without any public involvement.
There needs to be a bigger carrot at the end of the line to make this work. Svensktoppen Nästa could be moved later in the year to after September 1st it would be ideal as a format for selecting potential Melodifestivalen entries. Not just one which could steal all the glory, but I would suggest one for each semi final to come from the competition which could maybe even be televised in its final stages. The winners would then not just get a place in Melodifestivalen but are also guaranteed time to have their entries professionally produced by famous composers akin to the process Lilla Melodifestivalen used this past summer.
A movement like this would generate bigger interest and increase the professionalism of the newcomers to the contest and ensure growth of Melodifestivalen throughout the entire year. No Webbjoker or Svensktoppen Nästa entry has reached Andra Chansen, never mind the Final of Melodifestivalen, and something should be done to up the status, profile and experience so there is a realistic chance of it creating stars.
A Longer Term Vision For Gender Equality
SVT’s announcement for creating a Melodifestivalen with songs at least half written by female contributions is a noble one and shows the moral conscience that is commendable. Nevertheless the technicalities of how this arbitrarily came to be a rule this year needs a consideration for the political movements towards a resurgent feminist movement across Sweden this year, with members of the Feminist Initiative claiming seats in Stockholm Council amongst others.
However a quota alone is not going to be create a changing culture of quality songwriter from both sexes (as a previous ESC Insight Newsletter has discussed), and it’s going to generate feelings of further distrust of the song selection process. Iceland announced a similar process this year but a media backlash and outspoken criticism from some former entrants of their selection got the rule removed. In theory a jury process should be immune from the names and professions of songwriters so that side of things shouldn’t be the problem. Encouraging female songwriters to come through needs a longer term approach to change cultures over a generation.
Ironically if you look at Lilla Melodifestivalen then there we have a glut of female entrants compared to male. It is at this youthful level where intervention should be placed to provide extra encouragement and training to allow young and enthusiastic female songwriters to develop to a professional level where the big Melodifestivalen is their natural habitat. To generate equality is a worthwhile goal for Melodifestivalen to have, but for this to happen sustainably needs to be longer term and ensure that the intervention comes in earlier than this final stage of Melodifestivalen entries.
Those International Juries Are A Curse And A Blessing
That Melodifestivalen is replicating Eurovision and having 50% of the scoring created by International Juries is in theory a really savvy practice ensuring the results of Melodifestivalen are in keeping with the types likely to do well in the Eurovision Song Contest. However the process that the International Juries operate in could be strengthened to increase their professional integrity as well.
Some of the same names have been cropping up year after year in this system and their friendly faces enjoy their chance in the limelight to praise all things Melodifestivalen and quite often their good friend Christer as well. It’s all a little too jovial for a system which is there as a check to help Sweden pick the best song for Eurovision.
To replicate Eurovision further these juries could still be kept fun but could also be improved in their scrutiny. In keeping with the Eurovision Song Contest these juries could have new members every three years and have their voting breakdowns released by SVT after the show. Given how close the results were this year the extra level of detail may just help remove accusations of bias and ensure all jurors respect the professional expectations Sweden has to find the best possible song for Europe.
All together these ideas are a culmination of little tweaks that Melodifestivalen should be looking at in the aim to make it even more fair and fabulous. There is no denying now that Sweden has a successful National Final format, but one that perhaps is now lacking in freshness to be consistently able to deliver the passion from years gone by. SVT though constantly try and refresh the format with subtle tweaks which shows their commitment not to rest on their laurels.
I’m looking forward to this coming series of Melodifestivalen to once again be the pinnacle of fun and fantastic entertainment through what is itself alone one of the biggest songwriting competitions on the planet. Maybe some of these ideas will help SVT raise the bar again in 2016 as it continues to evolve.