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Magnus Carlsson and Seven Minutes of Schlager Written by on February 11, 2023

At Melodifestivalen’s second heat from Linköping seven songs will compete for a place in the Friends Arena Final. But none of those competing songs would dare admit to be the word ‘schlager’. Ben Robertson investigates what that word means in modern day Melodifestivalen, and wonders its future will only ever be a part of interval acts going forward. 

“I mean schlager is a part of Melodifestivalen’s DNA. Schlager is about hit music, about songs that make people happy and Melodifestivalen these days needs songs that have all those ingredients.”

Those are the words of Karin Gunnarsson, competition co-ordinator for Melodifestivalen. I am interviewing her just a few minutes before I walk into the SAAB Arena in Linköping for the Friday rehearsal of this season’s second heat, the first time these songs will be performed to a paying public. As I get my ticket checked to enter the arena I’m bombarded by families in all colours of glitter dressed up for a night of public service entertainment at its best, checking out the sponsors stalls giving away chocolates, sweets, crisps and…errr…carrots (bet the parents like that one).

The soundtrack to this bazaar of freebies is a playlist of the finest schlagers of the modern era. ‘My Way’ by Tone Sekelius, ‘Run to the hills’ by Klara Hammarström, Hasse Andersson’s ‘Guld och Gröna Skogar’. Yes, maybe the die hard schlager contingent amongst our readership might question some of these being included, but these are the tunes that are part of Melodifestivalen’s DNA, and fall into that world of hits that make people happy.

As you would expect the gears will change throughout the show as six different types of pop music (plus the indescribable ‘Grytan’ that we have already recommended to Eurovision Apocalypse) will provide something for everyone in that way Melfest does.

However the one on Saturday I see as most likely to get on this pre-show  playlist for next year’s tour is song number seven, ‘Mer av dig’. Closing the competitive part of the show is a song so cookie-cutter Melfest and I mean that as a compliment, not criticism. Performed by Theoz, the 17 year old influencer with over two million social media followers, this number has every chance this year to top his 7th place finish in last year’s final. He describes his entry as “uptempo, joyful and happy” and promises a show with “a lot of dancing and to play with the cameras”.

“It is very catchy and it will get stuck in your mind,” Theoz added at Friday’s press conference. “I want everyone to sing-a-long with it and I just want people to enjoy my music.”

Call me old fashioned here but let me list all these things out. Catchy, sing-a-long tune – check. Singing and dancing and a big show – check. Uptempo and joyful – tick. Key change in exactly the place you expect it – check. The newly announced Melodifestivalen Hall of Fame member Thomas G:Son on the songwriting credits – check.

Isn’t this the perfect recipe for a modern Swedish schlager banger?

Not for Theoz and he backtracks away from that connection, “I don’t know if I would call it a schlager” he answers while scurrying to move the conversation as far away from the scoundrelous word I dared to utter.

Because, you see, in Sweden, that term schlager and its connection to Melodifestivalen is not what it once was. But seeing as though Theoz is denying his three minutes of hit music could in any way be called a schlager, SVT have brought the definitive schlager acts to come on just after.

The Schlager King and Queen

There is a seven minute long interval act on Saturday from two artists who combined have sixteen Melodifestivalen participations between them, Magnus Carlsson and Linda Bengtzing. The two 48-year-old acts were staples of the Melodifestivalen circuit back when the show transitioned from a one night per year to six show extravaganza, and between them those sixteen participations have resulted in eleven finals.

We get the best of their track record from Melodifestivalen history as well as some of their biggest hits, with Tess Merkel and Markoolio joining the pair on stage (maybe that can help you guess what some of the numbers are going to be). Without spoiling too much, if you are a Melodifestivalen fan of a certain vintage, expect to sing along to each and every word as you get chorus after chorus and I’m pretty sure multiple key changes were experienced.

It will surprise few people to know that these two artists have previously toured together around Sweden in the summer, when small towns from Malmö to Malmberget see crowds flock to outdoor stages for a good old ållsang (translation: ‘all sing’). And while us in the Eurovision community may only see these artists crop up on the odd February each year, if anything it is that Melodifestivalen performance, with their big new hit on the country’s biggest TV show, that sets up the entire summer touring schedule.

I ask Magnus Carlsson about how much Melodifestivalen has been a part of shaping his career.

“Melodifestivalen is the DNA of the Swedish music industry. I have been here every year and you come back now and again to compete. Every road leads back to Melodifestivalen. It is a big part of my career.

“I wouldn’t do this unless I felt this would be something good and something the audience would like.”

Magnus Carlsson discussing his career backstage at Melodifestivalen

The connection of Melodifestivalen with Magnus Carlsson is such that, if I were to ask his biggest fans what his top 10 hits of all time were, I’d expect to see all eight of his Melodifestivalen entries, be them with the dansband Barbados or disco darlings Alcazar, to be in that list.

But despite those two bands being coming from genres that are not that traditional 50s and 60s sound with the Germanic oompa beat permeating throughout, both Barbados and Alcazar fit into the 21st century definition of a schlager because of their Melodifestivalen connection. And while Theoz may be uneasy about that labelled potentially going on his latest Spotify streaming hit, Magnus has no such stigma to the word.

“I began my schlager in that part of the industry singing those songs and I like that genre.

“Schlager is not a negative word in my world any more, that is what I am. If Alcazar, from dark disco corners around the world came into this and if that is schlager I have no problem with that.”

But it has been eight years since Magnus Carlsson has taken part in Melodifestivalen since. Back in 2015 he squeaked to the final by a wafer-thin margin of 0.001% over reality stars Samir and Victor, eventually taking 9th place in Friends Arena. The generational transformation of Melodifestivalen has seen international juries in the final and an app vote dilute the votes of the traditional schlager sound even before any generational changes in music taste. While Magnus has avoided competition in recent years Linda Bengtzing has not, at best finishing 5th place out of 8 competing songs in the past four heats she has participated in.

Is There Still A Home For Schlager?

While SVT may be happy to splice together a nostalgia trip of 21st century schlager songs as an interval act, one has to wonder if the glory days of the genre and its Melodifestivalen association have come to an end. But while twenty years ago names like Lena Philipsson and Carola went the whole nine yards to represent Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest, in modern times even the biggest names like Charlotte Perrelli or Nanne Grönwall have competed without daring to threaten the top of the leaderboard.

Magnus Carlsson acknowledges that competing in Melodifestivalen is “a risk” and that should a big name compete without success “for a year or two where might be a backlash.” He knows this well, having missed out on the final in a tightly contested heat in 2007 with ‘Live Forever’, a track Magnus still considers to be one of his best. But after five minutes of sadness and anger he moved on, and eventually ‘Live Forever’ got its own life and became a hit across the Baltic Sea in Poland that summer.

Yet Magnus doesn’t have a bad word to say about either his non-qualification or the perceived tailing off of schlager as a competitive genre in the Melfest bubble. He is complementary to the production that SVT puts on, in particular with the staging of performances and the video projections in the arena, as well as succeeding in creating a show where “children and grandparents are voting together at the same time.”

“Melodifestivalen is quite good at following the trends and new steps.

“The songs nowadays are a hybrid of the schlager thinking of what a song should be about and the hit lists. The schlager has grown in a pop costume and I kind of like it. I am not keen on the old school schlager, I want to mix the two.”

Karin Gunnarsson from SVT agrees that this is essential. Schlager, to take part in Melodifestivalen, must be “adjusted to the modern days.”

“You should have an element of how you upgrade your schlager past because Melodifestivalen is a contemporary contest these days, but with love for our past. As long as you make the schlager genre in a relevant way.”

Karin Gunnarsson, Competition Co-ordinator of Melodifestivalen (Photo: SVT)

Yes, Saturday night’s interval act is one to look forward to, and a “big gift for all our Melodifestivalen fans” as Karin describes it. However she also points out that both Casanovas and Emil Henrohn in later heats have more than a touch of that schlager influence within their three minute performances. Yet schlager is not a genre that Karin Gunnarsson is specifically reaching out for. That is because the feeling of schlager permeates through the selected songs organically, as the songwriters are so close to the genre’s ‘influence’, Karin explains.

Still Schlager, Just Not As We Know It

And while Theoz may flinch at the idea his genre is on the schlager spectrum, his number on Saturday fits in not necessarily alongside Magnus Carlsson and Linda Bengtzing but alongside people like Klara Hammarström, Dotter, Hanna Ferm and the rest of the modern hitmaking crew. None of these three would consider themselves anything remotely schlager but they do bring catchy joyful tunes to the competition. The reason that the true, old school schlager is relegated to the interval act slot is because the competition doesn’t need it, the same elements exist numerous times within the 28 just masked in a way that the contemporary next generation are eager to embrace.

But where does this leave Magnus Carlsson? Well the whole experience here in Linköping is leaving him in a contemplative mood.

“We know almost everyone working on this [production], and of course it brings back a lot of memories.

“Of course now I want to go again, for number nine.”

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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