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Interviewing Anders Wistbacka, Melodifestivalen’s New Executive Producer Written by on March 11, 2023

Anders Wistbacka is in his first year as Melodifestivalen’s Executive Producer. Here in this interview he sits with ESC Insight’s Ben Robertson to go over his past, his current day-to-day life, and the future of Melodifestivalen. 

Anders Wistbacka‘s career has seen him climb the ladder as a TV producer. As a freelance producer he worked around different companies in Stockholm, producing shows for public broadcaster SVT as well as TV4 and Kanal 5. These collaborations have seen him work on a whole variety of shows, such as computer game program Kontroll and Fuskbyggarna which took a look at builders who were accused of not completing their work to standard.

Back in 2006 he won the Kristallen award for best reality show with the show FC Z. This show saw former Swedish footballer Glenn Hysén work to coach a newly formed football team of young men who had never played the sport before. Within the space of four months the aim was that the team would train well enough to play a match against professional Djurgårdens IF in Stockholm.

“That was a great show to work with,” tells Anders, “that was important for me in my resume as that was a small show on a small channel.”

However as Anders’ career progressed his role shifted from the producer on small budget TV shows to that of an executive producer on some of Sweden’s biggest. Mästarnas mästare is one such show here in Sweden, where famous athletes from different sports compete in different physical and mental challenges.

“I used to be hands-on with the shows and now on shows like Mästarnas Mästare as the executive producer you are more the supervisor. They are two different things for me.”

Now it is Melodifestivalen that is Anders’ biggest project. And to be in this role has been a long term ambition. The reason for that ambition? A spontaneous visit to Friends Arena for the final a few years back, just to visit the show. But there was the love being shown by the 30,000 in attendance, and the “positive energy pouring out” of every corner of the arena, that made this his career aim.

The view from the back of Friends Arena during the 2014 Melodifestivalen Final

The view from the back of Friends Arena during the 2014 Melodifestivalen Final

“I said to my boss that I want to work on this show eventually. So he gave me some small shows to begin with and, at last, they asked me if I wanted to do it.”

The Work Of An Executive Producer

When I sit down to speak with Anders we are at the start of the week of Melodifestivalen’s final, I am expecting to find my interview time squeezed in between all other sorts of meetings and operations taking place as the show hits its climax. So much is far from reality, with Anders explaining that “my work is done I would say for this final.” Assuming the production is trouble-free this week instead Anders’ focus is on the contests of 2024 and even 2025.

“You have to plan it at least a year before, if not two years before. We have a big deal with Live Nation and they have to book the arenas for 2024 so we must have that tour planned and fixed around now.”

Another consideration for Anders at this time is the rest of his production team. While his role might be full time, the same can not be said for many of the other people on Melodifestivalen’s production who would work on different projects throughout the year. However Anders’ goal is to have “the best staff in Sweden”, commenting on how important it was to offer those people contracts now before other productions take the top talent.

“We want the best choreographers, the best producers, the best lightning directors, the best people on every part of the show. If you want those best people you need to make an offer for them really soon.”

One of the considerations that makes the tour of Melodifestivalen unique is that it has been the first return to a full six week, six city tour, since the pandemic. When asked about what has been the biggest challenges of this year Anders comments that it has been this transition back to the intense world of the Melodifestivalen tour, and that it took “one or two episodes to be able to get the wheels in motion again.” However this tour is a still carries that importance to ensure the show remains as “Hela Sveriges Fest” – that party for all of Swedes – and a large part of Anders’ work is to manage the entire production that travels around and brings that Melodifestivalen circus around to six towns in Sweden each year.

Such a party isn’t much of a party without the songs. While Anders is “involved in the discussions” about the songs and artists he makes it clear that he sees that in his role the choosing of songs should not be his decision. That is partly because of his expertise being in a field well away from the music scene, Melodifestivalen’s executive producer is not a musician nor Melodifestivalen expert and he openly admits that Melodifestivalen would be “a really boring show” if he chose his favourite artists to take part.

“I don’t know how to see a hit and listen to a song and say if it is going to be a hit or not. I don’t know how they do that. Karin [Gunnarsson, competition co-ordinator at Melodifestivalen] is the boss of that and I have to see the big picture with a lot of genres, types of artists and so on, but that is not new.

“For us it is very important for us to have the best artists, the best songwriters, to participate in this show. And I think we have this season. Loreen is very famous in Europe but there are a lot of other artists that are big in Sweden, we have artists from Norway, Ukraine, and I think that’s really interesting that Marcus and Martinus came to Sweden to be a part of this show.”

The Next Era of Melodifestivalen

We switch focus to look at where Melodifestivalen is heading to in its future. Anders starts this by already bringing up last week’s semi final, which is set to be one of the many topics for evaluation for next year’s cycle. However as much as SVT will have their own list of topics for the agenda, that list also comes from the listeners as well.

“For me I have to ask the viewers what they thought about the show this year. We are going to ask them after the final what was good, what was not good, did they like the semi final and so on.”

The vision that Anders has for Melodifestivalen is that it should be “the biggest entertainment show in Sweden” and with that attract the best artists and songwriters to want to take part in the opportunity such status would provide. However there is a realism to what this entertainment show means in a world where TV viewership is falling and many people find fame through increasingly diverse platforms. Anders imagines the future success of Melodifestivalen to be “not just a TV show”, and notes the increase in on-demand viewing and coverage on platforms like TikTok before and after the show by people who might not actually tune in live.

Whatever the means, Anders is aware that for the show to remain a tradition for the nation then it needs to “meet Swedes where they watch and engage with the show”, and so as TV watching habits continue to evolve, so too must the strategy be to keep it relevant.

And one way for it to stay relevant is to have success both domestically and internationally. Like it or loathe it Melodifestivalen has created one of the best track records for Eurovision success this past decade, and Anders sees his role as part of the package to bring another Swedish winner to the Song Contest. Should his role and those of others succeed in making Melodifestivalen the best platform for new music for artists, then that will bring better names and songs with more hit potential. “We are sure that if this platform is the best then artists will choose to be on our show,” Anders added.

Eurovision didn’t even creep into this conversation, yet I could not resist asking Anders about the Contest in May and how they link together with the competition he organises. He is well aware that Melodifestivalen does not just stand alone and the previous successes Sweden have had in Eurovision is one of the key reasons for the show’s success and that “Swedes are very proud of that.”

Will more success come again? Well Anders “will do everything” in his powers to make the Swedish song the winner, adding that SVT “want to win this”.

Whatever happens between March and May with the Eurovision Song Contest will not be in Anders’ hands. His role stays focused on the show in Sweden as others cast their eyes further to pre-parties and eventually Liverpool. Instead he will be working on the Melodifestivalen of the future, and trying to create the conditions that may attract the next winners of not just Sweden’s, but Europe’s biggest entertainment competition.

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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