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The Swedification Of The Eurovision Song Contest Written by on May 3, 2024

While there may be 37 countries taking part in the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest, there is absolutely no doubt that the country that has been most influential over this competition in modern times is this year’s host, Sweden. 

Ben Robertson tells the story of how Sweden changed the Song Contest. 

Sweden is now hosting their fourth Song Contest in twenty-five years. However it isn’t just the track record in victories that has brought Sweden so much influence over Eurovision.

Each of those four victories saw the Contest take seismic shifts in presentation and direction that this competition never steered away from in the years that followed. Swedish names are now commonplace all over the modern Song Contest each year, and we now expect to see a plethora of songs with Swedish songwriting credits or production each year.

It’s not just the musical side of the show as well, as Swedish influence also runs through the contest backstage, with two of the past three Executive Supervisors of this competition being from Sweden.

This article paints that picture of not just the changes that Sweden has produced on this Song Contest, but it also seeks to explain why Sweden’s influence in the Song Contest has been as large as it has been in this decade.

Eurovision 2000: Into the new millennium

The Eurovision Song Contest of 2000 was one of most trailblazing in Eurovision history. The show was moved to a large modern sports and concert arena and 13,000 fans were in attendance, a then attendance record.

The show has been described as being “more colourful, diverse and daring” in the book “The History of the Song Contest 1956-2015″. The show was a step change to the modern contest we know and love today.

That record audience was a key factor so the show could leave behind what the Song Contest of the 90s was used to. The 2000 edition moved away from formality and a Contest dominated by an invite-only audience, and put that audience of vibrant fans in full focus. Technology was also pushed to its then limit that year. That was the first year that moving LED screens were introduced, as well as the first ever Eurovision webcast and CD release.

It was furthermore symbolised by bold graphic design that came with an instantly recognisable motiv that took the Song Contest outside of its comfort zone. The image of the open lips was iconic, “a sensual, yet stylistically pure, mouth representing song, dialogue and speech”, and one that represented a creative vision that took the Contest outside of the traditions of more conservative public service broadcasting.

Such was the impact of this statement of graphic design on the Contest that when Eurovision brought together a cohesive branding for each Song Contest from 2004 that the lips were considered as the Eurovision logo, which was ultimately chosen to be the heart symbol we today know and love.

Now Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, Martin Österdahl described the 2000 Contest as the “spiritual homeland for the modern Eurovision” when writing his book ‘All Business is Show Business’.

The impact of the 2000 Eurovision Song Contest can be felt as other countries hosted in successive years. The 2001 Eurovision Song Contest raised the capacity further by filling the Parken football stadium in Copenhagen, and gone for good were the days of an invited and distant audience, making way for a bright and beautiful audience having their best time in front of the camera.

The songs soon followed to better fit this new festival of joy that the Eurovision Song Contest created, and within a few years the shackles of the orchestra era and uncommercial folk ballads 90s Eurovision was renowned for became a distant memory.

From a Song Contest to the grandest National Final

In the year 2000 Melodifestivalen’s final brought in over four million viewers and was one of the highlights of Swedish television production. However, in an era where reality television was beginning to be transformed and multi-week series were becoming the next big thing in broadcasting, SVT took the courageous move to work with partners to create the Melodifestivalen tour.

The 2002 edition of Melodifestivalen saw four heats being broadcast live from four different towns around Sweden before a final in the very Globen arena that held the Eurovision Song Contest in 2000. The vision was clear, as SVT’s Helena Brodén described at the time – the show must develop, Melodifestivalen had got itself a “cult status” again, and SVT wanted the whole of Sweden to be included in the big production that Melodifestivalen had become.

The two people most renowned for the changes to modern Melodifestivalen were Svante Stockselius and Christer Björkman. The concept for the competition is credited as being the brainchild of Svante Stockselius, the Executive Producer from SVT for that Globen Eurovision, who was now entertainment boss for the Swedish public service broadcaster.

Christer Björkman was the artist co-ordinator for that 2002 Melodifestivalen. In his autobiography Generalen, Christer Björkman describes that Svante offered Christer this role because the competition “needed change”, putting the pressure on Christer Björkman to link the right artists to the right songs to create hit songs for Sweden to enjoy.

For Christer the show had to modernise itself for the new Eurovision era. The word schlager, so synonymous with the Swedish Eurovision sound, was removed from all that Melodifestivalen was to now be. The songs could now be sung in Melodifestivalen in a free language choice for the first time, and as the weeks progressed the battle commenced between the ‘traditionalisternas’, the old style of songs that Melodifestivalen was all too well known for, and the ‘reformisternas’ that were bringing diverse sounds that were far more commercial for the time.

Afro-dite’s victory in 2002 was a win for the ‘reformisternas’ and is arguably one of the most important winners in Melodifestivalen history for taking Sweden’s competition for Eurovision in a new direction.

The new direction Melodifestivalen went on continued its climb into the nation’s folklore. The modern Melodifestivalen proved to be gold for the press, with recognisable names now competing in this multi-week “genuine reality show” as Christer Björkman described it that dominated the media headlines throughout the cold winter months. With more buzz around the show than before soon followed the quality of songs. As Melodifestivalen grew in scale record labels and hit songwriters increasingly saw it as one of the nation’s best opportunities to create hit tracks. By the late 2000’s voting records were being smashed as over two million votes were being cast in a show that was able to attract over three million viewers throughout the six week long extravaganza it became.

All this growth meant SVT was in a privileged position within Eurovision Song Contest circles. Few other countries would be able to run a National Final on this scale, if at all. The experiences that Melodifestivalen gave meant SVT had a plethora of people working on Eurovision-esque content throughout the year. One of those people was Christer Björkman, who in 2003 got the opportunity to work full time on Melodifestivalen. Another in a different light was Svante Stockselius, who in July 2003 began work as Executive Supervisor for the Eurovision Song Contest at the EBU. Not only did Melodifestivalen create an Eurovision-based career path for TV producers, it also was a stepping stone to even bigger things.

Unleash The Full Potential

A decade of modern Melodifestivalen had already taken Sweden to be one of the biggest powerhouses in the Eurovision Song Contest. The advent of web streaming enabled a fan community across the world to tune in live to Melodifestivalen, with Martin Österdahl noting at the time that SVT were seen as the “best in the world” at these types of productions year-in, year-out.

But Sweden hadn’t managed the ultimate glory of winning the Eurovision Song Contest. And arguably the tide was turning against them. Despite domestic success from 2007 to 2010 Sweden didn’t place in the top 10, and Anna Bergendahl’s qualification miss in 2010 caused dramatic structural changes to Melodifestivalen. Now SVT reduced the selection jury’s power meaning SVT chose half of the competing acts in the competition, the house choirs disappeared to encourage more creativity to each performance, and the final of Melodifestivalen saw the jury scores be entirely determined by international experts for the first time.

The changes gave results. Firstly with ‘Popular’ by Eric Saade placing 3rd in 2011, followed by Sweden’s fifth victory one year later in Baku with ‘Euphoria’.

This meant that finally the Song Contest was coming back to Sweden, and Sweden’s experienced hands could put their stamp on the Song Contest. Arguably no country has been more ready than Sweden to host than they were in 2013, with Martin Österdahl explaining that “most of the content was completed by the summer”.

Martin Österdahl was the Executive Producer for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest. He recognised that history had shown that there is a “tradition of SVT and Sweden moving the goal posts for the show production wise, technically, content wise and program wise” each time they had the opportunity to host. 2013 was not going to be any different.

The leadership team from SVT believed that while Eurovision may have grown in technical advancements since 2000, it was lacking a soul, identity and purpose. Martin Österdahl and the team curated what that purpose was to be that helped to give the modern Song Contest its overarching themes going forward.

“It’s about embracing the unique wealth of the people, culture, music and festivity that exist in Europe. Learning about other cultures and building bridges in Europe is very important. It was important in the 50’s after two world wars had brought the continent to its knees, and it is also important today”.

Within the show in Malmö there were four key visions for the production team. To create a genuine curiosity, to create “wow” moments, to create real relations and to create a lasting passion.

Much of this focus went on lifting up the participants in the Song Contest far more than previously, ahead of the desires to showcase the host nation. The “Parade of Nations” was introduced with each act walking in for the Grand Final holding their nation’s flag. The postcards had deliberately more focus on the competing artists so that viewers would get a stronger connection to them before they anonymously took to the stage.

The show had a producer-led running order for the first time. The production team used their ability to craft a running order for the competition to help diversify the balance of songs within the show and also create a narrative for the viewers watching. Much like the Contest in 2000, the fans were given an even bigger focus in the celebrations this year, with Eurovision’s first standing audience creating a feeling of carnival like none before.

All of these elements have since remained a part of the modern Eurovision Song Contest in years that have gone by. What makes it particularly remarkable is that this direction-changing edition was also one of the cheapest Eurovision Song Contest’s of the modern era. Malmö’s hosting before Stockholm was in part a financial decision and following Baku, Dusseldorf, Oslo and Moscow the EBU felt there was some pressure on the host broadcaster to showcase that the Eurovision Song Contest did not mean a broadcaster had to risk financial disaster to host the extravaganza for the continent. Martin Österdahl described the Eurovision Song Contest of this era as a “doped horse”. The idea being that each broadcaster was trying to outdo each other with technology and scale in a space race that was far bigger than the Contest needed to be.

It ended up being one of the cheapest Song Contests of this century, and arguably one of its most groundbreaking.

Come Together

Sweden hosted again in 2016 after Måns’ victory in Vienna cemented that Sweden were the modern day powerhouse of the Song Contest, again following a 3rd place finish the year before.

Hosting Eurovision once again just three years after the edition in Malmö perhaps meant that SVT were out of ideas to change the Song Contest. However this year saw the jury votes and televotes separated from each other in the voting presentation, much like it has been in Melodifestivalen, and resulted in one of the most dramatic voting sequences the Contest has witnessed.

The show also had the tagline “Come Together”, which much like Malmö’s “We Are One” in 2013 spoke of a desire for Eurovision to be bigger than the divisive politics of the day and desire the continent, and now Australia, to unite regardless of borders for the purpose of musical entertainment. These statements Martin Österdahl argues “inspired many to be in [the show] and do something larger than they have done before”, and that the presence of both of these greater goals were part of the reasoning Avicii, Benny and Björn were part of the 2013 journey, and Justin Timberlake came to Stockholm in 2016 with his latest Swedish-written hit ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’.

It is easy to argue that while 2013 was the blueprint for the Swedish model of the Eurovision Song Contest, 2016 was the finished product. 2016 showcased the audience much more than previously, with much lighting around Globen, as well as the wristbands that 2013 implemented, helping to translate the live feeling down the TV lens to the world. 2016 also brought that “Come Together” mentality around the entire city, with a purpose built EuroClub attracting thousands of fans as well as events dotted around the Stockholm suburbs.

The end result of this culmination of the Swedish model for Eurovision was resounding success. The 2016 edition of the Eurovision Song Contest won the TV category at the Rose D’Or television awards, with Martin Österdahl, again Executive Producer for the Song Contest that year, thanking the EBU in his speech for allowing SVT to implement their desired changes on the Contest.

The Reality of Being Number One

At this point in time it wasn’t just that Sweden was considered top of the pile in terms of the Song Contest, Melodifestivalen had nurtured a brand that nobody else could compete with. Some countries had tried to emulate Sweden’s domestic success with their own tours of their own dotted around the country, but by 2016 all of them had scaled back to smaller shows in one or if generous two venues, leaving Melodifestivalen alone as this behemoth of National Finals.

However there are many other ways that Melodifestivalen has been replicated across the continent. Not only is it commonplace for the National Finals to feature a voting sequence that resembles modern Eurovision, separating juries and televoters, the presence of international juries has spread from Tampere to Benidorm as each broadcaster looks to find the right song to put them in contention for Eurovision success.

Success also comes from the music. Melodifestivalen in this era was receiving around 3000 songs each year for their selection, with only around 30 selected each year. Many perfectly fine pop songs written by established songwriters with top level production were ending up across Europe’s national finals and even at the Song Contest itself. It was well known at this point that Sweden was the globe’s largest exporter of pop music across the continent, with a quarter of the songs at Stockholm 2016 written by Swedish songwriters, and from 2016 to 2021 40 songs representing 21 different countries had a Swedish songwriter on their credits.

The influence went backstage as well. The Eurovision Song Contest in 2017 in Kyiv had an organisational crisis and Christer Björkman as well as much of the backstage team from previous Swedish Eurovision Song Contest’s came to ensure the competition was a success. The Swedish presence there as the Head of Delegation meeting came in March has Christer Björkman claimed was “calming” for many delegations who were concerned about the leadership changes to that edition of Eurovision.

Nowadays there is one more influential body that many Swedes are responsible for in the world of Eurovision. As the performance of Eurovision songs evolves constantly to be more visually intricate, with more attention-to-detail in camerawork, props and dance routines, so too does the need for talented choreographers and creative directors increase. Again, with Melodifestivalen as their training ground, many of the modern day top show producers like Sasha Jean Baptiste or Fredrik ‘Benke’ Rydman are in-demand names for many Eurovision delegations wanting their attention-to-detail over their song entries.

Modern Sweden and SVT’s Vision 2.0

The 2024 Eurovision Song Contest returns to Sweden and returns to Malmö once more. Now we are in a world where Martin Österdahl is the Executive Supervisor for the entire Eurovision Song Contest. This year in Malmö sees further changes to the competition that further follows the model that has kept Melodifestivalen on top of its game.

More freedom has been given to the competition producer for this year’s edition, who so happens to be Christer Björkman, to decide the running order for the Grand Final, further enhancing the creative storytelling of the musical merry-go-round. Furthermore voting for the newly included Rest of the World group will open before the Grand Final, and voting will open as song one begins. This follows on from what Melodifestivalen now does in recent years with the majority of voting via the Melodifestivalen app, which allows fans to vote even before the show has started and throughout the program.

Those keywords driving SVT’s idea for the 2024 Contest are participate, celebrate, entertain and rediscover (we have another article where we speak to Executive Producer Christel Tholse Willers about these words and their symbolism this year). Yes, there are changes to focus more on participation, making it easier to see the audience in the arena and for said audience to vote, and it makes sense that in May 2024 Sweden has much to celebrate in the Song Contest which has a need to entertain the continent. But the word of interest is rediscover.

We will rediscover Petra, Malmö and United By Music, and much more that I am sure will make itself noticeable in the coming days. The choice to include 2023’s motto United By Music shows that the Contest has gone full circle. No more is it Sweden that lifts up the higher purpose of the Song Contest, every other broadcaster has slowly transitioned into the same viewpoint. The tweaks this year do take the storytelling, the emotion and the purpose further, but the changes in vision for the Contest have barely moved from 2013.

What has moved is increasingly the other broadcasters have bought into it.

In Conclusion

Sweden’s success in Eurovision isn’t a fluke. The internal success of Melodifestivalen is the perfect training ground for all of the technical and entertainment showcases one needs to have to make Eurovision engaging that few countries would ever be able to compete with. That, combined with the Swedish pop industry churning out hit after hit has made Sweden one of the top countries in Eurovision Song Contest folklore for now an entire generation of Eurovision fans.

And not every change that SVT has wanted to take from Eurovision has been a reality, we are still today limited with just six people on stage for each act compared to Melodifestivalen’s eight and the start time remains at 21:00 CEST despite Martin Österdahl’s pleas to make it a more family friendly start time.

But Melodifestivalen isn’t Eurovision. Melodifestivalen’s success is as a party for all of Sweden and it has far more focus on family entertainment than at Eurovision, when Sweden seeks a higher purpose to ensure the competition is a united force between countries in an increasingly divided world. And throughout and beyond the Swedish hostings of Eurovision the Song Contest has taken a journey of modernisation and progress that does feel more Swedish public service television than influenced by any other nation.

The modern Eurovision takes more control of its own storyline with these higher reaching purposes and producer-led running orders, and ensures that the acts and the contest’s fans are far more in the picture frame than they ever have been before in the contest’s history. With this in mind the desire has been to create those wow-moments that bring viewers in and keep them hooked to the biggest entertainment show this continent provides.

And here in Malmö in 2024, the Swedification of the Eurovision Song Contest is now complete. Glitzy, glamour and edge-of-your-seat drama that doesn’t just entertain you with song and dance, it plans to enthrall and captivate you so those personal connections to each act occurs, and an appearance at Eurovision can mean more than just three minutes of fame.

And it’s easy to argue that the Song Contest is all the better for it.

Enjoy this article? Ben Robertson will be discussing the contents of this on Wednesday 8th May in Malmö at the Eurovisions Academic Conference at Media Evolution Malmö. Alongside will be a panel including Ken Olausson from QX/Schlagerprofilerna, James Rowe from Melfest Monday/The EuroTrip Podcast and Fredrik ‘Benke’ Rydman, creative director and choreographer. 

More information is available at

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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