Grattis Azerbaijan! Grattis Sverige! Fortsätt läsa
We’ve just been at Eric Saade’s second press conference here in Düsseldorf. Fortsätt läsa
Loreen is stressed. Our coffee chat has been rescheduled twice – the first due to my hangover, and the second to traffic. And then there’s a call from her brother, currently on tsunami alert in Bali – but he’s fine.
The singer is definitely not stressed about being knocked out of Melodifestivalen, however. Having got through to andra chansen with My Heart Is Refusing Me, she’s gone straight back to the studio to work on her upcoming album. And once the coffee is served (she pays, by way of apology for being late, making me feel instantly guilty), she reflects on the last few weeks of life in schlagerland.
“I was really surprised when Christer Björkman took my song,” she laughs. “I was like ‘OK… Are you sure about this?’ I’m going to hang up before you regret it. Click!
“I was in Idol six years ago, and that’s when I realised you need an identity,” Loreen continues. “You need more than just a voice – you need to know what you’re singing about. So I started working here in Stockholm, and also in New York and Florida, with different songwriters and producers, to develop a style.”
One of the main things that Loreen’s new fans like about her is that she’s difficult to put into one category or another – it’s not easy to describe her as one particular style. Does she agree?
“Well…” she starts, before pausing. “I don’t like limitations, so I like to mix a bit of everything in. So I’ll put some strings in with some influences from my culture – that’s what I’m about.
“I’m a Berber from the mountains of Morocco,” Loreen tells me. “The Berbers have their own culture and language that’s separate from others, and they sing in their own special way. People call me a gospel girl, or a soul chick, and I’m like, ‘I sing with my soul but I’m not a soul artist!” I’m not an R’n'B chick, either. People think I’m into that because of the way I dress, but I actually prefer to listen to opera when I’m at home.”
As Loreen performs a seriously impressive scale, she reveals that she can sing opera – would she like to follow in Malena Ernman’s footsteps?
“I loved La voix!” she exclaims. “It was something different and new. You can’t call that song schlager. Different is good. It’s a good idea to do opera, let’s think about it!”
The Melodifestivalen circus feels like it has been particularly intense this year, with the highly critical newspaper articles and other technical issues that have been magnified. But while some performers would crack under the pressure, Loreen has been taking it all in her stride.
“I could never lose myself in all this,” she says. “Idol was a big help to deal with all this. The intensity of standing on stage every Saturday to be judged was crazy at that point. The judges liked me, but having someone evaluating me as good or bad didn’t feel right. There’s no such thing, it’s all a matter of taste. I thought I sounded shit, to be honest! But as a result, I know how it all works with TV and everything else – and as a control freak, I know what to get out of it.”
Did she look at any of the press coverage?
“I wasn’t allowed to look at the newspapers,” she laughs. “I really wanted to read the reviews. But I don’t care about the press attention. I didn’t even want to shave my armpits when I was doing the song. My friend told me to do so immediately, but I just didn’t care! Of course, they took a huge picture of my hairy arms and printed it! But I don’t care.”
My Heart Is Refusing Me was written last summer, and sent to Christer Björkman just a couple of days later. But if it wasn’t for a certain singer and TV host, it may never have made it at all…
“At the beginning, people didn’t believe in doing this,” recalls Loreen. “I had my crew – the producer and the guy I wrote the song with. It took us half a day to write it, and then Måns Zelmerlöw started working with us. Melodifestivalen was his idea – he said we should just send it, and if it happened, it happened. So it was his idea from the beginning. At first, I was reluctant. I thought they’d try to change the song and performance to something I didn’t want to do. But he was like, no, you can do whatever the fuck you want! And when they said yes, I was ready for it. We’ve been working our asses off on this. We started this last summer – it was sent two days after we wrote it, so it wasn’t even finished when they heard it.”
Of course, recording a song is one thing. Bringing it to Melodifestivalen is another matter entirely. Did Loreen have any problems in bringing her vision to the stage?
“No, not really,” she replies. “People told me that the dancers look so angry, and I looked really sad. But I told them that this is a sad song. I can’t smile singing about that! It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? My heart is refusing me, so I’ll smile? No.
“Performing is like standing naked in front of millions of people,” Loreen adds. “I was so freaking nervous, and lost my focus at times. Especially when people weren’t always believing in what I was doing. But I had to show that I knew what I was doing myself. I gathered round my dancers, who were much younger than me, and really nervous, so I had to support them.”
And then there’s THAT frock. Where on earth did it come from?
“Some people have been annoyed by that dress!” Loreen smiles. “So I tell them it doesn’t matter. It’s a creation, and it was designed by Bea Szenfeld. She’s done dresses for Björk. I asked her to do something freaky, and that’s what she produced. I love all that, I love strange. Anything that isn’t Jantelagen! I hate that. Just be who you want to be!”
And after the frock, there were the results…
“I didn’t think I’d win, especially being up with Christian Walz,” says Loreen. “If I’d had a phone right then, I’d have voted for him! I was freaking shocked when they announced I was in andra chansen. It was like, ‘Told you! I told you! See?’ But there were people who were saying that the Swedish people don’t know anything about music, yadda, yadda. Who are these Swedish people they’re talking about? I’m the Swedish people! Don’t judge me!”
We know that Jenny Silver has been pretty angry about the voting problems in andra chansen – which also affected Loreen – but the singer is pragmatic about the outcome.
“Andra chansen was cool,” she says. “Göteborg was hard, because it was my first time in the competion, but Sundsvall was cool. That’s a bad omen, though – when it’s cool, it goes to hell. And it did! A lot of people have been angry, which is nice, actually. It shows they care. And I was number one, too. That’s all great.”
Firmly out of the schlager bubble now, Loreen is back in the studio, “working my ass off!”, as she says.
“We’re doing a scary video for My Heart Is Refusing Me,” she reveals. “It’s going to be quite dark. I’m also thinking about collaborations. I’d love to work with Swedish House Mafia. And there are so many people all over the world I’d like to work with. There are two singles to come, but I can’t decide if I’m going to release Sober or If She’s The One next. Let’s see. I’m always bitter in my songs, though. And screaming! So you know what to expect!”
Loreen throws her head back in laughter. And so do I.
Loreen’s next single is out next month.
In place of a review of Saturday’s Melodifestivalen heat in Malmö, I have chosen to respond to the many criticisms of Nicke Borg’s victory, and to the contest in general. As the title of this post suggests, I’d like you to tell me what you think. Comment in the box below.
Linda Bengtzing won! Schlagersuccess. Love Generation lost out to Nicke Borg. Schlagerfiasko. Linda Pritchard went Andra Chansen. Schlagerwhat? It was an evening of surprises, but in a group featuring some very strong acts, there was bound to be an upset. Sadly, it was probably of the most worrying kind for schlagerfans, to paraphrase The Ark.
Bengtzing’s (for that is how she is known in these parts) victory was stunning indeed. It was one of the greatest schlager moments of all time, frankly. Melodifestivalen has a true star in Bengtzing – she covets that stage every time she’s invited to appear, and she’s been working hard to finally give the performance she knows she can deliver. If you don’t believe me, then look up her schlagermedley at Lotta på Liseberg from a while back. She’s been preparing for this for a long time, and in retrospect, it was perhaps a good thing that she was denied the chance to participate last year.
Last night was understated and over-the-top all at once – and it worked perfectly. A flawless performance was crowned with a key-change that worked, and a proper money-note that was stunning in its execution. Too much hyperbole? There isn’t enough! This is Bengtzing – she deserves it.
And then Nicke Borg came second.
It’s a schlagerfiasko, of course it is. But is it a disaster? No, I don’t think it is. A rock song beat RedOne’s pop girls to get a place at Globen, but the only real shock is that people are shocked. Tune into Rix FM for half an hour at any time of the day. It’s the station that probably plays more schlager than any other, yet you will almost definitely hear Nickelback or some similar rock-lite group in the middle of it all in any given listening.
What schlagerfans have to accept – and I include myself in that – about Melodifestivalen is that it exists to celebrate all music. This is why, for every Linda Bengtzing, a Nicke Borg is also there in the mix. For some, it can be a struggle to reconcile that with the fact that it is traditionally a schlager contest (and what is still referred to as ‘Schlagern’ – The Schlager – in the papers), but that is the nature of the beast.
Nicke Borg’s song was exactly what a huge proportion of Swedish music buyers want to hear. It was clean, melodious rock that was delivered really well. The staging was great, with impressive large projections of Nicke playing guitar on glass – perfect for a TV audience. Yes, it’s not what I would choose to play, and my finger will probably click that skip button once it comes on, but Leaving Home is going to do well. Very well. That’s just the way it is.
So, what happens to the songs that don’t go direkt till Globen? They don’t disappear. They don’t get forgotten. The very fact that they’ve appeared on the Melodifestivalen stage means that they will continue to be played – and some will even become classics. Would anyone ever say that Alcazar are failures for not going through to AC? Has Nanne Grönvall given up? In a contest which can tell Carola she’s not good enough for a final, we’re in a completely different environment from anything else that exists.
It’s not reality. Melodifestivalen isn’t real. Where else would a performance like Linda Pritchard’s Alive only come fourth? She possesses the sort of vocal delivery most artists would happily slaughter puppies for. Where else would Jenny Silver’s fabulous Something In Your Eyes be forced to compete directly against Love Generation’s amazing Dance Alone, neither knowing if they’ll be able to secure a place in the final regardless? It’s a six-week bubble full of glitter and glamour, where established stars are prepared to hot-foot it to the coldest parts of Sweden in the depths of winter to compete alongside those just starting out – or even internet competition winners. It’s a democratisation of music that wouldn’t be tolerated in most countries.
Success at Melodifestivalen can open doors, and it’s clear that it holds much sway with record companies that know they can shift units on the back of a contest appearance. Schlager also has to endure through the other 46 weeks of the year – and it manages to do so quite well. So let’s not kid ourselves that Bengtzing’s career would have been over if she didn’t get that first place. That new album has already been pressed and digitised.
Melodifestivalen is an extraordinary event. It happens in a country where a third of the population watch it. Names want to appear. The lives, both professional and personal – of everyone connected to it are picked over in detail in the press. There’s drama. There’s tears. There’s elation. And above it all, there’s bloody fantastic music.
And then there’s also Eurovision. The great spectre of the Eurovision Song Contest. Is Melodifestivalen in crisis as a result of the failure of Anna Bergendahl to proceed to the final last year? Many would say it is. And many more would say otherwise – including me.
Melodifestivalen is a Swedish event. The Swedish people vote for their favourite songs. It’s a month-and-a-half of extraordinary fun. But when the fun is over, it’s time for the recriminations to start if, like Anna, and others, like Charlotte Perrelli before her, they don’t make the grade on the European stage.
This year, the Swedish voting juries have been replaced with international juries, to give a better indication of what the European audience will want to hear in Düsseldorf. Should anyone in Sweden care, though? By bringing in an element that could potentially change the result of the final from what it may have been had the new juries not been involved, one does have to ask what exactly does Eurovision success bring – besides a large bill for the television company hosting it? Don’t misunderstand me, I adore Eurovision with the best of them – of course I do. But since when has a Eurovision results session been anything other than agony? I couldn’t care less if the United Kingdom doesn’t like Anna Bergendahl, just like I don’t think about the fact that the Nordic countries give each other high points. (Of course they bloody do, they send music that people in Nordic countries like.)
Melodifestivalen isn’t Eurovision. It’s a Swedish song contest. We have to stop worrying about what will work on the European stage – we love Melodifestivalen because it’s so Swedish. It’s why so many international fans travel there every year – they get access in Sweden to the music that they rarely get in their own countries.
Instead of agonising about results like Saturday’s, let’s just rejoice in the fact that, despite its distinctly ‘uncool’ reputation, there is still an audience for schlager that will endure long after everyone has left Düsseldorf. And we’ll all be back in Sweden in 2012.
Dear Melodifestivalen fan, you’ll probably be getting your hands on one of these this year, won’t you? Fortsätt läsa
This is an interesting interview with Christer Björkman published in Expressen on Friday (www.expressen.se/1.2335668). The interviewer, Malin Roos, is a columnist who comments regularly on Melodifestivalen during the season. I’ve translated the full interview as accurately as I can manage. Obviously, I had to wait until the edition of the paper was off the stands before publishing this.
”It’s not that easy to get rid of me”
He has no problem admitted he knew that Anna Bergendahl would flop at Eurovision, or that his husband left the line-up of Melodifestivalen backing singers because of abusive remarks. But don’t ask Christer Björkman to choose between football’s Zlatan Ibrahimović and ice hockey’s Peter ”Foppa” Forsberg…
”That’s impossible!” he exclaims. ”What a terrible question!”
The last we heard, Christer had been throwing up as Brolle went direkt till Globen last week. Well, in actual fact, he wasn’t. But he did have an upset stomach in the middle of the all-important voting (to be discussed later) in Göteborg and had to put himself in a taxi back to the hotel. With Melodifestivalen’s chief back on form again, however, he’s feeling much better.
”It’s been years since I’ve had butterflies like the ones I’m having now!” he says. ”But we’ve got amazing songs this year, the equipment is working and we’ve got the best show yet.”
Hurray! Jubel i busken.
But not everyone was as happy following the second round last Saturday. Expressen‘s entertainment editor, Anders Nunstedt, wondered if the line-up was a joke, and that viewers had thought the show was rubbish.
”Yes, but we mustn’t forget that the show exists alongside the media,” says Christer. ”There’s an external narrative that we have no control over – you, as the media, do that. And you need that narrative to be as dramatic and urgent as possible. You communicate the highs and lows.”
So is it the media’s fault that not everyone thinks everything is going well, as you do?
”No,” he replies. ”But now we seem to have ‘the voice of the people’ that exists to put out a certain viewpoint on various social media sites.”
But how do you know that it’s only the ‘dafties’ commenting online?
”I didn’t say that,” Christer responds. ”That criticism exists isn’t unusual, but when it seems to be strangely unilateral, then people react. That’s when you start receiving mail from families who ‘just want to say that we have a great time when we’re watching the show’.”
I myself wrote a column recently, where I wondered why you’ve removed the final moment of tension from the voting – it used to be that one performer was out, and the other in. And now it’s both acts through. Why is this?
”It’s because we’ve chosen not to give in to the negative side of the process,” he replies. ”We know that it takes away from of the drama, and that it makes for good TV when it’s a ‘heaven or hell’ situation. But it’s also very painful for those who are involved in it. Therefore, everyone is happy.”
So it’s farewell to any edge…
Before this interview, I spoke to people close to Christer, who suggested that he’s a highly competitive person. A hardcore sports nut whose own attitude is far from ‘it’s all about the taking part’.
”Yes, but that doesn’t mean I think I think the taking part isn’t more fun!” laughs the ‘Schlager General’.
You swam competitively yourself, didn’t you? Were you any good?
”I was rubbish!” he smiles. ”I was in the A-group at Borås [where Christer was brought up], but that didn’t mean a thing. I actually trained in the same group as Jeanette Pettersson, who went on to the Olympics.
”I was in the pool at 6.30am five times a week,” adds Christer. ”I was there with my hot chocolate and cheese sandwich for breakfast. I got green hair and smelled of chlorine all the time, but I loved it. Sadly, I was just too lazy.”
Consider this, however: Christer says he loves football, and once bunked off school for a week so he could watch the Olympic Games on TV. So it was no wonder that he was pleased when his mother, Ulla, got married to the American National Hockey League (NHL) star Stefan Persson – four-time Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders.
”That was really cool,” he recalls. ”We lived in New York and I watched 200 NHL games. I’m not so much of a hockey fan any more, but it’s a bit hard to go off it here where we’ve always had the NHL.”
Don’t take this the wrong way, but sport doesn’t feel as ‘showbizzy’ as schlager…
”No, I know,” replies Christer. ”But conversely, it was hard for me to come out, because I was so sports-mad. People thought that I couldn’t be gay because I was so sporty!
”There aren’t many of my gay friends who want to sit at home watching football, either,” he grins.
Speaking of (not gay) friends, Shirley Clamp is one of Christer’s personal friends who he gets into the contest every year – isn’t that true?
”Yes, Shirley is a friend, like Nanne and Magnus Carlsson,” he says. ”But I wouldn’t say that it’s easy for them to be friends with me – quite the opposite. The fact that we’re friends makes me treat them harder – they need to be amazing to get on board.”
And then there’s talk of your husband, who was part of the backing singers’ group, not isn’t appearing this year…
”No, he couldn’t do it,” sighs Christer. ”Unlike me, he couldn’t help reading what was being written, and thought it was too much crap to take.
”Not from you,” he points out. ”But from mad bloggers who called him a ‘fat bastard’. So he’s appearing in a musical in Malmö instead.”
Do you want to have children?
”No,” answers Christer. ”It hasn’t been a dream of mine to do so, and I decided to do it when I was ‘older’. But of course, with my husband at that point now, if he decides to have a family, then of course I’ll support that and do it with him.
It may sound macabre, but I have to share a comment I read on Twitter: ”Bringing down Mubarak was nothing, but getting rid of Christer Björkman…”
He laughs so much that he almost falls off his chair.
”Haha,” he smiles. ”How to get rid of me… well, it’s not that easy. I’ve been involved with this since day one, but have never had full responsibility for it. This year is different, and is more fun than it’s been for a long time. Now that I really so have the power that I didn’t before.”
So if there’s a new fiasko à la Anna Bergendahl, we really know who to point the finger at. But Christer himself says he isn’t surprised that Sweden missed the Eurovision final in Oslo last year.
”I sensed it could happen when she (Anna) won,” he remembers. ”I thought it could be the year that we’d go out for the first time. She’s so lovely, but the song was so Swedish – lagom, just enough. It doesn’t stand out in any way. But I was well prepared for the reaction. My only job that night was to take care of a very young woman in a situation she never thought would happen. I’d made that emotional journey already when the result was announced last March.”
But you stood there cheering – what a hypocrite!
”Yes, definitely. But it’s like facing Brazil – we know it’ll be a 0-0 draw. Sometimes, a loss isn’t that hard to accept. It was better that time, for sure.”
So in the end, he chooses Zlatan…
Photo: Aktiv i Oslo.no
Not Schlagerfiasko’s words, but those of SVT. To Eric Saade, of all people. But there’s no danger of a ‘nakenchock’ (sadly) – it’s that strict Swedish rules on advertising have led to Eric’s wardrobe coming under scrutiny.
As reported in today’s Aftonbladet, Danish label Selected Homme put out a press release saying it would be dressing Eric for his Melodifestivalen performance. But as this counts as advertising, Eric will probably have to change his outfit.
”If it turns out the label has done this, it’ll be difficult for Eric to wear those clothes on TV,” says Melodifestivalen project manager Thomas Hall. ”We actually have no problem with it, but any logos and suchlike can’t appear on photos or TV, so we can’t see how this could be prevented.”
Last year, Anna Bergendahl wore a pair of Converse shoes with her outfit, which meant that her feet couldn’t be filmed. And SVT does like to film a nice pair of shoes.