Sweden: Frans – If I Were Sorry
Shortly before Melodifestivalen kicked off in earnest last month, supervisor Christer Björkman claimed that there was a song in every semi that he believed to be strong enough to win Eurovision. At the time, it was widely assumed that for heat four the song in question would be Molly Sandén’s, she being the biggest draw and pre-contest favourite to represent Sweden on home turf. However – whether Björkman foresaw it or not – Sandén was ultimately left in the shade by the initially little-fancied Frans Jeppson Wall, a diffident teenager whose gentle, Ed Sheeran-style folktronica ballad ‘If I Were Sorry’ has captured the Swedish imagination to a remarkable degree.
As a song and performance, ‘If I Were Sorry’ is a world away from the slick, tightly choreographed package that Måns Zelmerlöw won with last year, and that may well be a part of the appeal. This year’s Melodifestivalen felt very much like a changing of the guard, with the bright and professional contest regulars of the last decade – among the ranks of whom Måns and Sanna Nielsen came up – being largely rejected by voters in favour of newer, less polished artists. Frans perhaps epitomises this, his simplistic performance capturing the current global vogue for chart stars who look and sound more like street buskers than pop idols.
In other words, Frans comes across as if he’s making the kind of music he and his generation probably enjoy listening to. His heavily accented delivery and deliberately un-showy approach bear the hallmarks not only of the ubiquitous Ed Sheeran, but also the likes of Jamie Lawson, Hozier and George Ezra, all of whom trade in ostensibly simple, lyric-driven material performed in strong regional dialects. Frans own singing accent may sound incongruous coming from a Swede, but his father is actually from London so it isn’t quite the Lena-style oddity it may appear at first.
For whatever reason, Frans’ low-key approach struck a major chord and saw the former child star not only shoot to the top of the charts, but also start creeping into the Spotify listings all over Europe, a sure sign that ‘If I Were Sorry’ resonates with current radio trends to a degree that few Eurovision songs ever do. All signs point to it becoming at least a modest global chart hit even before the contest, which on paper puts Sweden in a commanding position to do the double and finally draw even with the long-faded Ireland by securing their seventh Eurovision victory.
The bookies agree, and Sweden already sit in second place in the betting odds, behind the highly contrasting Russian effort, a slice of pure mid-00s Eurovision that’s bound to benefit from an enormous amount of money being thrown at the stage production. The key to Sweden’s campaign lies in how effectively Frans can provide a contrast to this and other high-gloss likely frontrunners such as Azerbaijan and Australia.
A performance slot of ninth in the final isn’t exactly optimum to the ‘breath of fresh air’ approach – more relaxed, organic-sounding entries like this tend to fare best when they’re placed near the end of the running order, as indicated by the success of Maria Haukaas Støreng for Norway in 2008 and The Common Linnets for The Netherlands in 2014. Also, while being directly qualified for the finals by no means precludes success, it does make it harder for songs to build momentum.
Ultimately, the success of this song on the night might end up depending on how much exposure it receives outside Sweden over the next two months. If it continues to rise up the charts across the mainland – and in the Spotify driven era this is very possible even without a sustained promotional push – it may be able to garner enough buzz to go in as a pre-written success story. If it all comes down to the night, Frans schtick should still be distinctive enough to put Sweden in the mix, but perhaps might not be strong enough to push them to the top. More than any other entry this year, this is one to keep a close eye on during the build-up phase. He’s already re-written the rulebook at Melodifestivalen, it’s not inconceivable that Frans could be on track to pull off a similar feat at Eurovision…