Note, as with last week videos of the four qualifying songs are not available on youtube until the week of the final. 

Last week Sweden’s annual Melodifestivalen extravaganza kicked off with a whimper rather than a bang; the first semi-final being just about the weakest show I’ve ever seen. From the technical errors and poor presenting to the low quality of songs on offer, the whole thing was a complete mess that had me worried that the greatest TV show of all time had finally lost its magic.

This week there were thankfully some signs of improvement – although it still left a lot to be desired compared to the quality I’ve come to anticipate from the Swedes. On the plus side, host Danny Saucedo appeared somewhat more at ease, with less of the awkward reliance on cue-cards. There was also an amusing spoof of the technical problems of the previous week, which were mercifully not repeated.

Song-wise, things were still distinctly lacking in spark, but it wasn’t as wall-to-wall dire as the previous week. There still seems to be a major focus on debutants over Melodifestivalen ‘veterans’ – of the eight acts performing on Saturday, only two and a half had been on the show before. Fresh blood is of course essential to keeping any show alive, but the issue is that the new acts were entirely lacking in charisma, and their lack of experience shone through.

We opened with a case in point from Anton Ewald. It seems like every year Fredrik Kempe writes a  song for some young gentleman with sharper cheekbones than musical abilities. he really must be a very charitable man, helping these young twinks to get a shot at the big time when surely older and more traditionally gifted artists would welcome the use of his talents. But that’s Fredrik – he’s a giver… (That’s quite enough of that – Legal Ed). 

Anton Ewald

Anton Ewald – Favoured entirely for his musical talents

Anyway, Anton Ewald joined the ranks of Youngblood, Simon Forsberg, Eric SaadeDaniel Mitsogiannis and Måns Zelmerlöw to get a taste of Fredrik’s talents (OK seriously, stop it now), with the song Beggin’. The song was… alright. The girls in the audience certainly lapped Anton up (though I suspect they may have been barking up the wrong tree personally…), but I couldn’t help noticing that… well… he wasn’t actually doing very much singing. There’s a curious loophole in Melodifestivalen that allows the use of pre-recorded backing vocals, ostensibly allowing a richer sound for the home audience, but also allowing singers who can’t sing to hide. Which you could argue is acceptable – pop stars mime all the time – but it’s no good at Eurovision, where they have to work much harder not to be exposed.

On a personal level the live performance is what I love about the whole Eurovision experience, so mimefests like this inevitably leave me feeling a bit cheated. The song wasn’t as apocalyptically bad as ‘Youngblood‘ last year, but it was no Popular or Cara Mia either, and Anton didn’t have any stage presence to speak of. The tween vote took him to Andra Chansen, which is as much as he deserved, if not considerably moreso.

By contrast Felicia Olsson, a newcomer with major label backing, certainly had pipes. Her dramatic, slightly RnB tinged ballad was one of the best songs of the night, and she sang it well. But alas, with the focus entirely on her performance she failed to really command the stage. I suspect the intention was to recreate the career-launching Melodifestivalen debut of Sarah Dawn Finer in 2007 – when she performed completely solo and sold magnificently with no distractions. But an unflattering dress and the look of terror in her eyes meant Felicia didn’t have the same impact. She finished 5th and out.

Rocker Joacim Cans was widely tipped to qualify with his rock ballad ‘Annelie’, both because he was a big name and because the rock songs almost always do well. Instead he came last, which was something of a surprise, but the song really was quite low-key and forgettable, and I doubt his audience really taps into this show.

The sole representation of old-school schlager in the entire lineup this year was anticipated to come from Pernilla Wahlgren, Hanna Hedlund and Jenny Silver – otherwise known as the Swedish Housewives. Among the fan community there have been rumblings about this sort of act being slowly phased out of the contest, and this lineup definitely had a ‘will this do?’ feel about it. The song was a modern dance number not dissimilar to the hits of Lady Gaga (specifically the backing track to Judas married to the chorus from Edge of Glory). It should have been amazing, but it fell flat in performance – not helped by the fact that the song felt a bit half-finished with weak verses and no key change (a clear Schlager crime). It came 6th, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

A superstar duet of sorts followed, with Erik Segerstedt of EMD fame pairing up with Norwegian pop princess Tone Damli for a pleasant bit of laid-back country-pop. The lyrics to this song weren’t quite working for me (Now we’re sober, it’s all over, don’t push your luck and ask if you could stay, there’s nothing more I need just go away), but it was an attractive package from two very attractive singers, and deservedly got a shot at AC. I’m not sure the song is enough of an ‘event’ to get to the finals, but it should be a decent radio hit for them, which is probably all they really wanted anyway.

Erik Segerstedt

Erik & Tone – Likeably laid back

The first finalist of the evening was a real dark horse – veteran singer songwriter Louise Hoffsten with the quirkily titled ‘Only The Dead Fish Follow The Stream’. As with Erik Gadd last week, the older singer really stood out for the effortless confidence of her performance, and it was a very strong song – albiet one that owed a heavy debt to Wicked Game by Chris Isaak. Still, Louise looked as surprised as anyone when she went to the final.

Louise Hoffsten

Louise Hoffsten – A touch of class

Another veteran followed, but not with the same success. Rikard Wolff is primarily a stage actor, and there was definitely a theatrical element to his near spoken-word performance of En förlorad sommar (A Lost Summer), a lament for his lost youth. Alas, it was not only depressing but terribly boring, and it came 7th.

The closing song was the one I’ve been dreading all season. Sean Banan is a prime example that while Swedes certainly know pop music, when it comes to comedy they have seriously questionable taste. A sort of Swedish answer to Ali G, Iranian-born Banan has made a career out of exploiting his fish-out-of-water responses to Swedish culture. All well and good, except his main gags seem to be picking his nose and getting his bum out at every opportunity. In a collective taste-bypass that should fill the Swedish people with great shame, his entry last year was a monster hit and his album spent a whole year on the charts, so it was inevitable that he’d be back for more and that he’d sail into the final, which he did. As for the song, well it is exactly the same as what he sent last year, except the chorus sounds a lot more like Dragostea din tei by O-Zone. It was of course diabolical.

Sean Banan

Sean Banan – Quite possibly the worst person in the entire word

So that was that. Three songs I quite liked (Louise, Felicia and Erik/Tone) of which none were particularly exciting, a lot of seriously undercooked performances and the very worst human being on the face of the earth topping the votes. And still it was a marked improvement on last week! Seriously Sweden, what the Köttbulle?