Have you ever had a friend who you used to love, then ever so slowly that friend undergoes some kind of profound personality change and becomes awful? That is how I am feeling about Melodifestivalen this year. Like a friend who gets a hot new job and transforms into a joyless career-obsessed phoney (if any of my actual friends should read this, I’m not referring to any of you I promise), victory at Eurovision seems to have done something very very horrible to Sweden’s Melodifestivalen.

The signs were there when the artist lineup was announced – the pop contingent being almost entirely free of the familiar faces so beloved of Melodifestivalen fans – Nanne Grönvall, Jessica Andersson (who both submitted songs), Linda Bengtzing, Sanna Nielsen, Shirley Clamp. Instead the pop songs would be sung by a variety of nonentities and up and comers. Fair enough – to survive a show needs to change, and I had high hopes that the “Who?” artists of today would become the pop icons of tomorrow.

Three weeks in and this has manifestly not been the case. Last night Sweden sent a group of grizzled old men with a pub singalong song to the finals alongside some The Calling-esque mid-00s radio pop-rock, while the highly-tipped pop numbers from debutants Janet Leon, Eddie Razaz and Amanda Fondell finished 5th, 6th and 7th respectively.

State of Drama

State of Drama – Look like Fall Out Boy, Sound like The Calling

With just one week to go, rather than a show reinvigorated, the final is looking to be a complete slog of mediocrity. There’s one half-decent (and I do mean half-decent, being a weaker re-write of a song from last year) dance-pop number from David Lindgren, two outright novelty entries, a Wicked Game re-write by a middle aged woman and a Bon Jovi b-side performed by a man with an impressively out-there look but absolutely no stage presence whatsoever.

I don’t blame the Swedish voting public. Their response, while frustrating to the pop fan, is actually entirely rational. The finalists are all either seasoned performers or (in the case of YOHIO) genuinely striking despite the poor vocals and performance skills. In any other year, they might come third, fourth or fifth in a heat. By default, this year they’re all finalists.

The problem is twofold – first, the pop songs submitted simply haven’t been strong enough. With Loreen’s Euphoria topping the charts all over Europe, I simply refuse to believe that they represent the best songs that were submitted. Rather, it seems like the powers that be are deliberately moving away from what is ‘expected’ of the contest – big pop songs with key changes. Instead it’s all watered down versions of what you’ll hear on the radio, which is never what Melodifestivalen was about. In the rush to second guess its critics, it has surrendered its USP.

Secondly, the performers behind these songs simply aren’t good enough to overcome their essential anonymity. The best song last night – and the best pop song of the series so far – was Heartstrings by Janet Leon. It wasn’t perfect, the verses and the chorus didn’t gel and it wasn’t as anthemic as it was evidently trying to be. But it was a solid 8/10. Watching Janet’s competent but uninspiring performance, I found myself thinking about how many artists there were who had stood on the Melodifestivalen stage before who would have absolutely ripped the shit out of the song.

For three weeks in a row the show has opened with an attractive young male singer with a dance song. The sameyness of these songs has been apparent in the diminishing returns – David Lindgren went to the finals, Anton Ewald to Second Chance, Eddie Razaz crashed out in 6th. But it’s also the case that none of these singers had what Simon Cowell would term ‘the X Factor’. Eric Saade is no vocalist, but he absolutely has the X factor. Måns Zelmerlöw has the X Factor. Danny Saucedo has the X factor. Lindgren is capable of commanding a stage, but he always carries an air of the Butlins Redcoat . He’s no superstar. Anton Ewald can dance, but he can’t sing. Eddie Razaz was competant but uninspiring. None of them made me sit up and go ‘wow’.

That’s what’s missing this year. Pop with the wow factor. This show is always going to have its critics – it’s the same with Eurovision, and the same with pop music on the whole. By its very nature, Eurovision can’t pander to those critics across the board – there are too many people involved. Melodifestivalen is run by a relatively insular group of Swedish executives. This year, they’re second guessing themselves and attempting to win the approval of people who will never become big fans of this show.

Commercially, it’s too early to say whether the gamble has paid off. Viewing figures are up, but voting numbers are down – suggesting that people are still watching, but not as engaged with the songs as they were. We’ll have to wait and see how many of the songs from the show turn into hits, and also how they do at Eurovision. Plus of course, they do still have the final heat to turn things around. I’m not optimistic though…

Ravaillacz

Ravaillacz – Voted straight into the final.