Monday, March 10, 2014

Melodifestivalen 2014: The Final - 08.03.2014

So, how was it for you?  You may be one of those people who are happy to see Sanna Nielsen finally get the ticket to ESC on her 7th (yes! 7th) attempt; you may be one of those who feel bitterly disappointed that Sweden didn't pick Ace Wilder; you may be one of the pop-boy fans who are taking it very personally right now that their favourite didn't win.

Or you might feel like I do: drained by it all, and (shock horror) glad it's finally over.  I never thought I'd see the day when I was glad to see the back of Melodifestivalen season, but 2014 finally brought that feeling.  But there is one big show to go - and all we've got is that little blue/green buffering circle going round and round.  By the time the stream recovers, there's a Danish vibe going on.  Charlotte Perrelli is singing "Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen" then Rasmus Seebach's "Natteravn" plays over the introduction to the contestants. 

Mum remains unimpressed by it all. 

M: This is the show I don't particularly like.  Why the hell do they wave those balloons every week?
When's this show going to start?

Normally at this point I would defend the greatness of Melodifestivalen, but this year that would be defending the indefensible.  In 2014 Melfest has lost its greatness, for some of the reasons I described in my previous post.  But I can't stress enough that the credibility of any final would be seriously stretched if one man wrote 4 out of 10 songs in it. 

Finally, time to get started.  And the good news is, the painting postcards have gone in favour of a slo-mo 'look at me, I'm in the final!' VT. 

Anton Ewald: "Natural".

My mum's toyboy.  And she wastes no time in telling me how much she likes him and his mirrored jacket. The fact remains that for all the Michael Jackson-influenced dance routine and the slight improvement in his vocals, the song is just not strong enough.  The key change is very good though.

M: He's got a nice smile ...:)
L: I think him and Oscar Zia will cancel each other out.

Ellen Benediktson: "Songbird".

She's had a grown-up makeover since she first qualified for the final.  And if I may say so, it's far too 'old' for her.  Mum eventually remembers the song and I remind her that she predicted it to go to the final.  However, this is one of those songs which you can only really listen to once - on second hearing it's just too boring for words, and conversation at EuropeCrazy HQ turns to the size of Friends Arena, and how long it would take everyone to get out of there after the show.  (Maybe one of you lovely people could answer this question??)

Someone has clearly annoyed the hairstylist tonight.  Both Ellen and host Nour have been restyled back to the 1940s or thereabouts.  Talking of going back in time, let's go back to the golden age of the glitterball.  It's Alcazar time.

Alcazar: "Blame It On The Disco".

I've made no secret of the fact that I think this is possibly their weakest Melfest entry to date, but it can't be denied that they out-perform everyone else in the line-up.  Even mum is impressed.

M: There's been some s****y songs in this tonight, but they are good.
L: I'm still not so keen on the song, it's too close to Stay The Night for me to judge it on its own merits. 

Now there's a guy on stage, with seemingly a cake (to bake) for every entry in the final.

Oscar Zia: "Yes We Can". 

Of course the TV screens make it look like 5 Oscar Zias.  I still think him and Anton will cancel each other out.

M: I don't like this one as much as the first song ("Natural").
L: It's far too repetitive and is a lot more annoying now.
M: Yes we can what?  Too much canning.  Can the Can.  Suzi Quatro!  (I love my mum's random trains of thought!!)
L: No he can't. 

In my Melfest final preview I highlighted my irritation that Fredrik Kempe has managed to carve up 4/10ths of the final, and that represents everything that is wrong with the contest's current format.  Even mum is beginning to get sick of the sight of him.

M: Who is that baldy man with the pointed ears?
(Please note that this blog does not condone any personal insults of that nature, but having said that, it's pretty damned spot on)
L: Time for another Kempe song.  Zzzzz.  The one about the brother.

Linus Svenning: "Bröder".

With all those tattoos and piercings he looks like the kind of guy who walks down your high street with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier on each arm.  But wait!  Throw such judgemental clichés out the window because this is a sensitive, anthemic ballad.  Which none of us have any time for.

M: I don't like this much at all.
L: Neither do I. 

And that's all we have to say on that one, really.  He's a good enough singer, but it's the curse of Kempe again.  Milking real-life sadness to get a maudlin ballad.  That's when he's not writing derivative versions of "Stay The Night" or "Wrecking Ball" or the Cheiron back catalogue.

Helena Paparizou: "Survivor".

A very accurate song title, as she survived Andra Chansen (along with Linus) and made it to the final.  But why the costume change from the lace dress of her original heat, to a much more unflattering stripey blouse and leggings combo?

M: This is another very mediocre and repetitive song.  Singing the same line over and over again.  It's funny how when you don't like a song that it feels as if it's never ending!

But end, it does.  Now we haven't said much about the presenters, but our opinion remains the same.  They may be good enough in their own fields of work, but as a Melodifestivalen presenting duo, Anders Jansson and Nour El Refai completely lacked chemistry and were unimpressive from week 1.  Anders looks a little bit relieved tonight: as if he's glad that it will soon all be over.  In the past week the Swedish tabloids reported Anders and Nour's displeasure at how they were treated by SVT, how they weren't allowed to bring their ideas to the show.  But whatever happened or didn't happen, the fact remained that they were just not right for this show.  SVT needs to choose its presenters very carefully next year.

Yohio: "To The End".

L: He's toned down his image this year.
M: That's him toned down?!
L: Again, this is just a non-song, and it sounds even worse than it did previously.
M: He's very unusual.
L: His real name's Kevin, don't you know.
M: Kevin?!?!?!

Mum is now extremely bored, by this song and by the evening's proceedings as a whole.

M: This is just...nothing.  Why did anyone bother writing this?
L: Not even the pyros can save it.

Sanna Nielsen: "Undo".

And now to, inexplicably, this year's favourite.  Although not in my world. Lots of cheering from the crowd, greeting Sanna on her 7th attempt at Melodifestivalen.

L: Oh look who it is!  Fredrik Kempe!
M: Don't know what's so special about it.  It's just another boring ballad.  She is a good singer, but too 'shouty'.
L: The best thing about it is the lasers/staging.  Otherwise = Wrecking Ball rip-off.  And I've always thought she's just too cold and clinical in her performances.  And the grammar is atrocious.  I mean, "undo my sad?"

Sigrid, the show-stealing little girl from a couple of weeks ago, is back with a present for Yohio.  And she goes and steals the show all over again, even if you don't understand what she's talking about.

Panetoz: "Efter Solsken".

Mum is impressed that the word "efter" in Swedish is pronounced the very same way as we pronounce "after" in this part of the world.  Poor old Panetoz haven't had much support from the fan community in the lead-up to the final.

L: Everyone seems to hate them.
M: Why?  This is very lively.  And there should be more groups - too many solo singers.
L: I think it's because the fans always feel the need to pick out one or two songs to hate every year, which don't fit into a certain style.  I actually have quite a soft spot for this.  They're having fun and know they've no chance of winning so they're just having a blast and hoping to sell a few records off the back of their appearance here.

The marathon nature of a Melodifestivalen final is not lost on mum.
M: You start watching this about teatime and it ends at bedtime!

Time for the final song of the evening.  I tell mum that if Sweden is serious about sending something more 'contemporary' than usual to ESC, then this is the one.

Ace Wilder: "Busy Doin' Nothin'". 

Now I know this isn't the type of thing I would usually listen to - I'm one of a very small minority in blogland who couldn't understand the appeal of Icona Pop's I Love It - but in terms of Eurovision, I wanted this to represent Sweden.  The Eurovision Song Contest needs great songs of course, but it also needs potential international hit songs.  Fairytale/Satellite/Euphoria worked in this regard; Only Teardrops, whilst charting all over Europe, didn't have the same longevity or impact.

M: I quite like this song.  Yes it's very modern.  Does it have a chance of winning?
L: It's no.1 in the Swedish charts this week, but as we know that doesn't always guarantee winning Melodifestivalen. 
M: It's better than that boring ballad. 
L: I hope this wins. 

So, songs over, summing up:
Anton - not good enough
Ellen - boring
Alcazar - I think their time's come and gone
Oscar - no we can't
Linus - the one about the brother
Helena - too repetitive/boring
Yohio - non-song
Sanna - undo this song
Panetoz - lively
Ace - 12 points from the EuropeCrazy HQ jury!

Time for the interval act.  You'd have to live on Mars not to know that 2014 is the 40th anniversary of Abba winning ESC with "Waterloo" and to celebrate this, some past Melfest winners are on stage for an Abba medley.  It's a rather downsized Abba medley though: Marie Bergman's "Knowing Me Knowing You", a posh "Chiquitita" by Malena Ernman, a blinged-up "Gimme Gimme Gimme" by Charlotte Perrelli, and a vocally astounding Robin Stjernberg with "Thank You For The Music".  (By the way, didn't Robin look great?).  I expected more from this interval act.  A few more singers and songs would have been welcome, for starters. Ladies and gentlemen, the fact remains that no Melodifestivalen interval act will ever top this one from 2000:

In recent years, Melodifestivalen scrapped the local juries in favour of a group of international juries to help select the Swedish entry.  The international jury votes and the Swedish televote have often differed, but this year even the juries differed in their choice of favourite songs...

Italy - 12 to Ace, 10 to Alcazar, 8 to Sanna
Israel - 12 to Ace, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Alcazar
Germany - 12 to Linus, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Alcazar
France - 12 to Alcazar, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Ace
Netherlands - 12 to Ace, 10 to Ellen, 8 to Panetoz
By the way, Anders' turn as the Dutch jury spokesperson was probably the funniest thing he'd done on the show.  A few more moments like that and it could have all been very different. 

Malta - 12 to Helena, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Oscar
Russia - 12 to Ace, 10 to Linus, 8 to Sanna
Estonia - 12 to Linus, 10 to Ace, 8 to Yohio
United Kingdom - 12 to Alcazar, 10 to Ace, 8 to Oscar
Spain - 12 to Sanna, 10 to Helena, 8 to Ace

Finally, the Danish jury - whose spokesperson is none other than bridge-hopping Sofia 'Saga Noren' Helin - gives 12 to Ace, 10 to Yohio and 8 to Helena. 

So what did we learn from the jury votes?  That Ace won the jury vote, but also polarised the juries; that no-one (apart from my mum) loved Anton Ewald, who was propping up the foot of the table; and most surprisingly, just how much they were wowed by Alcazar.  Which proves that there is no doubt that their image, styling, stagecraft and professional performance, honed over many years, can lift a rather mediocre song.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the voting process in the final is that the televote remains open after the jury votes have concluded, leaving it potentially open to tactical voting, should people be that way inclined of course.

In every Melodifestivalen final, there is always an 'unusual' cover of the previous year's winning song.  This was even given the cheapo treatment this year, as rather than bring in a guest artist, it fell to Anders and Nour to perform a personal, Swedish language version of "You" which had us running for the hills and for once actually welcomed the intervention of the backing dancers. 

M: I remember this song from somewhere?
L: Yes it won Melodifestivalen.  It was sung in English, though.  In a better version than this one. har ett resultat.
M: Get on with it!

But we don't actually have ett resultat after all, as there's some technical chaos going on, leaving Anders and Nour to fill in whilst they await the golden envelope.  I explain to mum that the televote result can completely overrule the jury vote, depending on how the percentages are converted into random points totals.  So here are the final televoting totals:

14 - Anton
18 - Panetoz
21 - Oscar
27 - Helena
30 - Ellen
37 - Linus
43 - Yohio
48 - Alcazar
113 - Ace
122 - Sanna

Added to the jury totals, here are the final results.

212 - Sanna
210 - Ace
110 - Alcazar
84 - Helena
83 - Linus
82 - Yohio
61 - Ellen
53 - Oscar
33 - Panetoz
18 - Anton

In one of the closest final results I can ever remember at Melodifestivalen, Sanna Nielsen finally wins the contest on her 7th attempt.  Ironically, this was in a year when many of the 'veterans' like Shirley Clamp and Linda Bengtzing couldn't even make it out of their heats, and Martin Stenmarck fell at the final Andra Chansen hurdle; yet Sanna and Alcazar, who both have a long Melodifestivalen history, fared better with the juries and televoters than fancied newcomers and recent returnees.  Alcazar's result both surprised and puzzled me; they've had better songs in previous years, and I thought their time had come and gone.  This would be the right time for them to go out of Melodifestivalen on a high, if not a win.  I still think this is the last we've seen of them in the contest. 

Don't expect to see Yohio back again.  He's not happy with the international jury set-up, and I believe that I read somewhere that Anton says he's not coming back. 

You know how we feel about this result: There is a lot of love for the artist and the song in ESC fan land, but we don't like "Undo" although have to acknowledge that it will get a pretty good result in Copenhagen.  Whilst Sanna is a good singer, and I'm sure there will be no vocal wobbles at Eurovision time, I still feel that she doesn't connect with the viewers and lacks warmth and empathy as a performer.  I have seen her on some other Swedish TV shows and she seems to have a pretty good sense of fun, but have never seen her translate this warmth into any of her Melodifestivalen performances.  Then of course there is the song itself: derivative and recycled from the "Wrecking Ball" template. 

Perhaps I should just get over it.  As mum says, it's only a song contest...(to which I reply, "no it's not, it's actually an all-year-round event!") But as a long-time Melfest fan I'm sure I speak for many when I say that we invest so much expectation in the contest based on the spectacle and the production values; we spend months speculating about the songs, the artists, the writers, the presenters, the interval acts, the host venues, the postcards, the set, every last detail.  I used to feel sad when Melodifestivalen season ended: on Saturday night I only felt relief, because this whole season has been a disappointment in almost every area.  But on the plus side, there are some songs which I'm taking with me to off-season though....

"Red" - EKO
"Love Trigger" - JEM
"Glow" - Manda
"Bedroom" - Alvaro Estrella
"När Änglarna Går Hem" - Martin Stenmarck
"Hela Natten" - Josef Johansson

Major surgery is now required to get Melodifestivalen off the critical list.  So, SVT... Ditch the comedy.  Get talented presenters who can sing, or talented singers who can present.  Bring in new songwriting rules - 1 song only, per writer per year.  Disqualify songwriters (and artists) who were in the previous year's contest and defer their participation for a year, to give other writers/artists a chance.  Ditch Andra Chansen: after the 4th heat, open up the televote for a 'wildcard' round where all the eliminated songs would be eligible for the two final places up for grabs. 

That's just some suggestions: Melodifestivalen needs to become 'event TV' again.  Perhaps we can just write off 2014's Swedish selection process.  To paraphrase the winning entry....undo this year. 

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