Is Eurovision ageist?

10 Nov
Unknown source

Unknown source

Eurovision Song Contest will return to Globen in Stockholm in May in 2016. The last time the contest was held in Stockholm’s biggest golf ball of a venue was in 2000. And in 2000 two gentlemen from Denmark named Jørgen and Niels “Noller” Olsen came on stage, performed their sing-a-long entry with a big amount of charisma and star quality and out of the blue (after being outside of top 15 with most of the bookmakers prior to the contest) actually managed to win the whole thing. Olsen Brothers’ victory is one of the last times when a completely surprise act won. And also, the last time that an act older than 40 won. Which leads me to the question – has Eurovision become ageist lately?

To be honest – my answer is yes. Moreover, apart from being ageist, it has also started to pigeonhole acts based on their age and everyone who stands out from the “formula” is automatically written off. One particular example – Baku 2012. We had Buranovskiye Babushki representing Russia and Engelbert Humperdinck representing the UK. When the former were a YouTube sensation for doing covers of famous songs, the latter had a legitimate pop career in the 60s and early 70s and was famous for his powerful vocals. When the latter had a crooner ballad, not entirely different from his previous back catalogue, the former had a novelty song in Udmurt/Russian with a chorus in English. The latter actually wanted to be taken seriously and wanted to have a bit of a comeback with his song, while the former were presented as a novelty act and thus also went viral globally prior to the contest itself. The latter finished second last, the former finished second in the grand final, also narrowly losing out to eventual winner Loreen in the televoting. Basically – do performers who are 40+ have to be presented and treated as a novelty act in order to stand a chance result-wise and is this approach right?

Now, I do understand that TV has changed since 2000. In the age of talent shows like X Factor or Got Talent and streaming services like Netflix, the way we watch television has shifted and the pressure is put on broadcasters to keep their existing viewers and to favour younger audience. But is potraying older and experienced performers as desperate wannabes really the way to go? I also think that the mood in the fandom has changed in this perspective as well. The older performers (in most cases Nordic schlagerdivas) are often ridiculed by the fandom online and the way fan hypes go lately, it’s clear that even the fandom prefers younger, fresh acts over aging artists. But since when is being older and experienced such a crime to write off a whole generation of performers just because “they’re not cool for the kids”? How come there is no gap in the music market to give older and experienced performers an actual chance to score a decent hit? Will we ever get a shock winner of older perfomers like the Olsens again or will streamlining the contest to the younger population continue and only get worse? Lots of questions to be answered here. Now I actually liked Engelbert’s song in 2012, I found it a decent timeless ballad and it’s a shame he got a bad draw and therefore failed to attract the voting audience and if it were up to me, I think he should have done better than he did. I also liked Bonnie Tyler’s song a year later and I think she deserved a bit more than she got. And I hope the ageism in Eurovision and among Eurovision fandom fades soon. I don’t think writing off performers based on their age is the right way to go. I think every performer deserves to be taken seriously. Even us, millennials will get older eventually. And I don’t think we’ll enjoy it when younger generations will say “awww such cute grannies!” at us. So we shouldn’t patronise older performers in Eurovision either.

10 schlagertastic reasons for South Africa (the Afrikaans community really) to do Eurovision

4 Nov

south-africa-flag

1. They love Eurovision.

2. They really love Eurovision.

3. Did I mention that they really love Eurovision?

4. They have a fabulous taste.

5. They sometimes leave entries in English and they’re still great at it.

6. They love G:son.

7. They really love G:son.

8. They also love Melodifestivalen.

9. But they love Eurovision a whole lot.

10. And when they don’t cover Eurovision/NF entries, they do schlagertastic bops like this one.

So, welcome South Africa! Hope to see you on Eurovision-stage as soon as possible. Make yourselves like home.

Xoxo,

Georgina de Mylius

Is it time for something in Swedish, SVT?

16 Jul
Copyright - Nyheter24.se

Copyright – Nyheter24.se/TT

Eurovision 1998 in Birmingham. The last one with the orchestra. The first one with full televoting. And the last one with a rule that all songs must be performed in countries’ national languages. Back then, Sweden was represented by Jill Johnson and “Kärleken är” (Love Is) and they finished on 10th place.

Fast forward to 2015. 25 countries became 40. The orchestra has been abolished since 1999. Instead of one show, we have three now. And – there is a free language rule, which gives Anglophone entries an automatic advantage, as English is more commercial than other languages. In 1998 Sweden had 3 victories, in 2015 they have 6, double as much. But I still can’t help but wonder – is it time for SVT and Sweden to send an entry in Swedish to a contest on home soil again?

Now, I can already see SVT reading this and laughing, thinking they would have to send a cheesy dansband/schlager song in Swedish and embarrass themselves in front of 100 million viewers. But it doesn’t necessary have to be this way. In recent years plenty of songs in Swedish have emerged, which sound modern and international enough. Sorry fellow schlagerlovers, it’s not schlager songs, unfortunately. But their time should come, soon hopefully. Anyway, listen here:

Catchy, isn’t it? And it’s in Swedish. For me, Swedish is one of the most beautiful and intriguing languages out there and considering there’s a whole army of international Melodifestivalen fans aiming to learn Swedish, I’m not the only one to think so either. Add to the fact that crash courses in Swedish by a YouTube star PewDiePie get loads of views and comments and that films such as Millennium trilogy or Hundraåringen (A 100 year old man, who climbed through the window and disappeared) got a lot of international buzz and fans, it appears that Swedish as a language has an audience outside of Eurovision fan circles as well.

And speaking of Eurovision – this year it wasn’t Sweden with their Anglophone pop song, that won the televoting. No, it was a very stereotypical popera song in Italian, by Il Volo. Which caused quite an outrage among the Eurovision fan community, many of them thinking that instead of having pizza and pasta in Turin, they’re off to a more expensive Stockholm for salmon and meatballs undeservedly. Which leads me to – if a 12 year old popera song in Italian (as it was revealed that “Grande amore” had been written in 2003 and had been laying in the composer’s drawer until Il Volo’s manager lapped it up for Sanremo this year) can win televoting these days, then so can a song in Swedish, may that be of a more traditional (schlager/dansband/folk/ethno) or more modern, contemporary kind (pop, dance, soul). It’s good enough, really. From 2011 to 2014, there have been only eight songs in Swedish in MF finals, which is a big pity. One gets a feeling that SVT are ashamed of their own language. This year, the situation has slightly improved, from 20% to 25% of songs in Swedish in the final. But there should be even more. From 2002 to 2009 there have been 29 entries in Swedish in the final, which is more than 3 entries/final. More than a third of a line-up. I think it’s a shame that one has to hide one’s country’s origins to score well in Eurovision, it doesn’t have to be that way. And I think Swedish as a language, combined with a good song and professional artist, is good enough to attract enough televoters and juries to do well even in modern-era Eurovision.

So dear SVT. I challenge you to go out of your comfort zone in May, when the contest is on your home soil and perhaps, for once, send something in your own language. You really have nothing to lose. Ask Molly Sandén.

The hype this year actually scares me.

25 Apr
esc_slovenia

Picture from: EBU/eurovision.tv

Imagine you come from a country in Eurovision, which is underrated all the time. A country so small, that is often ignored by its own neighbours, let alone the rest of Europe. A country only a handful of fans genuinely love. That’s my country, Slovenia. The first time we appeared in Eurovision, was in 1966, when Berta Ambrož, then representing Yugoslavia, finished 7th with “Brez besed” (a song, which many think is the original song to Spain’s legendary “Eres tu” from 1973) and a year later Lado Leskovar finished a position lower. In 1975 Yugoslavia was represented by the group Pepel in kri and a song “Dan ljubezni” (Day of Love), which is now a true evergreen in Slovenia.

Our first entry as an independent country however happened in 1993, when 1x Band and “Tih deževen dan” finished on a disappointing 22nd place and we were forced to relegation the following year. So far we’ve had only three top 10 results – 7th place in 1995 and 2001 and 10th place in 1997. And don’t get me wrong, we LOVE ESC. Both ESC and EMA (our national final) are among the most watched TV programmes of the year and we’re also among the countries where many ESC songs actually become decent radio hits.

However, this year with the duo Maraaya and the song “Here For You”, the hype for our entry has reached dimensions never seen before. We’re the highest with the odds since Nuša Derenda’s “Energy” in 2001 (which was in top 3 for the actual win) and many ESC fans and experts are predicting our best result to date. And call me negative and naysayer, but this hype actually scares me. I mean, the song’s good and it’s a massive radio hit in the country, which is already a massive plus, as it shows we’re sending something musically relevant to Vienna. Maraaya (it’s a duo made of both Vovk couple’s names/pseudonyms – Raay and Marjetka) are experienced and well known singer-songwriters, having written for and coached several young talents in the country, which shows their routine. But – the odds position and the fan hype/expectations are putting lots of pressure on both of them. Usually it’s the other way round –  the others are favourites and we lurk in the back, aiming to surprise.

With quite bad statistics of Slovenia’s results in the past I really do hope both Marjetka and Raay are working hard on the performance and are trying to ignore all the hype going on. I mean, the Feminnem flop that our neighbours Croatia experienced in 2010, has shown that odds/fan hype don’t mean much in the actual contest. Last year, both acts in top 2 – Austria and The Netherlands, were complete outsiders (Austria somewhere on 9th-10th place and Netherlands somewhere around 25th place with the bookies) and yet managed to win over the big favourites from Sweden and Armenia, so I guess similar surprises can happen this year too.

I hope Maraaya keep their focus and work with right people for the performance in Vienna, I hope their performance blows people away and I hope they manage to fulfill the expectations put on their shoulders. As I do feel their result can be a make or break point for the whole Ex Yu region. We (the Ex Yu) have been in a decline, result-wise in recent years and considering the decline in results and economical problems some of the broadcasters in the region are struggling with, some countries (Croatia and Bosnia the past 2 years, Serbia last year) have already pulled out of the contest. I do think with a possible good result from us (being among the favourites with the bookies/fans), that the region can get the confidence boost, with the missing neighbours coming back next year. But if we don’t do as well as expected, then I’m worried for the whole region’s future in this contest. Perhaps it’s a bit exaggerating to say so now, but I do think some of it may be totally true. I really hope we deliver and score a post-ESC hit with “Here For You” and do well, but right now – I wouldn’t bet my house for it to happen just yet. It’s sad, but that’s how it is, when one’s country flops year after year. Here’s hope for this negative trend to finally turn in our direction.

Dear HRT…

18 Dec
source: hkv.hr

source: hkv.hr

I come from a neighbouring country and I’ve been watching and following your channels since I went to kindergarten. My first memories were granddad nagging us with your 12 o’clock news every Sunday, but it soon became a tradition, which I learned to appreciate. Your programmes were often inspiration to what was to come in my country (Slovenia), but there is one thing you used to be so brilliant at, one thing our artists used to copy yours, one thing which made stars and songs classics. Well, it’s two things, but same context – Dora and Eurovision.

After Yugoslavia broke apart, you and we made a debut in Eurovision the same year. One cannot really say it went very well for both of us. We came 22nd and were relegated a year later and you came 15th and did just well enough to make it into 1994. And that’s when your years of brilliance kicked off. Dora was the name of your national selection and in short time it became one of the most anticipated finals among Eurovision-fans and – what is more important – among the media and the artists/songwriters in your country. Dora used to make artists enter the very elite of the whole of Ex Yu’s music business and many songs are still played even on Slovenian radio stations, like 15-20 years later. You were our major role model in terms of Eurovision, in Slovenia there used to be this mantra among the media and the public: “It’s not about doing well or winning Eurovision, but about doing better than Croatia.” – which was (in most cases, bar 1997 and 2001) an impossible dream and a wishful thinking. Not that our entries were bad, no. Some of them were very good. But yours were just way superior to ours. You had a winning desire and I guess it was supposed to happen somewhere around 1998/1999 already.

In 1999 Doris Dragović, who was one of the favourites to win, finished on 4th place and some points had to be taken off from your score, due to the pre-recorded backing allegations. One could say that around that time, your winning desire faded a tad (probably you felt you’d been unfairly treated by the EBU, I can just speculate at this point), but you still had a strong national final and you were still scoring reasonably well in the following years. However, somewhere in 2003/2004 the results of Dora were starting to get… odd. Suddenly, the public and/or juries were rejecting entries with a potential to bring you back on top of the score in Eurovision. 2005 was the last time your entry (almost) entered top 10. A year later Severina’s entry made a lot of controversy all over the region and that controversy made her one of the outsiders for the eventual victory – again, you were snubbed of a top 10 position and after that you – to be frank – lost the plot. Dora suddenly became weaker, the songs weren’t those classic anthems and the artists didn’t become such big stars anymore. And of course, the results. The victory of Dado Topić is, for me, still a big mystery, which was followed by a failure to qualify, when European televoters had their say. In the years that followed, you barely made the final and when in the final you didn’t really set the scoreboard on fire. But the year, which – seemingly – really broke you was 2010. You sent Feminnem, the fan favourites from the 2005 contest, with a modern pop ballad with some ethnic touch and suddenly you were among the favourites – or dark horses – for the victory again. This was supposed to be the year you would finally come back, stronger and better than in many years. However, Feminnem’s performance was again not good enough for European juries and televoters and you once again, failed to qualify for the final. After 2010, it seemed as if you gave up. The 2011 selection was a mess, a complete and utter mess, with some dodgy decitions and a song, which just didn’t match your entries from 10 years earlier at all. A year after, you indeed sent one of your biggest stars, but again the song was a letdown and you had some really bad luck with the running order in the semi-final (being on before the major favourite of the year didn’t really do you any favours). In 2013 you suffered from the same bad luck again and then you decided to throw in the towell and to call it quits. Although you broadcasted the 2014 Eurovision final, you made it clear you had no intentions coming back in 2015. You name finances and bad results as your reasons.

Now, I’m again only speculating and guessing, but this could be EBU’s fault too, in a way. It seems they haven’t really made a big effort, in order to bring you back in this time. And could be you’re really running out of finances for now. But dear HRT – please come back as soon as possible. Your country’s so full of musical talent, so full of wonderful songs, great artists in many different genres and has a very rich musical market. You, with all the potential that you posess, refusing to showcase that potential to the European audience, is a great shame. You’re so lucky really. You have so many amazing artists and songwriters to choose from and you can only make a little effort, for you to come back in a proper way. You know, several countries know how you feel. The Netherlands for example, was suffering a real Eurovision-crisis in 2005-2012, with Dutch ESC-fans almost losing hope in their country forever. Out of the blue, however, Anouk emerged and offered to represent the country in the contest in 2013 And ping! The success was there and Dutch showing even improved in 2014 with an amazing second place a a big mainstream hit by The Common Linnets. Same story was happening with Denmark back in the 90s, the period, which was your strongest to date. Denmark was relegated from Eurovision 3 years in the 90s and the level of their national selection, Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, was suffering. After Trine Jepsen and Michael Teschl’s top 10 result, Denmark went on to win the whole contest the year later. Unfortunately, another crisis emerged just some years afterwards, but both Netherlands and Denmark kept on fighting. Yes, maybe there had been some dodgy deals going on among certain countries, which pushed both NL and DK on the sideway, but all those dodgy deals were forgotten once DK and NL started sending entries with clear international appeal, entries which gained lots of love from both Eurovision-fans and the general, mainstream audience. And YOU too have the potential to rise like a phoenix (pun intended), you only need a singer and a song strong enough to convince Europe to vote for you.

It was said you were to become the new Czech Republic. Czech Republic, ironically, announced their comeback in autumn, citing the promotion of their culture as one of the reasons for their return. Which, I think should be your goal too. To promote your country, your culture, your musical diversity. And you CAN do this. You’re way too good to throw your talent to produce good entries away, like you’re doing right now. Yes, you came back to Junior Eurovision, but that I’d rather forget, because – you didn’t really make an effort to do well. But that’s not important now. What is important, is that you get your winning desire for “adult” Eurovision back and that you start making a proper effort again, may that be an effort from one of your artists (like with Anouk) or you announcing Dora’s comeback and accepting only the very best songs, it’s up to you. But I miss you and I hope to see you back soon, if not in 2015, than in 2016.

Love you all,

Georgina de Mylius

How drag and trans acts became the Eurovision constant

2 Nov

59th Eurovision Song Contest

Picture: Georg Hochmuth/EPA

Decades ago Eurovision was consisting of ballad queens, crooners and acts doing the fun, upbeat, sometimes “cheesy” songs and performances. Traditional gender roles were the only way to go, with a clear distinction between what was a “masculine” and what was a “feminine” performance. However in 1986, something else made a debut – the drag acts. Wikipedia defines the word “drag queen” as:

“The term drag queen occurred in Polari, a subset of English slang that was popular in some gay communities in the early part of the 20th century. Its first recorded use to refer to actors dressed in women’s clothing is from 1870.

A folk etymology, whose acronym basis reveals the late 20th-century bias, would make “drag” an abbreviation of “Dressed as A Girl” in description of male theatrical transvestism. However, there is no trace of this supposed stage direction in Dessen and Thomson’sDictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580-1642.”

Based on this article, drag culture has been involved long time before its use in today’s Western society – as a part of the LGBTQ community. Back in the 80s Eurovision and LGBTQ weren’t so closely connected, particularly due to LGBTQ still being marginalised and later on also stigmatised (due to the hysteria caused by the AIDS epidemic). The debut of Great Garlic Girls as part of the performance of the host entry, “Romeo” by Kjetil Stokkan didn’t go down very well with the juries, making him finish 12th with 44 points. The drag group however earned nation-wide fame and is still performing even today, albeit in a different line-up.

Fast forward to 1998. The LGBTQ community’s position in (Western) Europe was improving and the wave of positivity and tolerance due to successful economy was widely present. During that time, Isreal (for many known as the country of three most important monoteistic religions) sent a trans act to the contest in Birmingham. The trans act was Dana International, a man (Yaron Cohen) who changed sex and gender and became a woman (Sharon Cohen). Despite the tolerance towards LGBTQ being bigger, Dana’s selection was welcomed with a massive outrage and protests from the Orthodox Jews in her native country. Those groups even tried to prevent her from going to ESC altogether. However as the popular saying goes “all publicity is good publicity” Dana became one of the odds’ favourites to win the contest and as at the end of the very tense voting she indeed emerged as the contest’s winner, being the first ever openly LGBTQ act to do so. It’s interesting to point out that a year earlier, Iceland’s Paul Oscar (being openly gay) had only finished on 20th place, with the majority of points coming from televoting. In 1998 televoting was used in the majority of the countries taking part, which was a great help for Dana and her modern Eurodance anthem “Diva”, which also became a big summer hit and a minor commercial hit – something which wasn’t entirely common as only few years back, Eurovision had been struggling with making a commercial impact on the charts. Dana and “Diva” gave the contest some well-needed publicity and that publicity contributed to what would be the major change of image, in the years to come.

Moving on 4 years later, to winter 2002. To my country (Slovenia), to be precise. The national final, EMA, that year ended up in a complete chaos in which the winners were the three drag queens known as Sestre (or as their older name Štrumpantl Sisterz). It was shown however, that Sestre had won due to the massive jury support, rather than the televoting love. Karmen Stavec, the runner-up of the selection was seen having a massive meltdown because of the defeat and during that time the general director of RTVSLO, Aleks Štakul, made a statement about the re-vote likely to be held. His statement split the Slovenian public into two camps – the conservative LGBTQ-skeptics and the liberal LGBTQ-supporters. While the former were supporting the idea of a re-vote (as they wanted for our country to be represented by “someone proper” rather than “three freaks putting our country to shame”), the latter caused a major counter-reaction, supporting the shift in mentality in our country, rooting for our society to become progressive and liberal, rather than homophobic and conservative. The whole debate even got its place in our parliament and government, both siding with the LGBTQ skeptcis instead. The reaction of our political elite even made the news in the major worldwide press and caused the establishment within the European Union to question our ability to really join the union (we eventually joined 2 years later). Eventually the whole controversy faded, the re-vote didn’t happen and finally Sestre started receiving praise from the public. Their song “Samo ljubezen” is now considered Eurovision-classic, still used in student and bachelor parties all over the country. Sestre released the album the same year and were considered among the most important people of the year. LGBTQ support won.

After drag/trans acts failed to make to Eurovision the following years (the most noted examples being After Dark from Sweden and Queentastic from Norway) or did not make any big impact, (the Bulgarian drag queen Azis as the backing vocalist for Mariana Popova in 2006) in 2007 drag came back with a venegance, multiplied by 2 even. Denmark sent DQ (his real name is Peter Andersen) and Ukraine sent Verka Serduchka (his real name is Andrey Danylko). While the former didn’t really create any big sensation with his schlager-pop song “Drama Queen” and was eliminated in the semi final already, the latter took Europe by storm. First there was a controversy because of the song (“Dancing Lasha Tumbai”)’s lyrics as people, especially from Russia, thought the part of the lyrics went “I want to see – Russia goodbye”. The members of the parliament in Ukraine protested loudly against Serduchka’s participation, refering to LGBTQ culture as “pseudoculture”. Verka’s song became a viral hit, her performance is still shown in all sorts of pre-Eurovision shows as one of the most memorable acts of the contest and her song was a bigger chart hit than the winning entry from Marija Šerifović (also a part of LGBTQ community).

In 2008 the backings of French entrant Sebastien Telier were drag, but didn’t leave a lasting impression and when in 2011 Dana International made a comeback in the contest, which “made” her, her story ended with a disappointing non qualification, In 2012 one of the acts in Austrian national selection was a bearded drag act Conchita Wurst, singing an empowering schlager pop song, but was eventually voted off by a very “masculine” act. So it seemed as if the era of drag and trans acts doing well was “passe”. Until September 2013. At the beginning of the month Copenhagen was announced as a host city of 2014 contest, there was a big buzz and a sigh of relief spread across the Eurofan community as the majority had supported the choice of Denmark’s capital all along. However, about a week later Austria dropped a bomb – Conchita would represent the nation in B&W Hallerne! The reaction among the ESC fanworld was very negative, with many people disgusted and appalled by the choice. There is a page on Facebook named “NO to Conchita Wurst in Eurovision!”, which at the time had more likes than the official Conchita’s page. People disgusted by her automatically wrote her off in terms of result in the contest. People said she wouldn’t qualify. People said Austria were heading for a major embarrassment. Conchita however kept her profile low and when other national selections kicked off, she was put on a sideway a tad. In March 2014 the song, “Rise Like A Phoenix” was released. People started paying attention to her, but she still wasn’t one of the main favourites for the victory. In April, on Swedish preview show, the former Eurovision winner Charlotte Perrelli tipped Conchita to win the whole show. Conchita started gaining attention from the mainstream press, but wasn’t really taken seriously. On May 8th, she performed as 6th in the second semi final and from being one of the underdogs she shooked the whole social media-o-sphere and suddenly became the act to beat. By the time of the final Conchita was the centre of attention of both the press and the public and was destined to do very well. It was that Saturday when people who had been her fans since day 1 started believing in her victory. In the final it was all about Conchita, from the moment she stepped on stage until the end of the show. And indeed – she won! An underdog from a small Austrian village conquered the whole continent and became the overnight sensation. Cher, Elton John and Kylie Minogue were just three of celebrities mentioning Conchita in the social media after her win. However, as there was love, there was outrage as well. Several politicians shaved their beard as a protest, called Conchita a sign of “Europe’s downfall”, some ESC fans started making assumptions that EBU rigged the contest in Conchita’s favour, in order to gain publicity. Conchita’s win showed to be one of the most divisive things to happen in ESC and many people within the Eurovision fanworld now question the contest’s credibility and future. Former BBC’s commentator Terry Wogan even insulted Conchita, implying he was right all the time, in thinking Eurovision was nothing, but a camp freakshow

In my opinion some kind of agreement needs to be reached, at least among the Euro-fans. Drag/trans fans should be more tolerant also to the people with a different opinion and develop understanding that perhaps people just preferred other songs instead. It doesn’t make one living in the middle ages, if one preferred other songs. Drag/trans skeptics on the other hand should realise that any critisism they give to those acts doesn’t really contribute to anything, but more publicity to them and to what they stand for. So – you dislike people like Conchita, boycott and ignore them. Simple as that. And to answer to the question who’s to “blame” for drag/trans acts having such impact in ESC – I would say Dana International back in 1998. I do think had she not won in Birmingham that drag/trans acts’ impact in the contest would have been much smaller.

The Cult of Bert Karlsson or why is for many Swedes “schlager” a synonym for Melodifestivalen?

20 Oct

BertKarlsson

I often read comments within the ESC fanworld about the styles of music in Melodifestivalen. People are expressing their concerns saying how MF is too narrow music-wise and that other genres apart from traditional schlagers should get recognised as MF’s genres. Moreover, people think that because of MF favouring schlager, that many top artists refuse to compromise their musical integrity to take part in MF, despite the possible promotion and boost in sales. Now, over the past 5-6 years MF has been drifting away from schlager, particularly embracing clubby pop and teen pop instead. However, people are still not happy. They think MF should be even more diverse and therefore attract even bigger names into taking part.

The opinion of these people is of course totally fair. Swedish music industry is facing a tough competition from UK and USA and adapting to trends set by the worldwide stars and producers is nowadays a norm to survive. Physical (and digital) albums don’t sell as much as they used to, artists don’t get a decent compensation from streaming services like Spotify, music industry is focusing on social media marketing rather than “traditional” PR in order to get revenue, taking part in reality shows like Så mycket bättre and doing massive summer tours is what is artists’ main source of income nowadays. Pop has taken over from schlager, export is crucial.

But for general Swedish audience, despite the state of the music business, “schlager” is still the synonym for MF. Now why is that? To get the answer to my question, we have to go way back in time, to 70’s and 80’s, when one man was “in charge” as the super manager, the record company super boss, the marketing super machine – BERT KARLSSON.

Bert Karlsson, after working as a chief of a grocery store in his hometown, Skara(in western Sweden, near Gothenburg) and of several bingo arenas, Bert then started a record company, Mariann Gramofon. That was in 1972. Some years passed and he had what he thought was a perfect song for Melodifestivalen in 1977 – “Guenerina” by Paul Paljett. The selection jury however disagreed and rejected the song. Bert, totally furious released this song and 15 other rejects on a compilation LP, on which, according to MF experts most of the songs were better than the songs on the actual MF, where its winning song, “Beatles” by Forbes finished on last place in Eurovision. “Guenerina” sold very well, made #1 on the prestigious radio chart Svensktoppen and Paul Paljett won many awards. Bert – SVT – 1 – 0. In his first year already. So in 1978 some of “his” songs made it to the line-up, the most famous one being “Miss Decibel” by the dance band (dansband) Wizex (including Kikki Danielsson as the lead singer). Wizex and Björn Skifs ended on a tie and the latter eventually won the tie-break vote and went to Eurovision where he – legendarily – forgot the lyrics at the beginning.

A year passed and in 1980 his record company was behind 4 out of 10 songs in the line-up. In 1981 2 out of 5 songs were from “his” artists (now being Sweet’n’Chips and Janne Lucas) and a year later his very first win happened. Song was “Dag efter dag”, written by Lasse Holm and Monica Forsberg, Kikki Danielsson and Elisabeth Andreasson were the singers and the duet’s name was Chips. Having a “pimp” slot and winning convincingly in Sweden, new stars were born. Finishing on a respectable 8th place in Harrogate this set foundations for what was to come a year later. The venue was Palladium, Malmö, the date was set on February 26th, 1983, the host was Bibi Johns. The line-up in general that year was quite mediocre – Kikki Danielsson (who had gone solo from Chips)’s song was ok, but the other 8 were nothing to write home about. And then came the final entry of the night, “melodi nummer 10″. The final entry was “Främling”, the artist a completely unknown schoolgirl at the tender age of 16 by the name Carola Häggkvist. Bert had signed Carola 2 years earlier and was setting up for her breakthrough for quite some time and that night it finally happened. The voting that nght was the most boring voting ever in the history of MF, with Carola getting the maximum points from all the regional juries, so the host actually said “This is not exciting whatsoever!”. That night a breakthrough of epic proportions was made, not only in MF, but in Swedish music in general. Carola was heavily featured in all the newspapers after her MF win, Eurovision that year was watched by 6.8 million people in Sweden alone, that is 84% of the entire population at the time – the record still to be broken ever since. Carola’s debut album is the most sold album by a Swedish artist ever, her summer tour broke all the records and her squeaky clean image gained her loads of fans as well. Carola’s follow up albums also sold very well, but as soon as she wanted to ditch the bubblegum schlager-pop image, the record sales weren’t as good as previously. Over the years loads of female artists have tried to have an epic breakthrough like Carola had – none of them have even come close. Carola’s just hit a new #1 on iTunes chart with her Ola Salo cover from Så mycket bättre – 31 years after her breakthrough. Impressive.

Back to the story, after Carola’s epic breakthrough Bert was laughing all the way to the bank. Many people (both fans and general audience) still believe Carola was the moral winner of Eurovision that year, but the actual win in ESC happened just a year later, with Bert’s new act, 3 Mormon boys by the name Per, Louis and Richard Herrey. They managed to win both MF and the contest in Luxembourg and created a boyband hysteria which hadn’t been experienced before. The boys needed a police escort when arriving to their concerts, they had to move to Copenhagen to be able to live as normal life as possible and they also won the Eastern European version of Eurovision a year later – the Sopot Festival and therefore also gained a loyal Eastern bloc following. In MF one of the contestants sang worse than rehearsed, it was Elisabeth Andreasson, one of the former members of Chips and Bert had his plans for her launch.

He took her over to Norway and introduced her to Hanne Krogh and the new duo was born – Bobbysocks. As Kikki Danielsson won MF and Bobbysocks MGP Bert had now double chance of winning Eurovision – and it happened again. Now for Norway. “Seier’n er vår – endelig!” – FINALLY the Norway which had been ridiculed with bad results before, could taste their first ever Eurovision win. Kikki finished 3rd. So two songs by Mariann in Eurovision top 3. Not bad, not bad at all.

1986 came, MF was held in a slightly revamped format, with music videos being shown in the first round. And Bert had 4 songs (out of 10) in the line-up, among which we can find the top 2 of the night – “E de det här du kallar kärlek” by Lasse Holm and Monica Thörnell and “Kärleken är evig” by Lena Philipsson. Lasse Holm, previously the songwriter of 3 winning entries now won as a singer and Lena Philipsson had a breakthrough as an artist back then. In 1987 again the top 2 were Bert’s artists (Lotta Engberg and Arja Saijonmaa) and also “Dansa i neon” by Lena Philipsson made the super-final. However, then the team at his record company broke apart. Lasse Holm and Torgny Söderberg went on to form their own companies and suddenly Bert’s influence in MF was reduced rapidly the following year as he had lost the majority of the artists he had previously worked with. The results got worse and new people were set to take over. In 1991 as Carola (then no longer at Mariann) won both MF and ESC, he started his career as a politician, running the populist party Ny Demokrati (New Democracy), which policies were critical to immigrants and it looked as if his career as a record company boss couldn’t be more far away. It’s also because of his political career, that many Swedes hold a grudge against Bert nowadays. “Seeing Bert in the cooking show, the old racist looking like a friendly uncle. What is with this world?!” is just one of the angry comments in the social media. Also his influence was non-existent in MF the following years as well. In 1992 he had to be credited as a lyricist of a song “Venus Butterfly” by a girl group Angel (as the original lyricist, Nick Borgen couldn’t be credited due to not having a Swedish citizenship.). The song flopped and Angel’s career was over. In 1993 Nick Borgen could take part and finished second (due to televoting being introduced, which was won by Arvingarna) and the rest of the 90s were more or less silent years for Bert and his record company in MF. But in 1999, after making a dance band revival for a while, a comeback in MF happened with a bang.

In 1999 a dance band singer Charlotte Nilsson won MF with her song “Tusen och en natt”. The song got translated into English and won the whole Eurovision in Jerusalem as well. Bert was “the king of the game” again. Same year a dance/schlager band Friends were formed in a reality show on TV4 and another group, Barbados won their first Grammy for the best dance band. And they were Bert’s best bet in MF the following year, along with the Gothenburg’s Latin diva Javiera – neither of them won, but both got a wide recognition by the general audience and schlager was slowly making a revival again. 2001 was the year when again the top 2 of MF was by Bert’s artists – Friends and Barbados, with another dance band, Date also taking part. In 2001 the idea was developed at the SVT’s headquarters, to revamp the MF format and bring it closer to the people, with 4 semi-finals and a final in Globen. Bert’s chances increased even more with this change and the amount of artists that were signed to his label was much bigger the following year. One act that he’d written off previously, the female trio Afro-Dite got signed with his label as soon as they qualified to the final, the super trio Kikki, Bettan & Lotta (his previous protegees) made big comeback and Barbados, Friends and Javiera made it to the final again.

In autumn 2002 Bert launched a new reality talent show – Fame Factory, taking inspiration from Spanish Operacion Triunfo. And already in the first season, several hopefuls were ready to taste some MF glory – Mathias Holmgren, Andres Esteche, Markus Landgren and a new duet, Fame, consisting of Jessica Andersson and Magnus Bäcklund (who had won the show). After making it to the final, Fame were immediately tipped to be the front-runners for the victory in the final in 2003 – and indeed, 20 years after Carola’s overnight success, two fresh faced artists had their big breakthrough again. Fame won with a considerable margin and Fame Factory was more popular than ever. Jessica and Magnus also finished on a great 5th place in Eurovision and after a summer tour and a new participation the following year the duo took a break at the beginning of 2006. Magnus released a solo album, which sold well and Jessica is now one of the household names in Sweden. I already wrote about the impact their song, “Give Me Your Love” had on me and I stand by every word I wrote back then.

In 2004 Fame Factory contestants failed to win MF, but his former artist won it all – Lena Philipsson had a big comeback with her Orup-penned song “Det gör ont” and both the song and her album were big success, sales-wise. However, in the year that followed – 2005 – Bert’s influence was starting to be lesser again. His label was facing challenges, so the contestants in the final season of Fame Factory (among which we can also find Linda Bengtzing) weren’t properly launched at the music market. It was apparently also a time when Bert was facing a severe illness. In 2006, the final year of his record company many songs of “his” artists did well in MF and his biggest discovery, his own Diana Ross, his own Kylie, his own Britney – Carola – made a huge comeback and was considered a favourite to win all along. She won, with a song co-written by one of Bert’s songwriters who brought the schlager revival to Sweden back – Thomas G:son. The last Fame Factory winner, Sandra Oxenryd won the Estonian final in the same year. And it was in 2006 when Bert sold his record company to Warner and the Mariann era was over. His last big discovery were the sisters Sandén (Molly, Frida and Mimmi, who represented Sweden in Junior Eurovision in their respective years – 2006, 2007 and 2009).

Taking this story into account one starts to realise why Swedes associate MF with schlager. Bert did not create just hits-for-the-moment with his artists and his songs – he created legends and the schlager songs (especially from the 80s) are evergreens still deeply enrooted in people’s minds. After selling Mariann to Warner, Bert has been making different statements in media about his views on development in MF. Prior to Eurovision in 2010, he openly criticised Anna Bergendahl’s song, backing the Danish entry – “In A Moment Like This”, written by 3 former Mariann’s songwriters instead. And indeed – Anna failed to qualify, while Denmark finished 4th in the final. This winter (in 2014) he criticised MF’s development, saying that with drifting away from schlager the contest is losing its soul and that songs nowadays are too mediocre and that nobody remembers them a year later. Within the fanworld, many people initially disagreed, but the majority of predictions he had made to the media some weeks prior to 2014 contest actually came true – he tipped about Ace Wilder before anyone had a clue who she was – she eventually had the biggest hit of the contest.

Bert is not really a fan of Jante’s law (the law of average), he’s not late to point out his influence in MF, how “he’s the best” and how “he built the whole shebang to what it is nowadays”, a statement that gains him both fans and haters as many people believe he had exploited some of the artists to gain a quick money. For me – while I disagree with his political views (as I do believe in cultures being able to mix) I have to give him the credit for the music “his” artists and songwriters made – he definitely could recognise a good melody, a catchy chorus and a fabulous keychange. He had a gift to spot timeless songs, that are now classics. His legacy in MF and ESC will live forever, even after he’s no longer on this world. And because of his legacy I don’t think schlager will ever leave MF no matter how much some people want. He had a chance, he took it and changed the for ever.