This is a blog written after the first screening of Måns Zelmerlöw’s Heroes, which went on to win the Swedish nomination and the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest.
The world’s most-watched cultural event is some time away, but for Eurovision affectionados the entertainment has started already. Britain and Sweden are the continent’s two greatest exporters of pop music, but the UK Eurovision contestant is annointed by the BBC whose institutional snobbishness and soft xenophobia prevents it from understanding the contest. Sweden asks Swedes to choose from one of 28 entries in a six-stage event called Melody Festival, now in full flow.
For MelFest, a song starts with songwriters. They’re celebrated, and shown on camera before the performer gets going. A song that wins Eurovision is unlike any other piece of music. It needs to cross several linguistic and cultural boundaries; to write something that will resonate as well as Reykjavik as it does in Ramallah takes some doing. It’s complex political and cultural balancing act. Sweden now convenes overseas juries to help decide its Eurovision entry (see below).
Eurovision is a television event, so it’s not just the song but the performance which makes a winner. Last night, Måns Zelmerlöw performed Heroes – which, yet again, broke new ground. Look at the above video from 1’30 on, and marvel at the showmanship. Choreography based on graphics that the singer can’t actually see is rather hard to pull off and usually only attempted by seasoned stage performers (i.e., Beyonce’s Girls) or on a video (Edward Ma’s ‘Ants’). It works brilliantly – meaning that Heroes is part Avicii (another global Swedish pop export) and part The Matrix.
The song itself has flavours of US country, a technique which has made Sweden’s First Aid Kit such a success. Heroes also showcases Zelmerlöw’s vocal range. If he was just a dancing himbo, he would not be singing the first and second verse in different octaves. He quite clearly has some talent.
Sweden’s ability to take Eurovision seriously means it usually does itself proud on the night – in front of the world’s biggest audience for a non-sporting event. (The same people see Britain suck, every year). And the Swedes can do more than schlager: this New Yorker article explains how its musicians can be found behind Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, mixing Glee etc). Songwriting and songwriters are feted far more in Sweden, and Melody Festival reflects that. Swedish TV has turned it into a celebration of the whole art of making music: the writing, the staging, the performance.
Britain does just as well when it comes to exporting music (and, for that matter, television) but our talent is well disguised on Eurovision night. It’s a reminder why ITV needs to take over the choosing of the entries: it knows how to run talent contests, while the BBC seems perpetually baffled by Eurovision.
Will Zelmerlöw make it to Vienna in May? I have no idea, and he’s up against some tough competition. But I do know that such wonderfully innovative performance and staging is unthinkable for a UK entry for as long as our Eurovision entry is in the hands of the BBC.