While any national final makes its own mark through the Eurovision season, one of them stands out in particular for its hits, its slick production, and the hype.
This hype begins with the maelstrom of potential artists–some of which are debuting, whereas others get another chance to win this notably difficult festival–even for those who returned after winning Eurovision. Like with Sanremo songs, the songs are only revealed when they are first performed in their respective semi-final, and then they manage to keep a country under a spell for a month. The intervals showcase Swedish production to the nines; it even gets international audiences intrigued.
As a result, Melodifestivalen is frequently one of the most viewed events within Sweden–sometimes, it even gets more views than Eurovision itself! In those six weeks, “each song has to ride the waves created by all these little mini-battles before the performance has even played down the camera, heightening the suspense and drama.” And the ending is not always what the audience expects.
Melodifestivalen began in 1959, meant to select Sweden’s second entry for the contest. In contrast to today’s format, this contest would only select the song to represent Sweden for Eurovision. A number of experiments with songs and singers continued until 1962, in which it settled down to one song per artist.
Another difference was how Melodifestivalen was a one-night affair for the first few decades of its existence. Svante Stockselius, who was the head of SVT’s entertainment division and would go on to be the Executive Supervisor of Eurovision between 2004 and 2010, worked to revitalize the contest and expand it for the next century. Melodifestvalen then switched to having multiple heats in 2002, which all climaxes in a final to determine the winner.
In each of the four heats, seven songs compete to make it to that final round. The top two of each heat would automatically qualify, whereas the middle two would have to face off in another round, taking place on the fifth Saturday. Before 2022, the Andra Chansen Round would see those eight songs pair up into duels, in which the winners make the final. Now, this round is reconfigured into a semi-final, in which those eight songs are performed again, and the top four make the final.
The points were initially determined by regional juries, with televoting fully incorporated into the mix by 1999. When Sweden failed to qualify in 2010, international juries replaced the regional ones, which allowed a better idea of what songs would be better accepted across Europe. Now they’re split 50/50 between the two groups, but in 2019, televoting was split into different age groups to balance the young and old. Like in eurovision, they would be tabulated in a 1-7, 8, 10, and 12 point format, and all the groups would conjoin together in a final televote.
Carola: Främling (1983)
At 16 years old, Carola became one of the youngest winners with this little song. “Främling” typified Swedish schlager which became famous at the time, but it managed to sweep all the jury groups to win the festival. In addition, it came in 3rd at the Eurovision Song Contest 1983.
This ended up becoming Carola’s breakthrough; her debut album of the same title sold 1,000,000 copies–even more than ABBA’s! She also participated in Melodifestivalen four more times, winning in the 1991 and 2006 versions, and ultimately won Eurovision in 1991.
Nanne Grönvall – Håll om mig (2005)
Nanne already participated in eurovision as a member of One More Time in 1996 with the song Den Vilda, placing 3rd overall. Her solo entry for 2005, Håll om mig, couldn’t be more different, as it packed a punch with its energy and infatuation for her loved one.
This also showed how much the juries and televoters could misalign on their priorities; while Håll om mig won the televoting by a comfortable margin (132 compared to 100 for Las Vegas), a low jury score made it place second–only three points behind the winner. This didn’t mean the end for this song, as it became a hit in Sweden and still has an afterlife in the anime community.
Molly Sanden: Youniverse (2016)
You may know Molly as the singer for all the songs in Eurovision Legend of Fire Saga, most notably with Husavik. But she’s more that, as she’s one of Sweden’s biggest singers and actually came in third in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2006!
With Youniverse, Molly sings about what her lover means to her, and how it makes up the entire world. She came in sixth in the final, placing sixth in both the juries and the televoting.
Jon Henrik Fjällgren – Norrsken (Goeksegh) (2019)
Melodifestivalen has a reputation for including primarily sterile pop songs, with other genres shafted to the sides. But with songs like När vindarna viskar mitt namn (which represented Sweden at Eurovision 2000 with its English version “When Spirits are Calling My Name”), they not only add a touch of tradition to the mix, but also cultural representation from the native Sami.
Living across not only northern Sweden, but also Norway and Finland, “their language and culture have been forcibly suppressed by national governments that also stripped their land rights and developed industries that threatened the habitats“. Incorporating jolking, a traditional singing style associated with them, adds substance to these songs. And it’s surprising as Jon Henrik was born in Colombia, then was adopted into a Sami family when he was young. This came in fourth in 2019, but showed his consistency in the contest, placing 2nd in 2015 and 3rd in 2017.
Clara Klingenström – Behöver inte dig idag (2021)
Another strike against Melodifestivalen is how the artists lean into singing in English. Even if a song won in Swedish, the artist would usually translate the song into English for Eurovision itself (e.g. Evighet would become Invincible in the 2006 edition); the country hasn’t sent a song in their native language since 1998–the last year of the language rule.
This doesn’t mean Swedish songs aren’t beloved, either in Sweden, or in the fandom!
Clara, who was a relative unknown in Sweden before Melodifestivalen 2021, garnered a hit with the heartfelt song Behöver Inte Dig Idag. It came in fifth overall, but it made it to number three on the Swedish charts and was certified gold. With her sincerity and resilience for her work, she shone on the stage, and provided substance to a contest known for its flash.
Melodifestivalen’s four heats take place on 4, 11, 18, and 25 February. The semi-final (second chance round) takes place on March 4, and the grand final on March 11.