The second most watched TV program in the Swedish year is the Donald Duck cartoons (known here as Kalle Anka) shown each year on Christmas Eve. (Virtually the same cartoons as I understand it, too!)
The most watched TV program during the year is the Melodifestival which started last week. It predates American Idol by decades. Back in the 1980s Mariette’s best school chum and her two sisters finished third in the national competition. Each week there are 8 performers doing an original song (not a souped up cover of another artist’s hit as on American Idol). These are actual finished production numbers with flashing lights, backup dancers, smoke and mirrors, the whole nine yards. There are no judges and here in egalitarian Sweden the winners are decided entirely by the viewers who text their votes for their favorites. Additionally, this being Sweden, when you vote you have the option of donating 80 kronor to an African charity and last week 1,000,000 kronor was raised for AIDs patients in Africa just from votes on the show.
The way Mariette explained to me how it works is each week, two of the 8 artists and their songs move on to the final competition to be held in March. The winner of that competition then goes to the Melodifestival for all of Europe. Each country participating has its winner in the competition and here there are panels of judges from each country who vote one winning artist and song but not their own country’s entrant. The competition is as much about the song as the artist and when Mariette told a coworker that her friends had almost won back in the day and mentioned the song, the coworker immediately remembered it and was humming the rest of the day.
The streets of Sweden are probably pretty empty on this Saturday night as the country was glued to this years competition. Swedish pop music leaves a lot to be desired but it is hard to fault their energy and for certain, there are no William Hungs among the performers. (He as that guy on AI who gained notoriety for being utterly unable to carry a tune and who was so bad that he almost won, I think, some years ago.)
Anyway, onto some pretty bad cell phone photos of the show:
Justin Bieber clone, who I think got the most votes by capturing the 13 year old demographic.
The audience gets into it with signs for their favorites and everybody seemed to have blue or yellow balloons. You know Swedes and music by now if you’ve been following the blog.
Terrible photo of a 50s style rock and roll band. They were pretty good. The bass player actually climbed up on his bass, balanced on it and kept playing. The piano player ran his foot down the keyboard. You get the picture.
This next one did a ballad. Didn’t care much for it. But you see the dry ice. These are full production numbers and they don’t break for commercials. (TV without commercials is actually bearable. You don’t realize how truly irritating commercials are until you don’t have them anymore.)
We put this guy at the bottom of the stack. He had a very soft voice for a singer. Singers are supposed to have pipes. He doesn’t.
My two girls watching the debacle.
They were pretty easy to look at, which I don’t think hurt their chances with the voters.
This guy looked like John Belushi’s twin brother.
Mariette has not seen the show for 25 years and the format has obviously changed some but some people moved on and some people went home. The voting incidentally concluded about 5 minutes after the last performer finished his song. No waiting until tomorrow. It was over, done with and the winners announced all within a half hour.
So, there you have it, another slice of Swedish cultural life. As a percentage of the population, it outdraws the Super Bowl in the U.S. by a mile, if you can believe that.