THERE will be a video-y Sight and Song update this week – but not yet. I was out carousing last night and really in no fit state to stand in front of our green spare room wall this afternoon and spout rubbish – but all you Fantasy Leaguers will have been updated for Round Six. Therefore, it’s just the seven weekly viewers of the vlog who are missing out as I type.
Before heading off last night, through the wonders of connecting Apple TV up to the projector in the spare room, I had the pleasure of seeing – on the aforementioned green wall – the first song in this year’s Melodifestivalen competition. The fact that #melfest was trending in the UK yesterday evening (and apparently, #thevoice wasn’t) shows just how the tentacles of popularity wiggling out of Eurovision’s most extravagant selection process ensnare more followers with each passing year. It’s easy to see why. It’s the way the Swedes unashamedly celebrate their love of pop prepared by the finest craftsfolk, wrapping affectionate, tongue-in-cheek segues around the songs themselves to make perfect winter telly. Melodifestivalen comes along when your wallet is still reeling from Christmas, spring seems too far away but once again we have an event which the Twitter community laps up like reasonably priced fizzy wine. As cheap Saturday nights in go, you’s struggle to get much better.
This is where my bit of beef for the evening lies. Melodifestivalen is becoming untouchable. There is now a sizeable chunk of Eurovision fans which won’t hear a word said against it. If the Riga Beaver was dragged on stage before the results of Andra Chansen and turned into souvenir slippers for the non-qualifiers, there’d be an internet campaign to introduce a ‘National Final Interval Act’ category in the Rose d’Or and for Swedish telly be installed as its permanent custodian.
This is, of course, the long and rambling road to FörTvåGate (well, my pronunciation rhymes anyway). As rehearsals got into gear in Gothenburg for the first heat of this year’s song search, some smart soul on the internet realised that Anna Book’s full-scale schlager onslaught Himmel för två had an identical melody to Taking Care of a Broken Heart which appeared in the early stages of the 2014 Moldovan heats. The fact that somebody made a point of grassing Anna up to the Melodifestivalen headteacher is a debate for another day (if Eurovision fandom was in any way like Prisoner: Cellblock H, there’d be a lagger forced to eat Mrs O’Reegan’s lumpy stew all on their own in the dining room for weeks to come while everyone hummed Himmel för två at them), it’s more the reaction to the situation which was of interest.
Let’s rewind 14 years. In the days when the eight songs competing for the British ticket to Eurovision were played in a Radio 2 semi-final (well, it never did Love Shine a Light any harm), there was once a song called Never In a Million Years. Performed by Zee Asha, it was a rather smashing string-driven package which sounded as though it came from someone who knew how to produce a pop song. Zee is a long-time collaborator of Boy George, knows her way around a stage and has just the right sort of voice to smash a Eurovision belter off the walls of the host arena (she’s also an actress, she played a narky chef called Audrey in a few episodes of the BBC’s fantasy series Merlin if you wish to experience her versatility). Of course, with Never In a Million Years being in the UK heat, it was near universally loathed on the internet, despite it being bags more interesting than a lot of the stuff being pimped about in the other national selections that year. As soon as the UK shortlist was announced, every act and song title was put through Google by eager fans and the MP3 of Never In a Million Years was soon sourced and shared as it turned out the track had been released in Hungary and sold around 2,400 copies. This broke the rules and so out Zee went despite qualifying for the televised Song For Europe final, to be replaced by the group Level Best. They didn’t trouble Jessica Garlick on her way to winning the right to represent le Royaume Uni in Tallinn.
So far, so very Anna Book. But the aftermath of the two situations couldn’t have been more different.
On Saturday, Anna was allowed to stride out onto the Melodifestivalen stage, sing Himmel för två out of competition and now looks set to top the iTunes chart in her own country. At no point (as far as I am aware) has Swedish TV been criticised for not checking the track’s heritage in the shortlisting process for Melodifestivalen, made to feel as though they had not been particularly stringent in their preparations or the red-facedness it had caused the singer of the song. Instead, Anna Book has become the first star of the Melodifestivalen season (Ace Wilder is the first tip for the Swedish title, by the way, with the cubist trickery of Don’t Worry) and SVT has come out of this potentially shambolic situation with its head held high.
In 2002, I’d love to say the BBC escaped so unscathed from the fan’s ire. The barely concealed delight on the internet forums that the Beeb had ‘done something wrong’ which was so ‘typical’ of them in their approach to Eurovision in general was so widespread you could almost hear the giggles coming from small clusters of lofts around the country. That’s because, you see, at Eurovision, BBC equals Bad and Swedish TV equals Good. The former can do no right and the latter no wrong.
Smear whatever you like over the UK selection, it’s positively encouraged. But whatever you do, don’t knock Melodifestivalen. It’s untouchable, don’t you know.