It has only been two years since Sweden hosted the Eurovision Song Contest but this powerhouse nation certainly would not mind winning again. Christer Björkman – a singer in his own right, representing Sweden the year Linda Martin won – has been in charge of the Swedish national final since 2002, and certainly knows what it takes to get top points from all corners of the continent.
“Luck. You need luck. You can enter the best ballad in the world, but if there are twenty other ballads in the running you won’t stand out and then you lose”.
Christer Björkman’s own attempt at winning with a ballad ended with a now famous second last place back in 1992. These days, Björkman says his biggest moment in the contest was winning with Loreen’s ‘Euphoria’ – an entry where all the pieces fell into place.
“You need the full package. A song that works in its own right, without trying to copy something else or be something that it’s not. Then you need the right singer that can make this good song understandable and accessible, plus a performance that looks good and feels logical for this particular song”.
“In television we often talk about the “money shot” – that one image that people will remember forever. We always try to find that image. If the viewers would see just a short snippet, they should instantly recognise the song in question. I think that is very important”.
“Then your timing is crucial. Some years ago, our entries were out of sync with what the European audiences wanted, and we kept getting modest results year after year. Since 2011, we’ve been very lucky and managed to keep our finger on the pulse and send in the right thing at the right time. We’ve been very successful lately but you can never know in advance what is going to work or not”.
Sweden has indeed been successful, scoring third place in 2011 and 2014 as well as winning in 2012. They have also been very popular on home ground where the national final Melodifestivalen is the television event of the year, with its four semi finals going on tour across the country.
“The ESC final is usually the third most watched show on Swedish television throughout the year, while the national final comes in second place. Then we have this traditional Donald Duck show on Christmas Eve that is unbeatable, otherwise we have the best ratings, Björkman says with a smile”.
“We always stuck to the same formula in our national final, so the audience knows very well what they will get. There is a strong sense of togetherness surrounding Eurovision in Sweden. You gather your family and friends and you watch it together”.
“Lately we managed to establish a very positive chain of events. Our national final is a good window for the music business to appear in, it is very good for the radio as it produces many new songs for them to play, and it is good for the participating artists who can launch successful careers or even revive dormant careers”.
“In order to make a good national final, you need to take things seriously and gather the best people in various fields. You need good camera work, good lights, good scripts – you need to go all in and make a real effort at every level in order to convince the audience that you deserve their attention”.
“You can’t do it unless the audience is with you. They are the ones who buy records, listen to the radio and go to concerts. If you can’t connect to them or deliver something that will make them invest themselves and engage in watching or voting for, then it’s very hard to be successful”.
Perhaps it is easier to enthuse an audience when your national final is held in a huge arena in front of a live audience of 35,000 people, compared to the more humble Irish selection staged as a part of The Late Late Show, but Christer Björkman insists that size doesn’t matter.
“You can absolutely make a successful national final in a small final. Five performers will do as long as they are good and engage the audience”.
“However, it’s much harder to find that perfect package if you only have five entries. We have 28 songs, which means I have 28 chances of getting it right. And you will certainly get it wrong a few times every year”.
Who got it right this year? Who is our winner in Vienna?
“That’s a very good question. You want me to say just one? I can’t do that. Can I say five? It’s between three male acts: Australia, Italy and Sweden. But then there are two dark horses in shape of the Estonian duet and the Slovenian pop song”.
“Slovenia has the advantage of being the only female singer with that kind of distinct up-tempo song this year. She also has a memorable look, wearing headphones on stage. Regardless if you find that cool or ridiculous, you will remember that. Maybe that’s the final detail that could prove decisive. She has the look, she has a cool song and she’s the only female in that field this year, that makes her dangerous”.
“Historically women have won more often than male singers too but we haven’t had a male solo singer winning since 2009. Maybe it’s time again”.
Ireland hasn’t done particularly well lately. What does Ireland do wrong?
“Let me start by saying that Jedward were very good. They were charming, they were easily accessible and their whole act was very distinct. Being distinct is perhaps the most important single factor if you want to do well at Eurovision”.
“But just singing a nice song in a nice way won’t do. You need personality and character and temper. Your performer must be believable and credible and carry whatever message your song has”.
“And your song really should have a message or some sort of story to tell. These days when many countries sing in English, you still have the advantage of English being your mother tongue, but I feel the storytelling is often absent in the Irish entries”.
“Johnny Logan was a magnificent storyteller, both when writing songs and performing them. His songs still stand out in people’s minds because he always had something to say and did it beautifully”.
“If I had one piece of advice to give to Ireland for the future, it would be to find more distinct entries with stronger messages. That is always bound to go down well”.
Tobias Larsson is a Swedish freelance journalist, based in Helsinki. You can contact him via Twitter at @TobsonHelsinki