Sweden’s insatiable appetite for Eurovision

Sweden must be the country that can call itself Eurovision fan number 1.

So insatiable is the thirst for ‘schlager’, as it is called in Swedish, that the journey towards the May 2018 final began today.

Today, it was announced in a live press conference who will be participating in ‘Melodifestivalen’ – the competition to choose Sweden’s representative. So insatiable is the thirst for ‘schlager’ that there are 28 contestants! 28!

According to the papers, the artists are a mixture of ‘new-comers, classic singers, comebacks, former winners, favourites and LGBT surprises!’ Also, oddly, a parody band and a fat tv cook.

So insatiable is Sweden’s thirst for ‘schlager’ that these 28 contestants start competing with each other in February – in 6 live televised competitions! February Saturday nights in Sweden are ruined for the uninitiated.

The weeks leading up to the Eurovision Song Contest are then filled with Eurovision trivia. So insatiable. Interviews with Sweden’s chosen representative, behind the scenes programs and analysis of every single one of the other countries’ songs grace our televisions. Then finally, once we are already saturated, the two semi finals come. God forbid Sweden doesn’t qualify. Then finally, the final comes. And Sweden usually lands somewhere in the top 10. Then comes the analysis.

Finally sometime at the beginning of June, we are released from the jaws of Eurovision. The summer comes and is filled with ‘schlager’ tours and festivals. And in November, it all kicks off again.

That’s life in the insatiable ‘schlager’ country of Sweden.

Sweden’s nazi sympathiser, secret agent, communist spy, musical diva!!

ZarahLeander

Long before Swedish pop sensation Zara Larsson became famous, she had another famous namesake from Sweden.

Also a singer, Zarah Leander was her name, and she remains an enigma to this day. Active during the war years, was she a source of pride or a source of shame for Sweden? Nobody really knows.

Zarah Leander was born in the town of Karlstad in 1907 by the name of Sara Stina Hedberg. She began her singing career in the late 1920s, and by the mid-1930s she was hugely successful in Scandinavia and in Europe. In particular, the Germans loved her and in 1936, she was contracted to work for the German Film Foundation for whom she made many movies. As her employer was subordinate to the Third Reich, many people viewed her films and her music as nazi propoganda, although Zarah Leander herself never took a public political stance or officially joined the Nazi party. She performed live at many concerts, even after Nazi Germany had invaded Denmark and Norway. She profited from being the biggest, and most well-paid, star in Germany at that time.

After her home in Berlin was bombed towards the end of the war years, she returned to Sweden under much criticism. She was shunned by the artistic community but eventually managed to resume her career. She died in 1981 in Stockholm at the age of 74.

So was Zarah Leander a source of shame for Sweden? Was she a cold-blooded, fame-seeking, profiteering, Nazi sympathiser? On paper it would seem so. But who really knows?

Or was she a source of pride? Was she, as she herself claimed, just an entertainer working to please an enthusiastic audience in a difficult time?

Or was she in fact a spy? Soviet intelligence officer Pavel Sudoplatov claimed, just before his death, that Leander had been a Soviet agent with the codename “Rose-Marie”. He claimed she was a secret member of the Swedish Communist Party and conducted the work for political reasons.

Zarah Leander talked openly about her past and consistently denied that she had any sympathies with the Nazi or the Communist parties or that she worked as a spy for any country. But was she telling the truth? The mystery of Zarah Leander followed her to the grave and today the only legacy we have is her music and her films.

Zarah Leander, 1907-1981. Nazi sympathiser? Communist spy? Secret Agent? Musical Diva!!!

Shedding my light on the Lucia debate

 

Today is Santa Lucia in Sweden – December 13th.  At the darkest time of the year, when we all are drained by the black mornings and afternoons, Lucia pays us a visit. With candles in hair and surrounded by a posse of singers, Lucia shines light into the dark depths of our spirits. The music plays. The choir harmonises. Lucia smiles at us. And slowly, slowly, the day awakens.

I love Lucia. Long live Lucia – this Sicilian martyr, who’s tradition is said to have come to Sweden via Italian merchants around the late 18th century.

Every year, towns around Sweden elect a Lucia and they visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing and handing out gingerbread. And every year there is a debate about who owns the right to be Lucia. The answer to that question depends on your starting point – does one take a traditional view or a modernist view? The Swedish traditionalists will say that Lucia definitely has to be a girl, ideally blonde and blue-eyed. The modernists will say Lucia should reflect today’s society and therefore can be any colour or gender.

This year, as many before, the debate took a nasty turn. A large department store depicted Lucia as a gender-neutral, dark-skinned child. For some people, this was too much. Hateful, despicably racist, and, of course, anonymous comments flowed in via social media, revealing yet another crack in Sweden’s tolerant facade.  Consequently, the department store removed the advert to protect the child. This social media behaviour is unacceptable and should be in no way condoned. Having a view point is everybody’s right (be it traditionalist or modernist), but attacking a child is something totally different.

As I watched Lucia this morning I was reminded of the real message. The humanist message. Sure, Lucia is literally about bringing light to the dark day. But the metaphor is clear, if we care to remember it. It is about caring. It is about being open even when we feel closed. It is about community.

One of the songs the choir sang this morning is called ‘Sprid ditt ljus’ – and I think this sums it all up. Translated into English, the chorus goes: ‘Spread your light, in the darkest times, warm us now and let us all feel peace’

Maybe it’s just me, but I think who is elected Lucia isn’t that important. What’s more important is that we remember the point. We should open our eyes to the light that is shone on our society where we have growing social divides, enormous groups of displaced people, poverty, starvation, homelessness on our streets.

Once a year, Lucia shines the light. Can we find it within us to shine our lights on each other? I, for one, intend to try.

Happy Lucia! May the light keep you warm.

 

 

The scandalous obsession with Swedish schlager

jag-aelskar-schlager

Sweden has proven itself to be a musical nation – topping pop, rock and dance music charts all over the world for decades. After the USA and the UK, Sweden is the world’s largest exporter of pop music, which says a lot for a country this size. But there’s one type of music we should be grateful for. And by that, I mean grateful that it generally doesn’t get exported outside the Nordic region and Germany. I am talking about the odd Swedish music style called Swedish ‘Schlager’. It is unfathomably and inexplicibly popular in Sweden.

What is Swedish schlager music you may wonder? Let me attempt to explain.

It is a style of popular music The style emerged in Europe after World War 2 as a backlash against American rock and roll. The style uses very simple patterns of music and they are either sweet, highly sentimental ballads with a simple, catchy melody or light pop ditties. Sometimes the songs integrate folk instruments. Often the lyrics are about love and relationships. Titles such as ‘Good Vibrations’, ‘Take me to your heaven’, ‘Captured by a storm wind’ give you an indication.

To get the idea of what schlager is, it’s best to think about the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s more or less that type of music. In fact, the competition and the selection trials are often referred to a ‘Schlagerfestivalen’ in Sweden – the festival of, yes you guessed it, Schlager.

Schlager music might not be intellectually challenging but it is disgustingly catchy. It is old fashioned, simplistic and annoying. But it immensely popular around the  country and is almost always the music that gets played at parties once people have had a few too many drinks and dare to approach the dance floor.

Tomorrow night the trials begin for who will represent Sweden in the international final in Stockholm in May. And Swedes take this very seriously. More people watch these trials than watch televised sporting events or royal weddings. And tomorrow’s trial is already making the headlines. Tragic schlager hasbeen, Anna Book, was disqualified as it turns out her song was involved in 2014 in Moldavia!! Shock! Horror! Poor Anna Book is devastated and the media is calling it a sensational and tragic scandal.

  • People dying in make-shift boats as they flee for their lives across the ocean is a scandal.
  • Gangs of masked men marauding through the streets of Stockholm and attacking immigrant children is a scandal.
  • That over 20% of Sweden’s population vote for a right-wing racist party is a scandal.
  • That young women get groped and physically abused when they are in public places is a scandal
  • That health care, elderly care and education are rapidly deteriorating in Sweden is a scandal

Anna Book being disqualified from a music competition is not a scandal.

Maybe some people are so obsessed with the inanity of schlager and Eurovision that they can’t lift their eyes and focus on more important issues. For me, that’s a sensational and tragic scandal.

 

 

 

 

 

Top 12 Swedish Summer Songs

  Yesterday I wrote about Thomas Ledin’s ‘Sommaren är kort’ and it got me thinking about other Swedish summer songs. So here’s my top twelve. And, as I hate Thomas Ledin’s song, it doesn’t even make the list. 

12: ‘Sommarnatt’ (Summer night) by Snowstorm. A song in which the singer ‘cruises along through the darkness in his giant machine.’ Classic uncomplicated Swedish lyrics. 

11: ‘Sommarsången’ (Summer song) by Siv Malmkvist. With lyrics like ‘and I want to sing that butterflies are good’, it just has to make the list. 

10: ‘Ta mig till havet’ (Take me to the sea) by Peter Lindblad. ‘The sand is moist, and the woman is young, crazy of longing am I’. Swedish summer sin at its best. 

9: ‘Sommar, sommar, sommar’ by Sten Carlberg is a little ditty that is synonymous with Sweden’s popular radio program ‘Summer on P1’. Summer is about ‘sun and blue skies’ but it slowly dissipates like a dream. 

8: ‘Midsommarnatt’ ( Midsummer’s Night) by Eddy Meduza. Dance band summer to which we ‘dance the whole night long’. 

7. ‘Sol, Vind och Vatten’ (Sun, wind and water) by Ted Gärdestad. An elementary song about tanned legs, high mountains and harbouring secret romantic longing. 

6: ‘Magaluf’ by Orup transports us to the tacky Spanish coast and sings of parties, alcohol and seagulls laughing until they are hoarse. 

5: ‘Our last summer’ by Abba. No list of Swedish music is complete without one of theirs. This one takes us to Paris and romantic walks along the Seine with boring banker Harry. 

4. ‘Så skimrande var aldrig havet’ by Evert Taube, sung by Lill Lindfors. (The sea was never this glistening). A fantastic romantic song by folk legend Taube about summer’s, and maybe life’s, first kiss. ‘The sea was never this glistening, nor the beach this liberating. The fields, the meadows and the trees were never this beautiful, nor did the flowers smell so sweet’. 

3: ‘Sommar’ by Kayo. A jazzy mellow song about the loss of summer with the loss of love – ‘there’ll never be a summer, there’ll never be sunshine, or jetties or mosquitoes – not without you.’ 

2: ‘Sommarkort’ (Summer picture) by Cornelis Vreejsvik. My favorite Cornelis song which captures summer in a melodious song – ‘let’s take a picture of children in the summertime as they dance – a moment on Earth’. 

1. ‘Summer sun’ by Koop. Rhythmic and cool, this song transports you to beach parties drinking rose wine and feeling the light breeze of summer – ‘Midsummer sun your love’s divine, never before have I met your kind.’

Playa del Ingles – Swedish invasion

2015/01/img_4911.png

Currently enjoying a week in the sun on Gran Canaria. It’s altogether a very Spanish experience. Er, well, maybe not.

Yesterday evening we headed off to a well-known dance palace called Playa del Sol. The reason it’s well known is because it is a Swedish oasis, in the middle of the tourist sprawl. A restaurant and dance club, this is where Swedes, mostly of an older generation, come to eat Swedish food, drink cheaply, listen to orchestra music and strictly come dancing. The place has certainly seen better days, with it’s tired decor, faded colors and jaded staff.

Last night a Swedish legend was performing. The 75 odd year old Lill-Babs is Sweden’s equivalent to the UK’s Cilla Black and she’s still going strong. The show was sold out and her white haired audience of regulars went wild as she crooned to her classic hits from previous decades. Her energy and her saucy jokes had the audience agog. They were in the palm of her hand.

For me, this was a fantastic cultural experience – a mixture of fascination, sentimentality and horror. But mostly I was a witness to how a singer can create a life long following of loyal and loving fans through her hard work and professionalism.

Lill-Babs is really proof that the show does go on. And it goes on and on and on in this little Swedish dance paradise on a small island far away in the Atlantic Ocean.

Stockholm A-Z: Hipsters

IMG_4386.JPG

When you understand the definition of hipster as middle-class young bohemians residing in gentrifying areas with an interest in alternative music, vintage, progressive politics, organic, artisanal foods and alternative lifestyles, there’s one neighbourhood in Stockholm that stands out. Recently voted in Vogue magazine as one of the coolest city areas in the world, the island of Södermalm lives up to its reputation as a hipster heaven. Divided into distinct areas, the island offers lots to see and do. On the western side of the island, is Hornstull. Here you will find groovy restaurants, shops, a vibrant music scene, a craft market, an independent cinema, bathing areas and Tantolunden – a popular green area for hanging out in. In the centre of the island, you will find Medborgarplatsen – or ‘Citizen square’. Hipster life is non-existent in this area but the square offers lots of mainstream cafés and restaurants and late night bars. Political rallies are often held here. On the eastern side, you will find an area known as Sofo, the birthplace of the hipster movement in Sweden, which has become such an identifiable brand it has even been ridiculed in a TV comedy based in the area. Sofo is packed with bars, restaurants, cafés, butique shops, vintage places and artisan fooderies. It’s well worth a visit and a stroll about on a sunny day. Much of the life circulates around the few streets between Nytorget, Götgatan and Folkungagatan. On some Saturdays, there is a farmer’s market lining one of the main arteries. For an alternative music and theatre scene, it’s worth visiting the venue Mosebacke with its outside terrace and view over Stockholm.