Sunday, May 13, 2007

Euro Pop Culture: Schlager, Melodifestival and the Eurovision Song Contest

Those of you who are laughing at this title and these pictures even before you begin reading must know me pretty well. Rarely does anyone ever catch me even using the phrase "pop culture," much less making it the subject of a blog entry or having any idea what is "cool," "hip" or "hot." My usual attitude toward pop culture consists of dismissing it as artificial and lacking anything of substance that will actually contribute to society, which may perhaps just mask my total lack of understanding and general inability to keep up with it...

...until now.

Before proceeding, you must be familiarized with three European pop culture phrases:

Schlager: Schlager is a genre of music found throughout Europe, but Swedes like to say that the "best" (if indeed that description can actually be uttered with Schalger) is found in Scandinavia. To the novice, Schlager might sound like any other up-tempo European pop music, but indeed it is a particular form of up-tempo pop music that separates Schlager. Schlager songs get to the chorus quickly, are usually only 3 minutes long and the simple goal of Schlager is to get everyone to sing along as quickly as possible. Americans, Schlager is your drive-thru fast food of European pop music: No one claims to, but most love it, at least here in Sweden.

Melodifestival: This is the annual, Swedish, made-for-TV, music competition that gradually narrows down a winner through TV audience voting. The winner of "Melodifestivalen" (this year: The Ark, 3rd picture above) represents Sweden in the...

Eurovision Song Contest: This annual European song contest has been a spring tradition for the past 50 years. Each country in the ever-expanding Eurovision Europe (including Georgia? Armenia?) gets one representative act to perform their Schlager song and, over the course of two nights of heated competition and judging, a winner is determined. Last year, Finland won Eurovision against all odds and therefore, hosted this year's event, which took place last night, watched by millions and covered by some 2,700 journalists.

So now that some of your European pop culture definitions are clarified from a most unlikely source, we can continue with this week's entry...

For someone who proudly proclaims he has never seen an episode of American Idol (or for that matter, ER, Survivor, Lost, 24--I still say that live sports is the best reality TV ever!), I had to chuckle as I started watching this year's Eurovision Song Contest with a group of friends who admirably endured my endless questions as I envisioned a blog entry for all those at home who just wouldn't believe I was watching and, admittedly, liking the Eurovision Song Contest.

42 countries (and increasing every year) entered this year's ESC. 18 were eliminated on Thursday night leaving 24 acts for Saturday night's final. The competition takes place in a jam-packed arena of the host city and is televised worldwide. The judges, you ask? At the end of the competition, everyone is given 15 minutes to call or SMS-text their votes for their top 10. Each country tallies their own votes and submits numbers 1 - 10 with increasing point values. To conclude the evening, each country "calls in" to announce their votes live and eventually a winner is determined.

This year's winner: Serbia, fighting off an impressive display from the former Eastern bloc who took 11 of the first 12 places. Sweden finished a disappointing 18th place, but has won four times (yes, including ABBA, who is credited with the birth of Schlager) third most of any country (Ireland, Great Britian).

What I appreciated most about the Eurovision Song Contest, and why I made a last-minute change to this week's blog entry subject (you were going to learn about Swedish "Colonia", but perhaps another time), was the rarely-seen unity and outright celebration of this grand continent. As countries called in to register their votes, you saw the diversity of locales, languages, interests, tastes and metropolitan backgrounds all coming together as one to celebrate this European tradition and share a sense of continental community. For an outsider-looking-in, this celebration of Europe was unforgettable and even inspiring, especially when you consider everything so many of the countries have come through since the first Eurovision Song Contest 50 years ago.

I still don't care about pop culture, nor will I download any of the songs from last night (if you're interested, I liked Serbia, Ukraine, Germany, Romania and Latvia, and those Russians were hot), but to be here in Europe watching essentially the only event of this kind that brings every European country together (much less gives Moldova as much clout as France or Germany) was a highlight of my time here so far. The group I was with, coupled with the event itself, made for a "fantastik nya svensk upplevelse" (fantastic new Swedish experience).

Pictures above:
1. Eurovision logo from Helsinki. Next year it's on to Belgrade.
2. Great Britian's laughable entry.
3. Ukraine's entertaining entry.
4. The Ark, Sverige!
5. Me with Colonia students in our paintball attire from last week--I promised they would make the blog.


Anonymous said...

You know, when I was watching Eurovision Song Contest yesterday evening, I thought to myself: "I´m really looking forward to Sean´s blog entry about this" ;)

Most of the people I know hate everything that has to do with Schlager and Melodifestivalen - they think it´s a matter of bad taste. I used to as well, until recently when I started to enjoy the feeling of European unity in the contest, as you described in your blog. Not only is ESC entertaining, but the contestants and the songs are very fun indeed to judge. After all, it´s just for fun and kicks.

Your poses in the last photo are very amusing by the way/Anna

Skhor said...

I LOVE that you did a blog about this, Sean. You who always made fun of us if we complained about missing American Idol for a program. =)

Also, it makes me happy that 1) Sweden has paintball, and 2) that you went.


Crystal said...

Sorry Sean to hijack your blog, but I have to elaborate and explain- because this is a BIG DEAL that Serbia won...

For anyone who has spent any time in the Balkans, you know that Eurovision can also have political connotations. The last few years has been frought with scandals, and last year Serbia and Montenegro had 2 great songs (that were winning quality) but they had to withdrawl from the competition.

Here is an old BBC article about the 2006 scandal and the significance of Eurovison in the Balkans, even if I'd personally say it is biased.

(The article dosen't say both Serbia and Montenengro 'cheated' in voting in 2006- that Montenegro made voting (text messages) free for that night just because of the vote; And the contest was only broadcast in Serbia, so Montenegro didn't see it. As with the article's view on ethnic Albanians, while I understand the journalists view, it also seems unfair to paint that a group from Kosovo would never win in Serbia (and Montenegro)- not one had ever tried- and while it's seems, again, political, that Eurovision allows groups from Kosovo to compete in Albania and not as part of SCD or SRB - a group in Belfast wouldn't be allowed to compete as if they were from Ireland, now would they???

Great quote
"Yugoslavia was divided with guns," laughed Sabrija Vulic of Montenegrin Television, "and Serbia and Montenegro will be divided by songs!" ... in some ways, it was... the referendum occured in close time frame as Eurovision.

I can talk much more the significance in the Eurovision history that it was a ballad sung by Marija Serifovic, all in Serbian, rich countries vs. poor countries and sponsorship) etc. but I'm sure that I already gave TMI.

Anyway, it's important to Serbia.

And, here is a site with a pretty good translation of the song.

And here is a link with the song

With love to all who read all of this babble

Todd said...

Welcome to the world of pop culture, Sean.

My favorite quote of yours this week: "My usual attitude toward pop culture consists of dismissing it as artificial and lacking anything of substance that will actually contribute to society."

You realize, of course, that I work for a TV Network...which is essentially a pop culture machine.

So, from 8am-6pm every day, am I to understand that my job is artificial and lacking anything of substance that will actually contribute to society?

I know it's not in the nature of all you Swedes, but if you see Sean riding around on his cute little bike celebrating Spring....feel free to tackle him, slap him around and tell him hello from his loving...but substance lacking brother.

Ang said...

So ... I guess a subscription to People magazine and the DVD collection of the first 15 seasons of Survivor would be an inapproprate Christmas or Birthday present :-) J/K, gotta love ya Sean!

PS ... good luck bike riding this week.

Johndad said...

It is so good for me to hear that your education is continuing and broadening to include, God forbid, pop culture. I think knowing about it is the only honest way you can then say that you find it superficial and lacking in meaning and importance. Question - is it possible that collegiate and professional sports could be included in pop culture. It is certainly part of our culture and it certainly is popular. Just a thought.
I do wish you could have found a way not to disrespect the great work your brother is doing in New York. It is indeed pop culture but it is high quality pop culture and, through his involvement in pop culture, will probably be able to buy and sell us in 10 years. For another characteristic of pop culture is the amazing amount of money that "follows" it.
It just so happens that I have two students who work for a tech company responsible for the SMS voting for the Czech Republic. They told me all about the Eurovision Song Contest and then mentioned they were highly embarrassed by the Czech entry. It means a little more to me now than it did then.
Hooray for Serbia. How many similar contests does the little guy have the chance to dominate the other EU countries.
I also enjoyed your pics and your new fashion. At least it was a blue fashion. Cheers Dad

Elin said...

We should've won