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...
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).
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.