In Sweden, the race to decide each year's entry is taken so seriously that the hint of a fix causes outrage. The UK could benefit from the same commitment to encouraging new artists
Swedish National Television ? Sweden's equivalent to the BBC ? recently screened an expose on the Swedish competition to find a Eurovision entry. The core accusation was that the producer of the show was able to influence which songs and artists would be entered in the regional competitions ? and he tended to favour professional songwriters and known artists. Participants in the show declared this just wasn't fair, as each submission should be considered on the quality of the song. What would they have said about the UK's "selection process"?
Last week the BBC announced it had chosen 75-year-old crooner Engelbert Humperdinck to represent the UK in Eurovision 2012. It said the song he would perform was to be written by Martin Terefe ? the Grammy-winning producer behind Jason Mraz's I'm Yours and Train's Soul Sister ? and Sacha Skarbek ? who writes and produces for Adele, Lana Del Rey, and co-wrote James Blunt's You're Beautiful).
I'm Swedish and Melodifestivalen (the Swedish tryouts for Eurovision) has been part of Sweden's cultural fabric ever since Abba won in 1974. In the 90s it experienced a bit of a slump, but for the past decade much of the Swedish music scene has been dominated by the local competitions. For six weeks before the European final, tryouts around the country are televised in a primetime Saturday night slot, with more than a third of the population watching. Both new and established artists ? even serious actors ? take part (imagine Jarvis Cocker and Ewan McGregor competing with Dappy to represent the UK).
Swedish songwriters and producers have experienced huge international success in the last couple of decades. Max Martin, RedOne (who's actually Moroccan, but launched his career in Sweden), Shellback, Jorgen Elofsson, Swedish House Mafia and many more have contributed to the global charts so heavily that rarely a week goes by without a song written by a Swede entering the top 10 somewhere in the world. Eurovision is no exception to the Swedish invasion. The old rules that required composers of entered songs to come from the country they represented have loosened, and now Swedish writers are responsible for songs for Russia, Ireland, Spain, Romania and Norway. Last year's winner was co-written by a Swede, and Terefe, who is writing Humperdinck's song, is Swedish.
Eurovision is largely viewed as a joke in Britain ? a reason to laugh at our European neighbours ? but maybe Swedes are on to something. Opportunities for British artists to perform on mainstream television have disappeared since the demise of shows such as Top of the Pops. Apart from Later ? With Jools Holland, all we have are talk shows, which usually only feature one established major label artist per show, and The X Factor, which features big stars and contestants singing covers. A show like Sweden's Melodifestival could be a real shot in the arm for new music.
Britain is responsible for 12% of the world's music market and has an incredible music heritage, so why can't we send something more interesting to this year's contest in Azerbaijan? Who cares if we win or not, or if, as Terry Wogan claimed, eastern Europeans vote for each other. Any opportunity to expose new artists to an audience of millions (in the case of the Eurovision final, hundreds of millions), singing newly composed music should be taken. Who knows: maybe the opporutnities granted by Eurovision have played a part in the Swedish music phenomenon, way beyond Abba's win with Waterloo, almost 40 years ago.