The cancellation could have been a real blow to the ESC but the 2021 entries suggest otherwise. A lot of creativity has been set in motion. It seems people decided to rise to the occasion and try some new roads.
Melodifestivalen has done the same. For the last years I have found the Swedish flagship of tv entertainment lacking in several areas, being very much like many of the entries Sweden sent to the ESC. Tailor-made, professional and slick but without that beating heart underneath and with very little room for anything spontaneous or personable. This year something has changed.
The shows have been remarkably uneven but if you focus on the songs, I found myself fully engaging in several of them for the first time in years. Not least because there are finally songs that were not written specifically for Melodifestivalen, not written to please to producers.
When you give creative people space and let them create what they want to create, some wonderfully unexpected things will emerge. Melodifestivalen used to be full of them for the first ten years of the semi final format but lately the entries have been more streamlined. Until now.
This is my way of saying that the 2021 Melodifestivalen lineup in many ways was what I needed in my life and I am actively listening to at least half of these songs outside of the contest for the first time in years.
But it is time to select a winner and here are my views on the entries in the final - a final where the general standard is higher than in years. But does that mean I will agree with the winner?
01. Danny Saucedo / Dandi dansa
A light-hearted and uplifting start to the final with echoes of Jamiroquai, Eric Gadd and the first albums Orup made back in the late 80's. A happily dumb chorus and a song that has not been designed for this contest. Refreshing with a star who is ready to just bring his star status along and dance around without necessarily aiming at victory. Feels genuinely like it was written because somebody wanted to write a song and not because SVT needed something somebody they like could sing.
02. Klara Hammarström / Beat Of Broken Hearts
If the first song is atypical for this contest in recent years, the second one is more familiar territory and clearly written with a Melfest formula in mind. But Klara is a real asset who dresses like a star and adds several layers of quality. She won't win this time but she'd headed in the right direction.
03. Anton Ewald / New Religion
This was a surprise for me in the semis. Let's say my expectations were low but this dark and suggestive little number made me think of some late 80's single inspired by Depeche Mode. I like the darkness of this, something seldom seen in a Swedish final. The weak point is unfortunately Anton himself who is a gifted dancer but nowhere near as convincing as a performer. Imagine this with someone who could have filled it with a real sense of menace instead?
04. The Mamas / In The Middle
Let me be frank. When The Mamas won last year I was very surprised. They are warm and talented and very likeable but their entry was much more of a mood than a fully functioning song. "In The Middle" is better but I still don't get the hype. In this age of pre-recorded backing vocals and singers who look cute but can only sing a bit, maybe it is mind-blowing for the audience to see someone who can perform the heck out of anything?
05. Paul Rey / The Missing Piece
I liked this song a lot in its semi but since then it sort of slipped out of my attention. The strongest selling point is clearly the animated and uplifting live performance while the song in itself - when you only hear it and don't see it - remains a bit anonymous. Paul surely has what it takes to win but this is not his year.
06. Charlotte Perrelli / Still Young
La Perrelli is back doing her best schlager diva and that in itself is a sight for sore eyes. The song itself takes no chances and is frankly little more than a rewrite of Pandora's "You" that crashed and burned in a 2003 semi but the way Charlotte elevates this with her determination and presence is nothing short of amazing. Could have made a proud ESC entry had the song been better.
07. Tusse / Voices
This is the point where I disagree with my dear old Sweden. Tusse is a real talent and could be explosive with the right song but I don't think "Voices" is just that. It's very Sweden-by-the-numbers. An exercise in songwriting that will enthuse the ESC juries and then get a lukewarm televote result. I admit I looked through my fingers more than I should have when Måns was walking on the sun back in 2015, but the phrases lifted right out of "Starboy" really annoy me here. It seems this is everybody else's cup of tea this year but it certainly isn't mine.
08. Alvaro Estrella / Baila baila
Take every tired latino pop cliché in the book, forge them together and you will have Baila baila in front of you. Like a tired fifth single off an old Enrique Iglesias album. Poor Alvaro Estrella who would really deserve better material.
09. Clara Klingenström / Behöver inte dig idag
The opposite of Paul Rey: I like this a lot when I hear it in my headphones but the semi final performance left me a bit uneasy. Something about the way it was filmed didn't click with me, but the song and the voice has a raw nervous energy that is rare in a Swedish final. If there is a big surprise in the making, this could be it. And Sweden singing in Swedish at the ESC for the first time since 1998 would be very special.
10. Eric Saade / Every Minute
Eric's thing was always to be some sort of likeable pop brat and while he did that well this new grown-up style suits him even better. Suddenly there is a frailty and vulnerability to his performance that is very becoming and this kind of minimalistic pop is very close to my heart. This is the sort of entry you get when you let people create freely instead of telling them what sort of songs they need to provide to get a spot on your show. My clear personal favourite a mile ahead of everything else in this final.
11. Dotter / Little Tot
Dotter could have had this in the bag. "Little Tot" has way more personality than her entry of last year - so pleased she dropped the Sia soundalike ambition - and could have been a standout had the general standard been more like last year's. This is a solid entry and will further establish Dotter as a hitmaker but it seems unlikely she'll be given flowers and a trophy by the end of the show.
12. Arvingarna / Tänker inte alls gå hem
SVT has established a tradition of ending the final with a feelgood entry that won't stand a chance in the voting but will leave everyone with a warm and cosy mood. That job is in very experienced hands as Arvingarna make the most of their schlager and although I'm glad to see them in the final I can't help but think to myself how it could have been Eva & Ewa closing this lineup instead and be a bit disappointed that never happened.
What's my guess, then? Like seemingly everyone else, I think this will be a showdown between Eric Saade and Tusse and it all comes down to who the international jury likes better.
The international jury was once put in place to give Sweden a hint what would work in the ESC but with time it has become a watering hole for various friends of the Swedish delegation. The more fans and heads of delegation we have in the international jury, the less relevant it is. Let's see how it is composed and how it votes this year. If they have a runaway winner, they will override the will of the Swedish votes.
My guess is Tusse will win since he has the buzz as well as everyone's attention. I wish he also had a stronger song but maybe that's just me. I predict Tusse, hope for Eric Saade and secretly hope for a big surprise (perhaps in the shape of Clara Klingenström).
During the final you'll find me on Twitter as usual. Please feel free to say hello.