The festival has produced four Eurovision winners and sixteen top-five placings for Sweden at the contest. The winner of the Melodifestival has been chosen by panels of jurors since its inception. Since 1999, the juries have been joined by a public telephone vote which has an equal influence over the final outcome. The competition makes a considerable impact on music charts in Sweden.
The introduction of semifinals in 2002 raised the potential number of contestants from around twelve to thirty-two. A children's version of the competition, Lilla Melodifestivalen, also began in 2002. Light orchestrated pop songs, known locally as schlager music, are so prevalent that the festival is sometimes referred to as Schlagerfestivalen ("The schlager festival") by the Swedish media. However, other styles of music such as rap, reggae, and glam rock have made an appearance since the event's expansion. The introduction of a grand final in Stockholm has attracted substantial tourism to the city. The 2008 festival took place between 9 February and 15 March, and was won by "Hero" performed by Charlotte Perrelli.
The first Melodifestival, incorporated into the Säg det med musik radio series, took place on 29 January 1959 at Cirkus in Stockholm; eight songs participated. Four "expert" juries in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, and Luleå decided the winner. The competition was won by Siw Malmkvist performing "Augustin", but SR decided that the winning song—regardless of its original performer—would be performed by Brita Borg at Eurovision. This policy, of selecting the artist for Eurovision internally and having other artists perform potential Swedish entries at Melodifestivalen, was stopped in 1961. The competition became a stand-alone television programme in 1960, known as the Eurovisionschlagern, svensk final. In the event's early years, it was broadcast to Norway and Denmark through the Nordvision network. The competition adopted its current name, Melodifestivalen, in 1967.
The Melodifestival has failed to be staged on three occasions. In 1964, the competition was cancelled due to an artist's strike; Sweden did not send a song to Eurovision that year. Sweden was absent at Eurovision for a second time in 1970 because of a Nordic boycott of the voting system, which had led to a four-way tie for first place at the 1969 contest. After SR staged the 1975 contest in Stockholm, left-wing groups argued that Sweden could not afford to win and host Eurovision again. This led to mass demonstrations against commercial music and the organisation of an anti-commercial Alternativfestivalen. Therefore, Sweden could not send a song to Eurovision 1976.
Hundreds of songs and performers have entered Melodifestivalen since its debut. Although they are not forbidden under Eurovision rules, songwriters living outside Sweden are not allowed to enter Melodifestivalen. This rule does not apply to performers. To be eligible, songwriters and performers must be at least sixteen years of age on the day of the Eurovision semifinal.
Until 2001, participation in the festival was limited to a single night. The number of contestants ranged from five to twelve. A two-round system was used intermittently between 1981 and 1998, in which all but five of the contestants were eliminated in a first round of voting. Failure to reach the second round under this system was seen as a major failure for a prominent artist; when Elisabeth Andreassen failed to qualify in 1984, it almost ended her career. The introduction of weekly semifinals in 2002 increased the number of contestants to thirty-two. At least ten of the contestants must perform in Swedish. A CD of each year's competing songs has been released since 2001, and a DVD of the semifinals and final since 2003.
Melodifestivalen has been the launch-pad for the success of popular local acts, such as ABBA, Tommy Körberg, and Lisa Nilsson. The competition has played host to performers from outside Sweden, including Baccara, Alannah Myles, and Cornelis Vreeswijk. Melodifestivalen participants have also represented—and unsuccessfully tried to represent—other countries at Eurovision. While local success for Melodifestivalen winners is common, most contestants return to obscurity and few have major international success. The impact that the competition makes on the Swedish charts means an artist need not win the competition to earn significant domestic record sales. For example, the song which finished last at Melodifestivalen 1990, "Symfonin" by Loa Falkman, topped the Swedish singles chart. In 2007, twenty-one participants reached Sverigetopplistan. The week after the 2008 final, songs from the festival made up the entire top fifteen on the domestic singles chart.
The process of narrowing thousands of potential entries down to thirty-two lasts over seven months. A preselection, which is open to members of the Swedish public, provides twenty-eight of the entries. The remaining four slots are filled by wildcards: artists invited by the organisers to compete. The entire process can begin as early as May of the previous year and is finished by January.
The submission process is overseen by members of the Swedish Music Publishers Association (SMFF), whose task is to reduce the number of songs, which have numbered over 3,000 a year since 2002, to around 1,200. The 3,440 entries received in the preselection for Melodifestivalen 2009 is the most in the competition's history. The SMFF's choices are then given to a sixteen-person jury of music professionals, SVT staff and other members of the public. The jury ranges from teenagers to people in their fifties. The songs that qualify, along with their composers and lyricists, are announced at the end of September. This is often followed by fervent speculation over who will perform the songs. Songwriters that qualify must provide interviews to SVT, attend a press conference before the competition, and remain open to promotional appearances if their song reaches the final.
SVT selects performers for the entries. Artists who perform the demo of a song automatically enter the competition; they must perform their songs if suitable alternate performers cannot be found. The artists' songs risk disqualification if they refuse. In the past, this rule led to the disqualification of, among others, Carola's "När löven faller" in 2003 and Stephen Simmonds's "So Good" in 2006. SVT may also give songs to other performers without considering the interests of the demo artist. This prevented the Brandsta City Släckers (in 2004) and Pernilla Wahlgren (in 2005) from performing the songs they had submitted. Replacements for disqualified songs fare unpredictably at the competition. In 2006, "Naughty Boy" by Hannah Graaf (the replacement for Simmonds' song) finished second to last in its semifinal. In 2002 and 2007, by contrast, the replacements performed by Jan Johansen and Måns Zelmerlöw reached the final ten. The contestants that will perform the twenty-eight qualifiers from the preselection are announced in late November. Singer-songwriters are common. As such, artists often confirm that they will participate before the official announcement.
The wildcard (joker) system was introduced in 2004 to diversify the music featured. Four artists, one in each semifinal, are invited by SVT to enter a song of their choice into the competition, provided it does not breach the rules. The wildcard songs and artists are announced in January. Since the wildcards' introduction, two have won the competition.
The venues for each year's Melodifestival are announced in September of the preceding year. The semifinals are held in towns and cities throughout Sweden. The 16,300-capacity Globe Arena in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, has hosted every final since semifinals were introduced. The Scandinavium in Gothenburg was offered the 2005 final, but turned it down as it clashed with a Frölunda ice hockey match.
The event spent its early years at one venue: Cirkus in Stockholm, which hosted the first ten competitions. It has hosted the final of Melodifestivalen seventeen times in total. The Stockholm Globe Arena has hosted seven finals, and SVT's headquarters in Stockholm has staged five. The competition first took place outside Stockholm in 1975 as part of a decentralisation policy at SR. Stockholm has hosted thirty-one finals in total, including the first fourteen. Gothenburg has hosted eight, and Malmö seven. The competition’s final has never been held outside these cities. Before the expansion, the host of the previous year's Melodifestival would host the Eurovision Song Contest in the event of a Swedish victory. Hence, the 1985 Eurovision was held in Gothenburg, and the 1992 contest in Malmö. Since 2002, the only venue that has hosted more than two semifinals is Gothenburg's Scandinavium, which has hosted one every year since 2003. In 2008, a heat was held in Kiruna, north of the Arctic Circle.
The televised Melodifestival lasts five weeks and consists of six live shows: four semifinals, in which eight songs compete; a Second Chance round featuring songs which narrowly missed out on qualification from the semifinals; and a grand final. Ten songs comprise the final: two automatic qualifiers from each of the semifinals, and the two most popular songs in the Second Chance round.
Prior to the introduction of the current format of semifinals (deltävlingen) in 2002, the competition was usually a single live show. Under the current system, four semifinals are broadcast at 20:00 CET on consecutive Saturday nights. The semifinals begin in early February, and eight songs compete in each show.
Seven of the semifinalists are from the preselection and one is a wildcard. Unlike in the final, no juries are used; televoting decides the results. The songs are performed live with telephone lines open for the first round of voting; five songs progress to the second round. Votes from the first round are not carried over to the second. The top two songs in the second round advance to the final automatically; those in third and fourth advance to the Second Chance round. The presenters announce the four songs to advance. The exact placings of all four qualifiers are kept secret to avoid tactical voting in the later rounds.
Both finalists reprise their entries at the end of the broadcast. The organisation of a semifinal system for Melodifestivalen popularised televised heats at national Eurovision selections. A similar system was adopted by the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004.
The Second Chance round (andra chansen) is the fifth heat in which the ninth and tenth places in the final are decided. The third- and fourth-placed songs from each semifinal (eight songs in total) compete in the event. The first Second Chance round in 2002 had a panel of former winners decide the two finalists. Between 2003 and 2006, the semifinal performances were re-broadcast, and a round of voting narrowed the songs to three or four. Another round then determined the two finalists. The programme was broadcast on the Sunday afternoon after the fourth semifinal. It was held in a smaller venue than those that would have hosted the semifinals—such as Berns Salonger in Stockholm, which hosted the Second Chance round in 2005.
In 2007, the Second Chance round became a full semifinal, taking place in a venue comparable in size to those hosting the others. The expanded Second Chance takes place on a Saturday night, adding an extra week to the event's timetable. The format of voting also changed with the introduction of a knock-out system. The system pairs the eight songs off against each other, then narrows them down to four before pairing them off again. The winners of the two second round pairings go through to the final. The two finalists do not reprise their songs at the end of the programme.
The final takes place at 20:00 CET on a Saturday in mid-March. Ten songs participate: two from each semifinal and two from the Second Chance round. A running order is decided by the competition's supervisors the week before to ensure that similar songs and artists are kept apart in the final. Dress rehearsals for the final are held on the prior Friday, and tickets sell out almost as quickly as those for the final itself. The final attracts much tourism to its host city; a survey in 2006 showed that 54% of spectators had travelled from outside the host city, Stockholm. Of these, 6% had come from outside Sweden.
As at Eurovision, a broadcast of the EBU logo introduces and closes the television coverage, accompanied by the prelude to Marc-Antoine Charpentier's setting of "Te Deum". Video "postcards" introduce the entries. The final includes interval performances, which are performed while the juries deliberate and before the televote closes. Former Melodifestivalen contestants have performed as interval acts in the past, including Lena Philipsson in 2005 and the multi-artist medley of former entries in 2000.
The winner receives a trophy, Den stora Sångfågeln (The Great Songbird), from the previous year's winner. The trophy, designed by Ernst Billgren, was unveiled in 2005 and awarded to all previous Melodifestivalen winners at the Alla tiders Melodifestival gala in March of that year. The winner of the competition reprises their song at the end of the event.
Before the introduction of the current voting system in 1999, a group of regional or age-based juries decided the winner of Melodifestivalen. In 1993, televoting was used experimentally, but proved unsuccessful. The Swedish telephone network collapsed due to the number of calls, and claims by the Swedish tabloid press suggested the use of televoting had drastically altered the results. Evening newspapers released what they claimed to be the back-up juries' votes, which showed that the winner, Arvingarna's "Eloise", would have finished fourth had the juries' votes counted. SVT never confirmed the accuracy of these claims.
The current voting format is a variation on the Borda count similar to that used at the Eurovision Song Contest. Eleven juries based in towns and cities around Sweden award 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 points to seven songs. Televotes are given an equivalent weighting; 11, 22, 44, 66, 88, 110, and 132 points are awarded. The song with the highest number of points at the end of both sets of results is the winner.
Telephone lines open immediately after the radio preview for the final and do not close until the juries have voted that night. Two telephone numbers are used, giving voters the option of whether to donate money to SVT's Radiohjälpen charity appeal or not as they vote. Viewers can also vote by text message on the Telia Mobil and Halebop mobile phone networks. Televoting is only possible in Sweden.
The juries' votes are announced by spokespeople who are not members of the juries. The votes are read in ascending order, beginning with one point and finishing with twelve. When read, they are repeated by the host, for example:
Spokesperson: "Ett poäng för melodi nummer två." (One point for melody number two.)
Presenter: "Melodi nummer två får ett poäng." (Melody number two gets one point.)
As the votes are announced, they are collated on a graphic scoreboard. SVT varies the way the jury votes are announced from year to year. For example, the finalists of Expedition: Robinson acted as spokespeople in 2004, and in 2006 Fredrik Lindström announced jury tallies using the dialects of each region. Televoting results are announced by the hosts in ascending order. The final of Melodifestivalen has broken Nordic voting records; figures exceeded two million for the first time in 2007.
If there is a tie, the song that received more votes from the public receives the higher position. There have been two ties for first place in the festival's history. In 1969, Tommy Körberg tied for first place with Jan Malmsjö before winning after juries voted for their favourite out of the two. In 1978, Björn Skifs tied for first place with Lasse Holm, Kikki Danielsson and Wizex (performing together); a similar tie-break process made Skifs the winner.
Forty-seven of Sweden's forty-eight Eurovision representatives have come from Melodifestivalen. Sweden has won the Eurovision Song Contest four times: in 1974, 1984, 1991 and 1999. Only Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, and Luxembourg have won the contest more often. The 1974 Eurovision winner, ABBA's "Waterloo", was voted the most popular Melodifestivalen song of all time at the Alla tiders Melodifestival gala in March 2005. Later that year, it was voted most popular Eurovision song of the contest's first fifty years at a gala in Copenhagen. The following table lists those entries which finished fifth or higher at Eurovision:
|Year||Song||Artist||Position in Eurovision Song Contest|
|1966||Nygammal vals||Lill Lindfors & Svante Thuresson||2nd|
|1968||Det börjar verka kärlek, banne mej||Claes-Göran Hederström||5th|
|1973||Sommaren som aldrig säger nej||Malta||5th (as "You're Summer")|
|1985||Bra vibrationer||Kikki Danielsson||3rd|
|1986||É dé det här du kallar kärlek?||Lasse Holm & Monica Törnell||5th|
|1989||En dag||Tommy Nilsson||4th|
|1991||Fångad av en stormvind||Carola||1st|
|1995||Se på mig||Jan Johansen||3rd|
|1996||Den vilda||One More Time||3rd|
|1999||Tusen och en natt||Charlotte Nilsson||1st (as "Take Me to Your Heaven")|
|2001||Lyssna till ditt hjärta||Friends||5th (as "Listen To Your Heartbeat")|
|2003||Give Me Your Love||Fame||5th|
|2004||Det gör ont||Lena Philipsson||5th (as "It Hurts")|
|2006||Evighet||Carola||5th (as "Invincible")|
There is a limit of six people on stage for each performance. This includes the Melodifestivalen choir (huskören, literally "the house choir"), a five-person group of flexible backing singers used by most participants. Artists may use some or all of the back-up singers, or use their own group. All vocals must be completely live; human voices are not allowed on backing tracks. A live orchestra was used every year from the event's debut to 2000, except 1985 and 1986. Two orchestras were used between 1960 and 1963, a large orchestra and Göte Wilhelmsons kvartett, a jazz quartet. Since 2001, participants have performed to backing tracks.
Entries cannot be publicly broadcast until the semifinals are previewed on radio. Entries eliminated in the semifinals may be broadcast as soon as the semifinal has finished. An embargo is placed on songs that qualify for the later rounds until the previews for the Second Chance are broadcast. After this, restrictions on the broadcast of contestant songs are lifted.
Broadcasters sometimes make sweeping changes to winning songs before they go to Eurovision. For example, at Melodifestivalen 1961, Siw Malmkvist won with "April, April". Performing after her victory, she stumbled on the lyrics of the song and laughed out loud. The press criticised this as childish. SR replaced her with Lill-Babs for the Eurovision Song Contest. The 1987 winner "Fyra bugg och en Coca Cola", performed by Lotta Engberg, is another example; the song's title was changed to "Boogaloo" for Eurovision, as use of a brand name was against the Contest's rules. This name was chosen as Sweden's two previous Eurovision winners had also included the suffix "-loo".
Until 2001, competing songs were only permitted in Swedish. This did not stop most winning entries recording English (and other language) versions of their songs. In 1965, 1973, 1974, and 1975, the winning song was performed in English at Eurovision. Since the abolition of Eurovision's language restrictions in 1999, regardless of the performance language at Melodifestivalen, every Swedish entry has been in English. Spanish, French, Portuguese and Persian are among the other languages to have featured. Cameron Cartio's entry in Melodifestivalen 2005 was performed in a constructed language.
Melodifestivalen is broadcast on television, radio and the internet. It is broadcast on SVT1 with international coverage on SVT Europa. Until 1987, the competition was broadcast on Sveriges Radio TV, later known as TV1. Between 1988 and 1999, the event was broadcast on different channels depending on where it was held. Finals in Stockholm were broadcast on Kanal 1 (formerly TV1) while finals in Gothenburg or Malmö were broadcast on TV2. Sveriges Radio has broadcast the event on P1, P3 and P4, where is currently broadcast.
Although the final is traditionally held on a Saturday, in 1990 it was held on a Friday. TV2 suggested this would attract more viewers. In 1991, it was held on Easter Sunday for the same reason. The 2002 final was delayed by a week for coverage of the Salt Lake City Olympics.
The competition has had an official website since 1999. Webcasts have been provided since 2005. Since 2006, between February and the Eurovision final in May, SR has webcast a radio station dedicated to the competition called P4 Melodifest. On P4, the public previews semifinalists every Friday. Broadcast the night after the final, a dagen efter ("the day after") television programme acts as an epilogue to the event. It gauges the reactions of the finalists after the competition's climax. No commentary is given for the event on television. Carolina Norén is commentator on the event for Sveriges Radio. The festival has been broadcast in widescreen since 2002 and Dolby Digital since 2004.
The competition's viewing figures have been rising since 2002. In 2007, approximately 4.1 million Swedes—almost 44% of the country's population—watched the final, and between 2.9 million and 3.2 million viewers watched each of the semifinals. The viewing figures for the 2007 festival are nearly two million short of the highest recorded viewing figures from 1990. Melodifestivalen is given heavy coverage in the Swedish press. A study by the Economic Science and Communication Department at Karlstad University concluded that coverage from the press may have influenced the results of the 2007 festival.
Melodifestivalen's image has evolved throughout its existence, but one word has defined the competition's music: schlager. In Sweden, schlager (a German word literally meaning a "hit") represents any song associated with the competition, from the jazz music featured heavily in the 1960s to entries such as Linda Bengtzing's in 2006. Christine Demsteader of The Local described Swedish schlager as "typically characterized by an annoyingly repetitive melody and trivial lyrics of little or no meaning".
Jazz artists such as Monica Zetterlund and Östen Warnerbring won the event in the 1960s. ABBA, who won Eurovision in 1974, went on to be Sweden's most successful music export. The group influenced not only Melodifestivalen, but the entire Swedish commercial music scene. In the 1980s, Bert Karlsson's Mariann Grammofon record label was responsible for the prevalence of "easy, memorable tunes". The early twenty-first century has seen more variety in the competition, such as The Ark's "retro glam rock" effort and Afro-dite's disco winner.
On-stage gimmicks have long been a part of performances at the competition. Lena Philipsson's use of a microphone stand in her performance of "Det gör ont" at the 2004 competition is an example. When Philipsson hosted Melodifestivalen in 2006, four tongue-in-cheek short films were broadcast during the semifinals to show what had happened to the microphone stand in the years since her win. Pyrotechnics are another common gimmick in Melodifestivalen performances. After the 2007 event, Karolina Lassbo of Dagens Media criticised the festival's musical content and production, arguing that the 1988 competition was "the time when Melodifestivalen was still a schlager competition" and the event had become "a cross between [reality series] Fame Factory and [inter-city game show] Stadskampen".