The Swedish guide to Eurovision

Forget Bonnie Tyler, Tim Dowling celebrates the host country, from Diggi Loo to Waterloo

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The Eurovision Song Contest is being held in Malmo this year, but how much do you know about the host nation’s glorious Eurovision history? From the Bra vibrationer to Waterloo, here’s everything you need to know about
Sweden’s love affair with Eurovision.

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1. On 18 May Sweden will host the Eurovision Song Contest for the fifth time. This also means Sweden has won five times, making it one of the most successful participating nations in the history of the competition. Only Luxembourg, France and the UK and have won as many times. Only Ireland has won more.

2. Swedes have also had their fair share of duff entries, although they only scored nul points once – in 1963, with En gang i Stockholm (Once upon a Time in Stockholm). The 1977 entry Beatles – a shameful attempt to curry favour with the host nation at the London final – received only two points, leaving Sweden in last place for a second time.

3. Frankly, they have more reason to be ashamed of some of their winners: 1984’s execrable Diggi Doo, Diggi Ley, for example. It was performed by a proto-boy band, a clean-cut trio of Mormon brothers called Herrey’s who came to be known in Sweden as “the dancing deodorants”.

4. Sweden’s first-ever Eurovision controversy: at the behest of the singer, Alice Babs, the lyrics were rewritten without the knowledge of the original composer, who was so angry he refused to sanction a studio version. The only extant audio recording of the song is taken from Babs’s live performance on that night way back in 1958.

5. The Swedes select their Eurovision entries through an annual televised music competition called Melodifestivalen, which remains mysteriously popular – an estimated four million people watched the 2012 final, and there are only 9.5 million people in Sweden. In 1973 Abba (who at that point were still calling themselves Bjorn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid) entered the Melodifestivalen with a specially-written song called Ring Ring. They finished third.


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6. Waterloo by Abba – Sweden’s 1974 entry – is generally reckoned to be the greatest Eurovision song of all time, faint praise indeed for a tune that went to number one across Europe and cracked America’s top ten. In fact Waterloo has only one real rival for biggest Eurovision hit: Italy’s 1958 entry Nel blu, dipinto di blu (In the Blue, Painted Blue), better known to the world as Volare.

7. One of the few places that Waterloo didn’t reach number one was, ironically, Sweden, but that was only because in those days Sweden had a combined album and singles chart and Waterloo the album grabbed the top spot instead. The Swedish-language Waterloo single reached number two, just ahead of the Eurovision version at three, so it’s not as if they didn’t like the song.

8. The Eurovision success of Waterloo was owed in part to a fortuitous change in the rules. From 1966 until 1972 entries had to be performed in a country’s national language, a restriction imposed as a direct consequence of Ingvar Wixell singing Sweden’s 1965 entry, Absent Friend, in English. The requirement was lifted in 1973 – in time for Abba to sing Waterloo in English in 1974 – only to be reinstated in 1977, and then rescinded for good in 1999.

9. It’s not an official policy or anything, but since 1965 almost every Swedish entry has been sung in English when the rules allowed it. One notable exception was La Voix, which was performed partly in French – the first time a Swedish entry had done so – by opera singer Malena Ernman in 2009.

10. During those dark, own-language years, Sweden did manage to winners: the aforementioned Diggi Loo, Diggi Ley and 1991’s Fangad av en stormvind (“Captured by a storm wind”). Even if you don’t speak Swedish, many of the titles are readily translatable – nul points for guessing what Dag efter dag or Satellit mean in English. Others are more confusing – 1985’s Bra vibrationer is nowhere near as promising as it sounds. It just means “good vibrations”.


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11. Since 1958 Sweden has participated in every Eurovision final apart from in 1964, 1970 and 1976. In 1964 an artists’ strike prevented the country from selecting an entry.

12. In 1970 Sweden took part in a Nordic boycott of the contest, in protest at a voting system that led to a four-way tie in 1969.

13. After Sweden hosted the 1975 contest, left-wing groups argued that the country could not afford to host it again, and therefore couldn’t risk another winner. As a result there were mass demonstrations against participation in Sweden and no song for Europe in 1976.

14. In addition to their own condenters, the Swedes do a sideline in penning songs for other nations. This year, Swedish songwriters have had a hand in the entries for Georgia, Finland, Norway, Russia and the Netherlands.

15. Ladbrokes offer odds of 25/1 for Sweden making it two in a row, the same as a UK win. We have 61-year-old Bonnie Tyler; they have 22-year-old Swedish Pop Idol runner-up Robin Stjernberg. He’ll be hoping for a big career boost. Last year’s winner, Euphoria, sung by Loreen, was a major hit. I know, me neither.

The Eurovision Song Contest is on Saturday at 8:00pm on BBC1 and Radio 2.


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