Malena Ernman represented Sweden on the Eurovision stage in Moscow in 2009. Ten years later, her family still has a lasting effect in the Eurovision world, but this time it comes from Greta Thunberg’s impassioned rhetoric about environmental action and its effect on the messaging throughout Junior Eurovision 2019.
A tale of two intertwined stars
In 2009, opera singer Malena Ernman graced the Moscow stage with “La Voix”, written by perennial Melodifestivalen (Swedish national final) songwriter Fredrik Kempe. While fellow Kempe hit “Hope and Glory”, performed by future Eurovision winner Måns Zelmerlöw (2015, “Heroes”), won the Melodifestivalen jury vote – then comprised of a combination of international votes and provincial juries – and future Lynda Woodruff comedian (2012, 2013, 2016) Sarah Dawn Finer also competed, Ernman prevailed by taking the televote. Ernman also fared relatively better in the televote during the Eurovision final but ended up in 21st place, landing Sweden its lowest placement in the final since now-Melodifestivalen producer Christer Björkman sang “I morgon är en annan dag” (Tomorrow is another day) in 1992.
Greta Thunberg, daughter of Ernman and actor Svante Thunberg, was 6 when her mother performed. Two years after the competition, she learned of the climate crisis and has acted upon this knowledge by going vegan and not flying. Her entire family followed suit.
Ernman continued her illustrious singing career. She partook in Melodifestivalen 2014 and 2015, the former as one of the singers in an ABBA medley (singing “Chiquitita”), and the latter singing the intro to “Det rår vi inte för” (We can’t help it) by Behrang Miri feat. future Eurovision contestant Victor Crone (Estonia 2019).
In between these two appearances, however, Thunberg became gravely ill, refusing to eat, study, or function for days on end. The physical toll of the mental stress caused Ernman to collapse three times while the family production of Handel’s baroque opera Xerxes played. She was forced to cancel five shows; however, it was a success, netting 20,000 audience members, including the king and queen of Sweden. Thunberg was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which is often regarded as a high-functioning type of autism. Based on her public actions, it is safe to say that the environment is one of Thunberg’s focuses. Beyond that, Thunberg also inherited her father’s interest in theater, and she acts boldly in character when playing a character.
Thunberg’s character has become a global, Nobel Peace Prize-nominated figure. Bo Thorén, the catalyst behind the Fossil Free Sweden initiative, contacted Thunberg and suggested school strikes to drive governments to action. It started with an article on Svenska Dagbladet (The Swedish daily magazine) Thunberg herself published on 30 May 2018. She implicated Swedes in contributing to the global crisis, as Sweden was eighth in the world in emitting carbon dioxide. She showed her hardline attitude against the status quo concerning carbon emissions and environmental policy, and she continued on from her Friday strikes to talk to governmental organizations, including the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland in December 2018, as well as the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City in September 2019, to which she took a zero-emissions yacht for travel purposes.
Environmentalism as a Theme in Junior Eurovision
2019 was the year where Greta Thunberg’s impact was seen and heard, not just in her speeches, but also at Junior Eurovision, the junior version of the competition in which her mother, Malena Ernman, partook. Of the 19 songs performed in Arena Gliwice in Poland, 6 of them had environmental themes, and two of them, including the winning song, were in the top 5. The songs were generally more upbeat than Thunberg’s delivery, but they were no less pressing, especially Viki Gabor’s and Darija Vračević’s song presentations. These songs may have been encapsulated in a digestible, commercial form; however, these songs serve a purpose far higher than merely entertainment. They are musical protests, not dissimilar to System of a Down lead singer Serj Tankian’s “Yes, It’s Genocide” (speaking of Armenian-Azeri conflict) and the late Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun”, and their music has given an aural vehicle on which the message – to take action on the world’s dire climate situation – can travel. For those who agree with the messaging, the conversation should not stop at merely enjoying the music for the sake of music. After all, being superheroes who can save the world does not mean that sitting down and just nodding to the messages will result in any tangible action.
Greta Thunberg, Biography.com.
“Det har varit ett helvetiskt år” (It’s been a hellish year), Expressen.se.
“Bo Thorén – spindeln i nätet” (the spider in the web), Rebecca Weidmo Uvell.