Three-Minute Throwdown: Sweden 2020 Edition


It is now the sixth week of Melodifestivalen. This marks the final week of national finals, and the conclusion of Melodifestivalen as well. The songs include 11 veteran solo artists and one solo group (Paul Rey is the only exception). As a Melodifestivalen watcher since 2013, I will not claim these to be first-take analyses; however, due to the amount of time spent on these entries, these will be more in-depth and certain than one take may afford depending on short term memory. These analyses will be based on the existing YouTube video versions from the semifinal round, as SVT has not uploaded the song performances from Andra Chansen (the second chance show on 29 February). Without further ado, let us take a deep dive into the 12 songs that will compete beginning at 20:00 CET on Saturday!

Victor Crone – Troubled Waters

The song is in D major. Begins with a synth motif that would not be out of place in a country pop song (which this is). The beginning lie-down graphic effects hearkens back to “Heroes” (Måns Zelmerlöw, 2015). Victor Crone’s singing style is akin to prolonged melodic talking in its laid-back approach until he gets to higher notes. His high notes have some heavily nasal properties that may put off some listeners; however, Crone also handily advanced to the Grand Final last year while representing Estonia. Singing while lying down is a skill. His nasal qualities are getting in the way of the vocals sounding in tune with the music. The rocking back and forth sort of dancing is slightly awkward, and if the microphone feed is accurate, he doesn’t even sing the highest notes in the first choruses, which may bode poorly should this advance to Rotterdam. The song itself is catchy and solid; however, the quality of the song needs to be matched by the performer, who needs to practice the transition between belting and head voice in order for this to be competitive on the Eurovision level. The last two “I’m on my way…” times, according to the microphone feed, were actually sung, which means he can reach it. The ending just followed the D major pentatonic scale up from A up to F# instead of ending on a more final-sounding D, which makes it sound like the song finished without being finished.

Paul Rey – Talking in My Sleep

This song advanced from Andra Chansen after defeating Malou Prytz’ “Ballerina”.

C major, not A minor (as “Ku ta gjej dikë ta dua” by Albërie Hadërgjonaj, which shares the same beginning chord progression, would have been interpreted). However, this song does play a chord centered around the fifth degree of A minor; the E minor chord (in the chorus, there is an E major chord; however, I am treating that as secondary). The reason why this is being interpreted as C major despite other signs pointing back to A minor is the melody. The melody focuses a lot on the notes C through G until the second verse, which while shared with A minor completely ignore the most stable note of A minor. Simple but catchy tune, though considering the fate of Lisa Ajax’s “Torn” from the same spot last year, I don’t have high hopes for this succeeding. This is unfortunate, given that the song is fairly solid, and I had placed it as one of my direct-to-final songs from Semifinal 2. The red-blue movement-related slow-exposure effects are a bit cheesy, and the singing wasn’t as solid as I had remembered, but the song is. Going from the rocking back and forth dance step to basketball feet ready to bounce… the organ in the background is a nice touch. Fm6 chord at 2:19 is colorful! His voice is a bit too grating when set next to a clean piano. The backing choir sound is solid. The silhouette staging without faces seems a bit too impersonal for this kind of song.

The Mamas – Move

The song is in A major. The first chords are E F#m in the brief intro (unlike “Too Late For Love”, where the group served as a backing ensemble, there is actually an intro in this song). Verse starts off-tonic as well. Pop song with gospel/soul influences. Dark-sounding instrumental. Pre-chorus made of a repeated A E C# B motif (though with some rhythmic variation). Simpler rhythm to digest than “Too Late for Love”, which when combined with the expressiveness of the three Mamas may make this more digestible for the public than last year’s Melodifestivalen winner. The audience participation in the bridge may make this even more televoter-friendly. By 2:01, a fun secondary tonicization has occurred. The key is A major, but the chords in that specific section point toward D major temporarily via the strength of the V-I relationship (expounded upon in the “Arcade” article on harmony). Overall, a syncopated song with some fun harmonic changes as well as a decent amount of positive attitude and charisma in its delivery.

Mohombi – Winners

The song is in B minor. Starts off with some woodwind instrument supported by an electric guitar. Like Malou Prytz (appendectomy), Mohombi was hospitalized himself due to a bad case of malaria but is recovering. I am aware that his staging now involves dancers and has been reported to have had major changes. Mohombi’s voice has a particularly nasally quality, but this performance focuses more on the song’s quality than the staging gimmicks found with “Hello” (not to say that the six-panel light columns are not a gimmick). While the tresillo rhythm features prominently in the song, the solemn nature of the song’s presentation slightly undercuts the danciness often associated with the rhythm (found in, among other songs, “Colours of Your Dream” by Karina Ignatyan, “Superhero” by Viki Gabor, “She Got Me” by Luca Hänni, and more). In the back of my head, I was thinking that Mohombi took strong inspiration from “Heroes” these past two Melodifestivalen contests: in 2019 from the staging (interaction with the projection) and in 2020 from the song itself (guitar, lyrical themes). “Dreamer” and “winners” are sung with the Scotch snaps rhythm as discussed by Adam Neely. Having extra people on stage with him will definitely help with his recovering energy as well as making the line “together we’ll save the world” a bit more visually congruous. Mohombi’s higher notes in both his chest and head voice were a bit questionable; it is unclear how the sickness will affect him at this point.

Hanna Ferm – Brave

The song is in G minor. Begins with an acoustic guitar riff and backing vocals. The light display behind her – rays emanating from directly behind her in all directions, green smoke or clouds on the two displays on either side of her – is breathtaking. The dress does evoke memories of Jessica Mauboy’s dress in 2018 for her song “We Got Love”. My issue with Hanna Ferm this year and last year is that she has intonation issues; there are clear clashes between her singing and the backing track in both years (though last year, LIAMOO also was partly responsible). The swung rhythm and idea are fun and remind me of a more neurotypical and genericized version of “Stressed Out” by twenty one pilots.

Mendez feat. Alvaro Estrella – Vamos amigos

G# minor in performance. Fun Latin party. Layered, colorful set design. The tresillo rhythm is back in its fully dancy form. My issue with Mendez in 2018 was his intonation when combined with his gravelly voice, which contributed to his last-place finish among the jury votes. In this song, his voice is relegated to rapping and backing Alvaro Estrella, while Estrella, who performed the risqué song “Bedroom” in 2014 (6th place in semifinal), has practiced in these past 6 years in venues such as Kyiv as one of Robin Bengtsson’s backing vocalists/dancers. The break in the music around 2:02 brings the energy down more than it should; a staging decision could be made to help bridge the second chorus and the bridge a bit better. I am reminded of the Aftonbladet headline that stated that Mendez threatened to leave Mello after being asked to change his attire due to the political undertones of the Negro matapacos dog.

Dotter – Bulletproof

The song is in B minor. Solid staging of the song, beginning with a mirror effect on the floor and culminating with a light show on her chest. Her voice brings back echoes of Miss Li, Ellie Goulding, and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine). Not a huge fan of the voice break sound on the syllables “old” and “rust” in the first verse. Voice alternates between an airy head voice with significant vibrato and a bright mixed voice. Musically, the song plays like a normal power ballad, and there are some intonation issues here and there, particularly when she attempts to belt in the third chorus. However, the staging may carry the song to Rotterdam (it sits first in the odds). I also took issue with the melody jumping fourths in the chorus (F# and B for “bulletproof”, then an E on top for the backing singers) and considered the disjunct melodic line to not be particularly memorable unless memed about as below.

Robin Bengtsson – Take a Chance

The song is in G major. This is another song that uses the Scotch snaps rhythm (“we could | take a …”). Offbeat high muted guitar notes. A lot of suspensions atop the muted guitar line. In classical music parlance, suspensions are used to delay the coming of a note in the played chord. For example, in ABBA’s “Mamma Mia”, the first syllables of each titular word in the chorus is sung on the note E, which is not a part of the D major chord lying underneath, but they journey down to the note D in the D major chord on the second syllables, which brings a sense of rest, stability, and finality. Background looks like a cross between stage curtains and either light silhouettes of two dancers or a purple-pink-ish cloudlike background. Digging the long-exposure way the silhouettes are moving – there is a temporary trail of movement. The ending, while a bit suddenly quiet, is exactly what I was saying that “Troubled Waters” could do with instead of just repeating the “troubled waters” motif.

Mariette – Shout It Out

The song is in Eb major. I just spent an entire article talking about Melodifestivalen and in particular, Mariette’s Melodifestivalen work, including this song. Check it out!

FELIX SANDMAN – Boys with Emotions

D major. Catchy urban beat. Half-sung, half-talked. I believe his Andra Chansen (second chance) performance was a lot better than the one here, though there were intonation issues back in 2018 as well (“Every Single Day”). The song is à la mode currently, echoing the direction of Billboard artists like Justin Bieber, for whom his previous group FO&O (pronounced foe-and-oh, “Gotta Thing About You”, 2017) opened back in 2013. As his label writes, this is a “minimalistic up-tempo song with a strong lyrical message that boys should be able to express their feelings”. Indeed, apart from the few vocal lines, the guitar, the percussion, and any doubling instruments (like the extra synths at 0:44 as well as the bass), the only things left are aftereffects. Projection effect on his white clothing is really cool. The cheering during a silent spot (around 1:50) could possibly be avoided with a more deliberate staging decision that discourages such distractions (then again, such is popular music culture nowadays). His high notes are better off than his low notes. The movements are very deliberate with the music, including a cut to one of the dancers after what sounded like a reverb-heavy clapper that was clapped at that exact point in time. Building background synths in the final chorus, particularly on the low-end. Subtle but catchy.

Anna Bergendahl – Kingdom Come

The song is in Db major. Out of all the songs here, it’s my favorite, partly because she didn’t get the most positive response following her non-qualification in Oslo (2010), but also because it’s in my favorite key and I have been a fan of country-inspired music for a while. This song reminds me of a far more uplifting version of Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather”, particularly on the “Forever” and “price” lyrics in the “Kingdom Come” chorus echoing the third of the IV chord usage on “stuck” and “tomorrow” in the “Colder Weather” chorus.

From the beginning of the staging, Bergendahl projects more confidence in her movements than her last two ventures into Melodifestivalen. The diagonal pantsuit/dress combination is striking. The gladiator skirts and bare chests on the dancers make the choreography seem particularly intense, particularly on the piano syncopation parts and with the four-on-the-floor bass drum propelling the song forward. One of the best parts of Anna’s performances are how on-point her vocals are. Sure, she slides away from the notes once she’s about to stop singing them, but the majority of her singing is on the actual pitch, which bodes well for her consistency during live performances. It’s been a decade since she received the ignominious distinction of being Sweden’s only non-qualifier at the Eurovision stage; has Sweden forgiven her for that, and will she receive enough support from both the jury and public? The song was a sight to behold.

Anis Don Demina – Vem e som oss

Anis has risen significantly in the public’s esteem and brings a huge personality, both on YouTube and in real life. The word “shurda”, according to the Swedish version of Urban Dictionary, mean “a crazy guy”. According to the report on rehearsals, he pulled out many stops, including changing his costume, changing the background animations to English, and more. This is what the end screen content was changed to:

”ESC jury says Anis will be unbeatable in Rotterdam”

If this isn’t an uplifting song, I am the king of Sweden. He raps well, owns the feeling of the song, and focuses far more on the rapping than the singing (seven notes – the pentatonic notes of G major – the key – from E3 up to G4), which probably works to his strengths. This will probably fare better than “Everyday” did in 2018 due to the more solid vocal delivery here on top of the infectious delivery. There’s a bit of triplet flow going on in the bridge (the section before 2:08 brings a chorus back). This is bound to do well with the televoters, and it may even do fine with the jury, who have probably heard some of the many ballads that will be making their way to Rotterdam.

Of these 12 songs, which one resonates with you the most strongly? The winner among them will be among those to perform starting at 20:00 CET Saturday.

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