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In Conversation: Björn Ulvaeus and Martin Österdahl

30 April 2023 at 11:21 CEST
ABBA won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest for Sweden. EBU
In a very special episode of the official Eurovision Song Contest podcast, Steve Holden chats with ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus and Eurovision Executive Supervisor Martin Österdahl.

My My! We're nearing 2024. And in Contest terms, all pop fans know what that means: the 50th anniversary of ABBA's historic Eurovision Song Contest win in 1974.

Ahead of all of the 2023 participants touching down in Liverpool, host of the official Eurovision Song Contest podcast Steve Holden saw now as the perfect opportunity to speak with ABBA's own Björn Ulvaeus, inviting Contest Executive Supervisor Martin Österdahl to join in on the discussion too.

In the latest episode of the official Eurovision Song Contest podcast, the pair discussed everything from a public-service broadcaster's duties in today's age of fake media, to the Contest's role in acknowledging what is going on around us in Europe while we watch the Live Shows at home each year.

Martin Österdahl, Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest EBU / Corinne Cumming

And of course, ABBA's Contest win in 1974 is also high on the agenda for the discussion. But does it really feel like 50 years ago for Björn? He tells Steve:

"Well, when I look at footage and pictures from that time, it looks of course like it's aeons ago. But somehow, when I hear the song, you know, on the radio; it's different. Then it seems like it's just a little while ago."

The conversation then turns to Björn pondering just how different the Eurovision Song Contest looks nowadays to when it did in the era of ABBA's iconic win with Waterloo:

"Well, the productions are much, much more lavish and elaborate now than they used to be - the actual TV productions. And that's a big change. I think it's taken away focus a little from the songs; onto the artists and the performance and the production itself. That's one difference that I see. I mean, when we won in '74, we were standing in front of four mics. And there was an orchestra. And that was it. It wasn't much of a TV production then. But now it seems countries compete with that as well."

ABBA won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest for Sweden. EBU

Martin Österdahl adds to Björn's summation about the Eurovision Song Contest in this age, where a good song is often elevated even further by an impressive visual accompanying it on stage:

"As Björn says, it's a combination of visual stage performance, art, artistry, and a strong strong vocal is always key. And also songwriting. It's a combination of factors that creates the success these days, whereas in the past, it was more focused on the song itself."

EBU and RAI press-conference EBU / Andres Putting

As well as the evolution of the Contest over the years, Björn also recognises that up-and-coming artists are now able to use the event as a platform to launch their careers, much more so than in previous eras of the Eurovision Song Contest.

"I think I have seen the importance of the Eurovision Song Contest growing over particularly the past two, three years, where artists really seem to be able to take care of the fact that they have this fantastic launching pad. Whereas before, it was almost assumed that a Eurovision winner was a one-hit wonder, today artists can make careers out of it, which is a good sign. I think Eurovision as a pan-European phenomenon is more important today than perhaps ever."

Steve points out that the success of one song in particular last year, Snap by Rosa Linn, indicates that the Eurovision Song Contest can be a springboard for global hit songs, regardless of the song's result on the scoreboard. 

Martin Österdahl is enthusiastic about the 2022 Grand Final's biggest success story outside of the Contest:

"That was breaking new territory for sure. In many, many ways. Usually the launchpad is reserved for the winner, or maybe another in the top three. But Rosa Linn finished in 20th place last year in the Grand Final. And what's even more great about this story is that she was a virtually unknown artist from Armenia. And I don't know if that's ever happened before. The song became a viral sensation on various social platforms. It's a phenomenal global hit, and one of the most played songs of the year. Her career has really taken off, which is great. I'm really happy about that."

You can listen to the full discussion between Björn Ulvaeus, Martin Österdahl and our host Steve Holden right here

You can listen to all 37 songs of Eurovision 2024 via your favourite streaming service or watch the music videos on our YouTube channel.

The Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Malmö, Sweden on Tuesday 7 May (First Semi-Final), Thursday 9 May (Second Semi-Final) and Saturday 11 May (Grand Final) 2024.

Don't forget to download our app (for iOSAndroid), sign up to the official Eurovision Song Contest newsletter, and subscribe to the official podcast!