Since I started taking an (obsessive) interest in the Eurovision Song Contest, the entire way of getting involved with the contest has changed dramatically. Previously, the Final was a very personal experience - something you watched with friends or family at home. Now, thanks to sites such as this one, you can connect much better with all facets of the Eurovision Song Contest - from Semi-Finals for various countries, to fan sites, videos, blogs - you name it. You could quit your job and look at all the media available to satiate your Eurovision obsession, and you probably still wouldn't have a chance to consume it all.
For me, the Eurovision Song Contest experience I look forward to the most each year is attending the Melodifestivalen screenings at The Harcourt Arms, a pub in west London. Located in the heart of London's Swedish neighbourhood, the pub caters to Swedes and locals for most of the year. But when it comes time for the Melodifestivalen selection, the place explodes with other Eurovision Song Contest fans and all the unfortunate friends/partners dragged along with them to witness the schlager fireworks. The pub closes to the public at 6pm each night that Melodifestivalen is broadcast and entry is by ticket only. Since the only way to watch Melodifestivalen live in the UK is either by the SVT stream or knowing someone with a 150 cm satellite dish that picks up Swedish broadcasts, going to the pub is the best alternative and always guarantees to be an amazing night out.
I've been attending the screenings for the past three years and they just get better and better each year. A lot has to do with the atmosphere in the pub. This year is the first that the staff have removed all the tables and chairs on the ground floor simply to make room for everyone who wants to watch - and there is a huge flatscreen TV by the entrance, strategically placed so everyone can get a good view. Although Melodifestivalen songs can be heard 24 hours before each semi-final, most people in the pub are hearing them for the first time when they are broadcast and the reaction tends to be more in line with a British Christmas pantomimes - huge cheers, loud boos or the worst thing - total indifference. When the voting begins, some people in the pub get frantically involved in texting their friends in Sweden so they can register some SMS votes on their behalf (as you can't vote from the UK).
At the time of writing, Melodifestivalen 2008 has had three of it's four semi-finals and, as always, there has been a mix of schlager stompers, mournful ballads, Britney Spears imitators and pyrotechnics. My favourite so far this year has not been the most popular, unfortunately, but it doesn't matter because if the song has staying power, it becomes a hit in Sweden anyway and lives forever in the minds of schlager fans everywhere. The big standout for me was Under Min Tunna Skinn (Under My Thin Skin) by Patrik Isaksson. There is something very unique about this guy that stands out each time he plays Melodifestivalen, as he sings really heartfelt songs. Even if you don't understand Swedish, you can hear what is going on underneath. I get so happy when Eurovision Song Contest songs avoid clichés and can still hit you very deep. I think this is why Molitva won so easily last year - I mean, how many viewers across Europe speak Serbian? Yet the song said something that spoke to everyone. I wish Sweden felt the same about Patrik last week - he just missed going to the final in Stockholm on 15 March.
All in all, if you are in London over the next few weeks, head down to The Harcourt Arms and witness this crazy festival of all things schlager for yourself. You'll definitely see me there.