This is the Most Watched Competition on TV in Sweden

Sweden's Melodifestival | ©Greger Ravik/Flicker
Sweden's Melodifestival | ©Greger Ravik/Flicker
Sweden’s Melodifestivalen is cheesy, silly – some say ridiculous – but the annual competition to choose the country’s entry for Eurovision is one of the most popular events on the yearly calendar. And while it might seem a bit over the top to outsiders, Melodifestivalen is as serious as a heart attack to Swedes, so mock it at your peril.

Since Eurovision’s debut in 1958, Sweden has competed in the annual music competition 56 times, won six times, and produced the most successful Eurovision act of all time, with a little band called Abba.

Sweden's first Eurovision winners Abba ©doblecachanilla/Flickr

Ever since Abba’s win, Eurovision fever has grown and grown and the annual competition to choose Sweden’s Eurovision entry has become more popular than Eurovision itself. This is particularly so after Swedish public broadcaster SVT began televising Melodifestivalen in 2000, making the final of the contest the most popular television programme in Sweden. Add in radio and internet audiences and an estimated four million people tune in, which is nearly half the Swedish population.

Dilba performs in 2011 ©sonnvik/Flickr

But the question as to why Sweden is so obsessed with both Melodifestivalen and Eurovision is not easily answered. Sure, they are second only to Ireland in number of wins but this is a country of cool, collected Scandinavians known for their minimalistic style and taste – how can they go gaga for the schlock fest that is Melodi? The answer lies in Sweden’s obsession with music.

Loreen is another favourite to win Melodifestivalen ©Jari Tammisto/Flickr

Sweden is the world’s third largest exporter of music, which is no small feat considering there are less than 10 million people in the country. That obsession with music – and the pride taken in representing Sweden to the world – is one of the main drivers of the Melodi mania. Swedish artists see Eurovision as a chance to launch an international career, or maybe revive a somewhat dormant one.

So each February the results of each round of Melodifestivalen are breathlessly reported on the front pages of the papers, even the most hipster of hipsters will happily host a dinner party with mates to watch things unfold, and hotly argued debates will break out over the water cooler at the office each Monday. When the winner of Melodifestivalen is announced social media feeds will fill up with discussion as to whether the winner was worthy and what sort of chance they have at Eurovision.

Mariette Hansson will compete with 'A Million Years' ©Hanna Sörensson/Flickr

If Sweden doesn’t win Eurovision – or doesn’t place well – this leads to more debate that can last for weeks or even months. And when the next Melodifestivalen rolls around the excitement will start to build all over again.

So if you’re in Sweden during Melodifestivalen don’t bother trying to get tickets to one of the six rounds or the final – they’re sold out well in advance. Instead, try to get invited to a house party, where you can immerse yourself in the mania. Alternatively, understand that no matter where you are – a restaurant, a bar, walking down the street – the fever will be all around you and it’s more than likely the show will be seen on a screen close by.

Here’s a taste of music by the participating artists. Who do you think will win the honour of representing Sweden at Eurovision 2017?