Välkommen to EBJ’s inaugural Melfest Monday, folks! This isn’t going to be an intro in which I explain what the deal is with these day-specific posts, because a) I did that already in my previous post, and b) I don’t want to waffle on for ten paragraphs before even arriving at the topic of today’s (for once).
So, that said, let’s dive straight into the depths of a Melodifestivalen past. I hope you’re equipped with a suitably spangled-and-feathered flotation device.
Where + when Luleå, 2011
What Try Again, written by Niklas Petterson and Linda Sonnvik and performed by Dilba
Melfest 2011 was the first edition of Sweden’s famed national final that I watched from a fan’s perspective. Although I’d been obsessing over Eurovision since 2006, I ever really explored the pre-ESC selection scene until 2009 or 2010 (call me cray-cray, but it’s the truth). I’d followed Melfest 2010 mainly because Darin Zanyar was participating in it (and Darin, as you’ll know by now if you read Vol. I of my Stockholm Suggestion Box, is my favourite pop star on the planet) – and it was then that I discovered Timoteij, a.k.a. the Swedish folk-pop Spice Girls; and Anna Bergendahl’s This Is My Life, which continues to be one of my all-time top Eurovision entries, and still has the power to moisten my eyes when I think about how it just missed out on qualifying in Oslo *holds back salty Swedish tears*.
The epic plethora of personalities competing in 2010 had me hooked, and the following year, things got serious. Yes, that’s right: I BOUGHT THE OFFICIAL MELFEST ALBUM FOR THE FIRST TIME, and that’s the song contest equivalent of asking your significant other to move in with you. It was an album worth paying exorbitant import fees for, with the 2011 program featuring eventual winner Eric Saade, runner-up Danny Saucedo, ESC champ-to-be Loreen, and Europe’s most persistent national finalist Sanna Nielsen.
Also competing, with the dance banger Try Again (which should have been Sanna’s theme song), was Turkish-born Dilba, who had released her first album back in 1996 when Eric Saade was still learning how to tie his shoelaces. That album had been a huge success, even scoring the singer a Grammy award (a Swedish Grammy, that is…still a big deal), and several other hit albums followed. So it’s not surprising that Dilba, on name alone, had reasonably-sized expectations resting on her shoulders coming into the competition. She was to open the first semi final in Luleå, and based on the snippet of the Try Again studio version we were treated to in the hours before the show kicked off, she had a great chance of progressing further.
But fast forward to the end of the evening, and Try Again was sitting un-pretty on the bottom of the semi’s scoreboard. With the competition fierce and the musical quality always high in Melfest, there’s rarely a year that passes without an injustice, and this was one of them. Dead last for a pro performer fielding an instant and energetic earworm?
Well, looking back on Dilba’s three minutes in 2015, I’m seeing ‘HOW?!?!?’ very clearly, actually. I suppose that at the time, I may have been too hyped up on my excitement over watching a Scandi pop fest at four in the morning to notice any flaws in her stage time. But now I understand that there was a big problem with this entry – the same one that’s proven too much to overcome for many a Eurovision song over the years.
That problem = the transition from studio to stage being too tricky to pull off. Aurally was where the performance suffered most. Replicating the slickly layered lyrics of the studio version live proved impossible for one woman, even with pre-recorded backup. The fact that Dilba’s microphone had apparently been dropped in the bath before showtime (that’s my explanation for it hardly functioning during the verses, anyway) didn’t help matters.
What we saw was an issue as well as what we heard. Though their outfits were cool in a NASA-meets-New-York-Fashion-Week kind of way, Dilba’s dancers were choreographed far too statically/robotically to complement Try Again. The energetic onstage movement required to match the song’s mood was absent, and as a result, the performance felt a little flat. If that reminds you of anything, it should might be Slovenia’s performance in Eurovision just gone. The made-for-radio Here For You took us all on a trip to Static City in May, but if we’d taken the ‘vision’ out of Eurovision 2015, Maraaya probably would have finished in the top five. Similarly, while Dilba trailed the pack in her semi (the semi won by Danny Saucedo), she would top the Swedish iTunes charts with Try Again in the wake of Melfest.
When I listen to my 2011 album, I never ever skip over this song – but, in retrospect, I can totally understand why it lost the Luleå semi. What should have hit televoters with a ‘BAM!’ ended up giving them a half-hearted shove and whispering ‘Vote for me, if you want to. No pressure’, in their ears.
That’s my opinion, anyway. I’m going to draw this mini-essay to a close by asking you for yours. Did Dilba deserve her disappointing result for failing to translate a terrific studio song to the stage? Or should she have at least made it to Andra Chansen so she could…well, Try Again?
3, 2, 1, thoughts!