Friday, June 1, 2012

Me, Melodifestivalen and my confusion

Hello everybody,
I hope everybody “enjoyed” this special weekend in Sweden. Just in case you missed it, Sweden won the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest (ESC ), otherwise locally known as Melodifestivalen (for some, it's just a different version of the American Idol). No offense to some of the die-hard fans, but honestly, ESC is alien to me and I didn't know about its existence until I came to Sweden. I grew up listening different music genres and it was a big culture shock back in 2004/2005 (time flies!) when I used to go out to discotheques while I was studying at the Örebro University. I remember that there was always this boom-boom monotonous music all night long every time I went to the clubs on weekends. Every now and then I would try different clubs, but they all played the same rhythms; then I started to ask around. So, somebody told me that there is this music genre called Shlager (Hits songs mainly from ESC) that almost every nightclub in that small town was playing. After a while, I stopped going to the clubs thinking it was such a waste of time and money for something that one didn't enjoy at all. Well, these days, I don't enjoy either those genres
I used to listen 24/7/365. My friends wouldn't believe me if I told them this, because I used to listen music even while studying for exams. I always thought I couldn’t live without music, but that’s not really the case - last time I listened to something was a year or so ago. Hmm I don't really know what happened, but one thing I really know is that I don't enjoy music as much as I did before, and rhythms from the ESC are the last thing I ever want to hear.   
Let me go back to Saturday; I was at home all day reading news from my Facebook wall and Twitter, tweeting and re-tweeting etc. which are my newly found passions. But later in the evening, boredom started to ware me out. So, I decided to go to this community center/bar downtown. When I arrived there, I saw about five-six men smoking outside; every time I went there before, I either saw nobody standing outside or only a few. I said hello to them and went inside, but I wasn't ready for the additional surprise that was awaiting for me: I saw a buffet with various snacks, cheeses, fruits and sandwiches displayed on the sideboard in the main bar and heard live broadcast of some sort of loud music on the big screen coming from the other wing. After I picked up a sandwich, I went to order my Coke and asked the bartender what was so special that night. He told me, after staring at me in disbelief for a couple of seconds, that the ESC was being broadcast live from Baku, Azerbaijan. I thought to myself: “Oh no, not again” and I couldn’t decide whether to stay or go.
Call it coincidence or simply luck, I always happen to be at ESC event gatherings either by accident or through invitation without knowing that it was happening. The first time I watched ESC was in 2007/2008 (I don't remember exactly) at an acquaintance's place, who invited me for a dinner. All the guests, apart from me, were enjoying the show, but I nevertheless stayed until the end out of courtesy even though I never watched the show in my life before; my gut-feeling told me that it was the performers with the weirdest costumes (I hope you remember the Finns) who would win and my hosts were amazed by my prediction after the result. If you ask me or anyone else for that matter, almost 90 percent remember everything but their song. The only time I came to nearly enjoy ESC was Oslo's 2010 contest, when I participated in a flash-mob dance and selected by the organizers to watch the show live inside the arena.
Anyway, let me take you back to last Saturday. Since I had nowhere else to go, I grabbed my Coke, sat alone on a couch, began munching on my sandwich and started to contemplate about BBC's documentary entitled Eurovision's Dirty Secret Azerbaijan that I saw earlier that day. In the middle of my contemplation, an acquaintance of mine came out from the other room and asked me why I didn't join the crowd inside instead of sitting all by myself. I thanked for his concern and told him that I am fine. But he insisted again when he came back after smoking outside and after I turned down his invitation again, he went inside to watch the ESC with his friends. At that time, I was wondering if these people inside that room or the 800 millions of ESC spectators around the world would ever watch the show had they ever known about the crimes against humanity, corruption, crackdown on press freedom and other social vices being perpetrated by the Ilham Aliyev Dynasty behind this glamor and glitz. Maybe I was giving it too much thought. Anyhow, the same guy asked me for the third time to watch the show, so I said yes out of courtesy, (again) convincing myself that I might enjoy it. When I went inside the room, which normally used to always be empty except on rare occasions like annual meeting and other functions, was packed to its fullest with very happy and tipsy spectators who were crammed on couches and chairs placed in two-three rows.
There were two groups: the folks on the right side were mainly 45+ year-old Swedish men and a few invandrare (immigrants) while the left side was dominated by relatively young “invandrare (two Lithuanians, a Colombian, a Swede, me - an Ethiopian) and one Finish man and the only woman in the room. I tried to force myself to enjoy the show, but I couldn't, although I tried to find various justifications/reasoning to appreciate the performers. Frankly and without any exaggeration, I felt after a while like I was listening to various tracks of the same album. Halfway through the show, the youngest Swede  in the crowd (I guess he was in his late 20s) who was lip-singing along with a performer from Germany and sitting next to me asked me innocently if I liked watching the ESC. I told him that I didn't, and he, struggling to hide the shock and disappointment on his face to my answer, said that he was really sad that he couldn't make it to watch the show from the beginning because he had to work a bit later that evening. Wow, I really appreciated his and the rest of the crowd's passion about ESC and wished I could feel the same way, but I couldn't. In fact, the boredom was starting to get on my nerves, so instead of watching the show, I decided to look at the people inside the room in order to find some entertainment. Of course it worked; it was surreal watching everybody inside the room watching the event with so much dedication, focus and attention with a few exceptions of folks who were moving around to either refill their empty glasses, bring snacks or visit rest rooms.
Let me make the long story short: I would never forget the scene in the room when voting started; the room was tense and silent except for noise that was coming from the live broadcast. I could see from where I sat the nervousness and perplexity of many of the older guys. The whole atmosphere reminded me of football fans from back home who watched the World/Africa Cup Finals or the English Premier League soccer games. People were screaming from the top of their lungs in jubilation, jumping, whistling, jerking and clapping whenever representatives from participating countries were giving their votes to Sweden, or cursing “fy fan (damn it!) if others didn't give the highest score to the Swedish contestant. One guy really stood out among these zealots of ESC; he was a real Viking, you know, tall and big, over 50 with completely white hair. He was standing still, glued his eyes on the screen and ticking his noses and lips anxiously when countries cast their votes. He yelled “tyst (silence!) every now and then whenever others continued cheering when another country was about to cast their vote, and whistled three or four times in a row when his homeland got the highest score. What really amazed me was that many of these viewers could predict (political voting ) which country would give how many points to another country and most of the time their predictions were right. Well, after the landslide win, finally Euphoria made the Swedish viewers euphoric. I don't have to tell you what happened afterward; I arrived home after midnight amused about watching the ESC spectators not the show itself and of course a question in my mind popped up for devout Swedes who are really keen about ESC: Can somebody help clarify my confusion about whether Melodifestavlen is a Swedish culture, a tradition, a public holiday or a combination of all three? I'm not sure if I will ever be able to like the ESC; however, I'm looking forward to being amused live by viewers' reactions to this highly hyped Swedish phenomenon next year here in Stockholm. Vi ses nästa år (See you next year)!

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