Much of the world is currently gearing up for Eurovision, the endlessly cheesy but ultimately lovable international contest to determine -- wait for it! -- the best song in the entire world. Which is like, amazing, right? My favorite entries usually come from Sweden, Denmark and Norway, since Scandinavia is basically the epicenter of all pop genius. And because U.S. listeners don't normally get exposed to these incredible imports, I'm sorting through the mass of entries to pick out some of the best tracks deserving of American attention.
Right now, get ready to go global, because I'm taking y'all on a wild ride across the Atlantic. And you know what they say: Once you go Scandinavian, you never go back. (That's the expression, right?)
Swedish musician Loreen
It's shocking that the Eurovision Song Contest isn't better known in the United States, given that it's such a big deal in much of the world, even if it's often mocked for its goofy self-seriousness. The annual songwriting contest allows participating nations to submit each country's best tune. Each song is performed in a massive "American Idol"-style concert, and viewers can vote for their favorite song. A winner is then crowned, bringing great pride to their home country. In recent years, as many as 600 million people (!!!!!!!!!!!!) have tuned in to watch the contest (that's, like, 10 percent of the population of the world, for you mathletes out there), and Eurovision is responsible for launching the careers of little acts like Abba and Celine Dion. Heard of them? Yeah. Exactly.
But prior to Eurovision, each participating country holds their own national competition. In Sweden, it's Melodifestivalen, in Norway, Melodi Grand Prix and in Denmark, it's Dansk Melodi Grand Prix. And these countries are SLAYING the entire game right now. Especially Sweden -- with the best pop songwriters and producers in the world (think Max Martin and Bloodshy & Avant) as well as some of the best pop stars in the game (Robyn, anyone?) coming from that part of the world, I'm pretty convinced that there's something in the water out there. And luckily for us, these songs are often written in English and penned and produced with top-notch producers, which means they sound pretty freakin' good to American ears.
+ Read more about why Scandinavia is dominating pop music after the jump.
Denmark has already selected their Eurovision entry with Soluna Salay's "Should've Known Better," a lovely if understated guitar-driven midtempo, but a few other entries grabbed my attention; it was hard to argue with Ditte Marie's Kylie-biting euphoric "Overflow," which has a pummeling beat and sing-along lyrics, as well as Valen:tine's "Nowhere," which evokes Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You," but with a deliciously grungy bridge. Better still from Denmark, in my opinion, was Jesper Nohrstedt's "Take Our Hearts," one of the finest songs I've heard this year. It's like Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" mashed up with Leona Lewis & Avicii's underrated "Collide," with dulcet pianos and layers of impeccably crooned vocals cascading over a sharp house beat. For my part, I think Jesper Nohrstedt was robbed, but hey, there's always next year.
Norway's got some stiff competition, too, with a few standout tracks that are hard to resist. Minnie-Oh's "You and I" is a grinding slab of electro-pop lushness, while my beloved Lise Karlsnes, who has a terrific track record of making Robyn-esque future-pop with surging hooks (see "Red Hot" for more), released my favorite Norwegian entry: "Sailors," a fantastically exuberant ditty that shows off Lise's wistful vocals and unique swagger.
But, of course, Melodifestivalen always reigns supreme, and even now that the show's only just kicked off, an early favorite has emerged: "Euphoria" by the bewitching Swedish chanteuse Loreen, who first rose to fame as a contestant on Swedish Idol back in 2004 before reinventing herself in time for last year's Melodifestivalen, where she first performed her smash "My Heart Is Refusing Me," an achingly sad and chilling dance-pop dirge that features some of the best vocals, like, ever. I'm talking history of the world. (It later hit the Top 10 in Sweden.) Her follow-up effort, "Sober," is a haunting ode to a regrettable one-night-stand that has the same crying-on-the-dance floor vibe, but even more amped up.
But the new single, "Euphoria," might be her best to date: Although she's only just premiered it live (the studio version is forthcoming), her Melodifestivalen performance is remarkable, with crushingly powerful vocals and ninja-style dance moves (plus a well-placed wind machine!) that must be seen to be believed. In an interview with the excellent pop blog Scandipop, Loreen called the song "mystical," and that's exactly what it is -- almost otherworldly haunting, but with a jubilant pop chorus that you can't get out of your head.
I'm putting my money on Loreen to take the top prize at Melodifestivalen during the finals in a few weeks, and she might even have a chance of winning the whole Eurovision shebang with a track as enormous as "Euphoria," especially given the attention that Stateside bloggers have begun sending her way. I may be missing Melodifestivalen this year, but I think if I launch a Kickstarter now, I should have enough to make my way back to my spiritual homeland by 2013.
Photo credit: Loreen