How do you watch the Swedish extravaganza that is Melodifestivalen?

Here's a guide to what to expect from this year's Swedish tryouts for the Eurovision Song Contest, ranging from Sami tunes to chart-breaking pop anthems.

How do you watch the Swedish extravaganza that is Melodifestivalen?
Melodifestivalen hosts Farah Abadi och Jesper Rönndahl. You'll be seeing a lot of their faces in Sweden this spring. Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/TT

Congratulations for surviving the depths of winter. When the sky was at its darkest and the Christmas ham seemingly dominated every plate of food, hope and brightness was getting ever closer.

And now that the light is starting to return, so does the Swedish television tradition that trumps all others (ok maybe not Kalle Anka and his friends at Christmas), but it’s not far away. We are talking about the brightest and sparkliest show on the whole of Swedish TV that fills the void of these late winter days.

Welcome once more to Melodifestivalen.

The biggest selection in Europe

Melodifestivalen is the competition for Sweden to choose the song that will represent the country in the Eurovision Song Contest, the biggest entertainment show on Earth. Broadcasters from 37 countries as far afield as Azerbaijan, Iceland and… yes, Australia will compete in Liverpool this May for the prize of being the best song in Europe and bringing the show to their home country next year (or at least that is traditionally the plan, sadly the 2022 victors Ukraine are not able to host due to Russia’s invasion, and as thus the public broadcaster there is co-hosting with the BBC from the United Kingdom, who finished 2nd).

Sweden takes this Eurovision deal seriously. Melodifestivalen is a six week long extravaganza. Year upon year all six of these shows rank in the top ten of the Swedish television viewing figures. Not only that but you are sure-fire guaranteed to find a plethora of the 28 competing songs smashing the Swedish charts and being on radio airplay lists even months after the show disappeared from television.

But this isn’t just a thing appreciated by the Swedes. When it comes to Eurovision, Sweden is arguably the hottest country in the entire competition. Only twice in the last 12 years has Sweden finished outside of the Eurovision top 10, a record including four podium finishes and two first places. This track record means that the Melodifestivalen fanbase doesn’t just cover Swedes from the ages of 3 to 93, but also hundreds of Eurovision fans who make a pilgrimage to witness Melodifestivalen live in person each year and party all weekend long.

The popularity of the Swedish show is such that since 2013 the show’s finale has been held in the national football stadium of Friends Arena to an audience of nearly 30,000 spectators – a show on a scale many times more than most other competing countries.

Those two hours of musical entertainment are a highlight for the public broadcaster SVT, and have been the springboard for much of its talent to now work internationally. Former Executive Producer Martin Österdahl led the SVT team for the Eurovision hosting in Malmö in 2013 and in Stockholm three years later before taking the top job as Executive Supervisor of the entire Eurovision Song Contest in 2020.

That is in addition to the whole team of Swedes who went out last year to California to create the first ever American Song Contest featuring acts from every state and territory of the United States, a format that is even entering Canada later this year.

Cornelia Jakobs represented Sweden at Eurovision in 2022. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

What can we expect this year?

All being well, the 2023 edition of Melodifestivalen will be the first since pandemic times when the TV spectacle has been able to tour the length and breadth of the country, with the heats before the final taking place in Gothenburg, Linköping, Lidköping and Malmö this year. Two songs from seven in each heat will qualify to the Grand Final in Friends Arena, and two others will head to the so-called Semi Final round, this year in northerly Örnsköldsvik, before we get the 12 songs that will compete for a place in the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday 11th March.

And while Sweden might be the country best known for exporting pop music to the planet, expect all sorts of genres to be thrown at you. Look out in Saturday’s first heat from Gothenburg for tender ballads, sparkly pop tunes, Sami jojk and a clap-a-long duet by long loved Swedish icons Eva Rydberg and Ewa Roos with a combined age over 150. Whatever type of entertainment you are looking for from Saturday night programming, expect to find it here.

The biggest name in this year’s competition is Loreen, the 2012 winner of the Eurovision Song Contest with the smash hit Euphoria that packed out the dance floors and radio playlists all spring and summer across the continent. But SVT has decided we will have to wait until the final week to hear if the pre-show favourite has the song to head across to the United Kingdom in May.

Loreen won Eurovision in 2012. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Otherwise the expectation is that Norwegian twins Marcus and Martinus and 17-year-old Theoz are going to be the names on all the teenagers lips this year as both promises to bring both slick routines and catchy choruses to this festival of hit music. You have been warned.

Nestled within the pop music glitz and glamour though is the story of Maria Sur, herself 17 years of age and a refugee from Ukraine. The Local has already spoken to her about her journey from Ukraine to Sweden and now to the nation’s biggest stage, and her song Never Give Up is certain to be a tearjerker.

How can I watch the circus?

Melodifestivalen is shown on Saturday nights at 8pm for six consecutive weeks on SVT1 or SVT Play, the broadcaster’s online streaming service. SVT Play will also offer an option to follow the English text commentary if you would like more explanation as the chaos unfolds each night. The show is also available on Sveriges Radio P4.

One can even jump straight into the deep end and purchase tickets for the arena shows around the country, with rehearsals on the Friday night as well as a Saturday matinee performance available as well as the live broadcast.

What you want to do either way is before the show get yourself loaded up with the Melodifestivalen app (Apple or Android). Create an account so that you can join the hundreds of thousands of Swedes in voting for your favourite songs using your phone absolutely free (pay options are also available, including one that donates money to Radiohjälpen).

And whether you watch it or you don’t, make sure to check in with the results and the songs before you return to work, because if there is one thing you can be sure of is that the conversation topic of the day will be if the right songs won or not.

Ben Robertson is also covering Melodifestivalen 2023 for ESC Insight.

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SKARS-GUIDE: Who’s who in Sweden’s Skarsgård acting dynasty?

In honour of the Oscars, the biggest event of the year in Hollywood, we're doing a deep-dive into one of Sweden's most famous international exports: the Skarsgård family of (mostly) actors. Who are they, and what have you seen them in?

SKARS-GUIDE: Who's who in Sweden's Skarsgård acting dynasty?

The Skarsgårds, one of Sweden’s best-known acting families, consist of father Stellan and his first wife My’s six children, as well as Stellan and second wife Megan’s two children.

All of the men in the family are over 6 feet (180 cm) tall, and all the male members of the family made their acting debut before the age of ten.

Here’s our Skars-guide.

Photos: Claudio Bresciani, Jessica Gow, Maja Suslin, Sören Stache, Henrik Montgomery, Björn Larsson Rosvall, Mats Andersson, Kajsa Rasmussen, Fredrik Sandberg/TT Graphic: The Local

Stellan Skarsgård (71)

Let’s start with the patriarch of the Skarsgård family, Stellan Skarsgård. Stellan was born in 1951 in Gothenburg to Gudrun Skarsgård and Jan Skarsgård. 

His first big break was in the Swedish TV series Bombi Bitt och jag in 1968, after which he shot to fame as a teenage heartthrob. This success was followed by theatre roles in Helsingborg, Malmö, Uppsala and Stockholm. 

Stellan Skarsgård’s first film role was in 1982, in the film Den enfaldige mördaren (The Simple-Minded Murderer).

In 1998 he made his international breakthrough with a small role in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, an American film directed by Philip Kaufman.

In recent years, his most well-known roles have been as Bootstrap Bill Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, and as another Bill in the ABBA film Mamma Mia. He also features as astrophysicist Dr. Erik Selvig in a number of Marvel films.

He is particularly associated with Danish director Lars von Trier, featuring in von Trier films such as Melancholia (alongside son Alexander) Breaking the Waves and Nymphomaniac.

In 1975, he married My Skarsgård, a doctor, with whom he had six of his eight children: Alexander, Gustaf, Sam, Bill, Eija and Valter Skarsgård.

My and Stellan divorced in 2007, and he remarried in 2009, this time to producer Megan Everett, with whom he has two sons, Ossian and Kolbjörn.

Alexander Skarsgård (46)

The oldest and possibly most famous of the Skarsgård children is Alexander Skarsgård, born in 1976. 

Alexander’s first Swedish role was in Åke och hans värld (Åke and his world) at the age of seven. He quit acting at 13, joined the Swedish military at 19 and served for 18 months, before returning to acting. His first international role was a minor role in US comedy Zoolander, although he is most well-known for his role as Eric Northman in vampire series True Blood, Amleth in The Northman and Perry Wright in Big Little Lies.

Alexander is extremely private and prefers to avoid the public eye outside of his films, but is linked to fellow Swede, actress Tuva Novotny, with whom he has one child.

Gustaf Skarsgård (42)

Gustaf, born in 1980, started acting at the age of six and attended Stockholm’s Teaterhögskolan (The Swedish Academy of Mime and Acting) between 1998 and 2003, after which he joined Stockholm’s Dramaten theatre.

Internationally, he is best known for films Evil, Kon-Tiki and The Way Back, as well as his role as Floki in TV series Vikings, and roles in HBO series Westworld and Netflix series Cursed.

He recently played Karl Oskar in the film Utvandrarna (The Emigrants), follwing the story of emigrants from Sweden to North America in the late 1800s.

Gustaf has a daughter with his partner, Caroline Sjöström.

Sam Skarsgård (41)

Sam, born just a year after Gustaf in 1981, took after his mother My, working as a doctor in intensive care, after a brief acting career at the age of four in the film Jim och piraterna Blom (Jim and the Blom Pirates), which his father co-wrote. 

Sam and his wife Sanna live with Gustaf and Caroline in the Södermalm area of Stockholm, just down the road from Gustaf and Sam’s father Stellan and stepmother Megan.

Bill Skarsgård (32)

Bill Skarsgård, the fourth Skarsgård child, was born in 1990, and is best known internationally for playing the clown Pennywise in the adaptation of Stephen King’s horror series It. He  also featured in the most recent John Wick film, John Wick Chapter 4, as well as in superhero movie Deadpool Two.

Bill is in a relationship with Swedish actress Alida Morberg, who he appeared alongside in Netflix series Clark. The couple has one daughter.

Eija Skarsgård (31)

Eija, Stellan Skarsgård’s only daughter, was born in 1992. Just like her brother Sam, she does not work as an actor, instead working as a club manager in Stockholm for a number of years after a  modelling career as a teenager.

Since 2020, she has worked in casting on multiple projects, recently on Swedish TV series Young Royals and Lust.

She also lives on Södermalm with her husband, Zeke Tastas.

Valter Skarsgård (27)

The youngest of My and Stellan Skarsgård’s shared children, Valter, was born in 1995. Within Sweden, he is probably most known for his roles in the Beck TV series, where he played policeman Vilhelm Beck.

Valter is currently working on a TV series about the life of Swedish ice hockey legend Börje Salming, where he will play Salming.

Ossian Skarsgård (13)

Ossian, born in 2009, is Stellan Skarsgård’s first son with second wife Megan Everett. Ossian already has some acting credits to his name despite his youth, such as voicing a character in film The Wife at the age of eight, as well as a role in Alex Schulman’s autobiographical film Bränn alla mina brev (Burn All of my Letters), where he played a younger version of Schulman alongside his brother, Bill Skarsgård.

This year, fans of SVT’s TV advent calendar can look forward to seeing him in 2023’s advent calendar, where he will play a troll named Love.

Kolbjörn Skarsgård (10)

Finally, the youngest Skarsgård for this generation at least is Kolbjörn, born in 2012. Despite being only ten years old, Kolbjörn already has a few acting credits, which is perhaps not much of a surprise, considering his siblings had also all had acting jobs by the age of ten.

Kolbjörn starred alongside his half-brother Bill and aunt Alida in Clark at the age of 9, and has also featured as Milo in TV series Kenny Starfighter.