Does Melodifestivalen Have a Sexism Problem? (2020 Preview)
Why the fuss?
As stated in my intro, this year marked the fifth occasion that a solo male performer was chosen to be the Swedish Eurovision contestant. Whilst over recent years there has definitely been a sense that the Swedish performance at the contest has become somewhat predictable, the gender remaining the same within this predictability might be something to be concerned about. This is all very suprising given that in 2014, this was not even a conversation. Not only did Ace Wilder and Sanna Nielsen contest one of the most thrilling ends to a voting sequence in national final history but they were accompanied in the top 5 by Alcazar (and their two female members) and former Eurovision winner Helena Paparizou. Since 2015, there has only been one year in which more than one woman placed in the top 5 and that was 2016 when Ace Wilder and Wiktoria both scored highly. Other than that, there has been a sole token woman in every top 5 with that woman being Mariette on three occasions and Hanna Ferm as half of a duet on the other occasion (no I am not counting Anina's minimal participation in Jon Henrik Fjallgren's 2017 entry). Not only that, but regular participants Ace Wilder, Wiktoria and even Mariette have all seen their results gradually decline with every year of participation. With none of the competition played out, Hanna Ferm is the only female contestant in the top 5 of the bookies odds to win the show and that is with Mariette, The Mamas (part of John Lundvik's winning performance last year), Anna Bergendahl and Malou Prytz all still in the running.
Is the public or jury to blame for this pattern?
In order to properly analyse these results in the context of Sweden, we need to take a closer look at the televoting numbers from each final. This year, five female solo singers competed in the MelFest final plus Hanna Ferm as part of a duet. The five female solo singers all placed in the bottom half of the televoting results whilst the juries placed Lisa Ajax and Wiktoria in the top six alongside Hanna Ferm and LIAMOO. It was also a straight televote result that saw both Dolly Style and Margaret knocked out in the Semi Finals that year.
2018 makes for even more frightening reading. There were only four competing women in that year's final and they all placed in the bottom six whilst the juries would have placed Mariette and Margaret in 4th and 5th respectively.
The fact is that we have to go back to 2017 to find the last time a woman placed in the top 5 of the televote and that was Wiktoria whose final result was ultimately killed by the international juries. It should also be noted that whilst Mariette also came fifth in that year's televote and were joined by Ace Wilder who finished 9th and Lisa Ajax who finished last. Four in twelve acts making the final of the biggest song contest of the year is still not a great look, especially when former Eurovision contestants Loreen and Krista Sigfrieds could not even qualify for the final.
It is certain looking at this recent the pattern that the fault for more women not having more success at Melodifestivalen most definitely falls at the feet of the Swedish public. It is even more fascinating to analyse the demographic breakdown of last year's app vote and to notice that not a single demographic gave a women 12 points in the final (though the 45-59 and 60-74 age brackets did give their 10 points to Anna Bergendahl).
What is the gender divide for other Eurovision competing nations?
Most nations tend to be quite good and sending a fair mix of men and women, however for the sake of comparison with Sweden's case, we have done the research and listed below the consecutive streaks of sending one gender by nation.
Serbia - 6 consecutive women (with Sanja Ilic and the other male member of Balkanika in 2018)
Sweden - 5 consecutive men
Malta - 5 consecutive women
Hungary - 4 consecutive men (including two entries from Joci Papai in 2017 and 2019)
Spain - 4 consecutive men (with Amaia performing a duet with Alfred in 2018 and with Blas Canto set to perform in 2020)
North Macedonia - 4 consecutive women (with the male members of Eye Cue in 2018)
Italy - 3 consecutive men
Norway - 3 consecutive male-fronted acts (including one woman in KEiiNO)
Greece - 3 consecutive women
Sweden is not only in a very small list on this front but it doesn't have a particularly good ranking on this list with its leaning towards male participants more than any other nation at the contest. It is only rivalled on its lack of gender diversity by Serbia and as noted on the above list, they sent two male members as part of their group performance in Lisbon.
Is there a precedent for sexism outside of Eurovision within Sweden?
Most surprisingly given everything I have said in this article, no. Sweden is one of the global trendsetters for gender equality worldwide with a government that claims to be feminist including 12 out of 22 female government ministers and half of the current parliament being women. The latter data point must be accompanied by the asterix that despite this fact, the number of women in parliament has dropped from the 2010 and 2006 elections. A more wider indication of this can be found through the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report which ranks over 140 nations worldwide for their commitment to gender equality through health, education, economy and politics and since 2006 has never ranked Sweden lower than fourth. In the 2018 edition of the report, the Swedes were ranked third behind Iceland and Norway. Whilst this isn't to say that Sweden have figured out gender equality, it certainly suggests that the Swedes should be in a better social position around this topic than most other nations worldwide. That however is strangely not being reflected in Sweden's most popular TV show.
Does anybody in Sweden particularly care?
Not particularly. Simply put, there is nothing in much of the Swedish media or the international media or even the Eurovision-centred media to suggest that there is anything unusual taking place about the voting patterns I have outlined in this article.
Is next year going to change anything?
Again, the signs aren't bright. The first step to solving a problem is noting that one exists in the first place. Sweden have placed in the top 5 in all but 2 of the last 9 Eurovision Song Contests including 2 victories. For most nations competing at Eurovision, this is arguably an ideal set of results and demonstrates a consistent ability to export high quality music to the contest. Some people could argue that in this period of dominance that Sweden should have had more than the two victories they managed but SVT will be happy with the outcome they have achieved. It seems to me that what the Swedish broadcaster wants from the contest is a comfortable top 10 finish with an end product that is polished, slick and sets the bar for the rest of Europe to compete with. They don't mind whether they win, they don't mind who the performer is and they don't mind what happens to their televote across Europe in the process (which was clear for all to see at the end of this year's contest in Tel Aviv). The same applies to the Swedish public, Melodifestivalen continues to be incredibly popular and of a very high standard. Do they mind who wins? Do they mind about their gender, age or race? Do they mind how well they ultimately do at the final contest? Probably not, after all, it's only a TV show and only a bit of musical fun to see out the final weeks of winter. The facts I have noted in this article may be inescapable but I am still predicting a Felix Sandman victory with a slick performance leading to a high jury vote in Rotterdam complete with underwhelming televote and so the cycle continues. After all, if it ain't broke, don't do anything to fix it.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Is this article a fair criticism of the circumstances? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. That's it for us this year but we will be back next year for the proper start of Eurovision Season 2020, complete with national final musings, some digging on the internally selected acts and maybe even a cheeky wee Rotterdam profile. Don't forget to subscribe to the blog and share the piece around. Have a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years!