Swedish Euphoria

Loreen is navigating through rush hour traffic in Stockholm. The phone picks up the noise of honking horns, squealing breaks and revving engines. Every so often, she leans out the window and delivers a few choice words to a passing driver in rapid Swedish. Then she laughs, “Doing an interview while driving is maybe not such a good idea, is it?”

On the phone, the singer is friendly and gracious, at ease with herself and the world around her. She doesn’t dress like a pop star and, if you didn’t know who she was, you’d never guess that less than a month ago, she delivered a knock out performance of her song “Euphoria” to a worldwide TV audience estimated at four million viewers. More than 670,000 of them called in to vote for Loreen, winning her the top spot in the annual Eurovision song contest.

Eurovision has a track record of over the top excess and larger than life production numbers, but the singer chose to perform “Euphoria” with an almost Spartan simplicity. “It was my decision not to do a lot of make-up and to wear something simple. I chose a green dress, because green conveys a feeling of harmony. I wanted to make a statement about society today. Women have a lot of pressure to be a certain way, with faces heavily made up. I wanted to be as simple as possible. My hair was a mess and, except for the [faux] snow, there were no special effects and it worked. We all need to be ourselves and know that we will be accepted. So there was a deep message there.”

Loreen was wise to offer a toned down presentation. The one effect she did allow, a blizzard of faux snow to express the soaring feeling of euphoria the song describes, was almost a disaster. “I’ve always opened my mouth to swallow snow in the real world, but it’s different on stage. It’s a live show and you have to shut out everything and focus. The podium is small and you can fall off the edge if you don’t pay attention. At one point, I inhaled and breathed in a piece of paper snow. I had to quickly cough it out before I had an attack of gagging.”

Thomas G:son and Peter Boström, the musicians who co-wrote “Euphoria” with Loreen, also contributed the song that came in last: “Stay” by Norwegian artist Tooji. What did Loreen bring to “Euphoria” that made it live up to its name? “A song has to have a sound that captures your attention, a combination of production, lyrics, melody and what the artists bring to it in terms of arrangement and performance. When I went into the studio to start working with Peter, I brought him The Terminator soundtrack. I told him, ‘This is the mood I want, this is the quality of sound I want.’ I’ve produced my own music, so I can communicate my ideas to the people I work with. I’ve never been euphoric in my life and that is why I like the song. He did have the losing song as well, but who can tell why?”

The Eurovision contest exists in its own show business bubble, divorced from everyday reality. This year it was held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in an arena that was built especially for the contest. When she was not on stage performing or rehearsing, Loreen was meeting with local human rights activists, determined to bring a hint of reality to the glossy proceedings. “I was born in Sweden, where we have rights, but I don’t take my freedom for granted,” she explains. “When you come to Azerbaijan, the people are all friendly and intelligent, but there is a ghost in the room. To build the stadium, [for the Eurovision concerts] they had to displace a lot of people who now have nowhere to go. Something has to be done because the land the building stands on belongs to everyone. This was the situation in Azerbaijan and people need to be made aware of it. As a performer, I have a responsibility to speak out for the things that are happening to other people. It was an opportunity to create awareness, to let the Azerbaijani people talk about how the country is run. About a month before I went to Azerbaijan, I coordinated with Swedish human rights defenders. I used my fame by asking the international and Swedish press to join me in a conference with local activists. We all have a responsibility for each other.”

Loreen says she’ll continue to be politically active, but she’s also concentrating on her singing career. After her Eurovision win, “Euphoria” topped the charts in ten European countries, so she feels a bit of pressure to produce a winning debut album. “I’ve been working on it for the last year. Most of the songs were done, when the contest happened. Now I’ve started to write more songs to reflect the new ideas I’m developing and I’ve changed some of the arrangements. There are a lot of songs about relationships and the music will show off different aspects of my creativity. An album flows like a good book and has to have a dynamic; all the songs can’t sound the same. I’m one of the executive producers and I’m working with several other producers as well, but I can’t reveal their names yet. I love cellos, violins, and pianos, so it will be a mix of electronics and live musicians, the best of both worlds.”

Text by J. Poet
Photography by Valter Frank