Eurovision Song Winner Pulls a Beyoncé, Sets Off ‘Culture War’

The colossal annual Eurovision Song Contest apparently has long had a ban on overtly political lyrics. The hardly-easy-to-enforce edict was challenged this past Tuesday, when Armenian singer Iveta Mukuchyan brandished a Nagorno-Karabakh flag, in protest of Armenia’s occupation of the Azerbaijani region. It set tongues wagging.

But last night’s final in Stockholm may have genuinely served to escalate the ongoing troubles between Ukraine and Russia, with Ukrainian singer Jamala taking the top prize for her song “1944.” It contains the not-so-subtle lyrical pleas, “You think you are gods / But everyone dies / Don’t swallow my soul / Our souls” and “We could build a future / Where people are free / To live and love.”

Before her victory, Jamala had told The Guardian that if she did indeed win, “It will mean that modern European people are not indifferent, and are ready to hear about the pain of other people and to sympathize.” It was a clear reference to the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, and the continuing violent struggle that has followed. Russian officials responded to Jamala’s victory with immediate scorn, calling for her disqualification based on breaking the ban on political lyrical statements.

This comes hot on the heels of Beyoncé’s controversial Super Bowl halftime show in February, which itself set off something of a socio-political firestorm in America. As could be expected, both sides of the ideological divide conveniently interpreted her performance to the specific promotion of their own agendas.

Considering Eurovision 2016 had a worldwide viewing audience of 200,000,000, Russia, surely, can be expected to not just shrink quietly away from this fight.

 

Stockholm Opens Best Museum Ever, All Dedicated to ABBA

Over the past few years, there have been new museums opening about just about everything, from city history to legendary artists to pizza. This week, even as rumors of a band reunion continue to be quenched over and over again, the city of Stockholm welcomed patrons to a new museum dedicated to one of its most beloved international exports: ABBA.

Depending on your taste, this is either the best or worst museum ever, although surely everyone has a soft spot for at least one toe-tapping ABBA tune. Maybe it’s the piano tinkling of “Dancing Queen,” maybe it’s the peppy harmonies of “Take a Chance On Me” or maybe the Eurovision-winning “Waterloo.” There’s gotta be one, though. Everybody has one.

From original recordings to sparkly tour outfits to other important artifacts, the museum has every sort of ABBA ephemera one could possibly imagine. There are marionettes, glittering stage lights and a part of the museum where you can sing alongside a CGI’d ABBA. Sure, it might be a tourist trap, but at least it’s a very fun tourist trap and none of that celebrity wax museum noise. The museum held a dedication ceremony this week, complete with a dazzling fireworks display set to “Thank You For The Music.” Like it would have been any other way. Watch video via Slate and Reuters here and check out video of the museum itself, via AFP, below.

Stream the New Shout Out Louds Album

Stockholm, Sweden’s Shout Out Louds, like many groups of that region, have steadily released the kind of catchy, whip-smart, retro-pop tunes that will get you a loyal following and sleeper success status in the States. Now, with Optica, they could be poised to jump off the American Apparel playlist and into the public eye.

Case in point: NPR is streaming it, and once some upper-middle-class people who were conscious in the 1980s get a load of this, they won’t be able to go jogging without it—imagine the soundtrack to Donnie Darko filtered through a rainbow.

As if that weren’t good enough, “Blue Ice” sounds kind of like a Springsteen ballad? And “Walking In Your Footsteps” has the jauntiest flute line you’ll hear all week. See you later, I have to be in some kind of montage now.    

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

Swedish Group Uses Battered Rihanna Image to Protest Chris Brown Show

These things we know: 1) from his savagely beating up girlfriend Rihanna to seeming pretty unrepentant about the whole thing to getting a tattoo that looks a whole lot like a battered image of Rihanna on his neck to far less severe but still pretty awful infractions like dressing up as “a terrorist” for Halloween, Chris Brown is kind of the worst; 2) people who are in agreement that Chris Brown is the worst are quick to put Chris Brown on blast whenever he does things that are the worst. And Rihanna may be able to forgive, as she prepares to release a new single with him and told Andy Cohen he was “pretty dope,” some activists in Sweden are definitely not (sorry, but Neetzan Zimmerman at Gawker got to the “Stockholm Syndrome” pun before you did).

Months after Brown’s latest album was tagged with “This Man Beats Women” stickers at a store in London, a guerrilla group in Sweden has been “promoting” his November 19th show at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm with posters featuring the image of a battered Rihanna. The current moderator of Sweden’s official Twitter account, which is run by a different Swede every week, snapped a picture of the posters, writing, “In Stockholm people are showing their dislike that Chris Brown is coming to town by posting these posters.” Although the identities of the posters’ creators are a mystery at this point, they point to a larger initiative in Stockholm to pressure promoters to cancel the show.

There’s already plenty of debate over whether or not putting an image of Rihanna in a very vulnerable position is the right way to go about this, and there’s the issue of how survivors of domestic violence in Sweden will react to the posters, which probably should have been considered more carefully. But hopefully, in general all this putting Chris Brown on blast will mean we’re one step closer to a culture where excelling in sports or entertainment does not give you a free pass to do unforgivable things. 

Brooklynites! Write A Song About the G Train, Go to Swedish Music Festival for Free

Looks like everyone wants a bit of Brooklyn after all. Over the weekend of August 31st, Swedish promoters Debaser and Brooklyn Brewery are partnerinhg for Brooklyn, Sweden, a two-city weekend festival in Stockholm and Malmö showing off some of Brooklyn’s most well-known and well-liked artists, including Maluca, The Hold Steady, Blonde Redhead, Dum Dum Girls, Widowspeak, Au Revoir Simone, DIIV, Prince Rama and Cults. (The question, of course, is whether or not Sweden, Brooklyn, in which the likes of Jens Lekman and First Aid Kit hang out at the Knitting Factory for a weekend, or something.)

If this sounds like something you’d be into but have no means of getting over to Sweden for a weekend, and you can write songs, you may have an in. Brooklyn Brewery is having a contest to send one lucky and intrepid BK artist to the festival if they write the best song about or inspired by the "sluggish" but "stalwart people mover" known as the G Train. 

If you think you can do better than the Red Hook Ramblers’ klezmer-meets-Randy-Newman-esque "G Train Blues," by all means, take the challenge. Submissions will be accepted until 5 p.m. on July 24th, then it’s up to voters on Facebook to decide who gets flown to Sweden and put up at the Story Hotel in Stockholm the weekend of the festival. So get those pens a-writin’.

Travel Trends for 2012

As 2011 winds down, it’s time to look ahead to our travel planning for the next year. The travel experts at Cox & Kings have been planning luxury trips since 1758, when Richard Cox was appointed to the post of regimental agent during the British Raj. Responsible for outfitting and arranging all travel for the foot guards, he became known for his reliability and honesty, which formed the basis for his business serving most of the regiments in India. These are their picks for 2012 trends.

1. “Ends of the Earth” Journeys – Intrepid travelers are looking beyond the hotspots of the last few years, like Thailand and South Africa, to rarely visited European countries like Albania and Serbia, the Russian Far East, and Greenland. Central Asian spots such as Uzbekistan and offshore destinations like the Falkland Islands and Papua New Guinea are also great options for those seeking the new.

2. Mind, Body, & Soul Vacations – Travelers looking for a memorable experience are looking within, in the Himalayas for new meditation techniques and yoga poses; in Bali for proper nutrition and lifestyle balance; and in countries such as Laos and Myanmar to visit ancient Buddhist temples and the Mahagandayon Monastery, where over a thousand Buddhist monks live and study.

3. “Your Money Matters” Travel – In regards to the conservation of wildlife and preservation of historic sites around the world, travelers’ dollars go a long way. While travelers are often conscious of places they can’t or won’t travel because they don’t support the regime, they can also spend in support, on a trip that will instill a responsibility towards what they saw.

4. Ancestral Travel – Cox & Kings agrees with Kensington: American-born individuals traveling to countries such as Russia, the Baltics, China, and Japan are excited to explore their legacy. Other popular root-travel destinations include Lebanon and West Africa.

5. Second-Chance Cities – Business travelers may pass throw a destination dozens of times and never really have time to get to know the place. Hubs like Madrid, Stockholm, and more recent stops on the circuit like Johannesburg deserve a second look. 

6. Off-Season Travel – Some dream destinations become vastly more affordable with a turn of the calendar page. Think India in May; Botswana during the “Green Season” for its wonderful birding; Brazil and Turkey in October; Moscow during Christmastime; and China in April.

7. Supporting Evolving & Recovering Societies – Though there are questions about safety in countries that have recently experienced upheaval, think about the outpouring of support in New York City after 9/11: visiting countries that are recovering from a national trauma lends support. Places of note include Colombia, Egypt, Tunisia, Japan, Mozambique, Norway, Croatia and Rwanda.

8. The BRICS – An acronym for the emerging markets Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the BRICS are home to many great cities in their own right, and a deeper understanding of their characters can only help your investment portfolio.

9. Travel with an Expert – Some travelers may question the need for small group travel with an expert, but often it’s a way to gain access to great destinations and private experiences that will make a trip truly memorable.

10. Top Destination Picks for 2012 – Overall, according to the company’s experts, the next hot countries are Indonesia outside of Bali; Ghana; Malaysia; Nepal, Romania, Iceland, and Abu Dhabi. In terms of cities, head south to São Paulo, Brazil; Salta, Argentina; and Lima, Peru, as well as Beirut, Luang Prabang, Hyderabad, Stockholm, Tallinn and Mostar.

[Image via europhotos/Shutterstock]

Indie Music Romance: The Tallest Man on Earth & Idiot Wind

Over Sunday morning coffee at the newly opened Scandic Grand Central in Stockholm, Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, and Amanda Bergman, aka Idiot Wind, explained to me how they first connected over MySpace. It was an unexpected romantic beginning for the two celebrated Swedish songwriters, who met in 2009 and have been performing together intermittently ever since, and who live a private, quiet life together in the countryside.

At the beginning of our conversation, Amanda, who’s got a forthcoming personality and a provocative smile, left the table for a moment, and not until the two became closer in physical proximity did Kristian really relax. Once we started chatting — and they started finishing each other’s sentences — I discovered more about their ballad-worthy romance, their relationship with Bon Iver, and their horse, Golden Sky.

What are you doing now? KM: Just recording all the time. I’m not actually in a rush, and that’s what’s crazy about this record, because I’ve always been in a rush. I used to have a couple of weeks to finish records, but now I can set my own deadlines. So just to get it done, I put a deadline on myself. I can’t say when it’s going to be released, but it’s probably going to be done early next year.

Where are you recording? KM: Where we live, in the countryside. It’s just us and our horse named Golden Sky.

What about touring? KM: I’m taking a break from recording because I’m going to go to Australia in a couple of weeks to do a few shows, and then there’s nothing planned. I’m going to South Africa in February to do two shows, but as far as regular touring, it depends on when the record is out. There are probably gonna be a lot of shows next year.

You’ve said before that when you perform in Stockholm, you feel like you have to try a little harder to win over your audience. Is it still like that? KM: It’s harder to play back home. Or, it used to be harder. It all depends on the venue, I guess. Last time I played in Stockholm, I played two nights in this really classy, seated venue. I guess as a performer, you get home and you get more nervous. It’s probably not so much about the audience and more about myself, and it’s just very different here in a lot of ways. And I speak Swedish between songs.

How did you two meet? AB: On the Internet. On MySpace. KM: We grew up kind of close but we never met. AB: Because you’re older and I didn’t hang out with older people. We’re from about half an hour away. You grew up in a town and I grew up in a small village. KM: I guess we liked each other’s music and we started to email.

How does the dynamic work out with two singer songwriters living and recording together? AB: We manage to work really well together. It’s easy in a sense that you know what it feels like to be in certain situations—whether it’s doing a show or writing songs or recording. You can remind each other when to have respect for what you’re doing or when to realize that something isn’t important. Sometimes you get so fixed… KM: You get stuck on the details and struggle with the stuff that you shouldn’t be struggling with. Writer’s craziness, when you think that you have to get that line and you do it over and over again. And then, the other person can tell you to snap out of it. When we’re recording, it’s fun. One of us is producer and one is the artist, so when I’m doing vocals… AB: I’m sitting by the computer just pressing buttons. KM: Sometimes when you’re recording, it can just get so frustrating. I threw my headphones against the wall. And it was like “Rarrrrrr, do it again, rarrrr”, and Amanda’s the calm producer—and then we switch. AB: I’m more into slamming the door.

image Your house must be battered. KM: It’s an old sturdy house, I think it’ll be fine. AB: When you record with someone you know so well, sometimes it’s hard because he’ll say something to me, or ask me to do something again, and it really gets to me because I don’t’ want to screw up in front of someone I really like and care about, but at the same time, I know that he’s right because you he knows me so well and knows that I could do better. KM: You get pissed off first because you know the other one is right. Sometimes it could be good to record with someone you don’t know. We should try that sometime. AB: Yeah, you can’t behave in the same way or be so childish in front of someone you don’t know.

Both of you have really unique titles, what’s the story there? KM: I was just making up a name and needed a name that day. I never really thought about it. I read something about some dude from Sweden who was the tallest man on earth. I think most band names come out that way. I’ve made up so many explanations for that name. It looks good in writing. AB: Same for me. You can name yourself anything. The reason I changed my name was because I started out with Hajen, which means shark in Swedish and it was kind of a joke. I didn’t really focus on music before that, I just put some songs on MySpace under that name and then people started to pay attention and I wasn’t prepared at all. That was a really stressful year. I didn’t even know if I wanted to work with music. I just needed to start over and had to do it so quickly. A new name is a good way of starting over. KM: You were on the cover of a big news magazine when you only had a few songs recorded. AB: It’s such a strange feeling before you think you’re a musician, and you’re like, no, I’m just playing around. I didn’t mean anything by it. I wasn’t asking for attention, so it’s a really strange thing when you actually get attention for something that you’re not sure of.

Kristian, how did you feel about collaborating with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver? KM: The thing about Justin is that it just feels so natural. I don’t know how to explain it, but where he’s from in the states is pretty similar to the place where we’re from in Sweden. When we go to see him in Wisconsin, it feels like home. New York is great, but we once spent ten days there and then flew straight to Wisconsin. I guess he’s kind of the same dude as me in many ways. We’re around the same age, we like to talk about feelings and grew up in similar places. I’m stealing a lot of stuff from his new record for my record. I’ll have to thank him.

Your shows most often consist of just you on stage. Are you planning to change this with the new album? KM: I’m not going to keep it exactly as it is, but I guess you never know. During the last European tour, I did three songs in the middle of the set with two other guys and it was fun. Then the last couple of shows I’ve been doing by myself again. I’m not sure. This is actually the first time I’ve had time off from touring and I can make decisions about the new album. I hope to be writing really solid songs that can work in a lot of different arrangements. They can, of course, work with just me playing. We’ll see in December how the record turns out.

Do you prefer having support with you on stage? KM: I enjoy playing with people because it’s pretty hard being up there by myself. I don’t know if it looks easy, but if I fall down, it’s going to be dead quiet. But, when you get all that attention, being alone on stage and that scariness is also kind of exciting. You’re always on a thin line. This summer I was playing some big festivals in front of thousands of people and thinking…shit, this actually works. A massive stage and just a little dude. AB: The challenging thing about being alone on stage is that it affects how you view yourself. The fact that if you screw up, you screw up. If every night you feel like so many things went wrong, you start to blame yourself too much. KM: I don’t think any one of us has super high self-confidence, and sometimes you have to do those shows that force you to shape up.

Artists often have mixed feelings about playing big festivals. With your experience so far with that kind of show, how do you feel about it? KM: It’s always different, but it’s crazy, because those are the biggest shows and you don’t get a lot of time to prepare. I liked Coachella this year. I saw a lot of good shows there. We had one day off. That was actually the last time we saw Justin. It was kind of crazy, we were sitting down talking to him and he was like, “Oh shit I have to go now” and he runs onstage. We walked out and we’re like, “Oh wait there’s Justin, and there’s Kanye in his big crane.” AB: As a listener, I just get sad because you just get to see snippets of bands. It’s that whole compromise thing and it’s just like a showcase. It has happened many times that I had a really good experience. Sometimes if it’s a smaller one, otherwise it’s just more like a shopping mall. KM: The great thing about it is that you meet other friends that you never get to see. Last summer, we met Local Natives on every festival. We we’re like, “Hey again, see you next week.” They’re sweethearts.

What are you inspired by for the new album and your current recording? KM: We’ve been listening to the new Feist album, The War on Drugs, the Nurses. Then we have this collection of really weird old ethnic music from 1925 to 1945. It’s the craziest stuff. Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel has this radio show and on the webpage, he had this one really weird song and I saw where it came from and found the collection. It’s just mind-blowing. AB: It’s amazing when you’re listening to this strange music in the car. You pass by people driving and think, “If you only knew what I was listening to right now.” I just want to turn up the volume when I drive through our village. KM: Some of it is this weird, isolated musician somewhere making this music up that sounds like nothing else. There are these two bagpipe guys playing glitch electronica. AB: A few weeks ago, you just kept listening to “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous brothers. KM: They sounded so good on the big speakers. I just kept blasting it. And “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”. It’s stuff that you heard so many times as a kid, and some music sounds so good when you play it really loud. I’ve been listening to the first track on one of Mark Knoppfler’s solo albums “What It Is”. If you play that really loud, it’s so good. But we listen to cool, indie music too. AB: We don’t really care. We live so far out from anyone who cares about music.

In Stockholm, The Scandic Opens Big

For the opening of the Scandic Grand Central in Stockholm last weekend, the large-scale hotelier brought out the biggest and the best for a black tie gala in Sweden’s capital city. The soiree included a meet and greet in the hotel’s well-equipped acoustic lounge, followed by a dinner in the hotel’s Teaterbrasseriet restaurant, and an intimate performance by Grammy-nominated, Brooklyn-born performer and producer John Forté. Party-goers included frontrunners in art, design, fashion, and music. Guests were were given free rooms for the night, and encouraged to indulge in everything the newly renovated space has to offer, including the photo booth and sweet swag bags. More on how the Swedish ‘downtown’ mafia parties after the jump.

The event attracted the likes of designers Waris Ahluwalia and Johan Lindeberg (who was in town for the opening of his BLK DNM store), Swedish rapper Adam Tensta, Jonas Åkerlund (who directed some of Lady Gaga’s best-known videos), Joel Kinnaman (star of AMC’s The Killing), Andreas Löwenstam (head designer for H&M menswear), Swedish indie film master Fares Fares, photographer Christian Coinbergh, Rebecca Simonsson (“Sweden’s Lady Gaga”), contemporary artist Carsten Höller, and world-renowned DJ Jonas Kleerup. The highbrow crowd celebrated until the bar closed at 2am, and then spread the festivities out to rooms on various floors.

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Formal Swedish fashion trends for the evening included bold necklines for women, and non-traditional takes on the tux for men. Waris came decked out in tails and a crisp white oxford, while New York-based architect Claes Appelquist pulled off the über skinny suit look. Tuxes with graphic tees were also a big sell. Swedish style icon Pamela Bellafesta was a show-stopper in a multi-colored RODEBJER frock and YSL booties, and Simonsson turned plenty of heads in a mini vintage all-sequined number.

As it was explained to me, Stockholm is a city of around one million residents, and openings such as this one are few and far between. The Grand Central represents a progressive move for Central Stockholm as a forum for arts and culture, so it was fitting to have John Forté there to entertain the crowd. As the Swedes would say, Skol! to a party well done.

Radisson Blu Waterfront Opens in Stockholm, No Ghosts Included

There are two general markers I use to tell if my hotel room is haunted. One: I generally have these crazy dreams of me looking at myself while other people look at me and convulse, whereupon I wake up frightened in cold sweats. Two: I see a fucking ghost. So when I was in Stockholm three years ago, I had that specific dream at a hotel. The front desk clerk clearly held back “ghost” information to avoid a scene (there were others at the front desk). In any case, I moved rooms and slept beautifully.

Let’s hope Rezidor’s new Radisson Blu Waterfront hotel in Stockholm is ghost-free, because one day I’d like to stay there. The hotel officially opened last week in the heart of Stockholm, and you can expect the 414 rooms to be sleek, functional, and modern, as they were designed by White, the leading Scandinavian architectural agency. While it’s more of a business hotel (it has direct connection to the Stockholm Waterfront Congress Center), it’s still right next to Gamla Stan (“Old Town”), which happens to be my favorite island, packed with medieval buildings and cool shops. I’m also pretty confident the hotel will lack spirits of any sort, except for at the bar.