On Saturday, Eurovision fans around the world will have their alarms set for the first national final show of the year: Semi-Final 1 of Melodi Grand Prix 2021.

Norway’s Head of Delegation started working on this year’s show almost immediately after last year’s ended. This year the stakes are very high.

“I think this is the most important MGP ever,” he tells us on Zoom, seated in front of the MGP 2021 stage. “I would say that for the other countries as well, doing their national finals. We are in dark times and we need something fun to look forward to. We need a bit of celebration taking us away from a lot of concerns about the future, and people’s concerns about their jobs or their health.”

“MGP is such a big production. It is very difficult in a normal year, but now we have [the pandemic] going on as well. It’s awesome that we can wake up in the morning and have this to look forward to. I think this should be part of the health plan for Norway — MGP this year. We’re doing really important work now.”

Our Zoom interview will Premiere on YouTube at 17:00 Olso / 16:00 London on Thursday. You can watch it below. This post pulls out some highlights.

Stig Karlsen: Norway’s Head of Delegation for Eurovision

This year MGP won’t have an audience. It will, however, have a pretty amazing stage, which you can see lighting up in the background throughout our video.

“Around mid-November we were looking into the crystal ball and we decided not to have an audience, because we didn’t believe in it. Of course, we wanted to have an audience, but at this point we aren’t allowed to have an audience…that made us think differently about the staging. How would we draw out the stage?”

“It is massive. It is different. It is built for this arena without an audience. We will make sure the audience gets into the arena from their sofas so that we are going to see some audience. I’ve seen a few television shows now that are very quiet. And we know that people are at home cheering and we have to bring that onto the television programme. We’re gonna have some people. We’re going to see happy people sitting at home.”

MGP 2021: Four potential Eurovision winners

Stig has an ear for a song. After all: he’s the man who believed in “Spirit in the Sky” long before it went on to win the televote at Eurovision. He’s confident this edition has songs that could win the entire Eurovision Song Contest.

“We have a lot of great things to offer to the audience this time. There are big names. There are new talents — people you haven’t heard before, but they are so great they deserve a spot on this stage. My job is to sell you this, but I really feel very good about this year.”

“I got this job because I’ve got this [flair for choosing music] and understand if it’s going to reach a broad audience. When I hear these songs I have to try them on other people and see if they feel the same way I do. If you can see the lights in their eyes and they respond the same way I do, then I know we have something.”

Anyone who has listened to the songs in the first semi-final will understand that diversity is key. Stig says a show made for the entire nation should have songs that reach a younger audience, and some songs that appeal to older viewers. That diversity also extends to whether a song has a realistic shot of doing well at ESC.

“You should have a few songs that you believe in and you think are gonna win Eurovision, and you should have some other songs that are just fun to have there and which have a different quality.”

“I think it’s totally OK to say that I have four songs I believe have a fair chance to win the Eurovision. But we have 26 songs that are really great for the format MGP.”

Those four songs are not concentrated solely among the six pre-qualified artists — but between them and the semi-finalists.

“They are spread out,” he says. “There are some here and some there.”

KEiiNO at MGP 2021 with “Monument”

The most talked-about act thus far is, of course, KEiiNO. Was Stig surprised when they won the televote back in Tel Aviv?

“I wasn’t surprised at all. But I wasn’t surprise that the jury wasn’t that fond of the song as well. The audience and the critics, they aren’t always on the same page. They have certain other criteria that they are listening to.”

“They’re coming back now with this song ‘Monument’. And they’re quite calculated. They have written a song that’s gonna do well with both the audience and the jury. But they have to beat another 25 songs now to make it to Eurovision again. That’s gonna be hard as well. It’s going to be a tough competition for them as well as every other artist.”

But is it too soon for KEiiNO to return?

“There are many times I have told big artists, big names, ‘Maybe you should do it next year when you’ve written a better song.’ And I think that’s fair to say to an artist because you don’t want to go into this big thing without having that song that’s going to take you all the way. It is about timing and now [KEiiNO] have this song that I think is going to do really well.”

Rein Alexander is returning from last year’s edition. But Stig says that artists from last year did not get a free pass. “They have to earn it. It’s always about having that song.”

“If Rein was coming back, it had to be with a great, great song. He teamed up with the songwriters who wrote Ulrikke’s ‘Attention’ — our winner from last year. They did a great job. He’s back because he earned a place with a great song and he’s a great artist.”

Referencing last year’s voting problems, Stig adds, “It is a good story because he was one of the few who didn’t make it to the gold final in the grand final.”

The six artists who are pre-qualified for the final were not chosen solely because of their names, but because they have a song that helps establish a solid finale.

“Pre-qualifying is about setting half of the event final with things that you know are going to make a great show. It’s my privilege to get with a team to pick those songs and then we leave it up to the audience to pick the next songs. It’s about starting to make that line-up that will make a great final with different artists that have different qualities.”

Why didn’t Norway internally pick Ulrikke?

So why wasn’t last year’s winner internally picked after Eurovision was cancelled? Well it has a lot to do with the mission of the state-run broadcaster, which is to make television for the entire country.

“With NRK — the broadcaster — it’s always the audience first. And what we do is produce television shows for the audience. It was a difficult situation because we couldn’t win. But NRK is about the audience. Not doing six nights of entertainment for the broad audience would be wrong.”

“It is sad that we did not get to go with Ulrikke, but it is what it is. I also think it would be bad for the music industry. Now we have 26 artists who can showcase their music, meet that big audience, and I don’t think it would be fair to them to take this down.”

“But of course I was very sad about the whole situation. There are a lot of dreams that were broken from corona. And we can’t do anything about corona. But I’m happy we’re — everybody — going to have a vaccine soon.”

Are you loving all the exciting things that Stig is teasing for MGP 2021? Which of the ten artists that we know so far excites you the most? Let us know what you’re thinking down below!

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Iván el Conquistador
Iván el Conquistador
6 days ago

“Why didn’t Norway internally pick Ulrikke?”Time to say the truth, seeing the lukewarm (at best) reception her victory received, not picking her is the wisest choice.

Whisker
Whisker
9 days ago

I can’t wait but I do keep my fingers crossed for as little itslikethenameofabeernotbear talk as possible.

Sabrina
Sabrina
9 days ago

There were some interesting statements there. About the automatic qualifiers: he gave a clear and logical answer. As a producer, you want to guarantee you’ll have a good final, no matter what happens in the semis. One thing that makes me usually enjoy more the Norwegian MGP than its cousins from Denmark and Sweden is that it always has a diverse lineup, while the other 2 are more focused on different shades of pop music with a folk entry here and there. With this system, they can make sure it will happen, even if the audience keeps voting for the… Read more »

Una
Una
9 days ago
Reply to  Sabrina

Great summary. But if I am totally honest, I would not be surprised if Norway won in 2021. The winning broadcaster/song will need enough money to make a competitive Eurovision 2022 and from what things look like in Europe, those are few and in between. I could only think of three whose songs we don’t know yet. I am pretty sure we have not heard a song that could win Eurovision 2021 thus far.

Alex
Alex
8 days ago
Reply to  Una

Norway’s broadcaster NRK definitely has the ambition to win Eurovision and to host it, I think I read somewhere that the NRK CEO really wants to have Norway host Eurovision again.

Sabrina
Sabrina
8 days ago
Reply to  Alex

Supposing we left the pandemic behind by then, Eurovision 2022 can actually be a great opportunity to bring the tourism back to the host city. On the other hand, if the situation doesn’t change much by the second semester, I guess we could have less cities applying than usual. I feel bad for Rotterdam, they worked so well and deserved a proper Eurovision with all the excitement. I hope when the Netherlands win again, they try another time, this time under normal life conditions.

Briekimchi
Briekimchi
9 days ago

HoDs always make themselves look stupid when they say things like they have “potential ESC winning songs” in their selection and then don’t. Also, addressing not picking Ulrikke internally is never going to involve an answer that sounds good, either.

Nancy G
Nancy G
9 days ago
Reply to  Briekimchi

Well, he is in a good position to know if he has four songs of winning calibre. Also, I think his Ulrikke answer makes sense. She is amazing. But MGP is about more than one artist. The state broadcaster must use the people’s tax money to make programmes for the whole country. Not just Eurofans who want to see Ulrikke back. PS I wanted to see her back, but I understand why she is not.

Tom
Tom
9 days ago

They could have National Selection but just for Norwegian …and then pick Ulrikke internally

Last edited 9 days ago by Tom
Denis
Denis
9 days ago
Reply to  Tom

When will eurofans realize that these song contests isnt about pleasing their desire to see every 2020 artist back?

Tom
Tom
9 days ago
Reply to  Denis

I am not eurofan and i understand that at least 10 acts from 2020 are not coming back (Arilena, Sandro, Elisa, Tom, Ulrike, Ben, Val, Damir, Diodato).. but its just not fair, imagine u would work for song so hard and you would win the selection and then they would tell u, thanks bye…

Denis
Denis
8 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Yes it’s unfair but that’s life. You move on with something else, you can’t just hold on to ESC like your career depends on it. As you say they work hard and they will work on something else just as hard.

Tom
Tom
8 days ago
Reply to  Denis

U would have reacted in same way, believe me bro!

Jofty
Jofty
9 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Or they could find the winning song and draft Ira Losco in to perform it at the final, sort of the opposite of what she did in 2016!

Tom
Tom
8 days ago
Reply to  Jofty

Wtf?

Alex
Alex
9 days ago

Lovely interview and I like the way he’s thinking. He might bring another victory for Norway in the following years.

I also like his approach about diverse music and the fact that you have to earn your spot in the shows, and not just quality purely because of your name.

I think Keiino’s song is one of the four strong songs he mentioned. The other one is probably Rein Alexander’s one.

I’d love to see Ulrike perform in the final and also duncan Laurence!

John
John
8 days ago
Reply to  Alex

I hope that they will give Ulrikke a chance to sing in the Final for exposure. What really screwed her was the voting controversy in the 2020 Final. Once they decided to have the full MGP this year it became impossible for her to enter because there would be perceived bias for her or against her. It’s interesting that KEiiNO seized on this and entered as they will now be basically playing the part of front-runner that otherwise Ulrikke could have played.

Last edited 8 days ago by John
Renske ten Veen
Editor
9 days ago

Such an interesting interview, I am excited to see the whole thing! I feel that Stig Karlsen is always trying to evolve MGP and I think that that helped with their efforts in recent years.

Denis
Denis
9 days ago

That “4 potential winners” quote might look as if the other songs are just fillers. But actually it is a very clever quote because it shows that Stig gets what it’s about: It’s not only a national selection aimed to find ESC winners but a national general music festival that promotes local industry. So it needs to have songs who are there to just give audience a good time!
This is what Melodifestivalen has been doing for years, yet some people still don’t get it and ask why comedy acts are “allowed”.

Last edited 9 days ago by Denis
Erasmus
Erasmus
9 days ago
Reply to  Denis

I’m sure people would have fun without them.. U can make interval acts fun – as Sanremo nobody is a joke act, but interval performances could be fun from time to time – and it’s the most watched program in Italy. Agree with the first part tho.

Frisian esc
Frisian esc
9 days ago
Reply to  Erasmus

I mean comedy songs do actually compete in san remo though like una vita vacanza.
One could argue the songs of franchesco gabbani also are partly comedic. You just don’t perceive it as a joke act because it is so good.

Last edited 9 days ago by Frisian esc
Kosey
Kosey
9 days ago

If we get something like “Attention”, I am going to be ecstatic. My feeling is that Rein Alexander is the one to watch out for, but let’s wait and see!

Una
Una
9 days ago

Very excited about the stage. I am eager for the experience. I cannot help but compare the experience (come Saturday) between MGP 2021 and DGP 2020. Both without audience but one with tailor-made stage (they could prepare for it, of course).

Joe
Joe
9 days ago

Stig’s one of the most intelligent and thoughtful HoD’s in the game. Norway’s very lucky to have him and his expertise.