‘Nobody believed in it’: Loreen thinks about the performance that changed the Eurovision song contest ten years later

A dark, empty stage. Suddenly flashing lights. Then, out of nowhere, a deafening siren that could be heard all over the world. For example, Swedish singer Loreen started her performance in the Eurovision Song Contest ten years ago.

The first time viewers saw Loreen, she was almost completely in the dark, barefoot and with her thick bangs up to her eyes, singing the opening lines of her song Euphoria.

For the next three minutes, her performance would feature strobe effects, a fake snowstorm, and choreography reminiscent of martial arts.

All of this ensured that Euphoria became an instant iconic performance and delivered Sweden the runaway victory over the competition that year. It also changed Eurovision in ways that will still be felt in 2022.

Before becoming one of the most recognizable participants in the Eurovision Song Contest, Loreen freely admits that she didn’t quite understand what the contest was about.

I was a hippie,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I didn’t know Eurovision, I didn’t have a television then.

“My life was basically about being in a spiritual place where I could meditate and work on it in that moment. Media, television and everything, that was not even in my sphere, and especially no competitions.”

When the Eurovision Song Contest entered her world, Loreen had already had a few flak with the music industry. After finishing fourth in the Swedish version of Pop Idol in 2004, she took part in Melodifestivalen for the first time in 2011, the Swedish selection show watched by about half the population, the year before her actual win.

Loreen notes, however, that these past experiences had left her feeling a little unsatisfied.

“A lot of things I did for Eurovision were actually a compromise,” she explains. “People who have ideas and thoughts about how I should be, and I try to live up to that. “See you in a minute,” “See you in a minute,” and I was like, “OK, OK, OK.” And it was painful to do that.”

Therefore, she says, when Eurovision came along, it was imperative that she take creative control and create the performance herself – without having to present it to anyone before it was fully realized.

As she puts it: “Nobody knew anything. They didn’t know what I had made. And they were terrified.

“Basically, this was my first performance that was actually a reflection of something that I really was. I wanted to prove that if you make something authentic, whatever it is, people will feel it if it comes from a real place. That was my main goal.”

Loreen says her Eurovision performance was intended as a celebration of "authenticity"
Loreen says her Eurovision performance was intended as a celebration of “authenticity”

Sergey Ponomarev/AP/Shutterstock

However, this journey to a truly “authentic” performance was not an easy one for Loreen.

“It was scary as fuck,” the singer recalled. “You feel so alone the moment you believe in something that… nobody believe otherwise in.”

Loreen remembers “a lot of pushback” from “all the people who had a financial interest in me,” who came up with their own suggestions for improving a performance she’d put her heart and soul into — which would have ended up taking away so many aspects of what made Euphoria so iconic.

“It was never aggressive, but it was still there,” she says. “Their ideas were like, ‘can you please wear shoes? Do you really have to walk barefoot? Maybe a pair of high heels? Something like that?’.

‘Or, ‘Can you just try turning on the lights so we can see your face? Or change the look?’ – because my bangs fell over my eyes I don’t understand how I could find my way on stage. ‘Can we make the song a little less spiritual and more cheerful? Can we just give you more makeup, maybe some red lipstick?’”

Things apparently came to a head the day before Loreen’s first performance of Euphoria, when she was told outright that one of the most distinctive details would have to disappear.

“The producer said to me, ‘We can’t have the siren in the beginning,'” she says. “And I said to him, ‘we need the siren at the beginning to neutralize the room’. He said, ‘If you have the siren, you’re going to kill the song’. Actually, I was told, ‘You’re putting the whole thing in jeopardy’.

“This was very late, I was exhausted, it was just before midnight, and he said, ‘It’s never going to work, Loreen.’ And so I said, ‘It’s either the siren or I’m gone’.”

Loreen admits there was "a lot of pushback" when it came to her performance, which ended up being one of the most iconic Eurovision Song Contest ever
Loreen admits there was “a lot of resistance” when it came to her performance, which went on to become one of the most iconic Eurovision shows ever

Loreen got her siren, but admits: “I remember thinking, ‘What have I done? What if it doesn’t work?’. You know, all those thoughts come when you’re really hard on your own intuition.”

As for the producer in question, he felt very different when he saw the finished product.

“To his credit, when he saw the performance he came to me with tears in his eyes – I know this sounds funky, but it really was what happened,” Loreen reveals. “He said, ‘I don’t know what to say, I’m so sorry, this is so beautiful and it doesn’t even matter if it wins or not’.”

Of course, neither Loreen nor her team need have worried. Euphoria crashed into a storm overnight, defeated the nearest competitor by almost 100 points and gave Sweden its fifth Eurovision victory.

“I really didn’t expect to win,” she emphasizes. “That wasn’t even important to me at the time. But I can’t even describe the spiritual feeling when I did.

“I stood there, and there was a connection between myself and the crowd, we were all together, we were all one. I know how that sounds, but it was a huge feeling. It wasn’t about ‘look at me and what I’ve made’, it was just a mutual understanding. And it was damn beautiful.”

She continues: “I was standing there with 50,000 people on the other side and they were so happy… because what I was presenting was spirituality in a forum where everything was just ‘glitter!’ is. And as a woman there are ‘high heels!’ and there’s ‘sexy!’ — and I love that, and I can be if I want to — but it was almost like people longed for things to be simple, clean, and raw.”

The impact of Euphoria is still strong ten years later, and it’s not hard to say that without Loreen modern winners like Jamala, Duncan Laurence and even reigning champion Måneskin may never have had their own Eurovision moments of glory.

Loreen celebrates her victory in Baku with the Swedish delegation in 2012
Loreen celebrates her victory in Baku with the Swedish delegation in 2012

Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA/Shutterstock

I think it’s made room for a different kind of music, a different way of doing things, a different kind of creator,” says Loreen. “It’s okay to be anything, and everyone is welcome on this forum. And that’s so damn cool.

“It just makes me so happy that the vision came true — when we have that energy of, ‘I really love this, this makes me happy,’ that energy is so powerful and it’s driving change.”

However, she is also quick to rule out the suggestion that she is better or “more credible” than all the more weird and wonderful acts that graced the Eurovision stage before her.

She explains: “Not many people know about this, but my upbringing, as a child, was pretty rough. Coming from where I come from, there is no judgment from me. There is no ‘credible’ or ‘not credible’.

“A lot of journalists at the time said, ‘Aren’t you a little too ‘good’ for this forum?’ and that made me angry. Like, ‘what the fuck are you talking about?’ Or, you know, ‘maybe these artists aren’t that serious?’ How the hell do you know? They may have worked on their stuff all their lives. This is their expression. What gives someone the right to decide whether it is ‘credible’ or not?”

As the 10th anniversary of her groundbreaking win approaches, Loreen says she’s feeling particularly nostalgic.

Loreen releases new music in 2022 to celebrate Euphoria's birthday
Loreen releases new music in 2022 to celebrate Euphoria’s birthday

She says: “Time goes too fast. Are u kidding me? 10 years? What happened?

“It feels unreal that it was so long ago, because sometimes I still feel that moment. It literally feels like it just happened. Although it is a thing of the past, it is still very much here with me, and everything I do. But I am also grateful, because looking back I understand how important it was.”

A decade later, Euphoria has more than earned its place in the Eurovision history books, and Loreen says she hopes the song’s message, performance and story behind both can still ring true today.

“When you’re different, you always have to endure this battle to fight for your ideas or for yourself,” she says. “It just scares people when someone says something different, looks different, has something different. It’s always like that, there’s always that resistance to change. And at the same time, the one thing you can’t change is change.

“What experience has taught me is that if you trust your first intuition, things will happen. It will work. You don’t need to know how, that’s not your job. But it will.”

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez via Getty Images

To celebrate the anniversary, Loreen is gearing up to release her first musical project in some time, led by her new single Neon Lights.

“This era is now about a character I created called ‘the Alpha Lady,'” she explains. “All these songs that start with Neon Lights are about this ‘superwoman’. I’m playing this avatar – a person I’d like to be, but am not. She’s basically the Euphoria character who evolved and turned into a warrior and a soldier, but with good values.”

And how will she celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Euphoria’s victory in private?

“I’m going to drink some wine,” she admits with a laugh. “A few bottles.”

Loreen’s new single Neon Lights is out now.

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