If you’re involved in a conversation surrounding Sweden’s Eurovision entries in the 2010s, one that isn’t favourably spoken about is 2017’s ‘I Can’t Go On’ by Robin Bengtsson.
Now there is some criticism towards this entry that isn’t Robins’s fault – he can’t control who votes for him – and this criticism is fair. People were bored of the Swedish male pop tracks that were consistently being chosen since Måns Zelmerlöw took the contest back to Stockholm after ‘Heroes’ won in 2015. But why is ‘I Can’t Go On’ always singled out as the entry disliked by most when we look at the Swedish entries of the last decade?
Defending a song that finished 5th probably does sound a little strange because obviously it was liked, otherwise, it wouldn’t have done so well. However, as someone who has seen multiple criticism’s surrounding this entry, I think it deserves someone to fight its corner.
Following on from what many have described as one of the strongest Melodifestivalen finals in 2016, all eyes were on 2017 to deliver. The list of names had people excited – we were introduced to acts such as FO&O, who have all gone on to enter solo in further editions with varying degrees of success in the contest (Felix Sandman more so than Oscar Enestad and Omar Rudberg), Benjamin Ingrosso, who went on to win Melfest 2018 with ‘Dance You Off’ and Nano, who was a favourite in both 2017 and 2019. We also had a large pool of returnees, some of which included Ace Wilder, who came 2nd in 2014 & 3rd in 2016, Wiktoria, who came 4th in 2016, Mariette, who came 3rd in 2015, 2016 7th placer Lisa Ajax, Finlands 2013 Eurovision artist Krista Siegfrieds, 1999 & 2008 winner & Melfest veteran Charlotte Perrelli and of course, 2016’s 5th placer Robin Bengtsson.
Now, this list of names is impressive and in any other year, there’d be varying degrees of hype for each. However in 2017, if the winner was based on fan reaction, no one else would stand a chance. If you’ve noticed, one name didn’t appear in the list above, cause quite frankly she deserves her own section. But why was there so much hype?
Because Loreen was back.
I need not remind you she won Melfest 2012 with ‘Euphoria’, which is still regarded as one of the greatest Eurovision winners, and one that changed the course of the contest for the future. Her return sparked excitement, and with her performing last in Heat 4 with ‘Statements’, it was clear she was being marked as one to watch.
Then the unthinkable happened. ‘Statements’ only made it to Andra Chansen. Now, only one song has won from AC, 2013’s ‘You’ by Robin Stjernberg. Not to worry, because she was against Anton Hagman, whose song ‘Kiss You Goodbye’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a Shawn Mendes album. It was almost obvious she was going to the final…until the results came in. Anton had beaten Loreen.
I could write a whole other article about this & the reaction that entailed, and with this article focusing on another act that year, I won’t dwell on that result too much. With the song & artist penned to be the biggest threat to win now out of the contest, who was taking the 2017 Melfest title? Cue Robin Bengtsson.
Robin Bengtsson was a newcomer to Melfest in 2016, and his song ‘Constellation Prize’ is still today widely regarded as his best entry. There was some hype over him coming back, but no one really saw him as a likely winner. When you’re up against fan favourites like Ace Wilder, Wiktoria & Mariette, you can find yourself not at the forefront of discussion. Going into the final, Robin was third in the odds to win, behind Nano & Wiktoria, and just ahead of Jon Henrik Fjällgren & Anina. His win shouldn’t have been a surprise, and it wasn’t – but not for the reasons of it being tipped to do well, but because it was classic Sweden at Eurovision. They’d found their formula in 2015, which seemed to be a good looking guy sending a radio-friendly pop song, so why would they stray from that? It clearly worked for them.
Eurovision 2017 isn’t a year fondly discussed by fans when looking over the last decade. It’s often paired with 2013 and 2011 as the “worst” contests of the decade, taking into account musical quality, staging and hosting. It was quite obvious by the week of Eurovision that Portugal’s momentum had grown to a point where their win was set in stone before the shows had even started, despite ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ being behind Bulgaria’s ‘Beautiful Mess’ in the winning odds – which came 2nd in the contest. For every other country, the contest was wide open. Moldova coming 3rd was a shock to many, the UK got their second-best result of the 2010s & 4th best result since 2000, Spain & Germany once again found themselves towards to lower end of the right side of the scoreboard & Italy came 6th – a result that any country should be proud of, but when you’re consistently called a potential winner in the lead up to the contest, not making the top 5 is a surprise.
Sweden flew a little under the radar that season. They were 6th in the odds to win, which is not a bad place to be. They opened Eurovision 2017, placing 3rd overall in Semi-Final 1 with 227 points (3rd in jury/4th in televote). In the final, they were at the other end of the running order, performing in 24th, coming after favourite Belgium’s ‘City Lights’, and before ‘Beautiful Mess’ from Bulgaria. A strong run of songs, and with both Bulgaria and Belgium having a little more momentum than Sweden, it had the potential to get lost. However, by the end of the voting, ‘I Can’t Go On’ had placed 5th with 334 points (3rd in Jury/8th in Televote). This was Sweden’s 4th consistent top 5 placing, 24th top 5 and 9th time placing 5th in the contest since their debut back in 1958. They were continuing their dominance as a powerhouse in Eurovision.
After the contest, Robin came under fire for an Instagram post in which he congratulated winner Salvador Sobral, but also made opposing comments about Salvador’s speech that he made after receiving the trophy.
We live in a world of disposable music; fast food music without any content. I think this could be a victory for music with people who make music that actually means something. Music is not fireworks; music is feeling. So let’s try to change this and bring music back.Salvador Sobral, Eurovision 2017
Now, we all have our opinions on Salvador’s comments & I think most of us have probably expressed them. However, many found it disrespectful that Robin said his comments were ‘below the level of a true winner’ & generally were just shocked that an artist who took part in the same contest would criticise the winner so soon after their victory. Music and opinions are subjective, and whether you agree with Robin or Salvador, it isn’t an excuse to attack either. Robins’s music style was exactly the type Salvador was taking a stance against, so his criticism of those comments is understandable – he was purely just defending his musical style. He also did praise Salvador, so the outrage may have been slightly taken out of proportion. This however did seem to turn the fandom’s opinion to be more negative towards him, and his Eurovision entry.
You can see what Robin had to say after the contest below.
Why Am I Defending ‘I Can’t Go On?’
I’m defending this song for three reasons.
Firstly, as mentioned at the start of this article – it’s my winner. The conversations I’ve had with people about 2017 usually end in them questioning why exactly this song is my first place. As someone massively into Swedish Male Pop music, I think it’s pretty self-explanatory – it’s exactly to my taste.
Secondly, after finding myself as one of the very few Melfest viewers this year who actually really liked Robin’s entry ‘Innocent Love’, and as someone who loves what he sent in 2020 (‘Take A Chance’) & 2016 (‘Constellation Prize’) too, I was inspired to take a look back at the one song that is often ranked towards the bottom of his entries by fans, even though that was the one that won Melfest.
Finally, it gets an unnecessary amount of hate, often not warranted. If you don’t like it then that is fine, but is it really the worst output from Sweden in the last decade? Are people just projecting because it beat their Melfest faves? It’s not Robin’s fault that he is successful with what some may describe as paint-by-numbers pop tracks, he may have entered Melfest with the intention to do well but he’s not responsible for the voting or results the other contestants received. Personally, for me, I know what it’s like to lose your favourites in national finals, especially in Melodifestivalen, where many of my own personal favourites haven’t made it to the final, or to the higher end of the scoreboard. However I do think after the national final ends, we need to start realising that despite not being able to continue to support the songs we liked most all the way to Eurovision, we don’t have to worry about their chances in the contest, and whether or not they’ll qualify – we get to enjoy the songs without the stress of pending results for almost 2 months. You have to look at songs in the Eurovision context after a national final is over, and compare them to those that are competing in ESC that year. When you look at ‘I Can’t Go On’, I do not think it is the worst entry of 2017, even without bias. It’s a well-produced pop song, with a solid performance. Robin has admitted himself that he’s not the best dancer, so yes, having to do even the most simple choreography on a treadmill for almost three minutes whilst ensuring your vocal is stable, in my opinion, deserves praise.
I could end the article here, but there’s just one thing I think may have slightly redeemed Robin in people’s minds…
Robin Bengtsson’s Twitter Account
Now, for two years ‘I Can’t Go On’ faded into Eurovision history. That was until January 28th 2019.
I could not do this article, without briefly mentioning this. If you’re not an active member of the Twitter fandom, it’s likely you either may not be aware of this specific Tweet or if you are, it’s probably been used as a reaction image of some kind.
Robin will regularly reply to fans and people who have something negative to say about him on Twitter, even if he isn’t mentioned directly. One interaction, regarding his Melodifestivalen 2017 result, provided something that has been quoted time and time again by the fandom ever since and inspired the excerpt of this article.
This reply still makes the rounds today and is used in a lot of different contexts. After this, ironically, Robin’s Twitter seemed to go silent for two years, with him returning slightly in 2021.
In 2022, he came back. He’d made it to the Melodifestivalen final. His song ‘Innocent Love’ divided opinions, and Robin came back stronger than ever to make his thoughts known about tweets people had made about him. He has admitted himself he’s there on Twitter to mainly reply to the rude tweets about him – which is a great way for him to deal with some of the abuse he gets from Eurofans.
Whatever you think of his song, his Twitter account has really made an impression & for a couple of days in February he’d returned himself back into the minds of fans, and his self-awareness does not go unnoticed, even if people don’t want to admit it. Being able to interact with an artist in any capacity through social media is fun & when they’re willing to give as good as they get back, it can often have a positive influence and change the minds of those who were originally a little less open to enjoying content from that person.
Overall, I think we need to start appreciating ‘I Can’t Go On’ a lot more. Sometimes we just have to enjoy music on its surface. I doubt I’ll change the mind of those who are so vehemently against it, but I hope to give others a different perspective. As he says himself, we take these contests more seriously than the artists, so let’s take a step back from our constant rankings and analysis and accept that’s what’s done is done, results can’t be changed & begin giving ‘I Can’t Go On’ a lot more love in future.
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