Måns Zelmerlöw masterminded one of the most memorable moments in the history of Swedish song contest Melodifestivalen with his performance of the uplifting Heroes. Obviously both the song and the vocals had to be strong – previous winners have included artists from ABBA to Loreen – but the visual spectacular took everyone by surprise.
An audience of millions watched as Måns sang the opening lines. But then the unexpected happened: a click of his fingers resulted in the apparition of a stick man with whom he interacted with for the rest of the track. What followed was a succession of stunning visuals as he donned virtual butterfly wings and spinned the world on its axis. No wonder it cruised into the competition’s final. The process started when Måns collaborated with Bounce Streetdance Company founder Fredrik Rydman and illustrator David Nordström to work on a performance that was based on 3D mapping technology. The idea was that the stickman (named after his childhood nickname MP) would represent a young Måns, and he would play the role of his friend who helped him through the problems that he experienced. Måns then spent almost two months rehearsing to ensure that every carefully orchestrated movement was perfected. Måns had competed in the event twice before, most recently in 2009. “I realised I wanted to try again,” he says. “Heroes is very modern, it has a really good message and it feels very international. I realised that we’d need to do a big show to accompany it. So I spoke to Fredrik and David, who are two of the most genius people I know.” Heroes is a culmination of a long period of reinvention for the musician. Born in Lund, he grew up listening to Michael Jackson and Elton John, and embraced the freedom of playing guitar after growing bored of learning the piano. As he approached his teens, music became part of his identity: initially a bit of an outsider, that all changed when his gang noticed that older girls appreciated his vocal ability. Enrolling in music school was the logical next step, but it didn’t work out as planned. “There were 200 people in my grade alone who were just as talented as I was, or maybe even more so,” he recalls. “I thought that what everyone had told me was true – it was a hard business and it was never going to work.” At the age of nineteen, Måns didn’t have a plan for his future. His friend insisted that he audition for Idol, and his cover of Enrique Iglesias’s Hero won over the panel. “It was my first time in Stockholm, and it was so much fun to be able to go to the coolest clubs. I focused on that more than the competition, but I still came fifth despite often singing pretty badly.” Afterwards, however, he was again lost. He repeatedly turned down offers to appear on Let’s Dance, and only relented after he discovered that it would be based on the format behind its American equivalent. Måns and his dance partner Maria Karlsson won the contest, and he was suddenly in demand: he took the lead role in Grease and soon earned a recording contract, at which point he started writing songs. His solo career was launched with his first attempt to win Melodifestivalen in 2007. Although he finished third, his debut single Cara Mia topped the charts and was soon followed by his debut album Stand By For… After extensive touring and a break in which he joined the cast of Footloose, his second collection MZW was released in 2009, with Hope & Glory another near winner at Melodifestivalen. “My first album was more in keeping with the style of Cara Mia, and my second was meant to be cooler and more adult,” he explains in regards to the growing maturity of his songwriting. “But both of them scream identity crisis! I wrote whatever I felt like and hoped that it all made sense.” Måns then focused on his work as a TV presenter. As he admits, “I tried to be more of a celebrity than an artist, but that’s not me at all.” Music eventually called once more, probably because he wasn’t under any pressure to release anything. He headed to Spain with some friends to record his 2014 album Barcelona Sessions which reflected his appreciation of the likes of Coldplay and Bryan Adams. “That’s an album that wasn’t very hit-orientated,” he begins with evident pride. “It was just about making music that we wanted to listen to, and writing lyrics that reflected my feelings and experiences over the years.” It was a risk: some fans would always prefer the old Måns. “We want the cheery guy back,” he laughs, but ultimately it widened his audience. Now he also meets fans who are his own age or older. His tour in support of it delivered further rewards: “On my previous tours I’d be dancing my shoes off and they still didn’t seem impressed. But now when I stood there just singing and playing guitar, people were like, oh my god, he can sing.” And yet that lurking desire to entertain returned, prompting him to recraft his approach. Heroes is an example of what he hopes to achieve with his next album which will be out later this year – a mix of the organic musicianship of the Barcelona sessions with the electronic influence of Heroes and a touch of the personality that helped him become so successful in the first place. “I’ve always been a fan of both Melodifestivalen and Eurovision, Eurovision is like the Super Bowl of music.” And most important, it would allow him to fulfil his dream of touring Europe with his band. “That’s one goal…” he concludes, trailing off mid-thought. “Actually, that’s the only goal!” And it’s a dream that’s a small step away from becoming reality. Måns Zelmerlöw masterminded one of the most memorable moments in the history of Swedish song contest Melodifestivalen with his performance of the uplifting Heroes. Obviously both the song and the vocals had to be strong – previous winners have included artists from ABBA to Loreen – but the visual spectacular took everyone by surprise.