At 20.00 every Tuesday in summer, about one million Swedes turn on their televisions to watch their country’s unlikely broadcasting hit. What they’re tuning in for is not a reality format or special-effects bonanza – this is a programme that has stayed almost unchanged for decades.
As soon as the familiar melody of Allsång på Skansen starts playing, people begin singing along to the theme tune. Indeed, chiming in with the music is the whole point of the show. With a title that translates to Singalong at Skansen, this is one of the last bastions of old-school television entertainment, consisting of nothing more than indulging Swedes’ penchant for communal crooning.
Families congregate on their sofas and belt out their favourite tunes with the help of lyrics on the screen. Those heading to Skansen itself (the open-air museum in Stockholm where the show is broadcast) can buy a lyrics booklet for the evening’s show. Tonight about 20,000 people have gathered for the live event. Many have stood in line for hours to get the best spots. A group of middle-aged women start jumping as the equally middle-aged pop group ges take the stage with their 1994 hit, “When we Dig for Gold in the USA”.
Moments later, girls raise homemade signs in support of Linda Pira, a hip-hop artist who performs her latest release dressed in a camouflage bra and cargo pants. Family entertainment has many forms – and Allsång på Skansen has room for most of them. Originally a stage show at Skansen in 1935, it moved onto small screens in 1979 and is now a permanent feature of public broadcaster SVT’s summer schedule.
“I feel safe when I’ve watched the show,” says Heli Thorén, an Allsång fan. “It makes me happy, the atmosphere is unique and positive.” That such a vintage-flavoured programme can captivate a varied roster of viewers is no surprise to SVT’s entertainment director Thomas Hall. “The audience is part of the show and it’s a powerful experience to sing together,” he says. “Singing in a choir is one of Sweden’s biggest hobbies.” About 600,000 Swedes do just that and their number is increasing.
The producers have, however, also made steps to entice new viewers by bringing contemporary pop to the party. “A younger audience found the programme – but the older ones stayed true as well,” says Hall. “There’s something for everyone, regardless of age. That’s part of our job as a public-service channel.”
In 1938, the poet Gunnar Mascoll Silfverstolpe said of the show: “Maids, nurses, carpenters, teachers and sailors sing themselves free from loneliness and inhibitions, from chagrin, worries and sorrows, in a light and natural togetherness.” All that is still true but today you can add stockbrokers, IT programmers and Uber drivers to the list.
“A feeling of belonging and of creating something together is born during the show,” says Hall. “We’re taking care of a joint cultural heritage.”