A dark, empty stage. Sudden flashing lights. Then, from nowhere, an ear-splitting siren that was heard around the globe. That’s how Swedish singer Loreen began her performance at the Eurovision Song Contest a decade ago.
The first time viewers saw Loreen, she was almost completely in darkness, barefoot and with her thick fringe down to her eyes, singing the opening lines of her song Euphoria.
Over the next three minutes, her performance would incorporate strobe effects, a fake snowstorm and choreography reminiscent of martial arts.
All of this helped make Euphoria an immediately-iconic performance, and gave Sweden the runaway win at the competition that year. It also changed Eurovision in ways that are still being felt in 2022.
Before she became one of Eurovision’s most recognisable contestants, Loreen freely admits she didn’t have much of a grasp of what the competition was about.
“I was a hippie,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I wasn’t aware of Eurovision, I didn’t even own a television at that time.
“My life was basically about being in a spiritual place where I could meditate and work on that at that time. Media, television and everything, that was not even in my sphere, and especially not competitions.”
When Eurovision entered her world, Loreen had already had a few brushes with the music industry. After finishing in fourth place in her native Sweden’s version of Pop Idol in 2004, she competed in Melodifestivalen – the Swedish selection show, which is watched by around half of the population – for the first time in 2011, the year before her actual win
However, Loreen notes that these past experiences had left her feeling a little dissatisfied.
“A lot of things I did before Eurovision were a compromise, basically,” she explains. “People having ideas and thoughts about how I should be, and me trying to satisfy that. ‘We see you like this’, ‘we see you like that’, and I was just like, ‘OK, OK, OK’. And it was painful to do that.”
That’s why, she says, when Eurovision came along, it was imperative that she took on creative control and create the performance herself – without having to present to anyone before it was fully realised.
As she puts it: “Nobody knew anything. They didn’t know what I’d created. And they were scared as fuck.
“Basically, this was my first performance that was actually a reflection of something that was really me. I wanted to prove that if you create something authentic, no matter what it is, if it comes from a real place, people will feel it. That was my main goal.”
However, this journey to a truly “authentic” performance was not an easy one for Loreen.
“It was scary as fuck,” the singer recalls. “You feel so alone in that moment when you believe in something that nobody else believes in.”
Loreen remembers “a lot of pushback” from “all the people that had some financial interest in me”, who came with their own suggestions of how to improve a performance she had put her heart and soul into – which would ultimately have taken away so many of the aspects of what made Euphoria so iconic.
“It was never aggressive, but it was still there,” she says. “Their ideas were like, ‘could you just please wear shoes? Do you really have to be barefoot? Maybe a pair of high heels? Something like that?’.
“Or, ‘could you just try to turn up the lights so we can see your face? Or change the look?’ – because my fringe was down over my eyes, I don’t understand how I could find my way around the stage. ‘Could we make the song a little bit less spiritual and more happy? 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 its most distinctive details was going to have to go.
“The producer said to me, ‘we can’t have the siren at the beginning’,” she says. “And I told him, ‘we need the siren at the beginning to neutralise the space’. He said, ‘if you have the siren, you’re going to kill the song’. Basically I was told, ‘you’re jeopardising the whole thing’.
“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 out’.”
Loreen got her siren, but admits: “I remember thinking, ‘what have I done? What if it doesn’t work?’. You know, all these thoughts you get when you’re really hard on your own intuition.”
As for the producer in question, he felt rather differently once he saw the finished product.
“To his credit, when he saw the performance he came up to me with tears in his eyes – I know this sounds funky but it really was what happened,” Loreen reveals. “He was like, ‘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 had any need to worry. Euphoria went down a storm on the night, beating its nearest competition by almost 100 points and giving Sweden its fifth Eurovision victory.
“I really didn’t expect to win,” she insists. “That was not even important to me at the time. But I can’t even describe the spiritual feeling when I did.
“I was standing there, and there was this connection between myself and the crowd, we were all together, we were all one. I know how that sounds – but it was a massive feeling. It was not about ‘look at me and what I’ve created’’, it was just a mutual understanding. And it was fucking beautiful.”
She continues: “I was standing there with 50,000 people on the other side and they were so happy… because what I presented was spirituality in a forum where everything is just ‘glitter!’. And as a woman, there’s ‘high heels!’ and there’s ‘sexy!’ – and I love that, and I can be that too if I want to – but it was almost as if people had longed for things to be simple and clean and raw.”
The impact of Euphoria is still in effect a decade later, and it doesn’t feel like a stretch to say that without Loreen, modern-day winners like Jamala, Duncan Laurence and even reigning champions Måneskin may never have had their own moments of Eurovision glory.
“I think it made room for another type of music, another way of doing things, another type of creator,” Loreen says. “It’s OK to be anything, and everybody is welcome in this forum. And that’s so fucking cool.
“It just makes me so happy that the vision came true – if we have that energy of, ‘I really love this, this makes me happy’, that energy is so powerful and it creates change.”
However, she’s also quick to shut down the suggestion she’s any better or more “credible” than any of the more weird and wonderful acts that have 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’m from, there’s no judgement from me. There’s no ‘credible’ or ‘not credible’.
“A lot of journalists at the time that were like, ‘aren’t you a little bit too ‘good’ for this forum?’ and that made me upset. Like, ‘what the fuck are you talking about?’. Or, you know, ‘these performers are maybe not so serious?’. How the fuck do you know that? They might have been working on their stuff for their whole life. This is their expression. What gives anyone the right to decide whether it’s ‘credible’ or not?”
As the 10th anniversary of her game-changing win approaches, Loreen says she’s feeling particularly nostalgic.
She says: “Time is moving too fast. Like, are you fucking kidding me? 10 years? What happened?
“It feels surreal that it’s been that long, because I still feel that moment sometimes. It literally feels like it just happened. Although it belongs to the past, it’s still very much here with me, and everything that I do. But also I feel thankful because looking back I understand how important it was.”
A decade on, Euphoria has more than earned its place in the Eurovision history books, and Loreen says she hopes the message of the song, the performance and the story behind both can still ring true today.
“When you’re different you always have to go through this struggle to fight for your ideas or for your own self,” she says. “It just scares people when somebody says something different, looks different, has something different. It’s always like that, there’s always this resistance to change. And at the same time, the one thing you can’t change is change.
“What the experience taught me, is that if you trust your first intuition, then things will happen. It will work out. You don’t have to know how, that’s not your job. But it will.”
To mark the anniversary, Loreen is gearing up to release her first musical project in some time, led by her new single Neon Lights.
“This era now is about a character I’ve created called ‘the Alpha Lady’,” she explains. “All of these songs starting with Neon Lights are about this ‘superwoman’. I’m playing this avatar – a person that I would love to be but am not. She’s basically the Euphoria character that has evolved and has turned into a warrior and a soldier, but with good values.”
And as for how she’ll be marking the 10-year anniversary of Euphoria’s win privately?
“I’m going to drink some wine,” she admits with a laugh. “A couple of bottles.”
Loreen’s new single Neon Lights is out now.