Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! Speaking as someone who wasn’t ready for Christmas (although I still managed to get all of my shopping done on time), I’m sure as heck not ready for 2016 to become 2017. But it’s happening, so I’m going to use the last few hours of the year to have a massive Throwback Thursday extravaganza…on a Saturday. I like to live dangerously.
As always, the past twelve months have been very exciting ones, full of ups and downs, for us Eurovision freaks (no offence intended by that terminology. I say let your freak flag fly!). But unless you want to drown your sorrows and wake up tomorrow morning with a huge hangover and feeling the remorse than Frans Jeppsson-Wall does not, I suggest focusing on the highlights rather than the lowlights. That’s what I’m doing here and now for my last post of the year: counting down a few of my favourite things from the 2015/2016 NF season, Eurovision 2016, and Junior Eurovision 2016. These were the songs/artists/results/events et cetera that had me hollering ‘Say yay yay yay!’ instead of a Michele Perniola-style ‘No’. Check out my picks and then let me know which moments made you a happy fan in 2016.
Let’s make like Hannah Mancini + love by diving straight in!
#10 | Better late than never: The Czech Republic finally makes it to an ESC final
The Czech Republic hasn’t had the driest of dry spells when it comes to Eurovision. It’s true that they hadn’t qualified from a semi until this year, but they did only compete five times between 2007 and 2016 (ten tries with zero qualifications would be a far more depressing statistic). Still, it was nothing less than a fist-pump moment when the country clawed their way out of Stockholm’s first semi final – for me, at least, because I love a good Cinderella story. I Stand isn’t one of my favourite entries from this year, and in Jaz’s Argo-inspired utopian land, Estonia’s Play would have replaced it in the semi’s top 10 (despite the creep factor). However, I do think that it deserved a spot in the final more than any of the Czech entries that came before it, so…go Gabriela! You’ve broken the drought.
#9 | The real fan favourites of Eurovision 2016: Zoë, the contest princess + Serhat, the cult superstar
It’s never just the songs of an ESC that get fans frothing at the mouth (and sometimes down south, if I may be so saucy). Often, it’s the personalities performing them who get tongues wagging and cause social media follows to flood in. In that respect, the real winners of Eurovision 2016 were Austria’s Zoë and San Marino’s/Turkey’s Serhat. Zoë earned an army of fans thanks to her general gorgeousness, being bubblier than a bottle of champagne and being the closest thing to a Disney princess we’ve ever seen at the contest. Serhat had people on the ground in Sweden stalking him for photos on a Sergey Lazarev level because I Didn’t Know was so bad it was *almost* good – and though we didn’t know whether he knew that or not, we did know that he was bringing his own brand of swag to the proceedings. Both artists brought a bit of old-timey ESC to 2016, and owned the shiz out of it. As such, I’m hopping off the train at Admiration Station here.
#8 | If it’s good enough for Christer, it must be pretty damn good: Belarus brings out the big guns for JESC + wins over Björkman
This is random, but sometimes it’s the little things that make you jump for joy, or at least do a tiny hop for happiness. Belarus brought their signature youthful spunk to Junior Eurovision this year, which has won them the contest twice before and nabbed them a handful of great results. An extra ingredient for 2016 was the humble household hoverboard, a fleet of which were navigated effortlessly by Alexander Minyonok and his dancers in Valletta. The gimmick was there, the choreography was slick, the vocals were on point…overall, this was a polished and entertaining package that harked back to the more childlike JESCs of the mid-2000s. And you know who acknowledged that? Mr. Christer Björkman. He was the only expert juror to award Belarus one of his top scores, and his precious douze at that, rewarding an entry that put the Junior into Junior Eurovision. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy seeing a formidable force in the ESC-verse hand his highest points to Belarus.
#7 | A tiny island changes their tune for the better: Malta swaps Chameleon for Walk On Water
I’m not too keen on national finals that stipulate a change in song is (not perfect, but) a-ok after a particular artist/song combo has already won. It feels a bit like cheating on the public and/or juries that chose the original song as The One (and also, WTH is the point of holding an NF? Just opt for an internal selection if that’s how you want to play it). However…Malta’s move from the MESC-winning Chameleon – performed by inevitable singer Ira Losco – to the Swedish penned and produced Walk On Water was an excellent action to take. Chameleon, while catchy, was suffering from an identity crisis, and wasn’t exactly cutting-edge pop music. Walk On Water knew exactly what it was – powerful soul-pop peppered with gospel and electronic sounds that allowed Malta to hold their own against the likes of Russia and Australia. Still not sold? Well, if it wasn’t for the switch, we wouldn’t have experienced the sheer joy of a liquid-filled USB stick with #WOW stamped on it *mic drop*.
#6 | All out of luck: Bosnia & Herzegovina + Greece lose their 100% qualification records
Before you start hurling abuse at me, let me explain why the 2016 non-qualifications of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece were a highlight of my year. I have nothing against either of these countries, and I was actually quite disappointed to see the unique Utopian Land left behind in its semi final. But because it was, alongside Ljubav Je, countries who advance to the final every year can now no longer assume their safety. That, I think, is a good thing. It proves that bloc/diaspora voting can’t be relied upon (despite what some people outside the ESC bubble believe); and that if your entry is worse than ten others you’re competing against, you’re out, no matter who you are. So, from big hitters like Russia to residents of Struggle Town like San Marino, everybody needs to bring something delicious to the Eurovision buffet table, or they’ll be tossed straight into the trash. And anything that keeps the level of musical quality sky-high in the contest gets a thumbs-up from me.
#5 | The comeback king (and queen) who kicked butt: The triumphant artist returns of the 2016 adult contest
These days, every Eurovision seems to bring with it a crop of artists that we’ve seen before. They end their second/third/fifteenth attempts at gaining ESC glory in different ways, and this year was no different in that sense. But it’s the success stories that I like to focus on rather than the fails (Deen, Greta Salomé and Kaliopi – sorry, but I’m “skinning you out”). The abovementioned Ira Losco may have gotten Malta back in the final, but she couldn’t come close to equaling or topping her 2002 second place (I think it was the lack of glitter-blowing). So it was up to Poli Genova and Donny Montell to fly the ‘We outdid ourselves!’ flag for Bulgaria and Lithuania respectively…and boy, did they ever. Donny’s goal was to beat Love Is Blind’s 14th place from 2012, and he did so by finishing 9th and giving his country their best result since 2006. Poli went from a DNQ in 2011 to achieving Bulgaria’s first qualification in nearly a decade, followed by their best result ever. Bravo, you two!
#4 | Never mind the colour of your life – let’s talk the colour of success: Poland picks Michał Szpak over Margaret, regrets nothing
One of the most shocking happenings of the 2015/2016 selection season was Margaret and her monster hit Cool Me Down NOT being Poland’s entry of choice for Stockholm. Even those of us who were immune to Margaret’s charms (i.e. me) figured she was a shoo-in to win Krajowe Eliminacje – and if she had an off night, surely Edyta Górniak would step in? Um, no. Jaws dropped globally as Michał Szpak and his majestic mane won the NF with ease (nearly 36% of the public vote, to be precise). Surfing on a sea of haters and doubters shouting ‘IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MARGARET!’, he went on to qualify to the Eurovision final….and then came the voting sequence to end all voting sequences. Your moment of the night might have been when Russia tried but failed to push past Australia and Ukraine at the last second to win, but mine? Poland’s ultimate leapfrog over TWENTY countries into 6th place – thanks to the televoters – which led to an eventual 8th-place finish. Now that’s #WOW.
#3 | Edward af Sillén’s way with words: The entire Eurovision 2016 script
As a writer, I always find myself paying more attention than most to the scripting of Eurovision. I rarely find the hosts’ dialogue to be above average, excluding the perfection that was 2007 (Jaana and Mikko are my all-time favourite host duo) and 2013. The common ground between 2013 and 2016, besides Petra Mede? Screenwriter and genius Edward af Sillén. The man behind the words of Oslo 2010 and Malmö 2013 outdid both of his previous ESC gigs this year with a hilarious host script. Not only was it packed with banter that highlighted the chemistry between Petra and Måns, it also used humour to push the limits of what flies during a family entertainment program – which I love. Then there was ‘That’s Eurovision!’ – one of the best semi openers in history – and the now iconic ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, which we’ll still be singing when the next Swedish-hosted ESC takes place (probably in 2018). Basically, anything we heard in Stockholm that af Sillén had put down on paper was smart, sassy, and memorable. It played a big part in what I believe to be one of the best contests ever.
#2 | Beating Europe at their own game: Australia wins the jury vote and finishes second in Stockholm
If you thought this Australian was going to list her personal highlights of the Euro-year and NOT mention Dami Im, you were sadly mistaken. Until it actually happened, I had no idea that she was capable of giving us such an incredible result in our second year of contest participation. Guy Sebastian’s 5th place last year was awesome enough, but Dami almost winning the comp when Australia is still a newbie being made to feel quite unwelcome by some (which is understandable, but we’re here to stay so PLS STAHP) topped it by a mile. For a year, I was crushed that I couldn’t be in Vienna to see us compete for the first time. But then I made it to Stockholm to watch Dami nail her final performance, and I felt the support from a crowd of countless nationalities. After that, I got to witness her top the jury vote and wondered if I was about to see an unprecedented Aussie win of the whole contest. I didn’t, which as a Jamala devotee didn’t bother me too much. But I was there when we proved how seriously we take Eurovision, and when we scored ourselves such an amazing spot on the scoreboard. In hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing.
#1 | Yasligima toyalmadim, men bu yerde yasalmadim: Jamala, 1944 and the ESC
Now we’ve arrived at my number one “thing” (song, artist, event…whatever), and fittingly, the only thing that could beat Dami’s epic Eurovision effort is the story of the entry that actually beat her in the competition. I wasn’t thrilled when I found out that Jamala was trying to represent Ukraine again, five years on from the 2011 Mika-Zlata-Jamala Incident. That’s because Smile made me do the opposite. Still, I cued up 1944 the first chance I got, not expecting to like what could have been a carbon copy of Smile. Three minutes later, my mind had been blown. I felt connected to the haunting, experimental beauty of 1944 immediately, drawn to its combination of vulnerability and strength, and the pain unleashed by Jamala as she told her grandmother’s story through song. It was magic, and I felt that from first listen through to the, ahem, *interesting* Ukrainian NF, then on to Eurovision. Every time she performed, it was as heartfelt as ever, and never has a vocal possessed such emotion and sincerity while still knocking our socks off with its sheer power. The overall impact of 1944 won Ukraine their second ESC trophy – and it was a victory not of gimmicks or of a personality, but of a song that meant something. Even now I can’t hear those first few bars without tearing up…which is why I never listen to it in public. Thank you for the music, Jamala. I’ll get some tissues ready for your reprise in Kyiv.
Congratulations, you made it to the end of this marathon countdown! If it’s past midnight wherever you are, then Happy New Year – I’m sorry you spent it trying not to fall asleep while I rambled my little heart out. If it’s still pre-midnight, then you have time to salvage the evening, so I’ll wrap things up by wishing you all the best for the start of 2017 (and the middle and end, obviously). Whether you’re celebrating by partying it up Russian granny style, tuning in to the ESC 250, or lying on the floor in the foetal position weeping because you failed to keep your New Year’s resolutions (which one am I? I’ll never tell), enjoy yourself.
I’ll see you next year for another January-December filled with Eurovision. In the meantime, don’t forget to fill me in on your NF/ESC/JESC highlights of 2016. I definitely didn’t keep my resolution to be less nosy, so I want to know everything.
It’s creeping ever closer, people! If you don’t know what I mean by ‘it’, then I have to question why you’re reading this blog. For those who do know, you’ll also be aware that the Eurovision 2016 stage is taking shape inside the Globe Arena, and that means more reviewing must be done before it resembles the diagrams we oohed and aahed over a little while ago. It’s still mostly scaffolding at this point – but there’s no time to waste! Let’s say hej to today’s judges, and to the countries they’ll be discussing in this third installment of reviews.
By now, you guys should know where to meet and greet the EBJ Jury, so I won’t tell you again (well, maybe just one more time. Hint: scroll up!). James, Martin and myself are about to complement and criticise the life out of Albania, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and San Marino – or, as I like to call them (because we’re all best buddies), Eneda, Jüri, Jamie-Lee, Donny, Douwe Bob and Serhat. Who’ll be our favourite, and will any country other than the predictable one be our LEAST favourite? Settle down with some popcorn and find out now!
James Okay, I feel like I’m going to be in the minority here when I say I actually think the revamp has improved Albania’s song this year…instrumentally, at least. Fairytale 2.0 sounds a lot more professional than Përrallë did – the only issue I have is that Eneda’s new vocal somehow sounds like she recorded it right after waking up from a three-hour nap, and quite fancied getting straight back to bed as soon as she was done. I’m hoping she really attacks it live because even with its lucky running order position, it’s gonna need a LOT of extra energy if it’s to stand ANY chance of making it to Saturday night. The English lyrics aren’t brilliant, I must admit, but that’s never been an issue in the past *cough, undo my sad, cough*. As a song though, I do enjoy listening to Fairytale, and the hook does stick with me. I’d be happy to see Albania in the final with this.
Martin Swapping from Albanian to English, along with losing forty-five seconds of the FiK version of Fairytale, is going to lead to yet another non-qualification for Albania – much in the same way as it did for Hersi in 2014. What was a powerful and passionate emotional rollercoaster with lots of interesting nuances in Tirana has now lost it all and become a repetitive low-key ballad that no longer holds my attention.
Jaz Albania seem to have forgotten fast that a fully-Albanian language entry gave them their best-ever Eurovision result. Obviously, it’s well within their rights to sing in whatever language they like – but I can’t help feeling that ANY language other than English would have helped Eneda’s Fairytale retain the mystery and intrigue that it initially had (and in doing so, you might say, made it a Fairytale with a happy ending). Like Martin, I can’t say that this song, in its English incarnation, is anything special – whereas it was when it was known as Përrallë. Language gripes aside, I still rate the gritty, rocky sound (and how it contrasts with Eneda’s/Kate Winslet’s ladylike styling), and the melody and construction of the choruses is still interesting (we’re rarely on the receiving end of cookie-cutter stuff from Albania). But, without the air of ‘Ooh, what’s this all about then?’ that the original version of the song created, I cannot see this qualifying. Not unless a handful of other countries stumble and fall flat on their faces, that is.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 5
- Fraser 5
- James 5
- Jaz 6
- Martin 5
- Nick 2
- Penny 6
- Rory 8
- Wolfgang 6
Albania’s EBJ Jury score is…5.33
James Aagh, Estonia. I genuinely still don’t know what I think of Play yet. It’s definitely one of the most original songs in this year’s line-up, and it’s fresh and relevant whilst oozing the kind of timeless classiness that Estonia are so good at of late. The thing I’m not so sure about is Jüri’s voice – if the song had been written a couple of semitones higher, it would be in a much more comfortable place for him. This is something I’m all too familiar with from trying to record covers myself – literally, if someone from his team could just whack the karaoke version into Audacity and change the pitch up a bit, everything would be fine! He still sings it perfectly well, of course, but there’s not a single point in the song where he has the chance to break out of that sludgy lower register and show off the full extent of his vocal capabilities, and the overall effect is far too dark, in my opinion. Yes, I know it’s MEANT to be like that, but I don’t think it really works. Especially live – the melody is so low that it blends in with the track and obscures a lot of the meaning, which is a shame since the lyrics are one of the song’s highlights. I still think it’s got a pretty good shot at qualifying, though, and it’s definitely going to stand out, one way or another.
Martin With a passing nod to the vocal style of Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy, Jüri brings chic and coolness to Eurovision with a very laid-back and confident performance, together with a song that builds nicely and has a memorable chorus. Play just lacks a ‘wow’ moment that would definitely confirm a final place, and a possible top half finish for Estonia. Because of that, this could be one of the ‘better’ casualties of this year’s semi finals.
Jaz Estonia has pulled a Latvia this year, selecting a song written by their 2015 representative to fly their flag (I’ll be swapping the countries around and saying the same thing about Latvia when the time comes). While I’d put Love Injected on par with Heartbeat in the ‘How freaking awesome is this?’ department, I’d actually rank Goodbye To Yesterday a little lower than Jüri’s Play. That’s not because I hate GTY (I don’t, although it never topped my rankings) but because I LOVE Play. Jüri + this song = a performance by a more well-groomed and more intense version of Hozier, and it is soaked with smoky retro sophistication. This kid (I can call him that since he’s younger than me and my mental age is akin to that of a teenager) might look angelic, but when he’s on stage, those of us watching him aren’t sure whether he wants to skin us alive or if he’s just really, really in the zone. I like the fact that he’s so ‘in character’ as he works his way through a song that literally hits all the notes that Bond-inspired vintage-vibe pop should. Of all the throwback songs that will be showing up in Stockholm this year (‘all’ meaning, like, three or four) this is the most well-executed IMO, and it almost serves as a prequel – or sequel, depending on how the listener writes the story – to GTY, as an added bonus. Though I doubt Jüri will squeeze out a single tear á la Elina Born at Eurovision, I don’t doubt his ability to take Stig’s song to the final…and perhaps secure Estonia another top 10 result as well.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 12
- Fraser 6
- James 5
- Jaz 10
- Martin 7
- Nick 4
- Penny 8
- Rory 6
- Wolfgang 5
Estonia’s EBJ Jury score is…7
James I should absolutely adore this. It’s got that modern synth-pop sound with a waif-like female lead vocal, which I usually really dig…but something about Ghost just doesn’t click with me. Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments – I like the bridge, for example, and the chords in the ‘lonely in a crowded room together’ line. But on the whole, that chorus is such an anti-climax, isn’t it (please say somebody agrees with me?). It’s still a decent enough song, but I guess I just feel a bit miffed every time I hear it because I feel like it could have been soooooo much better! I hope it grows on me, and it probably will when I get the CD and actually let myself play all the songs to within an inch of their lives…but until then, it’s mid-table at best for me. Sorry, Germany.
Martin Melancholic lyrics, an atmospheric score and hauntingly powerful vocals were all at odds with the visual package of an 18-year-old girl obsessed with manga outfits! ‘The Voice of Germany’ was totally the focus of the national final performance of Ghost and rightly so. Jamie-Lee’s simple but sublime delivery of this entry could be the sleeper hit this year in Stockholm. One of my favourites – it’s my number 4 at this stage.
Jaz I don’t want to get overly-attached to Jamie-Lee and her Ghost, given what happened in the wake of me latching on to Ann Sophie’s Black Smoke (I’m beginning to think I’m a bad luck charm). But…this song is brilliant! Hashtag fail on the ‘keep your distance’ thing! I’m no musical expert – which you may find hard to believe – but I think that technically-speaking, this is one of the best songs competing in this year’s contest. The background music is almost church hymn-like, which adds a pleading but accepting tone to the words pouring out of Jamie’s mouth; while the steady beat makes the whole thing hypnotic. As a package, the music and lyrics are fresh and edgy, and Eurovision needs those adjectives. However, what we see rather than hear is where Germany has gone wrong. I know Jamie-Lee loves her K-pop and her Harajuku-inspired outfits (in other words, Gwen Stefani would adore her) – but not only does her choice of costume detract from a song it just isn’t suitable for, it also makes for a jarring combination of a mature, emotionally-charged song being performed by someone who looks distinctly Junior Eurovision, and therefore far too young to have an understanding of what she’s singing about. Jamie, sans stuffed-toy-covered wardrobe, does have the maturity required to pull this off despite her young age, and her vocal talents are undeniable. But dressing the way she does, she’d be better off joining Dolly Style when one of their current members inevitably departs, or performing a song that is as fun, cute and playful as she looks. To people not named Jaz, the contrast between Ghost and Jamie’s sartorial selections might make her stand out positively from her 25 fellow finalists – but I think, as much as I admire her passion for and loyalty to her look, keeping it for Eurovision is a big risk. I do love the song though…
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 8
- Fraser 5
- James 5
- Jaz 10
- Martin 10
- Nick 12
- Penny 6
- Rory 4
- Wolfgang 10
Germany’s EBJ Jury score is…7.78
James Okay, yes, this has ‘Melfest Reject’ written all over it, but you know what? I don’t mind at all. One thing I really look for in Eurovision now is relevance. As I’m hosting a Eurovision party for all my non-fan friends, I get really excited when there are songs that sound like they’d fit right into the UK charts or radio playlists right now, because then I can point at the screen and go ‘SEE? EUROVISION’S NOT SHIT!’ and smile smugly as all my friends listen and can’t help but agree, because songs like Lithuania’s match their own tastes and would do so well if released by someone more well-known over here. So yeah, well done Lithuania! Ever since Attention, which I ADORED, they’ve really upped their game at Eurovision, and I’m enjoying their commitment to giving Europe the very best that their country can offer! Another thing though – have you heard any of Donny’s more recent music? Because damn, boy, he’s so much better now than when he sang that god-awful thing at the ESC in 2012! He’s got a really slick Troye Sivan/The Weeknd kind of vibe going on (think Aminata/Loïc Nottet if you want a contest reference) and it really suits his voice and style. I sort of wish he’d entered something more like that for Eurovision, but meh – I’ve Been Waiting… is more than good enough as it is!
Martin Donny gives this entry everything – it’s definitely memorable, it’s a standout high-tempo pop song that is performed superbly well, and it makes full use of his onstage charisma and good looks. Is the song’s title also a good omen for Lithuania? Donny could well be singing ‘I’ve been waiting for this night’ over the credits of the Eurovision final as his country’s first winner.
Jaz How does a pasty, preppy dude whose hobbies include strumming an imaginary guitar and wearing comical bejeweled blindfolds transform into a buff, bronzed and blonde (for the most part) crowd-captivator? Why not ask Donny Montell? He’s done just that between 2012 and 2016. Don’t get me wrong – Love Is Blind was the bomb, and Donny has always been a showman and a half, who can dance and sing simultaneously to a degree that probably makes Eric Saade very depressed indeed. But it’s great to see that Donny has evolved as an artist, and that he didn’t try to make an ESC comeback by repeating his approach of four years ago. I’ve Been Waiting For This Night is a bog-standard dance anthem, but the catchy chorus coupled with Donny’s charisma elevate it to above-average. Not since Kurt Calleja’s This Is The Night have we witnessed an entry that sets the tone for the show so perfectly (although Tonight Again did a darn good job of that in Vienna, I must say). Needless to say, the Globen audience (which will include me!), plus everyone watching on TV will be partying it up-up-up-up-up-uuup Loreen-style thanks to Lithuania. I am expecting them to qualify, and I will be complaining very loudly if they don’t. Oh, and I’ll also be starting a petition to get Donny to drop the Anglicised stage name and revert back to his much cooler birth name. ‘Donny’ worked with Love Is Blind. ‘Donatas’ is the artist IBWFTN deserves.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 3
- Fraser 10
- James 6
- Jaz 8
- Martin 8
- Nick 5
- Penny 6
- Rory 3
- Wolfgang 10
Lithuania’s EBJ Jury score is…6.55
James Anyone who knows me will know that I absolutely love Calm After The Storm. So I guess when we worked out that by sending Douwe Bob, The Netherlands were going to be trying country music again, I was cautiously optimistic. And then I heard the song. Yeah, no. It’s the kind of thing that would only feel at home around the track 12 mark on disc two of some cheap ‘Driving Anthems’ compilation: the kind my Dad would play on long car journeys circa 2004. As a result, Slow Down just makes me think of those car journeys as a kid and I get a weird second-hand travel-sickness from it and…yeah, I just really don’t like it. The chord pattern, the instrumentation, the tone of the whole thing – it’s supposed to make you feel happy, but by the third line I just want to Sellotape Bob’s smug little mouth shut so he ‘can’t go on’ (see what I did there? Eh, eh?). Can I just stop listening to this and go listen to Calm After The Storm again instead please? That was such a special song. This is not.
Martin Country & western returns to Eurovision courtesy of the Netherlands yet again – it’s always about the lyrics, as this genre can sound like every other C & W track you’ve ever heard. Slow Down is well sung, and Douwe Bob is personable and handsome…but the steady pace and sound of the song won’t stand out in Stockholm. Another possible ‘good’ non-qualifier for me.
Jaz I have to agree with both James and Martin on this one, in terms of the fact that Douwe Bob’s Slow Down is achingly average – and it certainly doesn’t recapture the magic of Calm After The Storm (though you can’t blame the Netherlands for trying to in the wake of the Trijntje incident). The song’s not bad (we’ll come to one that is almost undeniably so in a minute). But, as much as I enjoy the cruisy pace and general jauntiness of it, plus Bob’s insistence that we chillax bro – and his vocal, which is super-smooth with a rough retro edge that I find strangely attractive – the entry as a whole just doesn’t ‘do’ much for me. Therefore, I have no choice but to file it away with the likes of Finland and the Czech Republic. I can’t imagine that the staging for this will be epic enough to make Douwe Bob the second coming of the Common Linnets, because even on its own, their song had the x-factor. Still, he should serve us up a nice, clap-friendly three minutes on stage (and if he lets that rose tattoo poke out of his shirt, you may hear me wolf-whistling amidst the applause). That should at least ensure that he won’t be bottom of his semi. Qualification isn’t out of his reach, but it’s definitely not in the bag.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 7
- Fraser 6
- James 3
- Jaz 6
- Martin 7
- Nick 5
- Penny 10
- Rory 3
- Wolfgang 3
The Netherlands’ EBJ Jury score is…5.55
James Okay…is this a joke? Like, genuinely, I hope this is a joke, because if not, it’s just plain embarrassing. I cannot comprehend how one country can send so many palpably half-arsed entries in such a short space of time. I completely understand that San Marino are strapped for cash, and since Ralph Siegel has stopped bankrolling their entire Eurovision operation (hallelujah!) they’ve adopted the approach of nominating artists who can pay their own participation fee. So that essentially means they’ve got the pick of, oh, I don’t know, EVERY SLIGHTLY RICH ARTIST IN THE ENTIRE CONTINENT – hey, actually no, THE ENTIRE WORLD…and they’ve sent THIS. Was this really the best they could do? The original was dire, but by trying to squash Serhat’s badly-written, cringey, lopsided spoken words (that is not singing. I’m sorry, but no) into a DISCO TRACK, they’ve somehow managed to make it even worse. The beat itself, well, erm, Baccara called and they want that back ASAP. But dear lord, Serhat’s voice is the most grating thing in the entire Stockholm line-up! My dog has a bigger vocal range than he does. I’d literally rather spend three minutes listening to her barking right in my ear for her daily Dentastick, and deal with the copious amount of drool that accompanies such a request, than listen to any track with Serhat’s voice on it. Look at his face and then Google the troll face, and tell me they’re not distant cousins at the very least. This HAS to be a pisstake, right? It goes without saying that they haven’t got a hope in hell of qualifying, and if they do – ESPECIALLY if they take the place of someone like Gabriela from the Czech Republic – then there is something very, very wrong with this contest. Come on, San Marino. Sort yourselves out for next year, I beg you!
Martin The Turkish Leonard Cohen meets Studio 54! What would have been a very creepy monotone delivery of a set of ‘obsessive’ lyrics by Serhat is now tempered by some decent female backing, and the light and breezy disco beat that somehow makes this work. I Didn’t Know isn’t great (that’s an understatement!) but at least it’s now bearable to listen to. And, it’s no longer my worst entry this year (just).
Jaz I’ll be honest, and I think many of you will agree with me on this: I’ve never had particularly high expectations of San Marino’s Eurovision entries. Whether they’ve been armed with Siegel’s stash of cash or not, I’ve never been on the edge of my seat waiting for them to produce something on par with an Italian effort (I’m not a Valentina Monetta fan either, which doesn’t help). Even so, the sheer awfulness of I Didn’t Know has sent my jaw straight to the floor countless times since it was unveiled in its original, non-disco form. Like James, I was sure San Marino were trolling us when they presented the song to the public – how else could you explain the so-stale-it-was-growing-stuff track that sounded more like a recording of an audio book gone wrong than a song, or the laughable accompanying video clip that could have been lifted from an SNL sketch? But sadly, it wasn’t a joke. Then, just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, I Didn’t Know was given the Donna Summer treatment, and OH DEAR GOD. This is what media outlets and non-fans will latch on to when they want to make a mockery of the contest. They won’t ignore it in favour of discussing Latvia or France – they’ll zone directly in on Serhat and his Seventies nightmare (thanks a lot, San Marino/Turkey). Based superficially on his appearance, I had hoped for a trumpet-backed, updated version of Mambo No. 5 from this guy, which would have been a bit of fun. But what we got instead more closely resembles something you’d step in by mistake at the local dog park. In the words of His Majesty Michele Perniola (whose 2015 entry is suddenly sounding like musical genius by comparison), NO.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 8
- Fraser 5
- James 0
- Jaz 1
- Martin 4
- Nick 1
- Penny 2
- Rory 1
- Wolfgang 0
San Marino’s EBJ Jury score is…2.44
Duh duh duh…another six bite the dust! This third round of reviews has produced the lowest-scoring set of songs so far – but it did include San Marino, so we should have anticipated that. Here’s today’s top six:
- Germany (7.78)
- Estonia (7)
- Lithuania (6.55)
- The Netherlands (5.55)
- Albania (5.33)
- San Marino (2.44)
I tip my hat (the hat I’m not actually wearing) to Jamie-Lee Kriewitz for taking out the top spot on this occasion. You go, girlfriend. Where will she finish in the grand scheme of the EBJ Jury’s Top 43? We’ll all find out in a few weeks’ time.
Coming up, two Eurofans from the US of A will join me to pass judgment on Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Hungary, Denmark, Montenegro and Spain. There’s bound to be some hits and misses among them, so make sure you drop by to witness the humorous differences of opinion (it’s always amusing when someone rips a song to shreds and someone else takes offence and they have an argument which results in the destruction of a longtime friendship, don’t you think?).
Sense the sarcasm, guys.
While you’re waiting for me to hit publish on that post, let the EBJ Jury know what you think of today’s tracks. Does Germany’s Ghost get you going, or will it just get you going to the kitchen to put the kettle on? Is San Marino’s sixth place deserved or totally uncalled for? Comment and score these songs for yourself down below – we’d all love to hear from you!
Until next time,
I am a firm believer in education for all, and that includes the artists of Eurovision. If they could only take something valuable away from their time at the contest, to pass on to their successors, their countries could potentially be looking at decades of improved results.
As Baku 2012 has just been and gone, and many of us are still scrubbing flags off our faces (I blame Sharpies) and trying to get all the popcorn kernels out of our shagpile carpets (I blame Jedward) I thought, why not start some lessons now? There’s plenty of time for Rona, Loreen, Engelbert and the rest of this year’s entrants to look back at their own successes/complete failures and learn from them so the artists of 2013 get to experience the same highs, or at least avoid the same plunge to the depths of the scoreboard. So listen up, Europe…
Dreadlocks will get you far in the contest (just ask Beth, Spain’s 2003 representative) so the more obvious you can make it that you have them, the better. Wearing one around the neck is a good start, but why not make an entire costume out of dreads?
If that is a little too out there for you, then just stick with the vampiress look, because that works just as well (just ask Kseniya, Mika Newton’s sand artist from last year). Don’t go completely Twilight on us though. You must vamp it up in moderation (just ask DJ Bobo and his Swiss bloodsuckers).
No matter how hard you try to ensure you won’t win Eurovision two years in a row – for example, if you hire someone to vocally drown you out for the last half of your performance – you will always find yourself challenging for the title. Just accept it. Even if you sent a baboon dressed as Verka Seduchka you’d make the top 10.
PS – please do not send a baboon dressed as Verka Seduchka to Sweden.
Estonian-language songs tend to get you more points, especially when they are sung by hot men with very expressive eyebrows. I suggest you continue to send both of the above, and feel free to try and upgrade the hotness of the man by year. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as bettering yourself (and giving pathetic fans such as myself someone to drool over).
You are not invincible. Just because you made the top 10 every year during the period of 2003-2011, 90% of the time with the same ethno-pop song (you just gave it a remix, a new title and a new singer with a clothing allergy) does NOT mean you’re a shoo-in. I have no idea why that is. It just…is.
There is only so much tin foil and Jahn Teigen air jumps a continent can take, particularly two years in a row, as evident in your disappointing result. If you must return to the contest in the future, give us all at least a decade to forget about you (that’s about how long it will take your costume designers to construct a new set of shoulder pads for you both, anyway).
It turns out that rhinestone-encrusted blindfolds are not as silly as they look.
Okay, maybe they are, but they also get votes – votes which may not lift you to a winning position, but get you commendably far. If you bring the blindfold back next year, you might want to go totally crazy with the bling. Why not add some feathers (I hear Joan Franka is selling them by the bundle) or fairy lights? The more tacky and garish it is, the more people will pick up the phone for you, and the more jury members will think to themselves ‘this person has to be blind to have picked out such a heinous accessory! I simply must give them douze points in sympathy.’
Never, ever tell anyone that you are going to come first. Trust me, if Loreen had insisted to some journalist that she was going to win, we would all be looking forward to St. Petersburg 2013 and wondering if all the grannies will be alive by then to give a reprise.
Speaking of the grannies…when sending someone to represent you who witnessed the discovery of fire, make sure you provide them with a posse of other advanced-agers. Plus a couple of spares in case of emergency.
Flesh-flashing does not guarantee you a place in the final, whether the flesh belongs to super-hot female twins or a twenty-something wannabe rock star in a Farrah Fawcett wig. Neither does performing your song five notes south of its original key, come to think of it…
Marija Šerifović is an evil witch who will place a curse on anyone attempting to bring a Molitva-esque song to Eurovision. She will never allow another uplifting but mystical non-English ballad featuring an uprising of coordinated backing singers to succeed in the contest, especially when it is co-composed by the man behind Molitva (her archnemisis). Not unless someone defeats her by forcing her to listen to the considerably more popular ABBA’s entire back catalogue, that is.
The 177464673910th time’s the charm. In the future, always find a songwriter who has sent a ridiculous amount of songs to the contest and its preselections, but never quite hit the heights, to mastermind your entries. If you can find artists who are willing to crab-dance in front of a live audience of thousands and a TV audience of 120 million, that helps too.
If you were going to dress like a ShamWow, you should have at least offered your services to Jedward after they’d soaked themselves in that fountain. You could have dried them off in a jiffy!
As mentioned under “Russia”, one geriatric singer = failure. Six to eight = success. No matter how much the fame of the former exceeds the latter. Also keep in mind that older men do not go down as well as older women (although neither of them go down well on their knees because they’re all riddled with arthritis).
What lessons did you learn from Eurovision this year?
NEXT TIME: Forget about the Marcel Bezençon Awards – it’s time for the annual EBJ Awards for Eurovision Excellence. In 2012, they’re going to be bigger and better than ever!
Love is Blind/ Donny Montell
The good stuff: Who says disco is a no-no? Well, probably many, many people in this day and age. But I don’t pay any attention to those people, not any more – Donny has ignited in me a new appreciation for the genre. His song begins in a ballad-esque way, with the first chorus hinting at what’s to come. Then BAM! With a discarded blindfold and a cartwheel, Love is Blind is off into Disco Heaven. Sure, from then on it’s a big wedge of vintage cheese, but I’ve always been a savoury girl. Donny himself has it all – he can dance, he can sing, he’s probably wanted by the 2012 Lithuanian Olympic gymnastics team, and he’s not too unfortunate to look at. And so I’ll be hunting through my parents’ wardrobe for some flares and platform boots (and I might even find some of my mum’s) to don(ny) for Lithuania’s three minutes in the spotlight.
Everything else: Here’s a random question – why did Donatas Montvydas decide to adopt a rather Irish-sounding stage name? For all I know his real name means Donut Mountain, and that was the motivation, but to my non-Lithuanian understanding ears, ‘Donatas’ has a lovely ring. I’d say it was an attempt to snag more votes fromIreland, but he’s been Donny for years.
Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 8 points.
Crno I Belo/ Kaliopi
The good stuff: Kaliopi, as you may or may not know, failed to advance from Eurovision 1996’s version of a semi final. Will she have better luck this time around, representing a country notorious for just missing out? We’ll soon see. This woman is a huge star in former Yugoslavia. She’s also got a powerful, gravelly voice to rival Nina Badrić’s, and that voice is well suited to this rocky number that has grown on me a lot since my first listen. I find the first part, which is the less rocky part, more listenable, but at least it goes somewhere (not unlike Lithuania) when it makes the transition. I’m expecting a well-rounded performance from Macedonia.
Everything else: Like many of this country’s entries, Crno I Belo lacks a certain special something that makes it a shoo-in to qualify. It’s good, but not great. It’s memorable, but not overly so. I guess, as Hera Björk would say, it’s missing je ne sais quoi. Maybe that will change when we come to the live show, with costume and staging coming into play.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 6 points.
This is The Night/ Kurt Calleja
The good stuff: Poor Fabrizio Faniello again failed to win a third ticket to Eurovision this year, but his fans will be pleased to know he’ll be there in spirit. Kurt’s TITN is not only a reincarnation of 2001’s Estonian winner – it also bears more than a passing resemblance to Faniello’s entry of the same year, Another Summer Night. For all I know, Malta 01 and Malta 12 were composed by the same people (the tiny island is forced to recycle artists and songwriters all the time). In its own right, it’s a summery, fun song with a catchy chorus (who doesn’t love a bit of ‘eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh’?) that won’t be lighting any fires (the Azerbaijani tourist bureau will be disappointed) but should be mildly entertaining to watch on the night.
Everything else: This is the cheesiest entry of 2012 – sorry, Donny Montell – a fact ESC haters might latch on to when they launch their annual ‘Eurovision is crap’ campaigns. I think that is mainly thanks to the lyrics, which are on the Greece level of clichéd-ness. Also, as Maltese entries often do when they aren’t performed by Chiara, it’s lacking in something that would make it outstanding. I’ll be surprised if it qualifies.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 6 points.
Lăutar/ Pasha Parfeny
The good stuff: Bravo, Moldova, bravo. I am actually slow-clapping right now. This song is so much fun! It’s everything I look for in a Eurovision song (or listen for, I suppose): it’s infectious, it’s happy, it doesn’t take itself too seriously but it’s not a novelty song, it’s ethnic, you can dance and sing along to it…the list goes on and on. I’m expecting it to go down fantastically in the Crystal Hall, and likewise in my lounge room.
Everything else: Is there anything else I can say? I’ve pretty much laid all of my cards on the table. Although I should mention that, as you can see below, I haven’t given this the douze. That’s because, as much as I love it, there are a bunch of songs that just edge it out of my top 10 of the moment. I think the 2012 field is a strong one, and pretty much everything in my top 30 is much-loved, so Pasha, if you’re reading this, a) you must be desperate for stuff to do, and b) don’t be disheartened by the tenner!
Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 10 points.
Euro Neuro/ Rambo Amadeus
The good stuff: If I had to pick out one redeeming feature, I’d say the chorus. As much as the ‘eero neero’ irritates, it is part of the most listenable section of the song. As a result, the final thirty or so seconds are not eardrum-shrivelingly bad. Another positive, I guess, would be that Rambo lived up to expectation with the song. Having listened to some snippets of his back catalogue (I can’t bring myself to say ‘past hits’) when he was announced as Montenegro’s representative, I expected a song exactly like this – a.k.a. Man Rambling Incoherently To Music For The Longest Three Minutes You’ll Ever Experience (Oh My God, He’s Opening Eurovision 2012!).
Everything else: Oh my God, he’s opening Eurovision 2012! That will surely be the strangest first act in a long time, if not ever. I’m sure you’ve figured out how I feel about this, but I’ll reiterate: it’s three minutes (though it seems more like 180 seconds) of a man rambling incoherently to music, about God knows what – or as Aisha would say, about what, only Mr. God knows. What is with Montenegro? If they withdrew from the contest because they weren’t getting anywhere, only to come back with a prime example of why they never got anywhere, then it was probably a waste of time.
Winner, loser or grower: Loser – 1 point.
You and Me/ Joan Franka
The good stuff: For the first time in forever, the Dutch song has been labeled one to watch – that is, one that could possibly win the contest this year – and all thanks to a former The Voice contestant with ridiculously chiseled cheekbones and a penchant for Native American headwear. Joan’s You and Me is a charming, up-tempo, almost country-style song about her cougarish childhood tendencies (hello, she was five and he was three!). It reminds me a bit of Switzerland last year – it’s sweet, humble, and a little quirky. I hope it doesn’t suffer Switzerland’s 2011 fate in qualifying and then flagging in the final, but surely a ticket out of the semi alone would be like Christmas coming early for the Netherlands, who haven’t qualified since 2004 and who came dead last in their Düsseldorf semi.
Everything else: I want this, more than any other song, to do well – or at least to get somewhere. But I wonder if it isn’t one of those all or nothing entries that will either rake in the votes and blitz into the top 10, or fail miserably (kind of like Italy last year, and France last year if you count what people were saying before the contest). If you’re living in Europe (but not the Netherlands) please send a vote Joan’s way. Can’t you imagine how great it would be for them to be announced as one of their semi winners?
Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 7 points.
NEXT TIME: I shower a lot of love (and a smattering of ‘what were they thinking?’) on Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino and Serbia!
A busy week has/still is leading up to a ripper weekend in a faraway land I like to call EurovisionNationalFinalville. Who’d have thought that Mad March would take over from Frantic February as the craziest four weeks on the ESC pre-selection calendar? There’s so much happening I don’t even have time to finish this senten
Estonia, Italy, Lithuania, Spain and Slovakia: my thoughts
This past week has been one of few surprises* (on the national final front, anyway), with Lithuania selecting the odds-on favourite for Baku, Spain picking their song for Pastora Soler from a choice of three (ergo, nothing too shocking there) and Italy deciding that si, Nina Zilli will perform her San Remo Song Festival entry in the final come May 26th. Estonia’s choice was again, unsurprising, but that may be because I didn’t manage to have a listen to all of the finalists and so could not honestly say ‘OMG, what HAPPENED? Whatshername Thingie’s song was soooooooo much better!’ or something like that. What I didn’t expect of these countries was to be generally thrilled with their decisions.
* Slovakia actually announcing their entry & entrant when they said they would was a bit of an unforeseen event. Perhaps the age of us all making fun of their ever-changing mind is over?
Estonia (Kuula by Ott Lepland): You can go ahead and say this is boring, it’s going nowhere, blah blah blah, but I won’t care. I am a ballad-loving lady – under most circumstances – and I sure love this one. There’s something about the chorus that is truly spine-tingling (and no, I wasn’t sitting on a fuse box when I listened to it), and I think it might be part due to the language, so my fingers are crossed for it to remain in Estonian. The last time Estonia sent a song in their native tongue, it came 6th, whereas their last few entries, both in English, have flopped…is that an indication of what’s to come?
Italy (Per Sempre by Nina Zilli): And so the bleating begins about what is ‘too good for Eurovision’. What haters don’t realise (considering the only Eurovision they know saw Bucks’ Fizz, Verka Seduchka and Dustin the Turkey battling it out for the trophy) is that nothing is too good for the contest. Obviously there are some songs too bad for it, a fact that all but several countries each year seem to be aware of. Sure, Per Sempre is a classy, classic song without a whiff of schlager or bouzouki, but it’s actually very Eurovision – it just harks back to an older era. That’s not to say it’s dated. I like to think of it as being a compromise between the classic and the contemporary, with the Penelope Cruz-esque Nina giving it some extra spice.
Lithuania (Love is Blind by Donny Montell): Donny – who I thought was an Irish immigrant, but actually uses a stage name – entered the Lithuanian selection in 2011 with Best Friends, a duet with Sasha Son that IMO should have won. Fast forward twelve months and Donny’s got himself a solo spot in the big show; although he sounds so much like Sasha they may as well be doing another duet. My thumbs are up for his song, which starts off as a ballad before becoming a funky disco tune to which, as Donny is testament to, you can do one-handed cartwheels. However they are down for that blindfold. I get the symbolism, but D, you look more ridiculous than Eric Solbakken in his Milan Stanković wig.
Spain (Quedate Conmigo by Pastora Soler): In my years of Eurovision watching, I have enjoyed some of the Spanish songs, but never enough to manufacture and then wave a flag to support them. Well, folks, consider me a changed woman, because in 2012 I will be donning the red and yellow and yelling ‘Viva la Spagna!’ at the top of my lungs until my parents tell me to shut up, at which point the flag will make an appearance, because I LOVE this song. It’s one of exceptional quality that starts humbly, but builds into an anthemic, powerful, punch-packing ballad sung perfectly by the phenomenal Pastora. It’s amazing how she sung so well at the NF, seemingly without worrying about wardrobe malfunctions (if you check out the dress she wore at the weekend you’ll know what I mean). I’m fully prepared for you all to trash this since I have just gabbed on for an eternity about how much I adore it, by the way.
Slovakia (Don’t Close Your Eyes by Max Jason Mai): The OCD part of me is not happy with the rest of me reviewing Slovakia after Spain, but this one is hot off the press (at the time of writing, that is). Just a few hours ago, the Slovak broadcaster announced Max as the artist and DCYE as the song that will represent them this year. The reaction has been positive so far, but I’m not sold – on the song, anyway. It’s mainstream soft-rock, not unpleasant to the ear, but lacking that special, catchy something. Max, on the other hand, is very, very pleasant to the ear…and the eye. Call me shallow, but I bet there’s a gajillion ladies and gents who will agree with me, and on their behalf I plan to start a petition to get him to perform topless.
Russia: will they pull out the big guns or the grannies?
Like Melodifestivalen, Russia’s national final has become a two-horse race, but instead of Loreen-and-Danny, the names have way more syllables. In news that made me squeal in a frightfully girlish manner, Dima Bilan is back with ½ of Tatu, Yulia Volkova, by his side in a bid to take on Eurovision for the third time. I know some of you will be sick of Dima and every other artist who just won’t leave the contest alone, but I’m a huge fan of his, so I’m hoping it won’t be much of a challenge for him and his lady friend (presumably one of many) to kick some Russian butt tonight (I have also heard a snippet of the song and it’s right up my street).
I am aware of nana power, however. Without wanting to offend the other finalists, the only real Dima/Yulia competition* comes in the form of a gang of grannies who won many fans over in the 2010 NF, mainly, I assume, because they were grannies. Though the song did have something…anyway, Buranovskiye Babushki are back, and I reckon they could do some damage to Dima’s chances.
* If someone other than Dima/Yulia or the grannies should win, I apologise in advance, and commend them for beating such heavyweights. You go girl/boyfriend!
My top two-nine
Normal people would wait until tomorrow and then do a top 30, but as you would have gathered if you’re a regular reader, I am not normal (not when it comes to Eurovision). Already I’m finding it hard to separate the good ones from the other good ones, so much so that those I love go pretty much from #1 to #18.
My top 10 is full of ballads, including one that has succeeded in knocking Norway(sorry Tooji) off the premier spot. Take a look and let me know which songs are your favourites at the moment.
Coming up: Super Saturday!
Not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR countries – Portugal, Romania, Serbia and Sweden – will select on Saturday, with Sunday bringing us the NF from Moldova. Naturally all that is very exciting, but for me, the most exciting events are Zeljko Joksimovic’s song presentation in Serbia and Sweden’s grand finale. I’m planning to stay up to the wee hours of the morning and watch Melodifestivalen live for the first time. Anyone else crazy enough?
Please tune in (or log in…I suppose that would be more appropriate?) on Saturday for my thoughts and predictions on all of the above. I promise they’ll be worth a look!
Which country are you excited to see select this weekend?
PS – I almost forgot to mention Armenia’s withdrawal from the competition today. I’m sure most of us are saddened but not surprised by this news…let’s hope the country will be back and ready to win in 2013.