It’s Wednesday, in case you hadn’t noticed, and on this particular Wednesday, the countdown to the ESC 2015 submission deadline is on!
In less than one week, all forty participating countries must have their s#%t together – at least to the point of handing their entries over at the Head of Delegations meeting. Did you hear that, Russia? If you don’t want a repeat of last year when you made the deadline by a babushki’s whisker, you’d better get Polina Gagarina’s song sorted STAT.
I for one am struggling, waiting to hear the songs still under wraps (Israel and San Marino are causing me actual, physical pain). In case you’re feeling the same way, I thought I’d offer a distraction in the form of something totally unrelated: another Retro Ranking! I recently ranked the Dublin 1997 contest for your reading pleasure (hopefully) and as I’m in a chronological mood today, I’m going to plod on with Birmingham 1998.
The last time the United Kingdom played host to Eurovision, Terry Wogan was co-emcee, Ulrika Jonsson fell victim to the noise level in the auditorium and Dana International took her sweet time changing outfits and getting back to the stage for her winning reprise. In amongst all of that were performances of 25 songs – songs that were, as is always the case in the ESC, good, bad and ugly (though being 1998, the ‘ugly’ really just refers to some of the costumes).
Watch this recap of the Birmingham entries if you need a refresher, check out my rankings below, then comment me with your favourites from the Class of ’98! You know you want to.
#1 | The Netherlands (Hemel En Aarde by Edsilia Rombley) – Before she was On Top of the World in Helsinki (until she failed to make the final, that is) Edsilia moved, grooved and flawlessly key-changed her way through this irresistibly catchy number in Birmingham. There is nothing that doesn’t work for me in her performance – 90s fashion notwithstanding – from her smooth and soulful vocals to the cute bits of choreography she does with her backing singers. Hemel En Aarde itself, though, is the pièce de résistance: three minutes of happy, funky pop that I could never get tired of.
#2 | United Kingdom (Where Are You? by Imaani) – Ah, remember the days when the UK couldn’t stop being a Eurovision success? No? Me neither. I was six-going-on-seven and had no idea what an ESC was when Imaani leapfrogged over Chiara into second place (at the very last moment) on home soil. Fast forward to 2015, when just getting on the left side of the scoreboard is a major achievement for the UK, and I now not only know what an ESC is (and then some) I also think Where Are You? is one of the strongest host entries ever. While very 90s in nature, it’s aged pretty well. The mixture of dance music and Imaani’s R & B-suited voice is powerful, and I don’t mind that the song is repetitive because again, it’s catchier than chicken pox.
#3 | Sweden (Kärleken Är by Jill Johnson) – I’ll admit, I thought this was a bit bland at first. But over time, I’ve grown to absolutely adore it, if I may gush without you rolling your eyes and/or retching. Written in response to the death of Princess Diana, it’s a song with emotional weight that you can feel especially in the choruses. It’s almost an anti-Diva, being so soft and understated, and I just wish Jill’s outfit had been chosen to match. The head-to-toe black and giant platform heels were more ‘castoffs from Alla Pugachova’s seemingly drunken performance at Eurovision 1997’ than ‘pretty, sentimental ballad’.
#4 | France (Ou Aller by Marie Line) – This entry did not fare well in the contest, and I can only put that down to the voters and jurors having extremely poor taste in music. Or, you know, people just having different tastes to my own. Oui, Marie Line says ‘ou aller’ about six hundred times in 180 seconds, and oui, the song doesn’t build up to much…but I love the sound anyway. It’s a throwback to earlier on in the decade, and makes me think of Ultra Naté and Sonique. That in turn reminds me of my primary school socials, and they were good times. Très, très bien.
#5 | Ireland (Is Always Over Now? By Dawn) – There’s not that much difference between this song and any number of the insipid love-related ballads Ireland sent to Eurovision in the 90s and early 2000s. Yet there is something about Ireland ’98 that appeals to me. Dawn isn’t a man with a questionable haircut and an ill-fitting suit, which sets her apart a bit (she’s a woman with both of those things) and Is Always Over Now? is more pop and less lame/depressing than most of those man-ballads. Random query: is it just me, or does Dawn look like Kelly Clarkson?
#6 | Portugal (Se Eu Te Pudesse Abraçar by Alma Lusa)
#7 | Estonia (Mere Lapsed by Koit Toome) – They did reasonably well with a sleepy ballad the year before, so I guess Estonia’s thinking here was ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t send a dance banger.’ Mere Lapsed could easily put you to sleep, which to some would be a blaring indicator of boringness. To me, it’s melodically nice enough to set up camp outside of vanilla territory. Cruisy, easy listening like this can be a welcome vacation from the Dancing Lasha Tumbais of the world.
#8 | Cyprus (Genesis by Michael Hajiyanni)
#9 | Malta (The One That I Love by Chiara) – Chiara reached the bronze medal position for Malta in her first of three Eurovision attempts (and don’t think she won’t be back for more!). She did so with what I think is her best entry…on those days where I’m not leaning towards Angel. It’s always her voice that’s the star of the show, so much so on this occasion that you hardly even notice how hideous her snot-coloured suit-dress-thing is until she’s stopped singing.
#10 | Poland (To Takie Proste by Sixteen)
#11 | Israel (Diva by Dana International) – I believe there were stronger songs – and definitely stronger vocal performances – in Birmingham than what Israel provided. Diva is a decent track and a high-energy winner, but I it’s worn thin with me over the years thanks to self-inflicted overexposure. Dana herself, however, is fabulous personified and will never be passé.
#12 | Croatia (Neka Mi Ne Svane by Danijela)
#13 | Switzerland (Lass’ Ihn by Gunvor)
#14 | Germany (Guildo Hat Euch Lieb by Guildo Horn) – Never trust anyone who voluntarily wears crushed velvet. If they’ll do that, they’ll do anything, including scale the Eurovision stage as part of their act. I suppose that’s just gravy on top of an already ridiculous package feat. a wild mane of hair, the world’s thickest eyebrows, and Guildo (owner of said mane and brows) getting up close and personal with some (un) lucky audience members. The man could barely be called a singer, but you have to admire his showman qualities. He got the crowd going like nobody else.
#15 | Greece (Mia Krifi Evesthisia by Thalassa)
#16 | Finland (Aava by Edea) – Instead of using the Secret Garden approach of taking a few words and repeating them twice, Finland took a few words and repeated them for more or less the entirety of their allotted three minutes. It didn’t do them many favours. Still, there’s appeal in the mystical, folky vibes of Aava.
#17 | Norway (Alltid Sommer by Lars Fredriksen)
#18 | Spain (¿Qué Voy a Hacer Sin Ti? by Mikel Herzog) – ‘Mikel Herzog’ is clearly a stage name, because, unless I am much mistaken, this was Harry Potter representing Spain. It’s a shame Ron and Hermione didn’t help him pick out a more interesting song.
#19 | Turkey (Unutamazsın by Tüzmen)
#20 | FYR Macedonia (Ne Zori, Zoro by Vlado Janevski)
#21 | Slovenia (Naj Bogovi Slišijo by Vili Resnik) – There were so many overly-dramatic ballads like this in 1990s contests, it’s hard for any in particular to stand out. This one’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not my cup of tea.
#22 | Romania (Eu Cred by Mălina Olinescu)
#23 | Slovakia (Modlitba by Katarína Hasprová)
#24 | Belgium (Dis Oui by Mélanie Cohl) – How on earth this made the top 10 is a mystery to me. I find it unbelievably irritating, in large part thanks to Mélanie’s grating vocals. You want me to say yes? I don’t think so. Quelle horreur!
#25 | Hungary (A Holnap Már Nem Lesz Szomorú by Charlie)
Now my #1 through #25 is out in the open, you know what to do…tell me how you’d rank Eurovision 1998!
If you asked me right here, right now, to name the Eurovision nation I support unconditionally…I’d say Sweden, duh. That has nothing to do with the subject of today’s post, of course – I was just hoping to throw you off track (and remind you that Sweden is the one, they’re my number one, the only treasure I’ll-STOP IT, JAZ!).
The UK, on the other hand, isn’t a participant I always wave a flag for, but they have had more than their fair share of successes in contests past. Every year for the first twenty years of their participation, they finished in the top 10, with eighteen of those finishes in the top five. Clearly, they knew what they were doing back in the day, and the people – be they people on juries or, later on in the 1990s, people at home on the couch – responded accordingly.
As I’m people too (believe it or not) I’m going to take this chance to vote for my faves from Royaume-Uni, if only in retrospect and with make-believe points. I’ve been on a trip through the ESC archives, and here are the ten songs from the land of Cliff Richard that I had to bring back with me as souvenirs.
1 point goes to Are You Sure? by The Allisons (1961)
I find voices that are in perfect harmony hugely satisfying. Are You Sure? plays up to that satisfaction by neatly weaving together the vocals of Allison 1 and Allison 2 (I am currently too lazy to Google-remind myself of their names) into a very cute little ditty about some she-devil who’s callously walking out on one (or possibly both) of these guys. It’s an entry that might prove too saccharine for some, but I find it refreshing to listen to in this day and age, when the pinnacle of pop music is Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda. Okay, so that statement’s clearly untrue, but humour my desire to be dramatic, won’t you?
2 points go to Ooh Aah…Just A Little Bit by Gina G (1996)
I think we can all agree – I think – that in spite of that cringeworthy ‘Hey girls!’, Gina G was robbed of a top 5 finish in Oslo. Getting through three minutes in that dress without something falling out was a prize-winning achievement in itself, but COME ON! This song is boss. It’s got an irresistible thumping beat, a disco/Eurodance flavour that Alcazar could only dream of recreating, and, when competing in the contest, managed to be both oh-so-90s and ahead of its time. I guess my fellow Aussie Gina found solace in the fact that Ooh Aah became an international hit, whilst Ireland’s winning song The Voice…well, didn’t. I guess that’s proof that the real Eurovision winner isn’t always the one on top of the scoreboard.
3 points go to Making Your Mind Up by Bucks Fizz (1981)
This has got to be one of the happiest songs of all time. It’s definitely the happiest song to incorporate skirt-ripping (and to be proudly sponsored by Velcro). It hasn’t dated particularly well, but stick this on at a Eurovision party, or a party being attended by anyone who was a sentient being in England in the 1980s, and the dance floor will be packed faster than you can say ‘don’t let your indecision take you from behind’ (tee hee!). Sometimes I feel like MYMU is one big, long chorus, with the levels of catchy so consistent throughout, and listening to it in 2015, it has a cheesiness that’s charming rather than revolting. At least as far as I’m concerned.
4 points go to Save All Your Kisses For Me by Brotherhood of Man (1976)
So it turns out the UK were big advocates of adorability back in the day, as their third winning entry is as cute as The Allisons’. Save Your Kisses For Me isn’t just SO PRECIOUS IT HURTS, however. It also has a very M. Night Shyamalan plot twist in which we discover that the aforementioned kisses that must be saved are not from an adult spouse, but rather *gasp* a three-year-old child (presumably one of their children…). But mainly, it’s just precious. Tip of the day: make this your first pick next karaoke night, and throw in some of the original choreography just because. If your friends laugh at you, make it known you won’t be saving any smooches for them anytime soon.
5 points go to Come Back by Jessica Garlick (2002)
Who doesn’t love a good ballad? Well, probably lots of people. But I’m not one of them, and if you’re not interested in hearing my opinion, I have no idea why you’re reading my personal blog. As a connoisseur of fine ballads, I can say with authority that Jessica Garlick’s is up there with the second-best of them (or should I say the third-best?). There have been plenty of better ballads in the ESC, before and after she took to the stage in her Pocahontas costume (#WANT) but I still really enjoy Come Back. It’s a simple, well-sung entry that builds nicely before calming the eff down and then soaring again on that final money note. No stripteases or glitter-blowing required.
6 points go to Better The Devil You Know by Sonia (1993)
The UK went retro with Sonia, and her amazing purple catsuit. It didn’t totally work for them (if looks could kill, Sonia’s laser-beam death stare would have incinerated Niamh Kavanagh on the spot) but it was a top-notch effort nonetheless. Sonia’s one of those artists who almost sounds better live than in studio, and she sang and generally performed le crap out of Better The Devil You Know, which more than made up for the weaknesses in the lyrics. As a standalone song, the main drawcard here is how instant and infectious it is, and though I think Ireland’s winner was a very good one, I think I would’ve been happy if the UK had added another trophy to their collection at this point.
7 points go to Say It Again by Precious (1999)
Hi, my name is Jaz, I’m twenty-three, and I’m still the same girl-band and boy-band freak I was fifteen years ago. I was raised on the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls, so any act that vaguely resembles either of them AND entered Eurovision – i.e. Eden, Prime Minister or XXL – is bound to rate highly with me. Precious = a British girl band including a woman who’d go on to join Atomic Kitten = musical royalty in my eyes. In terms of my ears, Say It Again is always well received. R & B doesn’t usually go down well in the contest, and this was no exception by UK standards – at the time, 12th was one of their worst-ever results – but I’m a fan, and that fact that this song finished lower than the likes of Love City Groove is inexplicable to me.
8 points go to Where Are You? by Imaani (1998)
There’s not a whole lot you can say about this entry, though I could go on for hours about the painful yet wonderful 90s-ness of Imaani’s hair and outfit. My short and sweet description of the song would go something like this: three minutes of simple but very effective pop. There was a lot of that in the field in Birmingham, with the majority of it scoring well. I wouldn’t dare complain about the UK coming second to Israel, partly because it would be a cardinal Eurofan sin to diss Dana International, and partly because Dana did have a little extra something (and no, I don’t mean…THAT) which helped her forge ahead. But give me the option to listen to either Diva or Where Are You?…and I’ll be all like, ‘Who do you think you are? Don’t tell me what to do! Back off!’. Then I’d probably pick the latter.
10 points go to I Can by Blue (2011)
As if you didn’t know this was coming, especially after my earlier boy band/girl band speech. I still believe this song had ‘WINNER!’ written all over it, and if it wasn’t for a performance that wasn’t so much a complete disaster as it was just wrong all over (Lee Ryan’s vocal fail not included as that was definitely a disaster) it might’ve at least had ‘respectable top five finish’ written all over it. After the Josh Dubovie Incident of the previous year, and the many fails the UK had experienced leading up to the Düsseldorf show, the anthemic I Can gave us a glimmer of hope that Jade Ewen’s success hadn’t been a fluke. And I suppose Blue’s almost-top-10 result – an excellent one in comparison to the likes of 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2010 – proved that it wasn’t. Kind of.
Douze points go to Why Do I Always Get It Wrong? by Live Report (1989)
Oh, but you don’t, Live Report. You actually got it super right on this occasion, apart from the whole ‘losing to a song that most of us think is one of the weakest winners, like, EVER’ thing. Now, to clarify, I actually like Rock Me as a song. It’s fun, it’s catchy, and lead singer Emilija had one of the best quiffs in Eurovision history until Jedward came along. But as a winner, it does suffer from a bit of Running Scared syndrome, otherwise known as ‘how the hell did that happen?’. So as much as I don’t like to say that certain songs ‘should’ have won, I’m going to imply it here. Why Do I Always Get It Wrong is the height of UK Eurovision excellence for me because I love 80s music, and I love ballads, and the combination of those two loves here does things to me. Report’s front man Ray helps that along with his effortless vocals in and out of the recording studio. Fashion aside, there’s nothing about this entry that doesn’t work for me.
EBJ extras: Puppet On A String by Sandie Shaw (1967); Let Me Be The One by The Shadows (1975); Rock Bottom by Lynsey de Paul & Mike Moran (1977); Love Shine A Light by Katrina & the Waves (1997); Even If by Andy Abraham (2008).
Aaaaaaand cue the complaints! JK. I meant cue the commenting of your personal favourites from the United Kingdom over the last fifty-nine years, interwoven with gushing praise on how amazing you think I am. That’s not asking too much, is it?
Fine then! That’s all for today, but stay tuned to EBJ this week for some Georgia talk. Plus, sticking with the UK and continuing my ‘Vienna Wishlist’ series, I’ll be revealing who I’d draft in to represent them in 2015 if I had the power. To anyone at the BBC reading this: I really, really, really would like that power. In the immortal words of Cyprus 2002, GIMME.