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Copenhagen Reviews: Part 1 (Albania-France)

Hey there, ladies and gents. You’ll be ecstatic to learn that I have zero time for a long, waffly intro today, since I’ve already spent too much time prioritising writing my Eurovision 2014 reviews over “more important” stuff like major uni assignments due on Monday, etc. So I’ll get on to those while you hopefully get on to reading this first installment of verdicts on the Class of Copenhagen. Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland and France (whew!) are on the program first up, and whilst there’s not a ton of hate in there, there’s quite a bit of ‘meh’…and some high praise too. Read on to find out which belongs to which, and let me know where you stand on these entries.

 

ALBANIA

One Night’s Anger by Hersi

albaniaSounds like: something The Corrs would have released in the mid-90s, with a dash of intriguing Albanian-ness

Better than 2013: Albanian version, yes. English version, nope.

Top 10 material: No

IMO: You can always rely on Albania to crown something a little bit off-the-wall the winner of Festivali I Këngës – and I mean that in a nice way, for the most part. One Night’s Anger is no exception, even without that intense instrumental opening that didn’t end up making the Eurovision cut. The song is a ballad, but an unusual one that’s difficult to predict the destination of, and I bet it’s difficult to sing too. The rhythm and melody are interesting in their own right, but when combined with Hersi’s unique voice, the overall impression is ear-catching. There was a haunting quality to the song that grabbed me when it won FiK, and at first I couldn’t figure out if I was being grabbed in a good or bad way (unlike being manhandled by a Marco Mengoni type, which would definitely be a good grabbing. Wink wink) but after subsequent listens, I realised I did have a positive appreciation for the balance it strikes between classic and bizarre. Unfortunately, the change from Albanian to English that this country often makes has been to this song’s detriment in my opinion. I’ll readily confess that I tend to prefer whichever language version I heard first in my Eurovision entries, but in this case, it really was the mystery of the Albanian and the emotion Hersi could put into it that’s making me miss it. I still have a regard for One Night’s Anger, the same interesting song now with questionable lyrics – but given the choice, I’d be sending Zemërimi I Një Nate off to Copenhagen next week.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.

 

ARMENIA

Not Alone by Aram Mp3

armeniaBest lyric: ‘What if it’s all in one kiss that turns all seeds into trees?’

Better than 2013: Yes

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: Armenia started out so strongly in Eurovision with André in Athens, securing 8th place then and notching up four consecutive top 10 placings after that. Then Emmy failed to Boom-Boom her way into the final, Armenia sat the Baku show out for obvious reasons, and Gor Sujyan’s double denim squad qualified but deservedly didn’t get much further. On those sour notes, it’s wonderful to see this country back in potential top 10 (and even potential winning, if the bookies are to be believed) form after three years of misfortune. The difference between Not Alone and those entries from Armenia’s heyday is a lack of ethnicity, but I find this equally as enjoyable. The pan-flutes have been traded in for dubstep beats and minimalism, and the result has a lot of impact. The song is a slow burn of the best kind – the kind that really draws out the build, then explodes, in this case into a dramatic, symphonic crescendo. And yet…I’m not sure I do believe the bookies when they put the odds in Aram’s favour, for two main reasons: firstly, as much as I like the song, that ‘minimalist builder’ element makes me wonder how much focus it can hold as a standalone number. It would be ideal in the background of a Hunger Games montage, but can I imagine the credits rolling over it as Mr. Mp3 reprises the crap out of the Hallerne? Not really. Secondly, the reports that came back from Eurovision In Concert implied that this guy is having issues with owning his performance and commanding the stage. If that was the case in the intimate Melkweg, how’s he going to fare on what we’ve seen is a rather massive stage in the arena? There are questions surrounding Armenia, and one of them is still very much ‘Yerevan 2015? Hmm…’ 

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

 

AUSTRIA

Rise Like A Phoenix by Conchita Wurst

austriaSounds like: a Bond theme song waiting to happen

Better than 2013: No 

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: Seriously, if the Bond moviemakers don’t call the next one The Phoenix Rises and make this song the theme tune, something is wrong with the world. There’s no denying that Conchita’s entry is totally Bond-ified; nor is there any denying that this genre suits her perfectly, allowing her to let her inner and outer diva shine like a diamond…and rise like a phoenix (duh). She has the power and passion to make her performance one to remember even for those who aren’t fans of her song. Now would be the best time to say that I’m afraid I’m one of them. I don’t hate it by any means, and I LOVE Conchita – after hearing ESC Insight’s interview with her I want us to be BFFs. Like I said, there’s no doubt she’s got the goods to do her demanding song justice. It’s just that the Bond thing is not my thing. Generally (stuff like Adele’s Skyfall included) I find it overly-dramatic and old-fashioned, although very glamorous. Speaking of glamour, I cannot wait to see what Conchita’s wearing for the big event. I’m seeing sequins, plunging necklines, tulle everywhere…OTT sass. I guess the fact that I’m more pumped for costume choices than listening to the song again says more about my feelings than any more rambling could do. The audience, however, will go nuts for this, and that will be a reaction worth waiting for.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 5 points.

 

AZERBAIJAN

Start A Fire by Dilara Kazimova

azerbaijanBest lyric: ‘A soldier in the hands of a forgotten mess, digging out the burning bullets in his chest.’

Better than 2013: No. No glass box, no contest!

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: In the most shocking move of the year (that’s sarcasm, people) Azerbaijan have popped into the supermarket and bought themselves a Swedish-made, albeit Azerbaijan-infused ballad to send to Eurovision. They’ve been doing this same thing long enough now that it’s become a tradition/running joke, and on one hand, I have to give them props for it – they take the contest super seriously, and if they’re not in the mood for contending the win, they at least want a decent placing. On the other hand, this recipe for success involves little of Eurovision’s original essence. They’re not so much sending a song that represents their country as sending one to represent their country and do a great job. There’s nothing you or I can do about that, so having got it off my chest I will now say that this particular Swedish ballad is actually a refreshing change from the norm. Look at the differences between Start A Fire and, to use another example, Georgia’s Waterfall from 2013. The former sounds a lot more genuine and interesting than the contrived and clichéd latter. It’s perhaps not as instant, but I quite like it when a song is unusual enough that you need to pay attention to it and get to know it to formulate an opinion. It kind of wanders along for three minutes, never in your face, but always sparking curiosity as to where it’s headed. All in all, it’s not up there with my absolute favourites, but I think it’s pretty and not at all cheesy, which is a big plus.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 8 points.

 

BELARUS

Cheesecake by TEO 

belarusBest lyric: ‘You showed me dance, but I’m not Patrick Swayze, you’re not Jennifer Grey.’

Better than 2013: Yes

Top 10 material: No

IMO: Belarus was one of the first countries to choose their entry for 2014, and before their NF even took place, I’d picked this song out as a favourite of the lineup – if mainly as a guilty pleasure because I figured I’d be in the minority who liked it in all its sleazy glory. I didn’t think it was going to win that final, but it did and here we are. Cheesecake has gone through a few changes, including one to the lyrics, but it’s essentially the same song as always, and I still get a kick out of it. What can I say? I’m a girl of simple tastes, meaning my main requirement in a good ESC (or non-ESC) song is catchiness, and this song has enough of that to fill twenty cake tins. Yes, it’s a little cheesy and as previously mentioned, a little sleazy, what with the whole Robin Thicke vibe TEO’s got going on. But for a song that at face value is about a dessert (and for those of you who are wondering why I’m suddenly discussing the Latvian entry, nope, I’m still on Belarus) it’s actually deep and meaningful…ish. And, in addition to that Thicke vibe, TEO’s also a confident, entertaining and vocally proficient performer. I’m not trying to make this entry into some masterpiece – I know what it is and that it won’t be taken 110% seriously – but I think it has some merit. And damnit, dat catchy chorus! 

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

 

BELGIUM

Mother by Axel Hirsoux 

belgiumSounds like: Axel’s mum needs to take out a restraining order…

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: No

IMO: Eurovision royalty Ruslana bursting into tears at the opening bars of your song is no indication that it’s going to get the same reaction from the rest of us. I suppose I did well up a bit the first time I heard Mother – but while Ruslana’s emotion came from barely-restrained adoration of Axel and his ode to the woman who lugged him around for nine months, mine was brought on by the realisation that Belgium was actually sending this pompous, melodramatic and sickly sweet THING to Copenhagen. BUT WAIT! We all know you can’t judge a song on one listen, so wanting to familiarise myself with Mother in order to review it, and to give it another chance, I listened to it again. This time, I found it slightly less hideous, I have to admit. I do find the popped-up opera genre OTT (more so when the singer is pushing the lyrics out with so much force that their head reaches boiling point) and when its subject matter is the mother of a fully-grown man and not an adorable gap-toothed child, it’s not cute – it’s creepy. However, I’m now seeing the positive aspects of this entry, e.g. the class, the sentiment, and Axel’s wonderful voice. I won’t be sobbing along with Ruslana anytime soon, and I have no idea why Belgium has decent odds to win Eurovision with this (I’d love to go to Brussels, but not this way!) but it’s no longer at the bottom of my pile. PS – I watched an interview with Axel in which he was rather precious, admitting that flying to Copenhagen will be his first time on a plane. This is a man you can’t be mean about without feeling like the worst person on the planet.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 5 points.

 

DENMARK

Cliché Love Song by Basim

denmarkBest lyric: ‘I know from the pizza guy that you’re a special girl.’ 

Better than 2013: Yes

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: Judging a host entry can be a tricky business. You know the host country hasn’t tried too hard to pick a winning song to represent them on home soil – just one that won’t embarrass them on home soil. Therefore you can’t abuse them for not putting in enough effort. In 2014, it seems that hosts Denmark have inadvertently tried hard enough to get fans thinking that history could continue to repeat itself. The story goes like this: Denmark won the ESC in 2000 when Sweden was hosting. Then last year, in Sweden, Denmark won again. If the pattern continues, Tanja’s Amazing (see the next review for my thoughts on that) will win this year just like Estonia did in Copenhagen 2001, and Denmark will narrowly miss out on the win with Basim’s Cliché Love Song. I’m not convinced it’s going to do that well, but a respectable result is on the cards for this infectious, Bruno Mars-esque foot tapper, and it’s infectious, Bruno Mars-esque performer. The song has a hook that gets stuck in your head, light-hearted lyrics, a bit of whistling which is always welcomed, and an energetic singer who can get the job done with ease and knows how to work a crowd. This is going to go down über well in the final, and I think one performance will be enough to get it onto the left side of the scoreboard. I can’t say it wouldn’t be spookily awesome to experience the déjà vu of Denmark coming second in Denmark, and stranger things have happened…so Basim may end up further up that left side than I’m expecting. 

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 8 points.

 

ESTONIA

Amazing by Tanja 

estoniaSounds like: Take Me Home by Cash Cash…dare I say Euphoria?

Better than 2013: No 

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: Eesti Laul’s early favourite came through this year, beating some competition that actually was amazing. Amazing the song kind of set itself up for a fall in the way of Don’t Play That Song Again (UK 2000) and That Sounds Good To Me (UK 2010). Many of us have used its title against it, unless of course we genuinely believe it is amazing. For me, it’s way too derivative for such praise. The obsession with dance music that’s taken over the world for way too long now means we’ve heard this kind of song a million times before, so it’s not originality that will get Estonia to the final (most likely) and beyond. What will is Amazing’s annoying ability to worm its way into your brain; the irresistible urge to dance it brings on (or is that just me?); the eye-catching choreography, which I say is not a cheap Loreen impersonation; and Tanja herself, who is very pretty to look at and can seemingly dance and sing at the same time. So long as she swaps the bland dress from Eesti Laul for something better (Softengine are apparently good at locating such things if she needs help) there’ll be nothing wrong enough with her act to stop her from doing well. There are plenty of more original songs in this year’s contest that maybe deserve to beat Estonia – not something I’d be saying if Sandra or Traffic, for example, were in Tanja’s position – but the likelihood is that they won’t. As someone who doesn’t want to but can’t help liking this entry, I can come to terms with that, so long as Estonia compensates by sending something magic in their native tongue next year. That’s when I love them the most. 

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.

 

FINLAND

Something Better by Softengine 

finlandBest lyric: ‘Everything I’m used to seems to be fine misshapen, made-up fantasy.’ 

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: No

IMO: Just as I became attached to a couple of Eesti Laul entries in particular, so too did I have two songs in Finland’s UMK that caught my attention and never let it go. Unfortunately, neither of those songs was Something Better. This song is on my Copenhagen periphery – it’s there, in the outer field, not offending me but definitely not doing anything for me. I can’t find anything about it that would summon me to pick up the phone and vote for it…you know, if I could (*weeps pathetically all the way from Down Under*). The chorus is okay, verging on catchy, but I cannot for the life of me remember how the rest goes, and I’ve listened to it just as often as everything else. For me to like rock, it has to have something special, and this just doesn’t. I do have a strong opinion on one aspect – the screaming at the end. That hurts my ears. Plus, I fear for lead singer Topi’s vocal chords, having to deal with that through all the rehearsals, the semi final performances and (possibly) the final as well. Then again, if his voice goes I won’t have to put up with the screaming, so bring it on! Sorry, Team Softengine, but I have to be honest, and Something Better is exactly what I’m on the hunt for after listening to this. 

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 5 points.

 

FRANCE

Moustache by Twin Twin 

franceSounds like: the love child of Papaoutai by Stromae and Applause by Lady Gaga

Better than 2013: Yes

Top 10 material: No

IMO: I may be one of those people whose bedrooms are full of French-themed…well, everything, but I have never been able to truly get behind France in Eurovision. When I say ‘get behind’, I’m talking gushing over their song choice and waving a tricolour flag so enthusiastically that it disintegrates. I came close four years ago (and I still bust a move to Allez Ola Olé on a regular basis) and I have enjoyed some of their entries in my years of ESC fandom, but until now, I’ve never fangirled over one. That’s right, I said ‘until now.’ A moustache has come along and changed my life. Ever since listening to the snippets of the three potential French entries, I’ve had this in high regard. Back in the snippet days, it was the one of a strong threesome that stood out to me, seeming to embody all that I love about French pop music. Thinking Joanna had the repping rights in the bag, I was trés trés thrilled when Twin Twin took the win win with the incredibly catchy, quirky Moustache. It takes me right back to other fun French entries that I’ve almost waved a flag for, such as L’Amour A La Française and Divine. It’s not to be taken too seriously, nor is it a novelty song about a guy trying really hard to grow a moustache (that’s Justin Bieber’s next single). The message is a little deeper than that. To be truthful, I wouldn’t care if it wasn’t. I love this for superficial reasons. It sounds great to me, and though I don’t expect it to do wonderfully in the final, I hope it at least looks great too. I’m expecting moustache motifs, clashing prints and the most extensive use of hairspray since Jedward just to keep lead singer Lorent’s ‘do in place. C’est magnifique!  

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. DOUZE POINTS!!!

 

And with that, France receives my first and only set of douze so far, which I’m guessing I’ll get some stick for from the Anti-Facial Hair Brigade (a.k.a. anyone who’s hating on Moustache). But remember, I do my very best to respect your opinion – even if you think it totally makes sense that Belgium is being considered a possible winner – so please try to respect mine! To recap it, here’s a mini-ranking of the countries in this first lot of reviews.

  1. France
  2. Armenia
  3. Belarus
  4. Denmark
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Albania
  7. Estonia
  8. Finland
  9. Belgium
  10. Austria

I’m yet to label any entry a ‘loser’, so that last place for Austria at this point doesn’t mean I have no desire to see Conchita rise like a phoenix. I’m just not that bothered.

Next up, in a few days’ time, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel and Italy will be the countries in my judgment zone, so if you enjoyed reading these reviews be sure to drop by for that. If you didn’t, come back anyway and give me another chance to win you over?

 

How do you rate the entries from Albania-France? Will we have to agree to disagree or are we thinking alike?

 

Copenhagen Chat | My thoughts on the news of the week

Hola, amigos. It’s the middle of the week, and as of now, that means it’s time for me to belatedly weigh in on the Eurovisiony happenings that have made the headlines since it was previously the middle of the week. Although…nothing of note really happened prior to our first Super Saturday, so let’s just go from there.

Quite a lot has gone down since the weekend, and not just in the Land of National Finals. Sure, we’ve now got two more songs for Copenhagen, taking the total to six; and sure, Sweden’s Melodifestivalen has begun and that is SO MUCH YAY!; and sure, Spain has shocked us all by premiering some decent potential entries; but, we also now know who will present the ESC this year – more specifically, all three of them. Discussions of these developments are coming up, but for now, let me say this: please let those hosts put in a better performance than the last trio we had to put up with!

 

The hosts with the most (maybe) are… 

*drumroll*…three people I’ve never heard of! Woohoo!

That doesn’t actually bother me. Some of the most entertaining hosts have been unknown to most of us before they took to the stage – e.g. Jaana and Mikko, Eric Solbakken, and Her Royal Funniness Anke Engelke. So give a great big benefit of the doubt to Lise Rønne, Pilou Asbæk, and Nikolaj Koppel.

1

They look nothing like Ell, Leyla and Nargiz, but can they be less wooden?

Lise, Pilou and Nikolaj are not without credentials. She is a television presenter (handy) who has helmed Dansk Melodi Grand Prix in the past, á la Petra Mede, who hosted Melodifestivalen before Malmö; Pilou is an actor, so he’ll be used to making a script sound like natural dialogue; and Nik (as I am affectionately calling him since now) is a musician and former judge on Denmark’s Got Talent. All that sounds promising, don’t you think? I’ve never been sold by the trio concept, so hopefully this trio can change my mind.

 

Something Better from Finland, and a Swiss star-hunter

Then again, who cares if they don’t? It’s all about the music. Well, more about the music, anyway. And as I mentioned before, Super Saturday gave us two more songs to add to the small pile we already have which will be en route to Denmark in a few months’ time.

Finland’s UMK ended with Softengine’s Something Better on top, beating out fan favourite Sängyn Reunalla by Mikko Pohjola. As you’ll know if you read my last post, I didn’t follow UMK this year, but I did subject myself to snippets of the competitors before Saturday night. That decision has left me a little disappointed that the result wasn’t the other way around. The mod-rock style of Softengine doesn’t do much for me, whereas I thought Mikko’s song was a downright lovely ditty (or perhaps that’s the senior citizen in me) but time, in addition to healing all wounds and going by so slowly, changes things. Time and multiple listens. I may be proclaiming Something Better my first douze-pointer of the year this time next week.

Meanwhile, the Swiss chose the best of a bad, bad bunch in their Grosse Entscheidungsshow, opting for Sebalter’s Hunter of Stars to fly their flag. On the whole, this is a positive thing – it’s nothing like the lame lady ballad that it beat, and has a certain charm with the whistling and whatnot. I still think Switzerland can so much better though. It’s sad that this is the only half-decent outcome we could have had from them.

Exactly how half-decent is Sebalter? How could we figure that out…wait, I’ve got it! It’s TOP SIX TIME! Here, in a world exclusive, is mine:

  1. Belarus
  2. Ukraine
  3. Albania
  4. Italy
  5. Finland
  6. Switzerland
TEO (or is that Donny Montell) is still on top.

TEO (or is that Donny Montell?) is still on top.

Okay, so Seb is still on the bottom in my books, and I’m still totally on Team Cheesecake (which is surprisingly still the Belarusian entry). But with 30+ songs yet to be picked or premiered, this ranking is bound to change. Hit me with your personal top six in the comments, and the ensuing disagreements will no doubt keep us occupied until the weekend.

 

Melfest: it’s well and truly on!

It’s safe to say that Sweden is back. Maybe not back in a ‘we’re ready to win again, bitches’ kind of way, but definitely in a way that makes last year’s Melfest sound even worse than it actually was (bar Robin Stjernberg and a select few others). Saturday’s first semi turned out to be less predictable than I was expecting, with only one of the big favourites being voted straight to the final.

I’m talking, of course, about YOHIO, who no doubt won the night (but hopefully won’t win the whole thing) with To The End. But it wasn’t the Eurovision royalty that is Helena Paparizou who followed him – she was relegated to Andra Chansen alongside Linus Svenning’s beautiful Bröder. Newcomer/stand-in for Amandine Bourgeois in Malmö, Ellen Benediktson, scored the other ticket with Songbird. I have to admit, despite the Helena love I share with many other ESC fans, I consider this a victory for all the artists who think they haven’t got a chance against those who have been there and done that. Go Ellen!

I'm not entirely sure which is which...

I’m not entirely sure which one’s which…

With the wins must come the losses, and four songs are now out of Melfest ’14 for good. Only one of those had the power to bring a tear to my eye, and that was Alvaro Estrella’s Bedroom. Say what you want about a bad performance – I thought it was a-ok, and that the song was easily the best of the night. I mean, if Eric “I’ll smash a ton of glass to distract you from the fact that I’m not a very good singer” Saade can win Melfest, why couldn’t his former backup dancer qualify? Sob. The good news is that Bedroom has topped the Swedish iTunes charts, and that I intend to send the song into a radio station anonymously to try and elevate it to Gangnam Style status in Australia. Wish me luck.

What did you think of Melodifestivalen’s first installment?

 

Spanish surprises: the national final five

Following France’s shockingly impressive lead, Spain released the select group of songs that will be vying to represent them sometime in the near future (a date would be nice, Spain). I’ve given them all a listen, and on the spectrum of prospective entries, they collectively sit closer to the likes of Sweden than of Switzerland – a.k.a. hooray!

  • Más (Run) by Brequette
  • Aunque Se Acabe El Mundo by Jorge González
  • Estrella Fugaz by La Dama
  • Seguir Sin Ti by Raúl
  • Dancing In The Rain by Ruth Lorenzo

I’m not saying these are the strongest songs on the planet, but they do take me back to those days when Spain sent ethno-pop year after year, and did well with it. Generally, the selection is poppy and generic, but there’s always room for poppy and generic songs to succeed at Eurovision. I reckon Spain has a chance here, if not to hit the heights of Pastora Soler, to at least improve on last year’s fail.

I’ll wait for a date before I think about reviewing them properly, but at the moment, my picks are Brequette, Jorge and Ruth. How about you?

 

Super Saturday #2 – what’s on?

There’s only one more song to look forward to this Saturday, but Malta’s NF is only the beginning of the action. Olympics fans like myself would add the start of the Winter Games in Sochi to the list of comps worth watching (it’s basically the Eurovision of the sporting world) but for those who are interested in the ESC only, look out for…

  • MESC. That’s Malta’s Eurovision Song Contest. After a semi final on Friday which will, inexplicably as ever, only send 6 of 20 songs packing, 14 will be left to battle it out for the win. There’ll be two former JESC contestants taking part (assuming they both advance, and let’s face it – the odds are in their favour) but the only one I’m gunning for is Daniel Testa. His song One Last Ride has Eurovision written all over it, and not in a cheesy way. However, there is some fierce competition he’ll have to push out the way to make it…can he do it?
  • Melodifestivalen semi final 2. A veteran of this NF, Sanna Nielsen is back for what seems like her millionth shot at representing Sweden, and this could be the one that gets her all the way. She’ll be joined by Martin Stenmarck (who was beaten by Helena Paparizou and many others in Eurovision ’05) singing in Swedish, and my personal gem Panetoz. Check out their hit Danza Pausa and then tell me you’re not excited to hear what they’ve come up with!
  • Iceland’s Söngvakeppnin semi final 2 and Hungary’s A Dal heat 3. I admit to knowing nothing about either of these at this point, so whether they’re worth watching is up to you.

 

I’ll be back on Saturday to preview and predict MESC and Melfest, and complain about what an agonizing decision it is choosing between multiple national finals AND the Olympics. There’s something for you to look forward to.

Ahem. In the meantime, don’t forget to rank and ramble about results down below. If you don’t…well, I’ll be sad.

 

 See you Saturday!

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