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Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2017 – Live Notes

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So, had to wait about two weeks after the event, but never fear – I did not watch it nor did I know who won. Luckily, DR broke tradition and made DMGP amazingly easy to find and watch. For those who are new, DMGP works quite simply. DR (Danmarks Radio, the Danish broadcaster that competes in Eurovision) selects ten songs after an open cattle-call for entries; typically, the ten chosen entries tend to be from professional producers and singers (though, every so often, an independent artist or producer makes it onto the show). All ten songs compete in a televised Final; the three songs with the highest combined score between the jury and televotes move on to a super-final. The winner is the song with the highest percentage of the combined televote and jury score. Typically, the jury is comprised of previous performers and producers. This year, they decided to use five super-fans of DMGP/ESC to create the jury.

These are my notes from watching DMGP 2017 for the first time (having not heard the songs ahead of time). I’m trying something new this year, instead of just using generic comments to sum up my thoughts, I’m scoring each song according to the four aspects that make for a strong ESC entry: composition (the music), lyrics (the words), staging (how the song is presented), and performance (how well the singers and dancers do). I will rate songs on a scale from 1 to 5 within each dimension.

Okay, I think that’s everything – on to the show!

 

Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2017

We are back in Herning for DMGP – the first thing that strikes me is how much the production has been scaled down this year. Is that screen even LED? A few years ago, Herning hosted an amazing event; this year looks more like the DMGPs of old, back when they were forgettable. So, Dansevise is one of my all-time favorite entries and I love that they have the competing artists perform it together. Great message of unity and a strong callback to Denmark’s storied history. Actually, the hosts make it quite clear that DMGP this year is entirely focused on returning Denmark to its former glory. DK, with three victories (1963, 2000, 2013) and Grand Final qualifications from 2008 through 2014 (including four Top Ten finishes), has been one of the most successful countries in recent years. However, Denmark has failed to reach the Grand Final of ESC each of the last two Contests, and has finished towards the bottom of its semi-final both times. DR is being explicitly clear: they want Denmark to be successful again at all costs (I guess, the reduced DMGP budget is to save up for a bigger production in Kyiv).

They’re interviewing the jury now; they’ve been sequestered in their own room (as opposed to sitting by the stage). I like the notion of using fans instead of professionals; though, I wish they had a more diverse (in terms of age and gender) panel. Eurovision fans come from a wide variety of backgrounds, if the goal is to find a song that appeals to everyone and will do well, then DR needs a more representative panel of persons.

Anyway, on to the songs!

Song #1. One performed by Ida Una

Ugh – a peace song – and a trite one at that. It’s simple, but not catchy, It’s trying to be modern, but comes off a but immature in its overall sound. The staging is decent, at least. Though, her singing is not the best.

Composition: 4           Lyrics: 2          Staging: 4            Performance: 2

Average: 3 (out of 5) Squarely average – sounds about right. I would think this song has an uphill climb to get to the superfinal.

Song #2. Vesterbro performed by Thomas Ring

Whoo! A Danish-language song (there always tends to be one), probably won’t win because of it (the Danes have not selected a Danish-language song since 2005). I think it’s a great song; actually, I’ve encountered this before on YouTube without realizing it was a part of DMGP. Unlike the preceding entry, this song successfully achieves a mature, modern sound.

Composition: 4           Lyrics: 3          Staging: 3            Performance: 4

Average: 3.5 I don’t think the staging was enough to get it through, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets to the superfinal.

Song #3. Color My World performed by Rikke Skytte

Definitely a lot of thought went into the staging for this one. It makes a simplistic song seem more artistic than it probably is. By “simple song,” I mean that the composition doesn’t really do much and that the lyrics are fairly weak.

Composition: 3           Lyrics: 2          Staging: 5            Performance: 4

Average: 3.5 Definitely the strongest entry thus far, but the night is still early.

Song #4. Where I Am performed by Anja

Another heavily produced composition. But, unlike the others, this song gas more emotion and sounds more human. This is an example of “less is more” staging; she doesn’t seem to be at a disadvantage with the cheaper staging. It allows more focus on her and her powerful voice.

Composition: 3           Lyrics: 4          Staging: 5            Performance: 5

Average: 4.25 Super strong! It has a 90s sound without sounding dated.

Song #5. Big Little Lies performed by Calling Mercury

In a complete reversal from the previous entry, this has a dated, 2000s sound. The composition doesn’t build or go anywhere, it just kinda…sits there, which is great for a doctor’s office or an elevator, but terrible for a pop song contest. The silhouettes in the staging are a nice touch, though.

Composition: 2           Lyrics: 3          Staging: 3            Performance: 3

Average: 2.75 Forgettable song coming to your local shopping mall soon.

Song #6. Smoke in My Eyes performed by Anthony

Whoa! Completely different song here! I think that the lyrics are sad – but the composition is so much fun! Yeah, maybe not as catchy as it needs to be, but definitely a strong contender. He and the backing singers have great chemistry. This is definitely a strong choice for victory in my book (at least, thus far!)

Composition: 4           Lyrics: 5          Staging: 5            Performance: 4

Average: 4.5 Lots of fun, eye-catching, definitely a memorable entry and a favorite to win. It should sweep into the superfinal.

Song #7. Warriors performed by Rene Mackon

Don’t know if he just started off wonky or what, but his voice is off. The song sounds modern (like, a discount OneRepublic) but the staging is so 80s (in a bad way); it’s distracting. Probably the weakest entry thus far.

Composition: 3           Lyrics: 3          Staging: 1            Performance: 2

Average: 2.25 Nope! Even the climax of this song felt flat.

Song #8. Northern Lights performed by Sala Vidoo

If you ever think wearing a disco ball is a good idea – you’re wrong. It’s NEVER a good idea. The lyrics of this song don’t really make sense. Also, the composition and the dance/movements seem very-Japanese: that’s cultural appropriation (i.e., using someone else’s culture without properly giving it context; it perpetuates the idea that other cultures are merely there to be used like items in a store). Despite this, I would say that the composition is fairly decent.

Composition: 4           Lyrics: 1          Staging: 1            Performance: 3

Average: 2.75 This is the kind of song that will grow on your; however, it has one chance to make an impression. Plus, the cultural appropriation rubs me the wrong way.

Song #9. Hurricane performed by Jeanette Bonde

The mirror effect only works if the two sides look the same. I honestly thought that this was two different people until the camera switched to normal. Also, the outfit is not good. Both the staging and the composition get better as the song continues. Sadly, her singing does not. The lyrics are also quite repetitive.

Composition: 3           Lyrics: 2          Staging: 3            Performance: 2

Average: 2.5 Not really all that great. It’s not terrible, just not good. I bet the studio version is better, though.

Song #10. A.S.A.P. performed by Johanna Beijbon

Her pants make me sad. Okay, so, this is merely a vapid pop tune (she called it “party pop disco”). Fun to dance to, not much for a competition- And that’s a missed big note…

Composition: 4           Lyrics: 1          Staging: 1            Performance: 2

Average: 2 No! This is schlager at its worst.

 

Scores of all Ten Performances
Smoke in My Eyes (Song #6) 4.5
Where I Am (Song #4) 4.25
Vesterbro (Song #2) 3.5
Color My World (Song #3) 3.5
One (Song #1) 3
Big Little Lies (Song #5) 2.75
Northern Lights (Song #8) 2.75
Hurricane (Song #9) 2.5
Warriors (Song #7) 2.25
A.S.A.P. (Song #10) 2

This is a rare instance of my predictions aligning with how I would personally rate the songs. With that said, the three songs I think will move forward to the superfinal are:

Smoke in My Eyes (Song #6)

Where I Am (Song #4)

Vesterbro (Song #2) — I am selecting this over Color My World because 1) I like it better, 2) I hope that the only Danish-language entry can be successful, 3) there’s more potential for where this song can go

So, who actually qualified?

One (Song #1) – I guess a boring song about peace can still do well at these kind of competitions.

A.S.A.P. (Song #10) – The weakest song; it merely combines all the worst traits of a “stereotypical” ESC song.

Where I Am (Song #4) – well, at least I got one right. This song should easily win; it’s miles ahead of the other two.

Time for the songs to be presented once more. This time, for all the marbles!!

Song #1. One performed by Ida Una

Still sounds fairly generic and uninspiring. Her singing is not as strong as it was before. I think that this song will finish third.

Song #4. Where I Am performed by Anja

I can’t help but think about Tell Me Who You Are, Denmark’s 2002 entry that came in last (though, I love that song). I don’t like this song as much as that one; however, I think ESC is at a place where a song like it won’t fail so badly again.

Song #10. A.S.A.P. performed by Johanna Beijbon

I understand this song’s appeal, but it’s weak. If it wins, it’ll be another year stuck in the semi-finals for Denmark. This kind of music is not Eurovision anymore. Schlager has been doing less and less well, and this is a poor example of that genre. C’mon Denmark, let’s live in the present, not the past.

Prediction

  1. Where I Am
  2. A.S.A.P.
  3. One

Rather enjoyed the interval act! I love the idea of a medley of some of the most successful and popular Dansk Melodi Grand Prix entries. I think that this does a good job of driving home the point that DR is actively trying to do well at ESC again, a complaint that they’ve doubtlessly received each of the past two years.

Ouch! A.S.A.P. only got 10% of the vote.

And the winner is…

Where I Am (song #4) performed by Anja

Predictions for Kyiv

Song #4 wins in a landslide, garnering 64% of the vote. While not the strongest song (then again, probably none of the entries tonight would have a strong chance to win in Kyiv), it is the most deserving champion among the three superfinalists and will most likely get Denmark back to the Grand Final in May. The bigger question is, what will it once it gets to Saturday night?

That depends on several factors: its competition and its position, neither of which can I determine at the moment. Building a prediction based upon the song in and of itself, I think that it will finish mid-table, so, 12-18th on the night. I think that it will score highly with the jury, but only moderately so with the voting public. I think people will recognize it to be a good song, but not groundbreaking. I hope that Denmark takes whatever its final position is as inclination that refocusing on victory is a step in the right direction.

February 2017 Update

Hello Dear Readers!

Sorry for the delay! It has been a crazy few months (including getting involved in politics, improv comedy, and joining a new research lab). And, worst of all, I will not be able to go to Eurovision this year 😦

ANYWAY – all of that to say, we’re getting back on track, slowly. First, I want to complete the series “Eurovision: More than just…” before the March deadline for all the final versions of the entries to be submitted. After that, we’ll have the same regular posts – the Danish Melodi Grand Prix, the weeklong series on all 43 entries, then various other posts, and a return of the live notes! I will making live notes about the Contest as I watch the semi-finals and Grand Final.

Additionally, I will be taking part on a new initiative, an online magazine dedicated to Eurovision! More details on that as more become available. However, ESC Obsession will be continuing on 🙂

Thank you for your patience and understanding, dear readers, I look forward to many more Eurovisions with you all!

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Eurovision: More than just…

Hello Dear Readers!

Happy Autumn! With the start of the new season comes the start of Eurovision preselection season. As a reminder, no song widely performed prior to September 1 is eligible to compete at ESC – well, it’s after September 1! With that, we [finally] have a host city in Kyiv; we are also on pace to have around 38 countries competing in 2017. But, before we move to focusing on the music, let’s take a step back and take a look at the Contest. Specifically, as the Contest moves back to the East, several concerns have cropped up throughout the fan community that I would like to address in this series, which is titled “Eurovision: More than just…” We’re going to be looking at four concepts that have always been a big part of the Contest, but, over the past four to five years, have become pseudo-synonymous with ESC in the minds of many, inside and outside the fan community.

Eurovision: More than just Politics
Eurovision: More than just Ballads
Eurovision: More than just Sweden
Eurovision: More than just Gay Men

Yes. These four aspects are incredibly important to the Contest. But, just because they are important does not mean that they are the only aspects of Eurovision. This series is an attempt to look beyond these aspects to fully embrace, celebrate, and highlight elements beyond the Contest.

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Analyzing the Big Five: France

Hello Dear Readers!

We reach our final Big Five post (in this series, at least) – we have arrived in France! Poor, tired, finally successful France. Since 2006, France has tried over and over using genre after genre to succeed, seeing success a mere three times, but achieving historic lows, including its first-ever last place. Sad days for a once great titan of Eurovision, it is tied with the UK and Luxembourg with five victories, four second places (including a lost in the 1991 tie-break), and 13 other top five finishes.

Recent History

2006 – 22nd place with Il Etait Temps performed by Virginie
2007 – 22nd place with L’Amour a la Française performed by Les Fatals Picards
2008 – 19th place with Divine performed by Sebastian Tellier
2009 – 8th place with Et S’Il Fallait le Faire performed by Patricia Kaas
2010 – 12th place with Allez! Ola! Olé! performed by Jessy Matador
2011 – 15th place with Sognu performed by Amaury Vassili
2012 – 22nd place with Echo (You and I) performed by Anggun
2013 – 23rd place with L’Enfer et Moi performed by Amandine Bourgeois
2014 – 26th place (last) with Moustache performed by TWIN TWIN
2015 – 25th place with N’Oubliez Pas performed by Lisa Angell
2016 – 6th place with J’ai Cherché performed by Amir

New French Flag MapThe genres of the French entries: ballad – pop rock – indie – French ballad – stadium anthem – operatic aria – pop – rock – rap – ballad – pop. Not too much repetition there. Only 2009, 2010, and 2016 have been deemed successes. Et S’Il Fallait le Faire was the first French song in the Top Ten since 2002, 2010 was the highest selling single from ESC that year (after Satellite), and 2016 brought France back to the Top Ten after years of frustration and threats to leave the Contest. 2008 remains popular and is one of the few Eurovision songs to be used in commercials – but it is remembered mostly for being the first (and so far only) 100% English langauge (save two lines) entry from France. This is notable because, like Portugal, France was always seen as being in the “never English” camp. And, indeed, English all but disappeared from French entries until 2016 ~ J’ai Cherché was mostly French with a refrain in English. But why has France been so unsuccessful? In 2011 it was the big favorite to win, 2012 was supposed to be its big moment, 2013 was supposed to be Amandine Bourgeois’ big breakout party, and 2014 was supposed to get Europe dancing. But each song failed. Sure, the running order has something to do with it, 2013, France got lost as first on the night and in 2015, as second; but in 2016, France was buried in the first half and had to compete with some of the most memorable entries to date.  It’s also easy to blame a bias against non-English entries, though 2009 was entirely in French. Or, just an anti-French bias, though, arguably, Africans receive much more prejudicial treatment throughout Europe and 2010 brought one of the most commercially successful French entries to date. No, the biggest issue facing France is much more fundamental.

So, what has gone wrong?

I am going to argue that, despite what some commentators may have you believe, the issue is not the songs that France has been selecting (though, there could have been stronger choices over the years), the biggest issue with France in Eurovision in recent years has been the staging. Let’s take a look at three examples: 2007, 2012, and 2015. L’Amour a la Française was the artsy, uber-French entry in 2007. It should have stood out – and on the album it does. The song is fun, catchy, and easy-enough to sing along to, even without knowing French. The issue was the staging. From the crazy outfits (there was a stuffed cat!), the bright pink, the spinning camera, the fake running, it was something…to forget. It was all just too much – an issue that we saw again the following year in Belgrade. I said this before and I’ll say it again, many of the French entries seem to be jokes that the rest of the non-French audience just doesn’t seem to be in on. In 2012, France continued to “more is more” approach.

France is no stranger to having artists from its former colonies to represent the mosaic of the French people. AFP PHOTO / VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO

While I loved the dress Anggun had on, the acrobats, lights, streamers – it was not just too much, but it took what should have been a really strong song and mired it with all this unnecessary baggage that just distracted the viewer and made us want just turn it off, particularly when we think of some of the simple, yet powerful songs that did well – such as Albania, Estonia, and Germany.

But what about 2015? When France sent a simple yet powerful song with an equally as simple yet powerful staging (I still get goosebumps every time I see the drummers appear). But, the song appeared in second spot. The song was generally received as an outdated, boring ballad (poignant, yet boring). I think people were moved by the staging, but it was not enough to overcome its running order position and general reception. Likewise, in 2011, when France was the heavy favorite, a poor jury performance and an overly simply staging stopped Sognu‘s chances of success.

How can France improve 2017?

France2016 brought success to France for the first time since 2010. This was done on the back of a contemporary song performed by a charismatic, personable, attractive singer. Unfortunately, despite a decent running order position, France topped out at 6th place. As you know, I predicted that France was going to win (several times)- and this was one of the better, outside odds going into Saturday night. What happened, France 2 stuck Amir out there, all by himself, on this huge stage, with this random backdrop. No backing dancer to help him communicate the story of the song. No visuals to make it look as if he was searching all over the world. Nothing but him and some simple camerawork. Imagine if France 2 had actually invested energy and innovation into the staging – we could be heading to Paris (or a different city!).

Anyway, going into next year, France can take some steps to strike a balance between the craziness of 2007 and the oversimplicity of 2015. The genre of the song doesn’t matter as strongly – we have seen all sorts succeed in recent years. If France wanted to dive into its culture, but with a modern twist, they could send a nouvelle chanson song. Think traditional French-style ballad (like 2009) but with a modern, indie spin. One of the better (I think) artists in this genre is Star Academy semi-finalists Olivia Ruiz; check out:  J’Traine des Pieds and Elle Panique. And, if you doubt her English-language chops, she hit number one in the French charts with a cover of ABBA’s hit Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight) alongside two of her competitors. Something that could give France a distinct, yet catchy sound, would be something in the vein of her biggest original hit Belle à en Crever (below). Look at the video, the animation style is very French without being inaccessible, the song is contemporary, yet distinctly Française.

Alternatively, France could continue the same theme from this year – something very contemporary but less distinctive. La Voix winner Kendji Girac would be a great choice. His background is Catalan and Gitano – and this comes through in his music: Andalouse and Color Gitano. And his biggest hit, Cool. Like the Catalan language, his music sounds as if it blends the best of French and Spanish styles into a modern, urban beat. Even though I couldn’t find an English language song for him (which actually might make him more appealing to France 2), earlier this month, he did release a single, Sonrisa (below) from a yet-to-be-determined forthcoming album. Perhaps France 2 could convince him to use a different song from the album for Eurovision next year?

What’s the worst thing France can do?

Well, in addition to choosing one of the above acts (or someone like them) and then giving them a wretched staging, France could also return to the tradition of choosing a very “French” artist that then gives us a staging that no one understands. For example, Minou makes great music! But their music videos are a bit….different. I like Hélicoptères and Alphalove, but the music videos are very eccentric, too eccentric for Eurovision.

Likewise, France 2 could an amazing artist that allows them to design the staging for them. Only to give that artist another lackluster staging like this year. Very few people have the charisma of Amir. In just a few months, Amir became the best ambassador to Eurovision on behalf of the French in years! He went to preview concerts, was on news broadcasts all around Europe, did all these covers of Eurovision songs from around the continent (and history), and just did everything a performing artist could do to build a positive reputation. Unless France 2 chooses another artist of Amir’s personal qualities, another plain staging will result in a poor result.

France is seen as the center of modern Western culture, for better and for worst. Unfortunately, this does not seem to transfer over to Eurovision. It seemed for a long time, France was resting on its laurels; it was only in recent years that the broadcaster (France 3 from 1998-2014 and now France 2, again) has decided to actually try to be successful. It took a few Contests, but France finally climbed back into the Top Ten. If it wants to stay there, it needs to invest, not just in a strong song, but in a strong staging!

So, what do you think? Can better staging be the solution to France’s woes? Or do they run much deeper than that? How should France select its entries – or is internal selection still a good idea? And, more importantly, can France harness more points from its Romance language brethren, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, San Marino, Moldova, and Switzerland next year?

Be sure to check out my analyses on the other Big Five countries!

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