ESC2011

ESC2011: Semi-Final Two

Here’s Part Two of my preview for this year’s Contest.  Once again, it looks as if the Second Semi-Final will be the stronger of the two heats, how does this always seem to happen?  From a returning champion (Israel) to one of ESC’s most beloved novelty acts (Moldova) to a singer who garnered international attention after reading results last year (Sweden).  Oh, it’s going to be an awesome show, of that I am sure.  While the Ukraine, Sweden, Moldova, Israel, Denmark, and Ireland all seem like sure things this year, I think this Semi-Final will bring us a few surprises.  Also in this post, I will discuss the three automatic qualifiers who will be voting in Semi-Final 2, France, Germany, and…ITALY!!!

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Love in Rewind performed by Dino Merlin

Typically, former Top Ten placers tend to be a shoo-in for a spot in the Final, even if their previous song was terrible (which Mr. Merlin’s was).  Funniest online comment: “This guy is like a mix of Cat Stevens and Ringo Starr.  The coolest grandpa ever.”  And the bookies predict this finishing in the top ten.  I’m not convinced from the lyrics and internet buzz that this entry has what it takes to make the Top Ten, but I definitely think that it will pass through to the Final.

Austria – The Secret is Love performed by Nadine Beiler

When it comes to Austria, the entries I like do poorly and the entries I hate do well, judging by the competition Beiler beat out to make it to Düsseldorf, I am assuming she is going to do well.  Okay, that’s not fair, as there were several songs I did really like from this year’s Austrian selection.  Most of the buzz focuses around her powerful voice, not so much around the song, and we all know that this is a SONG contest not a talent search – better luck next year Austria.

Netherlands – Never Alone performed by 3JS

Not all things are better with age.  Having done a little research on the 3JS when they were first selected to represent the Netherlands, I liked a lot of their stuff, now, hearing the four songs that failed to win Nationaal Songfestival 2011, I don’t have much faith in the Dutch this year and neither do the bookies.  But the fans (all 20 of them) seem to love it – which, given their small numbers doesn’t mean much, but an interesting point came up, this song should be fodder for the juries and this prediction might just ring true.

Belgium – With Love Baby performed by Witloof Bay

An a capella group, how exciting!  In the US, a capella is predominated nowadays by university students, so it’s a very different experience for me to see a group of middle aged folks performing a capella, but they’re really good.  I hope and pray that they make it to the Final (apparently, LAT2006 is the only other entry to ever be done a capella, it got 16th).  The bookies think that this entry will do horribly, but it’s Belgium – the only country to succeed with a song in an imaginary language (though, they also failed with a similar concept six years later).  So, if any country can pull this off, it’s Belgium.

Slovakia – I’m Still Alive performed by TWiiNS

So, the TWiiNS bring us Slovakia’s first-ever English language entry and it’s reception is….piss-poor.  People don’t seem to necessarily love it, with the general consensus being, “it’s good enough for the Final.”  With such lackluster support I turn to the bookies who seem to feel similarly.  Songs that fall in this position tend to finish right outside the top ten of their semi-final.  So I would expect Slovakia to get 12th or 13th place in the Semi-Final, narrowly missing its first trip to the Finals.

Ukraine – Angels performed by Mika Newton

Again, the Ukraine has a controversy around its national selection, but at least this time, it was all taken care of prior to the entry submission deadline.  With that said, Ukraine had a stereotypically strong national final this year, I predict that this song will do what all but three Ukraine entries have done before, finish in the Top Ten on Saturday (but it won’t win).

Moldova – So Lucky performed by Zdob şi Zdub

Another returning artist that I wished had stayed home; the Moldovan rockers are back at the ESC, though this time they are minus the grandma.  It’s interesting to see how the tide turns in online comments.  The same people who have been routinely trashing the ballads and the poppier entries seem to love this and vice versa.  With that said, I just can’t see Moldova succeeding with this kind of level of negativity going on.  I expect them to make the Final (partially because people will recognize the band’s name, partly because Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine are all in this Semi-Final) but to not do all that well once they get there.

Sweden – Popular performed by Eric Saade

I remember this guy from last year; he had a wretched song that got second place in Melodifestivalen.  I also remember that his stunning good looks while reading the votes for Sweden last year helped that same wretched single land on some top 100 charts around Europe.  This year’s Melodifestivalen reminded viewers why the Swedes had the biggest, most watched, most popular, and most successful national selection year after year, and I think it will continue it’s role as a kingmaker.  Expect Eric Saade to restore some honor to the Swedish throne and land a Top Ten placing for the land of ABBA.  With that said, I have a feeling I will dislike this act and its show.  Saade has openly stated that he wants to cheapen ESC by promoting an increase in stage performers so that there can be “big pop acts” apparently six people isn’t enough for him.  He also dislikes the fact that he can’t use backing vocals.  I think how successful he is come the Grand Final will dictate a lot about where the ESC goes in the future, particularly since there is a new Supervisor at the helm who will be looking for ways to make his mark on the Contest.  I plan on doing a blog entry regarding this topic in the weeks following the Contest, regardless of how the Swedes finish.

Cyprus – San Aggelos S’Agapisa performed by Christos Mylordos

Like many other songs, this entry seems to have a high percentage of positive comments, but a low number of comments overall.  CyBC has done a very poor job of promoting this song and that, and only that, is the reason Cyprus will be left behind in the Semi-Final despite an easy 12 from Greece.

Bulgaria – Na inat performed by Poli Genova

Okay, I can’t even bear to make it through a recap of the Bulgarian selection (don’t worry, I went back and finished it); this does not bode well for its winner. With that said, there seems to be a healthy level of support for this entry so Bulgaria just might sneak into the Final after all, I think it will come down to how she does in the Second Dress Rehearsal, actually, when the juries cast their votes.

Macedonia – Rusinka performed by Vlatko Ilievski

Time for another funny comment from the web: “song is bad…video is funny…boys are cute.”  If you think seeing Azerbaijanis and Armenians (or Serbs and Albanians for that matter) whine amongst themselves on the various ESC forums was annoying, you haven’t seen anything you’ve read the dialogue between Macedonians and Greeks – sickening is what it is!  Anyway, Macedonia never seems to be able to get any love; it has always been an “also ran” at the ESC and I don’t foresee this entry changing that.  Short of some sort of miracle, Macedonia will most likely be sent home in the Semi Finals yet again.

Israel – Ding Dong performed by Dana International

The fabulous diva returns to the Eurovision stage after winning it all for her native Israel back in 1998.  Back then, she made herself an icon and a heroine for many queers across Europe, not only that, but her victory helped lead a revival for the Contest into the new era of exciting stage shows, and televoting.  Winners are all but guaranteed a spot in the Final, so I don’t expect the Semi-Finals to be that big a hindrance for her.  Though, like many returning artists from pre-2004, she needs to be ready to handle how much the Contest has changed over the last decade, including the more elaborate stage performances, the advent of the semi-final (which, for those that make the Final, mean nine rehearsals on top of the two performances), and the return of the jury something Dana International didn’t have to contend with in 1998 or in 2008 when she returned as a song writer (while the juries voted in the semi-finals of 2008, Israel was a clear favorite to progress that year and easily sailed through to the Final).  Though, she has stayed fairly involved over the years, so I imagine these changes won’t affect her too much.  I am inclined to listen to the fans and my own personal preference for Ms. Dana International – I expect this to be in the Top Ten.

Slovenia – No One performed by Maja Keuc

Hmmm, for the first time in a long while, Slovenia seems to have garnered a lot of positive interest from the bookies and from the fans.  Honestly, I must say that I am a little surprised at how well Slovenia is being predicted to do this year.  I expect this song will move through to the Final, but I dare not venture a guess on it’s final placing.

Romania – Change performed by Hotel FM

Romania seems to be getting similar coverage as the Slovenian entry, just less of it.  So I think that this song will also progress on to the Final, but I feel confident in saying that it will not be a Top Ten hit barring some kind of miracle.

Estonia – Rockefeller Street performed by Getter Jaani

Surprisingly, this is a big bookie favorite, something that is new for Estonia (even when it won in 2001, it was quite a surprise)!  The lyrics seem very interesting, and I have seen the magically appearing wand from the National Final.  There seems to be a lot of negative feedback about her voice, but a lot of positive feedback about the song otherwise.  What she lacks in voice quality can more than be made up in a stage show – and they’ve already promised us a good one.  I think this will be Top Ten for sure.

Belarus – I Love Belarus performed by Anastasiya Vinnikova

What is this, the jESC?  That’s the only place for outright patriotic songs; there is no way Europe will stand for this, I don’t care how catchy a tune it is.  Interestingly enough, it’s not biggest longshot to win the Contest according to the bookies.  Also curious, it’s a song about her love for her motherland, but it’s in English, can you say “неконгруэнтность”?  Expect this song to finish near the bottom of the Semi-Final.

Latvia – Angel in Disguise performed by Musiqq

This song seems to not be getting much attention from anyone, fans or bookies.  My impression is that it is a pleasant song, but not memorable, which is a kiss of death for this competition.  Not to mention, R&B/hip-hop tends to not do very well at ESC; so I expect this song to flounder behind in the semi-finals.

Denmark – New Tomorrow performed by A Friend in London

It’s a pretty lousy song, but the bookies seem to like it.  Fan forums are dominated by the plagiarism/not plagiaism controversy.  For an in-depth look at my opinions regarding this entry and the controversy, click here.

Ireland – Lipstick performed by Jedward

Once again the Emerald Isle disappoint with another gag act.  Despite the trend towards more serious ballads and elaborate pop entries over the past few years, Jedward comes this year to strick another blow for comedic acts.  Due to the twins prior success on X-Factor (leading to massive name recognition), this song will probably go through to the Finals.  Hopefully, it will fail, but I think it stand a decent shot at Top Ten.

With that, I now conclude my coverage of the Second Semi-Final.  For those who like summaries, I predict the following ten entries will move forward to the Grand Final: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ukraine, Moldova, Sweden, Israel, Slovenia, Romania, Estonia, Denmark, Ireland.  Sorry, no real surprises here, there is just too much evidence to go against the popular opinion.  Now, looking ahead to the automatic qualifiers who will be voting on Thursday.

Italy – Madness of Love performed by Raphael Gualazzi

WELCOME BACK ITALY!!!  Yay, it’s always good when a previous winner (not to mention a founding ESC member) returns to the Contest, it’s even better when that former winner is a Contest titan!  Fans have been begging Italy to return since the day it left and will jump at the chance to vote for Italia come Saturday.  The bookies, too, are showering Italy with much love with the general consensus pointing to a Top Ten placing.  With that said, there seems to be a small, but LOUD contigent that really hates this song – but that is the same contigent who seem hate anything that not a fast club thumper, so I am not quite sure how much we should worry about them.  I think Italy will be in the Top Ten.  Many fans of the song fear that they will be in the bottom ten.  I hope regardless of its finish, Italy doesn’t withdraw from the Contest again.

Germany – Taken by a Stranger performed by Lena

So, Dana International is not the only winner trying to pull a Johnny Logan this year, Lena is back and becomes only the third artist (behind Lys Assia and Corrie Brokken) to attempt to defend her crown in the year immediately following her victory.  If she wins again, does that mean she will continue competing for Germany?  It’s amazing to see how much Lena has grown and matured over the past year.  She still has that funky accent, but who cares?  It’s become a part of her performance at this point.  Interestingly enough, the runner-up song, Push Forward appears to be much more popular among the fans, but domestic and international, than Taken by a Stranger.  I think Germany will have a respectable finish (somwhere in the top fifteen songs), but it will not win again.

France – Sognuperformed by Amaury Vassili

France, for only the second time, enters a song employing Corsican, a language closer to Italian than French.  France is entering the Contest as the favorite among bookies and fans, not a heavy favorite, as Estonia, the UK, and Sweden are expected to battle it out for the vicotry.  I just don’t quite see it.  He’s not the first opera singer to take on Eurovision and he won’t be the last.  One thing every opera-inspired entry seems to shar in common: overratedness.  Remember SWE2009 – Malena Ernman was supposed to be an easy pick for the top ten; she finished in the bottom five.  And what about SLO and LAT2007?  They were both heralded as the first to bring opera to the Contest, both received a lot of fan love and support and neither one made it to the Top Ten.  I’m not saying that France can’t win, I just wouldn’t put money on it.

My predicitions for the Top Ten come the Grand Final on Saturday:

France, UK, Italy, Sweden, Greece, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Estonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

In terms of a winner, I just can’t say.  The fans are all over the place, and I just can’t see any of the current top three (France, UK, Estonia) winning right now.  I also doubt Sweden will be able to give a winning performance given the rigor of the stage show they plan to put on.  So we will see.

I now bid you adieu.  My next posts will be my Notes from the Contest – live commentary I write as I am watching the Contest for the first time.  Until then, happy readings!  Only 14 days left until the Grand Final!


A Word on Denmark’s 2011 Entry

Every year, one or two entries at the ESC stir up a bit of controversy due to claims of plagiarism by fans.  This year, Denmark’s entry New Tomorrow by A Friend in London is the center of the controversy.  So, in lieu of my typical review of Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, I want to use my annual post about the Danish entry to discuss this situation.

To set the stage for this post, I will recap my thoughts about this year’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix.  I was vastly disappointed in this year’s DMGP.  The production, the staging, the songs, the outcome – no where as good as the last two years were.  Not to mention the whole thing was a sham; New Tomorrow was slated to win from its announcement as a contender and it destroyed the competition.  With that said, I strongly disliked the song, and already know that 2011 will be the first Contest since 2008 in which I will have to suffer through having to listen to an entry – unfortunately that entry comes from my own Denmark.  New Tomorrow is corny, generic song with lyrics better fit for a classroom of four year olds than the stage of a major international song competition.

After A Friend in London’s victory, fans around Europe screamed in outrage, claiming that the song was plagiarized.  There are allegedly four songs from which  the band has “borrowed”: Face 2 Face by Future Trance United, Shine by Take That, Yasashii Uta by Mucc, and Sing For Me by Andreas Johnson.  Despite the fact that I love Shine, I will admit that all of these songs are horribly generic and they all have an eerily similar refrains to one another.  Undoubtedly, all four songs share a similar progression throughout the melody in question.  The questions is: do these notes progress exactly the same between New Tomorrow and any of these (or other) songs?

I think the Eurovision Times blog best describes the process for musical plagiarism to be determined. “We have to remember that one can not accuse a song of being plagiarism if it just resembles another song. Plagiarism

is not a sentiment of ‘Déjà vu’ and there are clear rules to determine whether something is plagiarism or not. First a complaint by the other song’s authors has to be filed. Then the song will be analysed. For a song to be plagiarism it has to have a sequence of eight notes that are exactly identical with the other song.”  As a musician, I have a better ear for this kind of stuff than the average person, but I am still no expert.  I think the strongest case comes in the form of Andreas Johnson’s Sing for Me (though, there is also a strong resemblance to Mucc’s Yasashii Uta).  The key, I think, lies in melody when the lyrics are: “In this crazy, crazy world” – it is at this point that New Tomorrow (and the other songs) separate from each other.  A Friend in London follows this progression in their song (the words in parenthesis indicates the direction the pitch moves between syllables): “In (up) this (up) cra- (same) -zy (same) cra- (same) -zy (down) world.”  Andreas Johnson: “sing (up) for (up) joy (same) sing (same) for (same) eve- (up) -ry (down) man (same) wo- (same) man (same) boy (same) and (same) girl.” Notice the slight difference.  Due to my lack of knowledge of the Japanese language, I can’t do a similar thing for the Yasashii Uta, but I can tell that around where “crazy, crazy world” occurs in New Tomorrow, instead of going downward pitch, Yasashii Uta goes upward.  Again, I am no expert in these things, but that’s how I hear it.  Shine and Face 2 Face deviate enough in the second half of their refrains that there is less ambiguity regarding those cases.

My verdict: New Tomorrow is unoriginal and generic, but in the end, does not meet the requirements for plagiarism as there is no way to prove (or disprove) whether A Friend in London heard these other songs and were influenced by them.  If anything, all of these songs were influenced by Kitarō’s Silk Road Suite (1979).  If you agree or disagree with my opinion, leave a (civil) comment and check out this video on YouTube, where someone has spliced together the similar melodies from Silk Road, Yasashii Uta, Sing for Me, and New Tomorrow so that listeners can judge for themselves whether there is plagiarism afoot.  Obviously, the video’s creator’s opinion is incredibly self-evident (you can see it in the title alone) but I suggest you close your eyes, give the video a few listens, and reach your own conclusion.


BIG NEWS!!!

Let’s see, it’s December 2nd, we’re six days past the deadline for countries to declare their participation in ESC 2011 (in which Italy declared its return and France has yet to issue an official statement either way) and about a week away from the EBU meeting set to determine the fates of Lichtenstein broadcaster 1FLTV and Qatar broadcaster Qatar Radio (as well as Kazakhstan’s Kazakhstan 1 and Kosovo’s RTK-1, both have expressed at least moderate interest in participation in the ESC), and a couple of weeks ahead of the Reference Group meeting that decides the Big 4(5) and whether Hungary’s DunaTV can compete for the country.  We only have five artists decided (The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Cyprus, and Bosnia & Herzegovina) and no songs selected, yet this is already shaping out to be a historic Contest.

For starters, Mr. Svante Stockselius, the heralded head of Eurovision who is stepping down from his position, is going out with a bang.  After making it one of his administration’s top priorities, he finally got Italy to quit pouting on the sidelines and rejoin the fun that is Eurovision (expect an entry regarding Stockselius’ legacy in the coming weeks).  Italy is back, but is hemming and hawing about whether they want to become automatic qualifiers.  Given their history, they probably feel as if they don’t need to pay the extra dues, but in not doing so, they deny another country the chance at victory.  The Reference Group will be meeting in mid-December to discuss this issue.  And while we’re talking about the big money countries, why has there not been any official word from France?  They had a top ten placing in 2009 and got 12th in Oslo – why would they not participate?!

Also returning for certain in 2011, Austria – who have so often whined about the voting at the Contest – is returning.  They left the Contest, again, after a dismal showing in 2007.  But before I launch into a rant about Austria…

Hungary, a much belied but passionate country, nonetheless, is trying its darnedest to return after an absence last year.  The former ESC broadcaster in Magyar, MTV, no longer has the budget to participate or even broadcast the Contest (hence Hungary’s withdrawal in 2010) and private broadcaster Duna TV took over the role of ESC provider in the Central European country.  Now, Duna TV is trying to get approval from the Reference Group (the very same one that is weighing Italy’s level of participation).

Also awaiting the approval of ruling bodies, Lichtenstein and Qatar.  Lichtenstein should easily be in as long as they can pay their dues.  Qatar presents an interesting conundrum for the EBU.  I am sure they would love to expand their market in the the Middle East, especially with a country that’s willing to play nice with Israel.  The issue is: the bounds of the European Broadcasting Area is 30ºN and 40ºE, which come together somewhere in Saudi Arabia, to the north of and to the west of Qatar…i.e., Qatar is outside of the EBA.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, if there’s money to be had – then it won’t matter.  BUT the EBU have used these boundaries to deny Kazakhstan’s K-1 entry. The official website and OikoTimes have both said that Qatar magically fits within the EBA, but have simply said that because the southern boundary of the EBA is 30ºN runs through several countries in Northern Africa and Saudi Arabia, and Qatar is north of the southern boundaries of these countries, it is within the EBA.  Confused? So am I!  Regardless of how this works out, I would be happy with the decision.  If they deny entry to Qatar Radio, then they will be sticking to their rules and regulations.  If they allow Qatar in (and, thus, they will have to let in K-1, too) then I would welcome the addition of a fixture country from the Middle East into the Contest.  Both Lichtenstein and Qatar have pending ESC debuts on the line and eagerly await the EBU’s decisions.

By Christmas, we should know just how historic the Contest in 2011 will be!


Eurovision 2011 – Germany: First Blog Entry!

One thing that I love about the Eurovision Song Contest is that it never sleeps.  The 2010 edition was not even fully wrapped up (we’re still waiting for an official release of all the countries’ individually split votes) and news about next year’s Contest has already started coming out

As we all know by now, the Contest will be held in Germany next year following Deutschland’s victory in Oslo.  And no fewer than eight cities are said to be in the running to host the Contest, including previous hosts, Frankfurt Am Main and Munich, as well as Lena’s hometown of Hanover.  While Germany has the resources to make Moscow’s record spending in 2009 look like chump change, I have a feeling that they will stick closer to the minimalist route taken by Oslo this year, though, hopefully not quite as minimal – it would be lovely to bring back the opening acts to the Semi-Finals (hmmm…I seem to remember a handsome blogger making a suggestion for these a few months back here).  What I think would be really cool, and make it appear as if it costs more money then it actually does, would be to host all three nights in three different cities.  Germany has two broadcasters, ARD and NDR, one could easily take over each semi-final and they could come together for the Grand Final.  They could go for a north/south thing, as NDR is literally “Northern German Radio.”  Or, better yet, they could go for the East/West thing, having a big city on each side host a semi-final and then have the Grand Final be in Berlin to emphasize Germany coming together.

Germany was the first to announce their representative for 2011.  In a feat not seen since the first years of the Contest, the winning performer will be trying to defend her crown.  Lena will become only the third performer (after Lys Assia and Corry Brokken) to compete in the year immediately following her victory.  No performer, aside from Irish golden boy Johnny Logan, has ever won more than once.  So, this could make for an interesting event, as traditionally, the winning performer opens up the Final with a reprise of the previous year’s winning song and whatever new thing they want to do.  I predict that letting Lena open up the Final will be out of the question, though, she may open up the first Semi-Final.  This will uphold tradition (sort of) without letting Lena perform twice in one the night.  Though, the EBU may not allow this unless the other automatic qualifiers get to do something similar…can you say medley!

Not to be outdone, the Netherlands has already announced its performer as well: 3JS (that’s the Three J’s, not 3-J-S).  This seems to be a smart decision on TROS’ part, as the group makes inoffensive adult contemporary music.  It also looks like they will continue the Dutch language streak, as that seems to be their language of choice.  Information regarding their song selection will be released at a later date.  I will say, we can probably expect something along the lines of a Me and My Guitar (BLG2010)/Life Looks Better in Spring (CYP2010) type of song.  Last year set two precedents for the Contest, a youth movement which hasn’t been seen since Sandra Kim’s controversial win in the mid-eighties, and a movement towards unadorned entries.  Molitva started this trend back in 2007, but it seems to have really caught on now.  Anyway, look for these guys to return the Netherlands to their frill-less entry ways.

Israel may withdraw in 2011 due to possible conflict between the rehearsal dates & first Semi-Final and two major Israeli holidays.  Apparently, a similar situation occurred in 2008, but it did not stop the nation from competing then.  However, Israel has set out once before due to conflicts with holidays, 1980.  Originally, IBA was just supposed to relinquish hosting duties, as it could not afford to host two contests back-to-back.  However, when the Contest date was announced, Israel withdrew completely because it conflicted with a national memorial day.  The Netherlands and France have both also withdrawn due to conflicts with national happenings.  The Dutch withdrew in 1985 and 1991 because the date of the Contest coincided with the Dutch day for Rememberance for the Dead and France withdrew in 1974 due to the death of President Georges Pompidou.  Something else also happened in 1980, Morocco competed.  While they claim to have withdrawn due to a poor result (after finishing 18 out of 24, the king of Morocco is quoted as saying that as long as he lives, the country will never compete in ESC again).  Many in the ESC world believe that Morocco actually refuses to return due to Israel’s presence.  Let me ask you something, if Morocco had finished in the Top Ten, do you really think Israel’s presence would have stopped the nation from showcasing it’s musical greatness at the next Contest, I think not!  Anyway it does raise the interesting notion that if Israel does indeed sit out, Muslim nations (i.e. Lebanon) might make formal debuts at the Contest – an interesting prospect.  I expect the debate over this topic to rage until Israel either announces its intent to compete or formally withdraws.

Speaking about withdraws, Hungary’s new ESC broadcaster Duna TV is said to be making great efforts to ensure participation in Germany, while Andorra and San Marino are both still crying poor.  Additionally, one country that has just been crying for the last few years has announced its intention of returning.

Austria, which last graced the Eurovision stage back in 2007 when the Contest was in Helsinki, announced its intention to return to the Contest.  Yay!  I always like it when countries return, especially former winners.  Apparently, Germany’s victory was enough for them to stop whining about the voting system and compete again.  Maybe they can bring Luxembourg and Italy back with them…  Especially since, without Italy, there will only be 24 countries in the Final next year.