Personal Musings and Reflections

Eurovision: More Than Just…Politics

Hello Dear Readers!

As promised, the first of four posts in the series “Eurovision: More than just…”

The fallout from Ukraine’s victory last May is still resounding, particularly as the host broadcaster, The Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (UA:PBC) is struggling to complete preparations in a timely manner. The winning entry in Stockholm was 1944 performed by Jamala, who wrote the song based on the experiences of her great-grandmother who had to go through the forced migration of the Crimean Tatars by the USSR, even incorporating words from a Tatar folk song about the event as the chorus. Clearly, while this song is about a historical injustice, there are clear parallels to the 2014 invasion of Crimea by Russia. Despite Russia’s protest about the song being potentially political (which violates ESC rules), the argument made by NTU (UA:PBC’s former name) was that it was a song about history, not current politics. This was enough to allow the song to compete. There is also a history of other countries using Eurovision to send thinly veiled political messages, such as Armenia’s 2010 and 2015 entries that marked the 95th and 100th anniversaries of the Armenian genocide (and event that Turkey still denies). Many countries also send very blatant political songs about peace (Hungary 2015 is the first I think of) or saving the environment (Ukraine 2010 and Armenia 2013 both come to mind). And being political is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a role of music within our society is to express the narratives that we actually live with day to day. And for smaller countries in particular, Eurovision can be the rare opportunity to express themselves in a wide-scale venue (hence, why microstates like San Marino continue to compete). The guys at Overthinking It did a good job of discussing this.

But, we’re not here to discuss the merits of politics at Eurovision, but the ways in which the Contest transcends them. I am going to focus predominantly on the voting and coordination of the event as opposed to the music. Music is art and can take any direction it pleases. The more important aspect is how the EBU enforces its rules against politics and actions it supposedly takes to convey a political message.

Conspiracy Theories

So often, people dismiss the results as being orchestrated by the EBU to favor Western countries or “friendly” Eastern nations. This is despite the fact that less liberal nations, such as Serbia, Azerbaijan, and Russia have all won and hosted the Contest over the past ten years. In 2016, countless fans put forward conspiracy theories that Western nations’ juries purposefully stiffed Russia to avoid a return to the nation in 2017 as they knew that it would win the televote. This is despite the fact that Russia still finished in the top five among the jury scores. And despite the fact that Poland, which finished third in the televote, garnered a mere 7 points from the juries. Poland is a West-friendly Slavic nation, it’s even in the EU, why wouldn’t the juries swing their support behind it if they truly wanted to sink Russia? Or why not swing that support behind one of their own, such as Germany or Spain? The answer, of course, is that juries remain independent from the EBU’s direct influence. There is no statistical evidence to support any concerted effort between juries.

“Political” Voting

From the beginning of the Contest there has been disputes over the allegedly political nature of votes. I have said it before (and I’ll say it again), there’s a difference between political votes and diaspora votes. Political votes implies a televote is actively moving in a direction to promote (or stop) a country for political reasons. It requires a conscious, concerted effort to do so. This is the reason why we don’t see votes between Armenia and Azerbaijan (though, Armenia gave Azerbaijan one point back in 2009). We don’t see this complete refusal to exchange points between any other countries, including between Russia and either Ukraine or Georgia, both of whom gave televoting points to the nation with whom they are at war.

The splitting of Yugoslavia was particularly bitter and there are very deep divides between the various former Yugoslav nations, particularly between Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia as well as  between Slovenia and all of them. Yet, these countries routinely swap votes among themselves. Why? This is the effect of unconscious cultural bias — diaspora voting. Humans tend to like the familiar. While, politically, the countries that formerly comprised Yugoslavia may hate on another, they have strong cultural connections, they have overlapping music industries, and mostly mutually intelligible languages. It makes sense that they would naturally be attracted to the entries from the others. This is also why the Nordic nations tend to swap points, why Greece and Cyprus always swap points, and (to lesser extent) between the Netherlands-Belgium-France.

This may seem like a small difference but it’s important. There is a big difference between ascribing something to conscious effort and instinct/preference. Does this disadvantage smaller nations? Most definitely, and that’s why the EBU instituted things like the allocation pots and brought back the juries. The truth is, even if country names were removed from entries entirely, the diaspora effect would continue. It’s culture, it’s human nature, it’s comfortable — it’s not politics.

Russia 2017

I would be remiss if I did not address the controversy around Russia and 2017. For those who need the step-by-step layout of events:

  1. Russia internally selected Julia Sachenko to represent them with the song “Flame is Burning” mere days before the submission deadline.

  2. Ukraine announced that they were launching an investigation into Sachenko, as they had suspicion to believe that she illegally entered the country to perform in Crimea without passing through a Ukrainian checkpoint back in 2015.

  3. Sachenko confirms that she did, in fact, perform in Crimea in 2015.

  4. Ukraine officials announced in mid-March (with fewer than eight weeks to go before Eurovision) that Sachenko had indeed entered the country illegally and that she was prohibited from returning for five years – no exception.

  5. The EBU expresses dismay over this decision. Initially, they offer to find a way to allow Sachenko to perform in Moscow and have it telecasted in the arena. Both Russia and Ukraine scoff at this. Russia, because the rules state performances must be live in the arena AND that telecasting denies them full participation benefits. Ukraine, because showing Sachenko on Ukrainian television would violate the law and circumvent the punishment of banning her entry.

  6. The EBU reaffirms that Ukrainian law must be respected and that it will work with the host nation to find a solution.

  7. One of the highest ranking administrators at the EBU issued an ultimatum to Ukraine: provide an exception for Sachenko or risk being banned from Eurovision events (ESC, JESC, Eurovision Young Musicians, and all its entertainment content one imagines) for several years (a punishment that was doled out to Lebanon after it said that it would not broadcast the Israeli entry in 2005, forcing it to remove itself from the Contest – where it was set to debut – and drop any expectation of receiving a refund of its participation fee as well as received a five year ban from Eurovision competitions).

  8. Russia is offered the solution of replacing the artist of the song (which is the most sensible solution and consistent with past situations of similar natures, in my opinion).

  9. Again, Russia scoffs at this solution while Ukraine refuses to budge.

  10. Russia ultimately decides to withdraw and refuses to broadcast EC 2017.

This just goes to show you that, try as they might, the EBU cannot prevent politics from creeping into the Contest. Of course, this all could have been avoided if they had made Jamala change the lyrics of 1944 last year. Or if Russia decided to be the bigger man and choose an artist that did not break the law.

So, is this whole post moot? Doesn’t this just prove that my arguments against the political nature of Eurovision are wrong? No. One example, even one as big as this, does not unravel my argument. Nor does it prove the Contest as a whole is political. In fact, it can be said that the EBU was trying its best to mitigate a political event to avoid politics entering the Contest.

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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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Analyzing the Big Five: Germany

Hello Dear Readers!

Today we move on to Germany. The only Big Five country to win since the rule was introduced, Germany had a wave of success at the turn of the decade, but promptly fell back to bottom of the scoreboard.

Recent History
2006 – 15th place with No No Never by Texas Lightning
2007 – 19th place with Frauen Regier’n Die Welt performed by Roger Cicero
2008 – 23rd place with Disappear performed by No Angels
2009 – 20th place with Miss Kiss Kiss Bang performed by Alex Swings, Oscar Sings
2010 – 1st place with Satellite performed by Lena
2011 – 10th place with Taken by a Stranger performed by Lena
2012 – 8th place with Standing Still performed by Roman Lob
2013 – 21st place with Glorious performed by Cascada
2014 – 18th place with Is it Right? performed by Elaiza
2015 – 27th place (last) with Black Smoke performed by Ann Sophie
2016 – 26th place (last) with Ghost performed by Jamie-Lee Kriewitz

German Flag MapGermany has had a wide diversity of entries, from swing (2007, 2009) to dance (2013) to country (2006) to R&B (2015) to polka-pop (2014). Sadly, despite the relative strength of each entry, most have fallen on the wrong side of the scoreboard. 2010 was a standout year for Germany, as Satellite stormed to victory, making Germany the only Big Five country to win since the rule was introduced in 2000. Lena became only the third person to attempt to defend her title the following year, and got tenth. Finally, using the same formula that selected Lena, Germany chose its entry for 2012 and retained a position in the Top Ten.

So, what’s gone wrong?
The easiest answer would be that Stefan Raab is not involved. Every entry he has touched – 1998 (songwriter), 2000 (songwriter and performer), 2010 (producer), 2011 (producer), 2012 (judge for the selection show) – has gotten Germany into the Top Ten. But why? Why was the period from 2010-2012 so successful and every other year before and since have not been? Stefan Raab brought more than a producer’s touch to NDR, he brought a marketing machine. Satellite was common on radios across Europe ahead of the Contest. By the time the Contest came around, it was already a popular tune that felt familiar to viewers. Taken by a Stranger and Standing Still weren’t played as much, but still had a strong marketing plan around it. In 2013, Cascada, a popular dance-pop group with a worldwide following (arguably, the biggest name at the time of their participation in Eurovision in recent years), took the German banner to Malmö. Perhaps NDR thought that Cascada’s name alone would generate points, perhaps they thought the betting odds would protect them, perhaps they did not anticipate Natalie Horler’s (the lead singer) lackluster vocal performance – regardless, NDR did not promote Glorious as they should and now seem to be trapped in a broken system of lackluster promotional efforts. 2014 and 2015 had news coverage that focused much more on the selection than the song itself.  Every marketing piece for 2016’s entry was 100% focused on Jamie-Lee’s interest in Korean culture. Perhaps it was to preemptively head off questions about the staging, but, like 2013-2015, it meant the song was still relatively unknown.

This is the issue. The story is bigger than the song…in a song contest. See the issue here? Stefan Raab, yes, promoted his artists, but never lost sight of the main focus: getting the song in front of viewers.

How can Germany improve in 2017?

GermanyReturn to a winning formula. In 2010 and 2012, NDR (and ADR) used Raab’s format Unser Star für Oslo/Baku. The process is simple; Unser Star conducted a talent search, the top singers then compete in a typical talent show format, the final two compete with the same songs. Each artist’s best song is chosen to moved into a super-final. The people and the judges then select the best of the two. This ensures that strongest song-artist pair is selected.

We know Lena’s version of Satellite, but here is the version by Jennifer Braun, the other Unser Star finalist in 2010. Though, the super-final featured Jennifer Braum singing I Care for You.

Likewise, in 2012, Roman Lob’s final competitor Ornella de Santis had a version of Standing Still. Her super-final song, though, was “Quietly.”

All of this to say, Germany needs to return to this method of choosing its entry. NDR doesn’t even need to bring back Stefan Raab for Unser Song to work, just the concept. Given the recent string of poor finishes, Germany needs to return to a formula that works!

What’s the worst thing Germany can do?

Continue with its current format of Unser Song; which is essentially just a traditional national selection. Actually, the worst thing Germany can do is have yet another selection controversy. Whether its a winner abdicating the trophy or an internal selection gone awry, NDR needs to have a solid format that locks in the winner. Germany can no longer allow its song to be outshined by the story behind its selection.

There are almost 82 million people in Germany, I’m sure there are plenty of them who would love the chance to fly the Duetsche colors in Ukraine. Bring back Unser Star and return to the Top Ten.

What do you think? Is an undiscovered artist who emerges as the champion at the end of a crucible of a reality television talent search the answer for Germany? Should NDR and ADR just break down and beg Stefan Raab to come back from retirement to run things again? And, more importantly, can Germany reclaim points from the German diaspora throughout Central Europe?

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

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Analyzing the Big Five: Italy

Hello Dear Readers!

We now head to Italy, arguably the most success Big Five country since it returned to the Contest and joined the group in 2011 with four out of six entries finishing in the Top Ten. Overall, Italy has two victories, two second places, and eleven other top five victories since 1956.

Recent History
2011 – 2nd place with Follia d’Amore (Madness of Love) performed by Raphael Gualazzi
2012 – 9th place with L’Amore É Femmina performed by Nina Zilli
2013 – 7th place with L’Essenziale performed by Marco Mengoni
2014 – 21st place with La Miq Città performed by Emma Marrone
2015 – 3rd place with Grande Amore performed by Il Volo
2016 – 16th place with No Degree of Separation performed by Francesca Michielin

Italian Flag MapAs I said above, Italy has been the most successful Big Five country as of late, topping the Top Ten totals of each other country since 2011 (France: 1, Germany: 2, Spain: 2, UK: 0) and hasn’t finished below 21st unlike the others which, other than Spain (25th place), have all been last at least once. Italy has seen this success with jazz, ballads, and even opera. But, the Italian record is not spotless. They have twice fallen toward the bottom of the scoreboard – once when they had a poprock number that was halfheartedly performed with a mess of a staging and the other when a young, eccentric singer took a pretty, but boring, song with a questionable staging to ESC.

So, what has gone wrong?
Honestly, Italy could have won in 2011 (#1 among the juries), 2013 (one of the top betting odds and remains one of the most popular entries to date), and 2015 (#1 in the televote). Why has Italy not been able to close the deal and hoist the crystal microphone? Apathy.

RAI took its time returning to the Contest and has shown little interest in winning. Italy won JESC in 2014 then promptly refused hosting the Contest and sent a weak song to ensure that it would not win again. They seem to be equally disinterested in winning and hosting the adult version. Success in 2011 was a complete surprise and was brought on by the juries. RAI has not made the mistake of allowing their artists to have a strong jury performance since. In 2013 and 2015, seemingly easy victories were prevented by relatively weak jury performances. I was in Vienna for 2015. Il Volo were unenthused on Friday night (for the jury show) and were clearly using it as a mere warm-up. On Saturday, however, they took it to eleven and gave, without a doubt, a winning performance that made the arena standstill in awe. It’s clear to see why they won the televote. Grande Amore would have sent the Contest to Italy if RAI had directed Il Volo to ensure Friday was a full-strength show. Likewise, in 2013, reports were of a mostly aloof Marco Mengoni that had an overall air of disinterest. Throughout the entire performance, jury and televote, he barely made eye contact with the camera, despite various angles that were utilized for him to do just that. Denying his smolder to the audience cost him, and Italy, the victory.

What can Italy do to improve in 2017?
ItalyWell, it’s obvious: care. RAI needs to do some soul-searching. If it doesn’t want to win, then why is it competing? Just to perform well and feel superior to the rest of Europe? Why not win and then throw the “best” ESC to date?

There is not an artist recommendation for Italy. No, only a chastising for the RAI producers.

Shame, shame on you RAI!!!

So, if Italy wants to win, what can it do? Once an artist and song are selected (San Remo still works) the artist should be coached to smile and act like they care about the Contest (such as they did this year), they need to promote and send it around to the various pre-Eurovision concerts (as they did this year), and they need to give strong, powerful performances for both the jury and the televised shows (as they did this year)….

But, if this happened in 2016, why did they achieve such a low placing? The song had a swell of fan support and slowly was picking up speed in the betting odds ahead of the Contest. Well, the answer comes in the form of staging. Italy tends to go for a simple staging (except for 2013, which was a hot mess). The problem: No Degree of Separation didn’t go for a simple staging. There were screens with digitized effects, there were sparkly brown overalls, and a pond theme that did not match the song.

Here’s No Degree of Separation at Eurovision in Concert that sparked its rise in the betting odds.

Michielin has an eccentric personality and probably fought for a more interesting staging, but RAI did not direct this creativity in a positive way. If they did, perhaps we would have gotten a staging more like the music video.

Instead of reigning in Francesca Michielin’s vision and pushing for a simple staging (that was more in line with the simplicity of Eurovision in Concert) or one in line with the music video that compliments the song, RAI allowed for the confusing production that we got this May. Again, if RAI had wanted to win, they would have worked with Michielin to craft a staging that would have allowed for the song to shine. Instead, RAI allowed it to die.

Again: shame, shame on you RAI for not trying harder!

What’s the worst thing Italy can do?

Depends on who you ask. RAI? Winning.

For the thousands of ESC fans in Italy and around the world? To allow another great song to fall prey to apathy by not allowing the artist to perform at their full potential for the jury final or by not channeling an artist’s creativity into a successful presentation.

Italy, unlike so many other countries, does not have a problem with the quality of its entries – the songs or the artists – the problem lies with the hearts of those in control at RAI. Once those hearts are changed, I imagine we’ll be back in Italy without haste.

What are your thoughts? Do you think that RAI needs to care more? Do you disagree that their songs have actually been strong enough to win? And, more importantly, why has San Marino not given Italy 12 points since 2011 and will the #SanMarinoPlan help with this?

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

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Analyzing the Big Five: Spain

  1. Hello Dear Readers!

We turn our gazes today out west – to Spain! Debuting in 1961, España has had mixed success through the years, winning in 1968 and again on home turf in 1969, but rarely tasting much other success, having only two second places and six other top five finishes. This is well-reflected in Spain’s recent finishes, as the country has been up and down, but rarely achieved its full potential.

Recent History
2006 – 21st place with Un Blodymary by Las Ketchup
2007 – 20th place with I Love You Mi Vida performed by D’Nash
2008 – 16th place with Baila El ChikiChiki performed by Rodolfo Chikilicuatre
2009 – 24th place with La Noche es para Mi performed by Soraya
2010 – 15th place with Algo Pequiñito performed by Daniel Diges
2011 – 23rd place with Que Me Quiten Lo Bailao performed by Lucia Perez
2012 – 10th place with Quedate Conmigo performed by Pastora Soler
2013 – 25th place with Contigo Hasta el Final performed by El Sueño De Morfeo (ESDM)
2014 – 10th place with Dancing in the Rain performed by Ruth Lorenzo
2015 – 21st place with Amanecer performed by Edurne
2016 – 22nd place with Say Yay! performed by Barei

Spanish Flag MapSpain’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. There is an intense desire to use Eurovision to display Spanish culture, whether its showcasing the Celtic roots of Galicia (2013), bringing idioms to life (2010, 2011, 2016), or simply displaying contemporary Spanish pop music (2006, 2007, 2009, 2016). It is this emphasis on culture that leads to the inevitable, annual discussion of whether or not the entry should include English. Honestly, language isn’t the issue. The composition and staging display the culture just fine. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the incorporation of Spanish (or one of its dialects or a regional language) into the entry – but is it worth the fuss that we see ever year? In 2016, the Minister of Culture nearly disowned “Say Yay!” because it was entirely in English despite the composition and the presentation displaying Spanish culture. Likewise, the international fans are quick to blame the Spanish language for the nation’s lack of success, forgetting that two of Spain’s most successful entries in the past ten years were entirely in Spanish and the last was 50/50 with English. And this is why the emphasis on culture is a weakness for Spain – instead of unifying the country behind an entry that celebrates (at least a segment of) Spanish culture, each year there seems to be a firestorm – the public seems to whine about every entry, it’s either not “Spanish enough” or its the “wrong” kind of Spanish, etc. And, complaining from the public is typical, but it seems to be led by the government. It’s hard for RTVE to garner support when the government whines about the entry for not adequately representing “Spanish” culture. Spain is a diverse country, rich from the influence of many people groups (many Western European countries are diverse, but Spain is one of the least integrated countries, where the various groups tend to stay separated) – Catalonia, Galicia, Majorca, Canary Islands, Andalusia, etc. No one entry will be able to capture every aspect of every culture within Spain. The sooner that this fact is accepted, the easier it will be for RTVE to garner public support.

So, what has gone wrong?
The issue of culture surely puts RTVE on edge, as they have to try hard to win over the doubters within their own country in addition to trying to win the hearts of Europe. Add the fact that it was the last of the Big Five to join the Contest and the least successful, and you get a situation where entries come off as desperate. 2007 and 2015 are great examples of this. Both were songs that were meant to capture the essence of contemporary sound, both went into the Contest with decent betting odds and a lot of attention. However, both had stagings that were too elaborate, so much so that it took away from the song. These overly-elaborate stagings come off as desperate for votes and we all know that desperation is a turn-off. 2016 was in a similar situation, but had betting odds that were on a downhill trajectory throughout the month of May and had the unfortunate task of performing after Russia’s show-stopping presentation.

What can Spain do to Improve in 2017?
SpainIt’s tempting to say that Spain just needs to send another diva. Spain’s two Top Ten songs were both ballads. But, 2008, arguably the most memorable and popular song, was a pure gimmick act. All three songs had something in common that the other seven we’re examining do not: authenticity (you could argue that 2013 was authentic, but was not performed very well). No one expected Rodolfo Chikilicuatre to have a strong song, but he went out there and got people dancing and laughing and enjoying the song. Even though there were other entries that have done better than 2008, this is still one of the first (if not the first) Spanish songs most ESC fans will name. Why? Because Rodolfo was true to who he was and basked in his oddity and made us want to join him in it. 2012 and 2014 have similar stories. Both were very traditional ballads that should have been lost in Contests with more dynamic entries and news stories that dominated headlines (“Russian grannies!” “Azerbaijan’s spotty human rights record!” “Loreen is literally everywhere in Baku!” “Denmark has gone broke over this Contest!” “Conchita is queen/the devil!” “Russia vs. gays!”), both songs maintained relevance and had powerful, heartfelt emotions that few entries have matched – and none of the other Spanish ones have.

The focus for Spain, more than anything, this year must be on a singer who is truly authentic and can convey this through their singing. 2008 showed that this doesn’t have to be a ballad, even something uptempo can work. Furthermore, don’t overcrowd the staging. The singer should stand out. 2008 basically recreated the music video, Rodolfo singing with his crazy dancers. 2012 was Pastora standing still in a beautiful gown with minimal light work. 2014 was Ruth Lorenzo singing with wet hair and a rain backdrop. 2017 needs to be minimal – no crazy camera work, no magic tricks, no major choreography – just a strong song performed well by a singer who knows who knows themself. I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that 2017 will be won by a singer-songwriter type (think Germany and Belgium 2010, Germany 2012, or Netherlands 2016). Spain can bring this kind of authentic entry to the Contest. I’m not quite as up on Spanish music scene as I am on the British one, but I did find two artists that I think would do well for Spain.

Lantana is singer-songwriter and actress who predominantly makes piano-driven ballads. She has been critically acclaimed and has a strong following. Her biggest hits are La Noche de los Muertos Vivientes and Ex-Corazón. She is also known for being a bit of a performance artist (using the stage to create living art pieces of which she is a part). Which means she would create a staging that compliments the song. And for those wondering if this would be too crazy and distracting, here is a clip from a concert in Berlin (I chose a performance of my favorite song by her, Perdón).

Another artist that I think could do well for Spain is Luis Ramiro. Like Lantana, he tends to produce passionate ballads that are presented simply. He has also been critically acclaimed and has won several awards for his work. One his most acclaimed songs is Dos Coplas earned him a Young Creators Award. One of my favorites is Magia. The reason I think he can be successful thanks to the fact that every song he creates is stirring. One of his most recent singles is Contigo.

Both of these artists perform exclusively in Spanish (as far as I can tell). There’s one benefit to having an internal artist selection – it allows the broadcaster to take a hand-off approach. Think Netherlands 2013. TROS wanted Anouk to be their representative. She accepted on the condition that she gets full control. She chose a slow, haunting ballad and had one of the simplest presentations of the year. RTVE could offer the same deal to Lantana or Luis Ramiro (or a similar artist). Then, the entry is no longer representing ALL of Spanish culture, but is now just the vision of one Spaniard fighting for their people. It’s much easier to rally around one person who is fighting for you as opposed to trying to convince everyone that this three minute song is a representation of who you are.

What’s the worst thing Spain can do?
In reaction to the controversy over 2016’s full English-language entry, Spain decides to go full tilt in expressing Spanish culture. They have an artist and an entry more focused on culture than on success (i.e., Portugal just about every year). Think about if the RTVE sent a flamenco song, or a Sardana song (to make nice with Catalonia). It would add wonderful diversity to the Contest and I would love it but it would fail – hard. Just ask Finland how successful their Finnish tango entries are (not very). Again, this is not to say there’s something wrong with putting your folk cultures on display; Eurovision, to some degree, is meant for this. However, don’t put your folk cultures on display with the expectation that they will win. The last pure folk song to win the Contest was…arguably The Voice (Ireland 1996).

Essentially, Spain needs an artist that can take their experiences and life and authentically translate them to the Eurovision stage. This can even be done with a contemporary interpretation of a folk style; how many winners have won with this equation? 2016, 2009, 2006, 2005… Putting the entry in the hands of a singular artist who can set a vision for the presentation is the solution that Spain needs at this time.

Your thoughts? Is a singer-songwriter the right path for Spain? Is Spain right to focus so much on language? And, most importantly, under the new point system, can Spain still harness a big chunk of votes from Portugal (who returns next year)?

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

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Analyzing the Big Five: The United Kingdom

Hello Dear Readers!

The United Kingdom remains the most successful country in the ESC despite recent history. It is tied for third most wins at five (with France and Luxembourg), an astounding 15 second places, and a total of 10 other top five finishes. Since 2006, though…..not so much.

Recent History
2006 – 19th place with “Teenage Life” performed by Daz Sampson
2007 – 22nd place with “Flying the Flag (for You)” performed by Scooch
2008 – Last (25th) place with “Even If” performed by Andy Abraham
2009 – 5th place with “My Time” performed by Jade Ewan
2010 – Last (25th) place with “That Sounds Good to Me” performed by Josh Dubovie
2011 – 11th place with “I Can” performed by Blue
2012 – 25th place with “Love will Set You Free” performed by Englebert Humperdinck
2013 – 19th place with “Believe in Me” performed by Bonnie Tyler
2014 – 17th place with “Children of the Universe” performed by Molly Sterling-Downes
2015 – 24th place with “Still in Love with You” performed by Electro Velvet
2016 – 24th place with “You’re Not Alone” performed by Joe & Jake

British Flag MapFrom legendary singers that couldn’t stand out in the crowd, songs that stood too out too much for the wrong reasons, and pulling a proven hits-maker out of retirement to write a song, the best the BBC has done was on the back of Andrew Lloyd Weber, one of the most influential and important composer of the modern era thanks to his prolific career creating musicals, who decided that it was time for the UK to do well again back in 2009. Blue was supposed to do well, but utterly destroyed their chances during the jury final. In 2014, the UK was a legitimate contender to win, only to finish a distant 18th place.

So, what has gone wrong?
The UK suffers from two primary issues:
First, the BBC (and by extension, the populace) still view the Contest as being stuck in the 1980s/1990s. ESC coverage tends to pull footage from these years and many of the songs sent reflect this era in either the campiness (2006, 2007, 2015) or style (2008, 2010, 2012, 2013). Personally, I like these songs (particularly 2015 and 2012), but they’re entries that win the modern Contest. 2009, while old-fashioned, was powerfully sung (which makes a big difference) and had Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Second, when the UK does send a contemporary song, they hurt themselves through not taking it seriously (2011) or in having a rather odd staging (2013). 2016 was widely seen as the BBC’s best entry in years, but failed, in part, due to a staging that downplayed the playfullness of the song and didn’t do enough to connect the visuals with the message of the lyrics.

How can the UK improve in 2017?
United KingdomWell, the BBC has the power, influence, and money to land just about any artist who is not currently on the Top 100 chart. Additionally, with as much whining as the BBC does about the Contest being too “political,” the Beeb never makes a politically-driven choice for its representative. This needs to change; the BBC complains about the way the game has evolved without ever changing its tactics – that needs to end in Ukraine. This is particularly crucial as Europe will still be bitter about the Brexit, which should be in full swing by this May, as every EU country (except Luxembourg) competes in the ESC. Additionally, one of the biggest stories out of Britain as a result of the Brexit has been the severe increase in xenophobic (that’s anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner) and racist speech and actions across many areas of England (and, presumably, the rest of the UK). The BBC must select an entry that shows that it (1) still loves Europe, (2) affirms its positive relationship with the Continent, and (3) reinforces a commitment to diversity.

With that in mind, I think the BBC has two options.

First option: Show their love of Europe by choosing an artist that comes from the most European part of the British Realm: Gilbraltar. Not only that, but celebrate diversity by having the song performed, at least in part, in Llanito (an English-Spanish hybrid language native to the region). In terms of a specific artist, Surianne comes to mind. She is an established artist that, while having several hits in the past, might currently be looking for a new opportunity to share her music with Europe. Having her represent the UK can show the Continental side of the country and provide an opportunity for the first non-English entry in UK history. Check out her biggest hit, Stronger Than Before as well as her newest single, Hold On produced by Mikki Nielsen.

Second option: choose an artist, or collection of artists, that can bring a song too good to ignore. I would recommend Naughty Boy and Emeli Sandé. Not only would it bring a united England-Scotland partnership to the stage (which is important for both the UK and the world to see), but both artists are well-known without being so big (or busy) that they would turn down money from the BBC and the opportunity to be on stage. Both artists are also racial minorities; they’re the children of immigrants, but both are Britons; they would send an important message of diversity, not just to the UK but to Europe/the world as every country struggles with racism and xenophobia. Musically, we also know that Naughty Boy has produced, not just fun club stuff, but legitimate artistic pieces – just check out his single from 2015 Runnin’ (Lose it All) featuring Beyoncé and Arrow Benjamin – both the song and music video are powerful. Emeli Sandé is a powerful singer and big in her own right, just check out her biggest single Next to Me or her version of Crazy in Love from the Great Gatsby soundtrack. And, the two have done great work together; Naughty Boy produced a large portion of Sandé’s debut album and she was featured on several tracks of his.

What’s the worst thing the UK can do?

Essentially, the worst thing for the UK is to keep doing what they have been doing. While it can be good to have newly discovered, young talent, unless you have Simon Cowell (or an equally as prolific producer) molding them in his image, they will not develop into strong contenders. In 2009,  Jade Ewen was the winner of the national talent search to find a singer and had Andrew Lloyd Weber to mentor her – finishing in the Top Ten. The following year, the BBC tried to replicate the process with Josh Dubovie, who was mentored by 80s-pop producer team Stock & Waterman who lacked the same vigor as Lloyd Weber – the song came last. Unfortunately, 2014-2016 have followed the 2010 paradigm of choosing a new talent, giving them an uninspired pop song, and then blaming their lack of achievement on politics and bloc voting. Sticking to this pattern will result in the same, low place for the UK.

Additionally, I know that it is British culture to rail against everything, but it would behoove the BBC to do a big, positive publicity push, as well. It’s hard to do well when the dominant narrative from your own country about your entry is overwhelmingly negative. The BBC is a media outlet, surely they can do a better job at controlling the narrative than they have been. The last two years, the British media and public have been particularly harsh on the British entries, despite the fact that both were distinctive and showed that the BBC was finally ready to take risks. Eurovision success will only come with a shift in the cultural perspective towards Eurovision – which the BBC must lead.

 

What do you think? Will the BBC listen to my advice and send a strategic entry to Eurovision? Or will the UK continue to try the same things and expect different results? And, more importantly, how can it garner more points from Ireland and Australia?

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

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Analyzing the Big Five: How can they get better?

Hello Dear Readers!

As decided by you on Twitter, the first series this summer will be on the Big Five – looking at their past ten entries (only six for Italy, as it rejoined in 2011) and determining their best path for success going into 2017. I’ll be examining them in reverse alphabetical order: United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France.

But first, who are the Big Five, how did they get their status, and how do they *keep* their status?

Who are the Big Five?
In short: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Big Five

In more detail: the Big Five are the countries (and by countries, I mean participating broadcasters – remember, Eurovision is a competition between tv broadcasters) who (1) give the most money to the EBU – without their contributions, Eurovision would simply lack the funding to exist and (2) have (historically had) the largest television audiences in Europe. Simply put, France (France 2 + 3), Germany (NDR), Italy (RAI), Spain (RTVE), and the United Kingdom (BBC) have the greatest potential for the number of viewers of ESC. More viewers equals more money generated from advertisers. It also means more potential buyers of ESC merchandise.

How did they get their status?
Imagine it’s the nineties. Yugoslavia has split up and other Communist nations are slowly starting to look towards the West. In 1993, the EBU tried having a pre-selection show to handle all the new countries that sprung up in the East. It accomplished its goal, but this was not a permanent solution. As more countries wanted to participate, 1996 brought another pre-selection show. Juries would listen to songs from every country looking to participate (except the previous year’s winner, Norway) and select the songs joining the prequalified entries in Oslo. The German entry, Planet of Blue, did not qualify. 1996 was one of the lowest watched Contests, losing lots of money for the EBU. Why? Because Germany had unprecedentedly low viewership. After a few more years without a preselection, the EBU implemented a relegation system. Needless to say, the EBU did not want to risk another situation in which a major broadcaster had low viewership, especially since Italy had decided to stop participating altogether after 1997. When setting the rules for relegation, exempted would be the four countries with the largest tv audiences and financial contributions. Therefore, Germany, France, UK, and Spain would never be relegated – and thus, the Big Four rule was introduced. When the semi-final was introduced in 2004, the Big Four rule was maintained; these four countries and the top ten from the previous year would automatically qualify for the Final. When Italy rejoined the Contest in 2011, it was determined that it should join its peers and create the Big Five.

Why do they keep their status?
In case you doubt their contributions, keep in mind how many countries don’t know from year to year if they will be able to participate due to finances. When the EBU provides money for those broadcasters, it is typically from the dues of these five countries as well as from the revenue generated from their content. For example, San Marino was able to participate in 2008 because RAI, a major stockholder in SMRTV at the time, wanted to test the waters for an Italian return. They helped fund San Marino’s 2008 debut and helped them return in 2011. This happens beyond Eurovision; as broadcasters need funds (or the waiving of dues payments) to operate – the EBU is able to provide assistance because the Big Five broadcasters provide a substantial portion of funding. The debts that caused TVR (Romania) to withdraw in 2016 and could possibly dissolve BHRT (and its subsidiary RTRS) (Bosnia & Herzegovina) were built by loans that the EBU was able to provide thanks to the Big Five broadcasters.

From a competition standpoint, it may not seem fair that these five always qualify, especially since their entries as of late (~past sixteen years) have not done too well. The fact remains, there would be no Contest without these five countries – from their financial contributions that help other European broadcasters operate, to the advertising revenues they bring to the EBU, to the audiences they provide for Eurovision and year-round programming, the Big Five are as vital today as they have ever been to the Contest.

So, why haven’t they been doing too well these past ten years? Well…it depends on the country. We’ll spend the next two weeks examining each one’s recent history, identifying potential weak spots, and giving suggestions for 2017.

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Eurovision 2016 – Wrap Up!

Hello Dear Readers!

It has been about a month and a half since the Grand Final in Stockholm, yet, I have still been Eurovisioning every day since as best I can – I’ve become quite active on Twitter and Instagram (both @escobsession). Typically, I like to watch the full Contest a time or two more before making this wrap up. I particularly like to rewatch the Final. Unfortunately, both the official Eurovision website and the official YouTube still have this year’s Contest blocked in the US (and, as I am told, Canada). Eventually, I was able to find a decent, fan uploaded version of the Contest on YouTube, but I shouldn’t have to go through these lengths. The beauty of the Contest in the modern era is that it stretches globally. Yes, the US had its first ever live broadcast of ESC this year (on the cable network Logo, which is dedicated to broadcasting LGBTQ+ themed content, my thoughts on this in a later post this summer), why would the EBU not want to build upon this by continuing to allow access to the Contest to fans in North America beyond May? Logo does not have the Contest streaming online. This needs to be rectified. With all the fuss being made over Russia losing, people have all but ignored this issue — and the EBU is shooting itself in the foot in the very markets that into which it is trying to expand.

Both the official website and YouTube block the Contest in the US and Canada

No ESC for those in the US or Canada 😦

With that said, let’s recap some of my thoughts from this year’s Contest!

General Reactions

I already hit the historical markers in my initial post after the Final. So these are just some of my thoughts and opinions.

  • I was incredibly skeptical about the new voting system. However, I actually really like it (for the most part)! Yes, Ukraine won neither the juries nor the televote, but it did come second with both a feat that neither Australia nor Russia matched (Australia was fourth in the televote, Russia was sixth with the juries). Furthermore, it made the voting sequence that much more exciting. It went from a clear Australian victory to a nailbiter of a finish! Particularly in the arena where we could barely see the screens and the scores. We had no idea who won until Ukraine was announced as the winner. And, the most exciting move of the night, Poland’s jump from last to eighth!

    We could barely see the screens inside Globen.

    We could barely see the screens inside Globen.

  • Truly, the best song won. Russia had an amazing stage show and Australia had a powerful performance, but neither You Are the Only One nor Sound of Silence matched 1944 in originality of composition nor in lyrical strength. As such, Ukraine emerged victorious.

  • Also, it’s nice that the winning song was not entirely in English. While it mostly was, it’s still nice to know that non-English can still do well. This was further reinforced by the success of France and Austria.

  • The show’s production was great, but, once again, the Swede’s gave us an overly crowded show. Love Love Peace Peace, the highlight of the infinite interval acts for many, would have been great as during the vote entertainment. The mockmentary Nerd Nation should have been a two-parter just for the semi-finals; if you didn’t watch the first two parts, you would have been lost for the conclusion. I also would have brought the Eurovision by Numbers to the Final, since so many people were watching the Contest for the first time across the world. Lastly, I would have moved Måns to the opening act (scrap the parade of nations, or, at least, the fashion show element that made it drag out forever) and let Justin Timberlake stand alone as the Interval Act as the votes were being verified.

  • Lastly, while I agree with the winner, I am overall surprised and disappointed in most of the results otherwise. The Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Germany all deserved much better placings than they got. Likewise, Lithuania, Sweden, and Malta all overperformed and finished higher than they should have.

So, now that you know my general reactions, let’s move on to the Annual Eurovision Obsession Awards!

For new readers, I hand out awards every year to noteworthy entries and their performers. A few things to keep in mind 1) this is my personal opinion, 2) I look at all the entries, not just the finalists, 3) this is all in good fun and sparks from my love of the Contest. One more note — all photos that appear are mine – I took those!

Best Lyrics Award

Serbia

Winner: Serbia

“I thought that it was supposed to hurt me
I thought that it was love,
I put my hands up but I won’t surrender
Don’t need what doesn’t serve me anymore

I lick my wounds
So that I can keep on fighting”

Throughout Goodbye (Shelter) we see a singer transform from abused partner to strong woman as she realizes that she deserves more than what she is getting from her relationship. This transition is beautifully mirrored in the composition as well as the performance.

UkraineRunner-Up: Ukraine

“When strangers are coming
They come to your house
They kill you all and say
We’re not guilty, not guilty

Where is your mind? Humanity cries
You think you are gods but everyone dies
Don’t swallow my soul
Our souls”

I have talked about this song many times on this blog, so I will keep it brief: powerful song with lyrics that highlight the parallels between the past and the present.

Honorable Mention: Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Germany

The “Huh?” Award

Given to the country the most questionable, lazy, or just plain nonsensical lyrics.

IrelandWinner: Ireland

“Just touch who you wanna, kiss who you gotta
Fight like we’re winners, love like beginners
Dance like you mean it, sing like you feel it
Everything’s better standing out in the sun”

Aside from advocating sexual assault (you should NEVER touch or kiss whoever you want without consent), the lyrics are otherwise a trite mess of cliché optimism and hollow saying.

MoldovaRunner-Up: Moldova

“The sky is tumbling
It’s coming down, coming down
The wildest fire
Is burning out, out

And when our fall torn us to pieces
All of our love turned into dust
We’re the brightest falling stars”

Essentially, the main argument of the song is that the relationship is ending – so why not go out in a blaze of glory? This is not a healthy relationship goal. If things are over, just let them end. That is that.

Honorable Mention: Sweden, The Netherlands, Montenegro

Best Dressed Award

Albania

Winner: Albania

Albania dress

She almost looks like an award statue, doesn’t she? Just an utterly gorgeous dress that fits her well. Too bad the majority of the act was against a gold background so you barely saw it (I took this photo during some of the brief blue moments).

 

AustraliaRunner-Up: Australia

Australia outfit

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of Dami Im’s dress. But it’s elegant and distinctive, much like Dami Im herself.

Honorable Mention: Estonia, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Israel

Most in Need of a Costume Change Award

So many awful outfits this year, sadly. This was probably the hardest category to choose a winner for.

Italy

Winner: Italy

Italy outfit

Sparkly, brown overalls. Need I say more? Italy got my vote for the Barbara Dex Award this year.

AzerbaijanRunner-Up: Azerbaijan

Azr outfits

So…much…gold… Honestly, what the heck are they wearing? In the music video, Samra has on this really nice black gown. This glittery, gold catsuit is just…awful. And, to make matters worse, it doesn’t even fit the tone or message of the song.

Honorable Mention: Croatia (Barbara Dex Award winner), Spain, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Hungary, Belarus, Lithuania

Best Staging Award

Russia

Winner: Russia

Russia performance

Normally, I would have the video of the performance. But thanks to the EBU, that is not possible.

Come on, was there ever any doubt? This staging was incredible! The first time we saw him walk on the screen during the First Semi-Final dress rehearsal, we all gasped. And each time, it was equally as amazing. The staging was just stunning; so much so, it inspired hoards of angry fans to complain when Russia lost.

ArmeniaRunner-Up: Armenia

Normally, I would have the video of the performance. But thanks to the EBU, that is not possible.

Normally, I would have the video of the performance. But thanks to the EBU, that is not possible.

Talk about doing a lot with a little! Armenia had a solo performer by herself on stage and created a dazzling show that seamlessly incorporated pyrotechnics, slick camera angles, quick-cutting shots, and nifty image overlaying. Who needs an LED screen when you can work magic with cameras?

Honorable Mention: Belarus, Georgia, Belgium, Spain, The Netherlands, Iceland, Ukraine

Worst Staging Award

Estonia

Winner: Estonia

Estonian perfomance

Normally, I would have the video of the performance. But thanks to the EBU, that is not possible.

Yeah, you have a sexy, Bond-esque song with a very attractive, young singer. This should have been a great stage show. Instead, we are left with this, seemingly casino-inspired act that makes Juri seem more creepy than alluring. Also, he was lost in the staging; he was this little man on this giant red stage.

MoldovaRunner-Up: Moldova

Moldova performance

Normally, I would have the video of the performance. But thanks to the EBU, that is not possible.

I am starting to feel bad with just how critical I am being with Moldova’s entry this year. Unfortunately, they took a poor song with a poor message, gave it to a singer who was a poor fit for the composition, and staged it with few visuals and a random astronaut. This is a dance number – why were there no dancers? This is a song literally called “Falling Stars” why were there no spark curtains or other pyrotechnics? Just…so many things done wrong this year, Moldova.

Honorable Mention: Slovenia, San Marino, France, Croatia

“This is DC Calling” Award: Given to the most American sounding entry. This in NO way counts as an endorsement for the US entering the Contest, an idea which I staunchly oppose.

Winner: Sweden

Sweden was deemed "a contender" in last year's series.

It feels like a hipster anthem, doesn’t it? From Frans’ look to his sarcastic tone – the song is just one big “screw you” to whoever he’s singing to. This wins the DC Calling Award because so many young people today have this kind of attitude and I could totally imagine a random American high school student saying these words.

Runner-Up: Czech Republic

It is my understanding that, to most Europeans, Americans are a religious bunch who often work their faith into everything, including our pop music. I Stand is vague in who the target of the song is, but, at least to me, it is a song about the power of faith – ironic, since the Czech Republic has the highest percentage of atheists of any nation.

Honorable Mention: Azerbaijan, Denmark, Slovenia, Israel

Pond Leaper Award

While I think each song would find a niche here in the USA, I think this song would be the most popular

ItalyWinner: Italy

This is a passionate, yet innocent, love song that is just the perfect tempo for a first dance. If No Degree of Separation made its way across the Atlantic, it would quickly ascend the list of most popular wedding songs, without a doubt.

NetherlandsRunner-Up: The Netherlands

Douwe Bob has perfectly captured the contemporary, country sound that is ever-so-popular in the US. I think that Slow Down would be considered a welcome change to the “stadium country” that has swept the genre over the past decade. This would quickly climb the country, and pop, charts.

Honorable Mention: Australia, Finland, United Kingdom, Bulgaria

The “Spirit of ABBA” Award

Given to the most stereotypical and/or traditional ESC entry

BelgiumWinner: Belgium

A happy dance tune? Check! Lyrics that make you feel good about yourself and the world? Check! Some cool choreography that you can try to mimic in your living room? Check!  Belgium checked all the right boxes to carry the spirit of schlager that typifies the Eurovision genre.

United KingdomRunner-Up: United Kingdom

A fun song about the uplifting power of friendship performed by a duo that looks like they are genuinely friends off-stage. A fun song that got the audience, both at home and in the arena, involved. That’s definitely bringing the continent, and world, together!

Honorable Mention: Finland, Spain, Croatia

Israeli Flag CountryThe “Shiri Maimon Travesty of the Year” Award

In 2005, a true work of art was entered into the ESC; Israel was represented by Shiri Maimon with the song Hasheket Shinish’Ar.  Not only did this song not win, but the winning song that year was not even worthy to be performed on the same stage as the Israeli entry.  For me, that was the biggest travesty in Eurovision history.  Each year, I hand out this award to the biggest disappointment of the Contest.

Winner: United Kingdom getting 24th place

United KingdomAfter years of dubious entries, songs that I liked, but left most of Europe cold, the BBC finally put real effort in finding the British entry. They used a public vote, got artists and songwriters that captured modern British pop music, and selected a song that was catchy, fun, contemporary, and even had two attractive boys – just for good measure. Joe & Jake (and their backing singers) gave outstanding performances for both the juries (Grand Final dress rehearsal) and the televoting public, yet still somehow finished third last. I am still miffed as to how this happened. I know Electro Velvet was devastated by their finish last year, I can only hope that Joe & Jake continue to perform together and eventually return and finish higher up the scoreboard.

RomaniaRunner-Up: Romania’s Disqualification

This is less about Romania not being able to participate (TVR should have to pay their debts, they have owned up to this fact), but the fashion in which it was done. These debts are years old. The EBU could have penalized them in December (when they paid their entry fee and the list of participants was finalized), in March (when the heads of delegations met and entries had to be formally submitted), or in May (after the Contest). But no, the EBU instead opted to discipline Romania in the most humiliating way possible. Waiting for the deadzone that is April to ensure maximum exposure of the event so that it could publicly shame Romania and TVR.

Honorable Mention: Iceland failing to qualify, Czech Republic getting 25th, Lithuania getting 9th

Final Thoughts

Eurovision_2016_Official_LogoWell, another Contest is in the books. It was utterly amazing to be there in person, though, Standing Right sucked. And I am still bitter about how much I had to pay and how long I queued to have such a subpar – particularly since it was a great financial burden. Speaking of which, going to Eurovision this year contributed to what has been my worst time financially – though, it brought something to light for me.

By my age (28), my parents were married with two kids, my eldest sibling had been married for several years, my next oldest sibling had just gotten married, and my last sibling (also older) had just gotten engaged. And then there’s me. Single. No kids. Just my education and Eurovision. Being there in Sweden, seeing the “Eurovision by Numbers” video, the “What’s Eurovision?” opening act from the second semi-final, the “Peace Peace Love Love” interval act, and having Ukraine win – a song which I loved from the start and truly thought was the best entry – it all reminded me just how much I love Eurovision and the role it plays in uniting all kinds of people.

I always say that the combination pop music, geography, and competition is what drew me to Eurovision – and that’s true – but what keeps me there is the genuine community that the Contest breeds. When else can one be connected to over 200 million other people worldwide? When else can one lose themselves in music that transcends boundaries, that is as much visual as it is auditory, and allows you to participate in the realized dreams of 42+ performing artists?

Is Eurovision perfect? No! Of course not (and I’ll be going into its various shortcomings throughout the summer in a series of blog posts), but it is awesome. Eurovision is so much more than a song contest, it’s a community – it’s the people, the culture, the forums, the traditions, the opportunities, the dreams — the connections that it makes possible between all of these things and more. Eurovision connects countries, people groups, generations, allies & enemies, strangers & friends. Attending ESC, watching it, engaging with it – it allows me to be a part of that intricate web human connection.

I don’t currently have a family of my own, but I hope to some day. And when I do, I know that Eurovision will be there – allowing me to share an integral part of myself with those I love and for them to join in my passion. Indeed, it will help us all “come together.”

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Reaction to Russia v. Ukraine Controversy

Hello Dear Readers!

In these days following Eurovision, one of the loudest, most controversial arguments have been occurring. No, I don’t mean the ridiculous geoblocking of ESC content on the official Eurovision YouTube page in the US, Austria, and Germany along with, presumbably, other countries (which should be the main controversy). There is a very vocal contingent who believe third place Russia should have won by virtue of its top placement among televotes. People who follow the blog on Twitter (@escobsession) and/or on Reddit (Escobsession) know my stance on the issue. But, before I dive into my opinion, let’s look at both sides.

Russian Flag MapSide A: Russia is the true winner!!
Key Points:
-Russia won the televote.
-Juries intentionally sunk the Russian entry for political reasons.
-The Ukrainian song was political and a clear violation of the Contest rules.
-Furthermore, Ukraine was the beneficiary of a system that painted it as a victim and Russia as the “evil” aggressor.


Ukrainian Flag MapSide B: Ukraine won fairly!!

Key Points:
-To win, you need both, the support of the juries and the televoting. Ukraine was second with both the juries and the televoters, unlike Australia (1st in jury, 4th in televote) or Russia (1st televote, 6th juries).
-The role of the juries is to stymie diaspora voting and to ensure that high quality songs do not lose to performance-driven entries.
-The EBU has previously approved the song’s lyrics.
-ESC did nothing to perpetuate the perception that Russia was attacking Ukraine. Furthermore, Ukraine got second from the Russian public.


AustraliaMy take on the situation:

-Australia, who placed second, is being entirely ignored in this situation. Though, under the most recent system (2009-2015), Australia would have won.
-No one is really talking about the most important thing: the song! In my opinion, 1944 is an amazing song with a strong composition, an incredible performance, and fantastic lyrics. You Are the Only One is a generic song with uninspired lyrics and typical composition, but an outstanding production that was second-to-none this year (and one of the best ever).
-The time to complain about the Ukrainian lyrics was when the EBU was reviewing it and ultimately approved it to compete.

UkraineIs 1944 political? Yes, of course it is.
However, the EBU approved it to compete. Therefore, just as I have said previously about people booing Russia, the time to complain is when the EBU makes the decision to allow participation. Once an entry is allowed to compete, then we need to accept it. 1944 was allowed to compete. We must view it in this context. 1944 is artistically superior to You Are the Only One in terms of lyrics and composition. While Lazarev had the stronger production behind him, Jamala gave an incredible vocal performance.

Ukraine won because 1944 was deemed to be the strongest song in the competition under the accepted rules of this year’s Contest, as evidenced by Ukraine’s strong finish with both, the juries and the televoting. We have a winner and I will, hopefully, see you in Ukraine next year!


Hopes for the 2016 Contest

esc2016

Hello Dear Readers!

Well, we now have our breakdown of who is in which semi-final, we’re up to nine artists selected without a song, and five complete entries known! With more revealed just about every weekend, Eurovision season is in full swing! So, as we await the final song list and their final forms (due in mid-late March), let’s go over some hopes and dreams for this year’s Contest.

Design:

The theme for this year is “Come Together” and the logo is a IKEA style disco ball!

Eurovision_2016_Official_LogoI can’t take credit for that joke, a friend in a Facebook-based fan club made it first. But still, the design leaves much to be desired. As we know from previous years, the design can often give us ideas of the final stage design. In 2013, Malmö gave us a backdrop based on the wing patterns of maths and butterflies. Denmark gave us boxes that mimicked the geometric design of their crystal emblem. And Vienna recreated the bridge from its logo as the upper bound of the stage. Having gotten my fan ticket for “Standing Right” I know that the stage will be a bit of a peninsula, surrounded by fans on three sides. I wonder if they will have a circular screen or if the stage itself will be round, allowing increased standing area for fans and exposure for those in the seats. What I hope for, more than anything, is that we will not get an overabundance of lame puns and dirty jokes based upon the slogan. A boy can dream, I guess.

Hosts:

We know that the ever-popular Petra Mede and last year’s winning artist IMG_6290Måns Zelmerlöw will be our hosts for the Contest. While many love Mede, I think she is just okay. She is funny and capable, but I think she relies too heavily on gay jokes. As I have said before, ESC is for everyone, not just gay men. Sadly, I know it will be more of the same, especially since Zelmerlöw is trying to fight an image that he is homophobic (at one point in the past, he made a comment, while on a talk show that gets its guests drunk, that he thought allowing gay couple to adopt was not a good idea. He has since recanted this statement and has made many efforts to put it behind him). While I, myself, am a gay man and I know that a sizeable chunk of ESC fans in attendance are gay men, the majority of the audience is not. Pandering to the base is rarely, if ever, a good route to take. My hope from the hosts is that Petra Mede will not be wearing any of the hideous dresses she had on in 2013. Or, really, any hideous dresses in general.

Staging:

IMG_4703As I said in my recap of 2015’s Contest, I loved almost every production decision made by the host broadcaster this past year; it’s the closest to a production that I, myself would have designed that we have seen. I would love to see Sweden carry on the tradition of highlighting the history of the Contest and tying the past, present, and future together. So many great songs have graced the stage of the ESC; it’s a shame that most fans today do not know anything older than 2010. Focusing on the history would be great – especially since Sweden is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Carola’s win in 1991. The biggest thing I would like to see changed is the voting and interval act. A few years ago, a trend began where we had entertainment during the voting sequence as well as an interval act. I have no doubt that this has contributed to each of the past three Contests running way over time. My hope for the production is that we will go back to a tight 15 minutes for voting, where we get our two recaps and production clips. And that the interval act returns to being a succinct, yet entertaining, way for the host country to promote an artist/itself.

The Fan Experience:

Last year, this was the biggest issue in the way how Vienna hosted the Contest.Austria

  1. There were two security companies hired, one for outside the arena and one for inside the arena. In addition to the arena staff itself. None of these three entities talked to one another. Nor were they prepared for the madness and aggression of ESC fans.
  2. The security companies and the staff refused to listen to the experienced fans that offered suggestions for how to make things run smoothly for the standing areas. The Danes developed a good system that was fair and articulated (it took four days, but it still got developed). The outside security took five days before they even started paying much attention to the queue and did little to control things once the gate opened. Not only that, the indoor security crew targeted those of us who were not white, often holding us back unnecessarily and preventing us from progressing forward.
  3. Those with fan accreditation not only got to queue inside with snacks, but they were let into the standing area before the arena opened for everyone who was queuing outside. I understand that fan accreditation comes with perks, but this is totally unfair to those of us waiting in the cold (and rain) to enter the arena. Why not have a specific seating section reserved for accredited fans. If they would rather stand, than they need to queue like everybody else.

SwedenMy hope for the fan experience is that SVT builds upon the experiences of previous hosts and have an orderly, communicated plan of action for admitting those in the standing zone into the arena in a fair and safe way. Not only that, all security and ushering teams need to be in communication and on the same page with one another. Not only that, but SVT needs to communicate that ESC fans are on the same level of aggression and energy as any sports match or other major event. That, more than anything, seemed to be the issue in Vienna, the security was completely unprepared for the number and aggression of the ESC fans. The racial discrimination I and others faced was also a major problem, but there’s not much SVT can do about that other than diviersity training ahead of the event (which would be a great idea).

What are your hopes for this year’s Contest?

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ESC2015: Contender or Pretender

Hello Dear Readers! Time for our annual Contender or Pretender series! Once again, we have a slew of bookie favorites that I am taking upon myself to put through the ringer as we head into Eurovision Week 2015! I have selected the six entries that have the highest odds according to OddsChecker: Sweden, Azerbaijan, Slovenia, Australia, Italy, and Estonia. Interestingly enough, Norway and Lithuania, both early favorites, seem to be fading as the Contest draws near. Given the fact that the opening reception is occurring as I write this, we’ll just go through all of these fantastic songs together!

Swedish Flag MapSweden
Heroes performed Måns Zelmerlöw
Reason it’s a contender: Another year, another Swedish entry picked by bookies and fans alike to win. This year, we see Måns Zelmerlöw finally earn the Swedish ticket to ESC. A likable, attractive guy with a schlager song that is catchy, well composed, and fantastically performed.
Reason it’s a pretender: We have not seen a true schlager song win the Contest since Latvia back in 2002. Heroes, for all its merits, is full-blown Germanic pop meant for ESC: i.e., schlager. Fans tend to get less enthused for this style, particularly in the East.
Final Verdict: Contender! Since missing the Final in 2010, Sweden has only brought its top game to the Contest, this year is no different. The song has already been charting in several countries and the staging is impeccable. Expect another top three finish for Sweden.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani Flag Map
Hour of the Wolf performed by Elnur Hüseynov
Reason it’s a contender: Well-written, well-composed, well-performed, Hour of the Wolf is a perfect confluence of elements of victory. After last year’s understated performance garnered Azerbaijan’s first ever finish outside the Top Ten, expect a stage show that dazzles!
Reason it’s a pretender: A tepid performance will result in this song being lost in the shuffle of ballads and washed out by the uptempo pieces.
Final Verdict: Contender! This song is the real deal. Everything about this song represents the heights of music composition and lyric writing. There is a rare gem of an artistic work like this at the Contest. This song has the potential to win and promote high standards of music within the Contest.

Slovene Flag MapSlovenia
There for You performed by Maraaya
Reason it’s a contender: The song is modern and relatable — and the song reflects the relationship between the husband and wife! It’s an easy song to sing along to and inspires an instant connection from the listener.
Reason it’s a pretender: Interestingly enough, up to date songs do not tend to win the Contest (with Euphoria being the notable exception). The singer’s voice is also a bit unique, which may rub some viewers the wrong way.
Final Verdict: Pretender! This song is lovely and cute, but not strong enough to help Maraaya lift the crystal microphone Saturday night. While this might be Slovenia’s strongest showing since 2011, I do not think that the song has gained enough steam to propel it beyond the stronger entries.

AustraliaAustralian Flag Map
Tonight Again performed by Guy Sebastian
Reason it’s a contender: The song is uptempo, fun, and incredibly easy to dance to. Guy Sebastian is charismatic and Australia has already shown that it will pull no punches in its quest for victory.
Reason it’s a pretender: There are a lot of folks out there that will angrily withhold votes for this song simply because Australia is not a European country. Additionally, R&B has not traditionally played well at the Contest.
Final Verdict: Contender! For as many people who will not vote for Australia, there are just as many who will. Guy Sebastian has the added bonus of already having some name recognition. The song is contemporary, fun, and, if performed flawlessly, has a real shot of sealing the deal for the Aussies!

Italian Flag MapItaly
Grande Amore performed by Il Volo
Reason it’s a contender: Fresh off its OGAE International victory, the Italian entry seems to be peaking around the right time. It is everything that one imagines when one thinks of Italian music – operatic tenors singing a dramatic song about love.
Reason it’s a pretender: The song is a bit old-fashioned and has an air of self-importance. Not to mention that Italy seems to always just fall short of its potential since its return to the Contest.
Final Verdict: Pretender! While this song did win the OGAE International Poll, which predicted both Sweden’s and Denmark’s victory, the poll is imperfect, as many of the others that have fared well in the poll have fallen flat at the Contest (for example: San Marino 2013). At the end of the day, Grande Amore is too dramatic and too predictable to bring the Contest back to Italy.

EstoniaEstonian Flag Map
Goodbye to Yesterday performed by Elina Born & Stig Rästa
Reason it’s a contender: The song is gritty and unexpected. Not only that, but the duo have decent chemistry together and the lyrics lend themselves to an unfolding narrative on-stage.
Reason it’s a pretender: The song is a little too edgy for a mostly family-oriented program. Many of the viewers who will be tuning in on the night may be turned off by the song’s subject matter and a couple with such a large age discrepancy.
Final Verdict: Pretender! This song appeals to many for its edge, but not enough to make-up for those who will be turned-off by it. Actually, I think Estonia will not only NOT win, but will finish with a disappointing final placing outside the Top Ten.

So, in summary: SwedenContenders:
Sweden
Azerbaijan
Australia

SloveniaPretenders:
Slovenia
Italy
Estonia

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ESC Sees some Racial Diversity!

This year, diversity is taking the forefront at ESC, this is Conchita Wurst’s legacy. I, for one, am quite excited that we are finally diving deeply into this issue. Diversity is more than merely having folks of different backgrounds present, it’s incorporating the variety of differences into the event, organization, etc. and celebrating our unity through celebrating our variance. Armenia’s supergroup, Genealogy, is built on this principle; celebrating the wide breadth of the Armenian diaspora through having each continent represented within the group.

ESCInsight has a fantastic article looking at disabilities and the Contest, something brought to light through due to various forms of ability represented this year: the band members from Finland each have a developmental disorder, Monika from Poland has paralysis, and Bianca Nicholas, one half of Electro Velvet from the UK ha,s cystic fibrosis. I won’t dive into disabilities here, no need to rehash what has already been discussed so well.

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

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

I do want to talk about the racial diversity at this year’s Contest. In addition to the smattering of black background singers that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, we have several black lead artists, from Latvia and Switzerland.  And Maimuna from Belarus and Guy Sebastian from Australia are of Asian descent. Between these lead artists, the backing vocalists, and backing dancers – this will probably be one of the most ethnically diverse Contests on record.

Why is This Important?

Gaitana raised a lot eyebrows when selected to represent her home country, Ukraine. Photo credit: mirror.co.uk

Gaitana raised a lot eyebrows when selected to represent her home country: Ukraine.
Photo credit: mirror.co.uk

As the ESC continues to increase its brand globally, it needs to increase the presence of non-white folks onstage to broaden its appeal. While many European countries tend to fall along the bottom of global diversity scales, no country is 100% singular in its ethnic make-up. Furthermore, Europe is slowly becoming more diverse. As we reaffirm that ESC is for all, we must then ensure that all are actually represented on stage. This holds especially true as we discuss the legacy of colonialism among Western nations, the increasing immigration in the North, and the various people groups throughout the East, all of these contribute to the diversity across the continent. Just as the LGBTQ+ Community often exclaims, “visibility matters;” seeing people who look like you, as a member of the minority, in prominent places (such as onstage in a starring position at Europe’s Favorite TV Show) helps you feel more represented, connected, and a part of the larger society. This, in turn, leads to increased positive feelings and welfare. I am not arguing that increasing the ethnic diversity of Contest performers will singlehandedly improve race relations across Europe, but it can certainly play a part in it.

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Experimental Music at the ESC

One thing that I enjoy about the Junior ESC is that the kids, much more than the adults, experiment with music – submitting songs that are out there, that are crazy contemporary – and seeing success with them. Georgia is a prime example, so many of its entries are quite off-the-wall. In 2008, Georgia even won with a song that I would say is the most experimental that we have ever heard on an ESC stage, junior or adult.

We are used to maybe one experimental entry (usually from Bulgaria), but this year, we have two truly experimental entries: Belgium and Latvia. And two more that are pushing the limit: Georgia and Spain.

Beyond Modern

Belgian Flag CountryBelgium and Latvia can be said to be “beyond modern,” their sounds are unlike any other – past or present. Compare this with Australia and Estonia, both of which sound like something off the current pop charts, and Denmark and the UK, which both harken back to past musical eras. Rhythm Inside and Love Injection sound more like art pieces than pop songs. Both toy around with rhythm and melody; both stretch the singer’s abilities to capture the feelings of the songs. The biggest advantage that these entries have is standing out so drastically from the other thirty-eight songs. They’ll make an immediate impact and will not be soon forgotten.

Personally, I like rather enjoy both songs; both are currently in my my personal Top Ten. However, I do Latvian Flag Mapnot think either song has a chance of doing well. I think that qualification would be a victory for both. The juries have shown that they tend to favor well-sung ballads and catchy pop tunes above all else. The public may not be ready for such futuristic tunes, especially since neither has a strong chorus that can lodge itself in your head.

BulgariaWhere most songs like this fail, though, is in the staging. They often try too hard to have a staging that matches the uniqueness of their entry – often to ill-effect. Look at that Bulgarian compilation again, how many of those entries would have been more successful if the staging was stronger? If you have read my live notes, you know that I have an expression “DEDF” – Decent Entry Derailed by Fashion. Both of these entries are at potential to fall prey to this. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Rhythm Inside is putting Loïc in a steampunk costume with a glowing piece over his heart. Throughout the song, he sheds the mechanical aspects, as if he’s becoming more human. However, while this could be done well – the tendency would be to go over the top; steampunk can go from supercool to scary and I fear that your typical stage director would not know the difference. Likewise, Love Injection could very well be enhanced by repeating the staging from the Latvian national selection, adding in some new light effects and possibly some chain elements; but how quickly would this devolve into some kind of dominatrix outfit? (Very quickly!)

Good luck to both Belgium and Latvia – I hope both delegations highlight their songs positively on stage without going overboard. But, these two are not the only ones experimenting this year, two more are giving us unique entries, albeit not quite as extreme.

Pushing the Envelope

Spanish Flag MapLess dramatic than Belgium and Latvia, Spain and Georgia both have songs that challenge traditional music expectations. Both songs have echoing, booming refrains that are easy to sing along with. Both songs have complex layers that create textured, intriguing pieces that captivate the listener. Both are different enough to avoid easy comparisons with the other entries, but neither are so otherworldly that they will scare off the casual viewer.

Like Belgium and Latvia, there will be a lot of temptation to go overboard with the staging of these acts.Georgian Flag Map Spain needs to focus on lighting effects – Edurne’s voice speak for itself (no pun intended). We don’t need dancers and a lot of graphics, just some well queued spotlights and coloring. Georgia has a bit more leeway. I would recommend reproducing the video, bringing women that represent different female warriors from around the world (or at least, around Europe) and from various time periods, from Maltese knights to modern British soldier, from ancient female heroins to tribal fighters. Again, good luck to Spain and Georgia, may commonsense and good taste prevail!

As we celebrate the 60th Contest, we are presented with a wide array of options, various genres are represented, from swing to punk rock to popera. This year, that diversity of music includes an increased number of songs that push the limits of modern music; that can be considered “experimental.” Regardless of the ultimate final placing of these songs, their presence alone enriches the ESC field of entries and promotes variance, hereby keeping the Contest relevant as it enters its seventh decade.

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Early Contenders for 2015!

Hello Dear Readers!

So, we have the forty official, final entries for the 60th addition of the Eurovision Song Contest! Already, I would say that are some definite front-runners, some potential dark horses, and some legitimate contenders for last place. I am also sure that there have been some that have risen to the top of fan circles – but I have been mostly avoiding reading fan stuff in-depthly for now. I wanted to evaluate the songs uninfluenced by outside opinion. As I said last week, I think there are six songs that, out the gate, have shown themselves to be strong and capable of taking the crown in May: Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, Azerbaijan, Italy, and Australia. Now, whether or not these six stay at the top throughout the next month and a half, we’ll see.

Usual Suspects

Sweden – Heroes performed by Måns Zelmerlöw

Swedish Flag MapWhy I think it can win: The prime example of Swedish schlager at its best. It’s upbeat, fun, and incredibly easy to sing along to. Not only that, it has an amazing staging to go along with it (as the Swedes tend to stick to the same basic staging from Melodifestivalen at ESC).  Throw in the fact that Zelmerlöw is a likeable, attractive guy and you have the makings of a strong entry that can bring Sweden into striking distance of Ireland’s record.

How it can improve its chances of taking the crown in May: A legitimate music video (right now, a lyric video exists and the national final version exists). A music video would give the fans something to latch on to, including, possibly,  a “Heroes” dance.

Norway – A Monster Like Me performed by Mørland & Debrah Scarlett

Norwegian Flag MapWhy I think it can win: Norway is building upon the model established by the Netherlands over the past two years — present a dark, emotional song with a sombre performance to accompany it. Norway’s duet takes this to a whole new level and bares the souls of the performers.

How it can improve its chances of taking the crown in May: The duo needs to work on their on-stage chemistry. It is my understanding that this was originally a Mørland solo piece that was redeveloped to add Scarlett. Which is fine; they sound lovely together; but they are still somewhat stiff on stage. The whole staging needs to be revamped, actually, to better highlight the power of the song. Right now, the staging is a bit of a distraction. Their voices are great; but they need to sell the story of the song.

Azerbaijan – Hour of the Wolf performed by Elnur Hüseynov

Azerbaijani Flag MapWhy I think it can win: It’s genuine, soulful, emotional, and well-performed. The lyrics are heartfelt and the composition balances traditional tones and contemporary sound beautifully. We also know that Azerbaijan makes one heck of a stage-show. I am imagining that there will be a dancer dressed up as a wolf; how awesome would that be!

How it can improve its chance of taking the crown in May: Working the pre-show concerts. Azerbaijan needs to get the song out there and in front of fans. Make sure that it is as recognizable as some of the more distinct acts out there. Otherwise, it would be lost as just another Azerbaijani entry.

New to the Party

Italy – Grande Amore performed by Il Volo

Italian Flag MapWhy I think it can win: Italy has always had strong entries since its return, even last year’s mess of a performance was a decent song. This year, though, I believe they are entering with a legitimate shot at victory. The song is powerful, the singing is incredible, and it represents everything that people across the globe think that Italian music is: sweet tenor tones of love.

How it can improve its chances of taking the crown in May: Like Azerbaijan, Italy needs to work the pre-Contest circuit. It needs to make sure that everyone is singing along to Grande Amore heading into the Grand Final; not just singing it, but crying due to it. Not only that, but the guys’ honey tones need to be pure for the Jury Final (second dress rehearsal) AND the Grand Final performances.

Lithuania – This Time performed by Monika Linkytė & Vaidas Baumila

Lithuanian Flag MapWhy I think it can win: The first real chance Lithuania has to win the Contest since its debut. The song is fun, the two of them have amazing chemistry, and the potential for an outstanding staging (could you imagine several costume changes that show their relationship progressing through time – that would be awesome!). It’s cute and plays on the fantasy of a perfect romance that so many of us have.

How it can improve its chances of taking the crown in May: While the onstage chemistry is great, the live vocals need some work. Like Norway, it was a solo song retconned into a duet, though, having two performers make more sense here. The two of them need to work on singing in unison more effectively and working with the backing singers to ensure things blend properly.

Australia – Tonight Again performed by Guy Sebastian

Australian Flag MapWhy I think it can win: A soulful, R&B song performed by someone with international success already; from a country that will get a lot of votes for the sheer novelty of it competing from outside of Europe. The song is super modern and sounds like it could’ve been pulled from the charts. Not to mention, a successful run by a current star would help make the ESC stage more appealing to Western stars, which will ultimately raise the profile of the Contest in the bigger markets (i.e., the UK should dip into its musical industry). Not to mention, Australia will most likely get a sweet spot in the running order due to Sebastian’s name and the fact that it is Australia.

How it can improve its chances of taking the crown in May: It helps that there seems to be an endless stream of articles about Australia’s participation. However, there are just as many fans out there who will not vote for Australia due to the fact that it is not in Europe as those that will because of its novelty. In order to woo the middle group, Australia needs to go on a charm offensive; remind people why Guy Sebastian is already an international star. Oh, and ensure that they draw into the second half of the running order.

What do you think? Do any of these six have what it takes to lift the crystal microphone in Vienna?
Stay tuned for more articles as news develops, fan favorites arise, songs experience popularity dips, and I reconsider who could win!

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2015 Entries Recap

Hello Dear Readers!

We have reached the submission deadline – all songs are *final* — i.e., the artists and songs are set, though minor lyrical or compositional changes might be made (for a fee, of course). At this point, all 40 participating countries have submitted their performing artists, the official lists of lyricists and composers, the official studio version, the official karaoke version (may have backing vocals), the official backing track (no vocals at all), and a music video/video clip (if no music video has been made yet).

Speaking of participants, some unexpectedness has ensued this year!

  • CzechFlagMapCzech Republic has returned! Probably on the back of Austria and Hungary’s (and, to a lesser extent, Poland’s) success last year. Returning alongside the Czech Republic are Cyprus and Serbia. Who would’ve thought that Czech Republic would be back before perennial Top Ten-er Turkey?
  • Ukraine has withdrawn (for obvious reasons), but Greece continues to compete (despite having bigger problems to deal with). Let’s hope they don’t win to avoid the political and economic firestorm that would surely ensue.
  • Armenia deciding that it wants people from all over the world. Genealogy has a representative from the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia, with an Armenian at the center. That Armenian – Inga Arshakyan; one half of the twin sister group Inga & Anush who you may remember from 2009’s Contest.
  • Sammarinese Flag MapSan Marino gives us not one, but TWO Junior Eurovision artists.
  • Germany had some crazy stuff happen. In short, the winner of Unser Song für Österreich, Andreas Kümert and his song Heart of Stone, after winning by a landslide decided to turn down the honor of representing Germany in Vienna. Second-place finisher, Ann Sophie and her song Black Smoke, will be going to Vienna instead. For her part, the host did a good job of handling the unprecedented situation.

AustraliaAnd, the biggest WTF of the ESC2015 thus far: AUSTRALIA!!!!

  • What. The. Mess!! The Aussies will be participating in ESC for the first and (most likely) only time. Yes, the EBU has decided to allow longtime observer Australia to participate in the ESC after decades of loyal viewership. This is meant as a one-time only affair. Unless, of course, Australia wins! In that case, SBS (the Australian broadcaster) will co-host the Contest next year with a European broadcaster in Europe. I guess, theoretically, Australia could compete forever if it always wins.  Wouldn’t that be something!  I wonder how many consecutive victories would be required before SBS would be allowed to host the Contest Down Under? And with international star Guy Richie performing the entry, SBS is not going small, but more on that below!

So, without looking at other blogs, commentary, or any other source of opinions, here is my quick assessment of this year’s 40 contenders! This is the first time I am hearing each song. My comments are in blue.

Semi-Final One (Australia, Austria, France, and Spain are voting)

  • Armenia – Face the Shadow performed by Genealogy: The refrain is nice, but the verses are kinda wonky. Overall, I generally like the sound; though, musically, it’s a really weird mash-up of styles. I predict it making the Grand Final and then falling flat.
  • Belgium – Rhythm Inside performed by Loïc Nottet: He surely is a good Belgian Flag Countrylooking guy! His voice kinda sounds like a male Sinéad O’Connor. I think I like the song. This seems a bit too experimental for ESC; I cannot see it doing well unless it gets surrounded by two WEAK entries AND the performance/staging is flawless.
  • Estonia – Goodbye to Yesterday performed by Elina Born & Stig Rästa: I don’t particularly care for this. I also do not think that this will do all that well; it’s not all that captivating at all. Perhaps they will spruce up the performance a bit for Vienna.
  • Finland – Aina Mun Pitää (I Always Have To) performed by Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät: Definitely not my style of music at all. Finland has seen some success with hard rock, but this is not exciting or enthralling or even interesting. It’s the least rock rock song I think I have heard. And it feels like it is too short. I predict last place; perhaps even a null points.
  • Greece – One Last Breath performed by Maria Elena Kyriakou: If the last few years proved anything, it’s that Greece is not invulnerable. This ballad is not of high quality – it needs significant work before I think it has a serious chance at anything other than bottom ten at the Grand Final.
  • Macedonia – Autumn Leaves performed by Daniel Kajmakoski: I enjoy this, especially when compared to the previous three. It feels like it lasts a bit longer than it should, but at least it does not feel stagnant like so many other mid-tempo songs can. I think it can qualify for the Final, not sure after that.
  • Moldova – I Want Your Love performed by Eduard Romanyuta: Finally, an uptempo dance number! (Not words I thought I would ever say) It’s quite generic, but is completely different than any of the other songs in the first half. I anticipate Belgium will open the show and this will be performed around fourth or fifth to energize the audience. I think it will definitely qualify and finish mid-table.
  • The Netherlands – Walk Along performed by Trijntje Oosterhuis: The Dutch Flag CountryNetherlands reached the Top Ten two years in a row on the back of darker, soul-bearing songs.  So, it makes complete sense that they would turn their back on that equation and go back to generic, understated pop (that’s sarcasm, by the way). This is a pleasant song that leaves little impact. I anticipate The Netherlands being left behind once again in semi-finals.

We’re at the halfway point of the first semi-final and I am not impressed. So far, Belgium and Moldova are the top two entries in my mind.

  • Albania – I’m Alive performed by Elhaida Dani: More generic pop, yay (more sarcasm). I do not see Albania qualifying with this song, though, if the live performance as emotionally raw as 2012’s Albanian entry, then this song will have the ability to shock a lot of people.
  • Belarus – Time performed by Uzari & Maimuna: Belarus is great at pop numbers and this is no different. I think this is a real contender to finish in the Top Ten – especially if they can pull off a magic trick reminiscent to the end of the music video. I don’t think it is strong enough to win, though.
  • Denmark – The Way You Are performed by Anti Social Media — see my thoughts here
  • Georgia – Warrior performed by Nina Sublatti: The first of two songs withGeorgian Flag Map this title this year (which, I believe is a first). I definitely like it. This is what Georgia is best at: off-centre, groundshaking pop. I think it will move through on the back of its woman empowerment theme, though, I think it will fall outside of the Top Ten.
  • Hungary – Wars for Nothing performed by Boggie: So, a clear cry for peace in this tumultuous time that we are living in. Too bad this song is disparately boring. It will get some points for its message, but not many.
  • Romania – All Over Again performed by Voltaj: Romania, more than any other country, has the uncanny ability to perform well with mediocre songs. I foresee this year continuing that trend. A weak song will end up in the low teens because Romania has a strong backing across Europe.
  • Russia – A Million Voices performed by Polina Gagarina: With Armenia, Russian Flag MapBelarus, and Serbia voting, there is no way Russia is not making the Final. This song, much like Albania’s, is not that great, but an amazing live performance can help it outperform. Like Albania, there is a stunning singer delivering the song, unlike Albania, Russia has a huge diaspora throughout Europe that will support it and lift this song into the Top Ten.
  • Serbia – Beauty Never Lies performed by Bojana Stamenov: So, not bad, though, songs with huge tempo changes have a checkered past at the Contest. I’m not sure how well it will do. Though, against this competition, I think it will definitely move through to the Final despite the size-bias that we often see play out at ESC.

BelarusSo, that is the first semi-final. I cannot say that I am, at this point, overly enthusiastic about any of the songs. Though, there are a few gems: Serbia, Belarus, and Georgia all have decently strong entries, in my opinion. Russia, Belgium, and Albania are all at potential for greatness with a convincing live performance. I think Moldova will sneak through, and Greece, Romania, and Armenia will qualify based on the strength of their legacies.

Semi-Final Two (Australia, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom)

  • Czech Republic – Hope Never Dies performed by Marta Jandová & Václav Noid Bárta: Hmmm…interesting number. I am not convinced that it will do well, but I think it is right around a 9-12 finish in the semi-final. Definitely, the Czech Republic’s strongest entry to date.
  • Ireland – Playing with Numbers performed by Molly Sterling: Not really my thing. I also think that the sound is neither contemporary enough nor “retro” enough to make a big impact at ESC. I see another year left in the semi-final for Ireland.
  • Lithuania – This Time performed by Monika Linkytė & Vaidas Baumila: This song definitely has potential. I think that the two of them need to Lithuanian Flag Mapwork on singing together; their chemistry on stage is fantastic already. The kiss is a fun gimmick. This is definitely Lithuania’s strongest entry in recent years and, given the relative balance in strength, is the first real contender for victory I have heard.
  • Malta – Warrior performed by Amber: Our second warrior this year. Not as strong as Georgia; this is more formulaic and makes a much smaller impact. If this makes it to the Final, I think it will be due to weak competition, not its own merits.
  • Montenegro – Adio (Goodbye) performed by Knez: This is a good song, but overall, unremarkable in my opinion. It is rather stagnant; it does not build or captivate. Definitely not ŽjeIjko Joksimović’s (famed Contest composer, performer, and host) best work. I do think Montenegro will be returning to the Final.
  • Norway – A Monster Like Me performed by Mørland & Debrah Scarlett: Is it me or is there an increase in duets this year? This is the exact opposite Norwegian Flag Mapof Lithuania; they sing well together, but avoid having to display chemistry by standing back-to-back. The song is not fun and perky, but is instead stirring with a dramatic edge. I think it should also be considered a contender for the win.
  • Portugal – Há um Mar Que Nos Separa (There’s a Sea that Separates Us) performed by Leonor Andrade: I think this does not quite know what it wants to be. It starts like a rock number, but then pulls off the throttle and then purrs the rest of the way. They need to work on that arrangement if they really want this to succeed.
  • San Marino – Chain of Light performed by Michele Perniola & Anita Simoncini: One of the first to announce its artists, but one of the last to reveal a song; San Marino was definitely trying to stay in the media at each step of the way. It’s interesting how different Perniola sounds now then just a few years ago at JESC, definitely more mature. This song goes from dark to light; i.e., the composition captures the lyrics well. SM’s qualification hinges on the staging – can SMRTV devise a stage show that reflects the composition?

Halfway through the Second Semi-Final and things are a bit more hopeful at this point. The semi-final two is typically the stronger one and this year falls within that expectation. Two songs have already impressed me to the point of thinking of them as true Contenders. Let’s see what the second half has in store!

  • Azerbaijan – Hour of the Wolf performed by Elnur Huseynov: That is one awesome song title! The song makes me feel like I am out West, exploring the desert on horseback, which I guess is the point. Definitely the strongest entry thus far. We might be heading back to Baku in 2016.
  • Cyprus – One Thing I Should Have Done performed by John Karayiannis: It’s like we’ve stepped back into the early 90s! I really like the song but I think it has zero chance of moving through to the Final.
  • Iceland – Unbroken performed by Maria Ólafs: The song is a bit generic for me, but I think it has a real chance of achieving a Top Ten finish. However, I do not think that is will win (maybe with a strong performance + good position in the running order), but it will definitely be successful.
  • Israel – Golden Boy performed by Nadav Guedj: A very Bollywood-style Israeli Flag Countryentry. I hope it has the staging to match! It’s definitely a fun song and should stand out among the more serious entries of this semi-final. Again, being one of the few true, uptempo dance numbers will definitely help its case.
  • Latvia – Love Injected performed by Aminata: That was highly unexpected. Definitely WAY different than your typical ESC entry. I am thinking that it is a little too different. There is no real melody and her voice is a little jarring. I do not see this qualifying; though, I do like it!
  • Poland – In the Name of Love performed by Monika Kuszyńska: This song definitely gets better as it goes along. I like it and think a lot higher of its chances at the end of it than I did at the beginning, which is exactly what one wants in their entry: improving opinions throughout its duration.
  • Slovenia – Here for You performed by Maraaya: I like this! The song is a bit quirky, but not too much so. I fear, though, that the stage performance is going to be weird and derail its chances for success because it will alienate the viewers and confuse the juries.
  • Sweden – Heroes performed by Måns Zelmerlöw: Finally, Zelmerloöw makes it to the ESC! Wow! This Melodifestevalen performance! I cannot wait to see this on stage in Vienna. The song is also catchy, but captivating; multifaceted, but understandable. Definitely another serious contender to win!Swiss Flag County
  • Switzerland – Time to Shine performed by Mélanie René: There’s definitely a Native American vibe going on in the video, but it is not really reflected in the composition. This strikes me of a revamped My Time (UK 2009) – a repetitive song about empowerment, but this one is more uptempo. I think, again, its success depends on its placement in the running order.

AzerbaijanSo, the second semi-final is definitely the stronger of the two, but that is fairly standard at this point. I see four, legitimate contenders to carry the crown: Azerbaijan, Sweden, Norway, and Lithuania. I also see a Top Ten entry in Iceland. The last five is a crapshoot dependent on performance, staging, and the running order. For right now, let’s say the other five qualifiers will be Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, Slovenia, and Malta.

Automatic Finalists

  • Australia – Tonight Again performed by Guy Sebastian: Make no mistake about it, Australia looks to return next year. And the only way to do that is to win. This song, and the selection of international R&B star Guy Sebatian, gives Australia a legitimate shot of taking the crown. Personally, I think the song is fun and a good balance of catchy and intriguing. All it needs is a good running order slot.
  • Austria – I Am Yours performed by The Makemakes: I really like this. Austria has done a good job of setting itself up to do well on home turf without the risk of winning in consecutive years.New French Flag Map
  • France – N’oubliez Pas (Don’t Forget) performed by Lisa Angell: France returns to its roots with a traditional ballad. This will definitely help the French avoid another last place, but I do not see it making a major impact on the scoreboard.
  • Germany – Black Smoke performed by Ann Sophie: I like this song; it’s stands out as being unique, despite its 90s sound. I foresee this quickly becoming one of my favorites. Unfortunately, I do not foresee Black Smoke making a significant impact in Vienna, especially seeing how badly it was beaten in Unser Song.
  • Italy – Grande Amore (Great Love) performed by Il Volo: Like France, Italy is returning to its roots – a dramatic, tenor-driven, epic ballad of Italian Flag Maplove. Expect this song to collect jury votes and those of ESC’s older viewers. I will be interested to see how they stage this song; whether they will tell a story or simply put the guys on stage to sing their hearts out. I predict a Top Ten finish.
  • Spain – Amanecer (Dawn) performed by Edurne: Spain, seeing how successful it can be with emotional, power ballads, is trying its hand once again at the genre with its most epic attempt yet. Anyone else notice the date of the Grand Final inscribed inside the ring in the music video? I like it, but I have a feeling that it will not translate to the stage like it does to music videos – we’ll see, I guess.
  • United Kingdom – Still in Love with You performed by Electro Velvet: Oh, the faux-20s sound that was so popular in the 90s (hmmm, definitely a seeing a trend here). Usually, inside jokes come from the French, but the Brits attempt an entry that sounds and looks like something that will go over the heads of most watching the Contest (including yours truly). Hmm..not sure how it well it will do.

AustriaOf the automatic qualifiers, I think Italy, Austria, and Australia have the strongest entries, though, I think all of them are good. Germany, Spain, and the UK are probably my favorite.

As a recap, the 20 qualifiers that I think will join the automatic qualifiers: Serbia, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Belgium, Albania, Moldova, Greece, Romania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Sweden, Norway, Lithuania, Iceland, Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, Slovenia, and Malta. Of the 27 projected finalists, I think the Top Ten will be (in no particular order):

  • Australia
  • Italy
  • Lithuania
  • Sweden
  • Norway
  • Azerbaijan
  • Iceland
  • Spain
  • Austria
  • Belarus

IfSweden the Contest were to happen today, I would predict that these countries had the best chance of winning: Azerbaijan, Norway, Sweden, Lithuania, Australia, and Italy. Come back in a few days’ time for my more in-depth review of each of these six entries!

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Attending My First ESC!

As noted in the “Road to Denmark” series, I attended the ESC for the first time in person!  For those who have not yet read my story, I first discovered the ESC when I was studying abroad in Denmark in 2007.  The Helsinki edition was the perfect time to be introduced to “Europe’s Favorite TV Show.”  The staging was impeccable, the hosts were brilliant, the acts were superb, and the victor, Molitva from Serbia, nothing short of absolutely amazing! I loved the semi-final, but the Grand Final is what got me hooked for life.

I swore that, if Denmark were ever to win, I would make the trip back to Dk in order to see the Contest firsthand.  Well, 2013 happened, Only Teardrops took the Crystal Microphone to Copenhagen, and I found myself on a plane to Copenhagen.

Actually, I found myself on a boat to Copenhagen. I spent the preceding week in Oslo visiting my brother and his wife.

Some new friends I made waiting to get into the arena.

Some new friends I made waiting to get into the arena.

Anyway, what did I find when I went to Eurovision Village? My people! For the first time in my life, I not only found myself amongst people who knew what ESC was, but among fellow fans! Furthermore, I was able to show-off my knowledge (and promote the blog!) and school some neophytes on a brief history of the Contest to help them better understand all the underlying drama and storylines of this year’s Contest.

More awesome folks I met!

More awesome folks I met!

For once, I felt understood.  I shared this common-bond with hundreds, thousands of others who had descended upon this converted shipyard, on this distant island, of the city of Copenhagen, in the north of Europe — all for the same reason.  I have done many things in my life, attended sporting events in stadiums holding 50, 60, 70 – even 100 thousand people.  I’ve performed in stadiums of that size as a part of a marching band.  I’ve attended pop concerts, rock shows, and classical performances (including the New York Philharmonic).  This was the first time, in a long time, that I felt connected to so many others – particularly strangers.  It was something akin to when I first performed with my college marching band all those years ago.  Only, without the butterflies in my stomach.

IMG_4839

That’s my photo! I took that!

It was also a dream come true to see the performances so close and to see ESC history made!  I saw two countries qualify for the first time ever (Montengero and San Marino – who I was representing with my scarf), I saw titans fall and underdogs succeed.  I got to see some of my all-time favorite ESC acts live (Sweden, Austria, Armenia, and the Netherlands from this year will be added to my top entries list).  I got to join hoards of singing fans in a giant, ESC chorus – before and during the show.  It was like some kind of Eurovision wonderland.  Those around me on Tuesday night, my first time in the arena, probably recall this big black guy jumping up and down – shouting excitedly.  I nearly fainted from how fast I was breathing.

I met some awesome folks from South Africa, Britain (England & Scotland), Germany, Denmark (obviously!), Russia, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and San Marino.  ESC truly unites, not just Europe, but the world!  This was a sentiment that I repeatedly ran into as folks discovered that I was an American.  So, as a new friend told me, attending the ESC is addictive.  I have found this to be true.  I am currently working on my return to the Contest in 2015.  I hope to meet some of you, dear readers, and see old friends again in Vienna next May!

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RtD14: Looking Back at Austria

Hey hey – I’m back!  I’m so stoked to be going to Eurovision next year, that I’m reflecting back on my years of ESC fandom, country-by-country, entry-by-entry.  Let’s continue our series looking back at the Eurovision entries of each country since 2007 by turning our gaze to Austria!

Austria

Click for full size.

Austrian Flag MapOh, Austria.  As we all know, this central European nation is not as good at ESC as most other nations, but it’s not the worst.  Excuse me if I am not as reverent towards Austria as I am to most participating nations; I dislike the fact that they have set out several times because they didn’t think the others played fairly.  I have very little sympathy for whiners and quitters.

2007 – Get A Life – Get Alive – A very decent entry that was derailed by an absolutely abysmal presentation.  The outfits, the feathers, the bright lights – it took a year before I was able to watch this all the way through without cringing or turning away.

2011 – The Secret is Love – Austria returned from a few years of pouting with a powerful ballad that was wonderfully sung with a magically appearing choir.  And Nadine Beiler joined an elite group of performers who performed a capella (the first verse was sung without accompaniment).

2012 – Woki Mit Deim Popo – Party rap in a fairly unknown dialect of German: only at Eurovision.  This song won the Austrian selection due to its bright spirit, stage act, and raunchy performance – all of which were toned down to comply with EBU standards – taking away the awe and leaving us just with the shock.

2013 – Shine – A fairly typical pop song performed admirably.  Unfortunately, it’s early spot in the running order and lack of any kind of major catching point made it quickly forgotten in the First Semi-Final in Malmö.

Let’s Take a Closer Look At: AustriaAustria 2011.  So far, this is the only time that Austria has qualified out of the semi-final into the Grand Final. Granted, though, Austria has set out of four Contests since 2004.  In my opinion, The Secret is Love is probably the strongest Austrian entry in recent memory – the lyrics are not as trite as Shine, the performance is understated and appropriate, unlike Get A Life – Get Alive, and no one can be offended about love – something that can’t be said about Woki Mit Deim Popo.  If Austria hopes to qualify for the Final again, it needs to go back to basics, like they did in 2011.

Austria has now competed three consecutive times – let’s all hope and pray that they keep up their participation!

See previous entries here.  The next country we’ll reflect on is Azerbaijan.


RtD14: Looking Back at Armenia

Hello Dear Readers!

We continue on in our Road to Denmark 2014 series with a look back at Armenia 2007-2013.  As a reminder, this retrospective is looking back all the entries that have competed since I first started following the Contest in 2007 in tribute to my return to Denmark for the 2014 edition of ESC.

Armenia

Armenian Flag MapClearly, I’m a fan of the Armenian entries (save for 2012).  As always, you can get a better view of the table by clicking on it.

2007 – Anytime You Need – A haunting ballad of desperate love.  It proved that Armenia’s success the previous year was not a fluke as the country landed in the Top Ten with their sophomore effort as well.

2008 – Qele, Qele – Armenia’s most successful entry to date.  Personally, I find it rather repetitive and simplistic, but it’s fun to dance to.

2009 – Jan Jan – One of the best examples of ethnopop at the Contest.  The sisters seamlessly blended traditional folk music with a dance beat, but still landed Armenia’s lowest finish at the time (10th place).

2010 – Apricot Stone – A fun song about the seed of Armenia’s national fruit, it calls us to return to our homeland.  A heavy favorite to win, the sixth place finish was considered a disappointment by many.

2011 – Boom, Boom – Proof that Armenia is not bulletproof.  Not only did Emmy become the first Armenian entry to fall outside of the Top Ten, she failed to even get out of the semi-final.  The song is fun…and that’s about it.

2013 – Lonely Planet – Armenia returned to the Contest with the country’s leading rock band and a song written by a rock legend.  Unfortunately, it was an average song with an average performance that resulted in a mid-table finish.

Let’s Take a Closer Look At: ArmeniaArmenia 2011.  This entry is remarkable for more than just the fact that it was an epic fail that dropped Armenia from the 100% Qualification Club; it’s remarkable as it is an example of something that happens to several countries each year – the weakest song in the national final comes out the winner.  Boom Boom beat out three songs that were miles better.  Goodbye is a heartbreaking ballad that, in the hands of a stronger singer, could have been a contender for victory; in the hands of Emmy, it would have at least continued the qualification streak.  Hi had as much energy as Boom Boom but had stronger lyrics and was generally more mature – it too would have gotten Armenia to the Final and threatened for the Top Ten.  Ayo, in my opinion, was not only high energy, but also utilized Emmy’s voice the best between the four options.  This song would have been a serious contender for the win!  Way to miss the boat Armenia.

What is your favorite Armenian entry and why?  Do you think if Emmy presented Ayo, she would have been more successful?

See previous entries here.  The next country we’ll reflect on is Austria.



Eurovision 2013 – Live Notes for the First Semi-Final!

esc2013 logo

Hello Readers!

It’s that time of year again – when Europe comes together to choose one song to rule them all over the next year.  For the 58th time, the Continent is unifying in this way to select the 61st winning song of the Eurovision Song Contest (remember, 1969 had four winners).  The first stage in this process is the semi-final round in which 33 songs enter, but only 20 will advance to the Grand Final.  Tonight in the First Semi-Final, 16 entries battle for ten available spots.  Tonight we will the big favorite (Denmark), one of the biggest names competing this year (the Netherlands), an American (Slovenia), an American-born singer (Austria), the first jESC participant to be a lead singer (Serbia), and two The Voice champions (Belgium and Russia).  As I have done the past five years, I will be taking notes as I watch the show for the first time and will post them (after some light editing for fixing abbreviations and typos).  Given that I live in the US and have a full time job, I cannot post notes live during the semi-finals because I will not be watching them until evening my time.

This is the tenth year of the televised semi-final (but only the fifth year of the dual semi-finals).  That sets this year up to be historic – some things I expect to happen this year that we haven’t seen in quite a while (or ever):

1. The Netherlands will qualify for the Grand Final (for the first time since 2004). It’s been ten years – they have to!  The Netherlands have sent some of its biggest stars in the past (2007, 2008, 2009, 2011), but never one quite as big as Anouk.  And, this is the best song that the country has sent in a while.  It’s not too often that history is on the Netherlands’ side.

2. Montenegro will also qualify – probably the most popular Montenegrin entry to date and already one of the most commercially successful entries this year, Igranka.

3. Romania will fail to qualify – something that has never happened before.  Again, the law of averages says it must happen eventually and this year seems like as good a time as any for it to come to pass.

4. We will see a tie (or at least a really, really close result) in the Grand Final.  It only took until the 14th Contest for the first tie to occur (1969), then, 22 years passed before the next one (1991).  It has now been 22 years since the last tie, and I think we’re due for one!  I just hope they have an interesting and suspenseful way of going through the tie-break procedure (as opposed to just having the computer do it automatically).

As a reminder, I predicted that these songs would move through based on fan chatter, betting odds, history, and personal opinion:

-Denmark

-Russia

-Ukraine

-The Netherlands

-Ireland

-Austria

-Montenegro

-Croatia

-Belarus

-Moldova

I will make my final predictions during the interval act.  Onward!!

Opening Act:

I like this opening video – Malta to Germany to Greece to France to Russia to Ireland to Macedonia to Israel – I love how Euphoria seems to have swept over all of ESC-land.  And now all these beautiful flag-butterflies arrive in Malmo.  I’m loving this children’s choir!

This is great!!  I love this re-interpreted version of the song.  I love that everyone is signing (though, it’s always fun to be reminded that sign language changes across country boundaries).  I love that Loreen disappeared into the crowd and that the host just came out of the stage.  I wonder if that will be the last we see of Loreen, probably. 😦

The host: For the first time since the mid-90s, we will have only one host to guide us – and she’ll be doing that with her loud, British accent and bright, shiny dress!

The stage looks cool, but a little dated.  Like, this almost looks like a Contest from the early nineties.

On to the entries!!

Love the postcard idea – show the artist in their home country with a flag butterfly floating around!!  Yay!

Austria Shine performed by Nataliá KellyAustrian Flag Map

Where did all this vibrato come from?  Every note warbles.  Uh oh, that big note was not nearly big enough.  Sorry Nataliá, I just don’t think that was enough to get you through (especially since they got rid of the sparkle shower that she had in the national selection).

Estonian Flag MapEstonia Et Uus Saaks Alguse performed by Birgit Õigemeel

So, Birgit Õigemeel is pregnant!  Ooh, black and white!  As if to say, “we don’t think our song is quite dull and dated enough.”  Oh, here comes the color!  That was a pleasant effect; so is having her out on the satellite stage with the backing singer just over her shoulder. The addition of that big note was nice; it definitely gave this song a bit more oomph!  Still don’t think it was enough to qualify, but I don’t think it will be last.

Slovenia Straight Into Love performed by HannahSlovene Flag Map

I don’t know how I feel about them using that beat between each entry.  Ooh!!  She keeps missing those big notes in the refrain.  Her dances trot the line between entertaining and distracting.  Well hid backing singers – I almost lost that round of “Spot the Backing Singer” (they’re behind the stage right butterfly wing).  I love this song – but that performance was a mess!  This will probably be last.

Croatia Mižerija performed by Klapa s MoreCroatian Flag Map

I love how big their voices are!  That was quite pleasant!  I still think Estonia is the best thus far, but this is quite good; a close second!

Denmark Only Teardrops performed by Emmelie de ForestDanish Flag Map

I recognize some of those places in the postcard!!

The crowd reaction is huge!!  And it hasn’t even started yet.

Why are the backing singers up so loud?  This performance is exactly like it was at DMGP – whoops, spoke too soon, there’s confetti here.  This was good, and since she’s the heavy favorite, she’ll sail through tonight, but she’ll have to step up her game on Saturday if she hopes to win.  But that ending (and the whole thing, actually) looked and felt a lot like a winner’s reprise, which I am sure was on purpose.

I liked the tagline bit, particularly the “Don’t complain, it’s even more expensive in Norway.”

Russian Flag MapRussia What If? performed by Dina Garipova

Ahh!  The beat is annoying, I keep expecting Euphoria to start.

Time for another round of “Spot the Backing Singers!”  Nevermind, there they are.  Ooh, she botched some notes there.  This is a revamp from the studio version where she sings mostly on her own.  The choral effect is really effective!!  It actually makes me like this song and the lights throughout the auditorium are lovely!  I know I’ve written off Russia previously, but that was really good and reestablishes this entry as a legitimate contender in my book.

Ukraine Gravity performed by Zlata OgnevichUkranian Flag Map

What was the point of having that tall guy carry her out?  It’s distracting, from his presence to his outfit – just dumb.  It already seems like a much more tacky staging after the beautiful one we just saw from Russia.  I like the backing singers coming out of the ground.  She has a beautiful voice and she is dressed splendidly…but…this is still a weak song in my book, musically and lyrically.  Coming into tonight, I thought this was the most overrated entry, seeing it here has done nothing to change that opinion.  It will most definitely open the Grand Final if it is drawn in the first half, of that I am sure.

Dutch Flag CountryThe Netherlands Birds performed by Anouk

Ooh, I can’t wait to hear this!!

Hmmm…her voice seems a bit off, like, just below where it is supposed to be.  Don’t know if we needed to see the backing singers there.  I still think this is the classiest song in the competition this year; and the staging fits it perfectly.  Not sure if it will go through (despite my immense enthusiasm for this song).

Montenegro Igranka performed by Who SeeMontenegrin Flag Map

This is madness!!  I’m a little dizzy for watching this.  Props to the cameramen and directors, they are doing an excellent job capturing the craziness of this song and performance.  Interesting choice to have her sing without backing singers – I think it added to the “lost in space” vibe.  I think this one will be close.

Lithuanian Flag MapLithuania Something performed by Andrius Pojavis

I think they need a dancer here, just a one woman dancing around Andrius on stage.  This song still does nothing for me.  I do not see it doing anything.

Belarus Solayoh performed by Alyona LanskayaBelorussian Flag Map

Did she seriously just emerge from a giant disco ball?  Is she out of breath?  I can barely hear her.  And when I do, it sounds more like she’s shouting than singing.  Ooh, she botched those big notes there.  Nice pyrotechnics.  When this song was chosen, there were a lot of high hopes and expectations for it, I think those are completely gone now; Belarus will be lucky just to qualify.

Moldovan Flag MapMoldova O Mie performed by Aliona Moon

Aliona Moon, I think because of how red her hair is, always looks like a character from the Final Fantasy series to me.  What’s up with her hair?  It’s like something from The Flintstones or The Jetsons; why isn’t jetting out to the side like in the national final?  I hope you’re paying attention, Slovenia, that’s how you use three male dancers.  Amazing vocals!  Amazing song!  Amazing staging (love the dress and the riser)!  Why is this song not getting more respect?!  Most definitely the dark horse this year; expect Moldova to finish Top Ten on Saturday.

Ireland Only Love Survives performed by Ryan DolanIrish Flag Map

Ooh, shirtless men!  Oh, just when I was going to say that his vocal performance was better than anticipated, he botches that huge note at the beginning of the chorus.  His voice is a bit whiny.  I don’t know, I’m on the fence.  This one might sneak through, but I think that Estonia might take its spot in the Final.

Love the feature on Australia!  Fun how the first Contest broadcasted there was when Sweden gained victory number two!

Cypriot Flag MapCyprus An Me Themase performed by Despina Olympiou

I love the staging of the opening, well done!  She missed that big note going into the last run through of the chorus and again on that second to last note.  Otherwise, this was an amazing performance.  I always appreciate it when a performer goes out on stage with a nice, tasteful, simple performance by themselves.  Well done, well done!

Belgium Love Kills performed by Roberto BellarosaBelgian Flag Country

Perhaps Belgium could have loaned one of its dancers to Lithuania, as, together, they’re a little creepy.  This is going to sound meaner than it is supposed to, but Roberto Bellarosa looks like a robot.  He’s showing zero emotion – is that intentional?  This was better than expected, but I still don’t think that it will do anything.

Serbian Flag MapSerbia Ljubav je Svuda performed by Moje 3

WHAT.  ARE.  THEY.  WEARING?!?!?!?!  If I didn’t already know the lyrics, I would think this is a song about two lesbians fighting over a girl.  It was smart to have the backing singers so that the main three could act out the song, but again, there was something lost – that was…not good.

My Top Ten for the night Who I Think Will Qualify
Moldova Denmark
The Netherlands Russia
Russia Moldova
Denmark Ukraine
Cyprus The Netherlands
Ukraine Belgium
Montenegro Montenegro
Estonia Estonia
Ireland Croatia
Belgium Ireland

I find it interesting that Montenegro chose to use just the part of Nina singing as the recap clip.

Also, I find it interesting that they are not showing the numbers throughout the entire voting sequence.

I love the history clips though!!  Yay for cherishing history!

Interval Act

Hmm…we seem to have a bunch of people dancing in the snow to a deconstructed version of Euphoria.

I don’t get modern dance.

They should have just made the entire interval act Lynda Woodruff – that segment was awesome!

Boo Sweden, boo!  Why are you showing us the postcards for the automatic qualifiers?  Though, I do love that Natalie Horner (lead singer of Germany’s Cascada) is wearing an American flag t-shirt.

Who Actually Qualified

Here we go!  Moment of truth!

Moldova Good stuff! (1 for 1)

Lithuania What?!?!?!?!?!  I guess Belgium is not moving through (1 for 2)

Ireland No real surprise there (2 for 3)

Estonia She had enough tonight to pull it through! (3 for 4)

Belarus Hmm….interesting….that performance was a hot mess!  Guess Croatia is not moving through (3 for 5)

Denmark Well, duh! (4 for 6)

Russia Again, not surprise here, she was great tonight! (5 for 7)

Belgium Interesting.  Didn’t think Belgium and Lithuania would both go through, guess Montenegro will not be moving through (6 for 8)

Ukraine No surprise here (7 for 9)

The Netherlands oohh, why did they have to pause for so long?  That was almost too much anticipation for me to bear! (8 for 10)

Final Thoughts

That was a very satisfying semi-final.  Three surprises.

Small Surprise: Estonia performed well enough to make a lasting impression.

Medium Surprise: So did Belgium.

Big Surprise: Lithuania is going to be performing again on Saturday night.  Shocking!

In the end, I am satisfied with the songs that are moving through.  I love Slovenia, but Hannah sounded awful tonight.  I also loved Cyprus, but no one expected that song to get to the Final.  I am so happy that the Netherlands have made it back to the Final, finally, after waiting so long (in case you did not know, the last time the Netherlands qualified for a Final was 2004, the first year with a televised semi-final).  I’m a little disappointed that Croatia did not progress, but, again, not too surprising given that it was buried amongst a lot of popular female ballads.

In the end, the juries and the public made the best decisions.  An interesting note about the draws that happened during the press conference, with the exception of Denmark, Ukraine, and Ireland, all the songs were drawn for the first half of the show.  That means several things:

1. Estonia will probably end up being second in the running order again.

2. The Netherlands have most likely lost its shot of winning

3. Denmark’s chances have exponentially increased as it will most likely be placed towards the end of the running order (since it’s so popular) giving it amble opportunity to leave a lasting impression.

I’m so excited for Thursday!!

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Eurovision 2013 – Final Predictions!!!

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Here we are, less than one week out from the First Semi-Final!  With rehearsals in full swing, we are seeing some of the last throws of changes and adjustments ahead of next week’s shows. Below, I will be giving my final review and predictions for each entry – pulling in everything I know and have learned in terms of history, betting odds, and fan chatter.

I’ll give a brief review of every entry, then dive deeper into who I think will win.

Starting with the First Semi-Final:

Austrian Flag MapAustria – It’s a very pleasant song, but I do not think it will have a very lasting impact.  It may sneak into the Final, but it will not do anything once it gets there.

Estonia – This song has definitely grown on me since the first time I heard it.  It’s still quite dull, though, and will make zero impact on the night.  I fear that it will be struggling to avoid last place.

Slovenia – I love this song! And the fact that Hannah Mancini is American only makes me like it all that much more.  Unfortunately, there’s usually only room for one club track in ESC and Norway owns it this year. Even within its own semi-final, Slovenia is less memorable (and appears earlier than) Montenegro and will likely suffer because of it.

Croatia – Classy, simple, clean – it’s lovely.  It will garner points for being so culturally true, but it will suffer from beCroatian Flag Maping so early and so slow. Like Austria, I think it might sneak into the Final and then just sit there.

Denmark – This is the big favorite to win, I loved it since the first time I heard it at DMGP.  If this song is not in the Top Five, I would be shocked.

Russia – Dina Garipova has a beautiful voice, but this song is sooo bland.  It will do well given that its Russia and I wholeheartedly expect this to finish in the Top Ten.

Ukraine – I’ve said it before, the retooled version is miles better than the original, but it’s still a bit too theatrical, I think, to challenge for a win. I think being from the Ukraine will get the entry some points as will the sheer power of Zlata Ognevich’s voice. Unfortunately, the feedback from rehearsals is not good and her chances are sinking.

Dutch Flag CountryThe Netherlands – Anouk is a rather amazing performer and the chatter is that she is keeping her presentation simple, which is perfect for this song.  I think there’s a lot of positive buzz around this song but the Dutch’s stock seems to be dropping. I think she will qualify, but struggle to reach the Top Ten.

Montenegro – I’m still on the fence about this song, personally.  Depending on the mood of the voters, I think this could take the last qualifying spot away from Austria or Croatia.

Lithuania – The song doesn’t entirely make sense and it’s not very dynamic.  I think this will be challenging Estonia for last place on Tuesday.

Belarus – I think of this year’s 39 entries, Belarus’ stock dropping faster than anyone else. When Solayoh was revealed, it was immediately counted as a contender to win. Now, people think it will be lucky to qualify – which I think it will do as long as the presentation is decent.

Moldova – I think this is the most underrated entry – I think it’s captivating, well-sung, and not getting any bad press – look out! Moldova is up to big things!Irish Flag Map

Ireland – I think this is in a similar situation as Slovenia, except Ireland is a much more popular and successful country than Slovenia or Montenegro in ESC. I think that it will qualify for the Final, but not do too much after that.

Cyprus – Another one of my absolute favorites this year. But, like Estonia, I think it is a bit too dull to do anything.  I think it benefits from being expertly sung (particularly, following Ireland) but I do not think Serbian Flag MapDespina Olympiou’s fantastic vocals will be enough to bring success to Cyprus this year.

Belgium – This song gets better each time I hear it.  Unfortunately, viewers only have one time to listen and Roberto Bellarosa is not necessarily a great live singer.

Serbia – This song is a hot mess, and I think it’s stock is also headed in the wrong direction. It has all the makings of a dud.

Bottom Line: Who do I think will qualify?

-Denmark

-Russia

-Ukraine

-The Netherlands

-Ireland

-Austria

-Montenegro

-Croatia

-Belarus

Danish Flag Map-Moldova

I think Denmark is the only one from this bunch that can actually win.

Take a quick breath.  Ready?  Onward to Semi-Final Two.

Latvia – I never particularly cared for this song.  I recently looked up their other song from the Latvian, Sad Trumpet, it’s amazing, which makes me dislike this song even more.

San Marino – Already proving itself to be SM’s most popular entry, it scored a second placing in ESCToday/OGAE’s Annual Poll of Clubs.  I think this could surprise a lot of folks and finish Top Ten.

Macedonian Flag MapMacedonia – I love this song and do not understand why it’s being panned across the web. Anyway, I have very low expectations for this entry.

Azerbaijan – I think Azerbaijan’s weakest entry yet, but it will benefit from the fact that Turkey is not voting. They even released a Turkish language version (which is awful, by the way) in order to capitalize on the Turkish diaspora.

Finland – Like Belgium and Estonia, this song has definitely grown on me and she has a cult following across Europe. But, most Finnish entries seem to garner a cult following of some degree (I’m thinking of 2010, especially) and still not go anywhere. I’m thinking that this will qualify and finish mid-table.

Malta – I really like this, it’s adorable, genuine, and very sweet.  I do not think, though, that it will make a lasting impression on the night, but it could sneak through.

Bulgaria – Not as good as Voda, I think it will fall flat.Bulgarian Flag Country

Iceland – This song is a bit captivating and is generally well-received throughout the fan-sites.  I think it will qualify and has a chance to sneak up the scoreboard.

Greece – Great song! It will definitely qualify, but how will it do? I think it depends on the running order – if it’s surrounded by two ballads (like it is in the semi-final) I think it has a real shot of being Top Ten, otherwise, it will finish mid-table.

Israel – The question is, will the amazingness of this song be outweighed by the horrendous fashion and hairstyle?  Probably.

Armenian Flag MapArmenia – Meh. This song is decent, but still not great.  I do not think it will do that well, but may qualify on virtue of the fact that over half will move through.

Hungary – I really, really like this.  But it’s so soft I think that it will be loss among the shuffle.

Norway – This song is very different from the grand majority of ESC entries, which means that it will either be wildly successful or fail greatly. It has a lot of fan support and haunts you long after listening – it’s bound to do well.

Albania – This song seems to be fairly popular, but I do not know why.  It will benefit from being the only rock song in the Contest this year.

Georgia – “Eurovision by Numbers” is the phrase that everyone seems to be throwing around for this entry.  I agree, but I don’t mind – it’s a fantastic entry in my opinion and can challenge for the win.Swiss Flag County

Switzerland – I love this song but it seems to be getting mixed reviews. I think it’s just good enough to qualify (when was the last time the Dutch and the Swiss were in a Final together? 2003 I think).

Romania – Romania will be the next country with a 100% Final qualification rate to fall (as Turkey did in 2011 and Georgia did in 2012).

The Bottom Line: Who do I think will qualify?

-San Marino

-Azerbaijan

-Finland

-Iceland

-Greece

-Israel

-Norway

-Albania

-GeorgiaGeorgian Flag Map

-Switzerland

I think Georgia and Azerbaijan are the most serious contenders.

Whew!  Blink a few times – maybe take a sip of water – onward to the Final!!

France – I love! this song.  It’s great!  For some unknown reason, no one else seems to.  New French Flag MapI think with a really good presentation (Amandine Bourgeois alone on stage (the backing singers can be off-camera on the catwalk – like Sweden last year) with flames that grow higher throughout and begin to dance by the end), this song could be a dark horse.

Germany – I like this a lot, I wonder if Europe will get up and dance or be tired of all the club tracks between last year and this year. I think Cascada, on name alone, will be able to break the Top Ten.

Italy – In my opinion, this is the most overrated song this year. Everyone is talking about how much they love it and how great it is, but I do not see what separates this entry from Iceland or Israel (or even Cyprus and Estonia for that matter) – they’re all well sung ballads in my opinion. Expect it to fight with Georgia for jury points.

Spanish Flag MapSpain – I really like this entry, it’s really sweet and I love the Celtic sound (the band is from northern Spain, where Celtic Galician region is).  However, it will merely be a palate cleanser between whatever two song its performed between. I don’t think it will be last.

Sweden – I think this song has great potential, but I have yet to see Robin Stjernberg perform this song live well.  While the viewing public may not care as much, the juries will (remember Russia 2011?).

United Kingdom – I like it; it’s grown on me. Most of the comments I see and the betting odds all seem to have this song doing well (except for Britons, but after following the Contest since 2007, Briton Flag MapI do not think there is a single thing the BBC can do that won’t make British fans whine).

Bottom Line: Which of these six do I think can finish in the Top Ten?

-Italy

-Germany

So, who’s going to win?

I think there are only four legitimate contenders: Denmark, Italy, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

Danish Flag MapDenmark – the big favorite among the fans and the bookies – by a country mile!  This song’s biggest challenge is whether it can withstand being in a field of 26 others. If this song is stuck in the first half of the Grand Final, then it can sink.  It’s a great song, but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression; if it’s mixed with other pleasant entries (like Switzerland, the UK, Spain) or more memorable entries (like Ukraine or Norway) then it will be forgotten by the average viewer.Italian Flag Map

Italy – perceived, by just about everyone, as the strongest ballad in the field this year.  If Marco Mengoni has to worry about Eythor Ingi (Iceland) being within close range, then I he’ll also have to worry about losing votes to him.  The two songs are similar in appearance, tone, and mood and can split votes, resulting in lower placings for both of them.

Georgian Flag MapGeorgia – a powerful, stirring ballad that represents one of the best efforts of ESC legend Thomas G:son.  Conversely, the drawback from of having a renowned ESC composer writing for you – all his songs have a similar sound and put this song at risk of sounding generic.

Azerbaijan – Turkey is not competing, leaving Europe’s biggest diaspora up for grabs and ripe for the picking for mini-Turkey:Azerbaijani Flag Map Azerbaijan.  Everything about this entry is average – thehttps://eurovisionobsession.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=608&action=edit singing, the lyrics, the music; I also doubt Azerbaijan wants to host again so quickly after last year’s Contest.

I stick by my prediction from a few weeks ago, Denmark and Georgia will be battling it out for victory.

Be sure to check back on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday when I will be posting my annual live notes! Every year, I take notes as I am watching the Semi-Finals and Grand Final and post them here for your reading pleasure!  The shows occur at 3PM here, so I have to watch the semi-finals later in the day (hence why the notes are posted the following day). I will try to keep my Grand Final notes on here live this year after Twitter failed me last year – so be sure to check back in on Saturday!

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Eurovision 2013 – Contender or Pretender? Episode Five

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Hello! Welcome to the final installment of my “Contender or Pretender” series, where I am looking at the ten entries with best betting odds (according to oddschecker.com) and determining whether they are legitimate contenders for victory or overrated pretenders that won’t live up to the hype.  I’m looking at the ten songs in random order, and have previously examined:

The Netherlands & Norway

Russia & Sweden

Azerbaijan & Italy

Denmark & Ukraine

Today, we conclude the series with Germany and Georgia.

GermanyGerman Flag Map

Song: Glorious                        Performing Artist: Cascada

Why it is a contender: We’ve had some big names at the Contest before, but most of those names tend not to have graced Top Forty charts for at least ten years prior to the artist’s participation.  Cascada, however, is a huge name – with worldwide acclaim (in fact, my co-worker was blasting Evacuate the Dance Floor just the other day – that is still very relevant in the pop music world.  Not to mention, the fact that it’s a club anthem that is bound to get fans dancing throughout Europe.

Why it is a pretender: Even though Cascada is a really recognizable name, the song itself is somewhat plain.  It may be a club anthem, but it’s not special; why it has a similar sound to Euphoria, it lacks the mystique last year’s winner had.  Additionally, I’m not sure if Natalie Horler, the lead singer, has the vocal chops to really compete with some of the other talent that they will surely be facing in the Final.

Final Verdict: Contender. Russia has sent superstars at the top of their game, both finished Top Three (T.a.T.u finished third (but in one of the closest Contests to date) and Dima Bilan won (not to mention his 2nd place in 2006).  Only two other artists rival the name recognition of Cascada, Anouk (who has had success in a few countries outside of the Netherlands) and Bonnie Tyler (who has not really been all that relevant since the 80s).  The song is also a well-done, albeit plain, dance tune that will simply benefit from getting people up and moving in front of their televisions.

Georgian Flag MapGeorgia

Song: Waterfall

Performing Artists: Nodi Tatishvili & Sophie Gelovani

Why it is a contender: If 2010 has taught us anything, it’s that Georgia knows how to craft a song that is jury gold, and they’ve done it again!  This ballad will, for sure, win the votes from the juries.  It’s well performed by Tatishvili and Gelovani, the composition steady builds throughout; Waterfall is powerful and dramatic without being too much so.

Why it is a pretender: If there is an area in which this entry crosses the line from balanced to overdone, it’s in the lyrics.  “There’s no me without you…I’m breathing because of you…There’s no world without us” it’s all a bit much.  If viewers pick up on this, then it can turn off many viewers, particularly the ones who are one the fence about the entry.  Additionally, the song does not seem to be getting a lot of attention from fans around the web, it’s just floating beneath the radar.

Final Verdict: Contender. I don’t think the lack of fan support now will hurt Georgia too much.  There does not seem to be any negative attention around it and it’s captivating enough to hold the attention of first time listeners, whether it’s in the Second Semi-Final or the Grand Final.  The song is dramatic and builds throughout to captivate the audience and pull you in.  In addition, as I said before, the juries will heap points upon Georgia like they did in 2010.  This song will definitely be Top Ten, if not Top Five.

Contenders

Pretenders

Denmark Italy
Georgia Ukraine
Norway Russia
The Netherlands Azerbaijan
Germany Sweden

And there you have it; “Contender or Pretender 2013” is now complete.  Not by design, but by fortune, we have, in my opinion, five contenders and five pretenders.  I think all seven of the non-automatic qualifiers will make it to the Grand Final.  I think the five contenders have a legitimate shot of winning this year.  The other five entries, while I do not think any of them will fail, I don’t think any of them will actually challenge for the win.Danish Flag Map

Ultimately, I think Denmark and Georgia will be battling it out for victory.  I think Denmark will have the slight edge over Georgia because it will have larger support from the fans as the faster, younger song between the two.  I predict that Denmark will ultimately prevail and bring the Contest over the Øresund.  Whether DR decides to have it in Copenhagen, again, or hold it in Århus, Ålborg, Horsens, or Herning, is a matter to be decided later.

Special thanks to espn.com ACC Blog for providing the inspiration for this series!


Eurovision 2013 – Contender or Pretender? Episode Four

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Hej and Dobar Dan Readers!  This is the fourth part in my series called “Contender or Pretender” in which I am looking at the ten entries with the best betting odds (according to oddschecker.com) and determining whether those entries actually have a decent shot of winning or not using my own mix of history, musical experience, and personal preference to render judgment.  I have already judged the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Azerbaijan, and Italy, declaring two as legitimate contenders and the rest as pretenders, follow the links to find which ones!  Today, Denmark and the Ukraine find themselves in the spotlight.

Danish Flag MapDenmark

Song: Only Teardrops Performing Artist: Emmelie de Forrest

Why it is a contender: Wildly popular, this song leads just about every single poll and betting odds website.  Going into DMGP, this song was picking up popularity throughout Europe and went from outside shot to runaway champion.  de Forrest delivers a strong performance and the entry has a strong composition.  The song is catchy, but not overly simple; it has a strong narrative without the use of complex lyrics.  It has the feel of classic schlager without being too trite – all the makings of a winner.

Why it is a pretender: The lyrics could be stronger, the story comes through, but they’re a bit redundant and simple (“The sky is red tonight/We’re on the edge tonight”) While it might be Eurovision gold, it’s not exactly tearing up the charts around Europe, as several previous winners had at this point (except for in Romania, apparently).  Not to mention there’s a strong contingency out there that deems this song as plastic and forgettable (not an invalid argument), and depending on viewers’ moods on Saturday night, this song may tank, especially if positioned next two more unique, impassioned songs (say, Italy and Norway).

Final Verdict: Contender.  This song is vastly popular among fans and has the ability to catch you from the first time you listen to it – two keys to any song that hopes to win the ESC.  Not to mention the fact that this song has only been picking up steam since winning DMGP.  While I don’t think it will be a runaway winner, I think it definitely makes the short list of true contenders for victory.

UkraineUkranian Flag Map

Song: Gravity          Performing Artist: Zlata Ognevich

Why it is a contender: A theatrical entry that delights the ears and the eyes, Gravity is Ukraine’s latest attempt to return to the Winner’s Circle.  It’s grand, it’s multi-layered, it’s stand out tremendously from the pack.  Ognevich has an astounding voice and a strong stage presence.  The song has quite a following in the fan community and Ukraine, with few exceptions, always does very well in the Contest.  Additionally, after winning the Ukrainian ticket to Malmö, Gravity was retooled to make it more appealing.

Why it is a pretender: With similar culture preferences in the voting trends (due to a shared cultural history, countries located close to one another or that were once united in the same geopolitical zone tend to vote for one another), the Ukraine tends to benefit from having the strongest entry amongst those it is culturally similar to (i.e., Belarus, Russia, Poland, etc.).  However, this year, both Russia and Belarus have very strong entries that many consider as possible favorites, leaving me to think that perhaps Ukraine will lose out on votes to these two countries (only three times has these countries shared the Top Ten together).  Furthermore, even in its retooled version, the song is very theatrical and very complex, at the risk of alienating listeners.  Theatrical, in that its musical style is reminiscent to something you find in a Broadway musical.  Complex in that there’s a lot going on – it’s busy; there’s a lot layers in the composition, the backing singers are very loud, and it almost sounds as if the song continually restarts.

Final Verdict: Pretender. I know that many of you will probably disagree with this verdict.  While the song is widely popular, I think its theatrical style will alienate viewers.  It stands out, but I think that it will confuse viewers and leave them scratching their heads wondering what just happened; particularly if Ukraine breaks out its patented over-the-top staging that it seems to trot out every year.

Agree?  Disagree?  Leave comments below!

Come back tomorrow when I will conclude the series with Germany and Georgia!

*A note, this series is based on a series on the espn.com ACC blog.