Road to Denmark 2014: A Retrospective

RtD14: Looking Back at Georgia

In its short history, Georgia has had varied success at the Contest.  While they have two victories at the Junior version – where it has submitted very unique and experimental entries, its songs for the ESC have generally been much more formulaic.  In my opinion, the songs have declined in quality since their debut in 2007.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

GeorgiaGeorgian Flag Map2007 – Visionary Dream – Georgia’s debut at the Contest, it definitely tried to show its unique style with this entry.  The music is hot and the singing was outstanding.  I think Sopho and Georgia took Europe by surprise with the strength of this song.  Though, the lyrics leave much to be desired.

2008 – Peace Will Come – The only female singer for Georgia not named “Sopho,” Gurtskaya is one of the country’s biggest stars. The song was nice; the costume change was well done and I am still looking for where the clothes went.  Irony!  Right after a song about peace and maturity, Georgia withdraws because they’re political, anti-Putin song did not qualify to compete.

2010 – Shine – A formulaic song that won the hearts of the juries, I think that the performance outshone the actual elements of the song.  Nizharadze’s voice was strong and pure – very well done.  I thought the staging was a bit over the top, but the singing was right on target.

2011 – One More Day – In an unexpected turn of events, Georgia broke into the Top Ten with a rock song (and incredibly ugly outfits).  I still do not quite understand how this song managed to be so successful among such a strong field of contenders, but it is what it is.  I do not think that the composition was all that compelling nor the lyrics all that moving – the performance wasn’t even all that interesting.  One of those results I just do not quite understand.

2012 – I’m a Joker – The only Georgian entry, thus far, to fail to qualify for the Final.  It was a hot mess – it’s lyrics, it’s composition, it’s performance: it was nowhere near quality.  It was not even a decent joke entry as it took itself too seriously.  Just…poorly done.

2013 – Waterfall – Big ballad: Check!  Swedish song author: Check!  Wind machine: Check!  Key change at just the right moment: Double check!!  ESC victory: nul.  This is, as ESC Insight would say, “Eurovision by numbers;” however, it failed to impress the fans or garner the jury support that everyone figured it would.  In fact, it barely slipped into the Grand Final ahead of San Marino’s effort.  This reminds us all that it may be time to reexamine what makes a “perfect” ESC entry.

Let’s Take a Closer Look at:Georgia Georgia 2013.  Painting by numbers is when one is able to recreate a painting by matching colors to a number on a canvas.  When applied to ESC “Eurovision by numbers” is the concept that an entry encapsulates all the stereotypical elements of songs that have traditionally been successful in decades past – a power ballad with a dramatic key change and overly sentimental lyrics that involves a key change and uses a wind machine in its performance.  Waterfall had all of these, plus a bonus point for having a big name Swedish songwriter.  Unfortunately for Georgia, the song fell flat, with the fans and the juries.  I think it’s an indication that we must rethink what we deem as the “ideal ESC entry.”  Ever since the involvement of televoting in 1998, the strength of the performance (the singing as well as the staging) became more important.  With the victories of Estonia, Turkey, Greece, and Sweden 2012 – the influence of dance music has multiplied tenfold.  In fact, since 1998, only three true, ballads (in this case, ballad is defined as a slow, emotional song) have won – Denmark’s surprising folk entry from 2000, Serbia’s megaballad from 2007, and the 2008 winner performed by Russian megastar Dima Bilan.  Otherwise, pure pop tunes or dance hall tracks have lifted the trophy at ESC.  Maybe, instead of asking if a song is stirring enough, we should ask “can I dance to this beat?”  What this means for the future of the Contest, I’m not quite sure.  But with similar failures like France 2009 and Spain 2012, we really have to challenge what we believe are the conventions that define a strong entry.

Check back for the next stop on the Road to Denmark: Germany!  You can also look for previous stops as well.


RtD14: Looking Back at France

For those of you that celebrate it, Happy Boxing Day!  Aujord’hui, nous examinons le premier pays de la groupe «la Grand Cinq» : la France!

FranceSome real gems in there!  Also, some duds.  France also brings us the first of four perfect scores we’ll see in this series.

New French Flag Map2007- L’Amour à la Françoise – A fun song that is very “French” – it’s artsy, slightly nonsensical, and a whole lot of guys wearing pink.  It took a couple of years to grow on me, but this song isn’t half-bad.

2008 – Divine – the infamous entry anglais; the only French entry to be performed in English (save for two lines).  Again, it’s “very French” in that it’s rather artsy (check out the beards on the backing singers!) and a bit nonsensical, like there’s some kind of inside joke that we’re not privy to.  It’s fun; I’ve always liked it, but as far as a song goes – it’s average.

2009 –Et S’il Fallait le Faire – the first of the four perfect scores (check the tables) that we’ll see.  Musically, the composition is perfect – it’s French cabaret (which is Kaas’ style), and constantly pushes the song forward, it invokes the sound of a clock that magnifies the growing sense of urgency in the lyrics.  Speaking of which, the lyrics are so heart-wrenching, they’re so passionate, and Kaas performed them beautifully. I thought that the staging was absolutely perfect for the song, just the singer and a microphone on a darkened stage, really captured the cabaret feel and the camerawork, again, added to texture to the words.  One of the best entries to date and I completely understand why a mere eighth place was seen as a disappointment.

2010 – Allez! Ola! Olé! – Bravo to the French for not being afraid to embrace, not only its colonial past, but also its diverse present – yay Black people on the ESC stage!  The song is a bit nonsense, but its the definition of a party anthem.  Too bad Les Bleus did not perform in the World Cup as well as their anthem did at ESC.

2011 – Sognu – One of the biggest flops in recent history, this song was a huge favorite to win in Düsseldorf, but finished a mere 15th due to a timid performance and stiff competition.  2011 was a strong year and this song, as nice as it is, was lost in the fray.

2012 – Echo (You and I) – I.  LOVE.  THIS.  SONG!  The staging was TERRIBLE!  The song, though, is quite lovely.  The lyrics harken back to this dying love and the music is well orchestrated.  Anggun’s singing was fine, but the staging was horrendous, the pure definition of a mess.

2013 – L’Enfer et Moi – An amazing song that was screwed by the producers because, r some reason, someone thought it was wise to put it first in the running order.  Bourgeious was amazing in her performance of this intense rock song.  The constant building throughout the song in both the music and the lyrics is beautifully done; it’s such a well-written song!

Let’s Take a Closer Look at: FranceFrance 2010.  I would love to take this opportunity to blast off on the producer chosen running order that was introduced in 2013, but I will bite my tongue.  Instead, I will look at what will hopefully be a continuing trend – the submission of soccer anthems to the Contest.  Allez! Ola! Olé! was written to be the French world cup song in 2010.  Be My Guest from the Ukraine in 2012, while not officially said to be a soccer anthem, definitely had that sound.  Both songs were high energy and a ball of fun.  While neither finished in the Top Ten, both brought a much needed spark to the ESC stage that I hope countries continue to send.  Who knows, maybe Valentina Monetta’s third attempt will be a foot stomper for San Marino.

What do you think – do we need more anthems on the ESC stage or is one every few years enough?

Check back tomorrow for our next stop – Georgia!  You can also check out previous stops along the Road to Denmark.


Rtd14: Looking Back at Finland

Merry Christmas!!  Or should I say, “Hyvää Joulua!” as the Road to Denmark takes us to Finland today.

FinlandAs you can see, I’m fairly lukewarm with the Finnish entries.  They’re generally okay, but I do not have a particularly strong affinity for any of them (at least, not these ones).  Finland, though, will always have a special place in my heart because Helsinki hosted the first Contest that I watched.  Speaking of which, let’s look at the first defending champion I saw.

Finnish Flag Map2007 – Leave Me Alone – An attempt at pop-rock that was better than the reception it received, but ended where it probably should have in its final placing.  It’s a pleasant enough entry and fun to sing along to if one is in an angry mood, but, generally, it’s rather generic.

2008 – Missä Miehet Ratsastaa – A true rock entry that slipped into the Final but then fell flat.  It’s not my cup of tea, but as I said in the Czech Republic post, these kind of songs bring a much needed diversity to the running order.

2009 – Lose Control –A beneficiary of the former jury system, which allowed a wild card to move through to the Grand Final. It’s a slapdash song that is alright, but not much.  The singing is better than the rapping and the presentation was a bit of a mess – it did better than it probably should have.

2010 – Työlki Ellää – A fun song and I think one of the more popular Finnish entries among the fans.  It’s fun and catchy; I don’t know a lick of Finnish, but I can sing along to the chorus!  The presentation was fitting, but in the end, the song just wasn’t quite memorable enough.  (Finland would have done better with this song)

2011 – Da Da Dam – A song with surprising success.  I think it was generally overlooked, but it brought Finland back to the Final and gave us a soothing song about a boy trying to save the planet.  Again, I’m fairly lukewarm on the song, but it is rather pleasant.

2012 – När Jag Blundar – First time we here Swedish on the ESC stage since the open language rule went back into effect in 1999 and it comes from Finland!  The song is quite forgettable, but it has a wonderful story behind it.  Karlsson’s brother wrote the song about their mother; both were on stage to honor her with their performance.  Oh, so very sweet!

2013 – Marry Me – My feelings about this performance are already documented on this blog.  I will say, though, that the song is fun and a bit inventive and guaranteed that it will be remembered for quite some time, particularly if it continues to be used for gay marriage campaigns.

Let’s Take a Closer Look At: FinlandFinland 2009.  As I said, despite finishing 12th in its semi-final, Lose Control qualified for the Grand Final thanks to the former jury system that was present in 2008 and 2009.  I’m going to use this as a nice little soapbox to restate my love of the jury system from 2010-2012.  I loved the way the old 50/50 system worked – it was simple math.  This new ranking system is not ideal and it’s more complicated than it needs to be.  Though, I appreciate the new steps being add in starting this year – where each jury member’s individual ranking will be revealed along with the voting results.  This is not retroactive, unfortunately, but it should stay standing going forward.

Previous stops along the Road to Denmark!  Come back tomorrow for France!


RtD14: Looking Back at Estonia

Welcome back to the Road to Denmark 2014!  As you may have noticed, we skipped our host country to head to Estonia.  I will review Dk last as that makes the most sense to me.  Disagree?  Leave a comment below!

I was honestly surprised when I made this table.  I had no idea just how much I liked the Estonian entries.  Each one has its own unique flair.  I think Estonia, much more than most others, has done a great job of sending a diverse array of entries to the Contest.  They are also one of the few countries that have found more success in their native language than in English.Estonia

Estonian Flag Map2007 – Partners in Crime – A fun power ballad performed by the sister of 1/2 of Estonia’s winning duo.  Originally, I liked this song a lot, but over time, its appeal has lessened.  Overall, its a bit one note, she’s at max level throughout most of the song.  Additionally, it’s a rather simple entry without much charm.

2008 – Leto Svet – What happens when you take three old guys, two of which are politicians, and tell them to make funny song that mixes in some pandering to the host crowd: Estonia 2008.  While the song is fun, it’s incredibly silly and nonsensical.  There’s no meaning or depth to it.  You know it’s a bad sign when you can mute the performance and not lose anything from it.

2009 – Rândajad – Perhaps the most popular Estonian entry to date, Rândajad is another song with suspect lyrics from Estonia.  What redeems it, though, is how the mysteriousness of the song is captured in both its arrangement and its performance.  One can actually picture oneself on the Saharan dunes, watching these nomads travel by night.  The orchestration was perfect.  The singing was perfect.  The visual arrangement was perfect.  This is how you help a song rise above its station.

2010 – Siren – And Estonia comes crashing back to Earth.  I like this song about as much as I like Rândajad; however, I believe I am in the minority holding that sentiment.  I think the performance fits the song and the song fits the duo of Malcolm Lincoln.  I think a combination of running order, retro sound, and suspect lyrics did this entry in.

2011 – Rockefeller Street – A heavy favorite coming into the Grand Final, this song was supposed to challenge Denmark, France, and the UK for the win.  We all know how that turned out.  I do not think I am alone in saying the results of the 2011 Contest were one of the most surprising in Contest history when they are compared against the betting odds and public opinion preceding ESC week.  Objectively, though, a bland pop song with lyrics that don’t make a whole lot of sense (“1…2…7…3”?) that had a childish performance – there should not be a whole lot of surprise that this song did not do well, except to ask why it beat out some of the competition left behind in the Second Semi-Final.

2012 – Kuula – I know I am in the minority when I say that this song is highly overrated.  It’s boring, doesn’t really go anywhere, and is overdramatic.  A positive, though, is that Lepland flawlessly performs it.  I think it is on the back of this performance, in a year where a lot of vocal abilities were subpar, that this song succeeded.

2013 – Et Uus Saaks Alguse – An incredibly aptly titled song as Birgit was pregnant when she performed this entry.  She gave Estonia another flawless vocal performance.  Interestingly, though, she was not as successful as Ott Lepland, even though both songs were of equal quality.  Perhaps this was due to the stronger field of entries in Malmô compared to Baku.

Let’s Take a Closer Look at: EstoniaEstonia 2010.  The Contest in Oslo saw a revitalization of retro sounding entries, from Estonia to Albania, to Serbia to the Netherlands, among others.  This trend has continued as a few countries always seem to submit, 70s, 80s, and 90s era songs to the Contests in 2011, 2012, and 2013.  Unfortunately, while these songs add some much needed diversity, they do not tend to be very successful.  I say unfortunately because I tend to like these songs a lot!  What’s the consensus on these kinds of entries?  Do other fans like them, too, or do I stand alone?  Leave a comment below!

Check back tomorrow for Finland.  See previous stops along the Road to Denmark here.


RtD14: Looking Back at the Czech Republic

The short-lived Contest life of the Czech Republic is definitely not one of note.  Three entries that all fell flat for various reasons, though, you cannot blame a poor performance for any of their failings.  Let’s discuss, shall we!

CzechRepublic

2007CzechFlagMapMalà Dama – A rock entry that tried to capitalize on Finland’s win the previous year.  It was just a bit too out there for your average ESC fan.  Lordi won, not just because of the music, but also due to the gimmick of these rocking monsters.  Kabàt was all hardcore without a bit of humor about them.  Thus, they finished dead last with a single point.

2008 – Have Some Fun – While this song was ably performed, it was a bit over-the-top with the lights and the dancing and the dj on stage.  The song is also fairly vapid.  Not to mention, they tried to use cheap sex appeal to sell it.  Shame, shame, shame.  The folks behind this entry can take some solace, though, in the fact that it is the highest scoring Czech entry at the ESC, beating the other two’s combined score.

2009 – Aven Romale – The infamous nul pointer of recent years.  This song received zero points in its semi-final, becoming the first to achieve this dubious honor since Switzerland in 2006.  The song was fun and creative, but it glorified gypsies, not even Greece could get away with that.

Let’s Take a Closer Look at: Czech Republic 2007.  The state of rock in the ESC is a tenuous one.  It seems that only SlovakiaTurkey and Finland can pull it off well, and even that is not guaranteed as their two most recent rock entries both fell flat.  Rock music is one those things that, many ESC fans claim to like.  I think in reality, they like the diversity it brings to the stage, but ultimately, no one really wants to see it win unless its a gimmick (see Finland 2007) or is fronted by cute singers and is heavily popped up (see Turkey 2010).  I think a prime example is the band Winnie Puh from Estonia.  They almost got the ticket to Malmô this year, but narrowly lost.  This is not a bad thing.  While many bemoan the lost of musical diversity that the band surely would have though, there was no chance that it would have succeeded on stage in Sweden.  Regardless of this fact, I think that rock bands should continue to fight to be at ESC.  The diversity that they bring not only adds to the strength of the show, but also to the quality of the brand.  The ESC is a song contest first and foremost, not an exhibition of pop music.  Rock songs help achieve that mission.

Check back tomorrow as the Road to Denmark takes us to Estonia!  Find previous stops on the Road here.


RtD14: Looking Back at Cyprus

I got my tickets for the both Semi-Finals, though couldn’t get a Grand Final ticket.  Hope you were able to get yours!  Hmm…the Road to Denmark just got a little more real.  Onward to Cyprus!

Oh Cyprus – like Croatia, the tiny island has also decided to withdraw from next year’s Contest due to financial reasons.  Again, a moment of silence…

CyprusLike Bulgaria, the Cypriot entries are all over the place – including one in French!  However, their performances are much better and tend to be on the more tasteful side of things.  Let’s dive a little deeper, shall we?

Cypriot Flag Map2007 – Comme Çi, Comme Ça – The ever-so-rare non-native language/non-English entry.  This French-language number from Contest veteran Evridiki surprised many with this rock song.  It was quite popular among the fans and seemed to make an impression on the audience, it even won an award from ESC Today for best song not to qualify for the Final.  I think I agree with that choice.

2008 – Femme Fatale – A sexy song that’s a bit repetitive.  The performance was a little over-the-top, but not bad.  I think it finished about where it deserved.  The song is entertaining, but nothing special.

2009 – Firefly – A sweet song written by a brother for his little sister.  Unfortunately, what sweetness the song had was lost with Metaxa’s very shaky performance.  Though, I think in a few years, she’ll be strong enough to try again and do a lot better her second time around.  At 16, the Moscow stage was just a little too big for her.

2010 – Life Looks Better in Spring – Cyprus looked outside itself to Wales and offered the opportunity to lead a band of Cypriot songwriters to an up-and-coming singer they found on the small venue circuit in Britain.  The song is great and had a chance to capitalize on the younger, singer-songwriter vibe.  Unfortunately for Cyprus, Belgium beat them to the punch and outperformed Jon Lilygreen to outplace them.

2011 – San Angelos S’Agapisa – I don’t quite understand the point of this song – “I loved you like an angel.”  The song is a poorly mashed together combination of folk ballad and rock.  Granted, the marriage isn’t as poorly done as Slovenia 2010, but it could definitely be better.

2012 – La La Love – Cyprus surged to their best finish in years with this lively pop song.  It’s so much fun and was amicably performed.  Given its spot between the epic Icelandic entry and the hot mess that was France, one would think that it would have finished higher than 16th.  It has left a legacy of commercial success and was the first time Cyprus outperformed big brother Greece in quite some time.

2013 – An Me Thimase – This is a truly beautiful entry, and it was performed so well.  It’s powerful, it’s moving, it is a truly wonderful work of art.  Sadly, it did not do as well as I think it should have.  Even the English and Spanish versions are well done, which is a rarity for translated entries.  Olympiou showed herself to be a force and I hope she returns.

Let’s Take a Closer Look At: CyprusCyprus 2013.  It seems that, no matter what Cyprus tries, pop, ballads, rock, indie, it cannot succeed.  For as popular as La La Love was, it still only finished mid-table.  Some blame the Greek language, as Cyprus has yet to qualify for the Final with a song in Greek, but, truly, songs have transcended their languages before.  Essentially, 2008 was unremarkable, 2011 was a mess, and 2013 was considerably less enthralling than its competition.  Cyprus needs to continue sending artful entries, like 2013, and begin to play with the song’s energy until they have a winning competition.

What do you think?  Is Cyprus doomed to always by an “also ran”?

Past stops on the Road of Denmark.  Tomorrow, we’ll visit the short lived participation of the Czech Republic!


RtD14: Looking Back at Croatia

Happy Thanksgiving! A moment of silence for Croatia’s withdrawal from ESC2014.

Croatia

Croatian Flag MapAnd we’re back!  Croatia, a country that I consistently like (though, not love), is withdrawing from next year’s Contest (along with several other countries, sadness!) but they have left a legacy of some nice, heartfelt songs.

2007 – Vjerujem u Ljubav – A unique song that doesn’t neatly fit the ESC mold.  It sounds a bit sloppy to me, like it didn’t quite come together correctly.  It’s an alright song, I suppose.

2008 – Romanca – One of Croatia’s more popular entries.  Apparently, this was a group of street performers before they competed at ESC.  I loved the feel of this song – it’s so cool.  And they were so stylish!  It’s a shame this song didn’t do better.

2009 – Lijepa Tena – This song was a beneficiary of the jury wild card spot for the second semi-final in 2009.  It’s a bit melodramatic, but generally is a nice listen.  The singing is passionate, though a bit screechy at times, the music could be better, but it fits the overall tone of the song.

2010 – Lako je Sve – A big favorite going into the Contest, the return of a much more mature Feminnem to the Contest, this time for the homeland.  This song is amazing, the story of a woman crawling back to her husband after cheating, the composition is moving, and the performance was gripping.  It suffered from being in a very strong semi-final.

2011 –Celebrate – A fun, lively song that’s a bit on the daft side.  There’s not much to this fluff song – just fun.

2012 – Nebo – A stirring song.  A bit of discord among the fans, as they generally like the original composition and performance better than the Contest version, but I like both versions.  The song is purposefully underwhelming, aiming to move the soul as opposed to appeal to the shallow vanities as many entries try to do.

2013 – Mižerija – Croatia, once again aiming for a high brow entry, presented a piece of high culture with this entry, as klapa style is considered a part of the world heritage.  While ESC is most definitely the stage where a nation should be displaying its unique cultures, when this is done, one must remember that great success should, unfortunately, not be expected.  A truly beautiful work of art stymied by its entrance into a pop music competition.

Let’s Take a Closer Look At: CroatiaCroatia 2010.  This song is a part of a bigger point that I’ve made before in my live notes.  One semi-final always seems much stronger than the other.  Some how, some way, more of the favorites and other strong contenders end up together while the other semi-final remains weak.  In 2010, favorites, Croatia, Denmark, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Armenia, Israel, and Turkey, not to mention Georgia, Sweden, Ukraine, and Ireland, were all in the second semi-final, along with the Netherlands (which had developed quite the cult following).  It’s no wonder that a song as strong as Lako je Sve failed to move through to the Final.  How do we balance this?  How do we ensure that both semi-finals are equally balanced in quality?  Especially, since it’s usually the second-semi-final that is stronger.  It will be interesting to see how the two semi-final format continues to stabilize as we move forward it continues to establish itself.

Check back tomorrow for Cyprus!  Other stops along the Road to Denmark 2014!


RtD14: Looking Back at Bulgaria

Hey! Welcome back to the blog! I’m doing alright. Hopefully, there will be no more pauses. We continue on our journey along the Road to Denmark 2014 with a stop in Bulgaria!

Bulagaria

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Bulgarian Flag CountryMuch like the efforts of Bulgaria, my preferences for their entries are all over the place. Oftentimes, it takes me a few months before I come around to liking them. But, I like Bulgaria; it’s got spunk! They keep trying and trying; hopefully it’ll find its swing in Denmark.

2007 – Voda (Water) – This was the very first song I ever heard at the Eurovision Song Contest; it opened up the semi-final in 2007 (the last year of a single semi-final). I remember thinking, “What is this strange European thing?” Little did I know it was the first of 26 musical strings that would tug on my heart with immense gravity. I thought that this song was a train wreck the first time I heard it. It has since grown on me immensely.

2008 – DJ, Take Me Away – Perhaps the best Bulgarian entry in recent memory. It’s distinct, memorable, and unlike anything else that year. It’s a great song! I think that it is a perfect balance between uptempo dance and pop.

2009 – Illusion – I am assuming that Krassimir was sick because the performance of this song was awful. The staging was way over the top. The singing was way off. The lady screeching was unwanted. Awful. Which is a shame because it’s a great song!

2010 – Angel Si Ti – I loved this song from the first listen. Unfortunately, Europe did not. Again, another over the top performance; the half-naked, glittery angels were way too much. The song is fun, the music is upbeat, and the lyrics are quite positive. It’s a fantastic entry – a bass singing an uptempo disco number, what’s not to like?

2011 – Na Inat – Bulgaria took a rare break from the dance floor to try a pop-rock number. Poli Genova gave it everything she had, but was lost in a night full of strong entries and performances. An average song performed admirably.

2012 – Love Unlimited – Probably the most beloved Bulgarian entry among the fans. It broke the record for number of languages within a single song to be performed on the ESC stage (11); it was disco at full power! However, the one time that an over-the-top staging was called for, Bulgaria gave one lonely woman on a colorful stage. It just doesn’t make sense.

2013 – Samo Shampioni (Only Champions) – Hoping to repeat the past, Bulgaria sent the country’s top percussion duo in Editsa and Stoyan. Unfortunately, this was the case. Once again, the performance was over the top and scared off the voters. Why, on earth, would we need to see a random guy jumping around in a giant tribal mask?

Let’s Take a Closer Look At: BulgariaBulgaria 2009
So, this actually is what caused my delay. I spent so much time agonizing which one of these songs to focus on. I finally decided upon 2009 due to the rabid success of this year’s Romanian entry. In 2009, a countertenor making his first foray into pop music won the Bulgarian national selection with an uptempo, slightly bizarre song. This entry was maligned as another piece of rubbish from Bulgaria. It was unpopular and looked over; deemed too weird to be successful. The negative thoughts combined with a poor performance made that prophesy come true. However, in 2013, Romania sent a countertenor making his first foray into pop music won the Romanian national selection with an uptempo, slightly bizarre song. But this time, things were different. People heralded the song as revolutionary and amazing. While a lot of the ESC press thought the song to be too out there, the populace jumped on board. When the song failed to reach the top ten of the final – the press and public yelled, “Foul!!” What I don’t understand is, what made this song so much better than the Bulgarian entry from 2009? They’re essentially the same song – and as bad as Krassimir’s performance was, it doesn’t warrant the wide disparity between the two receptions. Perhaps you fair readers can shine some light on this.

Tomorrow – we look at Croatia!
Past stops along the Road to Denmark, click here!


RtD14: Looking Back at Bosnia & Herzegovina

And we keep moving on!  Next stop – Bosnia & Herzegovina…aka Bosna i Hercegovina…aka BiH – home to my all-time favorite ESC entry (2006’s Lejla) as well as some of my favorites over the span of this retrospective. As you can see in the table below, there are no real low points (except for this year since they did not enter anything) but a few high ones.

BiH

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Bosnian Flag Map2007 – Rijeka bez Imena – This is the song that inspired me to learn Serbo-Croatian.  It is amazing – Maria’s heartbreak overwhelms the listener and you have no choice but to mourn along with her – and that’s without understanding the lyrics!  Once you translate them into English, you get words of desolated anguish.  For example “Unfaithful sorrow/I would still go anywhere for you/May this pain bind to soul, for I am dying for you” – seriously, moving stuff!

2008 – Pokušaj – A fun song, though a bit nonsensical.  I’m not quite sure why this song was successful, but hey, the masses seemed to enjoy it.  The staging was high energy and captured the mood of the song quite well.

2009 – Bistra Voda – A slow march that still stands out as one of the most unique and powerful compositions in recent years.  Regina brought a whole different sound to the Contest – a rock march that perfectly fit the song (hmmm…I’m noticing a pattern here).  The Bosnian entries, in my opinion, tend to be well composed, and this one is up there as one its best.

2010 – Thunder and Lightning – A rare English language entry from BiH.  It’s also one of its rare duds.  The song has never really done much for me.  If it means anything, the most compelling thing, to me, about this entry is that Vukasin Brajić is a school teacher and I could imagine how excited his students must have been to watch him on television.

2011 – Love in Rewind – On the opposite end of the awesome spectrum, you have this masterpiece from Dino Merlin, who not only competed previously for BiH, but also wrote its original national anthem – now that’s the guy I want representing me!  This song is fun, but the lyrics go deeper – it’s about an older couple looking at the past, recognizing that their time here is drawing to a close.  Beautifully done!

2012 – Korake Ja Znam – Back to the beautiful Bosnian language.  While the song is well composed, ably performed, and possesses a heartfelt sentiment – it’s just a bit drab.  Artistically, it’s a masterpiece, entertainment-wise….not so much.  But Maya Star gave it her all and left a positive taste in everyone’s mouth as we wait for BiH to return to the ESC.

Let’s Take a Closer Look At: Bosnia & HerzegovinaBosnia and Herzegovina 2009.  I’ve talked a lot about the composition – and it was awesome, it even won the Composers Marcel Bezeçon Award – but let’s look at the lyrics.  “Give birth to me at dawn in May/Bathe me in the clear water/I guard one world, when all others leave/I guard you as long as I’m alive.”  So, to the casual reader, those lyrics may seem a bit…silly.  But let’s keep in mind that the lyricist has told us that it’s a song or reminiscing about love and the illusions to better days gone by elsewhere in the song, and these lyrics make so much more sense.  May is the month most closely associated with the season of spring, which represents new life and happiness.  “Bathe me” in other words – fully envelope me, in the “clear waters” of those better days of life and happiness.  “Guard” is synonymous with “hold” – so he’s saying that he is holding on to “one world” (i.e., the past) despite the fact the rest of the world has carried on (“when all others leave”).  He does this because it’s a way how he shows his love – whom he’ll hold for all of his days.

Such a lovely song!

What do you think?  Do you think “Clear Water” sounds more like muddy puddles?  Do you absolutely love the storm brought forth by Thunder & Lightning, or do you think it’s more of a drizzle?  Leave a comment below!

For the previous stops on the Road to Denmark 2014, click here.  Check back tomorrow for our next stop: Bulgaria.


RtD14: Looking Back at Belgium

Howdy friends!  We’re back on the Road to Denmark today.  This time, we’re heading to one of the founding members of the ESC – Belgium!  A country that has generally underperformed at the Contest – whether its due to poor performances, low televoting, a lack of love from the juries, or a mixture of the three – Belgium just can’t quite find its groove.  Personally, I like a lot of the Belgian entries and think that, generally, they deserved better than what they placed.  Let’s dive in!

Belgium

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Belgian Flag Country2007 – Love Power – A fun, throwback number.  Actually, I love this song a lot!  It’s one of my first favorite entries from my first ever Contest.  Unfortunately, the performance was rather poor.  But hey, the music video is pretty awesome!

2008 – O Julissi – After missing its second victory by only one point in 2003 with Urban Trad’s boundary-breaking , invented language hit Sanomi, Belgium tried to send another eclectic act with a made-up language.  It’s a fun song that got the Belgrade crowd cheering and clapping; unfortunately, that energy did not transfer through onscreen.  I like this song – it’s so fun!

2009 – Copycat – When I heard this song for the first time, I thought “that’s crazy.”  Who would have thought any European country would have submitted an Elvis song – but it was ironic and humorous.  But I don’t think anyone thought this song had a chance of succeeding.

2010 – Me and My Guitar – Belgium’s most successful entry since 2003; I always found the song a bit dull.  Don’t get me wrong, Tom Dice is a looker and his whiny voice fits the song really well; not to mention the fact that the song was beautifully staged.  Could Tom Dice work his magic a second time…I don’t know about that; I think that this was a perfect storm in Oslo, which seems to be a lucky city for the Belge.

2011 – With Love – A rare entry from the West that had public support to move through to the Final, but not enough jury love.  I love this song!  My favorite Belgian entry thus far – they got robbed from the Final!  But, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  I would love to see Witloof Bay return to the Contest.

2012 – Would You? – I thought this song was horridly boring.  Until I heard it performed live during the semi-final.  It was moving!  Still a bit trite and ultimately finished where it probably should have, but Iris did an indomitable job and deserves to be commended.

2013 – Love Kills – Who would’ve thought this song would have finished 12th in the Grand Final, beating the more popular (and higher regarded) Romania, Georgia, the UK, and Germany.  This song improved a thousand times over since it was first performed and showed that Western Europe can succeed without a big name or gimmicks.  Take note United Kingdom.

Let’s Take a Closer Look At: BelgiumBelgium 2012.  I think this song was probably one of the most overlooked and underrated acts in its year.  Iris was this small, mousy girl with little experience with a cheesy little song with weak lyrics and insipid music.  But, her performance was amazing.  She sung her heart out and won fans for herself.  While, on its merits, the song clearly deserved its 17th placing, Iris performed like a contender.  Well done!

What do you think?  Am I making too much of Iris?  Can you feel the Love Power? Do you think Ishtar got what they deserved?  Leave a comment below!

Other stops along the Road to Denmark.  Check back tomorrow for our return to the Balkans with Bosnia & Herzegovina!


RtD14: Looking Back at Belarus

Welcome back dear readers.  Finally!  We move on to the B’s with “White Russia”…I mean Belarus! A country that has sent an eclectic mix of entries to the Contest.  I do not think I could pick a “stereotypical Belorussian sound” based on their entries – and even if I did, it would probably be changed after a few weeks.  Anywho, despite the repeated song changes – these are the Belorussian entries along the “Road to Denmark 2014”!

Belarus

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Belorussian Flag Map2007 – Work Your Magic – The country’s most successful entry thus far.  The popular and charismatic Koldun used nifty stage tricks to wow audiences across Europe to Belarus’ only Top Ten finish.

2008 – Hasta la Vista – A song that was just not very good.  The lyrics were uninspired, the vocals were unremarkable, and the staging was cheesy.  Just…not a very strong entry.

2009 – Eyes that Never Lie – The overwhelming commentary on this entry was that it sounded like a Bond theme.  Unfortunately, it did not live up to expectation – though, the camerawork won the production team a prestigious award.  For the song itself, it’s alright.  I am not overly enthralled by it, but it is fun to rock out to every so often.  Not too many ESC songs are genuine rock like this one is.  Yay diversity!

The winning camerawork is from 2:41-3:09.

2010 – Butterflies – So, what happens when you take five of the top classical vocal talents in your country and force them to perform together in a language none of them speak?  3+2, of course!  Belarus is not exactly known for having singers with the clearest articulation, but this group takes the cake in terms of singing with accents.  And, the song really makes no sense!  Also, why did Georgia give them 12 points?  To this day, I refuse to guess the way Georgia votes because of this.

2011 – I Love Belarus – As I said in my live notes, I am so confused as to why this song is not, at least partly, in Belorussian.  The whole point of the entry is nationalistic pride, but the country’s language does not even feature once throughout the entire song – it doesn’t make sense.  My question is – did the producers honestly think this song had a chance of doing well or were they just hoping to get a club hit they could sell the rights to for years to come?  Or, were they just trying to get 3+2 out of everyone’s minds?

2012 – We are the Heroes – Okay, so many folks complain that the pop version is not nearly as good as the original alternative rock one.  I disagree!  The pop version that Belarus competed with was more generally accessible and, given the success of similar entries, made more sense to compete with.  The issue with the song was the lackluster performance.  It was kinda just there.  It was too gimmicky for the band to be taken seriously, but not exciting enough for the act to be considered memorable.  Definitely one of my favorite entries from Belarus.

2013 – Solayoh – So, my distaste for this song is well documented on this blog.  After a few months – I still am not impressed by it.  It’s fun, I guess – but the giant disco ball and half-naked singer were not appreciated.  It was just a generic song that, in my opinion, over-performed and finished much higher than it should have.

Let’s Take a Closer Look At: BelarusBelarus 2011.  Fun, upbeat, and entirely way too nationalistic (and this is coming from an American).  I am much more amused by the reaction than by the song itself.  People seemed to think “Oh, there goes that silly Belarus, being all irreverent again.”  or “That poor country is ruled by a tight-fisted government that use stuff like this as propaganda” (because, no other country does that, of course!).  What I didn’t see was anyone complaining about the presence of such blatant national-pride.  Could you imagine if the UK, France, or Russia tried to sing this song (with their name in title, of course!)?  Or Germany?  Oh yeah, I’m sure  Ich Liebe Deutschland would have been über-successful.  Which brings us to my bigger point, all jokes about dark histories aside, there’s an air of haves and have-nots.  Those from the bigger countries that “are actually worth bragging about” would be seen as jerks if they subjected us to “I Love the Netherlands” or “I Love Sweden” but those small, poor countries, awww, they’re just trying to put on their big boy pants and be seen as equals even though we know they’re not.  That is just patronizing and disrespectful.  The beauty of the Contest is that every country gets at least three minutes on stage to display why they’re awesome.  Until the fans are ready to be equally engaged by (or angered by) each country, the EBU will have work to do to accomplish the mission of the Contest – to unite Europe through song.

What’s your thoughts – am I being overly idealistic in my call for equality?  Do you, indeed, not love Belarus?  Did this Eastern European country “work its magic” on you?

Check back tomorrow when I will be looking back at Belgium!  Meanwhile, check out the previous stops on the Road to Denmark 2014!


RtD14: Looking Back at Azerbaijan

Welcome dear readers!  I have returned!  Sorry for my absence, I will be posting on the daily in order to complete this series before news for ESC2014 hits us in earnest.

As a reminder, I will be talking about each country that has competed since I began following the Contest in 2007. The next stop on the Road to Denmark 2014: Azerbaijan!  The “Land of Fire” could also just as well be called the “Land of Pop Music” – or should I say, “Land from which Money Flows to bring in Europe’s Top Music Makers.”  Azerbaijan, except for its very first entry (and, arguably, its 2012 entry) has always presented very Western, very mainstream pop music with little ties to actual Azerbaijani culture or heritage.  In forsaking its history, the Caucasian country has been rewarded with Top Ten placings each and every year that it has competed, including first, second, and third placings.  Let’s do a quick recap of their entries.

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Azerbaijani Flag Map2008 – Day After Day – Azerbaijan debuted with a song that tied tradition mugham singing with pop music.  Despite the use of a countertenor for part of the song, some freaky light effects, and strange staging – the song finished 8th.  To date, Azerbaijan’s worse placing.  Not too  shabby!  Personally, it took about a year and a half before I actually enjoyed listening to this song.  It’s still a little too out there for me.

2009 – Always – Probably Azerbaijan’s most popular entry thus far.  Not sure why, though.  To me, it’s generic and not all that appealing.  It takes more than some ethnic drums and a wind machine to impress me!

2010 – Drip Drop – Azerbaijan’s first song that was heavily favored to win.  And, had it been performed some time in the second half of the show, it might have.  Safura was waaaaaaay off-key throughout her performances; I’ll just chalk that up to stage fright.  Otherwise, I like this song a lot!

2011 – Running Scared – I still contend that this song would not have won had Turkey been competing in the Final.  It’s bland, boring, and a bit creepy when you consider the age difference between Ell and Nikki.  Still, it deserves respect for pulling off a victory despite being what many consider the country’s weakest entry to date.

2012 – When the Music Dies – Azerbaijan’s attempt to bring some of its own culture back into the Contest. This is my favorite entry by far.  It’s emotionally gripping, musically interesting, and beautifully performed.  A valiant effort to defend the crown – Everyone involved in this entry should be very proud of themselves; except for the decision to do the song in English as opposed to Azerbaijani.

2013 – Hold Me – From a musical standpoint, this song is fairly generic and sounds like any other pop ballad you might come across in the 90s.  However, the staging for this song was phenomenal!  Phen – nom – men – nal!!  The use of that guy in the box to shadow Farid Mammadov, then reflect him to set up the connection, then use him to show his inner turmoil once Mammadov stepped to the front of the stage – awesome!  That’s the kind of artistry and choreography that should earn your song a higher placing than it deserves!

Let’s Take a Closer Look At: AzerbaijanAzerbaijan 2012 (you didn’t think I was going to choose Running Scared, did you?).  The only entry that was originally in Azerbaijani (this year’s entry, Hold Me, did have an alternate version, but it was in Turkish, came after the original English, and sucked), When the Music Dies truly displays what happens when you blend traditional sounds with modern pop balladry.  However, as I said above, Gəl (the original Azerbaijani version) was just as powerful, if not more so, than the English version and should have been performed in Baku. You would think that, after finishing fifth, this proved that Azerbaijan could be successful with an entry that’s true to its culture.  For better or worse, the small nation reverted back to generic, Western pop in 2013.  What will 2014 bring?  Probably more of the same.  Here’s to AZR 2012 – a true gem!

Check back tomorrow when I will be looking back at Belarus!  Wanna see the past stops on the Road to Denmark?  Click here.


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

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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.


RtD14: Looking Back at Andorra

Welcome to the second installment of my “Road to Denmark 2014: A Retrospective” where I am looking at each entry that has competed since I started following the Contest in 2007.  After briefly recapping each song, I will choose one or two to focus on.  Today, we’ll be looking at the three entries of Andorra from 2007-2009.

AndorraClick the table to see it larger.

Andorran Flag Map2007 – Salvem El Mon (Save the World) – Andorra’s most successful entry (to date), a pop rock number that’s half Catalan and half English.  Probably my least favorite Andorran entry (and really, one of my least favorite in all).

2008 – Casanova – Probably the mircostate’s best chance at qualifying for the Final derailed by one of the WORST outfits to grace the ESC stage (Gisela won 2008’s Barbara Dex Award).  Not a bad song, as long as you don’t listen to it too many times in a row.

2009 – La Teve Decisió (Get a Life) – Susanne Georgi actually competed in the first Dansk Melodi Grand Prix that I saw back in 2007; after losing, she moved to Andorra.  Actually a fairly pleasant song, it suffered from being amongst a strong field including a Contest legend (Chiara), Belgian popstar Hadise (representing Turkey), and two of the top songs that year (Iceland and Bosnia & Herzegovina).

Let’s take a closer look at: AndorraAndorra 2006.  I know it falls outside the bounds that I set up, but honestly, I don’t find any of the three entries above all that remarkable.  And, generally, find Andorra to be a somewhat weaker competitor (though, I do want to see the small country return).  My favorite entry is Sense-Tu – it’s sexy, it’s powerful, and it’s unexpected.  I think the only reason the song didn’t do well was because Jenny is a bigger girl (really, she’s healthy-sized, but that might as well be obese by pop-star standards).

Despite my harsh words – I want Andorra back!  Come back Andorra!  We want you to return to the ESC (Spain especially does)!

Go here to find past posts in this series.

Our next country to be highlighted: Armenia!


Road to Denmark 2014: Looking Back at Albania

Welcome to the first in my series “Road to Denmark 2014: A Retrospective” in which I am looking back at all the entries between when I first started following the Contest in 2007 to now as I prepare to see the Contest live in Denmark next year.  I’m going through each of the 46 countries that have competed over the past seven years alphabetically starting with Albania!

Albania

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Albanian flag countryAs you can see, I rate the Albanian entries fairly high.  Given that I am American, we generally view 75% as “average” and that is the mentality that I am bringing to these ratings.  Elements that I generally view as generic received a “7” with songs that I consider strong or weak having their scores adjusted accordingly.  A brief look at seven Albanian entries, then I’ll provide a deeper focus on a few select entries.

2007 – Hear My Plea – I actually really liked this song, it was so unique and stood out for everything else in the field. You could feel the longing in Ndoci’s voice.  I think that these entry suffered from being a bit too different without being memorably so.

2008 – Zemrën E Lamë Peng – An understated song that was aptly sung by one of the youngest artists to be on the ESC stage.  While I think the song is artistically valuable, it’s not really my cup of tea – it doesn’t really go anywhere musically.

2009 – Carry Me in Your Dreams – A fun song that is easy to sing along to.  This song seems to have a bit of a cult following, but RTSH seems to have clamped down on this song more than any other and it’s hard to find online (and the 80’s style music video has essentially disappeared from the internet). I like it and can’t wait for Kejsi Tola to make it back to the ESC stage.

2010 – It’s All About You – As you can see, this is my favorite Albanian entry thus far.  It is one I sing in the shower on a regular basis.  It’s fun, modern, and sung beautifully.  It’s a great, up-tempo love song.

2011 – Feel the Passion – Another personal favorite, despite the fact that the performance could have been stronger.  I like being able to shout at the top of my lungs when singing along with a song and this definitely provides those opportunities, not to mention the vaguely religious undertones of the lyrics.

2012 – Suus -The most successful Albanian entry to date.  Rona Nishliu is an amazing singer, though, I still maintain that her vocals were a bit off on the night of the Grand Final.  Whether I am listening to the original or the jazzed up English version, this song gets me every time.

2013 – Identitet – It’s always nice to see a genuine rock number at ESC; they add a bit of spice to the disco/ballad melange that the Contest typically is.  I am not a big fan of this particular song, but think it’s a valiant effort.

With that said, I do want to focus on one particular Albanian entry – 2012’s SuusAlbaniaThe reason that the Contest utterly captured me from the very first time that I watched it was the fact that I could understand the exact sentiments of the singers without knowing their language.  I could feel the heartbreak, I could celebrate the joy, I could lose myself in the frenzied state induced by certain entries.  Rona Nishliu exemplifies this.  This song is pure art, which does not have the best record at ESC.  But she was able to secure Albania’s best placing to date because her vocal performance transcended style and language.  During her semi-final performance, tears were brought to my eyes; I could feel my heart break when she kicked it up a notch in the Final.  Many casual viewers complain that the ESC lacks artistic merit and doesn’t make valuable contributions to culture (I vehemently disagree, of course) this song, and entries like it, strengthen the argument that ESC is a valuable aspect of pan-European culture.  Thank you Albania for sending Suus!

 

You can find all the entries here.  Next up in the series: Andorra