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.
With that said, let’s recap some of my thoughts from this year’s Contest!
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!
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
“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.
“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
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.
“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.
“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
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).
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.
Sparkly, brown overalls. Need I say more? Italy got my vote for the Barbara Dex Award this year.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Runner-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
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.
Runner-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
The “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
After 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.
Runner-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
Well, 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.”
Hello Dear Readers!
So, there you have it, my initial thoughts on the 2016 Eurovision field of entries. After listening to the 43 songs, nearly non-stop, all week, I am still able to stand by my predictions. While there are a few songs I like better now than a week ago, such as Poland, Belgium, and Cyprus, but most stayed about the same.
So, Italy has finally released its ESC-version of No Degree of Separation. My opinion is unchanged. I still think that this song is boring.
As of right now, I predict that the following songs will be in the Top Ten (in alphabetical order):
Azerbaijan – a pop entry that recreates the formula that has brought AZR so much success these years
Bulgaria – is replacing the United Kingdom in my Top Ten prediction because it is catchy, it is unique without being inaccessible, and just fun
France – fun, catchy, definitively French without being too French
Iceland – mysterious, gripping, and impactful – musically and visually
Malta – powerful pop tune sung by someone with ESC experience, a lot of potential for success
Serbia – powerful song about overcoming a bad relationship that will have the backing of most of the Balkans
Spain – most popular dance tune this year, uplifting, and will definitely get every viewer up and dancing
Russia – electric dance track, surely bound to outperform Russia’s last attempt with this style (2011) by a country mile!
So, with that said, who do I think will contend for the title of ESC victor? Well, so far, my thoughts have not yet changed.
Iceland, Czech Republic, Russia, Serbia, and Spain.
Iceland is mysterious and has the benefit on being on Nordic soil. However, there is balance when it comes to dark songs; is it dark enough to captivate viewers without scaring them away?
Czech Republic is my vote for dark horse of the year; it’s an utterly riveting song that is sung magnificently. Though, will it leave a big enough mark to win, especially if it is in the first half of the night at the Grand Final?
Russia is the bookies’ favorite thus far and has quite the fan following. It’s fun and invites the audience in. Will Russia’s real life politics derail their chances at ESC? Will the song be able to woo the juries better than in 2011?
Serbia is another option for a dark horse. I know Croatia is supposed to be tops among the former Yugoslav countries, but I think Serbia has broader appeal when it comes to televotes. But, will the song come across authentic, as it is the least “Balkan” sounding entry from Serbia thus far?
Spain is probably the best dance entry this year and is the brightest (that is, uplifting) song, as well. But, will the staging be able to live up to the energy of the song without detracting from the music?
Ultimately, if I had to choose one song right now as the winner. I would choose…
I Stand is, in my opinion, the most complete song this year when taking into account the lyrics, the composition, and the performance. It catches your attention and has the benefit of being a powerful ballad amongst a sea of uptempo numbers. It will stand out, regardless of where it is in the running order, and will take the crown – being the first true ballad to win the Contest since 2011.
Make sure to come back tomorrow for a special blog post introducing a new ESC Obsession tradition!
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Hello Dear Readers!
The second half of our First Semi-Final. Nine songs and lots to say. Missed yesterday’s? Check out the reviews for the first half here.
First Semi-Final, Second Half
*There are three basic ways for a song to be chosen. Internal Selection which is when the broadcaster within a country chooses both the performing artist and the song completely on their own without help from a professional jury or the public. Televised Selection which is the exact opposite, both the performing artist and the song are selected through a competition (or set of competitions) in which some combination of professional jurists and the public vote on the winners. There are also Mixed Selections, in which either the performing artist or the song is selected internally and the other is selected through a televised process. The only example of that this year is Malta, which had a televised selection, but opted to change the song through an internal selection process after Ira Losco won.
So, who do I think will qualify from this semi-final? What are my favorite songs?
My Top 10
More importantly, who do I think, from the First Semi-Final, will be competing for the crown?
Well, overall, I think that this is the stronger of the two semi-finals. With that said, I think that three songs have the ability to seriously contend for the victors trophy.
Iceland – It might finally be Iceland’s year. The Nordic countries tend to do well when in Sweden, and since Denmark, Norway, and Finland all have weaker entries, Iceland could take advantage of the situation and challenge for the crown. This is a fully complete song. It is performed well by an attractive artist with some name recognition (since she competed in 2012), the composition is moving, and the lyrics are perfectly balanced between being understandable without being too simple.
Russia – A strong pop tune delivered by a cute guy. If this was Sweden or Azerbaijan, I would say that it would be the outright favorite to win. However, Russia still has an uphill climb due to its policies (domestic and foreign) that are…less than idle. While Russia did manage second place last year, the field of entries is stronger this year. It will take a truly slick performance to stand a chance of capturing the victory.
Czech Republic – A beautiful ballad that is powerfully sung. It stands out in a field of uptempo pop songs and dance tunes. While just getting to Saturday night will be a win in itself for the Czech Republic, this song has everything it takes to go the distance. Watch for this to make a big move on the scoreboard at the Grand Final!
In addition to these three songs, I think that Azerbaijan and Malta will find themselves back in the Top Ten come Saturday night.
**Of course, these are my initial predictions without doing any research into fan sites, internet comments, or betting odds. Stay tuned for future posts (including Saturday’s) with more nuanced predictions and, of course, the 2016 edition of Contender or Pretender.
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Happy New Year, Dear Readers!
May this year bring you much love to light your lives, much hope to embolden your spirits, and laughter to brighten your days (and nights)!
This week, we turn our gaze to the most notorious of ESC genres: ballads! Historically, “ballads” were stories that were sung. People who sung these stories were called “troubadours” (much like the title of Dutch winner from 1969). Over time, the term “ballad” became more associated with the musical style than the lyrical content, particularly since most were stories love.
The music style is typified, generally, by a slow pace, a lack of musical complexity, and usually only one (or two) primary vocalist. Since the beginning, this has been the dominant musical genre of ESC entries, to the chagrin of some (who prefer more uptempo songs), but to the joy of many! This week, for the final Playlist of the Week, the focus is on ballads.
Once again, twenty songs from the Televoting Era (post 1998) of the Eurovision Song Contest. I curated this list to provide an array of ballads, some are the traditional story style, most are slow, heartfelt love songs. All are ballads. Enjoy!
View the playlist here: Eurovision for Balladeers
Greece 2003 – Never Let You Go performed by Mando
Estonia 2012 – Kuula performed by Ott Lepland
Monaco 2005 – Tout de Moi performed by Lise Darly
Italy 2011 – Madness of Love performed by Raphael Gualazzi
Cyprus 2004 – Stronger Every Minute performed by Lisa Angel
Hungary 2007 – Unsubstantial Blues performed by Magdi Rúzsa
France 2001 – Je N’Ail Que Mon Âme performed by Natasha St-Pier
Romania 2009 – Pe-O Margien De Lume performed by Nico & Vlad
Spain 2012 – Quédate Conmigo (Stay with Me) performed by Pastora Soler
Malta 2005 – Angel performed by Chiara
Portugal 2009 – Todas as Ruas do Amor performed by Flor-De-Lis
Azerbaijan 2015 – Hour of the Wolf performed by Elnur Huseynov
Ireland 2010 – It’s for You performed by Niamh Kavanagh
United Kingdom 2002 – Come Back performed by Jessica Garlic
Israel 2005 – Hasheket Shinish’ar performed by Shiri Maimon
Germany 2004 – Can’t Wait Until Tonight performed by Max
Sweden 2014 – Undo performed by Sanna Nielsen
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2006 – Lejla performed by Hari Mata Hari
Sweden 2006 – Invincible performed by Carola