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.
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
The 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.
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?
2016 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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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.
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.
Hello Dear Readers!
Wow wow wow! What a show! My favorite song won, the voting was incredibly exciting, and each entry was performed amazingly. I wanted to put out a reaction post for you all and then my normal recap post with my Annual EO Awards towards the end of this week or next (depending on how quickly I can process my photos without my computer).
So, we have a top ten, of which, I predicted only 6. Sad, as I was batting with 80% accuracy with the semi-finals, but you can’t with them all.
Some historic markers of note from this year’s Grand Final:
-For only the second time, a country that was neither an automatic qualifier nor won its semi-final, was victorious. Just like in 2004, Ukraine was second in the semi-final but won the Contest.
-With 534 points and 17 sets of twelve, Ukraine has set the bar for this new voting system. We’ll see how long this record stands. FICongratulations to Norway 2009, that will eternally be enshrined as the highest point total under the previous system (1975-2015). And Sweden 2012, which will always hold the record for most sets of 12 points.
-This year, we also saw the best finish for a host nation since 2012.
-Russia extends its Top Ten streak to five, Ukraine and Sweden take theirs to three, and Australia and Belgium start streaks with their second consecutive Top Ten finishes. Norway’s streak ended (though, that happened with its elimination on Thursday night).
Individual Country Historical Markers:
-Bulgaria reached its highest place ever, besting their 2007 finish by one spot. Australia also reached its highest position, beating last year’s finish by three places.
-Poland and Lithuania get their second best finishes ever. Armenia tied its second best finish (after getting seventh in 2010).
-France was the top Big Five country for the first time since 2001.
-Croatia, Georgia, and Serbia all had their lowest finish ever in a Final.
Some of my reactions to the Grand Final:
-I was rather skeptical of the new voting system. While it needs greater transparency, it definitely made things quite exciting! This had to have gone better than they could’ve imagined.
-I’m shocked Ukraine won, but incredibly happy that it did! It was my favorite song this year and, I think, one of the most significant, meaningful, and artistic entries in the Contest ever.
-I’m equally shocked by the success of Lithuania and Israel, as I find both songs to be generic and underwhelming. On the flip side, I’m shock and disappointed by Spain, UK, and Czech Republic’s finish. They all had fantastic entries that deserved more points. In the case of Spain and UK, great running order positions and very memorable, catchy pop tunes. Spain had a legitimate chance of winning after amazing performances Friday and Saturday; I just don’t get it.
-Finally, while I loved each aspect of the voting entertainment and the interval acts, there was just too much! “Love Love Peace Peace” could’ve been the voting entertainment after the interview with Justin Timberlake. JT’s performance should’ve been moved to the Interval Act alongside Måns. The “Nerd Documentary” should have just been for the semi-finals. This year’s show could’ve easily stayed under three and half hours (if not three) if SVT didn’t go overboard with everything.
Congratulations to Ukraine!! 1944 earned its victory through telling a meaningful story through a captivating composition and an emotional performance. I look forward to its impact on next year’s Contest and the show that Ukraine will give us!
Check back soon for my end of Eurovision wrap-up!
Hello Dear Readers!
And just like that, another Eurovision week is upon us! I write this from the plane on my way to Stockholm and I can barely contain my excitement. This year, we see an increase in uptempo songs, a decrease in national languages, and ample amounts of awesome. Let’s take a dive into some of our final thoughts, opinions, and predictions heading into Contest.
New Hope for Poor Performers
For the first time since 2011 (and I would argue since 2003), France has a legitimate shot at winning the Contest. Even you remember, I’ve previously picked France as the winner of this year’s Contest. It has been steadily rising in the betting odds since March and has been topping fan polls across the Internet, including the famed OGAE fan club poll which has historically picked the winner more often then not (though, everything after the first position tends to range wildly). France brings a song with an enthusiastic performer who respects and enjoys the Contest, lyrics that are fun and catchy, and a composition that’s highly contagious. Even if France doesn’t win, it’s bound to get its best placing since 2009 (its last time in the Top Ten) and possibly even since 1991 (its last time in the top three).
Other countries with poor track records are also poised to achieve new heights. The Czech Republic looks like it will easily qualify for the Final, which, if achieved, would be a first for the country. The Czech Republic is the only competing nation this year to never reach the Final. My love for the song has been quite evident on this blog, and I still contend that it is a real dark horse this year that, cannot only give the CR its best finish to date, but truly challenge for the victory.
Bulgaria also is poised for new heights. Bulgaria has reached the Final only once before, 2007, but when it did, it finished in the Top Ten. This looks like it will be the case once more. If Love was a Crime is immensely popular, as is its performer Poli Genova (who’s fresh off hosting duties for JESC), and is the first instance of Bulgaria being in the betting odds’ top ten heading into the Contest. Expect another Bulgarian success story.
Finally, Croatia has been steadily collecting fans and support over the past few months. While it has not received the same attention it once did, Lighthouse is poised to bring Croatia back to the Final for the first time since 2009.
I don’t want to spend too much time here, as I don’t wish poor on anyone. However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least think about some songs currently slated to do well that will fall flat. First, Italy has been a hot topic ever since the selection was announced. Even though Italy has not been a heavy favorite to win, it has been hovering between 8th and 12th in the bookies’ odds and featured heavily in fan discussions across the web. However, I just don’t think that the song has the immediacy needed to succeed in a Contest mostly determined by folks seeing the song for the first time. One needs to listen and relisten to No Degree of Separation to truly appreciate it, a requirement that most of the viewing audience will not have fulfilled. Cyprus has become a popular pick for those looking outside the heavy favorites for a candidate. It is considered the strongest rock entry this year and features a lead singer who has recently started making a name for himself in Western Europe via France’s version of The Voice. However, the song is still poppy enough to not truly distinguish itself from the competition. It will need a strong, memorable performance in order to qualify and I am currently not confident in predicting this.
Malta seems to be losing favor rapidly. When Walk on Water was initially announced, it was immediately considered a serious contender to win. There was serious conversation back in March about the Contest being in Malta so soon after the country hosted the JESC (which it will do again this fall). However, since then, it has steadily fell in the bookies’ odds and now, not only sits outside the top ten but is predicted to struggle to qualify, a stark contrast to conversations just weeks ago.
Finally, Sweden has been on the exact opposite ride as France. When If I were Sorry won Melodifesrevalen, it was immediately a serious contender to win. This was the conversations held around the fan community, the news media, and the bookies injected Sweden right behind heavy favorite Russia. However, since then, Sweden has consistently been falling in the odds and losing steam among the fan community. What looked to be an easy Top Ten placing just a few weeks ago now looks like it will be a struggle to receive a respectable placing.
So, let’s face it. Moldova has one of the weakest entries this year. The song is trite and predictable. Lidia Isac, while she is beautiful and appears to be super sweet, is not the right singer for this tune. With that said, Moldova is best poised to capitalize on Romania’s unexpected absence. Since Moldovans and Romanians have a shared cultural history, it is fair to think that Moldova would do better than expected on this alone. Now, with Romania being removed at the last second, it stands to gain the near entirety of support from a diaspora that has made Romania one of the few countries to never miss the Final. So, do not be surprised when you see Falling Stars on Saturday night – though, expect it to fall flat in the Final.
So, finally, who do I predict to qualify from each semi-final?
And more importanlty, who do I think will finish in the Top Ten? (Also alphabetical)
Armenia, Australia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Spain, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine
Most importantly, who’s going to win?!
Well, my heart says Czech Republic, as it is the best full package we are being presented with this year. However, if I were to place a bet, my money would be on France for all the reasons mentioned above. Moreover, it is one of the most memorable songs this year,which is quite a feat. All it needs is a decent place in the running order (which isn’t a guarantee with SVT) to all but seal its victory. Next year in Paris?
Stay tuned. I’ll be posting my annual ESC notes tomorrow (with a return of the country profiles!) As well as updated predictions after each dress rehearsal and a reaction after each show. It’s bound to be an another great year for the Eurovision Song Contest!
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