Hello Dear Readers!
We now head to Italy, arguably the most success Big Five country since it returned to the Contest and joined the group in 2011 with four out of six entries finishing in the Top Ten. Overall, Italy has two victories, two second places, and eleven other top five victories since 1956.
2011 – 2nd place with Follia d’Amore (Madness of Love) performed by Raphael Gualazzi
2012 – 9th place with L’Amore É Femmina performed by Nina Zilli
2013 – 7th place with L’Essenziale performed by Marco Mengoni
2014 – 21st place with La Miq Città performed by Emma Marrone
2015 – 3rd place with Grande Amore performed by Il Volo
2016 – 16th place with No Degree of Separation performed by Francesca Michielin
As I said above, Italy has been the most successful Big Five country as of late, topping the Top Ten totals of each other country since 2011 (France: 1, Germany: 2, Spain: 2, UK: 0) and hasn’t finished below 21st unlike the others which, other than Spain (25th place), have all been last at least once. Italy has seen this success with jazz, ballads, and even opera. But, the Italian record is not spotless. They have twice fallen toward the bottom of the scoreboard – once when they had a poprock number that was halfheartedly performed with a mess of a staging and the other when a young, eccentric singer took a pretty, but boring, song with a questionable staging to ESC.
So, what has gone wrong?
Honestly, Italy could have won in 2011 (#1 among the juries), 2013 (one of the top betting odds and remains one of the most popular entries to date), and 2015 (#1 in the televote). Why has Italy not been able to close the deal and hoist the crystal microphone? Apathy.
RAI took its time returning to the Contest and has shown little interest in winning. Italy won JESC in 2014 then promptly refused hosting the Contest and sent a weak song to ensure that it would not win again. They seem to be equally disinterested in winning and hosting the adult version. Success in 2011 was a complete surprise and was brought on by the juries. RAI has not made the mistake of allowing their artists to have a strong jury performance since. In 2013 and 2015, seemingly easy victories were prevented by relatively weak jury performances. I was in Vienna for 2015. Il Volo were unenthused on Friday night (for the jury show) and were clearly using it as a mere warm-up. On Saturday, however, they took it to eleven and gave, without a doubt, a winning performance that made the arena standstill in awe. It’s clear to see why they won the televote. Grande Amore would have sent the Contest to Italy if RAI had directed Il Volo to ensure Friday was a full-strength show. Likewise, in 2013, reports were of a mostly aloof Marco Mengoni that had an overall air of disinterest. Throughout the entire performance, jury and televote, he barely made eye contact with the camera, despite various angles that were utilized for him to do just that. Denying his smolder to the audience cost him, and Italy, the victory.
What can Italy do to improve in 2017?
Well, it’s obvious: care. RAI needs to do some soul-searching. If it doesn’t want to win, then why is it competing? Just to perform well and feel superior to the rest of Europe? Why not win and then throw the “best” ESC to date?
There is not an artist recommendation for Italy. No, only a chastising for the RAI producers.
Shame, shame on you RAI!!!
So, if Italy wants to win, what can it do? Once an artist and song are selected (San Remo still works) the artist should be coached to smile and act like they care about the Contest (such as they did this year), they need to promote and send it around to the various pre-Eurovision concerts (as they did this year), and they need to give strong, powerful performances for both the jury and the televised shows (as they did this year)….
But, if this happened in 2016, why did they achieve such a low placing? The song had a swell of fan support and slowly was picking up speed in the betting odds ahead of the Contest. Well, the answer comes in the form of staging. Italy tends to go for a simple staging (except for 2013, which was a hot mess). The problem: No Degree of Separation didn’t go for a simple staging. There were screens with digitized effects, there were sparkly brown overalls, and a pond theme that did not match the song.
Here’s No Degree of Separation at Eurovision in Concert that sparked its rise in the betting odds.
Michielin has an eccentric personality and probably fought for a more interesting staging, but RAI did not direct this creativity in a positive way. If they did, perhaps we would have gotten a staging more like the music video.
Instead of reigning in Francesca Michielin’s vision and pushing for a simple staging (that was more in line with the simplicity of Eurovision in Concert) or one in line with the music video that compliments the song, RAI allowed for the confusing production that we got this May. Again, if RAI had wanted to win, they would have worked with Michielin to craft a staging that would have allowed for the song to shine. Instead, RAI allowed it to die.
Again: shame, shame on you RAI for not trying harder!
What’s the worst thing Italy can do?
Depends on who you ask. RAI? Winning.
For the thousands of ESC fans in Italy and around the world? To allow another great song to fall prey to apathy by not allowing the artist to perform at their full potential for the jury final or by not channeling an artist’s creativity into a successful presentation.
Italy, unlike so many other countries, does not have a problem with the quality of its entries – the songs or the artists – the problem lies with the hearts of those in control at RAI. Once those hearts are changed, I imagine we’ll be back in Italy without haste.
What are your thoughts? Do you think that RAI needs to care more? Do you disagree that their songs have actually been strong enough to win? And, more importantly, why has San Marino not given Italy 12 points since 2011 and will the #SanMarinoPlan help with this?
Be sure to check out my analyses on the other Big Five countries!
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!
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!
Last night was the second rehearsal of the second semi-final; the one the juries viewed and rated. Unlike Tuesday, the vocal performances were a bit scattered, but each staging was on point! There are definitely some cool uses of holograms, projectors, and lights throughout the 18 songs. Definitely another night to stay close to the screen.
There are, of course, some entries with work left to do.
Australia – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dami Im probably has the best voice in the Contest this year. However, she struggled last night. She was out of tune for the first half of the song.
Switzerland & Slovenia both suffered similarly. They were either nervous or intimidated and it showed, thoroughly. Their performances lacked the same zeal that we saw in their national finals.
All the automatic qualifiers had weak performances last night. I was particularly disappointed by Italy. She had such a great music video, but the staging was dull and she gave a soulless performance of the song. But the UK and Germany also disappointed in their performances. Hopefully, on Friday and Saturday, when they count the most, they’ll come through.
Surprisingly good was Belarus. I still think the song is weak, but the staging is quite nice! And IVAN performed really, really well.
Belgium also gave a great show and demonstrated why she was worthy of the final position.
My predictions are staying the same. Mostly because, the songs with the most to overcome, Israel, Albania, and Belarus, while all gave fantastic performances, just didn’t do enough, I think, to bump any of the other ten out of qualifying. So, I think we’ll see: Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Poland, and Ukraine again in the Final. What’re your predictions?