Hello Dear Readers!
Wow! What a show! Twenty-seven fantastic performances, exhilarating mid-voting & interval acts, and voting that kept us on edge until nearly the end. Some initial reactions and notes from Saturday night:
-Congratulations to Sweden! It’s second win in four years, and sixth overall. Sweden now stands alone in second place in all-time victories. The UK, France, and Luxembourg are now in third place with five wins. Ireland is still in first with seven – Sweden is setting its sights on the coveted top spot. Rumor has it that it will be in Gothenburg next year, not Stockholm, but we’ll see.
-Overall, I am not too surprised by the Top Ten; I was only 60% accurate. I am very happy that both, Latvia and Belgium, were able to make it to the Top Ten, that they did not cancel each other out. I am disappointed that Azerbaijan did not make it, but I guess it’s nice to see that it is starting to normalize within the Contest as opposed to always being in the top – like what Armenia starting experiencing in 2011.
-Biggest Surprise: We have the first nul points in a Grand Final since the UK in 2003. Not just one, but two: Germany and Austria. It is the first time a host country has received the infamous score and only the second time a host has come last (the Netherlands came joint last in 1958). Regardless of your opinion of these two songs, neither deserved nul points. The performances were solid, the songs are catchy, and it’s inconceivable that, among forty countries, not a single one found a single point for either. It’s mind-boggling and I am sure will be a source of chatter within the fan community for years to come.
-Fans are desperately and deeply split on Russia. On one side, we have people who oppose Russia’s politics (on multiple fronts) and view their entries as an extension of Putin. On the other side, we have fans that argue that we must be neutral and that Russia’s song deserved its widespread support. I try to stay out of the arguments, but given it is becoming one of the biggest issues (and not just with Russia, but Azerbaijan as well), I feel like I must comment. Personally, I think that if we think Russia should not compete, then we must petition the EBU to punish Russia, which could include blocking them from participation in Eurovision programming (ESC, JESC, Young Musicians, etc.). Until the EBU decides to take action, we must treat every competitor with respect. We can also take action by not attending an event in a country we protest and pressuring our broadcasters to withdraw in a year that we think that a country has politics contrary to the ideals of the Contest.
-The Big Five (except Italy) all ended up at the bottom if the scoreboard. The UK missed an opportunity to capitalize on a truly unique and fun entry. France was screwed by its running order position (again! Just like 2013). Spain was a victim of its own over-production. Germany, inexplicably, earned zero points – why, I have no idea. It seemed like country really tried to do its best this year, so, as of right now, I have no suggestions for improvement other than to lick their wounds and move forward with renewed optimism.
-The production was lovely, even though I thought it was a bit too heavy on promoting Conchita; her agent must be amazing. I appreciated that there were nods to the gay male fans, but we were not lifted up as the “ideal fans” or the only fans out there (something that I fear Sweden will return to doing, especially if Petra Mede is invited back to host). The organization left much to be desired, which I will dive into in a future post about my experience in Vienna.
-Finally, something needs to be done about this flag situation that’s become much worse since the standing section was introduced in 2013. The easiest solution would be to build a stage that is higher up or at least raise the angle of the cameras. It will result in much different kids of shots, but would help alleviate the problem.
I spent a combined total of 34.5 hours standing in queues ahead of the show. Most of those hours were outside, many in the rain, some in crowded, tight spaces. At times, we asked ourselves “why we were doing this?” And had to constantly remind ourselves that, despite the rain, despite the disorganization of the security staff, despite the pushing, shoving, and disrespect from other fans – experiencing the show was going to be worth it.
And it was. It simply was.
Not just for the reasons I mentioned at the top of this post, but also for the community. The new people that I met, the people I saw again from last year, and the overall crowd. I love Eurovision, not just for the combination of geography, pop music, and competition, but for ideal of unifying a continent (and beyond!) for a week. ESC is at its best is when shared in community. I guess that’s why I started this blog, to expand my ESC community. So I want to thank you, my dear readers, for it is you that helps keep this passion, this Eurovision Obsession, going and growing.
Eurovision is about people – die-hard fans, noobs, casual viewers, Europeans (regardless of their national origin), and non-Europeans alike. While we can argue about who should participate and how, we must all agree that the shared experience of enjoying the Contest is open to everyone. Thank you for your readership and I look forward to seeing how this blog continues to grow and expand into the future!
Stay tuned for my wrap posts from this year’s event, including my annual awards and a post about my time in Vienna!
Hello Dear Readers!
As you know, Dansk Melodi Grand Prix was this past weekend and for those if you who are longtime readers, you know my DMGP post starts my coverage for the new year. That post is forthcoming. But it just didn’t feel right to move forward without a post that’s been in the works for the past few months. Not because I had trouble writing it, but because I know, no matter how I phrase my argument, people will misunderstand what I am saying. So, in the name of clarity, I want to state this article’s main points here:
1. I love Rise Like a Phoenix. It was my favorite song from 2014. It’s precisely the type of music I go for. Not only that, I think it was the most complete song lyrically, musically, and in its presentation.
2. Homophobia and transphobia are real and are major issues worldwide.
3. Tom Neuwirth’s bearded-lady character, Conchita Wurst, was created to combat these issues.
4. While this mission is noble and to be commended, they are not reasons to vote for a song in a contest that prides itself on being apolitical and ideology-free.
With that in mind (and the reminder that this blog is predominantly based upon my opinion and understanding as I have experienced the world as a black, gay man), I present “Right Song, Wrong Reason.”
As Vienna prepares itself for the magnificent spectacle that is the ESC, I want to take a moment to reflect upon the reason for the Contest’s return to Austria. The indomitable Conchita Wurst presented an anthem of triumph in a James Bond-esque setting. Rise Like a Phoenix inspires hope within its listeners that, they too, can overcome heartache, setbacks, and adversity. However, would this song have won if it was performed by, say, a woman? Or a man? Or even, a non-bearded drag queen? I would predict not.
As I said, I love this song! The fact that it sounds like it fell out of a Bond movie is the primary reason for that. The composition is stunning; it builds in all the right places without ever overwhelming Wurst’s airy voice. Likewise, the staging was near perfect; if only the LED wings on the screen were a little higher so that they consistently looked like they were sprouting from Wurst’s back. But I digress. For what it’s worth, Wurst’s voice was on par. She does not have the strongest or the biggest voice, but the song was written in such a way to maximize her strengths. The lyrics are inspiring and are broad enough to not apply to just one kind of situation. Universally-applicable lyrics + Well-staged performance + Beautifully composed music = Strong ESC Entry.
Normally, I would be excited for my favorite song to win the ESC (first time since 2007!), but, the media around this song, before and after the Contest, made it quite apparent that this song won, not because of its superiority, but due to the symbolic nature of its performer.
Conchita Wurst is a bearded-lady character created by singer Tom Neuwirth to battle the rampant homophobia and transphobia that he witnessed in Austria and his travels. So, some context:
Homophobia = hating and discriminating against someone due to the fact that they are homosexual (this term is often used to also incorporate discrimination against people who identify as any other non-heterosexual orientation by those outside of the queer community).
Transphobia = hating and discriminating against someone because they do not identify as a gender that falls into the typical alignment with their birth sex (i.e., someone born male who does not identify as a man)
These issues are more complex than I am making them; for more information, the University of California, Davis has a great page that dives into these topics: http://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/lgbt-education/.
While Neuwirth does identify as a gay man, he does not (nor has he ever) identified as anything other than a man. Hence, Conchita Wurst is a drag queen, not a transwoman (unlike, the performing artist of the 1998 winning song Dana International, who is a transwoman). However, as Neuwirth has said, in and out of character, Conchita Wurst stands for acceptance for all peoples – not just those with which he identifies.
Conchita Wurst has been at the forefront of these issues within Austria. And, since her victory, across Europe and even in the Western World (I’ve encountered people here in the US who have heard of ESC simply because of Wurst’s win).
Anyone who follows the Contest, even distantly, would have encountered articles and stories about Wurst, highlighting what she represents and, eventually, deifying the draq queen for it. This deification piqued around Eurovision Week when the press realized how sweet and funny Conchita Wurst is. The verbage around Rise Life a Phoenix was not about the staging, or the music, or the lyrics (though, a few folks did offhandedly mention the Bond-esque sound of it), but about Conchita Wurst.
While I commend the efforts that Wurst is making to end discrimination, Eurovision is supposed to be a Contest free from politics. This should go both ways. Just because the cause is good does not mean it should influence the voting, just like bad politics should not affect the voting.
Why Make a Post About This?
So, why make a post about positive politics positively affecting the odds of my favorite song? Because I want the Contest to remain open everyone. The ESC was founded to unite all of Europe, regardless of their beliefs. The folks with the most to learn will be the first to stop watching if the Contest if becomes a platform for preaching. Think about the television show Glee. It became quite popular, used its platform to share lessons about acceptance, then descended into weekly preaching sessions, usually about lesbian/gay issues, and now has a fraction of the audience it once had. Preaching to the choir (that is, telling your supporters what they already know) is okay if you want to rally support, but to make change, you have to make sure you are using a platform that is open to everyone. It is bad enough that media is trying its hardest to pigeon-hole into a gay-man only event (which is something I have railed against previously on this blog), but the more we lift up folks with certain types of politics or messages – AND present them as nothing more than their messages (and not their songs) the more we alienate and push away those that we want to inform.
Yes, Rise Like a Phoenix was the best song at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. Unfortunately, it won because of what the character Conchita Wurst represents and not because of the fantastic song that she presented. Winning entries tend to start trends, hopefully, the trend for songs winning for their politics stops here.
After a few days of thinking about it, I am still fairly satisfied with the results of the First Semi-Final – let’s hope that tonight will be equally as satisfying (if not more!). A lot of people seemed shocked that none of the former-Yugoslav countries made it through, despite the fact so many of them were in the First Semi-Final together. Now the big question is: “Who will they all vote for in the Grand Final (since Macedonia most likely will not be in the Final)?” I can tell you now, Serbia will vote for Russia, Croatia & Slovenia will vote for Italy, and Montenegro & Macedonia will vote for Albania.
Something interesting going on with the draws for the halves of the Grand Finals:
Estonia, the Netherlands, Russia, Lithuania, Belgium, Moldova, Belarus, Spain, Germany, and France have all been drawn into the first half of the Grand Final – that means only three songs qualifying tonight will join them; all the rest will be in the second half. What does that mean, the Netherlands, Russia, and Germany, who all had outside shots of winning, have much slimmer hopes now. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Norway – the remaining favorites (who all will most likely qualify tonight) have had their chances increased! as they will probably land in the second half of the show. Italy also sees its slim hopes alive, as it is in the second half, and as I said previously, if it is close to Azerbaijan, it will surely still votes from last year’s host as it is the better male ballad between the two. San Marino, who is a dark horse this year, could also see itself land in higher than expected spot if it qualifies for the Final and gets drawn to the second half.
Onward to the Second Semi-Final!
I was 8 for 10 in my predictions from Tuesday night – not too shabby! Below are my initial thoughts on who will qualify for Grand Final from tonight’s show:
I think San Marino is poised with its best chance to qualify since joining the Contest. It has a good spot in the running order and is a big fan favorite (it got second place in the OGAE Fan Poll); but, we have seen fan favorites fall before. Same goes for Norway – it is the kind of thing that would succeed in the Grand Final, but may not do well in a semi-final. With a strong performance, Switzerland could join the Netherlands and Belgium in the Final – wouldn’t that be a sight! Anyway, I’m super excited for this – so let the show began!
I’m rather liking this Opening Act! I think it’s called dance symphony or something like that. That was pretty awesome!
OH MY GOODNESS – What is our host wearing?! And what’s up with her hair?! And why did she compare herself to Indira Gandhi and Mother Theresa?
On to the entries!
Latvia Here We Go performed by PeR
OH MY – this went from zero to sixty in a blink of an eye! There’s…so…much…sequins – does that jacket really need to be so bright and silver? Is that guy playing an iPad attached to a guitar? I get it, he represents today, the keytar represents the 80s and the those two guys represent the 90s, the era from which this song was taken. That was better than expected – but still rather silly.
San Marino Crisalide (Voda) performed by Valentina Monetta
Already some positive crowd reaction and it hasn’t started yet. Looking at this robe she’s wearing – will there be a costume change? Yes! the first since, what, 2009? Remember when costume changes used to be the staple of the Contest? Now the wind machine has taken over. Well done (except for that last note, which was rather botched), though not quite as strong as I was hoping it would be.
Macedonia Pred da se Razdeni performed by Lozano & Esma
I like how Esma’s portions of the postcard all show off how famous and decorated she is. Where’s Lozano’s glasses? What is Esma wearing? Is she sick? Why is her voice so hoarse? I wonder if Lozano came over to hug her to let her know it was time to start wrapping up the song. If they had any hope of moving through, they needed a flawless performance. This, unfortunately, was not it. It looks like there will not be any former Yugoslav nations in the Final this year (the first time since they started joining the Contest in 1993).
Azerbaijan Hold Me performed by Farid Mammadov
Is he singing in English? Oh, yeah, he is. He mumbles a lot. Oh cool! It’s like his shadow there in the box. WHOA! That guy is upside-down! Does that lady’s dress need to be so long? Oh – the box is actually a money machine full of little paper hearts! Whoops – Farid dropped that last note. His vocals were about as expected – okay, whiny and a bit nasally, but that’s his voice. That guy in the box is much like the sand artist for the Ukraine from 2010, makes the stage show so unique, it’s hard not to like it.
Finland Marry Me performed by Krista Siegfrids
She looks so much more mature with her hair down – I actually think that hinders the song a bit. Well, this most definitely gets the “Campiest Act of the Year Award.” Was that part supposed go like that – because on the studio version she says “Yeah” one more time and for a longer amount of time. And the timing seems rather off for launching back into the chorus. And I roll my eyes at the girl-girl kiss – really? That just cheapens everything. But it’s a cheap song, so perhaps it will work well for them.
Hahaha – yes Petra, folks just tuning in are probably freaking out if the first thing they saw was that Finnish act. I really like this Lynda Woodruff character – she’s funny! And I loved the reference to Bonnie Tyler.
Malta Tomorrow performed by Gianluca
I bet Malta is happy they got an advert break between themselves and Finland – gives us time to readjust ourselves. There was a lot of energy in those first few entries, and we have to recalibrate. I like the words on the screen, it gives the act a sing-along feel; like, we’re all on that beach with him and his friends in the postcard. That’s such a sweet song – the whole thing is rather adorable. Still don’t think it has a shot of moving through, though.
Bulgaria Samo Shampioni performed by Elista Todorova & Stoyan Yankulov
And Europe’s favorite Bulgarian percussion duo is back on the ESC stage. The only act to get Bulgaria to the Grand Final (back in 2007, they got 5th place), they’re hoping for a repeat after Bulgaria’s participating broadcaster polled people and found that folks wanted a ethno-club track in Bulgarian for ESC. That bagpiper is a bit creepy. Glad to hear that Elitsa’s voice is much stronger (and more frequently on key) than in 2007. The bagpiper seems to have evolved into some kind of creepy tribal man – how strange. This whole package – the song, the performance – just…kinda…strange.
Iceland Ég á Líf performed by Eythor Ingi
Not a strong start out of the gate. That big note was amazing!! It completely wipes out the fact that the rest of the song was performed marginally (as compared to the studio version). There’s his backing singers! All I can think about is that big note in the middle – and it was amazing! Well done!
Greece Alcohol is Free performed by Koza Nostra feat. Agathon Iakovidis
Oh cool – their instruments light up! The energy here is maybe not as high as Latvia or as manic as Finland, but it feels Oh! so much more genuine. While those other two acts may be a bit more dazzling, this one infects you and wants to get you up and moving and dancing and singing. I thoroughly enjoyed that!
Israel Rak Bishvilo performed by Moran Mazor
Wow, listen to that crowd reaction! What a shame, that would be such a nice dress if it didn’t go all the way down to her belly button (apparently, it originally went lower before they thought better of it). So, she’s only 21, but the combination of hair, glasses, and dress makes her look like she’s in her 40s. Which works for this song, since it has such a mature sound and would seem disingenuous if she appeared her age. Oh, she hit the high note, but was smart enough to not linger on it as it was getting away from her. AMAZING! Her voice is so powerful, it’s awe-inspiring.
Armenia Lonely Planet performed by The Dorians
His voice sounds like a gospel singer – it’s really soulful. Too bad this song is trite and dull. Oh, spoke a little too soon, he’s gone a bit screechy. If we’re trying to save the world – why so many pyros? All that smoke cannot be good for the ozone. Ouch – he botched that last note.
Hungary Kedvesem performed by Bye.Alex
Who knew Europe had hipsters? I like this song and I like reprising the cartoon from the music video in the background. That was rather pleasant. Unfortunately for Hungary, pleasant does not go far at the ESC.
Norway Feed You My Love performed by Margaret Berger
Is it me, or does the timing seem off? Like, Margaret Berger is just ahead of the beat and that the whole song is a few clicks faster than it should be. It kinda feels like she’s phoning in this performance. The one from Norsk Melodi Grand Prix was much more emphatic. I know she’s a favorite to win – but we’ve seen favorites fall in the semi-final and after with great performances. With a song that is this different and this out-of-the-ordinary, you cannot risk having a less than awesome performance. I think she left herself vulnerable here.
Lys Assia! Glad to see her out of the hospital and looking good (she was hospitalized last week for pneumonia – she said that she thought that she was dying). We weren’t expecting to see her this year – but here she is! Great to have you Ms. Assia! I wish every winner was as endeared to the Contest as she is.
Albania Identitet performed by Adrian Lulgjuraj & Bledar Sejko
Whoa! We don’t need to be that close to Bledar! The camera was, like, literally on his cheek! Everyone seems to like this song so much – I think it’s because it’s the only rock song this year…and it has that killer guitar solo, but still. It’s alright, but it could be better.
Georgia Waterfall performed by Nodi Tatishvili & Sophie Gelovani
People compare this song to In a Moment Like This (Denmark 2010) and Running Scared (Azerbaijan 2011). I don’t think it’s anything like 2011’s winning song; it’s much more powerful and emotive. It is a lot like the Danish 2010 entry, though, “Eurovision by numbers” they say. It worked then and I see no reason it won’t work now.
Ooh! Sopho missed both big notes in that key change – badly! Disappointing, but they’re going through. This type of song is too popular and both Armenia and Azerbaijan are voting tonight.
Switzerland You and Me performed by Takasa
Another change from the studio version – the girl lead singer gets the second verse. In case you were wondering, the bass player is 95 and is now the oldest person to ever compete in the Contest. I don’t know. I love this song, but it is definitely lacking energy – it just is not very dynamic tonight. Disappointing.
I find it interesting that calling themselves “Salvation Army” and wearing their uniforms was too political and religious, but Krista Siegfrids can kiss a girl in protest on the stage (something that Russia was forbidden from doing in 2003) and use her song for political activism….interesting…
Romania It’s My Life performed by Cezar
WHAT IS HE WEARING?!?! What is up with the awful outfits this year?! Are those dancers naked? Why are they red, like, they’re covered in blood or something? Oh, time for “Spot the Backing Singer!” Oh look, a lady covered in gold. Oh my gosh! He’s so tall! Wait, I think he’s on stilts.
Oh! Thanks Petra – I guess the backing singer was under Cezar’s vampire cloak.
And, there you have it! In an hour’s time, we will have the last ten songs to enter the Final.
Any else reminded of Jedward by the Latvian duo? They jump around, where a small country’s worth of sparkles, and sing off key.
Overall, I am somewhat disappointed. This was supposed to be the stronger of the two semi-finals, with three favorites (Norway, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), a major fan favorite (San Marino), and a bunch of my personal favorite entries (Macedonia, Switzerland, etc.) but everyone seemed to be under-performing except for Azerbaijan, Greece, and Israel – I hope all three move through!
|My Top Ten||Who I Think Will Qualify|
Excuse me, I stand corrected, Moran Mazor is actually 22.
I love the history bits!
Haha San Marino! I noticed that this time they used the faster part of the song as opposed to the slower half in the second recap (in the first recap, the slower half was used). I guess if people only remembered half of it, they wanted to make sure that they remembered to vote for them!
Darin! A major Swedish pop star and Melodifestivalen loser (he got 4th in 2010). He’s attractive but his voice is not that good. But he’s a pop start, so I guess that’s a winning combination.
And now we have Agnes. Who has not competed in Melodifestivalen (yet) but did win the second season of Swedish Idol (Darin was runner-up the preceding season). I liked her bit better than Darin’s songs, but I am not about to run out and buy either of their albums.
Why isn’t Amadine Bourgeious not in the arena for this semi-final?
The Actual Qualifiers Are:
-Hungary! Whoa!! That was not expected! (0 for 1)
-Azerbaijan – no surprise here (1 for 2)
-Georgia – they need to step up their game if they hope to contend for the victory (2 for 3)
-Romania – What…the…Heck! How did this happen? (2 for 4)
-Norway – I was getting scared after Romania got through…Oh, I hopw San Marino makes it!! (3 for 5)
-Iceland – yay! (4 for 6)
-Armenia – it’s a weak song, but well performed (5 for 7)
-Finland – big reaction! I wonder if it will be as popular on Saturday (6 for 8)
-Malta – nice, but now a more deserving entry (San Marino or Israel) will not make it (7 for 9)
-Greece – right, I forgot they hadn’t moved through yet (8 for 10)
What just happened? I like Kedvesem but it did not deserve to go through. Romania…what?!…how? I’m so confused!!! How on earth did he garner enough points to move through? How did Israel and San Marino fail to garner enough points to progress? What?! My head hurts. I can’t think about what just happened. San Marino had so much fan support. Israel was such a high quality entry – what? Romania? What? How? I give up. Let’s just look at the running order:
Break down of who landed where
The three unlucky entrants that will be in the first half on Saturday: Finland, Malta, and Armenia
All others are in the second half.
They just released the running order (remember, I’m watching the semi-final in the evening (American East Coast time) since I work during the day)
- The Netherlands
- United Kingdom
France gets to open the show – and interesting choice when Spain or Malta might have been provided an easier, smoother opening.
Lithuania gets the kiss of death with the second spot – not that it had much chance to win, anyway.
Finland is sandwiched between two ballads, which will either smother it or boost its ratings, I’m not sure.
The Netherlands once again finds itself at the end of the first half, sandwiched between two very different songs, Armenia (which will probably a slightly smoother transition than Ukraine) and before Romania (which will probably wipe out the Netherlands from people memories with its craziness).
The United Kingdom is much higher in the running order than expected, given the name recognition of Bonnie Tyler (compared to Anouk, who is always as late in the running order as possible, most likely due to her celebrity).
Interestingly enough, with the producer chosen running order, all the favorites are at the end of the show:
This has never happened before, where so many betting favorites are lumped together and with prime running order position. Russia is the only favorite not in that run because it was drawn in the top half of the show. I’m interested to see how this affects the show, I imagine that it will lead to a more even point spread. Since many favorites tend to be knocked out by running order position (think Russia last year or Azerbaijan in 2010) points were easily pooled into one or two acts. This year, the favorites are all together at the end of the show, they will all be vying for points against one another – I think my prediction of a tie just might come to fruition!
Finally, Ireland closes the show. In my opinion, this song should not even be in the Final, now it will most likely finish in the Top Ten. Oh well, at least it’s not a bad song.
I think I’ve recovered from Romania’s qualification, but, yikes! it was still so unexpected. I guess its 100% qualification record survives another year. Okay, so, we can all take Friday to recover, reflect on what has happened on Tuesday and Thursday, and prepare for the Grand Final – I’ll see y’all here Saturday! I’m posting my live notes live this year! So don’t miss out!