- Hello Dear Readers!
We turn our gazes today out west – to Spain! Debuting in 1961, España has had mixed success through the years, winning in 1968 and again on home turf in 1969, but rarely tasting much other success, having only two second places and six other top five finishes. This is well-reflected in Spain’s recent finishes, as the country has been up and down, but rarely achieved its full potential.
2006 – 21st place with Un Blodymary by Las Ketchup
2007 – 20th place with I Love You Mi Vida performed by D’Nash
2008 – 16th place with Baila El ChikiChiki performed by Rodolfo Chikilicuatre
2009 – 24th place with La Noche es para Mi performed by Soraya
2010 – 15th place with Algo Pequiñito performed by Daniel Diges
2011 – 23rd place with Que Me Quiten Lo Bailao performed by Lucia Perez
2012 – 10th place with Quedate Conmigo performed by Pastora Soler
2013 – 25th place with Contigo Hasta el Final performed by El Sueño De Morfeo (ESDM)
2014 – 10th place with Dancing in the Rain performed by Ruth Lorenzo
2015 – 21st place with Amanecer performed by Edurne
2016 – 22nd place with Say Yay! performed by Barei
Spain’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. There is an intense desire to use Eurovision to display Spanish culture, whether its showcasing the Celtic roots of Galicia (2013), bringing idioms to life (2010, 2011, 2016), or simply displaying contemporary Spanish pop music (2006, 2007, 2009, 2016). It is this emphasis on culture that leads to the inevitable, annual discussion of whether or not the entry should include English. Honestly, language isn’t the issue. The composition and staging display the culture just fine. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the incorporation of Spanish (or one of its dialects or a regional language) into the entry – but is it worth the fuss that we see ever year? In 2016, the Minister of Culture nearly disowned “Say Yay!” because it was entirely in English despite the composition and the presentation displaying Spanish culture. Likewise, the international fans are quick to blame the Spanish language for the nation’s lack of success, forgetting that two of Spain’s most successful entries in the past ten years were entirely in Spanish and the last was 50/50 with English. And this is why the emphasis on culture is a weakness for Spain – instead of unifying the country behind an entry that celebrates (at least a segment of) Spanish culture, each year there seems to be a firestorm – the public seems to whine about every entry, it’s either not “Spanish enough” or its the “wrong” kind of Spanish, etc. And, complaining from the public is typical, but it seems to be led by the government. It’s hard for RTVE to garner support when the government whines about the entry for not adequately representing “Spanish” culture. Spain is a diverse country, rich from the influence of many people groups (many Western European countries are diverse, but Spain is one of the least integrated countries, where the various groups tend to stay separated) – Catalonia, Galicia, Majorca, Canary Islands, Andalusia, etc. No one entry will be able to capture every aspect of every culture within Spain. The sooner that this fact is accepted, the easier it will be for RTVE to garner public support.
So, what has gone wrong?
The issue of culture surely puts RTVE on edge, as they have to try hard to win over the doubters within their own country in addition to trying to win the hearts of Europe. Add the fact that it was the last of the Big Five to join the Contest and the least successful, and you get a situation where entries come off as desperate. 2007 and 2015 are great examples of this. Both were songs that were meant to capture the essence of contemporary sound, both went into the Contest with decent betting odds and a lot of attention. However, both had stagings that were too elaborate, so much so that it took away from the song. These overly-elaborate stagings come off as desperate for votes and we all know that desperation is a turn-off. 2016 was in a similar situation, but had betting odds that were on a downhill trajectory throughout the month of May and had the unfortunate task of performing after Russia’s show-stopping presentation.
What can Spain do to Improve in 2017?
It’s tempting to say that Spain just needs to send another diva. Spain’s two Top Ten songs were both ballads. But, 2008, arguably the most memorable and popular song, was a pure gimmick act. All three songs had something in common that the other seven we’re examining do not: authenticity (you could argue that 2013 was authentic, but was not performed very well). No one expected Rodolfo Chikilicuatre to have a strong song, but he went out there and got people dancing and laughing and enjoying the song. Even though there were other entries that have done better than 2008, this is still one of the first (if not the first) Spanish songs most ESC fans will name. Why? Because Rodolfo was true to who he was and basked in his oddity and made us want to join him in it. 2012 and 2014 have similar stories. Both were very traditional ballads that should have been lost in Contests with more dynamic entries and news stories that dominated headlines (“Russian grannies!” “Azerbaijan’s spotty human rights record!” “Loreen is literally everywhere in Baku!” “Denmark has gone broke over this Contest!” “Conchita is queen/the devil!” “Russia vs. gays!”), both songs maintained relevance and had powerful, heartfelt emotions that few entries have matched – and none of the other Spanish ones have.
The focus for Spain, more than anything, this year must be on a singer who is truly authentic and can convey this through their singing. 2008 showed that this doesn’t have to be a ballad, even something uptempo can work. Furthermore, don’t overcrowd the staging. The singer should stand out. 2008 basically recreated the music video, Rodolfo singing with his crazy dancers. 2012 was Pastora standing still in a beautiful gown with minimal light work. 2014 was Ruth Lorenzo singing with wet hair and a rain backdrop. 2017 needs to be minimal – no crazy camera work, no magic tricks, no major choreography – just a strong song performed well by a singer who knows who knows themself. I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that 2017 will be won by a singer-songwriter type (think Germany and Belgium 2010, Germany 2012, or Netherlands 2016). Spain can bring this kind of authentic entry to the Contest. I’m not quite as up on Spanish music scene as I am on the British one, but I did find two artists that I think would do well for Spain.
Lantana is singer-songwriter and actress who predominantly makes piano-driven ballads. She has been critically acclaimed and has a strong following. Her biggest hits are La Noche de los Muertos Vivientes and Ex-Corazón. She is also known for being a bit of a performance artist (using the stage to create living art pieces of which she is a part). Which means she would create a staging that compliments the song. And for those wondering if this would be too crazy and distracting, here is a clip from a concert in Berlin (I chose a performance of my favorite song by her, Perdón).
Another artist that I think could do well for Spain is Luis Ramiro. Like Lantana, he tends to produce passionate ballads that are presented simply. He has also been critically acclaimed and has won several awards for his work. One his most acclaimed songs is Dos Coplas earned him a Young Creators Award. One of my favorites is Magia. The reason I think he can be successful thanks to the fact that every song he creates is stirring. One of his most recent singles is Contigo.
Both of these artists perform exclusively in Spanish (as far as I can tell). There’s one benefit to having an internal artist selection – it allows the broadcaster to take a hand-off approach. Think Netherlands 2013. TROS wanted Anouk to be their representative. She accepted on the condition that she gets full control. She chose a slow, haunting ballad and had one of the simplest presentations of the year. RTVE could offer the same deal to Lantana or Luis Ramiro (or a similar artist). Then, the entry is no longer representing ALL of Spanish culture, but is now just the vision of one Spaniard fighting for their people. It’s much easier to rally around one person who is fighting for you as opposed to trying to convince everyone that this three minute song is a representation of who you are.
What’s the worst thing Spain can do?
In reaction to the controversy over 2016’s full English-language entry, Spain decides to go full tilt in expressing Spanish culture. They have an artist and an entry more focused on culture than on success (i.e., Portugal just about every year). Think about if the RTVE sent a flamenco song, or a Sardana song (to make nice with Catalonia). It would add wonderful diversity to the Contest and I would love it but it would fail – hard. Just ask Finland how successful their Finnish tango entries are (not very). Again, this is not to say there’s something wrong with putting your folk cultures on display; Eurovision, to some degree, is meant for this. However, don’t put your folk cultures on display with the expectation that they will win. The last pure folk song to win the Contest was…arguably The Voice (Ireland 1996).
Essentially, Spain needs an artist that can take their experiences and life and authentically translate them to the Eurovision stage. This can even be done with a contemporary interpretation of a folk style; how many winners have won with this equation? 2016, 2009, 2006, 2005… Putting the entry in the hands of a singular artist who can set a vision for the presentation is the solution that Spain needs at this time.
Your thoughts? Is a singer-songwriter the right path for Spain? Is Spain right to focus so much on language? And, most importantly, under the new point system, can Spain still harness a big chunk of votes from Portugal (who returns next year)?
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!
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!
Only six more reviews for this year! Silly Italy has yet to premier the ESC-version of No Degree of Separation, so I was forced to review the original, full length, 100% Italian version from San Remo.
*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 finish in the Top Ten? How would I rank these songs?
Predicted Top Ten Finishers
My Top 6
More importantly, who do I think will be competing for the crown?
Spain – While I think each of the automatic qualifiers have a quality song, I only think that Spain has a legitimate shot at the hoisting the trophy. This song is catchy, danceable, and makes you feel good. The best thing about it: from the very first listen you can sing along and jam along with it. This definitely will bring honor back to Spain and possibly the victory.
**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.