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!
Can you believe that we are just a few short weeks ahead of Eurovision 2016?!
I don’t know about y’all, but I am stoked (very excited!) and have been listening to the songs non-stop for the last month and a half. A few of my opinions have changed.
So, some news from today, Romania’s participating broadcaster TVR has been kicked out of the EBU, disqualifying them from participation in this year’s Contest. Lowering our participants down to 42. This moves Bulgaria up to 12th in the Second Semi-Final, which puts it ahead of the advert break. Good for Bulgaria, bad for SVT who were hoping that the popular song would bring viewers back, now that task will fall to the tepidly-received Denmark.
Songs I Like Better: Georgia, Slovenia, and the Netherlands. For each of these songs, the more I listen to them, the better I think they are. I think the Netherlands can definitely qualify now, though, I still think Georgia and Slovenia will not.
Israel is the only song that I like less the more I hear it. I went from fairly neutral to negative towards the entry. I don’t know, the song is just uninspired and trite, and the more I listen to it, the easier it is to look past Hovi Star’s beautiful voice and actually listen to the words of the song and its composition.
I still think that the Czech Republic is still my pick for victory. The country has a beautiful song and it really has a chance of wowing the audience. I think if it makes the Grand Final (which its running order makes more difficult), it can definitely challenge for the win.
Now, since the last post, there have been preview concerts throughout the continent in Russia, Latvia, Israel, UK, and the biggest one held annual in Amsterdam (Eurovision in Concert)! These concerts are like friendlies (or exhibition matches) in sports – they are not competitive, but more of a showcase of the countries’ entries. It tends to get fans excited, as they offer some of the first previews of the live performances that we’ll see at the ESC and gives the artists a chance to see how an ESC audience reacts to their song.
More than this, these preview concerts are the last chance for the majority of acts to impact the betting odds. Which, in turn, impact how commentators discuss the song to the viewing audiences as well as how the producers determine the running order (songs with better odds are assumed to have better audience anticipation and will be pushed towards the end of the running order).
Speaking of which, the running orders for the semi-final has been released! In case you missed it, the ESC Obsession YouTube channel has an updated playlist.
Furthermore, the voting change that was announced in February seems to be getting traction again. As such, I’ll make a post explaining it tomorrow.
Speaking of upcoming posts…next week will be our annual Contender or Pretender series, where we look at the Top Ten countries in the betting odds and determine whether they have a legit chance at winning or of they’re merely posing as strong choices to win. Find past editions of Contender or Pretender here: 2015, 2014, 2013.
Support ESC Obsession and my trip to Eurovision! https://www.gofundme.com/andretoeurovision
Hello Dear Readers!
I am home and have been ruminating upon this year’s Contest. Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting upon my experience in Vienna (post to come), the ESC itself (this post), and my hopes for next year (post to come). I am completely addicted to attending the event live — next year in Sweden! But, before I get personal or forward-thinking, let’s dive into my thoughts from this year and my annual awards!
General Thoughts: Overall, ÖRF put on a great show (even if the arena organization was poor), the production was good. I didn’t mind the three hosts and their writing seemed to get better each night. I’m still not a fan of doing the winner’s reprise to start the first semi-final. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that it should stay at the start the Grand Final – as that is the show that the majority of those “almost 200 million viewers” watches. Some historical notes:
- It’s the first time in the Semi-Final Era that we’ve had a “nul points” – let alone two! It’s the first nul points since 2003 (2009 gave us one in the semi-final) and the first multiple “nul points” since 1997 (Norway & Portugal) and the seventh time ever that multiple songs got nul points (1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1983, 1997).
- Montenegro extends its qualification streak after five failed attempts. Not only that, it once again qualified with a song in Montenegrin. San Marino does not extend its streak of continually improving its result; this year, it failed to qualify after coming 24th in last year’s Final.
- For the first time since the induction of 50/50 voting, the televote favorite (Italy) did not win. A win by Grande Amore would have been only the third non-English language victory since televoting began in 1998. Which, after seeing them go at only 75% power in the Jury Final, makes sense. Their jury final performance and their televised Grand Final performance were light years apart.
- Albania was also brought down by the juries as it would have finished in the Top Ten via the televoters. In the semi-finals, the Czech Republic would have made their first ever Grand Final if it were 100% televoting. Conversely, Malta’s streak of qualifications was snapped by a low televoting performance.
- Russia, Sweden, and Norway maintain their Top Ten streaks — Russia extends its to 4, Norway is at 3, and Sweden is now at 2. Thanks to Italy, the Big Five now have seven straight years of having at least one representative in the Top Ten.
- And, while we’re talking about streaks, Denmark, not only broke its Top Ten streak, but also snapped its qualification streak at 7 (including last year’s auto-qualification). Iceland, which did not qualify until 2008, also snapped its streak at 7. Malta snapped its streak at 3. Whereas, Latvia qualified for the first time since 2008 (and its first Top Ten placing since winning in 2003).
- And, the elephant in the room: Greece and Cyprus. There was an audible gasp when Cyprus revealed that there were only 8 points for Greece. This was the first time since 1991 that Cyprus has given Greece anything other than 12 points. Of Cyprus’ 32 years in the Contest, only 9 times has Cyprus not given Greece maximum points. Greece, which has had fewer opportunities to give Cyprus points, has given Cyprus 12 points every time it could since 1996 until this year.
Now, on to the 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!
No, I won’t sleep tonight
If tomorrow comes I’ll lose my mind
I won’t give up my right
I know every heart deserves a fight”
I know that I have mentioned my opinion of the strength and artistic merit of this song and I will again! This song is deep and communicates the existential struggle of a man fighting to reclaim himself and his identity. It’s a beautiful song with beautiful lyrics.
“I made the mess in your vision
And I see a debt to be paid
To give a little love was all I wanted
Give a little love was all my intent
I was playing with numbers
And I didn’t know what it meant”
Subtle, deep, stirring – Playing with Numbers tells the story of a young woman who spoiled a relationship due to selfishness and is now reflecting back on that fractured relationship. The song is deep, it’s genuine, and it draws you in to its narrative. Bravo!
Honorable Mention: Georgia, Malta, Czech Republic, Latvia, Australia
The “Huh?” Award: Given to the country the most questionable, lazy, or just plain nonsensical lyrics. In a year that gave us a lot of fairly straightforward entries and artistic songs, it was hard to choose. Though, there are a few cringe-worthy acts from this year.
I want your love, I want your love
I want your love”
Anytime you have verses that start with “Hey girl” – you know that you have song from a sleazy guy’s perspective. The entire song is fairly hitting that same point. Guy thinks a girl is pretty and starts catcalling her for three minutes.
“I’m begging you, take me out of this fiery hell
Come back and save me, what happened wasn’t fair
Nothing left, all that I have is one last breath
Only one last breath
I’m begging you, take me wherever you have gone
I’m begging you, take me, don’t wanna be alone
All that I have is one last breath”
Mostly here because it is a song of longing and heartbreak, but the song builds and builds, becoming more and more powerful. That’s not how these songs are to be done. Had Greece just gone a few short miles to any former Yugoslav nation, then it would be okay. Or if the lyrics turned positive throughout. But neither of these are the case. Boo.
Honorable Mention: Belarus, Armenia
Best Dressed Award
I love their outfits – a perfect blend of traditional and contemporary styling. While the dark tones reflect the sombre images invoked by the song. Not to mention that the outfits are coordinated, but not matching – each is unique.
Sparkly dress, flowing cape, just enough exposed leg to be classy without being trashy. A perfect Eurovision outfit!
Honorable Mention: Latvia, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Belarus
Most in Need of a Costume Change Award
I am not quite sure who told Guy Sebastian that a blue suit jacket and yellow pants went together? They lied to him. He looks like he’s about to go off to vacation in the Caribbean instead of on Europe’s biggest stage. If Australia is invited back, let’s hope they have better stylists next year.
Sorry for the blurry picture! But, given that she’s wearing some kind of leather catsuit-parachute combination outfit, it’s not a bad thing. I think it was meant to give her more of a “rocker” feel, but it was just…horrible.
Honorable Mention: The Netherlands (Barbara Dex Award winner!), Moldova
Best Staging Award
There were a lot of fantastic stagings this year; however, only one performance gave me chills. When I was watching performance, as the screen went from rubble to a blue sky, I was mesmerized. When the drummers came out, I got goosebumps! This simple, striking staging perfectly captures the tone and message of the song.
This song has a deeply futuristic sound – with its drum machine and mechanical tones. The choreography, the lighting, the outfits – everything about the staging reflected the style of the song.
Worst Staging Award
Winner: The Netherlands
A flysuit that earned the dubious Barbara Dex Award, questionable camera angles that prevented any kind of connection with the song, and a disorganized collection of backing singers – this staging is just a mess. The sad thing is, this song was getting some traction and could have snuck into the Final, had the staging been anything like the Selection Special when the song was revealed or the Eurovision in Concert. Unfortunately, it was not.
Not that I think Black Smoke deserved its nul points, but the fact that her back was to the audience for the entirety of the first verse did not help. It’s a break-up song, so, why was she trying to be sexy? No one got that joke.
“This is DC Calling” Award: Given to the most American sounding entry
Perhaps I should start calling this the “Germany Award” as I feel like this country wins more often than not in this category. It’s a 90’s-style, R&B song that would fit perfectly with this current kick of “rhythmic pop” that is so popular in the US.
Uptempo R&B pop — there’s no way that this would not be a Top Ten hit in the US.
Honorable Mention: Iceland, Estonia, Ireland
“The 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
Australian artists tend to do quite well in the US. Not to mention, Guy Sebastian already has some notoriety in the States from a rap collaboration he was a part of a few years back. As I said above, this song would be destined for the top of the US charts if it got a formal American release.
I’ve actually heard this on the radio here! Granted, it was satellite radio and it was playing songs that were getting traction on YouTube, but still! That means there are already some Americans who are listening to this song.
Honorable Mention: Cyprus, Italy, Ireland
The “Spirit of ABBA” Award: Given to the most stereotypical and/or traditional ESC entry
Normally, Serbia gets these kind of awards for its Balkan ballads. This year, it sent a campy, anthematic dance number. This is the kind of thing that comes to mind when most non-fans think of the Contest.
Honorable Mention: Montenegro
Balkan ballad of heartbreak in a Serbo-Croatian dialect composed by Žjelko Joksimović — YES, this is Eurovision.
Honorable Mention: The United Kingdom, Russia, Sweden
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: Nil Points for Austria and Germany
Historically, songs coming last on the night were clearly lacking – they were either ludicrous, poorly performed, or blatantly terrible. This is doubly so for songs in null points-land. The fact that both, Austria and Germany, had good songs that were more-than ably performed with memorable staging, makes their lack of points unbelievable and uncalled for. It’s sad that these two songs will go down in history for scoring the infamous nil points despite being strong entries.
Runner-Ups: Malta & Ireland failing to qualify for the Grand Final
Two strong songs with deep meaning and interesting lyrics. Both were well performed and modestly staged. These songs are true musical gems and it’s unfortunate that they did not move through.
Honorable Mention: Hungary moving through to the Grand Final
Overall, this was a historic Contest and not just because it’s the 60th Edition! Sweden sets its sights on Ireland’s record, we have a double null points, Australia competes at long last (setting a dangerous precedent in the eyes of many), and we have a victor that was selected by the juries but not the televoting public (which will invariably lead to rule changes for next year, I’m sure). Not to mention that there was a near riot with Russia being in the lead for so long during the voting. While I am disappointed that a few of my favorites did not do as well as I would have liked, many of them (Belgium, Latvia, Sweden, and Australia, amongst others) were quite successful! I think the shows were well produced, the entries were strong, and the voting was exciting. It was a great year for the ESC and I look forward to next year’s show in Sweden!
Hello Dear Readers!
We have reached the submission deadline – all songs are *final* — i.e., the artists and songs are set, though minor lyrical or compositional changes might be made (for a fee, of course). At this point, all 40 participating countries have submitted their performing artists, the official lists of lyricists and composers, the official studio version, the official karaoke version (may have backing vocals), the official backing track (no vocals at all), and a music video/video clip (if no music video has been made yet).
Speaking of participants, some unexpectedness has ensued this year!
- Czech Republic has returned! Probably on the back of Austria and Hungary’s (and, to a lesser extent, Poland’s) success last year. Returning alongside the Czech Republic are Cyprus and Serbia. Who would’ve thought that Czech Republic would be back before perennial Top Ten-er Turkey?
- Ukraine has withdrawn (for obvious reasons), but Greece continues to compete (despite having bigger problems to deal with). Let’s hope they don’t win to avoid the political and economic firestorm that would surely ensue.
- Armenia deciding that it wants people from all over the world. Genealogy has a representative from the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia, with an Armenian at the center. That Armenian – Inga Arshakyan; one half of the twin sister group Inga & Anush who you may remember from 2009’s Contest.
- San Marino gives us not one, but TWO Junior Eurovision artists.
- Germany had some crazy stuff happen. In short, the winner of Unser Song für Österreich, Andreas Kümert and his song Heart of Stone, after winning by a landslide decided to turn down the honor of representing Germany in Vienna. Second-place finisher, Ann Sophie and her song Black Smoke, will be going to Vienna instead. For her part, the host did a good job of handling the unprecedented situation.
- What. The. Mess!! The Aussies will be participating in ESC for the first and (most likely) only time. Yes, the EBU has decided to allow longtime observer Australia to participate in the ESC after decades of loyal viewership. This is meant as a one-time only affair. Unless, of course, Australia wins! In that case, SBS (the Australian broadcaster) will co-host the Contest next year with a European broadcaster in Europe. I guess, theoretically, Australia could compete forever if it always wins. Wouldn’t that be something! I wonder how many consecutive victories would be required before SBS would be allowed to host the Contest Down Under? And with international star Guy Richie performing the entry, SBS is not going small, but more on that below!
So, without looking at other blogs, commentary, or any other source of opinions, here is my quick assessment of this year’s 40 contenders! This is the first time I am hearing each song. My comments are in blue.
Semi-Final One (Australia, Austria, France, and Spain are voting)
- Armenia – Face the Shadow performed by Genealogy: The refrain is nice, but the verses are kinda wonky. Overall, I generally like the sound; though, musically, it’s a really weird mash-up of styles. I predict it making the Grand Final and then falling flat.
- Belgium – Rhythm Inside performed by Loïc Nottet: He surely is a good looking guy! His voice kinda sounds like a male Sinéad O’Connor. I think I like the song. This seems a bit too experimental for ESC; I cannot see it doing well unless it gets surrounded by two WEAK entries AND the performance/staging is flawless.
- Estonia – Goodbye to Yesterday performed by Elina Born & Stig Rästa: I don’t particularly care for this. I also do not think that this will do all that well; it’s not all that captivating at all. Perhaps they will spruce up the performance a bit for Vienna.
- Finland – Aina Mun Pitää (I Always Have To) performed by Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät: Definitely not my style of music at all. Finland has seen some success with hard rock, but this is not exciting or enthralling or even interesting. It’s the least rock rock song I think I have heard. And it feels like it is too short. I predict last place; perhaps even a null points.
- Greece – One Last Breath performed by Maria Elena Kyriakou: If the last few years proved anything, it’s that Greece is not invulnerable. This ballad is not of high quality – it needs significant work before I think it has a serious chance at anything other than bottom ten at the Grand Final.
- Macedonia – Autumn Leaves performed by Daniel Kajmakoski: I enjoy this, especially when compared to the previous three. It feels like it lasts a bit longer than it should, but at least it does not feel stagnant like so many other mid-tempo songs can. I think it can qualify for the Final, not sure after that.
- Moldova – I Want Your Love performed by Eduard Romanyuta: Finally, an uptempo dance number! (Not words I thought I would ever say) It’s quite generic, but is completely different than any of the other songs in the first half. I anticipate Belgium will open the show and this will be performed around fourth or fifth to energize the audience. I think it will definitely qualify and finish mid-table.
- The Netherlands – Walk Along performed by Trijntje Oosterhuis: The Netherlands reached the Top Ten two years in a row on the back of darker, soul-bearing songs. So, it makes complete sense that they would turn their back on that equation and go back to generic, understated pop (that’s sarcasm, by the way). This is a pleasant song that leaves little impact. I anticipate The Netherlands being left behind once again in semi-finals.
We’re at the halfway point of the first semi-final and I am not impressed. So far, Belgium and Moldova are the top two entries in my mind.
- Albania – I’m Alive performed by Elhaida Dani: More generic pop, yay (more sarcasm). I do not see Albania qualifying with this song, though, if the live performance as emotionally raw as 2012’s Albanian entry, then this song will have the ability to shock a lot of people.
- Belarus – Time performed by Uzari & Maimuna: Belarus is great at pop numbers and this is no different. I think this is a real contender to finish in the Top Ten – especially if they can pull off a magic trick reminiscent to the end of the music video. I don’t think it is strong enough to win, though.
- Denmark – The Way You Are performed by Anti Social Media — see my thoughts here
- Georgia – Warrior performed by Nina Sublatti: The first of two songs with this title this year (which, I believe is a first). I definitely like it. This is what Georgia is best at: off-centre, groundshaking pop. I think it will move through on the back of its woman empowerment theme, though, I think it will fall outside of the Top Ten.
- Hungary – Wars for Nothing performed by Boggie: So, a clear cry for peace in this tumultuous time that we are living in. Too bad this song is disparately boring. It will get some points for its message, but not many.
- Romania – All Over Again performed by Voltaj: Romania, more than any other country, has the uncanny ability to perform well with mediocre songs. I foresee this year continuing that trend. A weak song will end up in the low teens because Romania has a strong backing across Europe.
- Russia – A Million Voices performed by Polina Gagarina: With Armenia, Belarus, and Serbia voting, there is no way Russia is not making the Final. This song, much like Albania’s, is not that great, but an amazing live performance can help it outperform. Like Albania, there is a stunning singer delivering the song, unlike Albania, Russia has a huge diaspora throughout Europe that will support it and lift this song into the Top Ten.
- Serbia – Beauty Never Lies performed by Bojana Stamenov: So, not bad, though, songs with huge tempo changes have a checkered past at the Contest. I’m not sure how well it will do. Though, against this competition, I think it will definitely move through to the Final despite the size-bias that we often see play out at ESC.
So, that is the first semi-final. I cannot say that I am, at this point, overly enthusiastic about any of the songs. Though, there are a few gems: Serbia, Belarus, and Georgia all have decently strong entries, in my opinion. Russia, Belgium, and Albania are all at potential for greatness with a convincing live performance. I think Moldova will sneak through, and Greece, Romania, and Armenia will qualify based on the strength of their legacies.
Semi-Final Two (Australia, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom)
- Czech Republic – Hope Never Dies performed by Marta Jandová & Václav Noid Bárta: Hmmm…interesting number. I am not convinced that it will do well, but I think it is right around a 9-12 finish in the semi-final. Definitely, the Czech Republic’s strongest entry to date.
- Ireland – Playing with Numbers performed by Molly Sterling: Not really my thing. I also think that the sound is neither contemporary enough nor “retro” enough to make a big impact at ESC. I see another year left in the semi-final for Ireland.
- Lithuania – This Time performed by Monika Linkytė & Vaidas Baumila: This song definitely has potential. I think that the two of them need to work on singing together; their chemistry on stage is fantastic already. The kiss is a fun gimmick. This is definitely Lithuania’s strongest entry in recent years and, given the relative balance in strength, is the first real contender for victory I have heard.
- Malta – Warrior performed by Amber: Our second warrior this year. Not as strong as Georgia; this is more formulaic and makes a much smaller impact. If this makes it to the Final, I think it will be due to weak competition, not its own merits.
- Montenegro – Adio (Goodbye) performed by Knez: This is a good song, but overall, unremarkable in my opinion. It is rather stagnant; it does not build or captivate. Definitely not ŽjeIjko Joksimović’s (famed Contest composer, performer, and host) best work. I do think Montenegro will be returning to the Final.
- Norway – A Monster Like Me performed by Mørland & Debrah Scarlett: Is it me or is there an increase in duets this year? This is the exact opposite of Lithuania; they sing well together, but avoid having to display chemistry by standing back-to-back. The song is not fun and perky, but is instead stirring with a dramatic edge. I think it should also be considered a contender for the win.
- Portugal – Há um Mar Que Nos Separa (There’s a Sea that Separates Us) performed by Leonor Andrade: I think this does not quite know what it wants to be. It starts like a rock number, but then pulls off the throttle and then purrs the rest of the way. They need to work on that arrangement if they really want this to succeed.
- San Marino – Chain of Light performed by Michele Perniola & Anita Simoncini: One of the first to announce its artists, but one of the last to reveal a song; San Marino was definitely trying to stay in the media at each step of the way. It’s interesting how different Perniola sounds now then just a few years ago at JESC, definitely more mature. This song goes from dark to light; i.e., the composition captures the lyrics well. SM’s qualification hinges on the staging – can SMRTV devise a stage show that reflects the composition?
Halfway through the Second Semi-Final and things are a bit more hopeful at this point. The semi-final two is typically the stronger one and this year falls within that expectation. Two songs have already impressed me to the point of thinking of them as true Contenders. Let’s see what the second half has in store!
- Azerbaijan – Hour of the Wolf performed by Elnur Huseynov: That is one awesome song title! The song makes me feel like I am out West, exploring the desert on horseback, which I guess is the point. Definitely the strongest entry thus far. We might be heading back to Baku in 2016.
- Cyprus – One Thing I Should Have Done performed by John Karayiannis: It’s like we’ve stepped back into the early 90s! I really like the song but I think it has zero chance of moving through to the Final.
- Iceland – Unbroken performed by Maria Ólafs: The song is a bit generic for me, but I think it has a real chance of achieving a Top Ten finish. However, I do not think that is will win (maybe with a strong performance + good position in the running order), but it will definitely be successful.
- Israel – Golden Boy performed by Nadav Guedj: A very Bollywood-style entry. I hope it has the staging to match! It’s definitely a fun song and should stand out among the more serious entries of this semi-final. Again, being one of the few true, uptempo dance numbers will definitely help its case.
- Latvia – Love Injected performed by Aminata: That was highly unexpected. Definitely WAY different than your typical ESC entry. I am thinking that it is a little too different. There is no real melody and her voice is a little jarring. I do not see this qualifying; though, I do like it!
- Poland – In the Name of Love performed by Monika Kuszyńska: This song definitely gets better as it goes along. I like it and think a lot higher of its chances at the end of it than I did at the beginning, which is exactly what one wants in their entry: improving opinions throughout its duration.
- Slovenia – Here for You performed by Maraaya: I like this! The song is a bit quirky, but not too much so. I fear, though, that the stage performance is going to be weird and derail its chances for success because it will alienate the viewers and confuse the juries.
- Sweden – Heroes performed by Måns Zelmerlöw: Finally, Zelmerloöw makes it to the ESC! Wow! This Melodifestevalen performance! I cannot wait to see this on stage in Vienna. The song is also catchy, but captivating; multifaceted, but understandable. Definitely another serious contender to win!
- Switzerland – Time to Shine performed by Mélanie René: There’s definitely a Native American vibe going on in the video, but it is not really reflected in the composition. This strikes me of a revamped My Time (UK 2009) – a repetitive song about empowerment, but this one is more uptempo. I think, again, its success depends on its placement in the running order.
So, the second semi-final is definitely the stronger of the two, but that is fairly standard at this point. I see four, legitimate contenders to carry the crown: Azerbaijan, Sweden, Norway, and Lithuania. I also see a Top Ten entry in Iceland. The last five is a crapshoot dependent on performance, staging, and the running order. For right now, let’s say the other five qualifiers will be Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, Slovenia, and Malta.
- Australia – Tonight Again performed by Guy Sebastian: Make no mistake about it, Australia looks to return next year. And the only way to do that is to win. This song, and the selection of international R&B star Guy Sebatian, gives Australia a legitimate shot of taking the crown. Personally, I think the song is fun and a good balance of catchy and intriguing. All it needs is a good running order slot.
- Austria – I Am Yours performed by The Makemakes: I really like this. Austria has done a good job of setting itself up to do well on home turf without the risk of winning in consecutive years.
- France – N’oubliez Pas (Don’t Forget) performed by Lisa Angell: France returns to its roots with a traditional ballad. This will definitely help the French avoid another last place, but I do not see it making a major impact on the scoreboard.
- Germany – Black Smoke performed by Ann Sophie: I like this song; it’s stands out as being unique, despite its 90s sound. I foresee this quickly becoming one of my favorites. Unfortunately, I do not foresee Black Smoke making a significant impact in Vienna, especially seeing how badly it was beaten in Unser Song.
- Italy – Grande Amore (Great Love) performed by Il Volo: Like France, Italy is returning to its roots – a dramatic, tenor-driven, epic ballad of love. Expect this song to collect jury votes and those of ESC’s older viewers. I will be interested to see how they stage this song; whether they will tell a story or simply put the guys on stage to sing their hearts out. I predict a Top Ten finish.
- Spain – Amanecer (Dawn) performed by Edurne: Spain, seeing how successful it can be with emotional, power ballads, is trying its hand once again at the genre with its most epic attempt yet. Anyone else notice the date of the Grand Final inscribed inside the ring in the music video? I like it, but I have a feeling that it will not translate to the stage like it does to music videos – we’ll see, I guess.
- United Kingdom – Still in Love with You performed by Electro Velvet: Oh, the faux-20s sound that was so popular in the 90s (hmmm, definitely a seeing a trend here). Usually, inside jokes come from the French, but the Brits attempt an entry that sounds and looks like something that will go over the heads of most watching the Contest (including yours truly). Hmm..not sure how it well it will do.
As a recap, the 20 qualifiers that I think will join the automatic qualifiers: Serbia, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Belgium, Albania, Moldova, Greece, Romania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Sweden, Norway, Lithuania, Iceland, Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, Slovenia, and Malta. Of the 27 projected finalists, I think the Top Ten will be (in no particular order):
If the Contest were to happen today, I would predict that these countries had the best chance of winning: Azerbaijan, Norway, Sweden, Lithuania, Australia, and Italy. Come back in a few days’ time for my more in-depth review of each of these six entries!
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