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Archive for the ‘A journey into Eurovision’ Category

Early March is a good time to be a Eurovision fan. All across the continent, the competing nations are selecting their representatives. Some are taking it very seriously indeed, some less so. Nevertheless we have now heard 24 of the 43 songs due to participate, and I’m happy to say that it’s shaping up to be a very decent year. Here’s my top 5 so far….

5. Ukraine: Gaitana – Be My Guest

One of my very favourite things about Eurovision is the way foreign songwriters tackle the english language. The lyrics can range from inspired, to deranged, to incomprehensible, to technically fine but not quite right. Gaitana’s jubilant entry for the Ukraine falls into the latter category. “You can be my guest!” goes the euphoric refrain – to what, we are never told. Fabulous tune too, and I do love a diva vocal.

4. Iceland: Grétá Salome & Jonsi – Mundu eftir mér

One of the most reliable Eurovision nations of recent years, Iceland once again field a fantastic song this year, with a dramatic folk-inflected by 2004 competitor Jonsi and songwriter Grétá Salome. Possibly too niche to be a big hitter, but this one creeps up on you…

3. Finland: Pernilla Karlsson – När jag blundar

Another gorgeous scandi-folk slow-burner, this subtle but richly atmospheric guitar ballad truly gives the lie to the stereotype that the Finns are only good at scary hard rock screeching.

2. France: Anggun – Echo (You & I)

Indonesian-born pop diva Anggun was a popular decision for France this year. This pulsating dance track is a world away from her lush signature hit Snow on the Sahara, but if she can nail the vocal it could be a big hitter.

1. Norway: Tooji – Stay

Classy ballads are all well and good, but let’s face it, it’s unadulterated pop madness like this that really makes Eurovison worth watching. This utterly infectious earworm of a track was a clear winner at Norway’s national finals, and could go big guns in Baku in May. On the other hand, I thought the same about Stella Mwangi last year…

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Earlier this week, during the Swedish QX Awards, there was an extended tribute to Christer Björkman, producer and driving force behind Sweden’s greatest television sensation ‘Melodifestivalen’. I explained what Melodifestivalen entails in an earlier blog, so I won’t repeat myself, but the centrepiece of the tribute was a 15 minute musical medley featuring many of the biggest hits to emerge from the contest in the past ten years, all performed by the original artists.

Whether you’re a longtime fan or new to the contest, it’s an excellent summary of some of the absolutely incredible pop music that it’s produced. Watch it. Then watch it again.

The running order

Shirley Clamp – Min kärlek

Love Generation – Dance Alone

Andreas Johnson – Sing For Me

Sarek – Genom eld och vatten

Sanna Nielsen – Hela världen för mig

Linda Bengtzing – Jag ljuger så bra

Afro-Dite – Never Let It Go

Jenny Silver – Something In Your Eyes

Malena Ernman – La Voix

Swingfly – Me & My Drum

Måns Zelmerlöw – Cara Mia

Charlotte Perrelli – Hero

Incredible. Just for a second imagine a similar medley of entries into the various UK Eurovision selection shows. Doesn’t even bear thinking about, does it?

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So last night was the start of this year’s run of one of my favourite TV things ever. Sweden’s Melodifestivalen is their ridiculously, gloriously over the top method of choosing who to send to the Eurovision Song Contest. It is basically the X Factor on poppers. In stark contrast to the United Kingdom’s approach to picking a Eurovision contestant – which usually involves a 45 minute rush-job involving either a bunch of charm-free no-hopers or faded Z-listers competing over a dreadful slice of cheap tat that they misguidedly believe will be “fun for Europe” – Sweden take their selection process very seriously indeed, and have succesfully transformed it into the biggest TV event of their year.

The basic premise is that over the course of 6 weeks – comprising four semi finals, a second-chance round and a grand final – genuinely big-name acts compete alongside a few newcomers, all with original songs that they hope to take to the big event in May.  Such is the popularity of the show though, that for many just getting to the final is the goal, with entire album campaigns being planned around their participation and careers being made and ruined on the whim of the Swedish televoters. It is absolutely gripping viewing, even if you don’t speak the language. Here’s what went down last night…

The major cultural events of other countries can reveal a lot about the peculiarities of their native people, and if first performer Sean Banan tells us anything, it’s that the nominally polite and reserved Swedes have a surprisingly juvenile sense of humour. A big comedy star with a number of novelty hits under his belt, Banan was a sort of gurning Chico figure without the charm. It is impossible to adequately describe just how dreadful this entire performance was – suffice to say that the comic high point was the moment when he picked his nose onstage while a bevy of scantily-clad Swedish beauties groped his behind. Still, the Swedes seemed to like it and he qualified for the Second Chance round.

Sean Banan

Once that unpleasantness was out of the way, things took a more musical turn with a country-inflected ballad from girl group Abalone Dots – a sort of Swedish Wilson Phillips with Banjos. It was pretty, and a welcome relief from the unmitigated shite that preceded it, but ultimately quite dull. One of the lower-profile names in the lineup, they came 7th out of 8, which was a surprise to no-one.

Perhaps the biggest shock of the night was the performance of The Moniker, a Mika-esque singer-songwriter who had one of the biggest hits of the contest last year with the irritating but undeniably catchy ‘Oh My God’. Unless you’ve seen that performance – which was staged like the Amyl-fuelled dreams of Will & Grace’s Jack Macfarlane – you’ll struggle to comprehend that his stage show this year; in which he wore a cowboy hat and pinstripe pants while scary Phantom of the Opera-masked Violinists played in the background, was relatively toned down. The song was that most curious of things, a country sex ballad. The Moniker is not a man one fantasises about gittin’ down ‘n’ dirty with, and the “on and on and on and on” chorus really felt like it did. He finished dead last.

A welcome injection of glitter followed with three fabulous Swedish mamas called Afro-Dite, making a comeback ten years after winning the whole shebang in 2002 with Never Let It Go. Their new single The Boy Can Dance was an energetic disco number with fabulously uncomfortable chicken-in-a-basket choreography. It was a bit drunken aunts hit the karaoke, but great fun all the same, and they were visibly devastated to narrowly miss qualification when they finished 5th.

One of the biggest acts of the night were Dead By April, a hard rock outfit who had already scored two Platinum albums and a massive #1 single. Their song made me wonder whatever happened to Linkin Park, and was certainly not for me, but their fanbase plus the inevitable anti-pop vote saw them easily qualify straight to the finals.

Dead by April

The award for train-wreck of the week went to former A*Teens popstrell Marie Serneholt. Dressed in an unspeakably hideous gold catsuit, Marie remained rooted to the spot throughout her performance of the lyrically baffling “Salt & Pepper” and never had a prayer of going anywhere. Her dark expression when it was revealed that she’d finished 6th suggested that her agent would be sleeping with the herring before the night was out.

Actor Thorsten Flinck is best known for playing psychopaths, and he appeared to be chanelling his former roles in his disturbing performance of “Jag Reser Mig Igen”. Despite a voice that sounded like Shane McGowan gargling a box of drawing pins, he somehow made it to the Second Chance round, clearly picking up the “I hate this contest and everything it stands for” vote.

Thorsten Flinck

The best was thankfully saved for last with electro-miserablist Loreen, who put me into what can only be described as a gay coma with her pulsating dance number, complete withe eye-catching Memoirs of a Geisha-inspired choreography. Her live vocals were spot on, and the whole package worked perfectly. She went straight to the finals and must be a strong bet to win the whole thing. I could imagine it making a big impact in Baku come May.

So that’s that. Not a bad start to the show at all, although only two songs (Loreen and Afro-Dite) will be making my iPod. If you want to tune in, the show streams live at 7pm UK time on http://www.svt.se. It really is very much worth watching, if only to make you more depressed when the BBC intern realises he’s almost missed the deadline and puts in that frantic call to John Barrowman .

Note: SVT have a policy of removing all of the qualifying songs from youtube until the week of the finals, so there’s no point in me embedding them. You can probably find them if you do a bit of googling though.

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The National Pre-Selections for the Eurovision Song Contest have really started to kick off over the last few weeks, although early signs weren’t good when both Switzerland and Denmark opted for boring dirges over far more fabulous competitors. Thankfully, Cyprus made the right choice tonight with this poptastic (albiet utterly, utterly generic) slice of dance pop from Ivi Adamou.

She almost certainly can’t sing a note, but she looks good and she’ll doubtless be surrounded by backing dancers, so I reckon this has a good chance of being Cyprus’ first decent placing since way back in 2004.

Excellent.

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Hungry like the Wolf

First things first, we need to take a moment to reflect on that name. Kati. Wolf. There is a strong possibility that the first name is pronounced like “Katie”, but in my head it will always sound like “Catty”. Catty Wolf. Brilliant. Eat your heart out “Pixie Lott”.

This was the Hungarian entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, and a mighty disco thumper it is too. In the best tradition of Eurovision classics, she was a bit ropey and the lyrics didn’t make a great deal of sense, but sweet Sandie Shaw what a tune.

Criminally, it only finished in a fairly dismal 22nd out of 25 on the night – a combination of being overshadowed by Jedward in the running order and a complete inability to sing in tune unless she was rooted to the spot. But I can virtually guarantee that this song will be more beloved in the long term of most than the forgettable Disney ballad that inexplicably emerged victorious. Sometimes, just being present is what matters.

Note: I actually prefer the Hungarian original of this song, as if you’re going to listen to total gobbledygook you might as well go the whole hog.

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Lys AssiaThe 2012 Eurovision Song Contest may still be months away, but internal selections are already beginning to kick into gear. The first truly significant piece of news emerged tonight when it was announced that Lys Assia, the first ever winner, is one step closer to returning to the contest.

Ms Assia won the inaugral contest for Switzerland back in 1956 with Refrain – a stately ballad of the kind that would be much favoured in the early years of the Eurovision. She was thirty years old at the time, and she’ll be 86 by May of next year, when the 2012 event is set to take place. This would make her by some distance the oldest lead performer in the show’s history – the record currently thought to be held by the now sadly departed Kraljevi “75 Cent” Ulice, who represented Croatia in 2008 at the age of 75.

The Swiss entry is to be chosen in a live final on 10th December, with participants being selected by a combination of public votes and a jury from a wider online selection of hopefuls. Ms Assia is the first of six finalists to be announced by German-Swiss broadcaster Schweizer Fernsehen (SF), and she isn’t the only eyebrow-raising contender. Other acts to have submitted entries to the online pre-selection include dance diva Ultra Nate and X Factor finalists Same Difference and Maria Lawson. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see if they make the live finals…

So, what are her chances? She’s a Swiss National, which will give her a boost over the many foreign performers. Also, the sentimental vote is a powerful thing, so assuming the Swiss final is largely based on public votes, I can see her becoming a front-runner. Her entry – entitled ‘C’était ma vie’ – is exactly as you would expect a Eurovision entry by an 85-year old woman to sound, i.e. it could easily have competed alongside her 1956 winner. It has a certain weathered dignity, but there’s no way in hell it would win the whole contest. Still, goodwill alone could get it through the semi-finals, and it’s a nice story, so I’m happy to get on-board Team Lys for now. I just hope she hasn’t set her hopes unrealistically high. As Dana International proved when she crashed and burned in the semi-finals this year, past form only counts for so much at Eurovision…

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Swedish Hopeful Eric SaadeThe Eurovision finally kicks off proper this week, with the two semi finals on Tuesday and Thursday whittling the 43 entrants down to a more manageable 25 for the grand final on Saturday. So it’s probably about time I gathered my thoughts about the cream of this year’s crop. The tragic loon in me is tempted to do a full rundown detailing my thoughts on every entry, but in the name of expediency I’ll restrict myself to a top ten.

10. United Kingdom: Blue – I Can
I had to stick the home country in really, if only to mark the huge step forward in quality from last year’s disaster. I was never a particular fan of Blue during their heyday, and Lee Ryan remains a quite spectacular imbecile, but the song is decent. Their vocals have been ropey during rehearsals, but if they manage to pull it together they have a genuine shot at bringing it home. Even if they fall short, it should comfortably wind up giving us our best result in a while, and for the sake of future UK entries I hope they get some credit for that.

Prediction: Top five seems likely.

9. Bosnia & Herzegovina: Dino – Love In Rewind
Very much a wildcard entry. Bosnia have quietly developed a nice little line in quirky, atmospheric entries, without falling into the trap of repeating themselves. This one starts off with some ghostly acapella wailing before settling into an eerie carnival-esque folk ballad. Things like this either really click or fail miserably, but I think this one is tuneful enough to go the distance.

Prediction: Top ten, with a shot at top 5.

8. Italy: Raphael Gualazzi – Madness of Love
Italy stropped out of the Eurovision in 1997 when their entry that year failed to win (he still came fourth, guys! Jeez!). They’ve finally gotten over it apparently, and this laid back jazz number is one of the more intriguing entries of the year. I can’t see it challenging the upper reaches, but hopefully they’ll stick it out this time.

Prediction: Mid-table finish, and lots of angry Italian stropping afterwards.

7. Israel: Dana International – Ding Dong
On name alone this was my most anticipated entry of the year. Dana International is of course a former winner and general Eurovision legend. Rumours abounded, first that RedOne had written her comeback, then David Guetta. Alas, neither of these stories turned out to be true, and it’s hard not to be a little disappointed by the pleasant but somewhat limp slice of europop we’re left with. It’s not half as dynamic as ‘Diva’ but still guaranteed to be a complete spectacle on the night. Expect an outrageous dress, lots of dramatic arm waving and some woman dressed as a tree in the background carrying all of the vocal heavy lifting.

Prediction: Likely to end up in the bottom third of the leader board.

6. France: Amaury Vassili – Sognu
The pre-contest favourite with rapidly shortening odds. The French always do best when they play up to their haughty image with something refined and melodramatic – as seen in their spectacular 2009 entry from Patricia Kaas. This operatic piece with shades of Ravel’s Bolero and Vangalis’ Conquest Of Paradise and looks set to go the distance. He’s a great singer and it’s very impressive, but in my shallow, pop loving heart I’m hoping something a wee bit less worthy takes the gold. If for no other reason than that this is unlikely to become a big hit single after the contest.

Prediction: Probable winner, a dead cert for the top five.

5. Germany: Lena Meyer-Landrut – Taken By a Stranger
Germany have taken the unusual decision to bring back their winning entrant from last year to defend her title on home turf. Some have questioned this decision, but it does make sense. The danger of coming back to the contest as a big name is that the burden of expectation is so much higher. This number is surprisingly understated compared to Satellite, and may not have enough instant appeal to make a serious challenge for the title, but it’s a bewitching little grower that won’t see her embarrassing herself.

Prediction: Low top ten.

4. Norway: Stella Mwangi – Haba Haba
Summery afro-fusion with a refrain sung in Swahili is perhaps not what we would have expected from the icy climes of Norway, but this entry from Norwegian-Kenyan songbird Stella Mwangi is an absolute delight. To me this is the song that could most credibly be an international hit single outside the contest. Expect to find it spinning around your head for days.

Prediction: With a good draw, I think this can make the top ten, but it could be forgotten if it appears too early in the running order.

3. Belarus: Anastasia Vinnikova – I Love Belarus!
Belarus can always be counted on to send something completely demented, and this might even top their previous high watermark, the terrifying Angelica Agurbash. This isn’t so much a song as a dictatorial war cry. Military chanting, mangled English and a key change so ridiculous it makes me lose bladder control. Try to walk down the street listening to this without breaking into involuntary nationalistic fist-pumps. Just try.

Prediction: Alas, I fear this is too niche to qualify.

2. Sweden: Eric Saade – Popular
Sweden can almost always be relied upon to make the effort, but they’ve had a run of bad luck in recent years. This storming pop number should put them back where they belong though – assuming his complicated glass box routine doesn’t go wrong. The lyrics are somewhat questionable, but with a chorus this catchy what does that matter?

Prediction: Top ten, with top five potential.

1. Hungary: Kati Wolf – What About My Dreams?
Hands down the best and most poppers o’clock song this year. Diva vocals, a pulsating dance beat, a bloody gospel choir!. This couldn’t be more melodramatic if it tried, and in a fair world it would be walking away with this contest. Alas, I can’t help but think of fan favourite Hera Bjork’s performance last year and wonder if perhaps it’ll underperform. Either way, if this isn’t performed with the wind machine set to gale force ten, I’m going to be very unhappy.

Prediction: Top fifteen

Happy viewing!

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