Is it Anyone’s Race This Year?

Last night my LA friend and I attended the dress rehearsal of the Grand Final, and the high quality of the entries makes it hard to pick a winner. Russia, Australia, Ukraine, France, Sweden and Armenia are crowded at the top of the betting, and a credible case can be made for any one of them to win the contest.

Meanwhile, Eurovision is making news this year for this year’s surprise interval act, Justin Timberlake debuting his new Max Martin-composed single.  Although for arcane reasons this segment is the ONE part of the show that will be blocked out from the US telecast, American JT fans can watch him on the eurovision.tv internet streaming version of the show.  I am also sure that after the show his song will be burning up YouTube.

The Running Order for the Grand Final!

Saturday night Europe will choose its song of the year, and here is the order of finalists:

  1. Belgium
  2. Czech Republic
  3. The Netherlands
  4. Azerbaijan
  5. Hungary
  6. Italy
  7. Israel
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Sweden
  10. Germany
  11. France
  12. Poland
  13. Australia
  14. Cyprus
  15. Serbia
  16. Lithuania
  17. Croatia
  18. Russia
  19. Spain
  20. Latvia
  21. Ukraine
  22. Malta
  23. Georgia
  24. Austria
  25. United Kingdom
  26. Armenia

Contest organizers took the randomly drawn slots that each artist drew which placed them in the first or second half of the show, and placed them in a running order that makes sense technically and also makes for a good experience for viewers.theme_eurovision_2016_small

Two of the top entries, Belgium and Armenia, have been placed at the beginning and end. The remaining strong contenders have generally been spaced out through the evening.  There used to be a certain superstition about which places in the running order were lucky and unlucky, but recent years has mostly disproved such speculation.

Tonight’s dress rehearsal will tell us more about the running order and its progression when we see and hear it all in action!

Semifinal One Results!

With one sad exception, all the songs I was quite certain of came through and made the finals.  I am told that the great performance of Greta for Iceland didn’t really come across on television, with her backdrop projections making the whole stage show look too dark on screen.  She didn’t proceed to the finals, with most of the fans and journalists agreeing that Iceland was far more worthy than a few of the countries that made it through.semi winners

From best to worst, here are the top ten qualifiers in the order I would rank them:

1.Armenia — looks and sounds great! Top contender on Saturday

2.Malta — excellent song, nicely performed

3. The Netherlands — cool, fun countryish pop with a comfortable, relaxed stage presence

4. Russia — the overwhelming odds-on favorite, though I find it artificial and cold.

5. Czech Republic –nice song, fantastic singer.  Glad they qualified for the first time!

6. Cyprus — best of the rock numbers this year.

7. Croatia — haunting melody and strange but cool visuals

8. Austria — sweet French pop, delivered with more confidence than I expected

9. Azerbaijan — fine radiopop teen-level song, with a less-than perfect singer

10. Hungary — ok song, good-looking but not charismatic singer

 (Click the photo below to see a full album of the semifinal’s photos on flickr.)

ESC2016 First Seminfinal

Miss Congeniality?

After seeing and hearing Greta Salome from Iceland performing her entry “Hear Them Calling” two nights in a row, last night at the Nordic party at Euroclub and tonight as a special guest in Hera Bjork’s solo show, I am very impressed with her talent, musicianship (tonight she actually played the long violin introduction to the song live) but especially her warm, down-to-earth personality.  She seems like someone I would be friends with in LA, fun and normal with a little bit of a bitchy sense of humor.

I think Greta will pass through the semis and we will see her competing in the Grand Final, but no matter.  If there was a Miss Congeniality portion of the judging, Greta would be my number one contender for the victory.

greta-salome-585x400

Eurovision 2016 — Rockers and Rappers!

Every year at Eurovision Song Contest has its share of rock bands or singers and the inevitable rap act. As a rule they haven’t scored highly, but every year one or two rock acts break through into the top half of the scoreboard. This year’s crop has some top five and bottom five contenders.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a pretty stellar record in Eurovision, but this year’s entry will challenge that. Dala and Deen start out with an ok, standard-issue Balkan ballad, then the annoying rap section comes in… Because the Ex-Yugos support each other in the voting, this can’t be counted out of qualification, but it doesn’t stand much chance in the Finals.

Cyprus, on the other hand, has had a spotty record that has improved in recent years. Their rock entry towers above the rest this year and should make top ten if their stage show has anything to offer.

Georgia has done pretty well with some strange acts in recent years. Young Georgian Lolitas are probably not going to set the voting lines on fire this year with their standard alt rock.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Greece has a great record of qualification, but if that string of successes is going to end, it will probably be this year, with their rockin/rappin anthem “Utopian Land”.

Hungary has done well recently, even with weaker songs. Freddie is an attractive and charismatic performer, so his somewhat pallid song may still propel him to the Finals in May.

Montenegro has never been a top contender since they broke off from Serbia in 2007, and though Highway and “The Real Thing” is credible alt-rock, it is not exciting enough to draw voters and qualify this year.

If there is a rock band to watch, look for Cyprus to score well in the semis and attract votes in the final.

Eurovision 2016 — Jazzy Girls and Pretty Boys

I realize this might be something of a “catch all” category, but there are a bunch of entries this year that don’t fit comfortably into the other posts I have put up or planned, so here is a motley group of swingy/retro girl singers, and pretty boys in groups or solo performing anthemic, pure pop or country-tinged entries.theme_eurovision_2016_small

Belgium is represented by 17-year old Laura who has a gutsy style reminiscent of classic Lulu or young Wiktoria from this year’s Melodifestivalen.

Belarus often sends somewhat “left-field” kooky entries, and this year Ivan has expressed his wish to perform on the big Eurovision stage naked and surrounded by live wolves. Since both of these options are a clear violation of Eurovision rules, we can look forward to some bizarre staging to make it appear in line with his vision.

Denmark seems to have a weak spot for goodlooking boybands, and this year Lighthouse X fulfills that Nordic need. “Soldiers of Love” is competent and catchy, but will it strike a chord with Eurovision voters?

Finland also follows its own heart when choosing entries (as last year’s Downs Syndrome punk band can attest to) and this year they have a big band retro girl singer in Sandhja who just wants to help us “Sing It Away”.

Ireland have mostly stumbled in recent years, after decades of being the powerhouse of ESC victories. This year Nicky Byrne of Westlife hopes to reverse that trend with lightweight pure pop and “Sunlight”.

Lithuania surprised fans in 2012 when Donny Montell took his unappreciated “Love is Blind” straight to the finals without any particular fan love. Goodlooking Donny is older, wiser, beefed-up and better-looking than ever this year, with his Swedish-penned anthem “I’ve Been Waiting for this Night”.

Netherlands have mostly upped their game in the last few years, and again for 2016 chose an authentic local pop star, this year Douwe Bob. This Everly Brothers-ish soft country pop goes down easy, but will it be memorable to tv viewers?

Spain chose Barei this year with jazzy singalong pop “Say Yay Yay”. The fans like it, but what about the Eurovision voters? Some reports say her staging is a little too close to the mood of Germany’s nul pointe entry from 2015.

Probably no winners among this group, though a few could strike a chord with the juries and voters in May.

Eurovision 2016 — the BIG Songs

What would Eurovision be without big anthems, massive stage shows, and over the top performances? And 2016 promises to be no different, with some heavy hitters making their plays for the crystal microphone trophy.

theme_eurovision_2016_small

This year, some of the highly tipped winner candidates are big and supersized, starting with Iveta’s “Love Wave” from Armenia. A beautiful singer with a giant voice that wails with the best of them, Iveta could easily match or top Aram mp3’s top five placing from 2014.

Czech Republic, or now known as Czechia, has not had a single entry qualify since their debut in 2007. This year they have a fantastic singer and excellent song (aside from an unfortunate ungrammatical choice in English lyrics). Gabriela seems certain to qualify and a good bet for top five.

Iceland chose to send back Greta Salome as their artist this year, after she made the finals four years ago in a duet with Jonsi. She wrote and performs her big country folk-tinged “I Hear Them Calling” with a big shadowy stage performance.

The bettors’ choice so far (and most Eurofans aren’t too happy about it) to win this year is Russian superstar Sergey Lazarev with his big, dramatic, and somewhat outdated schlager ballad “You’re the Only One”. It ticks off a lot of boxes, and Russia really wants another victory. If ESC is off to Russia next year, count me out.

Another big, over-the-top song and singer comes from Serbia. Sanja has the pipes and the song sounds great in the studio version. Watching her over emote in the live performance takes a bit away from the entry’s winner potential. Let’s see if she tones it down a notch by May.

We could very well see a winner come from this group–we’ll know more once rehearsals start in two weeks.

(Addendum: How could I have forgotten these two, some of the biggest and most overwrought entries of all?!)

Macedonia is another country that chose to send a returning artist this year, this case Kaliopi. “Dona” is a big, excellent song, but is there enough support outside the Balkans for an original-language entry in 2016? Outside of the ex-Yugos and expats, I don’t think this will have the votes to get very high in the final scoreboard (though it will qualify).

Ukraine has had a great record when they send big overproduced pop numbers, but this year they chose instead big-voiced Jamala and her heartfelt plea to stop violence that harkens back to Russian mistreatment of Tatars in “1944”.