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.

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 — 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.

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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”.

ESC 2016 Entries – The Modern Songs

This spring, as usual, the fans started out complaining that the entries for 2016 would make this year’s contest in Stockholm the worst edition EVER.  Now that the 44 entries have had some reworkings and been performed around Europe in such events at Eurovision in Concert last month in Amsterdam and the annual London Eurovision Party, everyone is starting to realize that the range of offerings is actually pretty strong.  Personally I am looking forward to seeing and hearing all these entries on the big stage at Globen (with a few exceptions for bathroom breaks etc.). I’m breaking down this year’s notable entries into a few genres for purposes of comparison.theme_eurovision_2016_small

First up, the modern songs.  Last year, diehard fans were surprised to discover how many of the most popular entries with the voting public were the songs that would fit in perfectly to any current radio station’s playlist. So we can expect the best of these to fight for position at the top of the scoreboard May 14.

First up Austria.  Last year as host, Austria offered up a pleasant pop-rock entry that vanished without a trace, the Makemakes and “I’m Yours” which tied for last plaace in the finals with Germany, both not receiving a single point on the scoreboard.  This year, Austria is back with a light breezy pop song in French.  It is not anywhere near a winner, but is very pleasant and could qualify for the finals.

Azerbaijan had a big showpiece last year that was predicted to do very well but then barely qualified from the semis.  This year they have gone to their usual Swedish songwriters and come up with a catchy radio-friendly bit of almost teen-pop with “Miracle”.

Australia was the one-time invited guest last year that did so well (finishing fifth) that they were invited back again this year for an encore.  Dami Im is an Australian X-Factor winner with an appealing big voice and a current sounding midtempo ballad.

The Baltic states did well in 2015, all qualifying to the finals where Latvia and Estonia both achieved top ten status.  This year Estonia has a gravelly voiced male singer with a modern song that deserves to make the finals, Juri Pootsman and “Play”.

France has had a string of poorly received entries this decade, but that should change with their strong, country-flavored hit for this year, French/Israeli Amir with his “J’ai Cherche”.

Latvia also did extremely well in 2015, and their  artist Aminata came back this year as a songwriter.  The singer, Justs, has a rough,warm voice that suits their strong, radio-friendly entry, “Heartbeat”. If there is any justice this should sail into the top five this May.

Malta brought back former second-place Eurovision star Ira Losco, and then switched out her song to a stronger Swedish-composed entry that has them top five in the betting for 2016.  “Walk On Water” has Melodifestivalen veteran Molly Petterson Hammar listed as a co-writer, and you can hear her influence in the song’s bluesy soul flavor.

Norway did well three years ago with a cool, Bond-theme-esque entry with a sleek blond female singer. They are repeating that formula in 2016 with Agnete and “Icebreaker”, which probably won’t reach the top of the scoreboard but should qualify.

Host country Sweden decided to buck their own trend of dazzing, tech-heavy stage productions and instead go with a scaled-down indie singer/songwriter style number with 17-year old Frans and “If I Were Sorry”, which has buring up the Spotify charts since March.

Will we see a winner from this list of modern, current pop hits? Not necessarily, though I think we are sure to see several of them near the top of the board May 14th at the Finals.

ESC 2015 Countdown, My Places 20 through 11…

Eurovision fans can be a little dramatic. Every year as the national selection season runs its course, the fans are quick to declare it “the worst year ever” and this year was no exception. But looking at the 40 entries, I had a tough time squeezing the songs I really like onto one CD of 26 entries, let alone this top 20.

I can’t say there are any of the entries in this group of my 20th to 11th place songs that I don’t like.  And the only thing that separates them from my top ten, in most cases, is that my top ten are the ones that I think are more immediately lovable or more apt to impress on the big stage and on tv screens across the world. I do have to admit that some of these might be my own GUILTY pleasures that other fans absolutely HATE!

20th place – Moldova – I Want Your Love

Specifically, regarding my last comment, THIS entry is at the absolute bottom of many fans’ lists of this year’s entries.  Eduard Romanyuta is a rich, good-looking Ukrainian guy who seems to spend a lot of his time in New York and LA.  In other words, his winning the selection to represent Moldova seems a little weird and almost unfair.  But with all that said, it’s a catchy 90s boyband-ish tune that I won’t apologize for liking, even if I won’t be surprised if it fails to make the finals.

19th place – Malta – Warrior

One of the two female vocalists singing songs called “Warrior” in this year’s contest, I think Amber and Malta have the one that is more memorable.  I hope she qualifies to the final!

18th place – United Kingdom – Still in Love with You

The problem with this one is not that it isn’t catchy.  It is memorable, and sounds almost like a commercial jingle (specifically, a jingle for an English potato waffle that many fans immediately posted on youtube for comparisons).  It’s just very dated and cheesy.  It could strike a chord and do well, but I don’t think that with the Eurovision rule about no more than 6 on stage during the number, this can’t have the singers, band and dancers it would need to make a great stage show.

17th place – Serbia – Beauty Never Lies

Bojana has a great voice, and the song is undeniably immediate.  But it lost something in the translation from Serbian to English. I think it will qualify to the finals, but dont’ see it rising any higher than the middle of the board on Saturday night.

16th place – Lithuania – This Time

Out of the many duets this year, Lithuania have one of the most fun.  Monika and Vaidas are either GREAT singing actors, or they have a lot of real sexual chemistry adding to the impact of this entry.  I think the TV audience will respond to this and keep it in contention for the top half of the board.

15th place – Denmark – The Way You Are

Yes it’s a teenpop boyband number, and sounds like an updated version of “Hey, Hey We’re the Monkees”, but I think Anti-Social Media are cute and telegenic enough that young viewers will vote them into the finals.  I will be interested to see what kind of stage performance Denmark has up their sleeve…

14th place – Austria – I am Yours

Slightly higher-class than Denmark’s boyband, Austria’s The Makemakes are goodlooking and also have a slightly indie lovesong to bring to the table.  In recent years the host nations haven’t performed all that well in the finals, but I think viewers will respond well to this.

13th place – Greece – One Last Breath

Greece ALWAYS does well with the voters, and this year they have a very high-quality entry to back that record up with.  Maria is a powerful singer, and if Greece comes up with a staging to match the song, this could easily reach top ten.

12th place – Cyprus – One Thing I Should Have Done

Cyprus often has a tough time getting our of the semis, and this song is a sweet little indie ballad that might fall through the cracks, but I have to admit I am charmed by it. I hope it qualifies.

11th place – Iceland – Unbroken

This is a radio-friendly song that could chart in almost any country, and is sung by a pretty, charming 16-year-old.  I think it will easily qualify and could surprise a few people in the finals.

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My ESC2015 Top Ten So Far

It’s been less than a week since the final entries have been revealed, but time enough to make some quick favorites. Until the reports come in from the rehearsals in Vienna the first week in May, these are my favorites for top ten:

10th place – Russia – A Million Voices

In a perfect world, this would be in my top five, or even top three.  The group of songwriters who came up with Russia’s entry in 2013 are back and better than before.  Gabriel Alares, who placed highly in Swedish Idol 2013, is an excellent songwriter and he may be back as backing vocal again this year too.  But following the trends of the last three years, Russia is presenting a highly suspect plea for international peace and love.  Coming from any other country, it wouldn’t have the same air of hypocrisy, so this otherwise great entry JUST squeaks in to my personal top ten:

9th place – Belgium – The Rhythm Inside

Belgium are following the path of the Netherlands, and going from annual laughingstock to serious contender in Eurovision.  This song is presented by Belgium’s French-language broadcaster, who two years ago brought us Roberto Bellarossa and his his 2013 success. This year THE VOICE BELGIUM brings us another male vocalist, Loïc Nottet, who has a fine, modern pop hit in “The Rhythm Inside”.  It’s a grower, and could be top five come May.

8th place – Spain – Amanecer

Spain is another “laughingstock” that has rehabilitated their image with a couple of top placings in recent years.  This year follows the 2012 formula and gives us an entry featuring a strong female vocalist, this time Edurne, and an anthemic ballad by Swedish powerhouse Thomas G:Son.  “Amanecer” could be the them to an epic fantasy film, and doesn’t get played out on repeated  listening.

7th place – Azerbaijan – Hour of the Wolf

Elnur was part of the first Azeri entry in Eurovision, and hes back with a superb anthemic ballad.  This year no one will need to speculate that Azerbaijan might be buying its way to a top placement in the contest.

6th place – Slovenia – Here for You

Slovenia has had an up and down history in Eurovision, but has been on a recent upswing.  They could have their highest placing in years with Maraaya’s modern radio-friendly “Here for You”. Her entry reminds me a little of Germany’s 2010 winner, “Satellite”.

5th place – Norway – “Monster Like Me”

This is the year of male/female duets in Eurovision, with at least a half-dozen in the running.  One of the best is this touching and strange love song from Mørland and Debra Scarlett, which should easily reach the top five in May.

4th place – Australia – Tonight Again

This is the 60th Jubilee year, and Eurovision had a little trick up its sleeve.  Offering a final slot to faraway Australia was a publicity stunt that could end up with Australia coming tantalizingly close to winning ESC2015.  Guy Sebastian, the first Australian Idol, has a great voice and a fine entry in “Tonight Again”.

3rd place – Italy – Grande Amore

A week ago, this was so firmly at the top of the betting odds that I’m sure many Eurofans already started reserving hotel rooms in Rome for next May  But the announcements of the last batch of national entries shook things up quite a bit, and I now have them only in the top three, but probably not atop the winner’s podium in Vienna. Opera always promises more votes than it ends up delivering at the end (I believe).

2nd place – Estonia – Goodbye to Yesterday

Another modern hit, one that rocketed Estonia up in the betting odds before it was even selected, is this sly duet from Stig and Elina.  It has a cool country-tinged sound that fits well in current international pop charts, and a good stage performance should bring it close to the top in Vienna.

1st place – Sweden – Heroes

This felt like a winner from the start, and reports from the Heads of Delegations meeting this week to kick of the final phase of Eurovision found that a huge number of countries already view Sweden as top contender for the win this year. It’s current, clever without being cloying, and has a strong, secure singer with a great presence on camera.  It’s the one to beat in my book…

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Europe, Do We Have a Winner?

As the second-most successful country in Eurovision history (and rising quickly) every year Sweden’s entry is near the top with fans and bettors.  But with tonight’s LANDSLIDE victory at Melodifestivalen by Måns Zermerlöw and his radio-ready “Heroes” fans everywhere are considering that Sweden may have its second victory in four years. Stockholm 2016, anyone?

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Yes the song is fun and ear-worm catchy, the singer is good-looking and personable, but the clever and unique stage performance is what puts the whole package over the top.  Cute and charming without being cloying, it’s going to be memorable when it comes time to vote in Vienna. There are still five or six more songs to be revealed, but this will certainly be in the top five, if not straight to the top of the scoreboard.