Esc Countdown 3 Days: Reaction to First Semi

Well, yesterday’s first semifinal shook things up, didn’t it? Three tiny things that seem to have had a major impact last night on everyone’s view of what might happen Saturday in the Finals. One, Italy’s Francesco Gabbani had a long clip from his upcoming final performance shown during the voting interval and he suddenly didn’t seem like a runaway winner anymore. The song seems a bit slight and superficial, and his performance a bit tossed off and casual.

Second, after a week when nobody saw Portugal’s Salvador Sobral rehears due to his ongoing health issues, finally he took to the stage last night and blew everyone else out of the water.  Sure he’s quirky and weird, but endearing, mesmerising and fully committed to his performance. I’ve heard from friends in Europe who say that they usually hate Eurovision but were completely caught up in the three minutes that Sobral took the stage. Portugal’s chance to win this took a HUGE step forward yesterday.

first-semi-final-qualifiers

Third, the running order draw for the finals is taking shape with the qualifying entries drawing lots for the first or second half of the show. Sweden, Greece and Belgium are to be in the coveted second half of the running order. Heavyweight contenders Italy, Portugal and Armenia are all crowded into the first half.  This shakes up expectations a bit.

Now let’s talk about Belgium.  “City Lights” is undoubtedly a potential worldwide hit and a very current and well-crafted downbeat pop song. But Blanche is definitely a carcrash when it comes to performing before an audience. Her unsteady vocals and deer-in-the-headlights onstage demeanor had most of us thinking she didn’t qualify into the top ten. But in their usual reality show trickery, the producers had her announced tenth, knowing the surprise and shock in the arena and home viewing audience when her entry was called out over such more impressive entries as Finland, Georgia and Iceland, even Slovenia. Here is a bit of her wobbly rehearsal performance (youtube is blocking US viewers from seeing Eurovision 2017 broadcast show streams and clips due to LOGO’s ownership of rights for the US).

Today, Belgium and “City Lights” are the top charting ESC song on Itunes in most countries, with Portugal second.  Maybe viewers like the song so much they will overlook a bad performance Saturday? I suspect that juries will fear rewarding a lackluster and inept stage performer and mark down her scores at the Friday Jury Final as a pre-emptive strike against her potentially winning.

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…

esc2015_logo

The Greatest Political Moment

I think DR and the European Broadcast Union realized that there would be huge boos from the crowd when Russia qualified, so they hedged their bets by recording extra cheers and applause before the show, to mix in.

But the greatest political theatre is the kind that flies under the radar so it makes its impact before anyone knows to stop it.  I hope this was the case with the massive eruption of waving rainbow flags that blanketed the fan section next to the stage during Russia’s actual performance.  I didn’t get a good shot of it, but here are a few token flags waving near where I was standing that I caught on camera.

x-Rainbow-flags

Now It’s Time to Start Catching UP

Sorry guys, my work schedule has taken over my whole life the last two months.  But now I feel like that is caught up for now.  So now it’s time for catching up on  Eurovision 2014, which will be coming up faster than we think.

I plan to blog at least once a day on the latest developments in the Contest and the National Finals that are taking shape.  For example, the 32 contestants chosen for Swedish Melodifestivalen, the 15 chosen for Belarus, the six chosen for Switzerland (yawn!), the 24 chosen for Latvia (kinda Yay!), and the contestants for Montenegro, San Marino and the Netherlands who are just awaiting their songs.

New logo for the 2014 contest (copyright EBU)

New logo for the 2014 contest (copyright EBU)

Meanwhile a beautiful Eurovision Island is rising from the mists of Refshaleøen on the København waterfront, with more exciting ESC 2014 developments coming up daily as far as the seating layout, theatre configuration, location of the Euroclub, and plans for the Eurovision mile along Strøget.  Stay tuned and let’s get back up to date!

The Marcel Bezençon Awards for Artistic Merit

Each year after the voting is over and a new winner crowned, the press, composers, commentators and accredited media vote for the entry, artist and song composition that most excels in artistry.  This year’s winners were presented today:

The 2013 Marcel Bezençon Awards

Press Award – Given to the best entry as voted on by the accredited media and press during the Eurovision Song Contest: Nodi Tatishvili & Sophie Gelovani from Georgia with the song Waterfall.

Artistic Award – Presented to the best artist as voted on by the commentators: Farid Mammadov representing Azerbaijan.

Composer Award – The best and most original composition as voted on by the participating composers: Robin Stjernberg, Joy Deb, Linnea Deb and Joakim Harestad Haukaas for You. The song that represented Sweden.

 

Sweden Plans New Direction for ESC 2013

When Swedish and EBU officials announced Malmö as the choice to host Eurovision Song Contest in 2013, the initial reaction of fans was “What are they thinking?” Now Swedish plans to take the contest in a new direction make that choice crystal clear.  Instead of continuing in the trajectory of bigger, more technically dazzling TV productions for the show, the organizers want to show a scaled down contest where the songs and artists don’t get lost in the mega-production. The EBU has lamented that the gigantic shows of the past few years, from Moscow, Oslo, Dusseldorf and Baku, were discouraging smaller, less wealthy countries from even trying to win.  Someplace small like Malta, or financially-challenged like Spain or Iceland, could never hope to compete on that technical playing field.  But now with the hosting country choosing a small city and medium-sized arena to host a more intimate show, maybe everyone will feel they can get back into competition.

Ukraine 2009, the "too much is never enough" school of thought

Oversized production values may be a thing of the past in ESC

Martin Österdahl is the executive producer for 2013 and head of the Swedish organizers. He looks to the Swedish experience of Melodifestivalen, which has increasingly attracted bigger stars from all areas of popular music, as a template for this year’s Song Contest.  The postcards before each performance will no longer be a promotional or propaganda tool for the host country, but will give more time to get to know the artist and song entry.  This year’s show will utilize only a single host who will be more involved in all parts of the evening. (Eurofans were recently cheered when Gina Darawi and Danny Saucedo were announced as Melodifestivalen 2013 hosts, since this might clear the way for hugely popular Sarah Dawn Finer to host ESC. Finer is a Swede who grew up in New York and Stockholm, and her unaccented English, sharp comic timing and onstage charm would give her all the ingredients for a great host.)

According to Österdahl, “There is no continuation of the route taken in Moscow and Baku. It just doesn’t work to create an interesting narrative with the same equipment they used. It isn’t possible to create a more extraordinary technical light show than in Moscow, even if you have a bottomless pit of money,” he says.

“If you want to take this program forward, you have to choose another path, and our path leans more towards emotions and a good narrative. It is going to be noticeable and it is going to be about taking the show forward into a whole new dimension.  There is nothing left to tell when it comes to big LED screens and a fantastic amount of flashing lights. This means that the camera angles have to be taken from a big distance, which means that the artists become very small. There is a very large distance, and between them and the background there is a lot of air. We don’t get enough emotional engagement and I believe that people have begun to realise this – consciously and unconsciously but actually more consciously.”

“This is what made Loreen stand out. When the background was turned off, you could get much closer to her and see her eyes. The words that she sang started to mean something. One develops a connection and a relationship is created, and this is completely decisive. I absolutely believe that this is the way forward.”