Kiev 2017?!

Last night in a nailbiter that proved Sweden’s idea to separate out the televote and present it from lowest to highest scores was the right way to energize the final portion of the show,  Australia clobbered everyone in the jury vote, Russia topped the televote, and then Ukraine won by coming second in both categories.

Ukraine’s song is emotional, heartfelt, and very dark, recounting the feelings of loss Ukrainian Tatars suffered when Russia attacked in the throes of WW2. It’s not a song that people will get down to on the dance floor, sing along with at Eurovision parties, or probably even buy mp3s of online.  It’s a worthy winner, but not a fun one.  If Australia or even Russia had topped the scores, the crowd in the arena would have been jumping and bopping to the final reprise. Instead they watched and applauded respectfully.

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Sergey and Jamala have two different reactions to his voting score and her victory.

But Ukraine must be respected and applauded for her commitment and artistry.  Let’s wait and see how the hosting gig for next year plays out, since the Ukraine government and tv network are not exactly flush with cash to mount an event like Eurovision 2017.

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.

Greece Unveils Four Choices for 2013

Music media network MAD TV (not to be confused with the American sketch comedy show where I used to work) has teamed with ERT, the sponsoring Greek broadcaster, to release Youtube clips of the four songs viewers can choose from for their national entry to ESC2013.  The short breakdown = one ethno novelty act, one ethnic dance pop in Greek, one grand Eurovision ballad with modern electro touches, and one modern radio pop song in the style of 2010’s winning “Satellite”.  The latter two seem the more promising for Eurovision success so let’s see what the Greeks choose.

“Alcohol is Free” is the novelty act, with a Greek ethnic band in kilts and sneakers doing a paean to free booze that seems like the kind of thing we have heard before from Lithuania or Moldova. I don’t think it is clever enough to actually garner votes in the Eurovision semis.

Aggeliki Iliadi has the Greek dance pop stomper, and it is perfectly fine.  But it is missing the something extra that brought this style to the forefront in the mid 2000s.

“Angel” is the big ballad, and a title that Eurovision has seen many times.  At least Alex Leon and Georgina, the artists, have spiced up the old formula with a bit of electro DJ sound:

The fourth entry is Thomai Apergi – “One Last Kiss”, a jazzy band number that reminds listeners of the modern retro pop of Lena’s “Satellite” It’s a bit overdone, and definitely could be tightened up into a good entry before May.

We’ll know what ERT and MAD TV will send to ESC when their Greek final takes place on February 18th!

Iceland and Malta Chose Wisely for ESC

Two of the island nations made their choices this Saturday, and came up with solid entries that recall classic Eurovision styles.  Iceland did NOT choose favorite Birgitta Haukdal, but opted for the simple, anthemic  “Ég á líf”, well-sung by blond Viking rock vocalist Eyþór. Though no decision has been announced whether he will sing in Icelandic or switch to an English translation for Malmö, many observers noted that Estonia’s success last year with “Kuula” makes it more likely that the song can stay in its original language for the ESC stage.

Malta also relegated its presumptive winner to the sidelines Saturday, as former Swedish Idol Kevin Borg saw his bombastic ballad “Needing You” place second to Gianluca Bezzina’s happy singalong “Tomorrow”, a song that could have fit quite nicely into any Eurovision final of the 60s or 70s:

Choosing simple, scaled down entries that recall the glory days of past Eurovisions may well suit the new, small is beautiful approach ESC is taking this year.  Though neither Iceland nor Malta stands out as winner material yet, both should do well enough to pass the semifinal hurdle.

Estonia’s Eesti Laul 2013 Presents Fascinating Variety of Young Singers

Eurovision national finals often fall into two camps: the countries who think strategically and search for a song that will be a hit with Eurovision audiences, or others, like Estonia, that usually go for the songs they like (whether or not they will appeal to an international public). Sometimes Estonia hits the nail on the head and offers up an unexpected treasure like last year’s KUULA or 2009’s RANDAJAD, and the top of the voting board is that much cooler and richer for their choice.  Other years Estonia ends up with an interesting failure like 2010’s SIREN that isn’t allowed anywhere near the finals.

This year’s Eesti Laul, scheduled for March 2 in Tallinn, promises a REALLY amazing variety of accomplished songs. If the judges and Estonian public choose wisely, this could be one of those great years for Estonia in the Eurovision finals.  About 75% of the songs for 2013 are now available online for listening, and here is just a selection of the most interesting.

Our old friend Rolf Roosalu is back yet AGAIN, with a slow burn of a ballad in the vein of KUULA.  The English lyrics are a little clumsy, and it remains to be seen if he can perform it this well live:

Birgit Õigemeel is an Eesti Laul veteran, and she is presenting a ballad that shows off her vocal skills and the beauty of the Estonia language:

Põhja-Tallinn’s entry is an interesting combo of children’s chorus and Eastern European rapping. It falls more into the “interesting failure” category:

Neogeen has something REALLY different, a gentle ballad in French called LUNE SOURNOISE:

Indie-pop band Flank has one of the heavy hitters of this year’s competition, an accomplished rock song called MISSING LIGHT that could draw televotes: 

Liisi Koiksoni has a lovely voice, and her song is a seductive cocktail jazz number:

Grete Paia would seem to be Estonia’s answer to Pink, melodic and a little rocky:

And last in this hit parade of styles is a pop punk stomp in the style of The Hives, Facelift Deer’s frenetic DANCE:

And this is less than half of the Estonian selection, with some of the biggest names still to come.  Come on Estonia, give us a good one!

The “Balkan Ballads” of 2012

One regional music preference that lingers through the years is the great love that the former republics of Yugoslavia maintain for strongly emotional, beautifully sung ballads with an extra helping of local ethnic instrumentation. The “Balkan Ballads” fall in and out of fashion with the Eurovision voting public at large, but their built-in voting public of Serbia, Montenegro, FYRO Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia, plus their former Soviet-era comrades in the Eastern bloc who appreciate an almost overblown three minute drama, guarantee them a high placing in the final scoreboards.

This year’s crop of BBs come to Baku from the usual suspects, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and (former Yugoslav republic of) Macedonia, plus one nearby nation that is not so well known for sending big ballads. The other countries around the Balkan peninsula, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova, usually send more upbeat ethnostompers to Eurovision, and tiny Albania has sent a truly DIFFERENT ballad this year, Rona Nishliu’s primal-scream tearjerker “Suus”. Her entry is classy and brilliantly sung, but maybe too intense for what voters still think of as a pop song contest…

Serbia’s Zeljko Joksimovic is back performing in Eurovision after a dazzling near-victory in 2004 with the beautiful “Lane Moje”. His current entry is melodic and spectacular, but has the Eurovision voting public changed in the last half-decade? Voters don’t seem nearly so inclined to support entries in any language besides English these days, and once Zeljko announced that it would be the Serbian language version he would perform in competition, his betting odds slid a bit toward fifth or sixth place.

The third major traditional Balkan ballad for 2012 comes from Slovenia, which always has a tougher time than the other ex-Yugos. The Slovenes identify themselves as much with their Italian and Austrian neighbors as the other ex-Yugoslavian republics, and even speak a language that is a bit different from the Serbo-Croatian of their neighbors. But 16 year old Eva Boto’s “Verjamem” has a familiar sound and effect, due to its impeccable pedigree. The song is written by Vladimir Graić, who won the whole Eurovision shebang in 2007 for Serbia with his similar-sounding “Molitva”. Listeners have inevitably compared this year’s entry with the former winner, not always to the advantage of “Verjamem”.

The entries from FYRO Macedonia (“Crno i Belo”, a rock/ballad hybrid) and Croatia (the traditional “Nebo”), while pleasant enough, are probably not memorable enough to trouble the final boards. Meanwhile Bosnia and Herzegovina is quite strong with a lovely little ballad, but a little soft and not forceful enough to carry it much above the middle of the scoreboard.

It should prove interesting to see the final fates of these local favorites, performed in their nation’s own languages. Will 2012 still offer enough support outside the Balkan region to carry any of these to the ranks of top contender?

Eurovision Rocks!

ESC is not just a collection of jokey performances and cheesy dance pop. Every year at least a few actual rock singers or bands are in the mix, often proceeding straight to the finals! Besides Finland’s own “monsters of rock” Lordi (2006 winners and Finland’s best result ever), recent entries from Norway (Wig Wam), Sweden (The Ark), Georgia (Eldrine) and Turkey (Mor ve Ötesi in 2008 and maNga in 2010) are just a few of the rock artists who have graced the Eurovision finals.

This year’s entries include several alternative rock bands, from Switzerland’s Sinplus (who can do everything well except pronounce English):

to Hungary’s misleadingly named Compact Disco:

and Belarus’ handsome outer space heroes, Litesound.

Meanwhile, Slovakia has entered a young hard rock male vocalist, Max Jason Mai, whose looks, physique and memorable refrain may propel him to the finals:

So far 2012’s crop of rockers doesn’t threaten the top of the betting boards, though I think I would wager that at least two of them make it through the semis to the Saturday finals!