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.

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.

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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.

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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”.

Eurovision 2016 — the Little Songs

In compiling my last post of 2016 Eurovision entries, modern songs category, I finished and realized several songs that fell through the cracks.  And then I realized that every year brings a new batch of small, unobtrusive entries that tend to be forgotten.  But most years some of these songs are the ones that go on to surprise fans and sneak through into the finals, and often achieve high scores. Last year Cyprus and Hungary were not on anyone’s radar to succeed, but both made it to the Grand Final.

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This year there is a batch of little songs, some of which are likely to break through anedd do well in the voting. Most of these are performed my solo female vocalists, with a few male-artist songs as well.

Poli Genova of Bulgaria entered Eurovision for her home country before and failed to make the finals, though fans remember her and her previous entry fondly.  This year’s Bulgarian entry by Poli is a strong, catchy little song that most of us hope will succeed for her this year, “If Love Was a Crime”.

Croatia has entered ESC2016 with an entry that was hotly tipped for top ten at least, though some of the enthusiasm has already cooled down. Here is Nina and “Lighthouse”, which should be popular enough to at least make it through to the finals.

Germany has a recent history of doing very well or very badly in the Grand Finals (as a member of the Big Five, they proceed directly without competing in any semis). This year, Jamie-Lynn and “Ghost” is a fine little singer-songwriter entry that is held back by a rather silly look for its artist, a 17-year old who loves performing in a kooky Japanese street-fashion getup.

Israel has not had many entries succeed past the semifinal stage in r local recent years until last year’s party hit “Golden Boy”. This year they have gone for an androgynous boy with a well-performed but rather anonymous ballad, Hovi Star and “Made of Stars”.

Italy has done well since its return to Eurovision in 2011, mustering up a second and a third-place finish. This year’s entry is lovely and small, and may not be enough to catch voters’ attention when it counts Saturday night. Here is the pretty bi-lingual “No Degree of Separation”.

Poland returned to ESC two years ago and made the finals both years since then. This year they have a fine singer and pretty ballad, but will it be enough to keep up their string of qualifications? Here’s Michal Szpak and “Color of Your Life”.

Switzerland have not had an easy time reaching the finals lately, and don’t seem likely to this year with their Canadian singer Rykka. “The Last of Our Kind” is a pleasant song, but with neither a strong singer or big impact they might get lost in the shuffle this year.

The United Kingdom has bombed out in the finals for several years after choosing their entry internally, so this year they added a selection show and public vote. Joe and Jake are not likely to get anywhere near the top five this year, but their results shouldn’t be the embarrassing bottom that the UK has reached in the last five years or so.

Are we likely to see a winner from this group? Not likely, though at least one or two dark horse surprises are likely to emerge Eurovision week in Stockholm.

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.