A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
There is always some matter to discuss or just a song I want to share
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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Finland 2018: Saara Aalto is the one

In a bit of a surprise move, Yle has decided to internally select Saara Aalto to represent Finland at the ESC in Lisbon in May. It was only partially a surprise - after three years of non-qualification and last year's very weak line-up in the national final - something had to be done.

I have been a big friend of this chosen concept for years already. As it has been hard to get big names to join in, why not have one big name do the job instead? Scrap the national final nobody wants to be a part of and find a star to send off to Eurovision.

The surprise here was more the fact that UMK 2018 seems to have been abandoned mid-season. There was already a call for songs and detailed information as how to send in entries. The call for entries opened and closed. What about the songs entered? Were they too few? Were the quality too low? Isn't it quite arrogant towards the people who actually bothered sending in their songs to Yle in the first place?

Saara Aalto was not a big surprise. People have been very fond of her - at the Yle and elsewhere - for years already and the buzz around her participation in the UK X Factor was enormous. She was the most googled person in Finland in 2016.

But is she a too obvious choice? She has a good voice and an impressive CV in many ways, but she is yet to have a commercial hit single. She hasn't released any material at all since her X Factor run and who remembers the runner-up of yesteryear anyway.

She also has an unfortunate track record of wanting too much. "No Fear" was a contender until a frantic and overloaded performance left the whole thing in ruins.

If there is somebody with a clear vision involved here, somebody knowing what a winning package could look like, then Finland could possibly go very far in Lisbon. I want to stay positive and believe the people in charge know what they are doing and that Saara can shine when needed.

What really should be done now is to drop the UMK brand. There is not a drop left of what UMK was originally intended to be and nothing in the 2018 selection process fits the description of previous editions. Retire the name and put the focus back onto Eurovision. No more blushing about it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

ESC 2017: Portugal at last

Before everything else: what a wonderful thing that Portugal got to win at long last. And that they got to win in style with a beautiful song and a fantastic artist and with a huge margin. It feels so good after years of struggling. Happiness for Portugal is the dominant feeling today, remember that as you read on.

The other huge favourite - the one I still insisted would win yesterday - did not fare very well at all. Italy ended up in 6th place and never has such a high placing felt more like a colossal fiasco. The Italian song looked messy on television, nowhere near the smooth elegance it had at Sanremo. What went wrong? Why was it so difficult to translate the winning performance onto another stage?

I am also surprised at the indifference most juries showed towards "Occidentali's Karma". It is contemporary and smart and sounds like a hit single. I can't shake the feeling that many jurors kept Italy down on purpose to enhance the chances of their own entry.

On the whole, the juries made a laughing stock of themselves. Loads of embarrassing neighbour bias and some cases that look very much like tactical voting. All that garbage the juries were re-introduced to counterbalance.

I still want juries but we need a discussion about how they are chosen and what their guidelines are. The jury of  2017 seemed to have no integrity. That was the biggest single disappointment for me. 

Instead the televoters seemed to be the voice of reason, rewarding the more quality entries. Even diaspora voting was surprisingly low in the televote - both Armenia and Poland scored poorly. Juries kept voting for family and friends while the viewers voted for the songs they liked.

As for the top three, Moldova was the big surprise I didn't see coming. I'm glad for them but again surprised how a jury of professionals could have a song as simple as repetitive as that so high up in their rankings.

Bulgaria - like Portugal - deserved every inch of its success. Kristian Kostov was wonderful on stage and performed with gravitas and conviction. Maybe it was even better for him not to win, now he can take his time and plan world domination without following up a victory.

Germany avoided their dreaded hat-trick of last places by one arbitrary point, right in front of Spain. Both German and Spanish television should sit down and have a long hard think how to improve their national selections and start sending entries more representative of their own pop scenes.

Our young hosts rose to the occasion during the voting and handled it all pretty well, minus the odd comment about how beautiful some of the female spokespersons were. Particularly Vova handled hosting well and could - with some better scripts - be of real use in other international shows too.

After his very clear win, Salvador Sobral's comments about our world being full of disposable music didn't go down well with eurovision fans. There are a lot of sensitive toes out there and he managed to run them all over with this single sentence but I dare say it didn't mean what you thought it meant.

It wasn't a dig at the Eurovision Song Contest in itself, but at pop culture at large. At pop factories hammering out songs that anyone can sing and that the songs written because somebody felt the inspiration to write a song are way too few. 

That actually sums up one of the biggest problems with the 2017 lineup pretty well. There were too many songs written by international teams of songwriters, songs bought from publishers in order to do reasonably well in a contest. I personally think we would all enjoy the ESC more if it went back more to being a showcase for what actually goes on in the participating countries musically.

I don't long for a sea of nostalgic ballads in Lisbon next year, but I would enjoy more artists willing to take risks and defend a vision of their own rather than just sing a song written by a bunch of Swedish songwriters. If Salvador Sobral leaves a legacy for the future, I hope it is just that. More courage and more countries doing their own thing. Celebrate diversity, in other words.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

ESC 2017: Tobson top 26

Here goes. The moment of truth. If I have to guess the outcome of the ESC 2017 this is how I'd do it. Just for fun and to see afterwards how wrong I was.

01 Italy
02 Portugal
03 Bulgaria
04 France
05 Belgium

06 Romania
07 Armenia
08 Poland
09 Azerbaijan
10 Hungary

11 Sweden
12 Moldova
13 Netherlands
14 United Kingdom
15 Australia

16 Ukraine
17 Norway
18 Cyprus
19 Israel
20 Croatia

21 Belarus
22 Austria
23 Germany
24 Denmark
25 Greece
26 Spain

What are your predictions? Can you beat me at this game? Good luck and enjoy the show!

ESC 2017: And the winner is...

In a couple of hours, the whole Eurovision Song Contest 2017 will be over. So. Who is our winner? What looked crystal clear only a week ago is now a hornet's nest full of possibilities.

Three songs have emerged as major favourites to win but there are a couple we are clearly forgetting about. Who could do a Jamala this year and emerge as a somewhat surprise winner? Here are tonight's potential winners and why they will stand there with the trophy in the end.

He is young and incredibly talented. Kristian Kostov could very well be at the beginning of a very promising international career, given he has the right material and the right management. Wouldn't it be wonderful adding a Slavic male Celine to the list of winners?

Ten years after Molitva, maybe it would be time for another moving and personable winner in a native language? Salvador Sobral could use his victory to fully break onto the international jazz market.

Still the most probable winner. Three months of being the huge favourite does mean something. If Gabbani could only keep his cool, this victory could mean a new spring from pop in Italian on european charts. Frankly, if they lose victory just because he can't keep his lid on I will be furious. Be warned.

Singing last has not been a blessing lately as the audience will be tired and not particularly open for more songs, but if France could come across as playful and fresh at the end it could do surprisingly well. If there is a big difference in taste between the viewers and the jurors, France could sneak up. But how far up?

Blanche's shaky performance in the semi final seems not to have affected the large audience and "City Light" remains one of the favourites. Reportedly the young singer sang a lot better during Friday's jury final and maybe this could be a real surprise in the end.

Picture it: Europe gets really tired ears after a row of polite and well-written and ordinary entries and long for something silly and unusual. They get yodel and rap thrown in their face and go beserk and the yodel revolution starts. You are now officially warned.

ESC and Cyber Attacks

Just one little thought. One that's been spinning in the back of my head and that is a real party pooper. In the light of recent cyber attacks in Europe - attacks that have infected computers with ransomware, exhausted health services and weakened the telephone services in several countries - what is the EBU plan to counter cyber interference?

Attacking the Eurovision Song Contest seems like the kind of thing cyber terrorists wouldn't do, but most of the traces point towards Russia and there could be an intention to make Ukraine look vulnerable or ridiculous in front of the entire world.

Even if an attack was not aimed at the actual contest, it could very much affect the televote. In how many countries can the televote fail before anyone questions the result? Especially if it would be as tight a race as last year?

Let's just hope that all goes well tonight and that the EBU have a good plan for what to do in case it doesn't.

ESC 2017: Tobson and the 26 in the final

Here we are, it is the day of the Grand Final of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv. Sixteen songs have found themselves ejected in the semifinals and here we stand with the final contenders. One of these 26 will be the winner, but who stands a chance and who doesn't? Let me share my thought on tonight's participants.

Just like Belgium last year, Israel closed the second semi and now opens the big final. There are many similarities between the two: the performance is definitely stronger than the song and the singer is perhaps not the best we ever saw. A happy opener that could do surprisingly well in the end.

No song ever won from the second slot in the running order and finding Poland here suggests that all the Polish people around Europe voted heavily also this year and the producers are trying to keep it down a bit. Expect this one to rocket up the ranking when we get the televotes at the end of the voting sequence.

This extremely happy and upbeat song could have been a great way to liven up the show after a number of slower numbers. Slightly suspicious to find it this early in the running, where it doesn't really fill the purpose it could. Did this one too do surprisingly well in the semi?

Nathan Trent is shining like the sun while performing and his song is really nice - his glittery moon is also memorable - but the whole package will be too anonymous to carry particularly far in the final.

One of the strongest ethnic-sounding songs of the year with its hypnotic arrangement and elegant execution. But will Bulgaria snatch their votes in the end?

There is no question mark concerning the vocal abilities of these sisters, but given their talent and the emotional subject of their song it is unbelieavable how much this sounds like a mere singing exercise and nothing more than that. These girls would have deserved much better songwriting.

The packaging here - the dancing, the good mood, the saxophone - is all working well and many people will fail to notice what a basic and repetitive song this really is.

In this year where almost everyone is singing in English, the songs in other languages will stand out very clearly in a positive light. Hungary also has an elegant and effective staging and a message that Europe at least should care about. A possible surprise in the making.

The obvious winner ever since it was selected back in February, but suddenly it seems less obvious. Other candidates have emerged and Francesco Gabbani has been too uncontrolled in rehearsals. Apparently he made his best performance of the week on the jury final, so don't discard this one just yet.

A nice girl with a nice song that won't carry anywhere being sandwiched between tonight's two biggest favourites for victory. Its only merit tonight it to remind viewers what generic sounds like in order for them to realise just how original the next song is.

Portugal has waited since 1964 to even break into the top five. This wait must come to an end tonight. Salvador's musicality and refusal to be mainstream could also work as a well-needed injection and make more countries dare to come up with more personable entries. One of three very likely winners.

Following art with art is not a bad idea. Azerbaijan's performance is like a wonderfully pretentious gallery installation of the kind that people don't understand but still like. One of my big personal favourites tonight with potential of finishing in the top five.

Time to refill your drinks and snacks? There will be plenty of time for that soon but not just yet. You have to see this violently pompous and overblown duet between Jacques and himself. Extra points to the over-excited violin player.

If Armenians and Poles in exile keep backing their own entries in the televote, the jurors have been incredibly protective of Australia. They could need it this time around. Coming after a bunch of ambitious favourites, this one will look pretty pale in comparison.

A famous songwriter, a famous choreographer and a Greek pop star walk into a bar and all that happens is this dull and generic piece of charter disco. Predictable both as a song as well as to how it is staged and given how Demy is struggling with the higher notes, this deserves to crash and burn at the end of the results tonight.

A packet full of sunshine. Not only does it sound like the soundtrack to a chewing gum commercial but young Manel also keeps smiling and smiling. Happy and inoffensive but who is going to vote for this? A strong candidate for last place.

One of the hardest to predict - a good contemporary radio hit in acute lack of a stage performance. Unlikely to trouble the top ten but could end pretty much anywhere below that.

A big ballad and the best UK entry is many years. Nowhere near good enough to be a contender for victory but if the jurors feels generous it could be enough for the first UK top ten finish in eight years.

Hovig made a good impression in the semi and managed to whip some presence and sexuality into his otherwise slightly too polished entry. Tonight the competition is stronger but he should at least beat Greece with a comfortable margin.

After six more serious entries the audience could be longing for some ridiculous comic relief and boy does Romania deliver. There is also a massively catchy chorus in here and heaven knows how far this could carry in the televote. Brace yourselves!

Who's going to win tonight? That's of course the main question, but an almost as compelling drama is who will end in last place. If it is Germany, it is their third consecutive last place - nothing no other country ever suffered before. Levina would deserve better but her song is one of the least engaging in the lineup.

The only rock song in the running and despite not being excellent it will pick up all rock votes as well as the occasional polite point awarded to the host country. Competent, but I wish it was edgier. And wouldn't he sound angrier in his mother tongue?

Despite a shaky vocal performance in the semi final, Belgium was the last country called and is still among the most heavily streamed of this year's songs. Blanche could be one of the most underestimated candidates tonight and a surprise in the making. France Gall probed already back in 1965 that vocal perfection isn't everything.

Worked excellent as an opener in a semi with too many understated performers alone on stage. How much will it impress when the audience already has 23 candidates to compare it it? I stick with my initial gut feeling and predict that the Swedish delegation will be a tiny bit disappointed tonight.

The youngest of the participants is handling the whole thing like an experienced veteran and if anyone could give Italy or Portugal a run for the money, it is him. The boy is also known from Russian tv and could pick up many of the votes usually destined for Russia. Sofia 2018?

Let's end with a bang and another possible surprise in the making. The French brought not only the classiest dress and one of the most charming singers, but also a very French sounding song and the entire Eiffel tower. Deserves a lot of love in the voting.

My full prediction of the tonight's results will be in a bit later but at least I can promise you some great entertainment before the show is over. And maybe it will end with the biggest surprise in years?

Friday, May 12, 2017

ESC 2017: Tobson's thoughts after semi 2

Seven out of ten is not a great result, which ever way you twist and turn. But I insist that the second semi was really tricky to predict and my guess is that it was tight between many songs, fighting it out for the last spots in the final.

So where did I go wrong? I predicted Croatia and Netherlands in the final even though I really don't care for either one of them. I thought Ireland would beat Austria but it ended up the other way around. Then I thought Denmark and Norway would both be out.

I admit that predicting FYR Macedonia was wishful thinking all along. They are probably the reigning champions of ruining their songs on stage. This performance was better than their average but not good enough.

I had a bad feeling about Estonia as we were watching the performance. It felt too cold, too calculated and too disconnected. I still thought the song would be enough and my jaw fell a bit.

Overall the lack of successful staging seems to be a running theme this year. The final will be full of tasteful numbers that are nice but forgettable. Let's hope our eventual winner will be full of personality, colour and movement. That's what I want more of for next year.