A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Monday, April 23, 2018

Tobson's Big ESC 2018 review, part 1

We are very, very close to the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest and I for one can't wait to see how Portugal will pull off hosting the ESC after waiting for this opportunity for so long.

Fate has been nice to RTP as it handed them the strongest lineup for many years to work with. Many of these songs are so good, they need no LED screens to make them come alive and shine.

Here are my thoughts on the songs, judging from this years preview clips, which you can see on the official Eurovision YouTube Channel.


01. AZERBAIJAN
Aisel / X My Heart

There are many interesting things going on in the running order this year. Are they clues? Quite certainly Christer Björkman has a finger or two in this pie. Why would he put a song like this first of all in the semi? It is nice and a good opener but lacks any kind of personality or temper or anything to make it stand out in a semi as strong as this. Is this the year when Azerbaijan falls out already in the semi?

Qualifier:
I wouldn't bet my house on it.

My grade: 2/5


02. ICELAND
Ari Ólafsson / Our Choice

Somebody could write a scientific essay on when Iceland lost their mojo in this contest. Was it when Yohanna managed to take something sweet and inoffensive and turn it into a silver medal in Moscow 2009? After last year's attempt at edge, Iceland is back at the sweet and inoffensive. Young Ari is a good singer and an adorable personality but this song is so terribly clichéd and dated that it defies description. And the lyrics is just the final kiss of death.

Qualifier:
No. The most likely contender to end last in the entire semi.

My grade: 1/5


03. ALBANIA
Eugent Bushpepa / Mall

Albania does a whole lot of things right. They stay true to their own selves, they keep sending songs that say something about the local music scene performed by local stars. And yet they have struggled to make an impact lately. This song is less complicated and more accessible than recent efforts and Eugent delivers the goods like he really means whatever he is singing. Had this been drawn into the weaker second semi instead, it could really have stood a chance.

Qualifier:
No. There are too many good songs fighting it out for only ten spots. Rotten luck but that's the rules of the game.

My grade: 2/5


04. BELGIUM
Sennek / A Matter Of Time

After three consecutive killer songs from Wallonia, also Flanders woke up and copied the winning concept of their countrymen: sniff out some fresh talent and give them more or less complete liberty to create a compelling entry. And would you believe it - it works also across the linguistic border. Rather Bond-esque (a bit of a trend this year) and most compelling, performed by an intriguing singer.

Qualifier:
Yes. This must qualify or everyone must resign.

My grade: 5/5


05. CZECH REPUBLIC
Mikolas Josef / Lie To Me

The first time I heard this song I thought it was really super annoying. There is a fine line between being annoying and entertaining, it seems. Dumb but irresistibly catchy, performed by someone who knows exactly what it takes to make a package like this work. My only regret is that the camel is not allowed on stage.

Qualifier:
Yes. You bet. And for the first time, Czech republic could make it into the higher regions of the top ten too.

My grade: 4/5


06. LITHUANIA
Ieva Zasimauskaitė / When We're Old

One thing is certain - you never know in advance what sort of song Lithuania will come up with. This one is the most sincere and tender thing they have entered in a long time, sung in a delicate way by a very likeable singer. The kind of entry that would really deserve to get rewarded big time.

Qualifier:
No. I'm afraid not. Had this one been drawn in the second half, then maybe. Now it will be too intimate too early on in the running order and get forgotten. Unless the juries absolutely adore it and save it.

My grade: 3/5


07. ISRAEL
Netta / Toy

40 years after Izhar Cohen and 20 years after Dana International - wouldn't it be nice if Israel won the contest with something surprising again? Netta is a real personality with a strong and personable voice and the chicken clucking gimmick is sheer brilliance. However, this entry is also sure to be very divisive. How well with it click with a mainstream audience in the end?

Qualifier:
Oh yes. That's hardly a problem. The question is how far this craziness will go in the final.

My grade: 4/5


08. BELARUS
Alekseev / Forever

More than one has described the first semi in Lisbon as a "blood bath". Colourful metaphor and all, but many of the songs lined up would have stood a better chance in the second semi. Like Belarus, whose pop song is quite good - despite the fact that it breaks the rules and should be disqualified - but maybe not good enough to break through. The new edit does it no favours and it had been nice had Alekseev been able to sing it properly live.

Qualifier:
Borderline but my gut feeling tells me this one will be out by quite a slim margin.

My grade: 2/5


09. ESTONIA
Elina Nechayeva / La forza

What a relief when somebody is finally doing proper opera singing at Eurovision. No funny games, no pop verses, no funny hats. Elina is just singing her modern aria beautifully and gracefully. Regardless if she can keep the dress projections from the national final or not, this is an oasis of class and style.

Qualifier:
It does run the risk of being the Blackbird of the year, but I do think Estonia is back in the final with this one.

My grade: 3/5


10. BULGARIA
Equinox / Bones

Bulgaria came back to the ESC transformed into a nation of modern and compelling pop and they stay true to form also this year. Bones is perhaps more complicated and less instant and a more risky choice. Applause for anyone not willing to just play it safe!

Qualifier:
Yes, most certainly. This is maybe not winning material like last year, but getting to the final should be a walk in the park.

My grade: 3/5

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Tobson predicts: Melodifestivalen 2018

The tour has reached its end - Melodifestivalen has arrived in Stockholm (or Solna to be more precise) and Sweden will find itself a song for Lisbon. If you read my previous posts on the semi finals, you will be aware that I have been less than thrilled with the overall quality this year, concerning the songs as well as the show itself.

The criticism this year has been deafening and the ratings have not been what they should be. Will the viewers come back for the final or will we have the lowest amount of people watching in years?

As I listened through the 12 finalists this morning I have to admit they are a better bunch than I would have remembered. The overall quality is fine and there is no entirely hopeless entry here. Not everything's my cup of tea but that is a very different thing indeed.

Had this been a national final in Slovenia or Spain it would have been sensational. Melodifestivalen is still the most solid national final around. But I think Sweden has lost its grip a little bit.

Sweden aims at being a super power at Eurovision. The clear aim every year is to win. After a few years of tremendous success, it feels like Sweden lost the lead. Other countries are pushing the contest in other directions - who would have thought Belgium would be one of the countries pushing the envelope? - and Sweden is no longer the clear big brother.

The Zeitgeist passed from the slightly generic but super effective songs into something else. Something touched by the fingers of the Sobral siblings, possibly. Most of the songs chosen for 2018 have personality and something of their own, something fresh, while Sweden is still in the same place as they were two years ago. The same radio friendly sound, the same preoccupation with staging over songwriting.

Maybe tonight's winner will still do well in Lisbon. A top ten is in no way out of reach. With a bit of luck the Swedish entry could fill a gap in the lineup and snatch another top five spot. But Eric, Loreen, Sanna, Måns and Frans all went in and showed everyone how it should be done. They didn't rely on luck. And that is a major shift.

Maybe SVT won a bit too much and got a bit too content with themselves and thought the audience would stay put regardless. Some quotes from the production suggest this could be the case. Maybe a real shakeup in the team could go some good for 2019?

But tonight, then? Who would be the best choice for Lisbon?

Jessica Andersson had been a good choice has the choice worked better live. A surprising lack of energy in the semi just underlined the impression of her being a budget version of Helene Fischer. Samir & Viktor has the most infectious jam going on but they have no interest in taking it abroad. Felix Sandman has momentum but would be perceived too much like last year's flavour come May.

John Lundvik, then? There is a buzz around him that can't be denied and he has a very inviting aura and a fantastic voice. But will the international jury go for something as traditional? They shouldn't.

Tobson's prediction:
For the second year running Sweden will go for a pop guy with a smooth song and stunning visuals. It is highly unusual that Sweden goes for two so similar packages on consecutive years, but Benjamin Ingrosso has a much better song than last year's entry. "Dance You Off" is also the song that feels most like an idea of its own and could possibly be a nod towards more creativity among songwriters next year.

And of course I will be on Twitter tonight. Join me there!



Saturday, March 3, 2018

UMK 2018: it all depends on Saara

This week I am completely ditching Sweden and Andra Chansen in order to focus on Estonia (I haven't had time to catch up there so no review coming up, unfortunately) and above all Finland. Since the three competing entries were revealed, there has been a certain amount of buzz around Suomi. Is it time for me to eat my words from when Saara Aalto was selected?

Seriously, folks. It is not. The songs lined up all have their qualities and are solid efforts so everything comes down to Saara Aalto herself in the end. And that is where my worries were in the first place.

The performance costumes - presented with much pomp and circumstance earlier this week - suggest all three performances could be pretty OTT and that is a concern of mine. What will we see tonight? Will there be huge show numbers that can't be recreated in Lisbon or are tonight's performances what would be shown on stage in May as well?

If there is too much madness going on show-wise, is that an attempt to highlight Saara or could she get lost in the middle of everything? Saara is in many ways a Finnish Linda Bengtzing who wants to do well so badly that she loses her cool every time it really matters.

If Saara can keep a lid on herself tonight - and even more importantly in Portugal later in spring - Finland could be a contender. It all comes down to whether the can deliver and actually be the performer she wants to be.

What about the songs, then?

1. Monsters
The first song revealed also turned out the be the strongest of the bunch. A contemporary pop number with a clear hook and possibly not too much space for Saara to go bonkers. Staying controlled is a key word in all three performances. My main objection is that it wouldn't have hurt had it been a bit heavier. Is it too late to remix it for Eurovision?

2. Domino
A very good song but also a relic from a time gone by. This is the perfect G:son/Ljunggren ballad that proved outdated already in 2012 when the fabulous "Quédate conmigo" somehow barely made it into the top ten with a similar sound and a similar high note climax. Here is also a big risk of Saara running away with herself and over-perform vocally like there was no tomorrow.

3. Queens
I had hoped the last song would be the real killer track but instead it is a surprisingly shattered effort that mainly sounds like something Britney Spears might have toyed with a few years ago. Not having any crystal clear artistic identity as yet, Saara should definitely refrain from straying into someone else's territory and run the risk of being labeled a copycat.

Prediction:
While "Domino" is perhaps the closest to what Saara really wants to be, "Monsters" would clearly be Finland's best shot at ESC success. I predict - and hope - that tonight's result will be the same as the running order. And more than anything, I hope Saara will keep herself composed and pull this off.

As per usual, I will also live tweet during the show. Feel free to follow and discuss and talk back at me.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Tobson predicts: Melodifestivalen 2018 - semi 4

"Everything sounds the same so you can't even tell the songs apart!" That was the most usual criticism launched against melodifestivalen as I grew up. People who didn't listen properly thought everything was too streamlined and lacking in variety. I hated to hear that year after year.

Yet here I am, finding myself thinking the same thing. Most of the entries of 2018 seem to be hatched out of the same egg. They are all similarly produced, they are all born out of the same ideas. Write a slick, slightly generic, radio-friendly song and get a slice of the Melodifestivalen success cake.

To me it seems that the effort made this year is to get to the final and have your song played on the radio. Not a single song gives the impression that anyone tried to write a winner. I thought 2017 was lukewarm but that was just a start. Semi four does very little to change this impression.

01. Emmi Christensson / Icarus
A piece of beautifully sung but totally pointless fluff. Like a leftover from a local musical or a reject entry for Melodifestivalen 1994. Possibly a contender for fifth place if the viewers go for someone who can actually sing, like they did previous weeks.

02. Elias Abbas / Mitt paradis
This is the entry I pin my hopes upon tonight. Not because it would be sheer brilliance but because Sweden would need a star like Elias Abbas - a young and positive and adorable talent from the "problematic suburbs". I wish for him to take Sweden by storm and establish himself as a household name even though that's rare for new MF talent these days.

03. Felicia Olsson / Break That Chain
Another echo from a time gone by. This song is similar to "Killing Me Tenderly" - but a whole lot weaker - and that only made 7th place in its semi back in 2009. Felicia herself is really good but that won't help at all.

04. Rolandz / Fuldans
There hasn't been as many humour entries this year after all but here comes the one that might knock Sweden over. It is really warm hearted and likeable - and also there is a pretty good song in there as well - but the whole dansband parody concept feels a bit worn out. Nothing new and nothing that will shake the audience and that is perhaps what we've been missing the most this year.

05. Olivia Eliasson / Never Learn
This one makes me think of Serbia's entry in Kyiv 2017. You won't remember that one. Few people will. It was flawless in many ways but didn't have a drop of personality. Same story here. Fine as long as it goes on but what is the point of it being here when it has nothing to say?

06. Felix Sandman / Every Single Day
This is what Salvador Sobral sounded like to a Swedish audience? It is very nice indeed and Felix is a good vocalist but maybe this is a bit too much of a copycat so soon after the Portuguese victory and a bit too far removed from what kind of song Swedes would identify as their own at the ESC.

07. Mariette / For You
In many ways it would be Mariette's turn to win. She is an excellent performer and a bubbly personality. However - her song is good but not outstanding. Should be a clear finalist this week but would Mariette be better off not having to go to Lisbon?

Tonight's prediction is this:
Final: Mariette and Elias Abbas
Andra Chansen: Felix Sandman and Rolandz
5th: Olivia Eliasson
Out: Emmi Christensson and Felicia Olsson

As per usual I will live tweet during the show - feel free to follow and discuss with me

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tobson predicts: Melodifestivalen 2018 - semi 3

We are already at week three and yet there has been no real obvious winner in sight. It seems the people on location in Malmö see great things in the making but I only have the one-minute clips and I am maybe not as convinced.

So far I think MF 2018 is a stronger collection of songs than we had a in few years but the final really runs the risk of becoming as streamlined as it has been lately, where slick visuals beat music and performance skills every time.

I still live on the hope that several of this week's entries will explode in my face once I see them on tv and flower into real favourites. But as of now, here are my somewhat restrained thoughts on them:

01. Martin Almgren / A Bitter Lullaby
Something as unusual as a solid piece of songwriting (in general the songs are better in this respect this week, not so many whooo's and oooh's and yeah's instead of real lyrics) - this is a singer liked by the people and a song that would have won hands down in Denmark or in Malta. Not really my bag even though I understand what others see in this.

02. Barbi Escobar / Stark
I have a thing for the hopeless entries that I know nobody will vote for. Unless Barbi makes a mess of this live - reports suggest she might do just that - this could be one of the songs I'll keep listening to, but it has no hope of doing better than 6th at best tonight.

03. Moncho / Cube Libre
Everyone does the link to Sweden 1987 here, this makes me think more of Herreys' "Sommarparty". Every single component in this makes me cringe and I have no idea how anyone thought this would make a great entry in 2018. Panetoz minus Panetoz equals Pointless.

04. Jessica Andersson / Party Voice
Finally some modern pop and schlager mashup of the kind Helene Fischer masters to perfection. Easy to grasp, reasonably updated, most appealing. The problem here is that Jessica Andersson is not quite Helene Fischer, so to speak. Will this get too cold for the larger audiences?

05. Kalle Moraeus & Orsa Spelmän / Min dröm
Kalle is the kind of performer that Stockholmers assume that everyone outside of Stockholm loves. He is a bubbly and likeable personality that works well in different tv shows, but he never seemed to go through the screen as a performer. This entry also feels very seen and heard before, like it had already been in MF 2010 or so.

06. Dotter / Cry
The big hot favourite and the one I really want to love. But. I don't see it after 60 seconds. Will this knock Sweden over somehow or is this a Kristin Amparo or Isa-I-Will-Wait situation coming up? Contemporary pop with cred performed by a girl isn't usually what the regular Swedish voter goes for.

07. Mendez / Everyday
Another song expect to sail easily into the final. Maybe the short clips are playing tricks on me but I don't see the appeal here either. This whole formula feels very tired and Mendez himself makes the same sort of impression. Did Sweden really long for him to make a comeback?

So I am confusion. I have no idea what the people in Malmö - who say this is a super strong week - hear that eludes me in the short clips. For once I will assume they know better than I do.

Tonight's prediction is this:
Final: Mendez and Jessica Andersson
Andra Chansen: Martin Almgren & Dotter
Fifth: Moncho
Out: Kalle Moraeus and Barbi Escobar

Tonight I won't live tweet but my impressions will sooner or later appear on Twitter.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tobson predicts: Melodifestivalen 2018 - semi 2

It was a pretty effective first week, especially show-wise. SVT has made quite a few decisions I pretty much agree with regarding the production. Above all, they are not trying to turn David Lindgren into the comedian he is not. Very wise.

I suppose they will need to find a way to deepen Fab Freddie's role or we will be seriously fed up with him long before the final but otherwise most things worked.

Initial reports suggested this second week was weak song-wise, so I heard the minute-long snippets with low expectations. And maybe that's the way it should always been done as I felt pleasantly surprised.

01. Samir & Viktor / Shuffla
Remember the old hit "You're my favourite waste of time"? That's how I feel about Samir & Viktor. Under no circumstances would I want them sent anywhere near the ESC but I liked their first two entries and I really enjoy this. Dumb but good-hearted and fun.

02. Ida Redig / Allting som vi sa
A bit of a personal favourite in the making if this stays good for three minutes. I enjoy Ida's voice and I am a bit of a sucker for this kind of pop outside of the ESC bubble. However, it never works and the audience never votes for it.

03. Jonas Gardell / Det finns en väg
One of Jonas Gardell's main assets is a complete fearlessness about balancing on the verge of being totally pretentious and pathetic. He's one of the few who could enter with something like this without risking his reputation and this will be good promo for his coming show, but in no way is this a hit song in the making.

04. Margaret / In My Cabana
Maybe I was the only one not to be surprised when Margaret failed in the Polish final in 2016, but I thought she was the weak spot of her entry then. Let's see if she improved, as this is a much warmer and appealing little piece of pop nonsense. Tobson approves.

05. Stiko Per Larsson / Titta vi flyger
Every year one entry qualifies for MF through the Svensktoppen nästa talent search and every year this happens. A piece of music so obviously going to not be a contender that you keep asking yourself who allows this to go on. Sounds more like the weakest track on an album by Di sma undar jårdi (12 points if you get that reference) than an MF entry.

06. Mimi Werner / Songburning
Mimi would so deserve a big break as she has the voice and everything else you could wish for. This song is good but does it become too repetitive in the end? This could just as well be a surprise finalist as this week's number five.

07. Liamoo / Last Breath
Instantly dubbed this week's sure qualifier by everybody else but I wouldn't be too sure. Here's a darkness that could be off-putting as well as a surprisingly lack-lustre staging. I'm not a huge rap connoisseur in any way, but doesn't it sound a bit... clichéd? This won't be the walk in the park some people expected it to be.

Tonight's prediction is this:
Final: Samir & Viktor and Liamoo
Andra Chansen: Margaret and Mimi Werner
5th: Ida Redig
Out: Jonas Gardell and Stiko Per Larsson

Liamoo feels more like Andra Chansen than a finalist but I don't know who would beat him if so. If Margaret finds a lot of warmth and charm and nails the cameras, that could be it. Ida in fifth place is pure wishful thinking, but she deserves it more than Jonas Gardell.

I will live tweet during Melodifestivalen and then catch up with Sanremo after that.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Tobson predicts: Melodifestivalen 2018 - semi 1

Hello Melodifestivalen and hello my old blog. A new job and a full focus on my other blog - Tobson och alla bidragen - leaves me little time to write anything in English. But in order not to have the grass grow all over this place, I will be predicting Melodifestivalen and then have a look at the previews. Like I did last year too.

This first review should come with a bit of a warning and a disclaimer. I am feeling more distanced and more detached about the Swedish final than I have in many years. I don't feel a need to be overly critical - SVT still puts on an effort that most other countries couldn't even imagine - but the musical direction of the whole thing is not exactly tickling my senses.

Having said that, I listened to the minute-long clips on the SVT website and scribbled down a few thoughts.

01. Sigrid Bernson / Patrick Swayze
A very energetic opener is never a bad thing. People will enjoy this and maybe even vote for it without paying attention to the pretty weak voice (again hidden in layers and layers of prerecorded backing vocals) and some pretty lazy songwriting. Won't Sweden ever get tired of all the ooo's and aaa's and woohoo's thrown in instead of real lyrics?

02. John Lundvik / My Turn
A traditional and well-crafted ballad - so much better songwriting all of a sudden - that attracted a surprisingly positive reaction from the audience in the dress rehearsal. It is attractive with singers who can actually sing and hopefully that will pay off in the end.

03. Renaida / All The Feels
Another entry that doesn't really do anything wrong. However, it only consists of bits and pieces from other already existing songs thrown together for the occasion. The song sounds like a million other songs and the singer sounds like a whole bunch of other singers. Enjoyable but it adds nothing of its own.

04. Edward Blom / Livet på en pinne
Basically the visuals of the 2013 Swedish Smorgasboard interval act condensed into three minutes. Happy and upbeat but also puzzling. Why is this a competing entry and not a sketch between the songs? And will the Swedes really vote for a performance as mediocre as this?

05. Kikki Danielsson / Osby Tennessee
An artistic high point for Kikki who gets to showcase her new Americana self on prime time television and will make more people discover the terrific album she released the other year. Not mainstream enough to do really well but that is hardly the point either.

06. Kamferdrops / Solen lever kvar hos dig
The entry that has everything stacked up against it: a thin voice from a performer who is clearly not Swedish and who insists of hiding behind a mask, packaged in a confusing and unfocused performance. Shark feed in the voting but possibly a personal favourite in the making for me.

07. Benjamin Ingrosso / Dance You Off
Benjamin is a terrific singer and he also has a brilliant visual concept behind him. An easy qualifier tonight unless people find the thing a bit too slick and a bit too cold. The songs also needs to take off properly it some point - the "cute guy with a weak song but great visuals" was last year's trick.

Tonight's prediction is this:
Final: Benjamin Ingrosso and Edward Blom
Andra Chansen: Sigrid Bernson and John Lundvik
5th: Renaida
Out: Kikki Danielsson and Kamferdrops

However, I hope that John will steal the final spot from Edward Blom and that Kikki would manage to make it into fifth place. And if Kamferdrops would somehow make it into top five, then I'd be all smiles all night.

I will live tweet during the show - please share your thoughts with me.