A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Saturday, March 13, 2021

Tobson predicts: Melodifestivalen 2021

It didn't take a particularly long time between The Mamas getting called out as the somewhat surprise winners of Melodifestivalen 2020 and the cancellation of the whole ESC in Rotterdam. It has been quite a year. 

The cancellation could have been a real blow to the ESC but the 2021 entries suggest otherwise. A lot of creativity has been set in motion. It seems people decided to rise to the occasion and try some new roads.

Melodifestivalen has done the same. For the last years I have found the Swedish flagship of tv entertainment lacking in several areas, being very much like many of the entries Sweden sent to the ESC. Tailor-made, professional and slick but without that beating heart underneath and with very little room for anything spontaneous or personable. This year something has changed.

The shows have been remarkably uneven but if you focus on the songs, I found myself fully engaging in several of them for the first time in years. Not least because there are finally songs that were not written specifically for Melodifestivalen, not written to please to producers.

When you give creative people space and let them create what they want to create, some wonderfully unexpected things will emerge. Melodifestivalen used to be full of them for the first ten years of the semi final format but lately the entries have been more streamlined. Until now.

This is my way of saying that the 2021 Melodifestivalen lineup in many ways was what I needed in my life and I am actively listening to at least half of these songs outside of the contest for the first time in years.

But it is time to select a winner and here are my views on the entries in the final - a final where the general standard is higher than in years. But does that mean I will agree with the winner?

01. Danny Saucedo / Dandi dansa
A light-hearted and uplifting start to the final with echoes of Jamiroquai, Eric Gadd and the first albums Orup made back in the late 80's. A happily dumb chorus and a song that has not been designed for this contest. Refreshing with a star who is ready to just bring his star status along and dance around without necessarily aiming at victory. Feels genuinely like it was written because somebody wanted to write a song and not because SVT needed something somebody they like could sing.
Grade: 4/5

02. Klara Hammarström / Beat Of Broken Hearts
If the first song is atypical for this contest in recent years, the second one is more familiar territory and clearly written with a Melfest formula in mind. But Klara is a real asset who dresses like a star and adds several layers of quality. She won't win this time but she'd headed in the right direction.
Grade: 3/5

03. Anton Ewald / New Religion
This was a surprise for me in the semis. Let's say my expectations were low but this dark and suggestive little number made me think of some late 80's single inspired by Depeche Mode. I like the darkness of this, something seldom seen in a Swedish final. The weak point is unfortunately Anton himself who is a gifted dancer but nowhere near as convincing as a performer. Imagine this with someone who could have filled it with a real sense of menace instead?
Grade: 3/5

04. The Mamas / In The Middle
Let me be frank. When The Mamas won last year I was very surprised. They are warm and talented and very likeable but their entry was much more of a mood than a fully functioning song. "In The Middle" is better but I still don't get the hype. In this age of pre-recorded backing vocals and singers who look cute but can only sing a bit, maybe it is mind-blowing for the audience to see someone who can perform the heck out of anything?
Grade: 2/5

05. Paul Rey / The Missing Piece
I liked this song a lot in its semi but since then it sort of slipped out of my attention. The strongest selling point is clearly the animated and uplifting live performance while the song in itself - when you only hear it and don't see it - remains a bit anonymous. Paul surely has what it takes to win but this is not his year.
Grade: 2/5

06. Charlotte Perrelli / Still Young
La Perrelli is back doing her best schlager diva and that in itself is a sight for sore eyes. The song itself takes no chances and is frankly little more than a rewrite of Pandora's "You" that crashed and burned in a 2003 semi but the way Charlotte elevates this with her determination and presence is nothing short of amazing. Could have made a proud ESC entry had the song been better.
Grade: 3/5

07. Tusse / Voices
This is the point where I disagree with my dear old Sweden. Tusse is a real talent and could be explosive with the right song but I don't think "Voices" is just that. It's very Sweden-by-the-numbers. An exercise in songwriting that will enthuse the ESC juries and then get a lukewarm televote result. I admit I looked through my fingers more than I should have when Måns was walking on the sun back in 2015, but the phrases lifted right out of "Starboy" really annoy me here. It seems this is everybody else's cup of tea this year but it certainly isn't mine.
Grade: 2/5

08. Alvaro Estrella / Baila baila
Take every tired latino pop cliché in the book, forge them together and you will have Baila baila in front of you. Like a tired fifth single off an old Enrique Iglesias album. Poor Alvaro Estrella who would really deserve better material.
Grade: 1/5

09. Clara Klingenström / Behöver inte dig idag
The opposite of Paul Rey: I like this a lot when I hear it in my headphones but the semi final performance left me a bit uneasy. Something about the way it was filmed didn't click with me, but the song and the voice has a raw nervous energy that is rare in a Swedish final. If there is a big surprise in the making, this could be it. And Sweden singing in Swedish at the ESC for the first time since 1998 would be very special.
Grade: 4/5

10. Eric Saade / Every Minute
Eric's thing was always to be some sort of likeable pop brat and while he did that well this new grown-up style suits him even better. Suddenly there is a frailty and vulnerability to his performance that is very becoming and this kind of minimalistic pop is very close to my heart. This is the sort of entry you get when you let people create freely instead of telling them what sort of songs they need to provide to get a spot on your show. My clear personal favourite a mile ahead of everything else in this final.
Grade: 5/5

11. Dotter / Little Tot
Dotter could have had this in the bag. "Little Tot" has way more personality than her entry of last year - so pleased she dropped the Sia soundalike ambition - and could have been a standout had the general standard been more like last year's. This is a solid entry and will further establish Dotter as a hitmaker but it seems unlikely she'll be given flowers and a trophy by the end of the show.
Grade: 3/5

12. Arvingarna / Tänker inte alls gå hem
SVT has established a tradition of ending the final with a feelgood entry that won't stand a chance in the voting but will leave everyone with a warm and cosy mood. That job is in very experienced hands as Arvingarna make the most of their schlager and although I'm glad to see them in the final I can't help but think to myself how it could have been Eva & Ewa closing this lineup instead and be a bit disappointed that never happened.
Grade: 3/5

What's my guess, then? Like seemingly everyone else, I think this will be a showdown between Eric Saade and Tusse and it all comes down to who the international jury likes better.

The international jury was once put in place to give Sweden a hint what would work in the ESC but with time it has become a watering hole for various friends of the Swedish delegation. The more fans and heads of delegation we have in the international jury, the less relevant it is. Let's see how it is composed and how it votes this year. If they have a runaway winner, they will override the will of the Swedish votes.

My guess is Tusse will win since he has the buzz as well as everyone's attention. I wish he also had a stronger song but maybe that's just me. I predict Tusse, hope for Eric Saade and secretly hope for a big surprise (perhaps in the shape of Clara Klingenström).

During the final you'll find me on Twitter as usual. Please feel free to say hello.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Tobson's result: ESC 2020, the final

Today the sky is crying over Helsinki. If it is because we won't have any Eurovision this year and never find out whether Aksel would have made it to the final or not (or just because May has been more April than April ever was), is probably best left unsaid.

So far this week, I must admit that most shows put in place to celebrate the ESC and make up for the loss of this contest has mainly just created more of a void and underscored how hard it is to replace one of the most brilliant television concepts ever with something else.

But I will play my little game to the very end. Earlier this week I selected ten finalists from semi 1 and then another ten finalists from semi 2 and now I'll rank my final 26.

Note that this is no prediction or attempt to guess what the outcome would have been like. This is me, myself and I ranking the songs according to my own personal taste from last to first.

Hold on to your snacks and here we go.

26. FRANCE Tom Leeb / Mon alliée
People I know quote this as their favourite so I have listened and listened again. And I have no idea what they hear that passes me by. To me this is a terribly predictable and repetitive, with a totally unnecessary language change and a sleepwalker performance by somebody who didn't invest a single bit of emotion into this. And why would he? My obvious last place.
Grade: 1/5

25. ARMENIA Athena Manoukian / Chains On You
This one got into my final for the effort to bring something contemporary with attitude. I like it but it never fully takes off or develops into any sort of climax. Could possibly have turned into something bigger on stage but we will never know.
Grade: 2/5

24. UNITED KINGDOM James Newman / My Last Breath
The BBC turning to a large record label to come up with an entry mainly resulted in better production values than previous years. As a song, this is still too static and never really goes anywhere. When you heard the first chorus, you heard it all. James could probably impress if he only had better material to work with.
Grade: 2/5

23. GREECE Stefania / Supergirl
This isn't a bad entry as such but everything in it seemed so squarely aimed at a very young audience. Should this have been in Junior ESC instead? The clip is so trivial it hurts and while the song is better, it is still a bit too polite and unexciting to be any sort of contender. The so called dream team behind this song looks a bit tired, truth be told.
Grade: 2/5

22. SERBIA Hurricane / Hasta la vista
An upbeat piece of fun but also fan service de luxe. Serving exactly the sort of song people want to dance to at Euroclub and it always works to a certain extent. It comes on stage, does what it's supposed to and doesn't leave any major impression once it's over.
Grade: 2/5

21. PORTUGAL Elisa / Medo de sentir
A sweet and likeable ballad of a kind that Portugal usually pulls off well. I am just going to assume something went very wrong with the sound in the national final as the voices don't gel particularly well at all. Sounds a whole lot better in its studio version.
Grade: 3/5

20. LATVIA Samanta Tina / Still Breathing
Catchy in some strange way. Interesting production. The strangest breakdown since Marie N's "ay ay ay ay". It isn't bad but above all it just the amount of bonkers we need to keep the ESC interesting.
Grade: 3/5

19. AZERBAIJAN Efendi / Cleopatra
A really fun eurosong where they threw in everything and the kitchen sink. It's highly entertaining for as long as it goes on but I'm not terribly fond of songs designed to work at the ESC only.
Grade: 3/5

18. ALBANIA Arilena Ara / Fall From The Sky
I am honestly surprised to find Albania as low as this in my list. I really enjoy the melody line in the chorus but also liked the Albanian version a little bit more. The emotion suddenly feels a little bit less urgent in English somehow.
Grade: 3/5

17. CZECH REPUBLIC Benny Cristo / Kemama
A good attempt of bringing a new flavour and genre into the ESC and I must admit I never expected a rhythm like this to be provided by the Czech Republic. Pretty good but a slightly stronger chorus wouldn't hurt.
Grade: 3/5

16. AUSTRALIA Montaigne / Don't Break Me
Just like with Portugal I like this more than you'd think when you see the ranking but the staging is a real question mark for me. Maybe it is really artistic and deep but I only find it distracting. If you have a strong hook you should distract people away from it as little as possible.
Grade: 3/5

15. SPAIN Blas Cantó / Universo
Blas does a Montaigne in reverse and elevates his pretty basic song into something bigger than it is. A cheap trick perhaps but that falsetto by the last chorus gives me a decent amount of goosebumps. Spain's best effort in many years.
Grade: 3/5

14. MALTA Destiny / All Of My Love
One the first listening, I thought this was our winner. A strong voice with a strong presence and a song to match. Then on repeated listenings the magic evaporated a bit and the Maltese package started sounding less and less special. Not that it matters. With an organic performance, focused on Destiny and with no distracting special effects, I still think this would have been a contender.
Grade: 3/5

13. NETHERLANDS Jeangu Macrooy / Grow
An aptly named song as it is this year's grower. At first I thought this pleasant and forgettable until it started hitting a nerve. Could have been a surprise in Rotterdam and either way the best placed host entry since Frans.
Grade: 4/5

12. ISRAEL Eden Alene / Feker libi
After last years ballad snooze, Israel got their mojo working again. Eden and this song fit each other almost perfectly and even if she gets another chance to represent her country the next time we'll have an ESC it leaves me wondering how they can come up with an equally suitable entry for her? How many of the 2020 artists given a new chance will manage to better their game?
Grade: 4/5

11. BELARUS Val / Da vidna
Belarus seldom tickle my senses in the ESC, so of course the whole thing is cancelled the year I genuinely enjoy their entry. Understated and quirky pop by a band that is slightly too artsy for their own good (which only makes me like them more).
Grade: 4/5

 The song title is all wrong and I can't even begin to think of the mess they could have done with the staging here but I liked this track from the word go and have spent the whole season genuinely surprised to see how almost nobody else does. But by all means. You cling on to your Hooverphonics and Romanias and I will go through the summer with this in my headphones instead.
Grade: 4/5

9. UKRAINE Go_A / Solovey
It is hard to beat Ukraine anytime they really put their minds to it. This isn't their finest moment in any way and yet they sail straight into my top ten. Knowing my Ukraine, there is no doubt in my mind this would have been flawless and captivating in the final that we never had.
Grade: 4/5

8. NORWAY Ulrikke / Attention
Denmark, Finland and Sweden were all left out of my personal final but the two Nordic songs left both made it into the top ten. This is perhaps old-fashioned but also exquisite craft, performed by a singer adding edge and emotion. I hope Ulrikke one day will have licked her wounds and feel ready to go for it again. If not, I totally understand.
Grade: 4/5

7. ICELAND Daði & Gagnamagnið / Think About Things
Let me parade out of the closet and admit to being one of the five or so people alive on Earth today not thinking Iceland would have won this final. I'm really fond of the song as well as the image of the band, but in the end I think it would have been a tiny bit too much school theatre production to convince the world.
Grade: 4/5

6. RUSSIA Big One / Uno
Suddenly I had no idea what to think. What was this? Who are these people? Are they pulling someone's leg? And whose leg, if so? This is the first Russian entry I have fully surrendered to since the babushki back in Baku. I love how this feels geeky, smart, unpredictable and anything but the typical click monsters Russia have employed lately. I feel an extra dose of sadness that this moment never happened.
Grade: 4/5

5. SWITZERLAND Gjon's Tears / Répondez-moi
For me, this will remain one of the biggest question marks of the year: could this have been the first song in French to make it into the top three since Annie Cotton in 1993? It all depends in how good voice the Swiss boy wonder would have been in on the final night but at least to me it is clear he has an extraordinary talent, voice and personality. I really hope he will not disappear out of the public eye after this. I want to see and hear more.
Grade: 5/5

4. LITHUANIA The Roop / On Fire
Tonight is probably an extra bitter night for the likes of Bulgaria and Iceland and Malta and Lithuania, all of which could have had a theoretical chance of winning the ESC for the first time. At least the Lithuanian final reached a new high and The Roop were catapulted into local superstardom. With a little bit of luck, they will be able to build on that momentum in the future.
Grade: 5/5

3. ITALY Diodato / Fai rumore
This took a while to grow on me after Sanremo but then Italy did what Italy usually does and is one of my absolute favourites. I'm very fond of my entire top three and deciding which song gets which placing is really hard. Italy gets third place because I say so but could equally well be number one.
Grade: 5/5

2. GERMANY Ben Dolic / Violent Thing
"Good with nifty production" was my first thought. Then, as the ESC got cancelled, I realised this was the one I would miss the most. The one I really would have wanted to see and experience. The way it builds and builds and keeps adding elements throughout the entire song. What a hit this could have been.
Grade: 5/5

1. BULGARIA Victoria / Tears Getting Sober
Sometimes a song comes and hits you in exactly the right spot at the right moment. This year, it was Bulgaria for me. A very pretty song that makes me very emotional every time I hear it. And for the record, I am hundreds of years old and have never heard Billie Eilish. Unless the Symphonix team decides to throw in the towel now, I would not be surprised to see them win the next ESC. Whenever that will be.
Grade: 5/5

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tobson's result: ESC 2020, semi 2

Instead of predicting any sort of result - the more observant among you have noticed that the ESC has been cancelled and will not be happening on your screens this week or ever - I started my own little game this Tuesday.

Since we will never have an official result anyway, I will give you my own. What would the outcome have been had I been both jury and televote for the 2020 ESC?

This will all of course lead up to a final on Saturday, but here I give you the songs I would have left out of the second semi final. All ranked and explained and exposed.

18. AUSTRIA Vincent Bueno / Alive
Someone pointed out to me what a complex composition this is and maybe that is correct. However it fails to provoke any kind of emotion in me. Maybe it all comes down to poor Vincent who's working and working and never makes it past the screen.
Grade: 1/5

17. GEORGIA Tornike Kipiani / Take Me As I Am
It starts out very interestingly only to take a deep plunge into something anonymous and slightly pointless. Not unlike Georgia's ESC path so far. I wish they would get their act together soon. Sopho Khalvashi, where are you when Georgia needs you?
Grade: 1/5

16. MOLDOVA Natalia Gordienko / Prison
Carefully polished. It has probably taken a lot of time and money and effort to make this look as polished as it is. Which just goes out to prove the point that you can polish and polish as much as you like, if you don't have an interesting song to start with it will do you no good.
Grade: 1/5

15. POLAND Alicja / Empires
Objectively not a bad song, just a song that is hard to care about or invest any emotion into. Alicja is trying her best but this remains technically flawless but unimportant.
Grade: 1/5

14. DENMARK Ben & Tan / Yes
Happy and upbeat but keeps standing still in one place for three minutes without any sort of climax or development. It's a no from me.
Grade: 2/5

13. ESTONIA Uku Suviste / What Love Is
Very similarly to Moldova, this keeps repeating the same little phrase over and over throughout the song. A clever little trick in itself but it also makes the whole thing a bit too repetitive. It starts out nicely, then you grow tired of it before it is over.
Grade: 2/5

12. FINLAND Aksel / Looking Back
This one has grown on me since the Finnish final. A bit, at least. The studio version sounds good and Aksel sings the lyrics like he would mean them, but on stage the whole thing remains lacking any sort of dynamics. I get bored and start thinking about something else.
Grade: 2/5

11. SAN MARINO Senhit / Freaky
San Marino almost made it into my final and I have liked Senhit a lot ever since Düsseldorf. However, I liked her other song better and find this effective but pretty soulless. I hope she will get another shot at it next time around and that she manages to find the song to fit her like hand in glove then.
Grade: 2/5

All in all it was easier parting with these songs than with some of the ones I left behind in semi 1. Croatia and Sweden would definitely have had a shot in this company.

My ten finalists for Saturday's final are (in alphabetical order):
  • Albania
  • Armenia
  • Bulgaria
  • Czech Republic
  • Greece
  • Iceland
  • Latvia
  • Portugal
  • Serbia
  • Switzerland

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Tobson's result: ESC 2020, semi 1

As you may have guessed after reading my text the other day, I haven't really found myself in any mood to play games or do predictions or write reviews of this year's ESC 2020.

I have mainly thought there is no point in predicting a contest that will never take place anyway. What's the use guessing a result we will never have anyway?

I guess that is still my point of view but tonight, as we should have been watching the first semi final, I decided I wanted to play anyway. So I will blog my own results, if I had been the omnipotent judge that would have determined the full outcome.

This is not a guess, this is not taking into account any other's opinion than my own. These are the songs that would have found themselves out in the cold had I had full control of semi one.

17. CYPRUS Sandro / Running
This semi had a really good selection of songs and there isn't a single one I would really disapprove of, but this one does very little for me. I have heard it several times and there isn't a single phrase that has stuck in my head.
Grade: 2/5

16. ROMANIA Roxen / Alcohol You
This one really wants to be clever and modern and doesn't want to come across as too easy or too eager to please. That's fine and all, but it also sounds a bit lazy. Like it's not ready to make an effort to tickle you. There's nothing wrong with it, it just doesn't stay with me. You don't have to cohol me when you're drunk, I promise.
Grade: 2/5

15. BELGIUM Hooverphonic / Release Me
Not a bad effort at all but if Romania tries too little, this one tries a bit too hard to be the coolest piece of music in the running. It's pleasant and well sung but I never feel the need to play it again or have another look. Sounds more like a competent filler on a strong album rather than a single.
Grade: 2/5

14. IRELAND Lesley Roy / Story Of My Life
A likeable singer with a catchy song that eats its way through your ear right into your brain with its schoolyard chanting hook. It just feels too much Disney Channel circa 2006 to really hit home with me. Good but not good enough, like so many recent Irish entries.
Grade: 2/5

13. SLOVENIA Ana Soklič / Voda
Big ballad with big drama and a big voice. I'm pretty fond of all the components in this machinery but can't shake the feeling this is a little bit too dated and old-fashioned for its own good.
Grade: 2/5

12. CROATIA Damir Kedžo / Divlji vjetre
I love myself a powerful male vocalist with a small army of backing singers behind him, like it used to be back in the good old days. This is an elegant composition but has a few twists and turns too many and needs just a few too many listenings to be that top contender.
Grade: 3/5

11. SWEDEN The Mamas / Move
This is where Sweden's ride ends in my ranking. The Mamas are really professional and warm and likeable but this entry is more a mood and a clever arrangement than a functioning song. I'd pick The Rounder Girls over this any day of the week.
Grade: 3/5

So my ten finalists for Saturday's final are (in alphabetical order):

  • Australia 
  • Azerbaijan 
  • Belarus
  • Israel
  • Lithuania
  • Malta
  • North Macedonia
  • Norway
  • Russia
  • Ukraine

Saturday, May 9, 2020

ESC 2020: the year that never was

The 65th Eurovision Song Contest should have been upon us now. Tuesday and Thursday should have seen thirty-five countries fight it out for twenty spots in the big final. Fifteen of them would have left Rotterdam disappointed. Instead, this year, we are all disappointed.

Because of covid-19, the EBU decided to cancel the ESC altogether. 41 songs were thrown in the bin. 2020 is forever the year that never happened.

The corona virus is of course no small circumstance. It is the biggest immediate global crisis since the world wars. There was no way of knowing in March what the situation would be like now in May.

There were many of us hoping the ESC would still be held in some form. Postponing it never seemed likely, but how about making it a scaled-down studio production?

My suggestion would have been to let every participating country produce their own visual presentation of their entry and let that be presented in a tv studio with no audience. Then keep the format and let the viewers at home select the finalists and then the winner.

If that would have felt very basic and primitive compared to the big galas of later years, we could have put this year within brackets. The crisis year. Declare that the winner doesn't get to host next year's contest and that The Netherlands would have their chance to host as soon as it was possible again.

We would have had something extraordinary and familiar to look forward in these strange and stressful times. Instead the EBU decided to cancel their own flagship, the televisual Christmas, the longest-running format in tv entertainment and leave us with nothing.

We know that not everyone agreed with this decision. Christer Björkman was critical afterwards. According to ORF, German tv quickly presented a formula for a downscaled ESC that the EBU discarded.

The EBU statement boiled down to their belief that the ESC would not be the ESC unless every country was allowed to perform on the same stage. Which is funny given that in 2017, in order to keep Russia in the running, that seemed not to be important at all and Russia was offered the possibility to participate via link. Everyone has the right to change their minds, I suppose.

Another interpretation is that the EBU wants to keep the ESC as the enormous apparatus it is now. A huge arena, large ticket sales, elaborate stage sets, millions and millions spent on various arrangements. Maybe they don't want anyone to see that it is the format in itself that is brilliant? That you could scale back quite a lot and the show would still work? That's not a kind interpretation but fairly possible.

However, I don't share the EBU standpoint. The most important thing about the ESC is not that everyone stands on the same expensive high-tech stage set. Other things are more important to me. Continuity, for instance. Keeping Europe together when we need it the most. Giving people some hope and distraction and entertainment in the face of a crisis.

Austrian tv and Swedish tv organised their own shows to let the viewers pick their favourites. The EBU will broadcast their special show devoted to the contest on the night the final should have been held. I appreciate the effort but it doesn't really change anything.

This year's entries are lost forever. We will never have a result. No climax. No release. Without the big final these songs will soon fade into obscurity and never fully be part of the ESC canon. I feel a great deal of disappointment and, I guess, sadness about that.

What I feel even greater sadness about is that the ESC is no longer running without interruption. There will now forever be a "before" and an "after". Before the show was cancelled, it felt like something like that could never happen. Now that it has been cancelled once, it can be done again. A low-budget down-scaled ESC would have been so much better than no ESC.

It was also a mistake to pin so many expectations onto 2021. How the contest will be back then, stronger than ever. We knew already in March, already before the ESC was cancelled, that it is highly unsure whether any events with a large audience can be held even by May 2021. We already know it can't be held in The Netherlands before there is a vaccine.

So what will the EBU do for 2021? If a studio version wasn't good enough in 2020 and an arena event is out of the question for 2021?

I mourn my old favourite song contest and hope that this hiatus will be just that. That the ESC will still feel relevant and possible when this situation is over.

If you miss the ESC as much as I do, you can always take a bite of my other blog where I go through all the entries performed on a eurovision stage from 1956 to 2019. As for 2020, we just have to leave it here. As the ESC that never happened.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

ESC 2019: Hup Holland Hup

They did it. After what felt like 200 years of waiting, the Netherlands finally broke through and got a fifth victory at the Eurovision Song Contest. After an outright terrible run of entries, somebody at Dutch television decided to shape up in 2013 and it finally paid off.

"Arcade" is a lovely, contemporary song. I saw it as a potential winner all through the season but never thought it would actually win in the end. It seemed a bit too moody, a bit too demanding. And the disappointment would have been too great if I predicted them and they failed.

The winner could translate into the well-needed commercial success I've been missing for the last few years and possibly Duncan himself could have a shot at a lasting career.

Now it is anybody's guess where the final will be held next year. Amsterdam? The Hague? Rotterdam? Somewhere else? Is there a suitable arena in Hilversum as a nod to Eurovision history?

My personal winner of last night was Italy. Initial reports from Tel Aviv suggested Mahmood didn't go through the cameras but when it mattered he performed the life out of his song. I found myself watching this on repeat several times today. The emotion of the last chorus is breathtaking. What a star he is!

As a political side note (since this contest tends to get a bit political now and then) I really hope Salvini was watching last night as he insinuated after Sanremo that Mahmood was not Italian enough to win.

I am also overjoyed that the juries finally saw reason and voted for Italy. Maybe next year we could finally have that Italian victory that is so long overdue.

The big surprise was - of course - North Macedonia. Just like Mahmood, Queen Tamara knew how to squeeze every little drop out of her performance and the juries poured their love over her.

Unlike some others, she also had the wit and composure to hold her poker face and give her widest smile even as the lack of televote support transpired. Anyhow she travels back with what is by far the country's best showing to date.

John Lundvik was not as lucky as the camera truly well registered his disappointment as the televote mark was read out. A sixth place is not a failure for anyone else but maybe it is for Sweden. Their songs go down a storm with the juries while the voters at home are left cold.

Has Europe finally overdosed on the Swedish perfection and craftsmanship? It sure feels like the blue and yellow domination is broken in many ways. Even if Swedish backing singers, dancers and choreographers are still heavily in demand most of the songs in the top placings were local products rather than something leased from Sweden.

The biggest challenge for Melodifestivalen in the near future is maybe just that. How to find new ideas and expressions that feel fresh and organic instead of immaculately produced and fine-tuned? Sweden would never find anything like Mahmood or Hatari with their current formula.

Hatari gave a surprisingly unfocused performance but still stood out enough to give Iceland its first top ten showing since 2009. Then they pulled their Palestine banners out and may have landed RÚV in trouble for next year.

If the EBU wants anyone to take the rules banning political messages and statements seriously, they must put their foot down. Who knows what kind of manifestation other participants will want to go through with in the future. Iceland got a firm warning before the broadcast and could therefore get fined or - possibly - disqualified for next year.

The Belarusian jury got themselves disqualified after the semi final as they shared their scores in public. Stupid and unprofessional and instead of jury points, the Belarus score was calculated according to some EBU formula.

I would very much like to know what that formula looks like as the set of points the Minsk spokesperson got to read out were outright bizarre. Full marks to Israel? High marks to Germany and Estonia? Where did these points come from?

The new way of reading out the televote scores was also a big success and kept the excitement at a maximum until the very end of the voting sequence. A real thriller and exciting like it sometimes was back in the good old days of unpredictable national juries.

What doesn't work at all is the ridiculously long voting window. No shade over any of the interval acts - maybe there was a sick note or two, but Madonna is still Madonna - but it took over an hour from the last song until we got any points. In Finland it was over one in the morning when the first jury was called up. A few years ago, the show was supposed to end around that time. I wonder how many viewers gave up and went to bed before the interval acts came to an end?

Israeli tv got better and better throughout the week. From the first rather shaky semifinal into Saturday's fun and slick final. All in all, very well done and a tough act for the Netherlands to follow.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

ESC 2019: Tobson's Final Say

I both love and hate this moment. When the time has come to try and predict who will actually win. Had you asked me in late March, I would have been rock steady in my prediction but since then all songs started living their own lives and now I have no idea.

I sincerely have no idea. Depending on what mood Europe is in, I'd say something around ten different countries could realistically win.

Here are tonight's entries and what I expect from them as the votes start coming in.

01. MALTA Michela / Chameleon
Out of the three songs wishing to be Fuego, Malta is the one that lost most of its momentum after the semis. It will be a great party starter but a slightly awkward performance doesn't do it any favours. Bottom half.
My grade: 2/5

02. ALBANIA Jonida Maliqi / Ktheju tokës
My biggest surprise qualifier from the second semi is a worthy finalist but that's the end of the fun. The slightly stiff live performance and the overly long wait for the pretty chorus will keep this one way down the scoreboard.
My grade: 2/5

03. CZECH REPUBLIC Lake Malawi / Friend Of A Friend
Just like in the first semi final, these happy guys will feel relaxed and upbeat and the audience will love and remember them enough to give them a chance of reaching top ten.
My grade: 4/5

04. GERMANY S!sters / Sister
Among all the potential winners in this lineup it feels good to be able to discard at least somebody. Germany seems all set to conquer their third last place in five contests and any result better than that should be hailed like victory.
My grade: 0/5

05. RUSSIA Sergey Lazarev / Scream
I feared the worst but Russia did the unexpected and delivered a slick and tasteful stage show and Sergey shines like the star he is even if the song is a bit on the weak side. A potential winner but not the most likely of the candidates on offer.
My grade: 3/5

06. DENMARK Leonora / Love Is Forever
Cute and likeable but coming after Russia reduces Denmark than little more than an extra interval act when people top up their drinks and snacks.
My grade: 2/5

07. SAN MARINO Serhat / Say Na Na Na
Sometimes you need more than three minutes to get all you need from the kitchen. Take your time, you won't miss much here. But at least San Marino will go back home with their best ever placing.
My grade: 1/5

08. NORTH MACEDONIA Tamara / Proud
Tamara did what I had stopped hoping for: North Macedonia keeping their performance focused and clean and powerful. A well deserved qualification and - possibly - the chance of grabbing a 10th place or so.
My grade: 3/5

09. SWEDEN John Lundvik / Too Late For Love
A deceptively lean visual appearance in the semi could easily fool you but this is arguably the best pop song in the running with a few really effective hooks. If John and The Mamas have an extra gear to put in now, this could carry all the way to a seventh victory.
My grade: 5/5

10. SLOVENIA Zala & Gašper / Sebi
This could fall either way in the final: either this loveliest of pop whispers is instantly forgotten or stands out like an oasis of calm and taste.
My grade: 4/5

11. CYPRUS Tamta / Replay
Like Malta, Cyprus has gone from hot favourite to something of a microwave dish. A possible radio hit in the making but nowhere near the top ten tonight.
My grade: 3/5

12. THE NETHERLANDS Duncan Laurence / Arcade
Intense and sensitive and clearly a potential winner. That would be awesome but I still wonder if that piano is coming between Duncan and the audience in the end.
My grade: 4/5

13. GREECE Katerine Duska / Better Love
One of my biggest personal favourites is floating around in space slightly below all the expected favourites. Divisive but hopefully a surprise in the making.
My grade: 4/5

14. ISRAEL Kobi Marimi / Home
Another divisive voice and presence but less of an instant hit. Israel should not run the risk of repeating a last place for the host country but we are talking right hand side of the board here.
My grade: 2/5

15. NORWAY Keiino / Spirit In The Sky
This happiest of trios storm in at the right time with their higher tempo. Had their their visual appearance been as colourful as the song in itself they could have been in with a chance.
My grade: 2/5

16. UNITED KINGDOM Michael Rice / Bigger Than Us
The song John Lundvik almost went to Melodifestivalen with. Going for "Too Late For Love" was the best career decision ever. Yet another UK flop coming up.
My grade: 1/5

17. ICELAND Hatari / Hatrið mun sigra
It could be that the EBU executives will not breathe for three minutes at this point in the show. If all favourites divide the big points evenly between them, something way less mainstream could sneak up into first place. There could be a sensation waiting around the corner here.
My grade: 4/5

18. ESTONIA Victor Crone / Storm 
The biggest disappointment on Tuesday was this non-song making the cut, meaning it will take up a space for someone who would have deserved it more.
My grade: 0/5

19. BELARUS Zena / Like It
Safe and harmless teeny pop performed by a really likeable young soloist. Should be a bit too formulaic to grab on to the really high points but still remarkably competent for being Belarus.
My grade: 3/5

20. AZERBAIJAN Chingiz / Truth
You can easily tell Azerbaijan is going for gold for the first time since 2013 and this loaded package could get very close to that first place. The only drawback is that the singer and the presentation are more interesting than the actual song.
My grade: 4/5

21. FRANCE Bilal Hassani / Roi
Mixed emotions à go go in the French entry. Bilal is a lovely little presence and his message is terrific. His stage show has made France shoot up the betting lists but the question remains: can a song as weak and generic as this actually win?
My grade: 1/5

22. ITALY Mahmood / Soldi
This is such a fun contest. First we don't see any Arab guys on the LGBT-spectre and suddenly we get in a row. Mahmood is clearly the better of the two, equipped with a fantastic pop composition with bite and attitude. Should be in the top three.
My grade: 5/5

23. SERBIA Nevena / Krona
By now you are surely out of drinks and snacks again. Run to the kitchen now, Nevena has a strong voice and you will hear her all the way. She is good, the song is fairly standard.
My grade: 1/5

24. SWITZERLAND Luca Hänni / She Got Me
Switzerland has been nowhere near a victory for over twenty-five year. Is it time for thunder to strike? It is not impossible but this could also turn out to be just one pop act too many in this lineup.
My grade: 3/5

25. AUSTRALIA Kate Miller-Heidke / Zero Gravity
I have to admit this is a visually stunning number. Had it been matched by a better song, this could be our winner.
My grade: 1/5

26. SPAIN Miki / La venda
The perfect upbeat ending to the running order with the best Spanish entry in many years. If Miki remembers not to jump up and down so much and focus a bit on his singing, this could even be a contender for the lower regions of the top ten.
My grade: 3/5

So how will this end? I still have no idea and I have grown more and more clueless throughout the week. So what do you do when you have no idea? You go back to the last time you thought you knew anything. This is my guess for how the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest will end.

01. Sweden, 02. The Netherlands, 03. Italy, 04. Switzerland, 05. Russia, 06. France, 07. Azerbaijan, 08. Iceland, 09. Australia, 10. Greece, 11. North Macedonia, 12. Spain, 13. Norway, 14. Cypern, 15. Czech republic, 16. Malta, 17. Slovenia, 18. Denmark, 19. Serbia, 20. Belarus, 21. Israel, 22. Albania, 23. San Marino, 24. United Kingdom, 25. Estonia, 26. Germany.

Bring on the voting and then we'll see how this works out. If you want to talk to me and nurse me through it, feel free to do so on Twitter:

See you on the other side!