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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Sunday, May 14, 2023

Time to do something about the juries

Last night I tweeted how disappointing it was to see the juries do Finland dirty. Some people interpreted that as me being a bad loser (the eurovision online fans were always easy to rub the wrong way) but this goes back to something I have been saying for many years: the jury system needs to be reformed.

I repeat myself - just to be very clear - that this is not a case about Loreen. She was a well deserved winner if you ask me, even if the viewers at home largely disagreed.

To be perfectly clear: I don't want the juries gone. I am a big fan of juries and I support the idea that juries should reward things the televoting crowds could overlook on a first listen. But that's not what the juries are doing.

In recent years, time and time again the juries have punished edgy and creative entries and instead rewarded safer efforts instead. This problem is however far from new.

Ever since the current points system was introduced in 1975, the way the juries vote has one big flaw. When a group of people decide their points together, the winner will be a compromise. Instead of rewarding the most relevant och interesting songs, a jury is going to reward the songs that most people can agree upon and like at least a bit.

Everything that displeases one or several jurors - maybe for being too contemporary, for being too experimental, for being too commercial or even for not being "a suitable ESC entry" - will get punished in a jury system like this.

We have also seen many times how being part of a jury really can put people on the highest of horses: suddenly they refuse anything fun or lightweight or hit friendly in favour of more serious and "sophisticated" things. That's when a worldwide hit single like Gina G's "Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit" ends up with a disappointing 8th place.

The current formula of jurors ranking all the songs from first to last is not helping things. A full ranking of all the songs will inevitably become a bit arbitrary in the middle. Most people can easily identify their top favourites and the songs clearly placed at the bottom of their list. But the entries in between?

Say that a juror doesn't care for a specific song, it can still make a world of difference if they randomly place it 9th or if they randomly place it 21st.

I would like to see two major changes made to the jury system:

1. How the jurors are selected. 
These people impact the result in a big way, why are they the right people to do it? The jurors should be real professionals that don't just know music - they should also be able to read the room, pick up on what feels exciting and vibrant and also judge entries on the correct merits. (Not all entries should be judged on pitch perfect vocals, for instance, unless perfect vocals are the selling point of the entry.) I want to see less "friends of the delegations" and more people from outside the ESC bubble do the job.

2. How the jurors vote. 
I would like to remove - as far as possible - the chance for individual jurors to vote down anything they don't like. I want the jurors to vote FOR songs they like, not AGAINST things they don't get. I even have an idea how that could be possible but let's save that for another day. 

I also want full transparency of how individual jurors voted, I find that essential in order to maintain the good name of the contest.

I think the current split 50/50 between jury and televote makes for great television, so I wouldn't want to change that. I just think we have the right to expect more bravery from the jurors. If not, what is the point in having them?

Last night, the entry that won the televote in eighteen countries got nul points from no less than fourteen juries. That really isn't a feather in the hat for the current system. It needs a change and it needs it now.

Screenshot from Wikipedia

ESC 2023: a few quick thoughts about the result

The final is over and the big favourite Loreen won. It's a sensational victory in many ways: Loreen is only the second main performer ever to win twice and Sweden now equals Ireland's record of seven victories.

Make no mistake: Loreen is a very deserved winner. Winning once is very hard, winning twice is as good as impossible. To be The Thing twice is really out of this world.

We know for sure that SVT will give us a terrific final next year. We know they can do it. They have done it many times before.

Finland ended in an equally sensational second place. To think that a weird and experimental song in Finnish - performed by a rapper, not a singer - could get so close to winning the ESC is really wild and extraordinary.

However, it is hard not to feel just a bit disappointed. Not because Finland didn't win but because of the way Finland didn't win. The juries really did Käärijä dirty. Fourteen juries giving nul points to "Cha Cha Cha" really feels like a slap on the face.

Some day soon - maybe already tomorrow - I will write a post on why the current jury system is long past its expiry date and needs a complete overhaul.

As for the last place - I know I predicted Poland but also wrote a comment on Facebook how it would make more sense to predict the UK or Germany. Oh dear.

Anyway, congratulations to Queen Loreen. And in almost every way Finland won too. So congratulations to us all!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

ESC 2023: Tobson takes a final guess

Usually it is so hard to write this final prediction for the final but this year it feels really easy.

You see, I have dual citizenship so I am going to win tonight. Finland vs Sweden. I honestly can't see any other ending to this year than a battle between those two.

In one corner we have Sweden, making a bold move by entering not only a former winner but an ESC monument in the shape of Loreen. An artist who shaped the idea of what an ESC entry could be like for years after her victory.

"Tattoo" is nowhere near as groundbreaking as "Euphoria" was but is still a devastatingly well written pop gem with an excellent hook and a terrific soundscape. Loreen would be a well deserved double winner.

My only problem with Sweden winning is that Melodifestivalen isn't really in brilliant shape at the moment. "Tattoo" was very much alone in the line-up, surrounded by pretty basic songs written by a small pool of people seemingly determined to write many songs instead of shaping a few songs into perfection.

In the other corner, there is Finland. The incredible story of a complete underdog that miraculously found a liberal dose of self-confidence and turned its depressing national final into a bubbly hit factory full of great ideas and new talent.

But can we be so sure it will only be about those two? Isn't there anyone else who could emerge a surprise winner? France could. Italy could. 

If the old world order breaks down, even Spain could possibly win and take revenge for all locally flavoured songs that were ignored through the years. 

But seriously. No. It's Finland or Sweden. Maybe there could be a surprise jury winner - think North Macedonia 2019 - but in the end Finland or Sweden will battle it out.

Who will it be, then? I do think Loreen has the upper hand and is the more likely winner. But I would never forgive myself if Finland won and I hadn't predicted it. So my final bet is Finland.

My attempt att predicting the top 26 looks like this: 01. Finland, 02. Sweden, 03. Italy, 04. France, 05. Belgium, 06. Slovenia, 07. Ukraine, 08. Australia, 09. Lithuania, 10. Spain, 11. Norway, 12. Portugal, 13. Czechia, 14. Austria, 15. Israel, 16. Estonia, 17. Armenia, 18. Moldova, 19. Serbia, 20. United Kingdom, 21. Croatia, 22. Albania, 23. Cyprus, 24. Germany, 25. Switzerland, 26. Poland.

This is such a shot a dark, most of this prediction is happy guessing. Most it apart from the top two. (Note how my prediction would also give Flanders and Slovenia their best results ever.)

Have a fun night and see you on the other side. Or on Twitter, feel free to join the fun also there.

Friday, May 12, 2023

ESC 2023: what the final looks like from here

As every year, the ESC week is really intense. Suddenly we find ourselves with 26 finalists and a correct running order and even though we lived with these songs all season it suddenly feels like everything is suddenly thrown in the air and exciting and new.

At least to a limit. All season we had two songs that are clearly the universal favourites to win and that has not changed during the week.

This is my quick guide to the final with modified grades after seeing all songs in action on stage.

In theory a logical opener but this fan favourite had a difficult transition onto stage where it became surprisingly static. Also a victim of a bad trend in recent year where directors pack as many camera cuts as possible into their three minutes but forget to establish any sort of contact between the performers and their audience.
Grade: 3/5

In a largely functioning running order, this stands out as a huge question mark. Portugal is warm and vibrant and could easily have inserted some temper into the show, so why dump it in the number two spot? Between two other songs that are also very red? Mimicat seemed a little bit tired in the semi final but still showed a professionalism that reminded me of Monika Liu. I still think this could do reasonably well in the end.
Grade: 4/5

A weak song remarkably elevated by a talented singer and a clever staging. It worked so far but now the competition is way more difficult and this first ballad of the night will struggle.
Grade: 1/5

Little more than a dumb beach ditty but that is not necessarily something to be sniffed at. Doesn't take itself as seriously as some others in this lineup but should not expect any jury love.
Grade: 2/5

For the second consecutive year, Serbia is the arthouse of the final. Experimental and interesting but also dark and messy. Would need an extra gear to improve on stage.
Grade: 2/5

Sophisticated and well performed, with more than a touch of class. Could easily turn stiff but could also become the song the jury suddenly throws it highest marks at. 
Grade: 3/5

Same as Switzerland: interesting singer meets flat and uninspired song that is also a tiny bit too demanding for said performer to fully pull off. Then the best arms in the line-up won't help.
Grade: 1/5

The big divide of the year. Is this fantastic or horrific, a hit or a miss? Or a bit of both? I really like what they attempt to do, Blanca Paloma is great and the staging is impressive but the song never goes anywhere. Instead it tries to compensate with intensity and volume and in the end listening to it feels like standing under a waterfall. Will get high points from some juries but I doubt very much this will be a big favourite with the average televoter, especially given what comes right after.
Grade: 2/5

Loreen still knows how to put on a remarkable show. Even if "Tattoo" is nowhere near as groundbreaking as "Euphoria" was, it is still a quality song through and through. The most likely jury winner.
Grade: 5/5

The biggest surprise among the semi final qualifiers in my book. Well sung, well staged and with an abundance of pathos. Will end up where Albanian entries tend to end up in the final.
Grade: 2/5

The best singer in the lineup, performing a devastatingly captivating and well-crafted song with a rare presence and emotion. Must have a chance of being in the top five but inexplicably juries tend to be surprisingly cold towards Italian quality.
Grade: 5/5

One of the strongest female vocalists of the year comes right after Marco Mengoni and it is puzzling how they put these two songs neck to neck, almost like the producer wanted them to steal points off each other. 
Grade: 3/5

The best staging of the year, genius from beginning to end. Käärijä delivers (even when he gets a bit out of breath by the end) and so do his brilliant dancers. Catchy and bonkers in equal measure. The most likely televote winner.
Grade: 5/5

Time to take a little moment to breathe after Finland. Czechia does a good job - even if the identical outfits and general church vibe can get a bit much - but doesn't feel at all like a contender anymore. Also visibly relies heavily on pre-recorded vocals in a way that could annoy jury members and viewers alike.
Grade: 3/5

80's rock with everything on it. It is a bit much but also totally shameless in a pretty liberating way. An extra gold star for the remarkable guitar solo played by Simone Dow.
Grade: 3/5

A real happy pill and one of the most urgent messages of the year as lgbtiq-people again find themselves under attack, not least in this year's host country, the UK. Excellent vocals and a fitting tribute to club culture. A dark horse and possible surprise in the making.
Grade: 3/5

A very pretty song but unfortunately another stage show where more attention have been paid to special effects and special lighting than to create any sort of camera contact. That could cost Brunette a top ten placing in the end, but at least she has the most graceful dance break of the evening.
Grade: 3/5

Folksy and fun. Pasha is still a terrific presence and this will have its fans, but the whole thing does get a bit too repetitive by the end. Could have needed some sort of breakdown at some point.
Grade: 2/5

Many high expectations are placed on this entry - of course since you can almost never count Ukraine out - but is it just me or does it never fully take off? Will get a solid placing in the end but nowhere near a top three finish.
Grade: 3/5

This hot favourite suddenly feels surprisingly cold. It has not turned bad since Tuesday but suddenly there is no buzz around Alessandra anymore. I still think this one is headed for a generous score from the viewers in the end.
Grade: 3/5

For a long time, I thought Germany got it right and would have a shot at the top ten at least. But something about this song never clicks into place. Impeccably produced but the chorus falls flat. 
Grade: 2/5

With so many pre-recorded backing vocals it is a relief to finally see some backing vocalists in action on stage (even if also their singing has been enhanced on the tape) and Monika really elevates this several levels live on stage. Could be a surprise top ten finish if she's lucky.
Grade: 3/5

Wants to be bubbly and youthful but ends up cold and calculating. Not even that hyped-up dance break is particularly impressive. Will have fans and receive some solid scores from here and there, but not a fave in this household.
Grade: 2/5

The last really warm-rather-than-slick entry in this lineup. Catchy and extremely easy to like. Slovenia has every chance in the world of getting their best placing ever this year.
Grade: 3/5

I honestly have no idea what to expect. Terribly out of sync on Tuesday and could well be on zero points after the jury vote. What will the viewers make of this?
Grade: 2/5

A really fun album track that - similarly to Austria that opened the line-up - had problems translating itself onto stage. Mae Muller is a bit too insecure on stage. Juries can forgive an uneasy appearance or wobbly vocals but rarely they forgive both. But there will also be a thunderous reception to this in the arena.
Grade: 3/5

I save my final prediction for a bit later but I can promise you it will be worth the effort to sit through this final. With a bit of luck it will also end up a big thriller before we can crown out winner.

ESC 2024: Hello there, Lëtzebuerg

Today we were greeted by the news I never thought would drop but now it is official. Luxembourg is making a big comeback to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2024.

This is clearly the ESC equivalent of Abba revealing they would release a new album after 40 years.

Five-time winners Luxembourg made their last appearance to date in Millstreet 1993 and have not been seen or heard since. For many years, they were a consistently interesting participant that heavily employed talent from other countries but before their departure they had a string of lackluster placings, usually with local performers instead.

1993 was a very different world so what kind of Luxembourg can we look forward to next year? I see three possible scenarios.

1. Local Luxembourg
This would mean acting like a showcase for singers and songwriters from the Grand Duchy itself. Not a huge talent pool to choose from but in today's media climate, Luxembourgish acts would be better prepared for the international heat then they were back in the early 90's. With a good home studio, your songs can sound as good and impressive regardless where in the world you are from.

2. Luxembourg and Surroundings
Being a small country, Luxembourg automatically gets a lot of influence from their neighbour countries. They could establish themselves as a platform also for artists from Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and France that would like to be seen on the ESC stage but for some reason do not want to enter (or do not fit into) their own country's selection process. This wouldn't rule out the occasional home-grown entry whenever something strong enough would be on offer.

3. RTL Group Luxembourg
RTL Group - with its head quarters in Luxembourg - is one of Europe's largest and most successful broadcasters and in their own words "a leading entertainment company". Why not let all the international branches of RTL look for potential talent in their territories to find a joint candidate to be promoted across their enormous platform? Also this modus would in no way rule out the odd Luxembourgois act going to the ESC now and then.

Regardless of the path they will chose, I hope Luxembourg will be in it to win it with a determination to launch great hit songs like they used to do back in the day.

I also hope Monaco's new public service broadcaster TV Monaco will be up and running according to schedule as they have a budget allocated for re-joining the ESC as well. The thought of possibly having Luxembourg and Monaco back the same year is making my tired old heart sing.

ESC 2023, semi 2: what about the songs that left us?

All the envelopes have been opened and the line-up for the 2023 Eurovision final is complete. We'll get back to the finalists, but let's spend a moment contemplating the songs that were voted off the island tonight.

I did a terrible job predicting the finalists - I only got seven correct out of ten - but maybe it's not all my fault. It was an even field and the outcome was destined to be a bit arbitrary. Plus Europe made some odd choices. It's not me, it's you.

Anyway, the entries gone with the wind are:

ROMANIA. I have no idea what they thought they were doing but they sure worked hard to achieve it. The visuals were better than in the national final but nothing else was. Mystifying. Maybe Romania should give internal selection a go next year?

SAN MARINO is a little gem of sorts, a clunky schlager rocker with a shouty finish. Doomed from the word go but also entertaining in a way you wouldn't want to miss out on. I hope they don't give up on their national final for next year, all they need are better jurors.

Many spent the whole season thinking GEORGIA had it in the bag but when it mattered all the wild drama turned static and not particularly engaging. Only a minor surprise to see it drop out in the end.

ICELAND had showed great energy and a fresh approach to performing but the song never spoke to me. Few things jive less than a performer super excited about a song that is meh at best.

DENMARK went for an unusually contemporary sound for being them, a shame that didn't pay off. But while Reiley is an adorable personality he doesn't have the voice or the stage presence needed to carry a song by himself.

Finally my heart is bleeding a bit for Victor Vernicos from GREECE, who is really gifted but had the misfortune of getting chosen too soon. Had he been given two or three more years to grow and develop he could have been a Greek Paradise Oskar. I hope somebody gives him a hug and reminds him what a talent he is and that there's still a future in music for him. There must be.

I wasn't really surprised by Cyprus qualifying but Albania made my face grow long. Not to mention Poland. But more about them in time for the final where we could be heading for an epic battle of Sweden vs Finland. 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

ESC 2023, semi 2: Tobson takes a guess

Let's be frank and not beat around the bush: Tuesday's semi was an awful lot stronger than the one we are offered today. Indisputable fact.

Isn't it a shame that the two semi finals turn out so uneven in quality? It really is. 

Is there something that could be done about that? That's a hard no.

The producers already have so much power in sequencing the running order. If they were also to divide the contestants into semi finals - based on such fluid criteria as what is a good song or not - then we would find ourselves on thin ice. Leave at least a few things to chance also in the future.

It's not like you won't be entertained tonight. There will be good songs and stuff to enjoy, but there is no potential Saturday night winner in sight. 

The biggest problem trying to predict these songs are that they are in many cases very similar in quality and therefore interchangeable. What people at home will vote for in the end is anybody's guess. What you are reading right now is my guess and it reads as follows:

I'd say AUSTRIA, AUSTRALIA and SLOVENIA are certain qualifiers. I think I dare count BELGIUM into this group since it is very distinct in regards to both sound and vision. 

Then there are the girls with ballads. LITHUANIA should sail through easily. It is maybe a bit square in its studio recording but lives and breathes on stage. Having a backing group obviously singing live is also an advantage in this year of extensively used pre-recorded backing vocals. ESTONIA should go through on vocal talent and intensity but you can never be totally sure.

ARMENIA and GEORGIA both have a somewhat artsy approach. Quality entries but are they accessible enough on a first listen? ALBANIA is basically Family Feud interpreted through song but will there be too much pathos at once?

DENMARK has a radio friendly song that sounds great in your headphones but will they manage to keep it interesting for three minutes on stage? CYPRUS raises similar questions as he is more interesting than the song he's been set up with. GREECE has a talented teenager whose future should be bright but who was possibly sent into the international limelight a bit too soon. I hope fate is kind to Victor Vernicos tonight.

ICELAND has great energy but unfortunately has a pretty weak composition. So does POLAND but this kind of dumb summer staple has an annoying habit of hitting home sometimes.

SAN MARINO and ROMANIA both give us some sort of rock vibe, but to no avail. Both songs feel unfinished (for want of a better word) and should pass the voters by.

Based on this, my guess is that the following ten songs will qualify tonight: Denmark, Armenia, Estonia, Belgium, Greece, Slovenia, Georgia, Austria, Lithuania and Australia. 

Out: Romania, Cyprus, Iceland, Poland, San Marino and Albania.

On Tuesday, I predicted eight out of ten qualifiers which is in no way extraordinary. I could get even less tonight: suddenly Cyprus hits a nerve (never underestimate eyes as pretty as his), Albania breaks through (never mess with an emotional Albanian family) or Poland finds the right key (unlikely but still) and then I stand there corrected.

As always I will hang out on Twitter, feel free to call me out on my prediction shortcomings over there.