A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

ESC 2021: I say it because I care


In a statement to Aftonbladet's Torbjörn Ek, the EBU has responded to the questions raised around Moldova's odd-looking results from the televoting in the second semi final. 

The EBU maintains all votes have been verified by their partners and that the result is valid and that there will be no further investigation of the matter. So that's that.

We don't really know what this means, of course. Maybe it is EBU speak that means they have no intention to discuss the matter further in public. Maybe they will still bring this onto the agenda for future editions.

Of course it is a bit embarrassing that the EBU partners don't discover what looks like a clear case of vote manipulation. They didn't notice anything wrong in 2013 either, until several newspapers published stories on attempted manipulation.

The EBU is the body that organises this contest. They write the rules and decide upon the interpretation of those very rules. It is their right not to investigate if they feel there is no reason to.

However, I am not sure that Estonian viewers for instance will feel particularly inclined to vote in the future if their votes don't matter and are open to be tampered with.

It is also possible that Denmark lost their place in the final if the Moldovan delegation manipulated the votes. I don't think it will be easier convincing singers and songwriters to go into competition if there is even the slightest suspicion you can get booted out in favour of someone paying their way in.

I remember the 90's, when a small group of countries kept swapping points between them, year after year. Nothing was ever investigated or proven back then either but a very quick look on the voting patterns is enough to smell a rat.

I love this old song contest but one of its major foundations - just as important as the entries if not more - is trust. Why should viewers and producers and songwriters and broadcasters invest time and money and effort in a contest where bending the rules is fine?

I think not addressing this situation is the wrong way to go. I don't say it to annoy anyone but because I care. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

ESC 2021: Time to put the foot down

Italy finally got to win Eurovision while France and Switzerland got their finest placings in many a good day. Then happened several things that would obscure the vision and distract the press and everyone else.

There was the absurd allegation that the winning band would have been doing drugs doing the voting. The very idea that someone would engage in a criminal activity while surrounded by cameras during one of the most watched shows in the world is so dumb that everyone contributing to spreading this accusation should hang their heads in shame.

Then people have been trying to put words in Barbara Pravi's mouth that she would be bitter and disappointed to get beaten by Måneskin, something she had very actively denied on her own social media. 

Maybe now we can focus on the things we should have focused on as soon as all results were made public after the final: the very obvious case that something is very wrong concerning the points given to Moldova in the televote of the second semi final.

Moldova had a fun song admittedly but in spite of an outright mediocre vocal performance, the detailed voting information shows a jaw-dropping eight countries awarded top marks to them. Some of these are countries that are notoriously easy to swing if you are inclined to do vote manipulation.

After the 2013 Azerbaijan vote manipulation scandal, the EBU reluctantly looked into the matter and promised to take action if there was anything that looked suspicious.

The Moldova case does not just look suspicious, it sets all the alarm lights flashing. Philipp Kirkorov and his team are no strangers to manipulating their way to victory in the Moldovan final. Now it would be about time to have a deep look into vote manipulation. Again. And slap some people with a participation ban.

There is probably no idea to put a ban on Moldova. Their broadcaster is a small one with a strained budget and it hardly has the means to manipulate the televotes in other countries.

All the figures should be examined (as well as some really odd jury scores too - hello, Bulgaria!) and if there has been any vote manipulation going on (and it sure looks like it) all the people involved - the so-called Dream Team - should be banned from participating.

The Eurovision Song Contest is like playing Trivial Pursuit: it really is just a game but as soon as somebody starts cheating and disregarding the rules the fun ends and nobody wants to play anymore. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

ESC 2021: Italy rocked Eurovision - at last


Four hours of Eurovision final later and it finally paid off to be Italy and continuously enter top talent - their biggest names that have already conquered the Sanremo festival. If that's not a seal of approval, I don't know what would be.

My prediction went pretty well in the end as well. My predicted top four all had a top five finish, only not in the order I thought. 

I'm honestly a bit disappointed it wasn't to be Switzerland in the end. A shame that Gjon's Tears didn't hit home more with the viewers. But for him, as a new talent, a third place is a sensational result. Maybe better than a victory in the long run.

Switzerland and France (and the entire top six, in fact) showed that the old cliché is true: if you are yourself, work hard, do your best and have a bit of luck nothing is impossible. Now I hope especially France will remember this moment and not let their momentum slip. I want to see a French victory in the next few years.

Finland's sixth place is our second best showing ever (shared with Marion in 1973). Now the big task is to show we can do well with other types of music than rock. How about some excellent dark electropop next year?

Malta took over Sweden's old stunt of getting lots of points from the juries and then very little from the viewers. If you look at the the top six again, I think Malta would do better to kick the habit of buying songs from foreign songwriters and go for local talent instead. 

Maybe let local songwriters work together with some more internationally renowned name? Worked really well for Switzerland. The same lesson could apply to Cyprus, Azerbaijan and San Marino too.

If I almost nailed the top four, I unfortunately also got the bottom two correctly. I thought the UK had really ruined their chances with that staging but nul points? That was very harsh.

Which brings me to one thing I really want to change for coming years. The current way of reading out the televote results really makes the segment awkward and puts an enormous focus on individual failure. It also becomes difficult to keep track of who was actually the viewer favourite.

Go back to the old system: read the televotes quickly, in ascending order. Read the bottom 16 quickly and don't dwell on who gets nul points. It wasn't particularly pleasant to see Gjon's Tears sweat and sweat and then get disappointed. This voting sequence would have been really dramatic anyway as televote winner Italy would storm up the board and win.

But next year in Torino, right? Let's hope that event will be a bit easier to organise.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

ESC 2021: Tobson takes a final guess


Soon it will be over. The first ESC in two years is about to begin. And end. And we will have ourselves a new winner.

I wouldn't be me if I didn't take a final shot at predicting the results. 

Every year I write something about how open the contest feels and how so many different countries could actually win. The more unusual thing this year is that while it is wide open, the number of potential winners is smaller than in many years. I'd say there are four countries that could actually take the trophy.

Of course it all comes down to things we can't really touch or foresee. It is more a battle of genres than a battle of songs. Can a noisy rock song actually win? Can a piece of apocalyptic folkloristic rave win? Can a sensitive young man with a sensitive song win two contests in a row? Can that French chanson actually win despite French chansons being totally helpless in the voting for the past two decades or so?

And is there a song that I have written off that is capable of surprising us? Lithuania? Malta?

It is more crowded down in the bottom of the results. There are quite a few songs that the juries really should not be voting for, based on vocal capacities, bits and pieces taken from already existing songs and so on. Will the jury keep anyone on zero tonight? Several songs, perhaps?

Here goes. My final prediction is that tonight's final will end like this:

01. Switzerland, 02. Ukraine, 03. Italy, 04. France, 05. Lithuania, 06. Bulgaria, 07. Malta, 08. Russia, 09. Iceland, 10. Netherlands, 11. Finland, 12. San Marino, 13. Greece, 14. Serbia, 15. Spain, 16. Portugal, 17. Albania, 18. Sweden, 19. Belgium, 20. Cyprus, 21. Moldova, 22. Norway, 23. Israel, 24. Azerbaijan, 25. Germany, 26. United Kingdom.  

As per usual, you can find me on Twitter, commenting on the action as the drama unfolds.

ESC 2021: The final changes everything


The same story every year: we speculate and speculate until we go blue in the face and yet - the running order in the final will change everything. Whatever seemed likely and plausible and sometimes even inescapable only a few days ago: the landscape has changed. Everything looks different now.

For the last three contests in a row, Christer Björkman has been responsible for the running order and you can tell. He has a very good eye for this and makes excellent sequencing but it is also refreshing to have someone else do it. Tonight's running order is less predictable and that is a good thing.

The running order also clearly puts a few former favourites clearly out of the running. Their new position sometimes underlines what they were lacking to begin with, in other cases it just accidentally puts some in the shade. 

These are my new, quick reviews of tonight's 26 finalists and my new grades, based on what I have heard and seen this week.

A brilliant opener - clean, understandable and energetic. It will do its Lady Gaga impression with poise and easy and people will like it. And then they will forget it as stronger entries come into view. Clearly a fallen favourite.
Grade: 2/5

Will vocally blow Cyprus off the stage. Simple and tasteful and easier to grasp than many other Albanian entries. Being number two isn't necessarily the kiss of death and this could do at least as well as Albania usually does - anything higher than 16th place is better than usual.
Grade: 4/5

A smooth number and the whistle notes are a joy, but the song in itself is a tiny bit too slick and anonymous to stand out. Would need a lot more energy than it had in the semi to stand out.
Grade: 2/5

On Tuesday, this was a pleasant break from all the pop songs and all the dance routines and stage theatrics. Tonight, the break comes a bit too early. People are still in the mood to be thrilled, not calmed down, and this won't stand out like it could have later in the running. 
Grade: 3/5

Wonky and wacky and that first gigantic dress will leave an impression. Vocally flawless but the song is pretty demanding for a first listen. It will also get upstaged by more outstanding visuals later on. Could get bonus points for message but is nowhere near a victory.
Grade: 2/5

If Malta felt like the obvious winner for many during the run-up to the contest, I feel their hopes have crumbled now. They should have crumbled already in the semi final, honestly. Destiny is fabulous and the song is a fun little number, but ultimately it feels more like the Melodifestivalen reject it really is than a potential winner. Top ten probably but that's as far as it goes.
Grade: 3/5

I love Portugal and could never not be happy about them being successful. But. I don't get this at all. Competent but dull, and when I found out what the lyrics are about I like it even less, honestly. Being the first male vocalist of the evening could help, but they will clearly fight it out with Belgium over the "real music"-vote tonight.
Grade: 1/5

Belgrade's own Destiny's Child storm the stage and shake everything their mothers, designers and hair artists gave them. Three fun minutes but the performance is a tad too much out of sync to hit home big time. A bigger hit in future Euroclubs than in the voting.
Grade: 3/5

The left-hand-finish some British fans dreamed of when this song was first released would always have been a difficult goal to obtain. With these staging and styling choices, all hope is lost. What is the matter with the country that used to be the obvious centre of pop culture in Europe? A strong contender for last place.
Grade: 1/5

I have to give credit where credit is due: Stefania is a lot better on stage than I expected her to be and she fills the potholes in this song with ease. However, the green screen trickery is distracting and looks nowhere near as good as the people in charge thinks it does. This would have been so much better, had it had a focused performance and no pointless hocus pocus.
Grade: 3/5

Bam! After three upbeat songs, Switzerland comes in with temper, depth and gravity. Felt like a winner in the semi final and if Gjon's Tears delivers like he did then, this must be a top three contender. On a level of its own compared to all songs coming before it.
Grade: 5/5

In the semi final I finally saw what everyone else have seen, I suppose. This is likeable and really well performed but won't get anywhere near a victory. Having a winner that can't collect the trophy would be a real anticlimax anyway.
Grade: 3/5

The song nobody believes in and I don't see why. Blas is a good singer with a pleasant presence and the song is an old-fashioned ESC ballad in a good way. If that jury is to be of any use this year, they should acknowledge talent and craftmanship and help this one along a bit.
Grade: 4/5

A fun and lightweight pop number in a glamourous package is always a welcome sight, but in the semi final this was anything but easy on the ears. Could and should find itself in the lower regions of the result tonight.
Grade: 2/5

Happy and colourful and positive but also preachy and a bit grating. Like a school lecture on how not to be a bully set to VERY cheerful music. It will put you in a good mood but also outstays its welcome by being basically one single idea repeated and repeated and repeated ad nauseam.
Grade: 2/5

For a moody rock band, it is the perfect place to come in after two lightweight happy songs and change the mood completely. All I hear is still a poor man's Linkin' Park but if the pop entries split the other votes between them, there could possibly be room for two rock entries in the top ten this year.
Grade: 2/5

The mood whiplash is complete when Bulgaria takes the whole thing down with their intimate and emotional little number. One of few entries this year that brought a prop that actually works and doesn't detract from the song. 
Grade: 4/5

One of the songs that seem to have lost all its buzz during the week. I think its obvious TikTok-appeal could work in its favour and that we could see a small surprise tonight. I would love for Lithuania to at least better their personal best, but this could be the one everyone is underestimating so far.
Grade: 4/5

The complete power outburst of the first semi but also Ukraine by the numbers: every single detail is fine-tuned and works wonders on television. I doubt it is what the EBU hopes for but this is one very possible winner in this final.
Grade: 5/5

This is the one moment where the producers weren't thinking. There are two songs that build up to an explosive climax and that go full accelerando in the end and they are placed neck to neck in the running? Maybe France will feel like an oasis after Ukraine but it could also be the viewers are nowhere near ready to take this in at this point. Did the producers just wrestle a potential victory out of the hands of France?
Grade: 4/5

They made it to the final - as they almost always do - but coming after five contenders in a row, this bleak little pop ditty should have pretty little working in its favour. Would have made more sense to put this between Ukraine and France to give the audience a moment to breathe.
Grade: 1/5

Azerbaijan and Norway neck to neck? I hope that doesn't mean the producers are buying into the silly - and truth be told slightly creepy and unpleasant - media stunt of the "romance" between the two singers? The song is pleasant and the visuals stay in the memory of the viewers, but this is where I think the whole package is beginning to wear thin. 
Grade: 2/5

The best entry of a host country since Frans (or if that wasn't your cup of tea, since Lena in Düsseldorf) and hopefully one the jury will recognise and vote for extensively. A bold statement that would deserve top ten but that will probably have to settle for a bit less.
Grade: 4/5

The sheer energy of that guitar intro shows exactly where this is leading: energetic verses and a noisy chorus leading into one heck of a bridge. Attitude and looks and basically taking what The Ark did wrong and doing it right instead. Is it finally time for Italy to win or is it ultimately a tiny bit too much?
Grade: 4/5

"A dream position in the running order" according to the Swedish press as well as the Swedish delegation. I'd say this is the point where the audience is running out of attention span and where you have to be extremely gripping in order to get anyone to vote for you. This is the year when Sweden is clearly lacking momentum. Lately, Swedish entries have been attracting jury votes but struggled to convince the viewers. Prepare for the first right-hand finish since 2013.
Grade: 2/5

A good entry to close the whole line-up: a bit of a circus number where the main performer gets a bit too caught up in the whole act, gets swept away and comes across as a bit frantic - only to be saved by a bit of Rent-A-Rap Star in the end. Amusing and fascinating. Not a contender for anything else than San Marino's best showing to date, which is frankly more than good enough.
Grade: 2/5

Whatever you make of the songs, you will surely not find yourself bored in front of your screens tonight. Give me a little more time and you'll have my final prediction about who the winner is. It's not an easy pick to make, is it?

Friday, May 21, 2021

Tobson speaks up: ESC 2021, the six finalists

Sometimes, when you are in the middle of something - like the Eurovision week - it is difficult if not impossible to stop and take a step back and remember what you really thought about a song. Before you got the stagewear, the performance, the singing ability, the results. All of that.

That's why I decided to review all the songs before the shows started. This very blog post was written on Tuesday and I have no idea who the shock qualifiers and the jaw-dropping non-qualifiers are. But here are my views on the six songs that had a free ticket into the final: the Big Five as well as the host country.

SPAIN Blas Cantó / Voy a quédarme
A good voice, a likeable singer and very old-fashioned Eurovision ballad. Being old-fashioned isn't necessarily a bad thing and this one has grown on me a lot since it was selected, a bit like "Quédate conmigo" did back in 2012. Generally expected to flop big time in the final, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Could there be a bunch of jurors out there who really enjoy this sort of simplicity and handicraft? Not impossible.
Grade: 4/5

UNITED KINGDOM James Newman / Embers
Hailed by many as a British return to form, I'm afraid I can't fully share the enthusiasm. It is different from anything the BBC has offered us in a long time, and it could have sounded like a hit single with a fresher production. But it still feels really empty. Like a cardboard cutout of a star instead of a real star. The left-hand finish the UK fans so badly long for would be a big surprise for me.
Grade: 1/5

FRANCE Barbara Pravi / Voilà
The universe works in mysterious ways and when Portugal won it was with a style they had offered many times before. They hadn't changed but the audience was suddenly open for it. It seems to be the same thing with France - one of the hot favourites to win - who have certainly offered us songs in a similar style without booking a victory since 1977. This is a intimate yet rousing chanson that could feel genuine enough to do the trick in case all the other top candidates steal each other's thunder and split the points between them. But I won't believe it until I see it.
Grade: 4/5

GERMANY Jendrik / I Don't Feel Hate
Sometimes when you hear a short but brilliant piece of music - like the fabulous "Agatha All Along" from WandaVision, for instance - you wish it could have been a full song instead of just a jingle or a piece of theme music. The truth is you wouldn't want that at all. A jingle is just a jingle. A theme song is just a theme song. And Germany's fun little plea against online hate is really just a jingle too. It has exactly one idea that it keeps repeating over and over. It puts me in a good mood but I expect the juries to absolutely detest this and I wouldn't be very surprised to see it with "nul points" from them. Maybe the viewers are more easily charmed but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Grade: 2/5

ITALY Måneskin / Zitti e buoni
On my list of things I didn't see coming was that Italy would out-rock Finland at the ESC. What I did expect, however, was for Italy once again to be at absolute top of this competition. Sanremo is such an incredible talent pool to fish your entries out of and this could very well be the year that their entry finally clicks with jury and audience alike. Noisy but awfully appealing to look at. Could be the hardest winner since Lordi.
Grade: 4/5

NETHERLANDS Jeangu Macrooy / Birth Of A New Age
I can't help but think of that paragraph in the rules stating no entry in the ESC can carry a political message when I hear the home entry. Jeangu - originally from Suriname - challenges the old Dutch idea that they were "cool colonialists" and good guys throughout history. And how he does it. Musically relaxing and intense at the same time, this is like a wonderful oasis in the line-up. This could easily become the best showing for a host country since Frans back in 2016 and the start of a brilliant career for Jeangu. I want to hear and see more, that's for sure.
Grade: 4/5

Can one of these six songs break through and win the whole thing? Possibly, but let me get back to that later. Let's just conclude that this is a strong year and the lack of an obvious frontrunner could make the voting very intense.

ESC 2021, semi 2: What about the songs that left us?


The semis are over. The lineup is complete. We know what 26 songs will fight it out to take the title and win the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest.

Just like in the first semi final, my prediction turned out rather nicely and I managed to pick nine out of ten qualifiers correctly. But just like on Tuesday, the one I got wrong meant one of my personal favourites missed out.

I'm just as blue for Denmark now as I was for Croatia then. For Denmark, this looked a bit like a new beginning at the ESC. In the last fifteen years or so, no other country have sent in as many ESC-only entries: songs that could have been created in a Eurovision Lab and that can only live and thrive within the very context of this tv show. With no life outside of it.

This year, Fyr og Flamme had been digging in the Danish pop history and made a song that could have been a local smash hit in 1986 or so. (If you don't believe me, check out my Laban playlist.) It went to number one in the charts and made the band household names. 

I'm just afraid tonight's results tells Denmark they shouldn't be themselves and contribute stuff they like but to go back to their regular stuff. And I will have to wait another two decades for a Danish entry I can like.

During the show not everyone shone, to say the least. Estonia, Czech republic and Georgia all lacked energy, Moldova didn't exactly nail every note of that performance and Poland's Old Kid On The Block was never going to go far.

Latvia had great energy but not much of a song and coming that late in the running order, you can't afford that. Austria was my borderline qualifier all along. Excellent vocal performance of a repetitive song. It could just as well have landed on the right side of the qualification line.

I could never be unhappy about Portugal going to the final but I really don't see what you see or hear what you hear. Pretentious at best, but mainly dull. Let's see how far it carries in the final.