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
Very welcome - I hope you'll like it here!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Finland 1989: Goodbye, Europe

And now a bit of feelgood, Made in Finland. Gösta Sundqvist was a most prolific songwriter and performer, whose band Leevi and The Leavings belong to the Finnish popular cultural heritage. And very close to most people's hearts as well.

In 1989, he participated in Euroviisut with the following little song: serious, theatrical, with an air of Kraftwerk as well as impending doom.

Tanjalotta Räikkä - Huominen Eurooppaa (Finland NF 1989)

Of course this would have been a disastrous choice for Lausanne. The expert jury sensed this and placed it second last out of the ten entries on offer.

But I love it to bits for what it is. It is quite typical of Gösta Sundqvist's production and falls very well into the Finnish tradition of melancholic songs.

And the lyrics are, after all, echoing of some sort of hope: Maybe tomorrow there will be no Europe / Maybe there will be no world at all / But we can't let love die / If that happens, I would feel ashamed.

One of the best aspects of Eurovision, as I see it, is that there is room for other things than hit records too. Sleep tight, if you can!

France 1967: avoiding the subject of death

The 1967 French Eurovision entry was, like most French entries in those days, subject of an internal selection at French television. Songwriters of varying fame and talent sent in their demos, with or without a suggested performer, and a jury had free hands to select the final entry.

For the 1967 selection, successful songwriting duo of Hubert Giraud and Pierre Delanoë had written two power ballads, both sung by the young and promising Noëlle Cordier: "Il doit faire beau là-bas" and "Il est mort le soleil". Most people involved were convinced the latter would be the one chosen by the jury.

According to an interview that Noëlle gave for CocoricoVision (the magazine of OGAE France), someone let fellow singer Nicoletta hear "Il est mort le soleil". As she was a bigger name, the entry was taken from Noëlle (who was pretty upset at this) and handed in with Nicoletta as suggested performer instead.

Nicoletta - Il est mort le soleil (France internal selection 1967)

But the jury got cold feet when hearing the song. According to OGAE's sources, they did not like the idea of sending a song mentioning death in its title to a light-hearted song contest like Eurovision. Several jaws must have dropped as the jury decided to nominate Noëlle anyway.

Nicoletta didn't have to stay disappointed for long: she had one of her biggest hits with this track, which was also translated into English and covered by Ray Charles and Tom Jones among others as "The Sun Died".

Noëlle Cordier, on the other hand, made quite an impression in Vienna and ended in third place with one of the most bitter and heartbroken lyrics of all time (read them in translation here ) and one of my personal favourites of all time.

Noëlle Cordier - Il doit faire beau là-bas (France 1967)

What would the juries have thought of Nicoletta and her song about the sun and the summer dying once the heart is broken? Most probably Sandie Shaw would have won anyway.

As for the effort of keeping death out of Eurovision. It worked fine until Monaco decided to enter a song about the world being blown to bits in a nuclear apocalypse. Read more about that here .

Finland 2011: this is the running order for the final

Yle has just revealed the running order for the grand final of Eurovision laulukilpailu, the Finnish selection, to be held at Caribia in Turku on February 12th.

The finalists will perform in the following order:

1. Eveliina Määttä - Dancing In The Dark
2. Sami Hintsanen - Täältä maailmaan
3. Milana Misic - Sydämeni kaksi maata
4. Paradise Oskar - Da Da Dam
5. Cardiant - Rapture In Time
6. Johanna Iivanainen - Luojani mun
7. Father McKenzie - Good Enough
8. Marko Maunuksela - Synkän maan tango
9. Saara Aalto - Blessed With Love
10. Stala & So - Pamela

Like in most national finals, this running order is not the result of a draw. The proucers have decided the order themselves in order to make a better tv show.

If that is the goal, it is somewhat surprising that TV2 for the second year running starts the show with the only song not selected by the televoters. Quite the opposite of starting the show with a bang.

I'm also puzzled why TV2 has placed so many low-energy entries back to back in the beginning of the show? It almost looks like they were trying to make Cardiant stand out from the other competitors.

Stala & So gets a similar treatment at the very end of the presentation. Is this Yle's way of telling the televoters it would be time to send a rock entry to Eurovision again?

Portuguese Spice of the 80's

One of my all-time favourite Portuguese entries to Eurovision (and there are a few - Portugal is one of those countries who, in my humble opinion, would often deserve so much more than they get) is "Bem Bom" - the incredibly catchy party stomper of a song from 1982.

Doce - Bem Bom (Portugal 1982)

Doce, consisting of Fá, Teresa, Lena and Laura, was one of the country's top pop acts in the early 80's.

They had formed in 1979 and had quite some experience of showbiz already. One of the girls came close to being elected Miss World one year, two of them had already represented Portugal at Eurovision as part of Gemini.

Gemini - Dai-li-dou (Portugal 1978)

In the still pretty newly liberated Portugal, freed from dictatorship as late as in 1974, Doce must really have been a breath of fresh air. Four colourful young ladies, energetic, fearless and fun, who took the audience by storm and sold somewhere around 250,000 copies until now.

Doce also recorded a couple of songs in English, but no source can tell how serious their attempt was to break into international market. One thing is very clear: their concept, slightly updated, was considered a world sensation in 1996 when it was used to put together a certain girl band called Spice Girls.

In total, Doce performed four times in the Portuguese selection, Festival RTP da Canção, and here are all four occasions - just to celebrate one of the grand girl groups of Eurovision.

Doce - Doce (Portugal NF 1980)

Doce - Ali-Bábá (Portugal NF 1981)

Doce - Bem Bom (Portugal 1982)

Doce - O Barquinho Da Esperança (Portugal NF 1984)

Melodifestivalen begins - time for Sweden to take it back?

In the early 90's, the interest in the ever popular Swedish national final started plummeting. Not so much when it came down to ratings, but suddenly nobody who was anybody wanted to be associated with the show anymore.

After several attempts (some more successful than others) to revitalise the contest, SVT decided to play it big in 2002. They launched the current format with a big tour, four semi finals held in different cities throughout the country and a high profile final held in the Globe in Stockholm, home of the Eurovision Song Contest 2000.

As the show is about to go out on the road for the tenth time this year, one can only conclude that the gamble has been a huge success. Melodifestivalen is a real powerhouse in Swedish showbiz as it creates some 10 - 15 major hit singles per year and hasn't only launched brilliant careers but also helped already established names to reach larger audiences.

If you are in Melodifestivalen, you are somebody. You can go on tour, and people will probably buy your songs in a day when record sales in general are on a disastrously low level.

There's only one little cloud on the Swedish sky. While very successful on home ground, the new system has failed completely when it comes to the ESC itself. Sweden, who used to be a super power with good placing most years, has slipped down and lost its crown.

Out of the nine entries selected with the current system, four have made top ten and five have flopped.

Mind you - the Swedish press considered the results of 2002 and 2006 as disappointing. I doubt they would today.

The people at SVT are of course not happy about this, and the 2011 edition is full of adjustments to make this year's entry more appetising for the european viewers. The national juries are replaced by pan-european ones and quite a lot of power has been taken out of the hands of the Swedish televoters.

Maybe the Swedes will be slightly unhappy if their own favourite won't win the national final in March, but they will certainly be very forgiving if this is compensated by an impressive showing in Düsseldorf.

Let the games begin - the Swedish semis start on Saturday.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Netherlands selected for Düsseldorf

In a live show, the Netherlands have selected their entry for the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. Broadcaster TROS had already decided internally that the band 3JS would represent the country in Düsseldorf but let an expert jury and the televoting audience select the most suitable out of five entries.

Hardly surprising, the winning song was the one the band had already pointed out as their own favourite well in advance.

3JS - Je Vecht Nooit Alleen (Netherlands 2011)

Out of the five candidates, the winner was clearly the one with biggest international potential. It builds a bit too slowly perhaps, but when the chorus finally comes it is pretty powerful.

If I was in charge, I would keep the lyrics in Dutch. That will give a bit more of that well needed profile that would be lost if the group sang in English.

Far from an obvious finalist come May, but far more of a quality effort than the last few entries from the land of tulips and windmills.

Runner-up: Yugoslavia 1989

The 1989 Yugoslav final in Novi Sad was a very tight affair, where the last set of points decided the winner. Nerve-wracking until the bitter end.

Massimo Savic, one of the big favourites was very narrowly beaten into second place by a bunch of newcomers nobody would have considered as real competition. To add insult to injury, something must have gone wrong with the connection to the green room: once the final vote is cast, Massimo looks very happy and obviously thinks he won.

Massimo Savic - Plavi anđeo (Yugoslavia NF 1989)

The winner was a happy little bagatelle, straight out of the early 60's, performed by the hobby band Riva from Zadar. However, with a bit of polish and some good work, they managed to turn their song into quite a catchy little number.

And in a most unexpected twist of fate (probably largely due to a very favourable draw), Riva emerged as the surprise winner in Lausanne. The first and only victory for Former Yugoslavia.

Riva - Rock Me (Yugoslavia 1989)

What if Massimo would have won in Novi Sad? Would he have managed to secure a Yugoslav victory as well? There is no doubt in my mind that he would have scored pretty poorly, but who would have won then?

Probably one of the other up-tempo numbers on offer, given how few of them were around this year. But which one? Denmark? Finland? Or who?

UK 2011: The Blue boys are back

Finally, BBC has done what I would have wanted them to do for years already. They ditched the national final which year after year failed to produce anything the european televoters would touch with a long stick.

Instead, they have internally selected an act an a song, hoping to improve their poor placings of the past few years.

Blue is not a bad choice either. Maybe a reformed boy band doesn't sound like the hottest thing one could think up, but there are many things that could work to their advantage.

They managed to caugh up quite an impressive string of hit singles during their heyday, most of which did very well also internationally. They have experience, an enthusiastic record label and the know-how to produce a hit.

A hit song is a very good start if you want to do well at the ESC.

Some boy bands even grew better with time - Take That are, for instance, a lot more convincing after their comeback than they ever were the first time around.

Also - the last UK winner to date was produced by Katrina & The Wave, a group that hadn't scored a single chart success for at least ten years before their Dublin success. When they really tried, they managed to hatch a eurovision winner.

If "I Can" is a reasonably strong song, then everything points towards a British success in Düsseldorf. That would really be about time.

Blue feat Stevie Wonder & Angie Stone - Signed, sealed, delivered

My biggest wish would be for their song to sound a little bit less like Blue and a little more like this solo output by one of the members...

Simon Webbe - Coming Around Again

Runner-up: Slovenia 2002

Few national finals (if any) have offered more drama than EMA 2002, even if everything looked very organised and peaceful from the beginning.

The red hot favourite to win was Karmen Stavec, who had made an impression already the year before with "Ostani tu". Now she was ready to go out into the international limelight with a disco song seemingly tailormade to hit home with the televoters.

Karmen Stavec - Še in Še (Slovenia NF 2002)

However, the national expert juries probably found this entry too lightweight and favoured the merry flight attendant trio Sestre. According to reports, the sentiment in the green room was growing tense and unpleasant at this point and nothing got better as the hosts failed to produce a televoting result.

The minutes dragged by, the hosts tried to keep the audience in a good mood, the recap of songs was reprised three times and finally, after some twenty minutes or something, the results finally came in.

And when all the numbers had been counted, the three ladies in red had won by one point. Slovenia, still rather conservative and not in any way progressively gay friendly, was to be represented by drag queens at Eurovision.

Once the show was over, the tension exploded and two composers attacked each other physically in the green room. I suppose the Slovenian gossip press must have thought Christmas came unusually early that year.

However, Sestre slowly won the hearts of the Slovenians and ended in a 13th place in Tallinn. Not a bad placing for Slovenia.

Sestre - Samo ljubezen (Slovenia 2002)

The year after, Karmen finally won (perhaps partially as a consolation prize) and represented Slovenia in Riga where she, despite a good draw, only managed a 23rd place. Would she have fared better in 2002? What if the Slovenian televoters had it their way, would the outcame have been better or worse?

Best of luck to the Dutch

Tonight, the Dutch will select their entry for Düsseldorf, while broadcaster TROS already selected the trio 3JS internally. They will perform five songs, one of which will get the golden ticket in tonight's show. Here are short snippets of the songs in the running:

3JS - Recap of the five songs (Netherlands NF 2011)

It sounds pretty promising, in a mature pop vein, a little bit like Take That lately, but in Dutch. Snippets mean nothing, however, it gives no idea whether the songs will develop of fall flat before the three minutes are over.

And who knows the Dutch will select the best song on offer? They have not reached the final of Eurovision since 2004 (and their latest top ten was in 1999) and all of this for good reason. They have sent surprisingly weak and/or dated entries and then had their jaws drop in surprise when nobody likes them much.

But seriously, the Netherlands may have piled up an impressive total of four ESC winners, but most of the years they have had dismal placings. All through the 60's, 70's and 80's most of the years have seen the Netherlands end up in lacklustre positions.

Too often they have fallen into the trap of being funny, or too nice or too inoffensive. Most people would appreciate their songs, but they would not convince a jury. Or televoters, for that matter.

Let's hope the wind will change tonight. Wouldn't it be good to see the Dutch back on the scoreboard? Maybe even battling it out for victory? Like Edsilia did back in Birmingham?

Edsilia - Hemel en aarde (Netherlands 1998)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A song about the Big Bomb

"You should never mix politics with Eurovision!" That is what many people say. Fine. But politics is an odd mixer, it works its way in anyhow. Big things will not go unnoticed even in the ESC.

The cold war was an ever-present influence on life in Europe during the 60's. It is more surprising than anything that not more songs bore some kind of influence from the international tension.

In 1967, however, former winner Serge Gainsbourg (writer of "Poupée de cire, poupée de son") decided to enter a protest song: noisy, shouty, relevant and bang-up-to-date at the time.

Minouche Barelli - Boum badaboum (Monaco 1967)

The lyrics were extremely straightforward: "before you decide to blow everything up, leave me some time to love, let me live a little bit before you decide to kill me." The translated lyrics can be read in full here .

Heavy stuff, indeed. No wonder the international juries preferred a happy, cheerful song about a certain puppet on a certain string instead.

At least it made an impression on some people. Ten jurors gave their vote to it, leaving it in an honourable fifth place.

Also, the Swedish delegation seems to have listened carefully. The same songwriting team entered Melodifestivalen the year after with "Låt mig få va' ifred" (sadly unavailable on YouTube) by Cecilia Stam - a raunchy, modern pop song with a certain amount of attitude, not unlike "Boum badaboum" at all.

But with a lot less menacing lyrics, dealing with love rather than the apocalypse. But then again, it didn't win either.

I found this lovely clip with "Boum badaboum" in its studio version. Even more aggressive and very provocative indeed.

Minouche Barelli - Boum badaboum (Monaco 1967 studio version)

North Africa and Eurovision

I hope you all out there are sensible people, realising there is a world also outside the Eurovision Song Contest, and that you all lift your noses out of the ESC circuit every once in a while too watch the news as well.

Then you know that things are happening to the countries of North Africa and, most probably, the Middle East. Perhaps this could lead to changes as overwhelming (and hopefully as positive) as the big Eastern European change of system in the late 80's.

The snowball started rolling in Tunisia, a country that even has a bit of Eurovision history. They signed up for the 1977 ESC in London, drawn to sing as country number four (between the Netherlands and Austria), but pulled out shortly after the draw. Possibly because they saw Israel on the list of participants (a qualifyed guess borrowed from the great Leif Thorsson, who has written an excellent book about Eurovision).

Tunisia almost produced a Eurovision winner as well: the French representative of 1991, Amina Annabi, is born there. She was tying for first position after the last vote was cast, but the old set of rules gave victory to Sweden after a countback. (Had the current rules been in effect, Amina would have won.)

Amina - Le dernier qui à parlé (France 1991 preview)

All the states of North Africa are active members and would have the right to enter the ESC (as well as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon - the latter was supposed to take part in 2005, but withdrew in the last moment due to their own refusal to broadcast any Israeli entry).

The only African country ever to take part in the ESC was Morocco, who fittingly enough participated in 1980 - a year of Israeli absence.

Samira Bensaïd - Bitaqat hob (Morocco 1980)

Back in the day, such an exotic entry could not hope for much at the ESC. Samira ended second last, and Morocco is yet to return.

These days, the countries in question have far more pressing matters to ponder as to whether to participate in song contests or not. I just wish them the best, hoping that our history books will be able to describe the current events in a positive light.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Euroviisut semi 3 - an element of surprise

The third and last semi final is over and done with - now we know the ten finalists for Eurovision laulukilpailu 2011. And I must admit to raising an eyebrow in surprise when the last finalists were revealed.

Vocally, this week was very different from especially the first week. Most of the performers stayed in tune most of the time as far as I could tell. Typically, the strongest song convinced the least when the heat was on.

Stala & So just didn't have their best night, as the lead singer got carried away, danced and jumped, and found himself out of breath in the chorus. That won't do. Focus on singing, that is what you are there to do.

Stala & So also seemed to have upset the director as they didn't get a single clear steady shot throughout their song. Fuzzy, unsharp images from ever-shaking cameras give at least me a headache. The band had rehearsed a fun stage show, most of which was completely lost for the tv viewers. Horrific!

The dire production could not stop the strongest chorus of the night, as predicted.

Saara Aalto is a delightful girl, warm and charming, with a strong voice. I was not very surprised that her high notes took her to the final, even if I am not wild about the song.

I was, however, surprised that Sami Hintsanen made the final cut instead of Tommi Soidinmäki. I guess Sami managed a certain degree of sincerity and camera contact, while Tommi here and there seemed to forget he was performing on television and acted more like the King of Karaoke on a ferry boat.

Eveliina's failure to win over the televoters was predictable, but my jaw dropped when she got the jury wild card. She sang well, but Jonna's performance was far more ambitious and a professional jury could very well have chosen to reward ambition over charm.

Next week there will be no live show, but a retrospective of Finland's ESC history, as it is fifty years since Finland first entered the contest back in 1961.

Finland in desperate need of a chorus

So, the fifteen candidates in Euroviisut have been shown in the open for the entire tv audience to see and hear. And remember, if possible.

Not the easiest of tasks.

For the last few years, on thing has been alarmingly clear in Finland: the songwriters have turned lazy and consider their song ready long before they should.

Especially the more modern efforts suffer from an acute lack of hooks, effective melody lines and, above all, choruses. Choruses that stick to your head, that keeps spinning and that you can hang on to even before the first listening is over.

Far too many go to Euroviisut thinking a modern sound is enough. Wrong! In Eurovision, you have three minutes to impress and bring the house down. A radio hit, that you will recognise only after half a dozen listenings does not stand the slightest chance here.

So please, songwriters of Finland. Take your job seriously. Work on the choruses. Then work some more. And then some more. Most people do not write a global hit in fifteen minutes. Nor a Eurovision winner.

Tobson predicts: Euroviisut, semi 3

We are already at the last of the three semi finals leading up to this year's big national final in Finland. Five songs will fight it out over the last three spots on February 12th, and one of the semi final losers will be given a golden bonus ticket as well.

On to tonight's hopefuls:

1. EVELIINA MÄÄTTÄ - Dancing In The Dark
A girl with a modern pop song has not been a winning formula this year. After Jonna and Soma Manuchar falling through, the odds are not exactly brilliant for Eveliina. On a first listening, I found this entry slightly more interesting than the two girls before her, but ultimately it falls into the same trap anyway. There is not enough dynamic to keep the listener hooked, and for the last minute the whole thing just drags on without a single thing happening throughout.
Grade: 2/5

2. SAMI HINTSANEN - Täältä maailmaan
This song, written by Antti Kleemola who sang in last year's Euroviisut, has a very strong air of déjà-vu over it. There were loads of big ballads like this one in Finland's national selections in the 80's. Close your eyes, and you will think this is Kirka in Euroviisut 1985. Sami Hintsanen sang in Euroviisut 1996, but is better known as the wild and crazy host of TV2:s karaoke game show "Tartu mikkiin". For him to come in and play all serious with a song like this...? I say no.
Grade: 1/5

Yet another Tango King trying to cross over into some kind of pop field. Reminds me of when opera tenors try to do pop and the result more often turns square and dead rather than groovy. Maybe Soidinmäki's stage presence can blow some life into the package on stage, maybe the arrangement will feel less dated with the right performance. A hit on the local schlager radio, but in no way suitable for the ESC.
Grade: 2/5

4. SAARA AALTO - Blessed With Love
Saara could easily fall into the same group as Jonna, Soma and Eveliina, but usually the average Finnish televoter is more enthusiastic about heartfelt ballads than pop. This song is cleancut, elegant, includes notes high enough to impress and possesses a dreamy feeling that would suit any Disney classic anywhere. The only thing it lacks is a pinch of drama or excitement. Pretty but not overwhelming.
Grade: 2/5

5. STALA & SO. - Pamela
The last song on offer is a piece of glam rock that could well have been an album track by Wig Wam (Norway 2005). At first it feels so stereotype and square that my eyes start rolling by themselves, but first impressions can decieve. When the chorus kicks in, it offers a bit of the temper and attitude that is missing in all other entries tonight. When the verse comes around for the second time, you notice that it carries a certain finesse in the melody line as well. Not the ultimate song in any way, but a bit of a relief at this point. If the performance is up to scratch, this should be tonight's clear winner.
Grade: 3/5

Tonight's lucky three are most probably Stala & So, Tommi Soidinmäki and Saara Aalto, unless Sami Hintsanen would prove to have a fanatic fan base out in the woods, waiting to flood the switchboards with their calls.

If those three are the lucky ones, I would also award the lucky loser spot to Jonna or, if she performs well tonight, Eveliina Määttä. Not that it matters much - Maria Lund, who got it last year, proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the lucky loser is shark feed in the final anyway.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Melodifestivalen goes Finland

I would of course never dream of poking fun at my adopted home country Finland. But like all Nordic countries, national hit songs were scarce back in the day and translating songs into the local lingo was common practice.

And Finland took quite a few Swedish songs, some from Melodifestivalen. This blog entry is probably more amusing for the good people out there with a better knowledge of MF and Sweden's entries.

Ami Aspelund - Waterloo (Sweden 1974)

Not only is the Finnish version of Abba's winner sung by Ami Aspelund, who would go on to represent Finland at ESC 1983 (while her sister Monica did the same in 1977), but the lyrics are penned by Seija Simola (Finland 1978). "Waterloo" was sung in every language everywhere, maybe some other versions captured the original spirit better than this one.

Meiju Suvas - A hua heija (Sweden 1982)

And this one... well, Meiju Suvas was apparently a keen follower of Sweden in Eurovision, as she made cover versions of their entries from 1983 and 1984 as well. What the title means in Finnish? Next question, please...

Eini - Haloo hela Finland (Sweden NF 1982)

Sometimes, even non-winners from MF were deemed good enough to cover in Finland. This was a big hit as well, sticking pretty closely to the original theme of the lyrics. Why the title is in "Swedish"? Next question, please...

Runner-up: Estonia 2006

Despite being only 18 and fairly inexperienced, Eda-Ines Etti managed to secure what was Estonia's best ever showing until then: a 4th place in a very tough competition in Stockholm 2000.

She was not willing to content herself with this, but wanted to show that she had learned her profession to perfection. In 2006, she entered a song she had written in co-operation with her brother and which sounded very much like an Estonian version of Coldplay.

Ines - Iseendale (Estonia NF 2006)

For some reason the Eurolaul performance is nowhere to be found on YouTube, but imagine an almost hypnotic rendition by a far more sophisticated and confident Ines compared to 2006.

Everybody was sure of her winning, and she was in the lead for the greater part of the voting, until the last juror gave her a very low mark and gave the overall victory to the closest contender - Sandra Oxenryd who was really Swedish.

Sandra Oxenryd - Through My Window (Estonia 2006)

In Athens, Sandra performed well but the song didn't score very well and Estonia was nowhere near a place in the final.

What if Ines had won instead, what would Europe had made of "Iseendale"? Would it have gone down a storm or would it have been to demanding for the audience?

So what did the Estonian audience make of the international juries giving Eurolaul victory to a Swede instead of Ines? Maybe they didn't care too much - had televoting decided the outcome, a completely different song would have won anyway. What if that one would have been sent off to Athens?

Meribel Müürsepp - Mr Right (Estonia NF 2006)

Latvia: Martins Freimanis dies

Some news are just too sad and comes without a hint of a warning. The passing of Toše Proeski a few years back was one of those, and now comes another one.

Martins Freimanis, very prolific singer/songwriter, has passed away at the age of 33.

Martins was best known for Eurovison fans as part of F.L.Y, representing Latvia on home ground in Riga 2003. They (Martins, Lauris Reninks and Yana Kay) were one of the top favourites for victory but only scored five points and ended in 24th place out of 26.

F.L.Y - Hello From Mars (Latvia 2003)

Two years later, Martins met with greater success when he wrote the Latvian entry for Kyiv. Walters & Kazha took his song to fifth place on the night of the final.

Walters & Kazha - The War Is Not Over (Latvia 2005)

He also took part a number of times as performer and/or songwriter in national finals, in addition to releasing albums with the band Tumsa and also did acting both for tv and film.

I can't even think of a clever twist to end this text, it is just very sad.

Runner-up: United Kingdom 1981

Given the poor UK record of recent times it might be hard to remember, but back in the day even some big names took part in the British national finals from time to time.

In 1981, Liquid Gold was a firmly established disco act with chart success in America as well as a UK #2 hit single under their belt when they decided to give Eurovision a shot.

They didn't sound like your typical ESC output at the time and looked even less like it:

Liquid Gold - Don't Panic (UK NF 1981)

A real disco hit by a real disco band - that would have been something to enter in the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, where far too many of the contestants were polite little songs more eager not to disturb rather than to entertain. A risky choice, but had Liquid Gold met success, it could have pushed Eurovision mainstream in a very different direction.

Instead, the juries went for a group created especially to perform at A Song for Europe: the happy clappy foursome that was Bucks Fizz.

Bucks Fizz - Making Your Mind Up (UK 1981)

Despite singing somewhat out of key in Dublin, ripping the skirts off worked wonders and Bucks Fizz not only scored a 4th victory for the UK but also went on to have a solid career with several top hits in the years to come.

What if the more established Liquid Gold had won the UK selection instead? What would the outcome have been in Dublin?

Lisa missed her big chance

The following phenomenon is typical in some countries with national finals: a performer takes part and does well, but doesn't win. Then the next time they enter, they win more because of that other entry rather than the current one.

Like a bit of a consolation prize.

Karmen Stavec should know what I'm talk about. Tor Endresen likewise. And, of course, Lisa del Bo from Belgium.

Lisa del Bo - Vlinder (Belgium NF 1993)

The 1993 Belgian final was a tough race - one of the best selections ever song-wise, if you ask me. Many good, convincing, contemporary numbers, which proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is not enough with a good final. You need to be able to pick a winner as well.

The Flemish have always been heartbreakingly bad at selecting the most suitable winner out of their national finals (very much like Finland or Slovenia) and so they rejected Lisa's slick and original xylophone-based pop song and opted for Barbara's ballad instead (which ended last with three points in Millstreet).

Barbara - Iemand als jij (Belgium 1993)

Three years later, Lisa del Bo was back in the national final, this time equipped with a more safe, old-fashioned kind of full-blooded schlager entry. She won quite convincingly, crushing the more modern and progressive entries in the end.

Lisa del Bo - Liefde is een kaartspel (Belgium 1996)

Playing it safe didn't help much, as the juries probably found the entry a bit too stereotypical and classic and left it in a 16th place, shared with Switzerland offering an equally over-classical ESC ballad.

Conclusion: Lisa would have been so much better off had she won her ticket the first time around. The end.

Or, not quite the end. Who would believe that "Liefde is een kaartspel" would live a life of its own and come back to the ESC again? Five years later it was good enough for fifth place in Copenhagen...

Friends - Listen To Your Heartbeat (Sweden 2001)

Quite a striking similarity, eh?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The sweetest song about death

Lea Laven was a big star in Finland, when she took part in the 1978 national final, bidding to represent her country in Paris.

Unlike most pop or schlager stars at that time, she had not previously taken part in Euroviisut. Until now, she has never set foot in the contest again. It is as if she focused on this one time.

Most eurosongs deal with the subject of love; this one does too but in a very different way. It also talks about death, not the favourite subject for your average songwriter.

Lea Laven - Aamulla rakkaani näin (Finland NF 1978)

The lyrics, too good to translate, tells the story about a woman who met the man of her dreams, representing anything she could ever wish for, only to see him die and leave her alone again.

"If God would let me, I'd like to go away to wherever my loved one is."

In the end, Lea shared the second place with Katri Helena and another heartfelt love song, while Seija Simola won the Paris ticket with a far lesser song. In my mind, however, this is the best entry ever rejected at a Finnish final.

Runner-up: Norway 1985

What if...?

That is the eternal question for dedicated followers of Eurovision. The tickling, thrilling thought of parallel universes, where everything could have been different.

What if Abba had won Melodifestivalen 1973 with "Ring Ring", would the expert jury in Luxembourg have rejected them?

What if televoting had been introduced earlier, would the ESC have looked and sounded different in the 90's?

What if Finland or Portugal had scored a victory at an early stage, would their ESC histories have looked different?

One of the easiest games of this kind is the "what if" concerning the outcome of the national finals. What if the runner-up would have won instead? Could that have changed ESC history? I will lift up a few of these cases, just to amuse myself.

Let's start with Norway 1985 - in order to better their poor results, NRK had invited four international judges who alongside with five national juries would select the winner. The experts reached complete consensus and all had the same favourite:

Anita Skorgan - Karma (Norway NF 1985)

The juries did not agree and in the end, their winner beat Anita into a second place. The presenter asked Ronnie Hazlehurst, UK conductor and jury member, if he didn't think Norway could win with Bobbysocks. He replied: "I'm afraid not".

The juries may have had a point - "Karma" is a sophisticated entry in a lavish arrangement - but who would have thought that this was the year when Norway would break their Eurovision curse, all by themselves, despite what the international panel said?

Bobbysocks won the 1985 ESC in Gothenburg and all of Norway was in Bobby-shock. What if NRK had entered Anita Skorgan instead, would she have won?

Bobbysocks - La de swinge (Norway 1985)

Israel 1990: Rita didn't impress the juries

In 1990, Israel abandoned their traditional national final and decided internally that Rita, one of the country's top singers at the time, should represent them in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.

The song, "Shara barechovot", didn't sound like the typical Israeli ESC-entry: there was no happy sound, no dancing backing group, no clearly defined chorus for people to sing along to.

Rita - Shara barechovot (Israel 1990)

When the juries have been re-introduced during the last few years, it has been in order to promote the more demanding entries that the audience may not be able to grip on a first listening. The juries in 1990 failed to do just that - they understood nothing of Rita's ambitious performance and left her with an 18th place, which was Israel's second worst showing until then.

Had the local juries back in Israel done their job properly, then Rita's ESC statistics could have been a lot more impressive. She had her big breakthough in the 1986 national final, sporting a yellow jacket that people talked about for a long time after the show, ending in 4th place with "Shvil habricha" - also a more demanding entry but with a very contemporary sound and a chorus with obvious hooks.

How would Rita have done in Bergen had she been selected in 1986?

Rita - Shvil habricha (Israel NF 1986)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Let Belarus stay with us

I read on ESC Today that a group of European Union MEP's now asked for political action and sanctions against Belarus, following the highly criticised presidential elections in December. These sanctions could possibly lead to Belarus being expelled from pan-european events like the Eurovision Song Contest.

In parts, not a bad idea. The belarusian nation deserves better than having an increasingly erratic old dictator in charge, and Europe has turned a blind eye to the problem for too long already.

But forcing them out of Eurovision? That would not be a great idea. EBU has had no problem with shady regimes in the past. Greece, Spain, Portugal and Turkey (this is not a complete list) have all had very dubious governments in the past, but were all allowed inside anyway.

Also, it is a good idea to let the people of Belarus see at least one show per year that is not served up by the state controlled national television. Let them stay in, I say!

Aleksandra & Konstantin - My Galileo (Belarus 2004)

Cindy Berger is a winner

Cindy Berger formed the successful schlager duo Cindy & Bert with her then partner, and together they released quite a few albums and singles throughout the 70's. In 1974, they represented Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton. They only scored a humble three points and shared last place with Switzerland, Norway and Portugal.

Cindy & Bert - Die Sommermelodie (Germany 1974)

If that is all you know about Cindy Berger, then you missed out quite a bit. She had the bad luck of being sent to the ESC with a song that was perhaps not really bad, but also a far cry from having winner potential.

In 1972, however, Cindy & Bert came a very close second in the German national final in Berlin with a masterpiece of a song, that would perhaps have been a bit too raw and soulful for Edinburgh but which has become an evergreen on home ground.

Cindy & Bert - Geh' die Strasse (Germany NF 1972)

Cindy & Bert continued to sing together, they even entered a few more German finals, before splitting up both professionally and privately.

Cindy made a comeback to the German final as a solo singer in 1988 with another intense performance, again ending in second place.

Cindy Berger - Und leben will ich auch (Germany NF 1988)

There is no doubt in my mind that Cindy would have made far more of an impression in Dublin than the mother/daughter-act that pipped her at the post.

A fine performer who would have deserved a real occasion to prove herself at the ESC.

Schlager of the day: 1 + 1 = 2

This is a dear gem for almost everyone I know who know Melodifestivalen. Completely ignored by the juries back then and subsequently not a big hit after the contest either.

Bel Air - 1 + 1 = 2 (Sweden 1985 NF)

Åtvidaberg's finest wouldn't let themselves slip into obscurity that easily, however. The singing sisters had not transformed themselves into the local Belle & The Devotions only to be forgotten.

Something about this chorus eats its way into the back of your head, and you will find yourself humming it when you least expect it. Add to that the visual brilliance of it: the hair, the outfits, the choreography...

This piece of schlager demands to be loved. And you would have to be a real enemy of pleasure not to like it at least a bit.

Junior Eurovision 1989

The Junior Eurovision Song Contest is a bi-product of the ESC, originally intended to inspire kids to write songs and perform. To give them an arena to try their wings and yet remain kids.

Up until 1990, children were allowed to take part in the real ESC as well. Monaco, Spain and Denmark have all played the "cute kids" card in some form, and a bunch of other countries have had successful, but not winning, entries of the same kind in their national finals.

Of course, the most famous singing child in the history of the ESC is Sandra Kim, only 13 years of age when she won with "J'aime la vie" back in 1986.

Sandra Kim - J'aime la vie (Belgium 1986)

Maybe Sandra's victory worked as inspiration because in 1989 two countries decided, simultaneously, to take the idea too far. Both Israel and France decided to enter singing children - Gili Natanael won the Israeli final while Nathalie Pâque was internally selected to represent France.

Gili & Galit - Derech ha'melech (Israel 1989 NF)

At first, the children were regarded with quite a lot of media interest and I suppose I was not the only ESC-loving child who found a hero in Gili or a heroine in Nathalie. They were there doing what I secretly would have wanted to.

However, during the week in Lausanne, the tone shifted and the press became more critical. Most reporters (as well as delegates from other countries) did not like what they saw, how these children were treated, how much pressure was put on these 12-year-olds.

Nathalie was yet to turn 12, in fact. The Swedish commentator made a special remark about the effort the French delegation had made in order to make the child look and sound like an adult, clearly showing he was not amused. Dieter Bohlen, composer of the German and Austrian entries of 1989, asked at a press conference who would pick up the pieces of the little girl once the show was over.

Nathalie Pâque - J'ai volé la vie (France 1989)

Maybe Dieter Bohlen wouldn't have wanted such a clear answer so soon after his question. Once the show was over, Nathalie Pâque broke in to tears, reduced from singing sensation to the disappointed child that she was. At least in Sweden, pictures of security guards trying to comfort the girl got more press attention than the winning song.

Another Swedish entertainment magazine described the week of the Israeli delegation as verging on child abuse. The composer/conductor had poor Gili rehearse at ever given moment, also between stage rehearsals. Come Saturday, his pretty boy soprano was tired and didn't carry anymore.

Gili & Galit - Derech ha'melech (Israel 1989)

The year after, the EBU decided to have a lower age limit, stating you had to reach the age of 16 within your year of participation. Some years ago, it was sharpened - now you have to be 16 on the day you perform on your final/semi final.

Back in 1989, "Derech ha'melech" was my big favourite. It made such an impression on me that I couldn't stop singing it. When I watch the preview clip, I can still feel the taste of a certain pear-flavoured ice-cream that I ate when I watched the previews with my cousin.

I related so much more to him than to Nathalie, probably because he was so much more obviously a child in looks, actions, movements. I think I even found him cute, even though I wouldn't have put that word on it back then.

In many ways, Gili is still my hero. He did the best he could, there and then. But I am very happy about the current age limits. Let children be children, far away from the Eurovision stage.

Monday, January 24, 2011

When reality hits Eurovision

There will be a long shadow over this year's Icelandic national final as one of the participants, Sigurjón Brink, died unexpectedly at the age of 36.

Apart from the obvious personal tragedy, it creates a delicate dilemma for the Icelandic television who needs to relate to the situation in the best of taste and find a solution that will still look tasteful and fair once the shock fades away and more critical eyes start analysing what you have done and what you haven't done.

I'm not claiming to know everything about Eurovision (is there any such person - and what would he/she look like?) but I can't remember any other situation like this, that a main performer would have passed away right before their planned Eurovision performance.

The closest I can come to think of is Sammy Babitzin (brother of Kirka), who competed in the 1973 Euroviisut and then died in a car crash later than a month after the international final.

Sammy Babitzin & Koivistolaiset - Riviera (Finland NF 1973)

Death did play a part in the 1974 ESC, though. Four days before the final, held on April 6, the French President George Pompidou dies due to an illness largely unknown to the public. France was in shock and, obviously, withdrew from the contest. The French delegation, already on location in Brighton, never performed.

Dani - La vie à 25 ans (France 1974 preview)

However, the grim realities of life were perhaps never more present than in 1993, when Bosnia-Herzegovina debuted under their own flag in Millstreet and produced a preview clip from Sarajevo at war. At that time, we were used to seeing images of civil war from former Yugoslavia on the news, but here they were, singing a song, on our favourite entertainment show. There was no way we could ignore them this time.

Fazla - Sva bol svijeta (Bosnia-Herzegovina 1993 preview)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rise and shine, sleepy head!

These days, every time I hear this song I think it is morning and I have to get out of bed. It has a very vivid, captivating and energetic intro. Perfect to act as alarm call in the morning.

The Milestones - Falter im Wind (Austria 1972)

Not only is this song responsible for waking me properly every morning and make sure I don't oversleep appointments and meetings. It is also, according to me, the best entry Austria ever sent to Eurovision.

It is a very complex and sophisticated composition, very laid back and with a distinct hippie/flower power flavour which was a fresh approach back in the early 70's.

It is also unusual in the sense that its chorus is rather brief and only comes back twice. Instead the hook is included in the arrangement: in the very present acoustic guitars and, above all, in the flute break.

The trick paid off and the juries awarded the Austrians with a fifth place in Edinburgh. ORF didn't care - they had already decided in advance to drop out of the ESC, regardless of the outcome.

It wasn't the first time, and, as you all know, it wasn't the last either.

The Milstones - Falter im Wind (Funky preview clip!)

Norway is better than Finland (but not by far)

If, in Finland, you would compare Euroviisut to Melodifestivalen in Sweden, people would stop you in the middle of it. You are mad, they would say. It is beyond comparison. Sweden is so good at showbiz. Finland could never ever in a zillion years produce anything likeworthy. Even the producers and bosses claim so. That we are unable.

OK, fine. But let's compare with Norway, then.

Norway's Grand Prix is clearly ahead of Euroviisut. It goes on tour, attracts big names, creates hit singles and generates good ESC placings most years. It has a bigger budget and is clearly more ambitious as a tv show.

But let's lend it a critical eye, then. So far, no entry in GP 2011 has been fantastic. The songs that are so good that I have to hear them once more before going to bed in order to able to sleep at all - those are absent.

The songs are OK, mainly of a typical radio pop variety. Bubblegum pop or likeable ballads, something for every generation, most often without that definitive hook or that smashing unforgettable chorus. Just like in Euroviisut. Our songs are OK too. What Norway does right is that they put on a show: add backing singers, some dancers and a choreography made for television and the entry will look better than it really is. And that is how you make entertaining television.

Visually, Norweigan finals benefit from much tighter and better camera work. That comes with the arena - a hall gives you new opportunities and creates possibilities to alter the angles and the movement. The extra space makes it possible. If you sit year in and year out in the same old studio covered with dust, nobody will hatch a new idea anytime soon.

You would be surprised how much camera work will add to a TV show. Look at the stage sets in Norway - they all look the same. Year after year, they are basically alike. In Finland, the sets change a lot more to no avail, since the camera work is equally tired every year and nobody notices. A lot of effort wasted in a place where it makes no difference.

Above all, what have happened in Norway (and Sweden and Denmark) is that a tight team has taken over. A team that believes that things can be made better. A team that believes that ambitions will help you making things better. A team that believes that you need to do thinga as well as you possibly can.

If you believe in your product and your programme, that will attract big names and good songs. Norway (and Denmark) have both managed to lift their national finals from being uninspired studio productions with no sparkle into being grand events loved by the audience.

Tell me again why Finland wouldn't be able to achieve the same thing with a little bit of an effort?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Norway missed a few pearls as well...

Most of the Nordic countries have successfully re-invented their national finals during the last years, and Norway has been working very hard on finding ESC success.

They have been successful as well. Wig Wam in 2005, Maria Haukaas Storeng in 2008 and, of course, Alexander Rybak in 2009 all left lasting impressions on the international audience. Not bad for the country that used to end in bottom five every year for such a long period of time.

But who is perfect? Also Norway has rejected a few personal favourites of mine during the last ten years. It would have been most interesting to find out how these ones would have fared had they reached the ESC.

Venke Knutsen - Jealous Cause I Love You (2010)

I was never a fan of Didrik Solli-Tangen's pompous old ballad and can't help thinking that Venke would have spiced up the Oslo happening quite a bit with her output, presence and wacky lyrics.

Velvet Inc - Tricky (2009)

Of course Rybak was the right choice. Nobody else could have crushed all resistance in Moscow like he did. But had Norway opted for this slick pop praline instead, nobody would ever have known that.

Veronica Akselsen - Am I Supposed To Love Again (2008)

Mellow and melancholic. Very sensitive performance, also. Again, not strong enough to better Maria's fifth place in Belgrade, but a very proud entry for any country.

Ann-Mari Andersen - Ándagassii (2008)

Ethnic, haunting, suggestive piece of modern pop. Slick production and soft, appealing lyrics in Sami. One of the best and most progressive entries that Norway ever left behind.

Mocci - Tonight (2006)

And then there is always Mocci, who has the distinction of missing out twice with modern, urban sounding entries. Her 2006 Sophie Ellis-Bextor sound would probably have been too laid-back in Athens (and had she hit the notes as poorly as she does in this clip, she could have had to fight it out with Fabrizio over the last place) but the song is good. And her 2001 effort would have rocked Copenhagen and filled a real void in the extremely weak line-up of that year.

Mocci - You've Got The Motion (2001)

Wow... Thank you, readers!

I just have to thank you all who pass by once in a while to read what I scribble down. I made this blog public Wednesday this week (even if some posts are older than that) and today, Saturday, I have had already more than 500 pageviews!

Fantastic! This calls for a bit of a celebration! How about champagne for everybody?

John Terra en groep - Champagne voor iedereen (Belgium national final 1987)

Apologies for Iceland and Norway

When I was younger, I tried to follow every single national final that went on somewhere in the world. I listened to the songs online and predicted and hoped and got myself a whole set of favourites that never won and I was so disappointed.

Since then, I slowed down a bit. I still enjoy seeing the national finals in various countries and I still get non-winning favourites that I play over and over. I just don't follow them as carefully as I used to.

And that is why I haven't spoken a word about the semis in Iceland so far. The only song I heard so far in Iceland is this one:

Yohanna - Nótt

When Yohanna comes back again after ending in second place in Moscow two years ago, then I have to lend an ear. I was never mad about "Is It True" (I thought it was good, not brilliant) and I find "Nótt" to be much better.

Is that a kiss of death or what?

The same goes for Norway - I just haven't had the time to devote to listening to all the songs. After tonight, I promise to have an opinion on at least all songs that have passed on to the respective finals in Iceland and Norway.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Euroviisut, semi 2 - a sigh of relief

Paradise Oskar, Milana Misic and Father McKenzie made their way into the grand final of Euroviisut 2011. Thank heavens. It is good to get a reciept that Finns can tell what is quality and what is not.

I predicted Jimi Constantine rather than Milana in the top three, but boy - did I change my mind during the live show!

Apart from Paradise Oskar, no act really sparkled and most of them seemed to suffer from the Too Peaceful A Place Syndrome.

Let me explain: the Tohloppi TV Centre in Tampere is a very nice place. Calm. Peaceful. Low tempo. Friendly atmosphere. And no nerve. Nothing to build on, no climax to work with.

Under such circumstances, it is so easy to lose focus and exaggerate your performance. Father McKenzie's singer did, Soma Manuchar did and Jimi Constantine... Well, what didn't Jimi do?

In short: I can't remember any singer making such a disgraceful impression on an Euroviisut stage. Ever. Even if Soma Manuchar really gave him a run for the money in her body stocking outfit.

Ironically, the least experienced performer gave by far the best performance of the night. Paradise Oskar sang well (if a bit nervously at first), looked relaxed and gave an overall very positive impression. If he ditches the stool for the final and stands up instead, he could go very far.

Father McKenzie gave a somewhat frantic impression and need help with their stage act urgently, but a strong chorus is always a good thing. Milana Misic seemed a bit lost and nervous, which is odd for as experienced a singer, but her dignity was probably a valuable asset as well. Especially coming after Jimi.

Jimi Constantine has been working hard all winter: appearing on tv shows, doing gigs all over the country, guesting loads of radio shows. Three minutes of awful television was all it took to reduce the hard work to ruins.

A good lesson for everyone: A pop star should play hard to get. Not hard to want.

My Song to represent Albania

Some people believe Eurovision goes on half the year or so nowadays. They are not entirely wrong - in some countries the season starts very early.

Most years, Albania is the first country to select their entry through the prestigious Festivali i Këngës, traditionally held late December. (This year Switzerland beat them to it, but one cannot always be first.)

The winning song, "Kënga ime" (My Song) by Aurela Gaçe, can be seen
here .

What I have liked about most Albanian entries since their elegant debut back in 2004 is that they often have a certain roughness and a bit of an edge and attitude, the way Turkey used to play it back in the 80's. A strong sense of personality even in the most radio friendly songs. I really like that.

This year's winner is no exception: it is powerful and almost aggressive, in a good way. Aurela Gaçe gives it her all and if the final production for Düsseldorf makes the melody line a bit sharper and clearer and avoids the tiny risk of the chorus getting too shouty, then Albania could have a shot at top ten.

For the final, Aurela had a dramatic change of look and hair colour. I like her semi final look better, where she showed a shocking ressemblance to a Eurovision legend from older times. Look for yourselves!

Tonia - Un peu de poivre, un peu de sel (Belgium 1966)

A Change for Romania

Romania spent their first decade in the Eurovision Song Contest taking one blow after another, getting dismal results and very few points. For the last ten years, however, they have turned into a reliable source of europop that has been in the final every year since 2002.

The Romanians decided to hit two birds with one rock and selected their entry for Düsseldorf on New Years Eve. Two celebrations must be twice as fun as just the one.

Hotel FM - Change (Romania 2011)

The winner is a happy little ditty which possibly won't strike you as the most possible winner come May 14th, but this is where Romania's special mojo kicks in. Romania has an almost surreal way of making their entries work when it really matters.

Quite a few of the Romanian entries through the years have appeared as too lean, too light weight and too anonymous to stand out, but once the envelopes are opened they always make it in the end.

Look no further than last year, when "Playing With Fire" ended in third place without being one of the top tips for victory. I would be very surprised if Hotel FM would not make their little song hit home in the end.

Happy Happy Happy à la Austria

I felt this afternoon needed something cheerful. Something happy. Something upbeat. Something that can make your heart beat faster and let you feel life pulsing through your body.

Then it had to be this one.

George Nussbaumer - Weils d'r guat got (Austria 1996)

It just doesn't get happier than this, does it? Wild and crazy and that's just the beginning of it.

(Welcome back, Austria, by the way! I missed you!)

Tobson predicts: Euroviisut, semi 2

Tonight, the second out of three semi finals will be held in the Tohloppi TV studios in Tampere. Five acts go on stage, three of them take a place in the big final on February 12th.

This week's bunch is a lot stronger than the songs on offer last week. Which is odd. Yle should of course spread the strongest entries as evenly as possibly among the semis in order to have as strong a final as only possible.

And here they are - the entries of this week reviewed based on the studio versions. If somebody sings badly live, I will be as unpleasantly surprised as you.

Soma Manuchar opens the game with a modern sounding pop song that could be described as a not too remote cousin of Jonna's ill-fated entry of last week. Soma could very well go down the same road as this has proved to be a tricky genre in Finnish finals - the audience tend to ignore young females with modern pop ditties. "Strong" is however, despite lacking any kind of surprise element by the end, reasonably strong.
Grade: 3/5

No use beating around the bush here: this is my big favourite out of all fifteen entries on offer. Paradise Oskar (the name taken from a main character in an Astrid Lindgren novel) is a Finnish Tom Dice with a better song and a voice full of sincerity. Classy, relaxed, original and yet accessible. And unlike most of the other songs, this one has a very clear hook for people to remember already after one listening.
Grade: 4/5

3. JIMI CONSTANTINE - Party To Party
When Jimi Constantine sang with the band Technicolour, he would have been one of my favourite acts to represent Finland at Eurovision. Now he enters on his own with a song that starts out promising with a bit of a (somewhat dated) pop sound, pumping rhythms and a very present backing vocal section. Musically very close to "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi and maybe there is where it loses me. Despite all promising components, this just falls flat on its nose, trying to be fun and crazy when it really isn't. And that silly lyric (we party all night and dance with all the models - who cares?) doesn't help a bit.
Grade: 1/5

4. MILANA MISIC - Sydämeni kaksi maata
Milana has a lot to live up to in this contest - her mother is none other than Laila Kinnunen, Finland's first ESC entrant in addition to being perhaps the country's most beloved singer ever. She is playing the exotic card and wants to be original and mixes a ballad, an oriental interlude and some discofox à la Love Boat into the same song. Not a bad effort once you hear it a couple of times, but on a first listening it is nothing but confusing.
Grade: 2/5

5. FATHER MCKENZIE - Good Enough
The second strongest entry of the evening has a bit of a shakey beginning to fight against: here and there during the first half of the song, this comes across as a bit amateurish, but it all comes together nicely at the end. If the audience listens all the way, this is a grower that gets better by every time you hear it. And it may be helped in the voting by the fact that one member comes from Ostrobothnia and another from Åland Islands, where local patriotism is a good thing and people are not afraid to televote.
Grade: 3/5

So who will reach the final, then? I hope and think that Paradise Oskar is untouchable and easily sails into the final, but Finnish televoters are sometimes very unpredictable. Soma Manuchar would deserve a spot in the final, but her type of songs seldom impresses the viewers. And how loyal fans does Jimi Constantine have?

My prediction is that Paradise Oscar, Father McKenzie and Jimi Constantine makes it to the final, leaving the ladies behind. That is not gentleman behaviour, but a very likely outcome.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Finland: Euroviisut, semi 1

I suppose I spoke my mind on how I feel about this year's edition of Euroviisut in an earlier post today, but let's focus on the songs instead. Starting from this week, I will also predict the outcome in advance but here are my grades and opinions on the first five songs in competition:

1. AUTOMATIC EYE - I'm Not The One Who's Sorry
The honour of opening the 2011 edition of the Finnish semi finals went to a group who, according to the press material, had a radio hit some time ago but whose name is unlikely to ring any bell with the larger part of the audience. They offered a typical straightforward piece of radio pop/rock of a kind that has struggled to make an impact in Euroviisut lately. Tailor made for the airwaves, but the live performance left a lot to be desired. The singer, a bit too excited for his own good, made a frantic and unfocused impression on stage. Bland rather than bad, but clearly not an entry that would go very far.
Grade: 1/5

2. MARKO MAUNUKSELA - Synkän maan tango
Tango is an important part of the Finnish folklore and a good enough reason to weep your heart out to a sentimental tune in minor. This tango has gone through the pop filter, however, before it was handed over to the current Tango King, winner of the prestigious Tangomarkkinat Song Contest. Maunuksela possesses a strong, deep voice and displays rather a strong stage persona as well, nailing the camera with his eyes throughout the song, giving overall a good impression. The song is hopelessly wasted on a non-Finnish audience, but as a product aimed at the domestic market only it is not bad at all.
Grade: 2/5

The softest song of the evening (by quite a margin, too) is offered by Johanna who, despite being more of jazz singer, offered a musical mix somewhere in between a hymn and a country ballad by the fire. Anyone who could keep a straight face performing with an outfit as unflattering as Johanna's deserve some extra points, I suppose, but this song clearly hit a nerve with many televoters. It benefits from repeated listening (as well as from a change of language - if Johanna wins she will sing in English in Düsseldorf) but would be very much of a risk in the ESC. Hit or miss. Sink or swim.
Grade: 2/5

4. JONNA - Puppets
Jonna was exposed to a larger audience when she competed in a docusoap and found herself selected for the girl band Gimmel, only to leave the band almost at once. She had a bit of a career going on for a few years after that, but have remained very much outside the public eye for a long time. She put on a very ambitious show (including both dancing and a change of dress), but forget the most important detail: a good song to go with it. When the chorus falls as flatly as this one, no amount of skillful dancing can help you. Especially not when the camera work is this uninspired and the director seems not to be able to care less about what happens on stage. A shame every time such an amount of ambition is wasted to no use.
Grade: 2/5

5. CARDIANT - Rapture In Time
Ever since Lordi won the ESC in Athens, it has been clear that heavy metal will always have a given spot in Euroviisut. This genre is definitely not my cup of tea, but what is worse is that the singer doesn't measure up to what is expected of him. This type of melodious metal requires a lot of vocal precision and the vocalist has to struggle to reach the higher notes. He eventually hits most of them, but it is a bumpy ride and not as enjoyable as it could have been. The chorus is not all bad, but on the total this is not designed to appeal to me.
Grade: 1/5

Every week, the audience is the let loose and by televoting they decide who will pass on to the final and who will be left in the cold. Three songs per week take a spot in the final, scheduled for February 12th.

This week, Automatic Eye and Jonna found themselves knocked out but they can still hope to be the lucky loser: out of the non-qualifyers, Yle will select one wild card to take the tenth spot in the final.

All in all a weak first semi. The quality will improve in the two remaining semis, but the Finnish televoters have a bleak bunch to select from.

The positive side effect of that is that is should be easy to pick the quality raisins out of the dull cake. The second semi will prove if this is the case.

What if East had joined in earlier?

In 1989, the Berlin wall came down and took the Cold War with it. A few years later, in 1993, the former Socialist East was let inside the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time.

But the Cold War wasn't all that cold all the time, and some of the east bloc countries had quite good relations with the west.

I can't help wondering what Eurovision would have been like had a few of the Socialist brothers found their way into the contest already in the late 70's or the early 80's. There were plenty of acts who could have made a splash internationally: Neoton Familia from Hungary, Anne Veski from Soviet Estonia, Veronika Fischer from the German Democratic Republic...

Had these countries been in the running longer, then maybe the reaction would have been less negative and less violent when they started doing really well some ten years ago? Maybe we wouldn't have had the heated (and headless) debate where people from "the west" accuses "the east" of only voting for each other. Thus cheating.

Neoton Familia - Monte Carlo

Take the example from above - the Hungarian band Neoton Familia (with just a tiny hint of inspiration from Abba, perhaps) would probably have done rather well in the 80's with a song like this one.

Or maybe not. For many years, the more exotic participants (Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and, the only Socialist country in the running, Yugoslavia) could be as good as they wanted without ever being seen as anything more than a colourful interval or a zestful decoration on the Eurovision cake.

9 ½ minut (1988)

When I posted Danish masterpieces yesterday, how could I forget this one? This is like a tiny piece of art, like an installation of what the 80's were like at their best.

Anne Marie Busk "9 ½ minut" (Danish final 1988)

I mean, what is there not to love? A Danish Kylie in a pop mood, accompanied by two male backing singers in trenchcoats. Yes, trenchcoats. One of them is sporting a moustache, the other one seems to be Riki Sorsa's long lost Danish twin.

Also, it is rich in detail. The dress! The acting (is it a train behind us?)! The laser beams! The hat!

Of course it didn't reach the super final, but it is a fine effort. And time has been pretty kind to it, as well. Compared to some of the very dated stuff that defeated it back in 1988.

The trouble with Euroviisut

Soon there will be my review of the entries of the first Euroviisut semi final, held last Friday. But first, let me state the obvious.

Euroviisut (or Eurovision laulukilpailu, as it is actually called these days) has been a pretty static affair, using more or less the same crew for the last ten years. This has been increasingly clear since 2006, when TV2 started hosting semi finals in the Tohloppi TV studios in Tampere.

You all know what it is like, when you slowly lose your enthusiasm about a project. You run out of ideas and start doing things with your left hand, based on routine rather than a will to push things forward. Often everyone around you notices long before you do yourself.

The current system started out very well and lead, among other things, to Finland's first and so far only Eurovision win. Since then, however, things have slowly worked its way down in every aspect of the show.

So what did we get on Friday night? Not that much, I'm afraid.

It was a severe case of Monday in the tv studio. Nobody seemed to think it was all too fun to be back again. Jaana Pelkonen put up a brave face, but given this is her seventh year, she must have had it with hosting this show as well.

Then most things were average or below: the studio, the camera work, the songs, the post cards. And then came a sketch, a humourous break, which could well be one of the lowest points in the history of Finnish broadcasting (stereotypical, badly acted, vulgar and, worst of all, not very funny), proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this family program has had no quality control what so ever.

In short: a competition with no excitement, a gala with no glamour, an entertainment show with no entertainment.

Luckily, I am not the only one who feels this way. The producer, Merete Manninen, has stated publicly that big changes are to come in the way the national selection is organised. A very good move that everyone will benefit from.

Euroviisut in its current form has reached the end of the road. Let's take it down an re-model it before it is wrecked beyond repair.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Danish darlings

One of the things I have been busy doing this last week is converting old vinyls to mp3 format. Among other things I have converted are the Danish national final compilations of 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1988 and 1989.

You can say a lot of things about the 80's, but they were almost never as bright, happy and bubbly as they were in Denmark. Here are only three out of the many gems from these years.

Enjoy! Plastic fantastic!

Snapshot - Gi'r du et knus?
Second place in 1983, losing out narrowly to Gry Johansen. I wonder how this one would have fared in Munich with its infectious chorus? Snapshot would try their luck several times, and one of the girls, Lotte, would make it to the international final in 1992 together with Kenny Lübcke.

Vivian & Gry - Vi ska leve
After beating Snapshot in 1983, Gry tried the game again, this time in a duet with her mother Vivian who had several participations of her own under her belt already. A very modern entry that perhaps wasn't cheerful enough for the juries back in 1985. Sixth place out of ten still remains a mystery in my book - a classic!

Kirsten & Søren - Sig' det som det er
After representing Denmark in 1984 and 1985, Hot Eyes were at it again in 1986 where this very bouncy performance impressed the juries a bit less, landing them a 4th place. Maybe the verses are slightly too anonymous to make this entry their best, but the chorus makes me bubbly with joy.

Soon there will be more action...

What can I say, who can I blame? I blame my lack of time and claim the last week has been stressful enough.

But now I will start blogging for real. In good time, as the season is beginning to heat up. The semis are well under way in several countries, and I will of course put extra focus on Finland - my adopted home country.

The first semi in Finland was held last Friday - review on its way, but tonight my thoughts are too dim. Not a good idea to let yourself get too stressed.

Odd Børre of Norway knew that already back in 1968... (If you understand the what the NRK commentator says, you will find not even he believed in this entry.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Follow-up in Norway?

NRK has published the seven songs for the first semi final in MGP 2011. One of the songs is called "Not That Easy (Ah-Åh-Ah-Åh)" and the part within brackets caught my attention.

Is that a follow-up to this masterpiece from the 1984 Norweigan final? If so, can we hope for a victory this time? (If you look closely, the Silhouette girls are identical to Jahn Teigen's backing group in Munich 1983 - nice German connection there, very suitable for Düsseldorf.)

Schlager of the day: Nya illusioner

These days, I am not the biggest fan of the pop schlager as phenomenon. I want the world to go on and I want the ESC to incorporate new styles, representative of the times we live in rather than the past.

But schlager through the years makes me nostalgic and happy.

And one that pops up fairly regularly in my head is this forgotten pearl from the 1987 Melodifestival held in Gothenburg. Annica Jonsson was the hopeful debutant at the microphone, who finally had her chance in the spotlight.

Annika had tried at least once before, but in 1985 her entry "Stjärnljus" was rejected by the committee.

Maybe she didn't quite believe in the song, maybe she didn't really want to be a singer, but Annika displays quite a lack of focus when it is her turn and she sings the wrong lyrics at least twice throughout the song. She didn't qualify for the super final and the song was pretty instantly forgotten.

But I still love it. Chirpy, upbeat, classical. My schlager of the day.

Shake it like Seyyal

More than one thousand entries has performed on the Eurovision stage, then just try to imagine how many more have fought it out in various national finals through the years. Trying to pick one or a few favourites out of this bunch is somewhat difficult, to put it mildly.

But one singer who always works for me is Seyyal Taner, who did her thing with energy, style and zeal for Turkey back in Brussels in 1987.

"Sarkim sevgi üstüne" was in no way designed for Eurovision back in the 80's, where you should be pretty streamlined and elegant to stand a chance. Seyyal, backed by Grup Lokomotif, entered the set in the way a grand piano would dive into a swimming pool. With a big splash.

Brussel reports suggest that the Turkish delegation made a very positive impact throughout rehearsals and press gatherings, attracting quite a lot of positive attention, making more than one believe that something this different could actually stand a chance.

On the night, however, the juries made everyone snap out of the illusion and left Turkey in last place without a single point on the scoreboard.

Sadly enough, 1987 should have been Seyyal's year of revenge after losing out very narrowly in the 1986 Turkish national final with the stomper "Dünya". Nothing indicates that "Dünya" would have done any better on an international level as it is pumped with the same energy, roughness, positivity and bounciness as the 1987 output.

And, of course, the whole package is nicely wrapped up by a somewhat over enthusiastic choreographer. I would have loved to be present at the rehearsals when he/she came up with the dance routine.

Love them or loathe them, but what I really adore about Seyyal's entries is that she truly devotes herself to what she is doing. She is singing and dancing her heart out, not just singing politely because someone asked her nicely.

With a little bit more devotion à la Seyyal, nobody could at least ever describe Eurovision as dull.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quite an uphill for Switzerland

Despite hosting and winning the very first edition of the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1956, Switzerland has never been any of the strongest countries in competition.

That is probably due to the fact that the Swiss entries in general have stuck pretty close to the general idea most people would have of Switzerland itself: conservative, clean-cut, modest and inoffensive. No sharp edges, no big surprises.

Back in the day when juries reigned supreme, the recipe still worked pretty well. To score with the juries, you could collect safe points just by being safe and reliable. Smile sweetly and the crowds won't love you, but you will collect enough points on average to do reasonably well.

In televoting, however, this does not work at all. In order to get points you need to stand out and stick in the viewer's minds. You have to distinguish yourself (not necessarily in a positive light) and be the one people will remember once the recap of songs begins.

Switzerland was the first country to select their entry for 2011 and again they have fallen for something sweet and harmless.

"In Love For A While" is not a bad song as such - it is a hummable little ditty which creates a pretty pleasant feel with it's acoustic banjo sound. Anna Rossinelli has an OK voice and feels a bit like Lena Meyer Landrut's older sister, but she does not have an easy job. The chorus (which bears a slight ressemblance to "Got To Get You Into My Life" by the Beatles) is hard to sing without losing your breath, which somehow damages the light feeling the rest of the song tries to put across.

Anna will also suffer from the Lena comparison, but I have a feeling more countries will cough up something slightly too similar to last year's winner before the national selections are over.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Here I go again...

Hello again, all!

Blogging about Eurovision seems to be addictive. I started doing so under this very blog name already back in 2005 and since then I have been doing it a bit here and a bit there.

Most of the time in Swedish, as the official blogger and Eurovision expert for Svenska Yle (the Swedish speaking branch of Finnish radio/television). For the last two years, I have also been providing commentary for the Swedish speakers of bilingual Finland.

This year, however, I have other things coming up so someone else will do the commentary as well as the Yle blogging.

But how could I not blog about Eurovision? My head would burst! So here I am, on my own blog where I will analyse, review, predict and share a song or a few. Welcome onboard!