A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
There is always some matter to discuss or just a song I want to share
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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tobson Ranking: #15 Israel

I simply cannot believe how this former winner could fail to qualify... Or, well, maybe I can. But it is deeply unfair.

Dana International - Ding Dong (Israel 2011)

It is hard for former winners to come back to Eurovision these days. Charlotte Nilsson Perrelli struggled in Belgrade, Niamh Kavanagh did the same in Oslo.

And poor Dana International didn't even make it out of the semis.

I have ears too and I understand perfectly well that Ding Dong was not the epic masterpiece needed for a former winner to seize the top title for a second time.

But Dana is such a wonderful appearance. She dances out on stage, she almost hits the high notes, she smiles, she plays along with the audience, she fills her little song with so much geist and zeal and presence and passion. She gives the impression of taking herself very seriously one moment, and then just being in it for a laugh the next one.

In short - I love Dana International and find it a bit sad that the rest of the continent doesn't to the same extent that I do.

But she'll get over it. Can't keep a good girl down, can you?

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #16 Norway

Catchy, happy and with an somewhat exotic flavour - that could never go wrong at Eurovision. Or could it?

Stella Mwangi - Haba Haba (Norway 2011)

There are always a few songs every year that look very promising before the rehearsals start, but that you pretty quickly realise they won't be good enough for qualification in the end.

"Haba Haba" was not one of those songs. It seemed to go down a storm everywhere in Düsseldorf, and even the people who were not really keen on it beforehand (like yours truly) seemed to give in to the ever smiling Stella and her afroschlager.

More than one jaw dropped when the last envelope in the first semi contained Iceland and Norway was left out in the cold.

My main objection beforehand is still my main objection I suppose: despite having material for only two minutes, this song keeps going and going for one long last minute without any major development.

Also, the dress rehearsal - shown for and voted upon by the juries - had no audience in the hall, making the whole act a bit awkward. Who is Stella telling to clap along when the hall is empty? My guess is that the juries never warmed to it and that it didn't leave a lasting impression for the televoters on just one listen.

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #17 Slovenia

The heaviest dress of the entire contest came along with the heaviest chorus as well. How very fitting.

Maja Keuc - No One (Slovenia 2011)

It took me a long, long, long time to break into this song. I found it way more complicated than needed, taking new roads and paths through the musical landscapes, leaving the listener a bit confused as to where it would head next.

But lovely lovely Maja Keuc somehow managed to walk straight out on stage and grab the steering wheel with both hands, guiding the vessel through the reefs on to safe ground.

Powerful vocal chords matched with a strong presence, a certain authority and the kind of conviction only people willing to wear tight dresses that weigh a ton will possess.

Slovenia has had better songs than this, but their eternal problem is their inability to get their act together on stage. This time, everything fell in place beautifully.

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #18 Denmark

It really wants to be the big anthem of the year and it wants us all to song along. But the boys also want to be edgy and cool. That works so-so.

A Friend In London - New Tomorrow (Denmark 2011)

First of all congratulations to Denmark for heavy scoring two years in a row. A bit too heavy scoring for my taste.

A Friend In London is a likeable bunch with a charismatic lead singer, but I get the feeling they want us all to think they are very indie and hip and cool. Then it won't work to sing a harmless little song like this one.

Another solid effort from Denmark but I wouldn't mind if they surprised me a bit next year.

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #19 Switzerland

Just like Iceland, a relaxed and likeable performance lifted this simple song to new heights.

Anna Rossinelli - In Love For A While (Switzerland 2011)

As a song, I still find this a bit too basic for its own good. Nothing wrong in keeping it simple - that is what I wanted Cyprus and some other countries to do. But there is a clear difference between simple and primitive.

My main objection is that this one sounds more like a jam session than a finished, polished song contest entry.

In Düsseldorf, it felt more like a real song. And when the Mother Sun that is Anna Rossinelli shines down over the whole thing, it is hard to resist.

It is never fun to be last in the final, but for a country like Switzerland it must have felt nice to be back at all.

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #20 Iceland

I had my doubts about this song, but in Düsseldorf I just had to resign to it. A sentimental little ditty performed by the right people at the right time.

Sjonni's Friends - Coming Home (Iceland 2011)

You all know the back story about the composer's tragic and unexpected death right before the national final in Iceland, and there was where my doubts came in. I way prefer songs that can stand alone without explanation, without back story.

And then I realised that this song actually does. It isn't quite my cup of tea musically, but it is performed with a warm intensity and it is very easy to like.

Not quite every ingredient in the stage performance is fully to my liking either, but that is not of any great importance.

So I rest my case and admit I was wrong. Well done, Iceland.

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #21 Poland

Had it been the Eurovision Wailing Contest, then Magdalena Tul would have gone home with a diploma. Wailing isn't always the thing to do, though.

Magdalena Tul - Jestem (Poland 2011)

In its recorded version, the Polish entry is a bit of a personal favourite. A cleverly arranged little pop song, modern and catchy, but not simple enough for you to grow tired of it at once.

I had high hopes of Magdalena making it to the final, setting the poor Polish scores up to a level they deserved.

Boy, was I mistaken.

It seems that the sound mix on this (and a few other songs in the beginning of the first semi) was really bad in a number of countries, but no sound technician in the world could have turned this shoutfest into something nice.

The balance between Magdalena and her backing singers is a bit wobbly throughout the entire performance, but after the key change, when Magdalena starts wailing for all she's worth, then all hope is gone.

Somebody in the Polish delegation should have told her to hold back. Told her not to overdo it. Told her to do a bit more of straight singing and just do a few little vocal excursions.

Last place is still violently unfair, but the live performance is a real let down, given what this song could have been.

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #22 Russia

This could have worked. But if you want to be the likeable guy, you must start by being likeable. Take note, Alex dear.

Alexey Vorobyov - Get You (Russia 2011)

When it transpired that Russia had bought a song from Lady Gaga songwriter RedOne, I suspected we could all be heading back to Moscow again. But no. Even top class songwriters have less inspired moments, clearly.

It's not all bad, the song. It has a catchy little chorus going on and a clever hook - "I know you want me to" (or is it "I know you want me too"?) sticks efficiently in your mind.

But young mr Sparrow has nothing of what you would like a popstar to be. He's confident, I'll give him that. But over confident is not an attractive trait.

Instead of charming, he is over excited, as smug as the Belgians and altogether quite unpleasant.

Hard to want instead of hard to get. If he's coming to get you - lock your door and put a cupboard in front of it. This song could have gone far with a better performer.

Let's see if that message broke through to Russian television for next year.

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #23 Cyprus

Sometimes an ingenious stage show can lift a song to unexpected heights. And sometimes it just gets in the way.

Christos Mylordos - San aggelos s'agapisa (Cyprus 2011)

It was pretty clear from the word go that Cyprus was not going to go very far with a ballad as demanding and un-catchy as this one. It was never really a question of qualification, mainly of performing well and reaching the precious few who would understand the musical qualities of the piece.

Or so I thought.

Instead, Cyprus put on a visually advanced number where Christos and his backing group all defy gravity. You can of course enjoy the technical aspect of it, but I think it rather distracted people from listening.

It is a delicate little ballad, very sweetly sung, and it would benefit from a simpler presentation. Less is more. Trust your song instead.

But the main aspect in this is that Christos Mylordos is a much better performer than the critics claimed beforehand. With a more clear-cut and more accessible song, he could easily have made it to the final.

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #24 Bulgaria

Bulgaria deserved better but missed the final. Business as usual, in their case.

Poli Genova - Na inat (Bulgaria 2011)

The Eurovision map has changed a bit in recent years, and it seems the curse of never getting anywhere has moved slightly away from Finland and Portugal (who rather often make it to the final these days) to the likes of the Netherlands and Bulgaria.

Bulgaria only made the final once, which is pretty shameful given how hard they have tried to send in original entries that stand out from the rest.

Poli Genova is yet another of these almost shockingly competent stage performers that populated the 2011 ESC. She has the looks, the voice, the presence.

What she doesn't quite have is the song.

There is a bit of a hook, and the piano part is suggestive. But at some point, the chorus turns too square for its own good, and the song never fully takes off at the end.

Also, Slovenia stole most of the "female rock"-votes straight out of the hand of poor Poli. A good attempt, close but not enough.

In my opinion, Bulgaria would deserve a bull's eye soon.

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #25 FYR Macedonia

My ranking moves into top 25, so all the songs listed from now on would have been in "my" final. And with the presence of this one, I even surprise myself.

Vlatko Ilievski - Rusinka (FYR Macedonia 2011)

As blog followers with good memory will recall, I didn't think much of this song when we all left for Düsseldorf. I found it silly, repetitive and the clip gave me the idea they all took it very, very seriously themselves.

On the contrary, I found the FYR Macedonian team to be pretty easy-going and light-hearted and their stage performance somehow underlines that this is just a little bit of fun.

It still is a silly song, but the packaging is just right to make it work. I found myself secretly hoping a bit for a surprise qualification for this one on the night of the second semi final.

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #26 Turkey

For the first time since 1994, Turkey missed the ESC final. Quite right, if you ask me.

Yüksek Sadakat - Live It Up (Turkey 2011)

It isn't really a bad song, the Turkish offering. It is refreshing that Turkey has not stuck with the easy formula. I'm grateful that they give us some rock and experimental songs instead of just hammering out the oriental-flavoured beach party hit year after year.

But all the elements that made me like it in the previews are gone. In the clip, there was fun and movement and an atmosphere of something youthful and progressive.

On stage we find ourselves with a very static rock band in ugly clothing featuring a woman in a cage. Progressive, huh?

With this complete lack of appealing stage elements, the air slowly goes out of the balloon and the song never takes off. It just goes on and on until it finally ends.

But just like the Armenians, the Turks should be happy that the system works. If they find themselves relegated once in a blue moon, less people will whine about them being "guaranteed a place in the final" every year.

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #27 Austria

Austria is back and I'm so happy about it that I'd love to praise their entry. But it would be nothing without Nadine Beiler.

Nadine Beiler - The Secret Is Love (Austria 2011)

Possibly the best thing about the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest was the abundance of real talent - many very young performers who manage to act like singing in front of a huge arena and millions of tv-viewers was the most natural thing in the world.

Nadine Beiler is one of these terrific performers who could probably ignite some life and spark into any dull old song.

Indeed, she does. This entry is maybe pretty and nice, but up until the gospel choir comes in towards the end precious little happens to grab anyone's interest. A square old Disney ballad by the numbers.

The last minute is strong and grabs you, but again mainly thanks to the singer herself. She is a real asset. The song is less so.

But I hope Austria will stay put and send us somebody equally talented with a slightly more interesting song next year.

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #28 Netherlands

Given the standard of recent Dutch entries, this one is indeed pretty OK. And OK was never enough at Eurovision.

3JS - Never Alone (Netherlands 2011)

The Netherlands have fought a losing battle at the ESC for a long, long time. Apart from a brief period of light at the end of the tunnel in the 90's, the Dutch entries have been shark feed most years ever since their last victory to date back in 1975.

It never looked good for 3JS either - this kind of soft, laidback, inoffensive radio rock hardly ever makes an impression in a contest where you have to stand out and grab the audience in order to get people to vote for you.

Last place in the semi is a bit harsh since this is a good radio song, but it falls apart completely on stage. The singer does nothing to establish any kind of contact with the audience at home, he has no camera contact what-so-ever. Even the singing is a bit out of breath and uncomfortable.

The Netherlands will never get back into the final unless they change their approach and start sending something with a bit of attitude and edge. Somebody please remind them what "Hemel en aarde" sounded like.

My grade: 2 / 5

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tobson Ranking: #29 Slovakia

After two rather interesting entries since their comeback, Slovakia turned more mainstream. And it paid off. Sort of.

TWiiNS - I'm Still Alive (Slovakia 2011)

After Slovakia discovered they had withrawn after the deadline and would have to pay a large sum to the EBU regardless if they sent a song or not, these twins were selected internally to go to Düsseldorf.

Their song is an international product, sounding safe and familiar, like a million radio hits already do. The performance is secure and likeable, but somewhat lacking in temper and personality to crack the tv screen.

Going more middle-of-the-road was a good decision for Slovakia - even if they didn't qualify, they got more points and a much better rank than they have been used to in the past.

If they could manage to combine the quirk of previous years with a taste of safe and familiar, then we will soon see Slovakia in the final. And why not pretty high up in the result?

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #30 France

One of the biggest pre-contest favourites always seemed to be a safe bet for a top placing. Even if it didn't trigger the slightest little emotion in me.

Amaury Vassili - Sognu (France 2011)

It contains many things that should be applauded, though. A polished and stylish attempt of bringing in a quality piece of more sophisticated music compared to what is normally heard at Eurovision.

And a song in a minority language from France? Well done.

But it is hard to bring in sophistication and being hard to get in a competitioned judged by the televoting audience. A song like this needs a flawless performance to go down well.

Poor Amaury's performance was quite some way from being flawless.

Something never worked out during the rehearsals, and he is doing the song in a very weird key throughout the live performance. To add insult to injury, he was badly styled and didn't look particularly relaxed on stage.

I hope French tv will realise that the reason for the low placing were mainly technical and that they will keep sending interesting entries by established performers.

The French entries are just so much better when France wants to win. End of story.

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #31 Greece

He certainly has star quality, but this guy is reduced to being a visitor in his own entry.

Loukas Giorkas feat Stereo Mike - Watch My Dance (Greece 2011)

This package could easily have resulted in a very interesting entry indeed, but now it is mainly a collection of good ideas that won't really go anywhere.

Loukas, who is a great singer as well as a very welcome sight for sore eyes, belts out his tiny singing part with such gusto that most people must wonder why he didn't get to sing more.

Instead you get an endless load of rap from Stereo Mike, who, unbelievably, gets an awful lot of space during these three minutes without contributing anything worth noticing.

The stage show is very tasteful and dramatic, but for me it doesn't help. It is too late. Stereo Mike has already left the entry in ruins.

Europe did not agree with me, and rewarded Greece with its eighth consecutive top ten score.

Good for Greece - but this song really doesn't do much for me.

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #32 Albania

According to every paragraph in my rule book, this should be higher in the ranking. It does most things right, but still it ends up terribly wrong.

Aurela Gaçe - Feel The Passion (Albania 2011)

First of all - this is a good song. I know it is. I liked it very much when it won the Albanian final and I looked forward to seeing how it would be improved for the european final.

Instead of improving it, they wrecked it. Unfortunately.

Instead of intense, it became frantic. Instead of emotional, it became screechy. Instead of classy, it became a bit overworked.

The only seconds that the song comes out of the cloud for me is during the few lines by the end where Aurela switches to her native language tongue. Then some real emotion kicks in, then I understand what she is trying to tell me.

But that is too short and too late. The song that could have been an exotic jewel is just crushed under everything the songmakers want it to be.

I usually have a very soft spot for Albania, but when they mess up they mess up. But maybe Aurela will have a new chance, in a better setting?

My grade: 2 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #33 Georgia

Wanting to be different at Eurovision is a great thing. But different alone is not enough.

Eldrine - One More Day (Georgia 2011)

Georgia goes Linkin Park and sends in a band with attitude aplenty and vocal abilities en masse. Too bad they don't have much of a song to work with.

I always wanted to like this, given it's refusal to be streamlined and adorable, but just found the lack of a proper chorus too frustrating.

In Düsseldorf, however, I felt that this hard-working group managed to pump enough energy and conviction into their performance to make it work for me. At least for three minutes. But then I never feel the need to listen to it again, once it is over.

So, all in all, a medal for bravery and devotion. Minus points for thinking that lacking a song isn't a problem in a song contest.

My grade: 2 / 5