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!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Song Of The Day: Belgium 1966

1966 was in many way a defining year in the history of Eurovision. The year before, a modern pop song had won for the first time and now quite a few countries decided to hop on that same train. Among them a group of countries that had previously sent in traditional, old-fashioned and clean-cut entries: Finland, Portugal, Switzerland... and Belgium.

(Amusing, then, that the great pop nation in Europe - the United Kingdom - would not join the pop squad until a year later, in 1967.)

The Belgian entry was not only more lively and youthful than their previous attempts, it was also unusual in the way that French speaking Wallonia was represented by a Flemish singer (performing in French, although she also recorded her entry in Dutch as "Een beetje suiker").

The most enchanting (pun intended) lyrics, possibly inspired by pop classic "Love Potion no 9", were also regarded by many as a breath of fresh air.

Given the usual Belgian track record in Eurovision, a fourth place is not to be sniffed at. Tonia would later almost come back to Eurovision after placing second in the 1973 German final, before her career faded in the early 80's.

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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Song Of The Day: Portugal 2005

In 2005, news were scarce concerning Portugal's entry. There had been no announcement for any public national final, but it had been made clear that the winner of Operação Triunfo would not represent Portugal in Kyiv.

In the end an internal selection was made, and the song "Amar" was presented to the audience at a rather late stage.

Performed by temporary duo 2B - consisting of Luciana Abreu and Rui Drumond (both of talent show fame) - it sounded a lot more modern than anything Portugal had sent into competition for many years. Catchy, driven by drum beats and with a chorus in English that was easy to sing along with, it looked like the Portuguese entry could stand a chance of qualification.

2B - Amar (Portugal 2005 preview)

In Kyiv, however, the whole thing fell to pieces with a real let-down of a presentation where a busy dance routine got in the way of the singing. Also, the duet seemed to lack in balance between Luciana and Rui.

Despite scoring no less than three 12-pointers, "Amar" ended in 17th place and did not qualify for the final.

But now everything was pointing in the right direction. Even Portugal could shake up a pop song if needed.

And Rui Drumond is not a bad performer at all. He'd be very welcome back to Eurovision with a more polished performance and a number that allows him more personal space.

2B - Amar (Portugal 2005)

A Life In The Margin

Through the history of the Eurovision Song Contest, it has in no way been easy to find yourself in the outskirts of the competing body. In the outskirts of the Eurovision mainstream.

When you find yourself a bit on the outside, it can be hard to pick up the current trends. It can be hard to translate these trends into something the others will appreciate.

Actually, you run a great risk of sending in something you yourself find cool, fun and entertaining, only to find everyone else thinks it's ridiculous.

Through the years, these countries have been the ones also in the physical margin. The ones way out on the edge. Like Yugoslavia. Or Finland. Norway. Portugal. Turkey.

And Austria.

The Austrian case is more surprising than the others. Austria is culturally in central Europe and very much a part of the German cultural sphere. Not that Germany ever was the proudest nation in the contest, but still.

Austria often got a bit introvert, admittedly, but even when they tried to be hip and happening it never took off for them.

Like in 1983, when they sent in a cute little song, complete with a dance routine and everything you could ask for. Here we go, said Austria. Hmmm, said Europe, and responded with a luke warm ninth place out of twenty songs.

It is not easy to lead a life in the margin and not feel appreciated. I hope now that Austria came back after four years away, they will feel more appreciated than before.

Westend - Hurricane (Austria 1983)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Song Of The Day: Germany 1984

You can ask singers what would be the ideal way of warming up for an event like the Eurovision Song Contest and you would get very different answers. Some might want peace and quiet, some might like time with their vocal coach, some might need to sleep extra much, some might need to excercise to get the surplus energy out of the system.

However, I doubt very much that anyone's favourite way of spending the day leading up to Eurovision having your love life falling apart in a very public way, receiving very bad personal news in a matter of hours before the live show.

That is what happened to Mary Roos at her ESC comeback, twelve years after scoring a third place in 1972.

Suddenly, the well crafted lyrics - dealing with how to survive a painful separation with your dignity in tact - came a little bit too close and on the night Mary's voice came close to cracking a few times.

The juries probably thought it was a shame that she didn't sing as well as in rehearsals, leaving her in an insultingly pale shared 13th place. For me, the sudden emotion makes the performance even better, even braver, even more gripping.

Today, Mary is still a very loved singer in Germany. She deserves every single drop of love she can get.

Mary Roos - Aufrecht geh'n (Germany 1984)

ESC Rejects: Slovenia 2004

Slovenia is one of my personal darlings in Eurovision. Despite their almost perpetual problem of getting their acts together on stage. Not to mention their inability to select the best entry out of their national line-up.

Like in 2004, when they had funny and flirtatious Natalija Verboten with a catchy little pop song, complete with choreography and all.

What the Slovenians couldn't know in advance was how different this one would have sounded compared to most other things a couple of months later in Istanbul. What anyone who ever heard about ears as a concept should be able to hear is how much better it is than Platin.

Platin was the clean-cut slow-disco duo that won the ticket in the end, with a song so harmless it would make a hedgehog on valium look like a rageing beast in comparison. The musical equivalent of a black hole. A void disguised as a love duet.

How anyone could think for a second that it would be a sensible choice for the ESC is beyond me.

Natalija and her song are most divisive (lots of people love it, lots of people loathe it) but it would surely not have left the televoters anywhere near as indifferent as Platin did.

Natalija Verboten - Cry On My Shoulder (Slovenia NF 2004)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Song Of The Day: Turkey 1981

Many people have, through the years, sung songs about life and love being much like a merry-go-round. In that sense, this song is nothing unusual.

During the late 70's and early 80's, many countries contributed disco songs with disco strings for Eurovision. Nothing unusal there either.

The disco songs were often performed by a goodlooking woman, which is also the case here.

What makes this one stand out is that pretty Aysegül have been paired up with three men that don't stike me as typical disco regulars in any way. (Not that they can't handle the choreography. Looks can decieve.)

Also, most disco hits were depending heavily on some kind of hook or catchy chorus. This song has nothing of the kind. It is pleasant and trots along, but it is not the kind of merry-go-round that will leave you breathless and exhausted.

So the juries went for a much more energetic ride called Bucks Fizz and left the disco Turks in second last place with only nine points.

Modern Folk Trio & Aysegül - Dönme dolap (Turkey 1981)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Song Of The Day: Belgium 1983

Belgium has never been a particularly strong eurovision contender, regardless of language, regardless what part of the country had selected the song.

Wallonia has scored a number of top five placings including a victory, while Flanders never scored better than a sixth place.

When seeing an entry like the 1983 Flemish offering, then you sort of understand why.

It was selected by a panel of experts, and the final verdict enraged the audience to the point that it was almost impossible to run the winner's reprise due to all the booing.

If you think I am going to say it deserved to crash and burn like it did in Munich, then you don't know me too well. I find this brave, experimental, punky and radical. Refreshing, different. Complete with the shortest set of lyrics ever heard at the ESC until then.

In short, a find this to be a brave and interesting little masterpiece with frenetic drums and horns.

I'm just saying I sort of understand how it failed to score much with the juries.

Pas de Deux - Rendez-vous (Belgium 1983)

Tobson's Wishlist: Tiziano Ferro for San Marino

There are many a "what", "perhaps" and "if" to this, but hear me out.

One big "if" is whether San Marino will be present in Baku or not. San Marino's television channel is largely owned by Italian state tv RAI, so if Italy stays in (which they said they would in Düsseldorf) then San Marino is very likely to take part as well. San Marino participating at the Junior Eurovision this year is also a good sign.

Italy seems more likely to enter a relative newcomer (from a talent show or from the newcomer category of Sanremo) than to approach an established star to do the job for them.

San Marino on the other hand, could very well use a bit of star quality in order to promote themselves and make it into the final for the first time. They would need a hit single and someone able to perform it well enough to be a real scorer.

Eurovision can be a very important PR vehicle for a small nation like San Marino, and it works best if you get to the final where the audience is way larger than in the semis.

Tiziano Ferro, on the other hand, is a big name in the latin music world but could easily enlarge his popularity into new european territories. He is working on a new album, due for release late 2011, that could sell a lot more in northern Europe with some Eurovision exposure around it.

Tiziano's new album is also his first after coming out as gay in a magazine interview last year. Maybe he would need another focus for the press, something to take a bit of spotlight away from his private life, and then Eurovision would fit him like hand in glove.

Also, he is a good performer and would be a very welcome sight in Euroland.

Tiziano Ferro - Perdono

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Song Of The Day: Luxembourg 1977

One of the biggest reasons to miss Luxembourg at the Eurovision Song Contest was their completely unpredictable nature. Quite often they sent in tidy, neat songs or solid ballads, but then again they also contributed more than a fair share of unexpected and experimental things.

One of my personal favourites among the Luxemburgish offerings is this totally wacko disco take on the world-famous childrens' song "Frère Jacques", originally an innocent little song about a sleepy monk oversleeping the service despite the sound of the monastery bells.

This version has a slightly modified message, as the young girl, whose body has been growing here and there, calls for the monk to wake up, not for service but rather to teach her a thing or two.

The surprisingly juicy lyrics include a list of men she does not wish to be touched by, before she puts on lipstick and perfume, waiting for the holy brother to come and take her by storm.

Not that the Vatican ever considered taking part in the ESC, but I doubt very much this would have been their twelve-pointer back in 1977. Not very catholic at all. But most entertaining.

Anne-Marie B - Frère Jacques (Luxembourg 1977)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tobson's Wishlist: Zazie for France

The 2012 season is already starting up a bit here and a bit there, and maybe it would be a good time to start closing your eyes and wish for the things you'd like to see on stage in Baku come May.

There are so many established names that I would hope to see in the Eurovision Song Contest, so I take a deep breath and start with a big wish.

Zazie has been a steady feature on my wish list for many years already. If you are not familiar with her, she has been a big name in French showbiz for more than fifteen years, not only scoring hits of her own but also writing songs for other established acts.

After a few silent years, she released a real mammoth project last year in the shape of "Za7ie" - a total of seven mini albums with different themes and ideas, making a total of 42 new songs and seven video clips. "Za7ie" was also released as a more typical album with fourteen of the forty-two songs presented on one full-length disc.

In my humble opinion the project is a complete success, bursting full of creativity and lavish pop songs, but Zazie's regular fans have been divided and confused, not knowing what to make of the whole package. So why not confuse them a bit further by entering Eurovision?

Zazie has always had a mind very much of her own and she would probably be nuts enough to take on the challenge. And why wouldn't she want Europe-wide exposure and the chance of selling a number of copies abroad?

French music doesn't export itself like it used to, and even Patricia Kaas admitted to those three minutes in Moscow being time well spent from a publicity point of view.

Zazie also has an ear for graspable melody line and catchy choruses, and her sense of humour could assure a stage show to look out for.

Zazie - Avant l'amour (first single off Za7ie)

Zazie - Être et avoir (second single off Za7ie)

Zazie - Chanson d'amour (third single off Za7ie)

Song Of The Day: Slovenia 2005

At first, I thought the Slovenians had lost their marbles. They had a soft and sweet little ballad, a bit unspectacular but nice, when they suddenly decided to go hardcore on us.

I wasn't sure that little Omar Naber would be able to carry the load on stage, I didn't find the preview very promising, and I thought the emo makeup just made the song harder to grasp.

And then, in Kyiv, I changed my mind. Big time. Omar Naber emerged like a true star, keeping his difficult song under complete control all the way through. Instead of drowning the whole thing in pathos, he works with small gestures and a slowly added roughness to the voice.

When the song really takes off and the drama gets going, then Omar stays steadily on the ground, fully delivering every syllabe of the fantastic lyrics .

This is the best performance Slovenia sent in to Eurovision if you ask me, but back in the day, with twenty-five songs in the semi and rather a small audience, a song as difficult as this didn't have much hope.

In all fairness, he did get closer to the final than I thought.

He would only have deserved so much more.

Omar Naber - Stop (Slovenia 2005)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Song Of The Day: Switzerland 1997

Isn't it funny how some songs will just pass you by at first and then, slowly but steadily, grow on you at some safe place in the back of your head?

I was largely unimpressed by this one in the previews, and during the actual voting I was hoping for it not to score more as I felt it didn't particularly deserve more than the five points it had.

Barbara Berta - Dentro di me (Switzerland 1997)

Today, my biggest objection is that you should not be allowed to wear a cap when you are a backing singer for a ballad unless you are hidden behind a sheet or similar.

The song itself has eaten its way into my conscience, and I really like it very much. I like it so much that I really wish Barbara had managed to keep her act together and sung as well as she reportedly did in rehersals.

But then you can always enjoy the studio version instead. Laid back, jazzy and very pleasing - a genre I wouldn't mind hearing more often in the ESC.

Barbara Berta - Dentro di me (Switzerland 1997 preview)

Eastern Europe...

With the risk of getting really boring here, let me explain where I stand when it comes to the eternal debate about Eastern Europe and its effects on the Eurovision Song Contest.

First thing first - when the eastern countries first joined in, the song contest was dying. A German tv executive was quoted calling it "a decomposing something in the basement of television" and we will never know how close the cancellation of the whole thing was in the mid-90's.

The countries of the East brought in something the contest had lacked for a few years; enthusiasm, the will to win, the ambition to show yourself in the best possible light. In only a few years, many of the new countries had learned how to play the game properly and started getting very good placings, also sending in more modern-sounding songs with more ambitious stage performances.

What is important to understand is that there is no uniform East with a uniform culture. What we mean by East are the countries formerly included in the socialist sphere of Europe. (And, surprisingly, the countries of Former Yugoslavia, despite this country being present in the ESC since 1961.)

At some point, a large portion of fans, reporters and other people starting seeing "The East" as a threat, as a problem. These new people were, of course, the reason why countries like Belgium and The Netherlands failed to score well. Also - these new countries only voted for each other, and never for The West.

All this exploded in Helsinki after the 2007 semi final, when all ten spots went to Eastern countries (including Turkey) and the press centre went bananas. I have never read so much foolishness in print as after that semi final. "Throw Them Out!" was one headline. Tasteful.

There is always the need of an enemy, it seems. Not many years ago, there was much talk about the "Nordic mafia", and fans were very upset about Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland always voted exclusively for each other. That discussion has almost vanished completely.

As long as a song is good and well performed, I couldn't give a toss whether it comes from the east, the west, the north, the south or from the Moon. I want good songs to do well, regardless where they come from.

Also, reality is more complicated than "east vs west". Finland is east of Slovakia, why is the latter labeled "east"? Are the countries of Former Yugoslavia east or west?

And what about Germany? If the singer is from Dresden, should Germany be considered Eastern Europe?

There is a bitter taste of xenophobia to the whole discussion that I really dislike, and therefore I'd like to see this discussion abolished for all future.

Then you can ask yourself if all countries play by the rulebook or not but that has frankly nothing to do with geography.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ESC rejects: Croatia 1994

Croatia had made its eurovision debut in capacity of their own country the year before, and the national television company worked hard on turning the national final into an event of real importance, a contest with a real impact on domestic pop culture.

An impressive amount of local pop stars turned up, eager to represent their new country in Dublin, and the crisis that eurovision went through in most territories at this time was nowhere to be seen.

For some reason, the regional juries went for a neat and clean-cut little ballad, not likely to stand out or raise any eyebrows anywhere. Surprising, giving how badly HRT wanted to score well internationally.

The song that obviously would have left a mark in the running order in these times of heartfelt ballads is the entry of Nina Badrić, which would have been almost aggressively updated and modern at that time. If we pretend that it would have been given a better choreography and that it wouldn't have been slaughtered by the Irish orchestra, Nina could probably have created a little bit of a sensation in Dublin.

The song only made it to tenth place out of twenty-one entries in the national final, but I believe it turned out to be the disco hit eurovision would have needed so badly back then.

Nina Badrić - Godine nestvarne (Croatia NF 1994)

ESC rejects: Germany 1987

One of my main rules in Eurovision is never to argue with success. If the winner of a national final meets with success at the ESC, then it was the right choice. Regardless if I like it or not.

One of the numerous examples of where this rule feels slightly out of place is the 1987 German final, held at Nürnberg. The winner was a happy but insipid pseudo-reggae by Ralph Siegel that, in all fairness, sounded far more interesting back then than it does now.

For me, the natural choice would have been Bernhard Brink, a long-standing institution in German showbiz, failing over and over again in winning German finals.

Even if he is not quite looking like a pop star, his song is fresh, very 80's and not too obvious. It would have been very interesting to know what the juries would have made of it.

Bernhard Brink - So bin ich ohne dich (Germany NF 1987)

I have another little favourite as well, and that one is actually also penned by Ralph Siegel (like oh-so-many of the songs in German finals back in the day). This one feels nothing like Ralphies usual output, however.

This would not have been out of place in Brussels either, with its wistful and frail verses leading into an not too obvious but engaging chorus. I would never in a million years have guessed this to be a Siegel/Meinunger product.

And in case there is any doubt - that is praise.

Cassy - Aus (Germany NF 1987)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tobson's Winners: 2006 - 2010

During these five years, further modification was tried out by the EBU. After a nightmare of a semifinal in 2007 (with twenty-eight songs in the running), the qualification system was completely re-vamped in 2008.

Now, only the host country and the big four were guaranteed a place in the final - everyone else had to go through the two semi finals. This has resulted in way stronger final line-ups than before.

Not only stronger line-ups - it is in general much harder to predict the result this way. The final changes everything: the draw, the odds, the chances, the favourites. In short, the two semis contribute to way stronger television than before.

Also, the juries have been forgiven and are back in the game gradually since 2008, where they got to select the tenth finalist in each semi final. In 2009, they did that too but also had a fifty percent say in the final result. And from 2010, they have half the power already in the semi finals.

To tell you the truth, I am not convinced that this was a good move. It could have been, but I still see the same old countries voting extensively for neighbours and friends, the juries obviously joining the game rather than doing anything to prevent it. Also, as from 2011, the juries seem to have favoured strong voices over pop songs. They would need a reminder that this is a song contest - not a singing contest - and that we do not want to return to the old hit-less days of the 90's again.

2006 - Russia

Dima Bilan - Never Let You Go (Russia 2006)

Of course I am deeply happy that Finland won, that's beside the point, but in my book Russia was by far the best. A lavish stage show, slick presentation and one of the best pop compositions to grace a eurovision stage in the last ten years.

The whole production is classical and modern at the same time, and for some reason I find the slow drum loop a tiny bit Beatles-esque.

How sad to see that in only two years, the lovely Dima Bilan would grow into a pompously arrogant nobody. And even sadder to see him win, when he clearly no longer deserved it.

Real winner:
Lordi - Hard Rock Hallelujah (Finland)

2007 - Georgia

Sopho - Visionary Dream (Georgia 2007)

Ever wondered what "Ray Of Light" would have sounded like had Madonna been born in Tbilisi? Wonder no more.

Georgia's debut entry in Helsinki is a real knockout of an entry, it doesn't sound like anything that was ever heard at the ESC before. A wild mix between etno, ballad, aggressive beats, sword dancing and, in the middle of the storm, the wonderful Sopho Khalvashi, queen-like and supreme, keeping the whole thing together.

Too demanding for the average voter, perhaps, but it gives me serious goose bumps.

Real winner:
Marija Šerifović - Molitva (Serbia)

2008 - Bosnia-Herzegovina

Laka - Pokušaj (Bosnia-Herzegovina 2008)

As eurovision has filled up with more and more quality pop songs, modern and chart-friendly, it just gets harder to decide which one is my favourite each year. Often something quirky makes the top of my bill, I've noticed.

Calling this entry quirky would be something of an understatement, though.

It is artistic, experimental, edgy, boundbreaking, melodic, fun and Wogan hated it. Laka is a real artist (and his sister too) who uses his three minutes in full to present himself to a potential audience, not caring the slightest for the people who won't understand. When eurovision allows something as demanding as this to make top ten, that's when I really love my old contest.

Real winner:
Dima Bilan - Belive (Russia)

2009 - Bosnia-Herzegovina

Regina - Bistra voda (Bosnia-Herzegovina 2009)

If there is one national that truly emerged like a real quality engine since the semi finals were introduced, then it is Bosnia-Herzegovina. Once they got their machinery running, after the civial war and some hopeless attempts at staging fair national finals, few others can match the Bosnians when it comes to personable performers, strong melodies and memorable performances.

Rock band Regina, who possibly heard a track or two by Coldplay through the years, deliver a tender, delicate melody line, demanding and inviting and the same time, and how this song didn't reach higher than ninth place remains a real mystery for me.

Real winner:
Alexander Rybak - Fairytale (Norway)

2010 - Germany

Lena - Satellite (Germany 2010)

When there are forty-something entries in the line-up, the chance that your personal favourite will be the winner in the end diminishes quite clearly. My joy was immense as my big pre-contest favourite made it all the way in 2010.

Even more so since I had been hoping for Germany for a few years already. They had been trying to deliver quality entries for quite some time without really getting it right, ending in failure year after year in spite of creating quite a few domestic hit singles.

Lena was a bull's eye in many aspects: young, appealing, hit friendly, equipped with a bubbly personality. A dream winner for Eurovision in many ways. And the importance of one of the Big Four countries winning can hardly be over-estimated.

Real winner:
Lena - Satellite (Germany)