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!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

ESC 2012: I only trust myself

Rehearsals have started in Baku and it is all very exciting. In a matter of days, I will be there myself and then there is a risk that this blog will go a bit silent. There will be plenty of work to be done and all, but during Eurovision week there are so many ways for you to get your needed ESC fix anyway.

The first reports have started to come in after the rehearsals of Montenegro and Iceland, and they are very much like I expected them to be.

The people who tended to favour Iceland already before are sure of qualification. Others are equally sure that the package is nice but not enough to convince the voters.

Same old story, in other words. It is very easy to get really enthusiastic about something during rehearsals. Or disappointed if you find a favourite performs worse than you expected.

But we know nothing after seeing one rehearsal with no camera work. We are still guessing almost as much as we did after the preview clips.

Therefore, I have decided only to trust my own ears and eyes. Not that I am better or smarter or have a better ear for music (certainly not!) but I'm not worse at predicting compared to anyone else I know.

So I follow YouTube clips and other people's opinions as they come in, I value them and let them entertain me.

But I won't make any conclusions before I'm in Baku myself.

Montenegro's first rehearsal in Baku

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Song of the Day: Finland 1968

On Wednesday, I will leave for Baku and there seems to be a million tiny things that needs tending to before that. It is easy to stress out a little bit and then I tend to think of Kristina Hautala.

Why is time in such a rush? Why can't the clocks just stop?

According to the lyrics, Kristina is afraid to be left alone and old with only memories of youth and love. I am, frankly speaking, more afraid of finding myself in Baku without chargers for my technical devices.

I'm also a bit concerned that some brilliant songs will completely miss out in the competition, just like "Kun kello käy" did in London 1968.

But this is not a time for worries - this is the time to rest a bit and enjoy the fact that there is plenty of good music in the world. Regardless if the juries understand or not.

Kristina Hautala - Kun kello käy (Finland 1968)

What if Finland sent Anna Abreu?

Finland launched a new selection format for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in order to attract new talent and launch hit songs onto the domestic market rather than find any typical eurosongs.

Not a bad idea, that is one way to go when the old selection format feels a bit tired.

The other way to go would be what most of the former Yugoslav republics have been doing this year: scrap the national final altogether and call a firmly established star to do the job for you.

The Call A Star-formula also has its flaws. It is not sure that an established act will take any advice on what kind of song to enter and then you end up with something artistic but not too hit-friendly.

I just play with the idea what might happen if Yle would make use of this very idea, maybe by calling the interval act of the 2012 Finnish selection Anna Abreu? Anna was discovered through the local Idols-competition but has grown into a full-fledged star with her very own expression and temper, in addition to be one of very few singers that get away with singing in English in Finland.

Her regular output would be modern and yet catchy enough to work well at Eurovision and given her back catalogue, she could easily embark on an international career using the ESC as spring board.

At this point, the UMK (Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu) is very likely to be used again for 2013 but I still feel the Abreu prospect could be most interesting in many ways.

Anna Abreu - Stereo

Anna Abreu - Ivory Tower

Anna Abreu - Vinegar

Friday, May 11, 2012

Estonia - I Love You

When Estonia debuted in Eurovision, I (and most of my fellow countrymen in Sweden) mainly thought of them as a financially poor country that we sent massive amounts of charity. Geographically close but culturally distant.

Maybe their first attempt didn't change much in how most Swedes percieved them, but Silvi Vrait stroke a chord with me and a very special relationship developed between me and Estonian eurosongs. A relationship that would, in its own little way, change my life radically.

Silvi sang her heart out but only scored a mere two points, but she and her song are fantastic in my book.

Silvi Vrait - Nagu merelaine (Estonia 1994)

Two years later, Estonia would be back with a new conviction and I was to see my first Eurovision live in Oslo. My Estonian neighbour in Västerås hand-painted an Estonian flag for me as my favourite was "Kaelakee hääl", the remarkably catchy little duet about placing your voice inside a necklace so somebody can carry it with him/her into the world.

Ivo Linna & Maarja - Kaelakee hääl (Estonia 1996 preview)

In Jerusalem in 1999, I thought it could be time for the first Estonian victory - I predicted that had it been the turn of a ballad, it had to be Evelin Samuel to take the title. I was not entirely wrong - she got sixth place and was the best placed ballad on the night.

Evelin Samuel & Camille - Diamond Of Night (Estonia 1999 preview)

The life-changing thing, then? When Estonia finally won and hosted the contest in 2002, I made friends with the Finnish delegation which, in addition to many other things, lead to me changing countries and moving to Finland.

So I have many reasons to love Estonia. Producing a pop star like Ines is just one of them.

Ines - Once In A Lifetime (Estonia 2000)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Glennis Grace had a hit in her

In 2005, the Netherlands sent in a promising young singer who had won the Dutch Soundmix show already at the age of 16, making an almost perfect impersonation of Whitney Houston.

The Soundmix show - designed for people to sing as similarly as possible to well-known singers - was always a dubious place to look for fresh talent. You never knew who carried the grains of a real artist inside and who was just a gifted copycat.

For a long time, Glennis Grace seemed just like the latter version. She had a good voice, but it seemed impossible for her to get rid of the Whitney connection and when she won the 2005 Dutch national final she already had one flop album behind her.

Glennis Grace - My Impossible Dream (Netherlands 2005)

Glennis was one of several hot fan favourites before the semi-final in Kyiv, but her cliché-ridden ballad - a tired re-write of several Whitney-esque ballads - failed to qualify for the final and it seemed Glennis' career had hit rock bottom and arrived at its end station.

But sometimes a complete meltdown is what your career needs. Glennis was dumped by her label, had a change of management and, perhaps most importantly, had a change of language and started singing in Dutch.

When she participated in the popular tv-show "De beste zangers van Nederland" in 2011, she made a cover of the song "Afscheid" and finally found instant success with the larger audience. Gone was the Whitney-clone and instead there is a real performer with her very own expression and a much wiser use of her really impressive voice.

Now that she has found herself - as well as her audience - maybe Glennis should ponder doing Eurovision again? If she was the one to take the Netherlands back into the final, for the first time since 2004, I am sure the audience would never forget.

Glennis Grace - Afscheid

Songs of the Day: Portugal 1984 - 1985

Usually I content myself with just one Song of the Day, but since I haven't published any in a while I thought I could have two today. Are you with me on that? Splendid!

This year, I feel Portugal has selected rather a dull ballad for Eurovision which is a shame since Portuguese ballads often have been really good through the years.

In 1984, Maria Guinot sang her own poetic song about how, in the middle of the great silence, she suddenly finds the right words to say. Or how she, when being among so many people, can finally see who she truly is herself.

A touching and atmospheric entry, not quite as well recieved by the juries as it should have been.

Maria Guinot - Silencio e tanta gente (Portugal 1984)

The Portuguese grapes were, however, to turn even more sour the next year in Gothenburg. Their singer Adelaide, also co-writer of her song, recieved quite a lot of positive attention from the press - dubbed one of the classiest performers by one Swedish newspaper.

She belted out her dramatic ballad with gusto and conviction but completely failed to capture the hearts and votes of the jury. Only the Greek jury, voting last out of the nineteen participants, saved her the humiliation of a last place.

Adelaide, a contender for last place? I can't believe neither my ears nor my eyes, to be honest.

Adelaide - Penso em ti, eu sei (Portugal 1985)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Iceland - I Love You

I know that I have admitted to not being a huge fan of the Icelandic entry this year. I must also confess that I have doubts as to whether it will pass on to the final or not.

But dear Iceland, don't let this tiny detail come between us.

Iceland has been one of my most constant sources of joy and happiness in the ESC ever since their debut back in 1986. I thought their first entry was a terrific little pop pearl, and I never quite grasped why it scored so badly.

Icy - Gleðibankinn (Iceland 1986)

Then - in 1990 - I really thought Iceland could win it. Stjórnin were so nice and so much fun and I thought their song to be a most delightful little schlager. A fourth place was not bad, but I was a tiny bit disappointed that it didn't do even better.

Stjórnin - Eitt lag enn (Iceland 1990)

And to mention just one more Icelandic gem - I know that the joke was not universally understood, but I thought Silvia Night was brilliant back in Athens. Loud, obnoxious, silly and irresistible.

How anyone could not see the joke and think Silvia to be a real person is beyond me. Possibly the joke got a bit out of hand before the semi final was over, but in general Iceland provided great entertainment.

Like they tend to do most years.

Silvia Night - Congratulations (Iceland 2006)

Monday, May 7, 2012

1977 - a slight delay

Thirty-five years ago saw an event that had never happened before and that has not occured since. The technicians at the host broadcaster BBC went on strike and a little over a week before the final, the entire contest was postponed.

Most countries had already broadcast the previews and started speculations about who might be the winner, and then everyone just had to cancel their tickets and sit back to wait for a new date.

Instead of April 2nd, the eighteen competing countries had to wait another five weeks and on this very day, 7th of May, the delayed contest was held.

Some of the red hot favourites had cooled down considerably and the juries chose to ignore the disco hits from Germany and Belgium, who had already had their heyday in the international charts. Instead a piece of classic French chanson stood the test of an extra five weeks and won through in the end after an intense battle with the home team, while Sweden ended in last place with a tribute to the legendary Beatles.

Not only did Marie Myriam win and land a huge hit single with her song, she also celebrated her 20th birthday on the very day of the final. A double celebration for her, in other words.

France has not won the ESC since and Sweden has not been last in a final since either.

Marie Myriam - L'oiseau et l'enfant (France 1977)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

ESC 1991 - it's a draw!

The other day, I wrote about how the 1988 voting left me gasping for my breath for the first time but that would be nothing compared to the thriller of 1991.

I had faint memories of Herreys' victory back in 1984, but for the first time as an active eurofan I had the feeling that my native Sweden could actually have the possibility of winning. I suspect many younger eurofans from Sweden have the same feeling this year.

The voting soon turned into a very tight race with no less than five countries battling it out for victory: Switzerland, Sweden, France, Israel and Spain were contenders until a very late stage, where Spain and Switzerland fell behind.

Finally, it seemed also France dropped too far behind, leaving the final battle to Sweden and Israel - but little did we know. The final jury - the Italian one - gave nul points to Sweden and Israel respectively but awarded their top mark to France.

As if this tension was not enough: add two of the least suitable hosts ever - previous winners Toto Cutugno and Gigliola Cinquetti - whose lack of languages skills as well as any detectable interest for the voting taking place left EBU scrutineer Frank Naef increasingly weary throughout the process.

When the tie between Sweden and France is a fact the result is complete confusion on stage as neither one of the hosts has the slightest idea what to do.

ESC 1991 - the end of the voting (with BBC commentator Terry Wogan)

Trying very hard to keep control over his voice and actions, monsieur Naef manages to sort out the situation. According to a new paragraph in the rules - established as late as after the 1988 ESC (probably because the tight voting that year reminded the EBU it might come to use one of these years) - the juries would not be called back to cast new votes.

Instead, there was a countback and the country recieving the biggest number of top marks would be deemed winner. As both countries involved in this tie had scored four 12-pointers each, the scrutineer went on to count ten-pointers instead. Sweden had five, France had two, and Carola had won the whole thing.

The French delegation - claiming to be completely unaware of this change of rules - were reportedly very upset about the final verdict. The Israeli act, Duo Datz, had on the other hand made friends with Carola during the week and they stayed in touch for several years afterwards. (Maybe still today, is there anyone out there who knows?)

Tobson, aged 15, was extatic about the Swedish victory and the new-found hope of possibly seeing the Eurovision Song Contest live for the first time. It wasn't to be - the tickets were expensive as well as sold-out - but the dramatic victory of Carola remained an important event for this young fan.

Carola - Fångad av en stormvind (Sweden 1991)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Preview clip: Yugoslavia 1989

Being the impressionable young boy that I was, there were many things I found extraordinary in the world of Eurovision in the 80's. But one thing that I really loved were Yugoslav entries and, above all, Yugoslav preview clips.

Like in 1989 - I thought it was so funny, so vibrant, so full of life. It seemed they were all so very happy and had such a good time in Yugoslavia.

Little did I know, the whole federation was slowly collapsing and would, two years later, plunge into civil war.

I just loved Riva, I loved the clip, I loved the cheesy little chorus and I was so very happy that Yugoslavia finally got to win.

Riva - Rock Me (Yugoslavia 1989 preview)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Preview clip: Slovenia 1997

At a certain time - peaking in 1997, to be honest - the music video had grown really strong as an art form in itself at the same time as Eurovision had grown important enough for certain countries to want to spend money on marketing themselves in this area.

Many countries made really lavish preview clips in 1997, not only highlighting their own songs but also giving the local tourist boards reason to rejoice, and the best one of all came from Slovenia.

Very stylish, atmospheric and beautifully filmed, but also very well acted by Tanja Ribič who is equally famous for her acting skills. The colour explosion of flowers by the end as the song has grown into completely new dimensions is also a very clever touch.

Tanja Ribič - Zbudi se (Slovenia 1997 preview)

Maybe Tanja would have needed a flowery explosion also on stage in Dublin - the song is lovely and the singing exquisite, but in a year with many heartfelt ballads it was hard to stand out.

Many people expected more than a tenth place for this song, but it still remains the third best showing of an entry from independent Slovenia.

Tanja Ribič - Zbudi se (Slovenia 1997)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Eurovision for Chinese

There are, as far as I can think up, not many Eurovision entries through the years that bear any links to China. Lukas Plöchl, half of Austria's Trackshittaz, is half Chinese. And that is about it. If you can think of other acts with a Chinese link, please enlighten me with a comment.

But there is a community of Eurovision fans in China, which ESC Nation pointed out on Twitter.

I had to check their blog out, and they are busy voting for their favourite entries this year. And their standings at the moment differ quite a bit from the European fan votes.

I'm also happy to see Finland being one of three Nordic countries to score as yet, as well as a lovely Chinese translation of "När jag blundar".

I, who always wondered how non-europeans percieve this old contest of ours, find this blog very pleasant. If you want a slightly different perspective, I suggest you check it out as well.

France goes World

Up until the early 80's, France owned the Eurovision in many ways. They had a very distinct formula that most of their entries kept close to, and they almost exclusively landed among the five best placed songs every year.

In the 80's, however, the formula grew tired and the votes stopped coming in. France Télévisions (or Antenne 2 as the channel was still called) first scrapped the national final, then decided to depart from anything France had ever sounded like before.

In 1990, the head of entertainment Marie-France Brière called up the mythical Serge Gainsbourg and asked him to create another eurosong - twenty-five years after winning with "Poupée de cire, poupée de son" - and he brought in a very exotic element indeed.

Joëlle Ursull was part of the zouk movement - exotically flavoured music from the Caribbean - and she was taken in to perform "White And Black Blues", a song rending hommage to the diversity and colourfulness of the French population.

France, who in all fairness never cared much for minorities and such through history, found themselves pushing the limits for how you could look and sound at Eurovision. The likes of Turkey, Greece and Yugoslavia had tried being exotic, but when an established country like France did the same thing - then the votes started flowing in. See the live performance here.

Joëlle Ursull - White And Black Blues (France 1990)

This was the start of something new and given the commercial success of "White And Black Blues", the French decided to push the limit even further. Given the tension surrounding the current Gulf War, it was a strike of genius to select Tunisian-born Amina to perform a distinctly Arab-flavoured song that contemplated the world order in a quiet, understated way.

The new formula worked again, and Amina was only a tiny rule paragraph away from winning the whole thing in Rome. See the live performance here.

Amina - C'est le dernier qui à parlé qui à raison (France 1991)

By 1992, more countries had picked up on the exotic vibe, making rastaman Kali stand out less with his creole entry in Malmö. Some negative publicity, emerging from some not too cleverly formulated statements given by the performer, may also have been the reason for a slight decline compared to the previous years. And honestly, maybe this song was slightly less striking as well.

Kali - Monté la riviè (France 1992)

It might look like France tried to go back to their old formula a bit in 1993, but selecting a song partially in a national minority language was, in fact, a statement in its own right. The song fared well at Eurovision, less so in the charts, but the performer was to carve a solid place in French showbiz in the coming years.

Patrick Fiori - Mama Corsica (France 1993)

The two following years, France2 (the new name given to Antenne2 in 1993) explored other musical landscapes, but were back on the etno track in 1996 - now putting a more serious emphasis on minority matters as the French entry - for the first time - was performed completely in a minority language - Breton.

It was a clever idea, given the Irish domination as well as the Celtic flavour of the 1995 Norweigan winner, but the selected song was ultimately too thin to break through to the juries. This was the first real French flop at Eurovision for ten years.

Dan Ar Braz & L'Héritage des Celtes - Diwanit bugale (France 1996)

The last entry to date selected by France2 (but we didn't know it yet at that time) was another truly exotic offering. Legend has it, it was favoured by the channel after one of the old masters of television entertainment (Pacal Sevran) openly called the song unsuitable for Eurovision.

Maybe the old monsieur was not all wrong, after all. 1998 was the first year when televote was in (almost) full use, and what had impressed the juries did not necessarily work with the viewing audience. Despite enthusaistic reviews from the press, the French entry crashed and burned, ending second last.

Marie Line - Où aller (France 1998)

Since then, France has gone in different directions, again trying to broaden the idea of what a eurovision entry could look and sound like. But one thing is for sure - culturally, the importance of these French entries in the 90's could not be over-estimated. They helped breathing new life into the Eurovision formula, as well as promoting less square and uniformly "european" expressions on stage.

Hats off to France - it didn't get them a victory, but in the long run it did change the public perception of what was possible to get away with and not. Well done.