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!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Siw in Germany: Harlekin vs Prima Ballerina

During the 60's and 70's, the ever expanding showbiz of Germany made use for more stars than they were able to produce themselves, and singer from many countries went there to carve successful careers for themselves.

Among the most popular ones were the Scandinavian girl singers, some of them even went on to sing for the Federal Republic at Eurovision. In 1969, Swedish Siw Malmkvist was sent off to Madrid to represent the German record industry after winning the national final.

Siw Malmkvist - Prima Ballerina (Germany 1969)

In the German final, she had defeated American Peggy March and German Rex Guildo, each of them presenting three songs to a jury consisting of eleven mature men.

Siw scored a hit with "Prima Ballerina", recorded it in several languages and ended in a shared ninth place with her native Sweden (and without recieving a single point from Sweden either).

I must say that her entry feels very similar to another German hit of hers - a matter of months earlier had she won the Deutsche Schlagerwettbewerb 1968 with the track "Harlekin" which was - just like "Prima Ballerina" - written by Hans Blum.

I'm very tempted to believe that Hans Blum, when invited to contribute material for the 1969 contest and knowing that Siw was one of the selected performers, decided to do a little re-write of his own song rather than create something from scratch.

Siw Malmkvist - Harlekin (Deutsche Schlagerwettbewerb 1968)

Siw herself has admitted not to be wildly impressed with either one of the songs, neither was Hans Blum particularly fond of the way Siw performed them (nor the outfits she chose for each occasion).

At this time Siw started retiring more and more from Germany, focusing more on her Swedish career, where neither Harlekin nor Prima Ballerina were greater hits for her. From the Deutsche Schlagerwettbewerb, Siw had much more success with a Swedish version of the runner-up (originally performed by Dorthe Kollo).

Personally, I think Harlekin is the better of these two Blum/Malmkvist collaborations. It would have been most interesting to see what the slightly more raw and untamed qualities of Harlekin could have resulted in, had it been Germany's entry in Madrid.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #1 Sweden

A little bit predictable for me to have the same number one as most of the world, isn't it? But then again, some entries are just a little bit better than most.

Loreen - Euphoria (Sweden 2012)

Five years ago, in Helsinki, Swedish song-writer Thomas G:son contributed songs for two countries. Norway flunked in the semi, Spain sunk without any bigger trace in the final, and many people were certain that this more or less marked the end of G:son's success.

Instead, he went back to what he always did best anyway - take a distinct style and make it easily accessible for the masses. In 2011, Loreen had been too difficult for the Swedish viewers in Melodifestivalen. Now, given the G:son treatment, all the pieces fell into the right places.

There is an uplifting and refreshing simplicity about all the components in this entry. The melody line, the lyrics, the choreography - they are all very clean-cut, clear and accessible. It is art, but presented in a very user-friendly way.

And Loreen is a performer with a rare sensibility, a unique presence with a raw quality to it. She could probably make almost any old song work, and with a rare pearl like Euphoria it almost had to happen.

Victory for Sweden - hoping they won't lose their appetite for success after this.

Musically, this could be one of the most important victories for many years and open up the contest for even more chart-friendly music than before and make the ESC the natural showcase for domestic stars wishing for international success.

Fingers crossed for that.

My grade: 5/5

Tobson's Ranking: #2 Spain

Ever since Operación Triunfo stopped being a Eurovision selection, I have hoped for Spain to get their act together again. And boy, did they get things together this year.

Pastora Soler - Quédate conmigo (Spain 2012)

At first, I was mainly impressed by the presence and vocal abilities of Pastora while I found the song a bit on the dull side - your typical standard schlager ballad. And then it started growing. And growing and growing and growing.

It IS a typical standard schlager ballad, it just happens to possess that little extra something: a drop of real passion, of real emotion, combined with a performer able to manage and understand what could be made out of these standard ingredients.

When it comes to love ballads, this is also my favourite category - depicting the second after the moment when it is all over. The guy is not going to come back and she knows it. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear her heart break. And Pastora delivers like a true goddess, making the drama trustworthy and real.

A piece of classical know-how and classy craftmanship, and a real triumph for songwriter Thomas G:son. Or at least part of his triumph this year.

My grade: 5/5

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #3 Cyprus

A little bit of love, a little bit of la la la and a close to flawless performance. It doesn't have to be harder than that.

Ivi Adamou - La La Love (Cyprus 2012)

Creating a good, convincing pop performance is in no way a simple task. Making everything seem easy, spontaneous and effortless really takes a professional like Helena Paparizou or Ani Lorak and those are few and far between.

Ivi Adamou is almost up there with them, which came as a bit of a surprise to me after all the speculation as to whether she could carry a tune at all.

She could more than just sing: she dances really well, she holds the whole number together and - most importantly - she adds a sense of humour to the whole thing. She knows that her entry is a feather-weight little bagatelle and she treats it with all the delicacy it needs without getting carried away.

Apart from being a little bit shaky in the vocal department right after the dance break, Ivi delivers a close to perfect Eurovision pop extravaganza that is pure pleasure from the first note to the last. A mystery that it didn't score better, but given the commercial success it has achieved in several countries afterwards Ivi should be all smiles anyway.

My grade: 5/5

Tobson's Ranking: #4 Germany

For a long time I thought Germany would fail in Baku and that young Roman would not deliver when it came down to action. I was mainly wrong and I am happy about that.

Roman Lob - Standing Still (Germany 2012)

After having won and hosted and gone through the media phenomenon that was Lena, it could have done incredible damage to Germany in Eurovision had this year's entry flopped.

I considered this a piece of lavishly constructed radio pop, but thought Roman Lob to be too much of a pretty talent show winner who would not manage to fill the words up with enough meaning and emotion.

Instead, he managed to paint the picture of the cubbish young man who grows into taking the first mature decision of his life and the result is pretty breathtaking. Roman has many assets, many good things in him, and could blossom into a really impressive artist.

He's not quite there yet. I would have hoped for a little more depth, a little more gravity, a little more nerve in the final performance. But these are mere details.

More important is that Germany is taking the actual songwriting more seriously than most (commissioning the stuff they want from the publishing houses rather than asking nicely to have it) and delievered their third chart hit in succession into this contest. I hope they intend to keep them coming.

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #5 Moldova

One thing is for sure, Eurovision would be a far duller place without the Moldovans.

Pasha Parfeny - Lăutar (Moldova 2012)

With only a few exceptions, Moldova has cut a place for itself as the King of Quirk at Eurovision. The Moldovan entries are usually catchy, highly energetic, fun little performances that aim to please the audience and stand out from the rest of the competition.

Quite a lot like Israel used to do in the 80's.

Pasha Parfeny doesn't just have a devilishly catchy and infectious song, he is also an unusually good showman who manages to keep the whole thing together without the slightest hint of strain.

He sings well, he dances with zeal, he finds the camera at every crucial moment.

Unlike many other ambitious performances this year (most notably France), Team Parfeny fills up the stage without making a mess. Every single little detail fits into the picture, every little moment adds to the completeness of it all. The dancers are fantastic. The backing vocalists are ace.

The viewer is never left wondering what on Earth is going on and is free to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

A tiny televisual piece of art, Made in Moldova. Very nice.

My grade: 4/5

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #6 Russia

Grannies for everybody and plenty of owen-fresh pie on top of that. How could Europe resist?

Buranovskiye Babushki - Party For Everybody (Russia 2012)

These Senior Spice Girls of Buranovski turned out to be the phenomenon of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, that peculiar entry that most people could hardly believe was happening.

Some people rejected them as a cheap gimmick, some people were sincerely worried that the pressure and attention and hoopla would prove too much for the grannies.

But most just gave in and let themselves be entertained by the insanity and simplicity that thrived in the Russian entry as Baby Spice (on the left) tried to keep her grannies in tune and rhythm while Old Spice charmed an entire continent while doing very much her own thing.

My own favourite is Mischievous Spice, on the extreme right of the stage. How she loves the attention, how she loves being on the stage, how courageously she does her acting at the part where she almost forgot the precious pies in the oven.

An adorable entry for anyone whose heart is not made of stone.

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #7 Italy

Italy coming back is one of the best things to happen in recent years and the big question seems to be when they will score a bull's eye and win the whole thing. I thought Nina would get closer...

Nina Zilli - L'amore è femmina (Italy 2012)

My only slight objection to the Italian entry is that I still think "Per Sempre" would have made an even better entry. That detail aside, I find Nina Zilli to be a real powerhouse of a performer.

Her song is a very straightforward little affair in a rather trendy pop-goes-retro style that has conquered the charts in recent years. The bilingual version is perhaps not quite as smooth as the original, but Nina looks striking in her expensive-looking dress.

Classy, with a drop of classic Italian diva arrogance in her voice as well as in her appearance.

Yet, I'm left with the feeling that the performance is not all that it could be. There is a tiny something missing, a certain focus, perhaps. The camera work isn't always there to support the act, the backing singers (somehow reminding me of Mia Martini's backing group in London 1977) come across as a little bit too attention-seeking and Nina momentarily seems unsure whether to turn to the camera or the audience in the hall.

A little bit of fine-tuning for the future, and Italy could win any given year. I know it, they know it. The question is only how soon they want to win - and host - the contest. Pretty soon, is my guess.

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #8 France

This was the entry that was supposed to bring France back to the top positions, where they belong. Instead they did what the French have done too many times recently. They messed up.

Anggun - Echo (You and I) (France 2012)

This song was a brave choice - it was modern, original and not as direct as most songs achieving eurovision success. Clearly it needed a strong performance to back it up, but it had potential to be a good surprise on the night.

Instead we had a show that was ambitious but messy on-screen. Too many things are happening and there is no logical red thread for the viewers to follow, neither does the camera work ever allow the viewers to establish any kind of contact with the singer who remains a stranger throughout most of the song.

With the precious exception of Patricia Kaas, recent French entries have usually worked badly visually at Eurovision for the last ten years or so. It is surprising to see that French television, who has a very strong culture of making television visually appealing, never seem to pull off the ever so important visual aspect of the Eurovision Song Contest.

To make things even worse, Anggun - one of the most experienced performers in the final - did not live up to expectations or the level she had set during rehearsals and sang badly. Had the televoters had full power, she would have been left without a single point.

The song deserves much more than that. Even with a messy performance and a dismal vocal delivery it is still one of the most interesting entries of the year. I hope French television will stay on their ambitious path, but maybe try to deliver a more distinct and accessible show for next year.

My grade: 4/5

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #9 FYR Macedonia

An honest day's work for Kaliopi, who did what she was expected to do: she sang, she shone and she took her country back to the grand final for the first time in years.

Kaliopi - Crno i belo (FYR Macedonia 2012)

Almost all of Former Yugoslavia used the same recipe this year - instead of organising a national final that most names would refuse to be a part of anyway, they internally selected a star to do the job for them. Not a bad idea at all.

But then there are stars and then there are stars. Not everyone who is a star in their own backyard will convince the entire continent of their own greatness. Many big names have failed in the international lime light.

But Kaliopi is the kind of star that is universally understandable. There is her elegance, her intriguing voice and, above all, that sublime presence that just fills the stage and demands your attention.

Regardless if you like her song or not, you just know that this is somebody you'd love to know better.

Frankly, Kaliopi's song is good but not excellent. It could surely have benefitted from a less dated sound and arrangement. But Kaliopi herself just rises above any objections of the kind, nails her scream, delivers her last chorus and keeps the audience fascinated up until the very end of her performance.

Pure class.

Now I just hope she will come back to the ESC in a few years with a sharper entry. Then things would really start to get interesting...

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #10 Albania

Artistic, demanding and difficult. Albania making it into top five is surely the sensation of the year.

Rona Nishliu - Suus (Albania 2012)

Through the years, Eurovision audiences have shown that they like easy songs. Ditties. Choruses with handles, the kind you can hum along to or sing in the shower.

Try singing this one in the shower and you'll burst an artery or something.

In short, given the usual standards of this contest, the Albanian entry should not have stood a chance. But then Rona Nishliu swept in, took the stage, imposed herself on the audience and demanded their attention before delivering her big ballad in the way that stars do.

It just proves that also more demanding material belongs to Eurovision, especially when there is a powerful voice and a whole lot of star quality there to back them up. Suus scoring highly this year was more than a success for Albania, it was a bit of a victory for the entire contest.

My grade: 4/5

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #11 Turkey

Hayde, indeed! Turkey is back on track in this competition.

Can Bonomo - Love Me Back (Turkey 2012)

Ever since back in the day, when nobody voted for Turkey or paid them much attention, I have cherished their entries and held them as one of my favourite ESC countries. So it feels very good indeed to see that the mishap of 2011 was nothing but the occasionally slip and not a new trend in Turkish entries.

Can Bonomo is really bringing Turkey back to form with a catchy rhythm, a singalong chorus and a fun performance. What is even better is that this oriental ditty also manages to be quite divisive and not everyone's cup of tea.

Anything that can annoy people and be entertaining at the same time is most welcome.

The only reason it is not higher in my list is (apart from strong competition) Can himself. The rest of his output is wilder, more daring, less streamlined, has sharper edges.

I would have liked to see what kind of emotion some of his other sings might have stirred up in Baku.

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #12 Finland

At #12, this is the highest placing of a non-qualifying entry this year. Although I still think it should have qualified.

Pernilla - När jag blundar (Finland 2012)

To be honest, I am not sure how necessary a qualification would have been. It would have been nice. Suitable. Not out of place. But still.

Pernilla nailed all the important parts: throughout the week of rehearsals in Baku, she took in the stage, adapted to the camera angles, grew more confident on stage and - above all - sang really well on the live broadcast.

It is not a small task for a complete newcomer to represent your country at Eurovision and nerves got the better of several performers during the ESC history. Pernilla was calm, composed, beautiful and secure.

Sending in a slow ballad in your own language is always a gamble - this one got really close to qualification. For a country like Finland - with no less than nine last places and an almost uncountable amount of misunderstood masterpieces with dismal placings - this is an entry to be very proud of.

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #13 Hungary

If you bring modern, radio-friendly electro-flavoured pop à la Hurts to Eurovision, you will have a special place in my heart.

Compact Disco - Sound Of Our Hearts (Hungary 2012)

Hungary had really bad luck in the draw for the grand final - had this song been among the last ten to perform, chances are that more people would have realised what a suggestive little package this is.

It is up-to-date, it is very well performed and, thanks to charismatic front figure Csaba Walkó, it looks just as good as it sounds. Not unimportant in a televised contest.

The only problem here is that the package itself is slightly better than the actual song, but if it gave this band a push in their domestic career it was all worth it.

For the last two years, Hungary has made in important contribution to Eurovision by sending in very modern entries that sound contemporary and radio-playlist-friendly. If they stick to this tactic, the voters will get the big idea sooner or later. Hang in there!

My grade: 4/5

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #14 Ukraine

Ukraine has had better songs through the years. Better presentations as well. But they sure know how to put on a party.

Gajtana - Be My Guest (Ukraine 2012)

The big purpose with the Ukranian entry seemed to be to promote the European Football Championships more than anything else, and that seems to have gone according to plan.

Gajtana is a feisty character and a tremenduous singer who might have ended up with a little too little to sing, leaving her no choice but to wail away for most of her three minutes. She does it well, but the song turns out more than a little bit more shouty than it needed to be.

That's not a big deal, though. I had a very good time together with the girl, her wacko dancers and her animated backing troop on the backdrop.

In short, a great performance. Had it been combined with a better song, Ukraine could easily have found themselves in the top spots again.

My grade: 3/5