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, November 30, 2013

Tonight: Junior Eurovision Song Contest

It takes more than the word "Eurovision" to enthuse me these days. I was never a fan of the short-lived Eurovision Dance Contest and I never blogged a lot about Junior Eurovision either.

I used to like it in the beginning, thought it was a fun little show and a good chance for talented kids to try out singing for a greater audience. There is nothing wrong with that, really.

But I feel the rule changes through the years have changed the JESC into something less pleasant. The creativity has been taken further and further away from the competing kids on all levels. I can't shake the feeling that many of them are just put there to sing a song that some adults decided that other kids will like.

I'd like to know how many of tonight's participants really had an influence over their own performances. How many had a real input as to how they are presented and styled.

The contest has its fans, and I won't be the evil one who calls for its destruction. I have objections, but it is not my party. I hope all participating kids have a good experience in the end and that they will be able to put this experience in good use for the future.

What I really have a problem with is that tonight's final from Kyiv will show host country Ukraine in a blindingly positive light, as a happy clappy fantasy world where everything is fine for everyone, at the same time as police forces brutally act against the people protesting in the street.

That, if anything, leaves a bitter taste this year. Apart from that - may the best song win, and may the Junior fans have a great night.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tobson's Wish List: Isac Elliot for Finland

I am not fully convinced this is something everybody would agree with, but I think Finland's new eurovision selection is moving in the right direction. Still searching its form and still in need of launching hits on a more regular basis, UMK is still promising.

When the list of participants for 2014 gets revealed, we will see if the progress goes on. Hopefully there will be a few well-known names alongside new talents, and hopefully there will be songs with hit factor.

I hope UMK will get to continue and try to better itself for the coming years. With the exception of 2017. That is the year where I think UMK should take a break and Yle could select their entry internally.

In 2017, Isac Elliot will be old enough to participate, you see. And if he is the slightest bit interested in taking part, he could be our best chance to rock this old in contest in years and years.

Isac Elliot - New Way Home

The kid is only twelve years old but he has star quality aplenty and his debut album shot to number one in Finland and also went to number four in Norway. There is also an ESC-connection as a few of the songs on that album are co-written by Paradise Oskar himself, Axel Ehnström.

In 2017, Isac will already be an experienced performer who could put on a convincing show that would give Finland an excellent placing. (It could of course also be that he has already had it with showbiz, ditched all career plans and decided to be a lawyer instead. You never know.)

Isac Elliot - First Kiss

But in case he still sings and wants to do it, there is just one thing to do. Cancel the Finnish final of 2017. Make a note in the calendar already now.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tobson's Wish List: Olly Murs for the UK

Hold your horses, no need to ask me for a reality check. I don't really believe for a second that this would happen. I only say it should happen.

Olly Murs is an adorable little pop star, hip and happening a bit all over the place. Top seller on home ground, big in the German market, bubbling under in some other territories, would probably just need a slight push to make it big in more countries.

Eurovision could be just the thing he needs. Not to mention that his songs would fit right in - his last singles all sound like potential top scorers at the ESC. A song as strong as, say, "Heart Skips A Beat" and the United Kingdom could be well up there again with a healthy dose of douze points.

Olly Murs - Heart Skips A Beat

Then of course there is the usual reasoning against it. Why would a young star want the Eurovision label - not to mention the stigma - that could possibly kill your career in the end?

The Eurovision stigma only attaches to people who go into competition with a bad song or a half-hearted attempt. If Blue or Bonnie or even Engelbert have been been "tainted" by the ESC, it is probably mainly because their respective careers have not included many other highlights lately.

Olly could walk out on that stage, sing his heart out, perform convincingly, make the top 4 and suddenly find himself a household name all over the place.

I'd be more than happy and - in the end - I think Olly would be too.

Olly Murs - Right Place Right Time

Thursday, November 14, 2013

EBU on Russia and hosting

A lot of stories have gone around in the last few days that the EBU should have put its foot down and told Russian television in no uncertain terms that the current anti-gay legislation would make it more or less impossible for them to host the Eurovision Song Contest.

It is hardly a secret that a large part of the fan community are gay and that the ESC has a strong standing within European LGBT communities. Of course it would be a tricky situation if a large portion of the fans attending the event on location would risk ending up in prison.

Needless to say that this piece of news was welcomed with enthusiasm around the net. But was it true? Had the EBU really spoken up on the matter?

According to Gay Star News, the EBU had sent an official letter to the Russian broadcasters, voicing concerns that these could be unable to guarantee the security of Eurovision delegates in the event of Russia being the host country again. An anonymous member of the Swedish delegation was quoted as saying Sweden would pull out of a contest staged in Russia under the current circumstances.

This looks like quite a clear stand, right?

But in a statement published today, contest supervisor Jon Ola Sand calls the situation "completely undramatic" and says there is no reason to believe Russia could not host the contest. The EBU underlines that Russia has already hosted the ESC very successfully in the past.

Of course the EBU can't go around singling out member countries as unfit for hosting. Where would you draw the line for what is acceptable and what isn't? If Russia did not match the host criteria, should they even be allowed to take part? And what other countries should be thrown out in that case?

But then we shouldn't credit the EBU for doing something they haven't done and even are pretty unlikely to do at all. For them, this is not a problem until the day when Russia wins. If even then.

Copyright: EBU

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Turkvision - a good idea?

I think it is fairly safe to assume that Turkey is in no hurry to come back to the Eurovision Song Contest. Copenhagen seems to be completely ruled out and the future doesn't look too bright either for fans of Turkish eurosongs.

TRT is still claiming to be upset about the current rules, how the juries seem to be keeping the Turkish entries down in the ranking and - the latest thing that transpired - how they feel Turkey lacks influence at the EBU. Oh dear.

So instead of trying to court Europe and insist on changes being made to the ESC format, TRT decided to stage their own song contest instead.

Copyright: TRT

Why not? A song contest, slightly modelled on the ESC, to bring the various Turkic people together in friendly competition. That can't be all bad. Can it?

It depends what your goal is, of course.

Turkey has been spending quite a lot of time and effort to market their own progress in the fields of democracy and human rights. With that in mind, it seems strange to snub the EBU - with their current discussions of perhaps adding a human rights index of some sort to the participation criteria - for a new set of best friends with rather different views on the matter.

Countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan all have very poor human rights records and oppressive regimes. Inviting them to an international event can only give these regimes a chance to shine and do their best at coming across as respectable and acceptable. Why would you want to do that?

Also, allowing Northern Cyprus to take part under their own flag is a problematic move. So be it that this contest is aimed squarely at a Turkic audience, but Turkey is the only country in the world to recognise this republic as an independent country.

In short, Turkey's new choice of playmates doesn't look great from a political point of view.

Maybe this can still be a musically interesting event where will get sights and sounds from countries we seldom interact with and know very little about, but attaching too much attention to Turkvision will also contribute to promoting and normalising an unpleasant thing or two.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tobson's Wish List: La Oreja de Van Gogh for Spain

When I started listing artists I would have loved to see take part in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in Baku I didn't hit a single bull's eye. Not a single one of the acts I mentioned took part.

What did I learn from that experience?

Not a lot, frankly. So now I start crossing my fingers, spilling a few names I would really enjoy seeing in Copenhagen next year. Nothing brightens your day like a bit of wishful thinking and it also gives me the opportunity to push some acts I like and that you should check out anyway.

My first suggestion is for Spain, who are perhaps not so keen on sending another soft rock band after last year's failure. That would be a mistake as there is nothing wrong with that concept in itself. There is always room for some dynamic music on the border between rock and pop and this little gang can do that much better than ESDM did.

La Oreja de Van Gogh (Van Gogh's ear) started out in 1996 and met with big success before having a change of lead vocalist in 2008. That kind of action could rock anyone's career, but this band seems stronger than ever.

"La niña que llore en tus fiestas" (The girl who is crying at your parties) is not only the most played song ever on Spotify in Spain, it would also have been top five material at Eurovision any given year.

La Oreja de Van Gogh - La niña que llore en tus fiestas

Friday, October 4, 2013

ESC 2014: how few can we be?

It feels like the Malmö final was just the other weekend, doesn't it, and yet we are beginning to know a little bit more about next year's final already. We know that Copenhagen is the chosen city, we know the venue and we know the dates.

Unfortunately, we had some bad news in the shape of withdrawals as well.

In Malmö, I thought 39 countries felt a bit few to fill up two semi finals. With thirty-three countries going through the semis, it left one semi with no more than 16 songs. Honestly, I already find that number balancing on the edge of being too few.

What do we know about the Copenhagen lineup, then? We know that Croatia and Cyprus have decided not to take part. Apart from being a lean year for countries beginning with the letter "C", it would bring the number of participants down to 37 unless the EBU members absent in 2013 decide to come back.

That doesn't look too promising either. Out of the non-participants of 2013 only one - Portugal - seems to have stated any sort of ambition to be back. That would leave us with 38 countries and 16 songs per semi. Acceptable, I guess.

But what if the hard times pushes another country or two out of the Copenhagen final?

The problem with having too few songs per semi final is that it makes non-qualification even worse. Say that you have thirteen songs in a semi and only three songs fail to make it to the final - the national press would rip their flunked performers to shreds.

So where do we draw the line? Is it acceptable to have 15 songs per semi? Or 14? At the same time as you cram the final with more songs than you really have time for?

I'd still push this old idea of mine and have fewer songs in the final. If there are sixteen songs per semi, it is more than enough if eight songs qualify per heat. That would make a neat and manageable final of 22 songs.

And the day all countries come running back to the Eurovision Song Contest - then you just change it back again. Well worth a try if you ask me.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Liechtenstein and Eurovision

As stated in my last post, the song "Un beau matin" by Vetty was a Eurovision parody and not - as stated on the record sleeve - the 1969 Liechtenstein entry for Eurovision. But what do we know about the tiny state and their relationship to the ESC, then?

Flag from Wikipedia
It is known that Liechtenstein made a brave attempt to participate at the 1976 Eurovision and that a song - "Little Cowboy" performed by Biggi Bachmann - was selected for the purpose. Reliable sources even claim that the song was selected by the national parliament, supposedly on a day without too heavy items on the political agenda.

However, disappointment hit Vaduz as the EBU rejected their entry. The ESC is a competition not between countries but between EBU member broadcasters and as Liechtenstein didn't even have a national radio station at the time they were hopelessly left out in the cold.

The same reliable sources claim that Switzerland - in a grand gesture - offered to compete under the name of "Switzerland & Liechtenstein" in The Hague. Dutch tv rejected the idea as the long name wouldn't fit on the scoreboard.

Biggi Bachmann continued her career, releasing at least two singles, and participated in the 1979 Swiss final where she ended second last singing "Musik Musik". After that traces of her are scarce, leading me to believe neither one of her singles propelled her into any major grade of stardom. As far as I know, "Little Cowboy" was neither recorded nor ever made public in any way.

In 2008, Liechtenstein became the last european country to have their own tv station. 1FLTV is strictly speaking not a state broadcaster but a private channel, however have they voiced an ambition to join the EBU as well as the Eurovision Song Contest. To date, these plans have come to nothing.

Unlike what is stated here and there online, 1FLTV has never been rejected by the EBU. They have simply never applied to be an active member, for reasons best known to themselves. In these grim times of financial crises, it seems likely that the owners would be reluctant to plunge headlong into any costly projects.

Until they have a change of heart, Liechtenstein remains the only independent and internationally recognised state in Europe not to have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, alongside the Vatican state.

Eurovision and Wikipedia

Last night I heard the news that the first ever participant to grace a Eurovision stage - Jetty Paerl of the Netherlands - had passed away at the respectable age of 92. I decided to check her up on Wikipedia - as I knew little about her other achievements - and stumbled across another one of these strangely inaccurate "facts" that often surround the Eurovision Song Contest.

Wikipedia screen capture

You can see for yourselves, it bluntly states that this first Eurovision was only broadcast on radio and not on television. A small thing in this large universe, perhaps, but I still believe encyclopedias should be correct. Otherwise I could just as well write my own.

There seems to be a fraction of the eurovision fanbase so desperate to participate and contribute that they don't mind inventing things or, perhaps, just jump to conclusions and never take a second to doubt (or verify) what they came up with.

Even more strange is the fact that the inaccuracies often remain without being corrected or removed. I think if somebody wrote on Wikipedia that the moon is made of cheese or that Ireland is mainly inhabited by elves, it would be corrected rather soon.

The real problem is that the longer an inaccuracy is left to linger, the more people will believe it. Finally it will become a "truth". Like Liechtenstein 1969, for instance.

In 1969, French record label released an EP including the song "Un beau matin", a parody of the typical eurosongs of its time, and the cover stated the song to be the entry of Liechtenstein for the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest. Just as a joke. To make sure nobody took it seriously.

Vetty - Un beau matin

Still today, disturbingly often, you see serious texts claim that Liechtenstein really intended to take part in Madrid but for unknown reasons never appeared.

This is just one of the many stories that seem impossible to get rid of. Like dandelions they keep popping up everywhere, reappearing shortly after you think you extinguished them.

Life would be so much easier if people checked their sources and tried to verify their facts a little bit better. Until then, we all have to keep our heads calm and not believe everything we read.

Not even on Wikipedia.

Friday, May 31, 2013

What about the Big Five?

Yesterday I suggested that it could perhaps be worth considering cutting the number of songs in the ESC final down to 22-24 instead of 26 and I got plenty of feedback on that. Good. Every aspect of the show should be open for discussion.

Quite a few people also voiced the opinion that the Big Five rule should be scrapped: let France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK go through the semis like everyone else.

That has always been a touchy subject, ever since the Big Five system was introduced (in 2001, if I remember correctly). There was talk in 1996 how Germany's absence from the final really strained the NRK budget and how hard it would be staging the contest without one or several of the biggest contributors.

I have always seen the Big Five rule as a necessary evil: if that is what it takes for the ESC to go on properly so be it. Especially if the Biggies also show some commitment by contributing strong entries. Which has not always been the case.

But is this rule really needed? When it was created relegation still meant you had to miss the entire contest for a year and the EBU did not want to risk any of the Biggies to be absent. Since 2004 and the introduction of the semis nobody needs to miss a year anyway.

So what is the argument for keeping this outdated system? That the broadcasters in question would be really upset if it changed? That their viewers would never watch a final unless they have their own entry? Well, that is already the situation for everyone else.

Now that the process is underway to scale down the contest and diminish the costs of hosting and organising - will it still be absolutely necessary to keep the Big Five in the contest in order to afford it?

That would certainly be something for the reference group to ponder before the 2014 contest.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

ESC 2014: Let's scale a bit further!

Tastes differ, but I know for sure I thoroughly enjoyed the new scaled-down version of the Eurovision Song Contest presented by SVT this year. The smaller venue makes for a more intimate feel, the audience comes closer to the performers and the cameras surely came closer as well.

The camera work was accurate, tight and brought about a warmth that has been missing in some of the bigger arenas.

I really think this is the way to go - a more humane and warmer event is what Europe needs rather than a glossy but cold production. I hope DR will continue and try to stick to the same idea and find new ways of downshifting.

Unless something radical happens in the world - like the end of the financial crisis, for instance - and countries start streaming back into the ESC en masse, I would have another suggestion.

26 songs in the final actually does feel a bit much. I'm a huge eurofan but I feel that it is hard to digest and compare that many songs at once. How will the general audience feel, then?

If the number of participating countries for 2014 will be forty or less, I suggest it is time to scale the final down a bit. I have been thinking about it for quite some time already and when one of my regular readers mentioned similar thoughts in a comment, I think maybe I'm not all wrong.

If we would have eight qualifiers per semi final instead, that would bring the number of finalists down to 22 - just like it was back in the late 80's. Twenty-two is a number you can handle and it would free up quite a lot of time in the show as well. There would be more time for the host broadcaster to leave their own mark on the show and yet the voting would avoid feeling rushed or stressful.

This year, eight finalists per semi would have meant some of my personal favourites would have missed the final - most notably Estonia and Finland - but it would have given Petra Mede more time to breathe during the voting sequence.

If a drop down to 22 feels too dramatic, then have nine qualifiers per semi and make it 24 finalists. It would already be better.

It would make it a bit harder to qualify, but if it could enhance the most important product of the Eurovision factory - the Saturday night final - then be it. I think the EBU should have a look into it. For the sake of more accessible watching.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ESC 2013: numbers and more numbers

Some time after the big eurovision final, the EBU always releases the split results showing the differences between televoting and jury vote. Same procedure as every year. Yet this year, the numbers were even more highly anticipated by the fans, given the new ranking system in use.

In the past you had to make top ten in either televote or jury vote to get ranked at all. Starting from 2013, every song will be ranked and the final results based on this. A system that could make a huge difference all of a sudden.

Take small countries like Cyprus or Estonia - they are likely to provide a valid televote even though a relatively low number of people will vote there. I dare say that the placings they produce for songs outside top ten are perfectly arbitrary. You could just as well draw lots to determine their order. Yet these placings could have a huge impact on the final points given by this country.

Then again, the jury members are quite likely to distribute quite a few of their points arbitrarily as well. They probably know their top favourites pretty well, as well as the songs they want to place in the bottom of their list. But the songs in between? The placings between, say, 10 - 20?

I won't analyse the results any further as many other people already have.

I just find it amusing when some people are against the televote because their favourites scored poorly there or want to abolish the juries because of the very same reasons. That kind of analysis isn't really worth a lot.

I still think the EBU should have a look into this new system of grading all the points. Is it really as genius as they thought in the first place?

Secondly, there is still a problem with the juries as I see it. They keep Montenegro out of the final - despite entering a modern, genuine and non-conformative song - while they shower Azerbaijan - solid and well performed but hardly as original as a jury favourite should be - with points.

I have said it before but I really think the jury should be instructed to favour hit potential rather than fine singing or pretty harmonies. If a song has hit potential in a country, then the jury should recognise this and vote for it.

The complete split result is to be found here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It's too easy to ruin the fun

Everyone knows the PED (Post Eurovision Depression) I guess, and I thought I wouldn't let it get a grip on this blog. I thought it better to keep it going, to keep analysing, to keep thinking out loud.

But I must admit that all these rumours going around are really doing their best to kill the fun.

When you look into the voting patterns of this year's contest (and many, many people have) there seems to be a endless amount of funny-looking things there. Funny-looking little things that would perhaps not look too good if exposed to direct sunlight.

Trading of points? Check. Manipulating the televote in smaller countries? Check. EBU and Digame ignoring troublesome indications of vote fraud? Check. Politics? Extra big fat check. There is not one accusation that has not been phrased openly, I feel.

There has even been the implication that EBU and SVT pushed Danish victory in order to avoid any of the points-trading countries to win, but there must be some sort of upper limit also to the conspiracy theories, I feel.

So if you find me a bit quiet at the moment, it's because all of these discussions are giving me a bitter after taste. Eurovision should be fun and at the moment it feels more sordid.

It will soon be fun again, no doubt. But it would be time for the EBU to act so that their member broadcasters are not left feeling the way I do right now.

Monday, May 20, 2013

ESC 2013: Dirty tricks during the voting?

The news are all over the place. According to Lithuanian online paper 15 min agents have paid people to vote for Azerbaijan in Lithuania as well as a number of other countries in order to improve their Eurovision result.

The proof is hard to verify and some people claim that the shows footage is staged and only made to slander the successful Azeri entries, but this excellent piece by 12points.tv show quite a few disturbing tendencies in the patterns of what countries vote extensively for Azerbaijan. Let's just say it doesn't look good.

There have also been equally unconfirmed rumours about other countries performing the same stunt - Russia has been named - in order to do well in the voting.

I see these allegations and get the same resigned feeling I had back in the years 1994-2002, another period with extensive trading of points - a standard that obviously upset the flow of points and most probably altered the final results considerably.

I remember sitting on the plane back home after the 2002 final in Tallinn, marking on the scoreboard every given point that seemed suspicious. After a while, having realised just how much trading had been going on, I just had to ask myself if there was any point to keep organising a contest as rigged as this one.

When Digame took over the supervision of televotes, things started to look better for several years but now the voting is beginning to leave a bad taste. Again.

I suggest the EBU investigates the situation properly and then sit down to have a hard think how to make the voting credible again. Eurovision - already tainted with rumours and allegations of being political and unfair - can not afford to have a voting that will upset the audiences.

The Eurovision Song Contest is just a light-hearted little game for the whole family. Strictly speaking the outcome is not important to the world as such.

But every light-hearted game - be it Trivial Pursuit, mini golf or Eurovision - has one thing in common. If some of the players start breaking the rules and cheat, then nobody will enjoy the game and nobody will want to play anymore.

Cheating kills the fun. So somebody better do something about this. At once.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

2013 prediction: How wrong was I?

Yesterday I had a stab at predicting the outcome of the Eurovision final in Malmö and looking back on it now, I realise I wasn't completely wrong.

Out of 26 countries, 14 placed according to my prediction. Another five found themselves only one placing away from what I predicted. I can live with that. Then there were some spectacular miscalculations, of course.

FRANCE - I liked Amandine's raw and tempestuous performance, but this kind of song is hard to sell to a mainstream audience. I appreciate when people try to break out of the most common formats, but maybe there are limits as to how far you can go without putting people off.

FINLAND - Despite all the publicity and a very energetic appearance, Finland only scored a mere 13 points. None of which from its neighbour countries. Keeping the masses entertained does not automatically mean they will reward you with points.

GERMANY - I felt like I ruined the party for everyone yesterday not thinking Cascada had a chance of surpassing fourth place. In retrospect, my prediction was almost hysterically over-optimistic. Probably the miscalculation of the year.

GEORGIA - The G:son-penned love ballad failed to set the scoreboard on fire this time. While thinking the song and performance deserved more, I'm relieved the cheap trick didn't work out.

MALTA - I didn't think Gianluca would hit home the way he did but I was happy to be wrong. For a while, when he was not too far behind the top scorers, I secretly hoped for Malta to be the unexpected twist that would suddenly collect a bunch of twelvepointers and sail to victory.

IRELAND - I did get a bad feeling during Ryan's performance and thought to myself that this could be the one generic modern pop song too many for the audience, but I never in a million years thought this one would be left in last place. Completely undeserved.

DENMARK - Of course I saw the Danish song as a potential winner, but this is the second year that the biggest favourite wins by quite a comfortable margin. Also, the winner is a very typical safe old-school eurosong, and I would have hoped for the contest to have moved on a bit from that. It would have been so nice with a daring and more original winner. Like Netherlands, like Norway.

But all in all a great show with great songs and some really fine performances. Just possibly maybe I like the songs better than the final result, but you can't have it all, can you?

Wanted: Hit factor

One thought I've had in my mind quite some time is that while it is all fair and square to have the juries back in the voting. Not that they seem to have particularly counterbalanced the regional voting like they were hoped to do, but probably they have helped more advanced and daring entries a bit on their way.

For next year, I would just like to add one more thing to the list of things that a jury should observe. They already look for originality, quality singing and the level of performance over all. Good start. But fine singing alone does not make a hit single.

The question I would like the juries to ponder is: could this song be a commercial hit in our country? Does it suit our radio stations, would people here want to buy the single or buy a download? If the answer is yes, then that should provide high marks.

It is ridiculous that a hit single that Germany's scored so poorly last night while several other songs - original, well sung, well performed but commercially stone dead - did way better.

It must pay off to enter a hit song and a hit act. If these songs fail in the voting, we could be back to the bad old days of violins and bagpipes sooner than anyone could think.

ESC 2013: First thoughts after the final

Well, my prediction from earlier today went so-so. I wasn't completely lost in the woods, but just like with Alexander Rybak in 2009 I managed not to predict the obvious winner.

Basically because I really hoped for something else.

Don't get me wrong, I am really happy for the Danes and the Danish song is not a bad one, but I was hoping for a surprise. And something more modern, something more daring. The Danish entry was safe all the way and I somehow don't feel that's the winner we would need at this point.

One positive thing is that Only Teardrops might have a hit potential that runner-up Azerbaijan would have lacked. Another good thing is that a huge record market like Germany recognised the quality in a song like Hungary's. Also more demanding songs like Italy and the Netherlands made top ten.

Maybe next year, the more difficult songs will get to set the tone and we will have a winner more along the lines of that.

SVT made a fantastic job and delivered a glimmering show, at least up until the voting. There were too many small annoying technical mistakes during the voting procedure and how experienced producers could allocate so little time for the points, allowing the show to overrun like that, is a mystery.

Petra Mede, however, sailed like a queen through it all. Beautiful, funny, reliable. This will be a hard show for Denmark to follow.

More thoughts tomorrow after a good night's sleep. What do the rest of you think?

1) Denmark 281 points, 2) Azerbaijan 234, 3) Ukraine 214, 4) Norway 191, 5) Russia 174, 6) Greece 152, 7) Italy 126, 8) Malta 120, 9) Netherlands 114, 10) Hungary 84, 11) Moldova 71, 12) Belgium 71, 13) Romania 65, 14) Sweden 62, 15) Georgia 50, 16) Belarus 48, 17) Iceland 47, 18) Armenia 41, 19) United Kingdom 23, 20) Estonia 19, 21) Germany 18, 22) Lithuania 17, 23) France 14, 24) Finland 13, 25) Spain 8, 26) Ireland 5.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Eurovision debut - seventeen years ago

May 18th is a very special date in my book - today seventeen years ago I made my first visit to Planet Eurovision as I sat in the audience at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest. A real dream come true for my 20 year-old self.

I come from the countryside where no stars live and where no celebrities are ever to be seen. Tv shows were made somewhere else and something as grand and spectacular as the ESC always seemed so far, so unattainable.

Suddenly I found myself on the night train to Oslo and when I arrived, I felt like a fairytale hero who had been transported through time and space into another dimension. I got to talk to a fair share of participants, I got a couple of autographs and I got to help a friend make an interview with the adorable Maja Blagdan, being every inch as wonderful as I had hoped for her to be.

Maja Blagdan - Sveta ljubav (Croatia 1996)

I was so excited to finally be present in the hall and to meet other eurovision fans who could also sing along with the entries that I didn't even notice that 1996 was a vocally shaky edition of the contest where many participants underperformed and sang only moderately well.

I didn't get disappointed until the voting came to a close and Ireland had secured its fourth victory in five contests. I kept wishing for the stagnating contest to produce another one of those smash hit winning songs like in the old days and instead the juries settled for yet another set of violins and a flute.

I wouldn't have to wait for long to see the ESC make a major turnaround and re-invent itself, but regardless of the disappointing outcome the 1996 Eurovision remains one of my strongest memories. To finally realise that Planet Eurovision was no distant planet at all but a place you could visit, explore and make your own. I hope every real eurofan will have that opportunity at least once.

Eimear Quinn - The Voice (Ireland 1996)

ESC 2013: the voting order in the final

You've got to admire the EBU and their current ambition to make the ESC as exciting as possible for as long a time as possible, and since 2011 they sequence the order the countries vote in so that a winner will emerge as late as possible during the voting sequence.

A good ambition that worked well in 2011 and less so in 2012 as Loreen decided to literally run away with the trophy in a way that no mathematic game play could have made look exciting for any longer portion of time.

After the juries had cast their votes last night, the EBU computer went into hard labour and made the perfect voting sequence order to sustain tension for the longest time, at least before the televotes have been added.

Are there any clues to the result here? Most of the Nordic countries vote early which would make a Nordic winner less likely. Bad news for Denmark and Norway? Or is one of them the runaway winner of the year?

Four of the ex-yugoslav countries that all failed in the semis vote among the ten last. What does that mean? Will some country emerge and grab the lead at a late stage? Italy, perhaps? Or Greece?

Or are their votes already unable to change the outcome at that point? Or do they agree with everyone else?

In a matter of hours we will know. This is the order the countries will vote in tonight:

1. San Marino, 2. Sweden, 3. Albania, 4. Netherlands, 5.Austria, 6. United Kingdom, 7. Israel, 8. Serbia, 9. Ukraine, 10. Hungary, 11. Romania, 12. Moldova, 13. Azerbaijan, 14. Norway, 15. Armenia, 16. Italy, 17. Finland, 18. Spain, 19. Belarus, 20. Latvia, 21. Bulgaria, 22. Belgium, 23. Russia, 24. Malta, 25. Estonia, 26. Germany, 27. Iceland, 28. France, 29. Greece, 30. Ireland, 31. Denmark, 32. Montenegro, 33. Slovenia, 34. Georgia, 35. FYR Macedonia, 36. Cyprus, 37. Croatia, 38. Switzerland, 39. Lithuania.

ESC 2013: my final prediction

This is it, then. The big day of the 2013 Eurovision Final, where juries and televoters will come together and decide the winner. I took a long, hard look into my crystal ball and this is my vain attempt at predicting the result.

01 FRANCE L'enfer et moi / Amandine Bourgeois
An intriguing choice to open the contest, and I actually think this French bluesy rocker in marching boots will benefit from being the first one out. Not enough to be a real contender, but at least it won't get lost in between any other songs.
Prediction: 10 - 15

02 LITHUANIA Something / Andrius Pojavis
The man with the animated eyebrows is perhaps not the best performer this year, but he has something happy and natural about him, an ease that makes him appealing. It took him to the final, but tonight his entry is shark feed and nothing else.
Prediction: 21 - 26

03 MOLDOVA O mie / Aliona Moon
This entry looked stunning on screen but will be encumbered by the fact that it comes so early in the running this time. Could have been a contender had it been closer to the end of the presentation.
Prediction: 12 - 20

04 FINLAND Marry Me / Krista Siegfrids
Krista "Talk Of The Town" Siegfrids will be helped by the publicity her entry has created throughout the week, but her chorus is easy to retain and the ding dong-part stays in your mind. Could create a bit of a surprise in the end.
Prediction: 4 - 12

05 SPAIN Contigo hasta el final / ESDM
Clearly not the worst song of the year. But who is going to think this one is the best? Who is going to pick up their phones to vote for it? The most likely song to end in last place tonight.
Prediction: 23 - 26

06 BELGIUM Love Kills / Roberto Bellarosa
Little Roberto has grown with his task and maybe his nervous intensity breaks through the european screens also tonight, even though this feels more like a radio hit than a winner.
Prediction: 8 - 16

07 ESTONIA Et uus saaks alguse / Birgit Õigemeel
The clear and carefully crafted ballad could impress the juries, Birgit's flawless vocal as well, but it seems unlikely this would be any greater points magnet with the televoters.
Prediction: 14 - 20

08 BELARUS Solayoh / Alyona Lanskaya
The Belarusian beach party is catchy but ultimately too repetitive and too forced to be in with a real chance in the end. It will have its fans, but not enough of them.
Prediction: 17 - 25

09 MALTA Tomorrow / Gianluca
This ditty provides the Cosy Corner of the first half. It is very hard not to be charmed by Gianluca and his friends, but once the moment passes it is likely to be eclipsed by stronger candidates.
Prediction: 14 - 20

10 RUSSIA What If / Dina Garipova
I must admit to liking this more when that horrid video clip is out of the way. Dina sings really well and even though the backing group still comes across as a bit too frantic this could steal precious points from the Georgian love duet.
Prediction: 3 - 10

11 GERMANY Glorious / Cascada
Many people on location in Malmö still sees this as a potential winner but I can honestly not see this one getting the juries onboard. A hit in the making, but hardly a winner.
Prediction: 4 - 14

12 ARMENIA Lonely Planet / Dorians
Perhaps there is a market for old-fashioned soft rock like this also in the final. Gor Sujyan gives a powerful vocal performance, and in addition to a fair amount of friendly votes from here and there it will at least avoid any bottom placing.
Prediction: 15 - 22

13 NETHERLANDS Birds / Anouk
I am not going to beat around the bush - this would be my dream winner. It has everything I could ask for: quality songwriting, a fantastic performer and an original and unusual song with hit potential. Not the likeliest scenario but not impossible either.
Prediction: 1 - 7

14 ROMANIA It's My Life / Cezar
Half of Europe will not believe their eyes. Some people will laugh, some people will cry. Cezar is provoking a tropical storm of emotions and of course we need an entry like this to liven up the final.
Prediction: 12 - 18

15 UNITED KINGDOM Believe In Me / Bonnie Tyler
She was brave to enter, dear Bonnie, but this running order is not doing her any favours. I hope her fans will provide her a fair number of points, but the song is too polite to stand out or make a lasting impression.
Prediction: 13 - 22

16 SWEDEN You / Robin Stjernberg
To date, six editions of ESC ended with home victory. My gut feeling says it won't be a seventh one to add to the list this year, apart from that this feels like a real hit or miss. Surprisingly high or surprisingly low and nothing in between.
Prediction: 6 - 14

17 HUNGARY Kedvesem / ByeAlex
Since Hungary's happy hipster made it to the final, I have a little feeling that Europe has better taste than I dared suspect and that this could be a dark horse in the voting. Fingers crossed.
Prediction: 7 - 15

18 DENMARK Only Teardrops / Emmelie de Forest
The worst thing about high expectations is that they are very hard to live up to and the Danes would probably be disappointed with a second place tonight. They'd better prepare. This will go very far but not all the way.
Prediction: 2 - 6

19 ICELAND Ég á líf / EyÞór Ingi Gunnlaugsson
Iceland will do what Iceland normally does in a eurovision final: provide three flawless and likeable minutes that most people will like but that won't gather any larger sum of points in the end.
Prediction: 18 - 24

20 AZERBAIJAN Hold Me / Farid Mammodov
If the running order will have any negative effect on any song, the Azerbaijan could lose a point or two coming right after another soft ballad. Not that it will matter much. Will do a lot better than this rather tepid entry song really deserves.
Prediction: 3 - 10

21 GREECE Alcohol Is Free / Koza Mostra feat Agathonas Iakovidis
At this point, Greece will hit the audience like a punch in the face with its unstoppable raw energy after a number of more controlled and restrained performances. From a commercial point of view not the best choice of winner, but not an unlikely one.
Prediction: 1 - 7

22 UKRAINE Gravity / Zlata Ognevich
I hope this is the year when clean lines and simpler expressions will win over special effects, but Ukraine would also be a most possible winner. Not the best choice from a commercial point of view but Zlata's vocal abilities are sure to impress.
Prediction: 3 - 8

23 ITALY L'essenziale / Marco Mengoni
This fine piece of handicraft is bound to collect a large number of jury points as well as precious televoting points from the markets where Italian music is still doing well. Possibly a winner, but probably just a pinch too inaccessible in the end.
Prediction: 2 - 10

24 NORWAY I Feed You My Love / Margaret Berger
This song has a cold and electronic pop sound, highly present in the charts around the continent. Sorry Denmark, but if this year's winner is a Nordic country my money is on Margaret.
Prediction: 1 - 5

25 GEORGIA Waterfall / Nodi & Sophie
I know how big a favourite this is. But given that a similar song by the same composer only managed a tenth place in Baku last year and that a very similarly staged song won the ESC only two years ago, I think this one will score slightly lower than expected.
Prediction: 2 - 7

26 IRELAND Only Love Survives / Ryan Dolan
Modern but not too modern. A likeable performer with a boy-next-door charm to him that won't put older voters off. A positive and catchy chorus. Energetic, direct and easy to grasp at the end of the presentation. If there will be a surprise winner, it could very well be Ireland.
Prediction: 6 - 12

How good am I at predicting, then? Should be taken seriously at all? For the last ten years, I picked the right winner seven times (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2012) but ultimately I didn't think Alexander Rybak would win.

So take this with a pinch of salt - or a handful, perhaps - but Greece, Norway and the Netherlands stand out as the most likely winners for me.

Norway is the perfect pop winner to continue the direction set by Loreen last year. The Netherlands is the difficult and arty winner that could win as a result of the new way the juries score the songs. Greece could be the showstopper that collects heavy points from the Balkan countries that missed the final.

If I have to pick one, my winner is Norway. But my dream winner would be the Netherlands, for a number of reasons.

But what I know for sure is that I know nothing. This is a strong lineup with no clear or obvious winners (at least not once you decided you don't believe Denmark is the one) and the winner could very well be Germany. Or Ireland. Or Italy, Ukraine, Georgia or Azerbaijan. Or even Finland.

What I hope for the most is an exciting and close race, preferably where several countries are still in the running when the last county will cast their votes.

I feel more sure in the bottom. What on earth could save Spain from that undeserved last place I think is in store for them?

No polite points for the host

Back in the day, there was this idea that the host country automatically recieved a bucket full of complimentary points regardless of what their entry sounded like. Politeness points.

I'm not so sure about that, honestly. Wouldn't the host countries win a whole lot more often, then? In the 57 contests to date, only six occasions saw the host entry win.

In some years, the home ground entries have not exactly been drowned in points. Like in Bergen in 1986, where Norway didn't really make a splash.

Ketil Stokkan - Romeo (Norway 1986) - 12th place of 20

When Ireland first organised Eurovision back in 1971 - and went colour just for the occasion - the panel of expert jurors showed no excessive politeness anyway.

Angela Farrell - One Day Love (Ireland 1971) - 11th place of 18

Latvia had a very promising start at Eurovision and hosted the 2003 ESC in Riga, where their own act were red hot favourites to secure them a second consecutive victory. Those predictions proved a bit on the positive side and in the end, the Latvians only recieved a modest five points, all awarded by neighbour Estonia.

F.L.Y - Hello From Mars (Latvia 2003) - 24th place of 26

Swedish eurovision general was - as you all know - a contestant at the 1992 ESC in Malmö and was the opposite of a hit with the juries. Maybe he sees this year's event - hosted in his city of defeat - as a revenge for the second last place he got back then? Hopefully the 2013 Swedish entrant Robin Stjernberg will have more understanding from Europe this time around.

Christer Björkman - Imorgon är en annan dag (Sweden 1992) - 22nd place of 23

At least he should avoid the fate of the 1958 Dutch entry - the only time in history that the host country ended in the very last place.

Corry Brokken - Heel de wereld (Netherlands 1958) - Equal 9th place of 10

Friday, May 17, 2013

ESC 2013: the running order

While I was sleeping tightly and sweetly, the good people at SVT were working hard and revealed the running order for the grand final. There had been quite a lot of discussion going on between fans what would be the perfect openening song, closing song and where they would want their own song to be placed.

At a first glance, I think SVT did a great job. France is an intriguing opener, slightly atypical for the contest but with lots of energy and attitude, while Ireland is a close to perfect ending to the song presentation.

The political dimension - a suspicion that some "unwanted" winning countries would get bad starting positions on purpose to make it harder for them to impress an audience - seems go be totally absent.

I would perhaps have hoped for them to put a pre-contest favourite in the dreaded number two slot in an attempt to show that every position can be equally good. There is no magic in the numbers, you know. There is only circumstance.

I would also have hoped for a more spectacular starting position for Finland, but being the first uptempo pop hit in the running is not a bad thing either.

More thoughts as they pop into my mind. This is the complete running order:

01 France
02 Lithuania
03 Moldova
04 Finland
05 Spain
06 Belgium
07 Estonia
08 Belarus
09 Malta
10 Russia
11 Germany
12 Armenia
13 Netherlands
14 Romania
15 United Kingdom
16 Sweden
17 Hungary
18 Denmark
19 Iceland
20 Azerbaijan
21 Greece
22 Ukraina
23 Italy
24 Norway
25 Georgia
26 Ireland

Semi 2: Happy with seven out of ten

It turned into a bit of a thriller, the revelation of finalists in the second semi final. My heart always starts beating a little bit irregularly - and too fast - when Finland is in one of the last envelopes.

My prediction earlier today went so-so and I nailed seven out of ten finalists, a result I am honestly pleased with. I'm especially happy with being wrong about Hungary's hipster ditty, the first finalist announced by Petra Mede.

What I really learned from this prediction is - again - that I should not take into consideration what others think. The three countries I got wrong - San Marino, FYR Macedonia, Israel - were no personal favourites of mine but in the end I predicted them because they seemed popular.

It made sense to predict them. It would have made sense had they qualified as well. I think the battle for the last places in the final was extremely tight.

I hesitated a long time between Iceland and Israel, I thought they were after the same points and that there would only be place for one of them. I was right, but picked the wrong one.

I can't honestly say I say Armenia coming, but I did have a tingling fear it would be a contender despite being such a bleak song. Will be interesting to see how well it fares in the final.

For the first time since 2009 all Nordic countries made it to the final and for the first time ever all ex-yugoslav states failed. The ratings in these countries will most probably be very low. And where will their points go?

I'm very happy to have Finland, Malta and Hungary left in the running. I can't wait for the running order and then there will be some serious predicting again.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Semi 2: these are my ten qualifiers

If there was pressure to predict the first semi final then this second one feels like a nightmare for various reasons. Mainly because it all seems very open and I have no idea whether to predict with my heart or with my head.

I feel sure about five of ten qualifiers, perhaps. Then it feels like the placings 6 - 16 or so are one big grand lottery. How will the points spread between the candidates? If they spread enormously you might need less points than ever to make top ten tonight. Then a couple of high points could be enough. Which opens up for basically anyone.

But again - I repeat my old mantra that this is just a game and nothing to be taken too seriously. If I tell myself that a number of times I might believe it in the end.

1. LATVIA Here We Go / PeR
Just like Austria, this is a very good opening number and for a long time I thought this would be the happy pill that would appeal to the audience in the end. But I thought the same about Trackshittaz last year. You've got to learn sometime.
Qualifier: No

2. SAN MARINO Crisalide / Valentina Monetta 
This is where the real prediction nightmare starts. If you are not a eurovision fan and you don't know how much Valentina improved since last year, all you are left with as a ballad that never fully develops and a dated beat from the Siegel factory, which hasn't worked since 1999. This prediction is more based on me wanting to see San Marino on a scoreboard for once. Heart wins over head.
Qualifier: Yes

3. FYR MACEDONIA Pred da se razdeni / Esma & Lozano
I still think this is a dismal song that merely uses Esma as a special effect and nothing more, but you could have way worse special effects than her. And I'd rather have her than many others on offer tonight.
Qualifier: Yes

4. AZERBAIJAN Hold Me / Farid Mammadov
A weak song enhanced by technology, pretty much like last year's Azeri entry. Of course it will work, at least at this point.
Qualifier: Yes

5. FINLAND Marry Me / Krista Siegfrieds
Catchy, instant, over the top, girl on girl kissing, wedding dress. This one will stay in the audience's mind and will sail into the final. Well done, girl.
Qualifier: Yes

6. MALTA Tomorrow / Gianluca
A very charming song with a very charming singer has, reportedly, turned unnecessarily dull and not striking enough on stage. I still want to think that an ukulele and eyes as charming as Gianluca's will be enough, but I'm not sure at all.
Qualifier: Yes

7. BULGARIA Samo shampioni / Elitsa & Stoyan
Despite liking them a lot in Helsinki six years ago, I did not predict them to qualify, neither did I see their top five placing coming in advance. So maybe the trick will work again, despite this song lacking everything that made "Voda" good. But I don't think so.
Qualifier: No

8. ICELAND Ég á líf / Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson
This is a pretty little ballad in many ways. Iceland has a way of squeezing themselves into the final where they ultimately don't do so well. It could work this time around as well, but the battle for ballad points is ferocious and Iceland would need a large portion of luck to make it this time.
Qualifier: No

9. GREECE Alcohol Is Free / Koza Mostra feat Agathonas Iakovidis
This is another truly divisive song that certain people will detest, but temper, attitude, forza and dancing musicians dressed in kilts will win in the end.
Qualifier: Yes

10. ISRAEL Rak bishvilo / Moran Mazor
One week ago I predicted that Iceland would make it and Israel would not. Today I swap them around. I still think the song would need more of a climax - I expect more than it ever delivers every time I hear it - but think Moran's intensity will beat the Icelandic cool in the end. And I doubt there is room for them both in the final.
Qualifier: Yes

11. ARMENIA Lonely Planet / Dorians
I really hate bringing up the subject of diaspora voting, but the Armenian Head of Delegation mentioned it herself in their press conference this week. In my mind, this is the weakest song of the second semi, but will potential friendship points be enough to take it to the final. For the sake of this competition, I hope not.
Qualifier: No

12. HUNGARY Kedvesem / ByeAlex
This is one of my top favourites this year. But I think this introverted but brilliant little gem will be too demanding from a grand audience on a Thursday night and that it could very well mean ByeHungary in the end. I would love to be wrong on this one, but I don't see it happening.
Qualifier: No

13. NORWAY I Feed You My Love / Margaret Berger
After all these question marks it feels wonderful to be this sure again. Norway is a potential winner this year and is a sure qualifier tonight.
Qualifier: Yes

14. ALBANIA Identitet / Bledar Sejko & Adrian Lulgjuraj
I like these rockers, I like their song and I like their sound. But just like in 2011, I think this will be a bit too much for Europe. Unfortunately.
Qualifier: No

15. GEORGIA Waterfall / Nodi & Sophie
Big voices and a big - albeit predictable - ballad. Will work wonders and steal lots and lots of points and ruin the chances for most other ballad entries - how many are there room for besides this one?
Qualifier: Yes

16. SWITZERLAND You And Me / Takasa
Alongside Armenia, my least favourite song in this semi. Three minutes of very little action and very little else. The big question is if people are prepared to vote for a group just because they feature the oldest person ever on a eurovision stage. And again, for the sake of this competiton, I hope the answer is no.
Qualifier: No

17. ROMANIA It's My Life / Cezar
Is this a good song? No, not particularly. Will people laugh at Cezar tonight? Quite a few will, yes. But perhaps the final needs a performance like this. To ensure entertainment value for everyone.
Qualifier: Yes

So these are my ten qualifiers tonight: San Marino, FYR Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Finland, Malta, Greece, Israel, Norway, Georgia and Romania. My heart is bleeding for Hungary, but I really don't dare hope that they will make it.

Am I sure? Not the least. Azerbaijan, Greece, Norway, Georgia and Finland will be in the final. Everything else is up for grabs. If I have more than five right tonight, that will be a victory in itself.

So bring it on, prove me wrong!

Abba had a plan

I got the question on Twitter, how come Abba managed to build a successful career after winning eurovision as most others have failed in doing so. There are many factors but in the end it all comes down to having a plan.

Abba had the luck to find themselves in a very creative surrounding. Their manager Stikkan Andersson was a skilled and talented promoter and had good contacts to major labels around the globe and he was also convinced that Abba had what it takes to become an international act.

Björn and Benny were highly talented and productive songwriters and producers, and the vocal sound provided by Agnetha and Frida in combination with the presence of sound engineering genius Michael B Tretow set a new standard in Swedish pop music.

The blessing in disguise was that their first eurovision attempt as a group failed. Ring Ring was a huge favourite in the 1973 Swedish final but only managed a third place when the panel of experts had cast their votes.

Abba - Ring Ring (Sweden 1973 national final)

This failure brought many positive things. First of all, it seems very unlikely that a likeable but simple song like this would have won the 1973 final in Luxembourg since it was composed of experts, like the Swedish jury had been. The song became quite a success even outside Sweden and opened doors in many territories, something that would come in handy later. And Abba got the audience on their side for next year's national final.

The 1974 Swedish final was mainly a formality and resulted in a clear victory for Waterloo. Now Stikkan Andersson was prepared and had secured local record deals and promotion for the song (as well as the subsequent album) and when victory came along in Brighton, all he had to do was push the button and the machinery was already underway.

Abba - Waterloo (Sweden 1974)

Abba was more of a direct hit in some markets while others were harder to break - it wasn't until late 1975 and the success of "S.O.S" that the group had their real breakthrough in the UK for instance.

But this is where most eurovision entrants go wrong, there seems to be no plan on how to handle potential success. Many a winner have declared that they will now try to conquer the world, but that is easier said than done. Eurovision puts you in the spotlight, but only for a very limited time. You need to act fast to capitalise on it.

If you win, there is no time to go back home and record an album. There is no time to make plans of your own, you have to accept what is offered and hope for the best. It it too late to put yourself in control at this point.

Last year's winner Loreen had an excellent opportunity as her winning song hit many international charts but not only was her album released at a very late stage, it took forever for her team to even produce a professional video clip of her winning song.

Then again - not everyone wants to be an international star either. Trying to conquer a bigger market is hard work and very tiresome and not necessarily met with success just because you are doing your best.

Abba are outstanding on so many levels - they had an almost Beatles-esque production flow, knocking out excellent singles and albums for many years, expanding their careers and re-inventing themselves in ways few other acts can follow.

Many winners have used their victory to become heroes on home ground or to break a certain market, and sometimes the victory allows you to do things in your domestic market that you couldn't do before.

And yet - in these days of the internet, where you can technically win the world over through YouTube, iTunes and Spotify, it would be interesting to see who would be the first eurovision winner to turn victory into lasting eurovision success.

The question is if any team present in Malmö has this plan - what do we do on Sunday if we wake up as winners? I hope at least somebody has.

Abba - The Name Of The Game

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Montenegro in Space

I know I didn't predict them to qualify, but I'm a little bit disappointed after all not to have Montenegro in the final.

I was afraid that it would be an audiovisual mess, but I thought it came across pretty well. The space suits are great fun and Nina's vocals were ace. An act like this one would surely have helped to spice up the final considerably.

Sending in something this different is a gamble. Too bad this one didn't pay off, but as their song turned into a big hit at home it hopefully paid off at least in some ways to take part in eurovision.

Who See feat Nina Žižić - Igranka (Montenegro 2013)

Semi 1: everybody keep your shirt on

I had a good time in front of my tv-set last night. I thought the first semi from Malmö was a fresh and delightful little starter dish to feed our appetite for Saturday's final.

SVT put on some really nice television with a suitably high tempo, nice camera work, a sense of circumstance and occasion without getting too serious or pompous. There were also a few surprises, in the actual show as well as in the results.

And that's what got quite a few emotions boiling, I guess. I woke up to a stream of angry words about how unfair the world is, how everything went wrong and how political everything is.

People are angry about all six ex-Soviet countries qualifying and seemingly equally angry about every ex-Yugoslav state missing out. Rumours are now flying around about countries like Slovenia, Montenegro and even Austria "surely" withdrawing after this.

First thing first. This is a competition. You can't expect to win or do well on every occasion. Only very sore losers would compete only in competitions where they are sure to win. The Netherlands missed out on eight consecutive occasions without withdrawing. Knock it off.

Implying that some countries qualified only because they were once part of the Soviet Union is just plain silly. Russia, Ukraine, Estonia and Moldova all entered ambitious, polished performances that came across very well to the people at home, who largely heard and saw the songs for the first time last night.

When it comes to Belarus and Lithuania and why they qualified, I will need a little more time to find a suitable explanation, but nobody could call Belarus a default qualifier that succeeds every year.

As for the non-qualifiers, they were just not convincing enough. Austria, Croatia, Cyprus and Slovenia had nice songs that most people certainly appreciated but that failed to stay in people's minds. Especially Slovenia's Hannah had bad luck as her section chosen for the quick recaps sounded quite harsh.

Serbia ruined their chances with a messy and shouty performance while Montenegro - cutting edge in all departments - probably proved a bit too much both visually and vocally. Unfortunate as I wish more countries would dare taking risks, but they didn't fail because they come from former Yugoslavia.

It's more than OK to be disappointed if your country or your favourite missed out, but then take a deep breath and the party will go on tomorrow night.

Semi 1: eight out of ten is not bad

After a stylish first semi final with no visible hiccups (not any I could detect anyway) we stand here with the first ten qualifiers of the year.

Estonia, Denmark, Russia, Ukraine, Netherlands, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, Ireland and Belgium.

When I predicted the results earlier today, I got eight right out of ten. That's pretty good. I finally ticked the boxes of Croatia and Serbia, who failed to convince the audience in the end. I don't miss them an awful lot, but I feel sorry for Croatia losing out on four consecutive occasions.

But the two finalists I had not foreseen, then? What can I say? 

I take pride in not having predicted Belarus. Not only do I find the song weak and cheesy, I also thought the performance was strained and forced and anything but charming. Everyone else must have seen something that was invisible to me.

Lithuania has made a nasty habit of failing when I like them and qualifying when I think they deserve to fail. I'm not going to cry "diaspora vote" until I see the complete scores from tonight's voting, but it's surprising that a performance as flat as this one could make the final cut.

On the other hand, I am really happy about Estonia and Belgium making it. They were my personal favourites tonight and I doubted that either one of them would enthuse the masses. Especially Roberto Bellarosa was so touching when he almost tore up his little plastic flag with pure happiness.

I also felt for the Dutch, since they were the last country to be announced. Of course. Had I worked for the EBU, I would have saved them for last as well. They have not been in a final since 2004, and extra tension is good for any old show.

Now it is time to recharge the batteries a bit and think about how to predict the second semi. Not at all sure who I'll settle for there. But I save that problem for later.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Semi 1: these are my ten qualifiers

I don't really know why this is, but every year when you are supposed to predict the results you get hit by a surreal feeling of seriousness. But its just a game, isn't it? My guess is as good as yours, et cetera?

Well, there is still some sort of pressure. I wouldn't want to stand there with only four correct countries in the end when everyone else predicted everything right.

So here are tonight's contenders and my final prediction as to who will make it and who won't.

1. AUSTRIA Shine / Natália Kelly
I always thought this would be a very good opening number for the semi final. Perhaps it still is, but it comes at the cost of being eclipsed by everything that comes after it. The song is pleasant and Natália does nothing wrong, but the audience is highly unlikely of remembering this particularly well when the phone lines open.
Qualifier: No.

2. ESTONIA Et uus saaks alguse / Birgit Õigemeel
If this ballad and the Cypriot ballad could swap places in the running order, there would be no doubt in my mind that Birgit and Estonia would make it. This is elegant, sober and very well performed. Not to mention my favourite ballad in this semi. I want to believe in this.
Qualifier: Yes

3. SLOVENIA Straight Into Love / Hannah
Modern, slick and club friendly - but for some reason these qualities seem to matter very little when people cast their votes. Even if Hannah hits all the notes correctly, this is not the kind of song that usually breaks through and a qualification would be a great surprise.
Qualifier: No

4. CROATIA Mižerija / Klapa s mora
Many will find this dull and old-fashioned but a large section of the audience will also hear competent singing and a competent melody line. I'm pretty convinced that quite a few jury members will belong to that latter category.
Qualifier: Yes

5. DENMARK Only Teardrops / Emmelie de Forest
Will the biggest pre-contest make it through the semi? Of course it will. Denmark missing out at this early stage would be more drama than anyone could handle on a Tuesday night.
Qualifier: Yes

6. RUSSIA What If / Dina Garipova
A clean and plesant melody line, a good vocalist and tons of cheese in the lyrical department. Quite far from being one of my personal favourites, qualification is still pretty inevitable.
Qualifier: Yes

7. UKRAINE Gravity / Zlata Ognevich
All this talk of Zlata being carried by a giant and possibly overacting her performance in rehearsals made me worry a bit at first, but there is enough of brilliance and elegance in this song to make it sail safely into the final either way.
Qualifier: Yes

8. NETHERLANDS Birds / Anouk
Suddenly people started having doubts, thinking that the Dutch curse will continue and that Anouk will fail. That is not going to happen. This is the first really good and credible Dutch entry for more than ten years, it will get rewarded for that.
Qualifier: Yes

9. MONTENEGRO Igranka / Who See feat Nina Žižić
One week ago I predicted these party bunnies in the final but I think I changed my mind again. This is a big hit in several ex-yugoslav countries, but even if they shower them in points it won't be enough unless everyone else also fall for this. I would not mind if they did, but I don't see it happening.
Qualifier: No

10. LITHUANIA Something / Andrius Pojavis
I thought I would like this more when I just heard it and didn't have to see the confusing preview presentation. It didn't help, it just showed me how underproduced it is. How little bite or attitude there is. Lithuania surprised me by qualifying in 2011 and 2012. I don't think they will surprise me this time.
Qualifier: No

11. BELARUS Solayoh / Alyona Lanskaya
The more I hear this one, the more I think it sounds like a jingle from an ice cream commercial more than a pop hit. And I can't shake the feeling that it even leaves poor Alyona cold. I still can't see who would vote for this, especially not if they happen to sit in a jury room.
Qualifier: No

12. MOLDOVA O mie / Aliona Moon
I wasn't too sure about this ballad at first, but it kept growing and growing. Just like Aliona's dress is going to tonight. A good performance that also stays in the visual memory is never a bad idea in this contest, a trick that Moldova has mastered well in recent years.
Qualifier: Yes

13. IRELAND Only Love Survives / Ryan Dolan
The first uptempo song that is modern, dance-friendly as well as user-friendly and easily accessible, performed by a fresh and likeable young man accompanied by a healthy amount of drumming and dance beats. The Irish should have nothing to worry about.
Qualifier: Yes

14. CYPRUS An me thimase / Despina Olympiou
Elegance, temper and talent can take a weak song quite a long way. The televoting masses have short memory and in an unfair world Cyprus could win precious ballad votes and take Estonia's place in the final. If so, I promise to be happy for Despina, but her song doesn't quite deserve it.
Qualifier: No

15. BELGIUM Love Kills / Roberto Bellarosa
This is one of my biggest favourites in this semi final but it seems my sentiments are not mirrored by the people predicting the outcome in Malmö. I don't care - I think this chorus and Roberto's nervous intensity will break through to enough people.
Qualifier: Yes

16. SERBIA Ljubav je svuda / Moje 3
The Serbian trio rip and tear their little song to bits and the little hooks and ideas scattered around the chorus get a bit lost in this shoutfest. And yet I think this will make the final cut by looking and sounding familiar enough in combination with being the last country in the presentation. I would prefer Montenegro or Slovenia in the final, but I don't think I will have my way.
Qualifier: Yes

So these are my ten qualifiers tonight: Estonia, Croatia, Denmark, Russia, Ukraine, Netherlands, Moldova, Ireland, Belgium, Serbia.

If I get eight songs right, I will be content. Nine and I will be happy - unless the one I'm wrong about is Anouk. Ten right and I will celebrate until the second semi.

What do you think, folks?

Everyone should make a preview show

Dear Broadcasters of the EBU,

I'm taking the liberty of addressing myself directly to you as sixteen of you will compete for ten spots in this year's Eurovision Song Contest tonight. I think your viewers tonight will enjoy the show coming from Malmö - they will like some things, be less fond of other things, but hopefully they will feel entertained and smitten and feel the urge to cast a vote (regardless if your country is voting tonight or not).

It's a shame to leave things to chance, though.

You know the preview clips that the EBU sends out to you every year? Little clips - a live performance or a music video - where every country has presented their song? You can show them on your channel free of charge. It says in the rules.

Some countries do that, you know. They put on a little show of some sort and present the songs to their audience as a little warm-up. To remind people that Eurovision is coming and give everyone an opportunity to find a personal favourite already beforehand.

If you gather a little panel and let them judge the songs in a simple but stylish set, you can even turn it into an entertaining show that will engage your audience without really costing any serious money at all. In some countries, shows like these have even turned successful with good ratings.

Entertaining, good ratings, low cost. You quite like the sound of this, don't you?

The best part of the pudding is still this: if your audience like the preview shows, they are more likely to want to watch the actual eurovision shows as well. They are also more likely to find a song they like, and that makes them more likely to vote.

So everyone's homework is this: plan a preview show for next year. You won't regret it. And drop a message in my inbox if you want advice on how to go about it.

Best wishes
/Tobson in Euroland

Monday, May 13, 2013

Absent friend: Turkey

When I was child and fell in love with this weird, wild and wonderful contest I quickly realised it was truly those weird and wild things that made the whole thing wonderful.

So how could I not love the Turkish entries? They didn't sound like anyone else, they didn't look like anyone else. Not even their flag looked like the others - so colourful, so stylish. They hardly ever scored any substantial amount of points, but that was less important.

Their whole joie de vivre attacked me and walked hand in hand with me through Euroland. How I loved the Turkish entries.

Seyyal Taner & Grup Lokomotif - Sarkim sevgi üstüne (Turkey 1987)

Ten years ago, Turkey took a radical turn and re-invented themselves in the ESC. Superstar Sertab Erener seduced the entire continent and the eternal loser blossomed into a success story. Cinderella got her prince and would never turn back again.

Sertab Erener - Everyway That I Can (Turkey 2003)

Since then most Turkish entries ended in the top ten, four of which even made the top four. Most impressive. Then suddenly - without a word of warning - Turkish tv decided to pull out of the competition, giving some really dodgy and sketchy excuses about the rules being unfair and them not wanting to be a part of this.

At first, I thought there was a hurt ego somewhere in the middle of this story. Turkey is a fast-growing economy that seeks financial and political influence in its region, and I thought maybe they would want to be treated like royalty also at the ESC. Why would they want to find themselves below the likes of France, Germany or Spain in this contest?

But then I spoke to some Turkish friends - good, intelligent and perceptive people - who suggested more sinister reasons for their country's absence.

Despite being a secular country, the current Turkish government has a mildly Islamist agenda. Knowing this, you can note that the country has not sent any female representative since 2009 despite that particular female gaining a good result.

My friends suspect that phasing out women was the first step, phasing out western cultural from the state television would be the next. I'm not saying this is the one and only truth, but this what my friends suggested and it got me thinking. If this is the case, we would probably have to wait quite a long time until we see another Turkish entry in this competition.

So in order to how my say in this matter, I decided to phase in a number of feisty and fabulous females made in Turkey. They rock. May they be back soon.

Ajda Pekkan - Petr'oil (Turkey 1980)

Klips ve Onlar - Halley (Turkey 1986)

Pan - Bana Bana (Turkey 1989)

Şebnem Paker - Dinle (Turkey 1997)

Pinar Ayhan & S.O.S - Yorgunum anla (Turkey 2000)

Sibel Tüzün - Süperstar (Turkey 2006)

PS! Just to be crystal clear - if anyone is in doubt - this is not a text against neither Turkey nor TRT. I hope for them to be back. And if anyone can add anything to this discussion - please leave a comment. DS.

Arriving in Kyiv - eight years ago today

Today it is exactly eight years since I arrived in Kyiv for the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest. What an adventure that was.

 I was (relatively) young and inexperienced and honestly a bit nervous about going. Ukraine had been shaken by a revolution only months before and there was a certain tension in the air because of this. 

The day was eventful. In the morning, while making my way to the airport, I heard the sad news that Swedish showbiz veteran (as well as Swedish ESC representative in 1963) Monica Zetterlund had died. Thanks to a very slow queue at Helsinki Airport I almost missed my flight and had to rush through customs. And while waiting for my connecting flight in Budapest, I recieved a message saying that my second godson had been born.

Then, there was also the arrival at the hotel. Me and a friend shared what I expected to be an over-priced little broom cupboard of a hotel room but what turned out to be a large suite overlooking the Majdan square. Never has Eurovision been that luxurious again.

So - I was nervous. So - I was wrong. Kyiv was a wonderful host city and the 2005 contest stands out as a very happy one to be part of. Good ambience, good food and mainly good weather - thanks to the Ukrainian army that kept bombing the rain clouds out of the sky.

I'd love to go back to Ukraine some day. Given the usual standard they set for their entries at Eurovision, maybe we won't have to wait so long.

But the next time, I hope my favourites will do better and not get stuck in the semis...

Omar Naber - Stop (Slovenia 2005)

ESC 2013: roll on Petra Mede

Eurovision week has started for real and I guess there is a fair amount of nerves at the SVT headquarters by now. All these preparations for such a long time and now it is time to show the critical audience what they came up with.

Will people love the stage design? The camera work? The post cards? The interval act? You never know how things like these will land with a large, diverse audience.

However, I am pretty sure you will all enjoy the presence of Petra Mede. She is glamourous, she is composed, she is funny and she is fluent in French.

Armed with a good script - one that is funny when the show allows it rather than trying to be funny the entire time - this could indeed go down very well.

Just like at Petra's big break - hosting Melodifestivalen back in 2009. Also then, Petra co-operated with Edward af Sillén. This looks very promising indeed.

Petra Mede - highlights from Melodifestivalen 2009

Sunday, May 12, 2013

ESC metamorphosis: Iceland 1986

There was a fair deal of enthusiasm surrounding Iceland's first participation in Eurovision and the national final, Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins, recieved more than three hundred entries (at least according to the BBC preview show).

Perhaps the winning performance didn't quite match the high expectations after all. The song was a decent but slightly square little piece of soft schlager rock, competently sung but not terribly engaging. An unnecessary and clumsy Eurovision reference in the lyrics made nothing better.

Palmi Gunnarsson - Gleđibankinn (Iceland 1986 national final)

Perhaps the good people at RÚV shared my sentiment as an extensive reconstruction project started after the national final. Two other participants of the national final - Helga Möller and Eiríkur Hauksson - were called in to join winner Palmi and form a trio appropriately named ICY.

The lyrics had some fine-tuning and with the aid of a new and livelier arrangement and a joyful video clip the song found a new nerve and plenty of energy. Suddenly it seemed like Iceland could be a contender in Bergen.

ICY - Gleđibankinn (Iceland 1986 preview clip)

The successful transition from insignificant schlager to exuberant pop seemed to have worked wonders. During the rehearsals, Iceland was greeted with enthusiasm and many people regarded them as a dark horse, the song that could surprise on the night.

Once all twenty countries had voted, many people probably felt a bit surprised regarding Iceland. In spite of a spirited, bouncy performance and good singing, there was no success in sight. Nineteen points, sixteenth place. That's all. Disappointment all over, but the Icelanders would soon enough find more success in this contest.

This was the beginning of some sort of a tradition. This was the first - but certainly not the last - Icelandic entry to go through a certain amount of nip and tuck before the national final. Not seldom with a more successful outcome than at the debut.

ICY - Gleđibankinn (Iceland 1986)

ESC 2013: in a week it will all be over

Sunday night in Malmö: all participating countries have rehearsed at least once on stage and tonight is the big, official welcoming party. Now the games will officially begin.

Speculations are in full swing, given new force today as the pre-qualified songs sang up for the first time. I'm not in Malmö, I have not heard or seen anything, but I hear talk about solid performances from France as well as Germany, that Bonnie Tyler managed to impress the press crowd and that Swedish hope Robin Stjernberg had problems nailing his notes in their right places.

One week of rehearsals is a long and intense time and some of the news sites on location are possibly beginning to radiate a certain air of tiredness already.

I suppose what everyone needs as this point is a phenomenal welcome party and a deep breath before it is time to plunge into the real, serious eurovision week.

In two days from now, we will know the ten qualifiers of the first semi, then soon enough the other ten as well as the final running order.

In a week from now it will all be over. We will have a winner and start speculations on how that country will stage the 2014 edition of the contest. And where.

Ready? Deep breath and let the real madness begin. Blink and you'll miss it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Preview clip: Poland 1997

The preview clips of 1997 set a new standard - never before had so many countries provided professional video clips, lovingly and carefully crafted little films to accompany their songs of choice. Many of them were beautifully shot and splendidly edited and the Polish one was possibly the best of them all.

Anna Maria Jopek - Ale jestem (Poland 1997 preview)

This is such a wonderful clip! So rich, so overflowing in detail, so full of life. It is perfectly oozing of vitality and a completely unpolluted love of life.

It is also very including - everyone gets to be a part of Anna Maria's celebration, everything and everyone unites in a whirlwind of happiness. In a time when colder winds are blowing in Europe, it is almost heartbreaking to see something as warm and inviting as this.

If the times had been different - had there been iTunes and Spotify and YouTube - I think Ale jestem could have made a mark also outside of Poland. This is the kind of clip you'd happily watch over and over again.

Also the song in itself is so positive - a jubilant ode to living and being, with a brilliant set of lyrics well worth reading.

In Dublin, Anna Maria Jopek ended in 11th place, which is still Poland's third best showing at the ESC.

Anna Maria Jopek - Ale jestem (Poland 1997)

Preview clip: Cyprus 1992

Difficult songs - the ones you have to hear more than once to fully appreciate - are often the ones that best stand the test of time. My great love - after a couple of listenings - of the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest is Evridiki from Cyprus.

Evridiki - Teriazoume (Cyprus 1992 preview)

Even if I needed some time to break into the song, I instantly liked this clip. There was something sensual and troubling about the whole thing. Also it gave some invaluable advice what can happen if you mix fire with bed linen.

This is another of those cases where I have to roll my eyes and question what the juries were thinking. If somebody tries to experiment and try something different in a contest rapidly getting stuck in its own format, then this somebody should get rewarded.

An eleventh place was far from a disaster given the Cypriot eurovision history, but Evridiki and her dramatic performance would have deserved so much more.

Evridiki - Teriazoume (Cyprus 1992)