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!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ESC 2014 - Tobson top 37, part 2

There is no better way to end a year than to make your own personal ranking of all the songs taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest of the same year. Don't you agree? I was sure you would!

In my last post I ranked the songs placing 21 - 37 in my personal list - you can see them here.

So here we go - counting backwards down to first place in hope of seeing a surprise there.

20. San Marino
I must admit feeling touched when the Sammarinese made it to the final with this very nicely produced ballad. The airy arrangement makes it sound a bit better than it is, but I'd rather have that than the other way around.

19. Iceland
Energetic and colourful with a positive message, what is there not to like? It does get a bit too repetitive in the end but not more than the group can cover up with their good spirits.

18. Malta
Pretty much the serious equivalent of Iceland's entry. Would have needed a tighter performance in order to convince more people but still a good effort that feels genuine.

17. Israel
What could have been a real contender fell apart largely due to the very clumsy English lyrics and the  very poorly directed live performance in Copenhagen. Still this year's best non-qualifier.

16. Azerbaijan
A beautiful soft ballad with an intimate atmosphere and lyrics that really would have needed somebody more fluent in English to make them justice. Dilara is a real personality but she would have needed another song for the occasion. Or lyrics in her own language.

15. France
There is nothing wrong in not taking this contest seriously or participating just for a bit of fun. But what you absolutely must do is to believe in your own material. The French came across as smirking at their own act and then no catchy chorus in the world can save you.

14. Greece
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when the Greek team discussed how they would stage their entry and decided hopping on a trampoline while singing would be a great idea. How to take a lightweight but fun dance track and ruin absolutely every chance of making a positive impression.

13. United Kingdom
I must admit I was taken by the hype for a while and thought this could be a potential winner. It isn't an outstanding song but benefits from a strong hook and an interesting chorus. The best UK entry in a long time but not spectacular enough to stand out among stronger candidates.

12. Italy
Italy - very much like France - has regularly had significant problems staging their eurovision entries properly. In this case a big singing star with an intriguing voice and stage presence managed to sing for three minutes without really going through the screen.

11. Norway
Soft and understated, given an emotional but slightly too insecure performance. Under different circumstances it could easily have been the ballad of the year, but that competition proved very stiff indeed this time around.

10. Belarus
I am surprised too but the Belarusian cheesecake proved to be the ear-worm of the year. Catchy and easy, silly in a good way, never trying to be anything more than it is. Which is most unusual for a Belarusian entry indeed.

9. Finland
Seriously impressive how a band of teenagers from a small city somewhere out there could collect themselves for the big occasion and make their little song grow immensely just at the time when it needed it the most.

8. Hungary
A good contemporary pop song perhaps scared a few off with its lyrics, dealing with the subject of child abuse. Personally I think the verses are a bit too long and slow, making the song feel a bit like it starts and stops between the powerful choruses, but yet another solid entry shows Hungary could probably win this contest any day rather soon.

7. Ukraine
Like in the old fairytale, where they make a delicious soup out of water and an old button, Ukraine always manages to take whatever they can find and turn it into a feast. Admittedly, the song in question is rather weak but what does it matter when the show number on stage is so perfectly put in place, making this three very enjoyable minutes. Ukraine will be sorely missed in Vienna.

6. Sweden
When you have a stylish and elegant but slightly cold ballad it is not a bad idea to ask a Sanna Nielsen to perform it. Suddenly it turns from being just another ballad into a contender.

5. Spain
Ruth Lorenzo is nowhere near as safe a bet as Sanna Nielsen is but as she managed to keep her vocals under control without overdoing her performance, this ballad also grew a couple of sizes in my estimation. And it made people in my social media feeds occasionally erupt into "The Rain! The Rain! The Rain!" for no apparent reason.

4. Armenia
Has there even been a build-up as long and slow and efficient as this one, waiting almost two minutes before unleashing a relatively short but most effective chorus? Sophisticated and very engaging. Had Aram Mp3 been a slightly stronger performer, this could easily have gained one or two placings still.

3. Poland
Nowhere near being sophisticated and that's the whole point. Some good old provocation can still be entertaining, especially when delivered to a song as hit friendly as this one. I loved Army of Lovers back in the day and this entry borrowed most of its aesthetic from them, to great success.

2. Netherlands
The moment I saw the Dutch performance in the semi final I felt sure this must be one of the top competitors for victory. Such an exquisite performance - understated and effective - and I marvelled at how well a song as quiet as this could work in the ESC. A most deserved second place.

1. Austria
The Queen of Austria was my favourite as soon as I heard the song for the first time and it didn't lose any of its magic. A touching performance from a touching performer who rightly turned into one of the biggest internet phenomenons of the year. Divisive, but I like my favourites like that. A bit of bite and a bit of crunch. And a fabulous final note.

Happy New Year, dear blog readers. All the best for 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ESC 2014 - Tobson top 37, part 1

It is time to bid farewell to the year 2014 and what better way than to finally do away with ranking all of this year's entries once and for all?

I graded them already back then, in their preview versions, but as you live with them for the rest of the year things will start happening. Some of them will crumble to nothing and some of them will be slow growers.

So here we go, in this part one I will rank the songs that placed 21 - 37 in my personal list.

21. Montenegro
A wonderful break to finally see Montenegro make it all the way to the final. A warm and pleasant voice managed to breathe some extra life into a ballad that is pretty but in no way spectacular. Balkan by the numbers.

22. Estonia
Good vocals and an ambitious stage show came to nothing as the director had nothing more than long shots of the stage to offer the Estonians. Once all closeness and intimacy removed, all that remained was a song that ultimately wasn't distinct enough to stand out.

23. Slovenia
A good performer and a flute added well needed flavour and temper enough to raise this rather average pop/rock entry all the way into the final.

24. Latvia
I really would have wanted this happy little campfire ditty to work, but ultimately the performance was too lean and amateurish (and really not helped by being placed that early in the running order). Charming but without the final impact needed.

25. Switzerland
I still don't think this is much of a song but it does go out to prove that a bit of personality can go quite a long way. Extra plus for the violin and the catchy whistling.

26. Denmark
A silly and rather sexist piece of cheerful nonsense that somehow makes its way into your system and makes you hum along either you want to or not. I'd rather not but I have to admit it's efficient.

27. Lithuania
Despite this being a song contest, you can get surprisingly far without a decent song. If you have the right stage presence, stage show and attitude you can get people's attention anyway. Lithuania almost gets away with it, it's almost working. The performance is almost powerful enough to make you forget what a hopeless song this is. Almost.

28. FYR Macedonia
We've been here before - we are well aware of FYR Macedonia's ability to find decent songs and ruin them with messy stage presentations. How a stage personality like Tijana can leave as little of an impression as this after three minutes remains a mystery.

29. Georgia
Another one of those entries that make you stop and wonder what they were actually thinking when they wrote it. Musically challenging and I always welcome that. Up to a point. Intriguing but chanceless.

30. Portugal
Pleasant and likeable but ultimately not much more than a washed-out version of their 2007 entry. And I liked that one just a tiny bit more.

31. Russia
Well staged but cold and calculated. Also relying too heavily on special effects and with political undertones I just can't pretend are not there. If the Russian entrants wish not to be judged on political grounds, they themselves need to keep politics out of the game.

32. Germany
Just a matter of taste, I guess. Elaiza managed to attract lots of attention on home ground and had a respectable breakthrough, but to me this just feels lukewarm and shouty. So not my cup of tea.

33. Ireland
Possibly the most insipid entry of the year. There is nothing wrong with the various bits and pieces it is made up of, but it doesn't feel original, leaves no impression and is very swiftly forgotten.

34. Albania
Could have been a really good one but lost everything it had on its way to Copenhagen. Should have stayed in in its original language but not much could have helped this overly complicated composition to hit home with the voters.

35. Romania
A complete car crash performance that leaves you with the impression that not even the people involved like the song and desperately try to hide it underneath as much effect-seeking as possible. It's only redeeming feature is its own wish to at least be happy and cheerful. And the gorgeous Paula Seling, of course. But not even she can save this ship from sinking.

36. Moldova
Pretty much like Romania, but without the slightest attempt of being fun. Gloom and doom all over.

37. Belgium
If you ever read this blog during the last season this last place won't come as a major surprise to you. I didn't like it then and I didn't warm to it since. Aggressively pompous platitudes about a mother/son-relationship that doesn't feel healthy at all. Poor Axel didn't give his best vocal delivery, but he isn't the problem here. A distinct lack of taste reigns every aspect of this - down to the magnificently creepy dancer. Entertaining in its own little way, but it wasn't intended to be.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Runner-up: Ireland 1984

Sometimes it's a good thing to have a tiny break. Ireland decided to sit out in 1983 - apparently due to RTÉ feeling the need to save some money and cut some budgets - and came back in excellent form indeed.

Linda Martin - former lead singer of the band Chips - had gone solo and was given a dramatic pop song written by Johnny Logan, who had made a splash winning the 1980 ESC but whose career subsequently had gone more or less down the toilet.

Apparently he scribbled down this song in a matter of minutes while killing time at Heathrow, never regarding it as one of his better songs. I couldn't disagree more.

I'm intrigued by the inner monologue of this song. How the response to an old lover's sudden comeback is superficially happy and careless while old memories seem very hard to dismiss. It is easy to say that things are forgiven and forgotten, but are they really?

"I told him nothing's changed and I still feel the same." So she told him. It doesn't mean it's true. It makes me wonder what happens once they are reunited and the song ends. Will they be all smiles or will there be a tense drama à la Bergman? I love not knowing, I love that not everything is said in the open. It's a great little story.

Johnny Logan would famously get a second chance and even if there was no grand international career in store for him, he will always remain Eurovision royalty. In 1992, he and Linda Martin scored Ireland's fourth victory together with "Why Me?" - another really good, but possibly slightly less intriguing, song.

A deserved 2nd place?
Indeed. There were better songs in the running in 1984, but this one is certainly ahead of the Swedish winner in my list.

Linda Martin - Terminal 3 (Ireland 1984)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Runner-up: Poland 1994

While waiting for Silly Season to end and for real news to start pouring in, I thought it would be nice with a new series. So here it starts: highlighting the runners-up of Eurovision. Some of them better than the winners, some real surprises, some pretty dull, some pretty awesome.

The first one is nothing but awesome. After having hosted the social equivalent of the Eurovision Song Contest in Sopot, Poland entered the real thing with a bang.

Edyta Górniak was a hot young rising star and the song she was given felt like one that Mariah Carey might not have sniffed at had she been interested in doing Eurovision. But how likely were the juries to vote extensively for one of the new countries?

Edyta decided to improve her chances and during the jury final she decided to sing her entry in English. Quite a few countries filed protests but they were all overruled, and when the voting came to a close Poland has finished in a sensational second place.

A success Poland hasn't been even remotely close to repeating so far, not even when singing in English was allowed n the rule book.

A deserved 2nd place?
Absolutely. One of the best ever. And given that Hungary managed to end in fourth place without any tampering with the language rules, it seems Edyta had been most likely to do well either way.

Edyta Górniak - To nie ja! (Poland 1994)

Friday, November 21, 2014

New rules needed for small countries?

There was quite a bit of optimism going on in the Eurovision fan-world about a month ago, as it seemed Luxembourg's minister of culture had nodded her head in agreement with a demand for the grand duchy to return to the Eurovision Song Contest.

The minister in question soon stated in public she had been misunderstood and that she in no way had given her support to any project of the kind.

Luxembourg is generally believed to stay away mainly for financial reasons, something that often make people sigh and wonder why the richest country on the continent can't afford to take part.

Being the richest country on the continent is really the big problem for Luxembourg as the participation fee for each country is calculated in accordance with how large the audience is as well as the GDP of the country in question. It means RTL would have to pay an awful lot more per viewer than any other country in competition. Is that fair?

A country being wealthy does not necessarily mean that its state broadcaster is.

While Luxembourg is the most extreme example, this remains a real problem also for the microstates of Europe, like Monaco or Andorra. In theory all ESC participants are state broadcasters, while some more resemble local or regional tv stations financially.

If the EBU really means business with their scaling-down project, to make Eurovision less expensive and less enormous, then it would be a nice gesture to let the smaller countries take part while paying a little bit less. Let the bigger ones carry the smaller ones so everyone could participate.

And although Luxembourg isn't a microstate, maybe something could be done to make their fee - if they were to come back - seem a little bit less absurd.

Sophie Carle - 100 % d'amour (Luxembourg 1984)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is it Malta's turn to win?

When I started watching Eurovision back in the 1980's, the world was still relatively square and predictable and to find a new country in the line-up was a big and exciting event.

I was really enthusiastic when, in 1991, Malta decided to attempt an ESC comeback after a long absence. I knew they had tried their luck in the past and I had a bit of an obsession with the tiny states of Europe. I even had a maltese pen-friend. It's so long ago people still had pen-friends.

(My maltese pen-friend was called André and lived in Lija. If anyone out there knows him, tell him I said hi.)

Anyway, Malta's comeback was a big event for me. I kept my fingers crossed for them to do reasonably well and was really pleased when they did. In 1992 they did even better, ending in 3rd place, and suddenly I just knew they were bound for great things.

I was sure that Malta was sure to win anytime soon, they just needed to a bit of luck.

Here we are, more than twenty years later, and I must admit Malta has not been the winning machine I predicted they would be. But considering what a tiny, tiny nation they are, they have some really impressive placings to show.

This weekend, Malta will be the second country to select their entry for Vienna and who knows - maybe this is their time lucky. Maybe the maltese will take Europe by storm and finally get to host the big thing. Last week's Junior Eurovision organised in Malta suggests they would handle it very well.

I'd welcome a strong entry. I haven't predicted maltese victory since 1994 and it would be nice to do it again. And maybe this time the live performance would also match the preview, unlike back then?

Chris & Moira / More Than Love (Malta 1994 preview)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Welcome back, Czech republic

We haven't really seen a lot of the Czech republic at Eurovision through the years. They took part for three consecutive years - assembling a grand total of nine points, ending last in the semi final twice - before pulling out of the competition.

Who could blame them after scores like that?

On the other hand - after hearing the Czech offerings, who could blame Europe for not showering them with points?

Very much like their sister nation Slovakia, the Czech republic really got off on the wrong foot with the Eurovision Song Contest without ever really seeming to figure out what kind of song could go down well or take them to the final.

First and foremost, the Czech fiascos came down to poor choices, nothing else. Kabát were a credible rock act armed with the kind of song that would always find itself struggling in a contest of this kind, while Tereza Kerndlová gave a weak and shouty performance of an almost violently average song. The national finals that resulted in these entries contained a number of far more interesting music and performers.

The internal selection of Gipsy.cz still stands out as one of the most dubious choices ever made by any broadcaster ever. Almost like they were looking for failure and a reason to pull out.

Does it sound like I'm not happy about Czech republic coming back for the 2015 contest? Then you are wrong - I am very happy indeed. Thrilled.

I just hope they will have a new team in charge and shake up a daring, modern and surprising entry that will finally let them taste success.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Roberto Bellarosa / Agathe

It's not an understatement to say that Roberto Bellarosa got off to a false start in his relationship with the eurofans across the continent.

During the Belgian pre-selection he performed three songs while suffering from a fever and a sore throat and didn't sound very convincing at all. Despite having previously won La Voix de Belgique many fans simply decided that this guy can't sing.

It didn't even help when the new, polished version of "Love Kills" was released and it didn't help that Roberto gave a convincing vocal performance in Malmö. A large portion of people were not going to give him any second chances.

Too bad for them, really. Because Roberto Bellarosa really shows great promise and his latest release is a really catchy and functioning little pop number. I have no idea how easy it is to be a pop star in French-speaking Belgium or maintain that status, but if Roberto keeps releasing material like this he has the potential to stay around for a long time.

Roberto Bellarosa - Agathe 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The director is in power

This year's Eurovision is slowly sinking in - there are so many aspects to analyse and get your head around. The result is of course the first thing that stands out for everyone but then there are all the tiny details that lead up to the result.

One of the things that stood out for me already after the first semi final was the camera work.

Camera work is one of the vital things in the sense that it is something the average tv-viewer is unaware of but that can still make or break an entry.

A show where people perform music must be melodic, follow the rhythm, follow the flow of the performance. Disturbingly often the Copenhagen director did something else. The images went against the flow instead of with it.

The biggest single problem is that the director was as blown away by the really great stage set the way most other people were. It's just that the director has a lot of power in this contest. Good camera work can get the audience onboard a weaker entry, lousy camera work can make a good entry look bad.

Two countries in particular suffered from this - Israel and Estonia. On-screen their performers looked like strangers, like people dancing somewhere in the distance, like those people in a party that you never really connect with or warm to. The camera never allows the viewer to establish eye contact with either Mei nor Tanja and three minutes later you don't feel like you ever really saw them during their performance.

Maybe their songs were not strong enough to hit home with the audience in the first place, but the director really did nothing to help them along either. The director has a lot of power and not every delegation has an eye out for things like these.

Maybe it would be time the EBU would appoint a second set of eyes to co-operate with the local director, who could put the foot down if the quality of the camera work starts to differ too much between the entries. This is television, you know. Images are important.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The UK is just another country

Of course it was a disappointment last night to realise that Molly Smitten-Downes had failed to capture the european audiences and that the anticipated return to form for the UK ended in a bit of an anticlimax and a pale 17th place.

I had predicted her to go down really well and thought she would end in 3rd place.

It's a shame of course, it would have been nice to see her do well and to see the British audience get rewarded for getting their hopes up. But what has really happened in Eurovision for the last fifteen years or so is that the status of the UK has changed.

UK used to be Planet Pop in Europe, the unbeatable home of modern music, the place where showbiz comes from and that everyone else tries to copy without ever reaching up to the same level. Even if they didn't live up to their hip factor in Eurovision particularly often, it gave them a huge mental advantage as the audience automatically expected their entries to be the best ones.

All of that is gone now and the UK has shrunk to being any old country. No better and no worse than anyone else. A country that has to impress every year and that gets nothing for free.

One of the main arguments for UK success this year was that the BBC had made a bit of an effort when looking for their entry. That is what most broadcasters do every year. That is what you should do, what anyone should have the right to expect of you.

Israel has made efforts but failed to reach the final every year. Finland makes an effort every year with a national final but has only reached the top ten once in the last twenty-five years.

Just because you make an effort there is no guarantee it will translate into success. This is a competition. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you lose and feel it isn't fair but there is no such thing as fairness in the world.

There certainly wasn't back in 1971 when a song like "Jack In The Box" made it into 4th place in front of a bunch of much stronger entries.

ESC 2014: The jurors and the votes they gave

I'm still fantastically pleased with the outcome of last night's Eurovision final. Why wouldn't I be? My prediction came out nicely - I nailed seven of the top ten countries - and the winner is a victory not only for Austria but for tolerance and for everyone's undeniable right to be who he or she wishes to be.

It was also a very fine voting that was far less predictable than it has been in years. Most countries dropped the exaggerated "dear neighbours"-approach and if there has been any cases of uncalled-for bias at least I haven't been able to detect them.

But perhaps since the voting in general looks clean and fair, some things stand out to hurt my eyes anyway. Maybe they stand out even worse because most countries behaved.

When looking at the detailed results and individual jury scores you realise some things do not look good in daylight. San Marino's jury have things to explain, for instance. At least one person changed his/her mind about Azerbaijan rather dramatically between the semi final and the final. I'd like to know how that happened.

Then there are the juries in Armenia and Azerbaijan. All Armenian judges put Azerbaijan in their last place, and the Azeri jurors did exactly the same. That has nothing to do with music, but is an act of politics. The very same jurors also obviously sabotaged the scores for Austria - surely as political a statement if not more.

The EBU said they would take strong measures against any kind of vote manipulation this year. If this is not vote manipulation, then what is?

Appointing a jury that clearly does not vote for musical preferences but in accordance with the political agenda of their country - is that what the EBU wishes for. A long hard talk with these broadcasters would be in place.

Also, the EBU should scrap the current voting system where every juror ranks all songs instead of just voting for their top ten. It makes it far too easy to sabotage the chances of one or several songs for the wrong reasons. Time to look over the system, admit it is not working and go back to something better.

Austria won and we are all winners

My prediction was right - Austria went all the way, scored its second victory and Conchita Wurst is a sensation everywhere.

I wrote earlier today that I refuse to believe Europe is as bigoted and prejudiced as many people seem to think and that no politics could hold Conchita back from victory.

I'm very happy about the Austrian victory and I am very happy about being right.

I'm also very happy about Finland making it all the way to 11th place - that is like a small victory for us.

There were many things that surprised me in the voting and some really good songs that were completely overlooked by the audience, but at least most of the voting looked fair and lacking those fishy, possibly manipulated, points we've seen so many of lately.

I will try analysing the numbers a bit tomorrow, but right now I will content myself with being totally happy and at ease with the winner.

The complete results:

1. Austria 290 points, 2. Netherlands 238, 3. Sweden 218, 4. Armenia 174, 5. Hungary 143, 6. Ukraine 113, 7. Russia 89, 8. Norway 88, 9. Denmark 74, 10. Spain 74, 11. Finland 72, 12. Romania 72, 13. Switzerland 64, 14. Poland 62, 15. Iceland 58, 16. Belarus 43, 17. United Kingdom 40, 18. Germany 39, 19. Montenegro 37, 20. Greece 35, 21. Italy 33, 22. Azerbaijan 33, 23. Malta 32, 24. San Marino 14, 25. Slovenia 9, 26. France 2.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

ESC 2014: How prejudiced are we?

Usually you'd think that Eurovision was a competition between songs, but this year it seems to be bigger than that. It is more like a complex fairy-tale where good stands against bad. Tolerance against bigotry.

I think (and hope) we will have the closest voting in many years, hopefully we will still have at least two countries in the running up until the very end. And I believe we are all getting stuck in prejudiced ideas.

If we assume automatically that the former Soviet countries wouldn't vote for Austria because Conchita Wurst is a controversial figure, especially in the light of the Russian anti-gay legislation, then we are really under-estimating these countries.

Somehow the prejudiced people are always the loudest. Also in various eurovision discussions throughout spring, there have been loads of intolerant voices criticising Austria's choice, belittling the judgement of ORF, belittling the performing qualities of Conchita Wurst. Also among LGBTQ-people, there has been a lot of judgement and negative comments. They are still there, but in the end it seems that those loud, negative voices were fewer than they seemed to start with.

Just because there is a lot of prejudice, racism and intolerance floating about right now does not mean that the haters will sit at home tonight and vote or that they will have an important influence on how the juries vote.

Why wouldn't a Russian juror be able to appreciate the Austrian performance? And why wouldn't the televoters in Ukraine - who selected Verka Serduchka to represent them already seven years ago - vote for Austria?

Another thing that could make everything possible tonight: if the voting is all over the place, you will need fewer points to actually win.

In 2011, Azerbaijan won with a modest 221 points with 43 countries participating. This year, with six countries less voting, you could theoretically win with less than 200 points and afford scoring zero from a number of countries.

Everything is up for grabs and I just hope we will have a close, tense and exciting evening and may Slovenia as the last country have the decisive vote - just like they had in 1988 and 2003.

ESC 2014: the voting order

Back in the day, the countries would vote in the same order as they had sung or - if you go back far enough, in reverse order so that the last country would have time to count their points while their own country was performing. A clever trick in order to save time and not have to think up any kind of interval act.

Some years, the voting order was decided through a draw but since 2011 there has been a new, better and more scientific way of establishing the voting order.

After the late Friday night dress rehearsal, when every country's jury has seen and heard the songs and cast their votes, the EBU sends all the figures into their computer system in order to calculate the most exciting order that will keep the voting tense and exciting for as long as possible.

The first year it worked very nicely and for the first third of the voting at least the leader board kept changing almost after every single round of voting.

In 2012 and 2013, however, no computer system in the world could have managed to shake any major excitement into the voting sequences as both winners won by a landslide.

In order to save time by the end of the broadcast in 2013, for the first time the winner was announced before the end of the voting at the point where no other country could catch up anyway. I wish that won't happen again this year as it is a real party destroyer. If this turns out to be a very close race, then it can't be done anyway.

The running order is established on how the juries - with half the power tonight - have voted. Then the televotes will be added and things can change dramatically anyway, but can you read anything from this voting order?

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

The last time the voting became so close that the last country had the casting vote was in 2003 - also then Slovenia was the last one to vote. Will they add the last points needed for one of their neighbours to win?

ESC 2014: Tobson's top 26 tip

Trying to predict only the winner and the last place is for cowards, so I decided to predict the entire outcome for tonight. You can read my reviews here but this is my educated guess (or wild shot in the dark, if you wish) what tonight's final results will look like:

1. Austria, 2. Netherlands, 3. United Kingdom, 4. Sweden, 5. Denmark, 6. Hungary, 7. Ukraine, 8. Armenia, 9. Italy, 10. Greece, 11. Azerbaijan, 12. Spain, 13. Poland, 14. Russia, 15. Malta, 16. Montenegro, 17. Finland, 18. Norway, 19. Romania, 20. Germany, 21. Slovenia, 22. France, 23. Switzerland, 24. Belarus, 25. San Marino, 26. Iceland.

If I get everything right tonight, I promise to buy ice-cream for everybody in the morning. But can you beat me in predicting correctly?

ESC 2014: my final prediction

Finally the day is here and it is time to select the grand winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. Already a week ago I wouldn't have had a clue how to predict a credible outcome in this very open field of candidates.

Now at least the number of serious contenders has narrowed down considerably but still there are many songs that could potentially surprise us in a big way.

Usually predictions make me sweat a bit, but this year I just find it wonderful. It has been many years since the outcome felt this open, with this amount of open or half-open doors of possibilities, on the day of the final.

With a bit of luck, the voting will be all over the place and no clear leader will emerge until late in the voting or not at all. The big dream would be a voting like 2003, with at least three songs still being in the running up until the very last jury. Or 1988, when there was just a single point to separate the songs in first or second place. Or 1991, when we had a photo finish between two songs in a tie for first place.

Another part of me is also hoping for some unusual action at the bottom of the scoreboard. With this amount of strong candidates - will there be points for everyone? We haven't had a single song score zero in a final since 2003, but it was close in both 2012 and 2013. Is there a song who could fail to make top ten in any country? Are there more than one?

My hope is that either everyone gets at least one point and if not I'd like to see a multiple last place where more than one country would end with nul. In 1983 and 1997 two countries shared the zero, could it be possible that we would have a three-way zero for the first time under the current scoring system?

Getting all carried away here, so let's get on to the songs!

Maria Yaremchuk / Tick Tock
A really good opener in many ways but also a not too subtle way of making sure that Ukraine won't win in a slot famous for strictly reducing anyone's chances in the last few years. This performance grew a lot on me since the semi final and the hamster-wheel effect is stylish without being too much.

Teo / Cheesecake
The first candidate for nul points unless some friendly neighbour steps in to help. Catchy and fun in its own little way but far too lightweight to be make the kind of lasting impression a song performed in the number two slot would need to make.

Dilara Kazimova / Start A Fire
Perhaps the song that shrunk the most in my eyes after the semi finals. Dilara is a wonderful performer but suddenly it became too obvious that English is not her strong language and a song like this needs really powerful interpretation and that is missing here.

Pollapönk / No Prejudice
The Krista Siegfrids of the year: something funny, fresh and colourful that will keep the audience amused but will be forgotten when it is time to vote. Hardly a song the juries will support either and could depend on Nordic points in order to avoid the very bottom.

Carl Espen / Silent Storm
It does remain a bit of a mystery why Danish tv placed the two slowest and most quiet ballads so close to each other in the running order instead of spreading them apart. Carl Espen could possibly touch more people than Dilara does but none of them will benefit from this.

Ovi & Paula / Miracle
I still think this looks and sounds like a parody of a eurovision entry, full of gimmicks and stunts to make up for the obvious lack of melody lines. It will have its audience but is likely to be overshadowed by a bunch of fairly similar - and better - efforts later in the show.

Aram Mp3 / Not Alone
Aram has been more or less eclipsed by other entries since the semi final but it is probably too early to count him out. This song has been the bookmaker favourite and not without reason. With a better vocal performance than in the semi this could grab quite a few votes with its original sound.

Sergej Ćetković - Moj svijet
Warm and melodic and appealing, sung with conviction in a beautiful language, Montenegro still runs the risk of being yet another ballad in the beginning of the show. Mid-table at best, but the Montenegrins should be very pleased with their first ever showing in a final.

Donatan & Cleo / My Słowianie - We Are Slavic
Even more divisive than I thought it would be, Poland has made quite a lot of blood boil after their semi final. That's not necessarily a bad thing when you have to distinguish yourself in a field of 26 songs and Poland could possibly be looking at their first top ten finish in over ten years.

Freaky Fortune feat Riskykidd / Rise Up
Really not sure about this one. It gets everyone in the hall started but looked terrible on television. Hardly an entry that will enthuse the juries either as the vocals get pretty shaky at times. But the beat is infectious and I hope the hit factor will be rewarded too. Top ten perhaps but not top five.

Conchita Wurst / Rise Like A Phoenix
The support from the hall will be deafening and nobody is likely to forget the fabulous Ms Wurst who really sings her heart out about the desire to be who you want to be. The message is likely to hit home with the masses as well as the performance. A very likely winner, if not the most likely.

Elaiza / Is It Right?
It would be hard for anyone to follow Austria and Germany had a difficult situation already without the comparison. Most fans predict a last place - there is even a risk for nul points also here - but I still think there will be an audience out there ready to vote for some accordeon.

Sanna Nielsen / Undo
Out of all the ballads in the running, Undo could be the most polished one, performed to perfection by lovely Sanna Nielsen. The risk you run by being too perfect is that people will enjoy you for as long as you sing but then vote for something more adventurous in the end. Sanna will do well but probably not quite as well as the bookmakers think.

Twin Twin / Moustache
Fun and happening but also yet another visual disaster in the making. French television would really need to employ somebody with a good artistic eye if they ever want good results again. The song will lead a good life on radio after the contest but won't stand a chance in the voting

Tomalchevy Sisters / Shine
The sweet twins from Russia find themselves in quite a good spot here and will come across as old-fashioned but easily accessible after the French offering. Still, this one lacks in dynamics and temper to make it a real contender.

Emma Marrone / La mia città
A good song that will stand out from the others but also very depending on Emma's own form: if she decides to give it a real go and perform for the cameras and not hold back she could make a real impression, but if she treats the ESC like an ordinary day at work - like some of the more recent Italian entrants did - she will end up further down the scoreboard.

Tinkara Kovač - Round And Round
I didn't think Tinkara and her flute would make it all the way to the final and maybe people see something in this that I don't but I doubt this will carry very far tonight but a couple of odd points from here and there will at least save her from placing at the very bottom. 

Softengine / Something Better
Just like Danish tv put the two softest ballads very close in the running order, they also placed the two rock songs almost neck to neck. I'm not sure Finland will benefit from that comparison but if the lead singer would dare look more into the camera this could at least be Finland's best showing since Lordi.

Ruth Lorenzo / Dancing In The Rain
Alongside Austria the only real belter of the year but just like Italian Emma this performer is very depending on form. On a bad day she will let herself go and start wailing the song to bits already in the first minute and then nobody will notice what an elegant little song this really is. A potential surprise if the performance is kept down.

Sebalter / Hunter Of Stars
I didn't see the appeal of this in first place but I doubt the enthusiasm and pre-recorded whistling will be enough in a final as strong as this one. Could be just another potential nul-pointer unless the european whistling appreciation society comes running to support it.

Kállay Saunders / Running
Just like Armenia, this one felt like a hot candidate a week ago but has taken a nosedive in most people's predictions. With a stronger vocal delivery than in the semi final this could be the song that suddenly stands out for quite a large section of the audience. Not chanceless.

Firelight / Coming Home
Clearly the weaker of two country-flavoured songs and unless Europe can handle two in the same final, this is the one that will take a beating. Vocally good but surprisingly bland visually, and that's not important in a televised song contest.

Basim / Cliché Love Song
The thriller of the evening in many ways. Either Europe is smitten by the good mood and the simple hook or this will be deemed square and insincere and sink like a rock. Or anything in between. Will it be Rollo & King part 2 or just another Hello From Mars? 

The Common Linnets / Calm After The Storm
And what do you know - the country songs got the same treatment from DR as the slow ballads and the rock songs but it is very unlikely to affect this one in any greater way. After Hungary, Malta and Denmark it will be lovely to bring the tempo down and take a refreshing little pause. Another very possible winner.

Valentina Monetta / Maybe
It truly is sweet to see San Marino on the scoreboard at last but that's the fun the most serene republic will have tonight. Neither the song nor the performer will be strong enough to face the competition and could - maybe - be another potential nul-pointer.

Molly / Children Of The Universe
Is this the time that the UK steps out in style to regain its former eurovision glory? Yes and no. This is most certainly not our winner. Molly is good and the hook effective but the chorus shouldn't be strong enough in the end. But a 4th place is not to be sniffed at either.

My prediction tonight is that the top contenders for victory are: Austria, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Sweden. 

If they give good performances, these countries could surprise and get very close to victory: Italy, Hungary, Armenia, Spain, Greece and Ukraine.

And these all run the risk of ending in last place, potentially without a single point: Belarus, Iceland, Switzerland and San Marino. Perhaps even Germany, France and Slovenia.

But there can only be one winner and my final guess is that Conchita Wurst will take the crown, that Austria will win and we will all have Sacher cake between rehearsals in Vienna next year.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Conchita is already the winner

I know there are a few tiny details left - like the final, the voting, stuff like that - but I already now dare announce the outright winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest.

Whatever happens in Copenhagen tomorrow, regardless of who gets the highest points and who scores badly, Conchita Wurst from Austria is already as much a winner as anyone can be.

The ovations she received from the live audience during her semi final, the fact that Danish tv saved her for last to keep excitement at a maximum, the media attention she has already had and keep getting, the love.

It's not a particularly advanced guess that Ms Wurst will have a very busy year touring Pride events of all sorts, with a chance of building up a faithful audience in the process. The talent is there, the personality, the unique selling point. With the aid of some really nifty songwriters, Conchita could have the potential of imposing herself as Austria's first major pop export since the glory days of Falco.

It is tempting to compare with Dana International who also had a major media following but whose international career never took off. Dana's team moved way too slow and no new material made for the global market was released until a year after her victory when the momentum was over and gone.

In this new day and age of iTunes and YouTube, Conchita could tour and release strong singles to keep her audience amused while collecting enough strong material to make a killer album.

A victory would - frankly - just be the icing on the cake. But what a lovely icing it would be, one that Austria wouldn't forget anytime soon. And neither would the rest of Europe.

ESC 2014: running order for the final

This is the running order for the final of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest:

01. Ukraine
02. Belarus
03. Azerbaijan
04. Iceland
05. Norway
06. Romania
07. Armenia
08. Montenegro
09. Poland
10. Greece
11. Austria
12. Germany
13. Sweden
14. France
15. Russia
16. Italy
17. Slovenia
18. Finland
19. Spain
20. Switzerland
21. Hungary
22. Malta
23. Denmark
24. The Netherlands
25. San Marino
26. United Kingdom

Semi 2: a little bit of a mess

All is well that ends well. An excellent mantra for most situations in life, not least for the second semi final of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. I have no idea when I last saw a eurovision final with that amount of conflicting emotions last.

Just like last year, I have deliberately not watched any footage from rehearsals to make my viewing at home more enjoyable and save some surprises for myself. You can safely say I was surprised here and there.

I had told people to look forward to the second semi as there were many good songs there, but I couldn't quite believe how many weak performances there would be. I wasn't prepared for that. Like several countries had forgotten that the ESC is an event that is filmed by cameras and broadcast for an entire world to see.

In a string of bad surprises, Greece stand out as the biggest single disappointment. Riskykidd was very nervous - I can overlook that - but the rest of it was three minutes of televised chaos. It can't have been their intention to make it look that way, can it? I have to watch again in the morning.

The Greeks were not alone, several others underperformed as well: FYR Macedonia, Lithuania, Switzerland. But you liked that last one anyway.

I thought I'd sink through the ground as the host started by announcing the two only songs I had labelled sure non-qualifiers as the first two to move on to Saturday's final. I'm happy for Slovenia but can't honestly understand what you see in that Swiss song.

Romania made it through like I thought but their performance was even worse than I had expected. Like a parody of a eurovision entry. Instead Israel will be out for the 4th year in a row. Poor Israel, they must really start to think the rest of us hate them.

Last year, no ex-Yugoslav countries made it to the final, this year will be a Baltic-free event. But all five Nordic countries made it for a second year in a row.

There is so much to take in and digest - and I feel I am just rambling on here - but at least I am very pleased that my two favourites are through: Poland and Austria, the latter having received thunderous applause from the audience.

I am also very pleased for the youngsters from Seinäjoki. Softengine really deserved to go on to the final, but before the final somebody from the delegation has to sit them down and have a serious talk about cameras: what they do and why you should look at them every once in a while.

Now I'm off to bed - wake up call at 4:50 to go to morning television and discuss this matter further.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Nobody's favourite but mine, part 5

While making this series it seems one country pops up more often than most and that is Austria. I would perhaps not go as far as naming them my favourite country in Eurovision but few others have done so much for the diversity of the contest and few others have been so constantly ignored or misunderstood as the Austrians.

I often find myself liking Austrian entries more than most people do - at least judging from the not always too impressive scores they gather during the voting sequences - so because of that and in honour of their magnificent Conchita Wurst, who takes to the stage tonight, this is a special edition focusing fully on Austrian entries. And I had to make them ten instead of five…

The Milestones - Falter im Wind (Austria 1972)

So let's start from the top with my all time favourite Austrian entry. The Milestones were the second pop group ever to enter the eurovision stage and added an interesting touch to a contest formerly reserved for solo singers or love duets. The song is also highly personable with a long melodic build-up - and a hook that is played on a flute rather than sung - and when the chorus finally kicks in it is short and snappy and a surprisingly fulfilling climax. Douze points at any given time.

Karel Gott - Tausend Fenster (Austria 1968)

Austria was never afraid to speak their minds or make statements in this apolitical song contest and already in early 1968 they decided to lend their spotlight to neighbour country Czechoslovakia and the slowly nascent Prague spring. Winner Udo Jürgens composed an urban lament, about the loneliness of modern man, for Czechoslovakia's own Sinatra Karel Gott. For some reason, he only scored two points and Udo Jürgens famously stormed out of the green room mid-voting.

The Rounder Girls - All For You (Austria 2000)

ORF in Vienna were never afraid to make statements about Austrian matters either. At least that must have been one of the contributing factors that they chose - at the height of the controversies surrounding Jörg Haider, giving Austria a bad name around Europe - these soul babes to represent them in Stockholm. Unfortunately they didn't quite nail the live performance in the end but this is such a lively, happy and bouncy number all the same.

Westend - Hurricane (Austria 1983)

Austrians can't just yodel, they can also dress in red and yellow and dance in a group. Most of the Westend members - with the notable exception of Gary Lux - aren't really all that impressive singers but do parts nicely and with the aid of that dancing girl they manage to work up quite a storm before the song is over. This one was always one of my big favourites from 1983. Catchy and fun.

Marianne Mendt - Musik (Austria 1971)

If the host broadcaster went through all that trouble to assemble an orchestra for the occasion you could just as well use it to the fullest. I doubt there is a single instrument that isn't put to use in this massive arrangement and Marianne can't be accused of holding back her vocal abilities either. Extra plus for singing in dialect, that always goes down well at Eurovision. Well, it doesn't but it should.

Schmetterlinge - Boom Boom Boomerang (Austria 1977)

There just is no way around this one. Deeply political and deeply engaged and still devilishly entertaining. I doubt no protest song was ever as fun as this one, virtually mocking the record industry in general and the Eurovision Song Contest in particular. The group also scared the living daylights out of the BBC producers as they had interrupted a live show on Austrian television the week before the London final and made a political statement instead of singing. Being part of both this as well as The Milestones also qualifies Beatrix Neundlinger as a Eurovision Goddess in my book.

Wilfried - Lisa Mona Lisa (Austria 1988)

People I know, good friends of mine, would argue this is the archetype of a nul-pointer, that it has every ingredient of a perfect recipe for disaster. I see what they mean but I must disagree. Perhaps this one would have been better off performed by someone else, but I find a depth and an emotion here. Something the juries apparently didn't. Blaming the defeat on politics was not a brilliant move either, but Wilfried is hardly the only zero-scorer to mess up like that.

Bettina Soriat - One Step (Austria 1997)

At first I must admit to finding this pretty hopeless and doomed but at some point I took a long hard look at the live performance and realised what a professional that Soriat woman is. The amount of punch and energy she manages to squeeze into these three minutes is truly impressive.

Blue Danube - Du bist Musik (Austria 1980)

Austrian television was never afraid to be deadly serious and send in poignant entries that actually mean something. But then they could get really tired of that and go for something like this instead: a big fluffy piece of nonsense with five people randomly namedropping famous composers and musical terminology all over the place just to make sure that somebody somewhere understands something. It is perfectly ridiculous but also really rather catchy. Group member Marty Brem would be back again already the next year with the sweet but confusingly staged Wenn Du da bist, featured already in Part 3 of this series.

Anita - Einfach weg (Austria 1984)

This could be a crash course in how to take a perfectly good song, rip it to shreds and crush every single chance it might have had of impressing anyone. If you just listen to it with your eyes closed you'll hear what a good song it is. Then you open your eyes to find that the woman who sings about being strong and independent and gone before you know it is a polite little flower in a pink dress, a sweet hairdo and not a drop of attitude anywhere. Add the dance orchestra background musicians and the stiff backing vocalists - again Gary Lux, not at his finest hour - and your song is doomed. Despite a very clear last place - 21 points behind Yugoslavia placed second last - it was a big hit on home ground and is still seen as a bit of a classic. Made for radio, so to speak.

ESC 2014: my ten qualifiers from semi 2

Predicting the first semi final went really well, for better than I anticipated it would. I nailed nine out of ten and even if the tenth one was a song I had deemed chanceless rather than borderline - I really didn't see San Marino coming and honestly speaking, neither did you - I was still happy for that country.

Tonight's semi final seems even harder to predict. There are some definite qualifiers but also loads of borderline entries. And to make it even harder, throughout this week it seems a couple of songs I would have considered safe earlier have slipped into the borderline area too.

Just like on Tuesday I am labelling each song to be either safe, borderline qualifier or out and by the end you find my final pick.

Firelight / Coming Home
Tonight's opener is a likeable little song that most people will enjoy but reports suggest that it comes across as unspectacular on-screen. The same was said about last year's Maltese entry though, and that worked excellently in the end. Safe.

Mei Finegold / Same Heart
I considered this safe for a long time but now I'm not so sure anymore. It's most divisive, lots of love and lots of hate from the fan community, and it hasn't got an easy spot in the running order. Should make it into the top ten but if there is a shock non-qualifier this year - this is the one. Borderline.

Carl Espen / Silent Storm
Quiet and bombastic at the same time, this melancholy man from Norway is sure to collect points aplenty from the jury and will surely enthuse a number of televoters as well. Will have a difficult final fighting for the same points as Azerbaijan but tonight qualification should be peanuts. Safe.

Mariko & The Shin / Three Minutes To Earth
This is just too odd - five different songs crammed into one and generously sprinkled with syncopations and unforeseeable harmonies. Wild and crazy and actually rather refreshing that somebody dares send in anything as different as this. Should be chanceless but Georgia has had a way of qualifying with unusual sounds in the past. Borderline.

Donatan & Cleo / My Słowianie - We Are Slavic
Watch out for curves as Donatan has abandoned the stage altogether and Cleo is left to hold the fort together with a gang of voluptuous Polish beauties. Bound to upset a viewer or two but this is just fun and tongue-in-cheek, with more than one idea borrowed from the heydays of Army of Lovers. Safe.

Conchita Wurst / Rise Like A Phoenix
Enter the most controversial performer in years, perhaps since Dana International, and a section of the audience will gasp for breath. They shouldn't, though. This is the best song of the semi and there will be more than enough sensible people out there to recognise this. Safe.

Vilija Matačiūnaitė / Attention
A weak song is a weak song, at least most of the time. But Vilija has a rare determination, an energetic performance that distracts just about enough from the weak song itself, a great dancing partner and - most importantly - several countries where lots of Lithuanians live voting tonight. Don't count her out just yet. Borderline.

Softengine / Something Better
The song alone would be worthy of a spot in the final, but it is always a risky business sending very young and inexperienced performers to a huge event like Eurovision. Lead singer Topi needs to overcome his shyness and look into the cameras or he will remain a stranger for the audience. And nobody votes for a stranger. Borderline.

Can-Linn feat Kasey Smith / Heartbeat
Pleasant but unexciting, a piece of radio-friendly pop overloaded with Irish accents. It sounds good on a first listening but will it be anyone's favourite? Borderline.

Teo / Cheesecake
Where do I begin? There are so many things that are wrong here and yet somehow the whole thing turns out pretty enjoyable in the end. Teo is an entertainer and the rhythm is engaging and the clumsy lyrics could even make the entry more memorable for some. Borderline.

Tijana Dapčević / To The Sky
Being one of few true dance tracks in this line-up should work to its favour, but FYR Macedonia has a history of messing up their stage presentations. Tijana's own sister - and backing vocalist tonight - should know as a messy performance made her own 2008 entry narrowly miss the final. Borderline.

Sebalter / Hunter of Stars
Perhaps the San Marino of this semi but I doubt it. This song wants too much and goes in too many directions, and so does Mr Performer himself as well. Likely to be overexcited and over-performing tonight and then it becomes obvious what a half-cooked song this really is. Out.

Freaky Fortune feat Riskykidd / Rise Up
They are young, they are happening, they are cute and they hop on a trampoline. The song is repetitive but very catchy and Greece always makes it to the final. Safe.

Tinkara Kovac / Round And Round
How I wish it wasn't like this. Tinkara is good and delightful performer and this song is really quite good. It just completely fails to stay in your memory once it is over. I'd love for this to qualify but can't see it happening. (Not that I predicted Maja Keuc either. What do I know?) Out.

Ovi & Paula / Miracle
In my book this is by some margin the weakest entry of the entire semi. Not even a song as much as a collection of special effects and isolated hooks and events. No holograms or round pianos in the world can change that fact. It will work, though. In the semi, at least. Safe.

If there were a lot of borderline entries in the first semi it is nothing compared to this one. Out of fifteen entries I only feel two are really sure non-qualifiers (and one of those I'd love to have in the final but it won't happen). 

The ten songs I predict will make it tonight are: Malta, Israel, Norway, Poland, Austria, Lithuania, Finland, Belarus, Greece and Romania. Finland is wishful thinking. Lithuania is based on friendship votes alone. Belarus is totally interchangeable with FYR Macedonia. But this is my final guess anyway.

The show begins at 21:00 CET and can be watched through the official ESC site as well as through several national broadcasters, for instance Sweden and Finland.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Nobody's favourite but mine, part 4

Are you ready, folks? Here comes a fourth selection of songs I really liked through the years even though I have a nagging feeling I could be the only one. The former three episodes suggest that I am not alone at all, which leads me nicely onto the first song of the bunch.

Patricia Kraus - No estás solo (Spain 1987)

I never understood why anyone wouldn't like this one. It's original, energetic and pretty modern for it's time, and Patricia could be one of the coolest females ever. She is wearing a leather corset and enough rouge to suggest that she fell headlong onto the makeup-table only seconds before she had to enter the stage, still manage to look like that is the most natural thing ever.

It does take forever until she gets to a chorus but that's not the end of the world, is it? Clearly worth more than the ten points it had to content itself with.

Helen & Joseph - L-Imhabba (Malta 1972)

Malta had a tough start in Eurovision - for their first two entries they sang in their native tongue and ended in last place on both occasions. I can sort of see what the juries meant in 1971 but this adorable little gem would have deserved to be showered in points. The line where they sing about freaks, Hell's Angels and hippies is worth a top ten placing alone. Not to mention the more than impressive body language of the conductor during the instrumental break. And extra points for fashion, of course.

Park Café - Monsieur (Luxembourg 1989)

For the last few years that Luxembourg were in the contest they more seldom commissioned potential hit songs from French record labels - or did nobody want to provide them anymore? - and turned to local talent instead, mostly with pretty moderate success. Park Café entered something as unusual as a song inspired by a recent hit movie - "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" - and provided a far more jazz inspired sound than the audience was used to and the juries remained largely unimpressed.

Telex - Eurovision (Belgium 1980)

Belgium is clearly one of those nutty countries that you just don't know what to expect from. When you least expect it they will do something really crazy and unexpected and most of Europe will sit there with their jaws hanging between their legs, not knowing what hit them.

For some reason, synthesiser pioneers Telex - Belgium's own Kraftwerk but with a sense of humour - decide to throw themselves into competition with a song about the contest in question and a pronounced desire not to be understood and go through the voting without a single point. The stunt failed, the Belgians managed to collect a minor number of points and even avoided the last place, and the trio managed to thoroughly confuse their own fans in the process. What remains is a cute little masterpiece that is sure to make you smile. And when you're done smiling, check out their cover versions of Ça plane pour moi, Twist à Saint-Tropez or Rock Around The Clock. Genius!

Mrs Einstein - Niemand heeft nog tijd (Netherlands 1997)

When Dutch tv selected these feisty females internally they were presented like a group that were sure to rock the boat in a big way in Dublin. They sort of did. Not only were they nicknamed "Old Spice" - which I think was pretty witty - but most people wouldn't believe their ears. A full-tempo rip-off of Paul McCartney's Bond theme Live And Let Die that would leave people out of breath as well as in serious doubt of what the Dutch were thinking.

Only I really, really like it. I think it is fun and energetic and far superior to most entries the Dutch sent in during those eight long years they constantly failed to qualify. Old Spice for the win!

ESC 2014: And the audience went boo

Just like I wrote yesterday, the Russian delegation feared the Copenhagen audience would boo their performance and that is exactly what happened. When the hosts read out Russia as one of ten finalists the audience in the hall gave a very vocal sign of not being pleased.

My personal point of view is unchanged. You do not boo people at Eurovision. It is not civilised behaviour. But I'd like to develop my thoughts a bit further anyway.

One common argument in defence of the Tolmachevy Sisters is that they are very young girls and hardly responsible for anything the Russian leaders would do or not do. A wild guess is they have not harassed many minorities or acted particularly hostile towards any neighbours countries. Why would they deserve this treatment?

Unfortunately you cannot disassociate yourself from the country you represent. If you agree to represent Belarus in a competition, you are also giving your silent approval to the dictator in question. If you sing for Azerbaijan you are signalling that their poor human rights record doesn't really bother you. And these twins have to bear the burden of representing the most controversial country in Europe right now.

Ironically enough, the audience reaction is counter-productive in many ways as it suits the Russian narrative perfectly. The Tolmachevys are clearly selected to represent the pure Russian youth and sound Russian values and when they get booed by the depraved and immoral west it just underlines that the ESC-critical voices were right the whole time.

It is a strange situation that Russia take part in a contest they themselves heavily criticise - calling it a sodomy contest and so on - and then send in innocent young singers to take a beating for the team.

Of course the ESC is open for all active EBU members, but what do you do with a country that seems to participate against their own wishes only to use the contest as a domestic propaganda tool? No doubt that there will be more booing in the final and nobody gains anything from that. The Tomalchevy Sisters least of all.

Semi 1: everybody loves a surprise

Everybody loves a surprise or two at the Eurovision Song Contest and just when we all thought everything was going like on rails, the biggest surprise in years just hit us right over the face as San Marino made it to the final.

That crazy little Valentina Monetta actually managed to make her way into the top ten of this semi and for the first time the tiny tiny state will take a spot in the big Saturday final.

I did tweet during the show that Valentina again proved not to be good enough for Eurovision - not bad but not good enough - and I still stand by that comment. Others, who didn't make the cut tonight - performed better than she did. They sang better and had stronger presence, but "Maybe" is also clearly the best out of the three songs Valentina and Ralph Siegel made together.

I think San Marino will be shark feed on Saturday and one of the strongest candidates for nul points but that matters very little now. You would need a heart of solid rock not to be happy for the Sammarinese delegation finally making it.

The other big surprise for me personally was that I managed to predict nine out of ten qualifiers correctly. Apart from San Marino I nailed them all - I thought about leaving Russia out or putting Belgium in but left it the way it was. Sometimes a bit of gut feeling is all you need.

I'm a bit sorry that Estonia's ambitious performance lost out and I will miss a bit of Latvian quirk in the final, but I'd be a fool not to feel very pleased after this first semi.

The show was nice and the stage looks fantastic, even if the director sometimes can't resist the urge of showing the stage rather than the performances. I'd like to cut the scripts a bit shorter here and there (and preferably leave out some heteronormative jokes about which one of the male hosts the upcoming performer fancies and stuff like that) but on the total it was a very enjoyable show.

If DR keeps it up like this, nobody will remember that 2001 fiasco come Sunday. Well done.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

ESC 2014: Boo for Russia?

According to an article in PinkNews the Russian delegation in Copenhagen fears that they will be subject to hostility when they appear in Eurovision this year. There are fears that the audience will boo or otherwise show their discontent with Russia's current politics.

There is the situation in Ukraine as well as recent anti-gay legislation, but there have also been numerous cases of Russian officials slandering the contest, calling it a sodomy contest and other less appealing things.

For me personally, this is a hard nut to crack. At this very moment I am strongly opposed to many things that go on in Russian politics for obvious reasons. I think the Russian delegation is very right to be worried - people are not happy with the situation and are likely to be vocal about it.

But how do you make it clear you are protesting against Russian politics and not against Russia as a nation or against the Russian people?

It is unfair towards the Tomalchevy Sisters who are unlikely to be any driving force behind neither Russian minority treatment nor Russian foreign policies. But a song in a song contest like this doesn't just represent itself but also the country it is connected to.

I'd like to question Russia's foreign songwriters more than the singers: are you comfortable representing Russia under the present circumstances?

But I also insist that songs should be judged on musical merit alone. If a song is good, then it is good. If a performance is brilliant, then it is. At some point you have to disconnect these two things.

And I really hope the Russian entry won't get booed in Copenhagen. For the simple reason that booing is never an OK thing to do. Booing is for fools. If you dislike something or disagree, you can remain silent. Don't clap, don't cheer, don't boo.

Cows go moo. Fools go boo. And that's what I have to say on this matter.

ESC 2014: These are my ten qualifiers from semi 1

Here we go again. Time to put your money where your mouth is. Stuff like that. Out of sixteen hopefuls ten will make Saturday's big final and the other six must return to the hotel room, pack their belongings and go home. You know the drill.

At some point, I thought fewer songs in a semi would make it easier to predict the outcome. Instead there are so many tiny factors at work. One of the weaker entries could pick up consistent small points from most countries and end up making the final cut. This new jury system could tempt a jury or two to keep down one or two favourites at the very bottom of their ranking, which could have a real impact in the end as well.

A couple of songs should feel absolutely safe tonight (unless we have one of those complete surprises that shakes the contest at its very foundation and that I am secretly very fond of), some should be equally sure non-qualifiers and then there is a bunch of borderline entries. Be aware that if the voting is tight, who ends in 9th place or in 11th could be completely arbitrary. But here is my contribution to the guessing game.

Aram Mp3 / Not Alone
The big bookmaker favourite got a totally incomprehensible spot in the running order. It's not a particularly good opening song and would have needed a number of songs before it to showcase how original it is. Could result in a lower score than anticipated tonight but Aram should not be at risk. Safe.

Aarzemnieki / Cake To Bake
This could have been the jaunty pause from all the more serious entries - somebody who takes the whole contest with a laugh and sings something happy and unpretentious - but just like Armenia the Latvians will suffer from their starting position. There is no need for a break this early on in the show and the good mood will be forgotten by the time the phone lines open. Borderline.

Tanja / Amazing
Tanja has the benefit of being the first entrant with an instantly recognisable eurosong. She has many things going for her - a spectacular number, good dancing, good vocals - but I am not convinced the song is memorable enough. Estonia had luck on their side last year and made it to 10th place in their semi and will need the same sort of luck this time around. Borderline.

Sanna Nielsen / Undo
An elegant, stylish and polished little ballad that really wouldn't be anything special if it wasn't for the magnificent Sanna Nielsen who could breathe life into any old song, basically. This one could prove to have a surprisingly hard time among all the other ballads in this semi and could score lower than expected. Not that we will know until later in the week. Safe.

Pollapönk / No prejudice
Positive, loveable and wacko uptempo from Iceland. Would deserve extra points for message and cheerfulness but the big question is if people will find this adorable or plain silly. Borderline.

Hersi Matmuja / One Night's Anger
Sorry, Albania. I have really tried to get my head around this entry and told myself took focus on all the good elements in it and Hersi's really good voice. But it never comes together, which is a bad thing in a televote. Out.

Tomalchevy Sisters / Shine
Let's call a spade a spade, shall we. This is a pretty weak song performed in a not too convincing way, with special effects to cover up for this fact. Had this song represented Switzerland we wouldn't for a second consider it a potential qualifier. The past has proved that any country can fail in a semi final, Russia will too one day. Perhaps sooner than we think. Borderline.

Dilara Kazimova  / Start A Fire
This isn't the first time that Azerbaijan has bought a lovely tune to send off to Eurovision, but it is not all that often that they find suitable talent to carry the song for them. Dilara has a wonderful voice and really makes this song come alive. Safe.

Maria Yaremchuk / Tick Tock
How to take a weak song and dress it up to kill. Everything looks and sounds perfect here and for three minutes most people will fail to notice how little of a song is really hidden underneath it all. I just ask myself what the Latvian Cake to Bake would have sounded like if the same Swedish production team would have worked on that one instead. Safe.

Axel Hirsoux / Mother
In a final with few ballads and few big voices, this one would be bang in the final. But when you have a large variety to choose from you have the right to be picky. And this bombastic, almost parodic, entry could soon prove too much for the viewers. Poor Axel would have deserved a much better song, something to better showcase his voice, but now he just find himself stuck in that annoyingly high-pitched register most of the time. Borderline.

Christina Scarlat / Wild Soul
At first sight, there are many things I like here: the voice, the presence, the sound of it all. But before three minutes come to an end I realise this is the most insipid of all songs tonight. Not the worst but the one provoking the least amount of emotion in me. Bad sign. Out.

Valentina Monetta / Maybe
It doesn't help much that this is the best part of the Siegel/Monetta-trilogy. It sounds like a good album track from the early 80's that will be liked by most but will be nobody's favourite. Goodbye, thank you and please try another songwriter next year. Out.

Suzy / Quero ser tua
Portugal's comeback could have been more sophisticated than this lambada-flavoured schlager-lite, but after three pompous and very serious entries this could come across as nothing but jaunty and likeable. Likely to get thumbs down from the juries but if the margins are on her side, televoting could take Suzy to the final. Borderline.

The Common Linnets / Calm After The Storm
For the second year running, the Dutch send in a low-key quality song that is atypical for eurovision but that could have a very prosperous life after the contest. It just has to work. Safe.

Sergej Ćetković / Moj svijet
The only Balkan ballad in the running is well performed and should sail smoothly into the final, especially since the dancer on roller skates - that created a number of question marks after the first rehearsals - seems to have found a good place in the camera work. Safe.

Kállay Saunders / Running
A confident performer with a catchy chorus and a slick stage show performing last after a line-up with a few too many slow songs? Probably no winner come Saturday but could very well be the one with the highest scores tonight. Safe.

What really complicates this prediction are all these borderline entries that all could sneak into top ten but could equally well end up outside. But my ten qualifiers tonight are: Armenia, Estonia, Sweden, Iceland, Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Netherlands, Montenegro, Hungary.

Estonia and Iceland are wishful thinking. As for Russia, I wouldn't mind replacing them with Portugal or Latvia. And then there's Belgium - at the back of my head I think they have a fair chance of qualifying but all the songs on my list would deserve it more. And if the first envelope contains something like San Marino, then anything is possible.

Tonight we will know. The show starts at 21:00 CET and can be seen live here.

A 7th place is no good in Sweden

You didn't really expect Sweden to just sit back and take it easy for a couple of years just because Loreen won two years ago, did you? SVT would love to snatch back the trophy and show who is in charge - and Sanna Nielsen being a big favourite with the OGAE network suits the Swedes perfectly.

After last night's jury final - the important rehearsal that the juries watch before they cast their votes - the Swedish press seems to be truly on the train as well, whispering about a possible victory on Saturday night.

This is where it is getting problematic. If they are wrong and my gut feeling is right, that is. If "Undo" really is a tiny bit too polished and pleasant to grab the really high ballad points and that perhaps a 7th place seems reasonable and most possible.

In many countries a 7th place would be celebrated like a victory. If Portugal or Montenegro or Finland came home with a 7th place there would be huge happy headlines, and the general feeling that somebody added an extra day of Christmas. Not in Sweden, however.

If Sanna ends in 7th place, the Swedish press will call it a miscalculation if they are in a kind mood. Somebody will call it a fiasco. Somebody will surely question if this will have negative consequences on Sanna's career and so on.

This is what being fairly successful does to your expectations. There is definitely nothing wrong with Sweden's ambitions - I applaud them - but when you get used to doing well you expect that every time.

Sanna is surely not the only one with this kind of pressure. I wonder how the UK press would react to a 7th place for Molly - would they cheer for the best result in five years or would they label it a disappointment and ignore her from that point on?

I'm afraid I know what I think.