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
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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.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Nobody's favourite but mine, part 3

What fun it has been making the list of songs I thought I was the only person alive under God's divine sky to like and enjoy. Part 1 and Part 2, however, taught me many people share my odd taste so here we go with five more songs that somehow seemed to appeal to the mainstream of eurofans.

Rikki - Only The Light (United Kingdom 1987)

I was only 11 years old at the time and didn't really understand what the Swedish commentator meant when he implied the UK was in an outright downhill and no longer delivered anything really convincing to Eurovision. I thought this song was fun and catchy, and Rikki's backing group provided dance moves even I could manage. What was there not to love?

Besides, the Swedish commentator had no idea what a REAL downhill looks like, and neither did the UK until some twelve-thirteen years later. Rikki did end in a 13th place - the worst UK placing until then - but somewhere in Liverpool a real disaster called Jemini was just waiting to happen.

Marty Brem - Wenn Du da bist (Austria 1981)

This is actually a really lovely little song. Gentle, sensitive, heartfelt. It is well sung and is overall a rather catchy ballad. It just tries really hard to distract anyone from noticing. The composer was quoted as being unhappy with the confusing arrangement in the beginning of the song. Had I been him I would have worried a whole lot more about the performance as such. Where do I begin?

I would have loved to have a look inside the head of the Austrian choreographer. What can he have been thinking? Some heavy dancing would be nice. Backwards dancing would be even better. And somebody has to wear a helmet. Dancing has never been stranger.

Pas de Deux - Rendez-vous (Belgium 1983)

When the expert jury overwhelmingly voted Pas de Deux as winners of the 1983 Belgian final it would be a real understatement to call the studio audience enthusiastic. They whistled, booed and most left the hall before the winner's reprise was over. I guess Belgian audiences prefer heartfelt ballads about mothers to more experimental stuff.

And experimental it was, made to annoy rather than please, with it's distinct rhythm, it's intense brass arrangement and its constant repetition of one single line that doesn't really mean anything. It is close to what Greece is doing this year - presenting a set of rhythms and hooks rather than an old-fashioned song - but back in the early 1980's it was far too avant-garde to go down particularly well. At least the Spanish jury liked it and gave it eight points.

Baby Doll - Brazil (Yugoslavia 1991)

Just to make one thing very clear: there isn't the slightest hint of irony here, no tongue in cheek. I really think this song is fun and happening and that Baby Doll is a most spectacular performer. If you are looking for fine singing this will perhaps be slightly disappointing but it is not likely do bore you at least.

Since Yugoslavia had done well four years in a row I was convinced this one would be top ten material and was a bit shocked to see it end second last with only one point from Malta, beaten by a whole bunch of soporific ballads.

Vlado Janevski - Ne zori, zoro (FYR Macedonia 1998)

Not too surprising that a televoting audience that had lived through endless ballads with flute and violin and pretty harmonies and an Irish win-athon would go for something more cheerful and upbeat when they finally got the power in their hands, but it is a shame that they overlooked this last song on the night. Vlado is a really cool cat who wrote himself a really good song - a sort of Leonard Cohen of the Balkans - that would have deserved a lot more attention than this. At least they would have deserved a neighbourly top mark or two.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Borrow like the Danes do

Many people seem to think Tanja from Estonia may have borrowed just a tiny bit too much from Loreen's 2012 Eurovision entry. First of all, I don't think these two songs are too similar. Germany's entry from last year was a much more obvious copy of Loreen if so.

You can also borrow quite a lot from other songs without anyone of importance reacting too strongly. There have been some rather spectacular occasions where people have borrowed famous fragments or complete melody lines without any kind of action taken against them.

Or how about this one? When the ESC was held in Gothenburg in 1985, the home entry went down well both with the audience and the juries and ended in 3rd place. No wonder since it sounded and looked professional, with a catchy hook and a good dance routine.

Kikki Danielsson - Bra vibrationer (Sweden 1985)

A Danish team got really inspired and decided to borrow a couple of elements for their own entry for the 1986 national final. The melody line was a bit similar, so they borrowed some or the arrangement. Or most of it, actually.

And as for the performance, wouldn't it be nice to have a male and a female dancer, just like the Swedes? Or why not the same dancers? If they are good once, they must be good twice. And that the female lead decided to choose a pink outfit similar to Kikki's? Pure coincidence, surely.

Lise Haavik - Du er fuld af løgn

You can win, but can you host?

Winning the Eurovision Song Contest was always a slightly sweaty affair since a victory also gave you the responsibility to host next year's event as well. More challenging for some than for others, but not effortless for anyone.

I was really happy when, in Baku 2012, the EBU finally put their foot down and said they wanted the event to grow smaller in coming years. Smaller venues, fewer delegates and less money spent. Partially due to the financial situation in Europe, of course. It doesn't look good that obscene amounts of money are spent on a tv-show as people struggle to get by in their everyday lives.

But a smaller format for Eurovision also makes it possible for more countries to host. There is already the requirement that any host city must be able to offer a certain amount of quality hotel rooms (the figure 3000 comes to mind but I'm not sure it's correct), which already makes it really hard for some countries to host.

Are we ready to make some sacrifices for a good cause? Could we content ourselves with a lower standard of hotels? With a considerably smaller venue? With a considerably lower amount of accreditations given out? For one year?

Or do we have to just face the music and realise that if some countries win, they will probably not be able to host? Countries like Iceland, Slovenia, Cyprus? Could Malta pull it off? Or this year's bookmaker favourite Armenia?

For me, the Eurovision Song Contest is - and should be - one of the biggest unifying factors in Europe that make countries come together and feel equal. What happens to that idea if a number of participants are already out of the running in advance?

I can just imagine the outcry in 2006 if Finland - after finally winning on its 40th attempt - would have been deemed to small to host and the EBU would have handed the honour to, say, Germany instead. An anticlimax like that is nothing I would wish any participating country, really.

I hope we can see finals in Reykjavík, Ljubljana, Valletta in the future, even if they are smaller than the ones we have grown used to. In the end, the most important aspect should be that the final product looks good on television anyway.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Nobody's favourite but mine, part 2

It seems you good people didn't quite agree with me being the only one to like either of the songs in the first part of this series. Well, I guess I wouldn't be myself if I didn't push my luck and tried to challenge you with five more songs that I sometimes think I'm the only one in the world to care for. Am I?

Gemini - Dai li dou (Portugal 1978)

After a couple of years with serious songs with political undertones, Portugal suddenly decided to send in a wonderfully (annoyingly, according to some) bouncy little song about a kite flying high in the sky. Simple and catchy (or possibly repetitive), performed by another one of these groups of four people, clearly modelled on Abba.

The verses may be a bit clumsy but the chorus is so happy in all its simplicity and the choreography is probably so easy not even I could make a mess of it. Cute.

Cocktail Chic - Européennes (France 1986)

Things weren't exactly running smoothly in France at this point. There had been almost ten years since their last victory and the contest changing hands from TF1 to Antenne2 had resulted in a national final nobody wanted to be part of or associated with. So the best thing they could come up with this year were a bunch of popular backing vocalists who would finally have their big chance of performing as a group.

With styling as impeccable as their vocal delivery (some of those notes are really rather wobbly), the French girls didn't stand a chance during the voting and ended in a pale 17th place while the three other countries singing in French - Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg - all made top three.

Gunvor - Lass ihn (Switzerland 1998)

Through the years I have often been better at predicting the last place than picking a winner but this was a nul-pointer I never saw coming. I thought Gunvor had written herself a nice little ditty, perhaps a bit average but still catchy and retainable enough. It even featured Egon Egemann and his white violin, that would surely make an impression?

Despite being up against real non-songs like Spain and Greece, Gunvor somehow managed to cling to her zero points all the way through the voting. Her career, already deeply affected by local scandal newspapers and their shameless publication of pictures and details of some less glamourous aspects of her life, never recovered from this and Gunvor decided to retire from the spotlight. A real shame. And her song wasn't even bad to start with.

Christina Simon - Heute in Jerusalem (Austria 1979)

Eurovision is a circus full of glitter and happiness and more or less obvious attempts at attracting points from all directions. There is nothing wrong with that and I want it to be like that, but it does make it a less suitable arena for people who are actually trying to say something.

Austria thought the final in Jerusalem would be the perfect place to tell the world they would prefer peace instead of war and employed Christina Simon to be their voice in this slow and demanding jazz number. Of course it didn't stand a chance and as Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty right before the final it even felt less relevant also lyrically. Last place was still really unfair and my question remains the same as ever: what's the point of having juries if they can't recognise quality?

Aleksandra & Konstantin - My Galileo (Belarus 2004)

At first I had no idea how to react to this. Was it really in English? Were those real words? Is it supposed to sound like this? I didn't know what to expect from Belarus in the first place but I most certainly did not expect this. Despite being reluctant at first, it started growing on me with it's odd folksy sound and before Eurovision week in Istanbul was over I had sung this song in front of a small crowd at the Belarusian party and my friend had kissed Aleksandra's feet. A regular day at the Eurovision Song Contest, you know.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Nobody's favourite but mine, part 1

Sometimes I get the impression there is a certain kind of eurovision fan who only watches the contest in order to get to criticise as many things as possible. To just slam every song they hear and rip them to shreds.

I admit it can be great fun to do just that. When you find something that is really terribly bad and you manage to find just the right words to explain why something makes your ears bleed and your heart cry.

It's just that I'm so incredibly fond of liking things. I can often find redeeming factors in most really weird entries and in general I like so many more things than I dislike. So just to prove my point I will present you a number of songs only I like. Here are five songs I like very much to most people's honest surprise and incomprehension.

Afroditi Fryda - Clown (Greece 1988)

Famously, the jury in the national final selected a winner only after pointing out how underwhelming all candidates were and recommending the national tv company to pull out of the competition instead of sending either one to a sure defeat in Dublin. If that anecdote is true - it has been attached to a number of Greek national finals through the years - the jury were not entirely wrong as the song received a grand total of ten points.

I disagreed with juries - business as usual - and found an attractive sadness in between all the compulsive laughter. When I finally saw a translation of the lyrics I realised it was all in my head as there wasn't the slightest trace of ambiguity or darkness. I still love it anyway. Ha ha ha ha!

George Nussbaumer - Weils dr guat got (Austria 1996)

Eurovision and gospel music has always been a hard nut to crack. Quite a few entrants have tried through the years without really getting it right. It becomes a bit too polished and soft and harmless to leave any real traces or reveal any deeper emotion. Except perhaps for this bunch of crazy Austrians.

The song is perhaps not all that remarkable in itself and I wasn't really blown away by the preview clip, but the live performance is the closest thing we ever came to a perfect re-enactment of a tropical hurricane. The backing group - including Stella Jones and Bettina Soriat who both represented their country as solo singers in the 90's - become so incredibly animated and worked-up that you suspect the hall will run out of oxygen before the song is over. Not everyone's cup of tea but I find it irresistible.

Oleksandr - Hasta la vista (Ukraine 2003)

Isn't it strange that Ukraine - famous for doing everything right in the ESC - would start out by getting more or less everything wrong in their debut entry? The cheesy lyrics, the old-fashioned arrangement, the Kermit-the-frog-at-the-opera vocals and the most peculiar dancer in the background. It is all so puzzling. What were they thinking? Were they convinced they had a winner on their hands? The worst part still is that I've grown remarkably fond of it over the years. For all the wrong reasons, mind you. But very fond all the same.

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

I'm surprisingly easy at times, I have to admit to that. Shake a piece of homemade disco muzak Made in Turkey in front of me and my knees will turn into jelly. If it is performed by three distinguished gentlemen in white, accompanied by a cheerful lady, performing a choreography that should be simple but that seems to pose a real challenge for the group, I'll be even happier. If you top it with a shockingly nonsense set of lyrics - stating that life is a merry-go-round as it goes up and then down again - I'll just roll over and admit I'm defeated.

Daisy Auvray - Mister Music Man (Switzerland 1992)

This is what I suppose happened: Poor Daisy didn't get out much and this time she decided to really live the moment to the fullest. She had enjoyed a glass of wine or two and felt lovely and vibrant and alive and wanted the whole world to know. She grabbed a microphone, decided to put her happiness into song and asked the band to strike up an old-fashioned sound that would suit her perfectly. How was poor Daisy to know this was not a karaoke bar at all but the Swiss national final?

Seriously, though. This was so violently out of sync with any kind of musical trend or fashion back then, but time has been really kind to this in comparison to many other entries from the same year. Perhaps not the best song there ever was, but the whole performance is sweet. And endearing. And that must be worth something too.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Nobody can smile like Paola

I'll be brutally honest with you. I don't think Sebalter from Switzerland will have the shadow of a chance in his semi final in Copenhagen. Perhaps he is cute, perhaps the violin makes him stand out, perhaps the whistle is a clever hook. I even heard someone say he could qualify because he has such a nice smile.

Dear people - his smile is nice but when it comes to smiling widely and beautifully no Swiss person will ever get close to beating Paola del Medico, who beamed like Mother Sun from the Eurovision stage twice.

Paola - Bonjour bonjour (Switzerland 1969)

If you are not really to believe Paola is truly happy to see you during this cheerful greeting set to music, then you won't believe many things in this world. The wide smile and the cheerfulness turned into Paola's special trademark and when she came back to represent Switzerland a second time eleven years later she had fine-tuned her art into perfection.

Paola - Cinéma (Switzerland 1980)

I can hardly imagine how a song could be bouncier than this and Paola made it into an honourable fourth place out of nineteen countries. As her singing career faded a bit, her winning personality made its way into television instead where she for many years presented light-hearted entertainment shows together with her husband Kurt Felix.

She also made two attempts at representing Germany at Eurovision - in 1979, she made it to third place with the elegant Vogel der Nacht and in 1982 she was the only one giving Nicole a real run for her money in the national heat. But perhaps Peter Pan would have been a bit too bouncy, sweet and smiley even for Eurovision?

Paola - Peter Pan (Germany NF 1982)

Well, isn't that a lovely outfit?

Ever since I was a very young Tobson, I've been totally fascinated by this Eurovision Song Contest in so many different ways. It seems I'm never running out of new angles that make me love this show even more.

I like it for the uniting factor - one of few things that brings all of Europe together for a mutual activity. I like it for the music, obviously. Few things cheer me up like a good eurovision entry. And I love it for the positive political dimension, how it brings people closer and showcases new ideas and thoughts even to corners of the world where the governments would prefer as little enlightenment as possible.

But I also love the show elements, of course. And I'm never averse to a great outfit. So here - for your entertainment as you wait for this year's extravaganza to take off - I collected a non-exhaustive list of favourite outfits through the years.

Anne Karine Strøm - Mata Hari (Norway 1976)

What could be better than a little bit of gold? The correct answer must be: a whole lot of gold, preferably from head to toe. If you can match it with the biggest sunglasses you could possibly wear before your neck goes snap, then it's all for the better. Wonderful Anne Karine entered eurovision history as the only solo performer to end in last place twice - a complete disgrace.

Linda - No goodbyes (Netherlands 2000)

Must be so awkward when you check your calendar and realised you double booked and have to perform at Eurovision that very day you promised to go camping with your dancers? Linda went for a creative solution and decided to hit two birds with one stone and do both things at the same time. The best "look-what-I-hid-under-my-dress"-effect ever.

Youddiph - Vechni strannik (Russia 1994)

I love this creative red dress that allows the singer to change her appearance completely several times throughout her performance only by making some simple, tasteful movements. Understated, elegant and sophisticated.

Rita - Shara barechovot (Israel 1990)

I must admit to being a lover of colour and I think the smart black dress is just about the most boring option anyone could come up with on a eurovision stage. Black is safe and uncreative and I think the large audience watching you deserve more of an effort than that. But then there are the little black numbers you just can't refuse. Rita looks absolutely stunning and captivating. Mind you, she could probably wrap a towel or an old circus tent around her and still look stunning, but she really works this one to perfection. 18th place? Well done, juries.

Salomé - Vivo cantando (Spain 1969)

I never had the chance to ask her in person, but I am assuming that Salomé shares my point of view that  a stage outfit is something you design and craft specifically, not something you go out and buy in a shop. I'd like to see the shop selling this particular piece. Full of tassels and tiny stones - to weigh the tassels down and give them a life of their own - it weighs five kilos and would probably not qualify as a comfortable garment on any occasion. And that sort of makes it perfect for the stage.