A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Finland 2015: a two-horse race?

Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu is about to reach its peak after three weeks of semi finals - it's time to select Finland's entry for Vienna. If you want to be a little bit mean you could argue that the main goal of the show isn't necessarily to find the best song but to finally impose itself as an event worth following.

It is no secret that the viewing figures have been dismal ever since the Finnish final had a change of name and format back in 2012, but this year's edition could possibly have reached the new goal.

There has been a fair amount of talk surrounding some of the entries and a clear effort has been made to make the live performances more visually appealing than in previous years. Also the hosts Rakel Liekki and Roope Salminen have done their job well and made the show very much their own.

Hopefully the final in itself will be snappier and more quick-paced than the semis. That would add some nerve as well. A good show is vital to keep audiences happy.

A good show can even make up - to a certain extent - for a lack of top candidates. The general standard in this final is acceptable but not breathtaking. The running order seems to be kept secret again - just like in the semis - so here are my reviews in some sort of alphabetical order:

Angelo de Nile / All For Victory
I didn't care much for the song to start with but wasn't prepared for overblown pomposity and over-performing on quite this level. This is in the final and Siru isn't? My least favourite of all nine.
Grade: 1/5

Jouni Aslak / Lions And Lambs
Good voice and good stage output in a song that has grown on me. The chorus is standing on the dangerous border between repetitive and effective, but despite being one of the better offerings I doubt it will be a contender in the end. It just isn't the kind of song that stands out enough to be remembered in the end.
Grade: 3/5

Järjestyshäiriö / Särkyneiden sydänten kulmilla
This was such a promising entry at first with its radio-friendly sound and catchy chorus, but the band just doesn't have what it takes to make the song come alive on stage. Stressful and un-charming in the semi and I doubt it will have come to a sudden change for tonight.
Grade: 2/5

Norlan El Misionario / No voy a llorar por ti
Reggaeton. Pleasant. Likeable but forgettable. The song I expected the least to make it through the first semi, but I must admit it is catchy in its own little way. Very unlikely to get far in the final.
Grade: 2/5

Opera Skaala / Heart Of Light
This operatic dance track really wants to be way out and the one to make everyone's jaw drop, but in this year full of visual tricks and varied styles it comes across as disappointingly normal. Excellent singing but the beats could have been harder and heavier. And that strange bridge between the first chorus and the second verse - where the whole thing falls apart without any beat or melody - still ruins it a bit for me.
Grade: 2/5

Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät / Aina mun pitää
Is this our winner? PKN has had a great deal of media exposure - also internationally - and will have everyone's attention tonight. But in a song contest - where you try to single out the best song - their offering stands out as pretty weak. And voting for people just because they are disabled sounds like a terribly patronising and prejudiced thing to do.
Grade: 2/5

Satin Circus / Crossroads
The best pop song in the running and therefore the best choice for Vienna. But these boys have a lot of work to do, if so. The semi final performance was disappointingly void of energy and camera contact and seemed oddly disengaged. Hopefully they have managed to whip up some commitment already or the opportunity could easily slip out of their hands.
Grade: 4/5

Shava / Ostarilla
Very mixed emotions about this one. In many ways a real car crash of an entry but performed with such energy and conviction it's hard not to feel uplifted as it goes on. Is this harmless fun or is it cultural appropriation that would look really bad in an international context? I can't tell, but I'm pretty sure this is the other real contender for victory.
Grade: 3/5

Solju / Hold Your Colours
The Sami entry is a pleasant little song that feels a little bit too light-weight and Disney-esque for my liking - but the performance was clean and sophisticated and could stand out as a visual oasis if placed after a number of busier entries. A possible outsider.
Grade: 2/5

In tonight's final a number of juries will vote - the music professionals, the media personalities, the Swedish speakers and the taxi drivers all have a jury each for instance - but 90 % of the final result will be given by televoting.

Tobson predicts:
The two-horse race should be between Satin Circus and Shava. Radio pop against a taste of homemade Bollywood. I'm pretty convinced one of them will be tonight's winner. As Finland has had a tendency of favouring good songs many years in a row, I hope and think that is a tradition that will continue this time around. I predict the top three to be
1) Satin Circus, 2) Shava, 3) Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät

Tonight I will live tweet during UMK

Friday, February 27, 2015

Sweden: Melodifestivalen, semi 4

It has almost turned into my mantra ever since SVT started revealing only short clips instead of full songs: "30 seconds are not enough to tell anything about a song. You don't know anything after 30 seconds."

But sometimes you know all you need to now. This week it tells me I can sit back and relax and wait for at least one entry that I can keep close to my heart.

It's not a bad lineup this time around - surely more interesting than last week - but 2015 has been far from a stellar year song-wise. If the last week delivers, maybe the whole year will stand out in a more positive light to the audience than it really deserves to. If so, there is still hope.

01. Midnight Boy / Don't Say No
An orgy in 1980's posing complete with musical and visual kitsch is a great opening number and sounds like something I could get pretty enthusiastic about. Unfortunately, these kinds of retro nods to older pop culture usually fail in MF. Not convinced Midnight Boy would be an exception to that rule.

02. Caroline Wennergren / Black Swan
Seemingly a classy number and Caroline Wennergren has proved herself a real entertainer in the past when she knocked people over and made it all the way to the final in 2005. It was a surprise then and I have a feeling that was her moment. Would thunder strike twice in the same spot?

03. JTR - Building It Up
Good thing: cute boyband with the right amount of attitude and energy. Bad thing: a really generic song that make no difference to anyone. The big question is whether the audience is hungry for cute guys or good songs. If they go for the latter, these brothers will be chanceless.

04. Hasse Andersson - Guld och gröna skogar
A real veteran - whose old songs are really good and dear to me - who has now accepted a song by young songwriters that made a pastiche of his old style. Not entirely sure what I think about that - actually I'm pretty sure I think it's not authentic enough for my liking - but it is heartwarming to see Hasse Andersson getting the love he deserves.

05. Dina Nah - Make Me (La La La)
Very much like song 01, this kind of entry hasn't fared particularly well in the past: a female lead dance track tends to be out on its ears, usually at an early stage of the voting. The success of Isa/Ace Wilder may have shuffled the cards a bit, though. This is a promising chorus, but in the short clip I see nothing of the charm it would need to pull this one off.

06. Annika Herlitz - Ett andetag
A typical ballad sung by your typical singer. Technically perfect but nothing much to get excited about. Unless the fans of Frozen understand that Annika does the voice of Elsa in Swedish, this one is bound to go nowhere.

07. Måns Zelmerlöw - Heroes
Here he comes. The saviour. My hero. After these 30 seconds I am convinced this is the song I will carry with me from this year's competition. I'm less convinced everyone else will feel the same, though. There is a risk this is too arty and introverted to break through to a larger audience, and possibly Måns will have to take the detour through Andra Chansen, but I decide not to think about that at this point. I just look forward enormously to hearing the song in full.

Tobson predicts:
Final: Måns Zelmerlöw and Hasse Andersson
Andra Chansen: JTR and Dina Nah
Fifth: Caroline Wennergren
Out: Midnight Boy and Annika Herlitz

I wouldn't mind Caroline placing better or Dina Nah going straight to the final, but for me anything will do as long as Måns is in the final. May the Swedes get it!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hungary: where did the sparkle go?

In only a couple of years, A Dal has really imposed itself as one of the more functioning national finals. It is popular among the audience as well as the participants, and last year the quality was so high almost anyone of the eight finalists could have worked in Copenhagen.

I think I wrote a number of times last year that Hungary feels like one of those countries capable of victory at any given moment now - all they need is a bull's eye and the perfect entry.

Unfortunately, 2015 won't be the big year. Instead A Dal goes out to prove what a thin line there is between good and excellent. And in a contest with 40 songs, good will never be good enough.

There is nothing wrong with the line-up for Saturday's final. All songs are more than acceptable, all of them are well sung. But none of them have "winner" written all over it. Next year, I am hoping for sharper songwriting and better choruses again. More sparkle.

Anyway, I singled out my four favourites that could do reasonably well in Vienna:

Ádám Szabó / Give Me Your Love
Given the amount of female ballads or semi-ballads in the running so far, it could be a good idea to send a man with good vocal chords into the mix. The song in itself is okay but relies very heavily on the vocal delivery.

Zoltán Mujahid / Beside You
More of the same - a male ballad supported by a strong voice - but with more of a pop beat. Would perhaps live up more to Hungary's recent reputation of being contemporary and relevant.

Spoon / Keep Marching On
Take an updated version of V.I.P and send them off to the Gianluca Bezzina School of Performing Arts and this is what you would get. Possibly not the ultimate pop hit but still charming and summery and attractive. And who doesn't like a bit of whistling?

Kati Wolf / Ne engedj el!
Perhaps the most suitable entry of them all - not least because it fits Kati's voice a lot better than her 2011 entry. Not top five material in Vienna, but a solid little song that would at least make it into the final and probably even better Kati's last showing.

The beauty of the A Dal-format is that the final is very open to surprises. Any of the songs could be a real televote favourite while passing under the radar of the jury. My guess is that Spoon could be that one - making it all the way into the final eight without really getting showered with jury points - but I'm still hoping for Kati Wolf to get a second chance to impress Europe.

Kati Wolf - Ne engedj el! (Hungary NF 2015)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Runner-up: Germany 1981

For many years, this was my favourite Siegel-penned entry to ESC. It may have slipped a bit in my ranking since then but I still find it tasteful and elegant - not words I'd necessarily use in connection to all of his catalogue.

Lena Valaitis is - very much like Katja Ebstein before her - a classy performer that manages to keep the whole entry pretty much down to earth.

Still, it's very Siegel by the numbers in some ways. Especially in the sense that it's not just a straight-forward song: Ralph Siegel was always very fond of a backstory.

1981 was the official year of the blind, so of course he would write a song that would connect to that theme. Still it's kept simple and efficient with lyrics about a boy getting bullied for being blind only to grow up to be a famous musician whose songs spellbind the audience. That's all. No special effects. No excesses. How I wish the Siegel entries could have stayed that way forever.

A deserved 2nd place?
Yes, by all means. Perhaps I think Switzerland's "Io senza te" would have deserved the silver medal even more but this is fine too.

Lena Valaitis - Johnny Blue (Germany 1981)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Finland & Sweden: third semi roundup

UMK has made a close to heroic work this year to become more of a tv show. After Krista Siegfrids rocked the national final two years ago, now the plan is clearly for everyone to look more interesting on stage.

The problem is that not everyone is Krista Siegfrids. Not everyone can pull it off. Sometimes it is better to let some people just focus on singing and keeping track of the cameras.

The third and last semi unfortunately looked like a monument dedicated to the art of trying too hard. Ida Bois on her swing, Heidi Pakarinen taking a quick rest on her expensive sheet, Aikuinen and his attempts of being quirky. Not to mention the overblown pompousness of Angelo de Nile, by the end of which I could hardly breathe.

Unfortunately doing the opposite didn't automatically work either. My pre-semi favourite Järjestyshäiriö didn't work at all live and what was a suggestive pop song in its recorded version crumbled into being nothing much at all.

The only performance that really came across as clean and fully enjoyable was Solju, but the actual song still feels weak and a yoik-off with Sweden in Vienna would blow this one out of the water.

Tobson's current top 3 in the final:
1) Satin Circus / Crossroads
2) Jouni Aslak / Lions And Lambs
3) Shava / Ostarilla

Also Sweden experienced a problematic third week where most songs were fully acceptable but in no way exceptional.

I felt bad for young Kalle Johansson - talented but not ready for the big time just yet - as the director seemed to deliberately drown in out of his own performance. Few close-ups and an odd decision not to let him occupy the whole screen during the verses. When he finally got a full shot, he was literally drowned in confetti. Poor kid.

At least another young talent walked out on that stage and hit the bull's eye. Isa performed like a real star and got a most well-deserved spot in the final. Too bad her song isn't kicking and sparkling the way she is, but a breakthrough like this could pave way for stronger material.

Out of the two big favourites one made it all the way - Jon Henrik conquered Sweden with his raw charm - while Kristin Amparo has to content herself with a spot in the Andra Chansen round. Honestly her song still does very little for me. She has a personable voice but this entry still fails to reach out to me and I am sincerely wondering what everyone else hears and that I miss.

And as only one semi final remains I begin to wonder if there will be a really strong song or two hiding i next week's line-up. So far there are some good ones but not a single song I really love. If that doesn't change in semi four, it will be my first melodifestival since the new formula was introduced without me loving a single entry.

This is how little it takes to derail a promising national final. In its third week the show hasn't tightened, the scripts haven't bettered and the song quality didn't go up. What looked like a good year is now dangerously close to looking like a build-up to a Vienna disappointment.

Tobson's current top 3 in the final:
1) Magnus Carlsson / Möt mig i Gamla stan
2) Mariette / Don't Stop Believing
3) Jon Henrik Fjällgren / Jag är fri (Lean manne frijje)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Finland: UMK, semi 3

So far it has been a really good year for UMK - new hosts and new production standards managed to breathe new life into the format. Three more songs will get chosen for the big final and the big question if is either of these six candidates can grow into a real contender for victory.

As the running order is kept secret until the show, these reviews come in alphabetical order instead.

Aikuinen / Kyynelten lahti
A quirky brand of pop that Finnish people traditionally had quite a strong liking for. I'm Finnish enough to really enjoy the track while I find the video clip partially unwatchable. Hit or miss depending on the stage presentation - a possible surprise in the making.

Ida Bois / Kumbaya
Starts out promising before developing into yet another pop/dance/synth-based track and what could have been quite an original entry ends up being nothing more than a standard offering.

Järjestyshäiriö / Särkyneiden sydänten kulmilla
Last week we all saw what happened to the best song in the running (in short: it was eliminated when it shouldn't have been) but I decided to put my faith in Finland again. A key change or something could have done it some good but still - this is a pretty fine little pop number.

Angelo de Nile / All For Victory
Every wondered what Queen would have sounded like without the genius of Freddie Mercury? Or without the sharp songwriting? Wonder no more. This pretty much answers your question.

Heidi Pakarinen / Bon Voyage
A not too distant relative of the brilliant "Shanghain valot", this one doesn't reach the same dizzy heights but still makes my schlager heart beat a little faster. Classical but classy and I like it. I would love for it to make it to the final but won't believe it until I see it.

Solju / Hold Your Colours
This competition has never been exactly drowned with Sami entries, then suddenly you will have yoik in both Finland and Sweden. At the same time. This one is a bit too calculated - a bit too Disney if you so with - for my taste, but is still likely to hit a nerve with the viewing audience.

Tobson predicts:
So far, I got two out three right every week. So if I am to stick with that formula, I predict Järjestyshäiriö, Ida Bois and Solju to be our qualifiers while I secretly hope for Finland to swap Solju for Heidi Pakarinen. Or even Aikuinen. With a really visual performance, perhaps even Angelo de Nile could look like a qualifier. (But I really hope not.)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sweden: Melodifestivalen, semi 3

A Swedish saying states that the person waiting for something good can never wait for too long. True that a long wait can be worth it when you finally get something really rewarding. But if you begin to lose faith, then?

So far this year, Melodifestivalen has been OK. There have been some good songs and good performances and we have quite a good final to look forward to.

And yet nothing has really triggered my senses and left me screaming for more. Magnus Carlsson has a good slice of schlagerpop that I enjoy but that I wouldn't send off to Vienna. Mariette has a fantastic stage presence and really nails you down with her eyes, but her song doesn't quite live up to her own person. And Eric Saade is, well, Eric Saade and that has already been done once.

Unless the songs of week three really open up during the live show, it doesn't look promising I will find any real personal favourites this time around either. Is the winner hiding in semi 4...?

I listened a few times to the short clips (30 seconds displayed on the SVT website) and these are my first impressions.

01. Ellen Benediktsson / Insomnia
The little girl grew up and brought along a song I think I could quite like. A little darker, not so instantly likeable. Well done. Too bad that the chorus is an obvious copy of "Euphoria", that's where all hope is lost. People at home will sit and think about the similarity and forget to vote. It's been three years since Baku, time to let go of that particular song.

02. Kalle Johansson / För din skull
Youthful and slightly naïve pop, also clearly modelled on things that already exist but in a less obvious way. Not bad but with no clear handles. Sweden hasn't exactly love bombed this style in recent years, but Kalle is sweet and would deserve at least the fifth place he won't get.

03. Andreas Weise / Bring Out The Fire
I've never been a fan of this guy, so maybe I'm not giving this entry a proper chance. There is no rule stating every performer must be modest, but if you are cocky you'd better have the goods to back the attitude up with. Andreas Weise is no Robbie Williams, to but it bluntly. Even though he clearly wishes he was.

04. Andreas Johnson / Living To Die
The second consecutive Andreas is easier to like and has a really good track record in MF, but lately his curve has been pointing downwards. This sounds elegant and suggestive, but possibly not instant enough to win over the app voters.

05. Isa / Don't Stop
After somebody who wanted to sing Euphoria, somebody who wanted to be Robbie Williams and somebody who wants to sound like every Swedish male pop singer under the sun, song 05 brings somebody who wants to be Taylor Swift. Is this the Soundmix show, all of a sudden? Pleasant and easy to retain but at this point all the copy paste that goes on could really start annoying people.

06. Kristin Amparo / I See You
Everyone on location loves this one to bits and see it as a clear finalist. I keep telling me the short clip must be badly chosen since I totally fail to find anything of interest here. It sounds fine, nicely packaged but nothing that triggers me at all. I'll be really disappointed if this one doesn't grow on me, honestly.

07. Jon Henrik Fjällgren / Jag är fri (Manne leam frijje)
The last entry offers a great big mix of folkloristic dance, singing angels, snowflakes and a Sami version of Enigma's old hits. Jon Henrik is adorable in his own right and is the only special effect this song really needs. A bit of yoik, anyone?

Predicting after only 30 seconds is always a hard task and this week I will, against better judgment, rely more on the opinions of others than my own. But there must be more to song 06 than I managed to pick up.

Tobson predicts:
Final: Jon Henrik Fjällgren and Kristin Amparo
Andra Chansen: Andreas Johnson and Isa
Fifth: Andreas Weise
Out: Ellen Benediktsson and Kalle Johansson

I'd love to switch around Andreas Weise and Kalle Johansson, but I doubt that is going to happen. Do your worst, Sweden!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Could Loïc be the surprise of the year?

I will be honest with you, good people. So far I'm not really blown away by anything chosen for Vienna. Most of the chosen songs are nice, some even really nice. But I need a little more than nice to get enthusiastic.

It doesn't mean much - we have a long way to go and many songs are yet to be revealed and some of the chosen ones will be heavily reworked and sound smashing once the preview videos are delivered.

But I've come to pin my hopes on a country I haven't often expected much from. I'm really hoping Belgium will bring in a sensational entry.

RTBF had an internal selection and decided that young Loïc Nottet will represent them. Just like the last representative from Wallonia, Roberto Bellarosa, he made an impression on The Voice Belgique and released his first single - a remake of Sia's Chandelier - some time ago.

At first I thought it was odd. Why make a cover of a song that is such a massive hit? What's the point? Lack of imagination? Then I checked the video clip out and my jaw dropped.

Loïc is only 18, but this voice that lives in him - where does it come from? I love his vocals as well as the slightly crazy, slightly "artistic" choreography. I watch it over and over and can't get enough. This kid is King of Cool. At least in Wallonia.

If they manage to find him a good song - preferably something modern and edgy and slightly too pushy for the ESC - he could emerge like a real favourite. And boy, does he deserve a long career. I have no idea when the Belgian entry will be disclosed but I'm longing already and will be sorely disappointed if it's less than fabulous.

Loïc Nottet - Chandelier

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Finland & Sweden: second semi roundup

Melodifestivalen had a good second week: not only did the new voting app refrain from causing chaos and havoc, but arguably the two best songs made their way straight to the Stockholm final.

I was convinced - and many others as well - that the popular but clueless Samir & Viktor, with their thousands of online fans, would be unstoppable in this semi. Now they can play in Andra Chansen instead. Feels a lot better.

Magnus Carlsson walked right in and nailed his comfortable little schlager disco light and has surely bagged his biggest hit in years. He won't win the final but if he play his cards right at least his pop career could be back on track.

The same could be said for Mariette, who made quite an impression in Idol a couple of years ago but then failed to really impose herself on the pop scene. In the final she will probably be seen as too much of a Loreen light to be a real contender, but getting a hit is more important than that.

I was sorry to see Marie Bergman and Sanne Salomonsen in last place but they never really stood a chance. Where most of their fans probably sent a telephone vote or two, the other songs got extensively voted through the app. Hopefully the ladies will get airplay to make up for the loss of votes.

As for the show itself it is nice - much nicer than last year - and the hosts do a good job, especially Sanna Nielsen. And yet it feels a bit slow. All the pieces are good but too long. Somebody should trim and tighten the scripts as soon as possible.

Tobson's current top 3 in the final:
1) Magnus Carlsson / Möt mig i Gamla stan
2) Mariette / Don't Stop Believing
3) Eric Saade / Sting

Meanwhile, Finland was busy eliminating the best song in this year's UMK lineup. In a year where elaborate stage shows suddenly work and look good, Siru had opted for a simple performance with just herself and her microphone.

Apparently a bad idea as all three finalists had very strong visuals and aimed as much for the eyes of the viewers as their ears.

Shava was a virtual explosion of exotic colours and things happening on stage in a way almost never before seen in a Finnish final, successfully covering up the fact that there isn't much of song going on in that entry. Opera Skaala played the same game almost to the same extent and got fully rewarded for it.

If you think I'm against songs qualifying due to their stage appearance, you're wrong. I love the fact that Finnish acts suddenly understood this is a television event where visuals are most important.

I just weep silently when a really good song is eliminated. Just like I did in 2007 when Johanna Kurkela's better song - one of the best entries in any Finnish selection ever - was rejected by the televoters.

Tobson's current top 3 in the final:
1) Satin Circus / Crossroads
2) Jouni Aslak / Lions And Lambs
3) Opera Skaala / Heart Of Light

Friday, February 13, 2015

Finland: UMK, semi 2

UMK started out really nicely last week with the most good-looking final in years and a breath of fresh air through the new presenters. That was a very nice surprise. This week should have had a surprise as well, but Laura Voutilainen already managed to reveal she'll be a guest star alongside Krista Siegfrids and Virve Rosti.

At least there is always the running order, which will not be revealed until the show starts. So these reviews come in alphabetical order instead.

Jouni Aslak / Lions And Lambs
Sounds like an entry by Swedish State of Drama, processed through a pop filter, but the arena rock approach in the chorus is really effective (and honestly suits this guy better than State of Drama). Join has a personable voice and look but this entry could ultimately prove to be that tiny bit too unexciting to really work.
Grade: 3/5

Eeverest / Love It All Away
Flawlessly produced dance pop, designed to live a successful life on the airwaves without annoying anyone. In Eurovision you different qualities, unfortunately. You need to poke people in the eye - at least a bit - to provoke some emotion in them. This band does nothing of the kind. Everyone will enjoy their song but very few will feel obliged to vote for it.
Grade: 2/5

Otto Ivar / Truth Or Dare
I'm sure this happens to other than me too, that you like a participating artist really much and wish them all the best and wish they had a better song to work with. That's where I stand with Otto Ivar, who seems like a really nice and talented guy. I'd like to like this song a lot more than I do. Not bad but not really engaging either.
Grade: 2/5

Opera Skaala / Heart Of Light
Where do I start? There are so many things I really like here and would want to totally love this. The singing is perfect, just like the aesthetics of the video clip as well as the general sense of madness. Unfortunately the song doesn't live up to the rest of the package - especially in the long and strange bridge between the first chorus and the second verse where the whole thing derails and crumbles to bits. I would have wanted more and heavier beats but secretly hope for this to totally work live.
Grade: 2/5

Shava / Ostarilla
Bhangra in Finnish? Well, why not? Part of me thinks it is charming, part of me starts screaming about cultural appropriation, but in the end the song in itself is too weak. Nothing much happens but the exotic vibe will be more than enough to wake people up and vote this entry all the way to the final.
Grade: 2/5

Siru / Mustelmat
Like a mix between Jenni Vartiainen and Jannika B, Siru emerges with the best song in the entire line-up; an elegant and breezy little pop pearl that surprisingly enough has failed to meet the universal acclaim it deserves. If it fails to reach the final I promise to cry and curse a little bit before falling asleep.
Grade: 4/5

Tobson predicts:
As always I have no idea how these performers will sound and look when performing live, but I predict Shava, Opera Skaala and Siru to pass on to the final. Shava is a sure bet, and I would like Siru to be as well. In the fight for third place Opera Skaala will beat Jouni Aslak with its sheer madness, unless the operatics become too much for the average viewer on a Saturday night.

Sweden: Melodifestivalen, semi 2

Last week was a good and safe start for Melodifestivalen in many ways: pretty safe songs, pretty safe hosts and pretty safe results with violently increased voting numbers compared to last year.

Unfortunately the flood of new votes come from the new app that allows people to give a maximum of five votes for free to each song - but only during the duration of the song. The flaws of this idea has turned into a hot potato and a heated debate that almost seems to eclipse the contest itself at times.

If the first three songs do badly also this week, you can be sure there will be a medial outcry beyond reason that could possibly even start damaging the Melodifestivalen trademark. Linus Svenning, this year's number one, could have good reasons to start sweating over the results already.

I took a listen to the short clips published on the Melodifestivalen site after the first stage rehearsals and these are my first impressions.

01. Linus Svenning / Forever Starts Today
Last year he made it all the way to the big final - now Linus had a change of language and style, and even though I like the song I'm not convinced this is what his fans would expect him to do. The song is good but is Linus the right person to perform it? If it puzzles his audience - will they forget to use the app?

02. Emelie Irewald / Där och då med dig
The typical female debutant with a sentimental and sensitive ballad that is not bad but would probably fit better in a musical than here. Emelie has clearly listened to (and been influenced by) Swedish Queen of musicals Helen Sjöholm but is unlikely to hit home with the voters.

03. Samir & Viktor / Groupie
The reality tv celeb and the fashion blogger and a song that makes Dolly Style's "Hello hi" feel like an epic masterpiece in comparison. This is where I come out as a tired, grumpy, humourless old grandpa and admit to really disliking this. I promise to grumble when this one makes it straight to the final.

04. Neverstore / If I Was God For A Day
Pleasant radio rock with no sharp edges, makes me think of Beagle's "The Things That We Say" - a good single back in 1992. This one isn't as good but possibly enough to trigger that large section of the audience longing for rock bands.

05. Marie Bergman & Sanne Salomonsen / Nonetheless
Quality singing and a song clearly aiming for a more adult audience. Could have been a contender had there been only televoting but my guess is that the younger app voting generation won't warm to it.

06. Magnus Carlsson / Möt mig i Gamla stan
A modern take on the classic schlager and I really like it. In my dream scenario, Sweden will have missed Magnus Carlsson as much as I have and vote heavily for this hit in the making. It's been a while since he had a hit single and he does deserve one.

07. Mariette / Don't Stop Believing
Mariette has a great voice and an intriguing presence, nailing the cameras with her eyes. The song is suggestive, possibly suffering from the verses being more interesting than the chorus. If it develops well during its three minutes, this could be a strong contender too.

So, how does one conclude? I have a feeling the songs I like the most are not necessarily the ones that will get the audience going and vice versa. And who really uses the app? Are quality songs doomed to lose out against more gimmicky ones?

Tobson predicts:
Final: Magnus Carlsson and Samir & Viktor
Andra Chansen: Mariette and Linus Svenning
Fifth: Neverstore
Out: Marie & Sanne and Emelie Irewald

(Although personally, I'd send Magnus and Mariette to the final, Marie & Sanne to Andra Chansen and Samir & Viktor any place where I wouldn't have to hear of them again.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Australia 2015: some more thoughts

So Australia will have an entry at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna. The news is slowly sinking in. It really is sensational that the country that really is far too far away to participate still get a shot at participating. This could have been the most fantastic news ever.

Having an Australian entry IS a good thing. I am very much looking forward to hear what they will come up with, and the mere thought they feel close enough to Europe to bother with it in the first place is quite breathtaking.

And yet, for a number of reasons, this doesn't feel right. Let me make a list.

My gut reaction was that a final with twenty-seven entries is insanity. The 2007 semi final in Helsinki - 28 entries made it a never-ending evening that resulted in very questionable results - should be enough to convince anyone this isn't a good idea. I suggested already two years ago that the EBU should have fewer entries in the final, going in the other direction feels very very wrong.

Why is the Australian participation revealed now? If they are taking part in the contest like everyone else are, why wasn't this plan disclosed when the official participants' list was made public?

If it was decided only now to have Australia in, months after the official deadline passed, does that mean that any country in the world could be brought in at a late stage if somebody fancies the idea? Can similar exceptions be made for countries like Qatar or Kazakhstan or United Arab Emirates in the future?

It has already been said that Australia will take part only this once, unless they win in Vienna. Then they will have the opportunity to co-host the 2016 contest somewhere in Europe. This one-off rule seems very fishy to me. If Australia was to end in second place - for instance - would the EBU really not allow them to stay put? And if this is a debut - why not treat it like one? Why sprinkle all these advantages - straight into the final, the right to vote in both semi finals - on top of their participation?

What bothers me the most - except for the ridiculously overlong final - is the risk that this whole thing turns into a media prank. That the Australian participation will be seen as a stunt and medial hocus pocus that might steal attention from and even diminish the upcoming final.

Will it be remembered as a real Eurovision or will it be a final within brackets, like the extra Olympic games of 1906? Possibly I am totally overthinking this, but it doesn't feel good. None of this is aimed against Australia but I don't feel anywhere near as enthusiastic about this as I would want to.

So, welcome Australia. Hope you will have fun. But the EBU didn't make it particularly easy for you.

Surprise, surprise: Australia joins in

It really must qualify as one of the most surprising news items in the modern history of Eurovision but the EBU just stated Australia will take part in the 2015 ESC with an entry.

The contest have been big down under for many years and several Australians have taken part through the years. This participation is meant to strengthen the bonds but is only supposed to be a one-off, unless Australia wins in which case they get to participate again and co-host the event somewhere in Europe.

In order not to take anyone's place, the Australian entry will be guaranteed a spot in the grand final and this is where I begin to frown as that brings the number of entries up to 27.

27 as in TWENTY-SEVEN songs to be performed in one night.

I remember that horrific 28 songs long semifinal of 2007 and feel confused. Didn't we all agree that it didn't work at all? That it made for really bad television? That nobody in the universe can digest that many songs in one go?

Unless this is soon revealed as one big joke meant to shake us up a bit - the online equivalent of Lill Lindfors dropping her skirt - I must admit to be puzzled.

Why not let Australia participate for good fun but don't give them a free spot in the final until the number of finalists is cut down. Let eight or nine countries qualify per semi and that's it. Twenty-seven entries is pure madness.

Finland: Suddenly UMK is working

Finland's UMK has always been quite a good national final even if the audience pretty much failed to pick up on it. There have been quite a good selection of songs and two times out of three the winner made it to the grand ESC final.

The biggest problem has been a lack of pace. While the finals have been lavish and entertaining, they have been preceded by endless semi finals and presentation shows where the entries were performed over and over without any substantial action taking place.

Last year, five tv shows were used to relegate four songs. That won't do and this year the team had one big hard re-think.

This year every semi contains six songs that will mercilessly be cut down to three. If you don't engage and vote, your finalist could be out and it will be your fault. The shows have also been taken into the Yle studios where it is much easier to make a production that looks good on tv.

There is still too much time to fill - the shows could easily be at least 20 minutes shorter - but the new hosts Roope Salminen and Rakel Liekki found a good tone and feel altogether appealing and likeable. Like they are your new best friends and you want to hang with them for next couple of weeks.

In short, the entries are more than ok but suddenly UMK is working as a proper tv show. You certainly won't find any entertainment show on Finnish television that would clearly be better than this. If there's any justice it will also mean the ratings will be the best in years. And that Roope Salminen gets offered a show of his own when this one ends.

As for the songs, I predicted two finalists out of three. The third one happened to be the song I rated lowest out of all six and I still stand by that rating. On the night I would have preferred Hans on the Bass to make it, but you can't have it all.

If only Satin Circus can find a way of connecting more with the cameras and come across as more energetic, we might even have found the song to send off to Vienna already.

Satin Circus - Crossroads (Finland NF 2015) 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Semi 1: Sweden strikes again

Every year I think I have finally learned to decipher the general Swedish taste and how my old country will vote. And every year they manage something that leaves me really puzzled.

In retrospect, the thing that puzzled me the most could have been foreseen. Really. I just hoped people would prefer Molly Pettersson Hammar to Jessica Andersson.

Molly's entry was raw and a bold opener while Jessica went for an elegant but highly predictable ballad without a single trace of excitement throughout.

There has been speculations all over if Molly's chances were ruined by her being the first performer of the night and that several viewers were busy downloading the new voting app, therefore not being able to vote for her. Fiddling with the app could of course have distracted quite a few people from listening properly as well, possibly resulting in a lower number of televotes as well.

Add to this how reluctant people often are to vote for the first song - how can you know how it measures up to the rest of the songs and all that?

Looking back there is also another little thing that should be taken into account. While Molly gave an excellent vocal performance, she somehow failed to work the cameras and go through the screen. Jessica performed like the professional she is and probably felt as present in the Swedish living rooms as if she had been sitting there doing her thing on the sofa like a family member.

Another Molly did a lot better in the voting (together with buddies Holly and Polly). Predictable but unfortunate. "Hello Hi" wants to be upbeat, charming and whimsical but is little more than tired. I would have preferred the Ryd/Söderberg duet in Andra Chansen and doubt we will see the dancing dolls in a final.

Eric Saade most probably won his semi and gave a really slick performance, but quite possibly Behrang Miri & Victor Crone fared even better. Since the Andra Chansen-entries are available for radio play and streaming already after their semi, "Det rår vi inte för" has the possibility of growing really popular in the coming weeks.

All in all, a strong start and an entertaining show where especially Sanna Nielsen impressed in her new role as host. Some tweaking and some more attention to the scripts and this will get really good in time for Stockholm.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Sweden: Melodifestivalen, semi 1

The biggest circus in town - arguably the most anticipated ESC selection there is - is about to kick off tonight in Gothenburg, in the very arena that hosted the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest.

Melodifestivalen is at us again, as mighty as ever even if the SVT has cut down the number of participants to seven per heat instead of eight. Otherwise the procedure will be the same as in recent years: after a first round of voting, five songs will advance to the second round from which two songs will be sent to the final, two songs will be sent to the Second Chance heat, and one song will be out.

The big change comes in Andra Chansen, where four of the eight candidates will make it to the Stockholm final, where there will be twelve entries in competition.

Every Thursday, SVT reveals thirty seconds of each song and those clips are what I listened to. So I won't pass regular grades since I didn't hear the songs in full, but I will predict an outcome.

01. Molly Pettersson Hammar - I'll Be Fine
The honour of opening the whole show goes to Robin Stjernberg's ex-girlfriend who almost made a name for herself taking part in Pop Idol a few years back. She has a good voice and the song seems promising enough, even if the preview clip contains a bit too much wailing and too little melody for my taste.

02. Daniel Gildenlöw - Pappa
A sentimental low-key song in Swedish about a son calling his estranged divorced father, asking him why he never comes home. I found Linus Svenning's "Bröder" a bit too much already last year and can't say I look forward more to this one pulling every heartstring in existence until the audience is fully exhausted.

03. Elize Ryd & Rickard Söderberg - One By One
The coolest rock babe around meets the country's most outspoken opera singer and I am really looking forward to the outcome. Had this been Ukraine's ESC entry, we'd be talking top five placings already. Not too sure the Swedish audience is too easy to please, but Rickard Söderberg is a hero in my book. Keeping my fingers crossed.

04. Dolly Style - Hello Hi
Three colourful dolls hopping out of their music boxes to sing a ridiculously catchy song about nothing? Fine by me. Ridiculous doesn't scare me, sometimes it's the best thing you can have on stage. I just feel this idea was never fully developed, that the song is annoying more than catchy and that the girls won't fully deliver.

05. Behrang Miri & Victor Crone - Det rör vi inte för
The short clip failed to convince me, honestly. It felt a bit too jaunty, like rap in Swedish sometimes does. But Behrang is a charming dude, Victor can really sing and people on location have started to fully love bomb this entry. So the question remains: is it a real grower or is it the kind of song you get blinded by during rehearsals?

06. Jessica Andersson - Can't Hurt Me Now
Nobody can blame Jessica for not trying - after winning in 2003 as one half of Fame, she has been back several times with several different styles and still has quite a following. Her last attempt didn't fare too well in the final but became her biggest hit to date afterwards. Probably it makes sense following one ballad up with another, but this one unfortunately feels uninspired more than heartfelt.

07. Eric Saade - Sting
Young Master Saade is back in the saddle and even though he is pretty divisive in his own right, you only have to hear a couple of seconds of this to realise he's this week's king of the hill. Unbeatable. Not convinced the EBU would be particularly happy with his lyrics but that's a later problem. Tonight he will crush all resistance and make it straight to the final.

Eric Saade will gather all the young votes (when he appears on screen, the kids are likely to forget about the dancing dolls) while Rickard Söderberg has a strong fan base among more mature audiences that grew to love him through various entertainment shows.

Tobson predicts:
Final: Eric Saade and Elize Ryd & Rickard Söderberg
Andra Chansen: Molly Pettersson Hammar and Behrang Miri & Victor Crone
5th: Jessica Andersson
Out: Dolly Style and Daniel Gildenlöw

From 14:00 CET you can hear the songs in full (almost) at the Melodifestivalen website.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Finland: UMK, semi 1

Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu (The Contest for New Music) starts up its fourth year in existence with this week's first of three semi finals. While UMK has managed to give Finland reasonably good placings at the ESC, it has failed to take off nationally neither in the ratings nor as a local hit maker.

This year since a change of format as the judging panel is gone and the selection process has been made far more effective. From now on every entry has one chance only to qualify - out of six songs in each semi, three will make it to the big final and the other three will be out on their ears.

If you'd like to be a spoilsport you could point out that the new format makes UMK look confusingly much like it's predecessor Euroviisut, but I'd rather focus on the diversity of musical styles the line-up contains this time around.

On Saturday night, the first six songs will be performed live in the Yle studio in Helsinki and these are my scores on the entries in their studio versions.

01. Hans on the Bass / Loveshine
This band had a number of quite good songs a few years back, some of which went into quite a heavy rotation on Swedish-languaged Radio Vega. This is a most enjoyable opener, relaxing and totally laid back, and a soothing quality track. The risk is that it is a wee bit too pulpy for the audience to remember it by the end of the show.
Grade: 3/5

02. Vilikasper Kanth / Äänen kantamattomiin
A young man with another radio friendly song with a slightly ethereal feel to it. Intriguing choice of Yle to let these two songs start the whole contest back to back instead of opening with more of a bang. A good voice but the song would have needed a lot more punch in order to impress.
Grade: 2/5

03. Norlan "El Misionario" / No voy a llorar por ti
More midtempo, this time in Spanish. I'm happy to see that UMK is becoming more diverse also when it comes to the ethnicity of performers, but I'd be even more happy had the song been better. This just goes on and on without anything in particular happening throughout.
Grade: 1/5

04. Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät / Aina mun pitää
This punk quartet made up of musicians with intellectual disability have been a frequent subject of discussion prior to the final. Those discussions only serve to underline how poignant this entry really is. Ultimately the song isn't strong enough to win, but will most likely easily sail through to the final.
Grade: 2/5

05. Pihka ja myrsky / Sydän ei nuku
Pleasant and straight-forward Finnish radio pop in a synth-based arrangement. There is nothing wrong with it and it is nice for as long as it goes on, but there are thousands of similar songs out there that sound the same. A little bit of a climax or anything to make it slightly more original wouldn't have hurt.
Grade: 3/5

06. Satin Circus / Crossroads
This boy band on the verge of their big break - their debut album sold quite well last year - deliver the best song out of this semi. It's a positive sign that an act on their way to become a household name see UMK as a credible device to get there. The only drawback here is the lazy and uninspired "yo-yo-yo-young"-hook of the chorus that almost spoils an otherwise fine song.
Grade: 4/5

Tobson predicts:
No idea how the various acts will perform or work their way through the screens, but based on the studio versions and the video clips posted on the official UMK site the three qualifiers will be Satin Circus, Pertti Kurikan nimipäivät and Pihka ja myrsky.

So this isn't the running order at all, merely an alphabetical presentation. Never mind the comments about the weird running order, it can still turn out to be even weirder. It seems a bit odd not to reveal starting positions (or phone numbers) in advance but there must surely be a solid reason for this.

Runner-up: Spain 1973

Some results through Eurovision history you just can't argue with. It doesn't matter if you like "Save Your Kisses For Me" or not - it remains the best selling single out of all ESC winners and therefore deserved its victory. Right?

Another one that is hard to talk down is "Eres tú" that lost with a very tight margin to Anne-Marie David representing host country Luxembourg, but went on to become a resounding worldwide smash hit.

Mocedades were popular even before but now they were catapulted into the league of unforgettables. The song even made it high into the charts in the US, both in its original Spanish version but also in English as "Touch The Wind".

I must admit to being a fan myself. I think it's a lovely song. Very similar to the 1966 Yugoslav entry, but would Juan Carlos Calderón really have stolen another eurosong deliberately? I'm not sure.

Me being a fan doesn't change that fact that 1973 remains an impossibly strong year with a whole bunch of fantastic classics. "Eres tú" may be a minor monument of a song, but so is the winner. And so is Israel's "Ey sham".

A deserved 2nd place?
I'm not going to say it was undeserved. I'm just going to say that had I been the jury, I would have placed Luxembourg first, Israel second and Spain third. (And about five songs or so in a tied fourth place.)

Mocedades - Eres tú (Spain 1973)

Denmark takes a pick for Vienna

I've been busy writing stories about the runners-up through Eurovision history and am yet, I think, to write a single word about the 2015 edition. Time to kick start things, good people out there. This Saturday, Denmark will select their song for Vienna and I decided to have a listen to the songs they have to choose from.

In all fairness, the Danish final and I have had a somewhat strained relationship lately. I often found the songs too formulaic, too tailor-made for competition with no decent chance of a life outside the bubble. Disappointing for a country with as lively a music scene as Denmark.

So - what do I find this year? Pretty good songs, I must say. And a wider variety than in recent years. This is my verdict based on the studio versions found on the official Grand Prix page.

01. Sara Sukurani / Love Me, Love Me
A pleasant opener with a touch of Bollywood and a whiff of the style that above all Greece mastered to perfection at the ESC in the past. Lacks a bit of the intensity it would have needed to stay in the viewers' minds and stand out as a real contender - slightly too tame for its own good - but not bad.
Grade: 2/5

02. Tina & René / Mi amore
Gosh, have we heard this one before? Five years ago it represented Denmark in Oslo, twelve years ago it would have been a Friends album track, twenty-five years ago it would have been recorded by any slightly modern-sounding Swedish dance band. It is still good, it is still efficient, but isn't the audience out there ever going to grow tired of this style? If not, a potential winner.
Grade: 3/5

03. Marcel & Soulman Group - Når vejer krydses
An attempt to bring a funky feel into the competition and normally I would applaud that ambition. Unfortunately this is more than anything else a genre that was annoyingly popular in Melodifestivalen some ten years ago: an exercise in style that is competent but nothing more than that. Soul without soul. Rapidly forgotten.
Grade: 1/5

04. Cecilie Alexandra - Hotel A
A breath of fresh air in this quirky and perky little pop song that echoes "Joe le taxi" as well as "Somebody That I Used To Know". My personal favourite in its studio version but I fear it could be a bit too feather-weight to break through to the audience listening for the first time. Will need a very strong and driven performance to work on a live stage - can this young singer deliver?
Grade: 4/5

05. Andy Roda - Love Is Love
Like so often when people attempt to make dance songs in the ESC, this one starts out as an elegant and interesting verse that builds into a pretty disappointing lack of chorus. Had it been the other way around - an anonymous verse builds up to a firework of a chorus - this could have been a contender. If Andy Roda is as charming live as he seems in the video presentation he could possibly make it work. I just wish he had more to work with.
Grade: 2/5

06. Julie Bjerre - Tæt på mine drømme
I must admit it right up: as I'm no big fan of neither "New Tomorrow" nor "Only Teardrops" it makes me happy to hear Lise Cabble come up with something that sounds more interesting in my old ears. Catchy and easily retainable - and it would be nice to hear some Danish on the ESC stage again - but perhaps not dynamic enough to stand out in the crowd.
Grade: 3/5

07. Anti Social Media - The Way You Are
Another exercise in style: this time a pseudo-Beatles feel that again leads up to a disappointingly square and flat chorus. The boys are good, however, and just as I'm about to give up on the song it starts growing on me and morphing into something more infectious and attractive. That last minute could possibly be enough to catapult it into quite a high ranking in the end.
Grade: 3/5

08. Anne Gadegaard - Suitcase
Pretty similar to song 04 in style - laid back and relaxed girly pop that is light but at the same time has a certain bite and substance. Possibly encumbered by the fact it is up against the slightly similar (and arguably stronger) "Hotel A" and the question mark that is whether it's possible to make this sound as appealing live as in its studio version.
Grade: 3/5

09. Babou - Manjana
This is a genre the Danes never grow tired of: the pretty generic song dressed up to look and sound slightly exotic. Catchy with a happy party vibe to it but at the same time oh, so trivial. That means nothing as an even more trivial ditty won the Danish final last year. A potential winner with slim chances of heavy rotation in my headphones.
Grade: 2/5

10. World of Girls - Summer Without You
If these girls are meant to be the Danish Spice Girls - why do they remind me more of Suntribe (Estonia 2005)? The song is good but ordinary and sounds more like an album track or possibly the third or fourth single more than the big hit it would want to be. Not bad but hardly instant enough.
Grade: 2/5

My prediction, then? My prediction is that Denmark will stick to their tradition of ignoring the songs I like and fall head over heels in love with something I don't think much of. That would be good news for Babou who could start packing his bags at once.

But I'm staying positive. My hope is that Cecilie Alexandra will unleash her inner stage beast, eat that camera like it was breakfast cereal and deliver her excellent little song with all the cool and confidence it takes to convince juries and tv-viewers all over the country.

Tobson predicts:
1. Cecilie Alexandra, 2. Babou, 3. Anti Social Media

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Runner-up: Italy 2011

It is most likely we will never ever find out why exactly did RAI throw in the towel after Millstreet 1993. Maybe they had a boss that didn't like the ESC? Maybe they forgot to fill out the forms the people in Geneva requested? Maybe they just woke up one morning and had had it.

Your guess is as good as mine.

With the exception of a quick but sublime guest appearance in 1997 - where the magnificent Fiumi di parole impressed the pants off most people and mysteriously failed to end higher than 4th - there would be no Italian entry for 18 years.

Suddenly they were back and sent an entry to Düsseldorf. A most unusual entry too. A pretty demanding jazz entry, performed by the coolest cat in the contest who sat on stage, caressing his piano, trying his best to complete avoid eye contact with the camera. A few times during his entry, he also screams along with the trumpet in a way that is ugly and brilliant at the same time.

Now would anyone vote for this?

Yes. They would. To most people's big surprise, Italy pushed past Swedish Eric Saade at a late stage of the voting and made it into second place. Only twice before had Italy done better at Eurovision. I bet the general air of surprise had been even greater hadn't people been fully occupied dropping their jaws over Azerbaijan's victory.

A deserved 2nd place?
I like this one and I think Raphael Gualazzi is wonderful, but in a pop contest I would prefer songs with a certain hit factor to do well. I'm glad for Italy but would have chosen someone else myself. So it's a no from me.

Raphael Gualazzi - Madness of Love (Italy 2011)

Runner-up: Switzerland 1986

Switzerland used to do reasonably well back in the day. That is something that would deserve to be spelled out in capital letters for younger fans - these days the Swiss ditties rarely trouble the voters.

In the mid-80's it wasn't rare or unexpected for Switzerland to make their way into the more respectable areas of the ranking. They landed in top five in 1980, 1981 and 1982, with the 1981 entry even getting really close to winning.

Atilla Sereftug - a Turkish composer living in Switzerland - teamed up with the 1981 lyricist Nella Martinetti and decided to have a go at winning a second Grand Prix for the confederation.

Italian-born Daniela Simons (who later in her career spelt her name Simmons instead) had a massive musical education and had taken part twice in the Swiss national finals, and with "Pas pour moi" she had really found herself a proper vehicle for her voice.

This is a bombastic ballad, classical and modern at the same time, with dramatic verses and a big belter of chorus. Arguably the best Swiss entry of all time. Unfortunately a Belgian 13-year old would stand in the way of victory, but since Switzerland had not been this close to victory since 1963 nobody complained.

The project resulted in more than sweet music - in 1991 Daniela and Atilla got married and a year later their son was born. By then, Atilla and Nella had already achieved their goal of winning the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin 1988, showcasing a certain Céline Dion to the world in the process.

A deserved 2nd place?
Didn't I just call this the best Swiss entry of all time? Sandra Kim was cute and all, but Daniela Simons was so much better than her. (And so was Sherisse Laurence from Luxembourg too, in all fairness.)

Daniela Simons - Pas pour moi (Switzerland 1986)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Runner-up: Turkey 2010

For almost thirty years Turkey had been the given loser at Eurovision. They kept entering original, ethnic, interesting, inspired entries, often breaking out of the typical mold and it never seemed to pay off.

Regardless what they came up with, Turkey almost always ended in the bottom half. Not seldom in the bottom five. Then came Sertab Erener and hit the ESC like a flash from a clear blue sky. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Suddenly Turkey had turned into a top player that more often than not made its way into the top ten. Helped by a heavily televoting diaspora perhaps, but that's not the whole truth. Turkey had turned into a credible contender, a country people would happily vote for.

Still original, this is energetic and melodic rock - a genre that used to fare as badly in eurovision as the average Turkish entry, but now it seemed the Turks were the kings of everything.

How wrong can you be? Only two years later, TRT was to pull out of the ESC and are yet to be seen again.

A deserved 2nd place?
Yes. Brave, ambitious and not your typical eurosong. Very well done.

Manga - We Could Be The Same (Turkey 2010)

Runner-up: Iceland 1999

Being brave and modern didn't pay off and Iceland had to sit out for one year and sharpen their swords for the future. In Jerusalem 1999, they had really hit the bull's eye. Everything looked like Iceland was going to win hands down.

The still rather few online fans raved about Cyprus as a potential winner, but not many people outside the fan sphere ever seemed to take that particularly seriously.

Competition was reasonably strong but most journalists on location still seemed to consider Iceland's Selma way out ahead. There was something about her. Star quality, perhaps. She was energetic, her song sounded like a hit and she seemed to really want to win. For most of the voting it looked like she would.

Then - almost like it had been scripted - Sweden's ABBA pastiche caught up, pushed past and won. Who would have thought? Not the live audience - largely made up by members of the various delegations - and Sweden's winning team received a rather cool reception as they entered the stage to retrieve the trophy.

A deserved 2nd place?
Absolutely, but would have made an even better winner. In retrospect, Sweden's victory was one of the most important of recent times as Swedish television was about to lay down production values that would change the look of the ESC dramatically. Could Icelandic tv have pulled off the same trick?

Selma - All Out Of Luck (Iceland 1999)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Runner-up: Norway 1996

Representing your country at Eurovision can surely be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if your country is ESC-crazy. Even more so when you represent your country on home ground and everyone places really high expectations on you.

Elisabeth Andreassen wasn't just anybody, though. She had taken part three times before, she was well established and thoroughly experienced, and she had won the whole contest together with Hanne Krogh and then toured the world as part of Bobbysocks.

Also, Norwegian papers were quite moderate in their predictions. They seemed to agree that the home entry was elegant but not exciting enough to carry particularly far in the voting. This would be an easy ride for Bettan.

And yet she didn't sing as well as she could. Nowhere near as well as in the national final and she even gets her lyrics slightly wrong. Almost like she didn't really focus. Like this was yet another rehearsal and not the big thing.

She wasn't the only one, however. Disappointingly many of the acts under-perform in the 1996 final. They don't sing outright badly, they just don't fully deliver. Turkey, Greece, Croatia, UK, Slovenia, Belgium, Finland, Estonia - they could all have done better.

When Bettan sings a bit disappointingly she is still better than most. And when you lean against a song as good as this one, you can apparently afford not to deliver fully.

A deserved 2nd place?
Yes. This is a lovely song and - as Bettan said herself given the recent run of Irish victories - it isn't really polite to win on home ground. (I would have preferred somebody else to win, but that's a different story altogether.)

Elisabeth Andreassen - I evighet (Norway 1996)

Runner up: United Kingdom 1965

It had been less than two years since the Beatles had their worldwide breakthrough but suddenly England had transformed from a war-torn has-been into the Coolest Place on Earth.

It was where pop culture lived, thrived and multiplied. Where fashions and trends popped up like mushrooms in a forest. Everyone knew this and wanted to be associated with this new phenomenon.

Everyone but the BBC executives, it seems. Even though Matt Monro had been set up with a more modern entry the year before, 1965 saw a sharp turn back towards family entertainment.

"I Belong" still had a contemporary feel to it, but Kathy Kirby wasn't really the voice of the pop movement. She was a more mature choice and had they BBC wanted a pop entry performed by somebody the older audiences could embrace, it would have made more sense asking somebody like Alma Cogan.

Kathy still attacks her song bravely and really belts it out, yet it feels like it never reaches its full potential. It wants to be a pop hit, but isn't really.

Things were, however, going to get even worse. The next year, when the Beatles released their groundbreaking and phenomenal "Revolver" album, the UK was represented at the ESC by a middle-aged Scottish tenor wearing a kilt.

A deserved 2nd place?
Yes. The only song in the running that was more contemporary than this one won, and rightly so. In retrospect it also feels good that Kathy Kirby, whose career faded pretty rapidly and always seemed overshadowed by a turbulent and difficult private life, will at least be remembered for almost winning the Eurovision Song Contest.

Kathy Kirby - I Belong (United Kingdom 1965)