A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tobson takes on 1995

Tomorrow I will start reviewing this year's entries - one per day - so this series will take a little break after this post. I set my watch back 20 years exactly and evaluate what I think of this, the 40th contest since the start.

In all fairness, I had a feeling already back then that this edition would perhaps not come to stand out as one of the strongest ever, but I still made a fair effort to really like the songs and the final in itself.

There was good reason to try to stay in good spirits. Despite the anniversary, interest was low from many broadcasters and you could almost sense the risk that somebody would get vocal and openly suggest that the contest would be scrapped altogether.

What talked against anything like that happening was the fact that the UK had made a close-to-heroic effort to breathe new life into their national final and seemed determined to keep the show on the road. Sweden's entry had become the biggest hit back home for several years and the new broadcasters seemed very keen to keep participating.

In the next two years the wind was about to turn and more countries would start making more visible efforts again. But what about the songs of 1995? This is how I rank them twenty years on.

23. Belgium - Frédéric Etherlinck / La voix est libre
A cool voice and a cool presence are completely wasted on a song that best can be described as a completely washed-out Patrick Bruel-reject.
Grade: 1/5

22. Portugal - Tó Cruz / Baunilha e chocolate
This could have been a good entry with a bit of an effort - there is a good hook that shows up now and then and the gospel approach is welcome - but it just never takes off. It builds up and builds up but never reaches any climax and then suddenly ends.
Grade: 1/5

21. Hungary - Csaba Szigeti / Új név a régi ház falán
Just like Portugal, this one is almost good but fails big time in its construction. When the chorus finally arrives after a long dull verse - it takes far too long - nobody cares anymore and already started hoping for the next song.
Grade: 1/5

20. Iceland - Bo Halldórsson / Núna
What all the songs at the bottom of my list have in common is a concentrate of the big problem with the Eurovision Song Contest in the mid-90's: had anyone just bothered to add some temper and a little bit of endeavour it could all have been so much better. This one is slick but lacks any passion to make it come alive.
Grade: 1/5

19. Ireland - Eddie Friel / Dreaming
Nice but far too old-fashioned and also lacking in visible conviction: the performer and his backing singers all sing like they did it in their sleep without adding any personality to the song.
Grade: 2/5

18. Germany - Stone & Stone / Verliebt in dich
A fresh attempt at more modern music, completely wrecked by an inexplicably shaky performance. These people apparently had contacts within the music business, why insist on singing it yourself (when you can't)?
Grade: 2/5

17. Bosnia-Herzegovina - Davorin Popovic / Dvadeset i prvi vijek
A pleasant little jazz ditty, performed by a seasoned performer who got his Eurovision trip as a gift from the local tv company. A nicer touch would have been setting him up with a stronger entry - now he agreed with most that the selected entry wouldn't stand much of a chance anywhere.
Grade: 2/5

16. Russia - Philipp Kirkorov / Kolibelnaya dlya vulkana
Packed with the action and drama and conviction most of the earlier songs in the list lacked. Had all of this been paired with a slightly more user-friendly entry it could have carried way further than this.
Grade: 2/5

15. Malta - Mike Spiteri / Keep Me In Mind
It means well, this song. It wants to be an emotional rocker but isn't much more than a standard ballad that also comes to a very abrupt end. Good voice but not too engaging.
Grade: 2/5

14. Israel - Liora / Amen
Felt much better back then, but turned out to be nothing but one last shout from the once so successful Israeli formula of the 80's. Today it is still nice but falls in the deep shadow of greater songs like "Hi", "Olé Olé" and "Hallelujah".
Grade: 2/5

13. United Kingdom - Love City Groove / Love City Groove
I would love to rank this one higher and give an extra point for the effort - but this first true rap entry in the history of the contest didn't age particularly well. Time not only sank its teeth into this one but totally ground it down to nothing of what is once was. And the orchestra does nothing to help.
Grade: 2/5

12. Austria - Stella Jones / Die Welt dreht sich verkehrt
In a year as full of half-hearted ballads as 1995 was, a song like Austria's is sure to liven things up a great deal. Bouncy and fun even if not quite as sensational as the people on stage would like us to think it is.
Grade: 3/5

11. France - Nathalie Santamaria / Il me donne rendez-vous
One of my top favourites back then is given a very energetic performance but would have needed more colour to break through. Why is everyone dressed in black? Later on in life I also realised that the song is little more than a re-write of early Patricia Kaas hits - most notably "Mon mec à moi" - by the same writing team.
Grade: 3/5

10. Norway - Secret Garden / Nocturne
A beautiful instrumental tune with strings and whistles and a key fiddle was really right in time during these days of an expanding market for new age-music. Original enough to convince the juries, but I would have enjoyed its victory more had there been a chorus.
Grade: 3/5

9. Slovenia - Darja Švajger / Prisluhni mi
Classy and well sung - very much like Darja's second entry reminiscent of a number of good Bond themes - but ultimately relying a bit too heavily on its impressive vocal performance.
Grade: 3/5

8. Sweden - Jan Johansen / Se på mig
A fine pop ballad in a suggestive arrangement that I would possibly have liked that little bit more now hadn't it been a huge summer hit played everywhere until you felt no greater need to listen to it any time soon again.
Grade: 3/5

7. Greece - Elina Konstantoupoulou / Pia prosefchi
Clean-cut and elegant, haunting and convincing, beautifully performed.
Grade: 3/5

6. Croatia - Magazin & Lidija / Nostalgija
There hadn't been an awful lot of opera singers at Eurovision for a few years when this mix of opera and schlager hit my ears. A pretty large dose of kitsch, but all of that is forgotten every time they reach the adorable chorus.
Grade: 3/5

5. Turkey - Arze Ece / Sev!
It's a bit of a complicated ride, this one. At least people tell me so, that they find it hard to find any kind of handle here. I just love Arzu Ece, so it all falls into place. And the song is cute too.
Grade: 3/5

4. Cyprus - Alex Panayi / Sti fotia
The closest you would get to real pyrotechnics before those came into use: every inch of this performance is vibrating and pulsating. In a year deeply lacking in dynamics it is a mystery that this one didn't to better.
Grade: 4/5

3. Denmark - Aud Wilken / Fra Mols til Skagen
An impopular choice on home ground that made little impact on the Danish charts back then. An almost hypnotic entry, sensually whispered between the banjo and xylophone parts. Phenomenal.
Grade: 4/5

2. Spain - Anabel Conde / Vuelve conmigo
A real power ballad, cleverly constructed and building into a big finish that almost reaches the strength of a tropical storm. Too bad that Anabel's career never lived up to the promise of this song, but it still is one to cherish.
Grade: 5/5

1. Poland - Justyna / Sama
The masterpiece of the year opened the contest and scared the juries stiff. Described by somebody as "a Björk record played in reverse", complete with deep lyrics and notes almost impossible to hit. Took some time to break into but by quite some margin the song that means the most to me out of all the songs on offer in 1995.
Grade: 5/5

Justyna - Sama (Poland 1995)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tobson takes on 1979

Being a eurovision host could be demanding back in the day. Israeli television had not yet switched to colour - and was reluctant to do so for political reasons - but were now required to produce a state-of-the-art tv event in full colour.

Which they did quite splendidly. The stage set was minimalist yet very impressive and the postcards between the songs - where actors carried out mime performances to evoke something typical about the upcoming country - were seen as very ingenious.

The big question mark for me is of course how the Turkish entry would have scored had TRT not decided to pull out of the competition at a late date. My guess is it would have stayed in the lower regions of the result, but you can never be too sure about anything.

The general standard of songs is high, which makes this ranking hard. Many songs I like will still end up lower than expected in this list, often marred by substandard performances.

19. Monaco - Laurent Vaguener / Notre vie c'est la musique
A very easy last place to spot. If this was the best thing Monaco could find, I'm not surprised to see them drop out of the contest for the following 25 years. A really weak rocker paired with an out-of-breath performance from a singer that can't sing. Vaguener later said the entire entry was a disaster and I can only nod my head and agree. One of the worst ever.
Grade: 0/5

18. United Kingdom - Black Lace / Mary-Ann
AllMusic called Black Lace the band with the least street credibility in the world and I won't argue with that description. Five years before inflicting "Agadoo" on the world, they did their worst to look and sound like Smokie, in particular like their hit single "Oh Carol". Not much by any standard.
Grade: 1/5

17. Ireland - Cathal Dunne / Happy Man
Very much your typical Irish entry - a soft and harmless male ballad. Pleasant. Won't disturb you. Doesn't hurt. But doesn't contribute a whole lot to the world either.
Grade: 1/5

16. Switzerland - Peter, Sue & Marc with Pfuri, Gorps & Kniri / Trödler und co
Possibly the longest group name in the history of the contest. This is a cheerful and upbeat little song with a silly but likeable performance. Nice but not enough to stand a chance in this lineup.
Grade: 2/5

15. Luxembourg - Jeane Manson / J'ai déjà vu ça dans tes yeux
An almost perfect attempt at a glamorous, expensive and luxurious soul ballad - the only problem is that it never fully takes off. Later it transpired the song had been released on record already back in 1967 with different lyrics and would most probably have been disqualified had it won.
Grade: 2/5

14. Israel - Milk & Honey / Hallelujah
The ultimate proof that some songs just won't stand the test of time. Very happy, very likeable. But I never feel the need to listen to this one. Alongside "Ein bisschen Frieden" one of the winners I care the least for while still acknowledging them to be good songs.
Grade: 2/5

13. Denmark - Tommy Seebach / Disco Tango
A good song suffering from an almost painfully miscalculated performance. A dance song with nobody dancing, with the possible exception of Debbie Cameron doing her thing among the backing singers. Could have been fantastic with a different staging.
Grade: 2/5

12. Belgium - Micha Marah / Hey Nanah
A very bouncy song that the performer herself famously hated and tried her best to avoid singing. I disagree both with her and the juries placing this one last - it always gets me in a good mood and has me singing along in bad Dutch.
Grade: 3/5

11. Netherlands - Xandra / Colorado
When there was no free choice of language, titles like this one were pretty common and people sang about anything that sounded "international" and "understandable". This is another song that is close to perfect in its studio version only to fall apart in a slightly chaotic live performance.
Grade: 3/5

10. Austria - Christina Simon / Heute in Jerusalem
ORF used to have a thing about selecting entries that would stand out and bring something musically different to the contest. I never paid off but some of those entries are really classy and lovely little songs. This one was too slow and too pretentious and was never anything but shark feed but if you take your time to fully listen it is quite a gem.
Grade: 3/5

9. Greece - Elpida / Socrates
A good song but I can't really put my finger on where it goes wrong in the live version. The orchestral arrangement feels clumsy and the singers seem to have problems to keep up with the rhythm.
Grade: 3/5

8. Italy - Matia Bazar / Raggio di luna
Quirky and personable, performed by an established act, and yet totally overlooked by the jury for no apparent reason. Maybe too low-key to stand out from the rest, but had the jury set out to reward original entries this one should have done a lot better.
Grade: 3/5

7. Norway - Anita Skorgan / Oliver
The studio version has a very polished, contemporary sound that the orchestra completely fails to reproduce and the backing singers may seem louder than what is called for, but this is still a good song - and who wouldn't love Anita Skorgan?
Grade: 3/5

6. Portugal - Manuela Bravo / Sobe, sobe, balão sobe
As a composition, this is pretty odd in its construction with it's long verse and then an ever-repeating chorus. But what does it matter when Manuela sells it this well? Catchy and energetic as well as a really good opener.
Grade: 3/5

5. Sweden - Ted Gärdestad / Satellit
Like several others I have mentioned, the Swedish entry would have needed a more solid stage performance and what is a very powerful studio version is reduced to something considerably smaller live. But why this one flunked so mercilessly in the voting, I'll never fully understand. Catchy and altogether pretty adorable.
Grade: 3/5

4. Finland - Katri Helena / Katson sineen taivaan
Finland's finest Katri Helena brought along dramatic strings, a suggestive verse and gave a really convincing vocal performance.
Grade: 4/5

3. Spain - Betty Missiego / Sú canción
So perhaps I'm just a sentimental fool. In theory, I find this too polite, too calculated, too sugary sweet and then there is the old trick with the kids doing the backing vocals. And yet it gets me every time. Most convincing and very easy to find yourself humming along to.
Grade: 4/5

2. Germany - Dschinghis Khan / Dschinghis Khan
This is the one time when Ralph Siegel really worked his magic and got every piece to fall into place. A crazily effective hook, perfect visuals, perfect staging and a song most people will have ringing in their heads for a long time after hearing it. A real classic.
Grade: 4/5

1. France - Anne-Marie David / Je suis l'enfant soleil
Again my favourite is the dramatic French ballad. It has a haunting melody, it tells a dramatic story and it has Anne-Marie David. What is there not to love? How could this not be my number one? Not the strongest big ballad of all time but my personal winner of 1979.
Grade: 4/5

Anne-Marie David - Je suis l'enfant soleil (France 1979)

Runner-up: Russia 2012

You can say a lot of things about the Russian entries through the years, but they have been anything but square and boring. Recently they have, but they didn't use to be.

Russia bent the rules and pushed the limits and often added a rock star element as well as a general feeling that you never knew what to expect from them.

And when we thought we had seen it all, they enter a bunch of grandmothers singing happily about throwing a party for all their children and grand-children where the cat is happy and the dog is happy too. And everybody sing boom boom together.

The outcome could well be the happiest piece of televisual genius we have seen for years. The women of Buranovo smiled and sang slightly off-tune while baking bread in the huge oven they had brought along for the occasion. Irresistible and the last Russian entry to feel warm and inclusive and really mean it. Maybe the song isn't all that but these are three minutes you won't forget. I for one love every second of it.

A deserved 2nd place?
In a song contest where songs are given points because they are great songs - no. At this very time and place - yes. Babushki for everybody!

Buranovskiye Babushki - Party For Everybody (Russia 2012)

Runner-up: United Kingdom 1977

To hit rock bottom is to go as low as you can go, and the BBC probably felt pretty close to that when they had to tell the EBU as well as the other participating countries that the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest had to be cancelled.

The final was supposed to be held on April 2 at Wembley, but at this time people going on strike were about as common as rain or fog or sunrises. The BBC technicians went on strike and only a matter of hours prior to the respective delegations travelling to London, the contest had to be put off.

A similar problem had occurred already at the national final, which in the end was never televised but only broadcast on radio. If the eternal striking had any influence on the result isn't clear (at least not to me) but the winning entry was a good-hearted, light-weight nod towards the state of British society. If it isn't working, then rub it out and start it again.

Or postpone it, at least. Europe had to wait five weeks until the contest was given its green light and went on air on May 7 instead. The delay probably meant that a few more modern entries had already peaked in the charts, and some juries may have grown tired of them before the final.

The UK delegation seemed to be forgiven for the long wait, and Europe generously voted the home team into second place and made the song a bigger hit on the continent than in the UK charts.

A deserved 2nd place?
Not really, no. I personally like it quite a lot and find it really pleasant, but it is more a fun performance than a really solid song. There were other songs that would have deserved these points better - Germany, Greece, Italy - but Lynsey de Paul's smile and the sight of Ronnie Hazlehurst conducting the orchestra with an umbrella puts me in a very forgiving mood.

Lynsey de Paul & Mike Moran - Rock Bottom (United Kingdom 1977)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tobson takes on 1998

In this very popular series where I rank all participating songs of the ESC of a given year we have today reached 1998 - the last contest to date hosted by the BBC.

(This is my blog. If I say a series is very popular then it is. Do you understand me?)

The late 90's were exciting times as the contest had started to gain popularity and a certain buzz again after many years of falling ratings and a real lack of hit songs among the participants. Or to put it like one of the Swedish tabloids: what's the point of a hit song contest that doesn't generate any hits?

Big changes were about to happen. For 1998, most of the countries introduced full-scale televoting and the next year there would be free choice of language as well as no orchestra.

In general, 1998 was a pretty good year with a good selection of songs. Good but not outstanding. Which makes it a little bit easier to make this list.

25. Spain - Mikel Herzog / Que voy a hacer sin ti
Mikel has a good voice but the song is so dull that I don't know where to begin to look for words describing just how mind-numbing these three minutes are. My personal motto is that if you can't be good, it's always better to be bad than to be dull. Take note, Spain.
Grade: 0/5

24. Greece - Thalassa / Mia krifi evesthisia
It's the "better be bad than dull"-rule that saves Greece from last place. This really is fantastically bad, going in all directions at the same time as it goes nowhere. A sad day for Greek music to have this represent them, but as with all truly bad songs it does have a certain entertainment factor.
Grade: 0/5

23. Turkey - Tüzmen / Unutamazsın
A pretty passionate performance isn't always enough to make a song interesting. Sometimes it just makes you wonder where that passion comes from. This song just goes on and on and feels a whole lot longer than three minutes.
Grade: 1/5

22. Malta - Chiara / The One That I Love
I will never forget my surprise when this one almost won. All I heard and saw was a dull standard ballad where all these televoters must have found something truly captivating.
Grade: 1/5

21. Romania - Mălina Olinescu / Eu cred
Originally a sweet little song that suffered from an overblown orchestral arrangement that triggered the singer to become really shouty by the end.
Grade: 1/5

20. Finland - Edea / Aava
An intriguing set-up and an exciting soundscape are quite successful in blocking the sight and make you forget how little of a song really goes on here. When singer Marika Krook failed to deliver the final high note, all that remained were three minutes of wait without any climax.
Grade: 1/5

19. Cyprus - Michalis Hatzigiannis / Genesis
Another pleasant piece of music that never really takes off and another singer that tries to compensate for the lack of development in his song with vocal power. Gets a bit chaotic by the end.
Grade: 2/5

18. Germany - Guildo Horn / Guildo hat euch lieb
Unlike Cyprus, this one is chaotic on purpose and gets away with it. A funny package but not really a terrific song in any way.
Grade: 2/5

17. Slovenia - Vili Resnik / Naj bogovi slišijo
When there are too many ballads in the same line-up it is very easy to just disappear among the rest and be nothing more than just another ballad. Just like Slovenia. Quite a good one, well performed, but with nothing that makes it feel special.
Grade: 2/5

16. Hungary - Charlie / A holnap már nem lesz szomurú
The orchestra was present for the last time, and hearing what it did to this pretty decent little blues song you don't miss it a terrible lot. Good song, poor execution.
Grade: 2/5

15. Belgium - Melanie Cohl / Dis oui
Happy and light-weight, but apparently exactly the kind of song Europe needed at this time. In my mind it's happy and clappy for three minutes without leaving much of an impression.
Grade: 2/5

14. Portugal - Alma Lusa / Se eu te pudesse abraçar
Cheerful and likeable (except for the tiny detail that the lead singer is clapping her hands out of rhythm), but yet another of those pretty un-remarkable song this line-up is full of.
Grade: 3/5

13. Estonia - Koit Toome / Mere lapsed
Another ballad, soft and tender like a lullaby. What saves this one from being just another ballad is the star quality of Koit Toome, still young but already a very good singer.
Grade: 3/5

12. Ireland - Dawn Martin / Is Always Over Now?
After having won four times in recent years with various ballads, it was almost as if the televoters around Europe suddenly said in unison that they had had it with Irish victories. This one isn't bad at all, but the voters remained unmoved.
Grade: 3/5

11. France - Marie Line / Oú aller?
A strong, contemporary song that I expected to finish really high on the night, at least until I saw this car crash of a performance. Would have deserved more points than it had but I clearly prefer the studio version.
Grade: 3/5

10. Switzerland - Gunvor / Lass' ihn
It's old-fashioned, I can acknowledge that, but a nul-pointer? What I hear and see is a pleasant little schlager in a slightly modernised arrangement - and again Egon with his violin - and I feel genuinely sorry this one didn't make it into the top ten of a single country. At least Gunvor made it into my top ten, if that makes her feel any better.
Grade: 3/5

9. Norway - Lars Fredriksen / Alltid sommer
A shameless rip-off from Boyzone's "Picture of You", but the Motown vibe works well with the orchestra and provides some temper and tempo in this line-up.
Grade: 3/5

8. FYR Macedonia - Vlado Janevski / Ne zori, zoro
A touch of Leonard Cohen added to a sophisticated arrangement with dramatic strings and an exotic tone in guitars, this is a song that has grown a lot on me through the years. Stylish and solid.
Grade: 3/5

7. Sweden - Jill Johnson / Kärleken är
One of the best ballads of the year suffered from a slightly nervous performance and a catastrophic styling that neither suited the singer nor the song. Is it possible that bad styling makes the singer ill at ease and has a negative impact also on an artistic level?
Grade: 4/5

6. Poland - Sixteen / To takie proste
Another good, contemporary effort that seemed very promising in the previews but then failed to ever really take off during the live performance. And maybe it just needed a listening or two too many to work in a televote?
Grade: 4/5

5. United Kingdom - Imaani / Where Are You?
Slightly reminiscent of "Missing" by Everything But The Girl, the home entry was the most chart-friendly song of the year, performed with a confidence and self-assurance most UK entries have lacked since.
Grade: 4/5

4. Slovakia - Katarina Hasprová / Modlitba
Original and soulful, beautifully sung, left with a ridiculous grand total of eight points (that they quite possibly had traded with Croatia anyway) when it really deserved a steady stream of appreciation from all corners of the continent. Slovakia's finest to date.
Grade: 4/5

3. Israel - Dana International / Diva
Just like when a certain Conchita won sixteen years later, some critical voices claimed the victory depended on hype alone. This is of course ridiculous. The Israeli effort was brave, infectious and had a very strong and hit-friendly chorus. A most deserved success.
Grade: 4/5

2. Netherlands - Edsilia / Hemel en aarde
If it hadn't been for the phenomenon that was Dana International, Edsilia would have been the winner and rightly so. Powerful, dynamic and one heck of a performance - vocally and visually.
Grade: 5/5

1. Croatia - Danijela / Neka mi ne svane
What can I say? Loved it when it won the Dora final - at the time when most online fandom just saw it as a disappointingly ordinary ballad - and I kept loving it ever since. There is nothing ordinary about this. The dress trick is the icing of the cake but the real treasure here is all that drama bubbling under the surface. A lovely, lovely song.
Grade: 5/5

Danijela - Neka mi ne svane (Croatia 1998)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tobson takes on 1990

It's not time to dig into this year's entries just yet - I will need some more time to listen and evaluate and find eventual pros and cons there - so I thought I'd throw myself headlong into another year that has meant a great deal to me.

I was 14 back in 1990, very happy to see Yugoslavia host the contest. Yugoslavia had for years been one of my fetish countries that I always liked, always supported, always cheered for.

They had such good songs and such a pretty and unusual flag, and judging from their preview clips it seemed to be a country where everyone were always happy and cheerful and playful. I was blissfully unaware of the things cooking underneath the surface and was just very pleased with the show offered to the world by Televizija Zagreb.

A number of years - perhaps 1985 to 1990 - have been so formative to me, that many of the songs feel like old friends. They are hard to rank and even the bad ones have redeeming qualities in my eyes. But if I had to rank all 22 songs of 1990, it would look a bit like this.

22. Sweden - Edin-Ådahl / Som en vind
This song never meant a lot to me, really. It was a disappointing winner of the national final and I never understood the fuss about it. Not bad, only very insignificant.
Grade: 1/5

21. Ireland - Liam Reilly / Somewhere in Europe
Pretty much the same case as with Sweden. Not a bad tune, but completely let down by the forced travel-log lyrics that try to squeeze in every thinkable square, street, hill or field you could ever imagine in Europe.
Grade: 1/5

20. Switzerland - Egon Egemann / Musik klingt in die Welt hinaus
Good in parts. I like the powerful intro, the chorus is catchy and the violin break adds character. Just too bad that the different parts don't come together very well. And Egon is not the right performer to paint over the cracks either.
Grade: 1/5

19. Norway - Ketil Stokkan / Brandenburger Tor
A very cheerful approach to the recent fall of the Berlin wall. They mean well and the song isn't bad as such, but contributing such a feather-weight song about an event of such gravity must be the most out of place ESC entry celebrating anything or anyone since Sweden's Forbes ended in last place with their ode to the Beatles back in 1977.
Grade: 2/5

18. Germany - Chris Kempers & Daniel Kovac / Frei zu leben
Another effort that probably means well but just shoots over the goal. Given Ralph Siegel's usual eye for detail, it is odd that he chose two performers that don't match each other vocally (and who don't really seem to like each other a whole lot either). If Norway is too cheerful to suit the matter, then the German entry is too stiff.
Grade: 2/5

17. United Kingdom - Emma / Give A Little Love Back To The World
Singing cheerful songs about difficult subjects were very much the order of the day back in 1990, and Emma wanted to save the world with her little song. Inoffensive but easily forgotten.
Grade: 2/5

16. Netherlands - Maywood / Ik wil alles met je delen
A good song let down by a really lacklustre performance, which in itself is inexplicable. Maywood had been successful for at least twelve years and were very experienced performers. Maybe they felt this being perhaps one of the last opportunities to shake some life back into their career got the better of them?
Grade: 2/5

15. Austria - Simone / Keine Mauern mehr
Another song about that famous wall. Not bad, but again too light to seem to take its subject seriously. The lyrics could be about a first kiss or cotton candy just as well as about a capital political change in Europe.
Grade: 2/5

14. Greece - Christos Callow & Wave / Horis skopo
This one doesn't really work either but I always had a soft spot for this chorus. A better performance would have been good - who thought up that strange arrangement for the backing vocals? - but it didn't deserve the bashing it got.
Grade: 2/5

13. Cyprus - Anastasio / Milas poli
Cyprus did their best to sound like the current pop songs you heard in the charts, but the song doesn't live up to the high ambition. Especially the chorus falls a little bit flat. And if I call the performance a complete styling disaster it would still be flattery.
Grade: 3/5

12. Denmark - Lonnie Devantier / Hallo Hallo
Denmark on auto pilot. The same type of song, the same type of chorus, the same type of singer that they had already entered many years in a row. Not a bad package but the whole concept was getting a bit old by then.
Grade: 3/5

11. Finland - Beat / Fri?
Finland's first entry in Swedish is far better than most people think. It's catchy little ditty and Beat look striking in white. The lyrics are equally poor to several others this year but the group's diction isn't very good - they mumble quite a few of the words - and that actually works to their advantage.
Grade: 3/5

10. Italy - Toto Cutugno / Insieme: 1992
A good winner, a quality winner. Well sung. But in retrospect it stands out as a competent but fairly anonymous winner - it would have been more fun with a colourful or more modern or more personable winner. But not a bad one at all.
Grade: 3/5

9. Portugal - Nucha / Há sempre alguém
Another of those years when the juries totally neglect the Portuguese entry and I can't see why. This one is personable and should be pretty accessible. Second last? Unbelievable.
Grade: 3/5

8. Luxembourg - Céline Carzo / Quand je te rêve
A fine song from the producers behind Dalida - one of my all-time favourite singers - that would have needed a more convincing live performance. This one also works a lot better in its studio version where it can happily ignore the three-minute-rule and let the tempo change by the end flourish into two minutes of brilliance.
Grade: 3/5

7. Belgium - Philippe Lafontaine / Macedomienne
The beauty of growing older is that you can suddenly appreciate songs you discarded completely in your youth. Where my teen self just heard a boring monotonous ballad, I hear a moody and most melodic love song, very delicately performed.
Grade: 3/5

6. Turkey - Kayahan / Gözlerinin hapsindeyim
Back in the day when Turkey had to contribute spectacular masterpieces in order to even get close to a top ten finish, a gentle and laid back attempt like this one would stand a chance similar to the one of a snowball in hell. Gentle, likeable and original.
Grade: 3/5

5. Iceland - Stjórnin / Eitt lag enn
Iceland's first really good placing and a firm favourite of mine at the time. It is still charming and appealing, but also a late shot at the Scandinavian successful sound of the 80's, enhanced by an energetic and stylish performance.
Grade: 3/5

4. Yugoslavia - Tajči / Hajde da ludujemo
The last sigh of the host country as a happy, carefree place where songs could be bouncy and whimsical without any looming shadows anywhere. Tajči was pure dynamite and the chorus with its "čokolada" hook is the happiest of the year.
Grade: 4/5

3. Spain - Azúcar Moreno / Bandido
I didn't understand at the time just how bang-up-to-date the Spanish entry was with its pumping house piano and its groundbreaking mix of dance culture and folklore. Remembered for the technical hiccup at the start of the performance, but it also launched these sisters into stardom in the latin music world. Highly deserved.
Grade: 5/5

2. France - Joëlle Ursull / White And Black Blues
One of the biggest problems with the juries were that they were often put together very randomly, not necessarily by people interested in pop music. Had the 1990 jury been a bit more hit friendly, Joëlle would have been the runaway winner and could have pushed the ESC in a more interesting musical direction. A shame. This would have made a perfect winner.
Grade: 5/5

1. Israel - Rita / Shara barechovot
I didn't understand this one at all when I was 14 and was pleased that the juries held them back. Today I think the juries should have seen what I didn't: what a bold and daring entry this is, beautifully sung by Rita. Intriguing, sophisticated, sexy, tasteful. Not the song I would have wanted to win, but my personal favourite.
Grade 5/5

Rita - Shara barechovot (Israel 1990)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tobson takes on 1975

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think many ESC fans would hold up Stockholm 1975 as their all-time favourite contest ever held. Mainly, I would guess, because of a slightly poor visual presentation.

Sveriges Radio were very careful not to pour too much glamour into the event, as they knew that would anger some pretty vocal parts of the audience, and forty years later that lack of extra effort shows. How long did it possibly take to design that stage set, for instance?

Nevertheless, for me as a child it was a magical year, one I longed to know more about and perhaps even see one day. (This was way before any video copies of older contests were available.)

Song-wise it's not a bad year at all, actually. And since I am that kind of nerd who likes to rank and put things (and songs) in order, I decided to share my ranking of every song of the 1975 ESC.

19. Ireland - The Swarbriggs / That's What Friends Are For
Not bad as in really bad, but too ingratiating and annoyingly sweet somehow. All the lyrics do is stating the obvious for three minutes without ever giving us any reasonable chorus.
Grade: 1/5

18. Norway - Ellen Nikolaysen / Touch My Life
Beautifully sung, but also a perfect example of when verse and chorus won't gel and your entry fails to go anywhere. The most interesting thing in this entry is Ellen's dress, creating the illusion of her having deep craters in her body.
Grade: 1/5

17. United Kingdom - The Shadows / Let Me Be The One
Not a bad song in its own right - I used to like this one quite a bit back in the day - but I can't stand the lazy performance. Close to somnambulant UK performers who don't give a toss and yet get showered in points are not my cup of tea.
Grade: 1/5

16. Malta - Renato / Singing This Song
The reversed case from the UK: a very energetic and zealous performance of a pretty weak song. I prefer it that way around but before it's over I turn all grumpy Finn on everyone and wonder what on earth they are all so happy about.
Grade: 2/5

15. Portugal - Duarte Mendes / Madrugada
The Portuguese were so pleased with their revolution, they decided to write a song about it. In fact, they would keep writing songs about it for a few years. This is nice and melodic and likeable, but never left much of an impression on me (while great friends of mine claim this is Portugal's best entry of all time.)
Grade: 2/5

14. Spain - Sergio & Estíbaliz / Tú volverás
Every time this one starts, I like it but then it feels like it goes on for five or six minutes. They stand there and sing and sing and sing without anything much happening. Pleasant but forgettable and clearly the weakest song Juan Carlos Calderón ever wrote for the ESC.
Grade: 2/5

13. Israel - Shlomo Artzi / At va' ani
Another one I'd like to like more than I do. Shlomo has an intriguing presence, shy but intense, and he sings with passion and conviction, but the song feels like a promising demo version in need of development but never quite finished.
Grade: 2/5

12. Sweden - Lars Berghagen / Jennie Jennie
I like this one a great deal, really, but some songs should stay in their own language even if you're allowed to perform in English. The clumsy, direct translation takes every single emotion of the original and stomps on them with its trendy platform shoes.
Grade: 2/5

11. Finland - Pihasoittajat / Old Man Fiddle
I like also this one more than you'd suspect from it's place in the ranking. I enjoy the true musicianship, the violin and the commitment of bringing less commercial music into this contest, otherwise hugged by greedy record companies. But this is also a tv show - your audience can actually see you - and the zero effort for presentation takes this one down a notch or two.
Grade: 3/5

10. Switzerland - Simone Drexel / Mikado
Catchy, nice, pleasant. An impressing effort by a 17-year old songwriter, I must say. Maybe it didn't age terrifically well, but the chorus always gets me to sing along.
Grade: 3/5

9. Yugoslavia - Pepel in Kri / Dan ljubezni
The last song in Slovenian to be heard at Eurovision before the country re-appeared as an independent state has grown into a real evergreen on home ground. Understandable with it's excellent singalong qualities, but I'm always missing a final je-ne-sais-quoi in this package.
Grade: 3/5

8. Monaco - Sophie / Une chanson c'est une lettre
I'm so easy, as Juliana Pasha would say. Wave a dramatic ballad in French at me and I will surrender at once. Too bad that the chorus doesn't quite live up to the promise of the explosively emotional verses, but Sophie handles both of them with ease.
Grade: 3/5

7. Luxembourg - Geraldine / Toi
If this was the Eurovision Overblown Accent Contest, Geraldine would win by a mile over other strong contenders like Ireen Sheer or even Baccara, but I just love her for it. Her song is also a weird mishmash that starts out as ballad before putting on its best boots and start marching off to Tipperary. Strange and confusing but most loveable all the same.
Grade: 3/5

6. Turkey - Semiha Yankı / Seninle bir dakika
Turkey's debut was an emotional and heartfelt ballad that only the Monegasque jury bothered to award any points at all to. Semiha is really giving it her all and this is an altogether lovely song that would have deserved so much more. However, I like the preview version better. The new arrangement for the final makes the whole thing feel heavier and more overblown than it needs to be.
Grade: 4/5

5. Germany - Joy Fleming / Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein
Rainer Pietsch kick-starts the orchestra and Joy Fleming erupts like a tropical storm and the ESC never knew what hit it. One of the most soulful efforts of all time and one you're unlikely to forget. Had they toned down the volume just a bit, maybe there would have been more points. But then again, it would be less memorable.
Grade: 4/5

4. Belgium - Ann Christy / Gelukkig zijn
Another stunning song that was totally overlooked by the juries. I loved this one from the word go, with it's lovely instrumental opening, through the soft verse and the big chorus. Ann Christy was also a magnificent performer and even if she was unhappy about the change of language midway through the song, it doesn't bother me much. A classic.
Grade: 4/5

3. Netherlands - Teach-In / Ding-A-Dong
It takes skill and craftsmanship to write and short and snappy little song about nothing and still make it feel meaningful. The original lyrics actually mean something but unlike Sweden's Lars Berghagen, the Dutch threw it all overboard when translating the song into English. It means very little but sounds fantastic and is delivered in a most convincing way.
Grade: 4/5

2. France - Nicole Rieu / Et bonjour à toi, l'artiste
See what I wrote about Monaco and guess what a song like this will push me into. This isn't even particularly dramatic, more understated and minimalist, perfectly performed by a very sensitive singer. One of the best French non-winners of all time.
Grade: 4/5

1. Italy - Wess & Dori Ghezzi / Era
I heard this one on the radio when I was perhaps eleven or twelve and was almost literally knocked over and nothing has changed since. One of the most intriguing ESC entries I know, direct and enigmatic at the same time, too much and yet tasteful. My winner.
Grade: 5/5

Wess & Dori Ghezzi - Era (Italy 1975)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

40 years of 12 points

The 20th Eurovision Song Contest, held at the Stockholm Fair Centre in Älvsjö on March 22nd 1975 - forty years ago today - didn't only give the world Karin Falck and a number of immortal quotes, it also launched a big innovation. Arguably the most important innovation in the history of the contest.

The EBU had been thinking for years about how to improve the voting - more or less ever since the early 60's. The matter had become pressing after the 1969 contest had ended in a spectacular fiasco where four countries shared the victory and no rules were in place to break the tie.

The new voting system launched in 1971 - where every participating country provided two jurors that ranked each song except their own with a mark from one to five - proved complicated to follow and led to pretty arbitrary results. It was scrapped after only three years. Something else was needed.

Heikki Seppälä, working for Finnish tv, had a better idea. He suggested every jury should vote internally, then award points to their ten favourite songs. According to the original plan, the winner should receive fourteen points, in order to give it a leap ahead. For reasons best known to themselves, the EBU thought twelve points had a better ring to it.

The famous 12 points had been born. After the 1975 contest, the EBU were sure they had struck gold.  The new system made the voting exciting, easy to follow and - best of all - it seemed able to ensure no song would be left with nul points.

That last thing didn't quite work out and not every voting has been exciting since 1975, but on the whole this new system has been a success. Ultimate proof is that it is still standing, forty years down the line.

40 years ago today: Karin Falck lit up the screen

Forty years can be a very long time. In my childhood, the second world war was vaguely forty years ago while the moon landing was only some twenty years away.

Exactly 40 years ago today, on March 22nd 1975, Sweden hosted its first ever Eurovision Song Contest and when you look back at the show forty years will indeed feel like an eternity. It's a completely different world. Television was almost like a different medium.

If you compare what Stockholm offered viewers worldwide compared to the contests held the year before and the year after, you might get an idea of the difficult position Swedish television (not yet the SVT we know today, still a sub-division of Swedish radio) found itself in: it must be good enough to meet international standards but still rigid enough not to give people the idea that huge amounts of money was wasted on something as ridiculous as entertainment.

However, one special effect makes this contest stand out in a very positive light: the sheer super power that is Karin Falck.

Copyright: SVT

Karin was a huge star in Swedish television - arguably the biggest female tv star in the history of Swedish broadcasting. She had a finger in every pie there was as a beloved host as well as a very nifty producer with an endless list of successes on her list.

She had also recently become a widow after her husband Åke Falck's untimely death in 1974 - also he was a top name in Swedish tv and the couple worked intensively together - and the top bosses thought an important task like hosting the ESC would keep Karin active and going.

Karin kept going alright. Perhaps languages skills were not her top asset, and possibly the opening of the show is a bit shaky - rumours had it her running entrance was due to colleagues literally having to push her onto stage - but once the professional in her woke up, she never lost control.

She lost her scripts, surely. Some of her quotes have become legendary and rightly so. During the voting she says fantastic things like "Seven? How much is that in France?" or "Could we have seven points on the Turkey?" but these are just glorious bi-products of a professional woman improvising her way through a language she isn't all that familiar with.

If you look at her determination instead: how steadily she makes her way through the show, how she always knows where she is going and how she never loses her temper or gets stressed. She keeps beaming like the sun throughout the entire voting - not something every host has managed to do through the years.

At the end of the show, she announces the Dutch team as winners and wraps the whole show up, still with the biggest of smiles, and ends with a few words in French: "Quelque part au fond de nous, nous serons toujours ensemble" - Somewhere inside of us, we will always be together - a greeting to her late husband Åke Falck.

Eurovision Song Contest 1975

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Runner-up: France 1976

It was a bit unexpected that when the French tv-viewers got free hands to select their entry for The Hague, they went for a fast-paced, merry little singalong with more than a slight echo of Puppet On A String to it.

Through the years it was clear that the UK had pocketed this genre and claimed it as their own. They should do they whimsical up-tempo happy stompers while the French focused more on dramatic ballads about love or death or both, often with quality lyrics rooted in existentialism.

You can accuse "Un deux trois" of being many things, but it's not really existentialist. I doubt Simone de Beauvoir would have deigned to even frown at it. It's very jaunty, very light-hearted and concludes that life is a merry cabaret rather than a story by Kafka. (Maybe Simone would at least have let out a silent sigh at this point anyway?)

Just too bad for France that the UK were at their merriest too this year and beat the French cheerfulness by experience. The following year, France went back to the ballads and won in style. For the last time to date.

A deserved 2nd place?
Certainly. A most likeable timeless classic. But had I been able to shuffle songs around a bit, it would have been beaten by Monaco's fabulous disco belter. And by the Yugoslav heartbreak ballad.

Catherine Ferry - Un deux trois (France 1976)

Runner-up: Malta 2005

In later years, Eurovision has been accused of turning less into a song contest and more into a big circus where you need special effects and gimmicks and fireworks in order to get anywhere.

There is some truth to this, I must sadly admit, but not as much as many critics would have it. Sometimes all you need is the right song and the right performer at the right time.

In Kyiv, far too many countries had brought drums. Not just a drum or two but loads and loads of drums. The nightmare drum award might have gone to Romania but many others were not far behind.

Malta just had a ballad. A very classical ballad, perhaps slightly too reminiscent of "The Power of Love", made famous by Jennifer Rush and Céline Dion, performed by Chiara who, against all odds, had landed a third place in Birmingham seven years earlier.

Chiara was alone on stage, had no special effects and didn't even have a particularly good draw - performing as number 3 out of 24 entries. And yet the ballad broke through, was awarded a lot of points and even though it never really got close to winning it remained a victory for the simple and understated.

A deserved 2nd place?
Well, yes. There were more spectacular entries in the running that kept eating away points from each other. For a ballad, I enjoyed the entry of Israel more. But in no way undeserved.

Chiara - Angel (Malta 2005)

Runner-up: Russia 2000

The 90's weren't really a golden age for Russia at Eurovision. Not because their entries were bad - Youddiph and Alla Pugacheva were brilliant - but because nobody took them really seriously and they didn't seem to be able to play the game.

Especially not when in 1999, reportedly, Russia had to sit out since none of the two broadcasters taking turns to provide the entry had read the rule than any country wishing to take part in one year had to carry a live broadcast of the contest before. None of the channels had shown the 1998 contest and Russia found itself ineligible.

It was time for Russia to step up and show they could be modern, relevant, accessible, hip and a real contender in pop culture. They decide the right person to do this would be an emerging starlet named Alsou. She was only 16, but very up-and-coming and was given a song by international songwriters.

Not only did Alsou go down a storm in Stockholm, her presence would also mean a lot for the future of Eurovision in Russia. Her entry soon became the best selling single of all time in Russia, later knocked off its throne by another Alsou track where she sang in duet with Enrique Iglesias.

Nine years later, Alsou would make a dignified comeback to the ESC spotlight as a warm, charming and most competent host of the 2009 final hosted in Moscow.

A deserved 2nd place?
Absolutely. Pushing things forward in a most positive way, it also helped establishing a much more positive idea about Russia among the people watching the contest. A positive image that unfortunately has been largely shattered in recent times.

Alsou - Solo (Russia 2000)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What if San Marino was our winner?

Last year I was really pleased with the final result in Copenhagen. We had a relatively tight battle between two countries that hadn't done well for a very long time and all the top four entries were slower, more demanding entries that all contradicted the usual clichéd stereotype idea of what an ESC entry sounds like.

Had I known the consequences that top four would have for this year's contest, maybe I had held my cheers back a bit.

I haven't really counted but it feels like some wicked witch worked her wand and blew us all back to 1995 or so. Ballads, ballads, ballads. There is no end to the amount of ballads that Europe will inflict on us this year.

Nothing wrong with ballads as such. A well-written ballad at the right time in the running order is always welcome. But the mid-90's proved to us what a challenge it is it sit through a line-up consisting almost of ballads alone.

Not all ballads are good ones either. And if we have to deal with mediocre entries, I'd rather deal with mediocre uptempo than mediocre ballads at any given moment. Ballads do very bad things to the dynamics of the entire show. No sequenced running order in the world can make a the final feel fast-paced if 18 out of 27 songs are ballads.

On the other hand, it means anyone who hasn't revealed their entry yet has a chance to really stand out. There still isn't a single quality up-tempo pop stomper in the whole line-up (sorry Israel, but you don't meet my criteria here) and anyone providing that kind of showstopper would look like a very possible winner.

Given the kind of song they usually enter it doesn't look likely, but wouldn't it be fantastic if San Marino had given their teen starlets a real firecracker of a pop song with a catchy chorus and an infectious atmosphere?

The Sammarinese entry will be revealed on Monday. Until then I'm going to stay in this fun dream world and try to think up what Eurovision would feel like with San Marino in the top three.

Melodifestivalen 2015: open goal for Måns

Woke up feeling a small amount of butterflies in my tummy, which is my favourite way of waking up on any day with a bigger ESC-related event.

What these butterflies think they are doing is a whole different question, though. I can't recall the last time I found it easier to predict a Melodifestivalen winner. How far back do we have to go? Carola 2006? Carola 1991?

Predicting some other placings - like the ones from 2 to 12, for instance - is a bit harder. But it has to be Måns for Vienna.

At the same time, being this sure also creates a heap of wicked thoughts at the back of my head. I remember how Måns suddenly lost all his support in the 2009 final. How the juries derailed Nanne Grönvall in 2005. How the most cleverly plotted happy ends can go wrong at times. I guess that's what triggers the butterflies - the knowledge that something predictable easily can turn into a nail biter in this weird competition.

Since I already ranked all the songs of this year I won't review them again, I'll just content myself with guessing the final outcome.

12. JTR - Building It Up
This is the final, lads. It's no longer good enough to just be cute and mess around.

11. Dinah Nah - Make Me (La La La)
This kind of entry usually struggles in Melodifestivalen. Dinah already made it further than most and should be happy with that.

10. Jessica Andersson - Can't Hurt Me Now
Back in the day, a ballad could allow itself to be well performed but dull and the juries would vote for it anyway. One jury or two will reward this, enough to keep Jessica away from the last place.

9. Linus Svenning - Forever Starts Today
Generally very nice but forgettable. Will get a few points here and there but will be nobody's favourite in this pretty strong line-up.

8. Magnus Carlsson - Möt mig i Gamla stan
Everybody loves a good comeback and Magnus is well loved, but this song probably doesn't feel exciting enough in a final in 2015.

7. Samir & Viktor - Groupie
How far will this go? A clear favourite to get nul points by the jury - and how strong is their fan base really? Given that they failed to qualify straight to the final?

6. Hasse Andersson - Guld och gröna skogar
The feelgood factor should never be underestimated and this is a perfect closing number.

5. Jon Henrik Fjällgren - Jag är fri (Manne leam frijje)
I suspect the international juries will look at this and see nothing but kitsch, rate it poorly and ruin its chances for a top three placing.

4. Eric Saade - Sting
Does Saade still have it? I'm not sure. Liked this one at first, than it started growing off me. Will get fair support from both jury and televote but my guess is it won't be enough.

3. Isa - Don't Stop
I admit to this being wishful thinking but Isa is such a star and loads her performance with a crazy amount of energy. I hope she will get rewarded for that and that the juries won't deduct points for the obvious likeness of other songs already in existence.

2. Mariette - Don't Stop Believing
This song never takes off for me but I think this is the kind of performance that especially the juries will love. I guess Mariette will be a very close 2nd after the jury vote.

1. Måns Zelmerlöw - Heroes
I'm sorry, nervous butterflies. You will just have to go. This can only end in one way. Måns will lead after the jury vote and will blow everyone else away when the televote comes in.

Melodifestivalen can be seen live at 20:00 CET on the SVT website.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Suddenly it just happens...

There is a fair amount of mumbling going on among eurovision fans right now as the uniform opinion forming is that 2015 is shaping up to be the slowest and least convincing line-up since the mid-90's or so.

I do agree that there is an unfortunate amount of ballads piling up and whenever there are too many low-key entries in a row, it threatens to do damage to the dynamics of the show. For some reason it is easier to sit through five mediocre pop songs in a row than five mediocre ballads.

When one ballad gets selected after the other, it also clouds your judgment. As soon as you hear the next ballad chosen, you easily discard it right away just for not being uptempo.

Then suddenly, when you get one of these sings you already decided to think little of singled out in front of you, suddenly they can open up and reveal themselves as tiny masterpieces. The first one I had to reconsider a while ago was the pretty appealing pop entry from FYR Macedonia. And now I am about to apologise in public to Ireland's Molly Sterling.

When I watched the Irish final I kept asking myself how a nation of song can hark up such dull entries and when Molly came on as the last entrant my attention span had already ended.

Upon hearing the studio version today, I had to ask myself if it was still the same song. What made me yawn during the national final finally sounded like a young Kate Bush. Melodic, warm, pretty darn wonderful.

I'm still scarred by Ireland winning the contest to pieces in the 90's and haven't supported an Irish ballad since Niamh Kavanagh's "In Your Eyes" but now I just have to lie down flat and surrender.

Ireland - I think I love your entry. Just so you know.

Molly Sterling - Playing With Numbers (Ireland 2015)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Melodifestivalen 2015: Tobson top 28

I decided to do what everyone seems to be doing: rank all 28 songs that took part in Melodifestivalen 2015 according to my own personal preference.

Since the reviews I wrote throughout the season were based on the 30-second clips released by SVT after the first rehearsals, I never went into any significant depth about the particular songs. This would be the perfect time and place to elaborate on what makes the good ones good and the bad ones bad.

It's a strange year too in the sense that it's lacking real ups and downs. Most of the songs are good or acceptable, typical mid table entries that most people will like when heard on the radio but that wouldn't push Europe over in a contest like the ESC. No real classics (except one) and no real disasters.

28. Dolly Style / Hello Hi
Let's establish right away that I'm a grumpy old man with no sense of humour. I just find this lacklustre, speculative and overall pretty darn mediocre. Hello Goodbye.
Grade: 1/5

27. Neverstore / If I Was God For One Day
Meek and bleak radio rock with no personality or anything else that would make it stand out or feel meaningful to anyone. Instantly forgotten.
Grade: 1/5

26. Annika Herlitz / Ett andetag
Every time I hear this I start thinking about "Kärlekens dans" with Diana Nuñez from Melodifestivalen 1991. It was also a very old-fashioned ballad with no chance of a life outside of the contest. But nice in its own way.
Grade: 1/5

25. Andreas Weise / Bring Out The Fire
I hear people say this song is catchy. Maybe it is. I can't see past the totally charmless performance of this guy and that ruins the whole thing.
Grade: 1/5

24. JTR / Building It Up
I'm never averse to a boy band but they certainly need a song with more profile and drive than this. It remains the biggest mystery of the year how this one made it straight to the final.
Grade: 1/5

23. Samir & Viktor / Groupie
Song-wise every inch as disastrous as Dolly Style - technically it's not even a song, merely a bunch of "hallå hallå hallå hallå" and "oj oj oj" piled on top of each other, very much like the tv sets they use in their performance - but this one is redeemed by cheerfulness and charm. Likeable but in no way good.
Grade: 1/5

22. Ellen Benediktson / Insomnia
Annoying that this one is so close to being a rather good song. If someone could have cleaned it up and thrown out those weird changes it could have worked really well. And now it doesn't, really.
Grade: 2/5

21. Jessica Andersson / Can't Hurt Me Now
A pretty ballad, well performed, heard a million times before, nice but average, makes no difference in the world.
Grade: 2/5

20. Daniel Gildenlöw / Pappa
A good attempt of writing a gripping song with a message. Interesting but doesn't quite make it all the way, and is perhaps taking part in the wrong competition.
Grade: 2/5

19. Emelie Irewald / Där och då med dig
Another one that feels like it took the wrong door and ended up in the wrong contest. Well sung and an emotional performance of a song that was never going to stand a real chance in the voting.
Grade: 2/5

18. Midnight Boy / Don't Say No
I'd never turn down an overdose of 1980's aesthetics and extravaganza and find the whole package and soundscape rather thrilling, but in spite of that I can't recall what this song sounds like even though I heard it several times. Bad sign.
Grade: 2/5

17. Andreas Johnson / Living To Die
A beautifully staged and packaged entry, unfortunately lacking that strong melody line or hook needed to hit home on a first listen. Or, indeed, a fifth.
Grade: 2/5

16. Linus Svenning / Forever Starts Today
Cheerful and catchy but not much more than that. Linus is a likeable chap but I never saw him and this song as the perfect match.
Grade: 2/5

15. Hasse Andersson / Guld och gröna skogar
Another cheerful effort that made new generations discover Hasse Andersson and his likeable style. I listened a lot to his older songs in my day and find this new one a bit light-weight, but very pleased if it gives this veteran the attention he deserves.
Grade: 2/5

14. Dinah Nah / Make Me (La La La)
Not a bad dance track at all, heavier than what is usually heard at the ESC. Had Dinah Nah had a warmer presence and radiation I would have liked it more, now it leaves me more cold than it would have had to.
Grade: 2/5

13. Marie Bergman & Sanne Salomonsen / Nonetheless
Vocal harmonies to die for and a most professional performance is enough to win me over. Had they wanted a good result as well, a catchier song hadn't been an altogether bad idea.
Grade: 3/5

12. Molly Pettersson Hammar / I'll Be Fine
A good song and vocal performance, clearly affected by the now famous "app-gate" but probably encumbered also by being the first song performed. And Molly would perhaps still need a year or two to properly find her own personality.
Grade: 3/5

11. Kalle Johansson / För din skull
If Molly needs some time to develop, so does Kalle. But a nervous performance can be sweet too and this song would deserve a long life on the radio.
Grade: 3/5

10. Elize Ryd & Rickard Söderberg / One By One
A big song for big voices that possibly would have needed an even bigger performance to hit home.
Grade: 3/5

9. Caroline Wennergren / Black Swan
Elegant and classy, possibly the best grower of the year. It took me a while to get my head around it, but now it stands out as one of the best of 2015.
Grade: 3/5

8. Eric Saade / Sting
An effective little song, riding high on the famous Saade charm. The trick worked fine at first but the whole thing has been shrinking ever since. OK but not outstanding.
Grade: 3/5

7. Mariette / Don't Stop Believing
I had forgotten what an intriguing presence Mariette possesses - how she nails the camera and sort of forces you to pay attention to her. She is ace while the song never grows into the masterpiece it would like to be.
Grade: 3/5

6. Kristin Amparo - I See You
This one still doesn't make me fall off my chair the way I hoped it would when I read all the hype reviews prior to its semi final. Once I forgave it for not being more than this, I grew to like it for what it is instead. A more than decent ballad by a very likeable singer.
Grade: 3/5

5. Behrang Miri & Victor Crone / Det rår vi inte för
No fierce competition for the title, but this could possibly go down as the best rap in Melodifestivalen ever. Another grower, performed by a likeable duet that should have made it to the final.
Grade: 3/5

4. Jon Henrik Fjällgren / Jag är fri (Manne leam frijje)
Clearly reminiscent of Enigma's old hit catalogue, this performance is possibly visually overloaded but very pleasant for the ears.
Grade: 3/5

3. Magnus Carlsson / Möt mig i Gamla stan
Who would have thought most of us had been longing this much for good old traditional schlager? Magnus delivers like the professional he is and makes this one feel even better than it possibly is. A most dignified comeback.
Grade: 3/5

2. Isa / Don't Stop
My first thought was "Taylor Swift by the numbers" and then I discarded the whole thing. But nobody displays the same energy and attack on stage as this fabulous 16-year old starlet and soon I found myself loving the whole package. Altogether pretty sharp.
Grade: 3/5

1. Måns Zelmerlöw / Heroes
Måns is the saviour who just enters the stage and blows everything else away. The song is elegant and instant without begging the audience to love it. My winner and nobody else gets close. But then it remains to be seen whether it will win the final or not.
Grade: 5/5

Portugal: roll out the remix

I probably should criticise Festival da Canção more often, as it suddenly managed to produce the best Portuguese entry in years. Didn't really see that one coming.

Leonor Andrade is a good singer and her song is a pleasant soft rocker with potential. But it would still take some work to transform it from being a likeable album track to a Eurovision contender.

It needs more intensity. More drama and a fuller arrangement. Some dramatic strings, perhaps? Backing singers?

It also needs a bit of a re-write. Not much, but after the promising verse the chorus feels flat, like four identical lines being sung over and over. Which is pretty much what it is. Some tweaking and fixing - could you change one of the lines a bit to add more character - and Portugal would have a very probable finalist onboard.

Leonor Andrade - Há um mar que nos separa (Portugal 2015 studio version)

Leonor Andrade - Há um mar que nos separa (Portugal 2015 live version)

The BBC can't win

What happened last night really was as predictable as a Helsinki snowstorm in early March: the UK revealed its internally selected entry for Vienna and the Eurovision fans went absolutely ballistic. And not in a good way.

There had been rumours flying around social media: first somebody knew it would be Alexandra Burke singing for the UK, then somebody else knew the chosen act to be from Scotland - perhaps Amy MacDonald.

And so the act is announced to be Electro Velvet. Electro Who, the audience asked. And then the chosen entry started to play.

I think the amount of public outrage during and after the song presentation is a bit harsh. The ditty in question is at least an attempt at being personable and quirky, even if the the song itself never quite lives up to the promise set by the clip and the soundscape presented. Had it been the entry of Iceland or Hungary or Georgia we would all find it quite enjoyable.

For Vienna it would need a very polished, energetic and convincing performance of the kind that Ukraine could hammer out in their sleep. Not too sure about these people pulling it off.

The big problem for the BBC is that they find themselves in a position where the audience will be negative by default to any song proposed to them. Had it been Alexandra Burke or Amy MacDonald, people would still have found things to be upset about. The BBC can't win. United Kingdom turned into Finland when it comes to ESC expectations.

Mind you, it's a position they've worked hard to achieve in these last few years.

I would often advise countries with dodgy national finals that consistently fail to find suitable entries to scrap the whole thing and select internally. The BBC did just that but didn't make much of it. The point of internal selections must be to do your best to manage to pull out something remarkable and professional from somebody who'd never enter a national final. Electro Velvet just can't live up to that expectation.

If it really is impossible to stage a decent televised national final, the BBC really should try harder. Is there - in the entire country - not a single established, reasonably relevant performer willing to do Eurovision for them? Really?

Electro Velvet - Still In Love (United Kingdom 2015)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Portugal in need of a makeover

Portugal and Finland used to walk through the Desert of Eurovision together, sharing the distinction of being the countries participating the biggest number of times without winning. Then, on their respective 40th participation, Finland won while Portugal crashed and burned in the semi final.

Watching parts of this year's Festival da Canção made me think of Albania's Festivali i Këngës more than anything.

They both have long and rich traditions and have meant a lot to their respective countries, especially while they both were isolated countries with little influence from abroad.

FiK has several times failed to select the best song for Eurovision, since that wasn't the original aim of the contest. It was there to reward the right song for Albania.

Festival da Canção was indeed set up to be the national selection for Eurovision but has steadily declined since its heydays. This year it had failed to attract a single contemporary pop song or anything that would feel up to date or relevant.

Simone de Oliveira is marvellous and a living legend of song, but her entry could easily have been the follow-up to her 1965 ESC entry "Sol de inverno". Not an international hit in the making, perhaps.

Maybe it would just be time for RTP to lay Festival da Canção to rest. Create a new national final where new and exciting names from the pop world are invited to take part or start making internal selections. Anything would do. But the way things are, Portugal will never get anywhere close to their first Eurovision victory.

But out of the songs we have to work with, it seems Simone de Oliveira already said she would not go to Vienna in case she wins. Two winners declining the trophy in the same week - what were the odds?

So I say the best choice would be Yola's fado ballad. Also Leonor Andrade's rock ballad would do, especially with a bit of work and improvement. Either one of these could possibly take Portugal to the final in Vienna, while RTP figures out what to do for next year.

Sweden: Andra Chansen

The big theme of the week seems to be the kind of chaos that can arise when things don't go as planned during a live broadcast. When nobody thought anyone could top the wonderful havoc of the German final, it seems Sweden has gone all in to make things even worse.

At least that's the feeling I get after reading about last night's dress rehearsal, dubbed by every journalist present in unison to be possibly the worst eurovision-related broadcast the SVT has made in modern times.

Seemingly the lack of scripts and the general level of filler material lead to a big crisis meeting where the creative team threw out most of the things on offer, leaving the show circa seven minutes short during the afternoon rehearsal.

I'm not sure it means anything to you, but seven minutes is an awfully long time on television. It's the live television equivalent of the time from now to Christmas. People must be sweating over this right now.

Hopefully that will a nerve to tonight's show. Because, frankly, it's not very exciting at all since half the songs on offer will make it to the final. A long, tedious show that never reaches any real climax is hardly what the audiences will be aching for at home. I wonder what the ratings will look like this week?

For me personally it is made even worse by the fact that I don't care in particular for any of the songs in the running. I'd like Behrang Miri and Kristin Amparo to be in the final, but not enough to stand up and shout for them.

But this is how I predict tonight's duels:

Linus Svenning will beat Andreas Weise thanks to his cute eyes. Neither of the songs stand out as particularly memorable, but Linus is more likeable.

Hasse Andersson will beat Kristin Amparo. The ballad might be pretty and emotional but since it failed to break through to the Swedes so far it's not likely to suddenly do so now.

Dolly Style will beat Dinah Nah. Their song is pretty awful but will get all the kid votes - and the kids use the app voting diligently - while Dinah never seems to fully go through the screen.

Samir & Viktor will eat Behrang Miri & Victor Crone alive. I still find "Groupie" exhausting on the verge of excruciating but the fan base will beat the rap by a mile, and not even using Malena Ernman as a secret weapon can change that.

Drama Made in Austria

I just couldn't leave this gem untold - the Das Beste Story really deserves a blog post of it's own. For the first time in six years, ORF decided to stage a national final to find their eurovision entry and "Ein Lied für Zagreb" wasn't a bad final at all.

There were many good songs and the show itself was pretty slick. Lizzi Engstler - who had previously sung for Austria as one half of the duo Mess back in 1982 - was chosen to host and did it in a slightly forced but mighty jaunty way.

Lizzi would get to work hard for the money before the show was over - when song eight entered the stage it was the start of a drama that would tickle the Austrian imagination for days. The duet fittingly called Duett only made it halfway through the song before Monika, the female singer, suddenly falls over and faints on live television.

Duett - Das Beste (Austria NF 1990)

When you are aware that she's not hurt, the ensuing studio chaos is most entertaining to watch. Dear Lizzie isn't quite sure of how to proceed - or indeed how to kill time - and starts rambling on about how much Monika had looked forward to this evening and - with the biggest smile - tells the audience how the singer had lost 20 kilos prior to the final and how that possibly could be the cause of her fainting. Empathy, anyone?

Soon enough Monika recovered, Duett got to perform a second time and "Das Beste" won a clear victory. Right after the show, people started voicing their suspicions that the whole incident had been planned in order to grab a sympathy vote. A newspaper headline even had a doctor stating that "nobody faints like that".

In the end the song was disqualified anyway - not because of the fainting incident, but because it had already taken part in the 1988 German semi-finals without qualifying.

Instead runner-up Simone went to Zagreb and bagged herself a respectable tenth place there, while next year's Austrian final had a new rule stating that every performer gets one chance only to perform. If you faint - you're out. Empathy, anyone?

Duett - Das Beste without fainting (Austria NF 1990)

Drama Made in Germany

I haven't been an altogether faithful follower of national finals this year and given all the negativity that had surrounded this year's German selection I didn't plan to watch it at all.

Anyhow I tuned in just in time for the second round, where the four finalists performed their second songs of the evening and thought to myself that this wasn't bad at all. Good songs and good performances - and when the two best ones out of the four I had heard in full length made it to the final knockout round I was rather pleased.

And then it happened, the tv event of the year. Clearly under pressure and not happy at all, winner Andreas Kümmert announces that he has no intention of going to Vienna and hands the victory over to runner-up Ann-Sophie. For a split second or two nobody on stage has any idea what to do while time is ticking, the show is ending and an acceptable ending must be improvised at once.

I can't help it but I love it when live television goes out of hand. When it suddenly turns real, when real emotion shines through, when it's not just a song contest anymore. The winner should smile and the loser should cry, not the other way around, and when the unexpected happens we feel that all the participants are real people, like the rest of us.

Many people have tried to explain why Kümmert stepped down like this - it has been suggested he has personal problems or were pressured by his record company to take part - but I prefer not to speculate. If he felt stepping down was the right thing to do, he is probably right in doing so.

The responsibility lies with the organising broadcaster, in this case NDR. They should of course make an effort to make sure every participant is prepared for the big occasion and understand that taking part in the national final also means you are obliged to go to the ESC in case you win. If they had doubts about a participant, they should pressure him or her before the show instead.

Apart from creating some unforgettable television drama, Kümmert has also possibly undermined Ann-Sophie quite a bit by his actions. But when a winner proves ineligible, you pick the runner-up instead. That's how the system works.

And even if the Germans did their best, nobody can still steal the award for Best Drama from this gem where the female half of Duett faints halfway through the song and gets fat-shamed by presenter Lizzi Engstler as she tries to keep the show going. Priceless.

Duett - Das Beste (Austria NF 1990)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Portugal rejected Adelaide (How could you, Portugal?)

Last night I went to see "The Imitation Game", had too much candy to eat and felt far too sugary coated to be able to sleep. I decided to watch the Portuguese semi final instead.

The first Portuguese final I ever saw was the one back in 1996, which in retrospect has proven to be possibly the best Festival da Canção on record. At least four or five songs were really good in the sense that they would have been suitable for Eurovision, something I haven't really experienced since.

This year, feeling the current line-up of songs for Vienna is quite meagre, several fans have started pinning their hopes on Portugal finding that masterpiece entry that will make them a real contender. Nothing in the first semi would point in that direction, to be honest. But at least there was Adelaide Ferreira.

Adelaide - in case you don't remember - represented Portugal back in Gothenburg 1985, where she was a bit of a press favourite and seen as a possible surprise in the making before her entry crashed and burned on second last place.

Thirty years later, she was back in the running with her song Paz. Perhaps not the strongest song since the beginning of pop culture but well performed and clearly one of the better ones in this semi. Click here to see it on RTP's web.

But do the Portuguese reward her for trying? Indeed they didn't. Really not the way to treat a lady. Remains to be seen if they are about to treat Simone de Oliveira any better in the second semi.

Adelaide - Penso em ti, eu sei (Portugal 1985)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sweden: fourth semi roundup

Sweden has sometimes been quite predictable in this game but lately - perhaps after the unexpected success of Ace Wilder - the Swedish public seemed to develop a healthy taste for some Saturday night drama.

I followed the Finnish final yesterday, but could tell from my Twitter feed that there was some massive collective jaw dropping going on as the results came in.

For the second week running, one of the obvious qualifiers according to most, lost out and had to content itself with a spot in the Andra Chansen heat. For a while, SVT managed to make quite a few people doubt that even red hot favourite Måns Zelmerlöw had made it to the final. Well played. Good television.

JTR taking the final spot instead of Hasse Andersson was indeed a surprise. A lukewarm boy band with a lukewarm song beating a seasoned veteran possibly means the young JTR fans use the voting app more skilfully than Andersson's older fan base.

Måns made it to the final and rightly so. I must admit that the song is more similar to David Guetta's "Lovers On The Sun" than I find comfortable, but still "Heroes" is my melfest favourite of 2015.

I like the way it refuses to be instantly likeable, how it needs some breaking into, how it's not your typical eurosong. This in combination with the irresistible charm of Måns makes this the perfect package. If I discovered how much I had missed Magnus Carlsson, it's nothing compared to have much I missed Måns.

Not convinced it is a winner. Not in Vienna, perhaps not even in Sweden. But it's my winner. And the only song out of this week's seven contenders to really make an impression on me.

Tobson's current top 3 in the final:
1) Måns Zelmerlöw / Heroes
2) Magnus Carlsson / Möt mig i Gamla stan
3) Isa / Don't Stop