A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
There is always some matter to discuss or just a song I want to share
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Monday, May 16, 2016

ESC 2016: Russia vs Ukraine

It's a shame the aftermath of the ESC is so political. It is hard to discuss music when the general tone is harsh and unforgiving.

I am happy that Ukraine won. It is a daring and demanding piece of music and ot your usual happy little pop song. While I would have hoped for something slightly more commercial, I'm happy that experimental and alternative sounds stand a chance in the contest.

Several times when I tried to make this point I was met by the question if I was happy now as LGBT rights in Ukraine are almost as bad as the ones in Russia. I beg your pardon?

This was the year I really tried to keep politics out of this. Russia ditched the hypocritical peace anthems that made me see red in the past so I decided to follow suit and judge them on musical merit.

In my humble opinion the Russian song was good but not excellent while the performance was state of the art, partially very impressive, partially very cold and technical. Add all these things together and I think a third place is a really fair outcome. A result most countries would be really happy with.

Then of course the relationship between Russia and Ukraine is not an easy one. Especially not at the moment. Had a look at the Ukrainian tv news that seemed happier about being Russia than actually winning. And the tone of the many articles declaring Eurovision dead and hopeless, published by Russian "news outlet" RT, is nothing but ridiculous. At least it was nice to see Ukraine scoring highly in the Russian televote and vice versa.

Time to take a deep breath and remind ourselves this is just a song contest?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

ESC 2016: Voting and stuff

Screenshot borrowed from svt.se

If you were one of the 16 countries that received a lower score in the televote it was really easy to lose track and hard to keep up with where your own country eventually landed in the ranking. That is my only criticism of the new voting sequence introduced this year.

The suspense was kept up until the very last second as Ukraine first snatched the until then seemingly dead certain Australian victory and then managed to keep it despite Russia winning the televote. Perfect drama.

Isolating the jury votes also brought back an air of Eurovision what it used to be like back in the day when I fell in love with the contest. Completely unpredictable results, someone gets a 12 from one country only to get nothing from the next.

But again I'd like to raise the same old discussion. Who is really on the jury? And what are they told to reward? Originality is one of the criteria, right?

I'm surprised that my dear Italy didn't get more love from the juries. A real quality pop song with remarkable production values and classy songwriting that was totally ignored by many juries.

Instead the likes of Lithuania and Belgium got a great deal of points. While I'm happy for two usually unlucky participant countries, I still don't see what there is in either song that would trigger such a reaction from experts.

At the same time, the juries held down Austria so much not even a strong televote finish could secure Zoë a spot in the top ten. Surprising.

ESC 2016: How do you solve a problem like Germany?

I got many things wrong in my prediction yesterday but I did foresee that Germany would end in last place for the second consecutive year. Jamie-Lee didn't deserve it, but it was understandable.

The German song was designed to live a long life in the charts, not to break through to people in three short minutes. It lacked intensity and was anything but instant. It won the German final because the audience was already familiar with it after several weeks of airplay.

Had Jamie-Lee been forced to enter the national final with a new song instead - one that would have had to impress people on a first listening - she would have had every chance to hit home better in Stockholm as well. This is something for ARD to ponder for years to come.

The UK had a pretty similar problem as they had selected a song that felt more fresh and likeable than what the audience expected. It was a good and energetic song and it was really good for being a recent UK entry. That's also the problem with it.

When you get 26 songs at once, you vote for the one that stands out and speaks to you. You don't give kind bonus points to any country just because they happen to be better than you'd expect them to be. You vote for your winner. And while the UK was good it was in no way a winner.

The UK has ended up in the well-known territory of Finland - you find a song you really believe in and think will impress people, but in the end they find it to be OK but average and nobody votes for you. "You're Not Alone" was the best song on offer in the UK final but all songs participating were very safe and inoffensive. Next year they would need to find some edge.

And then Spain. I must say the low placing of Barei was a great injustice. She gave a good and spirited performance but probably got overshadowed by Russia in the eye of the average viewer.

According to people in my Twitter feed there was a real good outcry on social media against TVE and their ESC attitude last night. I can understand that anger.

Spain is one of those countries that should be able to make top ten every year if they wanted to. There is so much quality music being made there, of every form and shape imaginable. If TVE would tap into the large pool of established professionals instead of using the people willing to go into an unestablished national final formula, maybe the results would improve?

ESC 2016: Tobson's thoughts after the final

Now wasn't that a shocker, Europe? The final of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest ended like a real thriller should with suspense up until the very last vote was cast.

The worst thing about the new voting sequence is that it reminds me a bit of the system used in 1971-1973 in the sense that many big numbers fly across the screen in short time. It was far from easy to keep track on where in the ranking countries landed if they were out of the top ten in the televote.

The best thing about the new voting sequence was of course the excitement. Just as you thought Australia had won by a landslide the whole thing was turned upside down and everything changed with the second last set of votes and almost changed again in the last round. Excellent entertainment.

Ukraine ended in second place with both juries and televotes. Some people are upset and mean they didn't deserve the victory because of that. It is like arguing Bucks Fizz did not deserve to win in 1981 as they only got two sets of 12 points. The song that receives the highest amount of points wins. End of.

I did mention Ukraine as a potential winner the other day but was still a bit surprised. Sadly the winner is unlikely to become a commercial hit in a traditional sense, but it is a good thing in a year dominated by theatrics, moving sets and projections that an entry focusing entirely on music and singing won.

I would honestly have been pleased with Australia or Russia winning as well. I was really happy for Bulgaria and France for great placings and for Austria doing so well in the televote.

Sad that my darling from Italy only managed a 16th place in the end. Thought she would receive far more love from the juries. Also Spain and United Kingdom deserved more than these fiascos.

And Germany - last for the second consecutive year. ARD really must take a long hard think how to improve quality control in their national final and find entries that break through to international audiences. How to achieve that is a question for tomorrow, however.

The results:
01) Ukraine / 1944 / Jamala 534 points
02) Australia / Sound of Silence / Dami Im 511
03) Russia / You're The Only One / Sergey Lazarev 491
04) Bulgaria / If Love Was A Crime / Poli Genova 307
05) Sweden / If I Were Sorry / Frans 261

06) France 257, 07) Armenia 249, 08) Poland 229, 09) Lithuania 200, 10) Belgium 181, 11) Netherlands 153, 12) Malta 153, 13) Austria 151, 14) Israel 135, 15) Latvia 132, 16) Italy 124, 17) Azerbaijan 117, 18) Serbia 115, 19) Hungary 108, 20) Georgia 104, 21) Cyprus 96, 22) Spain 77, 23) Croatia 73, 24) United Kingdom 62, 25) Czech republic 41, 26) Germany 11.

Jamala / 1944 (Ukraine 2016)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

ESC 2016: three reasons why Russia won't win

I'm so sorry for this post, Russia. It isn't really about you at all. I think your song is a catchy little number and I think Sergey is a great pop star. I even predicted Russian victory earlier today.

And yet it doesn't feel right. I am not convinced Russia will win. I don't feel it in my glittery little Eurovision-shaped heart.

My prediction is more about me giving in to what seems likely and me not being able to find one single standout song that the rest of the world would agree on. There are strong candidates but none of them seem like a more likely winner.

So let me just list three reasons why Russia is not going to win tonight. Just to explore my own conflicting emotions here.

1) This shouldn't be a televote winner.
Last year the viewers around Europe wanted an old-fashioned, stylish, well-executed power ballad with operatic undertones instead of the slick, hit-friendly song with the cool projection. Why would they want this overblown stage show all of a sudden?

2) This shouldn't be a jury winner.
The song sounds very much like a couple of songs that did really well back in 2008-2009, something. Not even then - when they were flavour of the month - did the juries back them. In 2009, Sakis Rouvas was a favourite to win with almost the same song until the juries stopped him from doing so.

3) People will want to go somewhere else.
I'm not a fan of this point but let's be honest about it. Quite a few people will be reluctant to vote for Russia because it is Russia. Quite a few of the juries will have been told - although it's really against the rules to do so - that it would be nicer if Russia didn't win. Ukraine already stated they will withdraw next year if the contest is held in Russia. This contest is not supposed to be political but you know what? It is. And because of point 1 and 2, also this will have a bit of an impact tonight.

If I am totally wrong here - and totally right earlier today - I hope the victory can be a springboard for the excellent Sergey Lazarev to conquer the international market as well.

Or maybe we will all be surprised, with our jaws hanging down, as Petra and Måns congratulate Georgia and the EBU start looking for suitable venues in Tbilisi.

Either way, enjoy your evening. May the best song win, regardless of politics. Good luck Russia, and everyone else.

ESC 2016: Tobson top 26

This part is hard every year but it feels harder than ever this year. What on earth will Europe make of the 26 songs in the running for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest?

Many of the songs are fairly similar. A few too many rely more on spectacular staging than skilled songwriting. Does that mean the winner will be a song that stands apart musically? Or an entry that focuses more on voice and song and less on presentation?

Now that juries and televoters create their individual sets of points it is also a lot harder to predict the action at the end of the scoreboard. Now you have to sniff out the songs likely to get overlooked in both voting rounds as these two bodies no longer tamper with each others' numbers.

The strongest feeling I have had since rehearsals started is that Russia won't win. There's too much calculation, too little heart, all that high tech on display also affects his singing, and juries have traditionally not voted for this kind of song.

I still have that feeling. I don't really believe Russia will win. But I have no idea which single song would be the one to stand out to beat it. Italy has a really unfortunate starting position. Ukraine is too demanding. France does not have the strong performance needed.

That leaves us with Australia and Sweden. Either one could be a potential winner.

In 2009 I predicted the wrong winner because I thought Norway was too obvious. In 2013 I predicted the wrong winner just because I thought Denmark was weak and I didn't want it to win. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. This is my final list. This time I would love for Europe to prove me wrong.

01 Russia
02 Australia
03 Sweden
04 Ukraine
05 Italy

06 Austria
07 Latvia
08 Spain
09 Armenia
10 Serbia

11 Georgia
12 France
13 Croatia
14 Bulgaria
15 Poland

16 Czech republic
17 Israel
18 Malta
19 Belgium
20 Azerbaijan

21 Netherlands
22 United Kingdom
23 Hungary
24 Cyprus
25 Lithuania
26 Germany

If Russia wins it will be truly interesting to see how the EBU would handle the situation. Ukraine already said they won't participate in a contest hosted by Russia and it is possible more countries would follow their example. And how would things like delegate and fan security be handled? It would be an interesting year coming up.

If Australia wins, it would be equally interesting to see where the contest is held. Would the EBU still have the nerve to place the contest in Germany even if they end last again?

I still hope that Italy would miraculously break through to the televoters as well as having bagged an awful lot of jury votes last night but for the time being I say Russia is the one.

Tobson and all the entries

I will get down to my prediction but first I'd like to put a tiny plug here for my other Eurovision blog, Tobson och alla bidragen, where I blog my way through every single Eurovision entry ever. More history schoolbook than my own personal opinions but I hope you'll enjoy storytelling too.

It's all in Swedish but don't let that put you off. There's always Google translate...

I promise you penguins, nuclear bombs, tragic deaths and the odd success story as well. And this is just the beginning.

ESC: Let's vote like it was 1985

I am yet to give you all my final prediction for tonight as I still haven't got the faintest idea who is going to win this year. It is all so open and so possible and so thrilling. If Abba were right and the history book on the shelf actually does repeat itself, then I am hoping for the voting to be a bit like it was back in 1985.

Look at the screenshot above. Switzerland just surprisingly gave their top mark to Turkey instead of neighbour - and red hot favourite - Germany and suddenly host country Sweden finds itself in the lead.

With four countries left to vote, the gap between the leader and the song in 6th place (Ireland) is a ridiculous twenty points. Had Sweden and Austria been as unpredictable as Switzerland, United Kingdom or even Ireland could leap into the lead.

Only moments earlier Italy had also been a real contender. Picture it: seven out of nineteen participants involved in the final battle for victory. Please let it happen again!

Then Luxembourg ruined the fun already in the second last round of voting and put Norway in a lead nobody could challenge which was fun for Bobbysocks but not so great for the drama.

With a bit of luck the new voting format will have us all screaming before we know the winner.

Friday, May 13, 2016

ESC 2016: And the winner is...

The running order for the grand final got to sink in during the day and tomorrow I will give my final word on how Saturday's show will end. Right now I have no idea. I doubt I will tomorrow either.

But I boiled the whole thing down to six countries that could win tomorrow. Six countries that I'd see as the only realistic contenders for victory. (And one potential super surprise in the making.)

But our winner tomorrow will be one of these:

Ridiculous to say anything else than Russia being the big hot favourite, the most likely winner tomorrow. And yet my gut feeling tells me Russia is more likely to confirm their position as the new United Kingdom, aka the eternal runner-up. The show is impressive, but not outstanding. Sergey sings well but not perfectly. Critical judges should see through the technical trickery and identify that the song is good but not terrific. However, Russia winning would show once and for all that nobody is doomed on politics alone.

I don't give up until I'm defeated. The best song in the running must have a chance of winning, even with a surprisingly bad spot in the running order. On the jury final the people who already liked the song loved Francesca's performance, the people who are not convinced thought it lacked something. Business as usual. If there is any point to having juries at all, they should recognise what a fantastic song this is and reward it heavily.

Not giving up on France either. If Amir turns on that charm he has stashed away somewhere he could collect an impressive number of televotes. It is not juries alone who decide the winner even if Europe will get the idea at first in the final.

Smashing performance of a difficult but engaging song. It would hardly be the big summer hit of 2016 if it won but at least it would take the focus back to songs, performers and singing skills instead of projections and holograms.

Another stunning vocal and a more hit friendly song. The only letdown is the ridiculous special effect during the second verse that only distracts and doesn't even properly work.

The last time a country won on home ground was Ireland back in 1994. Wouldn't it be most fitting if Sweden repeated the feat and won their own competition at the same time as going into the lead of countries winning Eurovision?

AUSTRIA (Potential super surprise in the making)
Pink and fluffy and sweet, it dances in on stage not being anything else than what meets the eye. Old-fashioned, likeable, understandable. Normal, if I dare say so, coming after Georgia. It's unlikely but once in a blue moon the sky falls down on our heads.

Watch this space for a more detailed prediction tomorrow. Sleep well, if you can.

ESC 2016: Tobson's thoughts on the running order

It can't have been entirely easy to sequence the songs of the final properly and Christer Björkman even allowed himself to sigh in public regarding the first half, where many of the songs are pretty similar in style and tempo.

On a first glance it seems Russia and Ukraine bettered their positions even further thanks to this order, while Austria looks like a possible surprise in the making.

My personal favourite Italy feels very removed from the action coming in already at number six. Anyone thinking Belgium could be a contender can forget all about that as Laura is set to open the final. But then again - in 2003 Turkey won from 4th position in  field of 26 countries. Everything is still possible.

This is the full running order:
01. Belgium, 02. Czech republic, 03. Netherlands, 04. Azerbaijan, 05. Hungary, 06. Italy, 07. Israel, 08. Bulgaria, 09. Sweden, 10. Germany, 11. France, 12. Poland, 13. Australia, 14. Cyprus, 15. Serbia, 16. Lithuania, 17. Croatia, 18. Russia, 19. Spain, 20. Latvia, 21. Ukraine, 22. Malta, 23. Georgia, 24. Austria, 25. United Kingdom, 26. Armenia

Tobson's thoughts after semi 2

What we needed in the final was diversity and we had it in the shape of Georgia's weird and psychedelic rock number. It's not my favourite song and I don't think it will do awfully well come Saturday, but I cheered happily as they were announced as one of ten finalists.

It will add some dynamics and an element of the unexpected. Not to mention it is head and shoulders above that rather stale rocker from Cyprus.

The second semi was a most entertaining show - Petra and Måns were in top form - and again I nailed nine out of the ten qualifiers correctly. I was nanoseconds away from putting Norway as a non-qualifier instead of Israel - which would have given me a full ten - but I sort of wanted to be right as Agnete is a sweet girl who struggled hard to get her act together. Israel is the better song so I'm not upset about being wrong.

All Nordic countries are out of the running - only host country Sweden will be there on Saturday. It means Frans is likely to receive 4 x 12 points at least. Since the semis were introduced, it never happened that we had less than two Nordic countries in a final. Disappointing perhaps but also pretty well deserved. The Nordic national finals left a few things to be desired this year.

Also it is good for the contest that also the Nordic countries fail at times and the likes of Belgium make it two years in a row.

Tomorrow morning we will have the running order - then we'll start predicting the winner. I still have a gut feeling Italy will do extremely well but so will Australia and Ukraine.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Tobson takes a guess: Semi 2

It went rather well on Tuesday as I predicted what eight songs would make their early exit from the contest at the end of the first semi final. I spotted seven out of eight non-qualifiers correctly - including the Icelandic failure which seems to have come as a major surprise to many - only thinking Azerbaijan would miss their first final and putting Estonia in the final instead.

Had I made my prediction after seeing the performances, I'm not sure I would have been as accurate. Sometimes it is better to leave the emotion out of the whole thing and just analyse. So here goes. Here are the eight songs that will be voted off Island Eurovision tonight, in some sort of random order.

The Swiss seem to have specialised in finding songs that will be nobody's favourite despite there being nothing in particular that's wrong with them (except for the fact that their singer is exuding smoke during her performance). Nice, squeaky clean and chanceless.

This sounds like a tired old boyband album track dressed up in a truly uninspiring and dull arrangement. Would have needed a real firework of a performance to stand out in any way at all and if rehearsal reports are to be trusted, Nicky isn't really that.

A laid-back whiff of country flavoured music could be a successful recipe had there been any trace of a meaningful chorus hidden somewhere underneath the surface.

No real wolves, just a festival of hologram extravaganza. All in the hope of covering up with a mediocre entry this really is. Let's hope it doesn't work.

She sings nicely and objectively speaking this is a good song. It just has the misfortune of coming late in a running order full of similar entries. Semi 1 showed that a late spot in the running in no way makes you immune of failure.

Not altogether sure about this one but I suspect the Nordic failures that began in the first semi will continue now. Nothing in this package would be anywhere near engaging enough to deserve a spot in the final, but Denmark often manages to attract votes anyway.

This pains me as Kaliopi is a big personal favourite and I think her mere presence should be enough to qualify. But let's face that fact that the song is probably slightly too inaccessible on a first listen and unless the juries showered this with love last night, this is where the story ends.

I know this has grown into a bit of a favourite during rehearsals but I still don't believe in this when hidden in a row of slower songs. How on earth will it manage to stand out?

This would mean that my qualifiers tonight are Latvia, Poland, Serbia, Lithuania, Australia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Norway, Georgia and Belgium. I'd gladly swap Lithuania for FYR Macedonia and Belgium for Israel, but this is my final guess for now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tobson's thoughts after semi 1

Just a few thoughts after the first semi final is over. It was a lavish and entertaining show from Stockholm where Petra Mede and Måns Zelmerlöw did their best to take us viewers from point A to point Z without inferring too much.

On a first listening I was surprised to see many of the artists I really thought would possess stage skills underperforming badly. Finland and Estonia both really deserved to get kicked out tonight with their low energy and lack of determination.

Seeing the performances for the first time tonight possibly allowed me to see some things the people on location have missed. For instance Croatia - bullied for their choice of outfit - suddenly felt so deserving of a spot in the final for me. Cool, artistic, with a temper of its own. I was genuinely happy to see it pass.

In my prediction, I found myself getting 9 songs out of 10 right. I'm just as surprised as the rest of you. The only one I had wrong was Azerbaijan - and she sang better than media reports had suggested - as I had predicted Estonia instead. I'm not unhappy with the way it went.

This is not schadenfreude at all, but I am happy that Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina got pushed out. It is better for the contest that there are as few countries as possible that always qualify no matter what kind of song they enter. Now they both can come back with better songs next year.

And I am full of joy that both Austria and Czech republic made it through. At the end of the day, those two songs were the only ones I really cared for. (Those two and Freddie from Hungary. I can not believe how lovely that man is.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tobson takes a guess: Semi 1

It's here - the night of the first semi where eight hopefuls will have their dreams crushed and their ESC voyage will find an early end.

Also ten finalists will make their first important impression on the televoting audience at home and maybe take a first important step towards a top placing.

Usually when predicting the semi finals I tell you what ten songs will make it and why, but this year I thought I'd turn the whole thing around. I will tell you what eight songs will be out instead. And why.

The eight songs making their exit tonight will be these ones (in some sort of random order perhaps):

Feels like the most obvious non-qualifier of the night. Not unpleasant but lacking in both profile and - according to rehearsal reports - vocal perfection. Random dancing cosmonaut on stage just adds the final touch to this failure.

Moody introverted rock could be the perfect thing for Eurovision but this package would be in desperate need of a chorus. Or a hook. Or anything to make it memorable.

The only thing making me doubt the upcoming Greek failure is that Greece never failed in a semi final before. Sometime their luck must end. And there is nothing in this entry that would deserve a spot in the final.

I wish this wouldn't happen but it will. This will be too anonymous and easily forgotten coming as first song of the night. The usual non-promotion that the local record companies specialise in hasn't helped either. Too bad.

Don't laugh too hard at Serhat, he is likely to land one of San Marino's best showings to date. But an 11th place is not enough to make it to the final.

Just like Greece, Bosnia never missed out in a semi. I have a feeling either this one or Croatia will lose out tonight. It could very well be the other way around but I would prefer it like this.

Iceland or Estonia. I have a strong feeling one of them will lose out. And then I think Iceland will suffer in the battle of the screens - Russia will out-project everybody else and Iceland can't really afford that.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that also Azerbaijan fails for the first time. News reports suggest Samra sang really badly at last night's jury final, and the Land of Fire was really close to getting eliminated already last year. It will be very revealing to see what jurors vote for this despite all the sick notes.

If Europe agrees with me that these are the eight songs we are sending home tonight, then my list of qualifiers would be (in order of appearance): Hungary, Croatia, Netherlands, Armenia, Russia, Czech republic, Cyprus, Austria, Estonia, Malta.

It doesn't seem altogether right - Netherlands, Estonia, Croatia and Austria are surely under threat - but I will run with this, while secretly hoping for Serhat to make the cut.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

ESC 2016: Alright then, we lost

The first semi final is in two days and I think it is about time to throw in the towel. There are some countries that are just not going to make it to the final for various reasons. One of these countries is very likely to be Finland.

I have not changed my mind a single bit about the song itself. As I wrote in my review I find it bouncy and happy and I love the energy in it. But sometimes you just have to resign to certain facts.

First fact: nobody else believes in it except me. I haven't seen one single person on location in Stockholm who expects Finland to make it into the top ten on Tuesday. That doesn't mean anything in itself. Very few people saw the qualification of San Marino coming in 2014. But still.

Second fact: Number one is not a very good starting position. Especially not for Finland. Our songs are seldom particularly mainstream and often look better when there is someone else to compare you to. Had Sandhja come in after Greece-Moldova-Hungary-Croatia instead of before them, she would have appeared like an energy injection. Now she's just a pleasant opener that few people will remember.

Third fact: Luck is not Finland's forte. Finland is the kind of country that seldom performs better than anticipated. We usually underperform instead. Every single Finnish entry after Lordi (with the exception of Softengine) failed to live up to expectation. Every. Single. One.

Would Finland have been better off with another song from UMK, then? A hyperactive and over-excited Saara Aalto would have felt as out of place as a Moldovan cosmonaut and Mikael Saari would have been just another handsome male with a slower song. Sandhja was the best choice. This just isn't our year.

Now I'll publish this text and spend the next days hoping this is all rubbish and I'm all wrong. I just don't think I am.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

ESC 2016: how much high-tech is too much?

We already established that I'm not in Stockholm and that I won't be there at all this year. Fourth consecutive year covering the contest from the sofa. Not too bad, it has its advantages.

I do keep an eye on rehearsals through reports and short clips from Globen and the distance really gives you a more sober idea of what works and what doesn't. On location it is so easy to get swept away by the general enthusiasm surrounding a certain rehearsal and lose a little bit of your judgment. In all fairness I do miss getting swept away. Next year I hope to be.

What stands out to me while keeping up with the first two days of rehearsals is that the inevitable happened. Suddenly this year everyone is using technology to enhance their performances. Screens, projections, 3D effects, you name it.

High-tech is suddenly what drums were ten years ago. Omnipresent and not always needed. When what felt like the seventeenth country pulled some sort of animated hocus pocus out of the bag I felt I had had it with it already.

I loved Moldova's dress thingy in Malmö 2013. I love Måns' sweet routine with his Mini-Me last year. Both were done with warmth and intelligence and in both cases the technology added to the performance instead of taking over. From what little I can tell from available footage, some of this year's performers seem reduced to mere props in their own entries.

I know what you may be thinking at this point. This is not aimed at Russia. They are attempting to take the whole thing to next level, which is interesting. But when more people project stuff on dresses than not, it will diminish also the Russian effect.

I understand everyone's wish to impress and to make more of their three minutes on stage than just plain old-fashioned singing. But at some point all of this extravagance could become too much and make people long for something simple. Just because you enjoy the occasional slice of heavy Schwarzwald cake doesn't mean you want it at every meal.

If the second semi turns out to be as tech-heavy as the first one, my strongest feeling about the final is that something simple, straight-forward and intimate will have strong chances of winning.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

ESC 2016: all my reviews in one place

There we have it - I reviewed every single one of the preview clips for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. It really is fair to say I reviewed the clips rather than the songs since so much is about to happen to our perception of the entries as soon as rehearsals begin.

But if you missed one or just want to read back again, here are links to all of the countries and my posts about them. If you want to read my opinion on poor, excluded Romania you will find it here.

Semi 1
Finland, Greece, Moldova, Hungary, Croatia, Netherlands, Armenia, San Marino, Russia, Czech republic, Cyprus, Austria, Estonia, Azerbaijan, Montenegro, Iceland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Malta

Semi 2
Latvia, Poland, Switzerland, Israel, Belarus, Serbia, Ireland, FYR Macedonia, Lithuania, Australia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Ukraine, Norway, Georgia, Albania, Belgium

France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Sweden

Friday, April 29, 2016

Final: 09 Sweden / If I Were Sorry

The single most interesting thing about the final will be to see how Europe reacts to the Swedish entry. What we know is that the response from eurovision fans in general has been lukewarm or outright negative.

What we also know is that the general public has been very favourable, that the song shot to #1 in the Swedish charts and made waves also internationally and has been heavily streamed also outside of Sweden.

It must be said that Frans - the youngest person to represent Sweden since Carola Häggkvist entered the stage in Munich back in 1983 - has that certain something that seems to break through to other audiences that the mainstream eurovision ones. That must mean something.

Starting position 9 is perhaps far from optimal but my guess is SVT will do their best to make their own entry stand out on Saturday night.

Potential winner:
Yes. I really think so. We have not had a host country winning since 1994. Maybe the time has come again.

My grade: 4/5

Frans / If I Were Sorry (Sweden 2016 preview clip)

Final: United Kingdom / You're Not Alone

To repair something as broken as the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Eurovision Song Contest is a difficult process and nothing that will be achieved overnight. This year's national final could possibly have been the first of several baby steps needed to push things in the right direction.

Out of a decent but not exactly thrilling selection, arguably the best song won. A pretty contemporary little bagatelle with a clear hook in its chorus and clearly the best UK entry for many years. The kind of entry the Irish song would like to think it is.


The song is nice but doesn't grow on you. It won't take a lot for this one to get upstaged by anything coming before or after it in the running. And the boys would have to get more intense with each other to convince the audiences of their bubbly friendship. They would need to hug and sparkle and at least look they were keen on maybe even kissing each other.

Potential winner:
In no way, no. But on a good day this could be the positive surprise that collects decent points from all over the place and ends in a 12th place. Which would be like a victory for the UK given recent struggles.

My grade: 3/5

Joe & Jake / You're Not Alone (United Kingdom 2016 preview clip)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Final: Spain / Say Yay!

It is a good year for the Big 5. France is one of the top favourites for victory and Italy is a very strong dark horse. But what about Spain, then? Could they surprise us all as well?

It all comes down to a few important things. In the Spanish national final, Barei had to put the whole thing together herself and that added a likeable but slightly amateurish touch to the whole performance. A stronger backing group and some professional choreography could do the trick.

Could do the trick. There is also the risk that a new "professional" team will ruin things as well. The song is full of a raw, untamed energy that needs to be canalised in the right way. Worst case scenario is that the whole thing becomes too polished and... well... normal.

Potential winner:
Maybe not after all. But if they do everything right, Spain could possibly be a candidate for the lower regions of the top five.

My grade: 4/5

Barei / Say Yay! (Spain 2016 preview clip)

Final: Italy / No Degree of Separation

For the first time ever, I was following the Sanremo festival live on television this year and I clearly remember my first reaction to this song. Meh. A bit bland. Nothing really special. Then it ended in second place, got picked up for Eurovision and sort of got pressed against my face and then something happened and the whole song unfolded for me.

This is - by quite some margin - my favourite song of the whole year. There is some sort of raw emotion in a very restrained and sophisticated packaging. A refinement and perfection nobody else comes close to.

I even love the one short chorus sung in English. It allows the song to feel completely Italian and yet underlines how universal and international it feels. And I can't get enough of Francesca herself and her slightly introverted intensity.

Potential winner:
I want to say yes. A song as wonderful as this must have a chance of winning. Maybe I suspect it to be a bit too demanding to hit home on one listening, but I hope the televoting masses will be smarter than I was at first.

My grade: 5/5

Francesca Michielin / No Degree of Separation (Italy 2016 preview clip)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Final: Germany / Ghost

It's always so hard to evaluate Germany's chances in the final. Their entries are often the kind of songs that should do well but that often lack some sort of sparkle or energy or pulse to make them come alive. Often they look like some sort or record label dream product that fails to connect with the audience.

Talent show winner Jamie-Lee is dangerously close to being just that. She has a quirky image and stands out visually and her song has been leading a long life in German charts already. And yet something is missing.

There's something lacking from her vocal delivery, especially in the verses. Only when the song climaxes close to the end is there an energy to her voice. Could she manage to get the intensity into her voice sooner?

Also, the cameras need to find her a lot quicker in Stockholm. She can't remain a distant shadow for as long as in this clip. Contact and intensity is what is lacking here.

Potential winner:
No. I don't think so. This song is designed to keep a young artist in the charts for several weeks, not to grab an audience in three minutes. Those goals aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but Jamie-Lee would have needed something more instantly accessible to sing. At least it shouldn't be another nul-pointer in the making.

My grade: 2/5

Jamie-Lee / Ghost (Germany 2016 preview clip)

Final: France / J'ai cherché

When I first heard the French entry - a day or two before it was officially confirmed - I remember thinking to myself it wasn't anything like what I had expected. It sounded contemporary and fresh. Like a hit. Perhaps even like a winner.

Then I started thinking. We've been here before. I had a flashback to Baku where I was convinced Anggun would be a potential winner until what could possibly qualify as one of the worst stagings ever ruined her chances and left her with a big fat zero in the televote.

I spend my time feeling torn between the hit factor of the song and my fear that the French will mess it up big time again. And at first I had doubts whether Amir would be charming and vibrant enough to pull this off at all.

Potential winner:
Yes. In case everything falls into place regarding singing and performance and if France would be lucky enough to get a good spot in the second half of the running order... Then it could be next stop Paris indeed. But I keep the grade down a bit until I've seen the final performance.

My grade: 4/5

Amir / J'ai cherché (France 2016 preview clip)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Semi 2: 18 Belgium / What's The Pressure?

How much luck can anyone possibly have? When the running order was set, I think the Belgian team broke the scale.

My opinion has not changed much since the Belgian final and I still find this a terribly disappointing song with a real let-down of a chorus. The only things it has going for it is a good arrangement - that makes it seem bright and energetic without really being anything close to that - and a sparkling performance by young Laura.

However, none of the negatives will matter now. Belgium will come bursting in with something that resembles tempo and attitude and close a decent but a bit too streamlined semi on a happy note.

Yes. It won't carry far in the final but on Thursday night this can't lose.

My grade: 1/5

Laura Tesoro / What's The Pressure? (Belgium 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 17 Albania / Fairytale

Albania is one of those countries that never seem to fail completely in this contest. Even when their song isn't my cup of tea I can usually find something appealing hidden at the bottom of the package.

This year's song is pleasant and well performed, presented in a sleek and attractive arrangement. When you single it out and listen to only this one, you will find it a very good song.

Problem is it comes in a line-up where I've already heard Armenia and Azerbaijan and Czech republic and Switzerland and Serbia and Australia and I have no idea how this will manage to sell itself to an audience at this point.

Borderline. A good song is a good song and it does have a favourable starting position. But if it qualifies it is more due to good luck than anything else.

My grade: 2/5

Eneda Tarifa / Fairytale (Albania 2016 preview clip)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Semi 2: 16 Georgia / Midnight Gold

If it didn't happen already, this is where these reviews will get weird for real. But I absolutely love what Georgia is trying to do here.

I like the special dynamic that comes with a rock group and I like the idea of Oasis waking up one day in Tbilisi, deciding that Eurovision would be the next sensible step in their career. I like the structured chaos and I like the understated madness of the clip.

And I really LOVE the final seventy seconds as it gets really intense and almost out of hand. Had the whole song had the same quality, this would be a full 5/5 in my book.

No. Unless these guys bought a big family pack of charisma after the national final and do something really goofy-in-a-good-way thing on stage. Which I hope they do. Would love to see this in the final.

My grade: 3/5

Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz / Midnight Gold (Georgia 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 15 Norway / Icebreaker

Norway has done so well in recent years, first with the edgy electro of Margaret Berger and then with two more unusual ballads. This year it seems they wished to gel these two successful genres into one song. Regardless if the styles were compatible or not.

The Big Thing about this song is of course the tempo change. Just as you think it is going to plunge headlong into a wave-your-hands-in-the-air-chorus it suddenly slows down and turns into a ballad chorus. I found that very confusing at first and don't doubt many will share that sentiment.

Now I heard it many times and the tempo change isn't confusing anymore. Problem is I still don't like it. It comes as a disappointment every time. Agnete is good and makes up for a lot of my disappointment but not all of it.

I think so, yes. In a year where many songs sound very similar, anything that the audience can hold onto to and remember you by is good. Even if it is something that annoys them.

My grade: 2/5

Agnete / Icebreaker (Norway 2016 preview clip)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Semi 2: 14 Ukraine / 1944

It isn't entirely unusual that countries that go through difficult times decide to sing about this at Eurovision. Problem is that it is difficult territory and the rules clearly state no song may carry political messages of any kind.

Which isn't any easy rule to live by. If you sing everyone has the right to love who they want, it is a political statement if you so wish. Where do you draw the line?

Jamala sings about people who come to your house, kill everyone and say they're not guilty. Not all that easy to digest and pretty easy to identify as a political message. However, the song is explicitly about events taking place in 1944, which makes it an eligible subject. The fact that the same lyrics could be applied to today's situation is just a coincidence. (Surely.)

Luckily this is no pretentious peace anthem. It's a minimalist, haunting dance track and Jamala performs it excellently. If you have doubts about the lyrical content there is no need to have any reservations about the song.

Yes, you bet. Demanding but totally appealing. And Jamala herself is just perfect.

My grade: 4/5

Jamala / 1944 (Ukraine 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 13 Denmark / Soldiers of Love

It's no secret. For years I thought the Danish entries were lacking most things I demand of my ESC entries. They had no scent, no stains, no passion, no emotion. Like kitchen utensils made of plastic, they were practical but not exciting. Last year in Vienna Europe finally agreed with me and Denmark was rejected in the semi.

Very much like the Irish, it seems Denmark has been largely unable to pin down the very reason their song flopped and instead decided to send in something fairly similar to see if it would possibly work this time.

The result is an almost shockingly anonymous song that manages to go on for three minutes without a single interesting thing happening in it. The guys performing it look so excited and one wonders why. Maybe they've never been to Stockholm before.

No. The Danes have had a strange ability to qualify with their non-songs in the past but I hope the spell was broken once and for all last year. And give us something with a bit of passion, please.

My grade: 1/5

Lighthouse X / Soliders of Love (Denmark 2016 preview clip)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Semi 2: 12 Bulgaria / If Love Was A Crime

Bulgaria has had a bumpy ride through the Eurovision forest through the years. Only once did they make it to the final despite sending in many interesting entries and good singers.

One of those was Poli Genova who came heartbreakingly close to qualifying in Düsseldorf in 2011. Since then she kept cutting out a place for herself in Bulgarian showbiz as a singer but also as a personality in various tv shows. When hosting last year's Junior Eurovision from Sofia, it was almost like she was auditioning for the job of representing Bulgaria a second time around.

No surprise then as Bulgarian tv internally selected her to perform their comeback entry and this time everyone involved seem to have made their homework properly.

This is a very focused effort with a nifty pop chorus and a haunting and effective use of a single line of Bulgarian.

Yes. This is the time when Bulgaria got it right at long last. Poli feels like a fresh and vibrant pop star and the song is a hit.

My grade: 4/5

Poli Genova / If Love Was A Crime (Bulgaria 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: Romania / Moment Of Silence

Update: On April 22 it was announced that TVR has been suspended from the EBU and the Romanian entry will not be allowed to take part in Stockholm. I have decided not to remove or alter this review but will change the running order positions accordingly.

One day Jim Steinman decided to compose a new musical - Les Miserables 2 - using all the songs of his that even MeatLoaf refused to record. To market this new project, he decided to enter the theme song to the Romanian national final for Eurovision.

I'm just joking of course, but I'm not sure how to explain this sudden outburst into this fluffy landscape of pompous rock opera. Romania were always unpredictable for sure, but this?

The singer is obviously very passionate about this song and the backing vocalists are making their movements with deep conviction. Once the song is over I forget what the melody is like but I remember very vividly what it looked like.

In a year where we have our fair share of rock of various brands this shouldn't stand a chance. But Romania is yet to fail in a semi final.

Borderline. It will probably be in since it is Romania but there should be some limits even to what exile Romanians would be ready to vote for.

My grade: 1/5

Ovidiu Anton / Moment Of Silence (Romania 2016 preview clip)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Semi 2: 11 Slovenia / Blue and Red

Slovenia is a very ambitious ESC country that puts on a big and varied national final and sometimes finds that special entry that makes them talked about and noticed. Like last year.

This year I'm afraid they will remain in the shadows of the contest instead. Their chosen song is pleasant and enjoyable, a charming little country bagatelle that never really takes off. The chorus is surprisingly flat and while the singer is charming she doesn't quite own the stage.

This is the song everyone will enjoy but nobody will vote for.

No. I wish I could see it happen but it won't.

My grade: 1/5

ManuElla / Blue and Red (Slovenia 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 10 Australia / Sound Of Silence

My first reaction to the Australian entry was that they had decided to win and would stop at nothing to achieve this. Like a hostile takeover. "We come in peace - resistance is futile." Sort of.

This classy ballad with echoes of Sia is so slick and elegant and perfectly performed. It sounds like a real radio hit that is just waiting to own the airwaves for years to come.

And yet - having all 43 entries on the table - I'm not so convinced about victory anymore. There is perhaps just one or a few entries too many of this kind this year. Being the best one doesn't necessarily help if the others keep stealing precious points away from you.

Yes, beyond the shadow of a doubt. This is really good songwriting and warm professionalism hand in hand. An obvious qualifier.

My grade: 4/5

Dani Im / Sound Of Silence (Australia 2016 preview clip)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Semi 2: 09 Lithuania / I've Been Waiting For This Night

I was no big fan of Donny Montell back in 2012. In my book he is little more than a Lithuanian David Lindgren - someone who is posing as a pop star while really not being one at heart. This year he has a better song but the posing is left in tact.

However, Lithuania had more luck than anyone would have the right to hope for. After an eternity of slow or mid-tempo songs, they come in with something that will remind the viewers of a temper. Some rhythm. Something you could dance to.

The song really is a pretty bleak sketch of a dance hit - it keeps going and going in the same spot without a single trace of development - but it won't matter much here. This year's Golden Boy comes from Lithuania and will get picked up just by bringing the beat back.

Yes. And it means at least one better song will be left out. Cruel world.

My grade: 1/5

Donny Montell / I've Been Waiting For This Night (Lithuania 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 08 FYR Macedonia / Dona

Kaliopi should represent her country at Eurovision every year. There. I said it. I love her to bits and get a bit blinded by her sheer presence.

That's where this review gets a bit complicated. Just like with her previous ESC entries I like this one but feel it is not perfect. Had it been performed by a lesser artist than Kaliopi, then I would possibly even expect this not to qualify.

And there's the big riddle. Will Kaliopi manage to spellbind Europe and make them vote for her a second time around?

Yes. I want to believe that an experienced and expressive performer can make all the difference. I want to believe this one will be in.

My grade: 3/5

Kaliopi / Dona (FYR Macedonia 2016 preview clip)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Semi 2: 07 Ireland / Sunlight

After two consecutive years getting stuck in the semi, RTÉ had had it and scrapped their national final. Good idea. If there is one national final that should have been scrapped years ago, it is the Irish one. Or at least it would need a serious reboot.

Instead of any reboot the Irish decided to internally select Nicky Byrne, former global pop star with Westlife as well as a prominent figure in RTÉ's own broadcasting. That came in handy.

The thing that really surprises me here is that the internally selected entry sounds remarkably much like the kind of song that would have won the Irish national final anyway. And then get stuck in the semi. Why didn't they use this opportunity to find something fresh and new and exciting instead of this really dated production?

No. This one feels like a song destined to end in 12th place on a Thursday night.

My grade: 1/5

Nicky Byrne / Sunlight (Ireland 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 06 Serbia / Goodbye (Shelter)

The first half of the second semi is really unfortunate as so many of the songs have very similar dynamics to them and it will make it harder for anyone to stand out in their own right. In that respect, Serbia had better luck than most.

The song is still very much in line with the ones coming before it - good but not outstanding - but Sanja is the first really big female personality in this semi and is likely to get noticed by quite a few.

The only thing that really annoys me here is the title. Goodbye would be a good title. Shelter would be a good title. But those two together? Doesn't it look strange? She says goodbye to the shelter or what?

Borderline. It takes a little big more than a big personality to break through. Sanja will have to gear up in order to get remembered.

My grade: 3/5

ZAA Sanja Vučić / Goodbye (Shelter) (Serbia 2016 preview clip)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Semi 2: 05 Belarus / Help You Fly

So there was no truth to the rumours that Ivan wanted to perform in the nude surrounded by living wolves? What a shame. This song would certainly have needed something dramatic to catch the audience's attention.

Just like Switzerland, this isn't really a bad song as such. It's just very featureless and indifferent. It just happens. It begins, it goes on, it ends. And would have needed someone far more charismatic than this young man to make it in any way distinguishable.

Where are the wolves when you need them?

No. Not good enough and surrounded by entries with somewhat similar dynamics this one won't stand a chance.

My grade: 1/5

Ivan / Help You Fly (Belarus 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 04 Israel / Made Of Stars

After a few years trapped out in the Eurovision semi final desert, Israel finally made it back to the Saturday night lineup last year with a song I initially felt very little for. This year saw them sticking to that same selection modus and the same composer as last year.

Hovi Star is an extravagant persona and a good singer and he has one of only two male ballads in this semi final. So the big question remains why SVT has put both these male ballads so close to each other in the running order - especially given how similar they are from a visual point of view.

Israel's entry is the more dynamic one but will they end up cancelling each other out? Coming after Poland and Switzerland, I doubt the audience is longing for another slow entry at this point.

No, unless Hovi really performs the living daylights out of it. I would want to have it in the final, but it will struggle to get there.

My grade: 3/5

Hovi Star / Made Of Stars (Israel 2016 preview clip)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Semi 2: 03 Switzerland / The Last Of Our Kind

One old myth that lived on for many years was that the entries to the ESC should, according to the rules, showcase some sort of national trait. If one song this year truly does that, it is this one.

It has turned into a Swiss trait lately to enter this kind of entry. One that is nice and pleasant and totally inoffensive and most certainly bound to sink without a trace in the voting.

It's a bit unfair. The song surely has merits as well as a pleasant melody line but just like its performer it is ultimately too polite to leave any real impression. Nothing about it is bad but nothing is memorable either. Coming this early in the running makes it absolutely no favours.

Am I the only one hoping for Switzerland to send in some heavy metal next year? Or some punk? Or anything with a bit of edge and attitude?

No. Most certainly not.

My grade: 1/5

Rykka / The Last Of Our Kind (Switzerland 2016 preview clip)

Semi 2: 02 Poland / Colour of Your Life

Poland had the indecency of selecting the wrong song in their national final. The entry finally ending up in second place had already attracted international attention and was seen by many as potential winner in Stockholm and Poland suddenly found themselves on top of the betting. The red hot favourite lost and Poland dropped back to wherever they came from.

That's one way of telling the story. Another way is to say that a more genuine entry beat the over-hyped one that failed to live up to expectation.

This ballad is in no way a winner but it is pleasant and performed by a likeable and intriguing singer. Poland could certainly have chosen worse.

Borderline. With his very distinct look and sound, he certainly stands a better chance of being remembered than many others.

My grade: 3/5

Michał Szpak / Color Of Your Life (Poland 2016 preview clip)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Semi 2: 01 Latvia / Heartbeat

Latvia was really down and out in Eurovision, not making it out of the semi for six consecutive years, when they suddenly got themselves together and rose again.

Maybe Latvia didn't do it. Maybe Aminata did it all for them. The remarkably talented singer and songwriter that took Latvia to sixth place in Vienna last year - and who would have ended in second place had the juries alone decided the outcome - is back this year.

This time around she left the performing responsibility to young Justs and seldom has the Latvian fate rested in safer hands. Justs feels safe and reliable, but there is also an edge to his voice and his presence. Fragile and strong at the same time. A modern minimalist pop tune with an explosive performer - that's all I want, that's all I need.

Yes. If Latvia is not in the final, then the universe is broken anyway.

My grade: 4/5

Justs / Heartbeat (Latvia 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 18 Malta / Walk On Water

Ira Losco did what pretty much everyone expected her to do as she threw out her national final winner "Chameleon" and replaced it with another song. She recorded an impressive number of demos and had a panel decide which one they liked best. The panel's overwhelming favourite was the Swedish-penned "Walk On Water", originally written for and by Molly Pettersson Hammar.

I have no idea what the panel heard that I don't hear. For me the new song is more than decent but in no way sensational. Another piece of mainstream pop of the kind that really is this year's big thing.

I'm almost sorry I knew it was written for Molly PH as I almost hear her voice and how the writing is done to suit her vocal technique, not Ira's. It's like Ira is making a cover version instead of turning it into anything of her own.

I keep wondering why this one got to close the semi final. Does SVT know something about a fantastic stage show or did they just want to give a friendly pat on the head to a songwriting team they wish to encourage for the future?

Yes, so I guess. Closing the semi should do the trick, but after Croatia-Armenia-Azerbaijan-Czech republic-Moldova there is nothing extraordinary or original about this one.

My grade: 2/5

Ira Losco / Walk On Water (Malta 2016 preview clip)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Semi 1: 17 Bosnia-Herzegovina / Ljubav je

Yes, I missed Croatia very much when they were gone. But I missed Bosnia-Herzegovina even more. Since 2004 they've been good every year, even when they weren't good as such they delivered and became good before our very eyes.

What kind of entry would be the right one to attempt a comeback with, then? That questions seems to have bothered the Bosnians as well so they decided to throw every idea they had into one single song. Everything and the kitchen sink. And for the first time since forever, it feels like Bosnia let us down.

The presentation in the clip really isn't optimal. Maybe the circumstances are to blame but there is no sparkle between Deen and his duet partner. The cello player feels more like a decoration than an actual component of the actual entry and the song just goes on and on until a rapper bursts into the whole thing. Since the rap entrance brings some action into the picture, it comes more as a relief than a disturbance.

But too little, too late.

Borderline. I hate crying diaspora but had this been Slovakia I would have bet everything I have on this not qualifying. Now it could very well happen, despite an acute lack of song.

My grade: 1/5

Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala / Ljubav je (Bosnia-Herzegovina 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 16 Iceland / Hear Them Calling

It is no secret I have been disappointed in Iceland in recent years. Knowing the kind of fierce madness they are capable of, it's been frustrating seeing them send in mainly very polite and clean-cut entries. I was hoping last year's flop in Vienna would set them off in another direction.

It didn't. The Icelandic final was pretty much business-as-usual and the winner is like a hyper version of their 2012 entry minus the duet partner and adding some visual inspiration from Loreen as well as from Måns.

This sounds very negative and in fact I like it more than I expected to. The instrumental bits are haunting and the chorus is effective. Even the visual effects feel more innovative than they really are.

And yet there is something missing for me. This song feels more like something that has been assembled from existing pieces - a kind of musical piece of IKEA furniture - rather than a labour of love.

Borderline. But with the exception of last year, Iceland has a remarkable way of landing just north of the relegation line.

My grade: 2/5

Gréta Salóme / Hear Them Calling (Iceland 2016 preview clip)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Semi 1: 15 Montenegro / The Real Thing

People who think they know me well would be surprised to learn how much I can enjoy pretty heavy, noisy and chaotic music in order to clean my ears from my regular pop diet. Therefore there are so many things that make me happy about the Montenegrin entry.

It is really nicely produced in a nifty soundscape between pop and rock that I really appreciate. I like the fact that they go into Eurovision with no greater need or desire to be loved by the masses.

The only thing I'm sad about is that the actual song isn't better than it is. There are so many moments when I think it is about to go headlong into something massive - that intro is so promising - only for the whole thing to collapse like a soufflé. The chorus (or lack thereof) is this year's real tragedy. What a shame.

No. Had the song been better I would have crossed my fingers as hard as I could but I really don't see it happening.

My grade: 1/5

Highway / The Real Thing (Montenegro 2016 preview clip)

Semi 1: 14 Azerbaijan / Miracle

As per usual Azerbaijan selected a local talent and then got international songwriters to set the singer in question up with an appealing package. This method used to work so well for Azerbaijan but the last two years left a few question marks.

In 2014, "Start A Fire" turned out to be Azerbaijan's worst showing to date. Last year "Hour of the Wolf" only managed a tenth place in its semi final.

Instead of coming back with a vengeance they offer us a pleasant but in no way unforgettable pop number, reminiscent of many others heard and seen in this contest in recent years.

Most of all it reminds me of Azerbaijan's own "Hold Me", which came together with a stage number to die for. In order to make this work, Samra needs to perform her little heart out in Stockholm.

Borderline. There are many songs in this same style and this team really have to nail every detail to convince the audience. Could go either way but this is probably in.

My grade: 2/5

Samra / Miracle (Azerbaijan 2016 preview clip)