A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
There is always some matter to discuss or just a song I want to share
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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Finland 2018: Saara Aalto is the one

In a bit of a surprise move, Yle has decided to internally select Saara Aalto to represent Finland at the ESC in Lisbon in May. It was only partially a surprise - after three years of non-qualification and last year's very weak line-up in the national final - something had to be done.

I have been a big friend of this chosen concept for years already. As it has been hard to get big names to join in, why not have one big name do the job instead? Scrap the national final nobody wants to be a part of and find a star to send off to Eurovision.

The surprise here was more the fact that UMK 2018 seems to have been abandoned mid-season. There was already a call for songs and detailed information as how to send in entries. The call for entries opened and closed. What about the songs entered? Were they too few? Were the quality too low? Isn't it quite arrogant towards the people who actually bothered sending in their songs to Yle in the first place?

Saara Aalto was not a big surprise. People have been very fond of her - at the Yle and elsewhere - for years already and the buzz around her participation in the UK X Factor was enormous. She was the most googled person in Finland in 2016.

But is she a too obvious choice? She has a good voice and an impressive CV in many ways, but she is yet to have a commercial hit single. She hasn't released any material at all since her X Factor run and who remembers the runner-up of yesteryear anyway.

She also has an unfortunate track record of wanting too much. "No Fear" was a contender until a frantic and overloaded performance left the whole thing in ruins.

If there is somebody with a clear vision involved here, somebody knowing what a winning package could look like, then Finland could possibly go very far in Lisbon. I want to stay positive and believe the people in charge know what they are doing and that Saara can shine when needed.

What really should be done now is to drop the UMK brand. There is not a drop left of what UMK was originally intended to be and nothing in the 2018 selection process fits the description of previous editions. Retire the name and put the focus back onto Eurovision. No more blushing about it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

ESC 2017: Portugal at last

Before everything else: what a wonderful thing that Portugal got to win at long last. And that they got to win in style with a beautiful song and a fantastic artist and with a huge margin. It feels so good after years of struggling. Happiness for Portugal is the dominant feeling today, remember that as you read on.

The other huge favourite - the one I still insisted would win yesterday - did not fare very well at all. Italy ended up in 6th place and never has such a high placing felt more like a colossal fiasco. The Italian song looked messy on television, nowhere near the smooth elegance it had at Sanremo. What went wrong? Why was it so difficult to translate the winning performance onto another stage?

I am also surprised at the indifference most juries showed towards "Occidentali's Karma". It is contemporary and smart and sounds like a hit single. I can't shake the feeling that many jurors kept Italy down on purpose to enhance the chances of their own entry.

On the whole, the juries made a laughing stock of themselves. Loads of embarrassing neighbour bias and some cases that look very much like tactical voting. All that garbage the juries were re-introduced to counterbalance.

I still want juries but we need a discussion about how they are chosen and what their guidelines are. The jury of  2017 seemed to have no integrity. That was the biggest single disappointment for me. 

Instead the televoters seemed to be the voice of reason, rewarding the more quality entries. Even diaspora voting was surprisingly low in the televote - both Armenia and Poland scored poorly. Juries kept voting for family and friends while the viewers voted for the songs they liked.

As for the top three, Moldova was the big surprise I didn't see coming. I'm glad for them but again surprised how a jury of professionals could have a song as simple as repetitive as that so high up in their rankings.

Bulgaria - like Portugal - deserved every inch of its success. Kristian Kostov was wonderful on stage and performed with gravitas and conviction. Maybe it was even better for him not to win, now he can take his time and plan world domination without following up a victory.

Germany avoided their dreaded hat-trick of last places by one arbitrary point, right in front of Spain. Both German and Spanish television should sit down and have a long hard think how to improve their national selections and start sending entries more representative of their own pop scenes.

Our young hosts rose to the occasion during the voting and handled it all pretty well, minus the odd comment about how beautiful some of the female spokespersons were. Particularly Vova handled hosting well and could - with some better scripts - be of real use in other international shows too.

After his very clear win, Salvador Sobral's comments about our world being full of disposable music didn't go down well with eurovision fans. There are a lot of sensitive toes out there and he managed to run them all over with this single sentence but I dare say it didn't mean what you thought it meant.

It wasn't a dig at the Eurovision Song Contest in itself, but at pop culture at large. At pop factories hammering out songs that anyone can sing and that the songs written because somebody felt the inspiration to write a song are way too few. 

That actually sums up one of the biggest problems with the 2017 lineup pretty well. There were too many songs written by international teams of songwriters, songs bought from publishers in order to do reasonably well in a contest. I personally think we would all enjoy the ESC more if it went back more to being a showcase for what actually goes on in the participating countries musically.

I don't long for a sea of nostalgic ballads in Lisbon next year, but I would enjoy more artists willing to take risks and defend a vision of their own rather than just sing a song written by a bunch of Swedish songwriters. If Salvador Sobral leaves a legacy for the future, I hope it is just that. More courage and more countries doing their own thing. Celebrate diversity, in other words.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

ESC 2017: Tobson top 26

Here goes. The moment of truth. If I have to guess the outcome of the ESC 2017 this is how I'd do it. Just for fun and to see afterwards how wrong I was.

01 Italy
02 Portugal
03 Bulgaria
04 France
05 Belgium

06 Romania
07 Armenia
08 Poland
09 Azerbaijan
10 Hungary

11 Sweden
12 Moldova
13 Netherlands
14 United Kingdom
15 Australia

16 Ukraine
17 Norway
18 Cyprus
19 Israel
20 Croatia

21 Belarus
22 Austria
23 Germany
24 Denmark
25 Greece
26 Spain

What are your predictions? Can you beat me at this game? Good luck and enjoy the show!

ESC 2017: And the winner is...

In a couple of hours, the whole Eurovision Song Contest 2017 will be over. So. Who is our winner? What looked crystal clear only a week ago is now a hornet's nest full of possibilities.

Three songs have emerged as major favourites to win but there are a couple we are clearly forgetting about. Who could do a Jamala this year and emerge as a somewhat surprise winner? Here are tonight's potential winners and why they will stand there with the trophy in the end.

He is young and incredibly talented. Kristian Kostov could very well be at the beginning of a very promising international career, given he has the right material and the right management. Wouldn't it be wonderful adding a Slavic male Celine to the list of winners?

Ten years after Molitva, maybe it would be time for another moving and personable winner in a native language? Salvador Sobral could use his victory to fully break onto the international jazz market.

Still the most probable winner. Three months of being the huge favourite does mean something. If Gabbani could only keep his cool, this victory could mean a new spring from pop in Italian on european charts. Frankly, if they lose victory just because he can't keep his lid on I will be furious. Be warned.

Singing last has not been a blessing lately as the audience will be tired and not particularly open for more songs, but if France could come across as playful and fresh at the end it could do surprisingly well. If there is a big difference in taste between the viewers and the jurors, France could sneak up. But how far up?

Blanche's shaky performance in the semi final seems not to have affected the large audience and "City Light" remains one of the favourites. Reportedly the young singer sang a lot better during Friday's jury final and maybe this could be a real surprise in the end.

Picture it: Europe gets really tired ears after a row of polite and well-written and ordinary entries and long for something silly and unusual. They get yodel and rap thrown in their face and go beserk and the yodel revolution starts. You are now officially warned.

ESC and Cyber Attacks

Just one little thought. One that's been spinning in the back of my head and that is a real party pooper. In the light of recent cyber attacks in Europe - attacks that have infected computers with ransomware, exhausted health services and weakened the telephone services in several countries - what is the EBU plan to counter cyber interference?

Attacking the Eurovision Song Contest seems like the kind of thing cyber terrorists wouldn't do, but most of the traces point towards Russia and there could be an intention to make Ukraine look vulnerable or ridiculous in front of the entire world.

Even if an attack was not aimed at the actual contest, it could very much affect the televote. In how many countries can the televote fail before anyone questions the result? Especially if it would be as tight a race as last year?

Let's just hope that all goes well tonight and that the EBU have a good plan for what to do in case it doesn't.

ESC 2017: Tobson and the 26 in the final

Here we are, it is the day of the Grand Final of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv. Sixteen songs have found themselves ejected in the semifinals and here we stand with the final contenders. One of these 26 will be the winner, but who stands a chance and who doesn't? Let me share my thought on tonight's participants.

Just like Belgium last year, Israel closed the second semi and now opens the big final. There are many similarities between the two: the performance is definitely stronger than the song and the singer is perhaps not the best we ever saw. A happy opener that could do surprisingly well in the end.

No song ever won from the second slot in the running order and finding Poland here suggests that all the Polish people around Europe voted heavily also this year and the producers are trying to keep it down a bit. Expect this one to rocket up the ranking when we get the televotes at the end of the voting sequence.

This extremely happy and upbeat song could have been a great way to liven up the show after a number of slower numbers. Slightly suspicious to find it this early in the running, where it doesn't really fill the purpose it could. Did this one too do surprisingly well in the semi?

Nathan Trent is shining like the sun while performing and his song is really nice - his glittery moon is also memorable - but the whole package will be too anonymous to carry particularly far in the final.

One of the strongest ethnic-sounding songs of the year with its hypnotic arrangement and elegant execution. But will Bulgaria snatch their votes in the end?

There is no question mark concerning the vocal abilities of these sisters, but given their talent and the emotional subject of their song it is unbelieavable how much this sounds like a mere singing exercise and nothing more than that. These girls would have deserved much better songwriting.

The packaging here - the dancing, the good mood, the saxophone - is all working well and many people will fail to notice what a basic and repetitive song this really is.

In this year where almost everyone is singing in English, the songs in other languages will stand out very clearly in a positive light. Hungary also has an elegant and effective staging and a message that Europe at least should care about. A possible surprise in the making.

The obvious winner ever since it was selected back in February, but suddenly it seems less obvious. Other candidates have emerged and Francesco Gabbani has been too uncontrolled in rehearsals. Apparently he made his best performance of the week on the jury final, so don't discard this one just yet.

A nice girl with a nice song that won't carry anywhere being sandwiched between tonight's two biggest favourites for victory. Its only merit tonight it to remind viewers what generic sounds like in order for them to realise just how original the next song is.

Portugal has waited since 1964 to even break into the top five. This wait must come to an end tonight. Salvador's musicality and refusal to be mainstream could also work as a well-needed injection and make more countries dare to come up with more personable entries. One of three very likely winners.

Following art with art is not a bad idea. Azerbaijan's performance is like a wonderfully pretentious gallery installation of the kind that people don't understand but still like. One of my big personal favourites tonight with potential of finishing in the top five.

Time to refill your drinks and snacks? There will be plenty of time for that soon but not just yet. You have to see this violently pompous and overblown duet between Jacques and himself. Extra points to the over-excited violin player.

If Armenians and Poles in exile keep backing their own entries in the televote, the jurors have been incredibly protective of Australia. They could need it this time around. Coming after a bunch of ambitious favourites, this one will look pretty pale in comparison.

A famous songwriter, a famous choreographer and a Greek pop star walk into a bar and all that happens is this dull and generic piece of charter disco. Predictable both as a song as well as to how it is staged and given how Demy is struggling with the higher notes, this deserves to crash and burn at the end of the results tonight.

A packet full of sunshine. Not only does it sound like the soundtrack to a chewing gum commercial but young Manel also keeps smiling and smiling. Happy and inoffensive but who is going to vote for this? A strong candidate for last place.

One of the hardest to predict - a good contemporary radio hit in acute lack of a stage performance. Unlikely to trouble the top ten but could end pretty much anywhere below that.

A big ballad and the best UK entry is many years. Nowhere near good enough to be a contender for victory but if the jurors feels generous it could be enough for the first UK top ten finish in eight years.

Hovig made a good impression in the semi and managed to whip some presence and sexuality into his otherwise slightly too polished entry. Tonight the competition is stronger but he should at least beat Greece with a comfortable margin.

After six more serious entries the audience could be longing for some ridiculous comic relief and boy does Romania deliver. There is also a massively catchy chorus in here and heaven knows how far this could carry in the televote. Brace yourselves!

Who's going to win tonight? That's of course the main question, but an almost as compelling drama is who will end in last place. If it is Germany, it is their third consecutive last place - nothing no other country ever suffered before. Levina would deserve better but her song is one of the least engaging in the lineup.

The only rock song in the running and despite not being excellent it will pick up all rock votes as well as the occasional polite point awarded to the host country. Competent, but I wish it was edgier. And wouldn't he sound angrier in his mother tongue?

Despite a shaky vocal performance in the semi final, Belgium was the last country called and is still among the most heavily streamed of this year's songs. Blanche could be one of the most underestimated candidates tonight and a surprise in the making. France Gall probed already back in 1965 that vocal perfection isn't everything.

Worked excellent as an opener in a semi with too many understated performers alone on stage. How much will it impress when the audience already has 23 candidates to compare it it? I stick with my initial gut feeling and predict that the Swedish delegation will be a tiny bit disappointed tonight.

The youngest of the participants is handling the whole thing like an experienced veteran and if anyone could give Italy or Portugal a run for the money, it is him. The boy is also known from Russian tv and could pick up many of the votes usually destined for Russia. Sofia 2018?

Let's end with a bang and another possible surprise in the making. The French brought not only the classiest dress and one of the most charming singers, but also a very French sounding song and the entire Eiffel tower. Deserves a lot of love in the voting.

My full prediction of the tonight's results will be in a bit later but at least I can promise you some great entertainment before the show is over. And maybe it will end with the biggest surprise in years?

Friday, May 12, 2017

ESC 2017: Tobson's thoughts after semi 2

Seven out of ten is not a great result, which ever way you twist and turn. But I insist that the second semi was really tricky to predict and my guess is that it was tight between many songs, fighting it out for the last spots in the final.

So where did I go wrong? I predicted Croatia and Netherlands in the final even though I really don't care for either one of them. I thought Ireland would beat Austria but it ended up the other way around. Then I thought Denmark and Norway would both be out.

I admit that predicting FYR Macedonia was wishful thinking all along. They are probably the reigning champions of ruining their songs on stage. This performance was better than their average but not good enough.

I had a bad feeling about Estonia as we were watching the performance. It felt too cold, too calculated and too disconnected. I still thought the song would be enough and my jaw fell a bit.

Overall the lack of successful staging seems to be a running theme this year. The final will be full of tasteful numbers that are nice but forgettable. Let's hope our eventual winner will be full of personality, colour and movement. That's what I want more of for next year.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tobson takes a guess: semi 2 in Kyiv

Tuesday's prediction went far better than I would have expected, with the obvious exception of Finland. Instead of a rewarding top ten on Saturday, Norma John found themselves kicked out already before the party had taken off. But nine out of ten makes my prediction pretty good, I suppose.

If the first semi was hard to predict, then semi two is sheer madness. It is full of songs that are fairly similar and fairly equal in strength. Some good songs are taken down by disappointing performances, some mediocre songs are helped by good or at least overwhelming performances. If anyone gets ten countries right in their prediction, I hope they selected their lottery numbers at the same tine.

Again I try to follow the gut feeling and if it is of any use, the following eight will leave us tonight:

Goodbye and thank you, Valentina, but you wouldn't believe a song as crammed with key changes as this one could possibly be this static and empty and hopeless.

This year's most interesting failure that I in many ways find refreshing. They want so much and are so energetic and in the end of the day it comes to nothing as their chorus couldn't be helped even by a smaller miracle. Intriguing but chanceless.

Personally I am rather fond of this chorus, but the delivery is far too polite and there is too little happening during these three minutes. Unless the juries shower it with love, nobody's going to remember it for long enough to vote for it.

I really warmed to this song myself - especially the quirky verses and the really nifty production details you only notice when listening to it in headphones - but in this tight competition their lack of visual presentation is going to cost them.

Performing first is no problem when you do your thing better than most others - like Sweden did on Tuesday. Serbia's song is nice and impeccably produced but also anonymous and stands out like a penguin surrounded by other penguins.

Will Sweden be the only Nordic country in the final for the second year in a row? Denmark's only hope is that Europe finds the Dutch entry to be too screechy and screamy and self-indulgent. Not impossible - it really is - and find Denmark the better version of the same thing. But I still fear the Danes are losing this battle.

Nathan Trent is arguably the most charming performer in this year's contest but the rather disappointing chorus is letting this song down. The question is if any cute staging or glittery moon can compensate for that, especially being sandwiched between two similar entries right at the beginning. I'm afraid not.

I have warmed also to this, the most old-fashioned of old-fashioned ESC ballads. Maybe jury and televoters alike will be triggered by a wave of nostalgia and reward this one, but I wouldn't hold my breath for that to happen.

This mean that my ten qualifiers would be - in order of appearance - FYR Macedonia, Romania, Netherlands, Hungary, Ireland, Croatia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia and Israel. This is my mind speaking, not my heart.

I think Croatia is a horrific pile of nonsense but it will stand out. Netherlands is three minutes of dull and soulless harmonising with no melody. Estonia could feel too cold and calculated, FYR Macedonia is only in because Europe managed to recognise Belgium had a great somg despite a shaky performance, Ireland is there because... well. He has a nice balloon.

The performance I am really looking forward to tonight is the happy Belarusians dancing on their boat as well as the terrific Kristian from Bulgaria. I think you will love them both.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

ESC 2017: Tobson's thoughts after semi 1

Finland, Finland, Finland. This wasn't supposed to happen. Finland was supposed to fly like a blackbird through to the final and get us a first top ten placing since Lordi. Instead the adventure ended already on Tuesday night. Harsh.

Reliable sources have it Norma John didn't quite shine on Monday night's jury final, and with a song like that I guess most chances are gone unless you have the jurors on your side.

I see only one silver lining here: had Finland had a top placing in the final, the people in charge would have concluded the national final is working well. It doesn't. Someone would need to take a long hard think about how to do things next year.

Apart from the Finnish flop, I got nine songs out of ten right. If you read carefully, you see that I half expected Poland to happen. However, I thought Greece or Australia would be ejected if so.

I stand by that. Australia really didn't shine this time and Greece felt like a real budget charter disco song. Neither one particularly deserved their success. However, I was so pleased for poor Blanche to make it through. She must have been under so much pressure and finally delivered. 

Another one who delivered tonight was Hovig who actually managed to fill his song with quite a lot of energy and attitude. Much better than I expected.

One thing that became painfully clear tonight is that the greatest threat against Italy's victory is Francesco Gabbani himself. On his one-minute-clip tonight he came across as frantic, almost manic. Far removed from the cool and controlled cat he was in Sanremo. He can't afford being this over the top. Someone needs to talk him down, pronto.

Oddly enough, the other big favourite suffers a bit from the same thing but off stage. Salvador Sobral doesn't find Eurovision success hugely important - I don't think that is required - but I think the people who voted for him tonight would have wanted to see some genuine happiness or at least something else than an ironic face. 

But there are still many days left until the final. There is time for many things to happen. But for Norma John the adventure is already over.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tobson takes a guess: semi 1 in Kyiv

Time again for the hardest, yet one of the most enjoyable, things about Eurovision week. Yes, my children, it is prediction time. And to make things even worse, we have two semi finals that feel remarkably even. The result tonight could look like it had been drawn out of a hat.

Also we have no idea what factors will play a role. I would like to think that what happens tonight is that the ten songs people like the most proceed to the final but other things could matter too. Like diaspora votes. Were the Poles in exiles exceptionally happy last year or are they a new tower of power in the televote? And how much will traditionally good starting positions influence viewers and jurors, if at all?

I'm taking a deep breath and decide not to overthink but to predict with my gut feeling as major guidline. If that is anything to go by, these are the eight countries that will leave us tonight:

Slavko is making a brave effort, representing a not particularly LGBTQ-friendly country with this compilation of various items from gay history. He would deserve a medal but the song does not deliver and will fall through.

It almost turned into a national trait that Albania enters a big voice in a slightly chaotic soundscape and here they go again. Not really bad but far too pompous. This concept usually doesn't work and it won't work tonight either.

Like a really classy, late 70's or early 80's album track by some really warm and likeable female star with a real sense of music. I like it very much but very much doubt it will stand a chance. Unless the juries have gone bananas over it.

Another big voice with a decent but slightly boring song that gets overly shouty in the end. Could have been a contender for 9th place tonight with a more favourable starting position, but people are not likely to remember it as a favourite at the end of the presentation.

Suddenly a very old-fashioned ballad enters the stage and the audience is left to wonder if it possibly just came in through the wrong door and never was supposed to be there in the first place. People have mentioned late starting position and nice staging but nah - too little, too late to impress.

People who look too deep into their statistics say Latvia must go through because they sing last. Just because it is unusal doesn't mean it can't happen. And after rather a large dose of moody electropop in this semi, I doubt Triana Park are about to impress anyone easily.

I have no idea how it all went so wrong. Iceland was supposed to be a contender and Svala is a fantastic performer, but I fear this is just too cold and distanced to break through to people. Another one that could possibly be rescued by the juries but it doesn't look promising.

The trickiest one. Polish diaspora were on fire with their phones last year. Will they be again? And will the juries counterbalance that and keep this song down on purpose? Very much against the spirit of the contest, if so. If Poland gets through, then Greece and Australia can start biting their nails.

This prediction means my ten qualifiers are (in order of appearance): Sweden, Australia, Belgium, Finland, Azerbaijan, Portugal, Greece, Moldova, Cyprus and Armenia. I largely stand by that, but only five of my qualifiers feel absolutely sure: if Portugal, Azerbaijan, Finland, Sweden or Armenia lose out, the universe is broken.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 10

In less than a week from now, the first semi will be happening before our very eyes and it is time for me to wrap up this review of all entries taking part in Kyiv (plus Russia - you find my view on their non-participating entry in part 5).

Despite looking bleak at one point, this year's lineup has proven to be quite a good one and if the juries and the televoters do what they should in the semis we could look forward to a very strong final.

Manel Navarro / Do It For Your Lover

Manel is a charming young lad from Catalonia, armed with a very simple and rather effective song that oozes of carefree days in the sun. The kind of song most people should be able to like at least a bit, I reckon. That means he could collect quite a decent amount of points from the juries, but that is not going to be enough. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the song with the lowest score in the televote this year - it's a song most people can like a bit but at the same time it is nobody's favourite. Who will reach for the phone and actually vote for this?

A potential winner?
No way. Spain - another of those countries with the potential to make it into the top five every year if they only could make a tiny effort - runs a serious risk of ending in the very last place. When will they snap out of it and start sending in entries that could actually score instead? It has been 22 years since Spain last had a top five finish. Wouldn't it be about time to get back there soon?

My grade: 2/5

Manel Navarro / Do It For Your Lover (Spain 2017 preview)

Lucie Jones / Never Give Up On You

The UK decided - for reasons best known to themselves - to put their trust into ESC winner Emmelie de Forest and her songwriting skills. After some major nip and tuck and a successful revamp it seems people are getting their hopes up for an unusually high UK placing. In fact, they are getting their hopes up far too much. This is a nice little ballad and Lucie sure can sing, but it wouldn't be fair to place too high expectations on this entry. It's a nice little ballad but not anything more than that.

A potential winner?
No. On a good day and with a fantastic performance, Lucie could possibly make it into the lower regions of the top ten. Which - admittedly - would be a fantastic result for the UK these days.

My grade: 2/5

Lucie Jones / Never Give Up On You (United Kingdom 2017 preview)

O.Torvald / Time

Ukraine entered the ESC like a hurricane in 2003 and very soon they made themselves a place in my heart as one of my favourite countries in the contest. They usually have so much humour as well as really interesting songs and performers. But things tend to go out of hand every time they host the whole thing. They go all political and lose all of the things that usually make them stand out and this little rocker is far below their regular output. It wants to be a big and noisy headbanger but it nothing more than a soft kitten trying to look like a lethal tiger.

A potential winner?
Nowhere near that. Maybe we didn't really want Ukraine to win again under the current circumstances but something stronger than this would have been nice. There will be a certain amount of polite points and that will be it. 20th place?

My grade: 1/5

O.Torvald / Time (Ukraine 2017 preview)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 9

In the first eight parts of this series, I made my inventory of the songs that will have to appeal to juries and viewers alike in order to qualify for the big final. Now let's focus the attention on the songs who already got their ticket for the big thing. The Big Five as well as the host country are already granted a place in the final, so the crucial question changes. "Qualifier" turns into "Potential winner" instead. And not that many of them are, in all fairness, but do keep reading...

Alma / Requiem

What joy and what relief it is to see France actually giving a toss about the ESC again. Almost like in the good old days when France was a constant in the top five every year. They sure have the potential to get constant top placings also now, given their most impressive music industry. Surprisingly, however, is that France seems to have done pretty much the same thing as last year: select a really terrific song and have it performed by someone who isn't really good enough to do it justice. Amir was definitely the weak point in last year's package and early live performances suggest Alma isn't quite Maria Callas reborn. The big question here is what the French delegation will manage to build up for us on stage and whether it is impressive enough to overcome any fausses notes.

Potential winner:
In case Italy for some reason would crash and burn - then why not? This is a truly engaging little song with a strong hook and its very own atmosphere. I keep thinking it will end in fourth place but with a bit of luck it could do even better.

My grade: 4/5

Alma / Requiem (France 2017 preview)

Levina / Perfect Life

Germany really got their act together and not only won with Lena but also presented us with some fantastic and pretty edgy pop in this old contest. Then they completely lost their grip in the most spectacular fashion and ended last in the final in the two last contests. If poor Levina would end in last place, that would set a new ESC record. That is hardly what she deserves: she has a bubbly personality and good voice. She even has an OK song. Another one of those songs that will work perfectly on the radio. But this is the ESC and you have three minutes to impress an audience and convince them that you are the best and that they should vote for you. Levina does not have an easy job come May 13th.

Potential winner:
No. For the fourth year running, the German entry is not designed to break through to people on one listening and there is a huge risk that Levina will end in that dreaded last place. If not, she will at least most likely stay in the bottom five. This should be a wake up call for German television, but if they didn't get the message after 2015 or 2016 - what are the odds they will now?

My grade: 2/5

Levina / Perfect Life (Germany 2017 preview)

Francesco Gabbani / Occidentali's karma

Here goes. Brace yourselves. Ever since this song won Sanremo and Francesco agreed to be the Italian representative, I have been dead sure that this is our winner. Unlike most national finals, Sanremo focuses on artistry, singing and a pretty old-fashioned approach to showbiz which - I must admit - felt like relief. No added background vocals to cover up for lacking singing skills, demanding compositions instead of complicated dance routines, camera contact instead of special effects. Remove the gorilla and the tiny dancing sequence and "Occidentali's karma" would still be the best entry by a mile this year. And once the formality of winning is out of the way, we will never have to hear the clumsy ESC edit again either.

Potential winner:
Yes! Yes, yes, yes. This must be the one. If there is any justice in the world, the clever and gifted songwriting should battle down all resistance and storm to victory with an Alexander Rybak kind of margin. I sit back and wait for it to happen. Alé!

My grade: 5/5

Francesco Gabbani / Occidentali's karma (Italy 2017 preview)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 8

The word I used more than any other - I suppose, I didn't actually count back - is "borderline". Semi two has some obvious qualifiers as well as a couple of equally obvious non-qualifiers. But then? This year's trend is radio-friendly pop songs that are nice - and in most cases good - but not extraordinarily personable. It will be really hard to tell who will qualify or not until you've seen them perform. Whoever manages to inject some originality in their song will make it through.

NAVIBAND / Historyja majho zyccia

For the first time ever, Belarus decided to rely on their own language. Of course I am positive about a such a decision but what moves me even more is that for the first time in many year, the Belarusian entry seems to be coming from a really genuine place. It is happy, it is cheerful and it feels real. It also feels a bit repetitive before three minutes have passed but perhaps that's a minor detail in the great sum of things.

In order not to exhaust the word borderline, I am going to say yes. This sounds very different from anything else and the viewers are going to recognise that. If the band manages to maintain the energy of their clip and put that into motion on stage, this could go pretty far.

My grade: 3/5

NAVIBAND / Historyja majho zyccia (Belarus 2017 preview)

Kristian Kostov / Beautiful Mess

Last year's successful comeback seems to have triggered something in Bulgaria and for the second year running they enter a real contender. This time in the shape of teenage heart-throb Kristian, who is the first ever ESC entrant born after the millennium bug. The Moscow-based singer has a strange and almost hypnotic presence, an excellent voice and a beautifully written song. Maybe the verses are stronger than the chorus, but this is a package designed to impress. It is also the third song in this semi co-written by Joacim Persson.

Yes. And if Italy for some reason would not win, this is one of the possible shock winner candidates. Possibly also the start of an international career for Kristian Kostov.

My grade: 4/5

Kristian Kostov / Beautiful Mess (Bulgaria 2017 preview)

Fusedmarc / Rain of Revolution

Whatever you'd like to say about Lithuania, nobody can deny that they are fully doing their own thing in this contest. During their never-ending national final the viewers finally grew tired of the obvious favourite and opted for this little piece instead. There are actually many bits and pieces I like here: the energy of the verses, the groove of the backing singers that remained in plain sight at least in the NF, and the crazy presence of the lead singer. This is the most stylish and interesting failure of the year. The musical equivalent of two trains crashing into each other, rolling off a cliff, falling onto a nuclear plant.

No. Most definitely not. As soon as the singer starts screaming "Yeah-Yeah!" for the umpti-eleventh time all hope is gone. But I totally prefer this to many more polished and less interesting entires.

My grade: 2/5

Fusedmarc / Rain of Revolution (Lithuania 2017 preview)

Koit Toome & Laura / Verona

Estonia delivers yet another polished and engaging pop pastry and one has to wonder how they really do it. How can such a small country be so consistent and send in so many really good songs? This one has an unusual structure, which could be a bit of a gamble. Koit and Laura are delivering well but would need some more passion and chemistry compared to the national final. The song has also been released in several different versions already, which makes me think this team are maybe not as confident as they would have every reason to be.

Yes, unless the Estonians have thought out some over-complicated stage stunt to drag the attention away from the actual song. Remember last year's card trick? If Belgium runs the risk of being the shock non-qualifier in the first semi, Estonia could be running the same risk here.

My grade: 4/5

Koit Toome & Laura / Verona (Estonia 2017 preview)

IMRI / I Feel Alive

The second semi ends pretty much like the first semi began. Israel seems to have found its way back to a concept that works at Eurovision. Had this been the 1980's, a group of happy backing vocalists would have filled the stage and danced an energetic dance before this song was over. IMRI is a beautiful young man who - very much like Robin Bengtsson - would have deserved something more interesting to perform. The etno touch that comes in by the end is nice and adds a certain flavour but it is nowhere near enough to make this a favourite.

Yes. Just like Belgium last year, being last in the semi will mean all the difference. This one will easily dance its way into the final and could end up in a much higher position than it deserves in the end. Just like Sweden this year.

My grade: 2/5

IMRI / I Feel Alive (Israel 2017 preview)

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 7

Today rehearsals began in Kyiv and I am rushing to get this series done. The whole idea of reviewing songs based on the preview clips is guessing all the things you don't know and try to put together a beautiful puzzle although at least half the pieces are missing or only exist in theory.

When the rehearsals begin for real, the game of guessing and hoping and expecting is through. Here goes with some more guessing and hoping as well as some more songs that are really difficult to predict.

Brendan Murray / Dying To Try

My biggest disappointment with this song was that Ireland - this nation of song - felt the need of getting a Swedish song instead of employing local songwriters. I'm slowly getting so fed up with every other song in the ESC being written by Swedes that I am slowly losing my wits and my mind but that's the subject for some other blog post some other time. At first I thought this sounded by a song written for but left out of Agnetha Fältskog's 2013 album, then I realised that's not such a bad thing after all.

Yes. If boyband boy Brendan can manage all the higher notes, this should sail through to the final relatively easily.

My grade: 3/5

Brendan Murray / Dying To Try (Ireland 2017 preview)

Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson / Spirit of the Night

Valentina competed three years in a row, then vowed to stay away from the ESC for a long, long time. We can now deduct that a long, long time equals two years for her. Long enough, I suppose. She joined forces with an American musical theatre actor and together they seem to be aiming at acting out their very personal idea of what goes on in night clubs these days. Maybe this is what clubbing is like in San Marino? There is some sort of 1980's vibe, vaguely reminiscent of "Flashdance", in here somewhere but in spite of a never-ending cavalcade of key changes my interest fades terribly quickly.

Not a chance. Repetitive and only half a song. Or the sketch of a song.

My grade: 1/5

Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson / Spirit of the Night (San Marino 2017 preview)

Jacques Houdek / My Friend

From one duet to another as dear Jacques from Croatia decided to step out on the big ESC stage and duet with himself. Part of him is a pop star, half of him is a local Pavarotti and when the two meet words fail me. The pompous song is crowned by equally pompous lyrics, with a fake Einstein quote as the cherry on top. Maybe it could have worked better had Jacques been at least a tiny bit likeable, but I find it very hard to warm to this. Where's the mute button?

Borderline. Never underestimate the outright ridiculous as people will remember it and easily mistake it for being good. But if there was any justice...

My grade: 1/5

Jacques Houdek / My Friend (Croatia 2017 preview)

JOWST / Grab The Moment

Back to the order of the day with a piece of pretty contemporary pop, well grounded in current trends and far from unthinkable on a commercial radio station close to you. JOWST is perhaps a new Kygo in the making and this is above all a strong and most functioning verse. However, the whole song works a lot better when you only hear it. The stage presentation is a bit beige and anonymous and I am not sure anyone can afford that in a semi final as even and close as this one.

Borderline but I'd say the risk is really big that Norway makes another early exit. The song is clearly better than that but then JOWST & Co need to step up their game a bit.

My grade: 3/5

JOWST / Grab The Moment (Norway 2017 preview)

Timebelle / Apollo

Switzerland has had a bit of a bumpy ride lately and has ended last in their semi for the last two years. Maybe their songs were not the worst but in both cases they were anything but memorable and you can't blame neither juries nor Europe for not voting for them. This year they found a much better song - one that worked up a certain amount of fan following too - but the question is if they didn't fall into that same old trap again. While this is catchier and better sung, it still remains to be seen whether it is good and original enough to make anyone vote for it.

I am afraid not. It is a good song, but still too polite to attract heaving scoring from anywhere. At least it shouldn't place last, if that's any kind of consolation.

My grade: 1/5

Timebelle / Apollo (Switzerland 2017 preview)

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 6

The second semi is really too close to call this year and the rehearsals and final live performances will be crucial when it comes to who will qualify or not. I think that's something we say every year, but it is more true than ever now as so many of the songs are really similar in style and even in quality.

Something like six qualifiers feel solid while the final four places would be up for grabs and then the final details will be decisive. Anything that would make anyone stand out will be most important. Even standing out in a bad way could be good.

Ilinca feat Alex Florea / Yodel It!

Talent show yodeller Ilinca teamed up with aspiring rock star Alex in this schlager meets rap meets Heidi on a mountain top meets tons of cheese meets pure madness. It could be Alex is throwing away his chances to ever be perceived as credible again but the gamble could be worth it. This breathtakingly wacky entry is precisely what the ESC needs this year: someone who is distinctive and utterly bonkers at the same time. Nobody will forget Romania this time around, that is more than sure.

Yes. Not only because Romania is yet to fail in a semi final but also because this manages to be awful and adorable at the same time in a pretty irresistible way.

My grade: 4/5

Ilinca feat Alex Florea / Yodel It! (Romania 2017 preview)

OG3ENE / Lights and Shadows

It's not what I would have expected, but maybe the world will wake up one morning to find they miss Wilson Philips so much they need a revival and will celebrate anything that resembles the original group at all. If that happens, these sisters will go far and knock the rest of the competition out. If not, they will struggle. This entry showcases a lot of lovely harmonies but fails big time in the songwriting department. In short, there is no song going on here and that is a problem in a song contest.

No. Too weak and too meek. And isn't it time for the Dutch to ditch country music and come up with something new?

My grade: 1/5

OG3ENE / Lights and Shadows (Netherlands 2017 preview)

Joci Pápai / Origo

Deep down, this is another one of the many entries this year that is tailor-made to suit the airwaves. It is slick and it is contemporary, but it lacks a bit of build-up and has very little of a climax anywhere. Luckily for Joci, he has his very ethnic sound that sets him apart from the others. He is also the Nano-type of this lineup - someone whose back story helps him to stand out and be remembered - but it is not an easy song to keep interesting for three minutes on a stage.

Yes. It should be distinctive enough to beat some of the more generic contenders, but how far will it carry in the final?

My grade: 3/5

Joci Pápai / Origo (Hungary 2017 preview)

Anja / Where I Am

I wasn't that impressed at first, but Anja is doing a good job vocally and this chorus has been growing. This is easily the best Danish entry for me in many, many years but then again it doesn't mean it lot. Denmark has developed a passion for songs that are easy and polished, void of personality and that leave no trace. We are still moving in this territory and as always I am left wondering if there is any kind of more demanding music being made in Denmark? Some noisy rock? Experimental hardcore trance? Punk? And could we please have a bit of it at the ESC?

Borderline. Another one of those that are totally impossible to call before you know how all countries perform on stage. This could as easily land in 7th place as in 13th.

My grade: 3/5

Anja / Where I Am (Denmark 2017 preview)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 5

For the second year running we had a very late change in the lineup of the second semi. Last year Romania was kicked out due to a smaller mountain of unpaid bills. This year the EBU basically folded themselves double in order to keep Russia in the running, despite all sensible indications pointing towards them never fully intending to take part in Kyiv. For my review, I kept Russia in its place, just for comparison and to ponder what could have been.

Tijana Bogićević / In Too Deep

The second semi starts pretty much like the first semi ended: with a perfectly fine and perfectly contemporary pop number. It is slick, it sounds good, it is well sung - by one of Nina's crazy background singers from Düsseldorf 2011. It has pretty much everything anyone could ask for, except for any kind of profile or anything that would set it apart from anything else. Good and credible but too generic. Will need some really extraordinary and explosive staging in order to stand out.

Borderline. There are so many of these radio-friendly, tailor-made for the commercial airwaves-type of songs in the lineup. Why would anyone remember this one in particular?

My grade: 3/5

Tijana Bogićević / In Too Deep (Serbia 2017 preview)

Nathan Trent / Running On Air

Ever since their last comeback in 2011 - and especially since Conchita's impressive victory - it seems like Austria would actually have a pop scene where quality stuff is being made. Quality stuff that could compete on an international level. Nathan Trent is surely the most charming male performer in the running but while his song sounds bang-up-to-date, it takes a disappointing turn in the chorus which is far from as strong as it should be.

Borderline. Nathan will really need to knock Europe over in order to make up for the slightly weaker chorus. Far from impossible.

My grade: 3/5

Nathan Trent / Running On Air (Austria 2017 preview)

RUSSIA - not participating
Yulia Samoylova / Flame Is Burning

After many weeks of plot twists, Russian tv decided not to broadcast the 2017 ESC, rendering themselves ineligible for participation. This entry has been most revealing in many ways. It has showcased how naïve the EBU as well as many fans are in these times of information wars and propaganda machinery. It has also shown an alarming degree of ableism among ESC fans, quickly concluding how anyone confined to the use of a wheel chair could not possibly knowingly be part of a political scheme. Like Yulia was some poor vegetable, unable to understand the world around her. Instead of performing in Kyiv, she will headline a concert in Crimea on the day of the final. Oh well.

Would this have qualified?
Borderline. The song is really weak - as is the performance - and it's highly debatable whether it would have been enough. But that's also a highly hypothetical question. Russian tv never intended to compete with this entry. It was designed to be shark feed and nothing else.

My grade: 1/5

Yulia Samoylova / Flame Is Burning (Russia 2017 preview)

Jana Burčeska / Dance Alone

After four consecutive semi final failures, FYR Macedonia has internally selected one of their best entries ever. Swedish Joacim Persson has co-written no fewer than three entries in this semi, which must be a record. What really set me on fire here was the fantastic video clip, which is captivating and heartbreakingly sad. If the same amount of emotion can be communicated in the live version, then this could be the republic's best showing to date. But on the other hand - no other country has been so consistently effective in ruining their songs on stage.

Borderline. It all comes down to Jana's vocal performance and the staging of this number. Also, the single edit lacks some of the emotional depth of the version used in the video clip. But it is my own personal second favourite of the lot this year.

My grade: 4/5

Jana Burčeska / Dance Alone (FYR Macedonia 2017 preview)

Claudia Faniello / Breathlessly

The Maltese clearly have determination. This is the kind of ballad they have failed with multiple times in the last ten years or so and yet they plunge headlong into competition with yet another version. Claudia tends to over perform more than a bit but is otherwise a good singer and through no fault of my own, this entry has grown on me. Just like Poland it has some really clunky and unfortunate lyrics here and there but the chorus is lush and luxurious. I fear it won't help much in the end.

No. A better starting position could have helped but this one is very unlikely to pass. It's pleasant for as long as it goes on but will be forgotten as soon as it is over.

My grade: 2/5

Claudia Faniello / Breathlessly (Malta 2017 preview)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 4

It is high time to wrap up the first semi final and see if it ends on a sick note or on a real high. The previous songs can be found here: part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Four songs remain and the electronic feel that has already been present in a number of entries will be heard also here. Strange and slightly unfortunate how almost all the moody electronica ended up in the same semi.

Hovig / Gravity

Maybe winning the ESC wrecked Thomas G:son's mojo as he since then has not really tried pushing new and groundbreaking things into Melodifestivalen but rather opted for the safe, paid day-job of providing songs for the likes of Cyprus and Georgia. This is a soft and radio-friendly rocker that is catchy but constantly runs the risk of turning too repetitive. Euphoria it is not.

Borderline. It all depends on Hovig himself and his ability to keep things going in three minutes. It's not a battle lost but a shaky bet.

My grade: 3/5

Hovig / Gravity (Cyprus 2017 preview)

Artsvik / Fly With Me

When Armenia revealed their song as the last country of all and it turned out to be another female with a vaguely electronic sound behind her I found the whole thing a bit boring. Then the song started growing on me and after some listenings it became almost hypnotic with its slightly slower tempo. If only Artsvik can match her vocals with a strong presence and a simple but effective stage show, this could carry quite a bit.

Yes. Perhaps too demanding to go anywhere near a victory, but qualification is usually a walk in the park for Armenia (insert comment about diaspora vote here if you feel so inclined).

My grade: 3/5

Artsvik / Fly With Me (Armenia 2017 preview)

Omar Naber / On My Way

After narrowly missing out on a spot in the final in 2005, the talented Omar Naber is back in Kyiv for a second try. I have waited for him to come back so it is with a heavy heart I note how he opted for a very traditional and terribly pointless ballad that feels more like filler material in a local musical than a contender at Eurovision. Vocally good but it doesn't help. "I'm on my way" Omar sings, but this song is not going anywhere.

No. Unless possibly Europe gets enough with all the electronica and opts for something square and old-fashioned.

My grade: 1/5

Omar Naber / On My Way (Slovenia 2017 preview)

Triana Park / Line

It is widely believed that performing last in a semifinal is something of a golden ticket to the final. Of course it could make it easier for you to stand out, but that only works as long as you are clearly better or different compared to what came before you. As the Latvians come on stage, the audience already sat through slightly similar entries from Iceland, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Armenia and Poland. How many viewers will at this point stand up and state that this one feels original and special and that they need to vote for it?

I very much doubt it will. It is a pleasant little number that unfolds a bit too slowly while given a slightly too introverted and anonymous performance. After two good years, Latvia will struggle now.

My grade: 2/5

Triana Park / Line (Latvia 2017 preview)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 3

One of my problems through the years as I have done my big review is to make the numbers add up and even out in the end as I predict whether a song is a qualifier or not. Some year I ended up with twelve qualifiers in the same semi.

Maybe this is not an exact science. The conclusion - will this qualify or not - is maybe more of a gut feeling rather than the ultimate analysis. There will be a time for ultimate analysis as well - closer to the final, when we know about rehearsals and stuff - and then my predicted qualifiers will be no more then ten per semi.

Demy / This Is Love

It probably shook the Greek delegation to miss out on a place in the final last year, so they went back to the safest thing they could think of. They organised a small national final where Demy - who's a bit of a star back home - sung three songs written by top composer and producer Dimitris Kontopoulous who had his fair share of success at Eurovision and almost won the whole shebang for Russia last year. The big question mark here is why a good performer like Demy couldn't get a better song than this tired old charter disco? If Kontopoulous is such a genius, how did he fail to come up with something strong than this pretty dated song?

Borderline. There are good elements here - the verses build nicely and the orchestral crescendo before the last chorus is cool. Greece is the only country in this semi turn up with a party vibe on top volume. But the chorus is super duper flat and disappointing.

My grade: 2/5

Demy / This Is Love (Greece 2017 preview)

Kasia Moś / Flashlight

Poland always had a thing for drama and this ballad comes in an excellent arrangement with intriguing strings and a very big drum sound to increase the effect. Kasia is a good singer too but this song would have needed an extra minute to fully unfold. Now it just builds and builds and then suddenly ends without reaching any kind of climax. The bridge between the verse and the chorus is a bit clumsy and clunky too. But maybe none of this will matter in the end.

Probably yes. Last year, Poland ended third in the televote with a slightly underwhelming entry and unless the Poles in exile around the continent have taken their enthusiasm down a notch or two, this one should storm into the top ten. If it deserves to is another question entirely.

My grade: 2/5

Kasia Moś / Flashlight (Poland 2017 preview)

SunStrike Project / Hey Mamma

Usually a quite strong player, Moldova has three rough years behind them and would deserve a break and some positive vibes. To achieve that, they re-remployed SunStroke Project who in all fairness didn't do too well on their first attempt but ended up being a worldwide internet phenomenon. Now they stand on their own - sadly no Olia Tira in sight - but still have the saxophone and the violin at hand to spice up the package. Plenty of good mood and quirky dance moves but the song in itself is a bit square and unspectacular and gets a bit too repetitive for its own good.

Borderline. Europe will have to be at its chirpiest to vote heavily for this. Perhaps too much of a recycled version of something seen and heard before to do really well. Enjoyable but old news.

My grade: 3/5

SunStroke Project / Hey Mamma (Moldova 2017 preview)

Svala / Paper

After what seemed like an endless stream of perfectly well intended and totally harmless ditties, Iceland found their groove again. Nobody could be happier about that than I am and I welcome the oddly captivating Svala onto the ESC stage. However, she did have some bad luck when she was drawn into the same semi as some other females inhabiting the same sort of dark and moody electro soundscape and she will have to compete with the likes of Belgium, Azerbaijan and Latvia for the viewers' attention. That could prove to be a bumpier ride than it should be.

I sure hope so but there is also the risk of this one being three points short and ending in eleventh place. I keep my fingers crossed that the gamble will pay off and that we will see more edge from Iceland in future contests. Edge is what they do best.

My grade: 4/5

Svala / Paper (Iceland 2017 preview)

Martina Bárta / My Turn

Compared to their first short and disastrous run of entries, also Czech republic seems to have found their own thing. Soulful, earthy, organic stuff delivered by top class singers. The kind of thing that is lovely to listen to but that possibly stands a lesser chance of getting noticed and voted at a song contest. Martina has a wonderful voice and this could have been a very classy track on a very solid album in the late 1970's. That is a compliment, in case you wondered.

No, unless Martina totally pours her heart out for all the viewers to see. Then she could stand a tiny chance, but most probably this piece of impeccable songwriting needs a listen or two too many and will make an early exit.

My grade: 3/5

Martina Bárta / My Turn (Czech republic 2017 preview)