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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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)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Whatever happened to scaling down?

Apart from the actual competition, one of the big things that was unveiled and discussed in Baku 2012 was the new EBU approach towards the size of the ESC and the now clearly pronounced goal to scale down the event and make it more sustainable financially, ecologically and - basically - in every thinkable way.

This new plan of course sprung from the recent financial crisis that left a number of countries almost unable to take part in the ESC due to the heavy costs, not to mention it would be virtually impossible for many countries to host a contest that kept on growing and growing. More entries, more journalists, more delegates, bigger venues. Unsustainable in the long run. Like the Olympics.

Next year, SVT was the perfect pupil that played along with the new guidelines. Instead of the huge new arena in Stockholm, they opted for a much smaller venue in Malmö and other steps were taken to reduce the number of accreditations at least a bit.

Since then, we haven't seen much of this ambitious plan. Denmark decided to renovate an old warehouse in the middle of nowhere - not an inexpensive stunt - and even if the venues selected in 2015 and 2016 were no huge at least they showed no signs of the event getting smaller.

Fast forward to 2017, where one of the big financial contributors suddenly decides to use the upcoming final in Kyiv as a tool to push their own agenda. Russia was given a lot of space to challenge a perfectly reasonable piece of Ukrainian legislation and the supposed reason the EBU was so understanding was of course the large participation fee paid by Russian television.

Another reason to reboot the process of scaling down the Eurovision Song Contest is of course to be less dependent on individual participating countries. The EBU insists that the ESC is an nonpolitical event, but in order to be that it must also be independent and able to stand up and talk back whenever someone is using their money to push a political agenda into the event.

If the event was smaller and had a smaller budget, then it would be easier to tell a single participant to drop out instead of making trouble as their absence would leave a smaller hole in the overall budget. That shouldn't sound too bad to an apolitical broadcasting union.

Not to mention that it would be easier for Malta, Cyprus or FYR Macedonia to host the thing should they finally win.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 review, part 2

It feels good to be up and running and finally make my way through the competing songs of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. If you missed Part One with the five first entries in the first semi final, you can find it by clicking here.

In this second part we will find something progressive and something classy as well as various kinds of old-fashioned. Which can be a wonderful thing at times but not necessarily a way to make Europe fall at your feet.

Slavko Kalezić / Space

At one point during the preselection season it seemed every country in existence opted for big ballads belted out with gusto by female performers in possession of various kinds of vocal capabilities and for a while the entire lineup threatened to turn into a dull and difficult shout-fest and nothing more. When this Montenegrin piece of gay disco landed it was easy to regard this as the entry that would save us all from boredom. Then we got a couple of really decent uptempo numbers and Montenegro ended up a bit in the shade.

No, most probably not. The greatest weapon in Slavko's arsenal is his gay aesthetics but that is also his biggest problem. He might turn viewers away in some countries while other parts of this continent saw things like these already in the late 1980's and will find them tame and old-school. The song is likeable but hardly strong enough to persuade anyone and the chorus is more repetitive than truly convincing. Not bad but not enough.

My grade: 3/5

Slavko Kalezić / Space (Montenegro 2017 preview)

Norma John / Blackbird

Typically enough, Finland enters a haunting ballad in a year when more than a fair share of the participating countries put their faith in ballads. But maybe Finland got it right this time after all. Leena Tirronen is a truly captivating vocalist and the piano break really gives this entry a flavour of its own. Coming after more standard eurovision ballads like Georgia and Albania also gives the audience an idea about this one perhaps being more original than most others. If the live performance is kept understated, clean and elegant like in the national final - please, don't add any dancers or anything! - this one could stand out and at least get heavily voted by the juries.

Borderline. Finland has the bad habit of easily getting overlooked once it is time to vote, but if quality means anything to anyone anymore this one should be bang in the final.

My grade: 4/5

Norma John / Blackbird (Finland 2017 preview)

Dihaj / Skeletons

In what must surely be a strange coincidence, Azerbaijani entries have done pretty badly at the ESC since the EBU imposed stricter rules with heavy punishment for any country getting caught manipulating the televote anywhere. Maybe they missed being in the upper regions of the scoreboard and if they did, this could well be a return to form as they - for the first time since their 2008 debut - make use of a domestic songwriter. And this songwriter surely did his job right. This is modern, this is suggestive and this is ridiculously catchy. The way Dihaj and her backing singers sing the chorus almost in canon is an old trick but beautifully executed. Articulation leaves a lot to be desired - I had no idea what she was singing until I read the lyrics - but that isn't really a problem when the final product is this solid. Azerbaijan's best entry since 2011.

Do whales poop in the ocean? Yes, this is a sure qualifier. If Dihaj can deliver the goods convincingly on stage, this one could go very far in the end.

My grade: 4/5

Dihaj / Skeletons (Azerbaijan 2017 preview)

Salvador Sobral / Amar pelos dois

The first time I heard this song I thought it sounded like a Eurovision winner. If the year had been 1957, that is. Then I listened again and got totally knocked out. This song is timeless rather than old-fashioned, and this soft evergreen easy listening style has huge audiences around the world. Michael Bublé, anyone? Then it doesn't hurt to have a performer like Salvador Sobral either. The boy is so immensely talented, so devoted to his music, so sensitive. Bursting with talent and with a very personable approach to performing. This one is sure to be divisive come Eurovision week but being as original as this one - in a lineup as streamlines as this year's - really should pay off.

Yes. I want to believe this is not only a qualifier but also has a shot at becoming Portugal's best showing to date.

My grade: 4/5

Salvador Sobral / Amar pelos dois (Portugal 2017 preview)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 1

Same procedure as every year: I will take a look at the preview clips and evaluate and ponder and have a reasonably educated guess as who could be a hit and who will be a definite miss in this year's Eurovision.

Spread out over ten blog posts, here they are: all 43 songs (or most likely 42, really) fighting it out for the Grand Prix. There can be only one winner and I have a feeling I know already who that is. But first things first as we dive into the first songs of the first semi in running order.

Robin Bengtsson / I Can't Go On

There is no other song in the running this year that I have as mixed emotions about as this one. If you read my Melodifestivalen reviews, you already know that I really like Robin Bengtsson and that I enjoy has smooth voice and his relaxed appearance. The song isn't bad but it's still surprisingly bland and - in my mind - it feels like a mismatch between singer and song. Is this really Robin's style? This seems like the kind of song basically anybody could have sung and it makes Robin come across as replaceable. But it still is a very stylish and comfortable opener of the first show.

Absolutely. No doubt in my mind. Even if the song in itself is slightly disappointing there are not ten songs in the semi that are stronger. Given the right slot in the final, this one could go pretty far. Even a lot further than it would deserve.

My grade: 3/5

Robin Bengtsson / I Can't Go On (Sweden 2017 preview)

Tamara Gachechiladze / Keep The Faith

Eight years ago, Tamara won the Georgian final as part of the disco collective Stephane & 3G but never got to perform at the ESC. The lyrics to "We Don't Wanna Put In" didn't go down a storm at the EBU, and when the group refused to alter their entry they were forced to withdraw. Now she is back to show off the full glory of her vocal chords in an old-fashioned ballad of a kind that used to fail at the ESC already many years ago. The backdrop used in the national final gives away that this song is almost as political as last year's winner - and as clearly aimed at Russia - but while Tamara has a good voice the song is a bit too high pitched for her and the whole package gets very shouty before these three minutes come to an end.

No. Georgia is good at this game, but this ballad is a bit too standard and mediocre for its own good. Especially as much better female ballads are to follow.

My grade: 1/5

Tamara Gachechiladze / Keep The Faith (Georgia 2017 preview)

Isaiah / Don't Come Easy

Australia usually goes down well with the juries and that will come in handy this year as their entrant is a clean-cut and well-singing young man with an equally polished little ballad about how hard it can be to love once you've been hurt. Young Isaiah has a warm and very likeable voice but the ballad in itself relies a little bit too heavily on a formula we are all familiar with. Competent and professional as it might be, it never gets interesting. It never touches a nerve. It just stands there, looking nice, hiding its heart under its expensive suit.

Yes. Mainly because people on juries enjoy voting for Australia more than for some other countries. Otherwise I wouldn't be so sure, really.

Grade: 2/5

Isaiah / Don't Come Easy (Australia 2017 preview)

Lindita / World

You know what they say: if you find a concept that works, you should stick to that. Albania seems to have misunderstood that old saying a tiny bit as they cling to a formula that hasn't been very popular at all. They keep entering these bombastic songs with powerful female vocalists that are always walking the fine line between delivering impressive notes and being straight up shouty. Lindita has been around and done well in Albanian finals before and could probably navigate her way through the dangers of over-vocalising, but her song is way too difficult to hit home comfortably with televoters and jurors alike.

No. This hardly ever works and it won't work now either. Albania would have to have a long hard think about the way they select their entries and see if they could come up with something better.

My grade: 2/5

Lindita / World (Albania 2017 preview)

Blanche / City Lights

There are so many things going on in the world that you would never have been able to think possible only a couple of years ago. One of these is definitely the fact that RTBF found their groove and keeps entering solid ESC entries that keep pushing the formula for what you can or cannot do in this contest. The land of CopyCat and Witloof Bay turned into a big player and I couldn't be more happy. "City Lights" is more mainstream than Loïc Nottet was two years ago but is still exploring a moody and understated pop landscape while still running the risk of not being understood by the masses. I applaud Belgium for the courage but also realise how much this song depends on a good stage show to work in the end.

Yes. This one really should be bang in the final, but there is always a risk at hand. Will it be too dark and too inaccessible on a first listen? Could be a shock non-qualifier in the making but at this stage it feels like a contender for a top five placing in the final.

My grade: 4/5

Blanche / City Lights (Belgium 2017 preview)

Monday, April 10, 2017

ESC 2017: some songs and a big fat scandal

The 2017 Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv is one month away and there are still so many things to look forward to. And yet I think I already know what this edition will be remembered for. Sadly, it is not the songs.

Many people could smell trouble already when the EBU allowed Ukraine to compete with the highly political "1944" last year. I don't necessarily agree with that. We always had political messages in the ESC - Greece 1976 och Portugal 1977 spring to mind - and where does one draw the line what kind of political message is acceptable or not? Singing about world peace is also a political statement, mind you.

It was a tense moment as the 2016 final turned out to be a duel between Russia and Ukraine, the latter having already stated they would not take part in a final hosted by the former. 

The run-up for ESC 2017 suggested Russia was not too keen on being seen in Kyiv either as they failed to participate in several meetings prior to the contest and never booked any accommodation. Suddenly they presented an entry anyway, set to participate.

The Russian entrant was carefully selected: a former talent show participant suffering from a muscle disease that confined her to a wheelchair. She was armed with a ballad about peace and hope and - perhaps most importantly - she had had concerts in Crimea. 

Ukraine has very clear laws on this matter: anyone entering Crimea from Russia is violating Ukrainian territory and is seen as a criminal. Russia's singer was slapped with a travel ban to prevent her from coming to Kyiv at all instead of being arrested upon arrival.

This is where the EBU lost their marbles altogether and did everything they could to ensure Russian participation. They suggested Russia could perform via a satellite link - a suggestion so silly and against the spirit of the contest I can hardly phrase it in words - and once this idea was discarded went on to try to bully Ukraine into lifting the travel ban and a letter from the EBU sent to the Ukrainian prime minister contained a number of pretty vague threats.

1) Ukraine's international reputation will be damaged if the Russian singer is not allowed to enter. 
I somehow think neither NATO nor the EU will care an awful lot about a song contest as they make their strategic decisions.

2) Other countries will withdraw if the Russian performer is not allowed to enter. 
So let them withdraw. There are rules how to handle late withdrawals: the broadcasters in question must pay their full participation fees and could be slapped with extensive fines for pulling out at a late stage for no valid reason.

3) Ukraine's future participation in the ESC could be in danger if the Russian performer is not allowed to enter. 
Dear EBU - Ukraine is a country at war. This law was made for a reason. You can agree or disagree with it but it is in no way controversial that a country reserves the right to deny entry to people for various reasons. If the government has to choose between standing their ground or participate in a song contest, I think you are not on the winning side.

The very thought that the EBU - not a political organisation - would have a mandate to force a member state to give up their own legislation for the sake of an entertainment show is absurd and very damaging for the idea that the ESC is not a political event.

There - I got it off my chest. Let's move on to the songs instead. My big ESC 2017 review is about to begin.