A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Sunday, May 13, 2018

ESC 2018 - a thriller to remember

It is all over and I find myself breathing again. Oh my, what a terrific voting we had in Lisbon. How beautifully the 12-pointers were spread out all over the place and how beautifully the televote then changed everything.

This is just the way it is supposed to be. Could we order votings like this one every year?

I got three placings exactly correct: Israel 1st, Cyprus 2nd, Czech republic 6th. Apart from that I was completely off here and there. You liked some weird songs while you overlooked some really good ones. But I forgive you.

The great part about Israel winning is that we can now go back to the studio version and the excellent video clip. It was a hard song to pull off live. Netta did well but the studio version is the real deal.

Cyprus is the perfect runner-up. Slightly dated but with hit potential. Hopefully it will turn into a major hit around Europe and convince established songwriters how the ESC is worth a go.

No idea how Austria and Germany scored so well but I am very happy for them. Austria's song is far from a favourite of mine but I would never be upset about them having success. ORF has grown into a very ambitious broadcaster and deserves appreciation.

I can't help feeling a little bit bitter about the juries keeping Italy down, for the third time in four years. This is perhaps something that Rai should address in the next EBU meeting?

Finland and Portugal landed at the very bottom of the scoreboard. Neither one deserved that but you can't win every time. I just wonder where Saara Aalto will go from here. What is her next goal?

Two things really need to be discussed on a high EBU level as soon as possible. First thing - how long does the voting window have to be? Every year lately it feels like the interval acts never end.

Secondly - and most importantly - it is long overdue to do something about the arena security. This was the third time that the stage was invaded by someone who didn't belong there and what happened during the UK entry looked particularly nasty and potentially dangerous. One of these days the intruder will have a different agenda than to just shout a few words into a microphone.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

ESC 2018: Tobson's Final Say

Fact: this is the strongest line-up we have seen in a Eurovision final for many, many years. So far Europe has done what it should and removed most of the weaker entries (somehow Denmark is still with us) and tonight's drama could end in many different ways.

This is my prediction to what will go down well and what will just go down.

Guessing the winner is very much like playing lotto, though. There are many possible scenarios - how to decide which one is the most likely?

What has to be done has to be done. Here goes.

01. UKRAINE Mélovin / Under The Ladder
Opening the ball has been anything but an advantage in later years and most probably it is reducing Pop Dracula too little more than a spectacular opening act.
My grade: 3/5

02. SPAIN Amaia & Alfred / Tu canción
Surprising to see one of the big five buried here. Not a very subtle way of saying "Thanks but no thanks" to this the sweetest of love ballads.
My grade: 3/5

03. SLOVENIA Lea Sirk / Hvala, ne!
The final result here doesn't matter as reaching the final was a victory in itself for the Slovenian beat. I have been a keen defender of it before but in this line-up it won't carry far and the ridiculous music break won't do it any favours either.
My grade: 3/5

04. LITHUANIA Ieva Zasimauskaitė / When We're Old
This one felt like a dark horse at some point during the week, but this delightful whisper will struggle to be remembered by the end of the presentation.
My grade: 3/5

05. AUSTRIA Cesár Sampson / Nobody But You
I still don't get this one at all - I don't dislike it but I don't feel anything when I hear it - and it is surprisingly poorly staged too. It will have its fans tonight but will probably meet a very similar fate to last year's Austrian effort.
My grade: 1/5

06. ESTONIA Elina Nechayeva / La forza
Something completely different at this point in the running order, it will stand out in a positive light. My guess is most people will think eurovision opera has been done a few times already and save their points for something else.
My grade: 3/5

07. NORWAY Alexander Rybak / That's How You Write A Song
Rumour has it Alexander was tired and lacklustre in the jury final last night but if this is what you like, you won't let a small thing like that stop you. And many people like Alexander Rybak. Don't discount this one just yet.
My grade: 3/5

08. PORTUGAL Cláudia Pascoal / O jardim
Soft and introverted electronica in Portuguese will get massive support in the hall and will sound very genuine and heartfelt after the Norwegian songwriting exercise. A very worthy home entry.
My grade: 4/5

09. UNITED KINGDOM SuRie / Storm
SuRie is a real personality and can possibly pick up a few jury points just by being professional enough. But why would anyone vote for a package as empty and pointless as this one in a line-up as strong as this? Last place.
My grade: 1/5

10. SERBIA Sanja Ilić & Balkanika / Nova deca
This year's biggest surprise in my book. I had discounted this want-to-be-modern-folklore-but-sort-of-fails entry completely. Is this an unexpected points magnet in the south east or is it a filler? I lean towards the latter, still.
My grade: 1/5

11. GERMANY Michael Schulte / You Let Me Walk Alone
An emotional song about losing a parent at a young age. Walks a fine line between being touching and being too much. Could stand out as honest, sincere and easily understandable after the Serbian wailfest.
My grade: 4/5

12. ALBANIA Eugent Bushpepa / Mall
The second biggest surprise after Serbia - a bombastic piece of folksy rock with a strong vocal delivery. Unlikely to pick up many more votes than Albania usually does in a final.
My grade: 2/5

13. FRANCE Madame Monsieur / Mercy
Tastefully restrained and intense in an understated way, the French entry is almost hypnotic and creeps under the skin of the listener. Possibly not direct enough to go all the way but if the juries showered France with love this smells like a potential winner.
My grade: 4/5

14. CZECH REPUBLIC Mikolas Josef / Lie To Me
It is hard to get the party started right after someone has been as serious as the French but Mikolas is sure to dance his little heart out, backpack and all. Sounds like a hit and should place somewhere in the higher regions of the result.
My grade: 4/5

15. DENMARK Rasmussen / Higher Ground
No idea what this is doing in the final. The singing sounded extremely flat in the semi and the mere idea of grown-up men dressing up as vikings is ridiculous. The song itself sounds like the 2006 Melodifestivalen reject that it possibly is. Many people like it and I just don't understand.
My grade: 0/5

16. AUSTRALIA Jessica Mauboy / We Got Love
The Australians have been surprisingly bad at staging their entries and here comes a master class example of how to ruin your own chances. The dress and the choreography are totally wrong and make Jessica awkward and eager to over-compensate. The juries like voting for Australia but this is likely to bomb in the televote.
My grade: 2/5

17. FINLAND Saara Aalto / Monsters
Coming right after Australia was the best gift Saara - also famous for being too much and not quite being able to keep her lid on - could get. She will come across as composed and controlled and with a bit of luck, she could get Finland's first top ten since Lordi.
My grade: 4/5

18. BULGARIA Equinox / Bones
A really nice chorus is going on here while the group members fight it out for everyone's attention without establishing any proper contact with the viewers. Competent but not as good as it could have been.
My grade: 3/5

19. MOLDOVA DoReDoS / My Lucky Day
If you do the maths, you realise we could be looking at our winner here. This is Russia's real entry of the year, likely to pick up the points Russia usually gets. It is also likely to pick up quite a lot of the points usually reserved for Romania. Add the most entertaining stage act of the year and it is easy imagining this trio standing there with flowers and a trophy.
My grade: 4/5

20. SWEDEN Benjamin Ingrosso / Dance You Off
Visually appealing and a pleasant song. Could be too cold to pick up serious votes but could also be the tasteful oasis people long for at this point. Hardly a winner but any place between 4th and 15th seems reasonable.
My grade: 4/5

21. HUNGARY AWS / Viszlát nyár
Lordi part two? Unlike the Finnish horror rockers, AWS don't do anything to make themselves easily accessible but that is part of the charm. Could some brutal rock finally pick up serious votes? I would not rule that out just yet.
My grade: 3/5

22. ISRAEL Netta / Toy
This running order gives Netta a huge benefit - she will come across as more familiar and more accessible right after Hungary despite being pretty avantgarde and cutting edge. People have been ruling Israel out during the week. Most people tonight will see and hear it for the first time and possibly have the reaction we all had way back when the song was first revealed. Potential winner.
My grade: 4/5

23. NETHERLANDS Waylon / Outlaw in 'em
Unlike Netta, Waylon has everything to lose from coming after Hungary. His song will seem tame and pale in comparison - quite right since it is - and this common linnet will be quite some way from repeating his success.
My grade: 1/5

24. IRELAND Ryan O'Shaughnessy / Together
In the 1990's, Irish ballads used to win. Every year. So we didn't like them much for a while after that. Until now. This sweet and understated little breakup ballad - and the genius to let it be about a same-sex couple - could touch a nerve and possibly be a bit of a Netherlands 2014 phenomenon. One of my personal favourites.
My grade: 5/5

25. CYPRUS Eleni Foureira / Fuego
Where I hear a pretty dated Helena Paparizou reject, other people hear gold. If Cyprus would win tonight, I promise not to be angry or disappointed. Not my personal choice but if it promises to conquer the charts, it has my blessing.
My grade: 3/5

26. ITALY Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro / Non mi avete fatto niente
The best song in the running. The strongest message saved for last. If the points are all over the place and nobody runs away with the victory, consistent scoring and a few high points could lead to victory.  Meta and Moro have distracting graphics but hopefully the emotion will break through regardless.
My grade: 5/5

Like every year, I will also guess the final placings of every song. This is my vain attempt this year. Having changed the top ten around several times and nothing looks right. Let's run with this. Our winner is Israel.

01. Israel, 02. Cyprus, 03. Moldova, 04. France, 05. Ireland, 06. Czech republic, 07. Italy, 08. Sweden, 09. Hungary, 10. Norway, 11. Ukraine, 12. Finland, 13. Bulgaria, 14. Germany, 15. Portugal, 16. Estonia, 17. Australia, 18. Albania, 19. Spain, 20. Lithuania, 21. Serbia, 22. Netherlands, 23. Denmark, 24. Austria, 25. Slovenia, 26. United Kingdom.

If you want to throw mud at me for getting it all wrong, I will be on Twitter as always. Please have a look over there and throw me a tweet or two. Have a pleasant flight!

And the winner is... anyone of these

One of my favourite voting sequences ever is 1985 in Gothenburg. Two thirds through the voting all is still to play for and as many as seven countries can still win. Isn't that FABULOUS?

2005 was heading in the same direction but halfway through, Greece pulled ahead and the last half lost all excitement.

I am not saying we won't have a runaway winner this year - there could well be one - but who is it going to be? It has been many a good day since a final felt this open and unpredictable with as many potential winners lined up.

Düsseldorf 2011 was a bit similar but Lisbon 2018 is sensational in the aspect. The following countries all have a realistic chance of actually winning (in order of appearance):

  • Norway
  • France
  • Czech republic
  • Moldova
  • Sweden
  • Hungary
  • Israel
  • Ireland
  • Cyprus
  • Italy

That makes ten potential winners. The points will fly in all directions tonight and hopefully the juries will be professional (unlike last year) and strongly disagree on what is the best song. Let's hope the top ten or so remain very close after the jury vote and the final decision will be in the hands of the viewers.

If I scream before the winner is announced tonight, then the show is a success. Now I will try to figure out which one of these I really believe WILL win. Now there's a challenge for you all.

ESC 2018: The mystery that is Russia

For the first time ever since the introduction of the semi finals - unless you count the weird, low-profile, non-broadcast semi final of 1996, which you don't - Russia missed out on a spot in the final. That should spell game over. And yet I can't stop thinking about it. There are so many things I don't understand here.

Like the singer. I see why she was selected last year as Russia clearly had no intention of taking part anyway. Her job then was simple: she needed a performing gig in Crimea on her CV, she had to trigger sympathy in people and she needed to be someone that could be easily thrown under the bus as Russian tv pulled out.

But why did they insist on picking her a second time? She is in no way an outstanding singer and she has very little stage presence. She is not a very big name. What was the deal?

Then she was set up with a really weak song that she was unable to sing properly. Why would anyone do that to a performer? It seems so cruel and tactless.

Was Russia trying to fail on purpose? Why would they do that? What would be the gain? What is the narrative this would fit in? I no longer believe anything like this happens without there being a point to it.

Russia also still has an entry in the running, let's not forget that. All the usual Russian know-how has gone into the Moldovan entry, which could go on to collect a large number of points tonight.

Is this a test as to whether Russia could have more success under another flag?

Friday, May 11, 2018

The joy if being wrong - semi 2 summed up

Again I got eight out of ten finalists nailed. Had I been a bit braver, I could have had nine. I really wanted Slovenia to make it but really did not think it would happen. Sometimes it feels very good to be wrong. 

Sometimes it feels very good to be right as well. Russia had to fail this time. Terrible staging of a poor song, performed by someone who was more of a token than a singer. It had to happen. I thought Romania would qualify but the fact they didn’t is not a bad thing for the contest. The fewer things the audience feels sure about, the better.

I’m sorry about Latvia and above all Georgia missing the final - and don’t understand anything about Serbia making it - but overall this semi had a happy ending. It needed one. After Tuesday’s first battle, the general level this time felt alamingly low.

In a perfect world, we should have had 13 or so qualifiers from semi one and some seven from number two.

Hoping for a good running order that will make the final stunning. And let’s hope our Portuguese hosts step up their game and lose a few of the ”humourous” inserts. Please.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Tobson takes a guess - semi 2

8 out of 10 finalists correct on Tuesday night felt pretty good given how impossible that semi looked beforehand. And here I find myself looking at a lineup that could produce any old random result. But for different reasons.

The second semi is considerably weaker and what we must remember is that just because Greece and Armenia were let down by their respective diaspora voters doesn’t automatically mean other groups will sleep through tonight’s show. New jurors, new audiences.

I also have a couple of songs I would love to see go through, just like I wanted Lithuania to make it on Tuesday night. Should I include them on my finalist shortlist even though I don’t really believe it?

And then there is that great big mountain - literally, this time - that is Russia. Can they qualify whatever they send in? Tonight is the night we will get the final answer to that question.

Eight songs will leave the island tonight and my prediction is they will be:

The Iceland of this semi. Nice and competent and completely unlikely to be many people’s favourite. If you had one vote, would you vote for this? If so, why and who are you?

It is heartbreaking to see the Serbians seemingly thinking they reinvented themselves while they are actually waiting for a train that left the station a long time ago. A stronger chorus could have given them a chance, but this is too confusing and too early in the running to stand a chance.

The robots are cute and the song is OK. At least until the rap begins.

This is one of my personal favourites this year. In its studio version. Both the preview and most performances I saw seem to get in the way of the actual song and its very relatable lyrics. I really hope I am wrong here, part 1.

A fair attempt at a popular genre that belongs at the ESC but that nobody managed to stage properly so far. Add some dodgy singing in this one will be out.

You’ll find quite an effective hook in the chorus and a certain amount of high-tech brought along for the ride but nothing can change the fact this is a pretty weak and dated little effort, co-written by the man who gave us Euphoria.

It seems unlikely that the voters would suddenly get what Slovenia is trying to do but I love the bounce and the attitude. I really hope I am wrong here, part 2.

Seriously. If Russia makes it this time then they could just as well get a free spot in the final. A weak song, dreadful singing. They are even trying to hide their own singer behind a prop. And don’t forget that Russia’s real entry tonight - where all their know-how went - is Moldova.

What I really hope for tonight is that the beautiful ethnic piece from Georgia picks up enough jury support and sails into the final. I’d love to be all wrong and get ridiculed for my prediction skills if it meant I could have Latvia and/or Slovenia in the final.

Also: if we have a shock non-qualifier tonight it could very well be Ukraine - complicated in a way that seems to leave most non-fans cold - or Australia if the performance stays as awkward as reports suggest.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Some surprises and just desserts - Semi 1 summed up

In the strongest semi final we've seen in many a good day it was obvious there would be a few surprises in store. So many songs had massive fan support and there just wasn't room for all of them in the ten envelopes.

I got eight out of ten finalists right and I am totally satisfied with that. I am even more satisfied with the fact that the two entries messing up my track record - Albania and Lithuania - both are songs I feel a great deal for and that I am genuinely happy to see successful.

As for my two qualifiers that failed to make it I still find Armenia to be a nifty little etno ballad with that nice local flavour. It's a shame that a usually successful country suddenly flops the first time they opt to sing in their own language.

I have held Belgium as a personal favourite - and potential winner - throughout the season but suddenly Sennek was ripping her own chances apart with both hands using full strength. A complete lack of staging left the song in ruins. Just like with FYR Macedonia last year, I will from now on pretend the live performance never happened, never watch it again and just focus on the studio version.

Azerbaijan missed the final for the first time. It should have happened already in 2016 but this time they didn't manage to wriggle their way in. Their complete lack of effort made this non-qualification truly deserved.

Azerbaijan's failure opens up other possibilities too. Suddenly anyone can fail and this could mean Russia will have a nervous night come Thursday.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Tobson takes a guess: Semi 1

It is that time of year again when everyone inside or outside the ESC bubble is expected to take an educated guess how the semi finals is going to end. Personally, for the first time in years, I am shocked at how fast the semi finals arrived. Is it already happening? Already tonight?

For me, this is a strong semi and a strong year - it was a long time since I felt so personally touched by as many entries as now. That does not mean they will all make it to the final and this first semi is particularly tricky in that respect. Where do my predictions end and where does my wishful thinking start?

Some countries would deserve to stay in the semi but are likely to manipulate their way into the top ten anyway (Hello, Azerbaijan). Some countries make me feel nothing but since everyone else thinks highly of them, they should be sure qualifiers (Hello, Austria). And some songs I thought dead sure two weeks ago suddenly seem wobbly (Hello Belgium and Greece).

But here goes. These are the nine countries I think will leave us tonight, in no particular order.

The obvious non-qualifier. Young Ari is sweet and easy to like but this song would have felt sleepy already in a 1995 national final. His victory tonight would be to sing the best he can in order to get a top produced business card in the shape of a well executed ESC appearance.

Where Ukraine for instance learned how to take weak material and turn them into gold, Belarus are masters at taking decent components and ruin their chances.

Not a bad song and for once the visual presentation seems not to be a shambles but this song is too complicated. Your average listener would need five listens and a Power Point presentation before this opens up.

I wish this wouldn’t be the case - Croatia would have potential to win on any given day but consistently fail to deliver. This is classy and Franka is good but the song just isn’t enough to break through.

This has grown into a bit of a favourite with many people on location but rock in Albanian is yet to go down a storm in european living rooms on a Tuesday night.

The best Swiss entry in many a good day but what is the gap this song would fill? What will people find here that they secretly yearned for all these years? Could go close but hardly all the way.

The one where I really hope I am wrong. I would throw out quite a few songs in order to get this through to the final. This over Azerbaijan on any given day but I fear it is too delicate, too whispered and too fragile to be noticed so early in the running order. Its only hope is unconditional love from the juries, enough so to make up for the probable lack of televote support.

We all though we longed for a more genuine entry from Greece. We did but will this be enough? It is beautiful and atmospheric but lacks any sort of punch. Had this been the Cypriot entry I would not have doubted its non-qualification for a second but the almost immaculate record of Greece easily blurs your vision.

There will be at least one surprise non qualifier tonight. It could be Finland. It could be Estonia. I suspect neither one has the universal support fans have assumed. But I will go with my gut feeling here and I can’t shake the feeling this song got the opening slot in an attempt to bury it a bit. Everybody’s bound to fail sometime, even Azerbaijan. This time around they would deserve it.

According to this prediction, tonight’s qualifiers will be (in order of appearance): Belgium, Czech republic, Israel, Estonia, Bulgaria, Austria, Finland, Armenia, Ireland and Cyprus. I will hang on Twitter all evening, feel free to communicate with me there!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Tobson's Big ESC 2018 review, part 5

The fifth and last part of my Big Review will focus on the six songs that already made it all the way to Saturday night and the 2018 ESC final. If you want to know more about what goes on in the semis, then check out parts one, two, three and four.

Before 2008, ten countries were pre-qualified for the final in addition to the big spenders. Nice for them but clearly the current system is better. Just because you are good one year does not guarantee that you deserve a place in the final also the next year. Thanks to that system we had to sit through horrors like "Loca" and "Together We Are One" on a Saturday.

Another advantage of the current system is that no prediction made before Friday morning - the day before the final - is anything but advanced guessing. Not until then do we know what the competition really looks like. And that is so very exciting.

Since we don't have the running order for these songs as yet, here are the big five alphabetically and then Portugal last.

Madame Monsieur / Mercy

One of the many songs in this lineup that actually has something to say. The message can be seen as an accusing finger towards rich Europe refusing to lend a hand and help people in need. Beautifully understated and presenting its drama between the lines instead of using fireworks and pyro. Heavily dependent on its spot in the running order and what will come before and after but if everything turns out right, it could be France's best placing for many years.

Potential winner:
No, that would be a surprise if so. On a good day it could possibly make its way into top five and become an international radio hit.

My grade: 4/5

Michael Schulte / You Let Me Walk Alone

Another really emotional effort, this time about losing a parent. Is this the Sobral effect, that the ESC suddenly seems to attract singers and songs that sound more sincere after some years of more streamlined music designed for other purposes? Michael Schulte is likeable and has a good voice and knows how to pull on the heartstrings. Unbearable for some, wonderful for others.

Potential winner:
No, hardly. But Germany is maybe not in need of a victory as much as they need to steer clear of that dreaded last place they flirted with so massively for the last few years. That should be mission completed.

My grade: 3/5

Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro / Non mi avete fatto niente

As I child I usually struggled to embrace the Italian entries and look at me now. For the third year in a row, Italy is my personal favourite with this very engaging duet about the violence surrounding us all and how everything must still be worthwhile. Meta and Moro deliver for dear life with aggressive conviction and the Sanremo winner illustrates that the Italian team are still very keen of showing how seriously they take their presence in the ESC these days.

Potential winner:
Yes, this one must be in with a chance. A favourable spot in the running order and the points could start ticking in.

My grade: 5/5

Amaia & Alfred / Tu canción

You know it must be a good year when even Spain shaped up. Seriously bitten by the Sobral bug, this updated equivalent of Sergio & Estíbaliz provide a hyper-romantic and soothing ballad about falling in love. Icky sweet and yet adorable unless you are completely immune to young love. A bit old-fashioned and maybe a bit too similar to last year's winner to go all the way but it sure is a great improvement on recent Spanish entries.

Potential winner:
No, unless all the planets and stars line up the right way. This year is so hard to predict anyway.

My grade: 3/5

SuRie / Storm

Every time I hear this song my inner vision paints an image of a group of people sitting around a table. They have been told they must write a song together and nobody can eat or sleep or leave until it is ready. So they all put in bits and pieces until they have a melody and a lyric that doesn't mean anything to anyone but still it is a song, so they are free to go. Poor SuRie is a lovely performer and would have deserved something meaningful to sing instead of this bleak and poor songwriting exercise.

Potential winner:
No. Au contraire - this is the most likely candidate for last place in the final. Possible nul-pointer. Who on earth would vote for this? And why?

My grade: 1/5

Cláudia Pascoal / O jardim

Something clearly clicked into place last year, and Portugal is delivering another piece of something that is totally their own thing. The live vocals and sound mix need improvement from the Portuguese final - compare to the fabulous studio version - but this is a charming and introverted slice of pop. Let's hope Portugal stays on this more contemporary track forever.

Potential winner:
No. RTP can sleep easy. Maybe this song won't even break into the top 15, but who cares? It is a brave effort by a very likeable performer. On home ground you can do what you want - you already won.

My grade: 4/5

So who will be the winner of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest? No idea. I am avoiding the rehearsal clips as I want as much of a surprise as only possible as the live shows go on air. Ask me again on May 11th, and I will give you my most educated guess.

But a tough battle between the likes of Israel, Czech republic, Italy and France would be nice. Throw in Finland and Sweden for the fun of it. Maybe I am right and Belgium is a dark horse waiting in the wings. And then Alexander Rybak comes in and wins it all?

I have a feeling this will be a very entertaining year. Fasten seatbelts.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Tobson's Big ESC 2018 review, part 4

The person in charge of sequencing the running order has a great deal of power, that is for sure.

When the draw was abandoned in 2013, the new system was promised to guarantee a better show: similar styles would be spread out and so would geographical and cultural neighbours. Something the producers have not always managed to live up to.

In the semi finals, however, it is unlikely that the producer can make or break an entry just by giving it a certain spot. If the audience likes something, they will vote for it regardless. Last year's first semi proved quite convincingly there are no safe spots anywhere. The final is a different story altogether but let's deal with the last semifinalists first.

Iriao / For You

A beautiful and intriguing piece of folklore presented by a country that always seems to find new areas to explore and almost never takes the easiest route in this contest. Maybe a bit lacking in dynamics to be a real points magnet but its musical merits alone should be enough to assure it some success.

Borderline but I hope it will. There is something very likeable about men singing in harmonies like this.

My grade: 3/5

Gromee feat Lukas Meijer / Light Me Up

Given recent events, it is hard not to think of Avicii here and label this entry Avicii-light. Musically it is not a bad effort and it has some good hooks in the chorus, but it also feels very lightweight and the performance in the national final was a complete and utter visual mess that needs to get sorted out.

Borderline. Relies far more on televote love than most. If the Poles around Europe are awake and alert, then this one will make it, but they were not as eager to vote as expected last year.

My grade: 2/5

Christabelle / Taboo

Flashback to a kind of entry that used to be really popular a couple of years ago, with a slightly aggressive-sounding female vocalist in an almost contemporary soundscape. I liked this when it won in Malta, then it grew off me surprisingly quickly. Now it just feels repetitive and dated and heard before.

No, unless the viewers at home get lost in nostalgia. I'd say that's unlikely.

My grade: 1/5

AWS / Viszlát nyár

I am not going to pretend to be a connoisseur of heavy rock but I'm delighted to see other genres than "eurovision-rock" take part at the ESC. This is heavy, hard, noisy and with more than a fair share of angst in it. It almost hurts when you hear it and I'm very happy about this glimpse into a musical landscape I seldom venture into.

Yes. This must make it. We need something as different and refreshing as this in the final.

My grade: 3/5

Laura Rizzotto / Funny Girl

Another vaguely Bond-esque number by a performer with a sense of drama. Or so I hope. While this song is one of my personal favourites - I absolutely love the lyrics - the video clip is pretty much standing in the way of the song, making it feel a lot less engaging than it is when I only hear it. This one needs a firm injection of some sort of action in Lisbon.

Yes, I hope so. But it could equally well end 11th. Or - if the staging is poor - it could even crash and burn close to the end of the result.

My grade: 4/5

Benjamin Ingrosso / Dance You Off

Somehow this evolved from being a competent, visually stunning but slightly boring first semi qualifier in MF to something very different. Surprising that Sweden enters exactly the same thing two years in a row - a contemporary number where visuals are more important than the actual content - but this song keeps growing and growing.

Yes. And also the winner of this semi.

My grade: 4/5

Vanja Radovanović / Inje

Sometimes having all the right components is still not enough. Montenegro has a convincing performer, a solid ballad performed in their own language and quite a lot of emotion and passion soaring through their entry. And yet no matter how many times I listen, I can never remember what it sounds like once it is over. That can't be a good thing.

No, unless Europe hears something I can't hear. In a way I wish they would.

My grade: 2/5

Lea Sirk / Hvala ne

A Slovenian babe with an attitude it all it takes for me. I am totally sold here. The beat, the idea, the ice cold lack of a proper chorus. I'm convinced. Not that Slovenia has a great track record when it comes to convince the people who are voting, though.

Yes. I want this to qualify. (Maybe I don't really expect it to qualify but I'm not giving up just yet.)

My grade: 4/5

Mélovin / Under The Ladder

I'm struggling here. There are so many good bits and pieces here and Mélovin is an engaging performer and yet things don't click into place for me. Extra plus for energy and conviction but the tempo changes are weird. And what is he even singing about? Confusion all around.

Qualifier: Yes, of course. Ukraine are brilliant at this and we are likely to get a stunning package in the end. Last year is long forgotten.

My grade: 2/5

Maybe you also want to read parts one, two and three of this review? And maybe you also want to see when I blog my way through every Eurovision entry ever (in Swedish) over here?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tobson's Big ESC 2018 review, part 3

Portugal has shown a great deal of bravery in their choices as host nation for the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. Mainly they have gone for a more organic and less technological approach in the stage design, leaving out the almost compulsory LED screens that have been popular but not always used in the best possible way.

These decisions go very well with the Portuguese winner of last year and it seems that very entry has inspired quite a few of this year's entries. There are much more songs with some sort of message or conviction and fewer of the professional but generic songs we had a few too many of lately. Hopefully the songs and the stage will come together beautifully come May.

Semi 2 is admittedly weaker but also harder to predict. Which is fun in a way. On to the first nine songs in the lineup:

Alexander Rybak / That's How You Write A Song

You can say a lot of things about Alexander Rybak but he sure is no coward. No former winner has taken part in the international final since Dana International failed to progress from the semi final in 2011 and even before that it was hard times for former champions. Alexander also has the guts to enter a song that large portions of the ESC fandom absolutely abhor. Many people would like to see him fail, that is the worst kept secret of the year.

But of course. Yes. This will be bang in the final and get a very good position there as well. What are people thinking? Rybak has many fans and this is also a fun and playful song. A potential winner, even.

My grade: 4/5

The Humans / Goodbye

Romania has never failed to reach the final. This running order suggests there will be a first time for everything. This is a pretty solid soft rock effort - Heart meets a young Bonnie Tyler - with a neat chorus and a bit of a too long build-up for its own good. The sequenced running order is supposed to put every competing song in the best possible light and position but it feels more like the producer decided to throw Romania under the bus here.

Borderline. Romania qualified with weaker songs than this in the past.

My grade: 2/5

Sanja Ilić & Balkanika / Nova deca

Serbia is trying to turn back the clock to a time where the Balkan countries happily mixed folk music with more contemporary pop rhythms to great effect. It's nice to meet up with this genre again but it is a shame the actual song is not stronger than this. The performance is unfocused and confusing and the song never takes off properly.

No, unless they manage to reinvent themselves properly and better the performance a great deal. And then the song is still pretty weak.

My grade: 2/5

Jessika feat Jenifer Brening / Who We Are

San Marino seemed to possibly be on some sort of right way with their messy national final until the whole process turned out to be about who could put in more money than the others. Music had very little to do with anything in the end, which the entry itself demonstrates in a very efficient way. It stays bland until the moment Jenifer brings her messy rap into the picture and makes the whole package implode.

No. Not in a reasonable world anyway. But this is a semi where almost any song could emerge as a surprise qualifier.

My grade: 1/5

Rasmussen / Higher Ground

Ten years ago Latvia somehow managed to make it into the final with a group of people ridiculously dresses up as pirates. Perhaps as a tribute to the Pirates of the Sea, Denmark selected another piece of masquerade attributes and sent in a troupe of various vikings in desperate need of credibility as well as hair conditioner. There's a decent little chorus in here somewhere but not enough to find mercy in my book.

Borderline. People often tend to like Danish entries even when I find them lacklustre, so I wouldn't be surprised if it is a yes for this one.

My grade: 1/5

Julia Samoylova / I Won't Break

Same suspense scenario as with Romania: would it actually be possible for Russia not to qualify? What we have is a decent but not spectacular entry with a good hook but a singer that seems to be totally incapable of delivering any of the singing required. This will be three very interesting minutes come Lisbon.

Borderline. Strong support from a number of friendly countries but most other countries would have been discounted at once with an entry like this.

My grade: 1/5

DoReDos / My Lucky Day

After a bunch of slower mid tempo entries with little sparkle or nerve, Moldova rolls onto the stage like a hysterical avalanche with their bouncy and aggressively positive sunshine of a song. How could you not love this? How could anyone resist? So much kitsch forced into a confined space you expect the whole thing to blow up at some point.

Yes. People will laugh and love this. But I would never had guessed these lyrics were written by a native English speaker.

My grade: 3/5

Waylon / Outlaw in 'em

Just like Alexander Rybak is Eurovision Royalty after his second place as part of The Common Linnets in 2014. It is pretty cool of him to enter something so different from his former entry as well. Possibly he bit off a bit more than he can chew as the song really aspires to have way broader shoulders than Waylon himself can pull off. 

Yes, most probably. Not sure how well it will fare in the final but at least it will be there.

My grade: 2/5

Jessica Mauboy / We Got Love

One of the big reasons for Australia to be present in the contest is supposedly to show the UK how easy it could be to send in really convincing and powerful entries if you just make an effort. That's nice - if a bit patronising - but Australia is not really living up to that if so. Whatever sort of edge I expected them to have is more and more absent for every year. Jessica is a good performer but this pop song is surprisingly unspectacular. Good but tame. If Australia is to stay put I expect quite a lot more from them.

Yes. Juries love Australia. We noticed that extra clearly last year.

My grade: 3/5

This is the third part of my 2018 review, why not check out part one and part two as well?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tobson's Big ESC 2018 review, part 2

There is always something to be unhappy about. The fans are in general not fond of the fact that the running order is sequenced by a producer instead of the result of a draw. They would want things to be more random.

However, as the songs were revealed for this year's contest it turned out the first semi seemed way stronger in most people's minds compared to the second semi. This was seen as deeply unfair. Maybe people would want the draw of the semis to be less... random.

This is just the way it happens. It should be no job of a producer to decide what is good and what is bad in order to create a balance between semis. We just have to live with it, I suppose. And these are the final nine songs of the first, stronger semi.

Eye Cue / Lost And Found

An ambitious entry co-signed by one of the country's most prolific hitmakers - a daring mix of different styles and tempi and sounds all joined together in a three-minute experiment. Would deserve a spot in the final not least because of its sheer nerve and its bravery but that is not how it works.

No. There are bit too many sudden turns in this entry and the televoters will lose interest before they realise what an interesting piece of music this is.

My grade: 3/5

Franka / Crazy

Croatia did pretty well since their comeback two years ago but still nowhere near living up to their potential. This year they internally selected a real pop starlet who revitalised her own career lately. Her entry falls into the popular "Could have been a Bond track"-category and this is a classy piece of craft. Only not engaging enough to break through.

No. In the second semi it would have qualified but while the song sounds good - and Franka is a solid performer - it lacks that last piece of sparkle needed to turn it into a vote magnet.

My grade: 3/5

Cesár Sampson / Nobody But You

This one puzzles me as it is quite highly rated by fans. I tend to like Austria way more than most and defend their songs to the bitter end. All I see and hear this year is a decent but pretty anonymous attempt at gospel, performed by somebody who is not exactly burning through the screen.

No. I don't think it will be enough when placed against a whole bunch of stronger contenders in this semi.

My grade: 1/5

Yianna Terzi / Oneiro mou

I must applaud Greece for going back to their roots. I love the sound of this as well as the general atmosphere in this entry. Yianna has an enchanting voice and presence and the whole thing brings in an air of older traditional Greek pop that I loved in my youth. I should love this to bits and yet I am not blown away. I don't know what is missing but if I don't get blown away by this, how could I expect anyone else to be?

Borderline. It will depend very much on the staging but I'm afraid this could turn out to be a flop in the voting.

My grade: 2/5

Saara Aalto / Monsters

Some of my initial doubts have blown away. Not all of them, mind you. I still fear some decisions taken concerning styling and choreography and I still doubt Saara's ability to keep her calm when it matters the most. However, this entry is very much helped by its spot in the running order.

Yes. This is the right song at the right time. Catchy, contemporary and with the right sort of climax.

My grade: 4/5

Sevak Khanagyan / Qami

Another piece of carefully written etno performed in the country's own language. Well sung and with a nice climax towards the end but still lacking something to make it dramatic enough. Having Greece coming so close before it could also be a really bad thing for the Armenians.

Borderline. Probably yes - Armenia is good at making its way into the final - but it is far from sure. It would be pretty interesting if both Armenia and Azerbaijan would miss the final the same year. Is that when time breaks and the universe melts?

My grade: 2/5

Zibbz / Stones

Switzerland never made a name for themselves as a European stronghold for rock music - maybe for a cause - but these siblings moved across the big blue water and made careers for themselves over there. They represent their own homeland with quite some gravity and energy. As a rock song, this is not half bad and far more engaging than any Swiss entry has been for many years.

Borderline. Which is a good thing for Switzerland. On a good day, they could grab an 8th place and a spot in Saturday's line-up. But then they better not mess up live.

My grade: 3/5

Ryan O'Shaughnessy / Together

I saw the really cute video clip and fell headlong both for it and this melodic and uncomplicated little song. It was a nice gesture of the RTÉ to make a clip like this - it is not gay baiting when a straight performer decides to show an lgbt storyline in a clip, folks - and this is clearly the best Irish entry for year and years. And yet...

Borderline. Probably no. In Lisbon, there will be no clip and everything comes down to how interesting you can make this look on stage. I would be very happy to be positively surprised here.

My grade: 4/5

Eleni Foureira / Fuego

This is where my mixed emotions kick in. The final could definitely do with a commercial pop song like this, but doesn't it sound very much like a track Helena Paparizou would have left off her 2006 album or so? Slightly dated, slightly unsurprising. And how well can Eleni sell this on stage?

Yes. The advantage of being the last song out will help. But we are hardly bound for Nicosia in 2019.

My grade: 3/5

Find part one of this review here.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tobson's Big ESC 2018 review, part 1

We are very, very close to the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest and I for one can't wait to see how Portugal will pull off hosting the ESC after waiting for this opportunity for so long.

Fate has been nice to RTP as it handed them the strongest lineup for many years to work with. Many of these songs are so good, they need no LED screens to make them come alive and shine.

Here are my thoughts on the songs, judging from this years preview clips, which you can see on the official Eurovision YouTube Channel.

Aisel / X My Heart

There are many interesting things going on in the running order this year. Are they clues? Quite certainly Christer Björkman has a finger or two in this pie. Why would he put a song like this first of all in the semi? It is nice and a good opener but lacks any kind of personality or temper or anything to make it stand out in a semi as strong as this. Is this the year when Azerbaijan falls out already in the semi?

I wouldn't bet my house on it.

My grade: 2/5

Ari Ólafsson / Our Choice

Somebody could write a scientific essay on when Iceland lost their mojo in this contest. Was it when Yohanna managed to take something sweet and inoffensive and turn it into a silver medal in Moscow 2009? After last year's attempt at edge, Iceland is back at the sweet and inoffensive. Young Ari is a good singer and an adorable personality but this song is so terribly clichéd and dated that it defies description. And the lyrics is just the final kiss of death.

No. The most likely contender to end last in the entire semi.

My grade: 1/5

Eugent Bushpepa / Mall

Albania does a whole lot of things right. They stay true to their own selves, they keep sending songs that say something about the local music scene performed by local stars. And yet they have struggled to make an impact lately. This song is less complicated and more accessible than recent efforts and Eugent delivers the goods like he really means whatever he is singing. Had this been drawn into the weaker second semi instead, it could really have stood a chance.

No. There are too many good songs fighting it out for only ten spots. Rotten luck but that's the rules of the game.

My grade: 2/5

Sennek / A Matter Of Time

After three consecutive killer songs from Wallonia, also Flanders woke up and copied the winning concept of their countrymen: sniff out some fresh talent and give them more or less complete liberty to create a compelling entry. And would you believe it - it works also across the linguistic border. Rather Bond-esque (a bit of a trend this year) and most compelling, performed by an intriguing singer.

Yes. This must qualify or everyone must resign.

My grade: 5/5

Mikolas Josef / Lie To Me

The first time I heard this song I thought it was really super annoying. There is a fine line between being annoying and entertaining, it seems. Dumb but irresistibly catchy, performed by someone who knows exactly what it takes to make a package like this work. My only regret is that the camel is not allowed on stage.

Yes. You bet. And for the first time, Czech republic could make it into the higher regions of the top ten too.

My grade: 4/5

Ieva Zasimauskaitė / When We're Old

One thing is certain - you never know in advance what sort of song Lithuania will come up with. This one is the most sincere and tender thing they have entered in a long time, sung in a delicate way by a very likeable singer. The kind of entry that would really deserve to get rewarded big time.

No. I'm afraid not. Had this one been drawn in the second half, then maybe. Now it will be too intimate too early on in the running order and get forgotten. Unless the juries absolutely adore it and save it.

My grade: 3/5

Netta / Toy

40 years after Izhar Cohen and 20 years after Dana International - wouldn't it be nice if Israel won the contest with something surprising again? Netta is a real personality with a strong and personable voice and the chicken clucking gimmick is sheer brilliance. However, this entry is also sure to be very divisive. How well with it click with a mainstream audience in the end?

Oh yes. That's hardly a problem. The question is how far this craziness will go in the final.

My grade: 4/5

Alekseev / Forever

More than one has described the first semi in Lisbon as a "blood bath". Colourful metaphor and all, but many of the songs lined up would have stood a better chance in the second semi. Like Belarus, whose pop song is quite good - despite the fact that it breaks the rules and should be disqualified - but maybe not good enough to break through. The new edit does it no favours and it had been nice had Alekseev been able to sing it properly live.

Borderline but my gut feeling tells me this one will be out by quite a slim margin.

My grade: 2/5

Elina Nechayeva / La forza

What a relief when somebody is finally doing proper opera singing at Eurovision. No funny games, no pop verses, no funny hats. Elina is just singing her modern aria beautifully and gracefully. Regardless if she can keep the dress projections from the national final or not, this is an oasis of class and style.

It does run the risk of being the Blackbird of the year, but I do think Estonia is back in the final with this one.

My grade: 3/5

Equinox / Bones

Bulgaria came back to the ESC transformed into a nation of modern and compelling pop and they stay true to form also this year. Bones is perhaps more complicated and less instant and a more risky choice. Applause for anyone not willing to just play it safe!

Yes, most certainly. This is maybe not winning material like last year, but getting to the final should be a walk in the park.

My grade: 3/5