A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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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