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, 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!