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 19, 2019

ESC 2019: Hup Holland Hup

They did it. After what felt like 200 years of waiting, the Netherlands finally broke through and got a fifth victory at the Eurovision Song Contest. After an outright terrible run of entries, somebody at Dutch television decided to shape up in 2013 and it finally paid off.

"Arcade" is a lovely, contemporary song. I saw it as a potential winner all through the season but never thought it would actually win in the end. It seemed a bit too moody, a bit too demanding. And the disappointment would have been too great if I predicted them and they failed.

The winner could translate into the well-needed commercial success I've been missing for the last few years and possibly Duncan himself could have a shot at a lasting career.

Now it is anybody's guess where the final will be held next year. Amsterdam? The Hague? Rotterdam? Somewhere else? Is there a suitable arena in Hilversum as a nod to Eurovision history?

My personal winner of last night was Italy. Initial reports from Tel Aviv suggested Mahmood didn't go through the cameras but when it mattered he performed the life out of his song. I found myself watching this on repeat several times today. The emotion of the last chorus is breathtaking. What a star he is!

As a political side note (since this contest tends to get a bit political now and then) I really hope Salvini was watching last night as he insinuated after Sanremo that Mahmood was not Italian enough to win.

I am also overjoyed that the juries finally saw reason and voted for Italy. Maybe next year we could finally have that Italian victory that is so long overdue.

The big surprise was - of course - North Macedonia. Just like Mahmood, Queen Tamara knew how to squeeze every little drop out of her performance and the juries poured their love over her.

Unlike some others, she also had the wit and composure to hold her poker face and give her widest smile even as the lack of televote support transpired. Anyhow she travels back with what is by far the country's best showing to date.

John Lundvik was not as lucky as the camera truly well registered his disappointment as the televote mark was read out. A sixth place is not a failure for anyone else but maybe it is for Sweden. Their songs go down a storm with the juries while the voters at home are left cold.

Has Europe finally overdosed on the Swedish perfection and craftsmanship? It sure feels like the blue and yellow domination is broken in many ways. Even if Swedish backing singers, dancers and choreographers are still heavily in demand most of the songs in the top placings were local products rather than something leased from Sweden.

The biggest challenge for Melodifestivalen in the near future is maybe just that. How to find new ideas and expressions that feel fresh and organic instead of immaculately produced and fine-tuned? Sweden would never find anything like Mahmood or Hatari with their current formula.

Hatari gave a surprisingly unfocused performance but still stood out enough to give Iceland its first top ten showing since 2009. Then they pulled their Palestine banners out and may have landed RÚV in trouble for next year.

If the EBU wants anyone to take the rules banning political messages and statements seriously, they must put their foot down. Who knows what kind of manifestation other participants will want to go through with in the future. Iceland got a firm warning before the broadcast and could therefore get fined or - possibly - disqualified for next year.

The Belarusian jury got themselves disqualified after the semi final as they shared their scores in public. Stupid and unprofessional and instead of jury points, the Belarus score was calculated according to some EBU formula.

I would very much like to know what that formula looks like as the set of points the Minsk spokesperson got to read out were outright bizarre. Full marks to Israel? High marks to Germany and Estonia? Where did these points come from?

The new way of reading out the televote scores was also a big success and kept the excitement at a maximum until the very end of the voting sequence. A real thriller and exciting like it sometimes was back in the good old days of unpredictable national juries.

What doesn't work at all is the ridiculously long voting window. No shade over any of the interval acts - maybe there was a sick note or two, but Madonna is still Madonna - but it took over an hour from the last song until we got any points. In Finland it was over one in the morning when the first jury was called up. A few years ago, the show was supposed to end around that time. I wonder how many viewers gave up and went to bed before the interval acts came to an end?

Israeli tv got better and better throughout the week. From the first rather shaky semifinal into Saturday's fun and slick final. All in all, very well done and a tough act for the Netherlands to follow.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

ESC 2019: Tobson's Final Say

I both love and hate this moment. When the time has come to try and predict who will actually win. Had you asked me in late March, I would have been rock steady in my prediction but since then all songs started living their own lives and now I have no idea.

I sincerely have no idea. Depending on what mood Europe is in, I'd say something around ten different countries could realistically win.

Here are tonight's entries and what I expect from them as the votes start coming in.

01. MALTA Michela / Chameleon
Out of the three songs wishing to be Fuego, Malta is the one that lost most of its momentum after the semis. It will be a great party starter but a slightly awkward performance doesn't do it any favours. Bottom half.
My grade: 2/5

02. ALBANIA Jonida Maliqi / Ktheju tokës
My biggest surprise qualifier from the second semi is a worthy finalist but that's the end of the fun. The slightly stiff live performance and the overly long wait for the pretty chorus will keep this one way down the scoreboard.
My grade: 2/5

03. CZECH REPUBLIC Lake Malawi / Friend Of A Friend
Just like in the first semi final, these happy guys will feel relaxed and upbeat and the audience will love and remember them enough to give them a chance of reaching top ten.
My grade: 4/5

04. GERMANY S!sters / Sister
Among all the potential winners in this lineup it feels good to be able to discard at least somebody. Germany seems all set to conquer their third last place in five contests and any result better than that should be hailed like victory.
My grade: 0/5

05. RUSSIA Sergey Lazarev / Scream
I feared the worst but Russia did the unexpected and delivered a slick and tasteful stage show and Sergey shines like the star he is even if the song is a bit on the weak side. A potential winner but not the most likely of the candidates on offer.
My grade: 3/5

06. DENMARK Leonora / Love Is Forever
Cute and likeable but coming after Russia reduces Denmark than little more than an extra interval act when people top up their drinks and snacks.
My grade: 2/5

07. SAN MARINO Serhat / Say Na Na Na
Sometimes you need more than three minutes to get all you need from the kitchen. Take your time, you won't miss much here. But at least San Marino will go back home with their best ever placing.
My grade: 1/5

08. NORTH MACEDONIA Tamara / Proud
Tamara did what I had stopped hoping for: North Macedonia keeping their performance focused and clean and powerful. A well deserved qualification and - possibly - the chance of grabbing a 10th place or so.
My grade: 3/5

09. SWEDEN John Lundvik / Too Late For Love
A deceptively lean visual appearance in the semi could easily fool you but this is arguably the best pop song in the running with a few really effective hooks. If John and The Mamas have an extra gear to put in now, this could carry all the way to a seventh victory.
My grade: 5/5

10. SLOVENIA Zala & Gašper / Sebi
This could fall either way in the final: either this loveliest of pop whispers is instantly forgotten or stands out like an oasis of calm and taste.
My grade: 4/5

11. CYPRUS Tamta / Replay
Like Malta, Cyprus has gone from hot favourite to something of a microwave dish. A possible radio hit in the making but nowhere near the top ten tonight.
My grade: 3/5

12. THE NETHERLANDS Duncan Laurence / Arcade
Intense and sensitive and clearly a potential winner. That would be awesome but I still wonder if that piano is coming between Duncan and the audience in the end.
My grade: 4/5

13. GREECE Katerine Duska / Better Love
One of my biggest personal favourites is floating around in space slightly below all the expected favourites. Divisive but hopefully a surprise in the making.
My grade: 4/5

14. ISRAEL Kobi Marimi / Home
Another divisive voice and presence but less of an instant hit. Israel should not run the risk of repeating a last place for the host country but we are talking right hand side of the board here.
My grade: 2/5

15. NORWAY Keiino / Spirit In The Sky
This happiest of trios storm in at the right time with their higher tempo. Had their their visual appearance been as colourful as the song in itself they could have been in with a chance.
My grade: 2/5

16. UNITED KINGDOM Michael Rice / Bigger Than Us
The song John Lundvik almost went to Melodifestivalen with. Going for "Too Late For Love" was the best career decision ever. Yet another UK flop coming up.
My grade: 1/5

17. ICELAND Hatari / Hatrið mun sigra
It could be that the EBU executives will not breathe for three minutes at this point in the show. If all favourites divide the big points evenly between them, something way less mainstream could sneak up into first place. There could be a sensation waiting around the corner here.
My grade: 4/5

18. ESTONIA Victor Crone / Storm 
The biggest disappointment on Tuesday was this non-song making the cut, meaning it will take up a space for someone who would have deserved it more.
My grade: 0/5

19. BELARUS Zena / Like It
Safe and harmless teeny pop performed by a really likeable young soloist. Should be a bit too formulaic to grab on to the really high points but still remarkably competent for being Belarus.
My grade: 3/5

20. AZERBAIJAN Chingiz / Truth
You can easily tell Azerbaijan is going for gold for the first time since 2013 and this loaded package could get very close to that first place. The only drawback is that the singer and the presentation are more interesting than the actual song.
My grade: 4/5

21. FRANCE Bilal Hassani / Roi
Mixed emotions à go go in the French entry. Bilal is a lovely little presence and his message is terrific. His stage show has made France shoot up the betting lists but the question remains: can a song as weak and generic as this actually win?
My grade: 1/5

22. ITALY Mahmood / Soldi
This is such a fun contest. First we don't see any Arab guys on the LGBT-spectre and suddenly we get in a row. Mahmood is clearly the better of the two, equipped with a fantastic pop composition with bite and attitude. Should be in the top three.
My grade: 5/5

23. SERBIA Nevena / Krona
By now you are surely out of drinks and snacks again. Run to the kitchen now, Nevena has a strong voice and you will hear her all the way. She is good, the song is fairly standard.
My grade: 1/5

24. SWITZERLAND Luca Hänni / She Got Me
Switzerland has been nowhere near a victory for over twenty-five year. Is it time for thunder to strike? It is not impossible but this could also turn out to be just one pop act too many in this lineup.
My grade: 3/5

25. AUSTRALIA Kate Miller-Heidke / Zero Gravity
I have to admit this is a visually stunning number. Had it been matched by a better song, this could be our winner.
My grade: 1/5

26. SPAIN Miki / La venda
The perfect upbeat ending to the running order with the best Spanish entry in many years. If Miki remembers not to jump up and down so much and focus a bit on his singing, this could even be a contender for the lower regions of the top ten.
My grade: 3/5

So how will this end? I still have no idea and I have grown more and more clueless throughout the week. So what do you do when you have no idea? You go back to the last time you thought you knew anything. This is my guess for how the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest will end.

01. Sweden, 02. The Netherlands, 03. Italy, 04. Switzerland, 05. Russia, 06. France, 07. Azerbaijan, 08. Iceland, 09. Australia, 10. Greece, 11. North Macedonia, 12. Spain, 13. Norway, 14. Cypern, 15. Czech republic, 16. Malta, 17. Slovenia, 18. Denmark, 19. Serbia, 20. Belarus, 21. Israel, 22. Albania, 23. San Marino, 24. United Kingdom, 25. Estonia, 26. Germany.

Bring on the voting and then we'll see how this works out. If you want to talk to me and nurse me through it, feel free to do so on Twitter:

See you on the other side!

Applause for the running order

Last year I wrote that I could hardly remember the last time the final felt as open and unpredictable as then. It was really open indeed. And yet just a still little breeze compared to this year.

Seriously folks? There is not a single song that stands out enough to be the obvious candidate. For us who watched both semis there will be songs we already fell for. But a large chunk of viewers tonight didn't do that. These songs will be new for them.

If you thought the running order would make it easier to predict, then you were badly mistaken.

Christer Björkman - it must be him making the sequencing, right? - has really outdone himself with a little help from the drawing of lots dividing the countries into first and second half of the order.

We are having an almost perfect running order, never allowing things to slow for too long, and the end is one heck of a ride with almost exclusively favourites neck to neck.

It makes it hell to try and predict anything but will give everyone at home an excellent show. Bravo!

Friday, May 17, 2019

ESC 2019, semi 2: Tobson shapes up

After the Tuesday night debacle where I only got six out of ten correct I feel back in form with 9/10. I'm pleased but tonight's results felt more logical somehow.

There was room for disappointment also during this semi: surprisingly many countries underperformed and failed at giving their entries the punch and the momentum needed to qualify.

After seeing all live performances I realised I had six countries I cared for and that wanted to see in the final: Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Netherlands, North Macedonia and Azerbaijan. All of them made it through.

I am particularly pleased for North Macedonia. After years of disastrous performances they just nailed it. Tamara was focused and in good voice and really deserved her spot in the final.

The only one I got wrong was that we had Albania instead of Armenia and frankly I am happier like that. Armenia was vocally solid but visually poor with a surprisingly static performance.

Romania has lost their grip and gone from being a country that can't lose to failing two years in a row. Last year heads were rolling at TVR and it will be interesting to see how they play it this time around. One guess is the international judges will be scrapped in the national final next year.

Denmark, Norway and Sweden all made it, leaving Finland to be the only Nordic country outside of the final. Let's take that as a sign that UMK has given what it had to give and it is time to find a new formula for next year.

I will leave all speculation about the final for later when we know the running order. But I have a sneaky feeling San Marino might open the whole show on Saturday.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

ESC 2019, semi 2: Tobson takes a guess

This is the place where I would usually write something about how weak a result six correct out of ten is and how I hope tonight will be better and then some other clever observations about the contest in general. This has however been a long day and I am fighting against some deadlines so I will just quickly list the eight songs that will not make it through tonight.

The only things I really hope for tonight are these two:

I hope the artists realise that tonight is the big thing. Find your energy, find your passion. Project for dear life. Break through the screen and take the viewers by storm. Semi one was far too restrained for my taste.

Then I absolutely hope to get more than six right tonight. Six? That’s pathetic.

These are the eight songs I predict will be out on their ears before bedtime:

I like it and most people will like it but it comes very early on in the show and doesn' leave a single trace. Perhaps the most obvious non-qualifier of this bunch.

Very much like Ireland I appreciate this very much. But who on earth would think this is the best song, the one they have to televote for?

They have a lot of friend in this semi that are likely to vote for them. But there is more to life than just maths. This is just too boring.

This pains me as Paenda is a rather lovely performer. But someone at the ORF should have advised her to go for something easier to retain on a single listening. "Die Zeit ist einsam 2.0" will live on in my headphones but will have a bumpy ride here.

My least favourite entry of all 41. Dull, pointless, void of personality. All of that worked for Estonia on Tuesday though so who knows?

I'd love to be wrong here. I enjoy the suggestive intro and the impressive chorus but the verse seems to go on forever and from what I hear the staging doesn't do it any favours either.

Could it be? Can Romania miss the final two years in a row? Personally I think this would deserve a spot in tonight's top ten, but then again - who would take action and actually vote for it?

This is a real wild guess. This could just as well be Norway. Or Denmark. Or North Macedonia. Or even Malta. Or Armenia. But I don't think a Jacques Houdek entry without Jacques Houdek will set the scoreboard on fire.

I have predicted an early exit for Norway throughout the season but now it suddenly feels like the Norwegian brand of crazy is something we need in the final.

If you want my opinions as the second semi final happens, Twitter is the place to be. Feel free to interact with me!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

ESC 2019, semi 1: some words in my defence

I got six out of ten correct. That's a bit of a fiasco, isn't it? Or is it? Here are some words in my defence.

This was always going to be a very open semi final with an okay but lean line-up. Most of the songs were basically on the same level - not bad but not outstanding - and it would always come down to luck for the last places.

What surprised me when I watched the semi was the general lack of energy and conviction. Tired and half-hearted performances, loads of them. Some of the entrants I have predicted for the final really underperformed.

I knew my prediction was turning to dust as I watched the songs parade over my screen. Poland had a strange lack of energy, Hungary was surprisingly static, Belgium felt shy and fragile in a bad way, Portugal just turned into white noise.

It will be very interesting to see the full results on Saturday night. How close can it have been? My guess is mega super close and that the last three finalists or so were completely arbitrary.

Greece performed really well. Her voice is divisive but that's the stuff stars are made of. Could possibly go very far in the final.

Iceland has their attitude nailed down to the final inch. Had the vocals been stronger in the chorus, this could have been a potential winner.

Slovenia going through as the last country was a complete relief. Saving them for last also implies they had a pretty good score tonight.

Do I miss anyone who missed out? Not really. I predicted Hungary and Portugal mainly because so many people seemed to like them. Poland would have been a good qualifier but would have needed much more presence. Belgium was reduced to nothing in the end.

I promised to be happy for San Marino if they made it through and I am despite Serhat's vocals being among the worst. Awkward and tone-deaf, they are still heading for their best ever placing on Saturday.

The one I don't feel the tiniest bit happy about is Estonia. In my mind, that is one of the most rubbish songs in the entire lineup - also surprisingly badly sung in the semi. I would have traded that for any of the non-qualifiers. Even that Lahakat Shiru tribute act from Montenegro.

Thursday will see a rise in quality that will subsequently - hopefully - make things easier to predict and the final result depend more on who is good and less on who got lucky.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

ESC 2019, semi 1: Tobson takes a guess

These days when I don't really work with Eurovision anymore, I more and more get the feeling that it is sneaking up on me. Is it tonight? You can't be serious? And now I have to make an educated guess who will make it to the final?

I have deliberately not watched any rehearsal footage as I want surprises tonight but I have read what others have written.

Honestly it feels like the amount of analysis or reporting coming out of Tel Aviv has been surprisingly low. Maybe I follow the wrong accounts but several have done little more than to link to already existing rehearsal clips.

I understand everyone has warmed to a couple of songs I have given the cold shoulder until now. It is possible for good performances to swing your perception of an entry - I never thought much of "Shady Lady" until it erupted in front of our eyes in Belgrade - and maybe I will change my mind too.

But there is a limit. Now it sounds like Australia could be a potential winner. Not just tonight but overall on Saturday night. Maybe it is visually stunning by now but it is still a very disappointing piece of songwriting. It will make it to the final but a Saturday night victory...? Really?

The hardest part about this semi is that too many songs feel indifferent. They can be nice and all but some six or seven songs are totally interchangeable and are just as likely to reach the final as something else. I think my prediction could be way off tonight. But here goes.

The seven songs that will leave us tonight are:

A bit of campfire cosiness that nobody will vote for.

Tonight's climate conscience performed by someone who - by the sound of it - doesn't sound too interested in climate change. Not horrible but pointless.

Polished radio staple with not a single hint of emotion or anything.

Suddenly this looks good on-screen too and everyone expects it to qualify but Europe is seldom in the mood for bombastic men singing in their own language.

I promise to be happy for the smallest state in the running if I am dead wrong here but I suspect this will come across as tired and a tad too ridiculous for most.

Personally I quite like this - thanks for wondering in the chorus - but I think this is a bit too anonymous to be remembered in the end and will get beaten by something inferior.

Fans of Balkan ballads tell me this will do well since it is the only one of its kind. I don't think it matters much as it is mainly a snoozy songwriting exercise.

Out of these seven I feel absolutely sure about three: Estonia, Finland and Montenegro WILL leave us tonight. Otherwise Hungary could miss out instead of Georgia. Belgium just as well as Belarus. Slovenia passes over everyone's head and Serbia qualifies. And Portugal could prove just too demanding in the end and make an early exit.

In short - I have no idea. But that will make for excellent entertainment tonight.

I will hang out on Twitter during the broadcast - feel free to interact with me.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Tobson's Big ESC 2019 review, part 7

Being pre-qualified for the final is a high price to pay for the big five. At least many people have said - since the inauguration of the semi final in 2004 - that being heard just the once will be a huge disadvantage for the countries who pay the most to participate.

However, the overwhelming majority of the viewers see and hear all entries for the first time on Saturday night. Possibly they have watched the semi final with their own entry but many will give the other semi final - where they can't even vote - a miss.

The lack of success for the Big Five largely comes down to what we all knew anyway. Several of these broadcasters have shown a real lack of commitment to the contest. Some of them want to make a splash but seem to genuinely lack an understanding of what kind of entry would give a strong result.

In this last part of my review, let's have a look at the six pre-qualified countries. If you want to read about the semi finalists, you will find them here in part one, two, three, four, five and six.

Bilal Hassani / Roi

France taking the opportunity to send a young genderqueer and openly gay muslim to the final in Tel Aviv is close to a stroke of genius. The right to be yourself and identify the way you wish belongs to everyone, nicely underlined by the performer as well as the lyrics. The only thing that is a real shame is that the actual song isn't better. Madame Monsieur made an impression last year but now they just threw something together in a hurry and that is never a good idea. Also - who is going to break it to the French that this kind of blending languages only sounds half-cooked and doesn't work?

Potential winner:
No. I really want to like this but my interest is fading long before we even get to the chorus.

My grade: 1/5

S!sters / Sister

Read this followingsentence out loud to yourself: This song was rejected by Switzerland so Germany picked it up and entered it in their national final instead. Does that sound like a particularly good idea to you? This sounds just like the kind of songwriting exercise the Swiss have entered far too many times in the last decade. There is nothing really wrong with it but it is far from engaging and doesn't leave much of an impression once it is over. Something about the miaowing chorus also really annoys me.

Potential winner:
No, but another potential last place. Germany's third in five years, if so. It is clearly time for German tv to shake up the team in charge of their national finals. Again.

My grade: 1/5

Mahmood / Soldi

Italy has done it again and enters yet another bold, original song that challenges the whole idea and concept of what a eurovision entry could be. Mahmood is another exquisite performer - tiptoeing the borderland between of arrogance and sensibility in his stage persona - and the song is a gripping piece of drama about young boys and absent fathers. The single best thing about Italy using the Sanremo festival to select their ESC entrants is that we keep getting contemporary and challenging state of the art material, designed to win a song contest - just not the ESC.

Potential winner:
Yes. It must be. But for some reason the so called expert juries have held Italy down recently. Last year the juries had Italy in a ridiculously low 17th place. If the juries shape up even a little, then Rome 2020 could be a real possibility.

My grade: 5/5

Miki / La venda

Using the most popular talent show your country has ever seen in order to select your ESC entrant could be a smart move but if you have no idea what kind of song your newly found talent should perform, no popularity on home ground will mean anything at all in the end. Spain has sent their Operación Triunfo stars off to Europe with pretty mediocre songs (with the obvious exception of Beth, who should have done a lot better) but young Miki has fared at least a bit better. Equipped with a mixture of ska and Catalonian rumba, at least "La venda" provides a bit of temper and speed for the final.

Potential winner:
No, far from. But on a very good day, Miki could have a chance to place close to the top ten.

My grade: 3/5

Michael Rice / Bigger Than Us

If selecting a reject from Switzerland is an unusual move, opting for Swedish leftovers is a lot more common. (Did Germany just confuse Sweden and Switzerland? An easy mistake to make.) This is the song John Lundvik wanted to enter Melodifestivalen with before being persuaded into going for "Too Late For Love" instead. You can clearly tell these two songs grew on the same tree as they share a very similar gospel vibe, but where Sweden's entry is elegant and elaborated, this is just generic. Michael Rice can sing - if you like his vibrato or not comes down to personal taste, I suppose - but was totally lost on stage and came across as pretty inexperienced in the national final.

Potential winner:
No. But if someone instructs the singer where the cameras are and what they do, the UK should at least avoid the very bottom placings this time around.

My grade: 2/5

Kobi Marimi / Home

Putting on a Eurovision Song Contest is hard work and you can sometimes tell in the approach of the host nation how they would prefer not to do it twice in a row. You already won, you already have everyone's attention. You can sit back and just enjoy the ride and content yourself with a dignified place mid-table. At first I thought Israel aimed a lot lower than that with this ballad. How can you even describe it? Pretentious, I think, is the best word. Sung by a very dramatic singing actor. I dismissed it completely until it started growing on me and now the hook in the chorus won't leave me alone. Like it or dislike, but this song sure has something.

Potential winner:
No, whatever it has it doesn't extend that far. But it could end up a bit higher than most people expect.

My grade: 2/5

If you want to agree or disagree with me, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. All the preview clips can be seen here.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Tobson's Big ESC 2019 review, part 6

A few years into the new system of semi finals, the fandom established a number of "truths" - one of these being that there are a number of countries that can't possibly fail in a semi final.

In some cases because they have a large cultural sphere with neighbours voting for them, in some cases because they have a large and active diaspora voting for them, in some cases because they have loads of money and no morals and gladly pay their way into a better result. In some cases, all three of the above combined.

The first major blow to this theory came in 2011 as both Armenia and Turkey bombed in the same semi in Düsseldorf and last year in Lisbon was a major event as three of the "eternal qualifiers" - Azerbaijan, Romania and Russia - all missed the grand final.

The only countries never to have lost out in a semi final are Ukraine (not participating this year) and Australia. Nobody's safe anymore.

This blog post includes the final six semi finalists of 2019. If you want to read about the other songs competing in the 2019 semi finals you will find them here in part one, two, three, four and five.

Sergey Lazarev / Scream

I was both surprised and a bit puzzled when I heard Sergey's comeback entry for the first time. Far from the kitsch fest I had feared and expected, this is a mature if somewhat overly bombastic entry that suits his voice well. Good but in no way a potential winner, not even for Russia. Only now all reports suggests that the big wallet has been hoisted up and that the stage show could be even more over the top than the last time around and suddenly I just feel exhausted and slightly nauseated. All that high-tech hocus pocus wrecks more than it adds and I wonder when people will learn?

Yes, of course. Russia is back in the game and when they are motivated, nothing can stop them in the semi.

My grade: 3/5

Jonida Maliqi / Ktheju tokës

Writing songs about topical themes is a difficult path to tread. There is always a serious risk that you will end up giving the impression you are trying to profit from the misfortune of others rather than being a voice of empathy and reason. Albania manages this balance act rather brilliantly and by singing about refugees of their own - people who left their country during the Kosovo war - they also manage to make their package inclusive and relevant to everyone.

Yes, I think and hope so. It has a sound that is different enough to set it apart from other songs in the lineup and Jonida is an excellent performer too.

My grade: 3/5

KEiiNO / Spirit In The Sky

This happy trio is blending almost every ingredient in the kitchen into a big bowl and the ESC fans love it. There is a bit of joik and a bit of drumming and a chorus we've heard before somewhere (not sure this is the song Saara Aalto will televote for), all of which delivered with far bigger smiles than the lyrics call for. Right out of Melodifestivalen 2005 or so. Add a performance like the one in the national final which was frankly all over the place and you'll see why I'm having doubts.

I'm not so sure. I personally like it - at least in its studio version - but is "Vrag naj vzame" meets "Sámiid ædnan" really what will get the masses going? I'm leaning towards a no here.

My grade: 3/5

Duncan Laurence / Arcade

The Netherlands scored four victories in the first twenty years of the ESC and then their well ran dry. Now the big question is whether this is the time when their fortunes get reversed? It could very well be. Suddenly they find themselves with a shining little pop pearl with a big emotional chorus and a very sensitive and attractive performer. Something that could very well ride high in the charts. The only thing that stops me from thinking this is an outright winner is that it doesn't feel like the sort of song that would win the Eurovision Song Contest. Does it?

Yes, absolutely. One of perhaps four or five potential winners. Sometimes I'm wrong too.

My grade: 4/5

Tamara / Proud

Ten years after the juries let her down in Belgrade, Tamara is back to clear her name. It is not entirely out of the question. Through the years, North Macedonia has emerged as one of the countries - perhaps the country - most likely to ruin their own chance by awful choice regarding styling, outfits, staging and so on. This very stripped-down song doesn't really allow any outrageous behaviour on stage and puts full focus on the singing.

Borderline. The song is a brave attempt but possibly not interesting enough in its own right. If Tamara sings her heart out while hitting the right notes, it could go all the way but I suspect North Macedonia will be out. For the seventh consecutive year.

My grade: 2/5

Chingiz / Truth

My first reaction to the Azerbaijani entry was that it didn't have a single drop of personality. Nicely produced, well sung, sounded right but totally anonymous. I have warmed to it since, mainly thanks to the enchanting Chingiz who manages to fill it up with presence and, I suppose, sex appeal. He is the asset carrying this entry on his broad shoulders but lately personalities have not done Azerbaijan a lot of good.

Yes. Last year was a hiccup. Chingiz will sail into the final on charm alone and will end up somewhere around 14th place there.

My grade: 3/5

If you want to agree or disagree with me, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. All the preview clips can be seen here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Tobson's Big ESC 2019 review, part 5

What is the only thing that could be better than a semi final? Two semi finals, of course. The new semi proved a success in many ways but it soon became crowded and making your way through to the final became almost impossible.

The 2007 semi final in Helsinki stands out as a real televisual nightmare, a show that never ends and when it finally does it is with a result unlikely to make anyone happy. Meanwhile ten countries were pre-qualified with no sort of quality control what-so-ever. Had the two semi finals system been introduced already in 2007, the EBU would have saved themselves a fair share of viewer outrage and Andorra would have made it to the final.

Apart from Andorra's injustice, it seems the semi final system finally landed with the viewers once the semi was split in two. Suddenly the viewers started engaging with the new formula and the semi final results  seem to have become less arbitrary since 2008.

If you want more of my reviews you will find them in part one, two, three and four.

Leonora / Love Is Forever

Songwriter Lise Cabble represented Denmark three times before. Not only has she got a victory under her belt, she never placed lower than 5th. This time she has brought along Anna Rossinelli's formerly unknown Danish cousin, a former figure skater, equipped with a pleasant and happy little ditty. In our troubled times, few lines will sit worse than "Don't get too political" but possibly Europe will be in a good enough mood to overlook that.

You never know for sure, but Denmark is good at charming its way into the final. My bet is that the trick will work again but you can not be too sure. Anyway Lise Cabble is most probably set for landing outside the top five for the first time.

My grade: 3/5

John Lundvik / Too Late For Love

Once Melodifestivalen was over, I was ready to bet everything I own that Sweden would win in Tel Aviv, secure a seventh win and bumble their way onto the top of the winner table alongside Ireland. Maybe I am not as sure anymore but this is a compelling piece of gospel flavoured pop - a better performed version of Austria 2018 if you so wish - with a chorus you can easily hold on to on a first listening. This is the song most people can like at least a bit and that can carry very far, not least with the jurors.

Yes, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Perhaps not as obvious a winner as I thought at first but clearly one of perhaps four really strong contenders for victory.

My grade: 5/5

Paenda / Limits

In general, Austria have done most things right ever since selecting Conchita - what's an embarrassing nul pointer on home ground between friends? - and has provided an interesting range of entries lately. Last year they won the jury voting in the grand final. I wish I could say that success will stay with the Austrians as I really like Paenda and her low-intense presence and personable sound. Unfortunately her entry takes forever to develop into anything and when it finally does it is most probably too little and too late for most.

No. It would be a big surprise (positive, but still) if Austria would hop out of an envelope this time around.

My grade: 2/5

Roko / The Dream

Jacques Houdek is back in town after his low-key, toned-down and quietly tasteful entry of 2017 where he sang a duet with *checks notes* himself. As you do. Now he is the songwriter as well as the artistic coach for young Roko. The boy can certainly sing but is he too polite and unremarkable to fill this bombastic belter with the drama needed?

Borderline. I doubt this Jacques Houdek tribute act will stand out enough to make a mark, unless the same rainbows and unicorns used in Kyiv are unleashed again.

My grade: 1/5

Michela / Chameleon

Another one of those nifty and updated pop songs that clearly picked up a thing or two from Eleni Foureira last year. After Cyprus and Switzerland, Malta remains a bit of a question mark. This clearly is a good number - catchy and personable and not too obvious. But will it gel with young Michela? Will they be able to pull this off on stage? And the more I hear it, the more I realise that this is a pile of bits and pieces that don't really fall into any sort of coherent song in the end.

Yes, I think it is. Hardly a contender for a top ten placing, but Malta will be happy just to qualify. It's been too long.

My grade: 3/5

Jurijus / Run With The Lions

Lithuania is always a tricky one to predict. My rule of thumb has often been that if I like their entry, they will fail. And when it is dull or bad, it will qualify with ease. That should be very good news to Jurijus, who was one of the kissing backing singers in Vienna 2015, who isn't really doing anything wrong. Unfortunately the song he's been set up with is a really lean effort, another of these songs that could be washed ashore at almost any national final after being rejected elsewhere. Pleasant for as long as it goes on, then instantly forgotten.

No. How snoozy can you get before Europe votes you out? Jurijus is about to find out.

My grade: 1/5

If you want to agree or disagree with me, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. All the preview clips can be seen here.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tobson's Big ESC 2019 review, part 4

The invention of the semi-final in 2004 was long overdue and almost like a re-birth of the contest in many ways. All through the 1990's countries had been pushed out and forced to miss editions whenever they scored poorly.

Soon enough the ratings started to drop also in the most ESC-loving territories. Finland - always keen on a song contest throughout history - lost interest in a spectacular and dramatic way and the old interest has perhaps never really fully recovered.

Giving all the countries the chance to take part every year they wish to do so has been a very important step forward for the ESC. One of many radical decisions taken between 1997 and 2008.

If you want to read about the entries taking part in the first semi final you can do so in part one, part two and part three. This is the first bunch of songs from semi two.

Srbuk / Walking Out

Although this is just a little contest for mere pop songs, sometimes you want to write A Very Meaningful Lyric about A Very Important Subject. Sometimes it works out nicely, sometimes it will just turn out to be flat, superficial and not very good at all. Female empowerment and toxic relationships are two subjects well worthy of exposure but these songwriters think the answers are simple. In Armenia, however, family is seen as most important and most cases of domestic abuse are swept under the rug. Not so easy to just walk out after all. Superficial lyrics aside, there is quite a good chorus in here and Srbuk turns out to be a vocal powerhouse towards the end.

Yes. Armenia seldom loses out and vocalists as competent as this usually go down a storm with jurors and viewers alike.

My grade: 3/5

Sarah McTernan / 22

Ireland did so well last year and maybe that has inspired them to make braver choices when the RTÉ internal jury sits down to have their say. This is a breezy and radio-friendly little number and despite the aching heart there are few clouds in the sky here. Pleasant, likeable and competently performed. And yet we are light years away from the unbeatable Ireland of the 1990's.

No. Unless this one turns out to be a real explosion on stage, this will be stranded on 12th place in the semi and remain the best non-qualifier of the year.

My grade: 3/5

Anna Odobescu / Stay

When Moldova is at their best, they send in hysterically catchy, amusing, energetic entries that leave nobody indifferent. Last year's master class of comedy performance and by far the most feelgood entry of the year is just one out of many examples. When Moldova is at their worst, they make use of some lukewarm dull-as-dishwater standard song written by international songwriters that got rejected everywhere else. Like this year.

No. This is not disastrously bad in a way that would add some undeliberate entertainment. It is just mind-numbingly anonymous and square, desperately lacking any sort of personality or purpose.

My grade: 1/5

Luca Hänni / She Got Me

If you look around the internet you will find a fair share of people willing to bet on Switzerland winning the whole shebang in Tel Aviv. Now wouldn't that be great? Switzerland last made it into the top three back in 1993 and has made it into the top ten only once since then. They surely would deserve a break. I'd let them win at once. Unfortunately I can't fully share the enthusiasm. A good song, but the likes of Malta and Cyprus are doing very much the same thing. And what about Luca himself, will he deliver on the scale that this song needs? Maybe he has it deep down inside but I'm not convinced just yet.

Yes, absolutely. Even if a few other countries are stealing the Swiss thunder, this is fun and easy-going enough and truly deserves a spot in the final.

My grade: 3/5

Carousel / That Night

I can't help but wonder what Aminata is up to these days. Keeping herself busy, I suppose, leaving Latvia to fend for itself. It's not going very well. Even if the new Supernova national final format has resulted in better songs - more focused, more professional and with better performances - they are still not enough to convince the larger audiences. Just like last year, this is really pleasant and a gem designed to be enjoyed in your headphones during a walk but it will be anything but a points magnet.

No. It will get a few polite points from here and there and remain the second best non-qualifier of the year.

My grade: 3/5

Ester Peony / On A Sunday

Shock and horror ensued last year as Romania crashed out in the semi finals for the first time ever. Apparently this lead to a shake-up back home at the TVR offices and some major changes in ESC management. This year they took a real risk as they reduced viewer influence to a minimum and let an international panel bulldozer the favourite of the people. The eventual winner has a certain something and is not a bad song and yet... it doesn't feel like the sure fire success Team Romania would want at this point.

Borderline. I lean towards a yes but only because this is Romania and they have a very strong record. Had this been Latvia it would have had 15th place written all over it.

My grade: 2/5

If you want to agree or disagree with me, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. All the preview clips can be seen here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Tobson's Big ESC 2019 review, part 3

Since 2013, the running order is no longer the result of a draw. Someone involved in the production instead sequences the songs in order to make a smooth presentation and - hopefully - "good tv".

In many ways it was a good decision. When there are 26 songs, the viewers need a good running order to make it through. When the seventh standard ballad invades the stage - this happened more than a few times when we had a proper draw - few viewers enjoy themselves and start reaching for the remote control. Sequencing is a good thing when done well.

However, since 2013 the same person - Sweden's Christer Björkman - has done the sequencing on at least five occasions and maybe that is beginning to shine through. Should there be a clause saying that the responsibility for the running order cannot be held by the same person too many times?

If you want to check out my opinions on the other songs of this semi, you find them in part one and part two.

Hatari - Hatrið mun sigra

One of the problems with the ESC is that it is a contest and most people taking part in it would like to be liked and appreciated and voted for. A lineup where everyone is constantly on their best behaviour can be a bit dull. Lucky break then that Iceland is back to form, ready to shake things up with this warning from the future where everything dear to us is broken down and hate will prevail. This contains more sharp edges than we've seen for years and this is likely to offend as many as it will please.

Yes, absolutely. It must be. Had the live singing been better in the chorus, this could even have been a potential winner.

My grade: 4/5

Victor Crone / Storm

Victor Crone was a delightful sidekick to Behrang Miri in Melodifestivalen 2015 and I have found myself wondering whatever happened to him after that. I never thought he would show up in Estonia, defending the worst kind of washed-up and bleak radio pop of the kind certain commercial radio stations can never get enough of. What a shame. And how terribly disappointing it is seeing Stig Rästa writing something like this when we all know what he is capable of.

You never know as a large section of the audience really enjoys stuff like this. Or why would they listen to those radio stations in question? Still, my gut feeling tells me this is just too forgettable to go anywhere. It's a no from me.

My grade: 1/5

Conan Osiris / Telemovéis

Portugal finally scored their first victory in 2017 and now an unusually large part of the fandom think they could be heading for a repeat run. Talk about getting your mojo working! This is a very experimental track with musical influences from here and there and everywhere, suggestively performed by Conan and his dancer. Maybe it is absolutely brilliant but this one keeps flying well over my head. I'd love to love Portugal but to me this is just three minutes of posing and an attempt to make yourself more interesting than you are. I hear the qualities but the final package is not my thing.

Yes. I bet all its fans out there are right in some way. It should be in the final and will be in the final. Then it is anyone's guess how well it will work there.

My grade: 2/5

Katerine Duska / Better Love

Iceland finally found their way back on track and so did Greece, apparently. After several years of half-hearted attempts - it must be hard to keep focus while your government first dismantles your public broadcaster, then revives it again - we finally get a focus and contemporary entry, radio friendly and with hit potential. The only problem here is perhaps that it is so much of a radio song that it won't shake audiences enough to get the highest points but this one should have some solid scoring ahead of itself anyway.

Yes. Clearly. One of the best songs in the running.

My grade: 4/5

Serhat / Say Na Na Na

Isn't the last place usually reserved for something really good and therefore we could be pretty sure that whoever gets that spot is a sure qualifier? Wrong. That's not how it works. Sometimes the last spot is also a way to keep something unappealing out of sight for as long as possible, to ensure viewers will stay tuned until the end and not zap to another channel. In San Marino's case, however, that can still work to their advantage. A man in his 50's with a message that everything will be good if you sing a happy tune is pretty ridiculous. But after many competitors taking themselves Very Seriously Indeed, this could come across as a very happy and unpretentious closing point. If you don't know what to vote for by now, maybe Serhat will feel like your man.

I am going to say yes. The happy and lightweight factor could very well be just enough for San Marino to conquer the tenth place. It would be sweet if they did.

My grade: 2/5

UKRAINE (Not participating)
Maruv / Siren Song

It's hard to keep this contest as unpolitical as the EBU would want it to be and even harder when some active participants find themselves at war. The winner of the long Ukranian national final found herself humiliated on live television and then blackmailed by the national broadcaster: if she didn't publicly severe ties with her (Russian) management and record label, she would be disqualified. She refused and the plan backfired spectacularly as all other NF participants refused to take Maruv's place. NTU pulled out of the contest altogether.

A really stupid move as this would have been this year's game changer and the entry that would have blown the likes of Cyprus, Switzerland and Iceland out of the water. Sexy and catchy, yet with a very dark undercurrent of menace, it would have troubled and enthused the masses. A great loss for the contest but if the NTU is going to keep bullying their own participants in this way there is no need for them to come back at all.

Why are so many of the songs pulled out of the competition like that brilliant? Broadcasters could pull out with their Piero Esteriore-entries instead.

My grade: 5/5

If you want to agree or disagree with me, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. All the preview clips can be seen here.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tobson's Big ESC 2019 review, part 2

2001 is the horror year. The one where everything went wrong. Clearly the weakest edition of the ESC of modern times. Arguably the weakest edition of the ESC since the show switched into colour.

During this selection season I kept asking myself several times if this was the year when Europe would bring out their shovels and dig even deeper below the sad sub-standard of 2001. It really did not look promising there for a while.

To my big relief, 2019 turned out to be an OK year after all once all the entries came together. Not extraordinary in any way but at least not a complete musical dumping ground. Big relief.

To read about the first six entries of the first semi-final, click here.

Joci Pápai / Az én apám

This is where the hard part begins. Joci made it into the top ten two years ago with a slightly similar song. This new song is possibly better from a songwriting point of view but also slightly less direct and with less of a hook. Will the voters still be onboard for this? How keen are people really to vote for things they already voted for in the past?

Most probably yes. Joci is a very engaging performer and the melancholy vibe is likely to attract a number of fans. Plus Hungary has had a way lately of making it to the final - this will be their ninth consecutive qualifier.

My grade: 2/5

Zena / Like It

I listened to all the songs on Spotify and to my big surprise I found myself really enjoying this. Previously I had discarded it as a modern-sounding but tired filler and suddenly my feet was tapping along in an unexpected manner. Zena has a good voice and out of all the songs that wish they were "Fuego" in the lineup, this one actually has a few little quirks of its own.

Borderline. The ESC is still a televised event where people can see you perform and Belarus are surprisingly good at ruining their own chances with disaster staging choices. If they can keep this clean, sober and fun - and not shoot themselves in the hand like last year - they could be in with a chance.

My grade: 3/5

Nevena Božović / Kruna

Nevena was part of Serbias shoutfest non qualifier trio Moje 3 in 2013 and is now back to get her revenge. She has remained a very well-known name back home and now she is entering a big and emotional ballad, written by herself. At least it aims at being big and emotional. While nothing is really wrong with it - it is well put together and well sung - it feels like something we've seen and heard millions of times before. It doesn't trigger a single emotion in me and despite repeat listenings I have no idea what the chorus sounds like. In through one ear and out through the other one. At least "Ljubav je svuda" had a bit of action in it.

Borderline. When Serbia joined the party back in 2007, I expected them to be winner material almost every year. In reality they often stumble around the threshold for qualification. In or out? I think they will struggle this time.

My grade: 1/5

Eliot / Wake Up

Even the best laid plans can go wrong. It sounded like a safe bet to have the composer of "City Lights" handpick a talent from The Voice Belgique and craft a song especially for him or her. While "Wake Up" has an excellent intro and a haunting verse, the chorus is disappointing and falls pretty flat. There is also an acute lack of development during the song and the whole thing is ebbing away rather than building up. Then it doesn't help that the charming little Eliot himself is too inexperienced to carry this weight all by himself. Maybe he should have waited a year or two?

Borderline. There is still hope. Blanche finally delivered when she needed to and maybe the Belgian team know what they are doing. I just wouldn't bet my entire salary on it just yet.

My grade: 3/5

Oto Nemsadze / Keep On Going

Failing with a folksy offering in their own language did not discourage the Georgians, so here they go again with a powerful male singer and a song rich in local folklore. While I sort of like this, I learned a thing last year that Georgia seemingly failed to pick up on: Europe's appetite for locally flavoured belters seems pretty moderate.

No. This is the "Qami" of 2019. Oto can sing his heart out all he wants but not enough people will warm to his song in the end.

My grade: 2/5

Kate Miller-Heidke / Zero Gravity

If there is any truth to the slightly nauseating narrative that Australia was taken into the competition in order to show the UK what they could be with a bit of effort, then that plan is failing more and more as Australia has kept slipping backwards in the results. The slippery slope continues as this - the first Australian entry chosen in a national final - is little more than one big ESC cliché. Doing that same old pop and opera mashup that has been done over and over while pretending you just invented the wheel is a pretty tired look. Especially as this song carries the promise of turning into something really good without ever delivering any of the goods.

Borderline. The juries have enjoyed voting for Australia while the viewers have been less keen. Will the juries keep supporting them now?

My grade: 1/5

If you want to agree or disagree with me, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. All the preview clips can be seen here.