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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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Tobson's result: ESC 2020, the final

Today the sky is crying over Helsinki. If it is because we won't have any Eurovision this year and never find out whether Aksel would have made it to the final or not (or just because May has been more April than April ever was), is probably best left unsaid.

So far this week, I must admit that most shows put in place to celebrate the ESC and make up for the loss of this contest has mainly just created more of a void and underscored how hard it is to replace one of the most brilliant television concepts ever with something else.

But I will play my little game to the very end. Earlier this week I selected ten finalists from semi 1 and then another ten finalists from semi 2 and now I'll rank my final 26.

Note that this is no prediction or attempt to guess what the outcome would have been like. This is me, myself and I ranking the songs according to my own personal taste from last to first.

Hold on to your snacks and here we go.

26. FRANCE Tom Leeb / Mon alliée
People I know quote this as their favourite so I have listened and listened again. And I have no idea what they hear that passes me by. To me this is a terribly predictable and repetitive, with a totally unnecessary language change and a sleepwalker performance by somebody who didn't invest a single bit of emotion into this. And why would he? My obvious last place.
Grade: 1/5

25. ARMENIA Athena Manoukian / Chains On You
This one got into my final for the effort to bring something contemporary with attitude. I like it but it never fully takes off or develops into any sort of climax. Could possibly have turned into something bigger on stage but we will never know.
Grade: 2/5

24. UNITED KINGDOM James Newman / My Last Breath
The BBC turning to a large record label to come up with an entry mainly resulted in better production values than previous years. As a song, this is still too static and never really goes anywhere. When you heard the first chorus, you heard it all. James could probably impress if he only had better material to work with.
Grade: 2/5

23. GREECE Stefania / Supergirl
This isn't a bad entry as such but everything in it seemed so squarely aimed at a very young audience. Should this have been in Junior ESC instead? The clip is so trivial it hurts and while the song is better, it is still a bit too polite and unexciting to be any sort of contender. The so called dream team behind this song looks a bit tired, truth be told.
Grade: 2/5

22. SERBIA Hurricane / Hasta la vista
An upbeat piece of fun but also fan service de luxe. Serving exactly the sort of song people want to dance to at Euroclub and it always works to a certain extent. It comes on stage, does what it's supposed to and doesn't leave any major impression once it's over.
Grade: 2/5

21. PORTUGAL Elisa / Medo de sentir
A sweet and likeable ballad of a kind that Portugal usually pulls off well. I am just going to assume something went very wrong with the sound in the national final as the voices don't gel particularly well at all. Sounds a whole lot better in its studio version.
Grade: 3/5

20. LATVIA Samanta Tina / Still Breathing
Catchy in some strange way. Interesting production. The strangest breakdown since Marie N's "ay ay ay ay". It isn't bad but above all it just the amount of bonkers we need to keep the ESC interesting.
Grade: 3/5

19. AZERBAIJAN Efendi / Cleopatra
A really fun eurosong where they threw in everything and the kitchen sink. It's highly entertaining for as long as it goes on but I'm not terribly fond of songs designed to work at the ESC only.
Grade: 3/5

18. ALBANIA Arilena Ara / Fall From The Sky
I am honestly surprised to find Albania as low as this in my list. I really enjoy the melody line in the chorus but also liked the Albanian version a little bit more. The emotion suddenly feels a little bit less urgent in English somehow.
Grade: 3/5

17. CZECH REPUBLIC Benny Cristo / Kemama
A good attempt of bringing a new flavour and genre into the ESC and I must admit I never expected a rhythm like this to be provided by the Czech Republic. Pretty good but a slightly stronger chorus wouldn't hurt.
Grade: 3/5

16. AUSTRALIA Montaigne / Don't Break Me
Just like with Portugal I like this more than you'd think when you see the ranking but the staging is a real question mark for me. Maybe it is really artistic and deep but I only find it distracting. If you have a strong hook you should distract people away from it as little as possible.
Grade: 3/5

15. SPAIN Blas Cantó / Universo
Blas does a Montaigne in reverse and elevates his pretty basic song into something bigger than it is. A cheap trick perhaps but that falsetto by the last chorus gives me a decent amount of goosebumps. Spain's best effort in many years.
Grade: 3/5

14. MALTA Destiny / All Of My Love
One the first listening, I thought this was our winner. A strong voice with a strong presence and a song to match. Then on repeated listenings the magic evaporated a bit and the Maltese package started sounding less and less special. Not that it matters. With an organic performance, focused on Destiny and with no distracting special effects, I still think this would have been a contender.
Grade: 3/5

13. NETHERLANDS Jeangu Macrooy / Grow
An aptly named song as it is this year's grower. At first I thought this pleasant and forgettable until it started hitting a nerve. Could have been a surprise in Rotterdam and either way the best placed host entry since Frans.
Grade: 4/5

12. ISRAEL Eden Alene / Feker libi
After last years ballad snooze, Israel got their mojo working again. Eden and this song fit each other almost perfectly and even if she gets another chance to represent her country the next time we'll have an ESC it leaves me wondering how they can come up with an equally suitable entry for her? How many of the 2020 artists given a new chance will manage to better their game?
Grade: 4/5

11. BELARUS Val / Da vidna
Belarus seldom tickle my senses in the ESC, so of course the whole thing is cancelled the year I genuinely enjoy their entry. Understated and quirky pop by a band that is slightly too artsy for their own good (which only makes me like them more).
Grade: 4/5

 The song title is all wrong and I can't even begin to think of the mess they could have done with the staging here but I liked this track from the word go and have spent the whole season genuinely surprised to see how almost nobody else does. But by all means. You cling on to your Hooverphonics and Romanias and I will go through the summer with this in my headphones instead.
Grade: 4/5

9. UKRAINE Go_A / Solovey
It is hard to beat Ukraine anytime they really put their minds to it. This isn't their finest moment in any way and yet they sail straight into my top ten. Knowing my Ukraine, there is no doubt in my mind this would have been flawless and captivating in the final that we never had.
Grade: 4/5

8. NORWAY Ulrikke / Attention
Denmark, Finland and Sweden were all left out of my personal final but the two Nordic songs left both made it into the top ten. This is perhaps old-fashioned but also exquisite craft, performed by a singer adding edge and emotion. I hope Ulrikke one day will have licked her wounds and feel ready to go for it again. If not, I totally understand.
Grade: 4/5

7. ICELAND Daði & Gagnamagnið / Think About Things
Let me parade out of the closet and admit to being one of the five or so people alive on Earth today not thinking Iceland would have won this final. I'm really fond of the song as well as the image of the band, but in the end I think it would have been a tiny bit too much school theatre production to convince the world.
Grade: 4/5

6. RUSSIA Big One / Uno
Suddenly I had no idea what to think. What was this? Who are these people? Are they pulling someone's leg? And whose leg, if so? This is the first Russian entry I have fully surrendered to since the babushki back in Baku. I love how this feels geeky, smart, unpredictable and anything but the typical click monsters Russia have employed lately. I feel an extra dose of sadness that this moment never happened.
Grade: 4/5

5. SWITZERLAND Gjon's Tears / Répondez-moi
For me, this will remain one of the biggest question marks of the year: could this have been the first song in French to make it into the top three since Annie Cotton in 1993? It all depends in how good voice the Swiss boy wonder would have been in on the final night but at least to me it is clear he has an extraordinary talent, voice and personality. I really hope he will not disappear out of the public eye after this. I want to see and hear more.
Grade: 5/5

4. LITHUANIA The Roop / On Fire
Tonight is probably an extra bitter night for the likes of Bulgaria and Iceland and Malta and Lithuania, all of which could have had a theoretical chance of winning the ESC for the first time. At least the Lithuanian final reached a new high and The Roop were catapulted into local superstardom. With a little bit of luck, they will be able to build on that momentum in the future.
Grade: 5/5

3. ITALY Diodato / Fai rumore
This took a while to grow on me after Sanremo but then Italy did what Italy usually does and is one of my absolute favourites. I'm very fond of my entire top three and deciding which song gets which placing is really hard. Italy gets third place because I say so but could equally well be number one.
Grade: 5/5

2. GERMANY Ben Dolic / Violent Thing
"Good with nifty production" was my first thought. Then, as the ESC got cancelled, I realised this was the one I would miss the most. The one I really would have wanted to see and experience. The way it builds and builds and keeps adding elements throughout the entire song. What a hit this could have been.
Grade: 5/5

1. BULGARIA Victoria / Tears Getting Sober
Sometimes a song comes and hits you in exactly the right spot at the right moment. This year, it was Bulgaria for me. A very pretty song that makes me very emotional every time I hear it. And for the record, I am hundreds of years old and have never heard Billie Eilish. Unless the Symphonix team decides to throw in the towel now, I would not be surprised to see them win the next ESC. Whenever that will be.
Grade: 5/5

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tobson's result: ESC 2020, semi 2

Instead of predicting any sort of result - the more observant among you have noticed that the ESC has been cancelled and will not be happening on your screens this week or ever - I started my own little game this Tuesday.

Since we will never have an official result anyway, I will give you my own. What would the outcome have been had I been both jury and televote for the 2020 ESC?

This will all of course lead up to a final on Saturday, but here I give you the songs I would have left out of the second semi final. All ranked and explained and exposed.

18. AUSTRIA Vincent Bueno / Alive
Someone pointed out to me what a complex composition this is and maybe that is correct. However it fails to provoke any kind of emotion in me. Maybe it all comes down to poor Vincent who's working and working and never makes it past the screen.
Grade: 1/5

17. GEORGIA Tornike Kipiani / Take Me As I Am
It starts out very interestingly only to take a deep plunge into something anonymous and slightly pointless. Not unlike Georgia's ESC path so far. I wish they would get their act together soon. Sopho Khalvashi, where are you when Georgia needs you?
Grade: 1/5

16. MOLDOVA Natalia Gordienko / Prison
Carefully polished. It has probably taken a lot of time and money and effort to make this look as polished as it is. Which just goes out to prove the point that you can polish and polish as much as you like, if you don't have an interesting song to start with it will do you no good.
Grade: 1/5

15. POLAND Alicja / Empires
Objectively not a bad song, just a song that is hard to care about or invest any emotion into. Alicja is trying her best but this remains technically flawless but unimportant.
Grade: 1/5

14. DENMARK Ben & Tan / Yes
Happy and upbeat but keeps standing still in one place for three minutes without any sort of climax or development. It's a no from me.
Grade: 2/5

13. ESTONIA Uku Suviste / What Love Is
Very similarly to Moldova, this keeps repeating the same little phrase over and over throughout the song. A clever little trick in itself but it also makes the whole thing a bit too repetitive. It starts out nicely, then you grow tired of it before it is over.
Grade: 2/5

12. FINLAND Aksel / Looking Back
This one has grown on me since the Finnish final. A bit, at least. The studio version sounds good and Aksel sings the lyrics like he would mean them, but on stage the whole thing remains lacking any sort of dynamics. I get bored and start thinking about something else.
Grade: 2/5

11. SAN MARINO Senhit / Freaky
San Marino almost made it into my final and I have liked Senhit a lot ever since Düsseldorf. However, I liked her other song better and find this effective but pretty soulless. I hope she will get another shot at it next time around and that she manages to find the song to fit her like hand in glove then.
Grade: 2/5

All in all it was easier parting with these songs than with some of the ones I left behind in semi 1. Croatia and Sweden would definitely have had a shot in this company.

My ten finalists for Saturday's final are (in alphabetical order):
  • Albania
  • Armenia
  • Bulgaria
  • Czech Republic
  • Greece
  • Iceland
  • Latvia
  • Portugal
  • Serbia
  • Switzerland

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Tobson's result: ESC 2020, semi 1

As you may have guessed after reading my text the other day, I haven't really found myself in any mood to play games or do predictions or write reviews of this year's ESC 2020.

I have mainly thought there is no point in predicting a contest that will never take place anyway. What's the use guessing a result we will never have anyway?

I guess that is still my point of view but tonight, as we should have been watching the first semi final, I decided I wanted to play anyway. So I will blog my own results, if I had been the omnipotent judge that would have determined the full outcome.

This is not a guess, this is not taking into account any other's opinion than my own. These are the songs that would have found themselves out in the cold had I had full control of semi one.

17. CYPRUS Sandro / Running
This semi had a really good selection of songs and there isn't a single one I would really disapprove of, but this one does very little for me. I have heard it several times and there isn't a single phrase that has stuck in my head.
Grade: 2/5

16. ROMANIA Roxen / Alcohol You
This one really wants to be clever and modern and doesn't want to come across as too easy or too eager to please. That's fine and all, but it also sounds a bit lazy. Like it's not ready to make an effort to tickle you. There's nothing wrong with it, it just doesn't stay with me. You don't have to cohol me when you're drunk, I promise.
Grade: 2/5

15. BELGIUM Hooverphonic / Release Me
Not a bad effort at all but if Romania tries too little, this one tries a bit too hard to be the coolest piece of music in the running. It's pleasant and well sung but I never feel the need to play it again or have another look. Sounds more like a competent filler on a strong album rather than a single.
Grade: 2/5

14. IRELAND Lesley Roy / Story Of My Life
A likeable singer with a catchy song that eats its way through your ear right into your brain with its schoolyard chanting hook. It just feels too much Disney Channel circa 2006 to really hit home with me. Good but not good enough, like so many recent Irish entries.
Grade: 2/5

13. SLOVENIA Ana Soklič / Voda
Big ballad with big drama and a big voice. I'm pretty fond of all the components in this machinery but can't shake the feeling this is a little bit too dated and old-fashioned for its own good.
Grade: 2/5

12. CROATIA Damir Kedžo / Divlji vjetre
I love myself a powerful male vocalist with a small army of backing singers behind him, like it used to be back in the good old days. This is an elegant composition but has a few twists and turns too many and needs just a few too many listenings to be that top contender.
Grade: 3/5

11. SWEDEN The Mamas / Move
This is where Sweden's ride ends in my ranking. The Mamas are really professional and warm and likeable but this entry is more a mood and a clever arrangement than a functioning song. I'd pick The Rounder Girls over this any day of the week.
Grade: 3/5

So my ten finalists for Saturday's final are (in alphabetical order):

  • Australia 
  • Azerbaijan 
  • Belarus
  • Israel
  • Lithuania
  • Malta
  • North Macedonia
  • Norway
  • Russia
  • Ukraine

Saturday, May 9, 2020

ESC 2020: the year that never was

The 65th Eurovision Song Contest should have been upon us now. Tuesday and Thursday should have seen thirty-five countries fight it out for twenty spots in the big final. Fifteen of them would have left Rotterdam disappointed. Instead, this year, we are all disappointed.

Because of covid-19, the EBU decided to cancel the ESC altogether. 41 songs were thrown in the bin. 2020 is forever the year that never happened.

The corona virus is of course no small circumstance. It is the biggest immediate global crisis since the world wars. There was no way of knowing in March what the situation would be like now in May.

There were many of us hoping the ESC would still be held in some form. Postponing it never seemed likely, but how about making it a scaled-down studio production?

My suggestion would have been to let every participating country produce their own visual presentation of their entry and let that be presented in a tv studio with no audience. Then keep the format and let the viewers at home select the finalists and then the winner.

If that would have felt very basic and primitive compared to the big galas of later years, we could have put this year within brackets. The crisis year. Declare that the winner doesn't get to host next year's contest and that The Netherlands would have their chance to host as soon as it was possible again.

We would have had something extraordinary and familiar to look forward in these strange and stressful times. Instead the EBU decided to cancel their own flagship, the televisual Christmas, the longest-running format in tv entertainment and leave us with nothing.

We know that not everyone agreed with this decision. Christer Björkman was critical afterwards. According to ORF, German tv quickly presented a formula for a downscaled ESC that the EBU discarded.

The EBU statement boiled down to their belief that the ESC would not be the ESC unless every country was allowed to perform on the same stage. Which is funny given that in 2017, in order to keep Russia in the running, that seemed not to be important at all and Russia was offered the possibility to participate via link. Everyone has the right to change their minds, I suppose.

Another interpretation is that the EBU wants to keep the ESC as the enormous apparatus it is now. A huge arena, large ticket sales, elaborate stage sets, millions and millions spent on various arrangements. Maybe they don't want anyone to see that it is the format in itself that is brilliant? That you could scale back quite a lot and the show would still work? That's not a kind interpretation but fairly possible.

However, I don't share the EBU standpoint. The most important thing about the ESC is not that everyone stands on the same expensive high-tech stage set. Other things are more important to me. Continuity, for instance. Keeping Europe together when we need it the most. Giving people some hope and distraction and entertainment in the face of a crisis.

Austrian tv and Swedish tv organised their own shows to let the viewers pick their favourites. The EBU will broadcast their special show devoted to the contest on the night the final should have been held. I appreciate the effort but it doesn't really change anything.

This year's entries are lost forever. We will never have a result. No climax. No release. Without the big final these songs will soon fade into obscurity and never fully be part of the ESC canon. I feel a great deal of disappointment and, I guess, sadness about that.

What I feel even greater sadness about is that the ESC is no longer running without interruption. There will now forever be a "before" and an "after". Before the show was cancelled, it felt like something like that could never happen. Now that it has been cancelled once, it can be done again. A low-budget down-scaled ESC would have been so much better than no ESC.

It was also a mistake to pin so many expectations onto 2021. How the contest will be back then, stronger than ever. We knew already in March, already before the ESC was cancelled, that it is highly unsure whether any events with a large audience can be held even by May 2021. We already know it can't be held in The Netherlands before there is a vaccine.

So what will the EBU do for 2021? If a studio version wasn't good enough in 2020 and an arena event is out of the question for 2021?

I mourn my old favourite song contest and hope that this hiatus will be just that. That the ESC will still feel relevant and possible when this situation is over.

If you miss the ESC as much as I do, you can always take a bite of my other blog where I go through all the entries performed on a eurovision stage from 1956 to 2019. As for 2020, we just have to leave it here. As the ESC that never happened.