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The Annual Eurovision Post: 2017

According to my archives, I write an ‘annual’ Eurovision post every 3-5 years. Last year Ukraine gained a surprising, but well-deserved win with their haunting 1944 written and performed by Jamala. It is one of the most ‘difficult’ songs to ever win* but Jamala’s raw, emotional and technically superb performance stood out among a sea of cookie-cutter tracks. And so the contest will be held in Kiev this year.

(* 1963’s winner Dansevise spring to mind as another quirky one.)

Like most years, last year’s winner has influenced a lot of selections, so we are wading through a sea of Sad Female Balladeers. You have been warned. Most of them will have fallen by the wayside once we get to the Grand Final, but if you plan on watching the Semis, make sure to have some coffee ready. You’ll need caffeine (and snacks – always snacks).

Semi-Final 1 (It Is The Strong One):

  • One of the red-hot favourites appears as the very, very first entry. Sweden has sent the lean, slick pop machine of Robin Bengtsson’s I Can’t Go On. This Robbie Williams/Justin Timberlake hybrid is hard to fault, except it is perhaps too smug and impressed with its own brilliance.
  • Strong vocal performances from Georgia, Albania, Poland, and the Czech Republic cannot disguise the fact they are all Sad Female Balladeers. They all need big performances and outstanding staging to stand out from the rest of the pack. I am not sure they can manage that.
  • Finland also has a Sad Female Balladeer but it stands out – and not just because it also has a Sad Man At Piano. Norma John’s Blackbird reminds me of Annie Lennox at her most sparse and interesting. Hopefully they won’t change the staging too much: at its national finale, it was atmospheric and gorgeous.

  • Belgium has one of the pre-contest favourites. The country has quietly become one of the strongest competitors (2015’s Rhythm Inside, anyone?) and this year the hype is deafening. Blanche’s City Lights is just stunning. It is a song meant for the radio, the end credits of a great film, your headphones .. but is it meant for Eurovision? I hope its introspection will translate well to the stage. It deserves all the love in the world.
  • Slovenia has sent Omar Naber for the second time. The 2017 entry is a Sad Male Ballad, so I’m going to link you his 2005 effort instead which never made it out of the semi-final but which has been in my heart for 12 years. #justice4stop
  • Another underperforming country is Iceland which has sent us several great tracks over the years that never quite made a suitable impact. I freaking love this year’s song from Svala with its cool Chvrches vibe, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking it’ll do well. It’s all a bit too brittle and remote for Eurovision.
  • One of the great rivalries at 21st century ESC is the one between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This year Azerbaijan edges ahead with the cool Dihaj and Skeletons, but Armenia possesses a song that’s the closest to a Big Balkan Ballad we get this year (even though they are nowhere near the Balkan region, obviously). The BBB is a perennial favourite with Eurovision viewers, so it could surprise.
  • Speaking of surprises, I never thought I’d be head-over-heels in love with a song from Portugal. I never imagined I could get goosebumps from listening to a Eurovision entry sung in Portuguese by a scuffy-looking man. And then Salvador Sobral started singing. ESC fans have criticised the song for being old-fashioned, but this is the year Ryan Gosling nearly tap-danced his way to an Oscar in La La Land. Salvador Sobral’s song is both timeless and very, very now. I’ll be listening to this in 2037.

Semi-Final 2 (The Other One):

  • The run of Sad Female Balladeers continues, but at least The Netherlands is giving us a Wilson Phillips tribute act with Lights and Shadows. I never liked Hold On first time around and I’m not a fan of this one either.
  • I do really, really, really like Macedonia’s entry. Jana’s Dance Alone is pure synth-pop goodness with shades of Kylie, Robyn and Tegan & Sara. This is a potential Top 5 and I’ll be dancing like a loon to eminently quotable lines like “I let the pavement be my catwalk”. Please, please let the staging be amazing.

  • From the sublime to the ridiculous: Romania provides us with the novelty hit of the year with the horrific Yodel It. It’d be to everyone’s credit if this track died in the semi-final because the Saturday casual viewing crowd will award this gimmicky trainwreck far more points than it deserves. It is my least favourite track this year. Horrid on all levels.
  • This semi-final has its share of Sad Female Balladeers, but we are also blessed with a number of Generic Male Pop Singers. Austria sounds like it was written for an aspirational lifestyle ad, Ireland has sent its latest Louis Walsh protegee (your gran will love it), and Bulgaria brings the best of the bunch. Norway brings up the rear with the cookie-cutter Grab the Moment.
  • Israel is upbeat, thankfully, and although it isn’t particularly interesting, it could do well if staged with energy. I’m reminded of Israel’s 2015 entry which I didn’t rate until I saw it on the big stage – this year has the same potential to be the crowdpleaser of the night.
  • I’m of A Certain Age, so my first thought on hearing Estonia’s Verona was 1980s German pop duo Modern Talking. Granted, this sound has also been mined by Lady Gaga for the epic Bad Romance, so it’s not all bad. Verona has a real ear-worm quality to it with a strong 1980s pop sound, but I worry about the delivery on the night. If Koit & Laura manage to connect with each other & the camera, this could go far but it could also easily end up as dad-dancefloor cheese.
  • Ah, the batshit-crazy song from Croatia. It sounds like a Disney/pop-opera mash-up until you realise that Jacques is singing both voices. I have no idea how he’s going to do this live nor how it will avoid looking utterly insane on stage. It would have worked a bit better if it had been a duet, but .. it is bizarre and incoherent.
  • Finally, Belarus has managed to send its best contestants ever. NAVIBAND’s My History is charming, folksy and upbeat with a great “ha! ha!” moment in the chorus. The song sounds like it’d fit into a Crowded House album (Woodface-era) by way of Mumford & Sons, and there is a lovely early ’90s vibe to the whole performance. I cross my fingers that this finds its audience.

The Final:

  • The Big Five are pre-qualifiers: Spain is hopeless, France is once again excellent and will probably underperform (see 2013’s Amandine), Germany has sent a wanna-be Sia with a generic song, and UK is a Sad Female Balladeer (incredible voice; underwhelming song).  And before we get to the last of the Big Five pre-qualifiers, Ukraine are also pre-qualified as hosts. I’ll also get back to Ukraine in a second.
  • The last of the Big Five is Italy and they are entering the competition as absolute favourites. I’m personally not convinced we will see an Italian win – but Occidentali’s Karma will be a Top 5 song, no doubt. I have the same problems with Italy as I have with Sweden – I don’t feel a connection, it is entirely too self-aware of its own brilliance, and it has a calculated gimmick. Mind you, I felt the same about Denmark in 2013 and Sweden in 2015. They both won.
  • Finally, Ukraine. They have entered a rock band and I like seeing rock bands at Eurovision (hello 2008). O.Torvald’s Time is perfectly fine, but it also highlights the big problem this year’s contest has. Here is the original staging of the song – for obvious reasons, they changed it.

Politics have always been part of Eurovision. The contest was started as an attempt to bring Europe together after the horrors of World War 2, and you even had Italy win in 1990 with Insieme: 1992 – a song that explicitly celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall: “With you, under the same flags / You & I under the same sky / Together, unite unite, Europe / We’re more and more free / It’s no longer a dream and you’re no longer alone (..) / Europe is not far away”. In recent years, the tone is less celebratory and less peaceful. Georgia withdrew in 2009 with a song called “We Don’t Wanna Put In” (spot the unsubtle message) and its 2009 singer is actually back this year with a song which was staged in Georgia with explicit anti-war messages flashing.

Much of the pre-contest coverage this year has centered on Russia fielding a singer who is legally unable to perform in Ukraine. ESC Insight has an excellent article about the geopolitical forces behind all this. Russia has withdrawn from this year’s contest (as of yesterday), but expect politics to rumble on. Eurovision has always been used as a way to present your nation on a grand stage (literally) and many people have vested interests in telling a specific version of their country’s story to a mass audience.  Be prepared to see a lot of not-very-subtle political messaging even if the EBU are trying to smooth things over.

We live in troubled times, but the tagline of Eurovision 2017 is Celebrate Diversity and I’ll be doing just that in May.

The Annual Eurovision Post: 2014

This year the Eurovision Song Contest will be held on my erstwhile home turf of Copenhagen, Denmark. I had a chance to go, but I sadly had to turn it down due to other work commitments (which I’ve now had to cancel thanks to the knee injury. I am not bitter).

Before we get started, let it be known that this year is not a vintage year. This is a year of dreary, dreary ballads. You will have plenty of time to go to the loo, make fresh microwave popcorn and refresh your Twitter feed. No country looks as though it really, really wants to win (except Armenia – we’ll get back to that). Got your popcorn popping? Let’s go.

The First Semi-Final:

  • Belgium has entered a song that would make even Louis Walsh blush from its blatant voter-pandering and sentimentality. Mother (sung by Axel Hirsoux who does his damnedest to sell the song, bless him) features lyrics such as “You are right there mother / You are my guiding light / My shoulder, my shelter, my satellite (..)  you mean the world to me /you’re more than a soulmate” What Oedipus Complex? By the way, we’ll get back to Louis Walsh a bit later on.
  • Latvia also has issues with mothers. The frightening Cake to Bake is performed by a twee young studenty boy who apparently was never taught to bake a cake by his mother. It’s almost Portlandia except they appear deadly serious. The song continues Latvia’s tendency to send novelty songs performed by happy/crap amateurs. Never give up, Latvia, never surrender.
  • This year’s Beautiful Balkan Ballad comes from Montenegro. They’ve never qualified for the final – but this could do it. I find it hugely dull but do not underestimate the enduring appeal of the BBB (just ask Serbia).
  •  The Netherlands are evidently heartened by the success they enjoyed last year and have sent another song that is probably too good for the contest (did you hear last year’s entry? Goosebumps). Calm After the Storm is one of my personal favourites this year – it has a Fleetwood Mac/Shawn Colvin alt-country vibe to it that I very much appreciate. I am not sure it will do terribly well, but I wish it all the best.
  • Another personal favourite is Swede.. no, wait. Sweden inexplicably rejected Ace Wilder’s superb and fun and current Busy Doin’ Nothin’ in favour of a cynical and safe mid-tempo ballad that could have been penned and performed ten years ago. For shame.
  • Iceland provides a bit of North Atlantic hipster anarchy with No Prejudice. Yes, it’s possibly my favouritest entry in the entire contest. It stands no chance.
  • Could Hungary win? They’ve flown under the radar despite sending decent entries most years. This year they’ve sent something that is a proper contender. With a good seeding in the first semi-final, I think you should watch out for András Kállay-Saunders.
  • Then again, the bookies appear to think that Armenia is set to win. Not Alone has a lot of YouTube pageviews and a lot of OMG THIS IS THE BEST SONG EVER comments on various ESC blogs – I just get the feeling it is manufactured social media hype rather than actual excitement. The song itself is fairly dull before it breaks into dubstep, goes meandering for a bit and then stops. Meh.

The Second Semi-Final:

  • I LOVED last year’s Norwegian entry (all hail the Berger Queen – it was the moral winner in 2013) so this year’s ballad feels a bit like a let-down .. except it is a really, really good ballad. It’s not as cynical as Sweden and Norway could (yet again) be a dark horse if it’s performed well on the night.
  • Heaven knows how Poland is going to stage Donatan & Cleo’s paen to modest Polish housewives. It’s all a bit N’Dubz but without a particularly strong song. However, who needs a strong song when you have a video like that? Hint: a good song will come in handy on the night, but staging might see this qualify from the semis. Might.
  • One of the best ‘Eurovision Gold Standard’ songs comes from Austria –Rise Like A Phoenix is a quite traditional James Bond-esque ballad sung with conviction by a charismatic performer. Sadly, the quality of the song might drown in transphobia and certain countries will blank it. I’m crossing my fingers that Conchita will indeed rise like a phoenix.
  • Finland! Oh, Finland has entered a Killers-meets-early-Coldplay song. Amid all those cookie-cutter ballads, “Something Better” is a breath of fresh air. I would be very surprised if it didn’t qualify for the finale. I’m just a touch concerned about those live vocals but nevermind..
  • Now for the promised Louis Walsh segment. Ireland’s song is immaterial (it’s very last year’s winner, if you must know) but the in-studio row was GOLDEN. “Your are an odious little man,” screamed former winner Linda Martin nearly decking one mentor, Louis Walsh came under attack for rigging the contest and .. oh, here’s the whole thing.
  • Belarus. Be.La.Rus. Whatever possessed you to send a straight-up copy of that odious Blurred Lines song? Cheesecake is my second least favourite song this year. I did not think anyone could out-douche Robin Thicke, but Belarus’ Teo manages that. It is AWFUL.
  • And just to clarify: Georgia is worse than Belarus. And they are both in the same semi-final. Ugh.

The Already Qualified:

  • Denmark chose Basim – an X-Factor person – with a Bruno Mars-lite song. A bit of controversy surrounding whether it was right to send a non-white singer the year they’re hosting .. yes, really. It’s pleasant enough and will fare moderately well. At least they didn’t send this lesson in how not to match your fake tan & your tights.
  • Prepare for an earworm from France who are yet again unbearably tres chic with Twin Twin’s Gaga-esque monster pop tune “Moustache“. It won’t win but it’ll be in my heart forever.
  • Another X-Factor graduate – this time from Spain. Ruth Lorenzo actually made it big on UK X-Factor and since her actual ESC song is (yet another) dreary ballad, let’s watch some vintage Ruth. Doesn’t that make you feel better?
  • The upset of the year comes the UK who .. who .. well, the UK has sent one of the outstanding songs of this year’s contest. Now there is something I don’t get to write all that often. See what happens as soon as the UK stops scraping the barrel? Buzz.

So. We have Hungary, Armenia, the UK and Norway as the not-very-clear front-runners with Denmark, Sweden, Ukraine (dreary Eurodance) and Romania limping after them. Personally I am just going to enjoy an evening of Danish cuisine. Remember to do a shot of akvavit every time they mention the Little Mermaid or poke fun at Sweden.

Kirkja in May

Kirkja ShawlYesterday was such a lovely day. It was finally warm enough to walk around without a jacket, the rain stopped, and the bluebells were out in full force.

Dave told me to put on some lipstick and head out for an impromptu photo shoot. I recently had the rights to my Kirkja shawl returned to me, so I grabbed it off the shelf. I love its rich, warm yellow hue and it looked so beautiful in the hazy sunshine.

You may know that my paternal grandmother was Faroese. I have had some great conversations with Fiona from The Island Wool Company about the wealth of inspiration I gain from North Atlantic knitting traditions. Kirkja is an example of my magpie tendency: rather than sticking to traditional shapes and patterns, I wanted the shawl to reflect the Faroese love of geometric patterning and simple shapes. So, it’s an updated, funkier version of a traditional Faroese shawl: no garter stitch, no shoulder shaping but some neat straight angles.

You can now buy Kirkja straight from Ravelry (right here) – it was designed for one hank of luxury handdyed sock yarn (my shawl is knitted in Old Maiden Aunt Superwash Merino 4ply in “Buttermint”) and 4mm needles, so it’s the ideal stash diving project! Kristen has knitted a beautiful Kirkja in a neutral-green hue, so if you’re not one for bright colours, check out her ace version.

(In related news, stay tuned for actual & real, proper Doggerland news by the end of this week.)

Casa Bookish has seen quite a few friends pass through Glasgow over the last few weeks which has meant I’ve had to spread my workload really carefully and keep social media interactions to a minimum. Unfortunately it also meant that I didn’t have time to write my customary Eurovision blog entry this year – but I have received a deluge of lovely messages after Denmark’s win (my personal favourite finished fourth, though). Thank you!

Now back to working on more lovely things. It is always so nice when I am getting close to the point where I can start to write about them!

Making My Mind Up – 2012

It is that most wonderful time of the year again. The time of the year when my thoughts turn towards geo-political alliances, sequins, unfortunate dance moves, and mangled English. Yes, it is Eurovision time! I have already aired a few opinions on the ESCInsight Juke Box Jury podcasts but nothing beats a proper blog run-down. So, fasten your seat belts, turn up the volume and grab some popcorn (maybe not in that order).

The Eurovision Contest 2012 will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan. Six countries have pre-qualified for the finale (Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the UK and Azerbaijan) and thirty-six countries will be battling it out in two semi-finales. Juries will vote. TV viewers will vote. That is all you need to know, really, although it is entirely possible to speculate on the basis on where in the draw in which semi-finale countries are placed.. but let’s not go there. Instead there are some pretty major trends:

Recession Has Hit Eurovision:

  • Ukraine has evidently decided to save on songs (and song-writing). So, Gaitana’s Be My Guest will not just infest Eurovision but probably also the European Football Championships later this year. I think it’ll fare better as a footie theme than as a ESC song but it’s a catchy (if dated) dance number.
  • Greece has been an enthusiastic ESC participant this past decade (winning in 2005). This year they are sending a girl performing in a shopping centre. I bet they hope they won’t win.
  • Montenegro has gone one better and is fielding the splendidly absurd Rambo Amadeus with his snarky Euro Neuro funk-rap about the Euro crisis. “Euro neuro don’t be sceptic hermetic, pathetic..” It is a dreadful song, sadly.

 

Haven’t I Seen You Before? Plenty of repeat performers this year. Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Iceland, and Ireland are all sending acts who have been there before either as headliners or as backing vocalists. Some might argue that some of the songs have also been submitted before, but that is an annual concern.

The Year of the Ballad: Maybe the recession is not just to blame for Rambo Amadeus but also for the general air of gloom hanging over this year’s Contest. It is a year of gloomy, dreary, never-ending ballads. Listen, I sat through all forty-two songs so you don’t have to, and I actually fell asleep several times. Dullness alert: Finland (whose song is actually called “When I Sleep”!), Estonia, Belgium, United Kingdom, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Lithuania, Germany, Portugal, and Serbia. You will need caffeine to keep you awake during these heartfelt songs.

What songs are noteworthy this year?

  • Oh, Spain is a ballad too but it’s pretty good as ballads go.  If Pastora can hit the notes on the night and emote well on TV, this could do very well for a Spanish entry. Their strongest entry for years.
  • Albania has sent a ballad too. They have surprising good Eurovision form and this is another quality entry. “Suus” is possibly too good and weird to do as well as it should. The juries will vote for this.
  • France looks great (hello Jean-Paul Gautier), it is upbeat and if Anggun can sell it on the night, they could be looking at a very good result. One for my iPod mix.
  • Earlier this year I dismissed Iceland‘s chances but the song has grown on me. If the staging is epic and they hit the notes, this is a dark horse. Where on earth would they host the contest, though?
  • Another track destined for my iPod comes courtesy of Israel‘s charming ditty. It reminds me of Latvia’s 2000 entry (geek alert!) mixed with early Blur. Total earworm and it stands out.
  • And finally, Russia. This will get all the press in Baku and get the novelty song vote. Will “Party for Everyone” win? I don’t think so (partly thanks to the voting system) but it will do very, very well.

 

So, Who Do You Think Will Win? I have three songs that I think will do massively well.

  • Azerbaijan is the host country and traditionally the host country does really well the next year (with a few exceptions). Azerbaijan has sent a powerful ballad (*cough, cough* not dissimiliar to an old 1980s hit) and if Sabina can hit the notes, they will get votes. They will get a lot of votes.
  • Italy came close last year and they could easily do better this year. Nina Zilli’s “Out of Love” is catchy and effortlessly classy in an Amy Winehouse-meets-Duffy mode. It is really, really good. Any other year and this would be the obvious outright winner.
  • But then you have Sweden. From the moment you hear that “Inception”-style boom at the start, you know you are in for something pretty special. As my partner-in-Eurovision-crime once said to me, “Imagine Rihanna singing that? It would be number one forever and ever.” Loreen’s “Euphoria” is the song to beat and everybody knows it. I have not been this emotionally invested in a single song for a very long time.

I’ll be live-tweeting throughout the two semis and the finale – hopefully you won’t catch me crying into my keyboard over Sweden’s result.

Eurovision Knitwear

Earlier this week I was doing some Eurovision punditry for ESC Insight (the podcasts will be available soon). As a result I can bring you Eurovision knitwear. Iceland’s promotional video offers great knitwear alongside its top-tipped, but slightly dull song.

Enjoy.

PS. I’ll have a proper Eurovision blog post up closer to the actual contest. However, I can already say that I am tipping Sweden, Italy and Azerbaijan as the biggest scoring countries on the night.