Eurovision 2016 Superlatives

It’s time once again for us to pay tribute to the finalists in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest the best way we know how: with bitchy quips and references to Patty Duke and obscure 1950s sci-fi films.

  • Most Successful Pastiche of Annie, Freddie Mercury & Frieda from Peanuts: Belgium
  • Best 8-Bit Stage Design: Czech Republic
  • Most Awkward 10 Seconds: Netherlands
  • Best Use of Sale Items From Sports Authority’s Going Out of Business Sale: Azerbaijan
If this was an NFL team, it'd be called the Fire.

If this was an NFL team, it’d be called the Fire.
(Samra screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • The Sigh, So Dreamy Oh You Were Singing Something Award: Hungary
  • Best Array of Lawn Ornaments: Italy
  • The Sparkle, Neely, Sparkle Award for Sparkle: Israel
  • Best Innovation In Traffic Cop Uniform Technology: Bulgaria
  • The Frans Award for Not Caring But Really Caring: Sweden
  • Best Reason to Give Stefan Raab Millions of Euros to Run Your National Selection: Germany
  • Most Successful Theft of Austria’s Thunder: France
  • Best Tasting Schmaltz: Poland
  • Best Musical Representation of What It Would Be Like to Be the Last Person to Own a Telephone: Australia
  • Best Lupine Consolation Prize: Cyprus
  • Most Creative Use of Bobby Pins: Serbia
What's a Grown Woman Doing with a Bobby Pin?

What’s a grown woman doing with a bobby pin?
(Sanja Vučić screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • Most Donny Performance: Lithuania
  • The 3+2 Award for Best Use of Costuming to Distract You From a Mediocre Song: Croatia
  • Most In Need of a Balloon Boy, As It Turns Out: Russia
  • Most Gasp-Worthy Death Drop: Spain
  • Second Best Eurovision Entry Ever Written By Aminata: Latvia
  • Best Song That’s Not About the War That’s About the War That’s Not About the War: Ukraine
  • Best Homage to The Brain That Wouldn’t Die: Malta
The Losco That Wouldn't Die

The Losco That Wouldn’t Die
(The Brain That Wouldn’t Die screenshot by Shock Till You Drop.
Ira Losco screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • Best Depiction of a Bad LSD Trip: Georgia
  • Best Depiction of a Good LSD Trip: Austria
  • Best Theme to a Bromantic Comedy: United Kingdom
  • Winner of Eurovision’s Swimsuit Competition: Armenia
  • Most Likely to Get There, Popular: Ukraine
She is the winner of Eurovision! She is! She is!

She is the winner of Eurovision! She is! She is!
(Samra screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

Highlights from 2016

It’s that time of the Eurovision cycle when we assess what we’ve heard at Eurovision this year and ask ourselves, “Does Ivan enter the pantheon of camp classics?” And we reply to ourselves, “Oh hell yes.”

Biggest Misfire

For Our Consideration

Greece: Argo – “Utopian Land”
Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Play”
Switzerland: Rykka – “The Last of Our Kind”
Ireland: Nicky Byrne – “Sunlight”

Our Pick: Estonia. In any other year, the first Greek act to miss the Final would be a shoo-in for biggest misfire. But this year, Estonia took everything that was great about Jüri Pootsmann at Eesti Laul and ditched it in favor of a lame-ass Vegas motif. That left poor Jüri with a third-rate magic trick and a come hither look that was on the wrong side of hither. Then there was that one hand gesture that he did over and over and over again. And again. And again. “Play” was hilariously, mesmerizingly awful and it finished dead last.

Least Self-Aware

For Our Consideration

San Marino: Serhat – “I Didn’t Know”
Belarus: Ivan – “Help You Fly”
Lithuania: Donny Montell – “I’ve Been Waiting for This Night”
Ireland: Nicky Byrne – “Sunlight”

Our Pick: It takes a vast lack of self-awareness to think that a disco song would work in a 21st century music competition. Or that you can stage a song called “Sunlight” with a concept that evoked Mars at night. Or that it is a good idea to include a hologram of yourself naked with wolves. But all y’all are not Donny Montell. Donny gives and gives. He is like a puppy dog trying to impress you. And goddamn it he does. He finished ninth. Ninth, people. You are only encouraging him, and we are all the better for it. Also, his song was pretty darned good this year. We can’t say the same for his hairdo. Donny finally claims the title that eluded him in 2012.

Legitimately Good Song

For Our Consideration

Australia: Dami Im – “Sound of Silence”
Bulgaria: Poli Genova – “If Love Was a Crime”
Georgia: Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitas – “Midnight Gold”
France: Amir – “J’ai cherché”
United Kingdom: Joe & Jake – “You’re Not Alone”

Our Pick: “If Love Was a Crime.” It was tough for us to narrow the list of candidates down this year, but there was no doubt which song was our favorite. “If Love Was a Crime” was love at first listen, and it is destined to be in our heavy rotation for a long time. Special shout-out to Bulgaria, who has had such a rough go of it at Eurovision, for returning to the Song Contest with a classic.

Campiest Performance

For Our Consideration

Moldova: Lidia Isac’s astronaut – “Falling Stars”
San Marino: Serhat – “I Didn’t Know”
Estonia: Jüri Pootsmann – “Play”
Belarus: Ivan – “Help You Fly”
Croatia: Nina Kraljić – “Lighthouse”

Our Pick: Belarus. Chris attempted to argue that Estonia pipped Belarus in the camp category because Jüri’s hand gestures got more and more hilarious as his performance went on. But Jen rightfully reminded Chris that Belarus kicked off its performance with a hologram of a naked Ivan telling a wolf he would help it learn how to fly. Chris withdrew his argument. Did we mention there was a baby at the end? There was a baby at the end. If you truly need more convincing, listen to the audience reaction when Stephen Colbert showed a clip of “Help You Fly” on The Late Late Show.

Biggest Diva Performance

For Our Consideration

Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave”
Malta: Ira Losco – “Walk On Water”
Ukraine: Jamala – “1944”
Macedonia: Kalliopi – “Dona”
Israel: Hovi Star – “Made of Stars”

Our Pick: Sure, Jamala won, but she won with a good song. Iveta Mukuchyan elevated an unlistenable mess to essential viewing through raw sex appeal and outstanding production design. Plus she found time to make a brash political statement to boot!

Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2016

Well, that was interesting.

We think that as well as this year’s wildly entertaining Eurovision Song Contest went, the result may present EBU with more than a few headaches.

First, the EBU can no longer pretend that the Song Contest is apolitical. Its ham-fisted attempt to institute a restrictive flag policy backfired, and they ultimately scaled it back. Armenia and Azerbaijan’s strained relations were again on display in the first Eurovision Semifinal after the recent military actions over Nagorno-Karabakh. And Sweden as the host country made political points throughout the two Semifinals and the Final, most poignantly with The Gray People interval act.

Oh, and then there was this year’s winner. “1944” is a good song to be sure, and Jamala presented it with rich emotion. But it is the weight of the back story that propels it. While, yes, on the surface, this song is about Jamala’s grandmother during World War II, the parallels to the current conflict over Crimea are not at all subtle.

This year’s results, too, made it abundantly clear that the EBU is still struggling to find the right balance between jury and public vote in determining the outcome. Lest we forget, the jury vote was introduced in an effort to offset neighborly or political voting. The new Melodifestivalen-style voting presentation certainly made things more exciting at the end, but it also exposes that the national juries wield too much power. Even though the rules were changed this year to give more weight to the public vote, this is the second year in a row where the winner of the public vote finished third because of the juries. When the juries have such power to nullify their selections, it’s hard to sound credible when telling the people of Europe how much their votes count. Clearly, there is more work to be done.

All of which brings us to Russia. They won the televote but only placed fifth among the juries. Moreover, they lost to a song about Crimea. We can’t imagine that either of these things will sit well there. To be honest, we could see Russia sitting out next year’s Song Contest. (As has apparently already been suggested.) But beyond withdrawing in protest, the big question for Russia is this: Do they really want to send one of their performers into hostile territory? Not just a hostile crowd that could boo them, but a whole country that is quite hostile towards them. Then again, Russia has shown that they have chrome-plated balls and a complete disregard for what anyone says about them, so perhaps they’ll stick it out. Maybe they will be able to pick someone with broad appeal in Ukraine. You know, like Sergey Lazarev.

Given all of that, the EBU must be thanking their lucky stars that Australia didn’t win. We’ve never complained about Australia’s participation, but we also think that an Australia win would have made for an uncomfortable year of preparation. We wonder if the creation of an Asia-Pacific Song Contest marks the end of Australia’s participation. Then next year, the United States can take their place! (Just kidding)

Continue reading

Our Predictions: 2016 Grand Final

So now it comes down to this: 26 songs competing to be your Song for Europe in 2016. Here our predictions:

Jen:

  1. Russia
  2. Australia
  3. Ukraine
  4. Latvia
  5. Armenia
  6. Austria
  7. Sweden
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Netherlands
  10. Georgia

Last place: Germany

Chris:

  1. Russia
  2. Ukraine
  3. Australia
  4. Sweden
  5. Bulgaria
  6. Latvia
  7. Armenia
  8. Netherlands
  9. Serbia
  10. Georgia

Last place: Spain

Fairly similar picks, as it turns out, with Jen picking Austria for a top 10 finish and Chris opting instead for Serbia. As for last place, Chris thinks Spain is an absolute mess, but Jen thinks Germany’s song will be long forgotten by the time the voting window opens.

At the top of the table, we both think it is Russia’s to lose. We know that there has been a lot of anti-Russia sentiment in the hall during the past couple of Song Contests, but Russia did not finish second last year based on neighborly voting alone. We don’t think there is enough anti-Russia feeling in Western Europe to keep “You Are the Only One,” a classic schlager number staged within an inch of its life, from winning the whole shebang.

Who are Russia’s closest competitors? If the Eurovision Song Contest is becoming more political, then Ukraine could pull off the win. The thing is, does “1944” sound like a song voters are going want to hear over and over again? The subject matter doesn’t exactly scream “Europe’s having a party” and we think that could hurt its chances.

Australia has a stronger song than Russia, but that staging drags it down. While watching the second Semi, our son asked, “Is she going to sit on that box for the entire song?” If a 7-year-old who sincerely thought Belarus’ staging was awesome can spot the flaw in your staging, then you’ve got problems.

UPDATED 14 May 2016: Jen adds that she doesn’t see Australia having any support from Eastern Europe. “Sound of Silence” is charting in Russia but doesn’t seem to have any traction elsewhere. This lack of support may be Australia’s undoing.

We would have thought Armenia was a dark horse to win, but we think being picked to perform last hurts its chances. To be honest, we were surprised that “LoveWave” is what the producers think is a good way to close the show, so we’re wondering if this is part of the sanction being levied on Armenia for waving the Nagorno Karabakh flag during the first Semi.

There are a lot of good songs and/or good performances in the Final. We would not be surprised if we get a repeat of the 2011 or the 2014 Song Contests, where a song off of most people’s radar takes the crown. But we’d be crazy not to predict Russia to take the title.

Continue reading

Recap of 2016 Semifinal 2

Oh Donny, forgive us for doubting you!

Jen:

  • Latvia
  • Israel
  • Belarus
  • Serbia
  • Australia
  • Bulgaria
  • Ukraine
  • Norway
  • Georgia
  • Belgium
Chris:

  • Latvia
  • Poland
  • Israel
  • Serbia
  • Australia
  • Bulgaria
  • Ukraine
  • Norway
  • Georgia
  • Belgium
Europe:

  • Latvia
  • Poland
  • Israel
  • Serbia
  • Lithuania
  • Australia
  • Bulgaria
  • Ukraine
  • Georgia
  • Belgium

Jen once again got 8 out of 10, but Chris rebounds from Tuesday to get 9 out of 10. Basically, it came down to this: Poland’s Michał Szpak practices mass hypnosis and forces you to vote for him with the power of his eyes alone. (Because it certainly wasn’t with that pitchy vocal.)

It was business as usual for Israel, Serbia, Australia, and Ukraine. We could nitpick here and there (Serbia’s harsh styling, Australia’s glam box), but we saw four confident performers nail their cues. Ukraine’s staging is gorgeous and it’s easy to imagine that Jamala will be giving Sergey Lazarev a run for his money on Saturday.

Despite our doubts about the costume and the staging, Bulgaria was pretty great. Poli Genova gave an exuberant and infectious performance and suddenly we feel like she has a shot… oh wait, she’s slated to perform 8th on Saturday? Damn, never mind.

It’s interesting that Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitas had a similar idea to Cyprus’ Minus One to plot out the camerawork as if they were shooting a music video. However, the execution could not be more different. “Midnight Gold” was trippy, but it also had an intense energy to it that was impossible to look away from.

Although we picked Belgium to go through, we both thought she came off a bit Junior Eurovision. “What’s the Pressure” was cute, but after a night of some serious bad-ass performances, it couldn’t help but feel lightweight. Laura Tesoro kicks off the show on Saturday and that’s probably the best thing for her.

There’s not much to say about the songs that did not qualify, save for two. In her bio on the Eurovision website, Norway’s Agnete said, “The transition between the verse and chorus has a tempo change that many listeners are responding to. It seems like either you love it, or you simply strongly dislike it.” Sadly for her, more people ended up in the “strongly dislike” camp.

And lastly, pity poor Ivan from Belarus. He delivered so much more than we expected from watching his rehearsals. Specifically some crazy wide eyes to accentuate his crazy broad  performance. Ultimately, it was probably a little too bat-shit insane to get votes these days in Eurovision, but it’s nice to remember the days when Eurovision was just a camp contest.

Recap of 2016 Semifinal 1

Jen:

  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Netherlands
  • Armenia
  • Czech Republic
  • Russia
  • Cyprus
  • Austria
  • Iceland
  • Malta
Chris:

  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Netherlands
  • Armenia
  • Russia
  • Cyprus
  • Austria
  • Estonia
  • Iceland
  • Malta
Europe:

  • Hungary
  • Croatia
  • Netherlands
  • Armenia
  • Russia
  • Czech Republic
  • Cyprus
  • Austria
  • Azerbaijan
  • Malta

As usual, Jen got 8 out of 10 on her predictions and Chris got 7 out of 10. To be fair, who knew just how badly Estonia was going to misfire? Every facial tic, every vocal aside, every c’mon hand gesture (14 total…we counted) added up to a disastrous performance for Jüri Pootsmann that would normally secure the title of camp classic in any year where Ivan is not dancing with wolves.

Generally speaking, there weren’t a lot of surprises. Russia, Hungary, Netherlands, Malta, and Armenia all performed up to expectations. Sergey Lazarev solidified his status as the favorite, but Iveta Mukuchyan was the real revelation of the first Semi. As flashy as the camerawork and the special effects were, the whole package was about her, and she made every moment count.

The real tragedies on the night were Iceland and Bosnia & Herzegovina. We hadn’t been impressed with “Ljubav Je” in rehearsals, but on the night we thought the whole package came together quite well. And as good as the staging was for “Hear Them Calling,” perhaps the song just wasn’t good enough for it to crack the top 10.

As we mentioned in our rehearsal roundup, Montenegro was going for a concert performance and Cyprus was going for a Contest performance. Even knowing that, we couldn’t have predicted just how well Cyprus were going to come off. Francois Micheletto is a striking and charismatic singer and the whole package was orchestrated effectively.

Austria, Azerbaijan, and Croatia should be thanking their lucky stars. ZOË was visibly nervous and seemed to get through her performance on muscle memory, although her vocals were still pretty strong. Samra, meanwhile, was pretty good for 2 of her song’s 3 minutes, before going off the rails a bit at the end. And Croatia managed to use costuming to create a memorable visual, if nothing else.

We were surprised by how flat and ponderous Greece’s performance was. It was sort of like watching Steven Gerrard plodding around the field during his last season with Liverpool. You hate seeing the once great become also rans.

Lastly, a huge round of applause for Czech Republic for finally qualifying for the Grand Prix Final! We were worried that the staging for “I Stand” would hurt their chances; too many long shots, a distracting, primitive backdrop, and not enough close ups on Gabriela Gunčíková for our money. But she sounded great and the song deserved its spot on Saturday night.

Rehearsal Roundup: 2016 Big 6

Our predictions for the Grand Final will need to wait until we have a full running order, but we wanted to write up the Big Six rehearsals now before the Song Contest begins in earnest.

As per usual with Sweden, not much has changed with Frans’ performance since Melodifestivalen. No, scratch that, Frans goes out on the catwalk now! Anyway, Chris is a bit tired of “If I Were Sorry,” but that’s more because we’ve lived with it so long. We figure it will appeal to a lot of people who are catching it for the first time on Saturday. Sweden may not defend its crown, but we think it will do well. (Of course, we said that about Austria last year, so take that statement with a grain of salt…)

Amir from France is a bundle of beaming, but unfocused energy. It’s been noted in the press center that he has a tendency to ignore the camera, leaving viewers with shots of his back. France may be high in the betting odds, but there is a possibility it will fall flat when the votes are tallied. Being in the first half of the draw may hinder it. Still, it could be worse.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about Spain. Barei seems to be inspired by the drunk aunt at the wedding who loves the Chicken Dance. One of our biggest regrets is that we did not predict France to finish last the year Twin Twin flopped. So when we say we’re getting a Twin Twin vibe when we watch Barei’s rehearsals, you can be sure that we’re not going to make the same mistake twice. With any luck, she will close the show.

Like a Melodifestivalen winner, Jamie-Lee has changed nothing about her performance of “Ghost” since she won Germany’s national final. She sounds great and she looks adorable and we can’t wait to see what she bakes on the next episode of Nerdy Nummies. We’re guessing something involving Hello Kitty.

And now is the time on Nerdy Nummies when we dance. (Jamie-Lee Photo by Thomas Hanses, EBU. Nerdy Nummies screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

And now is the time on Nerdy Nummies when we dance.

(Jamie-Lee Photo by Thomas Hanses, EBU. Nerdy Nummies screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

Meanwhile, Italy just does its thing. You know how Italian gardens have too many shiny orbs and statues and strings of lights–colorful, tacky, but also kind of cute? Italy has given us an Italian garden Eurovision staging. There’s a tree of life, balloons, hanging plants, wind chimes, and a backdrop with hand drawn clouds and stars. Chris says twee, Jen says adorable. Francesca Michielin is singing well, but she is not entirely engaging. We still figure it will all come together on Saturday night and Italy will finish with its customary top 15 finish.

Strange things continue to happen in the United Kingdom this year. Leicester City are the Premier League champions and the U.K. might just have the best act out of the Big Six. A song with a catchy melody, a vibrant performance from Joe and Jake, and a spot in the second half of the draw on Saturday night… It’s all coming together for the Brits. We won’t say they can win because we are not completely insane, but the United Kingdom could be looking at its best finish in years.

Rehearsal Roundup and Our Predictions: 2016 Semifinal 2

In which we continue our review of how our Eurovision songs have developed since national selection. This Semi is a far more competitive heat than the first one – higher quality songs and some absolutely bonkers presentations. There are also some great songs with underwhelming staging, so more than a few worthy songs are going to get left behind. And the ones that can’t keep up will simply be left in the dust.

Here are our picks:

Jen:

  • Latvia
  • Israel
  • Belarus
  • Serbia
  • Australia
  • Bulgaria
  • Ukraine
  • Norway
  • Georgia
  • Belgium
Chris:

  • Latvia
  • Poland
  • Israel
  • Serbia
  • Australia
  • Bulgaria
  • Ukraine
  • Norway
  • Georgia
  • Belgium

Continue reading

Rehearsal Roundup and Our Predictions: 2016 Semifinal 1

One of the great joys of Eurovision fandom is the transparency of the fortnight leading up to the Contest. We get sneak peeks into the rehearsals to see the acts coming together. Now, those sneak peeks are limited – 30 second clips from the first rehearsal, 2 minute clips from the second rehearsal, all carefully crafted to shield us from the camerawork. But, we do get a sense of costuming, lighting, choreography, and staging. This, combined with the song order, gives us the next great chance to evaluate the songs’ prospects since they were announced.

Due to time constraints this year we’re also going to use these posts to present our predictions. Earlier than usual, but sometimes life gets in the way.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

Here are our predictions for the first Semifinal:

Jen:

  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Netherlands
  • Armenia
  • Czech Republic
  • Russia
  • Cyprus
  • Austria
  • Iceland
  • Malta
Chris:

  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Netherlands
  • Armenia
  • Russia
  • Cyprus
  • Austria
  • Estonia
  • Iceland
  • Malta

Continue reading