Denmark’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Since Portugal has given Eurovision a maritime theme this year, it is apropos that Denmark has voted to go for the full Viking. Here’s Rasmussen with “Higher Ground.”

Higher Ground” is by Swedish songwriters Niclas Arn and Karl Eurén, who co-wrote Timoteij’s 2010 Melodifestivalen entry “Kom.” The song is inspired by Magnus Erlendsson, a Viking leader and martyr who sought peaceful solutions to conflicts.

Rasmussen is a singer and actor who fronts an ’80s cover band Hair Metal Heröes. You may be surprised to learn he has performed in a production of Les Miserables.

So let’s not put too fine a point on it: “Higher Ground” is “One Day More” crossed with “Only Teardrops,” but with zombie Vikings. It is a suitably haunting song and the staging is simple but effective. Rasmussen is a solid, charismatic singer and the arrangement makes good use of bass, dwarvish vocal tones. It was our favorite at Dansk Melodi Grand Prix from the moment we heard it.

We do wonder if there is a market for a theatrical song about Vikings outside of Denmark. If so, who will like it more: the parts of Europe that were never invaded by Vikings or the parts that were frequently invaded by Vikings? Either way, we are more than happy that Rasmussen and his fellow unkempt, undead hippie Norsemen have set sail to Lisbon.

Switzerland’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Let they who are without Sinplus cast “Stones” to Lisbon. Here is Switzerland’s representative for Eurovision, Zibbz.

Corinne and Stee Gfeller are siblings who founded Zibbz in 2008. They divide their time between Los Angeles and their home country and starred in a reality show for a few years on the now-defunct Swiss network Joiz. They’ve had two top 20 albums on the Swiss charts and their song “One Shot” was the official song of the 2012 Unihockey World Cup.

Zibbz have described themselves as a “trash-pop indie rock band” who “combine their love of fun, innovation, and toy instruments to create a new sound and stage presence that has been viewed as unique and the next ‘big thing’ to hit the airwaves and everyone’s ear drums.”

Which is interesting since “Stones” struck us as a kinda bland blues rock album track.

To be fair, we feel bad ragging on “Stones.” The song’s lyrics are about online bullying and they resonate with us at a time when interaction on the internet seems to be increasingly tetchy.

So let’s focus on the positives: Corinne has a gravelly, raspy singing voice and a snarly, camera-friendly intensity. We liked how Zibbz stayed on brand by incorporating their logo into their staging. And the Gfellers just seem like fun, lovely people.

All of which makes us sad we don’t like the song more. It’s fine. That’s all. We really wish they had brought the toy instruments.

By the way, from now on, can we call the action of singing while banging on a drum with one hand Sebaltering?

Spain’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Alfred and Amaia are bringing a song for you to the Eurovision Song Contest. Here is “Tu Canción.”

This year, Spanish broadcaster RTVE revived the talent show Operación Triunfo, which was used between 2001 and 2004 to choose the country’s Eurovision act. Instead of selecting the winner of the show, Spain picked its Eurovision entry during Gala Eurovisión, the penultimate episode of the show.

As it turns out, Amaia Romero ultimately won OT, while Alfred García finished fourth. Shouldn’t she be billed first, then?

Anyway, “Tu Canción” was written by composer Raúl Gómez and lyricist Sylvia Santoro. Raúl was the 2013 winner of the show El Número Uno who then moved to London to start his songwriting career. He submitted a song for Spain in 2016 that did not make it out of the pre-selection. Raúl’s aunt Sylvia released two albums in the early 2000s before taking a break for her family, but is now returning to songwriting. They wrote the song inspired by Alfred and Amaia’s real-life romance.

“Tu Canción” is a gentle ballad that sounds like a cross between “Amar pelos dois” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” It doesn’t appeal to us much, but let’s be honest: the bar was set so low by Spain’s previous entry that you could walk over said bar without even noticing it was there.

We can’t decide if Alfred and Amaia’s performance is helped or hindered by their relationship. On one hand, we want to scream, “Get a room!” But heck, it’s a love song, and if the singers don’t have good chemistry, then how are supposed to buy what they’re selling? So long as they don’t miss their cues, they’ll be fine.
photobanda.com

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

SuRie has won Eurovision You Decide and will bring a “Storm” to Lisbon.

Born Susanna Marie Cork, SuRie was a backup singer for Loïc Nottet in 2015 and for Blanche in 2017. She has also backed up Will Young and Chris Martin and acted as Fontaine in Les Miserables. In addition to performing, she teaches at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London.

SuRie has an Annie Lennox vibe, both in her look and in her alto voice. She has a likable stage presence that the Brighton audience for Eurovision: You Decide ate up. If the BBC ever released voting figures, we would expect to see that she was the overwhelming favorite of the juries and the televoters too.

If we see a problem, it’s that “Storm” sounds like what the United Kingdom thinks a Eurovision song should sound like. It fits in nicely on a playlist with “Children of the Universe,” “You’re Not Alone,” and “Never Give Up On You.” Each of these songs have their own different styles, but they are all cut from the same middle-of-the-road pop cloth. They are likeable songs performed by likeable performers. They also tend to get forgotten by the end of the night.

If it sounds like we’re being a bit over-critical, we are, because we are always over-critical of the United Kingdom. But we have to give them credit. We think back to 2014, when BBC producer Guy Freeman (who is leaving the BBC this month) published a blog post called “Our Vision for Copenhagen.” In it, he wrote:

“It’s clear there’s a disconnect between what kind of songs and artists are now winning Eurovision, versus the stereotype that many people – including much of the music industry – still hold in their minds.”

That old Wogan-influenced stereotype still lingers, but watching Eurovision: You Decide, we felt like the perception has finally begun to change. Let’s just pretend 2015 never happened, though.

Czech Republic’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Mikolas Josef and his camel would like a dirty word with you. Here is Czech Republic’s Eurovision entry, “Lie to Me.”

Mikolas was a professional model and a busker when he was a teenager. He began releasing his singles independently in 2015. His song “Free” reached 15th on the Czech singles chart in 2016.

Last year, he was offered the chance to represent Czech Republic with the song “My Turn.” He said he turned it down because he didn’t think it was a good fit. Martina Barta ended up taking the song, finishing 13th in the first Semi.

He wrote “Lie to Me” and it is a bit derivative of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.” But we’ll give it a pass because it’s so damned catchy. The serpentine horns and the hooky chorus make it a guilty pleasure.

The lyrics, on the other hand, are… um… suggestive?

  • “I know you ‘bop-whop-a-lu bop’ on his wood bamboo”
  • “Then she got one of my friends, she got him dripping on wood”
  • “You should’ve thought about me before you fucked him at the club”
  • “But steady plenty motherfuckers wanna eat my spaghetti”
  • “Set my camel in the mood”

It’s like poetry written by a 14-year-old who just discovered boobs. That said, tacky lyrics shouldn’t be too much of a liability so long as there is a good performance and an entertaining stage show (see: Robin Bengtsson). Mikolas performed at Ukraine’s first semifinal and he projects a quiet confidence and laid back charm.

He certainly seems ambitious, so we’re looking forward to see what kind of package he will put together for Eurovision. Unfortunately, he will have to leave his camel at home thanks to the EBU’s restrictions on live animals at the Song Contest. He can probably bring his own spaghetti, though.

Malta’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Christabelle will represent Malta at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Taboo.”

Although she is just 25, Christabelle Borg is a veteran of Malta’s entertainment industry. She participated in three Junior Eurovision national finals and three previous Eurovision national finals before finally getting the nod this year. She also was the host of the Maltese TV shows Teen Trouble and Teen Traffic.

Outside of her music and television career, she has received her Master’s in Accountancy from the University of Malta. She told Malta’s The Accountant that her dissertation “The setting up of a new private school in Malta : a feasibility study” was named as Best Financial Management Dissertation by her school’s faculty.

Christabelle co-wrote “Taboo” with Johnny Sanchez, Muxu, and Eurovision stalwart Thomas G:son. Musically, the song has a bouncy Melodifestivalen sound that reminded us of Jasmine Kara’s “Gravity” quite a lot. It’s solid, if not particularly remarkable, although the chorus is catchy.

The lyrics are about Christabelle’s struggles with mental illness and she hopes to raise awareness of mental health issues in her performance. We can sort of see how she is telling her story in the MESC staging. Christabelle begins her performance trapped in a box. Her back-up dancers then appear in the box to represent (for lack of a better term) the demons in her mind. By the end of the song, she has quieted those demons down.

Of course, we see this now with benefit of learning more about the song. There’s also a chance we’re misinterpreting what’s going on, which speaks to the challenge Malta faces. There are strong staging elements here, but we think Christabelle and her team need to think about how to tell the story of “Taboo” more clearly to maximize her song’s impact.

France’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Madame Monsieur won a corker of a French national final with a corker of a song, “Mercy.”

Singer Émilie Satt and musician and producer Jean-Karl Lucas formed Madame Monsieur in 2013. They cowrote and were featured on rapper Youssoupha’s 2015 single “Smile” from his top five album NGRTD. Their debut album Tandem was released in 2016.

“Mercy” tells the story of a girl born prematurely to a refugee on a boat from Libya to Europe. Madame Monsieur have since had to address whether or not it is a political song, but we think whether you believe it is speaks more to your own politics than to the song’s narrative.

We got excited when we first heard “Mercy” in Destination Eurovision’s semifinals. We both had it stuck in our heads for days afterwards, even without repeated listens. It’s a cool, modern adult contemporary song and it is very, very catchy. Plus we dug Madame Monsieur’s Sprockets-esque stage look.

However, we grew concerned when we heard “Mercy” in the final. Madame Monsieur’s performance seemed to lack the intensity of their first performance, as if the added fog machine had blown away all of their warmth. We worried that they had ceded victory to Lisandro Cuxi’s “Eva.”

Our concerns seemed to be justified when the international juries placed “Mercy” third and “Eva” first. While “Mercy” took the public vote overwhelmingly (118 points to Lisandro’s 72 points), we are left wondering if the song will appeal to the international juries it will face in Lisbon.

Hand-wringing aside, we love “Mercy.” It’s sleek and memorable and it will tell a story of modern Europe at a Song Contest with a theme that hearkens back to the continent’s maritime history. How Madame Monsieur get that story across, short of a language change, will be important. Romania’s Voltaj finished 15th in 2015 with a similar humanitarian message and we hope “Mercy” does not suffer the same fate.

Albania’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

There is always a point during the Eurovision doldrums where we wonder if we’re going to stick with this whole Song Contest blogging thing. There are days where it feels like work, especially when we have to write about songs we neither love nor hate, and the EBU has killed the Eurovision website by no longer hosting the national finals, and they’re still bloody geoblocking the performance videos on YouTube because they hate Americans and… wait, it’s time for Festivali i Këngës?

FIRE UP WORDPRESS.

Eugent Bushpepa won this year’s edition of Festivali i Këngës with his song “Mall.” He got his start as a house singer on a Top Channel talk show and won best male vocalist at Top Fest in 2008 and 2011. He performed a duet, S’jam baladë, with Rovena Dio at Festivali 47, where they finished an unremarkable 12th.

“Mall” starts off with a rousing string riff a bit like Rufus Wainwright’s “Beautiful Child” or Filter’s “Take a Picture.” Those opening moments are full of promise. Eugent sounds like Geddy Lee banging out a hair metal ballad. We mean that in a good way. His phrasing is beautiful and makes us both wish we could speak Albanian. We are happy to hear Eugent is going to keep “Mall” in Albanian, even if that does makes it look like Albania is noting that a non-English song won Eurovision last year.

Running currently at 4:30, “Mall” will need to be cut back significantly to conform to Eurovision’s 3:00 limit. Right now, you feel every second of that length. Success for Albania will be made or lost in the editing room, managing the tricky balance of setting the mood, letting Eugent’s voice soar, and getting to the damn point already.

Now, we just count down the days until the other national finals kick off. (Yes, we know Lithuania’s Eurovizijos series has started, but if the participants can’t be bothered with it, why should we?)

National Final Season in Review 2017: Our Favorite WTF Moments

Look, Eurovision is weird. A song sung by a guy performing with a dancer in a gorilla costume was the odds leader for most of the season. So an act really has to be special to get us to look at each other and mutter, “WTF?”​ Here is this year’s crop:

Sweden: Our complicated relationship with Benjamin Ingrosso

Benjamin Ingrosso is a child star who, at age 19, is trying to make the jump to more grown-up fare. And in many ways, “Good Lovin” worked. It sounds like something Justin Timberlake would have churned out in his early solo career. And seeing as we enjoy the song stylings of Justin Timberlake, “Good Lovin” has been in high rotation as we manage our post-Eurovision depression.

And Benjamin Ingrosso is an engaging performer. He was good on camera in a Mark-Paul Gosselaar sort of way, and that tooth gap was endearing. We like him.

But so much of his Melodifestivalen performance was uncomfortable. There was that J. Crew shopping spree. Since when is a lavender jumper and charcoal gray slacks a good pop star look? Then there was that choreography. The pelvic thrust with one hand in his pants pocket when he dances? Cringe.

And let’s not overlook the lyrics. Singing “He’s touching your body like I used to do”? Eeeeeeeewwwwwwww. What 19 year old thinks like that?

And we know this is superficial, but we couldn’t help but be distracted by just how hairy his arms are. Chris has got really hairy arms, and even he was uncomfortable by how hairy Benjamin Ingrosso’s arms are. Bigfoot would look at his arms and say, “Boy, that kid is hirsute.”

Still, good song. But, ugh, complicated.

Slovenia: Tim Kores – “Open Fire”

It’s hard to explain what camp is, but we know it when we see it. “Open Fire” is the EMA equivalent of Battlefield Earth: lots of lame visuals cribbed from more successful sources, and also bad contact lenses. When Kores “throws” a “ball of fire” to “set the drumkit on fire,” any ember of credibility is doused. We watch this one far more often than we really should. It is mesmerizing in its awfulness.

Belarus: Lermont x Julic – “Heartbeat

Is Lermont x Julic a mathematical equation? We were told there would be no math. But no problem, we got this. Here is a direct proof:

Axiom 1: Lermont x Julic = uncontrollable chortling.
Axiom 2: Lermont x Julic + back-up performers >~ Lermont x Julic.
Theorem: Lermont x Julic = 0.

Sweden: De Vet Du – “Road Trip

Epic and hilarious. De Vet Du are a comedy music group who have mastered the art of lacking self-awareness in a totally self-aware way. They also recognize that you consume the most fast food music when you’re in your car.

Estonia: Close to Infinity feat Ian Karell – “Sounds Like Home

Ever wondered why Beatles riffs haven’t been sampled by more hip hop acts? “Sounds Like Home” explains why.

Belarus: Nikita Hodas – “Voices In My Head

At first, Nikita comes off as Sam Smith covering “Time of Your Life” with a pitchy falsetto. He performs while holding a book to show that he feels the feels. Then he speak-sings his life story and it all gets unbearably twee. If Dear Evan Hansen ever makes it to Eastern Europe, we have found the perfect lead.

FinlandKnucklebone Oscar and the Shangri-la Rubies – “Caveman

Imagine if Jack Black was cast as Hyde in That ’70s Show. Imagine Jackie and Donna as stiff back-up singers. Imagine if there was a coherent song to accompany whatever this was supposed to be. When Oscar broke his guitar at the end, he was speaking for all of us.

Sweden: All the F-bombs

There was a lot of cussing at Melodifestivalen this year. Excuse me, Melodi-f’n-festivalen, to quote host Clara Hall. Between the first cut of “I Can’t Go On” to Lisa Ajax’s utterly embarrassing “I Don’t Give A,” Sweden went out of its way this year to make us reconsider watching Melodifestivalen with our eight-year-old.

Slovenia: EMA’s production value

This year’s EMA felt like a remedial A/V club project. The crowd noise was frequently piped in. The director kept using a strange medium shot that placed each singer in the lower half of the screen. (Hey director man, ever heard of the rule of thirds?) Then there was the lengthy filler content where the contestants talk about how much they like each other. They try, oh how they try.

Lithuania. Gytis “Lolita Zero” Ivanauskas – “Get Frighten”

At first glance, Lolita Zero looks like a busted queen. But when you look past the inflatable devil horns, you realize that she’s actually quite visionary. Who else has thought of combining Urban Cowboy with Gallagher’s Sledge-o-matic? No one, that’s who. What really caught our attention was the fact that Gytis rose to prominence with his lauded performance in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Talk about putting the “rascal” in Raskolnikov!

National Final Season in Review 2017: Our Favorite Songs

The summer doldrums are in full swing. It’s the perfect time for us to go through our notes from the national final season, dust off those chestnuts that didn’t make it to the Eurovision Song Contest, and speculate about which of these artists will make it to the big show two or three years from now.

Finland: Lauri Yrjölä – “Helppo elämä

One part Måns Zelmerlöw, one part Aminata, all parts awesome. Bonus points to Lauri for keeping it in Finnish. Sexy, sexy Finnish. Fifty lashes with a wet noodle to Finland for giving him a paltry 8th place finish.

FinlandMy First Band – “Paradise

Do you like Maroon 5 but wished that Adam Levine dressed like Michael Jackson and took backdrop inspiration from a 1980s Vegas strip club? My First Band have got you covered. “Paradise” is a relentlessly upbeat and catchy bit of pop radio fodder (with slightly skeezy lyrics), but it’s so easy to sing along with, we don’t mind one bit. They finished 4th.

Estonia: Ariadne – “Feel Me Now”

Ariadne is adorable, but she was a bit stiff as a performer. Ugh, who are we kidding, she was uncomfortably stiff. “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” was invented so that one day we could use it to explain just how stiff she was up on that Eesti Laul stage. But man oh man, was her song fab. “Feel Me Now” is the type of song that makes an Eesti Laul fan out of an aspiring Eurovision diehard. She finished 6th overall, but with a world of promise.

Hungary: Adam Szabo – “Together

Adam Szabo has got a great voice and this was a good song with a good staging. But year after year, Szabo chokes on his live performance. This year’s A Dal semifinal performance was pitchy, and once again he struggled to connect on camera. We hope he’ll figure out how to present the whole package some day.

Hungary: Roma Soul – “Nyitva a ház

Oláh Gergő and company were perhaps a bit unfortunate to come up against Joci Pápai this year. That said, we enjoyed the energy of this Roma-inspired number. It does have the whiff of summer festivals, but it is still a lot of fun. Between losing Adam Szabo and Roma Soul, that second A Dal semifinal was a rough one for us.

Latvia: Lauris Valters – “Magic years”

This is a joyful song in the vein of “Kedvesem” and some of the recent great Maltese entries and Jen will accept no criticism of it. Sadly, Valters was eliminated in the Supernova semifinal.

Sweden: Mariette – “A Million Years

“A Million Years” takes Ira Losco’s “Walk On Water” and just does it better. In Sweden, however, improved Ira Losco is only good enough for a 4th place finish. The staging, which featured dancers on bungee cords and slo-mo camera tricks, was interesting and effective. Of course, if you’re reading this blog in the United States, you’re going to have to imagine all the cool staging because you’re stuck listening to the audio track. God, does international copyright and exclusive licensing need to be rethought in Eurovision’s internet age. (See also: the Eurovision Song Contest’s YouTube channel.)

Sweden: Jasmine Kara – “Gravity

Generally we trust the Swedes to get it right, but we have no idea why this Gaga-esque pop tune got left behind in the third heat of Melodifestivalen. Jasmine’s vocal may not be perfect and her energy may be a little unfocused, but “Gravity” was a fun song with some nifty visual effects.

Slovenia: Nuška Drašček – “Flower In the Snow”

You need to get to the 0:50 mark and don’t get too hung up on Nuška’s weird crow earrings or her initially wobbly vibrato. When it hits its stride, “Flower In the Snow” is a jazzy power ballad with sophisticated chording. And Nuška sells it within an inch of her life. She finished 4th overall, but the jury liked her, so that’s something.

Slovenia: Raiven – “Zažarim

“Zažarim” stood out to us not because the song is anything special, but because her staging was interesting. Raiven wore a custom-made body suit with mirror pieces on it, When the stage lights shone on her, Raiven became a disco ball. It evoked fond memories of Diahann Carroll in the Star Wars Christmas Special. Raiven finished 3rd.

Portugal: Celina da Piedade – “Primavera”

This sweet and gentle folk tune is the perfect song for a national final: Enjoyable in its element. You are secretly happy it doesn’t win because you want to keep it your little secret. Celina finished 3rd.