This year’s winner of Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix is JOWST with “Grab the Moment.”
JOWST’s real name is Joakim With Steen. At Melodi Grand Prix 2017, he was the dude with the light-up mask. Up until now, Steen has been a sound engineer and producer. “Grab the Moment” is his first foray into making his own music. For this effort, JOWST teamed up with Aleksander Walmann, who is best known for his runner-up finish in 2012’s The Voice Norge. Walmann is also early in his career, but this is not his first collaboration with a house music DJ. Last year, Walmann was featured on Simon Field and Jamie’s rather fabulous cover of Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings.”
In the bio on his website, JOWST says he is seeking to mix genres and to make something that sounds new. Well, with “Grab the Moment,” he has created a cool beat, a patter-heavy verse and a harmonic chorus with voice modulation. Walmann is a good singer, and he handles the crowded lyric with ease. The combination is successful, and it is an enjoyable way to pass three minutes.
But, as much as we like “Grab the Moment,” it’s a song that doesn’t necessarily pack a visceral wallop. It’s sort like the movie Dodgeball. Both are well-done and likable. You enjoy them both in the moment, but you don’t remember much about them when they are over. Also, they both feature Alan Tudyk.
Hopefully Aleksander Walmann will voice the chicken in the Norwegian dub of Moana.
Svala has booked her ticket to Kyiv by winning Söngvakeppnin with “Paper.”
Svala “Kali” Björgvinsdóttir’s music career has spanned more than 20 years, and she has experienced more than her fair share of ups and downs over the course. She had a near brush with big time success in late ’90s/early ’00s. She was living in Los Angeles and had signed a six-album deal with EMI–one of the biggest record deals ever for an Icelandic recording artist. Snoop Dogg was the creative chair of her label, Priority Records. Svala’s first single under the label was “The Real Me,” a Britney-style pop song co-written by Anders Bagge (who, tangentially, later found Eurovision fame with Azerbaijan’s “Drip Drop” and “When the Music Dies”). The single had been on the Billboard pop charts for several weeks by Fall 2001. Then September 11th happened, and her label struggled. Nevertheless by this point, she had gained some fame in Iceland.
A few years later, Svala reinvented herself by teaming up with Einar Egilsson and his brother Edvard to form the ’80s-inspired synth-pop band Steed Lord. Though self-distributed, the band’s songs were licensed by North American TV shows, and they were commissioned by H&M to design a clothing line. Then, in April 2008, the band’s car was hit in a head-on collision. All three band members suffered severe injuries, and Einar required three surgeries to save his life. Despite the near-fatal accident, they once again relocated to Los Angeles and the band continued to tour actively. In 2015, Svala became one of the four judges on Iceland’s version of The Voice.
We tell you all of this because Svala’s story is much more interesting than what you’ll see during her three minutes on stage in Kyiv.
When we review songs for this site, we listen to them over and over again. This can be a pleasure or a pain, and in the case of “Paper” it is turning out to be death by a thousand cuts. We do not find the lyrical metaphor or the musical arrangement at all engaging. We were also confused by her staging at Söngvakeppnin, which seemed muddled and disconnected from the song. Iceland would need to considerably revamp “Paper” if they want any chance at making an impact. They are in a competitive first Semi and they must fight to get their share of oxygen. We feel like their chances are slim.
We’re beginning to develop a hatred of Johnny Logan. It seems like no matter what Ireland does for Eurovision, he is critical of it in an non-constructive way. Whether he’s whinging about Jedward or Dustin the Turkey or denouncing RTE’s “cheap and nasty” approach to selecting Ireland’s Song for Europe this year, he just seems like a grumpy, prickly, entitled character who only has a megaphone because he was once highly successful in a previous era of the Song Contest. Regardless of what he says, even he would struggle to compete at Eurovision if he had a go at it now.
Then again, he’s not wrong, is he?
Brendan Murray is a former member of the Louis Walsh project Hometown. The band went on hiatus in December and Murray is breaking out on his own. Walsh, who has become RTE’s go-to Eurovision consultant in recent years, selected Murray to represent Ireland in Kyiv. “Dying to Try” is by Jörgen Elofsson, who was nominated for a Grammy for writing Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” More significant in this context, he wrote songs for Westlife in their heyday.
So if Ireland couldn’t qualify for the Final with a former Westlife member, then what makes them think they can qualify with this? As voiced by Murray, “Dying to Try” sounds like one of a hundred demos that Harry Styles would consider for his solo album before passing on it. There’s nothing remarkable or special about “Dying to Try” or Murray’s vocal on it. It is just not good enough to stand out at Eurovision.
It’s like Yoda said: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What could have made Lidia Isac’s ‘Falling Stars‘ work?” Israel has the answer: let them show it Tel Aviv! Here’s IMRI with “I Feel Alive.”
Israel is on a good run of form right now, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final two years running with Hovi Star’s “Made of Stars” last year and Nadav Guedj’s glorious, glorious “Golden Boy” in 2015. As the video for “I Feel Alive” points out, IMRI was a back-up singer for both of those entries.
His song “I Feel Alive,” written by Dolev Ram and Penn Hazut, is loads of fun. If we have any concerns, it’s that high note that he barely makes in the recorded track. That could go off the rails live. Otherwise, we have high hopes that IMRI will keep Israel’s streak going this year.
After a long, elaborate selection process that began sometime back in 2014, Lithuania has selected its entry for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. Here is Fusedmarc with “Rain of Revolution.”
Singer Viktorija Ivanovskaja and multi-instrumentalist Denisas Zujevas formed Fusedmarc in 2004. Having spent some quality time watching their concert videos on YouTube, we see “Rain of Revolution” as a more commercial extension of their edgy trip-hop style. All of which makes “Rain of Revolution” sound like a ’90s jazz-soul version of “Crazy In Love.”
Fusedmarc’s hook that makes them interesting is how they incorporate visual art into their live performances. But here’s the problem: those visual elements are already standard issue at Eurovision. So if their staging isn’t going to set them apart from the other acts, then they’re left with a song that isn’t going to stand out either.
Last year, San Marino hired Turkish entertainer Serhat to fly their flag in Stockholm. Serhat’s song was the promisingly unpromising “I Didn’t Know,” an awkward ballad with one of the most glorious videos ever created. Why Manfred T. Mugler did not graduate to directing a sequel to Battlefield Earth we’ll never know. Anyway, at a certain point, a disco remix of “I Didn’t Know” started circulating around the internet, and the enthusiastic reaction of online Eurovision fans caught the attention of the San Marino delegation, who apparently do not understand irony. Serhat gleefully adopted the remix as the official arrangement for his Eurovision performance, where he only missed out on qualification by 65 points.
Okay, so Serhat didn’t make the Grand Prix final. But San Marino seems to have recognized an opportunity to cater to a certain set of enthusiastic Eurovision fans. So here they are, fanwanking us off again with “Spirit of the Night.”
Valentina Monetta will be representing her country for the fourth time. She has now competed in Eurovision as many times as Lys Assia has, which actually makes us pretty happy. We’re worried that if she goes for a fifth time, Lys will try and take her out at the knees. She is teamed up with Jimmie Wilson, an American singer who starred in Hope, a German musical about Barack Obama. “Spirit of the Night” was written by Eurovision legend turned Sammarinese muse Ralph Siegel with lyrics by Jutta Staudenmayer and Steve Barnacle (and we can’t tell yet if it’s the same Steve Barnacle who is in Visage, but it might be and we hope it is).
We’re not exactly sure why San Marino wants to continue to participate in Eurovision, especially given their dispute with the EBU over how their vote in the Song Contest is tallied. (Read more at ESC Insight.) But you know what, if they still want to join in, then great, the more the merrier. They have a short bench, so Monetta can represent her home country any year she wants. Siegel will probably write songs for San Marino for as long as he still has catchy little melodies stuck in his head.
And you know what? We’re okay with that. At this point, San Marino’s Eurovision output is sort of like a box of Corn Pops. Sure it’s a bit cloying, but sometimes, on a rainy day, you just want to curl up in front of the television with a big bowl of sweet cereal and watch a Sammarinese Eurovision legend hit on a guy who played Barack Obama in a musical.
Robin Bengtsson has won Melodifestivalen and will represent Sweden at Eurovision with “I Can’t Go On.”
Bengtsson finished third in Sweden’s Idol 2008 and has gone on to have top 10 hits with “Another Lover’s Gone” and “Constellation Prize,” with which he placed fifth in last year’s Melodifestivalen. “I Can’t Go On” was written by David Kreuger, Hamed “K-One” Pirouzpanah and Robin Stjernberg. Stjernberg represented Sweden with “You” at the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest. Kreuger and Pirouzpanah co-wrote “Undo” for Sanna Nielsen, as well as Alcazar’s “Blame It On the Disco.”
We have complex feelings about “I Can’t Go On.” It’s smooth and catchy, and it’s elevated by the staging, which starts off all Justin Timberlake backstage at Saturday Night Live and then gets all OK GO’s “Here It Goes Again.”
However, “I Can’t Go On” is not without its flaws. It is a triumph of style over substance. As such, Bengtsson needs to perform it as stylishly as possible or else it comes off as a bit smarmy and exposes the inherent mediocrity of the song.
In particular, the original lyric contained the line “when you look this fucking beautiful,” which was repeated 10 times during its first performance. (It’s so cute when Swedes swear in English.) Seemingly realizing he had a shot to win, Bengtsson changed the lyric for the Melodifestivalen final to “when you look this freaking beautiful.” It’s not an improvement by any stretch of the imagination, but the songwriters had painted themselves into a corner with a needless swear word that added nothing to the song. We’re not prudes, by the way. We just didn’t see the fucking point of the original lyric.
Bengtsson was behind in the betting odds going into the Melodifestivalen final and it always felt like he was a part of the conversation without ever being anyone’s outright favorite. In the end, he finished third in the televote and only got the full 12 points from three of the 11 international juries. However, he did get eight to 12 points from all but two of the juries. People like to focus on the douze points at Eurovision, but the key to doing well is getting those mid-to-upper range of points. The results of Melodifestivalen prove that in microcosm, which is convenient for us since Eurovision now uses the Melodifestivalen scoring system.
We’re not saying that “I Can’t Go On” is your next Eurovision winner. There are a lot of stronger songs in the Song Contest this year. But there weren’t a lot of stronger songs or better performances at Melodifestivalen this year and that was good enough for Bengtsson to book a ticket to Kyiv.
As Americans, we’ve been thinking a lot about Russia lately. But at last, the true story has come out and we have clarity: Russia will participate at the Eurovision Song Contest in Ukraine, and they will be represented by Yulia Samoylova and “Flame Is Burning.”
Samoylova is a 28-year-old singer who was runner-up on the third season of Faktor A, the Russian version of The X Factor. She lost use of her legs when she was a child, so she will be the second Eurovision participant to perform in a wheelchair. “Flame Is Burning” is by Leonid Gutkin, who co-wrote “What If” for Dina Garipova and “A Million Voices” for Polina Gagarina. He co-wrote the song with Netta Nimrodi and Arye Burstein.
If you follow either Eurovision or world politics closely, you probably don’t need us to recap the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. (If you do, just go back and read our recap of last year’s Song Contest. And also a newspaper.) Suffice to say, Russia faced a difficult decision this year: whoever they picked would be entering particularly hostile territory, both because the Song Contest is in Ukraine and because, Sergey Lazarev notwithstanding, Eurovision fans in the hall have been more than enthusiastic to boo the Russian entry in recent years.
Despite calls by hardliners in Russia (and apparently Philipp Kirkorov) to boycott the Song Contest this year, Russia’s Channel One decided to stand strong like a tree in the wind. Nothing’s going to move this mountain or change their direction.
Is Samoylova a good singer? Yes. Is the song any good? Sure, if you like Russia’s brand of generically inspiring Eurovision ballads. Does any of this matter? Probably not. Russia has fulfilled its obligation to the EBU to participate and is also daring the Eurovision fans to boo a woman in a wheelchair.
Have we mentioned that Russia has the chrome-plated balls?
We do feel bad for thinking about this in such cold and cynical terms, of course, but you know, we can’t help it: we are Americans.
Blanche will be representing Belgium at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “City Lights.”
Ellie “Blanche” Delvaux (that’s Delvaux, not Devereaux) made it onto The Voice Belgique in 2016, but was eliminated in the second week of live shows. She co-wrote “City Lights” with Pierre Dumoulin, lead singer of the band Roscoe.
Blanche has a rich, sultry voice and she and Dumoulin have come up with an ethereal, pulsating pop song that showcases her vocal tone well. When “City Lights” came out, it seemed like every Eurovision fan on the internet went gaga over it. And we sat here wondering, “What’s wrong with us?”
We think is “City Lights” repetitive. It’s the same melody over and over again with occasional slight variation and a brief octave change. And there is an overall lack of warmth to the song. There’s cool and there’s cold and Blanche and “City Lights” are positively icy. Maybe if we were driving around Brussels at two in the morning, it would resonate with us, but right now, we’re just hoping that the staging in Kyiv will help us understand what we’re missing.
If Jacques Houdek could be this year’s Cezar, then Slavko Kalezić could be this year’s Scooch.
Slavko Kalezić competed on the first series of X Factor Adria, where he was mentored by none other than Željko Joksimović. But “Space” is about as far away from one of Joksimović’s classic Balkan ballads as cocaine is from Nutella.
The video for “Space” looks like a cross between a RuPaul’s Drag Race performance challenge and a Kids In the Hall sketch. In other words, Slavko is not going to spread for no roses.
At the Euroclub, though, all bets are off.