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!

Highlights from 2015

It’s once again time for us to ask the big questions: which diva reigned supreme? Where was the kitsch? How clueless were San Marino? And did anyone misfire as badly as The Netherlands?

Biggest Misfire

For our consideration

Netherlands: Trijntje Oosterhuis – “Walk Along
Macedonia: Daniel Kajmakoski – “Autumn Leaves
Belarus: Uzari & Maimuna – “Time
Malta: Amber – “Warrior

Our pick: “Walk Along.” How can a song written by a successful former Eurovision entrant, staged by a team that achieved top 10 finishes for two years running, and performed by a preeminent Dutch singer go so awry? Perhaps Anouk’s song wasn’t the best fit for Trijntje, but the trouble really started during rehearsals. The press room proclaimed after the very first rehearsal that Trijntje would win the Barbara Dex award for worst dressed performer (updated: And indeed she did). Even though she had an array of outfits to try out, she and the rest of the Netherlands delegation seemed to be rattled by the bad press.

TOO CLOSE

The staging made matters worse. The first image was an uncomfortably long close-up on Trijntje’s veiled eyes. Later there was a blacklight effect so subtle that if you blinked you would miss it. The package never came together for the Dutch in Vienna, and the team knew it. Trijntje gave a subdued, resigned performance of “Walk Along” and was eliminated at the end of the first Semi. The Dutch ultimately showed a sense of humor about their fate when Edsilia Rombley presented the Netherlands’ results wearing the much maligned costume.

TrijntjeEdsilia

Trijntje Oosterhuis photo by Andres Putting

Least Self-Aware

As usual, we only have one real candidate for this category, and this year that candidate is San Marino’s “Chain of Lights.” There were no signs of critical thought at any point in the proceedings. Did no one ask, for example, “Hey, should we stop having Anita Simoncini spit out that awkward spoken word bit?” Or, “Hey, should we tell the songwriters that these lyrics are really trite?” Or, “Hey, should we hitch our wagon to someone who has heard pop music from the past decade?” Anita Simoncini & Michele Perniola gave a smiley, blank performance of what little staging there was, and the whole thing landed like a thud in the Stadthalle.

Legitimately Good Song

For our consideration

Sweden: Måns Zelmerlöw – “Heroes
Australia: Guy Sebastian – “Tonight Again
Belgium: Loïc Nottet – “Rhythm Inside
Latvia: Aminata – “Love Injected

Our pick: “Rhythm Inside.” If you told us early on that Loïc Nottet was going to co-write his Eurovision entry and have a hand in the choreography and costuming, we’d have worried we had another Sofi Marinova on our hands. Fortunately, Loïc has a strong sense of who he is an artist and “Rhythm Inside” is his mission statement. And it is catchy as hell.

Campiest Performance

For our consideration

Moldova: Eduard Romanyuta – “I Want Your Love
San Marino: Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini – “Chain of Lights
Azerbaijan: Elnur Hüseynov – “Hour of the Wolf
United Kingdom: Electro Velvet – “Still In Love with You
Spain: Edurne – “Amanecer

Our pick: None. We define a camp Eurovision entry as having misplaced ambition, a lack of self-awareness, a whiff of failure, and innate hilariousness. We struggled to come up with a list of entries this year that would truly fit that definition. We’ve not been shy about ragging on “Still In Love with You,” but to its credit it failed at being a failure, which is kind of like being successful. Besides, we’re planning strategic use of “Sounding good, sugar” when we live-tweet national finals on our Twitter account.

Biggest Diva Performance

For our consideration

Serbia: Bojana Stamenov – “Beauty Never Lies
Belgium: Loïc Nottet – “Rhythm Inside
Latvia: Aminata – “Love Injected
Georgia: Nina Sublatti – “Warrior
Russia: Polina Gagarina – “A Million Voices

Our pick: Nina Sublatti. This is always the hardest category to compile, because Eurovision attracts divas of all kinds. Whether you are a Latvian powerhouse, a Serbian soul queen, a Russian pop idol, or a Belgian rennaissance man, there is room for you all to shine, darlings. But in our minds, Nina Sublatti is the diva of the year. Look into her eyes and tell us we’re wrong.

Nina eyes

Highlights from 2014

Since last we’ve written on this blog, we have listened to Twin Twin’s “Moustache” at least 40 times, because our five-year-old son Kieran loves it. We know it was at least 40 times because he was keeping track of how many times we would need to listen to “Moustache” in order for it to be his favorite song ever (replacing “Boonika Bate Doba”). We started at 100 times and counted down to 60, but we also listened to the song a lot before he started to count. A lot.

Kieran has also regaled us with entries from all 24 parts of Super Mario Brothers Eurovision. These have included “Ninety” (sung by Mario as the front singer and Baby Mario and Baby Luigi as the back-up singers), “Mushroom Boy” (sung by Toad, obviously, with Luigi as back-up), “Toilet” (sung by Bowser; it finished last in Super Mario Brothers Eurovision part 24), and “Fire Mario Shoot the Goomba” (which is like “Video Killed the Radio Star” except it’s “Fire Mario Shoot the Goomba”). Sonic the Hedgehog and Shadow hosted.

Just so you know, we’re raising our kid right.

Anyway, at long last we’re ready to pick our notable numbers from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Legitimately Good Song

For our consideration
Azerbaijan: Dilara Kazimova – “Start a Fire
Netherlands: The Common Linnets – “Calm After the Storm
Hungary: Kállay-Saunders András – “Running
Norway: Carl Espen – “Silent Storm
Georgia: The Shin and Mariko Ebralidze – “Three Minutes to Earth” (DO NOT ARGUE WITH US ON THIS)

Our pick: “Calm After the Storm.” Given how well “Calm After the Storm” did on the charts in Europe after the Grand Prix, it’s hard not to think that the Common Linnets were really joint winners of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Conchita Wurst gets all the adulation and all of the winner’s responsibilities, and Ilse DeLange and Waylon can just rack up the gold records. It’s nice to see a terrific song so justly rewarded.

Campiest Performance

For our consideration

Russia: Tolmachevy Twins – “Shine
Poland: Donatan and Cleo – “My Slowianie
Romania: Paula Seling and Ovi – “Miracle
Spain: Ruth Lorenzo – “Dancing in the Rain

Our pick: “Miracle.” “Miracle” was utterly ridiculous. The Paula hologram, which was goofy, at least had an internal logic: she disintegrates into a million tiny pieces and reappears on the other side of the stage… IT’S A MIRACLE! The circular piano, on the other hand, looked stupid from the get-go, but it was outright hilarious when Ovi ducked in to “play” it. “Miracle” may not go down as an all-time camp classic, but it delivered the biggest unintentional laughs on the night.

Least Self-Aware

The only candidates for this one are Paula and Ovi. Their desperation to please made them blind to the silliness of their staging. They’re Eurovision veterans: they should have known better.

Biggest Misfire

For our consideration

Azerbaijan: Dilara Kazimova – “Start a Fire
Moldova: Cristina Scarlat – “Wild Soul
Romania: Paula Seling and Ovi – “Miracle
France: Twin Twin – “Moustache
Italy: Emma Marrone – “La Mia Cittá

Our pick: “Wild Soul.” There were a lot of strong candidates for this category. We’re going to pour our vitriol onto “Wild Soul.” The song wasn’t promising, yet it still fell way below expectations. It was a dark, muddled mess, seemingly endless and excruciating to endure.

Biggest Diva Performance

For our consideration

Sweden: Sanna Nielsen – “Undo
San Marino: Valentina Monetta – “Maybe (Forse)
Austria: Conchita Wurst – “Rise Like A Phoenix
Macedonia: Tijana Dapčević – “To the Sky
Spain: Ruth Lorenzo – “Dancing in the Rain

Our pick: “Rise Like a Phoenix.” Obviously.

Highlights from 2013

It’s funny; there was a point back in March where we were sort of in despair over this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. It didn’t feel like it was going to be a particularly memorable one. Yet by the time the last bit of Emmelie de Forest’s confetti had dropped, we knew this year was going to be one to remember. Of course, the Swedish producers having the power to construct the song order for each round helped, but it was still up to all of the delegations to stage their songs well. Generally speaking, everyone stepped up to the challenge, and there were few real duds.

Legitimately Good Song

For our consideration
Birds,” Netherlands
Kedvesem,” Hungary
Tomorrow,” Malta
Love Kills,” Belgium
Identitet,” Albania

Our picks: “Birds” & “Kedvesem.” Anyone who still complains that Eurovision is cheesy and out of touch should listen to Anouk’s “Birds” and ByeAlex’s “Kedvesem” and then shut the hell up. There are still Eurovision template songs (see, for example, this year’s winner), but both “Birds” and “Kedvesem” proved that there are rewards to anyone who avoids the template and just does their own thing. Sure it’s risky, but it’s a risk worth taking.

Biggest Misfire

For our consideration
Pred da se razdeni,” FYR Macedonia
Ljubav je svuda,” Serbia
Samo Shampioni,” Bulgaria
You and me,” Switzerland

Our pick: Look, we were never fans of  “Ljubav je svuda”. The staging at Beosong was ridiculous, but at least having the angel and the devil pulling on the heroine from both sides more or less made sense when you read the lyrics. In Malmö, they kept the good versus evil choreo, but replaced the original Halloween costumes with non-sequiter anime candy girl outfits. If you take a camp entry and fail on the camp level, you are the misfire of the year. Serbia failed to qualify for the first time since 2009.

Campiest Performance

For our consideration
Ljubav je svuda,” Serbia
It’s My Life,” Romania
Solayoh,” Belarus
Gravity,” Ukraine

Our pick: Word out of the press room was that Romania’s staging for Cezar’s “It’s My Life” was disastrous. As we said in our recap of the Final, we didn’t think it was as nutty as everyone else did. But don’t get us wrong: “It’s My Life” is bonkers. It was like the Romanian delegation was inspired by Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. But because Cezar was so confident at the helm, in the end it managed to obtain some internal consistency, completely committed to its own alternate universe. It was deeply bizarre, but utterly memorable.  In other words, it was classic Eurovision camp.

Biggest Diva Performance

For our consideration
It’s My Life,” Romania
Marry Me,” Finland
L’essenziale,” Italy
Igranka,” Montenegro
Rak Bishvilo,” Israel

Our pick: To be honest, there were a lot of entries that could be considered for this category. To narrow our list to five meant ignoring Zlata Ognevich from Ukraine, Esma from FYR Macedonia, Margaret Berger from Norway, Valentina Monetta from San Marino, Bonnie Tyler from the United Kingdom, Dina Garipova from Russia, et cetera, et cetera. It was a diva-heavy year.

But then again, there really is only one winner for Biggest Diva Performance, and that it is Cezar from Romania. With all the bizarreness going on around and underneath him, Cezar and his brilliant countertenor voice stood out above all. Literally. Glorious, we tell you. Glorious.

And if you don’t think this is glorious, we cannot be friends.

Highlights and lowlights from 2012

Who put on the biggest diva performance in Baku? Who entered the annals of camp this year? How least self-aware was Donny Montell? (Answer: not least self-aware enough.) Here are the performances from 2012 that, for better or worse, should be remembered.

Legitimately Good Song

For our consideration:
Euphoria,” Sweden
Time,” Israel
Echo (You and I),” France
Don’t Close Your Eyes,” Slovakia
Sound of Our Hearts,” Hungary

Our pick:  It was hard for us to decide between “Time” and “Euphoria.” Since there’s no rule saying we have to pick just one song per category, we just said to heck with it and picked them both.

Jangly and Bowiesque, “Time” was this year’s too-cool-for-Eurovision entry. The song needs to be considered on its merits separate from the performance. Izabo performed it with a charmingly disinterested air that probably did the song no favors when it came time to vote.

Meanwhile,  “Euphoria” is not still in the top 40 on a lot of European pop charts (number six in Germany as of this writing) for no reason: it is a terrific Swedish pop song masterfully staged.

The Runners-Up: Max Jason Mai’s performance during the second Semi was pretty rough, but “Don’t Close Your Eyes” was a terrific slice of old school metal. “Sound of Our Hearts” came together live, but early placement during the final relegated Compact Disco to the bottom of the table. “Echo (You and I)” is a great song probably hurt by an odd staging (more below). Of course, it’s not our favorite “You and I” from the 2012 Eurovision season; that would be Minnie Oh’s “You and I,” which didn’t make it out of Melodi Grand Prix semis.

Biggest Misfire

For our consideration:
Woki Mit Deim Popo,” Austria
Echo (You and I),” France
You and Me,” Netherlands
Stay,” Norway

Our Pick: It pains us to say this, but Trackshittaz’ “Woki Mit Deim Popo” is our pick for biggest misfire. It was kind of uncomfortable to watch the pole dancers during their performance. But the bigger issue is that they couldn’t let go of the glow-in-the-dark bit that was so effective during the Austrian national final. When the delegation found out they could never get the Crystal Hall dark enough for it, they should have restaged it, rather than go for the tacky sewn-on lights on the performances. The cheapness of it all destroyed all chances of a butt-shaking performance in the Final.

The Runners-Up: “Echo” is one of those “how could you mess this up” stagings. You have a strong song and a strong singer, and you surround her with bare-chested gymnasts and a ridiculous train that only was really effective during the big wind machine blast. It was just a whole lot stuff getting in the way.

“Stay” was hurt the most by the vocal performance. Good song, decent staging, flat singing. The big victory for Tooji was making it to the Final despite a really poor Semi.

Not that “You and Me” was ever going to be staged spectacularly while Joan Franka was still wearing the headdress, but why weren’t the back-up singer and musicians dressed as cowboys? Why was the background video all fire? It made it look like she was singing from hell. If they had just gone with the childhood memories motif captured in the official video, it would have made a world of difference.

Campiest Performance

For our consideration:
Be My Guest,” Ukraine
Love Is Blind,” Lithuania
I’m a Joker,” Georgia
The Social Network Song (Uh oh oh),” San Marino
La La Love,” Cyprus

Our Pick: There is the top. And then there is over the top. And then there is way over the top. Then there’s Ukraine, where subtlety goes to die. Gaitana’s “Be My Guest” had it all: big diva performance, mad dancing, ridiculous backdrop graphics, and then its own flash mob acting like a glitter-covered cherry on top.

The Runners-up: Ivi’s performance of “La La Love” seemed inspired by Elizabeth Berkley’s dancing in Showgirls. Donny Montell’s blindfold and spastic dance moves added kitschy bits of flair to “Love Is Blind.” Anri Jokhadze and Valentina Monetta were both seemingly going for intentional camp, which is usually not as good as unintentional camp.

Least Self Aware

There is no competition this year. If you really want to see someone without a clue, look no further than Bulgaria’s Sofi Marinova and her performance of  “Love Unlimited.” “No no, I don’t need back-up singers or back-up dancers or anything. I will not share the stage! I’LL DO IT ALL MYSELF!!!!” She probably designed her costume and lighting as well.

Biggest Diva Performance

For our consideration:
Euphoria,” Sweden
Be My Guest,” Ukraine
Crno i blo,” Macedonia
Suus,” Albania

Our Pick: It seems like an obvious winner now, but think about how gutsy Loreen’s performance was: she is doing weird tai-chi-like dancing in dim lighting with the occasional snowstorm and a back-up dancer who only appears with 38 seconds left in the song. If that is not the definition of a diva performance, what is?

The Runners-up: That Ukraine could have such an over-the-top staging and Gaitana still emerges as the star of the performance is a sign of how bad-ass she is. Note, too, that while she shared the stage with dancers, Gaitana delivered that powerhouse vocal with no backing vocalists. Rona Nishliu brought Albania back to the Final with some really big, long high notes, while Kaliopi only needed one powerful screech of a high note to get Macedonia out of the Semis.

Highlights and lowlights from 2011

This year’s additions to our evergreen content.

Legitimately Good Eurovision Song
For our consideration:
Love in Rewind,” Bosnia and Herzegovina
What About My Dreams,” Hungary
Madness of Love,” Italy
Never Alone,” The Netherlands
I Can,” United Kingdom

Our pick:
None.  Bosnia and Herzegovina got closest with “Love in Rewind.” It’s silly, but repeated listenings confirmed the quality musical structure of the song. We love the vocal harmonies and the musical transitions. “Sito” works on many levels: it’s jarring – it makes you pay attention, it distracts—so you don’t mind it’s bridging two distinct segments of the song, and it’s wacky—it makes you smile.   It was our favorite in 2011, but the song lacks a certain “hell yeah” quality necessary for the legitimately good.  Close but no cigar.

Biggest Misfire
For our consideration:
Rockfeller Street,” Estonia
Sognu,” France
Get You,” Russia
Live It Up,” Turkey
I Can,” United Kingdom

Our pick:
Live It Up,” Turkey
. Turkey went back to its rock formula for 2011, but the entry was perhaps a little too ’80s for peoples’ liking. Many thought Turkey had enough friends that would forgive a so-so song. What wasn’t forgivable was the lead singer’s baffling choice of wardrobe, a gold bird shirt and leprechaun-green jeans. The contortionist in the metal ball upstage center was just there, and no one knew why. Sure, at the end she turned into a bird, but Yüksek Sadakat had lost us by then. Turkey stunned Europe by showing that it was possible for them to not qualify.

Campiest Song
For our consideration:
Boom Boom,” Armenia
I Love Belarus,” Belarus
Celebrate,” Croatia
So Lucky,” Moldova
“A Luta e Alegria,” Portugal

Our pick:
Boom Boom,” Armenia
. Armenia went high concept in 2011, adopting a boxing theme and literally interpreting “Boom Boom” into a 1-2 punch. They had boxing robes, interpretive dance, and an ad hoc boxing ring. If camp is your goal, you can never go wrong with an oversized boxing glove. Presentation, however, cannot compensate for dodgy vocals and poor draw.  Emmy is so out of tune the performance is barely watchable.  Armenia failed to qualify for the finals.

Best Diva
For our consideration:
Aurela Gace, Albania
Nadine Beiler, Austria
Evelina Sašenko, Lithuania
Maja Keuc, Slovenia
Mika Newton, Ukraine

Our pick:
Nadine Beiler (Austria) started her epic Celine Dion-style ballad a cappella; just her, a little black dress, and a severe bob. In textbook style, Nadine built and built (and built) the song, culminating with a gospel chorus. Her powerful voice gives me goosebumps every time. We watched every rehearsal and performance going back to the Austrian national finals and not once did she miss a note. Austria finished 18th, a good finish for a country that hadn’t qualified for the finals since 2004.