National Final Season in Review 2016: Our Favorite Songs

So 2016 is turning out to be a rather interesting year.  A balanced year, it would seem, without a clear front runner.  And looking back at our favorite songs that didn’t make it out of the national finals, rarely can we say we had a big problem with what went through instead. The exceptions are, however, quite glaring (ahem… Iceland, Denmark).  Here’s our curated assortment of the best of the rest.

Estonia: I Wear* Experiment – “Patience”
This post-punk masterpiece builds as successfully as Mission UK’s “Tower of Strength” (quite an accomplishment in only 3 minutes). Lead singer Johanna Eenma’s piercing vocal is also a standout for us. Sadly, it was not a standout for the Estonians. “Patience” finished a mediocre 6th.

Estonia: Mick Pedaja – “Seis”
Mick delivered a haunting, beautiful performance at Eesti Laul this year, enhanced with an artistic visual design. The juries placed him 2nd, but Mick did poorly with Estonian voters and ultimately had to settle for a 4th place finish. “Seis” remains an excellent choice for night owl listening.

Finland: Annica Milán & Kimmo Blom – “Good Enough”
Euro-fans may remember Kimmo Blom from UMK 2015. Last year, under his alter ego Angelo de Nile, Kimmo gave us a WTF moment with “All for Victory,” complete with centurions, fire, and Pontius Pilate costuming. This year we saw a kinder, gentler Kimmo Blom at UMK. He teamed with Voice of Finland alum Annica Milán for a duet guaranteed to raise your self-esteem. “Good Enough” was, in our opinion, way more than. It finished 5th.

Finland: Stella Christine – “Ain’t Got Time for Boys”
Now, this song wasn’t a fit for Eurovision, a fact which everyone in Finland seemed to recognize. Stella Christine finished 8th on the night. That said, she gave us some serious Brand New Heavies vibes, and we rather enjoy the Brand New Heavies. Props, too, for her off-the-hook backing singers.

Hungary: Gergo Oláh – “Gyoz a jó”
A Dal was firing on all cylinders this year. You know it’s a good year in the Hungarian national selection when András Kállay-Saunders is in the final and doesn’t make our cut. “Gyoz a jó” was hip hop with Middle Eastern influence. The live performance had memorable imagery with desert sand dropping from the ceiling. Oláh finished 2nd with the judges.

Hungary: Petruska – “Trouble in My Mind”
Behind Petruska’s lighthearted folk melody were some haunted lyrics. I much prefer to be fed social consciousness with upbeat melodies. “Trouble in My Mind” is reminiscent of the best songs Moldova has sent in the past. Petruska finished 4th with the judges.

Iceland: Elísabet Ormselv – “Á
Greta Salome had two songs in contention in Iceland this year. We’ll be seeing her in Stockholm with “I Hear Them Calling,” but we believe her better work was left in Iceland.  “Á Ný” was a soaring, minor key ballad–red meat for any skilled singer. Elísabet Ormselv and her Adele-inspired vocals sold it like a boss. For reasons beyond our comprehension, “Á Ný” finished last at Songvakeppnin. We are still upset about it.

Spain: Salvador Beltrán – “Días de Alegría”
Salvador’s live vocal at Objetivo Eurovisión started off like Tom Dice on coke, a mellow singer-songwriter joint with a melody that was bouncing off the walls. You needed to stick with it, because “Días de Alegría” finds its groove at the 1:00 mark.  It was chockfull of toe-tapping Latin rhythms and infectious energy, and by the time we got to the trash can drum breakdown and key change, I was grooving right along doing my chest isolations. Salvador’s song won the international jury. Too bad the Spanish voting public and in-studio jury didn’t see what we saw. It finished 3rd overall.

Sweden: Ace Wilder – “Don’t Worry”
Ace attempted to build on her previous runner-up result at Melodifestivalen by partnering with the songwriting team who brought you last year’s Eurovision winner, “Heroes.” “Don’t Worry” is a catchy pop earworm, but it failed to capture the interest of the Swedish public. She finished 3rd overall. We take heart, though. Ace’s song presentation doubles as an audition for when SVT revives Hollywood Squares.

Honorable mentions:

Belarus: Radiovolna – “Radio Wave”
Black Box (“Everybody Everybody”) and Jamiroquai went to a hotel bar and had appletinis together. A good time was had by all.

Denmark: Bracelet – “Breakway”
What is it they say about insanity…that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? For us, that pretty much sums up the Danish Melodi Grand Prix, which in our opinion rarely gets their selection right. With its hat in the ring at DMGP was “Breakaway,” a far superior song than what ultimately got picked. Sure it’s Radio Disney, but at least it’s Radio Disney from this decade. Denmark didn’t release vote tallies, but we do know that Bracelet wasn’t in the top 3. Typical.

LithuaniaIeva Zasimauskaitė – “Life (Not That Beautiful)”
Sometimes it’s not the song that’s the revelation but the artist. Ieva has a lovely, unusual tone and smizes like a champ. Consider her one to watch for in the future.
 

Romania: Vanotek feat. The Code & Georgian – “I’m Coming Home”
I ain’t mad at Vanotek’s Fatboy Slim-inspired electropop.

Ukraine. Brunettes Shoot Blondes – “Every Monday”
Brunettes Shoot Blondes followed their indie pop Youtube hit “Knock Knock” with a try for Eurovision. The song was cute, but frontman Andrew Kovaliov simply wasn’t good enough live.

United Kingdom. Matthew James – “A Better Man”
Matthew James’s late ’80s sophistipop vibe brought back a lot of feels for us.

National Final Season in Review 2015: Our Favorite WTF Moments

Sometimes, there are moments in Eurovision national final season that make us stare at the TV screen like Alec from The Bosshoss trying to comprend Mizgebonez. Here’s our collection of the weird, wonderful, and offbeat moments from this year’s national final season.

Latvia. The Riga Beaver. Ah, the magic of live television. Only when you sit in a studio audience do you realize all the tricks that make a live show run seamlessly. The video packages, pre-taped live acts in studio, and interval entertainment to keep up the crowd energy. About that last one… During Supernova, Latvian audience members were kept entertained during the ad breaks by a guy in a beaver costume. The devout Eurovision fans that experienced Supernova online got to enjoy this as well. The Riga Beaver saved his best for last. At the national final, the Beaver revealed that he could speak English. He danced, he rapped, and he announced to the world that he wanted to be a symbol for European culture. If the Riga Beaver does not read out the results of the Latvian vote at Eurovision this year, we will be bitterly disappointed.

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The 2015 Eurovision That Almost Was: The Big Seven

We wrap up our series of second place finishers with the “Big 7,” the countries that have direct tickets to the 2015 final. Part I is here, Part II is here.

Austria. Dawa, “Feel Alive.” Dawa’s style might be described as Tracy Chapman-influenced roots rock. They made the two-act superfinal, but only collected 22% of the public televote; the Makemakes won handily. The group got exposure by doing Wer Singt für Österreich, and it seems they outperformed even their own expectations. Dawa’s visible sense of relief at the end did not sit well with us, especially in the aftermath of Germany’s national final (see below). Still, Dawa has a compelling artistic perspective, and “Feel Alive” is a fantastic song. Had they actually won, we’re sure they would have sucked it up.

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The 2015 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

We continue our look at second placers at this year’s national finals with the countries that make up the second Semifinal in Vienna. They are presented in order of the draw so we may contemplate an alternate Eurovision universe with 1970s-inspired ballads, male-dominated showtunes, fado, reggae, and joik.

Lithuania. Second place song, “The Right Way;” second place performer, Mia. Continuing the format initiated last year, Lithuania chose its song and its artist concurrently. “The Right Way” was a milquetoast ballad that would have struggled to make an impression on the Viennese audience. Meanwhile, Mia was fine, but we think she suffered from the fact that once everyone heard “This Time” as a duet, it was hard to hear it any other way.

Ireland. Kat Mahon, “Anybody Got a Shoulder?” Whoo boy, Ireland dodged a bullet this year. This Dan Fogelberg-esque tune was handled without a whiff of irony and felt completely out of place in this decade. The Irish regional juries in aggregate went for it because it’s lovely and sentimental. Molly Sterling only barely eked out the win thanks to the public televote and the Limerick jury. Jurors of Limerick, you may stay. Galway and Dublin, what gives? Do you still yearn for the sensitivity of the 1970s?
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The 2015 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal One

It’s time for our annual look at the songs that could have contended for the Eurovision Song Contest title. If last year’s retrospective filled us with longing for what might have been, this year’s review gives us the impression that by and large most countries got it right.

Moldova. Valeria Pașa, “I Can Change All My Life.” It’s an unusual year when the jury winner isn’t the actual winner in Moldova. But Valeria’s conventional pageant ballad had very little support from the public, finishing a distant seventh. In contrast, Eduard Romanyuta finished second with the jury and first with the public.

Armenia. Internal selection, not applicable.

Belgium. Internal selection, not applicable.

Netherlands. Internal selection, not applicable.

Finland. Satin Circus, “Crossroads.” Satin Circus’s teenage summer anthem was our choice to come out of the Finnish national selection, and it did well with the juries. Unfortunately, the jury’s opinion only counts for one-tenth of the total at UMK. The public overwhelmingly favored Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. PKN took 37.4% of the total score. Satin Circus trailed behind with 26.3% and no one else came anywhere close.
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National Final Season in Review 2015: Our Favorite Songs

As we start on our series of posts to wrap up the national final season, we will remember 2015 as a good Eurovision year. It’s a year where most (though not all) national finals made a good pick from the options available, and some (though not all) national finals had several high quality songs to choose from. Here are our favorites from the ones that got left behind.

Austria: Zoe – “Adieu.” In the opening episode of Wer singt für Österrich, Zoe introduced herself to the public with this adorable, retro French chanson. The first song was not eligible for the Contest, it was merely meant to showcase the artist’s style. Zoe’s performance was magnetic, and one of the judges aptly described her as “an Austrian Brigitte Bardot.” “Quel filou,” her would-be Eurovision song, tried to recapture the magic of “Adieu,” but Zoe wasn’t able to deliver on the promise and ultimately landed in 3rd place. Why can’t France send something like this?

 

Austria: Lemo – “So Leicht.” Austria ruled out Lemo on the first show because the judges felt the German lyrics wouldn’t translate well to the rest of Europe. Fair enough, we suppose, but “So Leicht” was nevertheless an elegant piece of singer-songwriter songwriting. The 3-minute version performed at WSFÖ was tighter than the official video linked to below.

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The 2014 Eurovision That Almost Was: The Big Six

It’s time for our final installment of our walk in the Twilight Zone universe of Eurovision second place finishers. Here are the Big Five and Denmark, presented in alphabetical order by country since we don’t yet know the final draw.

Denmark. Rebekka Thornbech, “Your Lies” or Michael Rune feat. Natascha Bessez, “Wanna Be Loved.” Basim was the overwhelming winner of the Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2014, winning the televote and getting top marks from all the jurors. Rebekka Thornbech’s “Your Lies” and Michael Rune and Natascha Bessez’ “Wanna Be Loved” tied for distant second. “Wanna Be Loved” was a cheesy dance track featuring Rune’s epic sax. It’s the kind of club anthem that usually shrivels up and dies on the vine. The country-folk tune “Your Lies” was a bit better, but it lacked the polish and energy of eventual winner “Cliché Love Song.” It’s hard to argue Denmark got it wrong.

France. Joanna, “Ma liberté” or Destan, “Sans toi.” Three acts vied for the opportunity to represent France in Copenhagen. Twin Twin won, and the second place finisher was not revealed. Joanna’s “Ma liberté” is an okay pop ballad that would have struggled to stand out on the night. Destan’s “Sans toi,” meanwhile, sounded like a lost Take That b-side. It was catchy enough, but France would have been better served by a ’10s boy band than a ’90s one.

Germany. Unheilig, “Wir sind alle wie eins.”

Unheilig are a well-known band in Germany. Their last two albums topped the German album charts and each went multi-platinum. Their 2010 release Große Freiheit is the second-most downloaded album in German music history, after Adele’s 21. They also won the 2010 Bundesvision Song Contest, Stefan Raab’s all-Germany version of Eurovision.

Singer Der Graf admitted, “I dreamed of the big stage, of the European flags and of representing my own country.” In fact, Unheilig turned down two previous chances to represent Germany only because they didn’t want to sing in English. It seemed that Der Graf’s dream would come true this year.

Unheilig presented two songs as part of Germany’s convoluted national final. “Als wär’s das erste Mal” was performed first and helped Unheilig advance to the second round. They then performed “Wir sind alle wie eins,” and the German televoters voted it into the final round against Elaiza’s “Is It Right.” Ultimately, Elaiza carried the day, and the Eurovision stage will have to wait for Der Graf’s rich baritone. But we have a sneaking suspicion his chance to represent Germany is coming.

Italy. Internal selection, not applicable.

Spain. Brequette, “Más.” This Thomas G:son power ballad hit all the predictable Eurovision marks and probably would have served Spain well. Brequette’s vocals, while very good, were nothing you don’t see on any given season of the The Voice. Nevertheless, she brought a lot of emotion to her performance at Mira Quien Va a Eurovisión, and a lot of fans were riled up when she wasn’t the final choice. The results showed that Brequette won the jury vote, but Ruth Lorenzo edged Brequette in the televote by 4 percent (31% vs. 27%). That difference resulted in a tie cumulative number of points, and in Spain, the tiebreak went to the public’s choice.

United Kingdom. Internal selection, not applicable.

The 2014 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

We continue our look at a Eurovision Song Contest parallel universe, one in which Norway issues a sequel to “I Feed You My Love,” Ireland issues a sequel to “Rock and Roll Kids,” Greece issues a sequel to “Alcohol is Free,” and Romania issues a sequel to the works of Franz Lehár.

Malta. De Bee, “Pin the Middle.” This song was a little earthy-crunchy, but it had an original sound. It was a distant 2nd place finisher to Firelight but not a bad effort at all.

Israel. Mei Finegold, “Nish’eret iti.”  Mei Finegold was an internal selection, but the public was invited to select from three songs. “Same Heart” received 55% of the public vote. “Nish’eret iti” was also a popular choice, receiving 40% of the public vote. Of the three, this dance track with a repetitive refrain was our least favorite.

Norway. Linnea Dale, “High Hopes.”  “High Hopes,” an ultra-cool electropop number, was Melodi Grand Prix’s followup to Margaret Berger. It’s a great song, and as we’ve already noted in a previous post, one of our favorites from the national final season. But Carl Espen, who also has a great song, prompted a large voting turnout in his home region, and Linnea finished a distant second.

Georgia. Not applicable, internal selection.

Poland. Not applicable, internal selection.

Austria. Not applicable, internal selection.

LithuaniaMia and “Take A Look At Me Now.” Lithuania’s complicated national selection process resulted in two might have beens: a 2nd place singer and a 2nd place song. The penultimate Eurovizijos episode decided the song. The jury favorite was “Take a Look at Me Now.”  Early on, Mia’s version was upbeat and pop-influenced, but that fuzzy dubstep mix grated after a couple minutes. In later stages in the competition, it morphed into a conventional ballad. In the hands of eventual winner Vilija Matačiūnaitė, “Take a Look at Me Now” was a sultry soul ballad with an ’80s cheese-fest sax solo. The public narrowly preferred “Attention,” so it got the nod over the jury’s preference. The final Eurovizijos episode determined the singer. Mia’s interpretation of “Attention” played up the glamour and seduction of the verses, but she couldn’t get the syncopation in the refrain. Mia had a lot of support from jury and fans, but Matačiūnaitė with “Attention”–a song she herself had written–ultimately gained the edge with both.

Finland. Mikko Pohjola, “Sängyn Reunalla.” A class act from start to finish, “Sängyn Reunalla” was similar towhat Pernilla Karlsson did for Finland in 2012, except so much better because Pohjola wasn’t boring. But in 2014’s competitive UMK, both jury and the public went for Softengine’s more international sound.

Ireland. Eoghan Quinn, “The Movie Song.” A sweet singer-songwriter entry from a Louis Walsh protegé and former UK X Factor contestant. The song yearned for a bygone era when emotions were more innocent and we were less cynical. An updated “Rock n’ Roll Kids,” if you will. “Heartbeat” finished first with the Irish public and the jury, but “The Movie Song” is yet another example of a second place finisher that we preferred to the winner.

Belarus. Max Lorens and DiDyuLya, “Now You’re Gone.” “Now You’re Gone” was a dull, Latin-inspired ballad. Max Lorens did as much as anyone could to sell this mediocre material. The Belorussian public bought it; he decisively won the televote. However, the jury preferred TEO, and that resulted in a tie between 1st and 2nd place. The tiebreak was settled by jurors giving paper hearts to their preferred candidate, and given the jury had already voiced a clear preference, it was no surprise how that was going to be settled. Though Max Lorens didn’t get the nod, this year’s result should leave no doubt that he is a great singer who deserves better. Perhaps the jury will make it up to him next year.

Macedonia. Internal selection, not applicable.

Switzerland. Yasmina Hunzinger, “I Still Believe.” Switzerland was just rough this year, full stop. Their second place finisher was a plodding, paint-by-numbers ballad of love and hope, chock full of cliches and insipid sentiment. It wasn’t well sung either. Hunzinger had poor control between chest voice and head voice, and her vocal runs sounded like a cat whose tail had been pulled. We’re no fans of Sebalter, but at least his song doesn’t sound like something we’ve heard a million times before.

Greece. Kostas Martakis, “Kanenas Den Me Stamata.” Dreamy, dreamy Kostas Martakis had to be considered the front runner going into the Greek national final. A well-known celebrity in Greece, he has an unbroken string of platinum and gold studio albums to his credit, as well as appearances on several celebrity reality shows, including Greece’s Dancing with the Stars, where he finished 2nd. His 2014 Eurovision bid, “Kanenas Den Me Stamata,” was written by Elias Kozas, the front man of Koza Mostra, which represented Greece in 2013 with “Alcohol is Free.”  “Kanenas Den Me Stamata” was pumped-up cock rock with loud brass, electric guitar solos, and a stadium-friendly hook. The only way it could have been more manly is if Martakis was saving a woman from a burning building while popping a handful of Cialis. It was a good try, yet all-in-all it seemed like a lot of posturing. Both the jury and the public preferred “Rise Up,” which was just more fun.

Slovenia. Muff, “Let Me Be (Myself).”  Sorry, Muff, there’s only room for one drag queen at Eurovision this year. We know Muff has her share of fans, but, folks, we don’t get it. To us, her vocal was affected and the performance of this supposed self-empowerment anthem felt fake. Tinkara Kovač (deservedly) trounced her in the Superfinal.

Romania. Vaida, “One More Time.” Paula & Ovi were the choice of the Romanian jury, not the public.  In point of fact, Vaida and her accordion-tinged Viennese waltz were the overwhelming choice of the public, receiving 46% of the televote. Paula & Ovi, in 2nd place, received only 13%. However, the jury made absolute certain that Vaida was nowhere near contention, placing her 7th in their ranking. And for that we say to Romanian jury, thank you very much!!!

So, what do we make of all this?  If we put on our omnipotence hat, which of these 2nd place songs would we swap in order to strengthen the 2014 2nd Semi?

In this group, as it turns out, not many. Malta is cute, but assuming Firelight is able to solve its execution issues, it would be unlikely to produce a significant net quality gain. We prefer the runner ups in Norway and Finland, but it’s personal preference–what’s going is good too. And, we are relieved that the jury overturned the public results in Romania and Belarus. Basically, the only one in this group that we think would have been a better choice for Eurovision is Ireland.

National Final Season in Review 2014: Our Favorite Songs

Darlings, can we let you in on a secret?  This has been a tough season for us.  We like a lot of the songs that are going to Copenhagen, but we love very few.  To our dismay, many of the songs that really got us excited were left behind in the national finals.  So much so that this year we feel compelled to do a (rather long) post about our favorites. In some cases these were second place finishers, and others only managed mid table or worse. The songs are, for us, the ones that got away – but we will happily play them on our iPhone in the months and years to come.

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