National Final Season Wrap-Up: The Best of the Rest

Rehearsals for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest kick off tomorrow, but we want to take one last look at the national final season before we start obsessively checking Daniel Gould’s Twitter feed for rehearsal updates.

For this post, we  highlight a handful of our favorite songs that went underappreciated during the national final season. These are not songs represented in Malmo, and frequently, they’re not even the runners-up of some particularly close national final. The songs we list below suited our musical tastes, showed us something we hadn’t seen before, or were otherwise utterly brilliant. In short, they made us happy, which at the most fundamental level is why we follow Eurovision. And we do this blog so we don’t forget.

Switzerland: Los Angeles the Voices, “Wild White Horses – Co-written by Gordon Heuckeroth of De Toppers fame, who left the venerable Dutch band to form Los Angeles the Voices, this song languished along with the hundreds of submissions in the Swiss contest. But its gloriousness cannot, will not, must not be contained.

Estonia: Flank, “Missing Light – Holy cow, this song is terrific: a synth-driven, hard-rocking power-pop anthem. It’s really too bad singer Tõnn Tobreluts couldn’t quite hit the notes during Flank’s performance at Eesti Laul, but even so, we really feel like Estonia missed out by omitting this from the final.

Lithuania: Gerai Gerai and Miss Sheep, “War in the Wardrobe – A post-punk song with early-electronica-inspired keyboards, “War in the Wardrobe” had a more Estonian vibe than most Estonian entries this year. We are still shaking our heads over Lithuania picking “Something” instead.

Hungary: Kállay Saunders András, “I Love My Baby – This delightful Motown doo-wop number was the favorite of the Hungarian jury. From the vocals to the a cappella breakdown to the staging, it fills us with joy.

Sweden: Martin Rolinski, “In and Out of Love – This is a conventional Thomas G:son dance song, but it had an innovative presentation with dancers in a box splashing paint on the boxes. Sadly, it went down in the Andra Chanson round.

Estonia: Winny Puhh, “Meiecundimees üks Korsakov läks eile Lätti – When the histories are written, Estonia’s Winny Puhh will go down as one of the most madcap entries to ever grace any Eurovision-related stage. In the semi-final they did the entire performance in weird costumes that looked like team mascots from the NCAA S&M tournament. Then in the national final, the drummers rotated at a 90 degree angle to the stage, the backing guitarists hung upside down from the ceiling, and everyone had unsettling wolfman facial hair. The “song,” if you can call it that, is more like rhythmic screaming with musical accompaniment. It may not be much of a song, but it is damned memorable.

Two sides of Winny Puhh

RomaniaNarcis Iustin Ianău, “Seven – To look at Ianău unprepared for what’s to follow, you would except some type of Swedish-pop inspired Bieber type.  And then “Seven” begins, and what you’re presented with is Generation Y’s answer to Jimmy Somerville. He shows exquisite control of his instrument. Admittedly, he’s singing in barely recognizable English, but we didn’t care because we love him. Everyone else in Romania not so much: “Seven” received nil points from the jury and finished in eighth place.

Latvia: PeR, Sad Trumpet – Eurovision fans tuning in for the second Semi-final will see PeR in an upbeat number, but we also enjoyed their other entry in Eurodziema, an overly melodramatic piece that has Ralfs Eilands on vocal, Edmunds Rasmanis on rhythmic hand rubbing and beatboxing and, inexplicably, no one on trumpet. Such a sad trumpet.

Those were our favorites.  What were yours?

The Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

We continue our look at a Eurovision Song Contest Fringe universe, one in which Bulgarian copyright law is not used to avoid performing a hated song and in which the song from Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix that was a number one smash actually goes to Malmö.

Latvia. Samanta Tīna, “I Need A Hero.” The scoring system for Dziesma is a bit confusing, but once you realize that the songs the jury and the televoters liked the most were given the rank of 1 and the ones they liked the least were ranked 12, it starts to make sense. There was much agreement between the jury and public in the Super Final: PeR’s “Here We Go” was ranked first by both and Samantha Tīna was ranked second. We were pulling for PeR, because Tīna’s dreary, generic ballad would have passed unmemorably by during the second Semi.

San Marino. Internal selection, not applicable.

FYR Macedonia. Esma & Lozano, “Imperija.” Although Esma & Lozano and their song were internal selections, the original pick to represent Macedonia was “Imperija”. However this song was rejected after its public release due to the overwhelming negative reaction to it. And by rejected, we mean, Macedonia has tried to scrub the song from existence. Even now, it’s really difficult to find “Imperija” online, so enjoy the link we have now, because it will probably get pulled soon.

Azerbaijan. Unknown, 2nd place not disclosed.

Finland. Mikael Saari, “We Should Be Through.” Krista Siegfrids was the clear winner of the Finnish televote. However, she finished in a three-way tie for first among the jury votes, along with Mikael Saari and Great Wide North. Saari came in second in the televote, giving him the runner-up spot. (Great Wide North finished fourth with 12 percent of the public votes.) As grating as Siegfrids’ performance is, at least it has a pulse, unlike Saari’s dirge ballad.

Malta. Kevin Borg, “Needing You.” Borg finished in first place with Malta’s televoters, but in second with the jury. Gianluca Bezzina’s large point tally from the jury and second place finish with televoters booked his ticket to Malmö. And, for the third time this Semi, we are saved from a dreary ballad; Borg’s is so bland you’ll forget about it as you’re listening to it.

Bulgaria. Elitsa Todorova and Stoyan Yankoulov, “Kismet.” Elitsa and Stoyan were internally selected, but Bulgaria held a selection show to choose the song they would perform at Eurovision. As we detail in our post about Bulgaria, officially the song was changed due to copyright issues, but unofficially, the switch may have had more to do with Elitsa’s rumored dissatisfaction with the song selection.

Iceland. Unnur Eggertsdóttir, “Ég Syng!” Iceland didn’t reveal any points totals during the 2013 Söngvakeppnin but did pick “Ég á Líf” and “Ég Syng!” for its 2-song Super Final. Fortunately, “Ég á Líf” finished first, which meant we didn’t have to suffer through “Ég Syng!” more than we had to. The only way this song would be more annoying is if it were a Junior Eurovision Entry.

Greece. Alex Leon featuring Giorgina, “Angel.” It wasn’t particularly close in Greece this year: Koza Mostra and Agathonas Iakovidis took the Eurovision Song Contest slot handily. Leon and Giorgina finished second by virtue of a strong jury showing, but they didn’t do well enough with the public vote to even come close to challenging Koza Mostra. “Angel” is a pretty bad-ass ethnic ballad with a diva performance, staged in the Greek final with lots of shirtless dancers. Even so, we’re pleased Greece sent “Alcohol Is Free” (Kieran’s version: “Abbawon Ifree”) to Malmö.

Israel. Ron Weinreich, “Love is One.” In this year’s Kdam, Moran Mazor tied for first in the jury vote with paralyzed-soldier-turned-singer Ron Weinreich. Weinreich, however, finished fifth in the televote, which killed his chances of winning. (Interestingly, the song that finished first in the televote, Shany Zamir’s “Forever,” received zero points from the jury.) “Love Is One” is decent enough, if not particularly memorable in and of itself. Weinreich flavors it with a dash or three of hair metal operatic vocal theatrics. Plus there’s a keytar. At least we finally have the answer to that age-old entertainment question: what do people respond to more, ex-soldiers in wheelchairs or side boob?

Armenia. Unknown, 2nd place not disclosed.

Hungary. András Kállay-Saunders, “My Baby.” The story of A Dal this year is the story of what the jury wanted versus what the public wanted. In A Dal’s second Semifinal, ByeAlex’s “Kedvesem” tied for fourth place in the jury vote with Gergő Baricz’s “Húz.” The jury picked “Kedvesem” to go through. In the Final, the jury voted for four of the eight songs to be brought to the public vote. Kállay-Saunders’ doo-wop earworm “My Baby” had the highest jury total of the four songs, with 46 points from the five judges. “Kedvesem” sneaked the final four with just 16 points (but consider that the four songs that didn’t make it scored a total of 12 points between them). The public liked ByeAlex more and he won A Dal, although the second place finisher in the televote was never revealed. Either way we were happy; “Kedvesem” and “My Baby” were two of our favorite songs from the entire national selection season.

Norway. Adelén, “Bombo.” Margaret Berger’s victory in the Melodi Grand Prix was decisive: she finished first in both the jury and the televote, and by wide margins. Adelén was a distant second. Then something funny happened: “Bombo” became a hit in Norway, reaching number one during its nine-week stay on the charts. “I Feed You My Love,” on the other hand, topped out at number four and only lasted three weeks on the charts. Buyer’s remorse in Norway? We’ll have to see. Frankly, we find “Bombo” shrill and annoying, so we’re fine with the MGP result.

Albania. Anjeza Shahini, “Love.” Adrian Lulgjuraj & Bledar Sejko’s “Identitet” was the clear winner of Festivali i Këngës with 72 points. Shahini finished second with a respectable 62 points. “Love” smacks of a late 1970s Broadway musical number, when the female lead in the show has discovered she really is in love with the leading man and has to belt out her feelings while people in bell bottoms do an interpretive ballet down the streets of Tirana. Maybe that’s just us.

Georgia. Internal selection, not applicable.

Switzerland. Carrousel, “J’avais rendezvous.” Takasa (the artist known as Salvation Army, or Heilsarmee if you’re Swiss) was the overwhelming public favorite in the Swiss National Final, taking 37.54 percent of the televote. The aggressively twee tune from Carrousel could only muster 17.26 percent of the vote when it finished second place.

Romania. Electric Fence, “Emilia.” Electric Fence just missed being Romania’s Eurovision representative. They lost by one point to Cezar. While Electric Fence was the jury’s favorite, it could only muster fourth place in the televote. Cezar won the televote, and that was enough for him to overcome finishing third in the jury vote. As mentioned in our recap of the Romanian final, this is the second year in a row that Electric Fence have placed second. They are becoming the Magni Ásgeirsson of Romania.

The Eurovision 2012 That Almost Was: Semifinal 2

In this edition of what might have been, brace yourself.  You think the 2nd Semifinal is stuffed with ballads, but what was left behind was a boatload of Eurovision ballads. The musty kind that went out of favor in the ’90s.  Add to that some nutty train wrecks. We count our blessings most of this ragtag bunch didn’t make it through, because if they had May 24th would have been damn near unwatchable.

Serbia.  Internal selection, not applicable.  In the song presentation, Željko Joksimovic gave us two versions of his song, in Serbian and an English translation.  Organizers decided (wisely) to send the Serbian version.  Here’s the English version, “Synonym.”

FYR Macedonia. Internal selection, not applicable.

Continue reading “The Eurovision 2012 That Almost Was: Semifinal 2”

The Eurovision 2012 That Almost Was: Semifinal 1

One of our favorite set of posts from last year was looking at the 2nd place finishers. It’s fun to trash Eurovision for its bad pop culture moments, but from time to time we like to be reminded that the people behind these songs are passionate about their music, work hard, and care about the results. Here are the songs that barely missed the contest. If the stars had been aligned just a little differently, this is what might have been.

Montenegro. Internal selection, not applicable.

Iceland. Blár Ópal, “Stattu upp.” The visual was a boy band, but the sound was all summer party anthem a la Taio Cruz or LMFAO. Blár Ópal offered us lighthearted fun, but Icelandic voters preferred the sweeping drama of Greta and Jonsi.

Continue reading “The Eurovision 2012 That Almost Was: Semifinal 1”

The 2011 Eurovision That Almost Was — Part II

Unhappy with any of the songs in the second semi-final?  Here’s what nearly came to pass.  We continue our look at the second place finishers in the national final season.

Semi-final Two:

Bosnia & Herzegovina.  Internal selection, not applicable.

Austria. Trackshittaz ft. Lukas Plöchl, “Oida Taunz.” How’s this for “what might have been” — goofy Austrian hip hop instead of Nadine Beiler with her big voice. Trackshittaz put out a high energy number with catchy choreography and stage props. When it came to the final 3, Trackshittaz managed 36% of the public vote, compared with 46% for Nadine and “The Secret is Love.” Between two good entries, we can’t fault the Austrians for making the more mainstream choice. We do love this one, though.

Netherlands. 3JS, “De stroom.” There wasn’t much question that 3JS would be singing “Never Alone” at ESC.  They saved the best for last and it received 63% of the vote.  The next closest finisher, De Stroom, was a feel-good soft rock number that received only 26% of the vote.  It was amiable enough, but lacked “Never Alone”’s anthemic quality.

Belgium. Sarina, “Rien En Apparence.” French pop. Sarina played the piano well, but her vocal was sometimes shaky and unfortunately she had the stage presence of a grapefruit.  Easy pickings for Witloof Bay.  Sarina finished 2nd with the public and 3rd with the jury.

Slovakia. Internal selection, not applicable.

Ukraine. Zlata Ognevich, “The Kukushka.”  A throwback to Vanity 6.  From the stapled together costumes to the cuckoo clock backing vocals, this was a mess of a package. It would have needed an awful lot of work. Zlata had the bad luck to go first in the Ukrainian national finals but still finished 2nd in the SMS and Jury vote. Ironically, in the Internet vote, where draw didn’t matter, she finished 6th. In the selection controversy that followed with Mika Newton and “Angels,” Zlata was the classier of the competitors offered a second chance, thanking the organizers and withdrawing due to a “scheduling conflict.”  Perhaps she knew she had a dud.

Moldova. Natalia Barbu, “Let’s Jazz.” Moldova did not have a consensus winner this year — Zdob si Zdub finished second from both the jury and the public. They barely edged out former Eurovision competitor Natalia Barbu, who was the jurors’ choice but only managed a mid-table finish in the public vote. Natalia went 2nd in a field of 25 contestants (Zdob si Zdub, in contrast, went 24th) with a cleverly staged Chicago-the-Musical-inspired bank heist. Interestingly, the overwhelming winner of the Moldovan public vote, Karizma, “When Life is Grey,” was completely spiked by the jury. On this one I’m with the jury.  Natalia’s song, while pastiche, was entertaining without crossing the line to eccentric.  And Karizma was awful.

Sweden. Danny Saucedo, “In the Club.” All along, Melodifestivalen was shaping up to be a two-horse race between Danny with “In the Club” and Eric Saade with “Popular.” Danny was a good performer and had a fanbase, but he didn’t have a song from Frederik Kempe or Eric’s placement in the final (Danny went first, Eric went last).  My issue was that Danny’s song was too repetitive–I didn’t want him to tell me 27 times (I counted) he was “In The Club, The Club.” Danny finished just behind Eric in the jury vote, but Eric was strongly favored by the Swedish public.

Cyprus. Internal song selection, not applicable.

Bulgaria. Milena Slavova, “Fire In My Hair.” Frankenstein makeup, guitars shooting fireworks, fire baton twirling, and sumo wrestlers. But forget about all of that. What I think Milena really needed to make this song work was one more gimmick. Poli Genova and “Na Inat” look pretty damn good after this one.  OMFG.

FYR Macedonia. Martin Srbinovski, “Ram Tam Tam.” With 20 entries, it seemed unlikely that the Macedonians could come to consensus on a song, but somehow Vlatko Ilievski managed to finish 1st in both the public and jury vote with “Rusinka.” The field dropped off dramatically after that.  Martin Srbinovski managed second place overall by scoring 3rd with the juries and 6th with the public.  On balance, I think I prefer “Ram Tam Tam” because Martin manages to scream out a melody (unlike Vlatko), and I do appreciate the inclusion of bagpipes in a hard rock number.

Israel. Idit Halevi, “It’s My Time.” Idit served up a traditional Eurovision ballad that displayed some decent songwriting but was severely hampered by a stale arrangement and a traditional staging (ballroom gown, pianos, candles, etc).  Preselection favorite Dana International received 270 points for “Ding Dong,” Init finished with 235 points.

Slovenia. April, “Ladadidej.”  In the Slovenian national final, we rather liked “Ladadidej,” even though April was little more than a Lady Gaga knockoff. However, Maja Keuc and “Vanilija” smoked April in the superfinal, receiving 2 ½ times as many votes.

Romania. Distinto, Ianna & Anthony Icuagu, “Open Your Eyes.”  An over-the-top pop-opera outing from 5 “classically trained” (meh?) vocalists. It would have been fun to see this one pitted against the likes of Amaury Vassilli (my guess is Amaury would have made mincemeat of them.)  They won the public vote but only finished 6th with the jury.  In contrast, Hotel FM and “Change” won the jury vote and came in 2nd place with the public.

ESTONIA!!!!! Outloudz, “I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan.” In a packed field, Outloudz stood out with their introspective and thoughtful lyric, even though this song was not really my thing. However, after seeing Jon Cryer-lookalike Stig Rästa‘s look of heartbreak when Getter Jaani was announced the winner, I did feel a little bad for him. In the superfinal, Getter received 62% of the vote, Outloudz received 38%.

Belarus. Internal selection, not applicable.

Latvia. Lauris Reiniks, “Banjo Laura” The forced happiness, the fist pumping, the bouncy choreography…“Banjo Laura” emerged as one of our camp favorites from the 2011 season.  In the general round, “Banjo Laura” was actually ahead of “Angel in Disguise” thanks to the public televote.  In the superfinal, however, the public rallied around Musiqq (12,539 votes versus 8,495 for Lauris).  Ah well, it sure would have been a hoot to see Lauris following Belarus.

Denmark. Anne Noa, “Sleepless.” Of all the preselection songs here, I think the Danes had the biggest missed opportunity. Anne Noa’s look and sound was Taylor Swift adapted for a European audience, and I thought she was fresh and accessible. Instead, the Danes went for A Friend in Tomorrow, who was blessed with a late draw and offered an anthemic song that plays particularly well on a late draw.

Ireland.  Nikki Kavanagh, “Falling.” This was a very close one. Going into Eurosong, the Irish were genuinely divided on whether Jedward at ESC would be a good thing or a bad thing. The most plausible alternative, Nikki Kavanagh, was regarded as a good singer, but detractors felt “Falling” too closely resembled Safura’s “Drip Drop.”  On the night the Eurosong judges criticized her staging.  In the end, Nikki Kavanagh was favored by the jury, but Jedward eked it out on the public vote.  Jedward won with 98 cumulative points, barely edging out Nikki’s 96 points.