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.

The 2017 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

Looking back on what might have been at the second Semi and comparing it to what actually happened, it’s hard to say that things didn’t ultimately work out of the best for almost all parties involved. We include Russia’s absence in that assessment.

Serbia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Russia: Yuliya Samoylova – “Flame Is Burning

A lot of ink has been spilled discussing the ultimate fate of Russia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, so we’re not going to rehash it again. All we will say is we are not terribly cut up by the absence of “Flame Is Burning.” It’s the type of give-peace-a-chance song the Russian delegation defaults to when they make their mind up last minute. (See also: every song they’ve sent since 2013 that wasn’t sung by Sergey Lazarev.)

Austria: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Macedonia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Malta: Janice Mangion – “Kewkba”

Malta came this close to doing something interesting at Eurovision this year. Janice Mangion finished second place with 4,544 votes, just 452 votes behind winner Claudia Faniello. “Kewkba” is a Disney-princess ballad and only marginally better than “Breathlessly” as a song, but it was sung in Maltese. In a year where Belarussian made its debut and a song sung in Portuguese won, that would have added to the allure of this year’s Song Contest.

Romania: MIHAI – “I Won’t Surrender

MIHAI delivered a 4th place Eurovision finish to Romania back in 2006 with “Tornerò” and has tried to make a return trip a few times since. Unfortunately, his meandering ballad was no match for the eventual winner. “Yodel It!” garnered nearly twice as many televotes as “I Won’t Surrender.”

Netherlands: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Hungary: Zävodi + Olivér Berkes – “#háttérzaj

As usual, Hungary did not reveal the final results of A Dal beyond the winner, but Zävodi and Olivér Berkes finished second in the jury vote. “#háttérzaj” is one of those forgettable blue-eyed soul numbers you hear at European jazz festivals and Eurovision national finals. Their performance was punctuated with a flaming piano, which at this point is stale. “#háttérzaj” lacked the gravitas that “Origo” brought to this year’s competition.

Denmark: Ida Una – “One”

Daenerys Targaryen hugs a light-up globe and sings about world peace. It’s a new look for her. A quick glance at the newspapers confirms that “One” did not save the world. One day a pop ballad may achieve that goal, but it seems that 2017 is just not our year. In the Dansk MGP super final, Ida managed only 26% of the televote; Anja Nissen won with 64%.

Ireland: Internal selection. Not applicable.

San Marino: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Croatia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Norway: Ammunition – “Wrecking Crew”

Have you ever been to one of those 18-band heavy metal touring festivals, like OzzFest, and there is that one pop metal band that had a minor hit in 1988 kicking off their show at 11am on one of the side stages and you can’t help but feel a little sad because they are so far past their prime and also can’t hide how much they’ve let themselves go? Ammunition brought all of that to Norway’s MGP this year.

Switzerland: Nadya – “The Fire in the Sky

We knew Switzerland’s chances at Eurovision would be slim no matter who won, but we were team Nadya all the way this year. “The Fire in the Sky” bears an uncomfortable resemblance to “Rise Like a Phoenix,” but it was given a lift by a strong singer with an operatic background.

Belarus: Nuteki – “Take My Heart

Nuteki are staples at Belarus’ national finals, four attempts in and still trying. This year’s high concept staging–which featured lead singer Mikhail Nokarashvili in a prison cell surrounded by strobe lights and dry ice–made for a cluttered performance that was difficult on the eyes.

Bulgaria: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Lithuania: Aistė Pilvelytė – “I’m Like a Wolf

Casual Eurovision watchers probably watched Semifinal Two and wondered how a song like “Rain of Revolution” ended up representing Lithuania. Diehard Eurovision watchers knew that Lithuania wasn’t exactly flush with good options. Aistė Pilvelytė received only about 1,000 fewer televotes than Fusedmarc, but she fared poorly with the juries. Still, don’t worry about Aistė. She sang, “I keep my tears inside my soul” while reaching down for her crotch, so we think she’s got things in perspective.

Estonia: Kerli – “Spirit Animal

We are fans of Kerli. Her album Love Is Dead is terrific and “Army of Love” is a fab slice of electronic pop. Sadly, “Spirit Animal” was not a good choice when she finally tried for Eurovision. Kerli never completely delivered at Eesti Laul, and the dying giraffe noise puncturing the chorus was actively annoying. Strong jury support, perhaps a function of her celebrity, got her to the super final. The Estonian public had a different favorite. In the end, Kerli got only 30% of the super final televote, compared to Laura and Koit’s 55%.

Israel: Diana Golbi – Song internally selected.

In HaKokhav HaBa, the Israeli version of Rising Star that selected Israel’s Eurovision representative, voters selected the artist only. The Israeli delegation selected the song later. Second place finisher Diana Golbi was a former winner of Kokhav Nolad, the Israeli version of Pop Idol. The clip of “Purple Rain” we link to here highlights Diana’s smokey voice and steely stage presence. With the right song she could have done fine. In the end, Israel’s mobile phone voters decided to keep the Golden Boy era going one more year.

France: Internal Selection. Not applicable.

Germany: Levina – “Wildfire

Germany’s complex national final ultimately saw Levina competing against herself in the super final. The choice between “Perfect Life” and “Wildfire” was like a choice between raw carrots and cooked carrots, and Germany decided to eat their carrots raw. “Perfect Life” won with over 68% of the televote.

Ukraine: Tayanna – “I Love You

If we have learned anything about Eurovision over the years, it is that Ukraine will always refuse to be represented by songs called “I Love You.” Vasyl Lazarovich was meant to represent Ukraine in 2010 with “I Love You,” but after complaints that Ukraine internally selected Lazarovich, broadcaster NTU had a do-over national final in which “I Love You” finished 7th. Tayanna’s “I Love You” fared a bit better: it won the jury vote, but it only finished third in the televote. Tayanna was tied on points with O.Torvald, but the tiebreak went to the song that did better with the public. We’d like to think that if “I Love You” had won, Ukraine would have kept the giant head.

The 2017 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal One

When our post-Eurovision depression kicks in, we like to imagine what would have happened if second place finishers at national finals had gone to the Grand Prix instead of the winners. Would Sweden have had an even better result with Nano? Would Slovenia have qualified with BQL? Would Portugal still would have won with… well, sometimes the questions are easy to answer.

Today we look at the countries that competed in Semifinal One, along with the automatic finalists that voted in it: United Kingdom, Spain, and Italy. (We know the wounds are still raw in Spain, and we are sorry.)

Sweden: Nano – “Hold On

“Hold On” is one of the better examples of the “things suck, but we’re gonna make it” genre. Nano sings, “I’ve got the feeling I’m going places,” and we’re hoping that means to a future Eurovision Song Contest. He was too green as a performer at this year’s Melodifestivalen, but nevertheless he was a compelling presence.

Georgia: Nutsa Buzaladze – “White Horses Run

There is a whole alternate universe Eurovision where every song is about white horses (see also: “Wild White Horses“). This one is like watching a Michelle Visage impersonator lip sync for her life while listening to an angry pigeon fight with a squirrel.

Australia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Albania: Genc Salihu – “Këtu

The Jarvis Cocker of Albania warbles a tuneless art tune. His glasses are pretty awesome, though.

Belgium: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Montenegro: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Finland: Zühlke – “Perfect Villain

Here is the chorus of “Perfect Villain”:

What would the X-Men do
If they came to the rescue
Would they lose their courage too
If the kryptonite was you?

Neither of us are comic book nerds, but even we know Zühlke’s mixing up her comic book publishers there. Hard to argue Finland made the wrong choice this year, results notwithstanding.

Azerbaijan: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Portugal: Viva La Diva – “Nova glória”

We are happy that “Nova glória” finished second at Festival da Canção, not because it is good (it is not), but because it gives us a chance to work through our feelings about it. This won the televote! People in Portugal responded to it! Let’s repeat that: Salvador did not win the televote! This did! We admit limited knowledge about Portuguese music, so maybe this weird ’80s pop showtune with opera singers is part of some subgenre that hasn’t broken out internationally. Thank goodness.

Greece: Demy – “When the Morning Comes Around

Demy was an internal selection, so Greece’s national final let folks pick from three potential entries. “This Is Love” was the overwhelming choice from both the international jury (89% selected) and the public televote (70% selected), but “When the Morning Comes Around” did get one top vote from the Azerbaijani juror. Who knew someone in Baku had a thing for Shania Twain deep cuts? Come to think of it, we did. Remember this?

Poland: Rafał Brzozowski – “Sky Over Europe

“Sky Over Europe” isn’t good, but man, it is great. Rafał croons this puppy with a grin and a smize and even takes time to give a shout out to his trumpeter. But the best part are the lyrics:

  • In dreams I’m gonna wear a lucky clover.
  • Can’t you see over Europe the sky is burning? Welcome to our land of milk and honey.
  • Yes we’re open, but invitations are fading.
  • The night is cold and morning isn’t coming.

We’re not exactly sure what this song is about (The refugee crisis? Joining the European Union? “Yodel It!”?), but all we can say is, “Don’t die, Europe.”

Moldova: Ethno Republic & Surorile Osoianu – “Discover Moldova

Cross “Hora din Moldova” with the Russian Babushkis and you get the perfect Chisinau tourism campaign. Just not for May when Eurovision time comes around.

Iceland: Daði Freyr Pétursson – “Is This Love?”

Semifinal One would have been a lot more fun if Daði and his crew had been able to bring their 8-bit goodness to Kyiv. They would totally be the Tri-Lambs and the Omega Mus performing in the talent show during Adams College’s homecoming Greek Games in Revenge of the Nerds.

Czech Republic: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Cyprus: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Armenia: Internal selection. Not applicable.

Slovenia: BQL – “Heart of Gold

BQL (pronounced “be cool”) is an anything but cool name for a band. But they were gifted with an interesting Maraaya song. “Heart of Gold” gets a little repetitive, but unlike what eventually won EMA, it at least sounds like it came from this millennium.

Latvia: The Ludvig – “I’m In Love With You”

Accept no alternative Ludvigs. This is The Ludvig. If you rewrote the Harry Potter books so they were not about aspiring wizards but instead about sensitive Latvian singer-songwriters, they would still be magical.

By the way, can The Ludvig and Daði Freyr Pétursson go on tour together?

Italy: Fiorella Mannoia – “Che sia benedetta

We assume that Fiorella has really lived life and also has been chainsmoking since age five. “Che sia benedetta”–which at Sanremo won the Sergio Bardotti award for best lyrics and the Lucio Dalla Press, Radio, TV and Web award–is really Italian. Like, the only way it could be more Italian is if Fiorella performed holding a glass of Cinzano and then criticized the way we make fettuccine carbonara.

Spain: Mirela – “Contigo

Mirela won the televote in this year’s Objetivo Eurovision, but finished tied on points with Manel Navarro, who won the jury vote. The tie was broken by the jury vote. Never do that. The audience at Objetivo Eurovision made their displeasure known both when the winner was announced and every day henceforth through the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final.

United Kingdom: No 2nd place announced. Not applicable.

Eurovision 2017 Superlatives

It’s time once again for Eurovision Lemurs to bestow honors on all of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final contestants. Everyone is a winner tonight, to the chagrin of the Spanish voting public.

  • Winner of two tickets to the gun show: Israel (Imri – “I Feel Alive“)
  • The Johanna “And then there’s a dolphin” award: Poland (Kasia Moś – “Flashlight“)
  • Best mode of transportation to a steampunk winter wonderland in the clouds: Belarus (NAVI – “Historyja majho žyccia“)
  • Most effective self-censorship: Austria (Nathan Trent – “Running On Air“)

  • Handiest jive or jiviest hands: Armenia (Artsvik – “Fly With Me”)
  • Best family bonding exercise: Netherlands (OG3NE – “Light and Shadow“)
  • Best revival of the Running Man: Moldova (SunStroke Project – “Hey Mamma“)
  • Best proof that rap can work at Eurovision: Hungary (Joci Pápai – “Origo“)
  • Best fusion of human evolution and chakras: Italy (Francesco Gabbani – “Occidentali’s Karma“)
  • The Anja Nissen Award for the artist we’d most like to see return to Eurovision with a better song: Denmark (Anja Nissen – “Where I Am“)
  • Best throwback to when it was just a Song Contest: Portugal (Salvador Sobral – “Amar pelos dois“)
  • Best musical representation of the plot to Equus: Azerbaijan (DiHaj – “Skeletons“)
  • The Flygande Jacob award for two great tastes that shouldn’t taste great together but do: Croatia (Jacques Houdek – “My Friend“)
  • The Maria Yaremchuck award for best use of an exercise toy for a caged rodent: Australia (Isaiah – “Don’t Come Easy)

  • Best homage to Jedward’s “Waterline”: Greece (Demy – “This Is Love“)
  • Best audition to be a Margaritaville house band: Spain (Manel Navarro – “Do It For Your Lover“)
  • Best outfit choices for Kylo Ren and Hoban Washburne when they want to hit the club: Norway (JOWST feat. Aleksander Walmann – “Grab the Moment“)
  • Best audition for the female lead in William and Kate: The Musical!: United Kingdom (Lucie Jones – “Never Give Up On You“)
  • Most successful sobriety test: Cyprus (Hovig – “Gravity“)
  • Best portrayal of the hope, the anticipation and then the ultimate disappointment of impotence (right down to the awkward kiss at the end): Romania (Ilinca featuring Alex Florea – “Yodel It!“)
  • Best song in the 21st slot of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest: Germany (Levina – “Perfect Life“)
  • Most innovative way to shine a spotlight on the mosh pit: Ukraine (O.Torvald – “Time“)
  • Winner of the Eurovision Staring Contest: Belgium (Blanche – “City Lights“)
  • Best tribute to OK GO by frat boys: Sweden (Robin Bengtsson – “I Can’t Go On“)

Hey girl…..

  • Best love theme to every movie adaptation of a young adult romance novel ever: Bulgaria (Kristian Kostov – “Beautiful Mess“)
  • The annual award for the most successful theft of France’s thunder: the juries, who ranked “Requiem” in 18th place.
  • Most likely to get there, popular: Portugal

Also, most innovative millinery fashion!

Highlights from 2017

At the end of each Eurovision season, we take time to ask ourselves the big questions. Questions like, in a year of legitimately good songs, which song is the legitimately goodest? And, who was so clueless that they couldn’t find a clue in a basket marked “HERE ARE THE CLUES! CLUES RIGHT HERE!”? And, how many Koit gifs can one household generate?

The answer: a lot.

Biggest Misfire

For Our Consideration

Montenegro: Slavko Kalezić – “Space”
Czech Republic: Martina Bárta – “My Turn”
Macedonia: Jana Burčeska – “Dance Alone”
Ireland: Brendan Murray – “Dying to Try”
Germany: Levina – “Perfect Life”

Our Pick: Czech Republic. We felt that Czech Republic could have qualified with “My Turn” if they had come up with a more cohesive package. The juries ranked “My Turn” seventh, but it finished dead last with the public vote. Why? It may sound shallow to say that a costume cost Martina her qualification, but that unflattering gold suit destroyed Czech Republic’s stage picture. Showing the touching official video on the backdrop only accentuated how far off the mark her costume was.

Least Self-Aware

For Our Consideration

Malta: Claudia Faniello – “Breathlessly”
San Marino: Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson – “Spirit of the Night”
Lithuania: Fusedmarc – “Rain of Revolution“

Our Pick: Lithuania. If you watched Fusedmarc’s performance at Lithuania’s national final and thought that all they needed to do to elevate their performance at the Eurovision Song Contest was to make the beating heart on the video backdrop more realistic looking and to glue extra long fingernails on lead singer Viktorija Ivanovskaja’s hands, then you may want to consider applying for a job on Lithuania’s creative team next year. Though they may want to think about taking their production into a different direction.

Legitimately Good Song

For Our Consideration

Finland: Norma John – “Blackbird”
Italy: Francesco Gabbani – “Occidentali’s Karma”
Portugal: Salvador Sobral – “Amar pelos dois”
Norway: JOWST feat. Aleksander Walmann – “Grab the Moment”
Belgium: Blanche – “City Lights”
Bulgaria: Kristian Kostov – “Beautiful Mess”
France: Alma – “Requiem”

Our Pick: Italy. We have listened to “Occidentali’s Karma” a lot since it won Sanremo, and we still love it. In our hearts, it overtakes “Shady Lady” as the best ever song that did not win Eurovision. At least it carries on a fine Italian tradition: “Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare)” only finished third in 1958 even though it has since become an iconic song. Side note: even though we aren’t fans of it, we are including “City Lights” on our list of candidates in recognition of how many people loved it. That fourth place finish is nothing to sniff at!

Campiest Performance

For Our Consideration

Montenegro: Slavko Kalezić – “Space”
San Marino: Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson – “Spirit of the Night”
Estonia: Koit Toome and Laura – “Verona”
Croatia: Jacques Houdek – “My Friend”
Romania: Ilinca featuring Alex Florea – “Yodel It!”

Our Pick: Estonia. Eurovision is unpredictable. Had you asked us who was going to win this award before the Semifinals kicked off, we would have said Croatia in a heartbeat. If you had questioned us on this, we would have gotten very stabby indeed. But count us among the Eurovision diehards who were upset “Verona” languished in the Semis. Oh, “Verona” is a wondrous slice of cheese, a decent song made memorable by some serious emoting. It is kind of like the movie Valley of the Dolls, with Laura as Barbara Parkins and Koit as Patty Duke. It is delightful and will be a cult treasure for fans like us for years to come.

Biggest Diva Performance

For Our Consideration

Azerbaijan: DiHaj – “Skeletons”
Armenia: Artsvik – “Fly With Me”
Poland: Kasia Moś – “Flashlight”
Denmark: Anja – “Where I Am”
United Kingdom: Lucie Jones – “Never Give Up On You”
France: Alma – “Requiem”

Our Pick: No one. Diva is always the hardest category for us to pick. We limited our nominees to finalists, even though there were some plum candidates that did not make it out of the Semis. And yet, it’s hard to argue that this was a diva’s year. The most successful female artists on the night were Blanche from Belgium, who does not carry herself like a diva, and Ilinca from Romania, who is a powerhouse yodeler but was overshadowed a bit by her kissy-kissy duet partner. If we determined diva by results, we would go with Alma, who just missed out on the top 10 because the juries ranked “Requiem” low. But if we’re being honest, we don’t think anyone entered the pantheon this year.

Things We Learned By Reading the Bios of the 2017 Eurovision Participants

It’s time once again to comb through the bios of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest participants to discover the little nuggets of trivia that will enhance our enjoyment of their performances. Or at least to find out which acts truly intend to bring the Nordic metropolitan charm.

  • Isaiah (Australia) comes from a family of 11 siblings. Getting attention from mom don’t come easy!
  • Marta (Czech Republic) is “an extreme goat cheese lover.” We prefer to think that “extreme” is describing the type of goat cheese she likes.
  • Before a performance Koit Toome (Estonia) has “a habit of walking around the room in a specific, yet peculiar way.” Meanwhile, Laura says that “her favorite way to treat herself is on a Sunday morning with her grandma’s pancake recipe.” Below, Koit is sad he did not get an invite.

  • Alma (France) says she needs to receive a “love dose” before she goes onstage, which means she randomly hugs people and not what you thought she meant.
  • Germany’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 is the perfect liaison of Nordic metropolitan charm, a husky voice of international class, and a song that will delight Europe.” Also it is “a contagious, border-crossing pop hymn for a modern Europe.” Boy, that song sounds amazing! We wonder why Germany replaced it with “Perfect Life.”
  • Despite being an award-winning singer, Demy (Greece) is “a diligent law student” in her free time. Always prepare for a second career in case your first one goes all MC Hammer.
  • “Believer, fighter, singer, dreamer, father and Samurai – these are the many faces of Joci Papai (Hungary).” In the movie version of his life, he will be played by Tony Randall.
  • Svala’s (Iceland) lucky routine before a performance? “I bathe myself in unicorn tears and take a shot of snow on fire.” Svala’s awesome, y’all.
  • Francesco Gabbani (Italy) says, “As for the ape, she’s happy. She adores being on stage.” Like many Eurovision legends before him, Francesco Gabbani is challenging our preconceived notions of gender!
  • Arturs, the guitarist for Triana Park (Latvia), is “one of the best baristas of Latvia,” which as we all know is an underrated skill in the music industry. Also, the band’s favorite food is “banana pancakes with Nutella.” They need to come with us to visit Laura from Estonia on a Sunday morning!
  • The music of Fusedmarc (Lithuania) “is not an experiment but a fusion of maturity, true emotions, and inspiring energy.” It sounds like Fusedmarc is a bit tired of people saying their music is an experiment.
  • “A unique voice. A million emotions. A girl next door by day and glamorous diva by night with a passion for music and life. That’s how Claudia Faniello, Malta’s representative in the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, has been described.” By herself.
  • Setting aside the levity here, we feel that Sunstroke Project (Moldova) could use some advice on how to pick the right headshot. We recommend they pay particular attention to points one, two, and seven.

  • “Artist. Theatre. Music. Movies. TV series. TV media. X Factor. One man show. Vegetarian. Cosmopolitan. Those few words describe the diversity of Slavko Kalezić (Montenegro).” You may be surprised to learn Slavko has a background in drama. In 2009, he “started a masters in acting where he perfected movement as an important tool in 21st century theatre.” He doesn’t say if he finished it.
  • OG3NE’s (Netherlands) name comes from the Vol sisters’ mother’s blood type. They’ve got the same type blood. Type O.
  • Jimmie Wilson (San Marino) says, “Eurovision is important to me as a singer because you reach a multi-million international audience with ONE performance!” Not on Logo, you don’t. Anyway, he must not like San Marino’s chances to qualify.
  • Omar Naber (Slovenia) says, “I have been saving this song for ten years. I have been saving it for a special occasion.” Only the ten years?
  • Manel Navarro (Spain) says, and we quote verbatim from the Eurovision website, “I’m an honest and natural guy, , I write my own songs…. and I look good on camera!” He could use an editor though.
  • Robin Bengtsson (Sweden) entered Swedish Idol and “literally blew the judges away with his soulful and mature voice.” It’s amazing they let him on the show after he literally blew the judges away. The insurance risk alone must have been staggering.
  • Timebelle (Switzerland) says, “We don’t try to be impressive.” Noted.

Songwriter Spotlight: Borislav Milanov

In 2016, Bulgaria notched its best result at the Eurovision Song Contest to date, finishing fourth with “If Love Was a Crime.” The song was co-written by Borislav Milanov, a Bulgarian songwriter based in Vienna. Milanov returns to the Song Contest in 2017 with three songs: Kristian Kostov’s “Beautiful Mess” for Bulgaria, Tijana Bogićević’s “In Too Deep” for Serbia, and Jana Burčeska’s “Dance Alone” for Macedonia.

Before becoming a songwriter, Milanov played soccer for Rapid Vienna. But he said, “Music was my passion and I just started doing it.” In a short amount of time, he has found success as a composer. The first song he sold was Krista’s “Tova, koeto iskash,” which was a top 10 hit on Bulgaria’s singles charts in 2008.

Eurovision was a draw for the aspiring songwriter. He said, “I always have been [a fan], so this stage was very attractive for me from the very beginning of my career.” He had a chance to enter the Song Contest in 2011 when he co-wrote “Na Inat” for Poli Genova. “I know Poli for many years, and she just asked me to do it, because she wanted to do Eurovision then.” Genova went on to win Bulgaria’s national final.

Because they had success together before, it would seem natural that Genova would again call on Milanov when she returned to the Song Contest in 2016. But in fact, it was Bulgaria’s broadcaster BNT that reunited the artist and the songwriter. “BNT contacted me back then to submit a song, because they have been searching for songs from selected composers all across the world. And that’s how it happened,” said Milanov. “The truth is that this song was not meant for Poli, but she managed to make her own. I’m also very thankful to BNT for their management of the project because they did even the impossible to execute it in the best possible way.”

It is a bit of luck that Milanov ended up with three songs at this year’s Song Contest. “In Serbia, we … sent a proposal to RTS, and I’m happy they liked it,” he said. “In Macedonia, I have good relationships with the local broadcaster [MRT] as I was involved in their entry in 2015 as well.” (Milanov’s booking and production agency Symphonics produced Daniel Kajmakoski’s “Autumn Leaves” and also handles bookings for Blackstreet.)

“In Bulgaria, I contacted the music label Virginia Records who manage Kristian Kostov and then we started working on the project. After we had finished, we submitted a song for the internal selection of BNT, and we were selected.”

Coordinating with three different national delegations has its challenges. “[The] three projects differ significantly – not only as artistic features but also when it comes to organisation of the collaboration,” said Milanov. “In Bulgaria, for example, it is an incredibly complex thing, involving many parties, different funding – both public and by external sponsors. It requires a lot of time and discussions until we reach an agreement on every detail. But at the same time, we can rely on a large and great team combining the know-how of BNT, Virginia, [and] Symphonics.”

“Beautiful Mess” is one of the bookies’ favorites this year and has generated a lot of buzz from Eurovision fans on social media. But Milanov engages in the online discussions on an as need basis. “I follow the reactions through the communications team of BNT who do this for me and analyse the whole feedback,” he said. “Every week I get a report [on] what’s going on and if there is an important issue to address or if there are questions to answer on my own.”

Milanov co-wrote “Beautiful Mess” and “If Love Was a Crime” with Sebastian Arman and Joacim Bo Persson, both of whom he met living in Vienna. He and Persson also worked together on “In Too Deep” and “Dance Alone.” Collaborating with other songwriters demands flexibility, said Milanov. “It depends on the circumstances and it’s case by case. We use the Internet, but also we meet in person, because we have to make the recordings and other arrangements.”

Working with other songwriters gives Milanov a lot of creative flexibility. “There are cases when I come up with an idea for a song, and then I’m searching for other composers to develop it and vice versa.” When asked what challenges arise in collaborating, he said, “There are always problems connected to logistics and communications, but as a whole, I can’t say there is a major obstacle that will make me think to stop doing team work. It’s essential for the success, I think.”

The 2016 Eurovision That Almost Was: The Big Six and Romania

We finish up our review at what might have been in Stockholm this year with a look at the high rollers and also Romania, which is, of course, the opposite of a high roller. But they totally would have qualified.

Italy: Stadio – “Un giorno mi dirai
Italy’s story this year is similar to Germany’s story last year: the winner of the music competition declines the offer to represent their country at Eurovision and the runner up lands the spot. Unlike Germany, Stadio did not go up on stage after winning Sanremo’s Big Artists competition and reject the offer in front of the entire country. They just quietly passed on the honor and RAI just as quietly gave Francesca Michielin the opportunity. It was probably for the best: “Un giorno mi dirai” is a decent mid-tempo rock ballad, but “No Degree of Separation” was a better fit for the Song Contest.

Sweden: Oscar Zia – “Human
We were worried that Sweden was really depressed after winning their sixth Eurovision Song Contest. Frans won Melodifestivalen with a zingy kiss off song dressed up as a gentle pop ballad and second place finisher Oscar Zia offered up a despondent plea for people to stop being such jerks to each other. No wonder Ace Wilder was telling everyone “Don’t Worry.” Anyway, Zia pipped Frans by a point to win the international jury vote, but finished third in the televote.

Germany: Alex Diehl – “Nur ein Lied”
Germany is in a bad way right now, with two last place finishes in a row. They got 11 points this year, though, which is an 11-point improvement over their 2015 result. It’s hard to say how they would have fared if Alex Diehl won Unser Lied für Stockholm instead of Jamie-Lee Kriewitz. Maybe a simple ballad by an unassuming regular Joe would have stood out more than the pop explosion that detonated at the bottom of the Eurovision table.

France: Internal selection, not applicable.

Spain: Xuso Jones – “Victorious
Xuso Jones hit the Objetivo Eurovisión stage with a grand pop song co-written by Peter Boström. It sounded like Peter heard Cascada’s “Glorious” and thought he could write a better version. Or maybe we just think all songs that end in “-orious” sound the same. Anyway, Xuso finished solidly in second place and well behind Barei, showing that nominative determinism doesn’t work with song titles.

United Kingdom: Second place not revealed.

Romania: Ovidiu Anton – “Moment of Silence”
Poor Ovidiu Anton. He just wants to rock and to let you know that he likes to rock. But fate, or more specifically, Romania not paying its bills to the EBU, cost all of us, every one, the opportunity to bask in the glory in “Moment of Silence.” We hear Romania has their bills squared away now and we hope that rather than doing a selection show, they just give Ovidiu the chance to finally live out his rock and roll fantasy on the Eurovision stage. Assuming he’s not bitter about what happened in 2016. Maybe they should make sure he doesn’t have the guy with the sword in that initial meeting.

The 2016 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal Two

Welcome to the alternate reality Semifinal Two, where goths run amok, a Norwegian pretends he’s Jamaican and Poland is the fan favorite to win Eurovision.

Latvia: Catalepsia – “Damnation

Going into Supernova 2016, the buzz among the die-hard Eurovision fans was all about Justs. Indeed, Justs’ victory in Latvia was the closest to a sure thing this season. It wasn’t entirely a runaway though. While he won the online vote, he finished second in the Latvian televote behind gothic metal band Catalepsia. We could argue Catalepsia’s song “Damnation” may have been a bit too dark for Eurovision, but then again, Ukraine did win the Song Contest this year with “1944.”

Poland: Margaret – “Cool Me Down

Going into Krajowe Eliminacje 2016, the buzz among the die-hard Eurovision fans was all about Margaret and her Rihanna-influenced earworm. However, Margaret’s low energy performance made us wonder if she had bought into her own hype and was saving herself for Sweden. Michał Szpak brought the intensity and compelling stage presence that Margaret did not and booked his ticket to Stockholm instead.

Switzerland: Bella C – “Another World

Imagine you are in a bar at a Swiss chalet after a long day on the slopes. You’re sipping schnapps and dining on fondue, and Bella C is at the lounge’s piano, singing “Another World” and covers of well-known pop standards. You know, like “Empire State of Mind,” so the Americans will drop a few Francs into the tip jar. You will probably quickly down a couple more shots before bailing out on the apres-ski and vote for Rykka to go to Eurovision instead.

Israel: Nofar Salman – “Made of Stars

Hovi Star represented Israel with “Made of Stars,” but he and the Israel delegation re-did the arrangement he used at the national final. Nofar Salman’s original, smoky interpretation was more influenced by Mediterranean pop. Frankly, we liked her version better than Hovi’s version for Israel, but we cannot deny that Hovi’s revamped version was tailor-made for Eurovision.

Belarus: NAPOLI – “My Universe

NAPOLI’s “My Universe” is a pop ballad not entirely dissimilar to cha “Gravity,” Zlata Ognevich’s 2013 entry for Ukraine. At Belarus’ national final, NAPOLI was runner up to Ivan, because once the power of the wolf is unleashed it cannot be denied. Undeterred, NAPOLI then made their way over to Poland’s national final with the same song, where they summarily finished in last place. We applaud their chutzpah, but it’s obvious that they did not go far enough. We hope they come back in 2017 and enter all of the national finals.

Serbia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Ireland: Internal selection, not applicable.

Macedonia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Lithuania: Erica Jennings – “Leading Me Home

Erica Jennings is the lead singer for the band SKAMP, which represented Lithuania at the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest with “You’ve Got Style.” Her 2016 song “Leading Me Home” is a dull, gospel-tinged show tune that seems to have a chorus and a bridge but no verse. Erica finished second with both the juries and the televoters. It’s tough to go up against Donny Montell now that he has established his Eurovision bonafides.

Australia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Slovenia: Raiven – “Črno bel

Slovenians had a choice at EMA 2016 between “Blue and Red” and “Black and White,” and we think that 3,865 of them made the wrong choice. Raiven came close to catching ManuElla, receiving 3,738 votes in the EMA super final. Her atmospheric pop song was haunting, and she certainly cut a striking look with her Morticia Addams at a Bauhaus concert realness. Also: harp solo! Unfortunately for us, Taylor Swift is more popular than Siouxie Sioux.

Bulgaria: Internal selection, not applicable.

Denmark: Anja Nissen – “Never Alone

It comes as no shock that “Never Alone”–which you may recognize by its other name, “Only Teardrops 2.0”–was co-written by Eurovision winner Emmelie de Forest. That Song Contest pedigree probably helped propell Anja to the MGP super final alongside Simone Egeriis and eventual winner Lighthouse X. Thankfully, Denmark decided that one “Only Teardrops” is plenty.

Ukraine: The Hardkiss – “Helpless

Here’s a piece of Eurovision trivia: “1944” barely made it out of its national final. Going into the Ukrainian national selection, the favorite was the Hardkiss’ “Helpless,” a gothic prog ballad. Its striking staging featured singer Yulia Sanina sporting a hairstyle seemingly inspired by Dilophosaurus and festooned with tubes of light that made her look like a central processing unit in the Matrix. If we remember correctly, judges Ruslana and Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko debated the Hardkiss’ performance for three hours. They then allowed the Ukrainian national final to move on to the evening’s fourth song of six. That said, they liked the song well enough to make it the jury’s top choice. Jamala’s “1944” did better with the public, so Jamala and the Hardkiss tied for first place. The tiebreaker went to the public vote, and the rest is Eurovision history.

Norway: Freddy Kalas – “Feel Da Rush”

We have described a few of the songs we’ve featured in this post as being “goth.” Freddy Kalas’ “Feel Da Rush” could be best described as the opposite of goth. It’s a Caribbean-flavored pop jam that is as authentic as Taco Bell. The sight and sound of a lily white Scandinavian bro mimicking a Caribbean accent is almost too ridiculous to be offensive. Almost. If there is ever a remake of Weekend at Bernie’s, then we have found the perfect song for its opening credits.

Georgia: Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – “Sugar and Milk

Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz were an internal selection, but Georgia held a selection show to determine their song for Europe. “Midnight Gold” was the overwhelming preference of the Georgian public (and jury member Andy “ESCKAZ” Mikheev), but Eurovision Song Contest 2016 producer Christer Björkman gave his jury vote to “Sugar and Milk.” We’re not ones to question Christer’s taste in music, but we can’t figure out why he thought this noodly 1990s jam band filler was a good fit for the Song Contest. Not to say we don’t like it, but “Midnight Gold” was such a better entry.

Albania: Aslajdon Zaimaj – “Merrmë që sot

“Merrmë që sot” is all over the shop, bouncing from pop ballad to metal song to prog rocker like an over-enthusiastic child in a toy store. It eventually settles into a galloping groove, but by then we were checking our watches. Eneda Tarifa’s “Përrallë” won Festivali i Këngës and despite her song’s fate in Europe, we won’t argue Albania made the wrong choice.

Belgium: Tom Frantzis – “I’m Not Lost

Tom Frantzis’ “I’m Not Lost” is a Coldplay-esque pop rock anthem decked out with an “it’s the journey, not the destination” lyrical theme. It would be perfect for Belgian iPhone ads. Tom made it to Belgium’s super final, but his standard issue rock staging was no match for Laura Tesoro’s fully choreographed funk extravaganza.