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 voting 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.

The 2016 Eurovision That Almost Was: Semifinal One

To give you an idea of how intense our year has been, we just now noticed that we never did our Eurovision That Almost Was posts for 2016. Yet our scars from Söngvakeppnin are still surprisingly raw!

Finland: Saara Aalto – “No Fear

True story: we didn’t watch Finland’s UMK final live, but caught up on it later in the day. Chris spent the show talking about how every song was a potential winner. Every song except “Sing It Away.” Jen, of course, had been spoiled on the result and was chuckling madly to herself at the fact that Chris wasn’t even considering that “Sing It Away” could win. Saara Aalto’s plain ballad “No Fear” won the public vote, but only finished third with the juries, who inexplicably gave Sandhja’s jazz festival banger top marks. We’re not entirely sure Finland’s prospects would have brightened in Stockholm had they sent “No Fear” instead, but at the very least they probably would have had slicker choreography.

Greece: Internal selection, not applicable.

Moldova: Cristina Pintilie – “Picture of Love

Cristina Pintilie’s old fashioned Eurovision ballad received a fair amount of love from Moldova’s jury: it finished in second place, ahead of eventual winner “Falling Stars.” However, “Picture of Love” ended up in a distant third place after the public mostly voted for Lidia Isac and eventual fourth placer DoReDoS. Cristina’s song is not bad and features some nice orchestral flourishes during the second verse. We like to think that had this won the national final, Moldova still would have used the astronaut in its staging.

Hungary: Gergő Oláh – “Győz a jó

Hungary had possibly its strongest A Dal competition to date, with four credible contenders making the Super Final. No runner-up was revealed after Freddie was declared the winner, but Gergő Oláh finished second in the jury vote that determined the final four. As mentioned in the Favorite Songs post, “Győz a jó” was a slinky, sexy trip-hop track that would have acquited Hungary quite nicely at the Song Contest.

Croatia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Netherlands: Internal selection, not applicable.

Armenia: Internal selection, not applicable.

San Marino: Internal selection, not applicable.

Russia: Internal selection, not applicable.

Czech Republic: Internal selection, not applicable.

Cyprus: Internal selection, not applicable.

Austria: Elly V – “I’ll Be Around (Bounce)”

Just 17, Elly V is a charismatic singer/songwriter who wowed the juries that helped determine the Wer singt für Österreich super final. “I’ll Be Around” is an intriguing dance pop anthem, but Elly V’s performance showed some raw edges that could have frayed on the big Eurovision stage. Often when we say that we haven’t heard the last of an artist on our website, you never hear from them again. However, Austria has been known to reward also-rans in subsequent years: Conchita Wurst, Trackshittaz and this year’s national final winner Zoë all made strong impressions at earlier national finals before making it to the Grand Prix. It’s possible that in Elly V we are looking at another future Austrian representative.

Estonia: Laura – “Supersonic

Laura was a member of Suntribe, which represented Estonia at the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest. She has tried to return the big show as a solo artist a few times since then. “Supersonic” was a solid effort although it didn’t do much for us at the time. Hindsight being 50/50, perhaps Laura, with her experience, would have been a better choice than the more green Jüri Pootsmann. Still, that Trackshittaz/Electro Velvet light-up outfit would have needed to go.

Azerbaijan: Internal selection, not applicable.

Montenegro: Internal selection, not applicable.

Iceland: Alda Dís Arnardóttir – “Now

As mentioned in our review, we were very bitter that “Á ný” was not even considered to represent Iceland at Eurovision this year. What the hell, Iceland? The ultimate choice at Söngvakeppnin was between “Hear Them Calling” and “Now,” and while we were no fans of the eventual winner, we preferred it to this twee ballad sung by a wannabe Disney Princess. Still, Alda had Pétur Örn Guðmundsson as a back-up singer, so it wouldn’t have been all bad if she had won. Eurovision could always use more Pétur Örn.

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Internal selection, not applicable.

Malta: Ira Losco – “Chameleon” / Brooke – “Golden”

Ira Losco won Malta’s national final with “Chameleon,” which we described at the time as “a warmed over mash-up of ‘Invincible’ and ‘Euphoria.’” Fortunately, Ira switched to “Walk On Water.” At the Maltese national selection, Brooke was the clear second place finisher with both the jury and the public. “Golden” is all about how we all can shine, so we don’t think it would have brought anything unique to this year’s Song Contest. Still, with a more interesting song Brooke could be a worthy representative for Malta some day. Hopefully we haven’t cursed her by saying that.

Eurovision 2016 Superlatives

It’s time once again for us to pay tribute to the finalists in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest the best way we know how: with bitchy quips and references to Patty Duke and obscure 1950s sci-fi films.

  • Most Successful Pastiche of Annie, Freddie Mercury & Frieda from Peanuts: Belgium
  • Best 8-Bit Stage Design: Czech Republic
  • Most Awkward 10 Seconds: Netherlands
  • Best Use of Sale Items From Sports Authority’s Going Out of Business Sale: Azerbaijan
If this was an NFL team, it'd be called the Fire.

If this was an NFL team, it’d be called the Fire.
(Samra screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • The Sigh, So Dreamy Oh You Were Singing Something Award: Hungary
  • Best Array of Lawn Ornaments: Italy
  • The Sparkle, Neely, Sparkle Award for Sparkle: Israel
  • Best Innovation In Traffic Cop Uniform Technology: Bulgaria
  • The Frans Award for Not Caring But Really Caring: Sweden
  • Best Reason to Give Stefan Raab Millions of Euros to Run Your National Selection: Germany
  • Most Successful Theft of Austria’s Thunder: France
  • Best Tasting Schmaltz: Poland
  • Best Musical Representation of What It Would Be Like to Be the Last Person to Own a Telephone: Australia
  • Best Lupine Consolation Prize: Cyprus
  • Most Creative Use of Bobby Pins: Serbia
What's a Grown Woman Doing with a Bobby Pin?

What’s a grown woman doing with a bobby pin?
(Sanja Vučić screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • Most Donny Performance: Lithuania
  • The 3+2 Award for Best Use of Costuming to Distract You From a Mediocre Song: Croatia
  • Most In Need of a Balloon Boy, As It Turns Out: Russia
  • Most Gasp-Worthy Death Drop: Spain
  • Second Best Eurovision Entry Ever Written By Aminata: Latvia
  • Best Song That’s Not About the War That’s About the War That’s Not About the War: Ukraine
  • Best Homage to The Brain That Wouldn’t Die: Malta
The Losco That Wouldn't Die

The Losco That Wouldn’t Die
(The Brain That Wouldn’t Die screenshot by Shock Till You Drop.
Ira Losco screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

  • Best Depiction of a Bad LSD Trip: Georgia
  • Best Depiction of a Good LSD Trip: Austria
  • Best Theme to a Bromantic Comedy: United Kingdom
  • Winner of Eurovision’s Swimsuit Competition: Armenia
  • Most Likely to Get There, Popular: Ukraine
She is the winner of Eurovision! She is! She is!

She is the winner of Eurovision! She is! She is!
(Samra screenshot by Eurovision Lemurs)

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!

Songwriter Spotlight: Jonas Thander

jonasthanderLast year, we had the chance to interview Eurovision-winning lyricist Charlie Mason for our website, which got us to thinking that we’d like to do a regular feature interviewing the songwriters, who are the under-appreciated lifeblood of the Eurovision Song Contest.

We weren’t trying to make an annual feature, per se, but there you go.

This year we’re shining a spotlight on Jonas Thander,  who with Beatrice Robertsson co-wrote Donny Montell’s “I’ve Been Waiting for This Night,” Lithuania’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2016. His credits as a songwriter, producer, and arranger include work for Arianda Grande, Demi Lovato, Jessie J and Pastora Soler. He also arranged the horns for and played saxophone on Taylor Swift’s massive hit “Shake It Off.”

Thander says the music of Stevie Wonder motivated him to become a songwriter. “The melodies, lyrics, his musicianship and the emotions that comes with that” inspired him to follow his career path.

Like Charlie Mason, Thander began selling songs and meeting collaborators through a website that connected songwriters with publishers. The first song he sold, “TV or Radio,” was to Sergey Lazarev, Russia’s representative at this year’s Song Contest.

Since then, he has collaborated with a number of songwriters and artists from around the world, which requires a lot of flexibility. “I do it in all ways possible. Sometimes alone, writing lyrics, melodies and producing,” he said. “Sometimes via Skype, sometimes five people in the same room. Sometimes just singing out loud in the bathroom…”

Thander has worked with Donny Montell before, and he and Robertsson had Montell in mind when they wrote “I’ve Been Waiting for Tonight.” He said, “We knew he was looking for a song to compete with in Eurovision.”

When asked what he thought of the Song Contest, he said, “I like it a lot. It’s a great party and a chance to get Europe together for one night. As a kid I used to sing along to Johnny Logan’s ‘Hold Me Now’ looking in the mirror.”

Thander has some experience with other big pan-European events. He had the opportunity to write the music for the opening ceremony of the 2013 UEFA Women’s Euro. “I got the mission to write and produce for the Women’s Euro through an old musician friend of mine,” he said. “It was a challenge but I had a clear vision from the start how I wanted it to sound like.”

When asked about Sweden’s dominance at Eurovision and in pop music worldwide, Thander said, “I guess we’re in a big flow at the moment. Success brings more success.” He added, “Younger people get inspired by older songwriters and producers and the hits keep [on] coming.”

National Final Season in Review 2016: Our Favorite WTF Moments

Joy of joys, based on what we saw this season, we have hopes for some WTF moments this May in Stockholm. That said, we all know that the real WTF action is in the national selections. Here were some of the standouts this year.

Norway: The Hungry Hearts – “Laika”
A song that captures the legacy of Verka Serduchka but is for the ladies. The Golden Girls joined Devo for a nostalgic look at the Soviet Union’s salad days, when disco music filled the streets and garbage bags were the height of fashion. Blanche gets the solo, naturally.

Belgium: Amaryllis – “Kick the Habit”
When Amaryllis sings of her need to kick the habit, she’s referring to her powers of telekinesis. Amaryllis is like Carrie that way, if Carrie had seen A Christmas Story and The Kiss of the Spider Woman musical, and if she had gone on the Phantom Manor (or, if you’re American, the Haunted Mansion) ride a few 100 times. Here’s a fun game for you to try at home: imagine Elmer Fudd singing along. “I’ve got to kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit.”

Iceland: Sigga Eyrun – “Kreisi”
Let’s just say it wasn’t the most sympathetic portrayal of mental illness we’ve ever seen.

Estonia: Meisterjaan – “Parmupillihullus”
Things could have been so different for Kylo Ren if he had studied the ways of the samurai, learned to play the jew’s harp, and if Joseph Gordon-Levitt had been cast instead of Adam Driver. (We really enjoyed this one, by the way. It works on many levels.)

Germany: Gregorian – “Masters of Chant”
We don’t necessarily have a problem with the idea of Gregorian chant-inspired pop. We probably should, but we don’t. But “Masters of Chant” was so on the nose that the whole package just felt dumb. Gregorian was, of course, dressed in rhinestoned black cloaks, and there was fire. And green lasers. As one does.

Romania.
No, we are not going to discuss Ovidiu Anton in this post. Everyone gets to enjoy his WTF glory in Stockholm! But did you know that winner of Selecția Națională receives the golden idol prop from Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Ovidu's trophy!

Latvia: The Riga Beaver
Lest we forget, the Riga Beaver made a return appearance at Supernova. The self-styled Cultural Symbol of Europe raised his game this year, playing Pictionary, conducting classical music, leading fitness breaks, doing craft projects, and singing “Let It Go” with a 8-year old ballerina. At this point, he has more than earned the right to read out the results of the Latvian vote at Eurovision. Make it happen, Latvia.

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.

The Most Important Eurovision Win Of The Past 10 Years

Those of us who have followed the Eurovision Song Contest for many years are tempted to tell the story of how the Song Contest has changed over time as a linear tale. But like any history, Eurovision history is not linear. It is characterized by multiple plot lines that play out simultaneously. These plot lines start, pause, and fade away on different timelines, sometimes in conversation with other plot lines.

As we try to make sense of the Song Contest over the past 10 years, we see a watershed moment where several plot lines converge: Marija Serfovic’s win in 2007.  When it comes to influencing the Eurovision Song Contest we see today, we argue that “Molitva” is the most important winner in the last 10 years.

Molitva

In the mid-2000s, many countries voiced a growing dissatisfaction with Eurovision’s direction. There were many reasons, and we are not going to include them all here. However, we think there were four main concerns. First, the songs entered into Eurovision were divorced from current pop music. Next, there was the growing emphasis on performance and staging over song. There was anxiety that the inclusion of more Eastern European and former Soviet countries in Eurovision could greatly impact the Song Contest, both because of the potential for bloc voting and because of the sheer number of entries to get through. Last, there was concern that performing at Eurovision offered participants little chance of garnering career growth or fame.

The dissatisfaction bled into Eurovision entries in a few ways. One approach was the pandering multicultural entry sung in multiple languages that could be easily understood across Eurovision’s increasingly diverse participant base (e.g., Ich Troje, Todomondo). Another approach was the Eurovision protest entry, a reactionary way to express annoyance or anger at the Song Contest (e.g., LT United, Silvia Knight, Dustin the Turkey).

The protest entry reached its pinnacle in 2006. The aforementioned LT United and Silvia Knight performed similar entries declaring themselves the winners of the Song Contest. If Lithuania’s and Iceland’s entries were directly snarky, Finland’s choice still smacked of the same dissatisfaction with Eurovision demonstrated by several other countries at the time. While Lordi is a seasoned and professional act, their theatrical make-up, presentation and over-the-top pyrotechnics (the first year pyrotechnics allowed in the contest) indirectly commented on Eurovision’s excesses. And yet the song completely entertained us all. It transcended its status as a protest song and it was a runaway winner.

Sociological literature indicates that, when faced with high costs of entry but low outcome uncertainty, organizational actors tend toward certain mitigating strategies. These strategies include mimicry, conservatism of choice, and reliance on previous success. We see these behaviors consistently exhibited in the Song Contest, even today.

Therefore, the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest had to answer a question: Is Lordi now what a Eurovision Song Contest winner looks like? Many other countries attempted a similar theatrical, gimmicky route in Helsinki: Switzerland had “Vampires are Alive,” the United Kingdom had “Flying the Flag (for You),” and of course Ukraine had “Dancing Lasha Tumbai.”

There were a number of old plotlines playing out as well. Romania had opted for a vaguely cynical multicultural entry, Todomondo’s “Liubi, Liubi, I Love You.” Meanwhile, France went the protest song route with Les Fatals Picards’ “L’amour à la française,” which subtly mocked that year’s entries from Belarus and Ukraine.

Eurovision 2007 also included important contributions to another plotline: the emerging LGBT identity of the Song Contest. For example, two countries entered drag acts. While Denmark’s “Drama Queen” did not make it out of the Semifinal, Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka was one of the bookies’ favorites to win it all. (We’ll come back to this later.)

The Eurovision Song Contest would likely have taken a different direction in subsequent years had Verka gotten the win the year after Lordi. Artists would take the “safe” choices of what previously worked, and country selections would to defer to the purported tastes of the European voters.

But it didn’t pan out that way: “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” finished second behind “Molitva.”

The win by “Molitva” felt like a rejection of performance over songwriting and of the cynicism towards the Song Contest that was becoming part of the conventional narrative (one that BBC’s Terry Wogan followed in the United Kingdom during his final years as commentator). It was simply a quality entry, and it won because it was the best song that year.

Make no mistake: it did not harken back to the days when Eurovision was just a Song Contest. Perhaps chalk it up to the fact that this was Serbia’s maiden entry, but Marija and her stage partners didn’t just stand there and sing. “Molitva” was as stylized and choreographed as any other entry that year. But at its core, “Molitva” was an excellent song and it was performed by a powerhouse vocalist.

Marija’s vocal was commanding, grounded, and emotional; you didn’t need to speak Serbian to relate to what she was singing about. Indeed, it is to date the only winning entry performed in a language other than English since the language rules were loosened up in 1999.

Moreover, Marija’s strong artistic identity and interpretation embraced and celebrated LGBT pride. It forwarded that agenda by adopting a sincere approach, rather than a campy one.

Marija’s moment didn’t result in every country immediately redefining their approach to the song contest. In 2008, Dima Bilan–returning after his second place finish behind Lordi–had a solid song, but he performed it with a strong stage gimmick. The following year, Alexander Rybak sailed to a win with a preponderance of stage presence and an only-at-Eurovision song.

But slowly, slowly Eurovision has changed. Fewer joke entries have entered the Song Contest, and those that do often flounder in the Semifinals. More countries have been looking for artists that could manage chart-friendly success. The trend was further facilitated by the introduction of juries; with that second audience in play, countries now had to anticipate not only the tastes of the voting public, but also international groups of music industry professionals. The first artist to truly piece it all together was Loreen in 2012. Not only did she capture the votes, but “Euphoria” went on to be a summer hit throughout Europe. However, it was Marija who established that in this performance era, the whole package matters most.

10 Years of Eurovision Lemurs

Ten years ago, I was bored while Jennifer was at a conference in Montreal and discovered that the Eurovision Broadcasting Union simulcast the Eurovision Song Contest on its website. On a whim, I started to live-blog the goings-on during the 2006 Semifinal on my LiveJournal. That was the beginning of the Eurovision Lemurs blog. Jen joined in the blogging the following year.

I am kind of embarrassed by those blog posts from 2006; my ignorance was on full display, even though I got off a few choice quips. But since then, I feel like we’ve maintained a funny and intelligent blog, and I am happy that our enthusiasm for the Song Contest has not waned in 10 years.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to do a few special posts to mark our 10th anniversary. They will look back at the past decade of the Song Contest and take stock of where it’s at now. We’re looking forward to the next 10 years!