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Monday, May 13, 2019

Eurovision 2019 Semifinal Predictions

After weeks of ranking, rehearsals are complete and the jury shows are underway. Who will make up Saturday night's line up? Instead of making predictions on who will qualify, which usually results in something around 7/10 right, I will list the optimal qualifiers for my viewing party on Saturday based on the likely preferences of my friends

Semifinal 1:

Czech Republic

It really says something about Finland's song and performance that being a meme wouldn't add more than a little amusement to a party. San Marino is also an honorable mention for the camp value, but the other 10 acts are more interesting visually.

Semifinal 2:


North Macedonia


I think Moldova would go over well too visually but maybe not sonically, Albania sonically but not visually, and Latvia is a chill wildcard.

My actual predictions aren't the same (Serbia and Switzerland seem like likely qualifiers although I'm less sure of the latter) but these would result in the most fun on Saturday.

Good luck to all competitors!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Eurovision 2019 Song Ranking Part 8

5. Portugal
Conan Osiris – “Telemoveis”
The common reaction to this song is something like “unlike anything else” or “sounds like the future” or “this is incomprehensible art” or even “unlike what I usually listen to.” I have to disagree. “Telemoveis” is the music of now albeit in a beautifully Portuguese variation, a Soundcloud-esque blend of chill and melancholy except the melancholy is kind of saudade. This is the perfect accompaniment to a bus or train trip. Thank you Festival da Cancao for introducing me to this amazing artist, for I have now heard his back catalog and it’s all good if not even better. Before there was “I’m taking my Pikachu home” there was “SURFIN ALAPRAS.

4. Italy
Mahmood – “Soldi”
Definitely more fresh and Spotify than typical Italy, this song is captivating and dynamic. The instrumentation changes from tense piano and strings to an electronic beat and iconic handclaps flawlessly. It still has that Sanremo wordiness – there’s something about Italian that makes having a lot of syllables sound good. Even if you don’t understand Italian you can tell there’s a story and real pain behind this.

3. Norway
KeiiNO - “Spirit In the Sky”
What else can you say about this song? My tastes outside of Eurovision have moved away from standard pop lately but I will never stop loving schlager Europop, and “Spirit In the Sky” is as Europop schlager fanbait as you can get. The joiking is a nice touch to both make it unique and add local flavor. As many have pointed out, it sounds like “Monsters” in the chord progression but not exactly in melody, so it’s far rom a copy. It’s not particularly fresh at all and could have entered in any Eurovision since the mid-00s, but I don’t care.

2. Cyprus
Tamta - “Replay”
Round two of Cyprus’s tropical pop domination, although less Mediterranean and more electronic like the 808 the lyrics reference. The big brass horns in the chorus are commanding, and the pre-chorus is the best tension-building moment in the whole contest. A song to listen to on replay again and again.

1. Iceland
Hatari – “Hatrið mun sigra”
“Hatrið mun sigra” is a banger and a blessing. The growling verses and falsetto synthpop chorus a perfect contrast, reflecting the conflict in the song that is very relevant. The industrial darkwave music is matched by their visual style. The band itself is at the intersection of indie music festival fare, art school collective, and boy band, a joy to follow. This is one of Iceland's best entries if not the best, and I need to go book a flight to Iceland to see them ASAP.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Eurovision 2019 Song Ranking Part 7

10. Slovenia
Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl - "Sebi"
Lo-fi chill beats to fall in love and believe in yourself to. This is way more ambient than the usual Eurovision song, but in a fresh, youthful 2019 way. I have loved many of Slovenia's trashiest entries but this is pure coolness and it's just as good. The spacey synths are the standout, and unlike many electronic songs in the contest in recent years, Zala's vocals are warm and intimate. The introvert anthem of the year.

9. Spain
Miki - "La venda"
The jolt of energy in this year's contest is ska! Or at least it was until the revamp, but those horns and that ending don't lie. With a positive almost progressive message hidden in the lyrics, this is feel-good all around. One of their best songs in a while that genuinely gets the party started and the audience standing.

8. Azerbaijan
Chingiz - "Truth"
Symphonix International keeps churning out hits with little connection to the local music scene (with some exceptions) and I am here for it. This song is very house-influenced, especially with that vocal chorus. The influence from last year's American-Bulgarian Trey Campbell, the best part of Equinox, is obvious. The chorus sounds like he's singing it, which is far from a bad thing. The vocal samples preceding the introduction, verses, and final chorus ("I don't need the truth") sound hard to replicate live but intense in a vaporwave way.

7. France
Bilal Hassani - "Roi"
Bilal is a pure cinnamon roll who must be protected, the rare Youtuber who stays free of drama and shows positive behavior. His song is a sweet gem too, by my favorites last year Madame Monsieur. The bilingual mix of French and English feels effortless and natural, much like teens in a casual conversation, in a way that songs in this venue often aren't. The positive self-affirming message flies in the face of haters and hopefully inspires viewers outside of France.

6. Czech Republic
Lake Malawi - "Friend of a Friend"
Can you hear it? It sounds like the Czech Republic/Czechia is finally coming into its own in Eurovision. Unlike last year's fresh sound, this year is a peppy throwback, a Bill Wurtz-esque bouncy synth pop with slightly unusual lyrics. The instrumental riff in the post-chorus, punctuated by the "I'm only a friend" sample, is one of the catchiest moments this year. The theme is unlike any other in this contest or maybe in any of them, and illustrates what I like to call the 2019 Eurovision Horniness Matrix. The axes of performance and lyric should be directly related, with most close to zero in both. Switzerland isn't as high as it thinks it should be, and the gone but not forgotten Ukraine is off the charts in both. Something interesting happens when the two variables aren't directly proportional. For example, Iceland is exceedingly horny in performance and dress, but the lyrics are about chaos and destruction, the Eurovision equivalent of Soul Calibur. The reverse occurs with the Czech Republic, a group of clean-cut guys happily bopping around the stage and screen, but there's no ambiguity in the lyrics: this song is about eavesdropping on your neighbors having sex and trying to reassure your partner you aren't enjoying it. Not very horny performance, very horny lyric, and for the second year in the row. Keep up the good work CZ.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Eurovision 2019 Song Ranking Part 6

15. Switzerland
Luca Hänni - “She Got Me”
This song wants to be Despacito 2 but is actually Despacito Junior. The Latin American influence is hard to take seriously. For a song allegedy about “dirty dancing” the lyrics are remarkably tame, and few for that matter. There’s nothing sexy about “when she go low/she go so low” and “getting rowdy rowdy.” As with those examples, there is too much repetition in the lyrics, and for that number of syllables the writers missed the opportunity for some more vibrant imagery, showing not telling said dirty dancing. The melody is super catchy and it’s well produced, which is why it’s this high, but every time I listen to this song I wish I was listening to Despacito. This song has no mature eros and just makes me feel old.

14. Poland
Tulia - “Fire of Love (Pali sie)”
Their vocal style may be an aquired taste, but I think their dark intensity loops back around to being charming. This is the closest thing we have to a rock song this year and I love that it’s by female vocalists in such an unusual style. The combination of traditional folk vocals with alternative rock is genius. Side note, their cover of Enjoy the Silence is amazing:

13. Sweden
John Lundvik - “Too Late for Love”
The rare Swedish entry that is better live than recorded, the live version has a magical warmth that the overproduced and autotuned ecorded version lacks. This is yet another easy walk into the top 5 for Sweden, but instead of neo-schlager or generic Spotify, it’s a gospel-tinged love song. And that ending! The buildup and charisma leaves you answering, “no it’s not.”

12. Croatia
Roko - “The Dream”
Maybe it’s country bias or bad taste but I love this song. I loved “My Friend” and while this doesn’t hit those ridiculous heights it’s a dramatic balkan ballad with an angelic voice. Even the cheesy lyrics (“I have a dream/A dream as beautiful as it is extreme”) are amusing, although the Croatian part is better.

11. Malta
Michela - “Chameleon”
Fresh, youthful radio pop from a country who doesn’t usually bring it. This tropical pop song is the best Maltese song in a really long time. It’s surprising what they can do when they go internal for song quality. The only downside is the drop after the chorus and in the bridge loses just a little too much steam, but it makes up for it by the last chorus.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Eurovision 2019 Song Ranking Part 5

20. Albania
Jonida Maliqi - “Ktheju tokës”
The melody and intensity is very Albanian entry but it almost has an anime opening theme quality. You can hear the pain and desperation in her voice and in the intense drums and strings. This is one of their best entries this decade.

19. Israel
Kobi Marimi - “Home”
This year’s perfectly musical theater ballad. The lyrics are pretty awkward but the melody is so beautiful, simple yet powerful, with a commanding vocal. A little bonus for the Xbox fans with that Halo theme opening.

18. North Macedonia
Tamara Todevska - “Proud”
This is the Balkan ballad of the contest, with a beautiful and inspiring empowerment message. Tamara is singing to all of us giving us the pep talk we need.

17. United Kingdom
Michael Rice - “Bigger Than Us”
If any country deserves a participation trophy for not tripping over their feet it’s the UKoGBaNI, but this, this is really underrated. Yes it’s a Melodifestivalen reject but sometimes they need to be free to fly. It’s the right time for them to just send a soulful love ballad with no political undertone at all. If it was sent by Sweden this would do pretty well.

16. Netherlands
Duncan Laurence - “Arcade”
This is definitely an unconventional choice given this is the overwhelming favorite. I admit it’s beautiful and emotional. It’s almost too vulnerable, especially that wailing falsetto in the chorus, that it doesn’t do much for me emotionally. I get a sort of Sufjan Stevens sensitive vibe, soft and mournful. I get why it’s doing well but I need more intensity.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Eurovision 2019 Song Ranking Part 4

25. Greece 
Katerine Duska - "Better Love"
If country names weren't attached, you would never guess this was Greek, but it's refreshing. Katerine has a unique and powerful voice. The song is really mainstream and sounds like it's destined to be featured in romantic comedy trailers, but it just doesn't connect with me.

24. Hungary
Joci Pápai - "Az én apám"
His first entry two years ago was very underrated by me and came alive on stage with his heart bared to the world. This year's entry still has the same emotional power as a ballad. There's something so chill about the melody, especially the "na na na" chorus.

23. Russia
Sergey Lazarev - "Scream"
This was hard to do. It's Sergey, I would gladly put him #1, I stan, but his song isn't worth it. It's  more new Sergey but not among his better work. The song's structure and lyrics are unusual, but it looks like it could have a touching performance. Definitely a song to be seen rather than heard.

22. Estonia
Victor Crone - "Storm"
Victor looks and sounds like Måns' younger brother who wants to tell you about craft beers. The song is catchy but meaningless (I think the gist of the chorus is basically "everything isn't okay but actually it is"). It's over before it begins. It's really pleasant to listen to, but super generic Swedish pop.

21. Moldova
Anna Odobescu - "Stay"
This point in the ranking is where the "cheesy but I still like it" stuff starts. "Stay" is the kind of power ballad I love that frequently populates Moldova's selection and rarely wins. This is like "Fight" from 2007 but with the guitars removed (maybe it could have benefited). This is really unpopular so far but how could you not love that epic key change?

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Eurovision 2019 Song Ranking Part 3

30. Denmark
Leonora - “Love is Forever”
Every Dansk Melodi Grand Prix has one song that overflows with saccharine on top of that Danish blandness, but they never win until this year. Leonora and her song are much more charming than the others. The multilanguage lyric with a rare appearance of Danish is a nice touch. Also she’s a figure skater, how cool is that!

29. Serbia
Nevena Božović - “Kruna”
The Balkan ballad of the year. She has a fantastic voice. Normally I love these, but it’s too drawn out and slow to get started for me.

28. Australia
Kate Miller-Heidke - “Zero Gravity”
I absolutely love the verses, such a good message and builds up tension for the chorus. The operatic chorus took a while to grow on me but it did. This could be higher if not for the repetitive “nothing holding me down” last minute.

27. Finland
Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman - “Look Away”
10 years ago Finland sent a EDM song whose biggest hits were in the late 90s and I loved it more than any other song and definitely more than most people since it came in last. Of course this year Finland is sending their biggest EDM export. It doesn’t stand out as far from the pack this year, but could have been a bigger contender 5-10 years ago.

26. Latvia
Carousel - “That Night”
Edging back towards the mid-decade coolness of Latvia. This is smooth and chill like a refreshing beverage. It’s subtle and simple, and I can’t find anything wrong with it.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Eurovision 2019 Song Ranking Part 2

35. Ireland
Sarah McTernan - "22"
Maybe it's the music video by the water or the guitars in the chorus, but this feels way sunnier and breezier than you'd expect from Ireland. A cute pop song with a 50s-by-way-of-90s feel.

34. Belarus
ZENA - "Like It"
There's something weirdly dated about this. If Belarus had replaced some of their entries from the early 2010's this would have been amazing. But in 2019 having a beat isn't enough and it's just repetitive.

33. Georgia
Oto Nemsadze - "Keep On Going"
Iriao goes to Hell! I love the intensity and power of this rock ballad. The only complaint is that it takes a little too long to get going.

32. San Marino
Serhat - "Say Na Na Na"
Serhat is back with another disco, well, banger might not be the right word for it. After "I Didn't Know" the internet expected something equally iconic, which I'm not sure this does. While a personal pep talk from Serhat, with an invitation to call him for more cheering up, is appealing, the chorus is just missing something. Not that everything has to have a deep lyric, but maybe a little more than "na na na".

31. Belgium
Eliot - "Wake Up"
This wants to be vaguelly rallying for youth but it just looks and sounds like it would be used in some ad, like for clothing or a website. The verses have some cool instrumentation.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Eurovision 2019 Song Ranking Part 1

41. Montenegro
D-Moll - “Heaven”
This has wooden spoon written all over it. There's little more annoying than a college vocal group. Just a capella college vocal groups, so thankfully D-Moll isn't Witloof Bay Junior just yet. The song is annoying, and the revamp added nothing. This would be last place any year. First Reaction: 1/5.

40. Germany
S!sters - “Sister”
This is painful to listen to, especially the chorus, which should be the best part of the song. What a poorly chosen melody.

39. Lithuania
Jurij Veklenko - “Run With the Lions”
For a song about running with lions, it's remarkably lethargic (which is not the same as chill, which is good). I always seem to put Lithuania low in my rankings which I swear is not some bias towards the country but just distaste for the songs that happen to win their national selection. They had some great songs in their final which I would have ranked very high (“Your Cure” and “Lights On”) but instead we got this.

38. Romania
Ester Peony - “On A Sunday”
She spared us from “Dear Father” but despite the uncomfortable lyric it was memorable. I keep forgetting this one exists. It’s very similar to “Funny Girl,” and better than that one, but not by very much.

37. Austria
Paenda - “Limits”
This quiet, intimate yet atmospheric ballad was a risky choice and it doesn’t connect with me. “Limits” is giving “Blackbird” vibes, being a melancholic atmospheric ballad, which also didn’t connect with me, but it’s even more fragile.

36. Armenia
Srbuk - “Walking Out”
I had a nearly six-way tie for 31st-36th place, but in the end this one surprisingly stood out. On paper it should be higher. It has a cool video, and Srbuk has a cool bluesy quality to her voice, but the song itself is kind of forgettable. It’s very samey throughout and not enough to hold my attention until the end.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Eurovision 2019: The Entries That Almost Were

How time has flown by! It’s already almost a quarter into 2019 and this year’s Eurovision lineup is all set. For various reasons I wasn’t able to collect my thoughts during preselection season, but before getting into my thoughts on the actual entries I wanted to highlight some of the entries from this year’s national finals. 

Australia’s Courtney Act remained the only performer from this season that I have seen in solo concert. She was great so it was hard to say that “Fight For Love” wasn’t on the right choice. The verses take too long to get going and the chorus has some really awkward high notes. It’s a house We Got Love with a sprinkling of If Love Was a Crime, but without its catchiness. After a month I liked it a lot more through exposure therapy and at least it’s gaining traction on Spotify. 

The Electric Fields were the real breakout stars of Australia’s first national final. “2000 and Whatever” is a new age banger with a unique soulful voice that completely stomps over the competition, but in an uplifting way. We could have heard Its downfall might have been the amount of vocal sampling both in the lead and backing vocals which would have been hard to reproduce live. I hope this isn’t the last opportunity for us to hear Australian Aboriginal languages at Eurovision. 

Speaking of new languages, Bella Santiago’s “Army of Love” was the best song in the Romanian national final. This slice of ethno-dance-pop would have been a natural fit for the Eurovision stage, with a tropical update for the late 2010’s, but the real unique selling point was the Tagalog rap bridge. She would have earned the Filipino/a diaspora vote for sure. 

The final lineup is missing a good, strong, catchy rock song, maybe because by now the genre is a little dated (not like that stops anyone in Eurovision). The best such contender was “Cosa ti aspetti da me” by Loredana Bertè in Italy. Musically the successor to last year’s entry (listen to them one after the other, the intros echo each other) with a classic gravely Italian vocal. The melody is immediate and I can’t stop listening to this one. 

Portugal has really stepped up their game after winning and seemed to have more good songs in this year’s Festival da Canção than the entire 2000s. “Igual a Ti” by NBC was a powerful emotional ballad that might have been undid by the overemotive, theatrical gesturing in its performance. I want to find a time machine and drop it in a random year before 2016 so it can get a top 10 like it deserves. 

On the opposite end of the quality spectrum, the Belarussian open audition selection brought us “Kinky Boots” by the UK’s own Daz Sampson & Nona. This is a blessing that would have been contemporary only in the Gina G days and was outdated by the time semifinals were introduced. If it did not have contemporary technological references, I would have assumed this was written in the mid-to-late 1990s. It would be completely horrible for eurovision but it brings me such nostalgia for those Dance Dance Revolution days when Konami kept releasing new entries.

 Another audition round casualty was “Ca Adriano Celentano” by LUME from Moldova. Though this is also dated, especially those English lyrics in the verses, it’s unmistakably Eurovision fun. It’s basically “Hora Din Moldova” 10 years later, which isn’t a bad thing. 

Estonia’s Eesti Laul has a bit of a reputation for offbeat and experimental songs, despite safer winners as of late. The reputation was reconfirmed this year by “Wo sind die katzen?” by Kaia Tamm. It’s an electroclash song with lyrics in German and meowing. Judging the song without the live performance would be a mistake, with its renegade Alice in Wonderland catgirl and superimposed cat heads. 

Sweden time! This year’s Melodifestivalen was notable for the number of good songs staying in the semifinals, most notably “Tempo” by Margaret, but my favorite of the bunch was “Somebody Wants” by The Lovers of Valdaro. This funky synthpop song immediately let me to look up their back catalog on Spotify, which is far too short. I hope this isn’t the last we see of them. 

Melodifestivalen was also personally notable for two past winners with songs that were better than the ones they won with. Anne Bergendahl was back with a schlager vengeance with "Ashes to Ashes."  Impressively, the lyrics are made up of incomprehensible imagery to surpass her first song (“Like the top of the mountain/Like a wishing well fountain/I am the luck of the draw”). And I far prefer “I Do” by Arvingarna to “Eloise,” both thematically and musically. 

 Of course, it wouldn't be appropriate to talk about Eurovision entries that missed out without talking about the controversial selection in Ukraine which ultimately withdrew. "Siren Song" by MARUV is contemporary, sexy, and mysterious, pulling you deeper into dangerous water like the mythological creature of its title. MARUV and her song will be sorely missed, and would have been in my and many others' top 10s.

Next week, I will start my ranking of all of this year's Eurovision entries, in reverse order as in all past years.