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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Eurovision 2018 Preselection Blog Week 2

Another week passed and while there were a few televised audition rounds (namely in Belarus and Romania) and song revelations, the only country that had anything notable this week was a semifinal in France. France is turning out to have a preselection other countries would be jealous of. Of course it has a big music scene, but there are other big music markets that don't tap into the depth of their talent (U Know who). Maybe it's tapping into cool young performers and writers who don't have a stigma for Eurovision, or maybe it's its recent good results that attract quality.

"J'ai cru" by Ehla was very cool and French, and "L'un près de l'autre" by Noée was very pretty, magical, and French, and neither made the final but they would have been very attractive and instantly recognizable as French to viewers. "Jamais sans toi" by Phéno-Men was the kind of motown-inspired funk that has done pretty well in the contest in recent years, although it seemed a little too vocally restrained.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Eurovision 2018 Preselection Blog Week 1

Out of the light, like a star, like a hero, this blog will survive! It's that time of year again for Eurovision on-season, and can you believe that song was 10 years ago? I still don't regret putting it in 1st.

Now that last year's results have sunk in, it was still a fine winner that will become a classic. All of Portugal and the rest of the world wants to be there in person for Portugal to finally host if the ticket sales are any indication. Honestly the song I have listened to the most since last May is “My Friend,” so abandon all expectation of my taste.

As with the last few years, until all the Eurovision entries have been selected I will highlight one song from each selection that missed out, and sometimes might be better than the actual entry. In the interest of time I will mostly highlight finals, and only semifinals and heats when I feel like it, like Melodifestivalen because I am biased.

As always, Albania had their song selected before Christmas. Many fans preferred the power ballad “Pjedestal” which is one of the stronger songs among the selection, but on it's own it's lacking the memorability that would be needed to differentiate it from any other big-voiced ballad. My favorite song from the selection was “Tjetër Jetë” by Grupi Na & Festina Mejzini. It had a powerful soft-rock chorus, more powerful than the actual winner, a total earworm. I try to go about my business but at all hours ringing in my head is “NJË TJETËR JEEEEEEEEETË!”

In this dry part of the season (in more ways than one), there is always one constant: endless heats and semifinals in Lithuania. Evaldas Vaikasas had a nice ballad in “Blind” that should have gone through to the semifinal, but more so for his amazing outfit.  Meda Meškauskaitė's “Blood Roses” was hypnotizing and should have gone through as well, but maybe it needed different staging (more roses and more blood, less of that dancer). She and this song are too good to not pass through this early in the Lithuanian heats. I encourage you to check out her YouTube channel too.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Semifinal 2 Reactions

There's a miracle my friends
And it happened Thursday

I only got 7 out of 10 qualifiers correct but what a way to get it wrong. FYR Macedonia had an excellent song but the emotional manipulation of the audience didn't connect with the song. Estonia was a little stiff and plastic on stage - none of that "Calm Against the Storm" warmth and chemistry that it needed. Coldness really lost out this year - consider Finland and Iceland as well, fan favorites  that take more time to grow on the listener. And Ireland, well, tried, but it seems Austria and Bulgaria snapped up the cute boy demographic.

Hungary had an excellent performance that told a story and really adds diversity to the final. Denmark isn't my type of song but that vocal performance connects with people. And the disappointment from the others not getting through is washed away with Croatia's advancement to the final. The performance is pure only-in-Eurovision camp magic. The over the top imagery is balanced by the flawlessly executed vocal. It was polished and sticks with its choices - compare to Montenegro, which was camp but sloppy. I'm seeing a Romania 2013 result, which would still be excellent.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Semifinal 2 Predictions

After Tuesday's results and Wednesday's jury final, it's time to pick ten predicted qualifiers for Thursday's second semifinal. I got 9 out of 10 correct in the first semifinal, so hopefully the luck continues.

AUSTRIA
BELARUS
BULGARIA
ESTONIA
FYR MACEDONIA
IRELAND
ISRAEL
NETHERLANDS
NORWAY
ROMANIA








Austria and Ireland are my borderline picks. It was a choice between these and Croatia, Denmark, and Hungary. Six of the other eight were always definite qualifiers to me. Estonia is the typical fan fare that has a good enough draw to advance to the final. If Belgium could advance to the final despite initial concerns then FYR Macedonia can - the song is strong and very instant. So why Austria and Ireland? They are both boyishly cute solo boys with charming (not alienating) performances, and those always qualify (see Estonia 2016 for how it can go wrong). Bulgaria likely has the teen girl vote all wrapped up, but there's still room for some variety.

As always, good luck to all the performers!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Semifinal 1 Reactions

Better late than never, right? I got 9 out of 10 right, with Finland as the only incorrect pick. Their failure to qualify shocked a lot of people who had it as one of their favorites. I was shocked too since so many people liked it, but the song does seem more like a grower than something that instantly resonates on first listen. The qualifier I failed to predict, or even have on my backup list, was Cyprus. Their choreography wasn't impressive in the rehearsal footage but looked a lot better on screen.

The other non-qualifiers weren't really surprising. Montenegro had a Eurovision gem with an amazing backdrop, but it was an inconsistent performance. Half of the choreography was fabulous Ultraman posing but the other half was galloping across the stage and braid spinning that looked unstructured and messy. If it had all been smoother like in the music video, who knows, it could have done better.

I'm very happy that my top 3 songs in this semifinal all qualified, with two seeming to have really resonated with the audience by most statistics. Australia wasn't as impressive as it could had been but was still a good show. Rehearsal footage portrayed Belgium's performance as weak, but with some tweaks the strength of the song was clear. And Portugal seems to have had the biggest reaction from the general public. If someone told you last year that this year Portugal would be considered a contender for the win, nobody would believe them going by their decades-long track record, but here we are, and deservedly so.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Semifinal 1 Predictions

Tomorrow the first semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest will occur and ten songs will make it through to the final. I made my predictions before the rehearsals began and despite some concerning performances I'm keeping my top 10 the same:

ARMENIA
AUSTRALIA
AZERBAIJAN
BELGIUM
FINLAND
GREECE
MOLDOVA
POLAND
PORTUGAL
SWEDEN

My backup pick was Iceland but after reviewing the rehearsal footage it's now Latvia. Good luck to all the competitors!

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Song Ranking Part 8: All Alone in the Danger Zone

It's finally Eurovision week! By this time next week everyone will be complaining about their country's placing and the eventual winner, but until then let's enjoy the quality pieces from these five countries - my top five.

5. Australia
Isaiah - "Don't Come Easy"
Reaction: Isaiah has a soulful voice beyond his years and the lyrics are appropriate beyond his years too (the song is basically about telling you're hookup you're not ready to love them due to bad past experiences), but it all comes together so well. His voice just sounds so good, especially in the second verse and the bridge. This is what "Sound of Silence" should have been.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tybfTecnDM
Rating: 5/5 

4. FYR Macedonia
Jana Burceska - "Dance Alone" 
Reaction: The catchiest synthpop song in the contest, how could I not love it? The chorus and the second chorus (post-chorus) are incredibly catchy. The sparkling synth and the hand claps in the chorus are perfect. Not related to the lyical content or performance, but I love the use of VR in the music video.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5OACuckA-A 
Rating: 5/5

3. Portugal
Salvador Sobral - "Amar Pelos Dois"
Reaction: Not only is this much better than the UK's entry of the same (translated) title in 1980, it's also by far Portugal's best song of the televoting era. The jazz ballad is simple but effective, with sweeping strings and an angelic voice to tug at the heartstrings. It's timeless in that it sounds like it could be a standard. It's both calming and emotional, a magical piece that deserves to get their best result ever.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffqIa1L4TBE
Rating: 5/5 

2. Belgium
Blanche - "City Lights"
Reaction: "All alone in the danger zone" is the best opening lyric of the contest. The synth creates a deep atmosphere, and though it's all electronic it feels very warm. It's a little too cool for the contest and could easily fit in some hip playlist. Blanche's vocals range from deep and confident to light and innocent, and they always work.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ReeqwGPyEQ Excellent interview with Blanche saying that Eurovision is cool among people her age (teens). Has it lost some of its stigma?
Rating: 5/5   

1. Italy
Francesco Gabbani - "Occidentali's Karma"
Reaction: How anticlimactic, right? This is the big favorite this year and for good reason. It hits all the right buttons. The melody is peppy and uplifting. The lyrics are deeper than the usual Eurovision fare. And they're in Italian! The song is about cultural appropriation and search for meaning in the information age, with allusions to other texts. The juxtaposition of "namaste" and "alé" is brilliant. This is the perfect Eurovision song for 2017.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xs_F70BAF20 there are at least 5 Dragon Ball parodies of this song
Rating: 5/5

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Song Ranking Part 7: Spoopy Skeletons

Can you believe that Eurovision is here already? The first day of rehearsals was today. In the interest of fairness I haven't read any feedback from the rehearsals, as some of my top 10 rehearsed today, but my top 10 has been pretty firmly ordered for the past few weeks. Do I hope that any of these songs win? Honestly no, but I hope they all do well.

10. Azerbaijan
Dihaj - "Skeletons"
Reaction: I might be the only native English speaker on the internet who doesn't have a problem with the lyrics. Partly because the singer's accent is heavy enough that the lyrics aren't always comprehensible, but partly because some of the lyrics go for sounds over meaning, almost in a poetic way. Unnatural grammar is much more irritating than unusual vocabulary choice, which is just that, a stylistic choice. Which is to say "surrounded by thorn jeans" is fine by me, especially when set to that melody and instrumentation. The dark, intense, and heavy synthpop is so good it nullifies any question about lyrics.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDHEX9JfNV4
Rating: 4/5

9. Croatia
Jacques Houdek - "My Friend"
Reaction: I feel like Lisa Ajax about this song. It starts off with an inspirational quote of disputed origin and turns into "For Life" meets "Let It Go" in a bilingual self-duet. It is a true guilty pleasure slice of cheese and I am living for it. Where else would this be but not for Eurovision. I am biased though and might not enjoy it as much if it was coming from, say, Malta. Jacques sings with an excellent English accent too. 
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sPeu04AdjU
Rating: 4/5

8. Netherlands
O'G3NE - "Lights and Shadows" 
Reaction: It's "Hold On" for 2017. The star is the tight harmony between the three vocalists. Even though the melody is uplifting, the lyrics are the most morbid in the contest since last year's winner. I actually take more issue with these lyrics than with Azerbaijan's for their grammatical choices ("strongly fight", "walk that road that everybody goes", "double feeling", even "lights and shadows."). Definitely an uncommon subject for an Eurovision song with a strong vocal performance to back it up.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xp-BfilyMfA
Rating: 4/5

7. Estonia
Laura & Koit Toome - "Verona"
Reaction: If Estonia had picked Kerli they would have been in my top 3, but here we are in Verona. This duet feels a little like "Don't You Want Me" meets"Goodbye to Yesterday" with a disco instrumentation to please any Eurovision fan. The pre-chorus ("we are lost/lost in the crowd of the street") is one of my favorite parts of any of the songs this year, and it would definitely be lower ranked without it.
Related Video: https://www.facebook.com/rafa.gumielmartinez/videos/10208883251300065/
Rating: 4/5

6. Sweden
Robin Bengtsson - "I Can't Go On" 
Reaction: It wouldn't be Eurovision if Sweden didn't have a slickly produced pop song that's an instant earworm, and this year they have one of the catchier songs. It's funkier than usual - especially in that bassline that is the star during the bridge and the last chorus. The lyric is definitely more thirsty than creepy so no issues there, with some sidestepping of profanity (the original lyric was fine). Also, the opening beat sounds a little like "I Wonder If I Take You Home".
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zTORiD5Dgg 
Rating: 4/5

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Song Ranking Part 6: One Name

Four out of these five performers all use mononyms. It's not too late for Slavko to go by just Slavko!

15. Greece
Demy - "This Is Love"
Reaction: This is a dance pop song, and it does it well. The pre-chorus is more captivating than the chorus, but the chorus should still bring a good party on stage. The only downside is the ending is a little too saccharine. I wish they'd kept the "rain falls from above" lyric, though.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xBx_1Oy3GY
Rating: 4/5

14. Montenegro
Slavko Kalezic - "Space"
Reaction: This is right out of the Alcazar playbook, it's ridiculous and I love it. Every interview has said there's a deep meaning to the lyrics and the song is about love, but it's clearly about this. The lyrics really are something , and very dirty for Eurovision. This is the fun disco we need in these trying times.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mctUcwdD24
Rating: 4/5

13. Iceland
Svala - "Paper"
Reaction: Of course this electro song is cold, it's coming from Iceland! It has a catchy chorus, 80's-influenced synth sound, and bases the lyrics around a unique metaphor.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDcvAdSlR7E
Rating: 4/5

12. Israel
IMRI - "I Feel Alive"
Reaction: This song feels oddly stiff and guarded even though the lyric is about vulnerability. IMRI sings "I'm a bit fragile" but sounds like he's trying hard to appear stoic? Despite the contradictions, it's a fun party song with a little ethnic touch - exactly what you need in Eurovision.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gA2Bup5AbFA It counts because he was there too.
Rating: 4/5

11. France
Alma - "Requiem"
Reaction: This song, video, whole act is the epitome of "French girl cool," which is super hot right now. Like last year this song blends an internationally appealing sound, French verses, and an English chorus, hopefully for mass appeal. The English chorus is more awkwardly placed and doesn't feel as natural as last year, but it makes up for it in allure.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7_YcoRAYl0
Rating: 4/5

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Song Ranking Part 5: Getting Messy

There's only 3 more of these left to do! It's hard to think and you can tell by the length of the reactions below, so happy Easter everyone.

20. Armenia
Artsvik - "Fly With Me"
Reaction: This is a very cool song with ethnic influences. It gets off to a slow start but this song is always dynamic and builds in intensity - a flight that goes some interesting places.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpekj4kJFeE
Rating: 3/5
 
19. Bulgaria
Kristian Kostov - "Beautiful Mess" 
Reaction: This is a fresh, modern ballad by a singer with a good voice. It doesn't connect with me as much as some other ballads but I can see it doing very well. The instrumentation in the chorus is especially emotional.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMN-M7Myxag This song is fire! I wish it was the entry! He's got a good career ahead of him.
Rating: 3/5

18. United Kingdom
Lucie Jones - "Never Give Up On You" 
Reaction: If this was the original version, a ballad with some simple piano instrumentation, it would have ranked a lot higher. It loses some of that theatricality in the move to a more atmospheric electronic instrumentation, but the beautiful melody still remains. This is by far the best UK entry since "I Can," and it might even be on par with that.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAnltozx4_8
Rating: 3/5

17. Switzerland
Timebelle - "Apollo"
Reaction: This has one of the most instantly catchy choruses in the contest this year, if not the most. It sounds and is very Swedish. It's a little too sterile feeling to rank higher, but it shines more live so it should be better at the contest.
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nq7JOWaFyT8
Rating: 3/5

16. Norway
JOWST - "Grab the Moment"
Reaction: This is my biggest grower of the season - on first listen I had it in my bottom 10 but it kept beating the competition. The chorus is catchy in an almost droning way, but in the way lots of popular songs don't have a real hook anymore. The lyrics are some of the best of the year and a tough nut to crack - I can't tell if it's about dealing with anxiety or drugs ("pocket full of prose," hmm, but maybe that last one is overthinking it).
Related Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izdMAyeM87s
Rating: 3/5