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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 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:


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:
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: 
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:
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: 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: 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:
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:
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:
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:
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: 
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:
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:
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:
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: 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:
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:
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: 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:
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:
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:
Rating: 3/5

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Song Ranking Part 4: Return of the Memelords

The past eight days have seen three Eurovision preview concerts - it seems like there's more every year. All the fan news sites have interviews and previews that make you realize that the singer with a mediocre song actually has a fun personality, or the singer with the amazing song has no stage presence. As it gets closer to the live show, it's tempting to rethink one's personal ranking and compare with a projected final placing, but I think these are a solid set to round out my "final" and would probably place in the lower half of the scoreboard on May 13, if not barely miss out on appearing in the final.

25. Georgia
Tamara Gachechilazde - "Keep The Faith"
Reaction: It's been nine years since Georgia brought a peace song to the contest and I think this one is the better one. Like the previous one, it brings bitter pain and the hope for peace, except this time it's a power ballad. It's certainly the closest thing sonically to "Rise Like A Phoenix" in this year's contest.  
Related Video:
Rating: 3/5

24. Hungary
Papai Joci - "Origo"
Reaction: It's always so good to hear "ethnic" dance songs in Eurovision, an annual peek into a culture whose music isn't in the typical international rotation. This song's chorus sounds like it would fit in a party anywhere in the world. It's especially nice to hear non-English rap, too.
Related Video:
Rating: 3/5

23. Ireland
Brendan Murray - "Dying To Try"
Reaction: This kid has the voice of an angel (with an endearing Irish accent) and this ballad is the perfect venue to show it off. Itstarts off slow but is constantly changing, building intensity until its final choruses with a backing choir.
Related Video: I feel the same way Brendan!
Rating: 3/5

22. Serbia
Tijana Bogićević - "In Too Deep"
Reaction: This suffers from Hannah syndrome, named after Slovenia 2013. It's a slickly produced electronic pop song, and there's nothing really wrong with it, but there's also nothing really special and memorable about it - it's almost anonymous. It's pleasant to listen to for those three minutes but doesn't stick after.
Related Video:
Rating: 3/5

21. Moldova
Sunstroke Project - "Hey Mamma"
Reaction: Moldova's music output is most known for two internet memes, one of which had one third perform later in Eurovision, and the other was this group's last appearance on the Eurovision stage. For all its popularity, it's unthinkable that "Run Away" finished in the bottom half of the scoreboard. It's a meme for a reason - that sax part is fire. Seven year's later, Sunstroke Project is still ready to party, no matter what your mom says, sax in hand although less epic. Their sound is more chill than last time, but that's how popular music has gone too.
Related Video:
Rating: 3/5

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Song Ranking Part 3: Do You Believe in Gravity?

Can you believe it's already April? Back in late February it seemed like this year's group of songs was really terrible but I've entered into that usual state where everything has warmed on me out of repetition and it's really tough to make decisions. Of course, like every year post-contest I'll only be listening to my top few songs plus whatever stood out live, so the agony spent will have been for nothing.

As a side note, when trying to find related videos for this group of songs one of them sent me to an actually completely unrelated skit from a Russian cosplay masquerade, and naturally I looked at the rest of the channel to see what is popular now. One recent skit used their country's Eurovision entry from last year - can you guess what anime it was for?

30. Denmark
Anja - "Where I Am" 
Reaction: At first listen this is aggressively bland, in typical Danish entry style. The performer has a good voice but a voice with more imperfections, maybe breathier, might have been better and have more feeling. The verses are definitely better than the chorus.
Related Video:
Rating: 3/5

29. Cyprus
Hovig - "Gravity"
Reaction: The clunking instrumental has a nice heaviness to it, appropriate to the title. It's not a complicated melody but would be a good karaoke song if your party can stay awake. I was wrong about the otehr "Gravity" in 2013 but I think I got this one right.
Related Video: please someone do a mashup
Rating: 3/5

28. Ukraine
O. Torvald - "Time"
Reaction: Is it going to be a trend that Ukraine sends rock songs in years they host? This is better than their song from 2005, but they could have been contemporaries. It's nice to hear rock again this year. It has a nice guitar riff and drum pattern. The message is good too, with a genuine emotion and yearning behind it, even if it uses the most tired phrase "time to shine." 
Related Video: the harder more shocking semi performance
Rating: 3/5

27. Belarus
Navi - "Historyja majho zyccia"
Reaction: This is fun, peppy, and energetic. Navi seem like they are genuinely having fun and want to share it with you, it's very endearing. The folk touches are nice and it's good to finally hear Belarussian in the contest.
Related Video:
Rating: 3/5

26. Latvia
Triana Park - "Line"
Reaction: Latvia has a streak of cool electronic songs running since 2015 and its a refreshing new identity for them in the contest. This isn't as catchy or deep as their previous two entries, and is a little too repetitive. It makes for a good background track rather than a showstopper.
Related Video:
Rating: 3/5