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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Idol Fan Response: Overreaction or Underreaction?

I’m not an American Idol fan and I haven’t watched the show since season 4. However, it was impossible to avoid the fan response to the result of last night’s finale. It seems a lot of people think that the runner-up, Adam Lambert, was the runner-up and not the winner because of homophobia on the part of the voters.

As was made clear last weekend, I don’t always have the same music taste as the public. It’s upsetting when there’s a difference but I deal with it and don’t cry for a recount. But I get the feeling that some of these fans online are overreacting. They’re acting a lot like Clay Aiken fans back in 2003 when he got to second place, and Clay Aiken fans are supposed to be the loony fanatics of the Idol fandom. I should know, I was one of them – I bought his first album though I haven’t bought any others.

However in just blaming a block vote of homophobia, people are forgetting two other blocks of voters. First, pre-teens and teens, who as the media says to us, send a lot of text messages, and text messages are more likely to get through than phone votes. Second, a good amount of votes (between 38 and 40 percent, depending on who says it), came from Arkansas, the winner’s home state. Frankly, that’s more troubling to me than any of the other theories – that the winner is the one with more hometown/home state support rather than the one with support across the country. I wonder if it would be possible to weight the votes from each state, like with the Electoral College used in presidential elections (and yes it is appropriate to make that comparison because who I’m sick of the “more people vote for American Idol than the President” complaint because more people can vote in Idol the only thing you need to be eligible to vote in that is a phone line). That way they can have an extended voting sequence, and who doesn’t love that? It also makes the whole process more transparent, because they have never actually released the vote totals ever as far as I know.

Or maybe it’s just I’ve spent too much time reading posts by Eurovision fans who say that people will vote for their country or their neighbors no matter what they put on stage, just replacing “country” with “state”, and immediately expecting an outcry about “regional voting” and being really confused when I don’t find one.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another Reason Belarus Should Have Been In The Final

One of the highlights of Tuesday's semifinal slipped my mind when I was writing my reaction blog, and it wasn't even part of the performance.

Look to the last five seconds of this video:

Who is that well-coiffed man shaking the Belarussian flag at the camera? It's Koldun! Why people didn't rush to their phones to vote for this song after the man who gave the world "Work Your Magic" gave this song his approval, I don't know.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Final Reaction - No Surprises

The winner of Eurovision 2009 shocks no one! As you may have heard elsewhere by now, Norway won pretty much unanimously. The jury vote hasn't been released as of this writing but I'm sure they got high marks, and they were in the top 3 of voters in every country in their semifinal except France so that means they were probably the televote favorite too. I'm a little disappointed that there wasn't a more exciting voting sequence, unless you count the race for the other places in the top five. But I am happy that like the years before, the winner was in my top 12 and one song out of my top five made it into the top five, as Azerbaijan was in third place. The other four in my top five didn't do nearly as well, with Finland coming in last place, but I'm satisfied that they at least qualified.

The semifinal results were released and Finland and Croatia were the jury picks. Like last year, my 1st place song in my rankings came 12th in its semifinal but made it to the final on the jury vote. I'm shocked that Sweden got fourth place in its semifinal, but not as shocked that it did so poorly in the final. If it wasn't a hit with Swedish juries in Melodifestivalen, it wasn't going to be a hit with other juries across Europe. I'm confused as to why Albania would give Netherlands 10 out of their 11 points, and why Belgium got their only point from Armenia.

The performances themselves were all very good and most were better than their semifinal performances, but I must mention the other highlights besides the competing songs. The part of the opening sequence with Dima Bilan was amazing.

He flies! He struts in place! He strips! He walks through a group of women unfazed! He sprints in place! He runs through a walls! He runs through the wind! He walks through a group of photographers unfazed! He runs through another wall! He strips again! He runs through yet another wall! He flies to an angel! Even when the thunder and storm begins, he'll be standing strong like a tree in the wind. The source of this new power must be in his hair. Although his glorious mullet made him strangely appealing, this new longer hair must give him the power of strength, immobility, and flight!

The voting sequence itself was boring and surprisingly even more predictable than in years past (instead of giving all their points to their neighbors, countries give all their points to their neighbors and Norway), but the highlights were the Slovenian presenter attempting to have a moment of silence for Love Symphony (where were the moments of silence in 2006 and 2008?) and Laka being himself giving the Bosnian points.

It was a great show and now I'm ready to detox myself from Eurovision until the fall. It's been fun and now that it's over I can finally have time to blog about other things.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Semifinal 2 Reaction

Either I have popular taste this year or I am getting better at predicting. I got 9 out of 10 qualifiers right! The only one I got wrong was Serbia which was replaced with Denmark. I should have known Denmark would qualify but it was just wishful thinking. Just like Tuesday's semifinal, my top seven from the final plus another one from my top ten qualified.

Also the curse that has plagued my rankings seems to have lifted. Every year at least one of my top five songs does not qualify for the final, but this year all of my top five qualified. In fact, my top 14 songs are all in the final (13 qualifiers plus one automatic finalist). Nineteen of my top twenty-five are in the final (outside my top 25 are Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Portugal, Russia).

I'll post some predictions for the final on Friday night or Saturday morning once the draw has happened and the finalists rehearse.

2nd Semifinal Predictions

It's three hours to the second semifinal of Eurovision and it's time for me to post my predictions. I haven't been reading any of the coverage of the dress rehearsals because I've been busy until today, so I don't really have any rehearsal impressions. I'm going to test my luck and include my top seven from my rankings again, but from what I've seen of the earlier rehearsals I think they have a shot.

Even though I don't really "get" Estonia's song it seems a lot of people do, so I think it would qualify, either by viewer votes or as jury pick. Serbia is also outside my top 10 in my ranking, but it seems that the live performance looks very entertaining. Just based on the song alone I'd rather see Hungary and Ireland in the place of those two, but based on the live performances I'm not sure that would happen. I just have a feeling that Denmark and Netherlands won't qualify. I'll probably be proven wrong about Denmark, but even with the draw I will be shocked and cry "jury pick!" if Netherlands qualifies. That, or "drunk dialing."

Here are my 10 predicted qualifiers for the second semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest 2009:


Good luck to all the performers, and the journalists giving such great coverage of the event so computer-bound viewers like me can see a glimpse of what's happening behind the scenes in Moscow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Semifinal 1 Reaction

Although the camerawork was disappointing in much of the performances of semifinal, the very end was thrilling and fantastic. I am very pleased with the result since I got 8 out of 10 predicted qualifiers right, and the 2 that qualified that I didn’t predict (Sweden and Israel, in place of Belarus and FYR Macedonia) were ones I mentioned I hoped would qualify.

I’m even more pleased that 8 out of my top 10 songs from this semifinal in my rankings qualified (Bulgaria and Montenegro were in my top 10 and didn’t make it, Malta and Portugal weren’t and did). In fact my top seven in this semifinal all qualified, which includes six members of my top ten overall.

Here are some of my highlights from the show:

  • Montenegrin singer almost flashes audience when she sits down and spreads legs, and then her dancer pulls her skirt up and we all see her underwear. How embarrassing.
  • Belarus and the person in the fire/wind bag
  • Armenia’s laser fingers
  • Iceland’s too close closeup at the beginning
  • Portuguese singer’s dress - very pretty
  • Maltese postcard teaching the audience the Russian for “fairytale” -- this was to confuse voters to make them think they were voting for Norway
  • t.A.T.u. lip-synching in the interval act
  • Svante looking happy before the results were announced - his face tells you how well western countries do
  • The male presenter calling Israel “the most politically correct song” in the contest, because it’s true
  • The female presenter saying that “the country that wins has to give me citizenship” before Iceland was announced

On Thursday morning (or rather afternoon to European readers) I’ll have predictions for the second semifinal.

1st Semifinal Rehearsal Impressions and Predictions

It’s time once again to test my crystal ball and make some predictions. Despite what the rest of the blogging world thinks, I think that Finland has a chance. The song’s rehearsal videos have a very large number of views on Youtube. Just by looking at’s videos, the two Finnish rehearsal videos have the second highest number of combined views as of Monday night, only behind Turkey. Since those views can’t all be from Finland and me I think it shows that there is some interest in it that may result in some televotes. But perhaps I'm just being overly optimistic.

I'm not optimistic about Sweden though - although I like the song itself I never liked the Melodifestivalen performance, with its blinding green and white backdrops, and this one seems to be similar. I'd love it if Israel qualified but I'm not sure it will happen. I'm also hesitant about Malta because Malta is neighborless Malta, but it's also Chiara and if for some reason this does not please viewers it will almost certainly please the juries. I know FYR Macedonia and Portugal were especially low on my rankings, but their performances seem pleasant enough to attract viewers.

Here are my predicted qualifiers for the first Semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest 2009.

Good luck to everyone involved, and I'll post again once the show is over with my reactions.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Semifinal Analysis: Ranking vs. Performance Last Year

Although each year is a new experience and thus examination of past statistics are unhelpful, I continue to do it. I’ll also be the first to admit that that my rankings are horribly inaccurate compared to the actual results, and usually give insight into nothing other than my personal musical tastes. A simple analysis of my top-ranked semifinalists from 2006 to 2008 shows this. In 2006 and the second semifinal of 2008, only five of my top 10 ranked semifinalists qualified. In 2007, the first semifinal of 2008, and 2008 overall, seven of my top 10 ranked semifinalists qualified. Also, in all three previous years of my rankings, I have never had all of my overall top five in the final.

Behind the cut are some statistics comparing the performance of the semifinalists from 2008 to my rankings of them. Their actual place in the semifinal is in parentheses, and their placing in the final is in a second set of parentheses if they managed to qualify.

2008 Semifinal 1
1. Slovenia (11)
2. Bosnia & Herzegovina (9) (10)
3. Russia (3) (1)
4. Greece (1) (3)
5. Armenia (2) (4)
6. Poland (10) (24)
7. Azerbaijan (6) (8)
8. Netherlands (13)
9. Belgium (17)
10.Finland (8) (22)
11. Israel (5) (9)
12. Romania (7) (20)
13. Norway (4) (5)
14. Ireland (15)
15. Andorra (16)
16. San Marino (19)
17. Moldova (12)
18. Montenegro (14)
19. Estonia (18)
In this semifinal, the top three was in my top five. Five of my top ten were in the top ten in the final. Only Russia had the same place in my ranking and the actual results. Four other countries (Andorra, Azerbaijan, Estonia, and Ireland) were one place off from the actual rankings. None of the 1/5 rated songs qualified, a first for me.

2008 Semifinal 2
1. Sweden (12) (18)
2. Iceland (8) (14)
3. Ukraine (1) (2)
4. FYR Macedonia (10)
5. Czech Republic (18)
6. Portugal (2) (13)
7. Belarus (17)
8. Malta (14)
9. Albania (9) (17)
10. Bulgaria (11)
11. Switzerland (13)
12. Georgia (5) (11)
13. Cyprus (15)
14. Lithuania (16)
15. Latvia (6) (12)
16. Croatia (4) (21)
17. Denmark (3) (15)
18. Hungary (19)
19. Turkey (7) (7)
My top 10 was horribly off, with only one song scoring in the top ten in the final. Only the top two and the bottom three of the top ten in the semifinal were in my top ten. Both the tenth place through the public vote (FYR Macedonia) and the tenth place through jury vote (Sweden) were in my top five. Four of my bottom five were in the actual top ten.

This just goes to show that my ranking is completely inaccurate once the performance factor is added. Last year my predictions on the day preceding the show were more accurate than me pre-show favorites.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Always on my mind

The top five in my Eurovision ranking this year is interesting. This is the first top five that has no solo male vocalists, although two of the songs have both male and female vocals. I also feel that I should mention this before anyone else does: three of them have been in my top 5 before. If this trend continues then I predict in 2010 my top five will be those three plus Slovenia and something else unexpected. As I said last week, there are a lot of songs in this contest this year that I really like, so just because a song didn’t make my top five doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s amazing. Also, this ranking does not reflect last week’s rehearsals, as I finalized these positions before rehearsals started, and I’ll write more on the rehearsals and my impressions of them later.

5. Ukraine
Svetlana Loboda - “Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)”
Reaction: In the national final I didn’t like this but after it got cleaned up my opinion completely changed. There’s a lot of variety in this song. The verses have horns and drums, while the choruses are all pulsing synth. It’s a very “busy” song with a lot of things going on at once, but it instead of sounding cluttered it gives it energy and keeps it constantly interesting.
Best Part: “I call you on the phone/you speak in monotone”
Rating: 5/5

4. Sweden
Malena Ernman - “La Voix”
Reaction: Initially I resisted this song and its hype in favor of other Melodifestivalen songs (“Hope & Glory”, “Moving On”, “Save the Night”) and I still prefer those to this, but after the initial shock of its win I was eventually won over. Fredrik Kempe must have some sort of mind control power because despite my efforts to the contrary I end up liking most of his songs in Melodifestivalen. The combination of pop and opera and camp results in some fabulous monstrosity that is even less serious than the other Eurovision popera songs but just as fun.
Best Part: Last chorus
Rating: 5/5

3. Romania
Elena Gheorghe - “The Balkan Girls”
Reaction: This is just a typical pop song, but the melody is very memorable. It has a late-90s-pop feel, which gives me a little false nostalgia. The lyrics are cute and memorable, and make an attempt to be deeper than they seem (“I wonder if beyond this/there could be something better”). I like the addition of the ethnic horns to the instrumental breaks, but I prefer the choruses that don’t have them.
Best Part: “I’m gonna start my weekend with gin, tonic, and lime”
Rating: 5/5

2. Azerbaijan
AySel & Arash - “Always”
Reaction: In a year with a few very good ethno dance pop songs, this is the best. It’s more eastern than the others geographically but still sounds very western in a way with the synth and bass line during the verses. The song keeps up a fast pace and doesn’t drag on. It has one of the catchier choruses in this contest, but the verses are also memorable.
Best Part: Introduction
Rating: 5/5

Waldo‘s People - “Lose Control”
Reaction: I have a small trend of putting a 90’s-style Eurodance song at 2nd place (see: Romania 2006, Iceland 2008) and the minute I heard this song I expected I would do the same. The problem was that I couldn’t find a song that I felt I should put higher. I usually don’t prefer dance songs with rapping parts in the verses unless they have an interesting rhythm, which this one does. The pre-choruses and choruses are very strong and definitely my favorite of the year.
Best Part: Part before and start of the last chorus, where a key change should be, but even its absence doesn’t detract from this
Rating: 5/5

Tomorrow I’ll post my reactions to the rehearsals and my predictions for the first semifinal of 2009. Good luck to all the participants (of whom I’m sure none visit my blog).

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Party Like a Balkan Girl

I only subscribe to the print editions of three magazines, and one of them is Time Out New York. I got this week's edition this afternoon and just about the last thing I expected or even wanted to see after some difficult exams was a picture of the Toppers in their silly silver outfits in print, but there it was, in the middle of an article about next week's Eurovision festivities. It briefly confirms the sad fact that no local channels broadcast the contest (unless some kind reader can tell me which premium cable channels do show it)It also had a listing of the magazine staff's favorite songs and a list of places where one could eat and drink (emphasis on drink) to remind you of various European countries. It was short and didn't even take up an entire page but it's so rare to read about Eurovision in local media for me that I thought I might mention it.

Source: Time Out New York

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Let the music make you raise your hand

Rehearsals have already started in Moscow and it’s time for my top ten. I really like my whole top twenty very much, so the difference in preference between these songs and the top 5 are very minute. As of this writing only one of them has had a rehearsal, but I hope that all of these are successful on stage and do very well in their semifinals and ultimately the final.

10. Greece
Sakis Rouvas - “This Is Our Night“
Reaction: I’m not sure electronic dance music is Sakis’s strength, but the writers of this song did a good job making up for any weakness. The chorus is very catchy and the backing vocals and instrumental are strong and well chosen.
Best Part: The beeping alarm sound before the first chorus during “When I look into your eyes/It comes as no surprise”
Rating: 4/5

9. Israel
Noa & Mira Awad - “There Must Be Another Way“
Reaction: I know this is blatant political propaganda - Hebrew and Arabic lyrics about wanting peace and finding another way - but I still love it anyway. I will forgive political lyrics in this venue if the music is appealing enough(see: what would have been Georgia 2009), and this one is. This is probably the only song this year whose verses I vastly prefer to the chorus. Although I usually prefer loud instrumentals, I love the simplicity of this song, with two clear beautiful voices in harmony and soft guitars.
Best Part: Bridge
Rating: 4/5

8. Norway
Alexander Rybak - “Fairytale”
Reaction: Last year’s overwhelming betting favorite (and in that case, actual winner) was in this spot too. However, I do not have an irrational fannish devotion to Mr. Rybak like I did and do for Mr. Bilan. I find his voice strange and nasal, but that just might be part of the appeal. The prominent strings are also very strange sounding. The song has a sort of haunting madness to it. The instrumental and lyrics combine to give the feeling of obsessive yet unrequited love.
Best Part: Violin solos
Rating: 4/5

7. Armenia
Inga & Anush - “Jan jan“
Reaction: This is a fun mix of ethnic and modern music, but unlike others that fall under that description this year it sounds more like folk than dance pop. I like the combination of the two female sisters’ voices, as well as the combination of English and Armenian.
Best Part: “We aren’t free/fixed like a tree/to the holy ground/with my sound”
Rating: 4/5

6. Bosnia & Herzegovina
Regina - “Bistra Voda”
Reaction: I never really thought of myself as biased towards Bosnia & Herzegovina’s songs, but considering they’ve ended up in this ranking range three of the past four years (and Deen and Feminnem were favorites of mine the two years I started this ranking) I may have a bias towards giving high marks to their songs. I should probably rename the number between five and seven “Bosnia & Herzegovina.” On the other hand, maybe they are just very good at producing songs that I like. This song mixes Balkan strings with militaristic drums. The lead singer also sings very passionately but not too excessively.
Best Part: Last chorus
Rating: 4/5

Next week is the top five. It may be a bit of déjà vu for some readers as three of them have been in my top five before. Even though you can guess which songs they are by now, I hope you’ll come back next week to see the final order and my rankings. Here’s a hint to keep you interested: three of them were instant favorites as soon as they were chosen, and the other two weren’t but grew on me very quickly.