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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mega Phoenix

If you went back in time and told everyone in 2012 that Austria would win by a large margin with Conchita Wurst and that the Netherlands would come second with a country song, everyone would think you were out of your mind. I got 7 out of the top 10 right, missing Denmark, Russia, and Spain, instead picking Azerbaijan, Greece, and the United Kingdom. It seems you can bet against Azerbaijan coming top 10.

Various internet and "wurstspace" commenters have worried about the implications of Austria's win on the future and reputation of the Eurovision Song Contests. The camp spectacle of Conchita's performance allegedly reinforces that Eurovision is about trash for a mostly gay audience and is completely irrelevant to mainstream serious music. However, while it's hard to tell that it will be an international chart hit (which really was a stars-aligning anomaly with "Euphoria"), what if "Rise Like a Phoenix" is actually very relevant in popular culture?

Drag is increasing in mainstream popularity, especially due to the reality competition RuPaul's Drag Race. The United States show has aired in several European countries and has a dedicated internet following. Many of the most popular alums of the show have toured Europe. Jonathan Ross even announced he's planning on creating a British version of the show. With social media, drag performances and performers are reaching a much wider audience than just those who show up to clubs. Conchita herself even has a makeup tutorial on YouTube with half a million views to date -- if that doesn't say #JoinUs then what does?

As for the song itself, it can't be denied that it is old-fashioned, but that's not to say it's irrelevant. Most critics (myself included) compared it to 60's Bond themes, which had a revival in "Skyfall", which won the Oscar for Best Original Song. But maybe it's better to compare it to this year's winner of that award instead, the massive breakout hit "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen. "Let It Go" is a big Broadway ballad that, while it represents the opposite element of ice rather than fire, it has the same theme of rebirth and embracing your differences. The whole package led to its victory, but "Rise Like A Phoenix" still could have won with a female vocalist, provided she had the sound and power of Idina Menzel and had the same staging. "That's What I Am" certainly wouldn't have come close to winning as sung by Conchita or anybody else. Both the song and the performer were right, and occurred at the right time.

Another year of Eurovision is over. This year's show was a great one, with good production and a great stage. The future of the contest isn't in jeopardy just because a performer wearing a beard and a dress won, no more than it was because performers in monster masks won.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Final Predictions

So last night I got 8 out of 10, with Belarus and Slovenia (good job to both) wrong.

It's really hard to predict a Eurovision winner this year. There aren't any real standout favorites this year. I know, that's what people say every year, but some of those years (like 2011) it's true. Consider that was the year where a big pre-contest favorite (France) had a mediocre performance and did as well in the final vote, where the home voters and juries had different favorites. It seems like this will be one of those years.

One of the surprises of the semifinal was the Netherlands, Their performance just oozes charisma, and it has the best staging. All of the acts are really well produced this year. Thinking back to 2009, many of the songs were messy and "Is It True" really stood out for its polished sound and look. Or back to 2010 when "Me and My Guitar" suddenly became a contender. They're the new hot favorite that came out of nowhere, but I don't think they'll do better than Yohanna and Tom - which is to say they may well have won their semis but they probably won't win the final. No matter what, all the recap blogs on Sunday will be titled "Calm After the Storm."

The other surprise was Austria. What could have been seen as a joke and a possible non-qualifier is now the hot favorite on iTunes and it's popular outside of fan circles if the "eurovision" tag on Tumblr is representative of anything. It might be a little too divisive to go all the way, but it overall it will probably do better with the televote than with the jury.

Meanwhile, the hot favorites of Armenia, Hungary, and Norway put out good performances that fell a little short of expectations. Armenia can't be ruled out entirely because it's doing so well on iTunes. Sweden met expectations and is still a contender.

The United Kingdom seems to be a hot favorite too but I can't see it winning. Doing well maybe, because the hyped entries did well over the past two shows, but if someone wants to vote for a "message" song they have other options.

Italy was my pre-contest favorite but from what rehearsals I've seen, hoping for a mid-table result is least likely to end in tears.

The dialogue has been very West-heavy apart from Armenia and discounts the typical contenders of Azerbaijan, Russia, and Ukraine. Russia had one of the top three performances of their semi. It will be very interesting to see who gives them votes, for obvious reasons. For those reasons, a win seems extremely unlikely. Remember when it was assumed that Russia benefited from political voting? Azerbaijan and Ukraine, last year's first and second runners-up, have a lot of polish but not quite as memorable performances as those. Never bet against those two making the top ten in the absence of a disaster on stage.

Uptempo songs are also missing from the victory conversation. In a ballad-heavy year, there has to be at least one uptempo song in the top 3. Right now it seems to be Greece due to its iTunes popularity and it being Greece. Poland is massively popular on YouTube, but what makes it popular to look at might be its downfall when aiming for the top.

I would personally rather see a country that's never won before (Armenia or Hungary) or that hasn't won in decades (Austria or Netherlands) rather than a country that won recently (Norway or Sweden). Despite my initial dislike of the song and its umemorability, I would like to see the Netherlands win simply for the surprise.

In the interest of humiliation, here's a top 10 prediction:

Good luck to all the performers and here's to a good show!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Semi 2 Predictions

Very late reaction to Semifinal 1: 7/10, not bad. Two words: San Marino? You can't say there's nothing left to shock anyone. Shame about Latvia's non-qualification, they seemed to have captured a lot of internet attention (obviously, the internet loves cake).

Here are my predicted qualifiers for the second Eurovision semifinal tomorrow:


Monday, May 05, 2014

Semi 1 Predictions

In about 20 hours, the first semifinal of Eurovision 2014 will be over and everyone will be complaining on the internet. It's the time when everyone makes their predictions based on scientific criteria like fan hype, running order position, historical trends, rehearsals, and betting odds. I haven't been following much of those this year compared to others so "maybeeeeee" I'll be really wrong. If Belgium qualifies, I will write 200 positive words about it.

Here are my predictions for tomorrow's qualifiers:


Good luck to all involved in putting on the show!

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Rise Up To The Sky

It's finally May and by this time next week the internet will be complaining over another year's Eurovision result. Here are my top five songs from this year.

5. Israel
Mei Finegold - "Same Heart"
Reaction: This song has a unique coldness and aggression. For a title like "Same Heart" you don't expect a breakup song. It has such raw, powerful emotion, yet is also smoothly polished. The dance break after the first chorus is amazing. The dual language often doesn't work in songs, but it really works here.
Best Part: Key change
Rating: 5/5

4. Norway
Carl Espen - "Silent Storm"
Reaction: This sounds the most like a winner to me. It has a similar structure and underdog quality to "Molitva" and we know how that ended. This song has a strong yet simple melody, with a stripped down emotional presentation that's sometimes missing in this venue but can really connect with an audience.
Best Part: Beginning of final chorus
Rating: 5/5

3. Sweden
Sanna Nielsen - "Undo"
Reaction: A fantastic contemporary power ballad, it has all the touches that the Melodifestivalen fan could hope for. The awkward computer-command title holds some of the appeal. It has a touch of Celine to it, which is always good to aim for in this contest.
Best Part: That key change
Rating: 5/5

2. Austria
Conchita Wurst - "Rise Like a Phoenix"
Reaction: Talk about exceeding expectations! I didn't like "That's What I Am" and since the singer selection had a high potential to lead to a novelty type song, this is much better than anyone could have hoped for. Not only is it one of the best songs this year, it's one of the best imitation Bond themes I've ever heard. It has all the intrigue and passion of "Skyfall." It's seriously, beautifully sung. Toss in a little gender subversion and you have one unforgettable song.
Best Part: "You were warned/once I'm transformed/once I'm reborn" and especially how each time this line is sung, it's performed differently
Rating: 5/5

1. Italy
Emma - "La mia città"Reaction: This is the coolest, catchiest rock song in the contest with the coolest, catchiest chorus. Despite the bittersweet lyrics, its also the most fun. Emma's Pink-like voice makes you want to go to Rome.
Best Part: "Voglio tutto/Voglio te…voglio te, voglio te"
Rating: 5/5