A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 3

One of my problems through the years as I have done my big review is to make the numbers add up and even out in the end as I predict whether a song is a qualifier or not. Some year I ended up with twelve qualifiers in the same semi.

Maybe this is not an exact science. The conclusion - will this qualify or not - is maybe more of a gut feeling rather than the ultimate analysis. There will be a time for ultimate analysis as well - closer to the final, when we know about rehearsals and stuff - and then my predicted qualifiers will be no more then ten per semi.

Demy / This Is Love

It probably shook the Greek delegation to miss out on a place in the final last year, so they went back to the safest thing they could think of. They organised a small national final where Demy - who's a bit of a star back home - sung three songs written by top composer and producer Dimitris Kontopoulous who had his fair share of success at Eurovision and almost won the whole shebang for Russia last year. The big question mark here is why a good performer like Demy couldn't get a better song than this tired old charter disco? If Kontopoulous is such a genius, how did he fail to come up with something strong than this pretty dated song?

Borderline. There are good elements here - the verses build nicely and the orchestral crescendo before the last chorus is cool. Greece is the only country in this semi turn up with a party vibe on top volume. But the chorus is super duper flat and disappointing.

My grade: 2/5

Demy / This Is Love (Greece 2017 preview)

Kasia Moś / Flashlight

Poland always had a thing for drama and this ballad comes in an excellent arrangement with intriguing strings and a very big drum sound to increase the effect. Kasia is a good singer too but this song would have needed an extra minute to fully unfold. Now it just builds and builds and then suddenly ends without reaching any kind of climax. The bridge between the verse and the chorus is a bit clumsy and clunky too. But maybe none of this will matter in the end.

Probably yes. Last year, Poland ended third in the televote with a slightly underwhelming entry and unless the Poles in exile around the continent have taken their enthusiasm down a notch or two, this one should storm into the top ten. If it deserves to is another question entirely.

My grade: 2/5

Kasia Moś / Flashlight (Poland 2017 preview)

SunStrike Project / Hey Mamma

Usually a quite strong player, Moldova has three rough years behind them and would deserve a break and some positive vibes. To achieve that, they re-remployed SunStroke Project who in all fairness didn't do too well on their first attempt but ended up being a worldwide internet phenomenon. Now they stand on their own - sadly no Olia Tira in sight - but still have the saxophone and the violin at hand to spice up the package. Plenty of good mood and quirky dance moves but the song in itself is a bit square and unspectacular and gets a bit too repetitive for its own good.

Borderline. Europe will have to be at its chirpiest to vote heavily for this. Perhaps too much of a recycled version of something seen and heard before to do really well. Enjoyable but old news.

My grade: 3/5

SunStroke Project / Hey Mamma (Moldova 2017 preview)

Svala / Paper

After what seemed like an endless stream of perfectly well intended and totally harmless ditties, Iceland found their groove again. Nobody could be happier about that than I am and I welcome the oddly captivating Svala onto the ESC stage. However, she did have some bad luck when she was drawn into the same semi as some other females inhabiting the same sort of dark and moody electro soundscape and she will have to compete with the likes of Belgium, Azerbaijan and Latvia for the viewers' attention. That could prove to be a bumpier ride than it should be.

I sure hope so but there is also the risk of this one being three points short and ending in eleventh place. I keep my fingers crossed that the gamble will pay off and that we will see more edge from Iceland in future contests. Edge is what they do best.

My grade: 4/5

Svala / Paper (Iceland 2017 preview)

Martina Bárta / My Turn

Compared to their first short and disastrous run of entries, also Czech republic seems to have found their own thing. Soulful, earthy, organic stuff delivered by top class singers. The kind of thing that is lovely to listen to but that possibly stands a lesser chance of getting noticed and voted at a song contest. Martina has a wonderful voice and this could have been a very classy track on a very solid album in the late 1970's. That is a compliment, in case you wondered.

No, unless Martina totally pours her heart out for all the viewers to see. Then she could stand a tiny chance, but most probably this piece of impeccable songwriting needs a listen or two too many and will make an early exit.

My grade: 3/5

Martina Bárta / My Turn (Czech republic 2017 preview)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Whatever happened to scaling down?

Apart from the actual competition, one of the big things that was unveiled and discussed in Baku 2012 was the new EBU approach towards the size of the ESC and the now clearly pronounced goal to scale down the event and make it more sustainable financially, ecologically and - basically - in every thinkable way.

This new plan of course sprung from the recent financial crisis that left a number of countries almost unable to take part in the ESC due to the heavy costs, not to mention it would be virtually impossible for many countries to host a contest that kept on growing and growing. More entries, more journalists, more delegates, bigger venues. Unsustainable in the long run. Like the Olympics.

Next year, SVT was the perfect pupil that played along with the new guidelines. Instead of the huge new arena in Stockholm, they opted for a much smaller venue in Malmö and other steps were taken to reduce the number of accreditations at least a bit.

Since then, we haven't seen much of this ambitious plan. Denmark decided to renovate an old warehouse in the middle of nowhere - not an inexpensive stunt - and even if the venues selected in 2015 and 2016 were no huge at least they showed no signs of the event getting smaller.

Fast forward to 2017, where one of the big financial contributors suddenly decides to use the upcoming final in Kyiv as a tool to push their own agenda. Russia was given a lot of space to challenge a perfectly reasonable piece of Ukrainian legislation and the supposed reason the EBU was so understanding was of course the large participation fee paid by Russian television.

Another reason to reboot the process of scaling down the Eurovision Song Contest is of course to be less dependent on individual participating countries. The EBU insists that the ESC is an nonpolitical event, but in order to be that it must also be independent and able to stand up and talk back whenever someone is using their money to push a political agenda into the event.

If the event was smaller and had a smaller budget, then it would be easier to tell a single participant to drop out instead of making trouble as their absence would leave a smaller hole in the overall budget. That shouldn't sound too bad to an apolitical broadcasting union.

Not to mention that it would be easier for Malta, Cyprus or FYR Macedonia to host the thing should they finally win.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 review, part 2

It feels good to be up and running and finally make my way through the competing songs of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. If you missed Part One with the five first entries in the first semi final, you can find it by clicking here.

In this second part we will find something progressive and something classy as well as various kinds of old-fashioned. Which can be a wonderful thing at times but not necessarily a way to make Europe fall at your feet.

Slavko Kalezić / Space

At one point during the preselection season it seemed every country in existence opted for big ballads belted out with gusto by female performers in possession of various kinds of vocal capabilities and for a while the entire lineup threatened to turn into a dull and difficult shout-fest and nothing more. When this Montenegrin piece of gay disco landed it was easy to regard this as the entry that would save us all from boredom. Then we got a couple of really decent uptempo numbers and Montenegro ended up a bit in the shade.

No, most probably not. The greatest weapon in Slavko's arsenal is his gay aesthetics but that is also his biggest problem. He might turn viewers away in some countries while other parts of this continent saw things like these already in the late 1980's and will find them tame and old-school. The song is likeable but hardly strong enough to persuade anyone and the chorus is more repetitive than truly convincing. Not bad but not enough.

My grade: 3/5

Slavko Kalezić / Space (Montenegro 2017 preview)

Norma John / Blackbird

Typically enough, Finland enters a haunting ballad in a year when more than a fair share of the participating countries put their faith in ballads. But maybe Finland got it right this time after all. Leena Tirronen is a truly captivating vocalist and the piano break really gives this entry a flavour of its own. Coming after more standard eurovision ballads like Georgia and Albania also gives the audience an idea about this one perhaps being more original than most others. If the live performance is kept understated, clean and elegant like in the national final - please, don't add any dancers or anything! - this one could stand out and at least get heavily voted by the juries.

Borderline. Finland has the bad habit of easily getting overlooked once it is time to vote, but if quality means anything to anyone anymore this one should be bang in the final.

My grade: 4/5

Norma John / Blackbird (Finland 2017 preview)

Dihaj / Skeletons

In what must surely be a strange coincidence, Azerbaijani entries have done pretty badly at the ESC since the EBU imposed stricter rules with heavy punishment for any country getting caught manipulating the televote anywhere. Maybe they missed being in the upper regions of the scoreboard and if they did, this could well be a return to form as they - for the first time since their 2008 debut - make use of a domestic songwriter. And this songwriter surely did his job right. This is modern, this is suggestive and this is ridiculously catchy. The way Dihaj and her backing singers sing the chorus almost in canon is an old trick but beautifully executed. Articulation leaves a lot to be desired - I had no idea what she was singing until I read the lyrics - but that isn't really a problem when the final product is this solid. Azerbaijan's best entry since 2011.

Do whales poop in the ocean? Yes, this is a sure qualifier. If Dihaj can deliver the goods convincingly on stage, this one could go very far in the end.

My grade: 4/5

Dihaj / Skeletons (Azerbaijan 2017 preview)

Salvador Sobral / Amar pelos dois

The first time I heard this song I thought it sounded like a Eurovision winner. If the year had been 1957, that is. Then I listened again and got totally knocked out. This song is timeless rather than old-fashioned, and this soft evergreen easy listening style has huge audiences around the world. Michael Bublé, anyone? Then it doesn't hurt to have a performer like Salvador Sobral either. The boy is so immensely talented, so devoted to his music, so sensitive. Bursting with talent and with a very personable approach to performing. This one is sure to be divisive come Eurovision week but being as original as this one - in a lineup as streamlines as this year's - really should pay off.

Yes. I want to believe this is not only a qualifier but also has a shot at becoming Portugal's best showing to date.

My grade: 4/5

Salvador Sobral / Amar pelos dois (Portugal 2017 preview)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tobson's Big ESC 2017 Review, part 1

Same procedure as every year: I will take a look at the preview clips and evaluate and ponder and have a reasonably educated guess as who could be a hit and who will be a definite miss in this year's Eurovision.

Spread out over ten blog posts, here they are: all 43 songs (or most likely 42, really) fighting it out for the Grand Prix. There can be only one winner and I have a feeling I know already who that is. But first things first as we dive into the first songs of the first semi in running order.

Robin Bengtsson / I Can't Go On

There is no other song in the running this year that I have as mixed emotions about as this one. If you read my Melodifestivalen reviews, you already know that I really like Robin Bengtsson and that I enjoy has smooth voice and his relaxed appearance. The song isn't bad but it's still surprisingly bland and - in my mind - it feels like a mismatch between singer and song. Is this really Robin's style? This seems like the kind of song basically anybody could have sung and it makes Robin come across as replaceable. But it still is a very stylish and comfortable opener of the first show.

Absolutely. No doubt in my mind. Even if the song in itself is slightly disappointing there are not ten songs in the semi that are stronger. Given the right slot in the final, this one could go pretty far. Even a lot further than it would deserve.

My grade: 3/5

Robin Bengtsson / I Can't Go On (Sweden 2017 preview)

Tamara Gachechiladze / Keep The Faith

Eight years ago, Tamara won the Georgian final as part of the disco collective Stephane & 3G but never got to perform at the ESC. The lyrics to "We Don't Wanna Put In" didn't go down a storm at the EBU, and when the group refused to alter their entry they were forced to withdraw. Now she is back to show off the full glory of her vocal chords in an old-fashioned ballad of a kind that used to fail at the ESC already many years ago. The backdrop used in the national final gives away that this song is almost as political as last year's winner - and as clearly aimed at Russia - but while Tamara has a good voice the song is a bit too high pitched for her and the whole package gets very shouty before these three minutes come to an end.

No. Georgia is good at this game, but this ballad is a bit too standard and mediocre for its own good. Especially as much better female ballads are to follow.

My grade: 1/5

Tamara Gachechiladze / Keep The Faith (Georgia 2017 preview)

Isaiah / Don't Come Easy

Australia usually goes down well with the juries and that will come in handy this year as their entrant is a clean-cut and well-singing young man with an equally polished little ballad about how hard it can be to love once you've been hurt. Young Isaiah has a warm and very likeable voice but the ballad in itself relies a little bit too heavily on a formula we are all familiar with. Competent and professional as it might be, it never gets interesting. It never touches a nerve. It just stands there, looking nice, hiding its heart under its expensive suit.

Yes. Mainly because people on juries enjoy voting for Australia more than for some other countries. Otherwise I wouldn't be so sure, really.

Grade: 2/5

Isaiah / Don't Come Easy (Australia 2017 preview)

Lindita / World

You know what they say: if you find a concept that works, you should stick to that. Albania seems to have misunderstood that old saying a tiny bit as they cling to a formula that hasn't been very popular at all. They keep entering these bombastic songs with powerful female vocalists that are always walking the fine line between delivering impressive notes and being straight up shouty. Lindita has been around and done well in Albanian finals before and could probably navigate her way through the dangers of over-vocalising, but her song is way too difficult to hit home comfortably with televoters and jurors alike.

No. This hardly ever works and it won't work now either. Albania would have to have a long hard think about the way they select their entries and see if they could come up with something better.

My grade: 2/5

Lindita / World (Albania 2017 preview)

Blanche / City Lights

There are so many things going on in the world that you would never have been able to think possible only a couple of years ago. One of these is definitely the fact that RTBF found their groove and keeps entering solid ESC entries that keep pushing the formula for what you can or cannot do in this contest. The land of CopyCat and Witloof Bay turned into a big player and I couldn't be more happy. "City Lights" is more mainstream than Loïc Nottet was two years ago but is still exploring a moody and understated pop landscape while still running the risk of not being understood by the masses. I applaud Belgium for the courage but also realise how much this song depends on a good stage show to work in the end.

Yes. This one really should be bang in the final, but there is always a risk at hand. Will it be too dark and too inaccessible on a first listen? Could be a shock non-qualifier in the making but at this stage it feels like a contender for a top five placing in the final.

My grade: 4/5

Blanche / City Lights (Belgium 2017 preview)

Monday, April 10, 2017

ESC 2017: some songs and a big fat scandal

The 2017 Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv is one month away and there are still so many things to look forward to. And yet I think I already know what this edition will be remembered for. Sadly, it is not the songs.

Many people could smell trouble already when the EBU allowed Ukraine to compete with the highly political "1944" last year. I don't necessarily agree with that. We always had political messages in the ESC - Greece 1976 och Portugal 1977 spring to mind - and where does one draw the line what kind of political message is acceptable or not? Singing about world peace is also a political statement, mind you.

It was a tense moment as the 2016 final turned out to be a duel between Russia and Ukraine, the latter having already stated they would not take part in a final hosted by the former. 

The run-up for ESC 2017 suggested Russia was not too keen on being seen in Kyiv either as they failed to participate in several meetings prior to the contest and never booked any accommodation. Suddenly they presented an entry anyway, set to participate.

The Russian entrant was carefully selected: a former talent show participant suffering from a muscle disease that confined her to a wheelchair. She was armed with a ballad about peace and hope and - perhaps most importantly - she had had concerts in Crimea. 

Ukraine has very clear laws on this matter: anyone entering Crimea from Russia is violating Ukrainian territory and is seen as a criminal. Russia's singer was slapped with a travel ban to prevent her from coming to Kyiv at all instead of being arrested upon arrival.

This is where the EBU lost their marbles altogether and did everything they could to ensure Russian participation. They suggested Russia could perform via a satellite link - a suggestion so silly and against the spirit of the contest I can hardly phrase it in words - and once this idea was discarded went on to try to bully Ukraine into lifting the travel ban and a letter from the EBU sent to the Ukrainian prime minister contained a number of pretty vague threats.

1) Ukraine's international reputation will be damaged if the Russian singer is not allowed to enter. 
I somehow think neither NATO nor the EU will care an awful lot about a song contest as they make their strategic decisions.

2) Other countries will withdraw if the Russian performer is not allowed to enter. 
So let them withdraw. There are rules how to handle late withdrawals: the broadcasters in question must pay their full participation fees and could be slapped with extensive fines for pulling out at a late stage for no valid reason.

3) Ukraine's future participation in the ESC could be in danger if the Russian performer is not allowed to enter. 
Dear EBU - Ukraine is a country at war. This law was made for a reason. You can agree or disagree with it but it is in no way controversial that a country reserves the right to deny entry to people for various reasons. If the government has to choose between standing their ground or participate in a song contest, I think you are not on the winning side.

The very thought that the EBU - not a political organisation - would have a mandate to force a member state to give up their own legislation for the sake of an entertainment show is absurd and very damaging for the idea that the ESC is not a political event.

There - I got it off my chest. Let's move on to the songs instead. My big ESC 2017 review is about to begin.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Melodifestivalen 2017: this is it!

This is it - the end of the 2017 Melodifestival season. We heard all 28 songs and saw all the performances and are left with twelve hopefuls that will battle it out for the ticket to Kyiv.

Melodifestivalen has worked itself into a good place with an exceptionally high general level of songs and performances, but maybe it came at the expense of some edge and some originality.

There was always Loreen, of course, but our final lineup is pretty void of surprises. Most of the songs are clearly better than most of the other songs selected for the ESC this year while none of them feels strong enough to win.

But then again - Sweden won twice since 2012 and maybe it is good for them to take a tiny step back this year and leave room for something else. And to come back next year with more quirk and more surprises.

What about tonight's entries, then? One thing is clear: if the international juries have a clear favourite, then they will decide the winner and could possibly fully run over the televote results.

01. Ace Wilder / Wild Child
Ace is my girl and she never lets me down - also tonight she is my personal favourite and the one I secretly hope for the juries to sprinkle their top points over. It seems to totally lack momentum, though, and being the cheerful opener is seldom a way to MF success these days.

02. Boris René / Her Kiss
The first of many songs impeccably put together in order to score a radio hit. This one is happy and inoffensive and would be absolutely nothing without Boris and his energetic presence.

03. Lisa Ajax / I Don't Give A
A sharp young performer like Lisa would really deserve better material than this. Despite the attempt of a climax by the end it never takes off. Not a contender.

04. Robin Bengtsson / I Can't Go On
Contrary to many others, I find this song too generic to suit Robin's personality. He just feels replaceable - like a visitor in his own entry. The song in itself is ok but far from the smash hit I had hoped for. A potential winner, nevertheless.

05. Jon Henrik Fjällgren & Aninia / En värld full av strider
Jon Henrik is very easy to like and this entry has its moments, but above all it would have needed to make its mind up what kind of entry it is. Is it a duet? Is one of them the guest star? If so - who is the guest and who is the star? Not coherent enough but not a bad song.

06. Anton Hagman / Kiss You Goodbye
This is where Loreen was supposed to come in. Instead we have a delightfully charming young man with a guitar. I can deal with that but Anton is here to gather experience, not to win.

07. Mariette / A Million Years
My second favourite to win, but it is not going to happen. Too polished and too chilled. Plus Mariette apparently sang badly yesterday when the juries were listening. But it is a beautiful number and a very good song.

08. The FO&O / Gotta Thing About You
A really solid album track / third single made it into the final and why not? The boys dance well and sing quite well - most of the time at least - and got a radio hit out of it. That will have to do.

09. Nano / Hold On
A brilliant contemporary soul/gospel-flavoured pop song that would have needed a stronger live performance to fully shine. Nano doesn't really have what it takes. A shame.

10. Wiktoria / As I Lay Me Down
She improved her entry from last year and is the big favourite to win. I have a feeling she will, but for me this song outstayed its welcome too soon. After three listenings it just felt hollow and empty. But then again - I never understood the thing about Fame back in the day either.

11. Benjamin Ingrosso / Good Lovin
Smooth and pleasant - another made-for-radio-effort. Despite good vocals and a good performance, this doesn't really seem like a contender at all but could be a surprise in the making.

12. Owe Thörnqvist / Boogieman Blues
The comedy break if you so wish. Owe is a true legend and should have won Melodifestivalen hands down back in his heyday. In 1959 or so. Will come nowhere near a victory but could end surprisingly high up in the televote. Brace yourselves.

So how will this end? This is what I think:
1) Wiktoria
2) Robin Bengtsson
3) Jon Henrik Fjällgren & Aninia

But if I got to choose freely, I'd send Mariette or Ace Wilder to Kyiv. They'd live the place up more than I fear Wiktoria's song will.

As per usual, I will live tweet during tonight's show. Feel free to follow and to talk back at me.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Melodifestivalen 2017: andra chansen

My effort to blog about Melodifestivalen really didn't turn out too well this year - some travelling and then a heavy flu directed my energies elsewhere. And now we are already at Andra Chansen! A bit too late to pick up on the proceedings now, isn't it?

Nah. Not at all. It's a good chance at measuring some of the songs ahead of next week's final.

First duel:

The FO&O / Gotta Thing About You
Not the immediate pop smash one would have expected from a band desperate to have their big break but this one keeps growing and growing. The over choreographed performance is cute and a fair amount a radio play should be helping to.

De Vet Du / Road Trip
Pointless humour song without any humour. Truly basic in every way. But since it made it this far it must have something, even if this something totally eludes me. Out.

Second duel:

Axel Schylström / När ingen ser
Honestly - I can't make head nor tails of this song. I can't decide if it is a work of genius or simply annoying. That's a quality when it comes to standing out in a song contest. Axel is also most likeable and so enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Lisa Ajax / I Don't Give A
A pretty average mid-tempo pop number, completely ruined by the use of the f-word. It doesn't contribute anything, it's not funny, it's not clever. It just underlines that this team too thought their song wasn't interesting enough in its own right.

Third duel:

Boris René / Her Kiss
Happy and energetic. Sometimes that is all you need to be.

Dismissed / Hearts Align
For being a group working against stereotypes, Dismissed seem to rely a bit too much on people finding it shocking to see men in dresses. The actual song isn't bad but they would be better off focusing on being a band and to do less posing.

Fourth duel:

Anton Hagman / Kiss You Goodbye
Anton shouldn't stand a chance here, being a fresh YouTube talent up with a guitar up against a former winner with the most spectacular stage show of the year. However, he feels fresh and likeable and has a song that is easy to grasp and hold on to. This isn't over yet.

Loreen / Statements
It all looked so promising but when favourites fall, they often fall all the way to the ground. Loreen's song and performance stunned many but seem to have confused many others. Maybe enough people changed their minds for the better, but it feels like the momentum is gone.

So, who will make it to the final? My guess is it won't matter much, only shuffle the cards a bit. The winner is probably already there in the final lineup.

But I think The FO&O, Lisa Ajax, Boris René and Loreen will make it to the final. This is not necessarily what I want (I'd definitely have Axel over Lisa) but my prediction.

The highlight of Andra Chansen? Having the running order for the final revealed at the end. That's what I'm waiting for.