A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
There is always some matter to discuss or just a song I want to share
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Monday, May 16, 2016

ESC 2016: Russia vs Ukraine

It's a shame the aftermath of the ESC is so political. It is hard to discuss music when the general tone is harsh and unforgiving.

I am happy that Ukraine won. It is a daring and demanding piece of music and ot your usual happy little pop song. While I would have hoped for something slightly more commercial, I'm happy that experimental and alternative sounds stand a chance in the contest.

Several times when I tried to make this point I was met by the question if I was happy now as LGBT rights in Ukraine are almost as bad as the ones in Russia. I beg your pardon?

This was the year I really tried to keep politics out of this. Russia ditched the hypocritical peace anthems that made me see red in the past so I decided to follow suit and judge them on musical merit.

In my humble opinion the Russian song was good but not excellent while the performance was state of the art, partially very impressive, partially very cold and technical. Add all these things together and I think a third place is a really fair outcome. A result most countries would be really happy with.

Then of course the relationship between Russia and Ukraine is not an easy one. Especially not at the moment. Had a look at the Ukrainian tv news that seemed happier about being Russia than actually winning. And the tone of the many articles declaring Eurovision dead and hopeless, published by Russian "news outlet" RT, is nothing but ridiculous. At least it was nice to see Ukraine scoring highly in the Russian televote and vice versa.

Time to take a deep breath and remind ourselves this is just a song contest?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

ESC 2016: Voting and stuff

Screenshot borrowed from svt.se

If you were one of the 16 countries that received a lower score in the televote it was really easy to lose track and hard to keep up with where your own country eventually landed in the ranking. That is my only criticism of the new voting sequence introduced this year.

The suspense was kept up until the very last second as Ukraine first snatched the until then seemingly dead certain Australian victory and then managed to keep it despite Russia winning the televote. Perfect drama.

Isolating the jury votes also brought back an air of Eurovision what it used to be like back in the day when I fell in love with the contest. Completely unpredictable results, someone gets a 12 from one country only to get nothing from the next.

But again I'd like to raise the same old discussion. Who is really on the jury? And what are they told to reward? Originality is one of the criteria, right?

I'm surprised that my dear Italy didn't get more love from the juries. A real quality pop song with remarkable production values and classy songwriting that was totally ignored by many juries.

Instead the likes of Lithuania and Belgium got a great deal of points. While I'm happy for two usually unlucky participant countries, I still don't see what there is in either song that would trigger such a reaction from experts.

At the same time, the juries held down Austria so much not even a strong televote finish could secure Zoë a spot in the top ten. Surprising.

ESC 2016: How do you solve a problem like Germany?

I got many things wrong in my prediction yesterday but I did foresee that Germany would end in last place for the second consecutive year. Jamie-Lee didn't deserve it, but it was understandable.

The German song was designed to live a long life in the charts, not to break through to people in three short minutes. It lacked intensity and was anything but instant. It won the German final because the audience was already familiar with it after several weeks of airplay.

Had Jamie-Lee been forced to enter the national final with a new song instead - one that would have had to impress people on a first listening - she would have had every chance to hit home better in Stockholm as well. This is something for ARD to ponder for years to come.

The UK had a pretty similar problem as they had selected a song that felt more fresh and likeable than what the audience expected. It was a good and energetic song and it was really good for being a recent UK entry. That's also the problem with it.

When you get 26 songs at once, you vote for the one that stands out and speaks to you. You don't give kind bonus points to any country just because they happen to be better than you'd expect them to be. You vote for your winner. And while the UK was good it was in no way a winner.

The UK has ended up in the well-known territory of Finland - you find a song you really believe in and think will impress people, but in the end they find it to be OK but average and nobody votes for you. "You're Not Alone" was the best song on offer in the UK final but all songs participating were very safe and inoffensive. Next year they would need to find some edge.

And then Spain. I must say the low placing of Barei was a great injustice. She gave a good and spirited performance but probably got overshadowed by Russia in the eye of the average viewer.

According to people in my Twitter feed there was a real good outcry on social media against TVE and their ESC attitude last night. I can understand that anger.

Spain is one of those countries that should be able to make top ten every year if they wanted to. There is so much quality music being made there, of every form and shape imaginable. If TVE would tap into the large pool of established professionals instead of using the people willing to go into an unestablished national final formula, maybe the results would improve?

ESC 2016: Tobson's thoughts after the final

Now wasn't that a shocker, Europe? The final of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest ended like a real thriller should with suspense up until the very last vote was cast.

The worst thing about the new voting sequence is that it reminds me a bit of the system used in 1971-1973 in the sense that many big numbers fly across the screen in short time. It was far from easy to keep track on where in the ranking countries landed if they were out of the top ten in the televote.

The best thing about the new voting sequence was of course the excitement. Just as you thought Australia had won by a landslide the whole thing was turned upside down and everything changed with the second last set of votes and almost changed again in the last round. Excellent entertainment.

Ukraine ended in second place with both juries and televotes. Some people are upset and mean they didn't deserve the victory because of that. It is like arguing Bucks Fizz did not deserve to win in 1981 as they only got two sets of 12 points. The song that receives the highest amount of points wins. End of.

I did mention Ukraine as a potential winner the other day but was still a bit surprised. Sadly the winner is unlikely to become a commercial hit in a traditional sense, but it is a good thing in a year dominated by theatrics, moving sets and projections that an entry focusing entirely on music and singing won.

I would honestly have been pleased with Australia or Russia winning as well. I was really happy for Bulgaria and France for great placings and for Austria doing so well in the televote.

Sad that my darling from Italy only managed a 16th place in the end. Thought she would receive far more love from the juries. Also Spain and United Kingdom deserved more than these fiascos.

And Germany - last for the second consecutive year. ARD really must take a long hard think how to improve quality control in their national final and find entries that break through to international audiences. How to achieve that is a question for tomorrow, however.

The results:
01) Ukraine / 1944 / Jamala 534 points
02) Australia / Sound of Silence / Dami Im 511
03) Russia / You're The Only One / Sergey Lazarev 491
04) Bulgaria / If Love Was A Crime / Poli Genova 307
05) Sweden / If I Were Sorry / Frans 261

06) France 257, 07) Armenia 249, 08) Poland 229, 09) Lithuania 200, 10) Belgium 181, 11) Netherlands 153, 12) Malta 153, 13) Austria 151, 14) Israel 135, 15) Latvia 132, 16) Italy 124, 17) Azerbaijan 117, 18) Serbia 115, 19) Hungary 108, 20) Georgia 104, 21) Cyprus 96, 22) Spain 77, 23) Croatia 73, 24) United Kingdom 62, 25) Czech republic 41, 26) Germany 11.

Jamala / 1944 (Ukraine 2016)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

ESC 2016: three reasons why Russia won't win

I'm so sorry for this post, Russia. It isn't really about you at all. I think your song is a catchy little number and I think Sergey is a great pop star. I even predicted Russian victory earlier today.

And yet it doesn't feel right. I am not convinced Russia will win. I don't feel it in my glittery little Eurovision-shaped heart.

My prediction is more about me giving in to what seems likely and me not being able to find one single standout song that the rest of the world would agree on. There are strong candidates but none of them seem like a more likely winner.

So let me just list three reasons why Russia is not going to win tonight. Just to explore my own conflicting emotions here.

1) This shouldn't be a televote winner.
Last year the viewers around Europe wanted an old-fashioned, stylish, well-executed power ballad with operatic undertones instead of the slick, hit-friendly song with the cool projection. Why would they want this overblown stage show all of a sudden?

2) This shouldn't be a jury winner.
The song sounds very much like a couple of songs that did really well back in 2008-2009, something. Not even then - when they were flavour of the month - did the juries back them. In 2009, Sakis Rouvas was a favourite to win with almost the same song until the juries stopped him from doing so.

3) People will want to go somewhere else.
I'm not a fan of this point but let's be honest about it. Quite a few people will be reluctant to vote for Russia because it is Russia. Quite a few of the juries will have been told - although it's really against the rules to do so - that it would be nicer if Russia didn't win. Ukraine already stated they will withdraw next year if the contest is held in Russia. This contest is not supposed to be political but you know what? It is. And because of point 1 and 2, also this will have a bit of an impact tonight.

If I am totally wrong here - and totally right earlier today - I hope the victory can be a springboard for the excellent Sergey Lazarev to conquer the international market as well.

Or maybe we will all be surprised, with our jaws hanging down, as Petra and Måns congratulate Georgia and the EBU start looking for suitable venues in Tbilisi.

Either way, enjoy your evening. May the best song win, regardless of politics. Good luck Russia, and everyone else.

ESC 2016: Tobson top 26

This part is hard every year but it feels harder than ever this year. What on earth will Europe make of the 26 songs in the running for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest?

Many of the songs are fairly similar. A few too many rely more on spectacular staging than skilled songwriting. Does that mean the winner will be a song that stands apart musically? Or an entry that focuses more on voice and song and less on presentation?

Now that juries and televoters create their individual sets of points it is also a lot harder to predict the action at the end of the scoreboard. Now you have to sniff out the songs likely to get overlooked in both voting rounds as these two bodies no longer tamper with each others' numbers.

The strongest feeling I have had since rehearsals started is that Russia won't win. There's too much calculation, too little heart, all that high tech on display also affects his singing, and juries have traditionally not voted for this kind of song.

I still have that feeling. I don't really believe Russia will win. But I have no idea which single song would be the one to stand out to beat it. Italy has a really unfortunate starting position. Ukraine is too demanding. France does not have the strong performance needed.

That leaves us with Australia and Sweden. Either one could be a potential winner.

In 2009 I predicted the wrong winner because I thought Norway was too obvious. In 2013 I predicted the wrong winner just because I thought Denmark was weak and I didn't want it to win. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. This is my final list. This time I would love for Europe to prove me wrong.

01 Russia
02 Australia
03 Sweden
04 Ukraine
05 Italy

06 Austria
07 Latvia
08 Spain
09 Armenia
10 Serbia

11 Georgia
12 France
13 Croatia
14 Bulgaria
15 Poland

16 Czech republic
17 Israel
18 Malta
19 Belgium
20 Azerbaijan

21 Netherlands
22 United Kingdom
23 Hungary
24 Cyprus
25 Lithuania
26 Germany

If Russia wins it will be truly interesting to see how the EBU would handle the situation. Ukraine already said they won't participate in a contest hosted by Russia and it is possible more countries would follow their example. And how would things like delegate and fan security be handled? It would be an interesting year coming up.

If Australia wins, it would be equally interesting to see where the contest is held. Would the EBU still have the nerve to place the contest in Germany even if they end last again?

I still hope that Italy would miraculously break through to the televoters as well as having bagged an awful lot of jury votes last night but for the time being I say Russia is the one.

Tobson and all the entries

I will get down to my prediction but first I'd like to put a tiny plug here for my other Eurovision blog, Tobson och alla bidragen, where I blog my way through every single Eurovision entry ever. More history schoolbook than my own personal opinions but I hope you'll enjoy storytelling too.

It's all in Swedish but don't let that put you off. There's always Google translate...

I promise you penguins, nuclear bombs, tragic deaths and the odd success story as well. And this is just the beginning.