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
Very welcome - I hope you'll like it here!

Monday, February 28, 2011

FYR Macedonia goes Russian as well

FYR Macedonia does not go quite as far as the bad taste party put on by Belarus, but also their entry contains a nod towards the east.

Vlatko Ilievski sings about a Russian girl in his entry, underlined by some skillful background dancing.

Vlatko Ilievski - Rusinka (FYR Macedonia 2011)

I remember a time, not many years ago, when FYR Macedonia mainly sent in well crafted songs, often with some sort of modern pop vibe in them. I always liked them, I always cheered for them to do well.

But this is their third entry in a row without the shadow of international appeal. Vlatko is not the best singer and this chorus gets annoying long before three minutes have passed.

Sounds like a washed out version of this one, but without the fun.

The Nicole - Razborka (Sweden NF 2009)

(Oh, and one more thing. Me referring to this country as "FYR Macedonia" is not a statement or anything. I use what the EBU uses on the scoreboard. If you want tediously endless debates on this subject, go elsewhere. Any comments on this matter will get deleted. Thank you for the attention.)

Back in the USSR

Belarus has presented its representative for the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. According to ESC Today, they have evaluated a grand total of twenty-nine entries before deciding on Anastasiya Vinnikova.

Belarus has never been a safe haven for good taste or subtle, stylish little numbers, but this entry went far beyond anything I would ever have expected.

Anastasiya Vinnikova - Born In Belorussia (Belarus 2011)

Had it only been for the tacky and dated disco, maybe I could have awarded some consolation points here. But the lyrics?

Hysterically patriotic, glorifying this great nation now and forever, ever adding a somewhat nostalgic and happy reference to the USSR.

Could have been a good laugh, but given the political situation in Belarus I can keep from giggling. Propaganda pop and dictature disco is really not my cup of tea.

A ballad for Cyprus

We have known for several months already that Christos Mylordos will take on the task of representing the island of Cyprus at Eurovision this year.

There has been more than a fair amount of talk concerning young Mylordos and his vocal abilities. There has also been talk that RIK in vain has tried talking famous composers into crafting a song for the occasion.

Now the song has been premiered and this is what it looks and sounds like:

Christos Mylordos - San aggelos s'agapisa (Cyprus 2011)

Christos looks rather convincing in this clip and the song suits his voice in a nice way. But the flattery ends there.

The song would probably fit very well in a local musical, but a chorus would have helped a lot. This is a song contest, after all.

A taste of vanilla from Slovenia

Slovenia and Austria are neighbours and, dare I say, slightly influenced by one another culturally. At least they follow the same pattern when they select their songs for Eurovision.

Give them a choice between safe and outrageous and they will always go for the safe option. Austria did it, Slovenia did it. But outrageous is often what you need in order to get noticed among forty-two other entries.

Oh, well. Every country has its own Kelly Clarkson, and this is what she looks and sounds like in Slovenia:

Maja Keuc - Vanilija (Slovenia 2011)

Not every country has its own Lady Gaga, however. But April was not a gamble the Slovenians wanted to take on.

April - Ladadidej (Slovenia 2011 runner-up)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fingers crossed for Slovenia tonight

Tonight, I might lend an eye to EMA 2011, the Slovenian national final for Düsseldorf. I have always had a soft spot for Slovenia.

Maybe it is because they mainly like the same things I like. Fun, uptempo songs with choruses you can hold on to.

They were also the odd-one-out in Former Yugoslavia, just like Finland is among the Nordic countries. Maybe I feel some kind of kinship here?

Just too bad that the last two Slovenian entries have been such complete disasters. First a neverending string orgy with nothing going for it, then a headless car crash of a mix between polka yodel and fossil rock.

No, no, no, Slovenia! That's not the way to do it. Tonight there are a few contenders that sounded promising and that could be good ones to send off to the ESC.

And while you get ready to pick, I will share one of my all-time Slovenian favourites. It didn't do particularly well either, but at least it is a sweet song.

1 X Band - Tih deževen dan (Slovenia 1993 preview)

1 X Band - Tih deževen dan (Slovenia 1993)

Ukraine enters a sweet angel

After a national final modus that seems to have lasted forever, Ukraine finally selected their song for Düsseldorf last night. A special jury gave their verdict together with the televoting audience and somewhat surprisingly the victory went to a ballad.

Mika Newton - Angel (Ukraine 2011)

The winner is indeed angelic and has a very powerful voice. The ballad is ambitious, well assembled and impeccably performed.

And yet the whole thing is so disappointing.

Don't get me wrong - Ukraine can send anyone they find fitting. But for many years, they have entered wild and crazy acts, party stompers who will trash your fiesta, dance on the tables and never leave.

Ukraine has been so much fun and I am not mad about this serious path they are going down now. And I have a hard time forgiving them for not offering us the wonderfully wacko Jamala.

Jamala - Smile (Ukraine NF 2011)

And whatever you do - don't miss her hysterically bouncy and psychedelic video clip. A personal favourite for years to come.

Jamala - Smile

Denmark wants to win

DR has been putting a lot of effort into making good national finals for the last few years, and after the fourth place in Oslo last year it seems they really want to win.

I made thumbs down for that plan yesterday after listening briefly to all ten songs in the running, dismissing most songs as dull and lacking in profile.

Now the winner has been chosen and maybe I have to eat some of my words.

A Friend In London - New Tomorrow (Denmark 2011)

The winner has grown on me considerably, especially as the lead singer adds quite a lot of the personality I thought the whole thing lacked when listening to the audios. Visually, this is not bad.

However, I was never a big fan of this whole anthemic rock ballad idea, and given all the fantastic entries written by Lise Cabble in the past this is nowhere near to as strong as her best output.

Denmark will sail safely into the final and there, just like 2010, a lot will depend on how lucky they are in the draw and how many other songs of this kind they have to face competition from.

A Friend In London could go very far. But for my personal liking, I think it is enough that Love Shine A Light won once already.

Katrina & The Waves - Love Shine A Light (United Kingdom 1997)

Latvia: Musiqq to Düsseldorf

Last night, Latvia arranged the 2011 edition of Eirodziesma and selected their entry for Eurovision. The final choice fell on "Angel In Disguise" by duo Musiqq.

Musiqq - Angel In Disguise (Latvia 2011)

I wasn't too impressed when I reviewed all competing songs earlier in the week and I am not likely to change my mind anytime soon.

The main singer has a good voice, but the song is too weak and repetitive to be a real contender. Minus for the cheesy lyrics and the not too brilliant rap break before the last chorus.

Latvians are good at selecting something I wouldn't expect them to select, so I shouldn't be surprised, I guess. But this is not the song to bring a second victory to the land of amber.

Magical Nina for Serbia

Serbia has selected for Düsseldorf and indeed came up with something very different to anything they ever sent in before.

Nina - Čaroban (Serbia 2011)

I love the madness and the 60's vibe in this number, full of energy, quirk and fun. "This guy is magical", Nina sings. Maybe so, but so is her dress. And her funky backing vocalists.

They must have been taking advice from the backing group of this ESC winner:

Massiel - La la la (Spain 1968)

Estonia 2011: a very stylish final

The last Estonian final I attended was 2008, which had an acceptable level of songs but ended in a disaster result. The last one I saw was 2009, which was a disaster final, awfully produced, which happened to produce a quality winner.

Now I was back in 2011, and was very pleasantly surprised by what I saw and heard. I stated already a couple of days ago that the average level of the entries was satisfactory, and tonight ETV offered us a treat.

The show was very nicely produced, well presented, full of creative camera work and inspired little ideas all over the place. The filler material was not bad and the result had quite some suspense to it.

And what a dream result! My top two songs made it to the superfinal, where the smarter choice won and my personal favourite ended in second place.

This means Estonia has the best of chances to make an impression internationally, and I will have my personal favourite to treasure and cherish without having to defend it to people who will understand nothing of it.

(Too bad my third favourite Mimicry ended last, but they are probably quite pleased with being too far out for the general viewer.)

A very happy ending to a professionally produced final. Why can't Yle produce anything like this when tiny Estonia is able (and remember that their tv company is small and has no money)?

Getter Jaani - Rockefeller street (Estonia 2011)

And as a special bonus, my favourite that ended in second place:

Outloudz - I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan (Estonia NF 2011)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I will catch up - eventually

Tonight is a very busy selection night with semis in Sweden and Croatia, while Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Ukraine, Serbia and Denmark will select their entries for Düsseldorf.

I will keep my computer shut as I will first watch Melodifestivalen, then switch over to my digibox and see the Estonian final time-delayed. (Don't you just love modern technology.)

I hope everyone choses the best songs on offer (I reviewed Estonia and Latvia in detail earlier in the week, as for the other ones: Best of luck!)

Opinions on the selected songs will be written in due time (late tonight or possibly tomorrow) and possible comments from readers will be approved about that same time.

Bear with me. And enjoy this brilliant Estonian eurovision reject while waiting!

Eha - Gotta Go (Estonia NF 2005)

Sweden, semi 4: Tobson predicts

Even a diligent euroblogger such as I must have a life also outside of cyberspace. Therefore, I have not had time to hear the full versions of the songs at all today. But one must predict the outcome anyway.

Based on the 60 second clips published Thursday, this would be my prediction for tonights edition of Melodifestivalen.

To the final:
Melody Club and Linda Bengtzing

Both are established acts with wide fan bases from every angle and assortment of the audience. Neither one competes with the highlight of their respective careers, but Sanna Nielsen already proved beyond the shadow of a doubt in her semi that things like that won't matter in the end.

To Andra Chansen:
Love Generation and Nicke Borg

The bold choices will appeal to many but not enough people to make it all the way. Nicke Borg represents a genre that many have fond memories of (radio rock of the 80's) while Love Generation will be a bit too modern and polished to mobilise the masses. It won't help then that they have Lady Gaga's songwriter behind them.

Fifth place:
Linda Pritchard

This is just a wild guess. It could just as well be Anders Fernette or Lasse Stefanz, but I have a feeling that Linda will get the upper hand on them in the first round of voting.

Lost after the first round:
Anders Fernette, Lasse Stefanz and Julia Alvgard

Anders is dull but has talent show exposure since before. Lasse Stefanz are completely charmless, but are one of Sweden's top selling dance orchestras. Both of them could surprise tonight. Only Julia Alvgard, runner-up in the webjoker heat, is completely helpless in this heat.

She is not the worst one in the running, but she has everything against her: the starting position, her lack of experience and the loss of energy that seems to have happened to her song since the raw demo.

Denmark will do the same thing again

Ever since DR published the ten candidates for tonight's Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, people I know and whose opinions I value have been going bananas over the quality of the songs. How mindblowing the Danish lineup is.

Today, I finally had the time to lend them an ear. And "mindblowing" wouldn't be the first word I would use.

I find the four songs currently in the lead in DR's online poll to be incredibly antiseptic, lacking a lot in the originality department. Two are them sound like your typical melodifestivalen reject with a very slick production trying to make up for the absence of pulse or emotion.

A bit further down the list, I find a couple of songs that would make more original choices. Anne Noa, Jeffrey and Stine Kinck all have a certain quirk that could help distinguish them from the lot in Düsseldorf.

But we all remember last year, when Denmark landed in (a largely undeserved) fourth place with a typical melodifestivalen reject.

It seems pretty likely that Denmark will go for the same formula again, hoping to score solid points with some Swedish leftovers. Not my cup of tea, but it could work again.

Too bad if it does, then why would Danish singers and songwriters bother to send in songs next year?

What Austria should have done

Austria is sending a polite little ballad to Eurovision, closely related to the euro-fied Whitney Houston-offshoots we had so many of in the ESC in the 90's.

In second and third place, they left entries that were progressive, fun, original and remarkable. Novelty acts? Pehaps so, but with chart potential.

Trackshittaz - Oida taunz! (Austria NF 2011, 2nd place)

And my big favourite, left in third place, the Austro-British co-operation that sounds like a mash-up between Alf Poier and Les Fatals Picards and yet so much better. The added PR-factor of Joe Sumner being the son of Sting wouldn't have hurt either.

Klimmstein feat Joe Sumner - Paris Paris (Austria NF 2011, 3rd place)

The Austrian final was overall a modern and inspired affair, clearly one of the best national finals this season. Then why is it so that a strong line-up in a national final so often results in a middle-of-the-road choice?

Nadine Beiler is safe and sings well, but will not stand out in any way in Düsseldorf.

I still hope she will make it to the final, to keep ORF in a good mood. I would not mind seeing an Austrian final per year of this calibre.

Nadine Beiler - The Secret Is Love (Austria 2011)

Austria missed a great opportunity

I followed tonight's Austrian national final with great interest - exciting to see how ORF would handle their big comeback after four years of absence.

I had also heard the songs in advance and knew Austria had one of the stronger bunches to choose from.

Even happier was I when my two personal favourites reached the superfinal together with some token ballad who was only there to even out the numbers. Or so I thought.

When the Austrian televoters had their say, the token ballad had defeated both of my fun, original and notable favourites.

Nadine Beiler - The Secret Is Love (Austria 2011)

Nadine is not a bad choice as such. The girl can sing and she possesses a certain stage presence that could come in handy when facing the european competition.

But the song is so ultra conservative, so un-original, so unremarkable. Not badly written, surely way better than many other token ballads we have heard through the years. But a bland ballad is always a bland ballad.

Given how Austria could have stood out, this was a real disappointment and a missed opportunity. Which, come to think of it, is Austria by the number when it comes to Eurovision.

So, welcome back, I guess.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Yüksek Sadakat will live it up for Turkey

The easiest way for Turkey in eurovision would probably be to join Greece on the eternal beach party, dance all night long and shake it like your life depended on it.

Instead, TRT has tried out various ways of altering the typical eurosong sounds, and this year rock band Yüksek Sadakat will represent them with this entry:

Yüksek Sadakat - Live It Up (Turkey 2011)

Turkey has had a lot of success with rockier songs by Athena, Mor ve Ötesi and maNga, and has been top four all years but one since 2007.

This song can seem a bit uncatchy at first, but becomes more seizable by the end, where it presents a real hook for the audience to hold on to.

If the amount of rock songs is not surprisingly high in Düsseldorf, then this could result in another very impressive showing for Turkey.

Sweden, semi 4: a tradition will get broken

The last three winners of Melodifestivalen have all sung in the fourth and last semi, and then one could suspect that SVT would have saved some fantastically strong bombshell of a song on purpose for this week's extravaganza. To keep up with the tradition.

After a first listening through the short previews, it doesn't look like it at all.

Unless one or two of these entries spread fantastic wings and develop into real show stoppers in a breathtaking last minute, none of them sounds like potential winners. Most of them sound good or at least OK, but nothing really stays after 60 seconds.

Love Generation and Melody Club show the greatest promise, but when the clip is over I don't remember anything. Linda Bengtzing sounds like she always does, like it or not. Julia Alvgard has a good song, but seems to have a lot less energy in her voice compared to the webjoker final.

Nicke Borg and Anders Fernette don't work at all for me, but everything is superior to Lasse Stefanz. Given that they would never win the final anyway, I hope that someone else than them gets the golden ticket.

It is more than enough that we have the Blue Meanies of last week in the final.

Lithuania 2011: Evelina and her life

Lithuania has selected Evelina Sašenko to represent them at the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest with the big ballad "C'est ma vie".

Evelina Sašenko - C'est ma vie (Lithuania 2011)

Lithuania has had a somewhat problematic run in the ESC with only one top ten finish since their 1994 debut (a debut that resulted in nul points). Since the introduction of the semi finals, Lithuania has been in the grand final three times.

If Europe is looking for impressive vocal chords this year, then Evelina is a solid choice. Trained in both jazz and opera, she is a powerful vocalist, bringing especially Lara Fabian to mind (or is it just the French?) in the higher notes.

Lara Fabian - Je t'aime

However, I don't think the song in question would have excited Lara Fabian. It reminds me of the long ballad introduction of the Barbra Streisand/Donna Summer duet "Enough Is Enough", without ever developing into anything else.

A big ballad, like they often were in the 90's when countries wanted decent placings but not victory. Very nicely sung, but hardly a vote magnet come May.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Polly Genova for Bulgaria

I went to bed instead of waiting out a Bulgarian winner, as the quick recap didn't look all too promising.

Woke up to seeing Polly Genova getting selected, and listened to the live version of her song, which did very little for me.

But there we go again - this is a typical mistake to make. The quality of the clip was poor, the sound was poor and I have a feeling the sound production was not too hot either.

When I listen to a studio version of a song, it sounds much better.

Polly Genova - Na inat (Bulgaria 2011)

A bit of commercial slightly aggressive radio rock à la P!nk and others, with a very recognisable piano in the arrangement.

With a bit of luck in the draw, maybe Bulgaria could make it to the final this time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bulgaria: Good evening, Orlin

I have missed the entire Bulgarian final, and came in late to see if there was a quick recap. It came eventually (and surprised me as the 23 entries had been reduced to 19), but before that it was very nice seeing Orlin Pavlov again.

Tonight, he is hosting and providing the interval act. Back in 2005, he was the first to defend the Bulgarian banner as lead singer of the group Kaffe.

Kaffe - Lorraine (Bulgaria 2005)

This entry was far from globally appreciated back then, but I grew to like during the week in Kyiv and above all Orlin stood out as a very good vocalist.

Apparently, he is still successful on home ground, now as a solo singer. The song he sang in the interval act seems to have been a hit. Is there anyone out there who knows more about Orlin Pavlov and his career developments?

I wouldn't mind seeing him back for Bulgaria. 2012, perhaps?

Orlin Pavlov - Chicago

Tonight: 23 songs in Bulgaria

Tonight, Bulgaria will have their pick and select their Eurovision hopeful in a grand national final. More grand than most.

23 songs will be in the running, which is close to a record in a national final held on one night.

Many countries have a hard time coughing up ten song or so that would be up to standard and if the songs are not good enough, 23 candidates will make a very, very, very long evening.

Not that Bulgaria wouldn't know their pop music, though. They only qualifyed for the final once, but those results are decieving. Bulgarian entries have usually been modern and progressive, possibly lacking that last tiny hook that would trigger people to vote for them.

I hope they will stick to the direction and send us something bold and brave. And then I hope we would all vote for it, for a change.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Preview clip: a good year for the Hellenic

1992 was indeed a good year for entries in Greek. In fact, the two songs entered in Greek are both big favourites of mine (and possibly the two best songs in the running that year).

They also had very well made preview clips, where the sound is better than the sound technicians managed in Malmö.

So here goes, the two of them. Nostalgia and love!

Kleopatra - Olou tou kosmou i elpida (Greece 1992 preview)

Evridiki - Teriazoume (Cyprus 1992 preview)

And just for the comparison, this is what they sounded and looked like in the blue laser lights in Malmö:

Kleopatra - Olou tou kosmou i elpida (Greece 1992)

Evridiki - Teriazoume (Cyprus 1992)

Bosnia-Herzegovina 2011: like a piece of art

Last night, the national broadcaster of Bosnia-Herzegovina presented its entry for Düsseldorf at a tv special. The performer has been known for quite some time - it is Dino Merlin who already represented the country in Jerusalem in 1999.

He also wrote their first ever as an independent country at war in 1993.

Dino Merlin - Love In Rewind (Bosnia-Herzegovina 2011)

Bosnia started taking their participations seriously in 2004 (when they ended a series of politically tainted national finals and started internal selections instead - all entries but one has since been internally selected) and has since then developed their very own trademark.

They often send in high-quality, somewhat quirky, entries that offer something special both musically and visually: Hari Mata Hari in 2006, Laka in 2008, Regina in 2009...

"Love In Rewind" elegantly joins this group of entries. A theatrical performance, like a bit of conceptual art, underlines the simplicity and vivacity of the song.

I'm not sure this is the entry that will take us all to Sarajevo in 2012, but it will end up very high on my favourite list, for sure.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Estonia 2011: the best final of the season?

I did it with Latvia, so then I have to do it to the other Baltic neighbours as well. After a couple of not so good final (2009 was pretty disastrous, honestly), ETV has managed to work up an impressive overall standard.

These are the ten finalists and my short reviews:

1. Ithaka Maria - Hopa'pa-rei
I have always quite liked Ithaka Maria (especially when she entered with Slobodan River in 2004, I would gladly have sent her to Istanbul), and I like her wild and crazy side. This year she goes all Ruslana on us, rather unexpectedly. Not bad, but a bit confusing and not catchy enough to be a great choice. 2/5

2. Rolf Roosalu - All And Now
Rolf, who has tried several times in the past, is a good performer but usually manages to come across as a bit too much for the televoting audience. This time, oddly, there is too little going on, at least in the chorus department. The song builds nicely but never erupts. Rolf will be a terrific choice one day, but this song is not the perfect opportunity for him. 3/5

3. Orelipoiss - Valss
Jaan Pehk was the lead singer of Köök, who performed the rather odd (but amusing) "Üürnik" in 2009 (see the clip here , you will find it most rewarding). He is back with something radically different, a soft folksy tune performed in an oddball fashion but with plenty of musical skills included in the package. Not a safe choice for the ESC, but not bad at all. 2/5

4. Getter Jaani - Rockefeller Street
Sweden has Bobby Ljunggren and Estonia has Sven Lõhmus who has made it to the ESC twice, with Suntribe and Urban Symphony. This could very well his third time lucky with a modern sounding pop entry with an unexpected breakdown and a very hooky chorus. Could go down a storm in Estonia unless the viewers would prefer something more simple. 4/5

5. Jana Kask - Don't Want Anything
Typical (bordering on stereotypical) big ballad with a soul influence. Not badly performed, but there are always a million songs like this one. Nothing to write home about. 1/5

6. MID - Smile
Popduo that visually reminds me a bit of the Pet Shop Boys or Hurts, and this song starts out interestingly. Too bad it feels to keep my interest up, despite several cute little details and a minimalist sound I enjoy the song never goes anywhere. 2/5

7. Outloudz - I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan
Another song to begin in a minimalist way with a laidback chorus, but then the chorus keeps building and building, adding little details along the way. The Bob Dylan hook is efficient without ever threatening to fall over into being a comedy entry. Something of a personal favourite. 4/5

8. Mimicry - The Storm
Bang up the elecropop street that works wonders in the pop charts around Europe at the moment. Works up a rather menacing feel in the verses (unpleasant in a pleasant way) before turning into an aggressively efficient chorus. Could result in a positive result at the ESC should it get selected. 3/5

9. Noorkuu - Be My Saturday Night
Many good ideas in the same place, matched with good voices, but the final outcome doesn't measure up to the good intentions. The song is all over the place and whenever you think you are about to grasp it, it takes a new direction. And the whole delivery is a bit too jaunty for my liking. 1/5

10. Victoria - Baby Had You
More electropop but less distinct and hitfriendly. Slightly repetitive, but Victoria is dynamite with a great way of nailing the camera with her eyes. Given easier competition (or a slightly better chorus) she would be a good choice for Estonia. 3/5

Easily one of the best Estonian finals ever and easily one of the best national finals anywhere this season. A tight race between several strong candidates and unless the televoters have a real eurovisional breakdown, there could be a very good placing coming.

Tobson predicts:
Most people seem to expect Getter Jaani to win hands down and that would probably be my prediction as well. But Estonians love surprises, and last year the favourite who couldn't fail lost out in the super final.

I say Getter Jaani will win in the end, and if she doesn't then please let it be Outloudz or Mimicry instead.

Sweden, semi 3: Saade and The Blue Meanies

It can't possibly have surprised anyone to see Eric Saade make it straight to the final on Saturday night. There was such a build-up around his song and his number - anything but being the most voted one in the semi would have been an undescribable flop.

Sadly enough, he was joined by The Playtones, a rockabilly dance band with another version of what Brolle already took to the final last week. And it still makes me think of Belgium 2009 .

Marie Serneholt referred to them as the Blue Man Group, others have mentioned the Smurfs. The Playtones rather remind me of the Blue Meanies in the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine"-movie.

As for the rest, I predicted the top five correctly since 2003 or so, even if I had them in the wrong order. Sara Varga made it to Andra Chansen instead of Sebastian which is fair and square by me. Blame it on the bossanova.

Shirley's Angels sang well but probably confused the audience with too much posing and choreography that didn't quite go with the song.

On the total, it seems that the show gets in the way for quite a few of the songs to be honest. In my opinion, Saade's winning number was a lot better without him breaking the glass walls. Maybe that seemed like a hot thing on paper but looked silly on-screen.

As for my personal favourite Linda Sundblad, she ended in 6th place. Not that I expected her to do better in this line-up. Last week in Gothenburg, she could probably have made it to Andra Chansen at least.

Sara Lumholdt couldn't deliver in the end, and Simon Forsberg would have needed something decent to sing.

Next week will see the fourth and last semi, but the question is already: can anyone stop Saade now?

Latvia 2011: Daylight vs Banjo

Last night, as the two lucky losers were decided, the line-up became complete for the Latvian national final, to be held on February 26th.

I decided to have a quick listen through the 12 candidates, and here are my opinions in short, including my mark from 0 - 5 (0 = bad, 5 = top class).

1. Evija Sloka - Don't Stop The Dance
A good opener, happy and inoffensive, but far too lean and nice to do well in Düsseldorf. 2/5

2. Elīna Krastiņa-Grence - Look Back At Me Again
A touch of the latin flavour that went down so well in the ESC some ten years ago. A bit more of a beat, and this could have been a pretty good dance track. Not distinct enough to work in this kind of contest, but a good radio song and a solid effort. 3/5

3. Ivo Grīsniņš-Grīslis - Cinderella
The perfect vehicle for a charming guy with a guitar by an open fire, this number is relaxed and pleasant but nothing that will shake you enough to get voting for it. 2/5

4. Triānas parks - Upside down
Enter a group with an attitude, but a song that doesn't quite live up to the promise given by their appearance. Gets catchier by the end, but would benefit from a slightly trashier sound in the arrangement. 2/5

5. The Secretz - Summer Night
For the ones of you who can't quite remember - most girl bands never sounded better than this. But most of them had better songs. Weak voices, unspectacular song. 1/5

6. Pieneņu vīns - You Are
Clubby track that makes me think of Moloko's "Sing It Back". Again pleasant, great vocalist, but without that extra little punch that would make it a contender. 2/5

7. Stībeļa banda - Let It Be Me
Jānis Stībelis has taken part many times in the Latvian finals and most of his entries sound similar to this one. Not bad, but again without that certain something. Even though the harmonica adds a nice touch. 2/5

8. Oksana Ļepska - Live On!
A 16 year-old girl with a great voice but a ballad lacking in dynamic. Pleasant but not too memorable. 2/5

9. Musiqq - Angel In Disguise
More distinct a chorus than most and delivered by quite a good voice. However, it gets repetitive and uninteresting before it is over, and these boys would be in need of a better lyricist and soon. 2/5

10. Blitze - Hop
Written by the late Mārtiņš Freimanis, which poses the same problem as in the Icelandic final. How much is this a song contest and how much will the sympathy vote weigh in? Not the worst choice, however, (the lead singer reminds me a bit of BrainStorm's Renars) but more of a fun idea rather than a great song. 3/5

11. D-Family - Daylight
My big favourite of the lot has a very graspable chorus, good vocalists and a surprise element in the brass arrangement. If they managed to pump in a tiny bit more of a crunch in the performance, it would be full 12 points from me. An unlikely winner as it was chosen by the jury, not the people, but maybe its spot in the running order will help more people notice it? 4/5

12. Lauris Reiniks - Banjo Laura
The probably winner in the end - Lauris Reiniks wants revenge for the unexpected 2003 fiasco with "Hello From Mars" and could very well get it. He is a good singer and a likeable guy, but this whole set-up is too silly for my taste. Catchy, but silly. 3/5

A stronger selection than you would guess from my marks - what is lacking in most entries is that last extra wow factor, but the Latvian viewers will be kept entertained all the way through, even if the first nine entries mainly serve as a warm-up act for the final three songs - clearly the strongest of the bunch.

Tobson predicts:
The most likely winner if you ask the eurofans would be Lauris Reiniks, and maybe he has the widest appeal of them all. I still hope for D-Family all the way until the bitter end, as they have the best song and a chorus that, at this point at least, would stand out in Düsseldorf.

All songs can be seen and heard on LTV's official Eirodziesma page here .

Italy 2011: a cool cat for Düsseldorf

Italy has decided to send Raphael Gualazzi, winner of the newcomer section of the Sanremo festival, as their representative to Eurovision.

Raphael brings a most atypical eurovision entry; jazzy in a laidback, non-commercial way. Being atypical seems to be the hot trend so far for the 2011 ESC.

Raphael Gualazzi - Follia d'amore (Italy 2011)

When RAI surprisingly accepted the challenge to come back to the ESC after an absence of 14 years, it was stated that the winner of Italian X-Factor would be sent to Düsseldorf. When that came to nothing, it was revealed that one of the entries in Sanremo, not necessarily the grand winner, would be the Italian eurosong.

Had one thought a little bit further, it was pretty clear that RAI would select one of the newcomers. They are the ones who have anything to benefit from the pan-european exposure and representing their countries abroad. The stars have better things to do than trying to impress international televoters.

(Given how little Italian pop exports itself these days compared to what the situation was like only some twenty years ago, the stars should all be willing to go to Eurovision as well. But that is another story.)

Also, it would be unlikely that RAI had any real desire to win in 2011. They are back to check what Eurovision is about these days. If it is worth the effort to hang in there. Maybe they will be gone again by next year.

Raphael sings pretty well and is a bit cute in how own way behind his grand piano. But this is definitely not the big comeback most eurofans would have hoped for when RAI said they would be back.

12 points from San Marino but how much more?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Georgia 2011: trying something new

Some countries have a tendency of getting stuck in their ways when it comes to Eurovision - sending variations on the same theme year after year. That is clearly not a problem for Georgia, who selected their entry earlier today.

After having increasing success with females singing their hearts out, this entry is something radically different.

Eldrine - One More Day (Georgia 2011)

Think a Georgian Gwen Stefani teaming up with a Georgian Linkin Park, have them write a song together, then send them to Eurovision.

While not vocally flawless, the song is intriguing and suggestive and anything but your stereotypical eurosong.

Top marks for being original, and that is a very good start in my book.

Sweden, semi 3: Tobson predicts

Now I heard the full-length clips of tonight's eight contenders, and will do my best to predict the taste of my countrymen. Not the easiest thing to do.

But here goes:

Had her big break twelve years ago as lead singer of Lambretta, and ever since I have wanted to see her in MF. She is not disappointing me at all, delivering a bang-on positive happy pill, good-natured and enthusiastic without feeling banal. Efficient little hook and the mere presence of Linda makes this a top contender for me, but maybe not for the average viewer.

2. SIMON FORSBERG - Tid att andas
A sharp turn from radio pop into the forest of the never-changing eurovision ballads. This is classical and clean-cut, polished and inoffensive, but also sticking strictly to an old formula 1A for pompous belters. Could have been OK, but the pretentious lyrics are just too much. I hope the audience will agree with me on this one.

As part of A-Teens, she conquered the world long before she had the right to vote. Her solo career hasn't really taken off, but now she has a possible radio hit on her hands. If she manages to deliver, that is. According to press reports, her rehearsals have been a bit of a bumpy ride but her chorus is clear and graspable. If she nails the cameras and notes, this could be a bit of a surprise.

A little bit of rockabilly. Something I could have found slightly charming before The Baseballs filled the quota for years to come. People will like it, I will twist in agony when this beats a bunch of better songs tonight. Next one, please.

5. SHIRLEY'S ANGELS - I Thought It Was Forever
The last time Shirley Clamp entered MF, she ended last in her semi final, something nobody would have predicted. Is the love between La Clamp and the people restored? The answer will be delivered tonight, when she has teamed up with Vera Prada and Jessica Marberger to form an explosive trio. At least I hope they will be explosive - the song in itself is good but maybe not direct enough to hit home on a first listening.

6. SEBASTIAN - No One Else Could
The disappointment of the lot for me. The short clip sounded so promising, but the song never seem to take off like I would have wanted it to do. Maybe my high expectations ruin it for me, maybe it won't be a problem tonight, especially given what a strong stage personality Sebastian is.

7. SARA VARGA - Spring för livet
A relief - among all modern beats, there is still room for a quiet and shy little bossanova in Swedish about running away from an abusive relationship. Unlike song number two, the lyrics land on the right side of the heartfelt/pathetic border, even if the chorus contains a few words too many for comfort.

8. ERIC SAADE - Popular
Here he comes - the winner tonight and quite possibly the winner in the end. Saade wants to win and Fredrik Kempe has written his best entry since "Hero" for the boy wonder. Unless the whole package becomes a bit too much before the last note is over, this should be completely unthreatened tonight.

As most other reviewers, I pin point this semifinal's big question as to who will join Eric Saade to the final.

Since I have absolutely no idea (but a feeling the audience won't go for my biggest favourites) I say the second finalist will be Shirley's Angels. The Swedes probably miss loving their Shirley.

Andra Chansen: Sebastian and The Playtones.

Fifth place: Sara Varga.

Of course I hope that my favourite Linda will knock out the rockabilly nonsense, but I will believe it when I see it. And I would be most surprised if anyone could challenge Simon Forsberg when it comes to landing the last place.

Spain 2011: not a top ten candidate

Spain has selected its entry for the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest out of nine entries on offer, spread over three singers found through a televised talent search.

The winner is Lucía Perez with the song "Que me quiten lo bailao" and it sounds like this:

Lucía Perez - Que me quiten lo bailao (Spain 2011)

At one point on the show, Lucía stated that she would feel more comfortable singing another of her given songs rather than this one, but that is not necessarily a bad sign. Last year's winner Lena would have preferred to go to Oslo with "Love Me", a song that clearly would not have won there.

In this case, I guess it mattered a whole lot less. The selected entry is a happy piece of fluff that does possess a tiny hook (the pretty repetitive "o-u-o-u-o-u-oh") but that is likely to sink without a trace in the final.

Lightweight and anonymous, it is somehow the Spanish equivalent of the UK sending Josh Dubovie under the pretence they were making an effort.

Surely not a nul-pointer in the making, but Spain is unlikely to end anywhere close to top ten in Düsseldorf and should really consider scrapping the national finals for next year and select a star internally instead.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lena 2011: Germany did the right thing

Lena will sing "Taken By A Stranger" on home ground to defend the German colours on May 14th.

A difficult, demanding, minimalist and introvert song that some people will clearly hate. And many others will love it. For the very same reasons.

It is so much better to stir up real emotion in people rather than being nice and inoffensive, trying to please everyone. Nice and sopophoric live next door to one another.

Lena's production company takes her songs off YouTube as soon as they land there, but you can hear the German entry on the official webpage here .

Back in the day, when Spain made an effort

While waiting for the not too exciting revelation which of tonight's nine rather tame candidates will represent Spain, the land of temper and passion, in Düsseldorf, I will close my eyes and remember the day when Spain pushed things forward in this contest.

Here are five Spanish entries with sparkle and attitude, five entries that wanted something, five entries that have left an impression.

Salomé - Vivo cantando (Spain 1969)

This entry is great fun from beginning to end. Salomé is in a great cheerful mood, she dances and sways and her dress dances along. Catchy, with several key changes and an explosive ending.

Lucia - El (Spain 1982)

A tempestuous tango, energetic and sexy, performed with grace and sensuality. Very Spanish at the same time as it pokes fun at some Spanish stereotypes.

Remedios Amaya - Quien maneja mi barca? (Spain 1983)

Bold and dignified, exotic and seductive, chanceless at a time when all eurosongs should sound the same in order to score. Nul points was a hard blow on Remedios personally, but unlike most most other entries of the night, she has not been forgotten.

Azucar Moreno - Bandido (Spain 1990)

Almost shockingly contemporary back then with a heavy backing track and an exotic flavour that hit home better with the juries than Remedios did. The performance got a false start when said backing tracks wouldn't start like they should, but in the end the sisters left Zagreb with a fifth place.

Eva Santamaria - Hombres (Spain 1993)

Yet another remarkably modern entry, unfortunately without the strong backing track. In the hands of the Irish orchestra, most of the modern parts were left in ruins, but this was anyhow the first entry ever with rap elements in the contest.

Let Lena get introvert and weird

Right this moment, Germany is in full swing selecting their follow-up to "Satellite". They want to defend their victory and so does Lena, last years winner, who performs all six songs in the running.

To be honest - they are not likely to proceed. Only on six occasions have the host country won on home ground, even though the host entry always recieves extra attention and quite often is considered a possible winner.

Lena isn't going to sing in Düsseldorf in order to win a second time, that would just be a huge bonus. She is there to show Europe that she is more than a one-hit-wonder. That she is capable of being a hit machine. That she can have a second successful album.

Since winning seems unlikely anyway, I would hope for Germany to dress Lena up with something far less charming this time. She has already been happy and bubbly. We know she can do that.

I'd love to see Lena go all introvert. Mystical. Eccentric. I haven't heard all six candidates, but "Taken By A Stranger" from the first semi has everything I would ask for.

It is not a winner. But it could be a hit. And it would definitely let Lena show that she has more dishes on her menu than just the sugary and sweet.

As for cementing herself in the recording industry: that battle is won already. The album containing her preselection songs have shot to no 1 in Germany this week. So why not be really brave tonight?

Spain will select (something mediocre) tonight

Tonight Spain will hold their national final, "Destino Eurovision", where three acts will sing three songs each. One of these will be given the golden ticket to represent Spain in Düsseldorf.

At an early stage, Spanish politicians noticed that the RTVE's results lately have given little if any positive attention abroad, which should be a severe waste of money in these times of crisis. RTVE responded by promising more of an effort this year.

They have staged a large talent show to find suitable performers and sent out a separate call for songs. Now they have matched the best talent with the best songs and my jaw drops.

Is this what they call an effort?

All three finalists are OK, likeable people who seem to be able to sing. But the songs are luke warm little songs that I can't imagine will do anything for anyone.

Surprising, as many of the shortlisted songwriters have written a lot better songs in other finals elsewhere.

Part of the problem could be that the songwriters do not know who they are writing for, and then they adapt the songs so anyone could sing them. Which efficiently takes out any personality or bite out of the songs.

So Spain has to select between nine pretty indifferent songs, all of which would have been acceptable at a smaller country's final. But Spain is one of the Big Five, for crying out loud.

There is no defensible reason for RTVE to clown about like this. The Spanish music industry is strong and productive, and with a bit of an effort Spain could be at least in top ten every year with contemporary entries, helping to push the contest forward.

Once upon a time, Spain was never afraid to show its teeth on the Eurovision stage. They sent in whatever they wanted and seemed to care very little whether Europe bought it or not.

How I long for those times on days like this.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yugoslavia 1986: Boby was only no. 2

Novi fosili is one of my all time favourite groups to come out of former Yugoslavia. Always smiling, always energetic, always with choruses that would stick to your mind like a chewing gum under your shoe.

In the Yugoslav national finals of the 80's, they were the neverending story, taking part almost every year, always ending close to the top.

In 1986, they competed for the fourth time, this time with the title "Boby no 1". However, Boby had to content himself with being number two. Doris Dragović was unstoppable at the Jugovizija final in Pristina. And rightly so.

Novi fosili - Boby no 1 (Yugoslav NF 1986 - this clip is not from the NF)

The new phosils didn't have to wait for long - their big moment in Eurovision was just around the corner. At the 1987 Yugoslav final in Belgrade, they won and were sent off to Brussels, scoring an excellent fourth place - the best Yugoslav showing until then, equal with 1962 and 1983.

Novi fosili - Ja sam za ples (Yugoslavia 1987 preview)

Novi fosili - Ja sam za ples (Yugoslavia 1987)

Sweden, semi 3: Impressed by Saade

Just had a look at the quick teaser previews broadcast of the songs in the third semi final of Melodifestivalen, which will come live from Linköping this week.

It is always hard to say anything constructive after hearing the 60 second clips only once. When the songs don't have their three minutes to unfold and show their best sides, everything sounds a bit the same. Polished and professional, but also anonymous and a bit forgettable.

I will feel different when I hear the songs in full, but I am not overwhelmed by this bunch either.

Some good stuff - Sebastian sounds promising and I will love Linda Sundblad to bits once I hear the full song.

Some not so impressive - The Playtones represent something I am not too fond of and Simon Forsberg's lyrics are pretentious enough to make me blush.

What impressed me most is, rather surprisingly, Eric Saade. Not so much for his song, which has been so haussed I almost felt a wee bit tired of it already before hearing it.

But the boy has such a professional attitude. When interviewed by the pretty forced and artificially cheerful host Elsa Billgren, you could tell young Saade got a bit annoyed at her. He wanted to explain things about his number, while she only wanted to cackle and babble and paid no attention to what he had to say.

You can say a lot of things about Eric Saade, but he is doing his thing most seriously and sincerely. His attitude alone would be worth a trip to Düsseldorf.

Angie Dylan would have deserved to win

The youngest participant in the 1987 Belgian preselection, organised by the Flemish broadcaster BRT (later VRT), was 17-year old Angie Dylan.

Her song was also the most youthful and modern one in the running, with a pulsating rhythm and an energetic brass section in top form. One look at the juries was enough to tell that this was far too much to go down with victory.

Angie also had to face cheerful Bart Kaëll (ending in second place) and the unstoppable Eurovision mutant monster that is "Soldiers of Love" by Liliane St Pierre.

She also had to face her own lack of experience and stage confidence. Too bad, as her song remains one of the best ones ever rejected by Belgium. (And Flanders have rejected more good songs that they have selected, mind you.)

Had she competed in a less competitive year, maybe Angie would have had a chance of winning. Too bad, she - and above all her song - would have deserved a victory.

Angie Dylan - 17 (Belgium NF 1987)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Latvia 2009: when you don't feel like being charming

There are many easy ways of getting instant apprecation at Eurovision. You can sing about peace. You can dress in white. You can bring children on stage (or you could, until the 1990 rule change).

Pretty easy, right?

Sending in an aggressive piece of punk rock about a traffic jam? Nah, maybe not a sure winner in my book.

Intars Busulis - Sastrēgums (Latvia 2009 national final performance)

Latvians aren't like everybody else, though. So they decided Intars Busulis was the perfect choice to send to Moscow in 2009.

In a way, he was. Latvia had no intention of being deliberately charming in Moscow. Their national television considered withdrawing due to Russian foreign policies and were talked into the contest by the EBU at a late stage.

The lyrics talk about doing what you are not supposed to do. Refuse to be stuck in the eternal traffic jam. Hop over the cars instead.

Intars Busulis - Probka (Latvia 2009 preview)

To make sure that the Russian hosts would understand this refusal to accept things the way they are and fight for what you believe in, it was decided for Intars to sing in Russian in Moscow.

Language aside - on the night nobody understood. The Latvian punk confused the audience and maybe Intars himself was a bit too over-excited to make the song full justice.

"Probka" ended last in its semi final. That is when happens when you don't aim to please.

I don't care - for me this is a classic. I find it bold and daring, and I think Intars Busulis is a fabulous performer. Very charming, even when he has set his mind of being the opposite.

Intars Busulis - Probka (Latvia 2009)

Italy 2011: Anna Oxa is out (or is she?)

Last night, the annual Sanremo song festival kicked off - this contest was in many way the model after which the Eurovision Song Contest was created.

Ironically, this old institution will serve partially as Italy's national final for Düsseldorf, where RAI will attempt a successful comeback after fourteen years without participation.

Not entirely - the will be one overall Sanremo winner, which will not automatically be sent to the ESC. Instead, a jury will pick the most suitable ESC-entry separately and the golden ticket could, theoretically, be given to any participant - successful or not.

My guess is that RAI also has examined the waters a bit before going ahead with the ESC pick. Selecting a huge star with no interest in representing Italy abroad could result in really bad publicity.

Maybe the selected ESC entry has more to do with whose management is eager for european exposure rather than the songs in question?

Anyway, on the first night, two candidates fell out of the running (but could theoretically be sent to Düsseldorf anyway), one of which was singing legend Anna Oxa, who represented Italy at Eurovision back in 1989.

Anna Oxa & Fausto Leali - Avrei voluto (Italy 1989)

She has a grand history of taking part in Sanremo, and it was thanks to winning it together with Leali that she was sent to Lausanne. Their Sanremo song of 1989 is nothing short of a masterpiece, and clearly worked as a model for their eurosong as well.

Anna Oxa & Fausto Leali - Ti lascerò (Sanremo 1989)

Anna also made two most dignified appearances with smashing songs in the late 90's. She would not be a bad choice for Italy even these days. And if they don't want her, Albania could ask her nicely.

Originally, her family name spells Hoxha, and reveals her Albanian ancestry.

Anna Oxa - Storie (Sanremo 1997)

Anna Oxa - Senza pietà (Sanremo 1999)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Preview clip: Luxembourg 1984

After winning the ESC for a fifth time in 1983, Luxembourg decided to have Sophie Carle represent them on home ground in Theâtre Municipal.

Sophie was, unlike most singers representing the Grand Duchy, actually born in Luxembourg, and was more experienced as a model at the time of the contest.

RTL had provided pretty basic eurovision previews until this moment, but by 1984 a hit song needed a professional video clip in order to sell itself. Sophie was given a stylish, modern clip, showcasing quite a lot of the same technology later used in the postcards during the ESC final.

Sophie Carle - 100 % d'amour (Luxembourg 1984 preview)

RTL probably thought they had a potential hit on their hands, and it could have been one. The sound was very contemporary and the song had a catchy chorus, but unfortunately Sophie Carle's nerves got the better of her.

Apparently she could really sing, but on the night of the final not quite every note hit home. The host nation ended in 10th place and the song was never the hit it would have deserved to be.

Sophie Carle - 100 % d'amour (Luxembourg 1984)

Sweden, semi 2: a good night for all things familiar

I have to blame my new time-consuming job, as I am yet to wrap up Saturday's semi in Sweden. My bad.

What was beyond clear was that Sweden still loves all things cosy and familiar, things you feel you can depend upon. Sanna Nielsen's entry could be written ten years ago, Brolle's forty-five years ago. Both made it to the final.

The modern surprise was that Loreen made it to Andra Chansen with her rather introvert dance track. Most welcome.

A shame - a big, big, big shame - though, that Christian Walz was kicked out with his magnificent little pop drama. The best, the most fashionable, and the most heartfelt fell flat on its nose.

I think Christian Walz will have his revenge on the radio. And on iTunes.

As for the rest, well... Given how much gossip I have heard about the exceptional standard this year, the two first semi finals have been a bit of a let-down. There is the usual amount of filler material, this week represented by Anniela and Bettan.

And as for Babsan's entry... Is it still so enormously hilarious with men in drag that you don't need a good song or a clever idea to make it big? The televoters seem to agree with me rather than with Babsan. Good audience.

Poland 2011: the televoters wanted Magdalena

Poland selected its entry for Düsseldorf in a national final last night, where a rather overwhelming victory went to Magdalena Tul who scored more than 40 % of the televotes in the end.

Magdalena Tul - Jestem (Poland 2011)

I'm not sure this is a potential winner - it is far too early to judge before we even know half the field for the ESC - but it makes me happy that Poland is taking a step back from the advanced ballads of 2008 and 2009 and lands, after a fairytale outing last year, in a modern pop field where they obviosuly feel at home.

Poland is good at modern pop, Magdalena has a good voice as well as stage presence aplenty. If this is kept tasteful (anyone remembers The Jet Set?) it could very well take Poland to the final in May.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sweden 2011: The Moniker reminds me of somebody

This one is not quite as obvious as the Brolle connection, but there is something in the body language that makes my mind go adrift.

He just makes me think of this guy, who didn't do quite as well but who is in his own little way a part of the Swedish eurovision heritage.

I am sure my old partner in crime, a certain Posh , could not agree more.

Charlie Hillson - Då kommer min ängel (Sweden NF 1982)

Sweden 2011: Brolle reminds me of somebody

There is no point posting anything from Melodifestivalen here as SVT takes any clips off YouTube faster than you can say schlagerfrossa. But if you watched the second semi, you will have seen Brolle make it to the final with his rockabilly entry.

I can't put my finger on it, but didn't he remind you of somebody? Some singer? Who was reasonably popular at some point?

Could I be thinking of Elvis Presley?

Or am I just thinking about this guy?

Copycat - Copycat (Belgium 2009)

Hello Paradise Oskar - and goodnight Euroviisut

Two days have passed since the final of Euroviisut, where Paradise Oskar aka Axel Ehnström was selected to defend the blue and white colours in Düsseldorf.

I'm still excited, not only by the song but also by the mere fact that a young man can sit at home and write a little song that goes all the way to the top without any help from the music establishment.

But the Saturday result puts the finger on exactly why it is time for Yle to dynamite away the current preselection system once and for all. This system is based on the premise that the record labels send in their best singers and best songs on offer.

Obviously, they have not done so for a couple of years. The final top three - Paradise Oskar, Saara Aalto and Father McKenzie - have all produced their entries by themselves while none of the record label products reached the super final.

A system designed to please the record companies, but that said companies ignore? Useless. Time to scrap it an invent a new formula that will result in better show and better entertainment.

For Finland's sake! This year it all ended well despite the lack of label interest, but such luck is unlikely to last...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Finland 2011: Paradise Oskar did it

There will be a longer reaction towards the Finnish and Swedish selections later in the day, when I have more time.

I just want to state how very pleased I am with Finland selecting the song I liked best out of the ten on offer last night. I also think it was the smartest choice and the entry most likely to stand a chance in Düsseldorf.

I also think it is a quality entry, so I don't even care too much about the outcome in May. If it fails to qualify, at least we sent a dignified entry to be proud of.

Paradise Oskar - Da Da Dam (Finland 2011)

More tonight, and by then I hope there will be a better quality clip to share as well. Well done, Finland!

Norway 2011: Swahili from the fjords

The Norweigan final is over and NRK send Stella Mwangi to Düsseldorf to defend the country's honour with "Haba Haba".

Stella Mwangi - Haba Haba (Norway 2011)

In the end, a certain level of exotism was what Norway wanted and the song certainly sounds like nothing they have ever contributed before. The African flavour worked for France last year (admittedly better outside the contest than during the voting, but anyway) and somewhere deep inside of me I love it that people embrace an entry like this at a time where unpleasant political winds are blowing both here and there across Europe.

The drawback for me is that the song isn't strong enough. It is a most harmless little number that is unlikely to offend anyone. More like something from The Lion King rather than Waka Waka.

Thankfully, Stella Mwangi is there to spice up the package and sell the song to the masses. She is a real personality and a lovely presence.

If Norway does well in Düsseldorf it is all thanks to her and not so much to the song, I think.

Malta 2011: Glen goes pop

Malta has selected an unusually modern and upbeat song compared to what they usually send in. (Remember the dancing seagull of last year...)

Glen Vella - One Life (Malta 2011)

Glen Vella is an adorable little pop singer who is very enthusiastic and sings well. He should also be very happy about not being drawn in the same semi final as Ireland, as he could easily be taken for a washed-out one-man-version of Jedward with better hair.

The whole package is pleasant and appealing, but also a bit too nice for its own good. People never vote for nice, and this is nice more than anything else.

"One Life" is composed by Paul Giordimaina, who represented Malta at their grand comeback after 16 years of absence in Rome 1991. Will his song better his sixth place from then?`

Paul Giordimaina & Georgina - Could It Be? (Malta 1991)

Iceland 2011: a tribute to Sjonni

Yes, it was not a success when Selma came back after her second place to better herself in 2005. She missed the semi final and perhaps she missed a tiny bit of her Eurovision glory somehow.

Maybe Yohanna is better off not winning after all.

And it is a heart warming thing that the song penned by the late Sigurjón "Sjonni" Brink won in the end. A sweet song, performed by some of his best friends.

Sjonni's Friends - Aftur heim (Iceland 2011)

I usually think it is a good thing to select your national entry more according to what your heart is telling you rather than what you think might be a hit internationally. I would be very surprised if "After heim" would result in Iceland's first victory.

I just hope that Iceland selected the song because they love it and not because of the recent events and the untimely death of the composer. I also hope that the Icelandic delegation will play down the background story as much as only possible come Düsseldorf.

What is a sweet tribute could very easily turn into a morbid and disgusting gimmick. I trust the good judgement of RUV that they won't allow that to happen.

Belgium 2011: Wallonia goes a capella

One of the five countries making their pick for Düsseldorf tonight was Belgium, notorious for making bad moves in Eurovision.

This year they invited all of their unsigned talent through an online qualification round, crowned with a live broadcast to find one winner out of the fourteen finalists. As the internet generation attacks the national final, did that result in new, exciting sounds?

Well, judge for yourselves.

Witloof Bay - With Love Baby (Belgium 2011)

So much for new and exciting. Mix Manhattan Transfer with the 2007 Belgian disco entry and you will pretty much get the 2011 entry.

Vocally talented, perhaps. But somewhere in Latvia, Cosmos will remember their time under the sun in Athens and laugh their lips off.

Cosmos - I Hear Your Heart (Latvia 2006)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Finland 2011: how much of a surprise will there be?

The Finnish final starts in about an hour from now, and I will not have time to write the lenghty prediction I would have wanted to write.

But if you want my more detailed opinions on a detailed song, go back to my respective reviews of the semi finals. My opinion has not changed a whole lot since then.

The general standard has not been the highest ever in a Finnish selection, but the positive side of that coin is that tonight's final is very open. This can end in many different ways. And it could very well end in tears.

With Düsseldorf in mind, the songs fall into several groups, as I see it.

Sending Eveliina Määttä, Sami Hintsanen or Milana Misic would be completely pointless. Not that they are bad performers, but because their songs are too bland and would sink without a trace on an international level.

Cardiant is partially the same, but would stand out more and have at least a decent chance to reach the final. But rock from Finland is nothing new, and probably the european televoters would find this tired and unsurprising.

Johanna Iivanainen and Marko Maunuksela would have the benefit of at least being a bit representative of music appreciated in Finland. They would probably not get far, but they would at least appeal to somebody somewhere.

Stala & So and Father MacKenzie both have good songs, but share another problem. If you can not perform properly in a small television studio, how will you be able to handle a large arena and the largest tv audience in Europe? Both could result in complete flops in Düsseldorf unless they shape up considerably.

Saara Aalto is a lovely girl with a good voice and all the personality you could ask for. Her song is the kind that most people will like, but that hardly nobody will vote for. Beautiful and atmospheric, but it won't stay in your mind.

Paradise Oskar stands out as the best choice for me. A confident young man with a delicious little song and a twinkle in the eye that goes through the tv screens. The lyric divides people, but that is not a big problem at the ESC where the larger part of the audience won't understand it anyway.

My prediction
I hope that quality will win in the end and that Oskar will go to Düsseldorf on behalf of Finland. He will perhaps not win there, maybe not even make it to the final, but he will represent the country in a dignified way.

The Finnish televoters have surprised me so many times through the years, however, that I almost expect them to disagree with me. And then anyone could win.

An exciting evening, indeed. Hopefully complete with a happy ending.

Sweden, semi 2: Tobson predicts

Something tells me that a general feeling of being a bit tired has invaded the Melodifestivalen team this week. Last week, there were a number of small (and some not so small) mistakes during the live broadcast, mistakes of the kind that would normally be unthinkable on a large production like MF.

This week, the preview online show was interrupted due to technical problems and today the full-length clips we had last week are nowhere to be found.

So I will predict tonight's outcome judging only from the short clips shown since Thursday. Not easy since you have no idea how the songs will progress and develop, but here's my guesses anyway.

1. BROLLE - 7 Days And 7 Nights
If last week kicked off with a surprisingly modern sound, we have the complete opposite coming this week. Rockabilly sounds and a massive chorus in the background. Nothing new under the sun, but Brolle has a certain charisma and presence as well as a certain notority that will come in handy when the televoters are let loose.

2. LOREEN - My Heart Is Refusing Me
I love the electro sound of this song, and the way the quite anonymous verse leads up to a vocal explosion in the chorus. Probably too aggressive and introvert to please the people in the Swedish sofas on a Saturday night, but Loreen is making the most of what she has to work with. Hopefully the ending will be restrained, it would be a shame if she started wailing the whole thing to bits.

3. BABSAN - Ge mig en spanjor
And then a little bit a humour. If that is the way you wish to define this. Which you probably will do if the mere sight of a man in a dress makes you roll on the floor with laughter. Women, drag queens and eurovision seen through the eyes of very heterosexual white men, in other words square, old-fashioned and not very funny. The chorus is pretty catchy, with a hint of old "Rasputin", but if this qualifies then something is rotten in the Kingdom of Sweden.

4. ELISABETH ANDREASSEN - Vaken i en dröm
Bettan is back in form vocally and it is good to see her dare relying on just being herself in a big ballad. The bad news is that this ballad would have had a pretty distinct taste of dust already fifteen years ago when Ireland and others gave us serious overdoses of the genres. Big, pompous and not very catchy, and the Eurovision Queen seems unlikely to be king of the hill this time.

5. SANNA NIELSEN - I'm In Love
Sanna Nielsen would have gone to Belgrade in 2008 had the televoters had their way, now she is back again but with a more traditional pop schlager. Very tastefully arranged and with elegant, classy verses it somehow fails to feel like anything more than a pleasant little bagatelle. Not a bad one, though, especially as Sanna has that certain something that usually convinces the people to vote for her. A possible qualifyer, but it wouldn't have been with anyone else singing it.

6. THE MONIKER - Oh My God!
The Moniker (aka Daniel Karlsson) is yet another talent popping out of Pop Idol, now looking for the big break with a larger audience. He offers a sound of the 60's, with a bit of psychedelia in the song as well as on the big screens, where happy mushrooms are dancing around to the bouncy beat. Consists of many bits and pieces of various shapes and sizes, but if the puzzle falls into place this could be a favourite with the people who voted Rongedal into the final three years ago.

7. ANNIELA - Elektrisk
Another piece of electropop with a sweet little girl with quite a good little voice. Likeable and positive, but also more or less impossible to remember. After several hearings I still remember nothing. Not a note. That can not be a good sign. Could perhaps have been better if they would have dared slowing the tempo down, making it sexy instead of jaunty. What do I know?

8. CHRISTIAN WALZ - Like Suicide
I have a little feeling that the EBU would not be all smiles about this title in their family friendly song contest, but that is a problem for later, possibly. In this week of somewhat anonymous entries, this one stands out at least for me with its sophisticated sounds and strings. Christian Walz has not had a hit since 2004, however, which must count as a disadvantage now. Will the audience remember him?

My prediction:
In an anonymous week, I find it likely that the audience will embrace things that feel familiar and/or for songs that stand out. So my prediction is that Brolle and The Moniker will make it to the final, while Christian Walz and Sanna Nielsen gets a second chance.

As for the fifth place, it would be nice for somebody like Loreen to get the extra exposure, but it could just as well be Bettan ending in that spot. Or Babsan. But that would be a shame.

Five countries select for Düsseldorf tonight

We are slowly getting a better idea what the line-up in Düsseldorf will look like as more and more countries decide their entries.

Tonight another five flowers will be added to the bouquet as Norway, Iceland, Belgium, Malta and Finland will have their pick. After Ireland threw some spice into the soup last night, I hope these countries also will go for something youthful, inspiring and temperamental.

A closer review of Finland is to follow. As for the others, I content myself with a little tribute in the form of some personal favourites from the broadcasters in question.

Bendik Singers - It's Just A Game (Norway 1973)

So much bounce and so much fun wrapped up in one little entry. I also absolutely love Anne Karine Strøm, but I will get back to her at some later point.

Telex - Euro-vision (Belgium 1980)

A very, very, very daring choice: modern, provocative, minimalist and, of course, totally chanceless. That doesn't matter a bit, Telex are heroes and it is the attitude that counts.

Helen & Joseph - L-imħabba (Malta 1972)

Adorable mediterranean disco in a lovely language (when will we get to hear Maltese sung at Eurovision again?) that manages to sound both familiar and exotic at the same time. A most undeserved last place in Edinburgh.

Selma - If I Had Your Love (Iceland 2005)

Selma came back trying to better her second place but didn't get out of the semi final. Maybe a word of warning before selecting Yohanna tonight, but Selma should never have failed in Kyiv. Modern, energetic and brilliantly composed, but it didn't quite work out on-stage. A shame, but a very good attempt.

The shadow of Ralph Siegel

If you're not a too freshly baked eurofan, you must have heard the name Ralph Siegel on a number of occasions through the years.

It is a bit hard to understand today, but once upon a time he used to be a bit of a genious. He produced many hits for his own recor label and others and then set his mind on winning Eurovision.

He wrote catchy songs, worked out new concepts, designed clever gimmicks, auditioned specially designed vocal groups and managed to get really good placings for Germany who, until then, had been more ignored and overlooked than anything else at the ESC.

After a fabulous string of placings (4 - 2 - 2), his fourth consecutive German entry finally won in big style. Most people thought this would be it and that Ralphie would now retire gracefully.

But no.

Already in 1987 he was back at Eurovision, and since then it has been downhill all the way. Slowly, to start with. From good placings, to a bit lower, to not so good right down to bad. And now the man refuses to give up.

Since German television no longer wants his songs, he sends them to any broadcaster willing to select them (against better knowledge). In 2009, he wrote the entry of Montenegro and failed to reach the final.

Last night one of his songs failed to even make it to the top 16 in Malta. Not surprisingly, may I add. The former legend had already stated he had written the song for Lena last year, implying the song had been rejected only because he wrote it.

Domenique - I'll Follow The Sunshine (Malta NF 2011)

Does anyone think Lena would have won with this song in Oslo?

Whatever happened to quality control? What can be more sad than a gifted composer/producer turning himself into a joke like this?

Ireland 2011: the mad twins will hit Düsseldorf

The Irish final was a very tight race in the end... and the biggest pre-final favourite won it. The X-Factor twins from Dublin made it to the top with their aggressively bouncy and catchy "Lipstick".

For a while, I thought RTÉ would have rigged the juries to outweigh the public vote, counting only for one third of the final result. You can say a lot of things about Jedward, but they are certainly not your typical act from a conservative Eurovision nation.

They are loud, they are disorganised, they don't sing very well, they can't answer questions properly. But they are plain adorable. Like a box full of mad, fluffy, cuddly puppy dogs.

The team in second place would have been a much safer choice, but they have already represented Ireland in 2009 and 2010 with moderate success. Jedward is surely the right way to go.

I am not saying they are a guaranteed success in Düsseldorf. But they will get noticed for sure. And they are bold, extravagant and have loads and loads of attitude. Just what Ireland needs after playing it too safe on too many occasions.

Jedward - Lipstick (Ireland 2011)

Ireland: the highlight of the evening

Came in late after a night with friends, and thought I would come home to find an Irish winner. The broadcast still goes on, and there will not be a winner for another twenty-five minutes or so.

I haven't seen any of the performances, but I have a feeling I have still seen the best part of the show.

Which is the chat show part with former Eurovision hosts Cynthia Ni Mhurchù (1994) and Mary Kennedy (1995) who still look absolutely fantastic, who are still witty, funny and professional.

If Ireland would win again soon, I would team both of them up for hosting. What a dream duo!

Cynthia Ni Mhurchù hosting in 1994 together with the late Gerry Ryan

Mary Kennedy handling the voting elegantly in 1995

Friday, February 11, 2011

Will Jedward win in Ireland?

Tonight Ireland will make their selection for Düsseldorf and try to regain some of their lost power.

I hardly need to tell you that Ireland won four years out of five 1992 - 1996, which proved to be a bit more than most could take. When Eimear Quinn won in Oslo 1996, one Swedish evening newspaper headlined: "Make Ireland sing in Finnish from now on!"

Since then, Ireland has lost it altogether, and in the ten last contests the emerald isle managed to squeeze into top ten only once.

After last years semi-flop (Niamh Kavanagh made it to the final but scored poorly there) with a classic eurovision ballad (eurospeak for "ultra-conservative"), RTÉ has decided to push things forward and try to go more modern.

Five prominent people from Irish showbiz got to nominate one act each and tonight they will all battle it out between them. Huge media favourites are Jedward, the Dublin twins who shot to stardom after a memorable run on Britain's "X Factor".

They are bubbly, fun, outgoing, loud, have a peculiar look... in short, they have everything a successful pop act is made of. And, oh well, it would have been nice had they been able to carry a tune as well.

That doesn't necessarily have to be a problem if their songs is adapted according to their limited range. Dana International didn't exactly sing like Callas in Birmingham but won anyway.

A far greater problem is that Jedward are nowhere near as famous and popular around Europe as some British/Irish people around the net seem to believe. They won't get any points for free, they will have to be able to sell themselves and their song.

It is also hard to tell if their tiny violation of the rules will work to their advantage or the other way around.

An ultra short snippet of their song was published online earlier than it should have, when their record label placed a preview on a music store, after which RTÉ decided to change the rules. Now the juries will have a larger say in the final result, and the televotes will only count as a third of the grand total.

Maybe the upbeat twins would do better with the people than with a jury? Before the night is over, we will know.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Is Sanna the new Agnetha?

Had a quick look at the sneak previews shown on SVT Play tonight, and now I have a very rough idea what Saturday's eight Melodifestivalen entries will sound like.

I will get back to them more in detail, but I'd like to share one thought.

When I saw Sanna Nielsen on stage, her outfit, her presence, her sound, everything, I started thinking about Agnetha Fältskog doing solo material in the 80's.

A bit like this:

Agnetha Fältskog - I Won't Let You Go

Is Sanna Nielsen the new Agnetha Fältskog? I could think of worse labels to wear...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Israel 2011: Dana is back

It is not necessarily a wise thing to come back to Eurovision once you've won the whole thing.

Niamh Kavanagh will probably understand what I mean. Charlotte Perrelli would agree. And even if their comebacks were more successful, Isabelle Aubret, Izhar Cohen and Carola would emphasise that winning a second time around is not as easy as one might think.

Now Dana International, winner of 1998 and one of the most groundbreaking participants ever, had decided to give it another go behind the microphone.

She co-wrote the 2008 Israeli entry for Boaz Mauda, and now she will enter the national final, the famous Kdam, with the song "Ding Dong".

Dana was selected internally to represent Israel in Birmingham in 1998, but three years earlier she tried her luck at the Kdam, reaching second place.

Dana International - Laila tov Eropa (Israel 1995 NF)

Sorry for the quality of the clip, it was the only one available on YouTube. Sorry for a few sick notes as well - vocal perfection was never Dana's thing.

She was scheduled to take part in the 1996 Kdam as well with a song called "Agada", withdrawn before the final. Does anyone know if she ever recorded it? Is it any good?

After a very tight voting, where the last set of 12 points (awarded by the spokeswoman in Skopje), Dana won and scored one of the biggest commercial hits to come out of Eurovision in the 90's.

Dana International - Diva (Israel 1998)

For reasons best known by Dana and her team, the success didn't lead to continued international stardom. There was never any credible follow-up single until many months later and Dana remained a one-hit-wonder in most territories.

Will this be her second time lucky? Or will she get stuck alreay in the national final?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Preview clip: Albania 2004

One of the most exciting events ever, for me personally at least, was the debut of Albania in the Eurovision Song Contest.

When I went to school, we didn't learn much about Albania since not even our teachers knew a lot about the country in question. Financially poor and with closed borders. Introvert and almost impossible to approach, that is how we percieved them.

Even when Albania opened up, they never really entered the news sphere over here and our knowledge of who they were and what they looked like was pretty close to zero.

If people had a not too flattering idea about Albania in the first place, then it really didn't help when this preview clip appeared on our tv screens.

Anjeza Shahini - The Image Of You (Albania 2004 preview)

It doesn't look pretty, does it? The poorly lit studio looks like a wrestling hall, the choreography is wild beyond belief and with absolutely no styling or makeup the whole team look more like they are on their way to the shower rather than to Eurovision.

From what I heard, it wasn't even the fault of Albania's tv.

Every country should produce two clips: one preview and one simple clip showing how the song will be performed on stage. At some point, these two clips were mixed up and this one was seemingly never intended for public use.

Most people who saw this clip laughed at it and deemed the entry chanceless in Istanbul, but in the end Albania had the last laugh.

They also realised this stage show wasn't particularly suitable, and changed the whole package in good time. Stylish and polished, the Albanian debut impressed most people in the end.

Anjeza Shahini - The Image Of You (Albania 2004)

Anjeza managed an elegant and well deserved 7th place, still Albania's best showing in the contest.

Sweden and the advanced backing tracks

In 2009, SVT made a radical decision concerning the performances in Melodifestivalen. In sharp contrast to the EBU rules, you are allowed to put your backing vocals on tape instead of having them sung live. Also, you are allowed to have a maximum of eight people on stage, to emphasise the show element.

In 2009 and 2010, it worked pretty neatly in Sweden, even if the winners both years had to be modified fof the international final.

This year, however, the use of pre-recorded vocals got in my way a bit. Especially in the more modern and produced entries like Dilba's and Danny's.

There are so many vocal effects going on that I lost track of when the singer is singing and when the voices are supposed to be on tape. And then I suddenly didn't feel sure about when the performers actually sung or not. At times, it felt like Dilba and Danny didn't sing quite as much as they were supposed to.

Of course they did, but that was the feeling I got.

And I spent the rest of the show thinking too much about what the backing singers sung live and what they only lip-synced along with.

Maybe this is just me now, but I would like it better if all vocals were live after all. Nobody would have to think about things this way, and there would not be the shadow of a doubt that the singers couldn't pull their song off.

Not to mention how much more energy you create when the singing is live. Backing tracks are fine, but pre-recorded vocals are clearly more difficult.