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!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Siw in Germany: Harlekin vs Prima Ballerina

During the 60's and 70's, the ever expanding showbiz of Germany made use for more stars than they were able to produce themselves, and singer from many countries went there to carve successful careers for themselves.

Among the most popular ones were the Scandinavian girl singers, some of them even went on to sing for the Federal Republic at Eurovision. In 1969, Swedish Siw Malmkvist was sent off to Madrid to represent the German record industry after winning the national final.

Siw Malmkvist - Prima Ballerina (Germany 1969)

In the German final, she had defeated American Peggy March and German Rex Guildo, each of them presenting three songs to a jury consisting of eleven mature men.

Siw scored a hit with "Prima Ballerina", recorded it in several languages and ended in a shared ninth place with her native Sweden (and without recieving a single point from Sweden either).

I must say that her entry feels very similar to another German hit of hers - a matter of months earlier had she won the Deutsche Schlagerwettbewerb 1968 with the track "Harlekin" which was - just like "Prima Ballerina" - written by Hans Blum.

I'm very tempted to believe that Hans Blum, when invited to contribute material for the 1969 contest and knowing that Siw was one of the selected performers, decided to do a little re-write of his own song rather than create something from scratch.

Siw Malmkvist - Harlekin (Deutsche Schlagerwettbewerb 1968)

Siw herself has admitted not to be wildly impressed with either one of the songs, neither was Hans Blum particularly fond of the way Siw performed them (nor the outfits she chose for each occasion).

At this time Siw started retiring more and more from Germany, focusing more on her Swedish career, where neither Harlekin nor Prima Ballerina were greater hits for her. From the Deutsche Schlagerwettbewerb, Siw had much more success with a Swedish version of the runner-up (originally performed by Dorthe Kollo).

Personally, I think Harlekin is the better of these two Blum/Malmkvist collaborations. It would have been most interesting to see what the slightly more raw and untamed qualities of Harlekin could have resulted in, had it been Germany's entry in Madrid.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #1 Sweden

A little bit predictable for me to have the same number one as most of the world, isn't it? But then again, some entries are just a little bit better than most.

Loreen - Euphoria (Sweden 2012)

Five years ago, in Helsinki, Swedish song-writer Thomas G:son contributed songs for two countries. Norway flunked in the semi, Spain sunk without any bigger trace in the final, and many people were certain that this more or less marked the end of G:son's success.

Instead, he went back to what he always did best anyway - take a distinct style and make it easily accessible for the masses. In 2011, Loreen had been too difficult for the Swedish viewers in Melodifestivalen. Now, given the G:son treatment, all the pieces fell into the right places.

There is an uplifting and refreshing simplicity about all the components in this entry. The melody line, the lyrics, the choreography - they are all very clean-cut, clear and accessible. It is art, but presented in a very user-friendly way.

And Loreen is a performer with a rare sensibility, a unique presence with a raw quality to it. She could probably make almost any old song work, and with a rare pearl like Euphoria it almost had to happen.

Victory for Sweden - hoping they won't lose their appetite for success after this.

Musically, this could be one of the most important victories for many years and open up the contest for even more chart-friendly music than before and make the ESC the natural showcase for domestic stars wishing for international success.

Fingers crossed for that.

My grade: 5/5

Tobson's Ranking: #2 Spain

Ever since Operación Triunfo stopped being a Eurovision selection, I have hoped for Spain to get their act together again. And boy, did they get things together this year.

Pastora Soler - Quédate conmigo (Spain 2012)

At first, I was mainly impressed by the presence and vocal abilities of Pastora while I found the song a bit on the dull side - your typical standard schlager ballad. And then it started growing. And growing and growing and growing.

It IS a typical standard schlager ballad, it just happens to possess that little extra something: a drop of real passion, of real emotion, combined with a performer able to manage and understand what could be made out of these standard ingredients.

When it comes to love ballads, this is also my favourite category - depicting the second after the moment when it is all over. The guy is not going to come back and she knows it. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear her heart break. And Pastora delivers like a true goddess, making the drama trustworthy and real.

A piece of classical know-how and classy craftmanship, and a real triumph for songwriter Thomas G:son. Or at least part of his triumph this year.

My grade: 5/5

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #3 Cyprus

A little bit of love, a little bit of la la la and a close to flawless performance. It doesn't have to be harder than that.

Ivi Adamou - La La Love (Cyprus 2012)

Creating a good, convincing pop performance is in no way a simple task. Making everything seem easy, spontaneous and effortless really takes a professional like Helena Paparizou or Ani Lorak and those are few and far between.

Ivi Adamou is almost up there with them, which came as a bit of a surprise to me after all the speculation as to whether she could carry a tune at all.

She could more than just sing: she dances really well, she holds the whole number together and - most importantly - she adds a sense of humour to the whole thing. She knows that her entry is a feather-weight little bagatelle and she treats it with all the delicacy it needs without getting carried away.

Apart from being a little bit shaky in the vocal department right after the dance break, Ivi delivers a close to perfect Eurovision pop extravaganza that is pure pleasure from the first note to the last. A mystery that it didn't score better, but given the commercial success it has achieved in several countries afterwards Ivi should be all smiles anyway.

My grade: 5/5

Tobson's Ranking: #4 Germany

For a long time I thought Germany would fail in Baku and that young Roman would not deliver when it came down to action. I was mainly wrong and I am happy about that.

Roman Lob - Standing Still (Germany 2012)

After having won and hosted and gone through the media phenomenon that was Lena, it could have done incredible damage to Germany in Eurovision had this year's entry flopped.

I considered this a piece of lavishly constructed radio pop, but thought Roman Lob to be too much of a pretty talent show winner who would not manage to fill the words up with enough meaning and emotion.

Instead, he managed to paint the picture of the cubbish young man who grows into taking the first mature decision of his life and the result is pretty breathtaking. Roman has many assets, many good things in him, and could blossom into a really impressive artist.

He's not quite there yet. I would have hoped for a little more depth, a little more gravity, a little more nerve in the final performance. But these are mere details.

More important is that Germany is taking the actual songwriting more seriously than most (commissioning the stuff they want from the publishing houses rather than asking nicely to have it) and delievered their third chart hit in succession into this contest. I hope they intend to keep them coming.

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #5 Moldova

One thing is for sure, Eurovision would be a far duller place without the Moldovans.

Pasha Parfeny - Lăutar (Moldova 2012)

With only a few exceptions, Moldova has cut a place for itself as the King of Quirk at Eurovision. The Moldovan entries are usually catchy, highly energetic, fun little performances that aim to please the audience and stand out from the rest of the competition.

Quite a lot like Israel used to do in the 80's.

Pasha Parfeny doesn't just have a devilishly catchy and infectious song, he is also an unusually good showman who manages to keep the whole thing together without the slightest hint of strain.

He sings well, he dances with zeal, he finds the camera at every crucial moment.

Unlike many other ambitious performances this year (most notably France), Team Parfeny fills up the stage without making a mess. Every single little detail fits into the picture, every little moment adds to the completeness of it all. The dancers are fantastic. The backing vocalists are ace.

The viewer is never left wondering what on Earth is going on and is free to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

A tiny televisual piece of art, Made in Moldova. Very nice.

My grade: 4/5

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #6 Russia

Grannies for everybody and plenty of owen-fresh pie on top of that. How could Europe resist?

Buranovskiye Babushki - Party For Everybody (Russia 2012)

These Senior Spice Girls of Buranovski turned out to be the phenomenon of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, that peculiar entry that most people could hardly believe was happening.

Some people rejected them as a cheap gimmick, some people were sincerely worried that the pressure and attention and hoopla would prove too much for the grannies.

But most just gave in and let themselves be entertained by the insanity and simplicity that thrived in the Russian entry as Baby Spice (on the left) tried to keep her grannies in tune and rhythm while Old Spice charmed an entire continent while doing very much her own thing.

My own favourite is Mischievous Spice, on the extreme right of the stage. How she loves the attention, how she loves being on the stage, how courageously she does her acting at the part where she almost forgot the precious pies in the oven.

An adorable entry for anyone whose heart is not made of stone.

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #7 Italy

Italy coming back is one of the best things to happen in recent years and the big question seems to be when they will score a bull's eye and win the whole thing. I thought Nina would get closer...

Nina Zilli - L'amore è femmina (Italy 2012)

My only slight objection to the Italian entry is that I still think "Per Sempre" would have made an even better entry. That detail aside, I find Nina Zilli to be a real powerhouse of a performer.

Her song is a very straightforward little affair in a rather trendy pop-goes-retro style that has conquered the charts in recent years. The bilingual version is perhaps not quite as smooth as the original, but Nina looks striking in her expensive-looking dress.

Classy, with a drop of classic Italian diva arrogance in her voice as well as in her appearance.

Yet, I'm left with the feeling that the performance is not all that it could be. There is a tiny something missing, a certain focus, perhaps. The camera work isn't always there to support the act, the backing singers (somehow reminding me of Mia Martini's backing group in London 1977) come across as a little bit too attention-seeking and Nina momentarily seems unsure whether to turn to the camera or the audience in the hall.

A little bit of fine-tuning for the future, and Italy could win any given year. I know it, they know it. The question is only how soon they want to win - and host - the contest. Pretty soon, is my guess.

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #8 France

This was the entry that was supposed to bring France back to the top positions, where they belong. Instead they did what the French have done too many times recently. They messed up.

Anggun - Echo (You and I) (France 2012)

This song was a brave choice - it was modern, original and not as direct as most songs achieving eurovision success. Clearly it needed a strong performance to back it up, but it had potential to be a good surprise on the night.

Instead we had a show that was ambitious but messy on-screen. Too many things are happening and there is no logical red thread for the viewers to follow, neither does the camera work ever allow the viewers to establish any kind of contact with the singer who remains a stranger throughout most of the song.

With the precious exception of Patricia Kaas, recent French entries have usually worked badly visually at Eurovision for the last ten years or so. It is surprising to see that French television, who has a very strong culture of making television visually appealing, never seem to pull off the ever so important visual aspect of the Eurovision Song Contest.

To make things even worse, Anggun - one of the most experienced performers in the final - did not live up to expectations or the level she had set during rehearsals and sang badly. Had the televoters had full power, she would have been left without a single point.

The song deserves much more than that. Even with a messy performance and a dismal vocal delivery it is still one of the most interesting entries of the year. I hope French television will stay on their ambitious path, but maybe try to deliver a more distinct and accessible show for next year.

My grade: 4/5

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #9 FYR Macedonia

An honest day's work for Kaliopi, who did what she was expected to do: she sang, she shone and she took her country back to the grand final for the first time in years.

Kaliopi - Crno i belo (FYR Macedonia 2012)

Almost all of Former Yugoslavia used the same recipe this year - instead of organising a national final that most names would refuse to be a part of anyway, they internally selected a star to do the job for them. Not a bad idea at all.

But then there are stars and then there are stars. Not everyone who is a star in their own backyard will convince the entire continent of their own greatness. Many big names have failed in the international lime light.

But Kaliopi is the kind of star that is universally understandable. There is her elegance, her intriguing voice and, above all, that sublime presence that just fills the stage and demands your attention.

Regardless if you like her song or not, you just know that this is somebody you'd love to know better.

Frankly, Kaliopi's song is good but not excellent. It could surely have benefitted from a less dated sound and arrangement. But Kaliopi herself just rises above any objections of the kind, nails her scream, delivers her last chorus and keeps the audience fascinated up until the very end of her performance.

Pure class.

Now I just hope she will come back to the ESC in a few years with a sharper entry. Then things would really start to get interesting...

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #10 Albania

Artistic, demanding and difficult. Albania making it into top five is surely the sensation of the year.

Rona Nishliu - Suus (Albania 2012)

Through the years, Eurovision audiences have shown that they like easy songs. Ditties. Choruses with handles, the kind you can hum along to or sing in the shower.

Try singing this one in the shower and you'll burst an artery or something.

In short, given the usual standards of this contest, the Albanian entry should not have stood a chance. But then Rona Nishliu swept in, took the stage, imposed herself on the audience and demanded their attention before delivering her big ballad in the way that stars do.

It just proves that also more demanding material belongs to Eurovision, especially when there is a powerful voice and a whole lot of star quality there to back them up. Suus scoring highly this year was more than a success for Albania, it was a bit of a victory for the entire contest.

My grade: 4/5

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #11 Turkey

Hayde, indeed! Turkey is back on track in this competition.

Can Bonomo - Love Me Back (Turkey 2012)

Ever since back in the day, when nobody voted for Turkey or paid them much attention, I have cherished their entries and held them as one of my favourite ESC countries. So it feels very good indeed to see that the mishap of 2011 was nothing but the occasionally slip and not a new trend in Turkish entries.

Can Bonomo is really bringing Turkey back to form with a catchy rhythm, a singalong chorus and a fun performance. What is even better is that this oriental ditty also manages to be quite divisive and not everyone's cup of tea.

Anything that can annoy people and be entertaining at the same time is most welcome.

The only reason it is not higher in my list is (apart from strong competition) Can himself. The rest of his output is wilder, more daring, less streamlined, has sharper edges.

I would have liked to see what kind of emotion some of his other sings might have stirred up in Baku.

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #12 Finland

At #12, this is the highest placing of a non-qualifying entry this year. Although I still think it should have qualified.

Pernilla - När jag blundar (Finland 2012)

To be honest, I am not sure how necessary a qualification would have been. It would have been nice. Suitable. Not out of place. But still.

Pernilla nailed all the important parts: throughout the week of rehearsals in Baku, she took in the stage, adapted to the camera angles, grew more confident on stage and - above all - sang really well on the live broadcast.

It is not a small task for a complete newcomer to represent your country at Eurovision and nerves got the better of several performers during the ESC history. Pernilla was calm, composed, beautiful and secure.

Sending in a slow ballad in your own language is always a gamble - this one got really close to qualification. For a country like Finland - with no less than nine last places and an almost uncountable amount of misunderstood masterpieces with dismal placings - this is an entry to be very proud of.

My grade: 4/5

Tobson's Ranking: #13 Hungary

If you bring modern, radio-friendly electro-flavoured pop à la Hurts to Eurovision, you will have a special place in my heart.

Compact Disco - Sound Of Our Hearts (Hungary 2012)

Hungary had really bad luck in the draw for the grand final - had this song been among the last ten to perform, chances are that more people would have realised what a suggestive little package this is.

It is up-to-date, it is very well performed and, thanks to charismatic front figure Csaba Walkó, it looks just as good as it sounds. Not unimportant in a televised contest.

The only problem here is that the package itself is slightly better than the actual song, but if it gave this band a push in their domestic career it was all worth it.

For the last two years, Hungary has made in important contribution to Eurovision by sending in very modern entries that sound contemporary and radio-playlist-friendly. If they stick to this tactic, the voters will get the big idea sooner or later. Hang in there!

My grade: 4/5

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #14 Ukraine

Ukraine has had better songs through the years. Better presentations as well. But they sure know how to put on a party.

Gajtana - Be My Guest (Ukraine 2012)

The big purpose with the Ukranian entry seemed to be to promote the European Football Championships more than anything else, and that seems to have gone according to plan.

Gajtana is a feisty character and a tremenduous singer who might have ended up with a little too little to sing, leaving her no choice but to wail away for most of her three minutes. She does it well, but the song turns out more than a little bit more shouty than it needed to be.

That's not a big deal, though. I had a very good time together with the girl, her wacko dancers and her animated backing troop on the backdrop.

In short, a great performance. Had it been combined with a better song, Ukraine could easily have found themselves in the top spots again.

My grade: 3/5

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #15 Israel

Izabo really did their own thing and I love it. But somehow the entirety refused to fall into place.

Izabo - Time (Israel 2012)

For many years, Eurovision was a very square event with very firm rules concerning what you could or could not do, what you should sound and look like in order to be accepted and get points. I never really recovered from that, so whenever anyone decides to goof out and be odd and peculiar I tend to embrace it immediately.

Izabo did exactly that - they put on their own sound, a gimmicky song with a catchy chorus and a rather offbeat performance. Lovely.

But during the week in Baku, I slowly sensed and accepted the fact that this was not the recipe for success. The blend would not hit home with the voters.

I can't place my finger on what it is, but something is missing. Somehow this performance does not come together like it should. What should be easily accessible becomes ungraspable.

Not that I care. I still like this very much, as well as most of the group's other material as well. Adorable goofballs.

My grade: 3/5

Tobson's Ranking: #16 Serbia

Sticking closely to the safest of formulas is a dull thing to do, but a real professional can shake life also into a predictable entry.

Željko Joksimović - Nije ljubav stvar (Serbia 2012)

Maybe we got off a bit on the wrong foot, the Serbian entry and I. After the fun and energetic entries from Nina and Milan Stanković, I found it overly dull and safe to call in Željko Joksimović again.

And despite being the kind of bombastic Balkan ballad that should go straight to my heart, I never really warmed to this song either. It is nice, but nothing much more than a rewrite of previous, better, entries.

Not quite Lane moje, to put it nicely.

But in sharp contrast to Bosnia and Estonia, where I thought strong songs were taken down by the performances, Željko knows how to work his stuff. He is a very powerful performer - the voice is there, the gaze is there - who could blow life into any old song. Which is basically what he did in Baku.

Had he given us a tiny bit of surprise, just a fragment of a new idea in the old concoction, he could maybe even have given Loreen a run for the money. Now he just gave us the same old song, and that was not exciting enough.

My grade: 3/5

Tobson's Ranking: #17 Estonia

Another really well written ballad that I would have preferred sung in a very different way.

Ott Lepland - Kuula (Estonia 2012)

Ott from Estonia has a truly magnificent voice, which he masters almost to perfection. He can really nail some really high and demanding notes and in a different song it would have been really impressive.

What really made me enjoy the Estonian entry from the start was its simplicity, how understated and restrained it was. How all the elegant little details created a tremendous build-up in this little ballad.

Then Ott decided he wanted to show off his vocal skills instead, effectively devastating everything I really liked about the song in the first place. The musical equivalent of drowning a lovingly crafted dish in ketchup.

A matter of taste, of course. Some people loved all this vocalising, but it left me completely cold.

Ott is a fantastic performer in so many ways. I wish somebody would have told him to hold back instead. Sometimes less is just so much more.

My grade: 3/5

Tobson's Ranking: #18 Bosnia and Herzegovina

This is one of my favourite ballads of the year, but I have come to expect more from the Bosnian entrants performance-wise.

Maya Sar - Korake ti znam (Bosnia-Herzegovina 2012)

From the word go, I melted like butter when I heard this very soft, very tender, very gentle ballad in its delicate arrangement, partially whispered rather than sung by the very sensitive Maya Sar that touched me already last year in Düsseldorf (when she was part of Dino Merlin's backing group).

I'm still very fond of the recorded version, but the live performance did not quite live up to my expectations.

A female piano ballad almost always include the singer getting up from her instrument towards the end to give the end notes some extra forza. Very predictable, on the verge of forgettable. Previous Bosnians entries have always included something for the eye as well as for the ears, and I was slightly disappointed to find this ingredient missing.

Maybe Maya Sar didn't have her best day vocally either, and I was a bit surprised to see this one in the final. But it still is a lovely song. Had it had a bit more to offer visually, it would have been higher still in my ranking.

My grade: 3/5

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #19 Romania

One of the hardest things you can attempt at Eurovision is being feather-light and get away with it. Romania almost nailed it. Almost.

Mandinga - Zaleilah (Romania 2012)

Being light and carefree is difficult since you have to be really convincing in order to get away with it.

If you sing a demanding ballad, you can allow yourself to slip on a note or two. If you sing about heartbreak you can allow yourself a little too much acting. If you do a dance act, it is OK to focus a bit more on dancing than singing.

But if you want to be light and carefree, you must be perfect. The audience must get the feeling that your performance is born in the moment, that it is the easiest thing, that it just comes to you.

Romania did this perfectly until the semi final, when lead singer Elena had problems with her in-ear and struggled to sing in tune and in the right rhythm. There and then the illusion was lost, for the audience as well as for her.

The performance never got back to feeling as carefree as it would have needed to be and a real contender lost most of its bite. Too bad.

My grade: 3/5

Tobson's Ranking: #20 Greece

It has been years since the Greeks last sent in a really strong song. But they certainly know how to make their stuff work.

Eleftheria Eleftheriou - Aphrodisiac (Greece 2012)

This song isn't much to start with, it sounds like the rather washed-out melodifestivalen-reject that it probably is, and most countries would have failed miserably when entering something as unoriginal as this.

But Greece is not just any old country, they know their stuff. Their sound is distinctly modern pop with a local flavour and their dance routines are wacko enough to raise a certain interest around the song in question.

This year's stage show - where Eleftheria and her dancers recreates "The Birth of Venus", the famous painting by Botticelli - is also more elaborate and sophisticated than most.

Had all of this been accompanied by an equally ambitious song, then this could have resulted in another Greek spot in top three. Now it was to be the first Greek entry in nine years not to place among the ten best instead.

And maybe rightly so. This is a song contest, after all. And then the song should matter as well.

My grade: 3/5

Tobson's Ranking: #21 Portugal

I used to consider this as nothing but a snoozefest... and then I saw the light.

Filipa Sousa - Vida Minha (Portugal 2012)

I thought this to be just a poor man's "Senhora do Mar" (which I wasn't particularly fond of in the first place), but sometimes being surrounded by the right group of people will make you see a song differently. As one of my colleagues really liked this one I decided to give it another shot.

Filipa and her backing singers deliver a very polished package with a fair share of real pathos and emotion.

Too bad it didn't break though to the greater part of the audience, but quality isn't always enough in a competition where you also need a certain amount of luck.

(And I am still waiting for the day when the Portuguese will bring us a convincing and heavy-scoring modern pop entry that could bring the contest to Lisbon. What is taking them so long?)

My grade: 3/5

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #22 Ireland

Sometimes it is great to make a quick comeback, sometimes it is better to stay away. As for Jedward, I have no idea whether this was clever or not.

Jedward - Waterline (Ireland 2012)

I can easily conclude two things: 1) "Waterline" is a much weaker entry than "Lipstick" was. 2) The real Jedheads could not care less about this.

It is interesting to note that the low score and lack of success the Irish twins had in Baku seems not to have influenced their popularity at all. Their fans seem to stay loyal, maybe even thinking the brothers showed themselves versatile proposing something different compared to last year's entry.

In a way they did. They reminded the audience of their presence, they were sweet and witty and funny, and they looked striking in their new hairdos. 

I just think they could have achieved that very effect, even stronger, with a better song. Why they went for a washed-out Saade-reject remains a mystery to me.

My grade: 2/5

Tobson's Ranking: #23 Malta

This is still a pretty weak song but a likeable performer and a silly dance routine can go a very long way.

Kurt Calleja - This Is The Night (Malta 2012)

Before the contest, I didn't believe in Maltese success - there just wasn't enough of a song going on to make anyone happy. But Kurt Calleja had more energy and dedication that I had foreseen.

Armed with a silly but effective little dance routine, he managed to fill his tiny chorus with plenty of feelgood and a presence that made quite a few televoters melt. Enough of them to secure a spot in the final, for the first time since 2009.

All of Malta can rejoice in that achievement. But the success comes down to Kurt and his team, and nobody else. Very well done. Imagine how well he could have scored with a better song.

My grade: 2/5

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #24 Iceland

My eyes can see and my ears can hear that this is a neat and proper tune with a duo that does everything right. And yet it doesn't provoke a single emotion in me.

Greta Salóme & Jónsi - Never Forget (Iceland 2012)

There are so many good ingredients here, really. I like the slight feeling of menace in the arrangement of the verses. I like the build-up. I like the way their voices gel. And I even like the violin, and it doesn't make me think too much of Alexander Rybak.

But somehow, the end product doesn't do much for me. Maybe it is just too predictable, too eurovision by the numbers, too much schlager factory.

The musical equivalent of a fresh and tasty standard salad that will do nicely for a quick lunch on a week day. Good for as long as it lasts, but nothing you will remember once it's over. Even if it comes in a very nice package.

My grade: 2/5

Tobson's Ranking: #25 United Kingdom

One of the reasons you would opt for an established, experienced performer at Eurovision would be that you wouldn't have to worry that they would sing badly. Or something.

Engelbert Humperdinck - Love Will Set You Free (United Kingdom 2012)

To set one thing straight - Engelbert is one of the biggest stars ever to grace a eurovision stage, he has sold tons of records and he has been highly influencial in many ways. Nobody can take that away from him.

But this entire entry relied on his voice and his performance and sadly the Grand Old Man did not deliver.

The performance in the grand final was not too bad, but a song like this was always more likely to collect high points from the juries rather than the televoters. And during the jury final, Engelbert was nothing short of disastrous.

His timing was off, he was out of sync with the backing track and he came nowhere close to nailing the more demanding notes of his song. This, in addition to the dubious honour of being the first act in the running order, left the UK entry without a chance in the world.

Shame on a sweet song. As for Engelbert, the legend will live on and his fans will forget. Pretty quickly too, I would guess.

My grade: 2/5

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #26 Norway

This song really needs a Tooji. But Tooji would deserve a better song.

Tooji - Stay (Norway 2012)

So, Norway got the last place in the final. It means they have eleven last places in the final - more than any other participating country. But since the semi finals were introduced, the map has changed. A last place in the final is a lot better than staying in the semi.

Tooji got a lot of positive attention in Baku and he really is an explosive little package. He sings OK, but he is a delightful presence on stage who manages to fill his little song with some edge, some temper and some nerve.

His little song really needs it, by the way. In fact, it is a very bleak sketch of a song where the songwriting team has only thrown in some rhythms, some sounds and some hooks, hoping that would be enough. It is not.

There isn't even a proper chorus - the part intended to be a chorus sounds like a promising bridge, and suddenly the whole thing goes back to the verse again.

Norway needs to take greater care when it comes to selecting their songs. For the last three years they sent in good singers with weak material. A shake-up in the songwriting department and the Norweigans won't have to worry much about last places anymore.

My grade: 2/5

Tobson's Ranking: #27 Croatia

This entry did everything almost right. Which is the wrong thing to do.

Nina Badrić - Nebo (Croatia 2012)

It all looked so promising when Croatia decided to scrap their no longer hit-making national final and select a star internally for Baku. And Nina Badrić is a huge name - not just any old star at all. A very good choice.

Unfortunately, the choice of song wasn't as clever. Nina opted for the title track of her latest album, which is, admittedly, a fine track penned by Nina herself. But there were more chart-friendly, hit-sounding, distinct pop songs on that album that would have suited the occasion better.

In Baku, Nina sang well but the song got lost in the middle of it all. The background dancers don't compliment the song and most viewers were probably more puzzled what those two guys in skirts were up to. Unless they just went to the kitchen to fetch more coffee.

In all fairness, Croatia wasn't helped by the fact that no less than five ex-Yugoslav states were drawn into the same semi final. But this pleasant-but-anonymous entry would have had a hard time even during better circumstances.

The sad part is that Croatia might have a hard time convincing another star to go to Eurovision after this debacle. But if they manage, maybe the star in question should not be given full freedom when it comes to selecting the song?

My grade: 2/5

Tobson's Ranking: #28 Austria

Catchy, fun and wacko or just plain silly and sexist? Well, the televoters showed quite clearly what they thought...

Trackshittaz - Woki mit deim Popo (Austria 2012)

This is by all means rather sexist in a way that leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth. It is 2012 after all and Austria is probably supposed to have come a bit further than this when it comes to equality. I never thought I would defend an entry like this, but...

I think the Trackshittaz are quite sweet and I have interpreted their whole act as mocking a certain section of Austrian society rather than celebrating it. I could be wrong, but that is how I thought of them. I also find the chorus catchy enough and as for the performance we have clearly seen worse at Eurovision.

Austria's last place in the semi final came as a bit surprising to me, but if Europe really is rejecting sexism in entertainment that is a good thing.

But perhaps it came more down to the fact that Austria had really bad luck in the live show. The camera work is considerably shakier than in any of their rehearsals and their special effects dress trick suddenly didn't work at all.

Austria has tried humour in so many ways for the last ten years. Maybe they should opt for a solid pop act next year instead?

My grade: 2/5

Tobson's Ranking: #29 Switzerland

These guys have so much potential but their song would have needed some processing first.

Sinplus - Unbreakable (Switzerland 2012)

The Broggini brothers came really close to qualification and landed in the dreaded eleventh position in their semi final. That must have been mainly on the strength of their own presence, energy and determination. They are really rather good, you know.

Unfortunately, their own song didn't really help as much as it should have.

There is a good, but slightly too repetitive, chorus in there but the whole package would have needed more development, more drama, more geist. There are several holes in this bucket and that is where the points kept leaking out.

If someone had paid some attention and helped the boys re-write some sections of the song (the second verse is really sub-standard) and add some excitement (an extra bridge? some sort of instrumental break?) - then Switzerland would have been in the final for the second year running. Easily.

This is, after all, a song contest and sometimes I wish the contestants would pay a bit more attention to the actual song writing.

My grade: 2/5

Tobson's Ranking: #30 Latvia

A nice try, but you need more than a beautiful song to make it at Eurovision.

Anmary - Beautiful Song (Latvia 2012)

The Latvian entry grew into a bit of a pre-contest favourite of mine, thanks to the rather sweet preview. It was easygoing and didn't seem to take itself too seriously.

The good thing about the live performance in Baku is that it didn't take itself too seriously there either. Anmary and her friends sang well, but acted more like a couple of socialities at a cocktail reception rather than a group eager to convince the world of their greatness.

It felt like a little break in the programme, like a premature interval act put on while most countries switch to commercials. It would have needed more punch, more colour, more vibe and more life in order to stand out.

As it is, it is pleasant but bland. And would you vote for that?

My grade: 2/5

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tobson Ranking: #31 Azerbaijan

It's cold, cold, cold. (It's their words, not mine!)

Sabina Babayeva - When The Music Dies (Azerbaijan 2012)

As every year, no expense was saved in order to make Azerbaijan's entry stand out from the rest. Sabina Babayeva was given a state-of-the-art high-tech dress with an advanced light show on it (as well as an extra dose of collagen in her lips) to enhance her performance.

It does look fantastic (the dress, that is) and adds an extra piece of drama.

The ethnic touch, added by the famous backing singer and some local instruments, failed to gel with the song, however. The whole package came across as a bit too loud for its own good.

And above all - while Sabina hits the notes correctly (despite being a bit shaky in the lower register), she fails to deliver a single trace of emotion throughout her performance. There is no heart in it. It's just... cold.

And I fail to believe that was how a song about heartbreak was supposed to be.

My grade: 2/5

Tobson's Ranking: #32 Denmark

Another sweet girl with another piece of sweet radio pop. But it does nothing for me.

Soluna Samay - Should Have Known Better (Denmark 2012)

In many ways, the Danish offering is falling into the same trap as the Dutch lass. When you start having doubts that your song is strong enough in its own right, you want to add a visual element as well.

While Joan Franka had her plumage steal the show, Soluna not only decided to put on the largest hat she could find but she also invited along a hip-hop cello player, an energetic piano/xylophone player and a backing singer on an armchair.

As none of these elements had anything to do with the song, they mainly distracted focus away from Soluna herself. A bunch of people with no coordination performing a song that is nice but not remarkable. Not a recipe for success.

My grade: 2/5

Tobson Ranking: #33 Bulgaria

Having all the main ingredients for a good dance track doesn't help at all when the performer doesn't rock at all.

Sofi Marinova - Love Unlimited (Bulgaria 2012)

Had this ranking been based on studio versions alone, this entry would end up a lot higher on my list. It has most of the key elements you'd like to see in a dancey eurovision song.

Bulgaria has juggled with this genre before and come up with credible, well-sounding pop songs without much success. This year, the backing track seemed really promising while the visual presentation was a bit of a question mark in the preview.

Unfortunately, things went from debetable to outright disastrous. Having no act to support the dance rhythms as well as an outfit leaving quite a lot to be desired, Sofi herself seemed to struggle with her song, not easily finding the right tempo nor the right cue to start singing.

If you want to know how to ruin a promising entry, look no further. This is the schoolbook example of the year.

My grade: 2/5

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #34 Slovenia

A really lovely girl meets a fairly decent ballad. But they were never meant to be.

Eva Boto - Verjamem (Slovenia 2012)

Eva Boto is both young and angelic, she sings like a dream and she handles the stage remarkably well given her age and inexperience. A real star in the making.

So why Slovenian television, after spending a whole winter and half a spring selecting her in a never-ending talent show, decided to set her up with a song like this is beyond me.

There isn't any major flaw in the song - a little bit of a Molitva-rewrite, but people have gotten away with worse on a Eurovision stage in the past - but it doesn't suit poor Eva at all. She would have deserved something more youthful, something more vibrant, something less deadly serious.

Second last place in her semi-final was unnecessarily cruel, but I see what the voters mean. The singer and the song must compliment each other, otherwise you will fail. Just like this package did.

My grade: 2/5

Tobson's Ranking: #35 Netherlands

The Indians might be coming, but they didn't quite conquer Europe, did they?

Joan Franka - You And Me (Netherlands 2012)

Given that this was the eight consecutive Dutch entry to fail qualification, one should maybe be a bit kind here. And I am. I have twisted and turned this song around and upgraded it from "atrocious" to "acceptable". A big step for an entry like this.

Joan has a certain likeability and the set-up in Baku with her backing band felt really nice.

Just too bad that she lost her nerves and sang quite badly in the live show. She would have needed to sing more than excellently to win people over, as the very ill-advised plumage clearly worked to her disadvantage.

There was a story to the feathers, everyone who heard it would probably find it a bit touching. But the people at home - the televoters, the people with the power - they had no clue what was going on and probably found the whole stunt a bit ridiculous.

My grade: 2/5

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tobson's Ranking: #36 Montenegro

I still find this funny and clever - but there are limits to how much of a stage breakdown you can allow yourself in this contest.

Rambo Amadeus - Euro Neuro (Montenegro 2012)

From the word go, I thought the Montenegrin comeback to Eurovision was really something extra. I thought Euro Neuro was a clever and daring little song. Obviously political, but what was it mocking, really?

Excellent preview clip, a catchy chorus and a beat you could dance to had the thought crossed your mind.

I really defended it for as long as I could, but by the time the first semi final came around not even Rambo Amadeus himself seem to enjoy this any longer. Even though the stage show is quite funny (I love the end bit where one of the dancers gets kidnapped by the other two), Mister Amadeus himself decided to run amoch and ruin most of it with his truly erratic appearance.

Maybe his fans at home will love him even more for it. But for me it ruins what could have been the gem of the year. Too bad.

My grade: 1/5

Tobson Ranking: #37 Slovakia

This is a mystery I will never get my head around - why do people go to Eurovision with a song they are unable to perform properly?

Max Jason Mai - Don't Close Your Eyes (Slovakia 2012)

I really thought Slovakia had done the right thing this time and sent in an entry that would stand out by a mile and gather all the rock votes. The preview version sounded very promising, combining the heardest piece of rock heard at Eurovision since Kabát entered the stage in 2007 with a most melodious chorus.

Maybe not entirely my cup of tea but a sure qualifyer, I thought.

Then the rehearsals started and long turned my face as the long-haired Slovak proved totally unable to deliver the notes required. At first I thought it was a case of bad nerves, but no improvement came along during the week and the live performance sounded just as unconvincing as the rehearsals. And a pretty edgy rock entry was scattered to pieces and left in ruins.

I still hope Slovakia won't take this defeat personally and withdraw from the competition. This failure was nobody's fault but their own.

My grade: 1/5

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tobson Ranking: #38 Belarus

You can say a lot about Belarus, but at least they remain true to their own style.

Litesound - We Are The Heroes (Belarus 2012)

The Belarus Style in Eurovision would above all be a neverending urge to adapt your own entry into all various kinds of directions in the vain hope that as many people as possible would find something they liked in it.

This year, that meant taking a rather goodlooking and pretty well-sounding rock band (at least if 80's rock à la Bon Jovi is your bag) and forcing them into a disco makeover that did not suit them particularly well.

We already knew that artistic integrity means nothing for Belarusian television when it comes to Eurovision, but if they tried it once or twice they might find that it has a tendency of paying off.

Their 2012 entry, on the other hand, is not bad. It just doesn't make a difference.

My grade: 1/5

Tobson Ranking: #39 Lithuania

Lately, Lithuania is making it to the final more often which is great for them. Too bad their songs are not better.

Donny Montell - Love Is Blind (Lithuania 2012)

Last year a good singer lifted the incredibly pretentious Lithuanian Disney ballad into the final, and this year the blindfolded Disco King followed suit. And I understand nothing of this.

Lithuania had a good starting position in the semi, so maybe I could understand their qualification. But the mid-table placing in the grand final? The only thing I hear and see is a very weak and dated disco track performed by an over-excited young man, so convinced of his own greatness that it almost hurts.

I love passionate performers, but there is nothing attractive about somebody almost jumping out of his stagewear with pure enthusiasm. Apparently the televoters found something they were longing for, while I just wanted these three minutes to end.

My grade: 1/5

Tobson Ranking: #40 Belgium

If you see a sweet girl singing a forgettable ballad, then it is most probably the entry of Belgium.

Iris - Would You? (Belgium 2012) 

Belgium has done this stunt so many times that I, for one, am losing track. Sending in solid singers with dull entries that nobody will ever vote for. Linda Lepomme, Ingeborg, Barbara Dex, Nathalie Sorce, Nuno Resende... The list is even longer, really.

The 2012 project started out really well: in an attempt of copying the success of Tom Dice in 2010, the record industry was asked to find a young, likeable talent that could be selected internally. So far, so good. Iris seemed like a good choice.

And then the poor girl is left with nothing to sing. She is given two remarkably disengaging songs to song on national television before the televoters decide for her to go to Baku with the arguably weaker of the two.

The eurofans were smitten by young Iris and her likeable persona, but it can not have been a real surprise to anyone when this entry failed to qualify. A dull song is a dull song, and a dull song seldom gets voted into the final.

Maybe one day even Belgian television will learn this.

My grade: 1/5

Tobson Ranking: #41 Georgia

The boy has got conviction, I have to give him that.

Anri Jokhadze - I'm A Joker (Georgia 2012)

I have heard rumours that Georgian television would have a difficult time enthusing the bigger names of their national showbiz to enter Eurovision for them. This entry suggests that it would be time to do something about it, then. How about selecting a singer and a good song internally for next year?

This is such a complete anti-song, with too many different elements that clearly do not fit together. A little bit of opera, a little bit of glam rock, a little hint of musical and perhaps an air of Freddie Mercury? I'm not sure that latter would be all to pleased to be named in this context.

In Baku, however, I began to see it a bit differently. Anri is a born show man and not a bad singer. He is truly convinced of his ability and his confidence is quite contagious.

Up until a limit, though. Because, ultimately, this is a horrifically bad composition. You should not go to a song contest without a song. End of.

My grade: 0/5

Tobson Ranking: #42 San Marino

Growing old gracefully was never a Ralph Siegel thing to do. But I never thought he would go this low. Seriously.

Valentina Monetta - The Social Network Song (San Marino 2012)

I guess we should have seen it coming ever since he made Lou sing the infamous line "let's get happy and let's be gay" in Riga 2003. Ralph Siegel was always a man of speculation who happily exploited young talent and hopeful musicians in order to grab some attention.

Back in the day, at least, he would dress his performers up with a hit and the chance of going on in the business. He used to be good, Ralph. He has written and produced loads of really good songs, let's not forget about that.

But at some point, the whole thing just slipped through his fingers and these days he keeps knocking out truly bottom-of-the-league material of the kind he would never have touched with a long stick back in the day.

The Sammarinese entry of 2012 is bad, yes, but above all it is a very cynical and calculated attempt at cashing in on what Team Siegel considers "modern" and "edgy" themes. Mention the internet, namedrop a famous website, mention "cyber sex".

Cynical, calculated and without the slightest hint of warmth, intelligence or humour.

Poor Valentina Monetta, dressed up like a teenager despite knocking forty, is just a visitor in her own entry. You can almost see the panic in her eyes, maybe it dawned upon her - far too late - what a train wreck of an entry she is lending herself to?

My grade: 0/5

ESC 2012: the official Tobson ranking

Just like last year, I will keep myself amused by ranking all the entries of this year's Eurovision Song Contest according to my own liking. This is also pretty fair to the readers, I think. In the run-up for the contest, we put so much emphasis on how we think the songs will fare, what we think will work, what we think others will like... But what do we really like ourselves in the end? Impressions change - a song you liked very much in the preview might fall flat live and affect your overall opinion. And the other way around. So, here we go. Forty-two songs, forty-two posts. Brace yourselves and please comment when you agree, when you disagree or when you have something to add.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

ESC 2013: Malmö it is

I must admit that it came as a tiny bit of a surprise when Sveriges Television announced that the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest would be held in Malmö as I, pretty much like the rest of the world, was convinced that the selected venue would be the new Friends Arena in Stockholm.

But hey, welcome to Malmö!

When the news had sunk in, and you had time to think about it, the choice should only come as a moderate surprise. There are at least four good reasons for this decision.

Reason One:
Stockholm is hosting the Ice Hockey World Championships which, partially, occurs at the same time as Eurovision. This would put a strain on the availability of hotel rooms and it is - arguably - a bit silly to place to high profile events in the same city at the same time.

Reason Two:
There is more to Sweden than just Stockholm. The capital is the obvious choice, but why not shine a light on other parts of the country as well? I wouldn't mind Linköping as a future host city, for instance.

Reason Three:
Malmö needs the good publicity. For the last few years, Malmö has had loads of negative attention in the domestic press as a place with social and ethnic tension, which has also spilled over into international media. This is Malmö's time to shine.

Reason Four:
Surely one of the more important factors for SVT: the EBU wants a smaller Eurovision Song Contest. They stated in no uncertain terms that the ESC needs to grow smaller in the next years to come: smaller venues, smaller press facilities, fewer people with accreditation. All of this to keep it possible for smaller countries to host the contest in case of victory, but also for the sake of the image of the ESC: given the financial situation it is not credible to put as much money into the hosting as some recent host countries have.

Many fans have already (loudly) stated their discontent with the choice, but it should come in handy for most delegations to be able to easily promote their entries in two countries at the same time: host country Sweden as well as nearby Denmark.

It should be a win-win situation for most, then. Bring it on, Malmö - host city for the second time around.

Eurovision Song Contest 1992 Malmö - opening sequence

Nul points: United Kingdom 2003

Today, as I was preparing breakfast, I took out the old compilation tape of the 2003 Eurovision from Riga. I think I bought it in Estonia, since we were going hiking with a friend who only had a cassette player - not a CD - in his car.


It has been nine years from Riga, which means that the contest has gone through most of its ageing process already. Most of the songs have survived quite well, to be honest. Even the songs that used to annoy me for being too simple feels OK (Cyprus, for instance).

Even the big nul-pointer sounds quite good. On the day of the final I predicted that Ireland, Malta or the UK would be the nul-pointer of the year, but my jaw dropped when it actually happened.

The UK had always been unbeatable and whatever they sent in, they seemed to earn a bucket full of points, even when it didn't deserve much.

To start with, "Cry Baby" didn't even sound like a disaster entry. It had a clear hook, a useful handle, and it felt somehow more inspired than many other UK entries. Definitely a step up compared to Lindsay Dracass.

Even the preview felt OK. A bit anemic, but OK.

Jemini - Cry Baby (United Kingdom 2003 preview)

The real disaster started on location in Riga. Sending in an inexprienced act isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself - an artist in the making can use the experience to grow and make progress during the week - but Jemini seemed to have none of the qualities needed.

The final kiss of death came with the final performance: so out of tune it could make ears bleed, so over-excited it almost became awkward to watch. (The BBC delegation only made things worse by suggesting that the poor result was due to politics, as anyone with ears and eyes easily understood the real reasons.)

Still - the UK had always collected points in the past, also with dismal entries. But this time everyone made thumbs down. Nul points. The last nul pointer to date in a Eurovision final.

An important event, proving that nobody is safe in the new world of Eurovision. Everyone has to make an effort. A good point, indeed.

(And yet, Israel would have deserved last place even more in 2003. But that's a different story.)

Jemini - Cry Baby (United Kingdom 2003)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sweden is one of the Big Ones

Loreen virtually crushed all competition in the grand final in Baku and scored an almost Rybak-esque victory with "Euphoria". You all know this, of course. I am virtually warming the blog up again after my absence.

The victory, however, means that Sweden is back on the throne after thirteen years of yearning for the grand title. SVT has done their best to win the ESC, but despite having arguably the most ambitious of all national finals Sweden has struggled to make an impression.

At the same time, Swedish songwriters are being more successful than ever producing tracks for singers all over the world, making the national pop export one of the most impressive ones in the world. This was not least represented at this year's ESC where ten countries had Swedish songwriters - all of which made it to the final.

This fifth victory is only logical as it firmly places Sweden as one of the most successful countries in Eurovision. Equal to France and United Kingdom, only Ireland has won more times.

It would make sense now if Sweden decided to put in overdrive and start aiming for the top spot. "Euphoria" was an example of how easily everything can fall into place and come together - with some more songwriting as distinct and daring, it is a very possible prospect that Sweden will grow into being what France and the UK respectively were in the past: a veritable pop factory that collects top placings on a steady basis.

So are you ready, Sweden? I challenge you to have the record number of victories in ten years time. You need two more to equal the score, three more to be sole King of the Hill.

Having a hungry and determined Sweden hunting for victories year after year could do the contest lots of good, especially if the songs also have hit potential and inspire other countries to follow in the same tracks.

A lot of good can come out of this victory, indeed.

Loreen - Euphoria (Sweden 2012)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

ESC 2012: I only trust myself

Rehearsals have started in Baku and it is all very exciting. In a matter of days, I will be there myself and then there is a risk that this blog will go a bit silent. There will be plenty of work to be done and all, but during Eurovision week there are so many ways for you to get your needed ESC fix anyway.

The first reports have started to come in after the rehearsals of Montenegro and Iceland, and they are very much like I expected them to be.

The people who tended to favour Iceland already before are sure of qualification. Others are equally sure that the package is nice but not enough to convince the voters.

Same old story, in other words. It is very easy to get really enthusiastic about something during rehearsals. Or disappointed if you find a favourite performs worse than you expected.

But we know nothing after seeing one rehearsal with no camera work. We are still guessing almost as much as we did after the preview clips.

Therefore, I have decided only to trust my own ears and eyes. Not that I am better or smarter or have a better ear for music (certainly not!) but I'm not worse at predicting compared to anyone else I know.

So I follow YouTube clips and other people's opinions as they come in, I value them and let them entertain me.

But I won't make any conclusions before I'm in Baku myself.

Montenegro's first rehearsal in Baku

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Song of the Day: Finland 1968

On Wednesday, I will leave for Baku and there seems to be a million tiny things that needs tending to before that. It is easy to stress out a little bit and then I tend to think of Kristina Hautala.

Why is time in such a rush? Why can't the clocks just stop?

According to the lyrics, Kristina is afraid to be left alone and old with only memories of youth and love. I am, frankly speaking, more afraid of finding myself in Baku without chargers for my technical devices.

I'm also a bit concerned that some brilliant songs will completely miss out in the competition, just like "Kun kello käy" did in London 1968.

But this is not a time for worries - this is the time to rest a bit and enjoy the fact that there is plenty of good music in the world. Regardless if the juries understand or not.

Kristina Hautala - Kun kello käy (Finland 1968)

What if Finland sent Anna Abreu?

Finland launched a new selection format for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in order to attract new talent and launch hit songs onto the domestic market rather than find any typical eurosongs.

Not a bad idea, that is one way to go when the old selection format feels a bit tired.

The other way to go would be what most of the former Yugoslav republics have been doing this year: scrap the national final altogether and call a firmly established star to do the job for you.

The Call A Star-formula also has its flaws. It is not sure that an established act will take any advice on what kind of song to enter and then you end up with something artistic but not too hit-friendly.

I just play with the idea what might happen if Yle would make use of this very idea, maybe by calling the interval act of the 2012 Finnish selection Anna Abreu? Anna was discovered through the local Idols-competition but has grown into a full-fledged star with her very own expression and temper, in addition to be one of very few singers that get away with singing in English in Finland.

Her regular output would be modern and yet catchy enough to work well at Eurovision and given her back catalogue, she could easily embark on an international career using the ESC as spring board.

At this point, the UMK (Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu) is very likely to be used again for 2013 but I still feel the Abreu prospect could be most interesting in many ways.

Anna Abreu - Stereo

Anna Abreu - Ivory Tower

Anna Abreu - Vinegar

Friday, May 11, 2012

Estonia - I Love You

When Estonia debuted in Eurovision, I (and most of my fellow countrymen in Sweden) mainly thought of them as a financially poor country that we sent massive amounts of charity. Geographically close but culturally distant.

Maybe their first attempt didn't change much in how most Swedes percieved them, but Silvi Vrait stroke a chord with me and a very special relationship developed between me and Estonian eurosongs. A relationship that would, in its own little way, change my life radically.

Silvi sang her heart out but only scored a mere two points, but she and her song are fantastic in my book.

Silvi Vrait - Nagu merelaine (Estonia 1994)

Two years later, Estonia would be back with a new conviction and I was to see my first Eurovision live in Oslo. My Estonian neighbour in Västerås hand-painted an Estonian flag for me as my favourite was "Kaelakee hääl", the remarkably catchy little duet about placing your voice inside a necklace so somebody can carry it with him/her into the world.

Ivo Linna & Maarja - Kaelakee hääl (Estonia 1996 preview)

In Jerusalem in 1999, I thought it could be time for the first Estonian victory - I predicted that had it been the turn of a ballad, it had to be Evelin Samuel to take the title. I was not entirely wrong - she got sixth place and was the best placed ballad on the night.

Evelin Samuel & Camille - Diamond Of Night (Estonia 1999 preview)

The life-changing thing, then? When Estonia finally won and hosted the contest in 2002, I made friends with the Finnish delegation which, in addition to many other things, lead to me changing countries and moving to Finland.

So I have many reasons to love Estonia. Producing a pop star like Ines is just one of them.

Ines - Once In A Lifetime (Estonia 2000)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Glennis Grace had a hit in her

In 2005, the Netherlands sent in a promising young singer who had won the Dutch Soundmix show already at the age of 16, making an almost perfect impersonation of Whitney Houston.

The Soundmix show - designed for people to sing as similarly as possible to well-known singers - was always a dubious place to look for fresh talent. You never knew who carried the grains of a real artist inside and who was just a gifted copycat.

For a long time, Glennis Grace seemed just like the latter version. She had a good voice, but it seemed impossible for her to get rid of the Whitney connection and when she won the 2005 Dutch national final she already had one flop album behind her.

Glennis Grace - My Impossible Dream (Netherlands 2005)

Glennis was one of several hot fan favourites before the semi-final in Kyiv, but her cliché-ridden ballad - a tired re-write of several Whitney-esque ballads - failed to qualify for the final and it seemed Glennis' career had hit rock bottom and arrived at its end station.

But sometimes a complete meltdown is what your career needs. Glennis was dumped by her label, had a change of management and, perhaps most importantly, had a change of language and started singing in Dutch.

When she participated in the popular tv-show "De beste zangers van Nederland" in 2011, she made a cover of the song "Afscheid" and finally found instant success with the larger audience. Gone was the Whitney-clone and instead there is a real performer with her very own expression and a much wiser use of her really impressive voice.

Now that she has found herself - as well as her audience - maybe Glennis should ponder doing Eurovision again? If she was the one to take the Netherlands back into the final, for the first time since 2004, I am sure the audience would never forget.

Glennis Grace - Afscheid

Songs of the Day: Portugal 1984 - 1985

Usually I content myself with just one Song of the Day, but since I haven't published any in a while I thought I could have two today. Are you with me on that? Splendid!

This year, I feel Portugal has selected rather a dull ballad for Eurovision which is a shame since Portuguese ballads often have been really good through the years.

In 1984, Maria Guinot sang her own poetic song about how, in the middle of the great silence, she suddenly finds the right words to say. Or how she, when being among so many people, can finally see who she truly is herself.

A touching and atmospheric entry, not quite as well recieved by the juries as it should have been.

Maria Guinot - Silencio e tanta gente (Portugal 1984)

The Portuguese grapes were, however, to turn even more sour the next year in Gothenburg. Their singer Adelaide, also co-writer of her song, recieved quite a lot of positive attention from the press - dubbed one of the classiest performers by one Swedish newspaper.

She belted out her dramatic ballad with gusto and conviction but completely failed to capture the hearts and votes of the jury. Only the Greek jury, voting last out of the nineteen participants, saved her the humiliation of a last place.

Adelaide, a contender for last place? I can't believe neither my ears nor my eyes, to be honest.

Adelaide - Penso em ti, eu sei (Portugal 1985)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Iceland - I Love You

I know that I have admitted to not being a huge fan of the Icelandic entry this year. I must also confess that I have doubts as to whether it will pass on to the final or not.

But dear Iceland, don't let this tiny detail come between us.

Iceland has been one of my most constant sources of joy and happiness in the ESC ever since their debut back in 1986. I thought their first entry was a terrific little pop pearl, and I never quite grasped why it scored so badly.

Icy - Gleðibankinn (Iceland 1986)

Then - in 1990 - I really thought Iceland could win it. Stjórnin were so nice and so much fun and I thought their song to be a most delightful little schlager. A fourth place was not bad, but I was a tiny bit disappointed that it didn't do even better.

Stjórnin - Eitt lag enn (Iceland 1990)

And to mention just one more Icelandic gem - I know that the joke was not universally understood, but I thought Silvia Night was brilliant back in Athens. Loud, obnoxious, silly and irresistible.

How anyone could not see the joke and think Silvia to be a real person is beyond me. Possibly the joke got a bit out of hand before the semi final was over, but in general Iceland provided great entertainment.

Like they tend to do most years.

Silvia Night - Congratulations (Iceland 2006)

Monday, May 7, 2012

1977 - a slight delay

Thirty-five years ago saw an event that had never happened before and that has not occured since. The technicians at the host broadcaster BBC went on strike and a little over a week before the final, the entire contest was postponed.

Most countries had already broadcast the previews and started speculations about who might be the winner, and then everyone just had to cancel their tickets and sit back to wait for a new date.

Instead of April 2nd, the eighteen competing countries had to wait another five weeks and on this very day, 7th of May, the delayed contest was held.

Some of the red hot favourites had cooled down considerably and the juries chose to ignore the disco hits from Germany and Belgium, who had already had their heyday in the international charts. Instead a piece of classic French chanson stood the test of an extra five weeks and won through in the end after an intense battle with the home team, while Sweden ended in last place with a tribute to the legendary Beatles.

Not only did Marie Myriam win and land a huge hit single with her song, she also celebrated her 20th birthday on the very day of the final. A double celebration for her, in other words.

France has not won the ESC since and Sweden has not been last in a final since either.

Marie Myriam - L'oiseau et l'enfant (France 1977)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

ESC 1991 - it's a draw!

The other day, I wrote about how the 1988 voting left me gasping for my breath for the first time but that would be nothing compared to the thriller of 1991.

I had faint memories of Herreys' victory back in 1984, but for the first time as an active eurofan I had the feeling that my native Sweden could actually have the possibility of winning. I suspect many younger eurofans from Sweden have the same feeling this year.

The voting soon turned into a very tight race with no less than five countries battling it out for victory: Switzerland, Sweden, France, Israel and Spain were contenders until a very late stage, where Spain and Switzerland fell behind.

Finally, it seemed also France dropped too far behind, leaving the final battle to Sweden and Israel - but little did we know. The final jury - the Italian one - gave nul points to Sweden and Israel respectively but awarded their top mark to France.

As if this tension was not enough: add two of the least suitable hosts ever - previous winners Toto Cutugno and Gigliola Cinquetti - whose lack of languages skills as well as any detectable interest for the voting taking place left EBU scrutineer Frank Naef increasingly weary throughout the process.

When the tie between Sweden and France is a fact the result is complete confusion on stage as neither one of the hosts has the slightest idea what to do.

ESC 1991 - the end of the voting (with BBC commentator Terry Wogan)

Trying very hard to keep control over his voice and actions, monsieur Naef manages to sort out the situation. According to a new paragraph in the rules - established as late as after the 1988 ESC (probably because the tight voting that year reminded the EBU it might come to use one of these years) - the juries would not be called back to cast new votes.

Instead, there was a countback and the country recieving the biggest number of top marks would be deemed winner. As both countries involved in this tie had scored four 12-pointers each, the scrutineer went on to count ten-pointers instead. Sweden had five, France had two, and Carola had won the whole thing.

The French delegation - claiming to be completely unaware of this change of rules - were reportedly very upset about the final verdict. The Israeli act, Duo Datz, had on the other hand made friends with Carola during the week and they stayed in touch for several years afterwards. (Maybe still today, is there anyone out there who knows?)

Tobson, aged 15, was extatic about the Swedish victory and the new-found hope of possibly seeing the Eurovision Song Contest live for the first time. It wasn't to be - the tickets were expensive as well as sold-out - but the dramatic victory of Carola remained an important event for this young fan.

Carola - Fångad av en stormvind (Sweden 1991)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Preview clip: Yugoslavia 1989

Being the impressionable young boy that I was, there were many things I found extraordinary in the world of Eurovision in the 80's. But one thing that I really loved were Yugoslav entries and, above all, Yugoslav preview clips.

Like in 1989 - I thought it was so funny, so vibrant, so full of life. It seemed they were all so very happy and had such a good time in Yugoslavia.

Little did I know, the whole federation was slowly collapsing and would, two years later, plunge into civil war.

I just loved Riva, I loved the clip, I loved the cheesy little chorus and I was so very happy that Yugoslavia finally got to win.

Riva - Rock Me (Yugoslavia 1989 preview)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Preview clip: Slovenia 1997

At a certain time - peaking in 1997, to be honest - the music video had grown really strong as an art form in itself at the same time as Eurovision had grown important enough for certain countries to want to spend money on marketing themselves in this area.

Many countries made really lavish preview clips in 1997, not only highlighting their own songs but also giving the local tourist boards reason to rejoice, and the best one of all came from Slovenia.

Very stylish, atmospheric and beautifully filmed, but also very well acted by Tanja Ribič who is equally famous for her acting skills. The colour explosion of flowers by the end as the song has grown into completely new dimensions is also a very clever touch.

Tanja Ribič - Zbudi se (Slovenia 1997 preview)

Maybe Tanja would have needed a flowery explosion also on stage in Dublin - the song is lovely and the singing exquisite, but in a year with many heartfelt ballads it was hard to stand out.

Many people expected more than a tenth place for this song, but it still remains the third best showing of an entry from independent Slovenia.

Tanja Ribič - Zbudi se (Slovenia 1997)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Eurovision for Chinese

There are, as far as I can think up, not many Eurovision entries through the years that bear any links to China. Lukas Plöchl, half of Austria's Trackshittaz, is half Chinese. And that is about it. If you can think of other acts with a Chinese link, please enlighten me with a comment.

But there is a community of Eurovision fans in China, which ESC Nation pointed out on Twitter.

I had to check their blog out, and they are busy voting for their favourite entries this year. And their standings at the moment differ quite a bit from the European fan votes.

I'm also happy to see Finland being one of three Nordic countries to score as yet, as well as a lovely Chinese translation of "När jag blundar".

I, who always wondered how non-europeans percieve this old contest of ours, find this blog very pleasant. If you want a slightly different perspective, I suggest you check it out as well.

France goes World

Up until the early 80's, France owned the Eurovision in many ways. They had a very distinct formula that most of their entries kept close to, and they almost exclusively landed among the five best placed songs every year.

In the 80's, however, the formula grew tired and the votes stopped coming in. France Télévisions (or Antenne 2 as the channel was still called) first scrapped the national final, then decided to depart from anything France had ever sounded like before.

In 1990, the head of entertainment Marie-France Brière called up the mythical Serge Gainsbourg and asked him to create another eurosong - twenty-five years after winning with "Poupée de cire, poupée de son" - and he brought in a very exotic element indeed.

Joëlle Ursull was part of the zouk movement - exotically flavoured music from the Caribbean - and she was taken in to perform "White And Black Blues", a song rending hommage to the diversity and colourfulness of the French population.

France, who in all fairness never cared much for minorities and such through history, found themselves pushing the limits for how you could look and sound at Eurovision. The likes of Turkey, Greece and Yugoslavia had tried being exotic, but when an established country like France did the same thing - then the votes started flowing in. See the live performance here.

Joëlle Ursull - White And Black Blues (France 1990)

This was the start of something new and given the commercial success of "White And Black Blues", the French decided to push the limit even further. Given the tension surrounding the current Gulf War, it was a strike of genius to select Tunisian-born Amina to perform a distinctly Arab-flavoured song that contemplated the world order in a quiet, understated way.

The new formula worked again, and Amina was only a tiny rule paragraph away from winning the whole thing in Rome. See the live performance here.

Amina - C'est le dernier qui à parlé qui à raison (France 1991)

By 1992, more countries had picked up on the exotic vibe, making rastaman Kali stand out less with his creole entry in Malmö. Some negative publicity, emerging from some not too cleverly formulated statements given by the performer, may also have been the reason for a slight decline compared to the previous years. And honestly, maybe this song was slightly less striking as well.

Kali - Monté la riviè (France 1992)

It might look like France tried to go back to their old formula a bit in 1993, but selecting a song partially in a national minority language was, in fact, a statement in its own right. The song fared well at Eurovision, less so in the charts, but the performer was to carve a solid place in French showbiz in the coming years.

Patrick Fiori - Mama Corsica (France 1993)

The two following years, France2 (the new name given to Antenne2 in 1993) explored other musical landscapes, but were back on the etno track in 1996 - now putting a more serious emphasis on minority matters as the French entry - for the first time - was performed completely in a minority language - Breton.

It was a clever idea, given the Irish domination as well as the Celtic flavour of the 1995 Norweigan winner, but the selected song was ultimately too thin to break through to the juries. This was the first real French flop at Eurovision for ten years.

Dan Ar Braz & L'Héritage des Celtes - Diwanit bugale (France 1996)

The last entry to date selected by France2 (but we didn't know it yet at that time) was another truly exotic offering. Legend has it, it was favoured by the channel after one of the old masters of television entertainment (Pacal Sevran) openly called the song unsuitable for Eurovision.

Maybe the old monsieur was not all wrong, after all. 1998 was the first year when televote was in (almost) full use, and what had impressed the juries did not necessarily work with the viewing audience. Despite enthusaistic reviews from the press, the French entry crashed and burned, ending second last.

Marie Line - Où aller (France 1998)

Since then, France has gone in different directions, again trying to broaden the idea of what a eurovision entry could look and sound like. But one thing is for sure - culturally, the importance of these French entries in the 90's could not be over-estimated. They helped breathing new life into the Eurovision formula, as well as promoting less square and uniformly "european" expressions on stage.

Hats off to France - it didn't get them a victory, but in the long run it did change the public perception of what was possible to get away with and not. Well done.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Eurovision needed Celine (and vice versa)

I have a very exact recollection of my first impression of Céline Dion - she came onto our tv-set as the second song in the second part of the 1988 Eurovision previews and had some raw, inexplicable energy that made her stand out from the rest.

She was wearing a horrific outfit, somehow reminiscent of what the sea looks like after an oil tanker disaster, but the way she nailed the camera was very special.

I distinctly remember thinking, a couple of days after my 12th birthday, that this girl is very special.

A few years later, as Célines international career took off, it was a good thing for Eurovision to boost having launched someone like Mademoiselle Dion into the international spotlight. It wasn't entirely true, perhaps, since Céline had been recording in France since the age of 13 and was by no means any inexperienced little performer.

However, at this point in her career, Céline seems to have needed Eurovision just as much as the ESC would later need her. No longer a child, her new mature material failed to enthuse the record buying audience and the French labels seemed to be giving up on her.

Rumours - impossible to verify, but still - have it that Sony music in America were ready to give her a record deal if she made an impression at Eurovision, showing she had public appeal.

The rest is history - a few successful singles later, Céline turned into one of the most successful singers on the planet and could afford to forget about flop singles like the one below.

I still find this one an interesting choice of song, musically way more challenging than most songs she has been recording for her English-languaged repertoire. It seems to me that Céline was always better in French, where her producers were more interested in her interpretation and nuances rather than showing off her vocal capabilities.

Céline Dion - La réligieuse

24 years ago: a very tight finish

At this very night, twenty-four years ago, 12-year old Tobson decided to give Walpurgis a miss for the first time ever and instead stay home and watch the Eurovision final from Dublin (in the company of classmate who had come down with a fever and who fell asleep after five or so songs).

There was a tremenduous feeling of suspense as the Swedish entry (my entry, being Swedish and all) was marred with Tommy Körberg's throat problems leading to heavy speculation in the press as to whether he would be able to sing or not.

Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet had tipped a tight race between Sweden, Switzerland and Israel. I didn't disagree, but hoped that my personal favourites from Spain, Denmark and Iceland could stand a chance too.

All that feeling of suspense in advance was nothing compared with what we had in store before the show was over. What seemed like a runaway victory for Switzerland soon turned into a battle between Celine Dion and Scott Fitzgerald before the latter pulled away, leading with a comfortable margin as Portugal cast their votes as #20 out of 21 participants.

And then the whole thing changed again. Switzerland was suddenly just five points behind the UK as Pat Kenny and Michelle Rocca call up the Yugoslav jury in Ljubljana. The rules stated that the juries were not supposed to know the standings when called up, but it sounds like Miša Molk knows a fair share, seemingly adding to the drama.

This, the closest voting sequence I had ever seen left me speechless and every time I watch it again I feel the thriller element again. Since then, only four votings have been as tight as this one, donning the same kind of suspense up until the bitter end.

Watch the final votes coming in here and enjoy - it is impossible not to be happy for Céline Dion and the Swiss delegation afterwards. Unless, of course, you are BBC commentator Terry Wogan.

Céline Dion - Ne partez pas sans moi (Switzerland 1988)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The 2012 review: part nine

Well, this is it. Time to wrap the big review up for this time with a post containing the six songs already qualified for the big final. And it is very pleasant indeed to note that the "big" countries have all taken their positions seriously, making more of an effort than they have in the past.


Engelbert Humperdinck - Love Will Set You Free

If the BBC aimed at getting extra coverage for bringing on the oldest solo singer ever in Eurovision, they must have been sorely disappointed when the Russian babushki came on and stole their show. But there is far more to this entry than mere gimmicks.

Engelbert Humperdinck is, indeed, a star performer whose experience will come in handy on a big event like this. I surely thought Blue would handle the pressure better last year, this year's entrant will probably fare better. There is also a very well crafted song to be found here, sincerely and gently performed. Unlike most it isn't targeted at the younger viewers but at the older - they watch too, and they vote.

Potential winner:
No. It would be a huge surprise if this song came anywhere close to victory, but it is a very dignified and worthy entry that will recieve extensive airplay all summer at radio stations aimed at a more mature audience.

My grade: 3/5


Anggun - Echo (You And I)

France is keeping the high profile they have maintained since sending Sébastien Tellier to Belgrade in 2008 - maybe they are not sending in the easiest or most graspable entries, but they are certainly making an effort to keep this contest interesting. Anggun has been a star in France since 1997, and French television has seen her as a promising ESC entrant for years already.

Her song is a joyful, proud and original little pop pearl - again not taking the easiest path into the hearts of the televoters but providing something a bit more challenging for the listeners to chew on.

Potential winner:
No, unless the French manage to stage a visually supportive show around this entry to make it stand out better for the audience. Definitely a hit single, but possibly too demanding for the average viewer.

My grade: 5/5


Nina Zilli - L'amore è femmina

Last year, Italy made an effective comeback after a lenghty absence and was rewarded with one of their best placings ever. Given how much Europe had longed for the Italian temper and sense of know-how in the field of pop music, my antennae are beginning to whisk frenetically at this point.

The song Nina intended to sing at first might have been better and the current song might have sounded better in Italian only, but when this bombshell makes her grand entrance, filling her little song up with sex appeal and joie-de-vivre, it could very well be that Europe cannot resist.

Potential winner:
Yes. Europe has always had a fondness for Italian songs and performers, not always shared by the Eurovision juries. With a performer like Nina Zilli, a recognisable sound and a juicy chours like this it could very well spell victory in the end.

My grade: 5/5


Sabina Babayeva - When The Music Dies

The host country sticks to their winning formula and has bough another song by the same Swedish team who wrote Safura's "Drip Drop" as well as last year's winning entry. In this year when a large number of countries have borrowed songwriting talent from elsewhere, who is to blame Azerbaijan for sticking to a winning formula?

Too bad that the formula didn't come up with anything stronger than this, then. The song is rather a tired re-write of things heard before (most notably "Stop" by Sam Browne) and performed by a good but not particularly personable singer.

Potential winner:
No, I would not think so. If it is performed really well with an effective stage show, it could be a contender for a top ten placing, but not much more than that.

My grade: 1/5


Pastora Soler - Quédate conmigo

This could very well rate as the most positive surprise of the year. For quite some time now, Spain has sent in real non-contender entries, lacking force in all departments. Either the songs have not been good enough or the performances have not been good enough or both of these in combination.

This year, it all seems to come together when a warm, strong, big voice meets a warm, strong, big ballad that might be a bit old-fashioned but very well crafted and instantly understandable for the bigger part of the audience.

Potential winner:
Yes, I am beginning to think so. Spain will need a bit of luck - a lot depends on who gets drawn right before them in the final - but this could be the song that gets embraced by both televoters and juries alike.

My grade: 4/5


Roman Lob - Standing Still

Germany is also sticking to form, going back to the same talent show format that gave them a second victory in the form of Lena two years ago. It seems to have worked again as the winner, adorable starry-eyed pop boy Roman, has hit home with the masses and is currently enjoying solid success in the domestic charts.

I'm happy for him and I am happy for German television, but I have a feeling that the German flag will end up a little bit further down the scoreboard this time. This song is perfect radio pop that you will recognise and appreciate on the airwaves, but that possibly be a bit too streamlined and laidback to stand out in a competition like this.

Potential winner:
No. Worst case scenario is that this will be the song that falls between the seats and ends up close to the bottom. Not because it is bad, but because it will ultimately not be anyone's favourite. The thing that can save it from failure is Roman - if he really delivers on the night, I might be completely wrong here. And I wouldn't mind.

My grade: 3/5