Monday, 31 March 2014

Part II - Sweden

The Good Part II: Sweden

Welcome to the second edition of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Today's post is another "good" and this time it's Sweden!

'Undo' by Sanna Nielsen

Sweden have one of the best records in the Eurovision Song Contest, and rightfully so. Last year I blogged a history of Swedish winners in the contest following Loreen's euphoric triumph in 2012. If you missed that, you can read it here. Sweden have won at pivotal points of the Eurovision Song Contest, could they be on for win number 6? Polls and odds indicate that Sweden 2015 is very possible - and with 2015 being the 60th edition of the contest, the winner of this year's contest is 'pivotal'. It seems to all point in Sweden's favour.

So what of the song? Well 'Undo' is a classy ballad. A beautiful melody starts the song before Sanna's soft lyrics ease into the song. The first verse builds to a gentle first chorus, juxtaposing the tragedy for which Sanna sings about. By the time the beat kicks in on the second verse, Sanna's voice begins to strengthen and leads to a big second chorus. All the while, the song is just beautiful: the composition, lyrics, everything, just works. Sanna Nielsen adds that necessary elegance, and you feel the emotion channelled through her voice. As well as that, if her Eurovision performance is anything like her Melodifestivalen performance then the choreography will be perfect; no cheap gimmicks, just the right lighting - a cold, yet soulful blue. It's a recipe for success.

But there's just one thing hanging over me - in my opinion, something is missing. I think this song is very, very good, I've almost played it too much over the last 2 months, and I just think there's not a "winning factor" about it. I could easily see this song finishing in the top 10, potentially top 3, but not winning. I speak brutally honest, and I appreciate the fact that many will disagree with me. Over on ESC Stats, Sweden dominate the current poll, and they come a very close second on ESC Nation - I don't deny its a good song, I just can't see this winning. I have this horrible feeling that if this was to win, people would vote for it in polls such as "worst winner", for which it just doesn't deserve (in my opinion that crown could rightfully go to many countries: Latvia's win in 2002 still baffles me for example).

Additionally, it's another ballad, for which we are not short of this year. Being female does help, since 2004, 6 of the last 10 winners have been solo females, and in fact there have been more solo female winners than males or groups who have won the contest since Lys Assia's win for Switzerland at the first contest in 1956. But because of the ballad pile up this year, although not admittedly on the same scale as the fiasco that was 2012, we can pretty much guess that the draw for the final will play a strategic role in who wins the contest. For example, another popular female ballad is the UK's 'Children of the Universe' by Molly, which probably won't finish higher than Sweden if the Swedes perform last and the UK performs first. Therefore, it's all to play for. Sanna has been dealt position 4 in the hot first semi-final. Not ideal, but recent patterns suggest that performing 4th makes you at no great a disadvantage than performing last.

Could Sanna Nielsen do it? Could we be going back to Sweden once more? Let's be honest, it would be nice to go somewhere hot for Eurovision once again, but we all miss Petra Mede's hosting so it wouldn't be so bad. And plus, Sweden is a fantastic country.

Good Luck Sanna! Good Luck Sweden!

I leave you with this gem from the Greek entrant Freaky Fortune & RiskyKidd - it's a medley of the last few winners, although the seem to missed out 'Molitva'. Perhaps singing in Serbian was a bit too much for them, but nevermind, this still is pretty good. Could 'Undo' be mixed into another medley next year?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Part 1 - Hungary

Another week has past and it's been another exciting week of Eurovision madness! From allegations over corruption at Portugal's National Final, to the sudden rush of online polls, Eurovision In Concert line-up announcements, more debate over Russia, and finally the all important semi-final draw. In my opinion, the contest can be won by the song alone, but more often than not, the occasional exogenous factor will come into play, whether that be from artist promotion to favourable odds. Therefore, I shall be doing song reviews once more. I'll review the good songs this year, the bad songs this year, and that odd one or two which more often than not pop up. To begin, I'll look at "The Good".

And so, welcome to the first edition of this year's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"!

The Good Part I: Hungary

Hungary - 'Running' by Andras Kallay-Saunders

My Birthday falls on February 21st and that usually coincides with the start of my Eurovision season. By this, I refer to the fact that national finals have already taken place, some country's selecting as early as December, but my own interest won't kick off till around the end of February. But in all fairness, the end of February/start of March usually brings with it a rush of 'Eurovisioning' across the EBU nations. I remember hearing 'Running' as Hungary's selection around about the time of my birthday and thinking "This is the winner". Since then, my opinion on the song has changed, and lots more countries have released their songs, but when it comes down to the final, a lot of televoters are hearing the song for the first time. If they get the same first impression that I did then perhaps Hungary are on the way to victory! And they surely deserve it! Fans alike will remember Frederika from the 90s, 'Unsubstantial Blues' from '07, and the casualty that was Kati Wolf and 'What About My Dreams?' back in 2011. That fan favourite had an almighty flop in the final. Recent history has shown that Hungarians are very serious about the contest and they enter a good standard of song. I personally see 'Running' as no different to this, with an emotional tale of young girl suffering from abuse. The artist delivers an emotional connection to the song, and as well as that, the composition has broad appeal. Lyrically, the song delivers on a simplistic chorus and an explicit verse, but some have argued that the melody and lyrics don't go together, perhaps maybe too opposing for a Eurovision audience to grapple. However, I argue that Hungary have got a recipe for success with this song; and let's not forget the artist himself. Andras comes from a musical family, as well as the fact that he is a national popstar in Hungary. With chart-topping hits and a celeb status in his own right, Andras has the experience to succeed in Copenhagen. And he is a pretty good-looking chap, something which always goes down well with Eurovision fans (e.g. Farid Mammadov). The turn of the millennium saw many first-time winners, maybe it's time for Hungary to taste some of that success. Good Luck to Andras and 'Running' in May, and Good Luck to Hungary! Budapest 2015 anyone?

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

"Back in the USSR"

So with the long anticipated release of Austria's song, 'Rise Like A Phoenix' by Conchita Wust, it means we are still waiting for Russia. The Tomalchevy Twins will sing 'Shine', but they are still yet to premiere the song, despite a promise by that it would be up yesterday. Russia will be of much interest at this year's Eurovision following their current performance on the global stage. And so I ask...who is going to give Russia points at the contest in May?

First off, let's mention their new anti-gay legislation. Everyone reading this will know all about Russia's interesting ("backwards") law against informing under-18's about homosexuality. If you don't, then it's brilliant explained by Grekov (2013) here.  This is going to have very interesting implications for Eurovision - a competition striving to break free of politics and political stigma. For a start, Eurovision has an extremely large LGBT fanbase, all of whom are not the best fans of Putin at the moment. Countries like the UK will not vote in favour of Russia this year. Despite the best efforts of EBU, politics will play a role in voting patterns like this. The UK gave 10 points to Russia last year, and they were a well deserved 10 points, 'What If' is a beautiful song, but I can't see many picking up the phone to vote for Russia even if they do have a stormer. It's sad really.

And then there's Crimea. The current war has reintroduced many of the old east vs west tensions which we all thought were slowly coming to an end in this ever-increasing globalized world. Again, if you're under-read on the topic, the BBC does explain it pretty well here. Ukraine's voting will be of much interest here - with the nation divided in political turmoil, I hardly see the voting system going un-rigged. Once more, it's really quite sad. But nonetheless, very interesting. Will Ukraine give points to Russia? As I've already established, the facts are that politics will once again play an unhealthy role in deciding the outcome of the result. And then there are the juries - what pressure the juries will be under from Ukraine!? Without doubt they will be heavily burdened by Ukrainian officials, and they will almost very likely be bribed by both Russia and their own political leaders. It seems very apparent that Russia will be marked 1st from the Ukrainian jury - whether or not this results in douze points is a different matter. This flows in nicely to my next point: the juries and the rest of the USSR.

Russia has fortunately many borders - this means that they share much of their culture with a great number of countries. This is especially the case since the fact that many of Russia's closest friends in the contest are former Soviet states. I'm not saying that diaspora voting has been free of politics, especially in the 00s, but the 10s are a new decade, where the right songs have generally done the best. Culturally, Russia has done well from Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and so forth - all former Soviet states (statistics thanks to ESC Stats - don't forget to vote in their poll!). Where these countries vote in the contest will be of much interest; will countries vote in favour of Russia for fear, in Ukraine for support, or boycott voting for them in protest against Crimean invasion? Additionally, Azerbaijan didn't give Russia any points last year, sparking discussion amongst fans and Azeri officials as to why. The officials were not too impressed by their jury, and this could potentially lead to an unfair swing in favour of Russia at this year's contest by the Azeri jury among others. And we all know how corrupt Azerbaijan's voting has been criticised of in the past, most notably in last year's contest with allegations of paying students to vote for them. The former states of the Soviet Union have a decision to make, and although I initially thought that Russia would do top 3 however poor the song, I am reminded by the consequences of the Iraq invasion by the United Kingdom at the 2003 contest. It was not only the first time the UK finished last, but also the first time we received the old 'nul' points. Quite remarkable considering how a mere 6 years earlier we dominated the contest. Russia's invasion of Crimea will not go down well with the olden Eurovision countries in the west, but the reaction of the former USSR states will speak volumes about how many states view the Russian situation.

It's a sad year for the Eurovision Song Contest - politics will once again become a central issue for the voting and the EBU will undoubtedly be left with quite a headache after the competition has ended. With no country currently hot favourites to win, the contest is wide open; the bookmakers have gone with Armenia, I've seen polls ranking favourites from Hungary to Romania, the UK to Norway, and history tells us that in a year as wide open as this, the draw will become pivotal in deciding the winner. I still stand by the fact that if Azerbaijan and Sweden swapped places in the 2011 draw then Eric Saade would have walked away with the prize instead. If Russia get a favourable draw many will argue corruption and bribery - if Russia get a poor draw many will argue there's political motivation behind their placing. If Russia were to win - well let's cross that bridge in the small chance it'll happen.

But let's not forget that it is the Eurovision SONG contest!

Russia's representatives are the Tomalchevy twins. They are proven performers having won the 2006 Junior Eurovision Song Contest (you can view the video here). Since winning the contest they have gone on to make a name for themselves in the Eastern region of Europe - and people do vote for big names they recognise (forget has been Engelbert Humperdinck, I'm talking about the likes of Kaliopi - FYR Macedonia; Zelijko Joksimovic - Serbia; Patricia Kaas - France) and so when people do vote, they will remember the twins. The chances are that the song will be good as well. Russia have given us some great Eurovision tracks in the last decade and I see this year as no different despite what is happening on the political stage. However, the fact that there is so much speculation about how well Russia do, and who gives them points, indicates the precarious position of the contest this year. Perhaps I am overstating the problem, feel free to share your opinions and comments! Much discussion is very welcome.

Note: the success of the Winter Olympics in Sochi will still be in the minds of televoters and jurors alike - this is likely to play a part but I think the LGBT laws and Crimean invasion are of more pressing points.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Yes it's the day of the IRISH!

In a special celebration of the patron saint of Ireland, I shall be donning green for the day and celebrating all that is Irish! We're having Irish Breakfast for dinner, lots of potatoes, and a lot of Guinness. Ironic for an Englishman who forgets St. George's Day every year. It seems very fitting then to celebrate Ireland in Eurovision, taking a look back at the 1994 contest.

20 years ago, Ireland did the seemingly impossible, by winning Eurovision 3 years in a row. "Rock N Roll Kids" was the winning song by Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan. Not the most popular winner there's ever been, but they did storm the scoreboard with a staggering 226 points from only 25 countries. The year also featured the debut of many countries; Poland finished 2nd which should officially go down as the best debut (Switzerland won the inaugural contest in 1956, and Serbia won on their return in 2007 following separation with Montenegro). My personal favourite of the year was Hungary. A truly beautiful song "Kinek mondjam el vetkeimet?" by Frederika Bayer finished 4th, and is often held in very high regard amongst Eurofanatics. It is Hungary's best finish so far, so we wish them Good Luck for 2014! Meanwhile, 1994 also had it's downs. Powerhouses like Luxembourg (who still have one of the best records in the contest) retired for good, as well as Italy taking a hiatus. And there was that bizarre relegation rule which we won't go into. Oh and I almost forgot...the 1994 contest was the first year we got to see the spokesperson for each country whilst they gave their votes! And what an interesting turn of events that proved to be.

But the 1994 contest is most remembered for... RIVERDANCE! Yes, Riverdance! Riverdance is without doubt the most popular interval act in the history of Eurovision, spawning one of the most successful dance shows of the 90s and 00s, continuing to stretch across the globe still today. Jean Butler and Michael Flatley became superstars, with Flatley going on to produce more and more Irish dance shows like Feet of Flames, and my personal favourite, Lord of the Dance. Riverdance became a chart-topping record in Ireland and performed well in charts across Europe; the score by Bill Whelan is undeniably beautiful, who rightfully went on to win a Grammy for his composition. So forget about the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest for today's folks, remember the 1994 contest instead! Listen to Riverdance and do an Irish jig! Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Riverdance - the interval act of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

"What's worth doing is worth doing for money"

"What's worth doing is worth doing for money" - Michael Douglas in 'Wall Street' (1987).

Ever noticed how the odds offered for Eurovision reflect the polls? Years like 2011 offer a headache to bookmakers but they somehow still manage to pull it right out of the bag - about an hour before the final kicked off, the odds for 'Running Scared' from Azerbaijan shortened enough to make them hot favourites. I re-blogged an article from ESC Nation ( last year about where the best odds could be found to really win some decent money. With some countries still left to release their songs, and the online polls yet to take off, perhaps it is times like this to have a look at the odds...

By using the site 'Odds Checker' ( it is possible to see which countries are currently pre-Eurovision favourites.
At the time of posting (roughly 12pm GMT) Norway are current favourites. They have odds as low as 7/4 without even confirming their winner. Azerbaijan, the undisputed strongest nation in the contest from the last 5 years, have given us their artist, but you can still find them sitting 3rd in the list with odds ranging from 7/1 to 9/1. We all know that Azerbaijan will come out with a stormer and the fact that they have friends across the whole of Europe means even if they come out with utter dribble, they are likely to find themselves in the final whatever. Long-time friends like Malta and the cluster that sit around the black sea will always ensure their continued success as long as it's something good. That's not to say I'm against diaspora voting, it's been happening in the contest for decades - there's a reason why the UK and Ireland have always shared the points, while the same remains for the Scandinavian block, the ex-Yugoslavs, the former Soviet countries, and so on and so on. They share culture!

So what about pre-contest poll favourites?
Well the polls are still in the early stages. Without all the songs yet entered this year some sites won't even bother allowing for polls as they mean little without everyone. One of my favourite sites for polls and statistics is the one carried out by ESC Stats ( Current leaders are Hungary, and it cannot be denied that 'Running' is a very good track. Perhaps the best offer of 14/1 at current are cracking odds. And what about Paula Selling & Ovi, who when they last competed for Romania came 3rd. They're back again with 'Miracle' and again, it's a good track. You can find them at 11/1 if you fancy it. How about the UK? 'Children of the Universe' has so far thrown everyone by surprise - the UK might really have something going this year. At 14/1 to take the crown - are these bad odds for a country with a recent history boasting quite a few bottom 5 finishings? Greece rounded up their final last night by selecting 'Rise Up' by Freaky Fortune ft. RiskyKidd. Greece are renowned for storming the top 10, and undoubtedly are one of the best nations of the 00s. At the bottom of the pile is Belarus with 'Cheesecake' - which you can currently get for 150/1. Belarus don't have the best record in Eurovision - and 'Cheesecake' certainly isn't great either. But hey ho, could be worth a crack.

Keep an eye on the odds. Have a look at what different things you can bet on. San Marino or Montenegro to qualify will probably be worth a bet or 2, and how about who to make the top 10? It sounds quite an obvious one, but Malta were offered very nice offers last year to make the top 10 with Gianluca's 'Tomorrow', and those who predicted Anouk's 'Birds' for the Netherlands to make the top 10 quite early on in the Eurovision season also saw a nice return on the money.

It won't be surprising to hear that the odds change all the time. Once all the countries have released their songs, and the polls take off, and semi final places are decided, the odds will change, potentially dramatically. I think the overall theme of the contest this year is that there isn't one song setting the world on fire. If we have another year like 2011 then the odds could be quite fun!

Remember folks; take gambling seriously!

And on one final note... the odds don't really make up that much part of Eurovision. If you like a bet then have a crack, but don't take them too seriously. I always feel too much attention is placed on what the bookmakers are doing, but in reality it's a never-ending cycle. Some Eurofans argue that the odds have ruined previous years contest and have made the final result inevitable. I say bollocks. It's the super keen fans like ourselves which define the odds by obsessing over the polls. And to that I say "whoops". But hey, what would the Eurovision season be without a bit of friendly debate, endless stats, and the opinions of a nobody like myself?

Catch me on Twitter: @escunofficial

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Welcome to the Eurovision Song Contest 2014

Can you believe the Eurovision season is here again?

I look outside my window to 17degrees and bright, sunny weather. Time is going much too quick! I'm now in my second year at university, and another new setting in which to blog about the Eurovision season from. This is now my third year as a blogger, and I think I'm starting to get the hang of things.

There couldn't be a better day to start blogging - the day after Melodifestivalen. Once more, the Swedish National Final delivered a grande evening of entertainment. The winner for Sweden was Sanna Nielsen and the ballad "Undo". Good Luck to Sanna! Once more, it looks as if Sweden will be in the mix on the poll sites and feature come voting time on Saturday 10th May in Denmark.

Denmark also held their national final yesterday; Dansk Melodi Grand Prix. The winner was Basim and the song Cliche Love Song. I'm likely to be doing a review of the best and the worst songs, but in my very first post of the season, I'm tipping Denmark for top 3 with this disco gem.

So what of our hosts? Denmark are one of the oldest competing nations, having come 3rd back on their debut in 1957 (the second ever contest). The first win for Denmark came in 1963 with the ever-so popular 'Dansevise' by Grethe and Jorgen Ingmann. They saw off stiff competition from Switzerland to win the contest. They have had varied success since then, and after taking a 10 year hiatus from the competition between 1967 and 1977, they didn't reach the top 3 again until 1988 with Eurovision regulars Hot Eyes. The turn of the millennium has provided varied success for Denmark still, but that has included two wins. Denmark won the Eurovision Song Contest for the second time in the year 2000 with "Fly On The Wings of Love" by the Olsen Brothers. Another very deserved winner, who some in the UK (and mainland Europe) might remember by the XTM dance remix. The last few years have seen personal favourites of mine, including 'Believe Again' in 2009 and 'All Night Long' in 2008, however Europe's personal favourite last year, 'Only Teardrops' by Emmelie de Forest has resulted in Copenhagen once more hosting the competition.

The 2014 contest sees no big changes to the rules. Turkey's boycott of the competition due to dissatisfaction of the big 5 and mixed jury/televoting has continued. They even held their own Turkvizyon Song Contest last year, with countries and regions who speak Turkish or have Turkish ethnicity eligible to participate. Azerbaijan took home the crown, and the contest will potentially return again this December. There have been reports that Turkey will return to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015, but that's a year away, and a lot can happen in between now and then.

Serbia, Croatia, Cyprus and Bulgaria have all withdrawn from the 2014 contest, citing financial concerns for their non-participation. It has been sad to see them go, especially the likes of long time competitors Cyprus and the ever-so successful Serbia, producing some of the best songs since their participation in 2004. The absence of Bosnia & Herzegovina and the fact that Kosovo is still yet to be recognized as a country means the former Yugoslavs are quite under represented this year, with just FYR Macedonia and Montenegro flying their flags.

And what about the rest? The minnows of Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Monaco don't look like returning any time soon, especially with the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis still lingering. The Czech Republic and Slovakia announced their continued absence from the contest, little to the surprise of most, and one time competitors Morocco still don't look like competing either.

But welcome back Portugal and Poland! Fingers crossed for Portugal - 46 entries and not a winner (best place 6th) so hopefully it can finally happen for them! I very much look forward to hearing their song for the contest. They are 1 of 11 countries yet to release their song, but it appears the next week or so will rap up all the songs for this year's contest, and then the season will well and truly have begun.

Just a mention to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest! Congratulations to Malta for winning the JESC 2013 last November! However, the version of the contest looks like it's soon to reach an end. With only 6 countries confirmed to participate and many nations withdrawing, the contest potentially could well be in it's final year. As a UK fan, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest only ever appealed to me twice, when the UK came 2nd and 3rd (or something like that) about 10 years ago-ish (need to do my homework!). I was 10 years younger, and so as a child the JESC was more exciting than the actual contest. Maybe the UK not competing means I have no interest, or perhaps it was the fact I was child 10 years ago and now I'm an adult (just about). Whatever the case, it seems a lack of interest across Europe has been the reason for the downfall of the competition. A very sad day if it does go, but perhaps something new and better will come out of it! I'm still hoping for a Worldvision Song Contest to occur, even just as a one off. The likes of China, USA and Brazil taking on the Eurovision powerhouses like Azerbaijan would be one exciting battle!

Good Luck to all the participants in this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Let the season commence!