Monday, 28 April 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Part VII - Lithuania, Georgia and Iceland

Today you lucky readers are treated to another edition of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I found it very hard to limit "the good" this year and went for a good mix of 6 entrants which can offer something different. But I found a similar problem in selecting "the bad"! In all fairness, there aren't many "bad" entries in the modern day contest, but some countries still offer us 'a load of tripe'. I've picked 3 candidates for that "bad" award which have split fans alike.

The Bad Part 7a - Lithuania

"Attention" - Vilija Matačiūnaitė

What on earth is this all about? Lithuania have an extremely clever knack of qualifying for the final of Eurovision - last year with singing shoes guy, the year before with Donny's quirky dance routine, and so on, and so on. So no matter what we all think of 'Attention', it will probably easily qualify, right? Well with friends like Belarus, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom all able to vote for Lithuania in the second semi final, I can see them qualifying despite this atrocity which is 'Attention'. I hate to sound so opaquely critical without providing sufficient reason as to why, but c'mon...!?!? I've got all of this year's songs on my iTunes; the country with the most plays is on 51, whereas Lithuania is second bottom with just 1 play. How I have sat and listened through this baffles me. From the horrific composition to the painful vocals, Lithuania for me have really tested how bad a Eurovision entry can truly be whilst still qualifying. And that's why for me, it is the worst song in this year's competition.

The Bad Part 7b - Georgia

"3 Minutes to Earth" - The Shin & Mariko

The winner of many fans least favourite song has been Georgia's '3 Minutes To Earth'. I can understand why; ethnic wailing with a poor lead female vocal isn't that appealing. I see it slightly differently in that there is that catchy lyric about skydivers and the opening couple of seconds sounds like it could be the start of a winning song (even though the start is lyrical, perhaps I'm still hungover from raving about Montenegro yesterday: all a direct result of that tin whistle from last year). But let's all be real for a minute here; what is with this Georgian entry? I am very appreciative of art, but the song needs to appeal to a certain market at Eurovision. Can somebody please tell me who the Shin and Mariko are aimed at? Middle-aged voters, teenagers, Southern Europe, the Balkans, who? Who on earth internally selected this? I'm listening to this again now, for the 5th time. Reiterating that it's not as bad as Lithuania because of that catchy skydivers lyric, but the composition of this is all over the place too. Were Georgia trying their hardest not to win?

The Bad Part 7c - Iceland

"No Prejudice" - Pollaponk

Now Iceland have got something really interesting here. When I first heard 'Enga Fordoma', I was like 'dear God, Iceland have finally let us all down'. After the successes of Yohanna, Sjonni's Friend, Jonsi, and especially the extremely underrated Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson from last year, I was really keeping my fingers crosse Iceland would give us a winner this time around. Isn't it their turn as well? Finland '06, Norway '09, Sweden '12, Denmark '13... Perhaps we have to wait a couple of years. I do hope Iceland win soon though, I'd love to go there. But back to their song for this year, and I'd actually give the award to the country trying it's best not to win to Iceland (over Georgia). The overage band, the concoction of sounds, it's just one for turning off. But at heart they do have a good message, and nothing is better than a band with flair - Pollaponk's colours definitely offer something Bucks Fizz-esque. I would not say this is the worst song in the contest this year, but I've never liked this no matter how much I appreciate it, and I think deep down, most will agree.

So there we have it, Lithuania, Georgia and Iceland are my chosen 3 for "the bad". But there's still one category left unexplored: "the Ugly". I think people can take easy predictions from what I have already chosen. But please do comment and tell me if you agree!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Part VI - Montenegro

The Good Part VI - Montenegro

'Moj Svijet' - Sergej Ćetković

The opening melody to this song is stunningly beautiful. The instrumental sections are very Zelijko Joksimovic and so ethnic that Montenegro can truly fly the flag for the whole of the former Yugoslavs this year! I think many were gutted to see Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and the like drop out, but in their absence, Montenegro can rise like a phoenix out of the ashes (as Conchita Wurst once sung). And I am so glad that the song is being sung in Montenegrin! With fewer and fewer countries opting to sing entirely in their own language, Montenegro have pulled though! So Podogorica 2015 anyone?

First off - the song has done poorly in online polls. Please can someone tell me why? I know many Eurofanatics who much prefer songs in the home country language, yet people seem to not really care when it comes to Moj Svijet. Perhaps it has ultimately come down to the amount of ballads entered this year; there are some very good ballads this year, such as 'Undo' and 'Dancing in the Rain'. Sergej has a winning card here though - a male ballad will stand out mountains against other female ballads. Montenegro do have that trickier first semi final, however they are the penultimate performers, and they really, really need to capitalise on this. Sergej has come out and said that he really wants Montenegro to reach the final. Well Sergej, if it was up to me, you'd easily make it. And I think Montenegro will make it.

Will they win?

Well I'm ever-increasingly being drawn to the fact that in such a wide open year, who wins will be decided on even the small things. Staging is going to be crucial! I won't look at staging plans and the lark before rehearsals start tomorrow, I want to base my ideas on song alone. The staging really needs to take an uplifting edge, and we definitely need falling sparks at some point - maybe even on the first key change. Oh yeah that's another thing about this song, it's key change heaven, which always goes down well at Eurovision! But back to the staging - it needs to be minimal. I've already made comparisons to Zelijko Joksimovic; Montenegro need to go back and see what worked for him in 2004 and 2012 and even directly copy it if they are so out of ideas.

What else will Montenegro need to win? A favourable draw in the final will be crucial this year and so naturally, anywhere in 16th to 24th (I think most fans agree with me that these 8 positions will be win-defining). The opening instrument needs to be as soft as Sergej's opening vocals; and Montenegro really need to ensure that Sergej's lyrics are heard above all else. That thing about language is coming up again... and it's because singing in your own language will help!

And what Montenegro really needed was a big PR campaign. I don't want this ethnic ballad to get lost like others have in the past. If televoters will really aware of the song before the competition, it would accompany what is sure to be a good jury score because of the simple fact that Sergej has an incredible voice! However, I don't think we need to be in fear of a lack of PR campaign - I think Montenegro will surely reach the final, but winning the thing is different. I don't think Montenegro can win, but I do hope they do bloody well. Good Luck! Good Luck Sergej!

Part V - United Kingdom

Time has been evaporating - Eurovision rehearsals start next week! I've been more emerged in Eurovision this year then any other year. I find that remotely strange in itself, but before divulging in my outlook of Eurovision 2014, I'll have a look at the UK's entry... which is uh-mazing!

The Good Part V - United Kingdom

'Children of the Universe' - Molly

Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes! That's all I have to say about the UK entry for this year. Children of the Universe is a punchy ballad spawning the hastag #powertothepeople and getting Eurofanatics from the UK excited once again. Molly has raspy vocals, and sings over the steady beat of a big drum. The lyrics suggest an 'empowerment' in my opinion, for example the lines "fire in our bones" and "ours to own" indicate a voice to growing unpopularity with society and system, the fire leading to the idea that a passive aggressive movement has already started. The fact that Molly is "not giving in", "she'll never walk alone" bolster this position of a "dawn of change" in the UK and the rest of the Western world.

Or perhaps I've read too much into the lyrics. But c'mon, POWER TO THE PEOPLE?
Yes Molly - subliminal messages for the win!

Hidden symbolism aside, the song is very good. It's a quietly catchy little number which evokes a good feeling inside after listening. After all it really feels like an 'empowerment' song whether you listen to the lyrics or not. The BBC have really done us proud here! For people reading from outside the UK, I apologise. This is going to come across extremely biased, but I will try and criticise and be balanced as much as possible.

The BBC has finally done exactly what a lot of us have been calling for; it has chosen an artist based on the mass unsigned talent floating around the UK at the moment. Molly has won awards as an unsigned act for her music. I argued this last year and the year before, by using one of the many systems we currently have in place for recognising unsigned artists we can find a Eurovision gem. By giving Molly a platform to share her music on the European/World stage, the BBC has given her the start of what could be a fabulous music making career. If things don't take off for Molly for whatever reason, she is still a very credible artist with a fantastic singing voice and great song-writing capabilities. Molly is not only the UK Eurovision entrant - she is representing unsigned artists in the UK, an accolade which should not be forgotten!

The song presents some interesting options for Eurovision this year - if the juries and televoters go for it, we know which way the contest is leading. By this I am referring to how recent years have either been won by an old-fashioned number or a modern pop beat, for example the quirky song that was 'Satellite' to old-fashioned 'Running Scared', back to mega dance anthem 'Euphoria' and then last year's 'Only Teardrops' finding a good balance between the two. Children of the Universe for me provides a good basis for finding a balance between the two again, it has a slower beat with traditional styles, but yet the lyrical empowerment and raunchier vocals of Molly offer a more modern appeal to younger voters. Do you agree with me here? If you don't agree, please do comment because I am always interested to hear what others have to say, whether you agree or disagree.
I seem to always forget that I view the songs with a Western lens. I know for a fact that they way I hear and listen to music is very different to that of even close neighbours, but none more so than countries in Eastern Europe. Please, if any readers from Eastern Europe are reading, share your opinions on previous winners and how you see Children of the Universe. Ultimately, like all other fans, we are trying to find/predict the winner of the contest by polling our own favourites and checking the odds and so on. However we can never truly do this because we are all limited in that our own view will mostly follow cultural trends of the countries we live in. Therefore, I would love to hear the opinions of the UK entrant from other Europeans to see how underrated or overrated I see it.

I could continue to comment about the UK entrant, I mean there is staging and music vidoes and online polls to be talking about, but I won't make this blog post too long. Thanks for reading though!
Good Luck Molly! Good Luck United Kingdom! Bring the contest home to Birmingham (or London) for the 60th edition!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Part IV - Armenia

Ah I cannot believe my last blog post was 11 days ago! Time has been going by mega quickly, and we are now only 22 days away from the first semi final. Eurovision Season goes much too quickly for my liking! I've been listening to loads of classics recently, as well as my new favourite song 'Rainmaker'. If you haven't heard, it's Emmelie de Forest's new song and it's amazing. I have planned a blog post dedicated to out hosts for closer to the first semi final, but tonight the attention is on Armenia!

The Good Part IV: Armenia

Armenia have a very good record at Eurovision! Up until 2010 the Armenians could be compared to how we see the Azeri now - not just a certainty for the final, but a top 10 finish as well. And they surely deserved that reputation! Many fans argue that Qele Qele should have taken home the crown in 2008, Apricot Stone deserved higher than 7th in 2010, and one of my favourite ever songs in the contest, Nor Par (Jan Jan) scraped 10th in the 2009 contest. Inga & Anush are two of my favourite Eurovision artists and I absolutely love them - and their performance was brilliant. Truly Eurovision. Since then things have gone a little downhill. Emmy and 'Boom Boom' embarrassingly didn't even make the final in 2011 (even though we're all still going 'chaka chaka'), and following a boycott of Baku 2012, they sent a fan dividing song in 2013, 'Lonely Planet', which still somehow managed to accumulate 41 points when many thought it wouldn't even make the final. BUT many, many fans argue that Armenia are back to their best this year! And rightfully so, the artist is Aram MP3 and the song is 'Not Alone' - scoring top 5 in many pre-charts and for a long time, being the red hot favourite by the bookmakers (check out ESC Webs 'here' for a bookies update). So what makes Aram MP3 and 'Not Alone' so great?

To begin with, 'Not Alone' is one of those defining era songs - by this, I don't mean it's a classic, but I mean that from the first listen, you know it's around a 2013/14 song without hearing the other songs entered. I think it's very good because the composition is simple, the lyrics are direct and it breaks away in the middle to become more upbeat. Usually this results in disaster; fans don't like two songs in one, but it works in 'Not Alone' because the upbeat section still fits in with the lyrics and the early melody. I almost feel the first half of the song has a Zelijko Joksimovic feel about it, and we all know how well Serbia (& Montenegro) have done under him. How the song does at Eurovision will be extremely interesting - fans like this song across Europe - it's not necessarily their favourite song, but it's in many people's top 10's. I argue that the result of this will be interesting because it could easily divide your less dedicated audience: people who have never heard of this before may be put off by the sudden change in direction, and an older audience may be put off when the beat drops. Additionally, many first-time listeners often decide whether they like a song within the first minute or two; if they enjoy the ballad section then good, but if not, then very bad because what would rescue those voters is a fantastic staging, and in my opinion, Aram MP3 won't provide the best choreographed performance. How this is staged will pose problems; it could be quite boring if it's just Aram MP3 on stage, but tacky dancers, I feel, would ruin any magic created in the lyrics when the beat drops.

And then there's what happened at 'Eurovision In Concert' - if you missed that, where have you been!? If you missed that, then here's a quick summary: some potentially homophobic puns were made by Aram MP3 to Conchita Wurst, the infamous bearded lady representing Austria this year. Wiwi blogs covered the basics in this article. In my opinion everything got taken out of context, but then again, Aram should not have made a possibly homophobic remark to a contest with an extremely large LGBT fanbase, especially in the year we go back to Denmark, the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage. Will any of this matter come May? It's hard to say because a lot of voters will not be aware of what happened, but to get booed at Eurovision In Concert (incidentally the same day as Aram's birthday!) speaks volumes in his current fan status - and this is only an estimate, but aren't a lot of semi-final voters mostly the mega fans? In the UK they are anyway, and so alongside being drawn 1st in the hotly contested first semi final could prove to be problematic. However, friends Ukraine and Russia also compete in semi 1, being drawn 1st in the semi final hasn't stopped popular songs from reaching the final before, and at the end of the day, it's still a very good song! People questioning whether this will qualify is crazy - of course it will! But where this finishes in the final is impossible to tell...

My prediction is top 10. As a UK fan that may be optimistic - for Armenia are definitely big rivals for the top crown, and so it will probably challenge 1st. BUT... will I get in trouble for saying that if the Azeri's do bribe voters and jurors like some argue, then will Armenia even do top 10? Azerbaijan and Armenia aren't friends. Or is that a ludicrous thing to say? Please do share your opinions on the matter!

Good Luck Armenia! I'm glad to see your back to entering good records and back on track to taking the contest to Yerevan! Good Luck Aram MP3!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Part III - Romania

The Good Part III: Romania

We've got another edition of the good, the bad and the ugly today, with Romania taking the spotlight as the next "good".

'Miracle' by Paula Seling & Ovi

Oooooft. Eurodance stomper 'Miracle' really has got it what it takes to do well for Romania at this year's Eurovision. From the very first line to the end, the song feels like it is taking you on the journey. Well that's how I see it anyway. The fast pace continually picks up and does what it is supposed to do! It doesn't stop, and you can picture the lights and the fireworks already. What is great about this song is that it also feels a lot quicker than 3 minutes. By this I refer to the fact that with a ballad, you often feel the length of a song, whereas this song seems to happen in a heartbeat. Coupling that with the staging, and this year's Romanian entry will definitely get the crowd on their feet, whether they like the song or not. Romania also provide much needed pain relief for that ballad headache as well, and so this one will stick out like a sore thumb.

But I haven't mentioned the best bit... the return of Paula Seling & Ovi! Fans alike will remember their terrific 3rd back in the 2010 contest when 'Playing with Fire' finished strong, nearly going on to topple Turkey into 2nd place. That year was rightfully stolen by Lena and 'Satellite', but if the Germans hadn't turned up, would Romania have walked away with the grand prize? Quite potentially. But that's neither here nor there, the best thing is that the duo are back to try again. Since performing for Romania in 2010, Paula Seling has continued to grow as a national celebrity, with X Factor judging credentials and various work with films, including Cars 2 and Brave. Ovi has also been working hard, especially with Eurovision. He teamed up with the almighty Thomas G:Son in 2012 to have a crack at composing a winner, however this turned out not to be. But what can be seen is that by pairing up with Paula once again, Romania stand a cracking shot at success with name recognition alone.

What about the statistics? Well Romania have never failed to qualify for the final - they have 100% success rate in the semi-finals. In the finals, the last few years have seen varied success, but on the whole, they do fairly well, and I think with such a strong entry, predicting Romania to finish in the top 10 is a good estimate. I think what works well is that the whole package is there; they have a good song, they have respected and much-loved artists, Romania has many friends both neighbourly and culturally, and they have got luck on their side in that if they perform first or last they have something memorable.

So, could they win? I really don't see why not. I really don't know why they wouldn't win. If we're heavily critical, then the song isn't fantastic. The song also will need some choreography; I don't doubt that Romania will have good staging, but because of the nature of the song, there will need to be dancers or at least something happening in the chorus - if there's not, then the sheer power of Paula and Ovi's voices will ensure the juries mark highly, but will the televoters? See, without "something" I can't see televoters across Europe picking this over other favourites, even if Romania can rely on a few votes from the likes of Ukraine and Moldova - diaspora does not win Eurovision! Chances of winning? High, but perhaps not high enough...

Whatever the case, I like the song! It is performing okay in online fan polls and I'm yet to see anyone disregard Romania. The odds are pretty good for Romania, they're not down as a favourite, but I think if we were to predict this year's "dark horse" then Romania stand a pretty good shot at that.

Good Luck Romania! Good Luck Paula & Ovi! We look forward to seeing you in the final on the 10th May!