ESC2016: guys and dolls…

Another lovely day in Stockholm on Wednesday, and thankfully rather cooler than when we arrived. After a busy couple of days there was a slower pace as the first dress rehearsal for the second semi-final was later in the day (5pm). So, a bit of a mooch about the city and a few touristy things to do before then.

Any Abba fans visiting the city will surely make the pilgrimage to the Abba museum. As a huge fan myself, I can highly recommend it – I visited it last year. It’s lots of fun, with many interactive things to: you can record your Abba vocals in the recording studio; you can perform with an Abba hologram; and most excitedly, you can wait to see if the telephone in the museum will Ring, Ring. No, seriously! When you first enter Abbaworld you will be immersed in the sights and sounds of Abba with a huge screen projecting this fantastic montage…

It’s an unmissable trip for any Abba fan. Given that I’ve been before there was a new draw this time, with the display of a range of Eurovision memorabilia, so for those of you visiting this weekend, this is double your pleasure, double you fun.

trophyLast year I told you that there could be no higher accolade than to be immortalised in the annals of Eurovision history than by being captured as a Lego figure. Well, at Abbaworld there is another marker of pop culture perfection… a display of Eurovision acts that have been immortalised as a Barbie/Ken doll. Such a lot of fun, and drawing a lot of interest. Can you spot you favourites here?

abbaThe Swedish winners…

sweden dollsBucks Fizz and Jedward…

uk dollsConchita…

CONCHITAIt’s a genius idea! If you’re in the city this weekend, go check them out! The Conchita doll looks like Rylan Clarke!

Whilst out and about in town testerday I saw the countdown clock. The now familiar dandelion motif looks quite impressive…

clockLater in the day, it was time to head to the Globe arena for the first dress rehearsal of the second semi-final. There is an entertaining opening act involving our all-singing all-dancing hosts, Måns and Petra…

01b petra mans02 busbyOnce again their lively banter should amuse you. Ten out of ten for effort, that’s for sure.

Later today (Thursday) I will report back on all the performances ahead of the broadcast tonight (BB4 at 8pm in the UK). What was good about the rehearsal yesterday was that I saw the UK’s Joe and Jake perform for the first time. They have adapted well to the Eurovision stage, and their delivery is still confident and full of energy. The backdrop features selfies that were sent in by the UK public, and it is really quite effective.

10 joe and j11 joe and j 2The guys are riding high with the bookies, with them now just shy of the top ten favourites. All rather promising, and seemingly rather popular here in Stockholm.

So, I’ll be back later today with a review of the second semi-final… 😀

ESC2016: great expectations and the cruel mistress…

arena flagsLast night ESC2016 finally jumped the first of three fences. Semi-final one was a slick show, for sure. I hope you enjoyed it.

Russia and Iceland played with their interactive projections to excellent effect…

sergeigretaI hear that the BBC opted not to show the interval act that I had highlighted yesterday. Pity, as it was a fabulous piece of choreography which symbolised the issue of displacement of people across Europe, and the migrant crisis. Yeah, a brave move given the light entertainment oeuvre that the Eurovision Song Contest occupies. Tackling such an issue in this context seems a bit strange, but better to look at it any capacity than to look away. If you can catch-up online and you’re interested, then see what you think.

We had a great view of the green room as the artists awaited their fate…

green room semiDid your favourites make it through to the final? Our predictions weren’t bad last night: eight out of ten correct, only Croatia and Czech Republic off the ‘napkin of death’. The reveal of the top ten became increasingly tense as we were running out of places, with too many countries still in the mix. It was bit of a shock that Greece got the boot, as it ends their run of qualification for the Grand Final.

Perhaps the biggest shock of the night across social media was the exit of Iceland (I’m not biased, but it was my favourite last night!). There was a HUGE outpouring of disappointment on social media that Greta Salome fell at the first hurdle. People can’t fathom why this happened. If we take an objective step back, there was only Sweden voting last night from their Nordic supporters, so that might be a factor. And perhaps the viewers felt that they had already seen an artist interacting with the backdrop projections, like in Sergei’s performance?

Such expectations, such disappointment! Eurovision is a cruel mistress, but Greta’s own reaction shows that she (the mistress) can be tamed…

What a night! It’s a unique feeling knowing you had the performance of your life and a whole stadium shouting out for your country when they were announcing the finalists and still not make it into the finals. I can honestly say that I feel like a winner after tonight’s show and there is nothing I could have done better. And of course my team has been the best I could ever have had. I’ve seen the twitter and Facebook discussions and I am beyond grateful for the support I’ve been getting. I’m just as surprised as you all are, but maybe just not as disappointed, simply for the fact that I am so happy with the performance. I am also so grateful for the great comments we got from the commentators and of course Nickey Byrne (From Westlife saying it was the best performance of the night) The message about the song has been spreading like fire for the last few days and we will take that message and make it ours. I am not sad tonight…..surprised yes but overall grateful especially for all of those messages I’ve been getting from you across Europe and most but not least the people in Iceland.

A classy response from the gracious Greta.

And so, the sting of disappointment may linger for fans and performers this morning, but we have a new day and a new semi-final to turn our attention to. Today I will attend the first dress rehearsal of the second semi-final. More later… 😀

ESC2016: are the singers on song for semi-final one?

There’s a nice buzz around the city today. As you can see Stockholm has been decked out with the branding theme for the competition this year: Come Together. It’s all about unity and cohesion – continuity against a backdrop of change. These are familiar themes from the cosmopolitan heart of the Eurovision Song Contest. This will be a running theme, as you would expect, through the three television broadcasts this week.

townflag1Anticipation ahead of the semi-final, in the press centre today…

presstoday

readyHaving seen the first semi-final dress rehearsal in the Globe arena last night, it’s now time to see it on the big screen in the press centre. You know – to see what it looks like on the telly!

As is now customary, the show is opened by a reprisal of the winner’s song. More than just a rehash of Måns’ performance from last year, this is a reinterpretation, as you will see. It’s based upon the performance from Melodifestivalen back in March, but on a bigger scale. I tell you, it’s beautifully done – makes me want to have a little man cry. If you thought the interactive animated sequence with Måns and the stick men was impressive, wait until you see 44 children take part this time. A lovely start to the show.

Our hosts this year are Måns and the returning Petra Mede, who presented the gig in Malmö in 2013. They have great chemistry and a very funny script. You will like how they bounce off each other, it seems natural and they are highly likeable.

I’m not going to re-post performance footage from earlier. Today I’ll give you the heads-up on what I think since seeing them all performed on the Eurovision stage for the first time. See if you agree tonight, BBC4 at 8pm (in the UK).

01: Finland

It still sounds retro, but on the dated end of that spectrum. Sandhja sounds a bit pitchy but is more than ably assisted by the best group of backing singers I have seen so far. You will love them and their moves! Highly entertaining, but not enough to get to the final.

02: Greece

Effective staging and choreography makes the best of the song. Good performance that looks much better on the Eurovision stage than elsewhere. That’s the right time to peak!

03: Moldova

This largely unforgettable song is made only slightly more interesting by the inclusion of a dancing spaceman. No really. He’s throwing shapes like Sisqo did in his Thong Song video (and he’s got his hair). I can’t see the gimmick lifting the song enough to get to the final.

04: Hungary

A good performance, if not for the inclusion of a man randomly banging a drum in a way that doesn’t entirely match the song. The camera makes the most of Freddie’s non-vocal talents, and it should get through to the final.

05: Croatia

In all my years of watching the Eurovision there have been loads of costume changes. Probably the most memorable was Bucks Fizz and their Velcro skirts back in 1981. This year there are a handful of costume malfunctions, it has to be said. The first is from Croatia. Rarely will you see a frock horror replaced by the reveal of a further frock horror! You’ll see what I mean. This was well received in the arena, so who knows. Could well be going through.

06: The Netherlands

The first really good song and performance of the night. Douwe and his band look great. In fact, Douwe looks like Joaquin Phoenix doing Johnny Cash in Walk The Line. Great stuff. Amsterdam next year? 😀

07: Armenia

Blimey, Iveta gives it some welly! I have been won over by her performance. Great visual effects and a powerful vocal should see this song through to the final.

08: San Marino

It really is the most dated sounding song, and is similarly staged. Serhat is backed by a less risqué looking Hot Gossip group of singers/dancers. Call me old fashioned, I like it, but surely it’s taxi for Serhat and his gossip girls…

09: Russia

After all the brouhaha last year surrounding the Russian entry it seems it’s okay to like their effort this year. You may remember that for many people the sentiment of the song A Million Voices jarred too much with Russia’s human rights agenda, not least with LGBT equality. This year there are no such concerns, not least because their singer Sergei is highly popular with the gay fans (Sergei has a penchant for taking his top off in photo shoots, which can only add to his likeability factor!).

This is impressive staging, even if the song is rather dated. Sergei is still on track to take the crown because he’s not peddling an agenda that we can’t buy into…

10: Czech Republic

What a pity that Gabriela has to follow Sergei. I really like the song, but it falls flat after the previous spectacle. Like the song title, Gabriela just stands, and it’s not enough. I thought it was a strong ballad to qualify, but not sure now.

  1. Cyprus

I guess in terms of both sounds and staging this can be accused of being a bit of old school (a familiar theme this year!). I know I said in an earlier post that this was a new sound for Cyprus, but the staging is all rather cliché as you will see. That said, it’s highly enjoyable. I expect to see this get through.

12: Austria

This looks and sounds great. It got a fantastic reception in the arena last night, and applause in the press centre just now. Nothing else sounds like it, and singer Zoe gives an energized and enthusiastic performance, so I think it’s more likely to get to the final than before I got to Stockholm.

13: Estonia

A confident vocal and stage presence from Jüri. I’d like it to get through, although the cool styling’s of singer and song might be a bit too subtle for the televoters tonight.

14: Azerbaijan

It seems that singer Samra has been suffering ill health whilst in Stockholm. Her vocal has got better, not a pitchy as it has been. Is the song interesting enough? A bunch of tired stage techniques (fire walls and flames) see Azerbaijan rehash their own tricks of staging from the past. For me, all too lazy. Perhaps this will be the first failure to quality?

15: Montenegro

If you know my music taste, which you probably do by now, you know I’m not getting anything out of this song. It has a niche, for sure, and that should itself find an audience, but will that audience be wide enough for progress to the final. I’m not convinced.

16: Iceland

What we have seen in earlier performances totally transforms to the stage. Greta interacts with the projections very well. Like Sergei, it’s all drilled to within an inch of itself. What’s cool is Greta actually looks like she’s having a ball. Going through for sure, I’d say. Stunning.

17: Bosnia & Hervegovina

A bit of a hot mess on stage, in terms of the concept – will it translate, especially when it’s not sung in English language. It’s refreshing that it’s not. I liked the song before I saw it on stage. I’m flip-flopping between it going through and going home. At this point, I think going home.

18: Malta

I am a bit disappointed by this staging. I had expected a more dynamic turn. A largely static Ira Losco is joined on stage by a distracting male dance whirling around her. Given that Ira has just announced her pregnancy, this might be the reason that it’s not all guns blazing. The song is great, as is the vocal, so I hope that will capture the votes tonight.

All in all, this semi-final has improved some of the songs immeasurably. Others have stalled a little. There will probably be few surprises in terms of result tonight – see what you think. I hope your favourites get through. You will have guessed mine – by a country mile it’s Iceland, closely followed by The Netherlands, Russia and Malta.

The interval act will give you pause for thought – no spoilers from me. It jars a little on the backdrop of music and good humour, but that’s probably why it is actually, in all honesty, really quite moving. I had a tear in my eye. See what you think.

So, that’s it from me for now! I hope you have your ‘napkin of death’ predictions ready? We will be selecting our top ten qualifiers later. I’ll post that update before the semi-final tonight.

Are you ready to get your Eurovision party started? I am! 😀 x

 

 

ESC2016: Hot in the city…

Heya from sweltering Stockholm!

And a very lycklig tisdag från Stockholm.

As is usually the case, whenever I travel I get slightly obsessed with the weather. I guess we all do. We have had lovely weather over the past few days in the UK, and the same seems to be true elsewhere on the continent, and in Stockholm.

This is my fifth visit to the city, and the first time when the weather isn’t freezing or suitably cold for the month of March (when I have been in town for Melodifestivalen). It’s a bit of a shock to the system – doesn’t feel like my normal Stockholm syndrome! In fact, talking to locals yesterday, they are similarly surprised by the heat. It’s so hot in the city!

Once again I am travelling with my dear friend and fellow Eurovision researcher, Prof. Brian Singleton. We were in Stockholm by mid-afternoon, and after a quick drop of our luggage at the hotel it was time to head to the Globe Arena to collect our accreditation, and then to check-in at the press centre. It really was a lovely day, and the venue is *stunning*…

arrive globeYep – that’s a globe arena for you!

The press centre seemed busier than in previous years for this stage in Eurovision Week…

press insideIt’s a nice working space, with a gentle buzz. We had arrived just at the first dress rehearsal was taking place, and it was being projected on the large screens in the press centre. I wasn’t paying much attention to it as we were attending the Jury Final last night. This was the first public dress rehearsal, and more importantly, it’s the occasion when the national juries vote.

Later today I will give you some thoughts on the action last night, ahead of the first semi-final this evening. Looks great, doesn’t it…

stageMore to follow this Tuesday… 😀

 

 

 

ESC2016: Here come the six super troupers…

As you will probably know, the ‘Big 5’ (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) are the countries that contribute the most to the EBU coffers, and as such they get an automatic pass to the Grand Final. Some people are a bit sniffy about this as it’s seen as favouritism, and it does breed accusations that sometimes the Big 5 just don’t try to send songs that are vaguely competitive and popular, as they don’t have to battle through the semi-finals and the indignity of being sent home early.

It wasn’t a great year for the Big 5 last year, when Germany finished in last place with the dreaded ‘nul points’. They were joined in the bottom five by France and the UK, with Spain languishing nearby in 21st place. Only Italy struck gold last year, finishing a well deserved third place. So what of 2016 – have they upped their game? Will it be nul points and national embarrassment for the Big 5, and how will defending champs Sweden do this year?

FRANCE

Amir – J’ai cherché

Doesn’t Amir have a look of Bradley Cooper about him!? This is a great entry from France and has been in the bookies top three for months. News came back from his first rehearsal that it was a bit wobbly, but hey that’s what rehearsals are for, right?

Back in 2011 France were the hot favourites with the bookies right up until the night of the Grand Final, when the wheels fell off for poor Amaury Vassili. His operatic number saw him pitch the wrong first note and he never fully recovered. Let’s hope Amir lives up to the hype this time. France haven’t won since 1977 (we think we’re bad in the UK), and whilst I can’t see that happening, it should deffo be top ten, perhaps top five.

GERMANY

Jamie-Lee – Ghost

Can Germany storm back up the leader board this year after their disappointing showing last year?

It’s a no from me. I just don’t get it. For me it’s a hook-less song that doesn’t really go anywhere. And, whilst I’m all about rocking your own individual signature style, Jamie-Lee needs to fire her stylist. The Harajuku Girls vibe and the song, it’s all a bit of a hot mess. Bottom five for me…

ITALY

Francesca Michielin – No Degree of Separation

Since their return in 2011 there’s certainly been no second-guessing Italy’s entries. Each year a different vibe, but each year suitably Italian. I feel like I’ve heard this haunting melody before. Answers on a postcard, please…

I like the way it drops into English – but perhaps more of this needed to lift the hook of the song for us English speakers? The song is growing on me, but the music video is a distraction, so I’m hoping for staging in Stockholm that really enhances the song and enchants me.

SPAIN

Barei – Say Yay!

The most dated sounding of the Big 5 and Sweden this year. Whilst the sound isn’t particularly fresh, this is the first time that the Spanish entry is sung completely in English. Oh Dios mío en España!

It might do well with the UK audience, because the sound is reminiscent of our very own Jess Glynne. For me, say nay…

UNITED KINGDOM

Joe and Jake – You’re Not Alone

When I blogged from Stockholm back in March, I said that the UK had selected the best of our potential six songs for Europe. Best of a bad bunch, perhaps. Well, a couple of months on and I don’t feel like that. It’s a really strong song. The more I listen to it in the mix with all the other entries, the fresher it sounds. Mix Coldplay and 1D together, and you’d get this.

Since their first rehearsal a couple of days ago, the boys have bounced up the betting odds. Odds of 100-1 and over have now been slashed, and they are (as I type) 14th in the standings (from way down in the thirties) – very encouraging for our lads. Blimey, we might even make it over to the top half of the leader board this year!

Having met Joe and Jake briefly a couple of weeks ago I hope their likability factor is also being played up this week. No national embarrassment for us, or them, however it goes this week. And I think it will probably be better than any of us can imagine.

SWEDEN

Frans – If I Were Sorry

Regular readers of this blog over the years, and my friends and euro chums, know that I am seemingly more biased (and blinded!) towards the Swedish entries every year. True story, I guess. True because I like the songs they select – simples.

If you read my blog post from March, it was written when I was in Stockholm for Melodifestivalen. It was the clear favourite to win that contest, which it did. At the time it then also became the favourite to win the ESC. It has drifted slightly sine then, but still sits in the top five. I haven’t changed my mind since March having now heard all 42 entries. I still think this is the song to beat. Sweden are not ready to relinquish their Eurovision crown just yet!

Already a smash hit in Stockholm, it will become an international smash hit after Eurovision. An even more encouraging sign for the popularity of the song is that MTV UK have play listed the music video on their channel. This is unheard of – a Eurovision song on MTV in the UK before the finals. If it does win, and we’re back in the Sweden, I will probably sit out either the Melodifestivalen or Eurovision next year.

*Gasps from the crowd*

So, that’s our ‘super six’ for 2016. Overall a better showing than 2015, I’d say. With at least one song in each of the semi-finals and the ‘super six’ in with a chance of winning. It will be interesting to see if there are any game changing performances in Stockholm. I haven’t watched the rehearsals so it will all be fresh for me when I arrive in Stockholm tomorrow (Monday). Let’s see if I change may mind, and also yours! In the meantime, a reminder of the ‘Big 5’ and Sweden…

So, time to pack my bags – it’s an early start in the morning. I will soon be back in the Eurovision bubble. Mama Mia! 😀

ESC2016: Abba-dabba-doo, here’s semi-final two…

Ok, we have to select another ten songs to make it through to the Grand Final on 14 may. Don’t forget to tune into BBC 4 in the UK, on Thursday 12 May at 8.00pm. And remember that at Eurovision YOU DECIDE!

01: LATVIA

Justs – Heartbeat

We start the second semi-final with one of my faves this year. One of the more contemporary songs, with hints of old school electronica. Justs has a hint of David Tennant about him, doesn’t he…

It feels effortlessly cool, and I really hope it gets to the final.

02: POLAND

Micha? Szpak – Colour Of Your Life

There was a bit of a kerfuffle in the Eurovision fan community when the much fancied, and much backed at the bookies, Edyta Górniak didn’t win the Polish selection. She had previously represented Poland back in 1994 (their debut year) and finished as runner-up to Ireland. There was much anticipation and expectation that she would get the ticket to Stockholm. However the surprise winner was Micha? Szpak.

There aren’t many big ballads performed by men this year (although a couple in this semi-final), and this is reassuringly familiar and uplifting. I hope it makes it to the final.

(I envy him that hair and that wind machine :D)

03: SWITZERLAND

Rykka – The Last Of Our Kind

Currently at the foot of the bookies betting odds, which I can’t quite figure. Sure, it’s a bit vanilla and generic, but I wouldn’t have put is as the weakest song we will hear next week. Then again, the staging is a bit lifeless, which doesn’t help.

Taxi for Switzerland?

04: ISRAEL

Hovi Star – Made of Stars

Probably my favourite male vocal this week, and the better of the male ballads I’d say. The familiar Sam Smith stylings and sound, as well as what should be a passionate stage performance, should see it through to the final. I’m sure it will be popular with the juries, which will help.

05: BELARUS

IVAN – Help You Fly

It has been reported that IVAN had requested to perform naked, and accompanied with live wolves. I haven’t seen his rehearsal footage so far, but I guess we all know the EBU said no to both requests. That would have made a rather underwhelming song a bit more memorable!

06: SERBIA

ZAA Sanja Vu?i? – Goodbye (Shelter)

Serbia are one of a bunch of countries who now prefer to sing in English, yet retain the accents of their own music styles. This is a good crossover of the two. A great vocal places Sanja as the diva of this semi-final. Why else embody the ultimate diva, Maria Callas!

 07: IRELAND

Nicky Byrne – Sunlight

If Sweden win again this year they will eclipse Ireland and have the most Eurovision wins. Currently Sweden and Ireland both have six trophies, but I don’t think Ireland will be challenging for their seventh victory this year. Nicky Byrne seems all kinds of likeable, but this track is perhaps a little too generic to make an impact. Mind you, Westlife fans across Europe might give it a boost..

08: F.Y.R. MACEDONIA

Kaliopi – Dona

One of a few returnees to Eurovision, Kaliopi is once again giving it some welly this year. A powerful vocal, but to our ears a rather repetitive lyric on the chorus. She made it through to the final back in 2012, and much like Nicky Byrne she might have a committed fanbase to give her a helping hand…

09: LITHUANIA

Donny Montell – I‘ve Been Waiting For This Night

Like Kaliopi, Donny participated in 2012. He’s back with a contemporary song, another that you have heard before, right? Lithuania have a good track record of progressing to the final, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them there again this year…

10: AUSTRALIA

Dami Im – Sound Of Silence

The novelty of Australia being invited to participate as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations last year received a mixed response from some fans. Was this pushing the boundary of where the Contest belongs? Perhaps. Then again, Azerbaijan and Israel are both technically on the periphery of Europe and beyond, so why not include Australia? One of the main reasons for the invitation was due to the HUGE popularity of the ESC down under. Each year the contest is broadcast to an eager audience, and they even do their own televote, you know – just for fun. I guess it seemed like a no-brainer for the EBU to do something bombastic and inject a frissance of the unexpected to the anniversary year, and invite Australia to join the party.

A well received song and a top five finish suggested that there was broad appeal and acceptance for Australia in the ESC last year, and so they have been invited back. However this year they have to qualify for the Grand Final – something which seems like a certainty. I think this song is actually much better than Guy Sebastian’s last year. This year Dami Im takes here place in the battle of the divas with a contemporary ballad…

Such are the legalities of the ESC, the lyrical reference to FaceTime at the start of the song had to be cleared. A few years back San Marino had to re-work Valentina Monetta’s song which was originally titled Facebook Uh, Oh, Oh. It later became The Social Network Song. It’s a silly old world sometimes, isn’t it! First World problems, I guess…

11: SLOVENIA

ManuElla – Blue and Red

When asked about her performance, ManuElla said, “tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Taylor Swift.” 😀

It seems like Slovenia have tried a little too hard this year, mixing a whole load of elements to produce something that’s all a bit too cliché, right? A song from Taylor Swift’s back catalogue, a costume change (circa Bucks Fizz 1981), lyrics 101, and a wind machine. The song isn’t terrible, but the whole package needs work. But hey, I haven’t seen it on the Eurovision stage yet, so it might have been tweaked. That said, I can’t see it in the final.

 12: BULGARIA

Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime

This feels quite generic to me, but it seems to be quite popular with the bookies. I think the weakest bit for me is the chorus – it doesn’t hook me – whereas the verses and bridge do. The rather dated looking music video doesn’t add anything, so if the staging is right I think it will get through to the final.

 13:DENMARK

Lighthouse X – Soldiers Of Love

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a bit disappointed with the songs Denmark have selected over the last few years. In fact, of all the Nordic countries, only Sweden have really managed to stay on trend and on target with consistently modern sounding pop songs. Much like last year, Denmark’s grasp on the Eurovision plot seems to be weakening. This is one of those songs you have heard before, but it sounds dated to my ear, and I’m not sure qualification for the final is a certainty…

That said, look at the effort that Denmark go to in their selection process – makes our meagre BBC effort look embarrasing.

14: UKRAINE

Jamala – 1944

No place for politics at the Eurovision? Somehow Ukraine have managed to send a song with an undeniable political subtext/political reading. Check out these lyrics:

When strangers are coming…
They come to your house,
They kill you all
and say,
We’re not guilty
not guilty.

Where is your mind?
Humanity cries.
You think you are gods.
But everyone dies.
Don’t swallow my soul.
Our souls.

It seems that the lyrics address the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in the 1940s by the Soviet Union, and the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. No politics there, then? The EBU have deemed the song as non-political, so we’re being told to not read it as such, but how can we not make those connections?

This is a really strong song and performance…

The song might need more than one listen, but when you get the hook and the vibe, you’ll love it, like I do. I think the Contest is due an upset, and an unexpected winner. If ever there was going to be that surprise, I think it’s this song. As the late Terry Wogan used to say, “I have a strong feeling”… we might be in Kiev next year…

15: NORWAY

Agnete – Icebreaker

I think the same of this entry for Norway as I do for Denmark. What’s worse about this song is the odd shift of tempo. A real mismatch of two songs in one. As with Denmark, I think it’s adios Norway at this stage this year.

16: GEORGIA

Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold

Georgia have a tradition of sending rockier numbers to the Contest, and there is room for songs in the mix which feel a little left of centre. This is one of them. Totally not the Eurovision sound, but then, what is that sound? Looks like the Gallagher brothers lurking in the background…

17: ALBANIA

Eneda Tarifa – Fairytale

And probably for the first time in this semi-final, it’s time for me to multi-task. I really must put the bins out…

18: BELGIUM

Laura Tesoro – What’s The Pressure

And so we end the second semi-final where we started the first. This is probably one of the more blatantly familiar sounding songs in the competition, but my inner disco diva *loves* it.

Where’s the baseline hook from, Another One Bites The Dust/Good Times? Where’s that sassy brass and chorus from, Uptown Funk/Oops Upside Your Head?

I don’t care! There’s enough youthful energy and just enough 2016 stylings in there for it to work (isn’t that right, Fleur East?!). I hope Laura and her gang make it to the final. There aren’t too many hands-in-the-air hip-swivelling songs in the mix this year, so we need it to make it through!

So that’s it. The second-semi final. Have you chosen ten songs to go to the final? Perhaps a cheeky recap would help…

For me, watching all these videos is always a little distracting, as they don’t always make the songs sound good. And for as much as it is probably better to judge the merits of the songs by listening to them alone, it is only when we see them on the Eurovision stage in their final form that we can actually judge their impact. I think we have a potential winner in both of the semi-finals, which makes it interesting! Dun dun dur!

And – even more exciting than that – for me there is also a potential winner amongst the ‘Big 5’ and Sweden. More on that later, my euro-chums…

😀

ESC2016: The first semi-final. Is it a douze, or a snooze?

Are you ready to rise like a phoenix?

‘Citing!

Here we go then with the running order for the first semi-final, which you can see on BBC4 in the UK, Tuesday 10 May at 8pm…

There have been a few major pop hits over the last couple of years which have been deliciously retro. Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky were notable stellar hits. Then last year X-Factor alumna Fleur East released Sax, which itself sounded a lot like the Ronson track. I’ve said it before on this blog over the years, you will know a lot of the songs competing in Eurovision because you have heard them before. You know my principle is, “familiarity equals popularity”, and that is certainly the case once again this year. A handful of songs have a hint of something you’ve heard before – riffs, hooks, melodies – and they will have you thinking “where have I heard this before”.

01: FINLAND

Sandhja – Sing It Away

You have heard this song before! Sandhja’s song Sing It Away kicks-off the whole proceedings on the Eurovision stage this year. You might have thought that the producers might have started with a song that has a more modern style, but at least this sounds suitably retro and familiar…

… or a bit dated – I’ll let you decide!

02: GREECE

Argo – Utopian Land

This year Greece tread familiar ground, with a mix of verses sung/rapped in Greek, choruses song in English. Apparently, Greek band Argo’s song “is mainly inspired by hip hop sounds; at the same time, their music resonates with folklore (Pontian) tunes and traditional instruments such as the lyre, all elements of ancestral legacy for most of the band’s members.”  True story. Greece have an unblemished record of making it to the final, so I guess the familiar approach will ensure similar success.

03: MOLDOVA

Lidia Isac – Falling Stars

So early on in the first semi, *another* dated sounding song. Languishing to the bottom of the bookies list doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.  I’m not exactly bowled over by Moldova this year.

04: HUNGARY

Freddie – Pioneer

Next it’s the turn of Hungary to offer up some familiar sounding fodder, and rather cheesy staging. How many times in recent years have we seen these drums?!

We might be wooed by Freddie’s modelesque looks, and his gravelly vocals, but this is essentially a reworking of their entry from 2014.

05: Croatia

Nina Kralji? – Lighthouse

Well, Nina is certainly rocking her own style (easy on the eye shadow, love!). Quite a nice vocal, with a not entirely memorable melody. It’ll be interesting to see how the staging impacts on the song next week.

06: THE NETHERLANDS

Best of the bunch so far. And another strong song from The Netherlands, who have had a good run in 2013 and 2014, with great entries from Anouk and The Common Linnets. The familiar stylings and melody of this song, as well as the singalong chorus, should see it sail through to the final…

(but again – you know this song without having heard it before, right?)

07: ARMENIA

Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave

A bity cheeky of Iveta to mimic our very own Adele at the start of the track, whispering “Hey, it’s me”! Nevertheless this is well fancied by the bookies. I really don’t like that it sounds like an airplane talking off/landing 36 seconds in – all rather strange. Seems out of place to my ear. That said, Iveta will take her place in the battle of the divas with a strong vocal…

08: SAN MARINO

Serhat – I Didn’t Know

1978 called, and they want their song back! This is my first guilty pleasure of the night! Loving that the video isn’t for the song playing over it! All kinds of crazy going on here! You can currently get odds of 1000-1 on this. Not like San Marino are going to be the Leicester of Eurovision. Imagine if they were!

09: RUSSIA

Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One

1995 called, and they want their song back. Seriously, “thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting”. That’s lyrics 101, isn’t it!

Deliciously dated, but this is a hot fave (they do keep flip-flopping at the top of the bookies list with France). A certainty to get to the final, and it will be top three for sure – might even win the whole thing. Russia are playing with the projections on stage, as in the music video, so we will get a spectacle for sure. Russia are going all out to win this year, and they have a very good chance. And in all fairness, it’s probably their turn…

10: CZECH REPUBLIC

Gabriela Gun?íková – I Stand

My advice is to play this, but don’t watch the music video (it’s distracting, and a bit of a hot mess). This feels like the first big ballad of the night, and should do well in the battle of the divas…

11: CYPRUS

Minus One – Alter Ego

Whilst their near neighbours Greece have opted to play it safe and familiar this year, Cyprus have a change of musical direction and sent an up-tempo rock number to Stockholm. Each year there is the battle of the divas, and there also tends to be a few “dad rocks” tracks to interest their eye and ear. A refreshing change from Cyprus this year, and should make it to the final…

12: AUSTRIA

ZOË – Loin d’ici

Our host country from 2015 return with a charming song (having got nul points last year). And how refreshing to hear a song sung in French – not even the French entry is sung entirely in their mother tongue this year. This is a bit of a tonic, but perhaps a little saccharin for some tastes?

13: ESTONIA

Jüri Pootsmann – Play

A bit of a cool dude, is our Jüri. Looks like he’s come straight from the office to the stage, with the cool stylings and vocals that remind me of The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. Like last year, Estonia have sent an interesting song, although I’m not sure that being 13th in the running order will help…

14: AZERBAIJAN

Samra – Miracle

Azerbaijan had a really strong showing at Eurovision between 2008 and 2013, and winning in 2011. Not as popular with the juries and televoters in the last couple of years, but this feels like a return to form. Yeah, another song we have heard before, but a good up-tempo number nonetheless…

(where’s my umbrella –ella –ella…)

15: MONTENEGRO

Highway – The Real Thing

Not rocking my world, and I can’t see it making the final. If I were at home it would be time to do you know what: refresh those drinks and nibbles!

16: ICELAND

Greta Salóme – Hear Them Calling

I *love* this song. Greta competed in ESC2012 with a similarly anthemic song, but she’s ditched her duet partner, Jonsi, to go it alone in Stockholm. As I said to readers last year, some of the more effective (and popular) entries are those which are designed for the television viewers, watching at home. Sweden have kinda got this covered in recent years, with winning performances for Loreen’s Euphoria in 2012, and Måns Zelmerlöw’s Heroes in 2015. Both used close camera work and visual effects with great success (obviously). Russia and Iceland are following a similar vein this year. And I just love the choreography and visuals with which Greta interacts…

Some may say it borrows a bit too much, visually, from Loreen and Måns, but I’d say to good effect. Not often we mention the visuals being mimicked. Now, pass me my coat with the fringe, and setup my wind machine… 😀

17: BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala – Ljubav Je

We can always rely on Bosnia and other Balkan countries to submit songs that are more indigenous and less aimed at the western mainstream of pop music. They have done similar this year. Good to see Deen back in the contest. You might remember him from 2004, when he sang In The Disco.  Not very popular with the bookies, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go through to the final…

18: MALTA

Ira Losco – Walk on Water

A finalist, for sure…

I don’t often agree with the late Terry Wogan’s conspiracy theory on bloc voting, but back in 2002 Ira Losco was *robbed* of winning the ESC, as Eastern Europe heavily backed Latvia’s Marie N for victory. Well, Ira is back in the picture with one of the hot faves for 2016, Walk On Water. It does feel like two or three songs in one, but overall the effect is good and a top ten, even top five finish in the final might be on the cards. It would be justice for Ira is she won it this time around!

So that’s the first semi-final, my friends. And by way of a reminder, here’s a recap…

Have we heard the winner yet?  Well, next up , my overview of the second semi-final, so let’s see…

ESC2016: Arrival…

It’s a Bank Holiday Monday at the beginning of May. This usually means two things in my life: it’s the start of the assessment period and there’s marking to be done, and it’s almost time for the Eurovision Song Contest!

Significantly for all the fans, and probably of way more importance for the all the competing artists, today (Monday 2 May) marks the start of the rehearsals for this year’s contest, which is being held in Stockholm, Sweden. Cue much giddiness and tumult on social media!

The much anticipated ‘Eurovision Week’ is almost upon us, but before then the extensive rehearsals begin. It’s no accident that the spectacle of the television broadcasts are so slick and professional, the rehearsals ensure that. This year SVT, the Swedish host broadcaster, is promising something a little different, so let’s hope they deliver that. Back in 2013, when they hosted in Malmö, SVT did a great job. And the stage this year looks amazing…

A week from today (9 May) I will arrive in Stockholm and enter the ‘Eurovision bubble’ once again. As usual I will be blogging from the rehearsals, as well as the activities in the press centre and around Stockholm. It’s always a privilege to be accredited by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to be at the heart of the event, and I am delighted that once again I will have the opportunity to share the build-up to the television broadcasts next week. You know the drill by now: two semi-finals (10 May, 12 May) and the Grand Final (14 May). This year (for the first time) the semi-finals are on BBC4.

You may have seen the entertaining (as well as rather cliché) launch trailer for the BBC coverage this year…

Almost time for us to get our Eurovision party started. Lot’s to see and do before then!

As a warm-up to what lies ahead, last Wednesday I attended a Eurovision masterclass held by the BBC at Media City. The session included a discussion with Eurovision Digital Executive Producer, Nora Ryan. Nora looked back on the BBC’s digital highlights from the Eurovision last year, as well as looking forward to Stockholm. Did you know that ESC2015 was the most tweeted programme across the BBC platforms last year?

This was followed by a Q&A with UK entrants, Joe and Jake …

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They are really natural and at ease with all the attention. To close the event the boys took to the stage and performed their entry for Stockholm “You’re Not Alone”. If you haven’t yet heard the song, here it is…

I attended the BBC event with our very own ambassador, Carol Poole. Not that she’s desperate to geg-in on proceedings, but this is the *best-picture-ever* … 😀

2016-04-27 13.58.35 copyI had a little chat with ‘our boys’, J&J. Really nice blokes. I told them I’d ask them a question in one of their press conferences in Stockholm, and asked what they would like me to ask. Their suggestion: anything as long as it’s a bit of banter. Top blokes indeed!

As you have heard, our UK entry isn’t a national embarrassment this year. No, we won’t win, but hopefully J&J will do well enough so that they can build a career off the back of their participation. As the late Terry Wogan would say, ‘let’s cheer them on with word and gesture’.

More on the runners and riders in my next post, as we preview the first semi-final…

 

 

 

 

 

ESC2016: the history book on the shelf is always repeating itself…

Don’t panic, Eurovision hasn’t moved! You haven’t slept through Easter!

I thought I would start the Eurovision blog a little bit early this year. For the last couple of months the 43 participating countries have slowly revealed their songs to compete in May in Stockholm. Some via internal selection, others by varying degrees of a television spectacle.

You might have seen the BBC made a bit more of an effort this year to select our entry? Gone was the internal selection used since 2011, and back was a six-song selection that threw to the television audience to select our entry. Well, tucked away on BBC4 on a Friday night against Corrie wasn’t exactly going to pull in prime-time viewing, but as you can imagine, amongst the ‘eurofans’, this was a big deal. Gone were the moans that we played no part, quickly followed by the speculation of which performers and song writers might be in the mix.

Of the six songs available, three were reasonable standard, three were meagre quality. Sadly none of the songs are/were ever going to challenge at the ESC final on May 14. That said, the British public probably got it right in choosing Joe and Jake. You might have seen these two young guys take part in The Voice last year? The song is suitably One Direction meets Coldplay, and it’s the best thing we have sent since Blue back in 2011. I think it was a missed opportunity that Leona Lewis wasn’t performing the song that she co-wrote with Biff Stannard (of Spice Girls, etc. fame). It would probably have got the ticket. See what you think of ‘our lads’ if you haven’t already seen/heard it:

My gut feeling is that we will still languish on the left side of the scoreboard once again this year, but higher up. But hey, it’s early days, and the boys are quite charming. Their teen-idol styling’s might translate well to the female teenage fans across Europe and beyond.

Beyond you say? Yep, Australia are back in the mix this year, although they have to qualify for the final this time around. Their top ten finish last year was well deserved, but I think the novelty of their taking part for the occasion of the 60th ESC was probably what propelled it that high.

This weekend marks the peak of Eurovision selection season for me. Why? Well, because I’m in Stockholm, Sweden (with my besties Brain, Rachel and Ellen), for the final of the Melodifestivalen: the process through which they select a song for Europe. Over the five previous weeks twelve songs have been selected, and all that is left is to crown a winner on Saturday night.

This is the fourth year that I’ve made the pilgrimage to the land of schlager, and the country that have had an exemplary record in the Eurovision since 2011: four top five finishes, winning it twice. They are now tied with Ireland with six wins apiece. I wouldn’t bet against Sweden winning once again this year. The quality of the songs in their Melodifestivalan final this weekend is awesome. Of the twelve songs, four could win, and four could win the Eurovision.

The top tip to win is Frans, with his melodic and effectively simple song “If I Was Sorry”. It will win Melodifestivalen and then win Eurovision. I’ll put it out there, and he hasn’t even won Melodifestivalen yet! Check it out…

Not bad, eh? Of the other faves, the infectious pop of Wictoria (not a typo – that’s how we style it out in Sverges), Ace Wilder, and the eye-smouldering Robin are all highly impressive…

 

Kinda makes you realise how rubbish our UK effort are, right?

For a lot of eurofans, Melodifestivalen is a key date in the Eurovision calendar. It’s great telly. I would imagine if Simon Cowell could get his hands on the UK selection process, we would see something similar to this television spectacular. It ain’t ever gonna happen, as he’d have to defect to BBC. Mind you, X-Factor is a tired format now, isn’t it. Stranger things have happened?!

Within the next week or so all the participating countries will have selected their songs for Europe. I’m not particularly impressed with what I’ve heard so far (I bet I say that every year!) . Iceland sounds good, with an interesting performance concept. You might remember that Sweden’s winner from last year, Måns Zelmerlöw, had an awesome performance, interacting with his animated backdrop. It was hugely effective, and actually made the song sound better! I’m a little bored of it now without the little animated men popping up! You can expect to see a load of countries jump on a similar band wagon (so far both Iceland and Russia are doing similar tricks with their staging).

So, if I’ve peaked your interest, you can join me in the arena (via t’internet) and watch a highly entertaining two-hours of Swedish telly (their highest programme of the year, fyi). Swing by svt.se/melodifestivalen from 7.00pm UK time. Sort the drinks and nibbles beforehand, as always!

I’ll be back with more build-up on all thing Eurovish, ahead of my return trip to Stockholm in May.

Tak, my eurochums! 😀

So long, farewell…

And so we’re off to Sweden next year! What a great result for them, and for the rather charming Måns Zelmerlöw. Sweden have finished in the top three four times in the last five years, and won it twice in that time. Their victory last night means that Sweden is now outright the second most successful country at the Eurovision Song Contest, with six wins. They also overtake the UK, France and Luxembourg, each of whom have five wins. I wouldn’t think it would be that long until Sweden overtake Ireland’s current record of seven.

Much of the Swedes success at Eurovision is due to their selection process – the highly popular Melodifestivalen. At home it is the biggest television show of the year (even beating Eurovision), and streamed around the world it has a huge following. Each year, over the course of six weeks, 28 songs compete to make it to the final in Stockholm. I have been a fan of the contest for over a decade now, and for the past three years I have travelled to Stockholm for the weekend of the Melodifestivalen final, with my good friends Rachel and Brian. By then the songs are well known to us, and it was rather easy for us to predict that Måns would win with “Heroes” this year, and also Eurovision. What was good about it is that is was a familiar sounding song, with awesome presentation for you guys watching at home (close-up shots of him interacting with the anmation), and also wide shots of everyone going bonkers in the arena. Genius!

The fact that the Swedes continue to send highly competitive and highly popular songs is due to their quality, and appeal. The Melodifestivalen producers are very good at quality control, and what’s great is that there is always a musical style to complement the varied tastes of the Swedish public (in the first instance). Quality control of the music, and a great television spectacle ensures that the songs are good and presented well. Also, the winner is determined via an international sweep of 12 countries and also the Swedish televote, which ensures that the winning song is almost guaranteed international appeal.

That’s how you select a winner, and surely the BBC at some point needs to change their failed formula. It really is becoming a national embarrassment. Sure, Electro Velvet got a great reaction in the arena, and they seem like nice people, but clearly the music is not good enough and that’s a major disappointment for us all. Something needs to change, but please god that Simon Cowell doesn’t ever get his hands on it!

Here’s how things finished last night after what I thought was an overly long programme (four hours?!)…
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Did you know that the EBU use an algorithm to determine in which order the results are called? This ensures that votes can be reported by the national juries in a way which builds momentum for the audience, and also tension for us too! It sure worked! Only after twenty something countries did Sweden leapfrog Russia to take an unassailable lead. I’m not sure what the audio levels for the live sound were like at home, but the roar from the arena when Måns took the lead was incredible – as much of a roar as I have ever heard (and on a par with Conchita’s performance in the semi-finals last year). I would also be interested to see (hear) how the rather loud booing, aimed at the neighbourly votes for Russia, was heard?

Let me be clear, there had been no booing throughout the week for any performance of “A Million Voices”, so it was highly distasteful and ignorant really for it to be the case last night. I was a bit embarrassed to be in a venue and guilty by association. The interventions by the presenters to remind us of that we were supposed to be ‘building bridges’, twice, showed their indignation for the boos (did you see how peeved Conchita looked!). That said, the simmering hostilities about neighbourly voting seemed heightened last night. You might say how else could Sweden have won, but their points came from a wider pool than just their neighbours – they got points from every single country. And actually, in a quite shocking departure from neighbourly voting, neither Cyprus nor Greece gave each other the douze points for the first time in years.

Booing and voting algorithm’s aside, we have a winner, and we’re done for another year. The jury and public votes how now been made available by the EBU, but I’m not concerning myself with that level of detail today. I am at Vienna airport as I type this, and waiting to board my connecting flight via Munich to Manchester. I can’t wait to get back home and have a curry! 😀

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog this week, and tracking my moves in Vienna. I’ve had a lot of fun, not least with trying to think of blog post titles that either directly draw from, or allude to, songs from The Sound of Music. Not by chance, it’s also my favourite film! Any excuse!

So, whilst the hills really have been alive with the sound of music this week, I will sign off for now.

Auf Wiedersehen, friends… 😀 x