Category Archives: 2010

Lena’s First Semifinal in Germany

As we all know, last year’s winner Lena Meyer-Landrut will be defending her title on home soil this year, and Stefan Raab is at the helm of the National Selection once more.  This time around, Lena will be competing against herself; the twelve songs up for the golden ticket are the twelve cuts off of her new album, “Good News” that will be released on February 8th.

Image source

On Monday, we heard the first six of those tracks, with three of them moving on to the next round.
1) “Good News” (written by Americans Audra Mae & Ferras Alqaisi)
2) “Maybe”(written by Germans Daniel Schaub & Pär Lammers)
3) “I Like You” (written by American Rosi Golan & Northern Ireland-born Johnny McDaid)
4) “That Again”(written by…surprise surprise…Stefan Raab)
5) “Taken By A Stranger” (written by Americans Gus Seyffert, Nicole Morier, Monica Birkenes)
6) “What Happened to Me”(written by Lena and Stefan)

Normally, I’d place a link to YouTube videos of each of these songs, but Germany’s broadcaster is pretty stringent about copyright violations, and many of these videos have been taken down (or will be in the near future).  The best place to check the songs out is on the official “Unser Song für Deutschland” website here.

The winners on Monday, determined purely by a public vote, were:
“Taken By a Stranger”
“What Happened to Me”

We’ll hear the final six songs on February 7th, and the Finals will conclude on February 18th.

The Best of the 2010 Preselection (Part Two)

Continuing on where I left off…

From Russia: “Senza Respiro (Without Rest)” by Antonello Carozza

Remember what I had said earlier about Eurovision fans practically begging Italy to come back into the fray?  Well, every once in a while it seems that an Italian artist will take the initiative and apply for another nation’s Preselection (or, alternately, a country will sing in an entry in Italian, even if there’s no real reason to.  I’m looking at you, Romania!).  This happened in Russia this year, with singer Antonello Carozza (who I really can’t find much more information on, other than a 2006 San Remo Festival performance) coming in a respectable 8th place with his fun, bouncy, sexy, half-spoken, half-sung pop number about the fickle nature of fame and celebrity.  Can you imagine if this song had made it to Oslo?  Between the catchy song, cute singer, the former-Soviet Bloc voting that somehow propelled “Lost and Forgotten” into 10th place in this year’s Final (yeesh…), and the desire to see Italy return to Eurovision…we could have had a major ESC hit on our hands with this one.

 From Finland: “Annankadun Kulmassa (On the Corner of Anna Street)” by Heli Kajo

Ok…if the French film character Amelie were a jilted lover in Helsinki, I imagine she’d be a lot like the impossibly cute Heli Kajo.  The first line of the song translates to “Why do you pass out alone, on Sunday nights, pants down, on the corner of Anna Street?”  Her pain and anger, blended with the innocent sweetness of the song as a whole, gives this fantastic contrast that I know I had to listen to a few times.  By the time the tune builds to its understated climax, translated to “Why do you only say ‘I love you’ after a double whiskey?”, you just want to give Heli a hug and tell her to kick her boyfriend’s worthless ass to the curb.  “Annankadun Kulmassa” came in 6th place in this year’s Finnish preselection.

From Israel…the entire Kdam!
We all know how much I raved about Harel Skaat’s “Milim (Words)” this year, and how I think he was basically robbed (although winning all three of the Marcel Bezençon Awards mitigates the blow a bit).  In the Israeli preselection (or Kdam) this year, there were three other songs that could have easily gone to Oslo.  The four tunes presented were all crafted for Harel, and there really wasn’t a bad one in the bunch.  I think I’ve already mentioned the gorgeous “Le’an (Away)” and its incredible final high note, but the ballad “Le’hitkarev (Closer)” and the more uptempo “Elayich (Towards You)” were also fantastic songs that really highlighted Harel’s range and showmanship.  Israel really has a tough act to follow for the 2011 event; they set the bar incredibly high with this past year’s Kdam.

From Sweden: “Kom (Come)” by Timoteij
As I’ve mentioned before, bits and pieces of a previous year’s winner often come through in the entries vying for the next year’s Eurovision crown.  In the case of Alexander Rybak, we were given a string-heavy, yet upbeat number that balanced folk and pop.  One of the best examples of that in this year’s Swedish Melodifestivalen was Timoteij’s “Kom”.

This fun, summery pop number only came in 5th place in this year’s Melodifestivalen, but it was selected as the Swedish representative for the OGAE Second Chance Contest, where ESC fans from all over the world select their favorite “also-rans”.  “Kom” won by a pretty heavy margin.  Considering that Sweden didn’t make it to the Eurovision Finals this year for the first time since 1976, should Timoteij have represented them, instead?

What were some of your other favorite preselection entries?  Let me know what you think!

The Best of the 2010 Preselection (Part One)

I don’t know about all of you, but all of this talk recently about the 2011 ESC season has really kicked my Eurovision appetite into high gear.  It’s sort of like how a person might say that they’re not hungry when dinnertime is coming up, but once they walk past a kitchen and detect the tiniest wafting scents of meals cooking, they realize that they’re absolutely famished.

Yep, that’s me.  Now that we know where Eurovision 2011 will be held, and we’re getting a better picture of which nations will be participating and how their entries will be chosen, I’m getting really excited to see how Düsseldorf will compare to Oslo (and Moscow, Belgrade, Helsinki, etcetera, before it).  But since it will be another few months before we get to hear the lion’s share of candidate songs, I thought I’d give you all a blast from the not-so-distant past, and serve up a list of a few of my favorite Preselection songs from last year.  These are the ones who didn’t quite make it to Oslo, but they made a bit of an impression on me, at the very least.  (By the way, I’m specifically skipping mention of the fantastic Albanian and Estonian preselections, as I had made pretty heavy mention of them in their nation’s individual postings…but feel free to backtrack and check them out!  Estonia, in particular, put on a fabulous National Selection this year, and there are about a half-dozen songs from Eestilaul 2010 on my iTunes right now.)

Anyway, in no particular order:

From Greece: “Enjoy the Day” by Katherine Avgoustakis.
Katherine, who is actually a Belgian citizen born to a Greek father, was strongly favored to go to Oslo with this danceable summer song, but a clause in the national preselection banned any of the candidate songs from being released to the public before a specified date, or else risk disqualification.  A remix of “Enjoy the Day” was leaked to YouTube early, and Katherine was left out in the cold.  There are rumors that she’s going to try to represent Greece again, and if she can duplicate the popularity of her 2010 song, I wouldn’t count her out of the running to go to Düsseldorf.

Fom Denmark: “Breathing” by Bryan Rice.

Coming in second place in this year’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix was this modern ballad, which always seems to remind me a bit of Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love”.  I personally preferred this entry over Denmark’s eventual winner, Chanée and N’evergreen’s “In a Moment Like This“, but since I can’t vote, I can’t complain!  In a way, it’s almost a good thing that Bryan missed out in 2010, as Denmark’s 2008 and 2009 entry, Simon Mathew’s “All Night Long” and Brinck’s “Believe Again“, respectively were both male-driven, mid-tempo numbers, and maybe it was time to switch things up a bit.

From Malta: “Save a Life” by Wayne Micallef.

Although I know that Malta is more or less obsessed with Eurovision, I am generally not a massive fan of many of the songs that the island nation submits (Sorry!  Nothing personal, I promise!).  However, I really liked Micallef’s entry this year.  It has the hopeful, positive message that many Maltese ESC songs tend to have, without sounding like a track ripped from a 1995 Disney film.  His voice is strong, and “Save a Life” kind of reminds me of something that Snow Patrol or The Fray would come out with, and it might have stacked up pretty well against Tom Dice or Jon Lilygreen this year.  He also gets points from me for performing his own song, as only three self-penned tunes made it to the Maltese final this year, out of 20 songs.  Wayne came in 6th place in the 2010 preselection, and 7th the year before that.  If he keeps writing songs like this one, we might see him on the big stage sometime soon.

From Moldova: “Amintirele Dor (The Memories Hurt)” by Leylla
When I first introduce Eurovision to my friends who aren’t quite familiar with the contest, many imagine imagine a contest full of ethno-techno-disco pop like this.  The Moldovan preselection this past year was packed, with over 80 songs vying for a shot at Oslo.  Those 80-some-odd songs were all released to the public, but only 30 made it to the semifinal level (25 picked by a jury, and 5 by local SMS voting).  When the dust settled, Eurofans from all over were stunned to see that Leylla had missed out, especially considering that crap like this went through.
But, on the bright side, if Leylla had gone to Oslo, the would never would have gotten to know the glory of the saxroll.  Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

From the Ukraine: “Emotional Lady” by Dazzle Dreams.

Ok, this one is a total guilty pleasure.  I love it when songs in other languages randomly slip in a line or two in English, and combining that with Depeche Mode-inspired synthpop makes me a happy Samantha.  Granted, though…”Dazzle Dreams”?  The band name sounds a bit like something that a five-year-old girl would come up with while trying to name her pink My Little Pony.  Great song, though…

From Russia: “Dlinnaya-dlinnaya beresta i kak sdelat’ iz nee aishon (Long-Long Birch Bark and How to Make a Headdress From It)” by Buranovskiye Babushki  (whew!)

This song is an obvious departure from any other tune in this year’s contest (or almost any year’s contest, for that matter).  It’s sung in Udmurt, which is a minority language more closely related to Finnish and Estonian than Russian, and was performed by the Buranovskiye Babushki (literally, “The Grannies from Buranovo).  Believe it or not, this was a serious contender to go to Oslo, coming in third place in the Russian national final!
And I don’t care what anybody says.  This song makes me happy.  Just try to listen to it and not smile!  I dare you!
…Yeah, that’s what I thought.

(More coming up in the next entry!)

Post-Script to the Post-Mortem…

Just when you think the competition’s over and done with…when all of the lights have gone down, the last bit of confetti has been swept off the floor, and the last fan has vacated the Telenor Arena…one of the quiet highlights of the Eurovision Song Contest takes place, unnoticed by many casual fans.

Every year since the 2002 ESC in Tallinn, Estonia, the three Marcel Bezençon Awards are presented to singers or songwriters who have made themselves and their nations proud.  Named for the man who originated the Eurovision Song Contest, these awards are often awarded to songs were overlooked by televoters or juries.  Although they might not have the flash or publicity that the Grand Prix gets, the fact that these awards come directly from the press, the composers, and past Eurovision royalty means just as much, if not more, to those who are lucky enough to receive them.

As I’ve mentioned, there are three awards given.  The first is the Press Award, voted on by all of the accredited members of the media who gather to cover the ESC.  In recent years, it’s been given to Serbia and Montenegro for “Lane Moje”, Finland for “Hard Rock Hallelujah”, Portugal for “Senhora do Mar”, and last year’s winner, Norway, for “Fairytale”.

The second award, the Artistic Award, was previously decided by a poll of previous Eurovision Winners.  However, as time has passed, many past participants either were unavailable or unwilling to vote.  Starting from now on, this prize will be decided by a vote from the individual networks’ commentators, many of whom are rabid fans of the ESC, and have listened to the songs many times.  Previous winners have included Ukraine’s “Wild Dances” and “Shady Lady”, Greece’s “My Number One”, Serbia’s “Molitva”, and France’s “Et S’il Fallait Le Faire”.

The final award, the Composer Award, is voted on by the individual composers competing in that year’s competition.  It’s gone to Bosnia and Herzegovina for “Lejla” and “Bistra Voda”, and Hungary for “Unsubstantial Blues”, among others.

Until now, no single song has ever won more than one of these prestigious awards.  This year, one song has taken all three of the Marcel Bezençon Awards, and it didn’t even place in the Top Ten of this year’s Eurovision Final.

Congratulations are in order for Harel Skaat from Israel and his song “Milim (Words)”, a song that nearly made me cry when I watched it being performed live yesterday.  Here’s the live performance from the ESC Stage:

Post-Mortem: 2010’s ESC

So, after two Semifinals and a Grand Final (in both senses of the word), we have a winner!

Huge congratulations to Lena, who brought the Eurovision gold back to Germany for the first time since 1982 (nine years before Lena was even born).  Not only that, but this will be the first time that they will host the competition as a unified nation, as their previous hosting gigs took place in West Germany alone.  “Satellite” won a resounding victory over second-placed Turkey, with 76 points separating the two.  Romania’s “Playing with Fire” took a surprise bronze, and there was a complete logjam for 4th through 9th, with only thirteen points separating Denmark, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Armenia, Greece, and Georgia (basically, if a juror had gone to the bathroom at the wrong time, it could have made a difference in the scoring).  And, rounding out the Final, the United Kingdom took last place (their second in three years) after Georgia gave a shocking maximum score to Belarus.

Other highlights from this year’s show?  Well, Spain, who was performing second with “Algo Pequeñito”, was given a rare opportunity to perform their song for a second time (after the 25th song had been sung) due to a stage invasion by Jimmy Jump.  Known previously for running onto the field during European soccer and rugby matches, Jimmy (real name: Jaume Marquet Cot) once tried invade the court during last year’s French Open final and put a traditional Catalan hat on Roger Federer’s head.  He was arrested (Jimmy Jump, not Roger Federer), and faces possible jail time.

The results of the Semifinals were also shocking.  Despite strong performances, highly favored entries from Slovakia, Sweden, and Croatia didn’t even make it into the Final, while unexpected songs from Russia and Belarus sailed through.  Because of this, a total of seven former Soviet-bloc nations made it to the Finals, possibly dissipating votes enough amongst themselves to such an extent that former front-runner Azerbaijan had to settle for 5th place.  Considering that Azerbaijan is rumored to have spent over a million Euros in publicity for the song (including advertising on some other Eurovision blogs, which I just find distasteful), I don’t think their result has made Baku very happy.

I had a few friends over yesterday to watch the show (it’s not shown here in the U.S., sadly, but I was able to hook up my computer to the TV and watch the international feed from…big “thank you” to the EBU for providing it!), and here were our favorites:

1) Georgia (Sofia Nizharadze, “Shine”), 30 points
2) Israel (Harel Ska’at, “Milim”), 25 points
3) Spain (Daniel Diges, “Algo Pequeñito”), 24 points
4) Turkey (maNga, “We Could Be the Same”), 22 points
5) France (Jessy Matador, “Allez! Ola! Olé!”), 18 points

So, while we had fun keeping our own score, the American Televoters (or at least the ones in my living room) weren’t really in line with the European audience.  (Maybe an unbiased non-EBU-member jury should be added to next year’s scoring system?  That would mix things up a bit!)

So, how were my predictions, in terms of the eventual results?  Let me go back into my archive and see what I’ve said…
1) Germany: “Satellite” is a fun, catchy, upbeat, simply adorable number that has obviously made a massive impact on the European market already.  Considering that Germany (like France, the UK, Spain, and Norway) already has a pass to the Finals, and that Lena will be performing close to the end of the roster, this might be the one to beat in Oslo.” – Sounds about right!
2) Turkey: “Because of this [international] support, and the high quality of “We Could Be The Same”, I’m almost positive that they’ll sail through to the finals, and will possibly make it to the Top 5″ 
3) Romania: “Although “Playing with Fire” is in the tough second semifinal, I’d be surprised if they didn’t make it through, assuming that Paula’s high note doesn’t cause her throat to explode or the jury’s ears to bleed.”  -Paula hit her notes, and they came in 4th in their semifinal after an explosive performance.  I don’t think anyone believed that they would do as well as they did, but I think it was well-deserved.
4) Denmark: “It’s not my personal favorite this year (although I’d definitely put it in my top dozen or so, and it’s growing on me quickly), but the bookies seem to favor it, and ESC fan clubs all over the continent are definitely supporting it, with or without the Scandinavian Voting Bloc advantage.  I’d be surprised if it didn’t hit the Top 5 in this year’s Finals!
5) Azerbaijan (keep in mind that I wrote this entry a while ago, before their official preview video came out…): “Don’t get me wrong, though; Safura looks beautiful, and Azerbaijan’s currently riding a wave of popularity in Eurovision, so she will likely pass through to the finals. Furthermore, Azerbaijan’s sharing their semifinal with ally Turkey, so votes from one will likely go to the other, and vice versa. However, I don’t see this gaining the universal appeal of “Always”, so I think that Baku 2011 might be out of the question.” – “Drip Drop” fell just short of the third-place finish that AySel and Arash held last year.
6) Belgium: “Tom’s voice isn’t perfect, and he isn’t as drop-dead gorgeous as some of the other participants in this year’s competition, but Tom has the sort of sweet, earnest, and genuine “everyman” quality that appeals to me. We’ve all known a Tom Dice or two. He’s the acquaintance you sat next to in High School Trigonometry, or the dude you sometimes see at the coffee shop you always go to, or the quiet guy four cubicles down from your desk at work. You might not know much about him, and you might have walked by him a thousand times without even realizing it, but you still want him to succeed at whatever he’s going for. That’s why I’m pulling for Tom to at least break into the finals.” – I loved this song, and didn’t want to get my hopes up that it would do as well as it did.  But it thankfully exceeded my expectations, and not only won the First Semifinal handily, but it ended up as the highest-placed Flemish song since 1959, when there were only eleven nations competing, not 39.

Not all of my predictions came out well, though:
1) Croatia: “My prediction for the ladies from Feminnem?  Well, they’ll be performing in the difficult Second Semifinal, but if they pass, then they’ll have the benefit of a beautiful song, performers who are no strangers to the Eurovision Stage, and the fact that they’re a member of the often-advantageous Balkan voting bloc.  If they make the finals, and they put together a good staged performance, you can expect a Top Ten, if not a Top Five position.”  – The lovely ladies from Feminnem came in 13th place in their semifinal, and didn’t qualify.
2) Sweden: “Anna Bergendahl is only eighteen years old and will be performing “This Is My Life” in her trademark red Chuck Taylors on the Eurovision Stage.  It’s the first ballad to represent Sweden in over a decade, and it’s favored to reach the Top 10, if not the Top 5.  Anna’s voice is very unique, almost reminiscent of a Shakira-type throatiness at points.  As Sweden can truly do no wrong in Eurovision’s eyes (and it’s in the heart of the Scandinavian voting bloc), the song is a lock to sail through to the final.”- Anna’s song came in a heartbreaking 11th place in her semi, only five points behind Ireland and Cyprus.  This was the first time since 1976 that we didn’t hear a Swede in the finals.
3) Slovakia: “It’s being performed in the first semifinal, and I would be shocked to not see this qualify.  I predict that Slovakia will not only beat its own personal best placement of 18th, but it might crack the Top 5 or 10, if she performs as well on the ESC stage as she did in her National Final a few months ago.”  -Kristina came in second-to-last in the First semi after a performance fraught with nerves.
4) Israel: “I can almost guarantee that this will not only qualify for the final, but it may be in the running for the win.”  It qualified for the Finals, but “Milim” only made it to 14th place in the end.
5) Russia: “This song’s awkwardness is all intentional.  Be that as it may, many ESC viewers are hearing these songs for the first time when they vote…will the joke go over their heads, or will bloc voting carry them through to the Final?”  It looks like votes for Mother Russia saved this one, which came in 11th place in the end.
6) Belarus: “I make no guarantees, but I don’t see Belarus breaking back into the Finals with this one. It doesn’t matter much to me if Belarus submits pop, a ballad, rock, or folk…I think I’m most upset by the absence of mullets.”  They might not have had mullets, but they made it through to the finals by the skin of their teeth, and came in an eventual second-to-last place.  So maybe I got this one half-right?

Anyway, just because the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest is over doesn’t mean that I’m calling it quits.  There’s still a lot of ground to cover!  To keep me busy until the first announcements are made starting in December, I’ll be writing little essays here and there about the ESC’s history, politics, language…whatever strikes my fancy!  I may also mention other great songs that I think deserve our attention, even if they never made it to Eurovision.  If you have any suggestions, feel free to send them my way in a comment!

I just took a look at my hit counter, and I see that I’m over 300 readers.  I just wanted to thank you all for taking the time to read what I have to say.  I only set this blog up as a way to get my geek out on Eurovision, and to know that we’ve got a little community growing…it really warms my heart.  I know that some of you know me personally, and others live halfway around the world from my little flat in Minnesota, but I truly appreciate you all.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Cheers until the next time,

ESC 2010 Reviews: United Kingdom


After 38 other countries, we’re finally up to #39, the final entry (alphabetically, anyway) from this year’s Eurovision.  The United Kingdom has been participating since 1957, and they hold the half-impressive, half-dubious record of having the most second-place finishes.  In fact, in their first 20 years of competition, they came up just short ten times!  Some of those runners-up ended up becoming just as famous as the songs that defeated them; I’ve mentioned Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” (1968) in earlier entries, for example.  But nine years earlier, the UK overdosed on saccharine for their entry “Sing Little Birdie” by Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr.  The song’s got a bit of personal history for me: the first time I ever heard the words “Eurovision Song Contest” was while listening to the audio recording of this Monty Python sketch:

Now, despite the US’s close cultural relationship with the UK, the vast majority of the songs and singers that represent Britain in Eurovison don’t really encounter any measure of success across the pond.  Of course, there are a few exceptions to the rule, however.  In 1974, the year that ABBA trounced the competition and took the crown for Sweden, Olivia Newton-John carried the Union Jack with “Long Live Love“, an incredibly cheesy ballad that Olivia now admits she couldn’t stand.  The UK’s first winning song, 1967’s “Puppet on a String“, was sung by Sandie Shaw, better known in the US for her cover of “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me“.  In 1969, Lulu tied for the victory with “Boom-Bang-A-Bang“, but she’s better known here for “To Sir, With Love“. Skipping a few decades, 1996’s representative Gina G did actually score a bona-fide hit here in the US with “Ooh, Aah…Just a Little Bit“, a fun and frothy pop number that made it to #12 on the Billboard Top 100.  Finally, the UK’s most recent win was 1997’s “Love Shine a Light“, sung by Katrina and the Waves, best known here for “Walking on Sunshine“.

Sadly, over the past few years, the UK’s reputation in Eurovision has fallen into a steep decline.  It might be due to the change in language rules, where a country can now sing in any language they choose (when the song from Turkey can now be sung in English, it’s more easily understood and acceptable to a wider voting audience).  It might be the influx of more Eastern European nations to the contest, so their odds are naturally longer.  Or it might just be that the UK isn’t taking the thing as seriously as they used to, and are more likely to laugh at the ESC than to send their biggest stars (check out the 2007 example, Scooch’s “Flying the Flag For You“).  Last year, though, the BBC decided that enough was enough.  They drafted Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren to pen “It’s My Time“, and held a reality show to find the perfect singer for the song.  Twenty-one year old Jade Ewen stepped up to the challenge and delivered a beautiful performance that brought the UK a 5th place finish, including a full 12 points from Greece.  It was their highest placement since 2002, and it received the highest number of points since Katrina and the Waves’ victory twelve years earlier.

This year, the UK decided to continue the nearly-winning selection formula from 2009.  They picked pop songwriters Pete Waterman and Mike Stock (best known for their work with Kylie Minogue, among others) to write “That Sounds Good To Me”, and held yet another reality show to find the perfect voice for the tune.  That voice belonged to teenager Josh Dubovie, and here’s the result:

Sad to say, it doesn’t quite look like lightning has struck twice in a row for the UK.  It might have worked fifteen years ago, but the entry sounds dated and out-of-touch with what ESC voters go for today.  It’s sort of like my feelings on the Dutch entry this year: the singer’s not bad, but if you take a young performer and put them in a song that feels dated, it will just feel even more awkward.  But, what do you expect from a pair of songwriters whose biggest worldwide hit was this?

ESC 2010 Reviews: Spain

From Norway we move on to Spain, another one of the countries pre-qualified to the Finals at Eurovision (along with the UK, Germany, and France), due to their network’s large contribution to the EBU.  Like France and Germany, it’s been a surprisingly long time since Spain’s last major hit on the ESC scoreboard, despite the nation’s rich musical heritage.  They’ve been competing in Eurovision since 1961, but the most recent of their two victories was in 1969.  They haven’t made the Top Ten since 2004, and they haven’t cracked the Top Five since 1995.  But over the past half-century, Spain has given us some of the most memorable singers and songs that Eurovision has seen.

The year 1968 was pretty momentous in the ESC archives.  The competition was held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and it was the first competition broadcast in color.  By the end of the evening’s presentation, it came down to two fiercely competitive songs: Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” and Massiel’s “La La La”.  Cliff was the hometown hero with an Austin-Powers-esque blue suit and charming smile, and was highly favored to win.  “La La La” was presented to Massiel (full name: María de los Ángeles Felisa Santamaría Espinosa) after the original singer, Joan Manuel Serrat, insisted on singing the song in his native Catalan, as opposed to the Casillian Spanish mandated by the Franco regime, which had a notorious intolerance for Spain’s other native languages.  When Serrat refused to budge on the issue, he was replaced with Massiel about a week before the ESC.  When the votes were tallied, “La La La” ended up beating “Congratulations” by a single point.  Even now, allegations of vote-rigging float around  1968’s edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, and even as recently as 2008 the old wounds were re-opened as a result of a documentary featuring the account of a network employee alleging that Franco had dispatched his colleagues to other parts of Europe to buy votes from members of neighboring countries’ juries.  No retroactive measures have been taken, however, and there’s not enough proof still standing to do much about the issue, so Massiel’s victory stands (although “Congratulations” became a bigger hit throughout the continent).

Spain’s next (and most recent) win was the very next year, when Salomé took home the crown with “Vivo Cantando (I Live Singing)” while wearing one of the most outrageous outfits that the ESC has ever seen.  Looking like a cross between a bluebird and a Koosh Ball, Salomé’s outfit kept on dancing even while she was standing still.  Awkwardly, this was the year that Eurovision learned that it had no rules in effect for tiebreakers, so “Vivo Cantando” shared the title with three other nations (France, the UK, and The Netherlands).

The next year, 1970, Spain brought an almost completely unknown young singer to Eurovision, a man who had only learned to play guitar a few years earlier while recovering from a car accident that had cut short his soccer career.  His song “Gwendolyne“, made it to 4th place, a strong start for a man who would eventually sell over 300 million albums worldwide in fourteen different languages.  Sadly, Julio Iglesias rarely speaks about the participation in Eurovision that kicked off his career, but I think he should just embrace it. 

Spain has had a few major successes in the ESC since then, but they haven’t been able to break back into the victor’s spot.  Their silver medal finish in 1973, however, was epic enough that it might as well have won.  “Eres Tú (You Are)” by the Basque act Mocedades has been covered into at least sixteen different languages, including Vietnamese, Korean, and Afrikaans.  It’s one of the few Eurovision songs to crack into the US Billboard Top Ten (peaking at #9), and (according to Wikipedia, anyway, so take this for what you will), they are the only act from Spain to chart in the US with a song sung with no English lyrics whatsoever (the others, Los Bravos, Julio Iglesias, Enrique Iglesias, and Los Del Río, either sung in English or bilingually).  And, just as importantly, it was included in a classic scene in the movie “Tommy Boy“.

Spain might not have won over the past few decades, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been sending some fantastic (or, at least, memorable) entries.  In 1982, during the height of the Falkland Islands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, Spain ended up sending a tango to the UK-hosted event, raising eyebrows with Lucia’s “Él (He)“.  Their song in 1990, Azúcar Moreno’s “Bandido (Bandit)” was nearly derailed by a rebellious backing track in Zagreb, but they ended up battling back to claim 5th place with their Flamenco-inspired sister act.  Five years later, Anabel Conde made it all the way to the silver-medal spot with “Vuelve Conmigo (Come Back to Me)“, her sweet and innocent look hiding one helluva voice…her glory-note at the climax of the song still impresses me, especially when I remember that she was only nineteen when she sang in Ireland.

I would be amiss if I failed to mention one of Spain’s most epic songs…after so many years of perceived failure on the scoreboard, Spanish fans decided to send something truly spectacular to Belgrade in 2008.  Many genres have been represented in Eurovision: rock, pop, ballads, tango, flamenco, folk, new-age…but comedic reggaeton?  That’s where Rodolfo Chikilicuatre came in.  Like Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka, Chikilicuatre was the alter ego of David Fernández Ortiz.  An Argentinean who held the patent for the world’s first dual-action guitar and vibrator, Chikilicuatre swept through the Spanish Preselection with his song “Baila el Chiki-Chiki“.  The song was a success on its own; it topped the charts in Spain and Greece, and charted in France and Sweden.  Despite a modest 16th place finish, Rodolfo Chikilicuatre’s performance was one of the most offbeat and fun of the evening.

This year, Spain has decided to go theatrical with stage performer Daniel Diges’s “Algo Pequeñito (Something Tiny)”.
There are a few things about this song that are definitely NOT tiny.  Diges’s hair, of course…his talent (he’s played the leads in the Spanish productions of “High School Musical”, “We Will Rock You”, and “Mamma Mia”, a musical based on the songs of ESC veterans ABBA), and the spectacle of the song itself.  Waltzes aren’t incredibly common in Eurovision, especially circus-themed ones (it’s probably a good thing that the Netherlands didn’t make it through to the finals, or else we’d have some overlap…).  Spain’s not quite considered one of the frontrunners this year, but I don’t think that’s from any lack of talent or effort on Daniel’s part.  It’s going to be performed second on the night, which is generally not a prime spot.  I can imagine him beating Spain’s recent track record (they haven’t made the Top 15 since 2004), but this one’s really going to be unpredictable, I think.  At the very least, it will be immensely entertaining to watch!  ¡Saludos, España!

ESC 2010 Reviews: Norway

After all of the entries I’ve written so far, we finally get to the reigning champions and current Host Nation, Norway.  They’ve hit the highest of heights, true, but they’ve also bottomed out more than any other nation in Eurovision history.  They’ve scored in last place a record ten times, with four “nul points”.  Let’s check out some of their greatest hits and most epic face-plants, shall we?

One of their earliest “huh?” moments was their 1968 entry, “Stress” by Odd Børre.  Yep, that’s right, the man’s name was Odd Børre.  His stuttering delivery and strange lyrics (translated example: Have a nice day, don’t forget to take sleeping pills/Small doses are good, must relax a little/Turn on your radio, you have earplugs…”) have made “Stress” a bit of a legendary performance in the ESC archives.

The first “nul points” recipient since the current scoring system was enacted was another Norwegian entry, 1978’s “Mil Etter Mil (Mile After Mile)” by Jahn Tiegen.  This may have been one of those cases when a song was just way ahead of its time.  Tiegen’s wailing about a minute and a half into the song may have freaked out a few jurors who were expecting ABBA or Cliff Richard, but I feel that if this song had been performed sometime in the mid-to-late 1980s, it might have had a bit more of a fighting chance.  Sad, really…

After twenty-five years, the Norwegians finally won their first ESC in 1985 with Bobbysocks’s 1950’s revival number, “La Det Swinge (Let It Swing)“.  Their hair was epic, their outfits were epic, and their victory was epic: the seemingly impossible had been achieved, and Norway had gone from lovable loser to conquering hero.

Ten years later, they won their second gold with a song that was nearly wordless, Secret Garden’s “Nocturne”.  Written by Rolf Løvland, who had also composed “La Det Swinge”, “Nocturne” was a new-age folk song with melancholy violins, a single sweet soprano voice, and traditional instruments (such as the Nyckelharpa, or keyed fiddle).  Despite the fact that it had the shortest lyrics in the history of the ESC, the song’s mystic nature left an impact, and it won a resounding victory.

However, even more resounding than “Nocturne”‘s win fifteen years ago was the phenomenon that was “Fairytale”, last year’s record-breaking winning song performed by the Belarus-born singer/songwriter/violinist/all-around cutie Alexander Rybak.

Rybak won the Norwegian Preselection with the highest vote-tally ever in that nation’s history (over 715,000, beating the runner-up by over 616,000).  Even more impressive, he won Eurovision with the highest score ever (387 points, beating the record held by Lordi, 292).  Other records held by “Fairytale”:
– Largest margin between a winner and runner-up: 169 points separated Rybak from Iceland’s Yohanna.
– Most 12-point scores: 16 (Beating Greece’s Elena Paparizou’s 10)
– Points from the most nations: 41 (all nations competing that year, with the exception of Norway itself).
– Also, it is the first winner ever to have been in first place all the way through the scorekeeping (as the first nation to reveal their points gave Rybak the coveted Twelve, and no other song ever caught up to him).

Rybak had everything going for him with “Fairytale”.  He wrote an instantly recognizable song with a great hook, a dynamic presentation, and “aw, shucks” good looks.  His dancers, from the local troupe “Frikar”, are trained in traditional Norwegian folk dance “halling”, so it included a regional touch.  Plus, Rybak was representing both the Scandinavian voting bloc as well as the Former Soviet bloc, as he was born in Belarus and speaks fluent Russian.  As the contest last year was held in Moscow, he was able to publicize himself well to the press and public.  It was universally adored, and Rybak skyrocketed to fame.  The single hit the charts all over Europe (including a rare Top Ten placement in the UK…the first for a non-British winner since Johnny Logan in 1987) and made it to #1 in Flanders, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the Ukraine.  Since last year, he’s released his first full-length album, and has had hits in both English and Russian.  He even has a great cover of The Proclaimer’s “500 Miles“! 

Ok, enough about Alexander.  But who’s going to fill his shoes and compete on home soil?
This year, we’ve got Didrik Solli-Tangen singing “My Heart is Yours”.  Interestingly, one of the composers of this song, Hanne Sørvaag, is also one of the co-writers of the Georgian entry, “Shine”.  Even more interestingly, “My Heart is Yours” sounds oddly familiar…does anyone else hear this when listening to Didrik?

The song’s good, but it doesn’t have the same “oomph” that “Fairytale” had last year.  (Then again, few songs do have it…)  I can’t imagine this placing in the Top Five, but appreciation for a host nation often boosts a score a bit, and if Didrik’s voice is as strong in the Final (which he’s automatically qualified for) as it was in the Preview video, he might shock us all a bit.

(Oh, and just as a point of fact…the composer of “You Raise Me Up” was Rolf Løvland, who wrote Norway’s previous ESC winners “La Det Swinge” and “Nocturne”.  Just sayin’!)

ESC 2010 Reviews: Ukraine

Like many of the newer entrants into Eurovision, Ukraine tends to take the competition very seriously, bringing their biggest stars to the stage year after year.  However, more than any other nation, they tend to go for the full-on spectacle, complete with leather bikinis, insane choreography, controversy, shirtless Trojan warriors and the occasional drag queen.  They’ve never missed a Final since the system began, and despite the fact that they’ve only performed in seven ESCs before 2010, they’ve come away with a victory and two silvers. 

Their debut entry, 2003’s “Hasta La Vista”, was somewhat forgettable, and only made it to 14th place, but it didn’t take Kyiv long to get back on its feet.  With only their second entry, Ruslana’s “Wild Dances“, Ukraine stomped and spun its way into Eurovision history, claiming the nation’s first victory.  (Sharp-eared readers might recognize the song from the soundtrack to “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City”, from the “Radio Vladivostok” setting!)  Since her win, Ruslana’s continued her success, having recorded a total of seven albums in both English and Ukrainian, and has even collaborated with Missy Elliott.  In Ukraine, she’s an icon, spokeswoman, and UNICEF Ambassador, campaigning against human trafficking and for the environment.  Just as her Eurovision performance shows, Ruslana’s a force of nature.

Kyiv hosted the ESC the next year, 2004, just as the Orange Revolution was in full swing.  Despite Eurovision’s general ban on political songs, the home team sent rap artists GreenJolly with “Razom Nas Bahato, Nas Ne Podolaty (Together We Are Many; We Cannot Be Defeated)“.  The main theme of the song was a send-off of the old Chilean saying “El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido”, and the original lyrics name-checked President Viktor Yuschenko.  However, not even their favorable position as host nation could keep them exempt from the rules, and despite a passionate performance (and slightly modified lyrics), they scored a disappointing 19th place.

2007 brought on possibly the most insane performance in Eurovision history, blending comedy, dance…and tinfoil.  Ladies and Gentlemen…may I present to you the incomparable, the unforgettable, the…inexplicable…Verka Serduchka:

The lovely Verka is a mix of Dame Edna, Mrs. Doubtfire, and that crazy modern dance teacher you had in college.  She’s also actually a he.  Verka’s the alter ego of Ukrainian comedian Andriy Danilko, and is a celebrity in her own right, having recorded ten hit albums.  Her second-place finish was marked by a bit of controversy (but what good ESC is without it?), as the song’s title, “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”, was misheard by some viewers as “Dancing Russia Goodbye” (although Verka insisted that she was singing the Mongolian words for “whipped cream”, in reality they were just nonsensical syllables). 

In 2008, Ukraine scored its second consecutive silver medal with Ani Lorak’s “Shady Lady“, which to me is the epitome of Eurovision Pop: take a gorgeous girl with a huge voice, put her in a tiny dress, plop her in front of four strapping backup dancers, and have her belt out a disco number that you can hear echoing all the way to Minneapolis.  At the time, my alt-rock sensibilities prevented me from admitting it, but now, two full years after Ani Lorak stormed the stage in Serbia, I can say it: I LOVE this song!  I still listen to it pretty often, and it’s my go-to song for dancing around my apartment like a maniac when I’m sure nobody’s watching.  If you liked “Shady Lady”, I recommend that you check out her album “Solntse”, especially the tracks “Ptitsa” and “A Dalshe…”

Lucky for me, Ukraine’s 2009 song, Svetlana Loboda’s “Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)” was a perfect continuation of the high-energy path that Ani Lorak set upon in 2008.  Svetlana’s another well-known entity in her homeland, and after her insane performance on the stage in Moscow, she was the talk of Europe, as well.  Eventual winner Alexander Rybak claimed that he only feared losing to Loboda, and with her bevy of Trojan soldiers backing her up while she pole danced and spun on her self-described “Hell Machine” (which she supposedly had to mortgage her home to pay for), I can understand how he could be intimidated.  The song was hypersexualized, manic, over-the-top…and a total blast.  Sadly, it ended up in 12th place, Ukraine’s lowest score since 2005. 

Despite the recent model for slick and spectacular Eurovision songs from Ukraine over the past few years, 2010’s national selection was a complete and utter mess.  Back in December, it was announced that Vasyl Lazarovych was the singer chosen by the Ukranian broadcaster, NTU.  However, it was soon discovered that Lazarovych and the head of the network were close personal friends, and accusations of back-room deals started flying.  Soon after Vasyl’s song, the sleepy “I Love You” had been chosen, a new national government took over, and the head of the network was replaced.  It was announced the previous result had been scrapped, and that an entirely new National Preselection would take place (including Vasyl, to be fair).  After all of that, 24-year-old Alyosha was selected to represent Ukraine with her rock ballad “To Be Free“.

You’d think it would be over by that point, right?  Wrong.  It turns out that “To Be Free” had been briefly released to the public over MySpace and Amazon since 2008, rendering the song invalid for Eurovision competition.  Sadly, this was figured out after the EBU’s deadline for song submission had passed, so NTU had two choices: cobble together another entry, and be held to a significant fine for each day that passed without a song, or withdraw from the competition.  Lucky for us, Alyosha had another song stuck in her back pocket, so this year we’ll hear “Sweet People” in Oslo.
Alyosha is coming to Eurovision with a message, probably more so than any other song this year.  In interviews, she notes how she was born less than two weeks before the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in her home country, and that she has grown up with a keen interest in environmental issues.  The promotional video for “Sweet People” was filmed in Prypiat, a ghost town destroyed by the meltdown, and Alyosha has started what she calls the Ecovision 2010 initiative, lobbying world leaders to take stronger stances on environmental topics such as conservation and nuclear safety.

It took me a long time to appreciate “Sweet People”, especially because I’m still coming down from the high of “Shady Lady” and “Be My Valentine”.  But Alyosha has a strong voice made for a hard ballad like this, and her heart’s definitely in it to win it.  But the Second Semifinal is incredibly challenging, and there are an inordinately high number of ballads.  But, as the results from the First Semifinal show, anything can happen.  I wish her well in all of her endeavors, and I wish her well in Eurovision.

ESC 2010 Reviews: Turkey

Playing last in the second semifinal will be Turkey, a country that’s geographically located in both Europe and Asia.  By population and area, it is the second-largest country participating in Eurovision (after Germany and Russia, respectively), and they’re currently trying to get into the European Union.  All of this, plus the recent influx of Turkish migration to other countries in Western Europe, makes for an interesting dynamic in the context of Eurovision.
As to be expected of a country with a population of over seventy million (approximately the populations of California, Texas, and New York combined), the musical scene in Turkey is pretty varied and diverse.  Their Eurovision entries have seen influences of traditional Middle Eastern sounds, pop, ska, and (this year) hip-hop-infused rock. 
Turkey entered Eurovision in 1975, but came in last place with “Seninle Bir Dakika (One Minute with You)“, a somewhat vanilla and maudlin ballad.  Five years later, they sent local superstar Ajda Pekkan to sing “Pet’r Oil“, a vaguely hidden metaphor about oil production.  And in 1987, my favorite “Nul Points” entry ever burned its way into our collective eye sockets: Seyyal Taner and Grup Lokomotif with “Şarkım Sevgi Üstüne (My Song is About Love)“…so much fringe, so little time…
Up until 1997, Turkish entries never cracked the Top Five, and only made it to the Top Ten once.  However, Şebnem Paker & Group Etnik broke down that door in Dublin with “Dinle (Listen)“, a beautiful, traditionally-inspired number that took them all the way to third place behind the UK and Ireland in one of the last years that countries were mandated to sing in their own official languages.  (Because of this rule, songs in English often had a bit of an advantage, as they were more universally understood, unlike a song in Turkish, which had less of a linguistic reach).
Six years later, Turkey took home its first (and, so far, only) Eurovision victory, with Sertab Erener’s “Everyway That I Can“, another ethnopop song, complete with belly dancing and a rap break.  Since then, Turkey’s been almost unstoppable, with four Top Ten finishes, three of which were Top 5.  On home soil for the first time in 2004, they sent ska-rockers Athena to carry the flag with “For Real“, a complete departure from the hip-shaking goodness they had won with. 
It was the first time that Turkey reached for Rock, but it definitely wasn’t the last.  My all-time favorite entry from Turkey was their 2008 offering, alt-rockers Mor ve Ötesi’s “Deli (Crazy)“.  Scoring a respectable 7th place (strong, considering it was sung entirely in Turkish), the song made enough of an impression on me that not only have I collected Mor ve Ötesi’s entire catalogue of work, but I’ve actually started to learn Turkish (slowly!). 
Turkey, like many countries in the eastern portion of the Eurovision world, tends to take the contest pretty seriously.  Since 2003, contestants have been hand-selected by broadcaster TRT to participate, and the network generally picks well-known and well-respected artists.  Speculation from local fans generates wildly in the weeks leading up to the official announcement from the Powers that Be, and this year was no different.  Some fans claimed that the offer would go to Tarkan, best known for his international smash “Şımarık“.  Others said that it would go to Şebnem Ferah, one of the reigning queens of Turkish Rock.  Finally, TRT announced that their representatives would be maNga, with their song “We Could Be The Same”.
maNga is actually pretty well-known on the European stage.  They recently took home the MTV Europe Music Award for “Best European Act”, an award decided by a public vote (they actually beat Dima Bilan, Eurovision winner for Russia in 2008).  They tour heavily, and work hard; lead singer Ferman Akgül recently collapsed on stage during their promotional tour (he’s fine, kids!).
No major Eurovision power is without its controversy, however.  Up until recently, Turkey was under the disadvantage of having no allies in the ESC, in terms of Bloc Voting.  However, with Azerbaijan in the contest, top scores have flown back and forth between the two countries regularly.  Furthermore, Turkish residents in countries like Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France have also been voting for their homelands, so while these nations are geographically far from Ankara and Istanbul, their support is generally pretty strong.  Because of this support, and the high quality of “We Could Be The Same”, I’m almost positive that they’ll sail through to the finals, and will possibly make it to the Top 5.  
But, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to my new Mor ve Ötesi album, just released last week.  Yay! 😀