Category Archives: 2010

ESC 2010 Reviews: Switzerland

Switzerland, like Belgium, Germany, France, and Spain, is another one of those Eurovision veterans who haven’t been able to catch a decent break over the last few years.  In one of my first entries on ESC Insider, I spoke a bit about the first Eurovision winner, “Refrain” by Lys Assia.  Since then, the Swiss have only won once (although it was one of Eurovision’s most legendary performances…more on that in a moment), and they haven’t scored in the Top Five since 1993.  Furthermore, the Swiss have the tendency to recruit singers from outside their country, and they haven’t placed in the Top Ten with a Swiss-born singer since 1991.

One of the classic performances out of Switzerland was 1963’s “T’en Va Pas (Don’t Go)“, sung by Israeli singer Esther Ofarim.  Barely beaten by the Danish entry that year (and some conspiracy theorists insist that there was some sort of foul play with that year’s voting, but nothing has even been proven), Esther’s pristine voice and emotional delivery really carried this beautiful chanson, and it’s one of my favorites from that decade.

It was in 1988, however, that Switzerland finally made it back to the top of the Eurovision podium.  They had drafted a little-known young singer from Quebec to do their heavy lifting, and what followed was one of the earliest international performances for a future legend:

Celine Dion not only defeated 20 other contestants that night, but she also vanquished the horrors of “Bad Eighties Hair and Wardrobe” to win in Dublin with “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi (Don’t Leave Without Me)”.  She has gone on to sell over 200 million albums worldwide, win five Grammies, 21 Junos, and have a wildly successful standing gig at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.  Nothing to sneeze at, by any stretch of the imagination!

Over the past few years, Switzerland has been sorely lacking when it comes to translating interesting and original songs to success on the scoreboard.  Before the last three contests, bookmakers and fans had favored Swiss songs, but they failed to reach the finals.  In 2007, there was the off-the-wall DJ BoBo with “Vampires are Alive“, which scored in 20th place out of 28 in that semifinal (note the creative use of mannequins, as only six people are allowed on stage).  The next year, Italian-Swiss singer Paolo Meneguzzi didn’t live up to the potential of “Era Stupendo (It was Amazing)“, and his slightly off-key performance kept him out of the finals.  Sadly, the same thing happened with last year’s song, “The Highest Heights” by Lovebugs, one of my favorites before the competition.

http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/xcn9i7
This year, veteran performer Michael von der Haide is trying to undo the pattern that Switzerland’s been falling into recently with “Il Pleut de l’Or (It’s Raining Gold)”.  Michael’s no Celine, but the song is a lot of fun, and I can easily imagine it playing on the video screens at the gay bar near my home that my friends occasionally drag me to.  (What?  The drinks are good and they play “Project Runway” on big projector screens…what could be bad?)  The second semifinal’s going to be extremely competitive, but von der Haide’s a veteran performer, so I doubt that falling out of tune like Meneguzzi or Adrian Sieber of Lovebugs both did, but it might be a tough sell to get into the finals.

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ESC 2010 Reviews: Sweden

Out of the nearly fifty different nations that have taken part in Eurovision over the years, it’s hard to imagine a country taking the contest as seriously as Sweden has.  They’ve entered 49 songs, and have won a total of four times (not to mention one silver and four bronzes).  Over one third of their entries have taken a Top Five placing.  Their preselection, Melodifestivalen, is viewed by nearly four million Swedes yearly, one of the most popular programs of the year.  They do NOT mess around with the ESC.

And why would they?  They’ve got a great record in the contest, and an even better reputation.  They entered Eurovision in 1958, and despite a few shaky early entries, they quickly found their place.  Their 1966 song (complete with one mouthful of a title), “Nygammal vals (Hip man svinaherde)/New-Old Waltz (The Hip Swineherd)” performed by Lill Lindfors and Svante Thuresson, blended jazz into an old Swedish folktale about a princess who switched places with a pig breeder.  They took a well-deserved second place to Austria that year.

It was in 1974, however, that Sweden claimed its rightful spot as King of Eurovision.  After a few years of attempting to win Melodifestivalen, a little-known quartet from Stockholm finally hit it big with a song referencing Napoleon.

ABBA’s “Waterloo” hit #1 in the singles charts all throughout Europe (even in the United Kingdom, which gave no points to the song on ESC night!), and it charted in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).  During Eurovision’s 50th Anniversary Special a few years back, it was rated the Best Eurovision song of all time, beating classics like “Volare”, “Diva”, and “Eres Tú”.

Sweden’s other victories followed the same sort of formula as “Waterloo”; upbeat pop numbers that drill themselves into your cerebral cortex like a Dremel.  Their 1984 victory, “Diggi-Loo, Diggi-Ley (I’m not going to even bother translating this one…)” took three strapping blond brothers, put them in golden shoes, gave them choreography and a nonsensical chorus, and they walked out with a victory.

Carola’s “Fångad av en Stormvind (Captured by a Stormwind)” was a perfect piece of early-nineties sugary pop, complete with vocal acrobatics, a key change, and a wind machine.  Carola was no stranger to the ESC stage; she came in third back in 1983 with “Främling (Stranger)”, and she returned in 2006 with “Invincible“, scoring a fifth place finish.  She’s the Queen of Schlager, and the world of Eurovision tends to bow to her supremacy and hyperactive vibrato.

Another repeat player in Melodifestivalen and Eurovision is Charlotte Perelli (née Nilsson), who won Sweden’s most recent title, with 1999’s “Take Me To Your Heaven“.  She came back two years ago with “Hero“, my friend Slaviša’s favorite song from that year.  I didn’t love this song, honestly, until recently, when I heard an great mix between “Hero” and Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face”.  (This is one of many reasons why I love YouTube so very much…)

Last year, Sweden decided to go for Popera.  Melodifestivalen selected Uppsala mezzo-soprano Malena Ernmann to sing “La Voix“, a complete departure from Sweden’s normal schlager-pop (but Malena’s facial expressions are priceless in the performance video!).  Sadly, like entries from the past few years, it failed to crack the Top Ten!

Albania is typically the first nation to select their song, with late December’s Festivali i Këngës.  Sweden, however, is traditionally the last country to announce their song.  This gives them enough time for the audience to familiarize themselves with the songs (many of which become local smash hits), but I think that a side affect of this is that Swedish voters are able to see what’s en vogue with other countries.  Like Belgium’s Tom Dice, and Cyprus’s Jon Lilygreen, Sweden will be sending a young singer-songwriter with a guitar.  Like Malta’s Thea Garrett, Portugal’s Filipa Azevedo, Georgia’s Sophia Nizharadze, and Latvia’s Aisha, the singer will be a single female, singing an introspective ballad.  Blend all of the songs together, and what do we have?
http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/xcq6jt
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.

ESC 2010 Reviews: Slovenia

Slovenia is one of those ESC participants who, despite a decently long history in the contest, have only had a small handful of great entries.  Their highest rankings were a pair of 7th place finishes in 1995 and 2001, but out of their fifteen entries, they’ve only cracked the Top Ten three times.  (Although, if you look at entries from Yugoslavia that were performed in Slovene, there were two additional high placements, but those were back in the 1960s.)

I’ll show you all my three favorite Slovenian performances:
1) 1966: Berta Ambrož, “Brez Besed (Without Words)“, 7th place.  Technically performed under the flag of Yugoslavia, Berta brought the Slovene language to Eurovision for the first time with this classic number, who many people feel was later ripped off by the classic Spanish entry from 1973, “Eres Tú”.  But more on that later when we get to Spain.  In the meantime, Berta’s performance was another great snapshot of the mid-1960s.

2) 2002: Sestre (Sisters), “Samo Ljubezen (Only Love)“, 13th place.  This entry actually sparked a pretty big controversy among Slovenians, as Sestre were the first act to perform at Eurovision in drag.  If all of the flight attendants in the skies were like Miss Marlena, Daphne, and Emperatrizz, I think that flying would be a much less stressful experience, don’t you?  Best in-flight entertainment ever…

3) 2007: Alenka Gotar, “Cvet z Juga (Flower of the South)”, 15th place.  Since the semifinal system was put in place, this has been the only Slovenian entry to make it through to the Finals.  Opera rarely finds a home on the Eurovision stage, especially with a pop-rock influence, so Alenka’s relative success was very cool to see, and it fit in well on the stage in Helsinki, where bands like Apocalyptica and Nightwish often reign supreme.

This year, however…we get this:
http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/xcq6jx 
Ansambel Zindra & Kalamari with “Narodnozabavni Rock (Popular Folk Rock)”…doesn’t really roll off the tongue very well, does it?  Some nations have mastered the balance between local musical traditions and pop/rock sensibilities.  It feels like Slovenia is still searching for that happy middle ground.  You can’t just take a rock song and add an oompah-band, and you can’t just take a folk song and add a dude in a leather jacket.  I didn’t follow this year’s Slovenian Preselection as closely as I did for Estonia, but if this was the best they could come up with, I worry.  As much as I hate to sound negative, I think we may have found the last-place finisher in the Second Semifinal.

ESC 2010 Reviews: Slovakia

Ok, after the long, in-depth entries on Russia and Serbia, I hate to say this, but my piece on Slovakia will be disturbingly short.  They send three entries to the ESC back in the mid-to-late nineties, but never scored higher than 18th place.  None of these songs really even stick out in my mind.  After a disappointing result in the 1998 contest, they withdrew and didn’t come back until last year, when they sent Kamil Mikulčík and Nela Pocisková to sing “Let’ Tmou (Fly Through the Darkness)“, a dramatic ballad that failed to leave any impression on voters.

This year, Slovakia has gone from perpetual underdog to one of the most talked-about entries of the year.  Kristína Peláková will be representing her homeland with “Horehronie”, a song about the eponymous region in Slovakia.
http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/xcq74n
I know that many people liked “Let’ Tmou”, but to me, this feels like more of a homecoming song than Kamil and Nela gave us last year.  It’s danceable, has regional flair, Kristína’s adorable, and the song as a whole paints Slovakia in a fantastic light.  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.

And, if all else fails, the Slovak Tourism Board now has its new ad campaign in the bag!

ESC 2010 Reviews: Serbia

Next up on our list is Serbia.  One could argue when Serbia’s actual debut in Eurovision was.  Some might say it was 1961, when the entry from Yugoslavia was from the ethnically-Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the song was sung in Serbian.  It could have been 1962, when the Yugoslavian singer was from Belgrade.  It might have been 1992, when the newly redrawn borders of Yugoslavia coincided with what is Serbia today.  It could have been 2004, when the first entry from a then-unified Serbia and Montenegro took to the Eurovision stage.  Or it might have been 2007, when an independent Serbia debuted and ended up taking the whole contest home.  Confused yet?  I know I was…Anyway, for the sake of argument, I’m going to be focusing mostly on more recent entries here (frankly, because they’re generally better and more memorable than their early pieces). 

Serbia (and Montenegro) had their first official entry in 2004 with Željko Joksimović and the Ad Hoc Orchestra’s “Lane Moje (My Dear)“.  This stunning Balkan ballad combined a stirring melody, a great vocal performance, and a touch of ethnic flavor.  It won its semifinal, but ended up taking a close second place to the Ukraine.  This, however, would not be the last we would hear from Željko, who would compose 2008’s entry, as well as 2006’s song from Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Lejla”.

As the union between Serbia and Montenegro dissolved in 2006, both nations started to enter Eurovision independently starting in 2007.  Montenegro (who has decided to skip the 2010 Eurovision contest) has never been able to get out of the semifinals, but Serbia was a different story.  In their debut as an independent nation, Serbia’s song “Molitva (Prayer)” by Marija Šerifović took home the victory, scoring over thirty points more than the runner up, Ukraine.  Not only was “Molitva” a beautiful song, but it was a bit of a record-breaker, as well.  With the exception of the first running of the contest, no debuting nation had ever won the grand prize.  Furthermore, it was the first winner since 1998 to not be sung in English (before 1998, nations had to sing in their native language; afterwards, any language could be used).  The song used no pyrotechnics, no flashy choreography, no costume changes…it stood on its own merits, and garnered a well-deserved win.  The next year’s entry, Jelena Tomašević’s “Oro“, was a return to Željko Joksimović’s wheelhouse of ethnically-inspired ballads.  In a competitive year, it scored in 6th place.

Last year, Serbia decided to get a bit wacky, sending Marko Kon and accordion player Milaan with “Cipela (Shoe)“.  Although it placed 10th in its semifinal, the 13th-placed entry from Croatia that year was given the ticket to the finals, as it was the jury’s choice.  Despite the disappointment, “Cipela” was a fun little diversion, with manic choreography and even more manic hair on Marko.

Keeping things upbeat for the second year in a row, this year brings us Milan Stanković with “Ovo Je Balkan (“This is Balkan)”, composed by local musical hero Goran Bregović.
http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/xcq74r
The song definitely brings in some of the the ethnic qualities that “Lane Moje” and “Oro” displayed, but injected with taurine and speed.  The focus on the number three in the song is also significant among Serbians; a three-fingered salute (check out about :52 seconds into the song for Milan’s) is seen as a national marker of cultural identity.  Will it make it into the finals?  Well, if bloc voting has anything to say about it, Serbia already has a leg up on the competition.  Bosnia & Herzegovina and Macedonia are also in the first semifinal, so that might help a bit.  I wouldn’t be shocked if this made it through to the next level, but if it scored higher than tenth place in the finals, I’d be taken a bit aback.  Regardless, it’s a fun song with a surprising amount below the surface, and I’m looking forward to how it’s presented on the stage in Oslo.

ESC 2010 Reviews: Russia

Ah, Russia.  They’ve been one of the most successful entrants into the Eurovision Song Contest, but they’re also often one of the most controversial.  They are the fulcrum of the Former Soviet voting bloc, siphoning votes from all over Eastern Europe.  While they tend to distribute their votes pretty widely, they tend to get high marks from countries like Belarus, the Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Armenia, all of which were former parts of the Soviet Union.  I believe this is a result of two things:

1) After so many years of being underneath the same national umbrella, many of these countries, while retaining their own senses of self, have grown to create a shared cultural experience.  Between the language similarities and a shared media, these nations share a common bond that’s impossible to ignore.
2) Russia’s Eurovision songs are often fantastic!  They take the competition very seriously, put quite a bit of funding down for production, and they choose artists who are known throughout the region, as opposed to taking unknowns from a “Pop Idol”-type show.  Huge names such as Philipp Kirkorov, Alla Pugacheva, Mumiy Troll, Dima Bilan, and t.A.T.u have all represented their homeland in the ESC, and these faces are often recognized beyond Russia’s extensive borders.

Russia debuted in 1994, along with a number of other “Eastern Bloc” nations.  Their first entry, “Vyechniy stranik (Eternal Wanderer)” by Maria Katz (also known as Youddiph), was memorable not only for its beautiful execution and soaring chorus, but for the multitasking crimson gown that Masha wore that evening.  I’m not a fashionista by any stretch, but the first time I saw the video of this performance I had the urge to play “dress-up” for the first time since I was a little girl.  Eurovision performances often focus on clothing being ripped off, but this might have been the first time that covering oneself up was just as eye-catching.

Their 2001 entry, “Lady Alpine Blue” by Vladivostok pop-rockers Mumiy Troll, is one of those love-it-or-hate it numbers.  Lead singer Ilya Lagutenko is smarmy, vaguely androgynous, and oddly appealing.  Some might see the song as creepy, but I actually liked it, in a kind of feline lounge singer sort of way.

2003 brought Russia’s most controversial participation to date, including one of their biggest musical exports.  It was decided that faux-teen-lesbians t.A.T.u would represent Moscow in the ESC in Riga, and the ended up coming in an incredibly close 3rd place with “Ne Ver’, Ne Boysia (Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear)“, despite being booed from half of the audience just as much as the other half cheered (not only were the pair controversial, but they had supposedly been acting like divas during the rehearsals and press conferences).  Although they had been the odds-on favorites to win (they had just released their international smashes “All the Things She Said” and “Not Gonna Get Us”), their live performance was marred by off-key and lackluster notes.  If singer Yulia Volkova (the black-haired one) hadn’t been fighting off laryngitis that week, it’s possible that Turkey wouldn’t have taken the crown that year.  We’ll never know for sure.

2006 saw the Eurovision debut of mulleted heartthrob Dima Bilan.  His song “Never Let You Go” was insanely popular, and was only beaten in the scoreboard by Finland’s unstoppable Lordi.  Bilan had been a known entity throughout the former Soviet bloc since 2003, so the impression he made on the scoreboard was not a surprise.  Beyond that, “Never Let You Go” was a really well-constructed pop song with universal appeal. 

Russia’s song for 2007 tried to duplicate the success of previous years: high-energy pop + beautiful faces.  Serebro’s imaginatively-titled “Song #1“, despite it’s slightly fractured English, was a fun, sexy performance that came in 3rd in a hotly-contested ESC that year (beaten by a gorgeous Serbian ballad and an unexplainable entry from the Ukraine…more on these later.)

2008 heralded the return of Dima Bilan to Eurovision, and he was taking no prisoners.  His song, the Timbaland-produced “Believe“, wasn’t quite the nugget of pop confection that “Never Let You Go” or “Song #1” had been, but Russia was determined to put on one hell of a show to make up for any shortcomings in the songwriting.  For the show in Serbia, the Russian team arranged for a small patch of ice to be installed on stage (keep in mind, there’s generally less than a minute between songs), and had Olympic Gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko skate in circles around him, all while violinist Edvin Marton played his Stradivarius with them.  The song itself might have been a bit syrupy, but you have to admit it: the Russians had balls.  They won the competition handily over (in my opinion) superior songs from the Ukraine, Portugal, Turkey, and Switzerland, but more than ever, the results were marred by accusations of bloc-voting, and beloved BBC commentator Terry Wogan actually stepped down from his Eurovision duties because of it.  From 2009 and onwards, national votes would be 50% televote, and 50% jury-based, as to avoid the issue in the future.

So, after all of these high-energy, high-production cost, high-profile, high-performing entries, who will Moscow be sending to Oslo?
http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/xcpb6k

I’m sorry…what?  I half expected the cast of “A Mighty Wind” to stop by and crash the stage.  When  first heard Peter Nalitch’s “Lost and Forgotten”, I had no idea what to think.  Especially when you think about the spectacles that Russia has given Eurovision over the past decade or so, this song sounds completely out of place.  The first words that came to mind?  “You’ve got to be kidding me…”

And then I realized that the joke was on me.  Nalitch and his group have been making music with a heavy touch of irony for a few years now (check out his YouTube hit “Gitar“), so 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?

ESC 2010 Reviews: Romania

Romania, like many other nations from the Central-to-Eastern European region, entered the ESC in the mid-1990s.  The first entry from Bucharest came in 1994, the same year as Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Russia, Hungary, and Poland.  Since then, Romania’s found some half-decent success, including a set of third and fourth-place finishes in the middle of this past decade.  They’re one of only a handful of countries to have qualified for every final since the semifinal system began back in 2004, but they haven’t broken into the Top Ten since 2006.

My personal favorite entry from Romania was actually their debut.  Dan Bittman, lead singer of the long-running local rock group Holograf, took the stage with “Dincolo de Nori (Beyond the Clouds)“, a great rock ballad that sadly scored only 21st place out of 25 contestants that year.  (Ironically, the first and so far only contestants from San Marino, MiOdio, recently covered “Dincolo de Nori” into a modernized Italian version, “Oltre le Nuvole“).

2005 brought “Let Me Try” by Luminiţa Anghel and Sistem, a high-energy Europop number complete with flying sparks and backup dancers drumming on oil cans.  It was the nation’s highest placement, and Romania followed it up  in 2006 with the equally dynamic “Tornerò“, sung in English and Italian by Mihai Trăistariu.  Scoring an incredibly respectable 4th place (next to heavy hitters from Finland, Russia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina), “Tornerò” brought Romania’s highest point-total to date, and it reached the top of the charts in Greece, Cyprus, Malta, and Sweden.


This year, Romania brings us “Playing With Fire” by Paula Seling and Ovi (Ovidiu Cernăuţeanu, who currently lives and works in Norway).
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10719903&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1&group_id=
Paula Seling & Ovi – Playing with Fire (Official Music Video) from Eduard Schneider on Vimeo.
This music video is probably the most fun out of 2010’s crop.  Anything with flaming pianos, transparent iPads, pleather catsuits and dancing robots automatically is made of win, right?  Granted, the lyrics might be a bit trite (the whole fire/desire/higher rhyme isn’t quite original, but it works), but the song is fun, danceable, and catchy as hell.  It won its National Selection with top marks from the local jury, as well as nearly twice the televoting numbers as the runner-up.  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. 

…Now if only they can get some dancing robots on stage with them, they’d be a lock.

ESC 2010 Reviews: Portugal

Finland used to hold the dubious distinction of having participated in the Eurovision Song Contest for the longest time without a win.  After the victory of “Hard Rock Hallelujah” back in 2006, the “honor” went from Finland to Portugal.  Lisbon has been sending entries to the contest since 1964, when the country made its debut in last place (like Lithuania, they scored no points, but due to differences in scoring systems from then to now, it wasn’t considered as much of a slap in the face as it is now…three other nations left that year’s competition with no points). They’ve never even made it to the Top 5, and their most recent Top 10 placing was back in 1996, when Lúcia Moniz took Portugal to their highest placing (6th) with O meu coração não tem cor (My Heart Has No Color), a sunny, folkloric ode to the Lusophone world.  Eagle-eyed movie buffs might recognize the lovely Lúcia from the British ensemble comedy “Love Actually”, where she played Aurélia, the quiet Portuguese maid who falls for an adorably bumbling Colin Firth.  Her heart may have no color, but mine’s green with envy…

I often talk about the political side of Eurovision, especially between countries (like Georgia’s dig at Russia in 2009, Turkey’s frustration at Armenia for “Apricot Stone” this year, or when Spain sent an Argentine Tango to a UK-hosted ESC during the height of the Falklands/Malvinas War).  Portugal, however, has an amazing story to tell in regards to its own national history in the context of Eurovision.  In 1974 (the year that ABBA won for Sweden) Portugal’s song, “E Depois do Adeus (And After Goodbye)” came in dead last.  Despite that disappointing finish, the song’s story doesn’t end there.  Only a few weeks later, there was a massive populist coup against the Fascist regime of the Estado Novo, led by then-Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano.  To kick off the uprising of the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon, the coups organizers used the National Radio to signal when to start their national takeover.  The song that was used as the secret signal to start the revolution?  “E Depois do Adeus”, the little song that failed on the international stage, yet heralded the return of democracy in Portugal.

Over the past few decades, Lisbon has sent a few fantastic, yet completely underrated entries to Eurovision, many of them inspired by fado, or “fate” songs.  Fado is an often-melancholy style inspired by love and loss, especially in the context of the seafaring ways of traditional Portuguese life.  In 2008, Portugal sent a fado-inspired entry, “Senhora do Mar (Lady of the Sea)“, sung by Madeira native Vânia Fernandes.  I watched the 2008 Finals with my friend Kate over the internet (as it’s not broadcast live on television here in the United States), and as Vânia sang, her emotions palpable, Kate and I had no choice but to stare nearly unblinking at my tiny laptop screen, so that we didn’t miss a frame of her performance.  Kate was brought to tears by the end of it.  The fact that “Senhora do Mar” came in 13th place is nearly tragic, as fans and critics alike lauded the song with praise.  The next year’s entry, Flor-de-Lis’s “Todas as Ruas de Amor (All the Roads of Love)” brought out the lighter side of traditional Portuguese music, and came out sounding like a warm and fuzzy hug from the sunny Algarve.  Again, it was underrated, and only came up with a 15th-place position.

Portugal’s lack of success in Eurovision really has nothing to do with a lack of great performances, singers, or songs.  They’re in the unenviable position of only having one geographical neighbor, Spain, and no other countries in Eurovision speak Portuguese.  National Broadcaster RTP almost always sends entries sung exclusively in Portuguese (although they went through a phase for a few years where verses were sung in Portuguese, with choruses in English), so while it’s always fantastic to see countries stay true to their language, it doesn’t help garner many bloc votes.  Over the years, Portugal has sent pop, ballads, folk, and fado, but no permutation has worked for them so far.  It pains me to say this, but I think Lisbon’s only hope is to take their nation’s most popular descendant, Portuguese-Canadian Nelly Furtado, and draft her into the fray.  

But until Nelly crosses the Atlantic, we’ve got 18-year-old Filipa Azevedo representing Portugal this year with “Há Dias Assim (There are Days like This)”.

This is a pretty standard Eurovision-style ballad, complete with a key change.  Filipa’s voice is strong, but you can still hear just how young she is.  At times, it sounds like she’s taken too many lessons from the Christina Aguilera School of Vocal Gymnastics, but out of the many, many ballads in this year’s Contest, this is definitely one of the better ones, and possibly the best in the First Semifinal.  If Filipa keeps her vocal runs in check, she should be able to make it into the finals for Portugal’s third straight year, and may score in the Top 15 once again.  But if the performances of 2008 and 2009 couldn’t crack the Top Ten, Filipa might be out of luck.  I do like this song, though, and hope that juries treat it kindly, as bloc voting never seems to favor the Portuguese.

ESC 2010 Reviews: Poland

(Just as an FYI, as I’m running out of time to post my reviews, I’m going to hold off on my entries on Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom, as they have already qualified for the Finals on May 29th.  Thanks for understanding!)

Poland has been taking part in the ESC since 1994, which is also the year they had their biggest success in the competition, with Edyta Gorniak’s “To Nie Ja (That’s Not Me)“.  Considered one of the best debuts in Eurovision history (both in score and in quality), Poland’s been trying to duplicate that success for the past sixteen years, to little or no avail.  They’ve only had one other Top Ten placing since then, with Ich Troje’s “Keine Grenzen-Żadnych granic (No Borders)“, sung in German and Polish with a smattering of Russian.  The song, a call for peace, came in 7th place.

Poland has often rested on the laurels of “pretty girl + big song”, and despite middling success, they’ve sent some pretty nice tunes.  For example, 1997’s entry, Ana Maria Jopek’s “Ale Jestem (But I Am)“, was a beautiful folk-inspired number, but it only made it to eleventh place.  They’ve sent ballads the last two years that, while beautiful, have either scored in last place in the final nor not qualified at all.  They’ve also sent a few true clunkers.  I still wince when I think about 2007’s “Time To Party” by The Jet Set.  I don’t care how much money you spend on your stage show, you aren’t allowed to rhyme “party” with “party”.  It defies the laws of nature and music. 

After a few years of middling success, Warsaw’s sending Marcin Mrozinski to Oslo with “Legenda”.
http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/xcpauh
Like the Moldovan entry, I feel like this song is trying to combine too many things into three minutes.  There’s the traditional piece, sung in Polish in fits and spurts throughout the song, about a knight who kidnaps a princess.  There’s the violin break, which might be trying to make listeners recall Alexander Rybak from last year.  Then there’s the body of the song, sung in a Google-Translated version of English, that can’t make up its mind if it’s a ballad, rock, or somewhere in between.  Individually, I generally like those elements appearing in Eurovision.  But all in one song?  It’s a bit chaotic, and even when the song draws to a dramatic climax, I’m left kind of cold.  He’ll be in the first semifinal, so who knows if he’ll pass through, but if he makes it to the finals, I’m not sure if he’ll do any better than 15th or 20th place.

ESC 2010 Reviews: The Netherlands

Ah, the Netherlands.  I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times, and it’s truly one of my favorite places on the planet.  I love how welcoming the city is, how unbelievably comfortable it can be…it’s just like slipping on your favorite pair of jeans.  The people are friendly, the food is wonderful, the architecture like nowhere else on the planet.  It’s really a shame that their Eurovision entry this year is so abysmal.

It’s not like the Dutch haven’t had their success in the past.  They’ve won the contest four times, and some of my favorite ESC classics come from Holland.  In 1959, Teddy Scholten (who sadly passed away this past month) took home the crown with “Een Beetje (A Little Bit)”, one of the most adorable songs to come out of the contest.  It was a perfect little snapshot of the times: the dress, the hair, the innocent little flirtation in the song…they all added up to a sweet victory for Teddy, who would eventually leave showbiz and work with the Dutch Red Cross.

In 1966, the Netherlands took a bit of a risk and brought a new level of performance into the ESC.  Instead of the traditional chansons and ballads that had dominated the contest for the previous ten years, the Dutch brought in Milly Scott, a Surinamese-Dutch jazz singer to sing “Fernando en Filippo“, a song about a love triangle in Latin America.  Milly bounced around on stage with reckless abandon, something that really hadn’t been seen before on the Eurovision stage.  When I look at the high-energy performances that are often seen in today’s competition, I often think back on “Fernando en Filippo”, and marvel at how things have evolved over the past few decades.

In 1975, the Netherlands inadvertently provided one of the most unintentionally comical songs the ESC has ever seen.  Ironically, it also gave them their most recent victory.  Schoolboys all over the UK couldn’t help but laugh at lyrics like “There will be no sorrow/when you sing tomorrow/and you walk along with your ding-dang-dong!/Ding-a-dong every hour, when you pick a flower/Even when your lover is gone, gone, gone!”  You can’t quite top Teach-In’s “Ding-a-Dong“, can you?  (Readers, I’m giving you an assignment: If Teach-In can Ding a Dong every hour, even when their lover is gone, how long will it take for them to develop carpal tunnel syndrome?  Whoever gives me the best answer wins…my undying love and respect!)

Between then and now, the Dutch have come up with a few great songs, all with varying levels of success.  My personal favorites include 1972’s clap-along number “Als Het Om De Leifde Gaat (When It’s All About Love)” by Sandra and Andres, 1992’s “Vrede (Peace)” by Ruth Jacott, and 1998’s “Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth)” by Edsilia Rombley.

Despite all of the Netherland’s previous success in the ESC, they have sadly fallen off the mark over the last few years.  They haven’t qualified for a Final since 2004, and haven’t finished in the Top 10 since 1999.  This year, it looks like they’re taking another step backwards.  Unlike many countries, where singers will submit their own songs and they’ll duke it out in a preselection, or where a country will select a singer and song, or a single singer will have a selection of songs that the public can vote on, the Dutch decided to go backwards.  Broadcaster TROS selected their song’s composer internally, and held a national final to decide who would sing “Ik Ben Verliefd, Sha-La-Lie (I’m In Love, Sha-La-Lie)”.  Now, the UK did something similar last year and came out with a 5th place score.  The British had selected Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren.  The Dutch, however, selected songwriter Pierre Kartner (aka Father Abraham), who was best known for this:

Oy.  After a low budget national selection that was basically decided by a coin flip from Kartner himself when two contestants were tied, we end up with this:
http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/xcpb6l
Don’t get me wrong…Sieneke’s cute, but this song is so dated…it just doesn’t do the poor girl any justice.  She’s only eighteen, yet the way she’s styled makes her look twice that age.  It’s just a bit sad to see the country that brought us Teddy Scholten and Milly Scott come to this.  Sieneke will be in the second semifinal, which means that her chances of passing through to the Final are slim to nil, unless half of the contestants aren’t able to make it to the contest because of flight delays from a certain Icelandic Volcano.  I wish Sieneke well, but I hope this is the last time she takes advice from a man who talks to Smurfs.