Category Archives: 2010

ESC 2010 Reviews: Moldova

Moldova is another one of those nations that I frankly knew little about until I started paying attention to Eurovision.  A former Soviet republic scrunched up between Romania and the Ukraine, it’s considered to be the poorest nation in Europe.  Despite this, however, Moldova is the land of great wine, mămăligă, and unexpectedly great Eurovision entries.

Moldova’s first foray into the ESC was back in 2005, when ska-funk band Zdob şi Zdub made a splash with “Boonika Bate Doba (Grandmama Beats the Drum)“, featuring a drum solo by Lidia Bejenaru, the Boonika herself.  Supposedly, the band decided to cut a member from their Eurovision line-up in order to make sure that Lidia had a place on stage, as there can only be six people on stage at once.  Making it all the way to a 6th place finish (and coming in 2nd during the semifinal), “Boonika Bate Doba” still stands as Moldova’s highest placement in Eurovision, and possibly their most memorable entry.  A friend and colleague of mine was living in a small town in Moldova at that time, and she tells me about how excited her host community was to see their hometown boys doing so well on the stage in Kiev.  For them to not only hear their language and see their traditional costumes on stage, but also to make such a huge impression on the scoreboard…it was a big deal!

Two years later, right on the heels of Finland’s victory with “Hard Rock Hallelujah”, Moldova sent a rock song of their own, Natalia Barbu’s “Fight“, making it back into the top 10.  However, when they went the smooth-jazz route the next year with Geta Burlacu’s “A Century of Love“, they failed to make the finals for the first time.

Last year, they decided to step the energy back up with the wonderfully manic pop-folk number “Hora Din Moldova (Dance of Moldova)” by local star Nelly Ciobanu.  Although they only made it to 14th place, they received a full set of 12 points from Romania and Portugal.

This year, Moldova’s keeping the energy high with “Run Away” by The SunStroke Project featuring Olia Tira.

This one’s a bit weird for me.  Between the violins in the beginning, the disco-pop beat and vocals, and the random saxophone throughout, “Run Away” sounds like it’s coming to us from three decades at once.  It’s undoubtedly fun and upbeat, and it will be the first song performed in the first semifinal, but that’s often a disadvantage as voters might not remember the first song out of the gate.  This one may be a tough sell, and if it makes it through to the finals, I doubt it will reach Zdob şi Zdub or Natalia Barbu territory.

Oh, and just as a side note, Moldova is also the nation that brought us this:

(No, not Gary Brolsma…he’s from New Jersey.  But the band that sang “Dragostea Din Tea”, O-Zone, hails from Moldova.  And now you won’t be able to get it out of your head.  Sorry!)

ESC 2010 Reviews: Malta

Ah, Malta.  A land known for a film-noir falcon, crunchy chocolate balls (no, wait…those are Maltesers…), and an almost fanatical devotion to Eurovison.  They’ve had a total of 22 entries in the ESC since 1971, and despite having no shared borders or culture with any other participant, they’ve come in the Top 10 a dozen times.  They’ve never actually won the whole thing, but they’ve had two silvers and two bronzes.  This is even more surprising considering that Malta only has a population of about 400,000 (about half of the population of Cyprus, or 10% of Georgia, or just about 1% of Poland). 

Their first few entries, back in 1971 and 1972, both scored in dead-last place.  I don’t think this had anything to do with the quality of the songs presented, but rather that they were sung completely in Maltese, a language that bears a passing resemblance to Sicilian Italian, but blended heavily with Arabic.  As wonderful as it was that their home language was represented, it went over the jury’s heads, and every Maltese entry since then has been performed in English (with the exception of one verse of the entry from 2000).  Switching to English was a positive change (and completely permissible, as English is co-official in Malta, and Eurovision used to mandate that all songs be performed in that nation’s official language).  After a hiatus from 1976-1991, Malta came back with a vengeance, racking up eight top-10 placements in a row.

However, for all their success in past years, Malta’s entries, like Greece’s, have generally left me cold.  They seem to have cornered the market on big, syrupy ballads and pop numbers, and that formula has very nearly taken them to the top of the scoreboard on a number of occasions.  It’s not that they’re bad songs at all; it’s just not what I personally listen to on a normal basis.  Frankly, many of these songs sound like they could have been extracted from the Disney songbook of the early-to-mid 1990s.  But ballads and pop tend to go over quite well in Eurovision, so Malta keeps it alive.

One of the greatest examples of Malta’s contributions to Eurovision is Chiara Siracusa.  Chiara is one of the rare performers to have made it to the ESC stage three times, and she’s come tantalizingly close to victory.  She came in a very close 3rd place in 1998 with “The One That I Love“, and came in 2nd in 2005 with “Angel“.  Last year, Malta figured that Chiara was due for a win, so they sent her to Moscow with “What if We?”.  Sadly, Valetta’s plan backfired, and Chiara only made it to 22nd place in the final. 

This year, Malta continues its trend of balladry with 18-year old Thea Garrett, singing “My Dream” (written by the team that put together “The One That I Love” for Chiara twelve years ago).

Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Thea, or with this song.  It’s only crime is that it’s one of approximately eleventy-billion ballads in this year’s competition, and I’m not sure if it can stack up against some of the others.  However, she’ll be in the first semifinal, where there are only a few other similar songs (Latvia, Belgium, Belarus, and Portugal), so it’s possible that Thea might squeak by, but I can’t imagine her placing in the top half of the scoreboard in the finals.

ESC 2010 Reviews: (Former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia

Ok, before I even start looking at the history of this country in Eurovision, there’s one detail that I have to hammer out.  What the heck is this nation called, anyway?  It’s been called Macedonia, the Republic of Macedonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Makedonia, Slavomacedonia…

So, why all the confusion?  Well, Macedonia (the nation) directly borders the Greek region of Macedonia.  As people have been referring to Macedonia as a whole since the time of Alexander the Great, the creation of a new state with the same name caused confusion for some, and hurt regional pride for others.  Greece has been pushing for an official name change for the Republic of Macedonia for some time, but there has been no change.  I think this is much ado about nothing, personally, and as long as people are being peaceful about it, Greek Macedonians and Slavic Macedonians can call themselves whatever they want.  (When Georgia became an independent nation back in 1991, were folks in Atlanta hurt?  Granted, I know that’s oversimplifying the situation, but it’s the closest comparison I can come up with…)  For the sake of this article (and anything else I might write about this country), I’ll be simply referring to this country as “Macedonia”, with the hope that I won’t further anger any of my Greek readers.  Sound fair to you?

Ok, back to the ESC.

Macedonia hasn’t had the best of luck in Eurovision, especially during the last few years.  They’ve never scored any higher than 12th place, and few of their songs really stick out in my mind as truly memorable.  They’ve tended more towards the pop-side of the spectrum, with the possible exception of last year’s “Nešto što kje ostane (Something that Will Remain)“, performed by Next Time, which hearkened back to the late 1980s-early 1990s Hair Metal scene.  They came in 10th place during their semifinal that year, which should have gotten them a spot in the final, but due to the way the voting system worked during the 2008 and 2009 contests, the 10th spot wasn’t given to the appropriate televoting result, but rather a “jury’s choice”.  Finland got the spot that should have gone to Macedonia (and promptly came in last place during the finals), and sadly, Next Time’s name was all-too appropriate.  This was actually the second year in a row that Macedonia was screwed out of the finals.  In 2008, juries gave the last ticket to the finals to the song from Sweden, kicking “Let Me Love You” out in the cold. 

I would be completely amiss if I brought up Macedonian Eurovision entries and failed to mention Toše Proeski.  His song “Life“, which represented his homeland in 2004, might not have been his biggest hit, or even a huge success in the ESC (it only made it to 14th place in that year’s Final), but Proeski was, without a doubt, the biggest star to come out of Macedonia.  He was popular all throughout the Balkan region, and was even named a UNICEF Ambassador.  When he died in 2007 as the result of a car accident in Croatia, he was given a full State Funeral and a day of national mourning was declared in Skopje.  Proeski was only 26 years old.  Here’s a link to my favorite song of his, “Igra Bez Granica (Games Without Borders)“, a song that gives me chills whenever I hear it.

So, after years of having defeat snatched from the jaws of Eurovision victory (or, at least, mediocrity), who will carry the hopes of Skopje on his shoulders this year?

Gjoko Taneski’s “Jas Ja Imam Silata (I Have The Strength)” isn’t bad, but again, it’s not completely spectacular, either.  It took me about four or five listens to this song for me to remember how it sounded, and when the video came out, it confused me even more.  The song is about how Gjoko is able to overcome heartbreak, but what’s up with the models in the cellophane?  I mean, the girls are pretty, but that’s all the video is!  And the “My Name Is Love” bit seems to come out of nowhere…sometimes, a preview video has the ability to enhance a song’s appeal before you see it on the ESC stage (Georgia’s clip for “Visionary Dream” comes to mind, as does last year’s official French video for “Et s’il fallait le faire“).  This time, however, it’s a detriment.  Sorry, Gjoko…maybe Next Time…

ESC 2010 Reviews: Lithuania

From Latvia, we fly over to neighboring Lithuania, a country that always seems to fly underneath the ESC radar (although, considering how bad some of their songs have been in the past, maybe that’s a good thing…)

They made their debut in 1994, and set an incredibly inauspicious precedent: Lithuania is the only country to debut in the Eurovision Song Contest and not win a single point.  (Other countries, such as Austria, Monaco, Turkey, Malta, and San Marino have all debuted in last place, but none of them hit “nul points” on their first shot out of the gate.)  The poor score of “Lopšinė mylimai (Sweetheart’s Lullabye)” left such a sour taste in broadcaster LRT’s mouth that they didn’t enter the contest again for another 5 years.  In 1999, however, Lithuania sent Aistė Smilgevičiūtė to sing “Strazdas (The Song Thrush)“, a neo-folk song performed in the Samogitian dialect of Lithuanian.  Although it only performed slightly better than the nation’s failed debut only 5 years earlier, “Strazdas” is one of my personal favorites.

Lithuania has made it to the Top 10 of an ESC only once.  In 2006, after years of basically abysmal results, LRT sent LT United to sing “We Are The Winners”.  This is another one of those cases where a random link to Youtube just won’t do…

(If you look closely, you can find the crazy dancing bald man from LT United making an appearance in InCulto’s video…)

These guys have been touring throughout their home country and the rest of Eastern Europe since 2003, and even came in 2nd place to LT United during the 2006 ESC Preselection with their song “Welcome to Lithuania“.  They’ll be competing as the first song in the second semifinal, so that alone might be a strike against them, but they’ve got a high-energy song with a vibe unlike any other song in the competition this year.  Also, if they copy their National Final performance, they drop their pants halfway through!  For that reason alone, I’m hoping that InCulto does well.

Nothing quite like a bunch of pantsless Lithuanian men to brighten your day! 😀

ESC 2010 Reviews: Latvia

So the next stop on our whirlwind tour of the 2010 participants in the Eurovision Song Contest is Latvia.  They were the last of the Baltic States to join the ESC (in 2000), and they debuted with a bit of a splash.  Riga band Brainstorm (also known by their Latvian name, Prāta Vētra) performed “My Star“, a sweet and melodic Brit-rock-influenced song, kicked into high gear by lead singer Renārs Kaupers‘s insane dance moves.  (Latvia must be on the forefront of some major medical research…Kaupers had the bottom half of his body surgically replaced with pipe cleaners and bendy straws!)  Renārs and his crazy legs took Latvia to a bronze-medal finish in their debut entry, and the nation claimed victory in the contest only two years later, with Marie M’s “I Wanna“, a completely standard Latin-inflected number that was honestly only memorable for its fantastic costume change.  (My apologies to all Latvian fans out there…but I preferred Brainstorm!)

Since Marie’s victory, Latvia’s kind of wandered through the Eurovision woods, with a string of generally less-than-memorable performances.  They’ve tried rock, popera, acapella (the first instrument-free song in Eurovision history), and, in a possible moment of pure desperation, piracy.

This year, Latvia’s asking for help from a higher power to get them out of the semifinals, sending Aisha with “What For (Only Mr. God Knows Why)”.  Now, Aisha’s voice isn’t bad by any stretch, and she’s definitely cute enough to garner a few votes from some of the 13-year-old boys watching the contest, but this song just kind of mystifies me.  It’s kind of depressing at times, and confusing at others.  Who the heck is Uncle Joe?  Why can’t he speak?  Does Mr. God have a first name?  Does he need an upgrade in his cellular service?  What the heck is going on here?  I don’t know if I should be taking this song seriously or not, and I doubt it will break through to the finals.  If God’s phone is out of range, can Aisha expect Eurovison voters to have any better luck?

ESC 2010 Reviews: Israel

(Just to warn you all, this is going to be a long one…)

When I speak to people about Eurovision for the first time, and mention that one of the most consistently strong entrants to the competition is Israel, I generally hear a variation of the same reaction.

“Israel?  That’s not even in Europe!”

Well, geographically speaking, that’s true.  However, entry to the ESC is not actually based on location, but rather whether a nation is a part of the European Broadcasting Union.  Morocco has participated in the past under this rule, and Lebanon nearly participated in the 2005 competition.  However, Israel has been the only “non-European” nation to have a continued presence in Eurovision, with some major successes and some equally major controversies.

Israel made its debut in 1973, with “Ey Sham (Somewhere)” sung by Ilanit.  Sounding like it could have been taken from the catalog of Carole King or Carly Simon, Ilanit took her country to 4th place during a highly-competitive year that saw ESC classics from Luxembourg, Spain, and the UK, among others.  It didn’t take long for Israel to reach victory; in 1978 Itzar Cohen and the AlphaBeta took home the crown with “A-Ba-Ni-Bi“, a song whose chorus was basically in the Hebrew version of Pig Latin.  The next year, Israel scored a rare second consecutive win with “Hallelujah” by Gali Atari featuring Milk and Honey, a song that I distinctly remember hearing back in Hebrew School while training for my Bat Mitzvah.

Since “Hallelujah”, Israel has racked up some pretty strong results, generally with either uptempo numbers often referring to the nation itself (such as 1982’s “Hora“, 1983’s “Chai (Alive)“, and 1991’s “Kan (Here)“) or big-voiced ballads (like 1990’s “Shara Barchovot (Singing in the Streets)“, 2005’s stunning Hasheket Shenishar (The Silence that Remains)”, or 2008’s “The Fire in Your Eyes“).

Granted, broadcaster IBA’s sent some pretty crazy entries, as well.  Check out 1987’s “Shir Habatlanim“…also known as “The Lazy Bum’s Song”.  When in doubt, try channeling the Blues Brothers, I guess.  Supposedly, the Israeli Minister of Culture was so disgusted by the song that he threatened to resign if the network went through with sending the Bums to the ESC.  I suppose a respectable 8th-place finish put him in his place, as there’s no record of him leaving his post. 

Even beyond the little tiff between the IBA and the humorless Minister of Culture, Israel is no stranger to Eurovision-based controversy.  As I’ve mentioned before, many nations throughout the Middle East and North Africa are entitled to enter the ESC if they so choose.  However, as many nations refuse to acknowledge Israel as an independent nation, and even go so far as to edit out the Israeli songs, many possible participants have refused to enter just on the grounds that Israel’s there.   In fact, when it became evident that Israel had won the 1978 contest (before voting had concluded, as it was a decisive victory), a Jordanian station showing the contest cut to an extended commercial break and eventually announced runners-up Belgium as the winner.

The topic of peace in the Middle East (and the lack thereof) has come up often in Israel’s entries.  In 2007, the entry “Push The Button” by Teapacks was nearly disqualified for alluding to the growing nuclear capabilities of Iran (sample lyric: “There are some crazy rulers/they hide and try to fool us/with demonic technologic/willingness to harm/They’re gonna push the button”).  Last year, IBA decided to approach the theme from a different direction, bringing Yemeni-Israeli singer Noa and Bulgarian-Arabic-Palestinian singer Mira Awad together to sing “There Must Be Another Way“.  For the first time, Arabic was sung alongside Hebrew and English in an Israeli entry, and the song had the unique ability to inspire some listeners and completely enrage others.  On one hand, you had two wonderful performers from two different faiths, ethnicities, languages, and cultures singing a song of hope and empathy together.  However, many hardliners on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict saw Noa and Mira as traitors, or at least overly optimistic during times of war.  I personally was one of those inspired by the two women, and I wholeheartedly appreciated their efforts (and their song).

You can’t mention the words “Eurovision”, “Israel”, and “controversy” in the same breath without mentioning Dana International, however.  She took the 1998 ESC by storm with her disco-anthem “Diva“, winning the first Eurovision decided by a public televote.  She gave Israel its third victory, and sealed her own international notoriety.  So, why all the fuss?

Dana was actually born male.  Conservatives all over Israel and the rest of Europe were gobsmacked, but Europe embraced Dana, and the victory of “Diva” is considered one of the seminal moments of the Eurovision Song Contest.

So, after all of that, who’s carrying the Magen David to Oslo?

This year, the honor goes to “Milim (Words)”, performed 28-year-old Harel Skaat.  A small preselection followed his internal selection by IBA, where Skaat sang 4 songs written specifically for the occasion (my personal favorite of the four, “Le’an (Away)“, came in as runner up).

In a year full of ballads, “Milim” truly stands head and shoulders above the rest.  Harel’s incredibly talented, both in vocal ability and presentation.  There are rumors that he might perform the song with a verse in either English or French, which may take away from some of the impact of using Hebrew, but it may also make the song more accesible to a non-Hebrew-speaking audience (which is, of course, the vast majority of ESC-viewers).  However, Israel’s 3 previous victories were sung entirely in Hebrew, so you never know.  I can almost guarantee that this will not only qualify for the final, but it may be in the running for the win.  I can’t wait to see what Harel brings to the Eurovision stage in a few weeks!

ESC 2010 Reviews: Ireland

Hmm…remember what I said about France being the Queen of Eurovision?  Scratch that.  With seven victories, including 4 wins and 2 second places in the 1990s alone, Ireland is truly the one that other nations look up to (or used to, anyway).  It’s getting late here in Minnesota, so I’ll just be quick about this; here are Ireland’s most glorious moments:

1970: Dana, “All Kinds of Everything“.  Sweet and syrupy as treacle, Dana was only about 18 years old and in training to be an English teacher when she took home Ireland’s first victory, .

1980: Johnny Logan, “What’s Another Year?” and 1987: Johnny Logan, “Hold Me Now“. Although many previous winners have come back to the contest (Anne Marie David from France/Luxembourg, Charlotte Perelli from Sweden, Gigliola Cinquetti from Italy, etc…), only Logan was ever able to grab two victories.  As wonderful as that performance was, however, I personally prefer this version.

1992: Linda Martin, “Why Me?“.  This could technically be considered Johnny Logan’s third ESC win, as he actually composed this entry, too!

1993: Niamh Kavanagh, “In Your Eyes“.  Niamh (pronounced Neeve) was a relative unknown in Ireland before her win, but she appeared in the soundtrack for the film adaptation of the Roddy Doyle book “The Committments”.  Great flick; I recommend it!

1994: Paul Harrington & Charlie McGettigan, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids“.  There are rumors that RTE, the Irish broadcaster, picked this song to intentionally lose.  It wasn’t upbeat or flashy, there was no fancy
instrumentation (just a guitar and piano, nothing else), and no male duo had ever won the contest before.  Despite all of this, Paul and Charlie won handily, with a 60-point margin over 2nd-placed Poland.  The 1994 Contest is also notable for being the world premiere of Riverdance, performed during the interval when the juries completed their voting.

1996: Eimar Quinn, “The Voice“.  A former member of the choral group Anúna, “The Voice” was a definite departure from the ballads that had won the contest before for Ireland.  This one was much more traditionally Celtic-inspired.

Ok, just to be fair, Ireland’s had a few crushing defeats in the past few years, and one in particular was a real turkey.  No, seriously.  Dustin the Turkey is a well-known figure in the Irish media, and has even run a campaign for President on the platform of promising every young man in Ireland a date with one of the Pussycat Dolls.  His (its?) entry, “Irelande Douze Pointe ” was a twisted skewering of the contest as a whole, asking “Europe, where oh where did it all go wrong?”  Sadly, it didn’t make it out of the semifinals.  Actually, Ireland hasn’t made it out of the semis since 2007, when they eventually came in dead last in the final, a first for the Emerald Isle.

Carrying the Irish torch this year is 1993 ESC winner Niamh Kavanagh.

Her song, “It’s For You”, won the Irish preselection with the highest possible number of points from both the jury and televoters, and Eurovision almost always loves a returning champion, especially from the nation that’s won the ESC more often than any other.  She looks and sounds great, even considering that it’s been 17 years since her victory.  Niamh will be competing in the second semifinal, but she should definitely make it through to the final round.

ESC 2010 Reviews: Iceland

Let’s face it: Iceland’s had a rough time the past few years.  It’s isolated, it’s cold, and the United Kingdom keeps trying to steal their cod.  Their traditional fare (rotten shark, blood pudding, and something called Súrsaðir Hrútspungar….don’t ask…) makes even the hardiest eater long for the relative comfort and safety of haggis.  Their economy has tanked in recent years, and now a volcano that most non-Icelandic speakers can’t pronounce (Eyjafjallajökull…say it with me now…”ey-ya-fyat-la-yoke-it-til”) has been grounding flights all over Europe, covering huge swaths of land with volcanic ash.

That being said, Iceland is supposed to be one of the world’s most beautiful places, with glaciers, fjords, geysers, host springs, and a rich history dating back to the Norse.  This is the land of the saga, the Blue Lagoon, and Björk.  I think the lesson that we must learn from all of this is not to screw with Iceland.  They might be far away from everything else on the planet, but they can probably use their volcanic, hakarl-eating Viking powers to mess your life up.  Case in point:–eOLb3KMg
(Yeah, I’ve seen that sketch about a thousand times, and it still never gets old.)

Anyway, Iceland first entered the ESC back in 1986, one of the last of the Western European nations to do so.  They occasionally broke into the Top 10, but some of their best entries (in my opinion, anyway) were some of their most underrated.

In 1997, Paul Oscar (full name Páll Óskar Hjálmtýsson) presented “Minn Hinsti Dans (My Last Dance)“, a surprisingly low-key electronic piece that was pretty ahead of its time, in terms of its presentation.  I don’t believe that the ESC had fully embraced this genre of music at that point, and voting in 1997 was still jury-based, as opposed to a public televote, so Paul was sadly relegated to a 20th-place finish.  (In his defense, though, 1997 was a very competitive year, with amazing entries from the UK, Turkey, Italy, Russia, and Poland, among others.)

In 2006, after only so-so results (with the exception of a 2nd-place finish in 1999), Iceland decided to go the comedy route.  The alter ego of actress Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, “Silvia Night” is a mix of Paris Hilton and Ali G.  A self-centered, social-ladder-climbing starlet with her own talk show in Iceland, Ágústa really played true to her character while at Eurovision, insulting journalists, bad-mouthing the other contestants, and throwing hissy fits in public.  However, many people watching her Eurovision Entry, “Congratulations“, had no idea that she was entirely fictional, and not only did she not make it through to the final, but she was actually booed at the start of her performance!

Last year, Iceland sent 18-year-old Jóhanna Guðrún Jónsdóttir (Yohanna) with a traditional ballad, “Is It True?”  Despite possibly the worst dress in the 2009 competition (I had never seen a blue wedding cake before…), “Is It True?” came in a very respectable 2nd place after the juggernaut that was Norway.  Yohanna came across as very sweet and innocently earnest, perfect for a song about a first heartbreak.  Her voice was flawless, almost crystalline, and considering how expensive winning the ESC can end up being, a silver medal was a massive victory for Iceland last year.

This year, Iceland has sent a familiar face.  Hera Björk Þórhallsdóttir (just call her Hera Björk) sang backup for the 2008 and 2009 entries, and has competed various times to be the Icelandic representative.  Her entry, “Je Ne Sais Quoi”, is an upbeat Europop number, the kind that is made for the ESC.

Not only is Hera’s voice something to be reckoned with, and not only is Iceland a part of the powerful Scandinavian voting bloc, but “Je Ne Sais Quoi” is also the last song to be performed during the first semifinal.  If this doesn’t make it through to the finals (and possibly into the Top 10 at the final, I might just have to sacrifice myself to Eyjafjallajökull.  (But don’t hold me to that…maybe we should sacrifice Silvia Night, instead!)

ESC 2010 Reviews: Greece

Ok, dear readers, I need to come clean with you all.

I rarely, if ever, like the Greek entries for Eurovision.

I know, I’m going against the grain here, and I’m probably alienating any Greek readers that I have or will have in the future, but few, if any, have ever made much of an impact on me.  It’s nothing political, I promise (I tend to like what Cyprus serves up!), but the songs that Athens serves up either slip from my memory completely, or they strike me as derivative.  I really want to like these songs; often times, their stage shows are out of this world, and you can’t deny how much of a spectacle they can be.  But, all too often, Greek entries are built on a simple formula: pretty face + danceable melody + bouzouki/lyra or disco break = 12 points from Cyprus.

Here are a few examples, all of which have scored in the Top 10 in the past few years.

2001: Antique, “Die For You“, 3rd place.
2004: Sakis Rouvas, “Shake It“, 3rd place.
2005: Helena Paparizou (formerly the lead singer of Antique), “My Number One“, winner.
2007: Sarbel, “Yassou Maria“, 7th place.
2008: Kalomoira, “Secret Combination“, 3rd place.
2009: Sakis Rouvas (again), “This Is Our Night“, 7th place.
2010: Giorgos Alkaios and Friends, “OPA”

…I was trying to come up with something witty and biting to say here, but I was distracted by the cute backup dancers.  What was I talking about again?

Greece will probably sail through to the final, as they always do (especially because they’ll be performing in the less-competitive first semifinal), but this year’s effort has been somewhat hampered by the nation’s dire economic status.  Their sponsoring network will only be paying for a bare-bones music video (the one shown in the above embed was supposedly paid for by Alkaios himself) and a limited promotional tour to neighboring nations, as opposed to a more extensive tour of the continent.  I’m not suggesting that they’re throwing the contest at all, but considering the fact that Greece is going to be receiving a 110 million Euro bailout from the rest of the EU, it might be best that Eurovision 2011 not be held in Athens.  But we’ll see what happens!

ESC 2010 Reviews: Germany

Ok, remember what I said a few entries back about Finland being the country that would try anything once, even if their adventurous song choices didn’t normally translate to success on the scoreboard?  Well, they might have been taking their lessons from Germany.  Despite a total of 53 entries since 1956, they’ve only chalked up a single victory, in 1982.  While many of their entries have tended towards traditional “schlager“-pop (with composer Ralph Siegel behind the helm of 14 entries between 1974 and 2003), Germany has occasionally veered towards the offbeat, unexpected, and even hilarious (even if the hilarity wasn’t quite intended).

Possibly the most famous of these ESC-based German Freak-Outs was “Dschingis Khan“, served up back in 1979.  Believe it or not, this actually made it to 4th place in Jerusalem, and the band (conveniently also named “Dschingis Khan”) lives on in internet-based infamy.  Check out their song “Moskau”, especially with misheard lyrics (not quite safe for work or children, depending on how sensitive they are…).  The weirdness continued the next year with Katja Ebstein’s “Theater“, with its heavy use of singing mimes (although, isn’t that a bit of a contradiction?).  Odder still, ESC voters lapped it up, and “Theater” came in second place that year.

After putting the offbeat on hiatus for a few years, Germany sent Guildo Horn and the Orthopedic Stockings to the 1998 Contest with “Guildo Hat Euch Lieb (Guildo Loves You All)“.  The performance somehow incorporated cowbells, turquoise velvet clothing, and vague molestation of the viewers sitting in the first two rows…and it placed a more than respectable 7th place!  Two years later, German television personality Stefan Raab, who had written “Guildo Hat Euch Lieb”, decided to strike out on his own with “Wadde Hadde Dudde Da?”, which is sort of a nonsensical, baby-talk way to say “Whaddaya Got There?”.  Raab, like Guildo before him, embraced the lunacy of the situation with both arms (and a pair of badass platform boots), and ended up with a 5th place finish, their most recent top-5 placing, in fact.

After Guildo and Stefan, Germany decided to cool it with the outright comedy for a while, but they still experimented with unexpected genres.  In 2006, they selected Australian-born singer Jane Comerford and her band Texas Lightning to bring country music to the Eurovision stage for the first time with their song “No No Never”, coming in 14th place.  They tried Rat-Pack-inspired big band the next year with Roger Cicero’s “Frauen Regier’n Die Welt (Women Rule The World)“, but their scores dipped even lower, coming in 19th.  Last year, Germany decided to blend swing with burlesque and came up with “Miss Kiss Kiss Bang“, a song that was only redeemed by the sporadic appearance of Dita von Teese and her impossibly tiny waist.  Not even a semi-celebrity in a corset could save “Miss Kiss”, and they stayed in 20th place.

So, what do you do when you find yourself languishing in the bottom half of the scoreboard for longer than is comfortable?  Well, Germany called Stefan Raab again, of course!  He helped set up a national preselection process and sat as head of the jury.  After weeks of competition, who got the golden ticket to Oslo?

At first, I wondered what was up with Lena Meyer-Landrut’s accent while she was singing “Satellite”.  After years of listening to German singers in the ESC singing in English, nobody has had an affectation quite like Lena’s.  Then, after hearing the song through, I realized that she was mimicking the sort of British accent you hear from singers like Kate Nash or Lily Allen.  It’s a bit odd to hear Mockney coming out of a girl from Hanover, but Lena pulls it off with such an endearingly adorable awkwardness that it’s hard not to fall for her.  Unlike other recent ESC submissions from Germany, “Satellite” has actually made it to the pop charts in her native country, smashing records for digital downloads.  Within a week of the song’s release, it was certified gold, and made platinum only three weeks later.  She’s also hit #2 in Switzerland and Austria (which is even more impressive considering that Austria isn’t even competing in this year’s Eurovision), and has even cracked the Top 10 on the European Hot 100 Singles charts, which covers 15 nations all over the continent.  On the official Eurovision page on Youtube, Lena leads all of the other ESC preview videos in terms of view count, with over 3.4 million views as of last count.  (In contrast, Serbia’s video, which is in 2nd place, only has about 600,000.)

Keep in mind that before February 2, nobody knew this girl’s name.

As a writer, even as a complete amateur who’s only really writing this blog for her own enjoyment, I feel it’s my duty to stay impartial and unbiased.  That being said, “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. 

I don’t know about you all, but I’m probably going to have this stuck in my head for a while.