Category Archives: 2011

Follow Up Single Time, Part 3

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a whole bunch of new and recent releases from all over the Eurovision world.  Let’s see what we’ve got…

One of the more highly-anticipated songs from the post-Düsseldorf boom comes, of course, from the irrepressible Jedward.  The Irish twins, who are planning on releasing their new album, “Victory”, in August, have already gone to the top of the Irish Charts with their new single, “Bad Behaviour”.  Featuring Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton (who, incidentally, happens to be the namesake of the Grimes Brothers’ parrot…), both the song and accompanying video keeps the high-energy, frenetic pop vibe of “Lipstick” going strong.  The pair are currently touring the UK, Ireland, and Germany.

Jedward – Bad Behaviour (Official Music Video) HQ from xeaaasy on Vimeo.

San Marino’s Senit has also released her next track, entitled “Through the Rain”.  At this point, however, it is only available through the Italian version of iTunes.  This upbeat, danceable track seems to be more in line with Senit’s previous releases than the sweet, subtle “Stand By”, and it even clocks in at less than the Eurovision-standard three minute mark.  Could this have been the mysterious other track that SMRTV had considered sending to Eurovision?

Following “Rusinka”, (FYR) Macedonia’s Vlatko Ilievski has just released his next video, for “Moja Tamna Rijeko”.  Call me crazy, but I prefer this softer side of Vlatko over the man we saw in Germany.  It might not be as catchy as “Rusinka”, but at least we can hear him singing this time around!  What are your thoughts?

Last, but certainly not least, Finland’s Paradise Oskar (Axel Ehnström) has released his second single, “Sunday Everyday”. 

Axel took home the Marcel Bezençon Press Award from the accredited journalists in Düsseldorf after his performance of “Da Da Dam”, and if you were a fan of his sweet, introspective, acoustic-driven style, his album “Sunday Songs” might be just your speed.  It’s hit the Top Five in the Finnish charts, and he’s touring actively throughout the summer. 

Catching up with Raphael Gualazzi

During my time at the Press Center in Düsseldorf this year, I had the great (and often surreal) pleasure to get to know a number of 2011’s Eurovision performers.  I sipped tea with the Greeks, chatted with the Icelanders, danced with the Armenians, practiced my Portuguese with Homens da Luta, and raised a few toasts with the Bulgarians.  However, one of my favorite artists to work with was Italy’s Raphael Gualazzi.  After having the chance to interview him for ESCKaz, we would often run into each other as he went from rehearsals to press conferences to interviews and back again, always sharing a quick smile and a “ciao”.  I sat in the second row during Raphael’s intimate showcase at “Jazz in der Alten Schmeide”, and saw firsthand how much he and his bandmates truly feel their music, a fantastic, soulful blend of old-school stride piano fused with modern blues, funk, and jazz.  When “Madness of Love” defied expectations and quietly climbed up the leaderboard on May 14th, ultimately making its way into a surprising (to some, anyway) second place finish, I may have been celebrating louder than the Italian delegation itself.  I had the chance to catch up with Raphael this week before his gig at the Teatro Tenda in Vascon, near Treviso.  Despite an often-fuzzy cell phone connection, I was able to get a few questions in.

ESC Insider: It’s been over a month since we’ve last talked…how has life been since Düsseldorf?
Raphael Gualazzi: Well, we were very busy before [Eurovision]…a lot of gigs around Europe.  And now, after that, we are in a lot of different countries, so a lot of work on promotion. And at the same time a lot of concerts around Europe, like Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, all around.  You can check [the tour schedule] out on the Internet, for sure.  Also, there’s been some television in Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin, and we’ll have also a tour in October, from the 1st to the 15th in Germany that will start in Stuttgart, through Berlin, Hamburg, and it will stop in Frankfurt on the 15th.  And now, I’m just doing a lot of work, touring around festivals in France…

EI: So, is there any possibility of you coming over to this side of the Atlantic?
RG: I really would like that!  We’re just building our way, and probably, I hope, soon…I think we will!
EI: It sounds like you’ve been so busy since Eurovision…well, really, since Sanremo!  Have you taken any time to take a deep breath and relax?  When you take time off, what do you do?
RG: Well, I’ve had not so much time and, you know, I like to compose, so I ask to bring in a piano to the hotel room, so I can practice or write down something…
EI: Thinking about the Eurovision experience itself: out of twenty-five songs in the Final, you came in second place, and the Jury put you in first.   The huge scale of it: the arena held over 30,000, and the night of the final had over 70 million people watching.  Has it sunk in, how huge of an experience it was?  When you look back on it, what do you think?
RG: Well, I think it was amazing…I’ve never believed in competition, but I think it was a great occasion to be in front of so many people and viewers.  Just three minutes to express yourself.  We worked very hard…weeks just for three minutes in front of so, so, many, many, many people.  And I just said to myself, ‘I just have to do my best for my music, and be thankful for the possibility to express myself in front of so many people.’  For three minutes, I had the possibility to bring back Jazz to its full popularity.  That’s what I think I did!  People around me were nervous…‘oh, we are in first, second, third’.  I didn’t really care; I just had a glass of wine!  For me, it was a game…the same atmosphere you can have with your parents after dinner in Italy, around the table when you play Tombola or Bingo or something like that. [laughs]
EI: You were at Eurovision for a little bit over a week.  What was your favorite memory from your time in Düsseldorf?
RG: Well, the memory of joy from seeing people from different countries joining together and making music.  I know that with popular music, you get different kinds…but to see more than forty countries just joining together…you see how much power can be with music.  I don’t believe in contests, but it can help people meet and cooperate with each other, like I did with the 3Js and some other people.  But it’s great, the most important thing!
EI: You mention working with the 3Js [2011’s representatives from The Netherlands].  I read on another website that you’re planning another collaboration with them; is this true?
RG: Well, why not?  I have no official news on that, partially because I’m so taken up by my work, I cannot say.  I have some things to talk about with my label, but I think so!  I think we’ll have some gigs together.  I don’t know what’s going on, but if I have some news, for sure I will communicate with you.
EI: Is there anything you would change about your experience [at Eurovision]?
RG: At the moment, about this experience in Germany, I wouldn’t change anything!  I was that everything was perfectly set and perfectly organized.  It was amazing…it’s certainly not so easy to work with so many people and their delegations, so I think that it was great.  It was all very good, and I wouldn’t change anything.
EI: Now, when you came from the Sanremo Festival and were selected to go to Eurovision, you didn’t know very much about the competition.  It’s not very well known in Italy, and even this year, only about a million viewers watched the Final.  But now, with the possibility of Italy taking part more often in Eurovision, what advice would you give other Italian singers and songwriters about your experience?
RG: What I can tell is, for sure, that we didn’t take this opportunity, and we didn’t have this choice for so many years, that many people probably, a little bit, forgot about it.  Today, one of the questions that people often ask me is ‘how many people waited for you at the airport [when you came back from Düsseldorf]?’  And the answer is ‘nobody’!  Very few people…they really follow Sanremo, so [Eurovision] is not so popular….I can say to the Italian people that the Eurovision Song Contest is a contest of pop songs, but it’s very good experience.  First of all, it gives you the possibility to express yourself in front of an amazing audience of viewers, and an amazing audience live.  At the same time, it’s an important occasion of collaboration.  I always say, like that song…[singing] ‘Always look on the bright side of life!’  [laughs] Like that, you know?  So big of an experience…people really need to know that.  If you have the possibility…it’s part of our business.  It’s a great occasion to…bring your music to so many.  It’s three minutes of magic.
Since the release of his album “Reality and Fantasy”, Raphael has topped the iTunes Jazz charts all over Europe, and has even made an impact on that chart’s Australian counterpart.  He’s touring all over Europe, booked almost solid at least until November, selling out venues from Berlin to Strasbourg to Rome and back again.  (For fans on the other side of the Atlantic, however, patience might have to be a virtue.  Raphael did, however, express a definite interest in coming to the US for a few dates, especially considering his successful performance at the “History and Mystery of Jazz” festival in New Hampshire and Vermont back in 2009.)
Some might think that such success, even in a niche market like the world of Jazz (or, for that matter, the world of Eurovision), might go to a man’s head.  But when Raphael and his delegation returned to the Press Center after the Final, with dozens of people crowding around the newly-minted silver medalist, the soft-spoken pianist from Urbino with the old soul and boyish smile took the camera flashes and sudden attention with the same quiet humility that he showed on the stage at Sanremo only a few brief months earlier.  For Raphael, it has always been about the music, not the fame or the spectacle.  At one point, when a small group of volunteers asked him for a photo, he quietly took their camera and pointed it at the four young women, seemingly unaware that they wanted him to be in the photo, as well.  After I took the camera from Raphael and snapped a group shot for his giggling group of fans, I gently reminded him that yes, he was the celebrity here.
(MAJOR thanks go out to Raphael and his team at Sugar Music, including his manager Francesco Pasquero, for their help in getting this interview arranged.  Grazie mille, ragazzi!)

Follow Up Single Time, Part 2

As the weeks progress, more of Eurovision’s Class of 2011 are continuing on with their careers and releasing their next singles.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Dino Merlin has followed up his 6th-place finish in Germany with his new single, “Undo”.  Despite the title, the song is in Bosnian, unlike his ESC-entry “Love in Rewind”.  Dino is actively touring this summer, and will likely release his next album in early 2012.

Albania’s preeminent diva, Aurela Gaçe, has collaborated with local rapper MC Kresha to bring the world their new single, “Cash”.   It might not harness Aurela’s epic vocal prowess in the same way that “Kënga Ime/Feel the Passion” did in Düsseldorf, but it’s still a fun listen, and any video that has echoes of “Tron” gets a thumbs-up in my book:

Norway’s Stella Mwangi, who shockingly missed out on this year’s Final with the peppy, Afro-inspired “Haba Haba”, has picked herself up, dusted herself off, and is continuing on with her career.   She released her new album, “Kinanda”, on June 10th, and has already released the video of “Haba Haba”‘s follow-up, “Lookie Lookie”:

Finally (for now, at least), 2011’s Dutch representatives 3Js have also released a new single in the past few days (although sharp-eared Eurofans will recognize “De Stroom” as the runner-up in this year’s National Selection). 

Jury vs. Televote…the Saga Continues

There’s been a lot of chatter from fans (both casual and obsessed) about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of a 50% Jury, 50% Televote split at Eurovision.  Call me crazy, but I actually kind of prefer having the two sides.  A jury might be less inclined to vote for a song based on geographical or cultural distribution, while a public vote might be a better divining rod of what’s actually popular.  Juries also have the benefit of having a few hours to digest their thoughts and register their votes, while televoters have a smaller window to decide where to spend their hard-earned cell-phone minutes. (Granted, until the full votes from each nation are released by the EBU or by the broadcasters themselves, this is a lot of speculation.)

What *does* bother me a bit, however, is the fact that the juries and the public vote on two different performances.  The Juries give their scores based on the final dress rehearsal from the night before the actual event.  As many have said over the past few weeks, Blue’s vocals simply didn’t do the song justice during the Jury Final (which pains me to say, since I loved both the song and the boys themselves, as my readers knew). 
I think it all boils down to what makes a Eurovision Winner the “best” song.  Is it the composition?  The showmanship?  The personality?  The actual vocal performance?  The potential for a song to become a commercial hit?  The public will look for one thing, while the juries might look for something else.  When it comes to actual musical talent, I sincerely think that the juries got it right when they favored Italy.  In terms of showmanship, the Azeris put on a great performance that was visually stunning (with a bit of eye candy for all).  Was “Running Scared” my personal choice or prediction for the winner?  Not by a long shot.  After watching the semifinals and a slew of rehearsals, I was hoping for Rome, Reykjavík, Copenhagen, Athens, Sarajevo, or Tblisi, and I predicted it would go to London, Dublin, Paris, or even Belgrade.  But even though “Running Scared” wasn’t my personal taste, I can sit back and understand how it took the crown.  Düsseldorf was full of impressive songs and performances, and when enthusiasm is spread out over a number of different nations (a total of 20 nations out of 25 ended up with at least one “douze points”, with only Estonia, Russia, Switzerland, Germany, and Serbia missing out), an entry can easily fly under the radar and take a victory.
It’s possible to go on about this topic for pages and pages, and you might never come up with a true consensus of how to find an ideal winner.  My friend John Kennedy O’Connor wrote a really in-depth and incisive piece on this topic for, and I recommend that you all check it out, if you haven’t already.
Ok, everybody…let the (hopefully civil) debate begin!  What would you like to see, in terms of the voting?

Follow Up Single Time!

As is customary in the days following Eurovision, many of the artists that we have come to know and love from their participation on the ESC stage realize that there is, in fact, life after the world’s largest musical competition.  (Granted, the same can’t necessarily be said about the bloggers you have come to know and love, who still cling to every fiber of their time in the Press Center!).  Whether an artist is a newcomer on the scene or a professional with an established career, it’s only natural that new singles follow on the heels of the Grand Final.

Italy’s representative Raphael Gualazzi released his album “Reality and Fantasy”, and since its release in February it has reached #1 on the iTunes Jazz charts all over Europe.  (It’s also available on iTunes in the US, and I give it my personal ESCInsider seal of approval!)  Raphael’s keeping the momentum up releasing the follow-up single to “Follia d’Amore/Madness of Love”, “A Three Second Breath”.

We also have a pair of releases from Greece’s artists.  Rapper Stereo Mike is currently working on a radio edit for his song “Μπορώ/Mporo (I)”.  Taken from his new album “Ανέλιξη (Evolution)”, Mike actually decided to release “Μπορώ” after asking his Facebook and Twitter followers what his next single should be.  He’s currently in the studio remixing the track, but here’s the full album edit: 

Not to be outdone, Loukas Yiorkas also has a new single out.  Teaming up again with composer Giannis Christodoulopoulos and lyricist Eleana Vrachali (the pair behind “Watch My Dance”), Loukas has unveiled his next track, “Για Πρώτη Φορά/Gia Proti Fora (For the First Time)”.

Sweden’s bronze-medalist Eric Saade has released the follow up to “Popular”, the highest-scoring Swedish Eurovision song since their 1999 victory.  Eric will be releasing his new album, “Saade Vol. 1” at the end of June, but “Hearts in the Air” will actually be the album’s third single, after “Still Loving It” and, of course, “Popular”.

Romania’s Hotel FM (led by British-born David Bryan) has released their next track, following “Change”.  I had the chance to hear a brief acapella version of “The Gathering” while I interviewed the guys back in Düsseldorf, so hearing the full arrangement was pretty cool.  Judge for yourself:

Finally, Estonia’s Getter Jaani has released a new duet with Koit Toome (a fellow ESC-alum, from 1998).  “Valged Ööd (White Nights)” is a poppy summer song that seems to be a seamless continuation from “Rockefeller Street”.  Getter’s only eighteen years old, and when she was appearing on Eesti otsib superstaari, she performed a pair of songs by Miley Cyrus, so this sort of upbeat pop seems to be just her thing.

::Drumroll please?::

And the winner is…Azerbaijan?!?!?

It’s not a bad song by any stretch, but in my opinion, it benefited from a pretty good draw and the fact that Turkey wasn’t competing in the Final that night.  It’s too early to tell if I’m going to Baku next year or not; I might need a few days to decompress!  (Lucky for me, I fly to Israel tomorrow to board a cruise with my parents!  If you don’t hear much from me over the next few days, that’s why!)

On the happier side of the coin, I’m absolutely THRILLED that Italy’s Raphael Gualazzi came in an incredibly respectable runner-up position.  It wasn’t because of the fact that Eurovision fans missed Italy, and it wasn’t because of some hyped-up production…I like to think that it was because the music was real, heartfelt, and well-performed.  I’ve met with Raphael a few times over these past two weeks, and, bar none, nobody else that I had met with here in Germany feels the music running through his veins as much as he does.  If someone asks him to sing acapella, he closes his eyes and moves his fingers as if a piano were in front of him.  He’s fantastic, and he has an amazing career ahead of him.

Sweden came in 3rd, which is a pretty remarkable contrast from the train-wreck that his first few rehearsals displayed.  Early fan favorites Hungary and Estonia came in 22nd and 24th, respectively, and Jedward beat Blue in the scoreboard.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m exhausted, and I’ve got an early flight to catch.  My voice is gone, and my feet hurt from the three-inch stilettos I’m rocking tonight.  But I’ve never been happier.

I’ll catch you guys soon!

Personal Highlights from these past 2 weeks

Well, like I’ve mentioned before, tonight’s the Grand Final of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest.  For the past two weeks or so, I’ve had the honor and the pleasure of writing not only for ESCInsider, but also for, the official website of the OGAE Rest of the World fan club.  My work with ESCKaz (and the press accreditation that comes with it) has afforded me the incredible opportunity to meet equally incredible people, from the fraternity of journalists here to the hardworking volunteers to the EBU staffers to the delegations and artists themselves.  I cannot express my gratitude deeply enough to the ESCKaz team for not only giving me the chance to work with them, but also taking me under their wing and helping me learn on the fly as I was tossed into the Deep End of the Eurovision world.

I had the chance to interview 20 of this year’s artists, and I got to meet nearly all of the performers either at the Euroclub or one of the myriad other events here over the past few weeks.  I got particularly close to the Icelandic delegation, the Greeks, Raphael Gualazzi from Italy, Finland’s Paradise Oskar, and the Sanmarinese staff.  Even the biggest divas here were sweet and welcoming; Albania’s Aurela Gaçe always greeted me as we passed each other in the hall (especially after I told her that I was from New Jersey).

As I’ve previously said, this entire experience has made me reevaluate the entire notion of “fame” and “celebrity”.  I’ve witnessed quiet moments of coffee-sipping, flirtation, personal breakdowns, musical jam sessions, and the panic of realizing that one is about to perform in front of 150 million people, not to mention YouTube clips ad infinitum.  Celebrities are people, too, my friends.  Treat them with respect (especially the newcomers on the scene).

I’m also still amused by the obsession with collecting the delegations’ promotional CDs.  I will happily accept the swag and goodies from countries that I either have a relationship with or enjoy the song of, but I’m not going to step over my own mother in order to get the promo material from Kreplachistan if I think the song is abysmal.  (That being said, the prize for the BEST promotional swag has to go, hands down, to the Georgian delegation, who provided selected members of the press corps with magnets, notebooks, pens, locally-produced teas, silk scarves, and even bottles of Georgian wine!)

Other things I have learned:
1) You catch more flies (and interviews) with honey than with vinegar.  By going out and simply being polite to the volunteers, heads of press, and other staffers here, one can make significantly more headway towards where you want to go than by going in charging like a bull in a china shop and making demands from the higher-ups.  The delegations don’t owe you anything.

2) Be more in charge of your own accommodation arrangements.  I left my housing to my colleagues in the OGAE Rest of the World.  While the housing was inexpensive and in a very safe location, I didn’t know until I arrived how distant my apartment would be from where the rest of the action was.  It took me nearly an hour every day to get to the Arena via public transportation, and the buses stopped running too early, meaning that I had to pay for a taxi home nearly every night, upping my daily incidentals by about 25 Euros per night.  Also, while my housemates were lovely people, I was the youngest of the four of us, and the only one who wanted to go out often and enjoy what the city had to offer.  Because of that dynamic, I feel like I’ve missed out a bit.

3) Never say “No”, and break down your own barriers.    I’ve been overwhelmed, stressed, and crazed at times, but I’ve never turned down an opportunity to shake a hand, do an interview, or smile for a random camera.  I’m also pretty shy by my nature, but I’ve overcome my own fears and put myself out there.  I don’t really like the way I look on camera or in audio recordings, but I recorded a handful of podcasts for ESC Insight and have been interviewed for Belarussian television.  I’ve felt my knees shaking as I got up to ask questions to Jedward, but I ended up creating a great moment (but, then again, with Jedward, aren’t they all?).  I often hate sitting alone, but I went on my own to Raphael Gualazzi’s showcase and it might have been the highlight of my time here.  I’ve made some great friends by keeping myself open-minded, and who knows where those connections will lead?

4) Enjoy every second.  There are about 2,500 accredited journalists here at the Press Center, and the vast majority of them are screaming Eurovision fanboys and fangirls.  We stress out, we freak out, we explode, but we love every moment.  The arguments, the punditry, the debates…we live for this.  We’re all hopelessly addicted, and we do this out of love.  Eurovision is our Summer Camp, our Prom, and our Bar Mitzvahs all rolled into one yearly event.  Veterans see old friends and make new ones year after year…often times, the question asked isn’t “who do you want to win?”, but rather “where would you like to meet up next year?”.  (That’s one of many reasons I’m hoping Iceland takes it…direct flights from Minneapolis to Keflavik!)

What else can I say?  I’m sure I’ll have quite a bit more to discuss in a few hours, once we figure out the results…but until then, you’ve got a bit more time to mull over the possibilities.

Catch you on the other side of Eurovision History, people!

Raphael Gualazzi’s Epic Showcase

I’ve mentioned before how much I love Italy’s entry this year.  Raphael Gualazzi, who’ll be performing “Madness of Love” on Saturday, is a brilliant jazz musician who takes his cues from both the old school beginnings of the genre as well as newer styles and techniques.  (His album “Reality and Fantasy” is already out, so definitely give it a listen!)  I had the chance to attend an exclusive press conference and showcase with Raphael and his band, with a special cameo from the boys in Blue (and France’s Amaury Vassili was seen in the audience).  The venue was a tiny, intimate little space, and I was sitting close enough to the action to see the sweat dripping from Raphael’s brow as he pounded away at the piano.  At times, his hands were absolute blurs (you should have seen his rendition of “Caravan”!), and there were a few instances where the sheet music sitting on the piano flew off of the rack and onto the keyboard, but he kept on playing with gusto.  Blue stopped by and performed “I Can” and “Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word” while Raphael tickled the ivories behind them…unbelievably cool.

Who knows?

Wow, Blogspot couldn’t have crapped out on me at a more inconvenient time…

Anyway, as some of you figured out, I went 9 for 10 on the Second Semi’s results, but I promise you that that is where my lucky streak will end.  I honestly have no idea who will take tonight’s Eurovision crown, and I’m not the only one here in the press room who’s up in the air!  People are guessing Azerbaijan, Ireland, the UK, France, Iceland, Denmark…I think Serbia might surprise us a bit and come up to the Top 5, but this year’s draw really put a damper on the pundits’ predictions.  Some of this year’s strongest songs are being performed in the start of the running order, with former underdogs now in the sweet spots in the lineup.  Then again, there are many who say that with the re-inclusion of the Jury’s vote and televoting now allowed throughout the entire show, running order matters less, but Dino Merlin still grimaced when he drew #2.  Only time will tell, my friends…

Semi 2 Predictions and Favorites…

Ok, I went 6/10 for Semifinal 1…let’s see how Semi 2 turns out!

My Personal Favorites:
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Netherlands, Moldova, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Romania, Latvia, Denmark, Ireland. (Austria as honorable mention!)

My Predictions:
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Romania, Denmark, Ireland, Ukraine, Estonia, Austria, Sweden, Israel.

…let’s see what happens in a few hours!