Category Archives: Estonia

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 2)

Continuing on through our tour of the 2011 Preselections, we move straight on from Bulgaria to…

Croatia: Few people who were in the Press Center in Düsseldorf will soon be able to forget Daria Kinzer’s “Celebrate“, complete with two costume changes and a special appearance by a creepy Willy Wonka impersonator.  But only the most hardcore of ESC fans remembers that the lovely Daria had some serious competition in this year’s Dora: Jacques Houdek.  Daria and Jacques went head-to-head on three songs, with a public televote and jury vote selecting the best option for each singer.  The interesting thing about this, however, was that the scores were tied after the jury and televote was added together during the song selection, with the public favoring “Stotinama Godina (A Hundred Years)” for both Daria and Jacques (by a landslide), and the jury selecting “Lahor/Break a Leg/Celebrate” for the two.  Most national finals used the public vote as the prevailing factor, but Croatia deferred to the jury.   The uptempo number seemed better-suited for the lovely Daria, and so Jacques’ fate as runner-up was sealed.  But we were tantalizingly close to having this, instead:

“Stotinama Godina” reminds me of the classic Croatian ballads of years past: songs like “Neka Mi Ne Svane“, or “Nek’ ti bude ljubav sva” (which, interestingly enough, Jacques performed during the national selection process).  It’s hard to say if this would have made it into the Final (I’m sure that some would have argued that it sounded “dated”), but I personally preferred it to “Celebrate”.  As for Jacques, I wouldn’t count him out.  In a commercial for this year’s UK version of “X-Factor”, eagle-eyed viewers can catch a quick glimpse of Houdek auditioning for the show that introduced the world to Jedward.  Brace yourselves, my friends.
Skipping Cyprus, which chose its song internally, we move on to:

Denmark: “New Tomorrow” by A Friend in London brought the Danes their second consecutive Top Five placement, and may have given Jedward and Poli Genova a bit of competition in the “Best Spiky Blonde Hair” category this year.  But the runner-up at this year’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix was no slouch, either.

Anne Noa’s “Sleepless” felt like a breezy blend of Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez, and could have easily been a worthy follow-up to the youthful puppy-love of Lena’s “Satellite”.

Estonia: Once again, some of the best songs this year came to us from Eestilaul, and it’s really tough to pinpoint an absolute favorite.  Getter Jaani’s “Rockefeller Street” was a fun, bouncy, vaguely surrealistic number that people in the press center either lauded or loathed, but there were definitely a handful of songs that could have gone to Germany in its place.  Fans of “Oida Taunz!” might have gone for the Argentinian-born Elmayonesa’s “Kes Ei Tantsi On Politsei (Whoever Doesn’t Dance is a Policeman)”, while on the opposite side of the musical spectrum, we have Marilyn Jurman’s sweet “Veel on Aega (There is Still Time)”.  This year’s runner-up, “I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan” by Outloudz, is a wonderfully wistful track that I am predisposed to love (both as a resident of Dylan’s home state of Minnesota as well as a fan of 80’s-style New Wave), but my personal favorite still remains 2011’s fifth-place finisher, Ithaka Maria’s “Hopa’pa-Rei!”:

How can you argue with those cellos, that attitude…that YODEL?  It’s exceedingly difficult to not sing in English at Eurovision, yet still have everybody singing along with your hook (just ask Magdalena Tul)…but I’m pretty sure that Ithaka Maria would have had Ruslana fans (and many others, for that matter) absolutely eating out of her hand.

Finland: Paradise Oskar may have “Da Da Dam“ed his way to Düsseldorf, but he had to defeat a fairytale princess and a former monster to get to the top of the heap.  Finland’s runner-up this year was Saara Aalto’s saccharine-sweet “Blessed with Love” (if Eurovision’s rules had allowed animals on stage, I’m pretty sure we would have seen Bambi, Thumper, and Tweety Bird singing backup…but then again, with the LED screen, I’m sure anything would have been possible).  If sweetness isn’t quite your thing, how about the glam-rock of Stala and So.’s “Pamela”?

Lead singer Sampsa Astala is the former drummer for Lordi, who famously took the Eurovision crown to Finland for the first time back in 2006.

Next up: Georgia, Germany, Greece, and Iceland!

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.

Estonia sends Getter Jaani – "Rockefeller Street"

As expected, the Estonians delivered one of the most entertaining, high-quality, and competitive of the National Finals.  Since the change over from “Eurolaul” to “Eestilaul” three years ago, the quality of the Baltic nation’s Eurovision selections has gone absolutely through the roof.  In the span of one event, audiences heard rock, pop, ballads, electronica, alternative, and even a waltz.

But, of course, there could only be a single winner, and that honor went to 18-year-old Getter Jaani and “Rockefeller Street”!

Getter, like many of this year’s Eurovision performers, is a veteran of one of her country’s televised talent searches (in this case, she came in 4th place on season three of Eesti otsib superstaari, the Estonian version of “Pop Idol”).  In fact, her season of Eesti otsib superstaari was hosted by Tanel Padar, who sang as part of Estonia’s winning Eurovision entry from 2001, and Ithaka Maria, who Getter actually beat in Eestilaul this year (more on her later, though).  Furthermore, the winner of Getter’s “Idol” season, Ott Lepland, was on the judging panel for tonight’s event.  Small world!

I definitely enjoy “Rockefeller Street” (although, as someone who grew up right outside of New York, I hate to point out that there is no actual Rockefeller Street in Manhattan!  Rockefeller Center is fabulous, though…).  It was written by Sven Lõhmus, the composer behind one of Estonia’s greatest Eurovision songs, 2009’s stunning “Rändajad“, among other tunes.  There were other songs that I preferred in this year’s Eestilaul, but I can definitely support “Rockefeller Street” in the ESC this year, even considering it’s geographical misdirection.  It’s youthful, catchy, and instantly recognizable. Just as importantly, it’s simply fun!  I can easily imagine the Estonians putting together some sort of fantastic stage show for their three minutes on stage in Düsseldorf…this one has potential.

I would be amiss to omit some of my other favorite songs from my review of Eestilaul tonight, so here are a few of my favorites from the Final:

Coming in 8th place was Rolf Roosalu (who competed in last year’s Preselection as “Rolf Junior”) with the modern ballad “All and Now“.  Rolf, who has had extensive theater experience, brought in a subdued, yet powerful performance, especially considering his song from last year, “Maagiline Päev“.

In 7th place was “Smile” by MID, a throwback to the early days of 80’s British New Wave.  Considering the path that last year’s Eestilaul winner, “Siren“, took, “Smile” would have been a definite continuation in that direction.

The big shock in this year’s final was the under-performance of Ithaka Maria’s fantastic “Hoppa-Pa’Rei!”  The bombastic, cello-heavy pop-rock song only came in fifth place, despite high marks from the public audience.  Any song that features bad-ass rock yodeling deserves its due!!

Jana Kask’s big-voiced ballad “Don’t Want Anything” came in 4th place.  Jana holds the record for the youngest person to win an “Idol”-affiliated show in any nation, having won her title at only sixteen years old.

In a surprise third place (including maximum points from the jury) was Orelipoiss, a musical side project for prolific singer-songwriter Jaan Pehk, who was part of the band Rufus, Estonia’s ESC representative back in 2003.  Eagle-eyed viewers might notice Malcolm Lincoln frontman Robin Juhkental singing backup on “Valss“.

Runner-up this year was the quiet electro-pop song “I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan“, performed by Outloudz.  As a resident of Minnesota, where Bob Dylan was born and raised, a not-so-small part of me wanted this to win.  This one took a bit of time to grow on me after the first time I had heard it, but it quickly became one of my favorites.

I don’t know what’s in the water out in Estonia, but for a nation of only 1.3 million, the musical talent pool seems incredibly deep and well-developed.  I have no idea whether or not “Rockefeller Street” will claim a second victory for Estonia, but if Eestilaul continues to embrace local talent and style the way that is has over the past few years, I can’t doubt that a win is in the cards in the not-too-distant future.  And, if not, they’re nurturing and exposing local talent, which is always an advantage, even if a performer doesn’t end up making it to Eurovision.

The Weekend Preview, 2/10

We’ve got another busy weekend ahead of us, so let’s dive right into what we can expect from all over the Eurovision world over the next few days!

On Friday, Azerbaijan will finally make their decision on who they’ll send to Germany this year.  Their preselection process started back in mid-November with 77 candidates, and they’ve finally been narrowed down to five final performers: Aynishan Qulieva, Ilgara Ibrahimova, Eldar Gasimov, Ilhama Gasimova, and Nigar Camal.  It’s still a bit unclear how the song will be selected; last year, the top three candidates sang three different songs, and while the winning performer was selected the night of the finals, the winning song wasn’t confirmed until over two weeks later.  Considering Azerbaijan’s penchant for flexibility on their preselection processes (their dates have been moved around many times, for example), who knows what answers we may find tomorrow night, or what questions will remain!

Also on Friday, Ireland will pick the artist and song that they hope will bring the nation to the top of the Eurovision heap for an eight year.  Brief snippets of the songs were released last week, but they were heard in their entirety for the first time just today.

Don Mescall – Talking with Jennifer (written by Ronan Hardiman, Don Mescall)
Nikki Kavanaugh – Falling (written by Christina Schilling, Camilla Gottschalck, Jonas Gladnikoff, and Hanif Sabzevari)
Bling – Shine On (written by Patrick Mahoney)
The Vard Sisters – Send Me an Angel (written by Liam Lawton)
Jedward – Lipstick (written by Dan Priddy, Lars Jensen, and Martin Larson)

Ironically, “Lipstick” is the only song that has been removed from YouTube for copyright reasons.  Why ironically?  Well, first, as its considered the frontrunner in tomorrow’s competition, and second, as a portion of the song was “accidentally” released on too early, prompting RTÉ to make the decision only one third in the hands of the audience’s vote, rather than fifty percent.  The remaining part of the decision will be in the hands of regional juries throughout Ireland.

Malta will hold their semifinal on Friday and their final on Saturday.  On Friday, the 24 candidate songs will be trimmed down to 16 by a 75/25 jury/audience vote decision.  On Saturday, those remaining songs will compete, and the winner will be decided by a 60/40 jury/audience split.  All the songs can be previewed, in their entirety, here.  For Malta fans, there are many familiar faces competing this weekend: Fabrizio Faniello made it to Eurovision in 2001 and 2006, and his younger sister Claudia has tried many times to make it to the event, but often falling just short of the ESC goal.  We also see the return of Wayne Micallef, who presented one of my favorite preselection songs from last year, “Save a Life“.  In fact, out of the twenty-three singers in this weekend’s competition, eighteen have attempted, at some point, to represent Malta in either Eurovision or Junior Eurovision in past years!  Will the victory go to a veteran, or to a new talent?  We shall see…

On Saturday, we’ll see what Belgium has to offer the growing Eurovision field.  In light of the difficult economic times, Walloon broadcaster RTBF came up with an interesting twist on an open call for songs.  Belgians were allowed to submit their songs (in French or English), and the public would be able to pledge money to the entries of their choice.  When a song received €20,000, they would be qualified to go on to the next round (all money donated to non-qualifying songs would be reimbursed).  That money would then go to the further production and refinement of their entry.  Thirty songs ended up making the monetary benchmark, and that was later pared down to fourteen final entries.  A 50/50 jury/televote split will decide the eventual winner.

We will also see Finals in Iceland, Norway, and Finland, continued semifinals in Spain, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, and Sweden, and the first semifinal in Estonia‘s Eestilaul.  Of course, I’ll try to bring you updates as often as I can!

Have a great weekend, Eurofans!

ESC 2010 Reviews: Estonia

Due to the ongoing global economic crisis, belts all over the world have had to be tightened.  Of course, this idea extends to Eurovision.  For many nations, budgets have been slashed in the arts and media, and sending an entry to the ESC doesn’t come cheap by any means.  And don’t even get me started on how much it costs to host the contest to begin with!  (According to ESCtoday, Norwegian broadcaster NRK estimates this year’s event cost at over €24 million, or $31.7 million.)  Because of this, many previously participating nations have had to either drop out of the ESC for the year (Hungary, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, and Andorra) hold off on re-entering (San Marino, Luxembourg, and Monaco), or wait until 2011 to enter for the first time (we’re still waiting, Liechtenstein!).  Estonia and fellow Baltic nation Lithuania nearly fell victim to this pitfall, but because of the generosity of local foundations and media organizations (in the case of Estonia) and the investment of private companies (as in Lithuania), we’ll see smiling faces from Tallinn and Vilnius on stage in Oslo this May.  We’ll come back to Lithuania in a little while, but for now, we’re here to talk about Estonia.

To be completely honest with you all, up until last year Estonia could have almost completely fallen off the Eurovision map and few people would have noticed.  They made their debut back in 1994, but finished a disappointing second-to-last (Lithuania, also debuting, actually finished in last place that year, scoring the dreaded “nul points”).  They actually won the contest back in 2001, the first nation from the former Soviet Bloc to do so, but out of the almost sixty winners that Eurovision has had since 1956, Tanel Padar and Dave Benton’s “Everybody” has to be my least favorite.  (Pardon me while I channel Simon Cowell for a moment, but “Everybody” was the ultimate in cruise-ship-meets-awkward-bar-mitzvah-disco-kitsch, and either Greece, Denmark, or Russia should have won it that year.  Their 2002 entry, “Runaway“, was much better, but the singer was from Sweden!  There, I got the rant out of my system.  Now let’s never speak of this again.)

After their success in the early part of the last decade, they really fell off the mark.  As the semifinal system was set up in 2003, no Estonian entry could break through and make it to the finals.  They tried girl-pop, neo-folk, Brit-style rock, and whatever the hell this was.  Finally, though, they struck gold in 2009 with the haunting, ethereal “Rändajad (Nomads)”, performed by Urban Symphony.  I’d normally put a link in here to have you go to YouTube to see this clip, but this one, in my humble opinion, deserves a full embed.  It was possibly my favorite entry from last year, along with Bosnia & Herzegovina, and it deserved to be placed higher than its eventual 6th-place finish (although, as a consolation, it was the highest-ranked non-English song in the competition that year).

I’ve heard that song a thousand times since last year’s contest, and I still haven’t grown tired of it.  After such a great showing in 2009, and knowing how dangerously close they came to dropping out of the ESC this year, I had a feeling that the Estonian Preselection, “Eestilaul”, was going to be either a hard-fought battle among great tunes, or a low-budget affair that would make my eyes cross in a mix of horror and hilarity (do I need to show you “Leto Svet” again?).  I decided that I was going to challenge myself and watch this year’s Eestilaul.

Oh, and just so everyone is clear on this point, I speak no Estonian whatsoever.  But, I’m a glutton for linguistic punishment, so I don’t let an arbitrary speed bump like “not understanding what people are saying” stop me!

The main Eurovision website often streams individual national finals (and they currently have the whole thing archived here, if you want to check it out), so I watched the whole thing, from top to tail.  First, I was surprised how much I actually understood, not because Estonian bears any resemblance to English (it doesn’t at all), but because the competition was colored with so much humor, poking fun at the music industry, Eurovision clichés, and even at the artists themselves.  Despite being almost completely in a language that I have no comprehension of, the program was universal enough for me to really get into, and I sometimes queue up the show and watch it over again, just for the fun of it.  And out of the ten songs in this year’s Eestilaul, there were actually quite a few gems, and I’ve currently got about half of the selections hanging out on my iPod.  Here are some of the greatest hits from 2010:

6th place) Groundhog Day, “Teiste seest kõigile (Inside all of us)”: A mid-tempo rock song with a soaring chorus.  It’s a shame that ESC songs are limited to 3 minutes, maximum, because this was great, albeit too short.
4th place) Iiris Vesik, “Astronaut”: A more avant-garde offering reminiscent of Björk or a more offbeat Kate Bush.  Surrealist and dreamlike…one of a kind
3rd place) Violina featuring Rolf Junior, “Maagiline Paëv (Magical Day)“: Possibly trying to take the violin-torch from Urban Symphony and last year’s ESC winner Alexander Rybak, Violina and Rolf Junior present an upbeat, danceable track that would even make Mr. Burns from the Simpsons smile.  At the very least, Mr. Smithers would appreciate it…
2nd place) Lenna Kurrmaa, “Rapunzel“: Bringing to mind some of the girl-groups of the late 1950s and early 1960s, with just a touch of rock to make it current, Lenna’s offering was sweet and sassy, and it nearly took the Eestilaul title this year.

So, after all of that, who’s going to Oslo?

This year’s Eestilaul victor is “Siren” by Malcolm Lincoln!  (The lead singer, Robin Juhkental, took the name from an incorrect answer on the Estonian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, where a contestant was convinced that Abraham Lincoln’s first name was actually Malcolm.)  This is definitely one of those songs that people will either love or hate.  I personally LOVE it, and have it in my top 5, nestled up with Israel, Croatia, Turkey, and Germany.  It’s like no other song being presented this year, with a chorus that at times makes me think of British New Wave from the mid-’80s, and from different angles I hear touches of Motown and the current indie/hipster scene.  I can almost guarantee that traditional fans of Eurovision will hate this song (Slaviša?), and I’ll be shocked and ecstatic to see it pass through to the finals (even though it’s in the first semifinal, which is somewhat weaker than the second, and neighbors Finland, Latvia, and Russia can possibly send some regionally-influenced votes their way), but as a stand-alone song, in terms of how uniquely crafted and creative this is, I think that “Siren” is absolutely genius. 

My hat’s off to you, Estonia, and I look forward to next year’s Eestilaul!