Category Archives: Israel

The Best of the 2010 Preselection (Part Two)

Continuing on where I left off…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the latest…

Well, we finally have an answer!  After months of speculation from fans and press alike, it seems that the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest will be held at the Esprit Arena in lovely Düsseldorf!  This will be the first German-hosted ESC since reunification of the former East and West, and the third overall (after Frankfurt in 1957 and Munich in 1983).  The arena will be able to hold about 24,000 spectators, which seems a bit strange, considering that there are only about 23,000 hotel beds in the city.  However, it seems that riverboats on the Rhine will be employed as floating hotels during ESC Week, and the city is a major air and rail hub for the area.  Knowing that Düsseldorf is a moderately quick train ride from Amsterdam, Cologne, and other cities in the region, I’m seriously pondering making my first official Eurovision pilgrimage!  (Readers from Germany…what do you think of the news?)

In other news, Cyprus has kicked off their ESC pre-game.  It had been decided that the winner of the “Idol”-like show “Performance” would represent the island nation in 2011 (although the song will be selected at a later time).  After all of the votes had been cast, the winner was announced as Christos Mylordos, a virtual unknown.  Here’s his winning cover of Robbie Williams’ “Supreme”:

Frankly, after Cyprus’s success with John Lilygreen and the Islanders this year, I’m somewhat disappointed in Christos.  Granted, he’s got until May to improve his stage presence, and he might be better served singing in his native Greek, so all is not lost!

Next topic: Austria is officially back in the game!  We haven’t seen participation from ORF since the 2007 Contest, where Eric Papilaya’s HIV-awareness-anthem “Get A Life/Get Alive” came in a painfully undervalued second-to-last place.  When they officially select their song, I’ll do a full report on their history.

And, continuing on the theme of nations entering or withdrawing, we had a close call for next year.  The 2011 Eurovision Song Contest’s dated have officially been set for May 10, 12, and 14.  However, there is a major Israeli holiday (Memorial Day) on May 9th and 10th, and performers would not be allowed to rehearse or perform on those days.  So, in a special exception, the EBU has decided to allow Israel to have a reserved spot in the Second Semifinal (May 12) in order to avoid any scheduling conflicts that would result in their withdrawal.

All in all, it seems that things are progressing nicely for 2011; Albania, Switzerland, and Romania will decide their entries by the end of the year, and more plans are being revealed by the day.  Record numbers of entries have been submitted in some of the public calls for songs…all in all, a good sign for what I’m sure will be a great year for Eurovision.

Post-Script to the Post-Mortem…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

A Note on "Bloc Voting"

I mentioned in my previous note that Croatia is in an advantageous position in the ESC, due to its location in a so-called “Balkan Voting Bloc”.  That sounds like a half-decent segue to get more into this topic!

As the Eurovision Song Contest has grown and expanded over the years, going from seven nations participating in 1956 to 42 in the 2009 contest, unofficial “alliances” have been established between nations, often due to shared linguistic, cultural, or geographical histories.  For example, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland will often swap votes with each other, as do the nations of the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia.  More recently, current patterns of immigration have begun to influence expected voting patterns, with Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France often sending votes to Turkey or Armenia, or Spain and Portugal voting for Romania or Moldova. Read the rest of this entry