Category Archives: Malta

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 5)

(Pardon the brief hiatus…I just started a new job, and I took a quick trip out to New York to see some family and friends. But now I’m back in full force!)

Lithuania: Evelina Sašenko shocked quite a few people when her dramatic ballad “C’est Ma Vie” qualified for the Finals.  (You could have heard a pin drop in the arena when the Lithuanian flag emerged from its little digital envelope the night of its Semifinal!)  Without a doubt, this was one of the true surprises of the 2011 Contest. 

There were a few other songs from Lithuania that I was hoping to see in Düsseldorf, with some being more guilty pleasures than others.  Donny Montell (real name: Donatas Montvydas) has tried many times over the past few years to represent his home nation, and he even had two entries in the National Final this year (including a duet with 2009 representative Sasha Song).  Donny’s solo entry this year, “Let Me”, came in 5th place this year, despite his attempted channeling of Justin Timberlake:

For fans of sweet throwback entries (like Serbia’s “Čaroban”), Liepa Mondeikaitė’s breezy “Laukiu (I’m Looking Forward)” might have done the trick.  This sixth-place finisher was the only song in the finals sung in Lithuanian (and I might be the only one who see this, but I think Kim Cattrall might have a doppelganger in Vilnius…)


(FYR) Macedonia: I had a bit of difficulty following Skopje Fest this year, partially due to a rough connection to the show’s stream, and partially because the show was interminably long and drawn-out.  When Vlatko Ilievski’s “Rusinka” took the crown, I basically shrugged my shoulders and turned to the Slovene selection, which was wrapping up at about the same time.  

That being said, there were two other songs that stayed with me after the Macedonian National Final, but for two completely different reasons.  This year’s runner-up was Martin Srbinovski’s “Ram Tam Tam”, a danceable, folk-tinged rock number that I immediately fell in love with: 



On the other side of the equation, however, was the nul-pointer Rok Agresori’s “Kukuriku”, which defies all explanation:

Now that I’ve completely destroyed your faith in humanity, let’s move on to: 


Malta: Even if you weren’t a fan of Glen Vella’s “One Life“, it was impossible not to get swept up in his absolutely infectious energy.  Whether it was him belting out gospel numbers during his press conference, living it up in the Euroclub every night, or his near-constant smile, even when he failed to qualify for the final by the razor-thin margin of a single point.  It had been Glen’s dream to sing at Eurovision, and his enthusiasm and sheer glee was impossible to resist!


The Maltese national selection was a family affair; runner-up Richard Edwards (here’s his “Finally“) and eighth-place Wayne Micallef (“Everybody Sing“) are brothers, and two-time Eurovision participant Fabrizio Faniello (“No Surrender“) went up against his little sister Claudia (“Movie in My Mind“).  (Fabrizio came in 4th, Claudia in 9th.)  My personal favorite, however, was the big-voiced ballad “If I Could Do It All Again” by Raquela, a song I could easily imagine over the ending credits of some big-budget Hollywood flick:

This 5th-place finisher could have gone toe-to-toe with Austria’s Nadine Beiler or Slovenia’s Maja Keuc…maybe next year!


Moldova: I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again next year: I love Moldova.  They come to the Eurovision Party every year with the intention of having a fabulous time and they generally succeed.  Whether they’re bringing someone’s grandmother, a big comfy sofa, an epic sax, or a unicycle-riding, kushma-wearing fairytale princess (as in the case of this year’s “So Lucky” by Zdob şi Zdub), you can’t forget them, even if you try.


Keeping in line with the manic, madcap, and exuberant style we’re used to seeing from the Moldovans over the past few years, my favorite selection from 2011 was Doiniţa Gherman’s “Viaţa (Life)”, an energetic turbofolk number that is basically in line with her National Final submissions from 2009 (Hei! Exploadează!) and 2010 (“Meloterapia“).



Next up: the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Portugal!

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More new versions and videos released!

As expected, Albania has revamped their entry for Düsseldorf.  What was once Aurela Gaçe’s “Kënga Ime” is now “Feel the Passion”:

I feel like I’m in the minority here, but I loved Aurela’s song the first time I heard it, and this revamp only solidifies my position.  Aurela is this year’s diva, and whether she wins or not, she is making this her show.  (It’s funny, though; I was talking with my friend Slavi yesterday before we saw the new video or heard the translation, and I told him how I imagined that the clip would somehow involve Aurela standing on top of a mountain or other high point, a wind machine fluttering around some epic dress, and an eagle soaring.  I should have placed money on it!)


On the other end of the Eurovision world (geographically speaking), the Icelandic representatives have released the English-language version of “Aftur Heim“, “Coming Home”.

It seems that “Aftur Heim” was, in fact, originally written with English lyrics, with the text eventually refined by the wife of the late Sigurjón Brink.  The song was performed in Icelandic for the National Final, as per the network’s rules, but the door was always open to have it performed in English.  We all know the story of Sigurjón and his tragic passing by now, but hearing this song in a language that I can understand just makes the whole thing even more powerful.  “Coming Home” is performed admirably, and is truly a celebration of Sjónni’s life and work.

Also releasing an official video clip is San Marino’s Senit, with her ballad “Stand By”:

(Sharp-eyed ESC fans might recognize some of the same landscapes and landmarks as seen in MiOdio’s video for “Complice“.  Then again, considering that San Marino is only about 24 square miles (61 sq km), that’s not too difficult.)

Only slightly bigger, at 121 square miles (316 sq km), is Malta, which coincidentally also released their official preview video today for Glen Vella’s “One Life”:

(It appears that half of Malta’s population took part in this year’s National Selection, and the other half appears in Glen’s video!)

Finally, Croatia’s new preview video has been released: Daria Kinzer’s “Lahor” “Break a Leg” “Celebrate”!

I’m sure more videos are coming down the pipeline within the next few days, as the official “Heads of Delegation” meeting is happening now in Düsseldorf.  We’ll also have the official draw for the running order tomorrow afternoon (or, for me, morning!).  Even though Preselection Season is officially over, there’s still lots to do before the First Semifinal on May 10th!

It’s Glen Vella for Malta!

The last song to be selected this weekend for the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest came from Malta’s Preselection.  A highly competitive National Final with many experienced performers, including two-time ESC participant Fabrizio Faniello, “Malta Eurosong” was definitely packed with a number of strong performances.  After sixteen songs and a close finish, the winner was Glen Vella with “One Life”:

Vella, who will turn 27 on the night of this year’s Eurovision Final, came in second place after last year’s Malta Eurosong with “Just a Little More Love” (which, if you close your eyes, you could easily imagine being sung by Michael Jackson).  “One Life” is a catchy, danceable number, quite a departure from the inspirational ballads that TVM has given us over the past few years.  Malta hasn’t sent a solo male singer to Eurovision since Fabrizio’s 2006 performance (which, incidentally, came in last place in the Finals that year).  In fact, in Malta’s 23 Eurovision appearances, they’ve sent songs performed by solo males only seven times, with two of those performances bringing up the rear of the leaderboard.  However, three of those male-driven performances ended up in the Top Ten.  That hit-or-miss track record for Maltese men makes Glen’s chances hard to predict this year.  “One Life” is positive and energetic, and they have the benefit of having the United Kingdom (the closest thing the island nation has to a Bloc voting ally) casting their ballots in their semifinal.  But will it stand out enough?  We might have to see what other nations send before a prediction can be made…

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 Amazon.com 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!

The Weekend Update, 1/23

Another day, another update…Semifinals have continued this weekend in Finland, Iceland, and Norway, and Croatia’s preselection has kicked off, as well.  There are also further updates from Azerbaijan, Portugal, Moldova, and Malta!  And away we go…

Finland:
Three more acts have moved on to the Finnish Final after this Friday’s semi.  After a public vote, this week’s winners are:
Paradise Oskar – “Da Da Dam” (Reminds me a bit of Belgium’s Tom Dice from last year, don’t you think?  If Tom were a member of Greenpeace Suomi, this might have been the result.)
Milana Misic – “Sydämeni kaksi maata (Two Countries of my Heart)” (Milana is the daughter of a Croatian father and a Finnish mother who actually represented her nation fifty years ago in Finland’s debut ESC entry.)
Father McKenzie – “Good Enough” (Yes, they’re named for the character in “Eleanor Rigby”!)

Knocked out at this round of the competition were Jimi Constantine’s “Party to Party” and Soma Manuchar’s “Strong“.  An interesting point of trivia, courtesy of reader Stefanos in Finland: Soma’s outfit was designed by Mert Otsamo, a finalist on the first season of “Muodin huipulle”, the Finnish version of “Project Runway”.  According to Stefanos, “I liked his work on Muodin Huipulle more than I did Soma’s outfit.”  I haven’t seen any of Otsamo’s work, but after seeing Soma’s outfit, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine I’d disagree.

Next, we move on to Iceland:
It’s been a week of highs and lows for Iceland this week.  On Tuesday, we heard the sad and sudden news of the passing of Sigurjón Brink at the age of only 36.  He was supposed to sing in the third semifinal next week, and it has been decided by both the network and his family that his entry, “Aftur Heim (Back Home)” would be performed as a tribute by a group of his friends and fellow musicians, and will therefore remain in the competition.  Next week’s semifinal heat is sure to be an emotional one.

In the second semifinal, which aired last night, we had five songs competing for two slots in the final.  The victorious tunes were:
Yohanna – “Nótt (Night)” (As I mentioned last week, Yohanna came in second place back in the 2009 competition with “Is It True?”  I try to stay as neutral and impartial as I can, especially during the preselection phase of the Eurovision year, but I honestly think that Yohanna might, in fact, be the personification of a Disney princess.)
Matthías Matthíasson & Erla Björg Káradóttir – “Eldgos (Eruption) (I speak no Icelandic, but I’m pretty sure I recognized the word “Eyjafjallajökull” at the start of the song…is this a tribute to the epic volcano that covered half of Europe in ash last year?  Any Icelandic readers wish to comment?)

We’ve got more news after the break!

Norway:
From Florø, the westernmost town in Scandinavia, we had this week’s semifinal for the Melodi Grand Prix.  Qualifying directly to the final are:
Babel Fish – “You Can Depend on Me” and
Hanne Sørvaag – “You’re Like a Melody” (Hanne is no stranger to Eurovision.  She’s composed three songs for the competition: “Disappear” for Germany in 2008, “My Heart is Yours” for Norway 2010, and “Shine” for Georgia, also in 2010)

Moving on to the Second Chance round will be:
Endre – “Oh, Oh (Puppy Love)” and
Mimi Blix – “Allergic”

Croatia:
The first round of this year’s Dora Festival happened this weekend, and unlike what we’ve seen in the Nordic countries I’ve just mentioned, singers in Dora do not sing their proposed Eurovision songs until the final round of competition.  Instead, they choose a song freely, and hope that televoters will look favorably on them.  (This is actually a similar format to what Germany did last year.  It worked for Lena Meyer-Landrut!)  Out of twelve singers in this heat, five have already been chosen to continue on.  The sixth will be announced next week.
Confirmed for the next round are: Miro Tomic, Jelena Vanjek, Dora Benc, Sabrina Hebiri, and Jacques Houdek (who was the evening’s ultimate winner).  We’ll see another round of twelve next week.

Azerbaijan:
After seven weeks of preliminary heats and one semifinal, the top 5 singers in Azerbaijan’s preselection have been picked.  Like in Croatia, they have been singing covers, and we won’t hear their proposed entries until the final round (or, knowing Azerbaijan, possibly even after the winning singer has been selected).  They’ll go up against each other on February 2th.  And they are:
İlhamə Qasımova
Eldar Qasımov
Aynişan Quliyeva 
Nigar Jamal
İlqarə İbrahimova

(For the record, I had been rooting for Çingiz Mustafayev, a participant on Yeni Ulduz, the Azeri version of the “Idol” franchise.  Not only was he a strong singer and a confident performer, but he is also a trained classical Flamenco guitarist fluent in Azeri, Turkish, English, and Spanish.  Sadly, he was knocked out of competition in the semifinal round.  If he had been sent to Düsseldorf, and had his talents put to good use, Azerbaijan could have possibly gotten some valuable votes from Spain, who will be voting in their semifinal.  Çingiz, if you’re reading this, please keep trying!)

Finally, lists of competing songs have been released in Moldova (although out of the 92, songs listed on the official Moldovan broadcaster’s website, only these songs are continuing on to the next round) Portugal, and Malta.  Portugal will select their song on March 5th, Malta on February 12th, and Moldova on February 26th.

Phew!  After all of that, I don’t know about you, but I need a nap.  I’ll keep you all posted on more news as it comes in!

The Best of the 2010 Preselection (Part One)

I don’t know about all of you, but all of this talk recently about the 2011 ESC season has really kicked my Eurovision appetite into high gear.  It’s sort of like how a person might say that they’re not hungry when dinnertime is coming up, but once they walk past a kitchen and detect the tiniest wafting scents of meals cooking, they realize that they’re absolutely famished.

Yep, that’s me.  Now that we know where Eurovision 2011 will be held, and we’re getting a better picture of which nations will be participating and how their entries will be chosen, I’m getting really excited to see how Düsseldorf will compare to Oslo (and Moscow, Belgrade, Helsinki, etcetera, before it).  But since it will be another few months before we get to hear the lion’s share of candidate songs, I thought I’d give you all a blast from the not-so-distant past, and serve up a list of a few of my favorite Preselection songs from last year.  These are the ones who didn’t quite make it to Oslo, but they made a bit of an impression on me, at the very least.  (By the way, I’m specifically skipping mention of the fantastic Albanian and Estonian preselections, as I had made pretty heavy mention of them in their nation’s individual postings…but feel free to backtrack and check them out!  Estonia, in particular, put on a fabulous National Selection this year, and there are about a half-dozen songs from Eestilaul 2010 on my iTunes right now.)

Anyway, in no particular order:

From Greece: “Enjoy the Day” by Katherine Avgoustakis.
Katherine, who is actually a Belgian citizen born to a Greek father, was strongly favored to go to Oslo with this danceable summer song, but a clause in the national preselection banned any of the candidate songs from being released to the public before a specified date, or else risk disqualification.  A remix of “Enjoy the Day” was leaked to YouTube early, and Katherine was left out in the cold.  There are rumors that she’s going to try to represent Greece again, and if she can duplicate the popularity of her 2010 song, I wouldn’t count her out of the running to go to Düsseldorf.


Fom Denmark: “Breathing” by Bryan Rice.

Coming in second place in this year’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix was this modern ballad, which always seems to remind me a bit of Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love”.  I personally preferred this entry over Denmark’s eventual winner, Chanée and N’evergreen’s “In a Moment Like This“, but since I can’t vote, I can’t complain!  In a way, it’s almost a good thing that Bryan missed out in 2010, as Denmark’s 2008 and 2009 entry, Simon Mathew’s “All Night Long” and Brinck’s “Believe Again“, respectively were both male-driven, mid-tempo numbers, and maybe it was time to switch things up a bit.

From Malta: “Save a Life” by Wayne Micallef.

Although I know that Malta is more or less obsessed with Eurovision, I am generally not a massive fan of many of the songs that the island nation submits (Sorry!  Nothing personal, I promise!).  However, I really liked Micallef’s entry this year.  It has the hopeful, positive message that many Maltese ESC songs tend to have, without sounding like a track ripped from a 1995 Disney film.  His voice is strong, and “Save a Life” kind of reminds me of something that Snow Patrol or The Fray would come out with, and it might have stacked up pretty well against Tom Dice or Jon Lilygreen this year.  He also gets points from me for performing his own song, as only three self-penned tunes made it to the Maltese final this year, out of 20 songs.  Wayne came in 6th place in the 2010 preselection, and 7th the year before that.  If he keeps writing songs like this one, we might see him on the big stage sometime soon.

From Moldova: “Amintirele Dor (The Memories Hurt)” by Leylla
When I first introduce Eurovision to my friends who aren’t quite familiar with the contest, many imagine imagine a contest full of ethno-techno-disco pop like this.  The Moldovan preselection this past year was packed, with over 80 songs vying for a shot at Oslo.  Those 80-some-odd songs were all released to the public, but only 30 made it to the semifinal level (25 picked by a jury, and 5 by local SMS voting).  When the dust settled, Eurofans from all over were stunned to see that Leylla had missed out, especially considering that crap like this went through.
But, on the bright side, if Leylla had gone to Oslo, the would never would have gotten to know the glory of the saxroll.  Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

From the Ukraine: “Emotional Lady” by Dazzle Dreams.

Ok, this one is a total guilty pleasure.  I love it when songs in other languages randomly slip in a line or two in English, and combining that with Depeche Mode-inspired synthpop makes me a happy Samantha.  Granted, though…”Dazzle Dreams”?  The band name sounds a bit like something that a five-year-old girl would come up with while trying to name her pink My Little Pony.  Great song, though…


From Russia: “Dlinnaya-dlinnaya beresta i kak sdelat’ iz nee aishon (Long-Long Birch Bark and How to Make a Headdress From It)” by Buranovskiye Babushki  (whew!)

This song is an obvious departure from any other tune in this year’s contest (or almost any year’s contest, for that matter).  It’s sung in Udmurt, which is a minority language more closely related to Finnish and Estonian than Russian, and was performed by the Buranovskiye Babushki (literally, “The Grannies from Buranovo).  Believe it or not, this was a serious contender to go to Oslo, coming in third place in the Russian national final!
And I don’t care what anybody says.  This song makes me happy.  Just try to listen to it and not smile!  I dare you!
…Yeah, that’s what I thought.

(More coming up in the next entry!)

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).
http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/xcpb6p

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.

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