Category Archives: Russia
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!)
Ah, Russia. They’ve been one of the most successful entrants into the Eurovision Song Contest, but they’re also often one of the most controversial. They are the fulcrum of the Former Soviet voting bloc, siphoning votes from all over Eastern Europe. While they tend to distribute their votes pretty widely, they tend to get high marks from countries like Belarus, the Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Armenia, all of which were former parts of the Soviet Union. I believe this is a result of two things:
1) After so many years of being underneath the same national umbrella, many of these countries, while retaining their own senses of self, have grown to create a shared cultural experience. Between the language similarities and a shared media, these nations share a common bond that’s impossible to ignore.
2) Russia’s Eurovision songs are often fantastic! They take the competition very seriously, put quite a bit of funding down for production, and they choose artists who are known throughout the region, as opposed to taking unknowns from a “Pop Idol”-type show. Huge names such as Philipp Kirkorov, Alla Pugacheva, Mumiy Troll, Dima Bilan, and t.A.T.u have all represented their homeland in the ESC, and these faces are often recognized beyond Russia’s extensive borders.
Russia debuted in 1994, along with a number of other “Eastern Bloc” nations. Their first entry, “Vyechniy stranik (Eternal Wanderer)” by Maria Katz (also known as Youddiph), was memorable not only for its beautiful execution and soaring chorus, but for the multitasking crimson gown that Masha wore that evening. I’m not a fashionista by any stretch, but the first time I saw the video of this performance I had the urge to play “dress-up” for the first time since I was a little girl. Eurovision performances often focus on clothing being ripped off, but this might have been the first time that covering oneself up was just as eye-catching.
Their 2001 entry, “Lady Alpine Blue” by Vladivostok pop-rockers Mumiy Troll, is one of those love-it-or-hate it numbers. Lead singer Ilya Lagutenko is smarmy, vaguely androgynous, and oddly appealing. Some might see the song as creepy, but I actually liked it, in a kind of feline lounge singer sort of way.
2003 brought Russia’s most controversial participation to date, including one of their biggest musical exports. It was decided that faux-teen-lesbians t.A.T.u would represent Moscow in the ESC in Riga, and the ended up coming in an incredibly close 3rd place with “Ne Ver’, Ne Boysia (Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear)“, despite being booed from half of the audience just as much as the other half cheered (not only were the pair controversial, but they had supposedly been acting like divas during the rehearsals and press conferences). Although they had been the odds-on favorites to win (they had just released their international smashes “All the Things She Said” and “Not Gonna Get Us”), their live performance was marred by off-key and lackluster notes. If singer Yulia Volkova (the black-haired one) hadn’t been fighting off laryngitis that week, it’s possible that Turkey wouldn’t have taken the crown that year. We’ll never know for sure.
2006 saw the Eurovision debut of mulleted heartthrob Dima Bilan. His song “Never Let You Go” was insanely popular, and was only beaten in the scoreboard by Finland’s unstoppable Lordi. Bilan had been a known entity throughout the former Soviet bloc since 2003, so the impression he made on the scoreboard was not a surprise. Beyond that, “Never Let You Go” was a really well-constructed pop song with universal appeal.
Russia’s song for 2007 tried to duplicate the success of previous years: high-energy pop + beautiful faces. Serebro’s imaginatively-titled “Song #1“, despite it’s slightly fractured English, was a fun, sexy performance that came in 3rd in a hotly-contested ESC that year (beaten by a gorgeous Serbian ballad and an unexplainable entry from the Ukraine…more on these later.)
2008 heralded the return of Dima Bilan to Eurovision, and he was taking no prisoners. His song, the Timbaland-produced “Believe“, wasn’t quite the nugget of pop confection that “Never Let You Go” or “Song #1” had been, but Russia was determined to put on one hell of a show to make up for any shortcomings in the songwriting. For the show in Serbia, the Russian team arranged for a small patch of ice to be installed on stage (keep in mind, there’s generally less than a minute between songs), and had Olympic Gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko skate in circles around him, all while violinist Edvin Marton played his Stradivarius with them. The song itself might have been a bit syrupy, but you have to admit it: the Russians had balls. They won the competition handily over (in my opinion) superior songs from the Ukraine, Portugal, Turkey, and Switzerland, but more than ever, the results were marred by accusations of bloc-voting, and beloved BBC commentator Terry Wogan actually stepped down from his Eurovision duties because of it. From 2009 and onwards, national votes would be 50% televote, and 50% jury-based, as to avoid the issue in the future.
So, after all of these high-energy, high-production cost, high-profile, high-performing entries, who will Moscow be sending to Oslo?
I’m sorry…what? I half expected the cast of “A Mighty Wind” to stop by and crash the stage. When first heard Peter Nalitch’s “Lost and Forgotten”, I had no idea what to think. Especially when you think about the spectacles that Russia has given Eurovision over the past decade or so, this song sounds completely out of place. The first words that came to mind? “You’ve got to be kidding me…”
And then I realized that the joke was on me. Nalitch and his group have been making music with a heavy touch of irony for a few years now (check out his YouTube hit “Gitar“), so this song’s awkwardness is all intentional. Be that as it may, many ESC viewers are hearing these songs for the first time when they vote…will the joke go over their heads, or will bloc voting carry them through to the Final?