Category Archives: Ukraine

A Quick Holiday Message from the ESC Insider…

To all of the lovers out there, here’s a sweet little holiday message from Svetlana Loboda:

If you’re in a relationship, Happy Valentine’s Day!  If not, Happy Singles Awareness Day! 😉

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: Ukraine

Like many of the newer entrants into Eurovision, Ukraine tends to take the competition very seriously, bringing their biggest stars to the stage year after year.  However, more than any other nation, they tend to go for the full-on spectacle, complete with leather bikinis, insane choreography, controversy, shirtless Trojan warriors and the occasional drag queen.  They’ve never missed a Final since the system began, and despite the fact that they’ve only performed in seven ESCs before 2010, they’ve come away with a victory and two silvers. 

Their debut entry, 2003’s “Hasta La Vista”, was somewhat forgettable, and only made it to 14th place, but it didn’t take Kyiv long to get back on its feet.  With only their second entry, Ruslana’s “Wild Dances“, Ukraine stomped and spun its way into Eurovision history, claiming the nation’s first victory.  (Sharp-eared readers might recognize the song from the soundtrack to “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City”, from the “Radio Vladivostok” setting!)  Since her win, Ruslana’s continued her success, having recorded a total of seven albums in both English and Ukrainian, and has even collaborated with Missy Elliott.  In Ukraine, she’s an icon, spokeswoman, and UNICEF Ambassador, campaigning against human trafficking and for the environment.  Just as her Eurovision performance shows, Ruslana’s a force of nature.

Kyiv hosted the ESC the next year, 2004, just as the Orange Revolution was in full swing.  Despite Eurovision’s general ban on political songs, the home team sent rap artists GreenJolly with “Razom Nas Bahato, Nas Ne Podolaty (Together We Are Many; We Cannot Be Defeated)“.  The main theme of the song was a send-off of the old Chilean saying “El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido”, and the original lyrics name-checked President Viktor Yuschenko.  However, not even their favorable position as host nation could keep them exempt from the rules, and despite a passionate performance (and slightly modified lyrics), they scored a disappointing 19th place.

2007 brought on possibly the most insane performance in Eurovision history, blending comedy, dance…and tinfoil.  Ladies and Gentlemen…may I present to you the incomparable, the unforgettable, the…inexplicable…Verka Serduchka:

The lovely Verka is a mix of Dame Edna, Mrs. Doubtfire, and that crazy modern dance teacher you had in college.  She’s also actually a he.  Verka’s the alter ego of Ukrainian comedian Andriy Danilko, and is a celebrity in her own right, having recorded ten hit albums.  Her second-place finish was marked by a bit of controversy (but what good ESC is without it?), as the song’s title, “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”, was misheard by some viewers as “Dancing Russia Goodbye” (although Verka insisted that she was singing the Mongolian words for “whipped cream”, in reality they were just nonsensical syllables). 

In 2008, Ukraine scored its second consecutive silver medal with Ani Lorak’s “Shady Lady“, which to me is the epitome of Eurovision Pop: take a gorgeous girl with a huge voice, put her in a tiny dress, plop her in front of four strapping backup dancers, and have her belt out a disco number that you can hear echoing all the way to Minneapolis.  At the time, my alt-rock sensibilities prevented me from admitting it, but now, two full years after Ani Lorak stormed the stage in Serbia, I can say it: I LOVE this song!  I still listen to it pretty often, and it’s my go-to song for dancing around my apartment like a maniac when I’m sure nobody’s watching.  If you liked “Shady Lady”, I recommend that you check out her album “Solntse”, especially the tracks “Ptitsa” and “A Dalshe…”

Lucky for me, Ukraine’s 2009 song, Svetlana Loboda’s “Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)” was a perfect continuation of the high-energy path that Ani Lorak set upon in 2008.  Svetlana’s another well-known entity in her homeland, and after her insane performance on the stage in Moscow, she was the talk of Europe, as well.  Eventual winner Alexander Rybak claimed that he only feared losing to Loboda, and with her bevy of Trojan soldiers backing her up while she pole danced and spun on her self-described “Hell Machine” (which she supposedly had to mortgage her home to pay for), I can understand how he could be intimidated.  The song was hypersexualized, manic, over-the-top…and a total blast.  Sadly, it ended up in 12th place, Ukraine’s lowest score since 2005. 

Despite the recent model for slick and spectacular Eurovision songs from Ukraine over the past few years, 2010’s national selection was a complete and utter mess.  Back in December, it was announced that Vasyl Lazarovych was the singer chosen by the Ukranian broadcaster, NTU.  However, it was soon discovered that Lazarovych and the head of the network were close personal friends, and accusations of back-room deals started flying.  Soon after Vasyl’s song, the sleepy “I Love You” had been chosen, a new national government took over, and the head of the network was replaced.  It was announced the previous result had been scrapped, and that an entirely new National Preselection would take place (including Vasyl, to be fair).  After all of that, 24-year-old Alyosha was selected to represent Ukraine with her rock ballad “To Be Free“.

You’d think it would be over by that point, right?  Wrong.  It turns out that “To Be Free” had been briefly released to the public over MySpace and Amazon since 2008, rendering the song invalid for Eurovision competition.  Sadly, this was figured out after the EBU’s deadline for song submission had passed, so NTU had two choices: cobble together another entry, and be held to a significant fine for each day that passed without a song, or withdraw from the competition.  Lucky for us, Alyosha had another song stuck in her back pocket, so this year we’ll hear “Sweet People” in Oslo.
Alyosha is coming to Eurovision with a message, probably more so than any other song this year.  In interviews, she notes how she was born less than two weeks before the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in her home country, and that she has grown up with a keen interest in environmental issues.  The promotional video for “Sweet People” was filmed in Prypiat, a ghost town destroyed by the meltdown, and Alyosha has started what she calls the Ecovision 2010 initiative, lobbying world leaders to take stronger stances on environmental topics such as conservation and nuclear safety.

It took me a long time to appreciate “Sweet People”, especially because I’m still coming down from the high of “Shady Lady” and “Be My Valentine”.  But Alyosha has a strong voice made for a hard ballad like this, and her heart’s definitely in it to win it.  But the Second Semifinal is incredibly challenging, and there are an inordinately high number of ballads.  But, as the results from the First Semifinal show, anything can happen.  I wish her well in all of her endeavors, and I wish her well in Eurovision.