Sunday, 12 May 2013

Eurovision time

It's Eurovision time, and I'm considerably busier than this time last year when I didn't have the job I do now.

Previously, I talked you through the runners and riders in Semi Final 1 and Semi Final 2 and I sort of left it hanging inconclusively without really giving any indication if I thought any of the songs were particularly better than any of the others. There's also this ONTD preview post which has more up to date vid links.

Since then I've been to the Amsterdam preview concert (photos of the show here) with my sister, where we went in absolutely sure that Zlata's Gravity was going to run away with it and we came out feeling really enthused about Ireland's heart-hands aloft, sweatily be-vested bodhran players but unable to remember how the song went. Koza Mostra played Alcohol is Free twice and we were able to do some quite good ska dancing. It was ever so good - if the actual finals are even better than that, I'd be needing new pleasure receptors in my brain and MORE GLITTER.

Because I'm not a safely vanilla ballad fan in this year of safe vanilla ballads, I'm seriously incapable of working out who I think is going to win. Instead, I'll share with you some tidbits, snippets and nerdy details.

The Charts

I've been logging all my music listening on this year - here you can see what I've been mainly listening to in the past month...

...and you can basically see that I've had a serious earworm of the Swedish song but that I also have been enjoying Greece, Denmark, France (Amandine!), Germany and Montenegro. I don't think that my musical taste (which is a mess) is particularly representative of either a jury vote or the general voting public, so I went and did some other data collection exercises and had a look at how my fellow scrobblers are doing with the songs.
As you can see, Sweden appear to be running away with it here too. But I have reason to believe that looking at the listens is kind of useless , because essentially there are too many factors baked into the data. 

  1. First, for recently released songs you generally end up with multiple copies in the database and they generally end up consolidated later on as the wiki principle tidies the whole thing up. For singers and artists who use non-Roman alphabets, this effect is even more serious as we end up with multiple transliterations. I just picked the version that was the first hit in the search. Bad methodology, but I didn't have an intern/student to sit down and do the nitpicky stuff.
  2. Not all of these songs were released at the same time. Switzerland was picked before Christmas and all the Scandinavian songs have been getting heavily played for months now. 
  3. Not all countries use spotify - most of the plays logged seemed to be related to the song title as it is on the Eurovision album on spotify. I have a sneaking suspicion that there ought to be a weighting factor for the spotification of the nation, but I don't know how big it is or where I get reasonably subscriber numbers to work it out.
  4. I think some people are trying to game this system. Looking at the number of listens per logged listener, I saw something interesting for the Greek song - people who listen to this song have listened to it on average 75 times each. In a couple of months. That's crazy. This could also be a weird artefact of the artist name/transliteration problem, but it still makes an eyebrow raise.

So to conclude, I still have no idea who will win. I used to think it might be Ukraine, and wouldn't put it past Sweden to win again. I don't think that Danish song is as winning as everyone seems to think it is,  and as much as I love the Norwegian and Montenegrin songs, I don't think they're universal enough. I'd love Finland to win, because now I know it's apparently a tongue in cheek message about marriage equality, that makes me feel less weird about the lyrics, but I don't think it will win.

I guess the big question is, does Europe feel like a ballad or a party?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Eurovision Preview 2013: Part 2 (Semi Final 2)

And so we return to our scheduled Euro-viewing. This time, it's the songs that will be in the second semi final and then the countries that automatically qualify.

The first part of the preview blog can be found here

Albania - Identitet (Adrian Lulgjuraj & Bledar Sejko)

Aha! I was wondering when we'd get to it, but this appears to be this years symphonic rock entry. Lots of pomp and general expansiveness, but suffers from some slightly flat production, which is weird considering we have an Albanian mandolin-equivalent, kettledrums, strings, brass, shredding guitar, pyros and the kitchen sink in there. Is this the best Eurovision guitar solo in quite some time? I can't think of another one to rival it.

Armenia - Lonely Planet (Dorians)

Curiously, the video linked to by the official Eurovision website is private.

So this song was written by Tony Iommi. Yes, that one. It's not as HUGE as I'd hope an Iommi song would be, but Dorians (I think that's the band) are giving it quite a significant level of welly and Gor's got lovely hair. If they do it in the understated way they did it in the national final, it'll look a bit battle of the bands. Also, another rather nice Eurovision guitar solo. Would totally love it if Iommi was able to do the solo in Malmo.

Azerbaijan - 
Hold Me (Farid Mammadov)

Since Azerbaijan won with that Running Scared song that I'd barely even noticed (My considered review was 'Like a rich tea biscuit - dull but not unpleasant') I am a little bit wary of just writing this one off. Again, it's dull but not unpleasant. It contains a rather jarring key change which I cannot recommend. 

Bulgaria - Samo Shampioni (Only Champions) (Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankoulov)
a & Lozano)

This is classic Eurovision. Vaguely 80s, vaguely ethnic folk stylings, antique rave bleeps, lots of drumming and some EPIC BULGARIAN BAGPIPES. I love the black and gold top the singer lady  is wearing and I can see this making the Best of 2013 playlist without very much effort. Love it, would buy again.

F.Y.R.O.M - Pred Da Se Razdeni (Esma & Lonzano)

A Macedonia hipster sings a fairly miserable couple of choruses about love and loss and then... I won't spoil the rest. Just watch the video, I think you'll like it. I can't pretend I understand what it's all supposed to mean though.

Finland - 
Marry Me (Krista Siegfrids)

Not all art has to be a profound statement about the human condition. This song is one of the stupidest things I've heard in long time, and contains a selection of extremely regressive ideas about gender politics and relationships but as it's strapped to a high-calibre pop missile, I'm afraid we just have to cower in our bunker and hope it goes away.

It reminds me of Natasha Bedingfield's deeply guilty pleasure 'I Wanna Have Your Babies'  but with the high earworm potential of Call Me Maybe (I'm not linking to that. You know what song I mean)

I sort of worry that it might win.

Georgia - Waterfall (Nodi Tatishvili & Sophie Gelovani)

This big Disney duet takes an awful long time to get going, but I think it's actually a lovely example of the genre. I am a big fan of duets, but when I think duet I think more 'River Deep, Mountain High' and 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' and 'Dead Ringer For Love' and songs with a bit of passion and verve rather than all this Mills and Boon shenanagins.

Greece - Alcohol Is Free (Koza Mostra and Agathon Iakovidis)

This is brill, I've been listening to this Greek folk/ska punk song for a few weeks already. It's a sentiment that a great deal of Europe can get behind, and the band are an affably handsome selection of Greeks in kilts who, if we believe the video, can do a really cool ska dance while they play. I hope they do really, really well, but perhaps not so well that Greece has to host next year. Maybe the UK could step in and host if they do and can't work out the finances.

Hungary - Kedvesem (Zoohacker Remix) (ByeAlex)

I don't get it, I'm afraid. I think it might be the Hungarian equivalent of Nizlopi.

I was bored.

Iceland - Ég á Líf (Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson)

When I watched the national final, there was much tweeting about how much it looked like a Gaelic language folk music programme put together by BBC Alba. It's even more like that now it's about a rugged guy in a nice knitted hat going fishing. Adorable, although I doubt the cartoon seal will make it to Malmo.

Israel - Rak Bishvilo (Moran Mazor)

There's a lot going on here. The hair, the glasses, the ominous bass, the ominous cleavage. It's a standard overwrought song about love and despair and the human condition, and proceeds very elegantly for three minutes of almost constant crescendo and rising chord progressions and then stops.

Latvia - 
Here We Go (PeR)

This has the potential to be quite fun, although the chorus lyrics are sort of unusually bad even for Eurovision. The verse raps are eye-watering, and I have no idea where they obtained that keytar, but they look like they're having almost Jedward levels of good times. All over sequins is a brave look and it works on them. If they can defeat the tuning issues for the big night, then this could do freakishly well.

Malta - 
Tomorrow (Gianluca Bezzina)

More hipsters, this time with ukeleles. This song contains the first mentions of 'risk assessments' in Eurovision history. Also, what if Jeremy is perfectly happy with his IT job and his routine and his life without this manic pixie dream girl that the hipsters in the park are intent on setting him up with. Bloody hipsters.

Norway - I Feed You My Love (Margaret Berger)

This one is my runaway favourite song this year. It's a bit special, although it's just too dark and kinky to win, I think. It's like if Robyn had guested on that Garbage Bond theme, but with the snogging robots of Bjork's All Is Full Of Love sorting out the costumes and randomly generating non-specifically sexy lyrics from their throbbing data banks. It's like that.

(I think Margaret should wear more latex and dance even less for the final, but that might just be me)

Romania - 
It's My Life (Cezar)

This is, I am assured, entirely 4 Real. It's at the camper end of Eurovision to be sure, and when Cezar hits those first few high notes with the uncomfortable strain showing on his face, we're almost in Eurotrash territory. It would look less insane without the street dance troupe and pyros, and contains a fairly superfluous dubstep breakdown. Dubstep breakdown is the new ethnic drumming breakdown for Eurovision.

Egads - they just hit the final keychange which was so awkward that I winced. Another true Eurovision original.

San Marino - Crisalide (Valentina Monetta)

Last year Valentina was sent, presumably against her will, to Baku with the Social Networking Song which 'makes the Fast Food Rockers sound like Bohemian Rhapsody' but this year she's back with a big empassioned ballad about how we'll all emerge from our chrysalises as beautiful butterflies one day. The song itself emerges from a chrysalis at about 2 minutes in, and goes full drama disco. I hope Valentina has a better time of it this year, now they've sent her with something that's an actual song. 

Switzerland - 
You And Me (Takasa)

Aha, so this was a controversial one because the band are actually the Salvation Army in disguise and you're not allowed to have ideological messages (other than 'we are the world, we are the children' type stuff) in Eurosongs. The song doesn't do anything for me, and I don't think the brass instruments on the backing track are even real, which is a bit of a waste when you have the whole resources of the Swiss chapter of the Sally Army to call on.

Automatically qualifying through application of large sums of money and by virtue of hosting are...

France - L'Enfer Et Moi (Amandine Bourgeois)

Oh, my. This is really my kind of thing. Well played, France.

The song reminds me of Anna Calvi's stuff, which desperately wanted to be a French pop album. The whole thing has an air of slightly malevolent sexiness to it, which is so not Eurovision, but has so caused me to mark her album for further listening.

Germany - Glorious (Cascada)

There is growing evidence that some Eurovision nations know what they're doing. Cascada? At Eurovision? With a massive ravey banger about the world waiting for me, being who I want to be? YES!

And yet somehow I'm disappointed because it doesn't quite reach the ecstatic heights that I hoped it would.

Italy - L'Essenziale (Marco Mengoni)

We mustn't let the fact that Marco has a puzzling hair/sideys/tache combo blind us to the fact that this is a standard ballady ballad. Nina Zilli's song last year was much better, and has ended up being something I still listen to now.

Spain - Contigo Hasta El Final (With You Until The End)  (EDSM)

Hmm. Gentle pop-country which turns into something a bit, well, Savage Garden? It entirely succeeds at what it sets out to do, which is provide three minutes of uplifting pop music for a wafty lady to ride a white horse on a beach to.

Sweden - You (Robin Stjernberg)

I watched a lot of Melodifestivalen this year. Well, I had a broken ankle and I didn't go out on Saturday nights. I was quite surprised when this turned out to be the winner, but it's not a bad wee song. It's not a blatant Swedish campaign for two wins on the trot and neither is it a host's extended middle finger.

You'll listen to it and go 'meh' and maybe make some cracks about Robin's slightly steampunk backing dancers, but then two days later you'll find yourself humming the lovely chorus and then that's when they've got you. I expect it to do really well.

United Kingdom - Believe In Me (Bonnie Tyler)

Bonnie Tyler! BONNIE TYLER! I was very excited when I heard Bonnie would be singing for the UK. I had visions of a massive power ballad with big guitars and leather trousers and fists of pure emotion. Then I watched the video and I was like, 'Well, maybe there'll be a less limp remix for Eurovision because this sounds like a sort of lame pop country album filler'. And then I thought about what happened last year with poor Englebert Humperdinck and I knew there would be no remix and no leather trousers and no big guitars.

The Eurovision song contest will never be held in the UK again. If I'm wrong, I think I owe you all a drink in the Euroclub in Birmingham.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Eurovision 2013: Preview (Semi Final 1)

You've been here before, you know the drill.

39 nations enter, one nation leaves victorious with a song that can top the charts across a whole continent but that is scandalously unlikely to be playlisted by BBC Radio 1.

I disagree that Eurovision is some naff light-ent relic that is basically good for a laugh one (or maybe three) nights a year. I disagree strongly. It's basically the bizarro-world version of our own increasingly weird pop charts. It is holding a mirror up to popular music and showing it what it sort of looks like. There are in fact some genuinely good, well-written songs with a long term appeal in there. I have a playlist of my favourites on spotify which is 2 hours long!

There are also some songs that are not good. There are some songs that barely qualify as music. There are appalling staging, performance and costuming decisions. There are sometimes tuning issues. There once was Dustin The Turkey.

But enough of the portentous foreshadowing! What can we expect in the first semi-final?

Austria - Shine (Natalia Kelly)

I did watch the Austrian national final (I'm one of *those* Eurofans nowadays) and I did like this one. It's a sort of Adele mid-album type stompy ballad and I think the singer is unfeasibly young. It's got some big old notes in the final chorus (complete with key change) that might go horribly awry. Could go either way.

Belarus - Solayoh (Alyona Lanskaya)

This is basically the amazing pop sound of Eurovision 2008-2011 distilled into a little capsule of fun and lungs. It's not one that I'd heard before this review round, but it is hooky, fun and increasingly importantly, it is not a safely impassioned ballad. I'm expecting a huge Ruslana style dance workout in the drum breakdown section she's got instead of the middle 8.

Belgium - Love Kills (Roberto Bellarosa)

Nothing hugely wrong with it, but like a lot of modern pop songwriting it uses some old rave tricks to manufacture a sort of rush feeling which perks up an otherwise slightly lame song. I remember reading a music blog piece about how they're totally overusing the 'rush' and wanted to share it with you, but can't google it up. Any help?

Croatia - Mižerja (Klapa s Mora)

I can't pretend to be an expert on the Klapa folk music style, but this is something you don't see that often these days: actual national musical styles represented. It passed three minutes nicely in a sort of Radio 3 speciality choral way. I wouldn't even know what Klapa was if I hadn't been religiously listening to Ewan Spence's excellent ESC podcast, so now I'm passing the knowledge on to you.

Cyprus - An Me Thimase (Despina Olympiou)

This is the first really daft video of the evening. It's just one of those 'lady in a floaty dress in nature' vids, but manages to also look like a really cutting parody of the same. It's a ballad. It's pretty enough but it's not what I came for and I was entirely able to fiddle around with blog settings while forgetting I was supposed to be listening to it. But you're not here to hear about my attention span problems.

Denmark - Only Teardrops (Emmeline de Forest)

I bloody love this one. Combines a song that sounds like it's from the late 90's heyday of celtic-ish pop with a winsome, barefoot, tousled-haired singer in a druidess costume to quite some effect. I think the staging is perhaps overdone with the drummers and the tin-whistler getting a bit too much prominence, but I really like it. I hope it makes the final (I think it probably will) and I hope it does really, really well.

Estonia - Et uus saaks alguse (Birgit Oigemeel)

I'm already done with ballads, even worthy ones that kick in for the first chorus. I am the kind of girl who likes power ballads if someone like maybe Bonnie Tyler is involved. Bonnie Tyler is not involved.
The rule change this year means that the producers are arranging the songs in the order that they would make the best show. I think at some point they're going to look at the production white board and mark a section 'kettles on for the ballad section'.

Ireland - Only Love Survives (Ryan Dolan)

I watched them do the selection on the Late Late Show, and it was a sort of queasy mixture of surrealism and amateurism involving Danny DeVito, Lordi and widespread tuning 'issues'. This song was probably the Calvin Harris-lite best of the bunch. Some of the others were just awful.

This video might be enough to single handedly kill off the heart hands gesture though.

Lithuania - Something (Andrius Pojavis)

Promising. Once it kicks in it sounds a bit like Editors or Aha or something. If yer man can resist the temptation to do that off key shout of 'yeah' and they beef up the backing track slightly, this it actually rather good and almost my sort of thing.

Moldova - O Mie (Aliona Moon)

The first costuming decision to provoke a 'WTF?' is Aliona, and she's covered in metal rings, with one of those projector screen dresses, some 70s Dr Who extras dancing around in satin hoods behind her and it's all distracted me from the song. Now the key change and it looks like her dress is on fire! I think it was good, but I think her voice needs a bit more from bottom end to make it seem less screechy when she finally goes for it in the last chorus.

Montenegro - Igranka (Who See )

Challenging, bleepy, filthy electro and some very gravelly rapping before the whole business collapses into Eurovision's very first official dubstep freakout. If they manage to come up with something slightly less comedically sexist than this sort of 'Dirrrty 2013 remix' thing for the stage show, I think I can whole heartedly approve. I mean, look at it, it's well dodgy. I like this even though I wish I didn't. They're going to need my vote though, I don't know if everyone is going to dig it.

It does make everyone who sent a timid wee ballad look daft though, which I like.

Russia - What If (Dina Garipova)

Less bombastic than I've come to expect from Russia, although apparently the mere performance of this song caused a theatre full of people to start spontaneously swaying and loving one another. Watch out Malmö, I guess. 

Serbia - Ljubav je svuda (Moje 3)

I wish they weren't dressed in tacky hen night costumes, because this is basically a nice uptempo Saturdays song and that's the kind of thing we can all get more or less behind. I can only assume the angel/devil/golden lass thing is a reference to some lyrics which are entirely in Serbian.

If the next song is a ballad, I'm going to listen to that nasty Montenegran dubstep nonsense again first as a sort of reverse palette cleanser.

Slovenia - Straight Into Love (Hannah)

What a gyp. It starts out with dubstep burps and whirrs but then flops out a ballady verse. But then... ARMS ALOFT! The filter effect on the synths is a tad harsh and the whole thing feels a bit empty, maybe missing something in the mid range to fill out the sound, like some of the pro tools tracks got deleted (do they even use pro tools nowadays?) 

It's ok, and at least sounds modern and like someone was making an effort. I give lots of points for both those categories, even if the end result is a slight fail.

The Netherlands - Birds (Anouk)

The only excuse for sending a ballad to Eurovision is if it's a really weirdly gorgeous ballad. Anouk is an enormous star here, and has no need to do Eurovision. The general feeling about ESC in the Netherlands is that they never qualify for the final any more and so they don't care. But now they've sent their biggest star singing a really haunting song that seems to be about catastrophic pollution and the end of the world. It gives me chills, it's not at all a Eurovision thing and it's terribly pretty in a very sad way. I have no idea if it'll qualify for the final.

Ukraine - Gravity (Zlata Ognevich) 

I first saw this song just after the national finals when it was the very definition of the Eurovision hot mess. There was clearly something there, that's why it won, but the arrangement was all over the shop and one of the backing vocalists was much louder than everyone else to a slightly comic effect. Now, as you can see, it's gone the whole Fern Gully hog. You can never write Ukraine off, especially if they are allowed to bring the unicorns from the video to the big show. Holy crap, we're 2:30 in and it's still building! Sadly, they never really push it over the edge and set it on fire, so I'm left feeling slightly frustrated by it. Maybe they'll have a huge pyro at the end.

And that was the first semi final. More later.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Celebrating 10 Years of Obnoxious Eurofandom

I've moved some of my old Eurovision preview posts here from LJ. If you click on the EUROVISION tag you'll find preview posts going back to 2004. I don't have the full preview from 2007 (although I did watch the show and was hugely impressed that Marija won with Molitva) and I appear to have been  particularly lax about blogging 2008-2010 so there aren't full previews, just random bloggings. In 2011 and 2012, though, I started taking the whole Eurothing as seriously as it deserves.

I know for a fact I watched the 2003 show (Jemini: oh, the humanity) but it appears I didn't blog about it, because I was too busy being irritating about other things. I've been an increasingly hardcore Eurofan for 10 years now and while I haven't made it to a national final or the final show yet, this year I'm going to the preview party in Amsterdam with my wee sister and partner in Eurovision crime. We're going to have a ball.

The international delegations have to present their final songs for the 2013 show on Monday, so I guess you can expect the all-singing, all-dancing, totally offensive Eurovision preview post during the week.

PS: In 2011 I said some horrible things about Jedward and I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.