Thursday, 20 March 2014

Eurovision 2014: My Preview

I basically blog once a year now. The fact that you are reading this means that Eurovision 2014 is nearly upon us, all the songs have been selected, and I'm about to pick my favourites.

This time, the Eurovision people have helpfully compiled all 37 entries in a single Youtube playlist, which is playing as I hammer away at the keyboard. Typing this post.

Here, why not listen along? 

Let's go.

FYR Macedonia: Tijana Dapcevic - To The Sky

Now that I am getting old, the way I access chart music is by occasionally remembering that 4Music shows the top 40 (or whatever) and boggling at the latest hyper-grindy fetishistic pop tunes. Or I specifically look at something recommended by the very excellent and worthwhile Popjustice. This song basically sounds like a mid-tempo Ellie Goulding number that has been partially remixed.

Switzerland: Sebalter - Hunter of Stars 

This is only the Exhibit A in my case that the dread hand of the Mumfords is now clasping at Eurovision. There will be further evidence later. The gentle rootsiness is all very well, but I have limited tolerance for whistling even in an appropriate setting. It's all very pleasant, but I forgot how it went as soon as I stopped listening to it. No further questions, your honour.

Moldova: Cristina Scarlat - Wild Soul

This is a giant standard Euroballad, complete with big frocks, wind machines, fists of pure emotion and a giant Eurovision KEYCHANGE at the correct point. The only non-standard things are the modern, clanking, diluted dubstep (dildubstep? orangesquashstep? robinsonsbarleycore?) beats that grind along behind it. The song remains the same.

Estonia: Tanja - Amazing

If you are of the school of thought that believes that year-on-year similarities within ESC entrants are merely representations of aesthetic movements in the wider world, then you will think that this is a nice moderate club banger with a simple video featuring some modern expressionist choreography and a louche outfit. If you are of the other school of thought, which believes that countries outright copy the format of previous winners, you will think that this is a straightforward Loreen copy. It's ok.

Latvia: Aarzemnieki - Cake To Bake

I was considering not bothering to blog about the contest this year but then this song came up on the YouTube playlist and I remembered why I love Eurovision. We've got a cake to bake! We make lots of boasts in the verses (which resolutely do not scan) and then we sing a chorus about cake and then the middle 8 is the single worst baking recipe I ever heard (mix some dough, add some love, let it bake, have some cake) and by the end we're all dancing round a campfire, hugging.

Poland: Donatan & Cleo - My Słowianie

If they can make a 'suitable' representation of the content of this video on stage in Copenhagen, then I think that they'll do just fine. Totally shameless, knowingly daft, almost certainly dodgy. I definitely shouldn't have laughed at the video but I did. I will probably find myself humming the song at the weekend.

Germany: Elaiza - Is It Right?

I watched a bit of the national final where this was selected, and I did pick out this group as being particularly interesting (by the way, the Germans turned down a pirate ship full of middle aged folkies singing about being pirates for this) because Elaiza reminded me of another band that I really like - Katzenjammer and I think that this song is basically like a rather good Katzenjammer song. I don't think it's in much danger of winning, though.

France: Twin Twin - Moustache

Last year France went all serious and sent a smouldering soft rock goddess who had many of us in a tizzy.  This year the other side of the French Eurovision sensibility took over, and sent this concentrated essence of tumblr hipsters and Etsy from two years ago. It's catchy though, and I've already found myself singing nonsense French lyrics to the 'Je veux ci, je veux ça' bit around the office. Fingers crossed that this does well. If I could send it back in a time hole to when it was a bit more relevant and make it go viral, I would. By the way, it also has an interesting anti-consumerist message.

Sweden: Sanna Nielsen - Undo

A single spotlight power ballad, and not in a good way. My ears slide off it. I had to rewind it to have another go at listening, because that article about Twin Twin was much more interesting. Also, Sanna's stylist, what was the point of the awesome cutout belt if you were going to put her in all black? We can barely see it! Where's the contrast?

Portugal: Suzy - Quero Ser Tua

In a stunning reversal of the usual 'copy something successful' formula, Suzy has nicked the stage show that saw Ryan Dolan finishing bottom of the ESC Final chart last year. Suzy's version is also not as well executed and I worry about the live vocals. Is the song made out of bits of other songs? Is there something structurally wrong? Should it just pick one vocal hook and elaborate on that? Is it too subtle? No. It is not too subtle.

Belgium: Axel Hirsoux - Mother

Belgium are evidently taking the piss. Belgium had the choice of 15 other songs and artists. This would be weird and over-intense even if he were successfully getting all the big notes. Ruslana tearing up and waving her lighter in the video is a bit off-putting.

Norway: Carl Espen - Silent Storm

This is a better example of a dramatic, introspective Eurosong. It made me stop typing and listen appreciatively, which is more than any of the others so far. But can a song which I think is about a man confronting mortality really do that well in a pan-continental festival of jollity?

Austria: Conchita Wurst - Rise Like A Phoenix

Because I am not familiar with the Austrian cultural mileu, I do not know what the Conchita Wurst Story is. I really sincerely hope that we are not supposed to be laughing at the idea of a beautiful transwoman with a beard?

Finland: Softengine - Something Better

This is more comfortable viewing. Look at the skinny little Finnish boys bouncing around! I feel like I bought this single in the Great Indie Boom of 2001-2005. The 'woah-oh-ohs' are straight from Coldplay's stadium tours, the piano is straight from the Killers, the pyros are well timed, and it has just the right amount of rush to make it catchy without being exploitative, but it needs a bit more... stagecraft?

Slovenia: Tinkara Kovač - Spet

A confusing mixture of flutey bits, leather, overly literal backing dancers, vocals that are meant to sound sampled and groovy modern beats. I didn't listen to any recent Madonna albums, but I imagine that her downtempo album filler is not dissimilar to this.

Ukraine: Maria Yaremchuk - Tick Tock

They chose this before Recent Events. It seems very beige after last year's crazy paean to everyone's favourite as yet un-unified force, Gravity.

The Netherlands: The Common Linnets - Calm After The Storm

Isn't this nice? Isn't it gorgeous to listen to? Wouldn't you tune in specially for their session on 6 Music? Can't you imagine enjoying them at a late summer festival or while you drive through the cornfields in a convertible? It reminds me of the Civil Wars, Alison Krauss & Robert Plant's album, or a less dark version of Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan's stuff. Lovely. Totally unsuitable for Eurovision.

Albania: Hersi - One Night's Anger

It doesn't sound like it at all, but I got a strong vibe of Vanessa Carlton's A Thousand Miles  from this. That sort of over-wordy earnest singer-songwriter stuff? It is ok.

Malta: Firelight - Coming Home

Further Mumfordery. Deep Mumfordery. Explicit, outright Mumfordery. Infectious, uplifting, ever-rising Mumfordery. Emotionally manipulative, jury pandering Mumfordery. Mumfordery in the first degree. It's going to do very well. It's a five pint emotional sing-song on the way home in 2011.

Azerbaijan: Dilara Kazimova - Start A Fire

I thought I heard the honk of a sax in the first verse, but thankfully it was a false alarm. This is the sort of default Eurovision entry that I find tedious in the extreme. NEXT!

Armenia: Aram MP3 - Not Alone

My interest in big mopey piano ballads remains limited. This only really gets going at 1:50, which is far too late. It should have been jolty and modern from the start. This is the favourite at the minute. Yeah, I guess I can see it.

San Marino: Valentina Monetta - Maybe

I like Valentina. She's getting to be a dab hand at this Eurovision lark. This song is not as good as the one from last year, but a million times better than the Facebook abomination.

Iceland: Pollapönk - No Prejudice

This is great and if you disagree with me you're just wrong. Sadly, like all my favourite Eurosongs, it's probably not going to qualify for the final.

Denmark: Basim - Cliche Love Song

Like Belgium, Denmark are taking the piss a bit. But not that much, because this is actually a generic chart-friendly mid-tempo love song about generic chart-friendly mid-tempo love songs. Such cliche. So meta. Very internet.

Spain: Ruth Lorenzo - Dancing In The Rain

I am lead to believe that if I'd been following one of Simon Cowell's media properties that I would know who Ruth Lorenzo was. I don't on either count and so to me this is just another slightly baffling Spanish Eurovision entry. It's not unpleasant. It's not maddeningly good either. It's Martine McCutcheon's Perfect Moment, it's Evergreen, it's That's My Goal, it's the Winner's Song from a series of X Factor that passed by without any incident.

Italy: Emma Marrone - La Mia Cittá

Emma Marrone seems really cool. The song is also rather creditable and really benefits from being in Italian. If it's actually really banal, I'd rather not know. I can't wait to see her final stage look. Wait, I figured out what this reminds me of. It reminds me of the big Kelly Clarkson songs that go down massively well in gay clubs.

Belarus: Teo - Cheesecake

Plasticky and wrong on so many levels. Cheesecake is nice and everything, but I think that likening a woman's genital region to a cheesecake is going to get Teo absolutely nowhere in Eurovision. Not smooth.

Greece: Freaky Fortune feat Risky Kidd - Rise Up

The intro is so promising. I thought that we were going to get a doomy, stirring anthem for the forsaken youth of Europe a bit like Iron by Woodkid but nope. It's something else instead. Something extremely chart and club friendly. Whoop whoop.

Georgia: The Shin and Mariko - Three Minutes to Earth 

This song starts out by challenging your perceptions of what a three minute pop song can contain and then by the way of many jazz chords and widdly guitar bits takes you on a journey through SPACE. I should inform you that I occasionally indulge in a bit of folk prog and space rock, so I'm entirely at home with most of the stuff that goes on in this song. Sadly, it doesn't have much in the way of a chorus. Oh well.

Montenegro: Sergej Ćetković - Moi Svijet
It's nice but nothing more. I have been at this for a while now this evening and my tolerance for mid-tempo adequacy is waning.

Hungary: Kállay-Saunders - Running

In a new one for Eurovision, we have drum and bass with a serious social message. It's good and well put together and I liked it, but it could have used a bit of something else in the mix.

Romania: Paula Selling & Ovi - Miracle

This is the sort of naff, cheesy boy/girl duet that people think of when you say Eurovision to them. I really hope they don't try to do the screen projection thing in the real contest, because it looked awful. The bit with the multiple keychanges really goes off though. Massive, but frightful.

Ireland: Cann-Linn (feat Kasey Smith) - Heartbeat

Follows the stupid trend of not really kicking in until the end of the first minute. Come on people, you only have three minutes in total! Why are you wasting a full third of your time on stage with slow bits, tinkly pianos and wafty arm motions? This is very pleasant, very Only Teardrops but with some nice Celtic fiddle bits in the chorus. Can't wait to see if Kasey has the same tense chemistry with her inevitable on-stage fiddler that Emmeline had with Tin Whistle Guy last year.

Israel: Mei Finegold - Same Heart

I ought to give this one another chance when I've not already listened to hours of this stuff. It's creditable, but suffers from that thing where the main line of the chorus 'We don't beat from the same heart' doesn't seem to fit with the music very well. Hope she leaves the samurai sword at home in May.

Lithuania: Vilija Matačiūnaitė - Attention

Imagine Beyonce tacking this onto her latest album. Yup, it fits. There's plenty of song to enjoy here, and the production is really interesting but I really want the stage show to be much more charismatic and less reliant on a tutu. I also worked really hard getting all the accents right on her name.

United Kingdom: Molly - Children of the Universe

I am confused by this, because it is both 'reasonably good' and also by the 'United Kingdom'. This hasn't happened in ages. I had a tiny prickle of goosebumps during the chorus, but I couldn't work out if it was the raw power of the song, some vestige of national pride or just my decongestant cold medication kicking in. Look, I like it but I'm not about to start getting excited or hoping it could win. I'm British, for heavens sake.

Russia: Tolmachevy Sisters - Shine
Boring and cheap sounding. I've had enough of this.

And that's it. That's the 37. Not a vintage year, but also not one to make you have to come up with long explanations about how Eurovision is actually a good thing musically and not just for pointing and laughing at.

I am going to listen to Pollapönk a few times. I'll see you in May.