Now can we try not to start World War III with it? Bear with me for a moment, folks, while I try to briefly recap the dumpster fire that is Ukrainian-Russian relations right now specifically as it pertains to Eurovision; you’ll have to look elsewhere for broader geopolitical news.1 Last year, Ukraine competed with a song Russia felt violated the no-politics-at-Eurovision rule and should have been banned. That didn’t happen, and Jamala’s “1944” took home the prize despite failing to win either with the juries or in the televote. Russia felt this was the result of a political conspiracy to keep them from winning, and various members of the delegation have been vocal about their displeasure ever since. Earlier this month, shortly after Russia announced they’d be represented by Julia Samoylova, Ukraine announced that she would not be able to enter the country because she illegally toured in Crimea in 2015. The EBU tried to broker a peace, suggesting that Samoylova could compete live via satellite, but Ukraine said “nope, that’s still illegal” and Russia said “you’re weird, no thanks.” So we’re not entirely sure if Russia will send Samoylova, or anyone, to the Contest this year. Until the EBU/Eurovision […] [Read more…]
Or is that just the youthful glow of teenagers onstage? After a string of failures-to-qualify in the late ’00s, Belgium began to turn to a perhaps unlikely source for representation: former contestants from The Voice. Young ones, too! Of the last five artists Belgium has sent to Eurovision, only one has been beyond their teen years at performance time. Blanche, a 17-year old former contestant on The Voice Belgique, will try to continue the success her fellow young’uns have had in the past few years. Is “City Lights” the right song to do it? At first glance this is a really great song. It sounds like it might be a ballad at the very start, but slowly adds layers and voices until it’s a fully-realized dance track. Right at the two-minute mark, all the voices except Blanche’s drop out, getting us ready for a final climb through the end of the song. The production value is spot-on, and I’m not sure where to even begin improving upon that before the contest. I am particularly interested, though, in hearing how this song plays live. It’s a great hanging-out-on-my-couch song, but might not have the right amplitude of energy for folks on […] [Read more…]
Can she bring her country its second-ever Grand Final appearance? Gabriela Gunčíková earned her country its first-ever Grand Final performance last year in Stockholm, but ended up near the bottom of the voting, thanks in part to a number of much stronger female-fronted ballads. This year, they’re hoping Martina Bárta can set herself apart from the crowd and move up the leaderboard. Is it the Czech Republic’s turn to see some progress? “My Turn” is a solid choice to send to Kyiv. It’s another piano ballad sung by a woman with a great voice, this time in the pop/soul style of Sara Bareilles. The song is well-structured, and tells an emotionally-relatable story. This year’s music video has a much higher production quality than last year’s, which could point to the country finding that resources for a more engaging live performance. There are a number of questions we don’t have answers to yet — how does this sound live? What about Bárta’s stage presence? Any possibility of additional performers onstage? — but in the meantime there are some improvements to be made. The second verse and chorus are begging for additional instrumentation to fill out the sound. Strings eventually come in, […] [Read more…]
This is a real thing in the world. Romania’s entry for the 2016 contest in Stockholm, which featured a metrosexual Khal Drogo (and a sincerely enjoyable song), was unfortunately derailed at the last minute due to the national broadcaster’s unpaid bills. It appears they’ve settled that debt, however, and in their grand return to the Eurovision stage, are sending something a little more upbeat. Behold “Yodel It!” by Ilinca featuring Alex Florea: I want to laugh at this song, loud and long and clear. And let’s not be coy, I definitely am, but it feels like I’m laughing WITH these performers. This is a song about living your life on your own terms; one of the verses says, basically, “Hate your job? Yodel and you’ll feel better!” That is a ridiculous suggestion, but it seems like both performers are committed to it. That makes this a cringeworthy AND fun three minutes. I have no expectation this act will have much success, but there are a couple of improvements I’d like to see. Alex’s performance is fine, but his costuming — especially his hair, lord his hair — need some work. Ilinca’s yodel is pretty great (I guess, although I only […] [Read more…]
In this episode: Epic Sax Guy does the Running Man. In the early ’10s, Moldova was a mainstay of delightfully weird at Eurovision; SunStroke Project and Olia Tira’s 2010 entry, for example, spawned an epic worldwide meme. Even if “Run Away” wasn’t particularly successful in terms of votes, it did set the right trajectory for other artists to finish just outside the top ten for the next three years with “So Lucky,” “Lăutar,” and “O Mie.” A last-place entry in 2014 killed the Moldovan momentum machine, and they haven’t qualified out of the semi-finals since. Can SunStroke Project recapture the energy and get their country back to the Final stage? Let me get two things out of the way. First: while I am thrilled to see Epic Sax Guy’s new Running Man dance move, that leg thing has got to stop. I can’t tell if they’re teaching horses to count, getting rid of the owie sprinkles, or what. Second: I have listened to this song an almost infinite number of times and I still don’t know what it’s about. Is the narrator an actual good guy? A garden-variety predator about whom Mamma has real reason to be worried? A narcomancer who […] [Read more…]
Will her song take your breath away? Malta’s last decade at Eurovision has been mostly a bad one, half the time failing to qualify into the final, and only once landing in the top ten. In Stockholm last year, former Eurovision runner-up Ira Losco got the country back on track, landing in 12th place with “Walk on Water.” Hoping to harness that popularity for another successful year, Malta changed the rules for their selection process from a vote/jury combination to a 100% popular vote-based decision. Beating out fifteen other contestants, Claudia Faniello will take the stage for Malta in Kyiv. Faniello has a great voice, and needs do nothing more than stand in a beautiful gown and sing her way into our hearts. The song is written, arranged, and staged well, and I am having a hard time finding fault with it. Perhaps that is part of the problem, though? I wonder if this entry is too slow and, more importantly, too forgettable to make a statement at Eurovision. “Breathlessly” reminds me a bit of the 2013 Israeli “Rak Bishvilo,” a song I still listen to regularly, but which placed 14th in its semifinal, missing the finals by quite a […] [Read more…]
Also an ape with a bowtie. Sanremo, Italy’s multistage musical festival, has a track record of producing strong winners. Since 2011, every Sanremo-selected entry has done well at Eurovision, accounting for four top-ten finishes. The other two entries in that time period were not Sanremo winners and … well, let’s say they were not received as enthusiastically. Eurovision lovers were so excited to hear this year’s Sanremo winner, Francesco Gabbani, would be taking “Occidentali’s Karma” to Kyiv that they made it the most-watched video ever on Italian Vevo the very first day it was published. After a few rounds of watching, I’m still mentally filing this video under “Maybe awesome? Maybe a joke?” along with last year’s San Marinese disco whatever-that-was. I think I get why people love this song. It’s chock-full of cultural references, and questions how the West turns to Eastern spirituality for temporary comfort while remaining materialistic at the core. I can’t help but roll my eyes at the hypocrisy, though, when that message is being delivered through a pop song contest by one man in an impeccable Italian suit and another wearing an actual ape suit. Musically speaking this song is pretty solid, if about 30 […] [Read more…]
They also trust her to poke the bear. Back in 2009, Georgia sent Stephane & 3G to the contest (hosted in Moscow) with “We Don’t Wanna Put In” … or attempted to, anyway. The anti-Russian sentiment was exactly as subtle as the title suggests, Georgian organizers refused to change the lyrics, and the entry was disqualified. This year, through a combination of international jury and public voting, the former Soviet republic has selected Tako Gachechiladze — a member of the ‘3G’ from that ill-fated 2009 entry — and her song, “Keep the Faith.” While there’s nothing in the lyrics that explicitly calls out Russia, take a look at the national final performance and pay attention to the screen during the second verse. (I can’t decide whether the camera cutting quickly away from the “Russia Invades Georgia” headline was an “oh-crap” production moment, or a coincidence.) Not a coincidence: I reacted to this song with glee, much like with last year’s winner, and may have even yelled “GET ‘EM” at my laptop. That was as much for the political content as it was for Gachechiladze’s voice, which is strong and clear, and her backing vocalists, who contribute enough punch for the […] [Read more…]
The votes are in, and we have broken streaks to report! Which ten countries from today’s semi-final advanced to Saturday’s Grand Final? The 61st Eurovision Song Contest began today with the first semi-final, in which eighteen countries competed for ten spots in Saturday’s Grand Final. Last year’s winner, Måns Zelmerlöw, opened the show with a much more somber version of his winning song, Heroes, featuring a live cast of singing and dancing children in place of last year’s CGI army. After a few opening words and jokes from co-hosts Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede, the action started quickly. Thanks to votes from juries and viewers in the participating and designated countries,1 these are the ten that advanced to Saturday’s Grand Final: Armenia Austria Azerbaijan Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic Hungary Malta Netherlands Russia In our prediction post from earlier this morning, we correctly predicted seven qualifiers. Our three mistakes were selecting Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, and Iceland over Austria, Cyprus, and Hungary. To be fair, Austria probably messed with a lot of predictions.2 Among WEIO writers, ZOË started out on the bubble and moved farther out of contention with each additional poll. Today, though, her performance was great. As for Iceland, I have no explanation for […]
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Saturday’s rehearsals gave us our first glimpse at the remaining automatic qualifiers, as eighteen countries solidified their plans for the second semifinal next Thursday. Today’s packed schedule begins with the first rehearsals for the remaining half of the automatic qualifiers, and continues with the participants from semifinal 2 getting their second shot on the Globe Arena stage. As with yesterday’s performers, the second rehearsal is key; this is the time when they’re finalizing costume choices, working through lighting and camera issues, tightening up choreography, and working out any remaining kinks. The next time these eighteen countries take the stage, next Wednesday, they’ll be performing in front of the national juries that will account for half of their score. Here are first impressions from Saturday’s rehearsals: 1 I’m really glad Germany automatically qualifies for the Grand Final; over the last few days I have become increasingly concerned that all of the campy, WTF-type entries wouldn’t perform during my watch party next weekend. Jamie-Lee is doing a good job with her vocals, but at the moment looks like a little girl lost in the woods. “Who’s scared now, Mr. Wolf?” This is only Germany’s first rehearsal, so they’ve got some time to figure it […]
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