ESC Insight

ESC Insight
05
October
2019

The Revelation And The Devastation Awaiting Hooverphonic’s Fans

The Revelation And The Devastation Awaiting Hooverphonic’s Fans

Not a lot of people can say their favourite band is going to the Eurovision Song Contest. Now I can join them.

The Song Contest for me has been a chance to discover amazing talent that would otherwise remain hidden in their respective countries and feeling that awe of hearing someone with immense talent break out on stage. Over the years I have read a number of articles where fans compile lists of dream acts they would love to see on stage. Now I am having the opposite experience, already enamoured by an artist and anxiously awaiting their debut at Eurovision.

Belgian band Hooverphonic – first out of the gate for Rotterdam 2020 – have been a personal favourite of mine for the better part of the last eighteen years. Their song is either going to be a revelation or devastating to me, and I can’t imagine feeling any other way.

Hooverphonic in a Lift Concert (Wikimedia / Nils Mlcknbck)

Hooverphonic in a Lift Concert (Wikimedia / Nils Mlcknbck)

Who Are Hooverphonic?

Right around the turn of the millenium, mainstream music reached peak trip-hop with a wide collection of artists such as Portishead, Tricky, Gus Gus (whose lead singer, Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson, represented Iceland in 1989), Massive Attack, and the aforementioned Hooverphonic.

Their music hit me at a time when I needed a break from the stress of university life, and putting on any of their early albums – ‘A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular’, ‘Blue Wonder Power Milk’, or ‘The Magnificent Tree’ – created a chill atmosphere to distract me from an abundance of homework I didn’t feel like doing, and made me feel a little bit cooler just for having listened.

But what made Hooverphonic stand out from the others was, unlike artists like They Might Be Giants, their often absurdist lyrics playfully contrasted with their earnest tone. By their third album they were incorporating old voice recordings for ‘Autoharp’, comparing a break-up with getting out a tough stain with ‘Vinegar & Salt’, and commenting on how tremendously hardcore ‘Pink Fluffy Dinosaurs‘ are. Listening to some of their more recent singles, it seems they have toned down the absurdity, but haven’t lost their smooth rhythm.

Just taking a look at the video for ‘2 Wicky‘:

The opening takes a sample from Isaac Hayes’s version of ‘Walk On By‘ to create a sexy-cool synth vibe then juxtaposes it with lyrics that tell the story of a starship traveling through space and the repeated serial numbers of the vessel and orbital weapon. Compare that to their more recent ‘Romantic‘:

Where Luka pleads with her lover just to keep things simple and not try to impress her with grand gestures. It has all the hallmarks of their musical style from vulnerable vocals to the sweeping orchestral backing track, but feels more conventional and approachable than something like the aforementioned ‘Pink Fluffy Dinosaurs‘:

Hooverphonic’s Eurovision CV

Hooverphonic have worked behind the scenes at the Eurovision Song Contest before. Alex Callier, one of the two members who’ve stuck it out over the years behind their half-dozen singers since 1995, co-wrote Belgium’s 2018 entry A Matter of Timefor Sennek. While it was my favourite entry going into Lisbon, I was heartbroken to see her struggle on stage and be relegated the non-qualifiers’ circle.

2018 was also the year France sent Madame Monsieur, of whom the female half Emelie Satt provided the vocals for Hooverphonic’s 2015 single, ‘Badaboum. Given that, writing and performing for a massive television audience should come as second nature even with their protege-turned-vocalist Luka Cruysberghs, whom Callier mentored on The Voice of Flanders.

The band has grown and changed a lot over the years and ten albums. With six different lead vocalists and a wide swath of genres incorporated into their 24-year career, Hooverphonic have been able to adapt to an ever-changing musical landscape. They have toured quite extensively all over the world from Europe all the way to Tokyo, and are on the road right now promoting their latest album,’ Looking for Stars’.

Hooverphonic And Rotterdam

This is something that will set up Hooverphonic for success. The group has been approached before about participating before, but held out until they felt they had the right song. In an interview with Songfestival.be, Callier didn’t hold back on his critiques for Belgium’s recent entrants, and what he saw were successful and unsuccessful choices with Eliot, Blanche, and Sennek.

What’s clear is, he knows what makes a show work and how to connect with an audience. Lead singer Cruysberghs may be at the start of her career, but already has the televised singing competition experience to comfortably take the stage. One of the group’s stipulations was complete creative control over the music and staging, something Callier is very knowledgeable of. He also cites Duncan Lawrence and Salvador Sobral’s wins as inspiring him to pursue entering since more subdued, emotionally-driven songs have proved to be popular with both juries and fans in recent years.

How Hooverphonic Can Succeed At Eurovision

Hooverphonic are the only artist so far in the running. Even without a song, I’m ecstatic to see what they come out with. However, is this going to result in a long-overdue Belgian victory for 2020?

Hooverphonic's Geike Arnaert at Rewind Breendonk 2008 (Wikimedia / Jaak Geebelen)

Former Hooverphonic lead singer Geike Arnaert at Rewind Breendonk in 2008 (Wikimedia / Jaak Geebelen)

Honestly, I’m not so sure. Not because the contest hasn’t awarded a band the win over virtuoso solo performances since 2006’s Lordi (and arguably Ell & Nikki’s 2011 victory duet in ‘Running Scared’), but because the band has never been big outside of Belgium. They have appeared in a handful of films and TV shows and found some success in a few countries, but they’ve never unlocked the wide audience that boosts the chances of a big break. Even long-time fans (including myself) are still lamenting the 2008 departure of their strongest vocalist, Geike Arnaert, and don’t feel like they have been quite the same since.

What do they need to do to grab people’s attention and get votes? It would take a strong song, ‘Eden’ is a good example, one that catches people off guard leaves them reeling.

I’d really like to think they can capture those three perfect minutes, but let’s see. I have no doubt I’m going to love whatever they come out with, will squeal with joy watching them take the stage to rehearse for the first time, and keep it on regular rotation in my favourites playlist long after the Song Contest is over.

I hope that Eurovision is the moment that pushes them over the edge, the moment that helps millions of people across the globe discover an act with an extensive back catalogue they can explore, and is the moment that gets them the attention they deserve.

That would be a monumental victory unto itself.

Categories: ESC Insight

03
October
2019

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Don’t Take It Away Just Yet

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Don’t Take It Away Just Yet
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20191002_653/escinsight_20191002_653.mp3

We have a first for Rotterdam 2020 this week, but we also have a last. It’s a hello to Hooverphonic, but a goodbye to Jon Ola Sand. Just remember that Eurovision really is all about the music we listen to along the way.

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Don’t Take It Away Just Yet

The latest Eurovision Song Contest news, with notices given, performers offered, and Netflix slogans. Ewan Spence and the team round up the latest news, dates, and thoughts for Rotterdam 2020.

As the season gathers pace, stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is  available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight

20
September
2019

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Rise Of The Internals

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Rise Of The Internals
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20190919_652/escinsight_20190919_652.mp3

It definitely feels like the Eurovision Song Contest build up to Rotterdam 2020 has started. There’s been a flurry of news in the last week, so let’s pick up the pieces and see where we are.

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Rise Of The Internals

The 2020 Eurovision Song Contest season continues, with new internal selections, no more four hour shows, and a little bit of Nightwish. Ewan Spence and the team round up the latest news, dates, and thoughts for Rotterdam 2020.

As the season gets under way, stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is  available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight

16
September
2019

It’s The Hope That Gets You: Thoughts On The BBC, BMG, and Eurovision 2020

It’s The Hope That Gets You: Thoughts On The BBC, BMG, and Eurovision 2020

Not since 2011 has the UK entry finished in the top half of the Grand Final (the proverbial left hand side of the table) with Blue’s ‘I Can’. The last five results read 24-24-15-24-26. With BMG’s help, so the fan theory goes, that’s all going to change in Rotterdam.

Before you start singing something better than “It’s coming home” and booking hotels around the Harrogate International Centre, let’s take a breath and look at the situation with some words of caution.

Where Is Harroaget? (EBU/BBC)

Say Wonderful Things

First up, words are important, so let’s take a closer read at the press release not for what it says, but what it doesn’t say:

Following a process in which BBC Studios approached a number of record labels to pitch ideas for 2020, it was clear that BMG shared the BBC and BBC Studios’ vision of selecting a song with broad international appeal and securing an artist who embodies the spirit and values of the Eurovision Song Contest.

BBC Studios will be working alongside BMG’s UK music publishing and frontline recordings team based in London to select the United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2020 entry which will then be released and published by BMG.

Everything is focused on the selection process. There is nothing that confirms that BMG will be heavily involved after the process of song selection. The natural assumption is that the act’s record label would be actively involved in the journey to the Ahoy, but the question is by how much? It could swing from doing little more than a minimal publication by uploading the track to digital services (and signs over the required rights to Universal for the Eurovision album), right up to a multi-million pound promotional campaign across the voting countries.

Knock, Knock, Who’s There

BMG has rather a lot of artists signed to it, and many more under consideration. The press release may mention acts such as Lewis Capaldi, George Ezra, Kylie Minogue, and Mans Zelmerlow, but I suspect that BMG are not going to offer up a big name to the BBC. A big name would be unlikely to risk the productive part of their career to disappear for six months into the Eurovision world, as discussed previously on ESC Insight:

Ultimately every performer who enters Eurovision will lose, apart from the single winner from the Grand Final (and then they have a short window to capitalise on that success). As of January 31st [2014], I’ve been able to confirm 8,427 acts who have submitted a song to a national broadcaster. All of them must dream of taking to the stage in Copenhagen and winning the Contest, and all of them must know that’s an incredibly long shot. Losing at Eurovision is as close to being guaranteed as being a certainty.

It’s more likely that names further down the list are going to be put up for a National Final (presuming there is a National Final, although as we went to press BBC News was reporting this would be an internal selection). We’re more likely to get acts of the calibre of Maid, Goldstone, and Darline than Little Mix, HAIM, or First Aid Kit.

Presumably whoever wins through the selection process will need to sign a contract with the BBC to represent the United Kingdom at the Song Contest, and it’s going to be a similar contract to previous years. In which case let’s remind ourselves of Surie’s thoughts on the restrictions:

Despite not being a BBC employee, SuRie has also been obliged to adhere to the corporation’s impartiality rules while competing. “I’m allowed no political opinions, but there are a lot of political questions at Eurovision, and I have to stay completely neutral,” she says. “I can’t give opinions as it doesn’t align with the BBC way.”

From what we can see today, BMG’s participation does not enhance the argument for an established act to represent the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest. Do you think that this collaboration between the BBC and BMG will improve the standing of the Song Contest in the mainstream press? Will The Sun suddenly be happy to support something European because a record label is involved? Will it open up new avenues for artists to help develop their career beyond the televised show?

SuRie, BBC You Decide 2018 (image: BBC/Joel Anderson)

SuRie, BBC You Decide 2018 (image: BBC/Joel Anderson)

In the profile, Surie also subtly brought up the issues around budgets:

Back in London, I’d brought up the financials of representing Great Britain with SuRie, having assumed there would be a substantial contract and pay package given the workload she has to take on. “I get a one-off fee for the show itself, but that’s it,” she’d told me bluntly. “I just need to survive. If I had a waitressing job they’d have said, ‘Keep your shifts and we’ll work around it.'”

The BBC is funded by the public and is limited in what it can spend its money on. It has money to put on the Song Contest (and a reserve fund for big ‘surprise’ events each year such as royal weddings, general elections, and hosting the Contest if it were to win). It is allowed to spend a sensible amount of money promoting its own shows to a UK audience, but the BBC can’t justify promoting a privately owned song to a German audience.

If this new collaboration is going to have a significant impact on the UK’s final result, BMG is going to need to spend money. Lots of money. Lots of its own money. It’s going to have to promote the Song Contest entry hard. I suspect the last time that that happened with a UK entry was in 2009 with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jade Ewen’s ‘It’s My Time’, which was the last Top Ten entry for the UK.

Love Enough For Two

I can see all of these problems, yet my heart is still a-flutter. This is, after all, the Eurovision Song Contest, and I want every country to deliver the best possible entry into the competitive side of the event – even if it is at its very heart just a big flashy TV show with lots of pyro and not enough guitars.

Collaboration is a good thing. The BBC know the TV and Radio landscape. In the UK the Song Contest is a huge ratings winner, capturing the top slot in that week’s ratings and one of the few TV broadcasts that everyone in the country watches live. The BBC instinctively knows how to promote TV shows to get the UK public watching. The BBC does not instinctively know how to create a hit song.

If the staff in the BBC knew music as well as they knew TV, well, …they’d be working at companies like BMG. So connecting TV expertise with music expertise for me is one of the key value exchanges in today’s news.

This will require commitment and trust on both sides. The best way for this to work, in my opinion, is that the BBC focuses solely on putting on the TV show, and leaves every musical and artistic choice to BMG. If I had just one question to ask about all of this, it would be simple. Who is at the top of the chain of command of the UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2020. Not the televised show, but the three minutes on stage. Does the ultimate power belong to BMG or with the BBC? When there is a conflict of vision regards the music, the staging, the video, or the promotion of the song, who makes the final call?

Looking High, High, High

The mark of a good organisation is working out where your weaknesses are, and finding a way to address them. A collaboration between the BBC and BMG for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2020 is a good start, although it would be remiss to not point out that other broadcasters have similar and stronger relationships with music companies.

The UK now has a renewed approach, there is a wider pool of music to find 2020s Song For Europe, and with new voices in the team that means different choices can be taken with the UK’s entry to find success.

That sounds good to me.

Categories: ESC Insight

13
September
2019

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Eurovision Castaways with Ann Squires

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Eurovision Castaways with Ann Squires
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20190901_650_castawaysS3E2/escinsight_20190910_651_castawaysS3E2.mp3

ESC Armchair’s Ann Squires is next at the customs desk as Ellie Chalkley works through another collection of Eurovision songs and memories as see prepares to visit Île de Bezençon.

Eurovision Castaways with Ann Squires

Podcaster, educator and long time home-based contest appreciator Ann Squires of ESC Armchair and the Keep Dancing Podcast talks lost rave classics, the joy of niche linguistics, and keeping Georgia weird.

The momentum is building up around the latest season, so keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast to stay up to date with Eurovision, Junior Eurovision, and all the National Finals. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight

01
September
2019

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Ahoy Rotterdam!

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Ahoy Rotterdam!
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20190901_650/escinsight_20190901_650.mp3

The summer is over! The unofficial start of the Eurovision Song Contest 2020 year gets a nod from the EBU and the Dutch organisers with the announcement of the host city timed for the new season.

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Ahoy Rotterdam!

As the Eurovision Song Contest says ‘Happy New Year”, lets round up the latest news, dates, thoughts, and our first National Final name for Rotterdam 2020. Ewan Spence and the ESC Insight team cover the latest news from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest.

As the season gets under way, stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is  available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight

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