So I’m sitting at The Infamous Scottish Eurovision Preview Party (Australia won by the way, in a landslide), and Serbia comes on. And I try to remember what it picked up in Juke Box Jury… There was a good reason for that.
A quick recount on the master spreadsheet revealed we were one short. It was time to call in the emergency podcast team…
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #7B hosted by Lisa-Jayne Lewis, with Liam Clark (@theliamsclark) and Slavko (slavko.me).
Serbia: Nova Deca, by Sanja Ilić & Balkanika.
Don’t miss an episode of the Eurovision Insight podcast by subscribing to the RSS feed dedicated to the podcasts. iTunes users can find us in the iTunes Store and get the show automatically downloaded to your computer.
In just a few days time, the ESC Insight team will be touching down in the beautiful Portuguese capital of Lisbon to bring you two weeks of extensive coverage from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. We’ll be delivering in-depth articles, rehearsal coverage, podcasts, travel guides, this very newsletter and much, much more.
Here’s your guide to the members of our core team who’ll be on location this year, and what they’re planning to produce for you…
Ewan returns with the almost-legendary “Hello, Internet!” to bring daily coverage from the heart of the Eurovision Song Contest to the four corners of the continent and beyond on ESC Insight’s daily podcast (which this year looks like a big, rather comfortable, orange sofa). Expect interviews, rehearsal reviews, chat, and more on the podcast – which will also go out on radio stations around the world with the help of Radio Six International. His pre-Contest favourite didn’t make it out of the National Finals, it ran out of metaphors…
Ellie is in Lisbon to voyage to the alternative heart of the Song Contest. Whether it’s tracking down the technical team, asking non-Eurovision related questions to Eurovision artists or escaping the Press Centre to get a true taste of the city, she’ll be making audio features, writing articles and appearing on the rehearsal news podcast. She enjoys long walks on the beach, screamo and doing the dance moves to ‘Hvala Ne‘.
Lisa-Jayne joins us directly from a whirlwind trip to Australia where she has been accompanying Slavko on a mini tour of the Aussie preview parties, so most likely she will be seriously jet-lagged and in need of a gin & tonic! She will be reporting daily for Radio Six International’s news bulletins and also has a very exciting, special project with Ewan that we’re not allowed to tell you about just yet.
Her pre-contest favourites include Israel, Bulgaria and Finland but as always Lisa works her own version of Eurovision Maths and she currently has 8 songs in her top 3!
John Egan joins us on the ground in Lisbon covering the rehearsals and looking at the mad maths of the Eurovision. If France, Estonia or Ireland lift the trophy he will be pleased.
John Lucas is joining Insight on the ground for the fourth year running. He will be keeping the ESC Insight social media channels updated, overseeing the newsletter and contributing blog posts and podcast content throughout the fortnight. His pre-Contest favourite this year is Finland – and anyone caught using the F-W word in his presence will be on the receiving end of a very hard stare…
In addition to the core team, we’ll also be hosting special guest content from a variety of friends and fellow journalists, plus invaluable contributions from the members of our team who couldn’t make it to the live event this year. So keep reading, listening and sharing to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
Got something you’d like to see us cover over the next two weeks? Feel free to let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best…
Elsewhere in this week’s newsletter, Portugal’s national broadcaster RTP unveils some ambitious coverage plans for their first ever hosting, preview party season ends on a high note in Amsterdam and Madrid, and Estonia’s Elina Nechayeva gets some good news about her ambitious stage dress…
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For all the latest Eurovision-related news and analysis, you can also follow ESC Insight on Facebook and Twitter.
There wasn’t much to indicate that 1998’s Eurovision Song Contest would be one of historic proportions.
One could argue that the world’s favourite Song Contest was in the midst of a terrible slump. Viewing figures were falling across the continent and the Contest hadn’t produced a major hit since Nicole’s ‘Ein Bißchen Frieden’ six years previously. Thanks to Johnny Logan’s second Eurovision victory (with ‘Hold Me Now’), RTÉ would be hosting the Eurovision for only their third time. Just as in 1981, the Simmonscourt Pavilion would be the venue used to stage the live show.
As the results came in, two countries with very different Eurovision track records battled for the title. Switzerland’s 1980s Eurovision entries either did very well (five top five results with one winner) or badly (five outside the top 10). Meanwhile the 80s were an era when the United Kingdom did consistently, if not overwhelmingly, well: one winner, four other top five results and only one song that did not place in the top 10. 1988 would be a battle between a country whose recent Eurovision fortunes had been something of a roller coaster versus another that did consistently well.
The Duelling Reboots
The UK found a consistent level of success with acts who had limited previous chart success. In Dublin, Scott FitzGerald carried the Union Flag. His Eurovision entry, ‘Go’, was written Julie Forsyth, who also sang backing vocals onstage in Dublin. FitzGerald was the epitome of a one hit wonder whose duet with Yvonne Keeley ‘If I Had Words’ had made it #3 in the UK charts in 1978. Eurovision 1988 represented a chance to showcase himself on one of the biggest musical stages in the world, a second chance at stardom.
Scott FitzGerald and Yvonne Keeley – ‘If I Had Words’ (Source: YouTube/belkin59)
Switzerland would be represented by a rarity: a teenager in need of a comeback. Céline Dion was a local celebrity in (French) Canada when one of her singles became a massive hit in France.
Céline Dion – ‘D’amour ou d’amitié (Source: YouTube/Ina Chansons)
‘D’amour ou d’amitié’ earned a gold record in France, something no other Canadian artist had achieved by that point. The lyrics were written by Eddy Marnay, who had also penned the lyrics for Frida Boccara’s Eurovision (co)winning ‘Un jour, un enfant’. Dion and Marnay would work together through her teen years, with edgy and hip songs like ‘Mon ami m’a quittée’ (My Friend is Gone) and ‘Tellement j’ai d’amour pour toi’ (I’m So in Love with You). Songs like these gave Dion the sort of catalogue that little girls and grandmothers loved, but not anyone else. Dion never had a big hit in France after ‘D’amour ou d’amitié’ and her cheesy chart toppers in (French) Canada were drying up by the late 80s.
It was time for a reboot. Starting with this gem:
Céline Dion – ‘Lolita’ (Source: YouTube/CelinedionGR1)
This is indeed the heartwarming song about a teenager girl imploring her older lover to help her lose her virginity – or she will find someone else to do it. Let’s just move on to the results…
The Scores On The Doors
It’s worth remembering that in 1988 we were still a decade ahead of any significant public input to determine a Eurovision Song Contest result: juries determined the winner. Delegations seeking the win worked along those lines, trying to send entries that would inspire support among music and media professionals. Which, it should be said, did not exactly produce a series of winners (or entries) that fired up the European singles charts of the 1980s (or indeed the 90s).
Overall, the best description of the 1988 scoreboard would be flat. There were only seven points between the third and seventh ranked entries. At the other end of the results table there were five very lowly ranked entries that earned between zero and ten points (sadly, Austria received the dreaded nul points). The average score per country for the winner was only 6.85 points our of a possible 12. Despite there being two entries finishing well clear of the rest, this was not a year with a landslide result.
In fact, there was a lot of love for a lot of entries. Ten of the twenty-one entries received at least one douze points. Five countries – Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Yugoslavia—each received three top marks; each also ended up in the top six.
But the Contest demands a winner. 1988 was no different.
Scott FitzGerald – ‘Go’ (Source: YouTube/escbelgium4)
With only three juries left to report, the United Kingdom had a fifteen point lead over Switzerland…
France blanked the UK and gave the Swiss a single point, cutting the lead to 14 points…
Portugal gave the Swiss twelve points, but the UK only three: now the lead was down to five points…
The Yugoslav jury, not known for voting reliably for either country, gave the Swiss six points, and a lead of a single point. Any score for the UK and Fitzgerlad would win… Seven points to the Netherlands… Eight to Germany… Ten to Norway…
Then the camera crew sprinted away from the UK delegation to the Swiss, Fitzgerald knew it was over, and the final twelve points went to France.
‘Ne partez pas sans moi’ beat ‘Go’ by a single point, on the last jury.
Céline Dion – ‘Ne partez pas sans moi’ (Source: YouTube/juan8969)
We should acknowledged that neither entry was a hit. ‘Go’ didn’t manage to make the UK top 50; Dion’s entry only managed 11th in the Swiss charts. Yet there is some irony here: Dion did ‘go’ on to bigger and better things, ‘leaving without’ FitzGerald.
Scott FitzGerald never had another hit. Céline Dion, of course, became a global superstar within a few years of her Eurovision victory. She’s currently 11th on the all-time global music sales list. All the acts ranked ahead of her started out in the anglosphere. Her album ‘D’eux’ remains the best selling French language album in history.
And that’s how you reboot a career.
Fast forward to 2018. Ki Fitzgerald, Scott’s son, member of Busted who have had eight top 10 UK singles including four number ones, is a strong music producer and songwriter working in LA and London. He’s also the co-author of Saara Aalto’s ‘Monsters’. Hoping, no doubt, to finish a place better in Lisbon than his Dad did in Dublin.
Ewan Spence returns to the insight News chair to look over the final previews, to talk about EuroVillages and Fan Cafes, and run down the start of a new cycle of PR stories for the general public. Lisbon 2018… seven days closer…
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Hilda’s Wall Of Death
SuRie builds bridges to France, EuroCafe announced, and Hilda the Stage has her wall of death. Ewan Spence and ESC Insight bring you seven more days of news from the world of the Eurovision 2018.
As the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 draws ever closer, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. 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.
The seventh round of Juke Box Jury as Ewan Spence is joined by Elaine Dove and Robert Peacock to talk bananas, life jackets, and school backpacks. The hits, misses, and maybes are going out to Cyprus, Albania, Malta, France, and the Czech Republic.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #7 with Elaine Dove (Sing in The City) and Robert Peacock (The Wee Review).
Cyprus: Fuego, by Eleni Foureira.
Albania: Mall, by Eugent Bushpepa.
Malta: Taboo, by Christabelle.
France: Mercy, by Madame Monsieur.
Czech Republic: Lie To Me, by Mikolas Joseph.
Don’t miss an episode of the Eurovision Insight podcast by subscribing to the RSS feed dedicated to the podcasts. iTunes users can find us in the iTunes Store and get the show automatically downloaded to your computer.
From grannies beating their drums to folk punk, from that same folk punk band wearing the pointiest hats in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest to a memetic saxophone player who returns with his band to claim third place, Moldova has a special reputation at the Song Contest.
With only a few exceptions, their entries have stood out for bringing the party without compromising on the region’s own strongly folk-influenced musical sound – and even when they do pick a more mainstream sound, the stage show is something else. As the Kirkorov-backed DoReDos prepare to take their infective brass riff and a very different kind of giant hat to Lisbon, lets take a look at one of my favourite Eurovision countries and examine how and why they acquired this reputation.
Chisinau greeting monument (Photographer: Gustav Flatabø)
A Little Bit Of Hawks’ Moldova
One of the poorest countries in Europe, landlocked Moldova sitting at the edge of the former USSR doesn’t often feature in Western European media. Tony Hawks’ 2000 book ‘Playing the Moldovans at Tennis‘ is a rare exception to this, when the comedian makes a bet based on knowing nothing about Moldova and the Moldovans and ends up falling in love with the country. But in general, aside from Eurovision, many Europeans would never think of Moldova. And this is key.
It’s well-known that the Eurovision Song Contest is a big deal to eastern and south-eastern European countries in a way it never is for the Big 5 or other Western nations suchas like Ireland, Norway, and Belgium. The Song Contest is a great opportunity to promote themselves and their music to a global audience, a chance that they’d rarely get on their own. An act qualifying for the Grand Final means they and their country get shown to an audience of well over one hundred million viewers.
And if they win, they get an international spotlight the following year, one that while hugely expensive, is far more practical than hosting many major international sporting events. Andy Warhol claimed we’d all get 5 minutes of fame, but for much of Europe, Eurovision is all about the three minutes of fame.
And Moldova is arguably one of the countries this is most true for.
Arriving Late And Starting The Party
Moldova were one of the last Eastern European countries to join the party, coming on board in 2005, but they didn’t so much climb a gangplank as swing from the rigging yelling as they went. Zdob și Zdub took the relatively short trip to Kiev in 2005 with a performance so memorable it got a reference in ‘Love Love Peace Peace‘ 11 years later.
The song ‘Boonika Bate Doba‘ (‘Grandmamma beats the drum’) was written about the owner of a guest house the band stayed at while on tour, and in a story that always makes me start crying when I drunkenly explain it to friends, when they got the first ever Moldovan Eurovision ticket, they invited the selfsame Boonika to come on stage with them – which involved some of the band doing a ‘Sad Tony’ to limit the performance to the EBU’s ‘six ‘people on stage’ limit. So when the ethno-punk band danced and sang around the Palace of Sports with a performance brimming with both energy and authenticity, the old woman in the rocking chair who stood up and, beaming, played her drum in front of Europe, was the same woman who inspired the song.
And we loved it.
Zdob și Zdub came 2nd in the notoriously tough single semi-final, beaten only by their neighbours from Romania, and ended up with 6th place in the final, only 10 points behind 3rd (which also went to Romania). Yet they succeeded beyond that – in the UK at least, the ‘Moldovan granny’ was the main memory of the contest, and suddenly, Moldova was in the consciousness of people in Birmingham, Bilbao, and Bielefeld. It was a fantastic start, something memetic but also true to Moldova.
Arsenium & Natalia Gordienko weren’t able to repeat that success in 2006. Hampered by a second-place draw in the running order but with a performance that was all but a low-energy Spanish entry, with nothing especially stand-out aside from possibly a giant sail, they sunk in Athens finishing 20th.
Natalia Barbu to the rescue! ‘Fight‘ is another of the Moldovan entries people still remember now with its Evanescence-style sound, violin riff, and vaguely goth-industrial bodysuit, bringing Moldova another top ten finish in Helsinki. Then Geta Burlacu didn’t make the Grand Ginal the next year with a slow jazz number with little especially memorable beyond her reclining on a sofa on stage holding a teddy bear.
Nelly Ciobanu came second to Zdob și Zdub in 2005 and she got her chance to represent her country in 2009, returning to the more ethnic sound. Trumpets, drums, and dancing all across the massive Moscow stage, she brought the party, with everything from the title and lyrics to the costumes and LEDs screaming ‘Moldova’. Even the chorus was clear:
Ra, he hei, he hei
Hai la hora, hai la hora din Moldova – (Come to the dance, come to the dance from Moldova)
Ra, he hei, he hei
Iute-i hora, iute-i hora în Moldova – (The dance is fast, the dance from Moldova is fast)
It qualified for the final and came fourteenth, and with memories of Zdob și Zdub’s grandmother still in people’s minds, Moldova began to acquire a reputation for this kind of music and show. But Nelly’s performance, while energetic, wasn’t memetic.
Enter Epic Sax Guy
Nobody saw SunStroke Project (with Olia Tira) breaking well beyond the Eurovision sphere and becoming internationally known. ‘Run Away’, a eurodance number featuring SunStroke’s trademark sax-violin combo, is certainly an upbeat and fun song, and the stage show beyond the famous part is flashy and active, but it only just qualified for the final in 2010 and then finished 22nd, ahead of Ireland, Belarus, and the UK. The stage was certainly set for the song becoming beloved of a certain kind of Eurofan but not making much of an impact beyond that, however something unexpected happened – it went viral.
Eurovision songs had gone viral before – winners Lordi, Lithuania’s LT United, and of course Zdob și Zdub – but never to this extent. Epic Sax Guy (Sergey Stepanov)’s rhymthic thrusting while miming playing his saxophone was shared across the Internet, benefitting hugely from modern media, and became well-known in the United States, arguably a holy grail for Eurovision performances.
Although it was his sax riff and hips that grabbed the most attention, people coming across the song through memes across forums and social media often stayed for the whole song, ratcheting up a YouTube viewer count far beyond what its 22nd place finish would indicate. In fact, few of the 21 songs that beat it would endure in quite so strong a fashion, and while memes come and go, they tend to be fondly remembered. This would turn out to have strong repercussions 7 years later.
Maybe Moldova took this on board, as next year they send Zdob și Zdub back again with a performance all but tailor-made to be both memorable and memetic. ‘So Lucky‘ with the tall pointy hats and angelic unicylist carried the band’s trademark ethno-punk genre, albeit in a slightly heavier way than six years earlier. No matter. While not enduringly successful in the way SunStroke Project managed to be, Zdob și Zdub qualified and scored a respecteable 12th place finish in Düsseldorf, just outside the top ten.
Pasha Parfeny followed hot on their heels/wheels, bringing his trumpet-driven ‘Lăutar‘ to Baku, and dancing his way to 11th place with a slightly chaotic stage performance where at one point Pasha stands surrounded by three backing dancers spread across the floor pretending to run. ‘This trumpet makes you mine’ and it seemed to broadly work. Aliona Moon equaled Pasha’s result one year later, with an 11th place finish built on a memorable projection-based dress that transformed Aliona into an erupting volcano for the final chorus.
Moldova had achieved success with two kind of performance which sometimes overlapped – brass-driven folk party songs, and memorable stand-out staging. The most successful performances (certainly in the long run) achieved memetic status, and the country’s reputation was solidified.
A shame then that they lost their way for a few years. Cristina Scarlat’s ‘Wild Soul‘ didn’t meet either of the above critera and not only failed to qualify but scored Moldova their worst result yet on their 10th entry. Eduard Romanyuta’s gloriously trashy ‘I Want Your Love‘ with its dancing cops almost got Moldova into the final in 2015, but something did indeed ‘steal their thunder’. The ‘looks vaguely like the start of a porn film’ staging wasn’t enough.
Neither was Lidia Isac’s dancing, accreditation-lanyard-sporting, spaceman in Stockholm, a bizarre edition to the song that felt as if Moldova had remembered they were Moldova at the last minute and made a concession to their reputation, history, and past successes.
And then they rolled with their past successes, and returned the now-firmly-legendary SunStroke Project to Kiev.
With a hugely confident performance of ‘Hey Mama‘ acknowledging Epic Sax Guy’s memetic status but not relying on it, with a solid party song, Moldova put all their most successful elements together…and scored a podium finish, one not even the die-hard Eurovision betting community had seen coming, yet one which few felt unearned.
In the city where their Eurovision journey began in such an epic memetic fashion, Moldova triumphed. Yes, they were given a lot of promotion over Epic Sax Guy’s past, but this wasn’t unmerited, especially given how their 22nd place 2010 finish did not reflect the song’s enduring success. And Moldovans couldn’t have been prouder, with a grand reception for the homecoming trio outmatched only by winner Salvador’s in Portugal.
So we come to DoReDos. How will they do in Lisbon? The trumpet-driven, party song ‘My Lucky Day‘ definitely fits into the country’s tradition – many eurofans recognise this as a Moldovan entry at once – and DoReDos have brought immense energy on stage in their own national finals, only being pipped to the post by Lisa in 2016. Phillip Kirkorov’s involvement suggests a degree of confidence in the group and the song is popular among Eurofans this year, many acknowledging how it is once again true to the music from that part of the world. Will it go memetic? Unlikely but maybe if Marina brings that oversized hat from the video…
There’s More Than One Way To Win At Eurovision
Moldova has been far more successful at Eurovision than their size and 2014-2016 finishes would suggest. They have achieved this through both being true to themselves in a consistent way relatively few other Eurovision countries have, but also by creating memorable performances that have gone viral and achieved memetic status both within the Eurosphere and beyond.
This means Moldova stands out internationally in a way that no other country I can think of does. Musically, they are best known through memes. Their international success has been through utilising performances and songs that have stood out in a viral way – and this even precedes Eurovision. Because if I was to ask what Moldovan songs an average Brit might know, they might know SunStroke Project’s two entries, they might recall Zdob și Zdub, but (so long as they’re of a certain age) they’ll recall ‘Dragostea Din Tei‘, better known as ‘the Numa Numa Song’.
O-Zone’s 2004 international megahit didn’t quite reach ‘Gangnam Style’ levels of fame, but the dance tune with its earworm of a chorus achieved a great deal of radio airplay in the UK even before then going viral online with an early meme video of a man singing and dancing along (‘Numa Numa Guy‘ as he came to be known). O-Zone were often mistakenly reported as Romanian at the time, which might indicate the problems Moldova has had in making a name for itself, but those who looked a bit further realised and started to pay attention to Chisinau, just before the Grandmamma beat her drumma into Eurovision history.
Not to say there isn’t a great deal of Moldovan music that isn’t memetic and is still fantastic (Alternosfera, Gândul Mâței, Che-MD), but it’s the ‘Epic’s which have broken beyond the banks of the River Dniester and enchanted Europe and the world.