With even more songs and performers released by delegations, line-ups and running orders set for National Finals, drama from Belarus and Cyprus, it’s been another busy week for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Let’s Go To See The Sea
Let Lisa-Jayne Lewis fill you in on the latest news of who’ll be joining us aboard the good ship Eurovision, and what we can expect when we reach the port of Lisbon.
As the 2018 season builds up momentum, 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.
Firstly, I am not disappointed by the choice of ladies. I don’t know any of them but I’ve read their biographies and done a bit of googling, I am sure they will be professional and will distil their duties with grace and polish. This is not about our hosts for Lisbon 2018, I don’t mind that they’re all female – in fact redressing the balance of history and lack of women on prime-time TV shows perhaps we need a few more Eurovision Song Contests with a purely female hosting team.
As we know the Song Contest does take a combination of presenter and script to make it work. I would argue the past three years have been the text book examples of how to do it and how not to do it. In Vienna we had a great script that pretty much fell flat in the hands of all but one of the presenters, and she was farmed off to the Green Room. Last year in Kyiv we had three great gentlemen, who in interviews were lively, chatty and funny yet were given a doozy of a script that made them fall flat.
Sandwiched in between is Stockholm 2016. We had excellent example of the scripting genius of Edward af Sillén (listen to his interview with Ewan here) working alongside the hosting expertise and pinpoint accuracy of Petra Mede and Måns Zelmerlöw. Their success shows the required combination of charismatic and quick-thinking hosts with a writer who knows their style and the tone required to deliver an entertaining contest.
Obviously, only time will tell what sort of material our hosts are given to perform, and how they eventually handle the world’s biggest music party.
Party For Everybody
My disappointment with the presentation was that it confirmed to me everything that is wrong with the expectations of women on television. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, women are all sizes, shapes, colours and backgrounds, but women through the ages have been constantly fed a rhetoric of what makes them acceptable to men, by men. Perhaps even more dangerously, that message has been handed down through generations of women, whether subconsciously or overtly. The ultimate message is that women’s lives should be lived to please men, and if that means hours of exfoliating, buffing, waxing and styling then that is the price we must pay.
In recent years a new and much healthier message has been told to women and girls: there are multiple ways of being a woman and many ways of expressing your femininity. We are teaching our girls in school that all women should be able to feel beautiful, admirable and respected. A surprisingly important part of this message is for girls to see all sorts of women succeeding in all walks of life.
So let’s take a look at just how are hosts were announced yesterday and whether it really is the female empowerment that it is attempting to be, or whether something is missing.
She’s Got Her Lipstick On
We start the introduction video in the make-up room, because the most important thing for women on TV is to look ‘perfect’. This reinforces to the viewer that an initial judgement of you as a woman is based upon the hairstyle, the designer dress and the makeup. Who you are, what you’ve achieved, your CV, your voice even are secondary to this. The video’s message suggests that the prominent reason these ladies were chosen for this challenging presenting job is because of their look.
The hairstyling is also all the same, Sílvia has had her hair dyed to a dark blonde colour, but ultimately the styling for all four ladies is that same perfect ‘Hollywood’ look of slightly tousled curves reaching to just below the collar bone.
Of course, as I am a makeup artist you’ll be aware that it’s not the actual makeup or hair styling that I have a problem with. The problem is that all of the looks are exactly the same – even down to this season’s on-trend brow shaping. Believe me, no two women’s faces are the same and it looks spooky when you try to make them the same.
At last year’s London Eurovision Party, the look I created for Levina from Germany (a super fresh girl-next-door look) would not have been appropriate for Agnes of Latvia’s Triana Park (hers was pale skin and a matte powdered finish), or Anja from Denmark (bronzer and super glossy lips), or even Conchita (ultimate highlighter and cheekbones I’m sure you could have seen from space!).
The beauty industry is (or at least should be) a tool for women to express their own style, creativity and femininity. It can do more than create one uniform look. This is a potentially beautiful thought until you realise that some looks are given more value than others in front of camera.
Don’t Call Me Your Sweet Cheesecake
Returning to the host’s introduction video there is a shot of Sílvia’s legs as she stands for the camera. As we know legs are a very important part of a woman, far more important than her brain (insert sarcasm here!)
Legs are very helpful for TV producers because they are a way of putting sex on the screen without actually putting sex on the screen. It has been decided by our society that legs are sexy. Eurovision is prestigious, and things that are prestigious require high value, sexy presentation. Therefore, you use legs to advertise Eurovision.
The video then brings the ladies into the studio that has been set up for their photo shoot, where we see snippets of their individual moment in front of the camera. They are not shown posing as serious broadcasters or charismatic individual personalities – their poses are more coy, shy and flirtatiously demure. The signal this sends is that these women may as well not have individual views or personalities because their value is in how they smile and look delightfully down the camera.
The video in fact could be a trailer for ‘Real Housewives of Eurovision’, ‘Sex in the City’, ‘Portugal’s Next Top Model’, ‘Loose Women’, or ‘Made in Chelsea’. Seriously, it could be any entertainment show anywhere on the planet.
To top it all off the video was put up on social media with the caption ‘Here come the girls’. They are not girls, they are professional women who in this video have been reduced to one generic expression of femininity and then patronised by calling them girls.
What About My Dreams?
What this says to me and many other women like me who have tried and tried and tried to break through the media battlements and actually have a career on TV and radio is that if you don’t express your femininity in the way deemed acceptable by male TV bosses, then you have to be super intelligent or downright funny or you will never have the career you long for. This is not the case with men. Men can be ordinary looking and still get the big presenting gigs.
Men can be older and still given the leading parts in films, for example Hugh Jackman (49) in ‘The Greatest Showman’ is much older than his on-screen wife Michelle Williams (37) when in reality Charity was two years older than Barnum, but it would never have occurred to Hollywood to cast a 51 year old woman in the role, no more than I think it would cross the minds of a major network to cast a 50+ woman as the host of a prime-time show. (By the way I do still think that film is utterly brilliant!)
This is a continuation of a conversation from the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, and something I said during my ‘Musical Moments’ piece on ESC Insight a few weeks ago. In that I was talking about Murieann McDonnell from Ireland and how she had a pretty nasty ride on social media because she doesn’t look like what people expect of an 11 year old girl singer, she has a purple pixie-cropped hairstyle, wears DM’s and plays football in her spare time.
Remember back to Marija Serifovic’s appearance for Serbia back in 2008, the first thing a lot of people had to say about her was ‘she’s gay’ or ‘she’s fat’. She wasn’t a conventional beauty in a long ball gown so a lot of people just didn’t know what box to put her in. Then there was Bojana Stamenov, also from Serbia, in 2015 again the amount of abuse thrown her way on social media in the run up to the contest because of her weight was unbelievable.
I’ve had it myself too, when I was working with Eurovision Ireland in Stockholm during the 2016 Contest. We were doing our live Periscope show and a number of the comments coming in from men as I was presenting were along the lines of ‘you’re fat’, ‘you’re ugly’, yet we can put a larger, more ordinary looking chap on an Eurovision screen and they won’t get these comments, they just won’t.
So whilst I am thrilled for the ‘Fourtugal’ as I have seen them named over on Whoops Dragovic, please remember our 2018 hosts only represent one expression of what it means to be a woman. Where is the more masculine woman in an awesome tux? Where is the disabled host? Where is the host who is bigger than a US size 4? Where is the older woman with years of experience? Where is the woman of colour? Where is the woman who has a short pixie crop hairstyle? For that matter, where is the ginger-haired woman?
I’ll tell you where they are, they are watching the Eurovision Song Contest. They are your sisters, your girlfriends, your mothers, aunts, grandmothers, you best friends, your daughters; maybe even yourself.
They are waiting and hoping for their chance, waiting and hoping for change. They are in the audience, in the press room, in the production teams, on the delegations, watching on screens around the continent and the world,and when they see these ladies walk on to the stage they will feel conflicted.
Pleased that at least there are women at the forefront of a major prime time entertainment show, yet a little sad because yet again those women don’t represent them.
Last week Albania handed us our first song for Eurovision 2018, this week Georgia springs a surprise with its announcement. For the first week of the year there’s a lot of news to get through on the podcast. Let’s get started!
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Take Five, Georgia’s Got This
The weekly run of Insight News podcasts is under way and we won’t stop until we have our 43 artists and songs. This week an internal selection from Georgia, more names for France, and Lithuania’s marathon begins; plus music from Ida Maria. Read more about the Eurovision Song Contest at www.escinsight.com.
Now the 2018 season is kicking off, 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.
If you want to support ESC Insight as we cover the Song Contest, please visit our Patreon page, patreon.com/escinsight.
Quietly launched in Kyiv was The Eurovision Fan House. This new web portal is run by The Native, a digital content agency based in New York and expanding into Europe. With a ten-year partnership allowing time to explore the space, Fan House aims to connect and integrate the global Eurovision fan base with the Eurovision Song Contest.
Eurovision Doesn’t Have A Website Like This
One of the immediate questions around The Eurovision Fan House is “why has the project been created?“. There is already an official site at eurovision.tv which is backed up by a strong social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. You should also include the EBU’s own website which carries more technical news about the Contest for broadcast partners.
A closer examination of the Fan House website at the moment doesn’t really answer that question. Right now the ecommerce platform is a prominent element of the site, while the video content is reposted clips from eurovision.tv. Written content is in the style of Buzzfeed and Cracked, very light, image heavy, and very opinionated. Examples include a number of listicle-styled articles showcasing the entries of a number of countries, discussions on the best looking boys on stage, and the most cringeworthy performances in the last ten years.
But this written content does highlight on difference between eurovision.tv and Fanhouse. The Eurovision Fan House is not going to be balanced and proportional in its coverage.
Fan House Needs Attitude
It’s clear from both the existing content and our time with Izabela that the Eurovision Fan House has been afforded much more latitude than the existing online portals working for the EBU.”We are the wild child of the Eurovision Song Contest, that is allowed to let our hair down, and be more flexible with things,’” Izabela happily tells us. There are limits though. Fan House is part of the EBU’s family of coverage and the team can still get the call to take down content if it crosses the line.
The question that remains is where exactly that line is. The EBU is the organiser of the Contest, and while many see it as four hours of light entertainment, it is a Contest where the EBU strives to be fair and equal to every delegation and performer. That means ensuring that official communication is neutral in tone, that appearances on the official websites and YouTube channels are balanced and equal across the forty-plus entrants, and is not influenced by the popularity or earning potential of a viral star from a single country.
The EBU gave Finland’s Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (PKN) the same platform and opportunities as Mans Zelmerlow.
That’s not the case with Fan House. It can focus on a performer who ‘more interesting’ without having to offer balance across the rest of the competition. “We won’t feel the need, or feel the pressure, to do the same with another artist”, highlights Izabela, “We want to push the envelope a little bit on editorial policy, more so than any of the other official channels of the Eurovision Song Contest.”
Couple that with the use of a ‘millennial voice’ (an approach that relies heavily on sounding young, offering humorous angles, and pushes the entertainment angle far more than traditional coverage) and the disruptive potential of Fan House is clear.
The question now is how to use that attitude to capture new fans and grow the online Eurovision community.
What About Lisbon?
Although the partnership with the EBU is for ten years, plans for the Eurovision Fan House are built around a three-year rollout of the various elements. The launch in Kyiv and the remainder of 2017 was about revealing and establishing the brand.
What can we expect to see on the website in the first months of 2018? Depczyk lays out some of the elements to look forward to, “we’ll be including games, social games, and a complete relaunch of the mobile app – which we’ll be taking over. We’re going to create exclusive content and all kind of goodies you can’t find anywhere else. We’re also looking at all sorts of offline activations in the week of the finals, and we’d like create a physical presence for the Fan House during the finals.”
The focus in the run up to Lisbon 2018 will be around Fan House’s Reality TV styled online video series. This will profile a number of Eurovision fans over thirteen episodes, profile their regular life, and how they get more involved with the Eurovision Song Contest as May approaches. “People devote a good chunk of their live to strengthen the Song Contest brand. There’s not enough being done to reward and encourage that community.”
Eurovision Fan House on your smartphone
If theres one things fans of the Eurovision Song Contest love, it is engaging with different aspects of the Contest. Everyone will find their own favoured sites, so the launch of the Eurovision Fan House is to be welcomed. Its approach is not going to be to everyones tastes, but it will be to some peoples’ tastes.
It will be interesting to see how Fan House’s decision to move away from the impartial approach of eurovision.tv will be accepted by broadcasters. Naturally the community sites can have their favourites, offer negative and positive opinions, and rank the entries into the Contest, but to have an EBU-affiliated site taking a similar approach is a courageous choice. In a closely fought Contest delegations may not appreciate if their nearest competitor is getting more publicity through the official channels. The potential for negative coverage (because it’s funny to millenials) upsetting a delegation cannot be discounted either.
It is right that the traditions and assumptions of the Eurovision Song Contest are constantly challenged. As with all online projects, there will be a learning curve, and the Fan House experience on show in Lisbon 2018 will draw on the generated feedback for subsequent years. Depczyk and her team have a bold vision that challenges the views of many in the Eurovision community, but this is not a reason to stop doing something. The challenge for Fan House is to offer something different and create its own space in the community and to grow the love of the Song Contest all year round.
Myself and Mrs Hacksaw had settled in for a Sunday night of slightly unpopular Portuguese song as we inflicted the frequently fairly fruitless Portuguese semi-final upon our sorry selves. Well, it was that or some cosy Sunday night detective show. All the usuals were there. A grinning lad, a scowling gent, numerous ladies in encrusted frocks, and a bit of popera. Popera, I tell you!
But it the middle of it all, out sauntered and unassuming scruffy angel, with a beautiful, gentle song, and an unassuming, yet edgy delivery. I was immediately drawn into the telly, hanging on his every twitch and vocal crumble. The trappings of my living room melted away and I was swirling around inside the song with this unlikely looking songster, feeling the all-too-real pain in his heart. Then, the moment it ended, I was deposited gently back on my sofa with a tear at my eye and a flutter in my chest, and turned to Mrs Roy, who was thoroughly red of eye and utterly unable to speak – both of which are incredibly rare happenings for an old goth like her.
This is the one, surely, we both bleated at the same time. This is the one to finally win this thing for Portugal. I immediately contacted my Portuguese pals to let them know that they had finally found their golden moment, but to be fair to them they didn’t believe me. Well, it had been beaten into second place in its semi by that accursed popera tune. But surely the good people of Portugal would see sense and send the poorly looking lad to Kiev?
And thank heavens they did. What happened next I don’t need to tell you about, as it’s passed into Eurovision legend. But from that day, 19 February 2017, to this I have listened to the song less than a dozen times – and not once since the final reprise. I just never want to wear it out. I never want to dilute that first perfect moment. I just want to remember how it made me feel, not how it actually sounds. Get well soon, Salvador. And don’t rush back too quickly.
‘Free World’, by Tosca Beat
One of my longest loves in the musical world have been a Slovenian art noise band called Laibach. If you’ve never come across them before, they play a dark, industrial, neo-classical style of music with impossibly deep voices and an unsettling martial atmosphere. Very unEurovisiony indeed, but utterly Slovenian and totally unique. Which is why I was somewhat surprised to see what effectively amounted to a Laibach tribute act performing in the Slovenian EMA process last time around.
From what I’d heard of Tosca Beat before they were a mildly diverting popera act that, despite being considerably better than that Portuguese lot that nearly stopped history from happening, were still pretty unremarkable. But when they stepped out onto that impressively industrial EMA stage, my jaw dropped.
At first I was a little miffed. How did they think they were ever going to get away with aping the style of their nation’s biggest ever musical export so completely without ever coming close to their style, their menace, or their power. But then I stopped being a precious arse and watched, agape.
The military-style uniforms, the incessant marching beat, the situationist slogans barked out of a megaphone by a cold-eyed angel, the deep, growling male voice and the staccato delivery of the trio of operatic ladies at the front – this was everything that my Eurovision had been crying out for for years, and seeing as there’s zero chance that the real Laibach are ever going to do this accursed Contest this was the nearest I was going to get. So I soaked it all up while I could and loved it to the death. I still get goosebumps watching it now.
It failed terribly in the voting, of course, because the Slovenian public clearly saw through their ruse. But flipping wow I was so glad it was there.
Ross Middleton (Pif Paf Blog)
‘Never Give Up On You’, by Lucy Jones
I still remember the first time I heard this song. We were drip fed this, along with the five other entries for You Decide, on Ken Bruce’s show all the way back in January. I recall in did not move me at the time, I had it down as my third preference from the six. It left me feeling slightly let down as this was the track co-written by Emmelie De Forest, this was meant to be the highlight of the lot.
From there, though, every development built my confidence in the UK entry. The obviously superior live performance on You Decide, the much improved revamp released in March and then the staging. Oh, the staging. The UK’s visuals at Eurovision had become something of a joke is recent times, reaching peak UK with Electro Velvet’s hideous light up outfits in 2015. My expectations were, as ever, rock bottom. Therefore I was left stunned when we saw a three minute performance that was not only not awful, but was actually really bloody good.
By the time the big night rolled around, Lucie hit the big note and the pyro curtain fell I was near enough in tears. The left hand side of the leaderboard was ever so slightly out of reach but it felt so good to finally have an entry to be proud of. Long may it continue.
‘Boogieman Blues’, by Owe Thörnqvist
This is the song from this year that will live with me for years to come. If you listen to Boogieman Blues and don’t feel that little bit more joyous then you obviously cannot feel happiness.
I’m aware that his live performance wasn’t perfect but when he made it through to the Meloldifestivalen final it was my favourite moment of the whole National Final season. I was desperate for Owe to make it through Meloldifestivalen and Ivo Linna to win Eesti Laul so we could have the battle of the octogenarians come May. Sadly, it was not to be.
It also strayed out of our own little bubble and into the ‘real world’. When a certain Mr. Trump suggested we should “look at what happened in Sweden last night” in relation to an entirely fictional terrorist attack Aftonbladet’s subsequent report on what actually happened in Sweden went viral. It was suggested that the Forty-Third President of the United States of America may have in fact referred Owe Thörnqvist’s difficult MF rehearsal as Sweden’s troubled evening. The moment that man starts to comment Melfest rehearsals I may actually listen to him!
Also the heat performance contains Henric von Zweigbergk dressed as a hot dog vendor. What more do you need?
Gavin Lambert (ESC Tips)
‘Il diario degli errori’, by Michele Bravi
2017 was the first year I followed the Sanremo Music Festival in any depth, and in terms of musical quality it was a vintage year. It was the year that gave us Francesco Gabbani and his internationally successful ‘Occidentalis Karma’. However, my absolute favourite song from any Contest in 2017 (including Eurovision) was Michele Bravi’s ‘Il Diario Degli Errori’. It’s a wonderfully haunting song with its introspective verses and explosive second half when the orchestra gets cranked up to the max. The instrumentation is truly sublime.
The Italian X-Factor winner managed to finish second to Francesco Gabanni on the second night of Sanremo when there was more reliance on first impressions, and was only 0.49% adrift of Fiorella Mannoia on the fourth night – where he topped the telvote and scored highest with the press jury. In the final he placed fourth, just 0.67% behind Ermal Meta, which is an incredible achievement for such a young singer.
‘Unthink You’, by Wiktoria
Wiktoria’s ‘As I Lay Me Down‘ promised so much yet failed to win Sweden’s annual ‘let’s show everyone how it’s done’ selection show, despite being the strong favourite going into the final.
Prior to Melodifestivalen 2017 getting underway, Wiktoria released the delicate pop-ballad, ‘Unthink You’, which showcased the softer, more soulful side of her repertoire. Nevertheless, one of the great injustices of 2017 is that this gem failed to chart. Hopefully Wiktoria sticks to writing quality songs and opts against performing future Avicci pastiches… even if Mr Björkman comes knocking.
Robyn Gallagher (Wiwibloggs)
‘On My Way’. by Omar Naber
The Eurovision Song Contest can be many things to many people, but it never stops being a song contest. This is something that Slovenia learned the hard way when they sent Omar Naber and ‘On My Way‘ to Kyiv.
To describe ‘On My Way‘ as dated feels like a gross understatement. It sounds so old-fashioned that it comes across like a bad parody of a Eurovision song from the 2000s. Naber’s modern pop style was swept aside in favour of this clanger.
And yet ‘On My Way‘ was a hit at the Slovenian National Final, especially with the expert juries. But was it the Slovenian celebrity who won the National Final, rather than his song? Did Slovenia expect that Naber’s impressive vocal talents and star quality alone would be enough to do well at Eurovision?
In Kyiv – to absolutely no one else’s surprise – ‘On My Way‘ flopped. It placed second to last in its semi-final with only 36 points.
Plenty of other countries send their big stars to Eurovision. But when singers like Måns Zelmerlöw or Sergey Lazarev go to Eurovision, they take a great song with them. It’s not enough to wheel out a local hero and expect the rest of Europe to be in awe.
Eurovision is a song contest and if the song isn’t good enough, no one’s going to be inspired to vote.
‘Contigo’, by Mirela
I’m not all that fussed by ‘Contigo’. but I can’t stop thinking about what might have happened had Mirela’s song won the tiebreak in Spain’s Objetivo Eurovisión 2017 and gone to Kyiv. It’s always seemed to me that if Spain wants to do well at Eurovision, they just need to send a cute, upbeat, beachy song that makes people think of their holidays. And ‘Contigo‘ was exactly that.
But more importantly, if ‘Contigo‘ had gone to Kyiv, it would have caught the initial rise of ‘Despacito‘. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s reggaetón track was a worldwide hit and sparked an international appetite for Latin-inspired pop.
Sure, ‘Contigo’ didn’t have the darker, saucier sound of ‘Despacito’ and company, but it would have still felt right on trend and could have delivered Spain one of its best Eurovision results in years.
It seems too late for Spain to jump on that bandwagon now. Any attempt at sunny Latin beats at Eurovision this year will sound like a tired ‘Despacito‘ copy – best leave that to Latvia’s ‘Soledad‘.
But still, it’s nice to daydream and wonder what could have been…
Richard Taylor (Eurovision Ireland)
‘Kewkba’, by Janice Mangion
For many of you that know me, I am a great one for the reintroduction of the National Language rule back at the Eurovision Song Contest. Janice Mangion brought to the stage a stunning entry called ‘Kewkba’, which was sung entirely in Maltese – something we haven’t heard at the international final since the 1970s.
Performed entirely by herself on stage with no backing singers, Janice gave us something beautiful and three minutes of pure enjoyment on screen, rightfully securing her the runners up position in the national final. Had ‘Kewkba‘ gone through to Kyiv, the Maltese delegation would’ve had to do very little to enhance the performance as they already had a winning package sitting there.
‘Speak Up’, by Isabella Clarke
At Eurovision Ireland, alongside ESC Insight and a number of other websites, we cover the Junior Eurovision Song Contest on the ground every year. I wanted to choose a Junior song because I always find the acts very professional, yet inspirational at the same time for people of their age.
I could’ve chosen from a few of this year’s entries, but I plucked for ‘Speak Up’, sung by Isabella Clarke. While Isabella is the only third person to represent her country at the November Contest, it feels like Australia have been a firm fixture in Junior as well as the Eurovision Song Contest for years now.
Isabella came to the contest, not only with a potential winner, only missing out due to the online voting – but with a message through the art of song. ‘Speak Up’ does exactly what it says on the tin. “What’s inside me, what defines me” are strong lyrics. Stand up for who you are and what you believe in – don’t let others tell you or try and persuade you otherwise. Although we sometimes get a message through song at the Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Speak Up’ is a good example of how it’s done properly.
Luke Giles (ESC Flash Malta)
‘Spirit Animal’, by Kerli
I’m a keen follower of the National Final season – for me, it’s another way to widen my musical horizons, discovering new artists and songs from across Europe and beyond. However, it doesn’t happen all that often that I see an artist who I’m fond of from outside the Eurovision spectrum trying to penetrate this border. Over the years, those interested in Estonia’s Eesti Laul will have seen the name of the country’s most successful musical export – Kerli – being thrown around as a potential participant time and time again.
Whilst she had two unsuccessful attempts at Eurovision at the beginnings of her career, with the help of a US record deal, she subsequently achieved moderate success in North America and Europe both as a songwriter and artist.
For many years it seemed to me (at this point a fan of her work) that she was pretty content with her career to not consider having a stab at the domestic market – or even Eurovision – ever again. However, when she began a collaboration with her homeland’s national tourism board – and later appeared as a songwriter on Cartoon’s ‘Immortality’ in Eesti during 2016, I had a feeling that something could be on the horizon.
Moving forward to the end of last year, as soon as Kerli was announced on ETV’s ‘Ringvaade’ to be part of the twenty-strong Eesti Laul lineup, I knew I had to be present in Tallinn for the National Final. The beginning of March came around soon enough and there I was in the Saku Suurhall, alongside some good friends who were equally as hyped as I was, donning a huge Ukrainian flag which I’d painted on the words “Kerli to Kyiv” a few days before flying out to Tallinn.
Having watched ‘Spirit Animal’ sail through at the semi-final stage, I’d seen a taste of what was to come. It felt good that my favourite singer and song of the final was also one of the favourites to go to Kyiv. Once the final song of the night came around – Kerli’s – I was in full fanboy mode. And for those in attendance in the arena – her performance the aura of a winner’s reprise, rather than a competing entry. Her song was brash and bold, like no other in the line up – and whilst Estonia is not known for a good track record when it comes to decent staging, Kerli pulled it off effortlessly.
Although, as we saw, she was trumped in the superfinal by Koit and Laura – her appearance in Eesti Laul will go down in the books as a memorable one for Eurovision fans, and especially for me.
‘Like I Love You’, by Greta Zazza
Lithuania’s national selection system confuses the hell out of most Eurovision Song Contest fans, including myself. A collection of songs, battling it out over a marathon ten-week show that’s difficult to keep up with. Survival of the fittest, some would call it. Often it seems like the rules are made up on the spot, but that’s another story. The winner this year of course turned out to be Fusedmarc, but it was another song in the line up that stuck out for me as a musical highlight of the year.
I came across this song via Spotify at the end of 2016 – not realising that it would later appear in contention for Eurovision. It’s no surprise that I came across it, considering half of the time I can be found listening to female pop vocalists. Greta Zazza’s ‘Like I Love You‘ packs in the punch over the course of three minutes, with an infectiously catchy beat. The lyrics I could identify with, and it was great to see her develop her performance and stagecraft over the course of the selection show. For me it seemed like a breath of fresh air to have a song like this amongst an otherwise dreary line up. Whilst Greta did not win, I’m excited to see what magic she and her producers come up with in the years to come.
Monty Moncrieff (On Europe)
‘Occidentali’s Karma’, by Francesco Gabbani
San Remo may be the ‘granddaddy’ of the Eurovision Song Contest but by heck, it’s a bit of a chore to sit through at home. The five-day event of established and upcoming artists may still exude class and glamour, and make a case for a return to an orchestra at the main event (sonically, if not practically, at least) but it also requires some stamina. The effort often pays reward, as there’s usually some excellent examples of Italian song writing to be enjoyed, and of course in the domestic setting songs are not limited to an artificial 3 minutes.
The format allows the audience to become familiar with a song they hear on the first or second evening, and follow its progress to Saturday night’s final. This can favour those songs which are growers, although this year one song stood out from the offset. Rarely has interest been piqued quite so readily as following the first performance by Francesco Gabbani (winner of the previous year’s newcomer section) and his infectious song ‘Occidentali’s Karma’. It had all the ingredients of a Eurovision hit: instantly catchy, a clever lyric, something to join in with (those ‘alés!’), and a ready-made dance routine – with a gorilla.
Gabbani topped the favourites throughout the entire build up as the song went on to be a major hit in Italy and charted across several European countries. But could he recreate the magic in May? His energy certainly lit up the preview party season; his performance in London was one of the most electrifying I’ve ever seen.
But sometimes the elements that make San Remo special are the very things which constrain another Italian victory in Eurovision. A clunky edit lost the entire second verse, and with it a lot of the song’s natural build. Sloppier TV editing in Kyiv missed some of the key moments captured by RAI in Italy, not least the ‘alés’ from the orchestra. And Gabbani himself looked like he’d run out of steam, ready to move on with the next single from his (excellent) second album which had been released the week before.
For me, ‘Occidentali’s Karma’ in its original form remains the best song of this year’s season, and by some measure. It’s a near perfect piece of pop, musically and thematically, and has confirmed Gabbani as an artist to watch. It’s always a shame when the ‘best’ song doesn’t win, but then the ‘best’ song wasn’t competing – just a pale three-minute cover version. At least in Salvador Sobral’s unexpected victory for Portugal, the sting of defeat was softened by the sweetness of a debut win for a country so beloved by the fans.
‘Origo’, by Joci Papai
I’ll admit, my initial interest in this song wasn’t just in its musicality; ‘Juicy’ Papai was quite a visual draw himself. But from the moment I heard it I really wanted it to get to the Eurovision Song Contest.
I followed its progress through A Dal, a selection show that seems to have built a great niche for itself over the past few years, growing interest domestically in Hungary and allowing international fans to have a say through borderless app voting. I was thrilled when he won.
One of my greatest joys of Eurovision growing up was the opportunity to get a taste of different languages and cultures (a theme that came to the fore when I was selecting my choices for the Ile de Bezençon with Ellie earlier this year). It’s something that’s been lost a little since the free language rule change and the dominance of English at the Song Contest. I wouldn’t advocate a return to national language restrictions, but it’s still a joy when those entries sung in one perform well.
Joci also drew on his Romani culture (something which was controversial to some Hungarians in his selection to represent them) and experience of being an outsider in the lyrical and performance themes for the song. Even without understanding the words, the theme of star-crossed and forbidden lover was obvious, and it was probably this integrity as a performer that helped boost his placing to an impressive 8th, the third non-English song to finish inside the top 10, and Hungary’s third best ever result.
Eurovision seems to have boosted Joci’s popularity in Hungary, although he’s also shown himself to be a great sport appearing on Sztárban Sztár performing – often in full drag – as artists as diverse as Kylie, Olivia Newton John, and David Bowie (whilst also demonstrating there are few men not improved by a beard – please grow it back!).
David Elder (The Eurovisionary)
‘Get Frighten’, by Lolita Zero
“Ain’t nothin’s obvious…” proclaimed Lithuanian dancer and actor Gytis Ivanauskas as he topped the pools week by week in the seven year long Lithuanian final. Indeed, the thing that wasn’t obvious to the untrained Eurovision eye was that Ivanauskas, who performed his song as his alter-ego drag diva Lolita Zero, was miming his way through the entire song! Lolz only actually delivered the spoken monologue in the middle about fighting adversity whilst her “vocals” were provided live by one of her overtly camp backing dancers.
The whole package was as delicious as the very best Drag Race “Lip-sync for your Life!” with Lolz smashing up whole watermelons shortly before her devil horns spouted a golden shower of raining fireworks at the climax.
Sadly, by the time she made the final (thanks to a craftily introduced Wild Card round introduced after she’s been knocked out in the semi) the element of shock and surprise was gone and instead the Lithuanians plumped for a tuneless racket that saw them plummet out of Eurovision in the Semis.
Never mind, for the true fan we will always have this delicious performance to savour…
‘Statements’, by Loreen
From the moment her name was announced at that fateful SVT press conference at the end of 2016, Melodifestivalen 2017 was destined to be all about one name alone – it was to be the triumphant re-crowning of the undisputed queen of Swedish Eurovision, Loreen!
Ever since she won the Eurovision Song Contest in spectacular style back in 2012, Loreen’s Euphoria has continually topped polls taking it into the stratosphere of Eurovision greats – “Best Winner Ever”, “Best Song in The History Of The Contest”, “Best Use Of Snow”, and “Most Desirable Hairdo”… there was no end to the accolades.
In January the running order was announced and, as widely expected, the anointed one was performing last in the final semi. She was a shoe-in as bookies the world over not only slashed odds on her winning MF, but also installed Sweden as the hot favourite to win Eurovision some four months away. Surely nothing could stop this speeding juggernaut…
On 24 February the world waited with bated breath as SVT released the all-important snippets from the fourth and final semi. At last the song that was about to slay everything in its path was revealed.
Never has the word “complex” featured in so many reviews. Others called it “inaccessible” and “avant garde”. They knew with all certainty, however, that the live performance on Saturday night was going to save the day…
With a baffling staging that could only be described as “Les Miserables meets Doran Gray” the appointed one had managed to confuse and perplex the public, and whilst the visuals were confusing the song itself was an esoteric mish-mash of bizarreness. There was shock as the results were announced and The Queen failed to go “direct til finalen”, instead being offered the indignity of a trip to Linköping the following week for Andra Chansen.
But there, the ignominy was only to intensify as the sure-fire, dead-cert winner lost out to a young man with more use for hair product than either melody or stage presence.
And that, sadly, was that.
Chris Halpin (Wiwibloggs)
‘Story of my Life’, by Naviband
It’s easy for me to call myself an ironic fan of Belarus at Eurovision. With a bizarre tendency to somehow always pick the wrong song from a national final (by hook or by crook), they often show up to the event itself with something out of place. Thankfully, in 2017, that was most definitely not the case.
I met Naviband’s return to the National Final this year with some trepidation. My fears were that the mobile phone wielding forces would conspire against them, as they seemingly had against ‘Heta zymlia’ in 2016. On the night of the Belarussian final, that fear seemed to be coming true – until some equally remarkable jury voting meant Navi would be going to Kyiv.
Still, my fear was that ‘Historyja majho zyccia’ would be turned in to something unrecognisable, revamped away from what made it special. An English translation would most certainly have sunk their chances. But once again, those fears were allayed: bar the language change in the title, it remained at heart a truly Belarussian folk song, brought to life by two wonderful performers.
Ultimately, that was always the winning part of Naviband for me. Arciom and Ksieniye are genuine: two performers who clearly love what they’re doing. In every performance, or every song, that joy comes across. They sell whatever they’re doing, and that’s a universal language that transcends the normal language barrier. It’s why I rank their EP ‘Iliuminacyja’ and album ‘Adnoj Darohaj’ amongst my top tracks of the year. They were a true bright spot for me in this year, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
‘My Little World’, by Club La Persé
It’s almost passé to talk about how little diversity was actually on show at Eurovision, in the year of “Celebrate Diversity”. The closest we got to any such moment on stage was perhaps the rainbow effect during ‘Occidentali’s Karma’. Still, at least that was a better effort than the failed “rainbow arch” in Kyiv itself…
It’s that issue which makes Finland’s failure to send ‘My Little World’ all the harder to deal with. Club la Persé are a club night/queer club kid collective from Helsinki, made up of artists heavily inspired by Leigh Bowery, with names including “Mr. C**T”. You couldn’t really get much more diverse than that. But, at the same time, it was no surprise to see many Eurovision fans write them off as a joke from the start. Even then, calling the group a “joke” or “troll” was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to some responses. A not so faint air of homophobia lingered with many comments.
So that’s why it was great to see the band perform so well during the UMK Final – putting on a much better live show, in fact, than many of the pre-show favourites. It was unashamedly queer and camp, just as it should be. The song itself carries much more subtext than many would look at. “My little world is smashed to pieces”; all too true in 2017, as many LGBTQ+ bars, clubs and safe spaces have closed down, and rights have been challenged. For me, this was the song the Eurovision Song Contest needed this year.
Over To You
Don;t forget you can read the Editorial Team’s Musical Moments here on ESC Insight.
And that, as they say, is that. It’s almost time to turn over the calendar to say 2018, and start running towards Lisbon and Eurovision 2018. As always ESC Insight will be chronicling the journey for everyone to read, see, watch, and listen to. We look forward to your company!
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The album ‘Bianco e nero’ holds a singular honour in my musical collection this year. While there have been promo CDs at gigs and conferences that have ended up in my hold luggage, Bianca Atzei’s long player has been the only one that I have actively sought out and purchased in physical form. There have been many more where digital purchases have been made, or bookmarks in streaming services, but the italian singer is unique.
And that all comes down to her performances of ‘Ora Esisti Solo Tu’ at Sanremo 2017.
I’m always going to be biased about this year’s Italian Music Festival, because I was able to be in the Ariston Theatre for the whole week of rehearsals and the marathon performances. There were daily podcasts here on ESC Insight to showcase the curious nature of the Italian Contest… and there was the music in the auditorium. Thanks to the policy of not releasing the music until the first night of Sanremo, my first encounter with all of the Sanremo tracks was the Monday afternoon rehearsal (with all electronic devices banned, pen and paper only).
While ‘Ora Esisti Solo Tu’ wasn’t the top of my scorecard, it was the most ‘Italian’ song from Sanremo, it ticks all my boxes of language, style, emotion, and storytelling, and it has stood the test of time. It has stayed with me all year, and I don’t think it will ever leave me.
Lucky Stranger, by Sergey Lazarev
It may not have turned up in Kyiv, but Russia was an ever-present force during the 2016 Song Contest. There are multiple interpretations of its actions (I covered the topic earlier in the year), and we will never truly know if Yuliya Samolylova was chosen for musical potential or political mawkishness.
Following the close run finale of the Eurovision Song Contest, Sergey Lazarev gathered a huge number of European fans who started following his music. While it’s a relatively rare thing, I wonder if he would have considered an immediate rematch and return to the Song Contest in 2017? Unfortunately geo-politics got in the way, but anyone watching his discography will have spotted a curiously timed release on the 31st March with a ridiculous high-production value video following the next day.
Part of me continues to believe that a genuine entry from Russia would not have been ‘Flame is Burning’, but this track. Ladies and Gentleman, my earworm of the year… ‘Lucky Stranger’.
Okay the video is a but it is up there with the best John Hughes 80s flicks in terms of character and setting. It breaks down into a wonderful three act structure (great for your three minute edit), and it shows off many aspects of its main asset, Sergey himself.
It also shows up the same flaws as ‘You Are The Only One’. There’s a reliance on a very simple melodic hook, the English-langauge lyrics are pretty superficial (although these are partially masked to me by my preference for the Russian language version), and it relies heavily on Sergey himself. Just like the 2016 entry, the video is a work of art that could never be fully transposed to a Eurovision stage, so much of the visual impact would be lost.
In every sense, ‘Lucky Stranger’ is the sequel to ‘You Are The Only One’, but the non-political Contest was denied this musical moment because… reasons.
En värld full av strider, by Jon Henrik Fjällgren feat Aninia
My work sometimes brings me north during national final season. For 2017 I leapt at the chance to attend Eesti Laul (great national selection + Tallinn + outdoor public ice skating = win) at the beginning of March. I left the weekend following a meeting in Spain open as long as I could; eventually I had to lock in flights and decided to attend my first Melodifestivalen. Where there was a lot of meh—and to my mind a massive opportunity missed.
I appreciate the effort that goes into MelFest, but often have less appreciation for the music on offer. It’s usually polished and mostly very professional, but rather soulless (meh). There’s a great self-deprecating humour that comes across regardless of the level of one’s Swedish (mine is IKEA level): heaven knows I would appreciate RTÉ putting in half as much effort as SVT. But the flat public voting in this year’s final validated my sense of MelFest 2017 a national selection that both ticks all the requirements whilst fundamentally lacking substance, passion or engagement. Meh, in other words.
I didn’t listen to (m)any of the entries until the final lineup was confirmed. My reaction to seeing Jon-Henrik Fjällgren’s return was “where else can he take his joik?” His audition of Daniel’s Joik for the Swedish “Got Talent” franchise went viral in 2014. ‘Jag är fri (Manne leam frijje)’ made the genre work at MelFest 2015, without cheapening the tradition. Nothing would have stopped ‘Heroes‘ that year, but Fjällgren brought something unique, powerful and dignified to the Swedish selection.
One thing the SVT team understands is that the Eurovision is a television competition: for better or worse they make an effort to stage every Melfest entry optimally for the home viewers. This can make pedestrian scandipop seem amazing when it is in fact meh. For 2017, rather than just make ‘Jag är fri redux’, they brought in Aninia and created an entry that represented the intersection of Swedish and Sami cultures. It was magic. And it would have stood out in Kyiv—particularly since only a tiny number of the viewers of the Eurovision have been exposed to Melfest entries like ‘Jag är fri‘.
Instead the juries shoulder-tapped an excellent electropop track with a weak vocalist. And if Sweden is content to land in the top five and be stuck on six Eurovision titles for the foreseeable future, they should continue to pursue the safe route. I’m not convinced ‘En värld full av strider’ would have beaten ‘Amar Pelos Dois’, but it probably would have been in the top three. In hindsight, the producers of MelFest did not want ‘En värld full av strider’ to win: it opened its semi-final and was slotted in fifth in the final, right after ‘I Can’t Go On’.
What a squandered opportunity. Still bummed about it.
Yodel It, by Ilinca and Alex Florea
As is often the case, I first encountered Yodel It thanks to a certain hack of a blogger. Mr Hacksaw has a remarkable ability to identify noteworthy potential Eurovision entries months before they hit the mainstream. Yodelling meets hip-hop would not have entirely surprised me, were we discussing a potential Swiss, Austrian or even Slovenian entry—but Romania?
In hindsight there was a team behind Ilinca and Alex that had cracked the 21st century Eurovision success code. Bring something different. Perform it well. Stage it around the strengths of the singers. Entertain the audience. Illinca’s roots are in soul music, but she earned her place in the Voice of Romania franchise with I Wanna Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart:
Their “audition” performance for the Romanian national selection had already cracked it: what we saw on stage in Kyiv was a somewhat elevated version of what got them into their national final. Both Illinca and Alex could consistently deliver the vocal (try yodeling yourself if you think it’s easy). They weren’t over-choreographed. Just when the song might start to feel a bit samey-samey, the transitions from Illinca the yodeler to Ilinca the soul diva. And then she unleashes the yodel to end all yodels.
It should not work. But it’s often that which shouldn’t work that is brilliant in the Eurovision. Had there been glitter—analogue or digital—in their cannons, Yodel It might have landed in the top five. Though Alex’s rapey kiss very nearly spoilt it.
‘I Can’t Go On’, by Robin Bengtsson
2017 is a year that I look back on not so fondly and potentially credit as possibly killing my interest in the Eurovision Song Contest. However, I hold one song above all others as a moment of joy – and it’s that “fast food music without any content” track from the much-derided Melodifestivalen show. The one that John Egan above calls “meh”.
Yes, that guy with the dead eyes, Robin Bengtsson.
March this year marked the first time I actually ventured across the world to see the Swedish extravaganza, and armed my great seats directly behind the editing team side of stage amongst the hyped-up locals, it showed me that such a spectacle can still take my breath away and excite me greatly.
Behind me (ignoring Egans’ eye rolling) stood three generations of women perched on their chairs, dancing and singing along to Robin, and at that very second I was filled with a new appreciation of how big and important this really is to many people. I was swept into a smile and sense of joy I hadn’t felt in a long time. So thank you Melodifestivalen, Christer Bjorkman, SVT, Sweden, and Robin Bengtsson; you give me a glimmer of hope I will find my love for Eurovision again.
‘Spinning’, by Monatik
Having been forced to go elsewhere online this year to secure my viewings of the National Finals, I purchased a subscription to European cable channels – something not so simple in Australia. One dodgy Ukrainian purchase later, I found myself armed with over 600 channel choices including ‘Music Box’, the Russian and Ukrainian alternative to MTV, but with actual music clips. It quickly became my daily soundtrack and my knowledge of the Ukrainian music scene grew fast. Alongside the more familiar names of Alyosha, Tina Karol, Mariya Yaremchuk, Zlata, Ruslana, and current queen Loboda, there’s Alekseev, Max Barskih, Vremya i Steklo, and finally, Monatik, a Ukrainian r’n’b star whose track ‘Spinning’ was on heavy rotation throughout that National Final period.
I was therefore extremely pleased to discover that the same act and song would open the proceedings of Eurovision 2017 in Kyiv. A great opening with modern flavour, he did not disappoint, and left many in attendance keen to download the track – which is still on high rotation in my house. There would be no surprises for me, given Ukraine’s history to send its very best artists, that Monatik (and others I have listed above), will be coming to the competition stage in the near future.
John Paul Lucas
‘Requiem’, by Alma
The French have barely had more luck than the UK at Eurovision over the past fifteen years or so, but one thing they’ve (almost) always managed to retain is a clear sense of national identity in their entries. By combining this with a modern, chart-friendly sensibility in 2016 they finally discovered a formula that worked for them and they continued in this vein with their entry for Kyiv.
I loved ‘Requiem‘ from the first time I heard it. It’s seductive, mysterious and enchanting, with dramatic production touches that echo popular French hitmakers like Indila and Louane. Even the inevitable ‘Franglish’ remix ended up boosting the song in all the right places, even if some of the translated lyrics were a touch clunky.
And yet, in the build up to the Grand Final, I – along with the majority of the press room – was convinced France were doomed to a return to the bottom five. Was the staging too bare and unimaginative? Was the song too radio to stand out against so many obviously performative entries? Would closing the show immediately following hot favourites Belgium, Sweden and Bulgaria make it feel like an afterthought?
And yet, for reasons I still can’t quite wrap my head around, ‘Requiem’ connected. Not to the degree that Amir’s ‘J’ai cherché’ did the previous year, admittedly, but enough to score a top ten finish on the televote and a respectable 12th place overall. There’s still a whiff of unfulfilled potential around ‘Requiem’, but ultimately a good song is a good song, and sometimes that’s enough.
‘A Million Years’, by Mariette
As usual, I thought Sweden found themselves with an embarrassment of riches to choose from at Melodifestivalen 2017, and in Robin Bengtsson they made a smart, respectable choice that was rewarded accordingly by the juries and televoters.
However, my heart was always with this entry from Mariette. It’s less instantly striking than her 2015 entry ‘Don’t Stop Believing‘, and would possibly have been a little too subtle to crack the top five in Kyiv, but it’s got its hooks into me to the extent that it’s probably my favourite song of 2017 inside or outside the Eurovision bubble.
A gently rhythmic hymn to unconditional love, ‘A Million Years’ is warm, hopeful and empathetic, while also retaining that uniquely Nordic undercurrent of melancholy. At first, my one complaint about the song was that it felt as though it’s abrupt ending was clumsily truncated to fit the three minute mark, but over time I’ve come to really appreciate the way it ends on an unresolved, ambiguous note.
It’s not a power ballad in the traditional sense – she’s not spilling her guts out at maximum volume or demanding equivalent devotion from the subject of the song. It’s a simple, emotionally generous statement of love that demands nothing in return. It’s not all that common to find complex emotional shading in a Eurovision song, but in its way ‘A Million Years’ is as layered and sincere as ‘Amar pelos dois’ – and it has a danceable BPM. Who says those things have to be mutually exclusive?
‘Line‘, by Triana Park
If you’re going to do something, go all in and keep going. Whether it works out or not, give it everything you’ve got. Triana Park tried to represent Latvia in Eurovision five times since 2008, and finally in 2017 their sleek house-influenced song ‘Line’ gave them the victory in Supernova. It’s a song that isn’t particularly typical of Triana Park’s output, in fact, here’s what I said about it back in April,
It’s not like a rock song, it’s more like a Robyn song. I love the build up of tension that comes just before the first big dance break and the ecstatic rave catharsis as it hits – well, this is absolutely what the contest needs. Then to go back to a subdued verse and build up again? Dynamically, it’s as good as Euphoria.
But Triana Park are a rock band and they brought their full rock band stage presence to the Eurovision stage, which is ultimately what lead to their non-qualification for the Grand Final in May. The first signs that Triana Park weren’t about to compromise their performance style came in the Supernova final, where Agnes’ vocals didn’t quite live up to the dynamic, edgy quality of the studio version. I was very much excited by the ravey neon of their Supernova staging, and I hoped that would carry through to the big stage.
Another of this year’s running themes surfaced in the official video for ‘Line’ – cultural appropriation. In the video clip, the band perform ‘Line’ in moody black and white, with Agnes dressed in a series of elaborate costumes. She begins the song in a gown and headdress that recalls the traditional dress of the Baltic region and ends the song in a giant faux fur coat with long blonde braids, but it is the middle section where she performs tai chi style moves while wearing a kimono and geisha-style makeup that changes the shape of her eyes to give her an Asian appearance that caused consternation. I wrote an introduction to the concept of cultural appropriation, looking at ‘Occidentali’s Karma’ and Kerli’s Eesti Laul song ‘Spirit Animal’ as examples. Whether it was the accusations of clumsy cultural appropriation or that it was just not part of the plan, we never saw this imagery again in Triana Park’s Eurovision campaign.
I was so excited by ‘Line’ and the idea of a ravey neon rock song at Eurovision, that when it came to their performance at London Eurovision Party, I wanted to be prepared. I wanted to give it all that I could and keep going. I took a handbag full of glowsticks into the Cafe de Paris and distributed them around the crowd as the four to the floor beat of ‘Line’ swelled. It looks pretty nice on the video, and it felt marvellous to be helping add a little bit more fun to an already awesome night.
I did the glowstick thing again for Triana Park’s Semi Final performances. I was down the front in the fan zone for the jury semi and the live semi, and my glowing handiwork is visible in the crowd shots for a few seconds. Mum, I was on the telly. Sort of. But no amount of glowsticks could remedy a stage performance that combined a distractingly overaccessoried stage outfit, baffling monsters displayed on the LED screen, shouted vocals and an incident where the iconic Latvian Freedom monument was mistaken for graffiti of a gentleman’s region.
We say we want authenticity in our Eurovision performances, but for some artists, their authentic performance style doesn’t fit with the level of slickness we expect. But, you know, we’ll always have that terrifically exciting studio version. And the glowsticks still work with that.
‘Is This Love?, by Da∂i Freyr
Iceland continue to beguile and delight me with Songvakeppnin. The 2017 batch was particularly fun, with two spooky and chilly takes on tropical house, adorability from HILDUR, Svala finding the midpoint between Robyn and Pat Benatar, a few big duets and the inevitable wee lasses with massive voices. But there’s always a fun outside shot in Songvakeppnin, and this year I fell a little bit in love with it.
‘Is This Love?’ is the story of the mating dance of introverts. It’s looking up from your shoes to meet the eye of someone else who is finding the current loud bar/club situation as you are. It’s recognising the oblique Douglas Adams references in someone’s chat. It’s talking to each other in late night chats and private messages, because you’re so nervous and excited that you know that talking with your mouths on the phone is going to go very wrong. It’s falling in love, but falling as if you were tripping over your own shoelaces.
Da∂i Freyr is probably not as much of an introvert as his character in the song. His charming performing style and playful covers on Facebook livestreams show a different character. I was intrigued. Looking into his back catalogue, I heard his work as part of Mixophrygian – rhythmically exciting electro with beautiful videos shot in Iceland – and was enchanted. I definitely wanted Da∂i to win.
In the real world, I didn’t think it was actually going to even come close to winning, so when Da∂i came second behind the powerful voice and presentation of Svala, I was actually quite happy with the result. I don’t think there was any rancour at the result, as Da∂i quickly turned out a superb remix of Svala’s ‘Paper‘ and busied himself creating more music. He followed up ‘Is This Love?’ with the fabulously complex shape-throwing of ‘Naesta Skref’ and an EP of chilled but technical electronic music. He’s back in Iceland now, after spending some years studying in Germany. I hope we see more of him as a performer, songwriter and producer, because he’s really, really good.
‘City Lights’, by Blanche
Ever since Roberto Bellarosa took to the stage in Malmö, Walloon broadcaster RTBF has dug deep and found a well of solid Eurovision performances by fresh-faced young talent. Moving on from Loïc Nottet’s brilliantly slick and modern ‘Rhythm Inside’ in 2015, the nation (or, at the very least, half of it) was finding its stride after years of wandering in the woods with a capella groups, Elvis impersonators, and a misguided attempt at disco-funk. For 2017, the pressure was on to continue that upward trend.
Blanche, then only 17 years old, was fresh off of a brief run on The Voice when she was coronated as Belgium’s pick for Kyiv last November. Undoubtedly talented, yet still relatively untested, it was tough to gauge what kind of song she’d sing. She didn’t have a stunning viral moment like Loïc’s ‘Chandelier‘ cover, or a local hit like Roberto’s rendition of ‘Jealous Guy‘. Blanche was an optimistically-inclined risk, but when ‘City Lights‘ was released in March, all doubts were dashed. A sleek, modern, radio-friendly song that played into the unique strength of Blanche’s rich, deep voice, it had just enough of a beat to keep the pop fans happy, while still retaining enough minimalist indie cred to keep it anything but ordinary.
And then we started to see the cracks.
For every five lions we see on stage at Eurovision, there’s a lamb. Every time you see a polished interview with a showbiz veteran, remember that there’s a young, insecure teenager out there watching and thinking “maybe I’ll never be that good/cool/talented/beloved”. Most of us have the luxury of dealing with our insecurities in the privacy of our own heads, but seventeen-year-old Blanche (or should we say Ellie Delvaux?) had to battle that feeling in front of millions, with the hopes of a nation on her shoulders. She took to the stage for her first rehearsals with frayed nerves, a quavering voice, and more than a few tears, bless her little heart. The press who observed this took notice, and the entry went quickly from “fan favorite” to “this may struggle to qualify”.
And then I witnessed a miracle.
Our friends at ESCXtra host a livestream from the press centre every year, where artists and journalists can have direct contact with fans in a fast paced, interactive setting. Most of the time, an artist will plop themselves into the chair next to the host (generally speaking, Wivian Kristiansen or Brent Davidson, although the cast of characters may change) and answer a few quick questions from viewers before being whisked away to a more traditional interview or photo op.
As far too many of us know, the internet can potentially be dark and full of terrors. Trolls who feed on negativity and discomfort seem to outweigh the most positive voices in a forum. Even if only one comment in a dozen is negative, that will almost always be the voice that stays with a person. When I saw Blanche sitting down for a livestream session for the first time, I was completely prepared for the young singer to have her heart broken by someone saying something, anything, negative. Blanche, however, was met with the purest, kindest, most supportive love I’ve ever seen in an internet-based setting. She was flooded with encouragement from people from all over the world, and for the first time in over a week, I not only saw Blanche grin, but crack full-on smiles. Affirmations that yes, she was worthy of the challenge ahead of her absolutely bolstered her confidence and allowed her to take on the world. Before the fortnight was over, she popped onto the livestream a few more times just to drink in the positivity, and in the end, she continued Belgium’s ongoing success story, tying Loïc’s 4th place finish from 2015 and even surpassing ‘Rhythm Inside‘ in chart success.
She was all alone in the danger zone, and we were ready to take her hand.
‘Earth Smiles (Hope for the Best)‘, by Alexander Search
An artist, no matter the medium, has to embrace change and metamorphosis. No actor wants to get typecast, no sculptor wants to be carving the same forms ad infinium, and no singer wants to perform the same song a thousand times. Salvador Sobral has been no exception. After dipping his toes into the pop music factory that reality TV provided, and finding it didn’t fit, he fled to another country to hone his skills in jazz, eventually returning to Lisbon and releasing ‘Excuse Me’, which feels like a sampler platter of the genre, ranging from Jamie Cullum-esque pop-jazz of the title track to a lighthearted rendition of the century-old ‘After You’ve Gone’ to his soulful take on Brazilian bossa nova classic ‘Nem Eu‘.
Enough praise has been heaped upon ‘Amar Pelos Dois’, a song that was so impeccably constructed, yet still managed to feel organic and natural…I’ll pull back my reins before I go off on another ardent tangent about this year’s winner.
As we all settled into our post-Eurovision routines, I was delighted to learn about the existence of Alexander Search, a project that had been in the works prior to Salvador’s launch into the Eurovision stratosphere. A collaboration between a number of talented artists (including Júlio Resende, who we shall see at Festival de Canção 2018 as a composer, if not a performer in his own right). Taking the English-language poetry of one of Portugal’s most acclaimed writers, Fernando Pessoa (or, it should be said, of one of his many heteronyms), and setting his ninety-year-old lyrics to modern music, Sobral, Resende, and the rest of the band had the freedom to experiment and play, while still honoring one of their nations most famous literary sons. This is highlighted even further by the fact that all of the members of the band use heteronyms and new personas of their own…we’re not hearing Salvador here, it’s Benjamin Cymbra.
There were many tracks that I could have picked for this article: the comforting ‘A Day of Sun’, the atmospheric ‘To A Moralist’, or even the grungy, gritty ‘Solomon Waste’. But for me, ‘Earth Smiles (Hope for the Best)’ stands out. A four-line poem turns into a slightly funky little jam session with that unmistakable voice preaching a repeated mantra with a universal application…hope for the best, for the worst prepare. Whether in art or in life (as Salvador himself could probably attest to over the past year), have a plan, have faith, have optimism, but be prepared to be hit with adversity. The unexpected twists and turns may lead you to your next step forward.
Ah, you expected me to put Kristian Kostov’s ‘Beautiful Mess‘ on here, didn’t you? (I’ve said more than my fair share on my love and appreciation for Bulgaria’s silver medalist, and, technically speaking, my boss in Kyiv… just check out my Eurovision Castaways piece for more).
Fly, by Artsvik
If the Eurovision Song Contest was my other half in a long-term relationship, then it and I would be going through a testing time right now: one of us is becoming increasingly dependent on large crowds to boost its ego; the other prefers isolation and quiet reflection and wishes it could just be the way it was when they first met.
As the Song Contest has grown in popularity over the past years, so it and I have grown apart. But, there are tracks that have the potential to send a lifesaving charge coursing through the body. Artsvik’s ‘Fly With Me’ was one of those this year.
Armenia’s song was arresting on a first listen – a tantalising hint of excitement yet to come when it was first released by Universal at the end of March. Taught and balanced with a suave and seductive lilt, the charmingly modest ‘Fly With Me’ started Eurovision for me this year. It made Kiev an unexpected prospect. It was the song that got me engaged with the contest when I feared I wouldn’t be.
It’s actually one of only a few songs that have competed in this competition that I loved, but didn’t expect to win, nor want to win. It secured its place in the final. It looked OK on stage without looking over the top. It didn’t come last.
But its ultimate triumph was the way it lasted beyond Eurovision. It’s integrity in terms of production still shines. Seven months on I still don’t tire of listening to it. In fact, listening to it still manages to conjure up some happy memories of a monumental year both for the contest, and for me.
Grab the Moment, by Jowst
It wasn’t an especially uplifting presentation. Actually. Let’s be honest. It was fairly drab. Even with the LED face masks and the well-intentioned pounding of the electronic drum kits appeared hauntingly still on the Eurovision stage in Kiev for Norway.
The song’s tenth place in the final voting table seems now, six months on like a sound result for a song whose place in Norway’s National Final and subsequent Eurovision was a demonstration of commitment, determination and crowdsourced collaboration.
Musically it has enough grit about it to withstand the fickleness of this post-Eurovision fan though doesn’t have the musical resilience Artsvik’s ‘Fly With Me’ does.
But what really makes this song resonate for me are the lyrics Jonas McDonnell ended up writing for the song. Get it right and Eurovision promises the platform for three minutes, an opportunity to communicate something naff, something powerful, or something lasting.
At a time when mental health and wellbeing still needs to be normalised, it was reassuring to see creative individuals commit to anxiety issues in a plausible way.
It’s also a great track to jog to. No surprises there, I suppose.
Space, by Slavko
This had to be my first choice for my Musical Moments of 2017. I smile every time it rolls around on my playlist because the song has created such great memories for me for this year and I have gained a dear friend for life in its singer Slavko Kalezic.
When Slavko was invited to perform at the London Eurovision Party back in April, I was there to provide hair and make up support to all the artist before their performances and ended chatting for ages with Slavko that day and evening and did the braid (for the first time – there have been many braiding occurrences since then, including ‘that’ one on The X-Factor!). That night we became friends. Our friendship made Eurovision in Kyiv really special for me, but what was to follow I could never have imagined in a million years.
Fast-forward to World Pride in Madrid where Slavko asked if I would go and do his braid and styling for the shows where he would perform Space as well as a few other songs, this lead to both of us having what can only be described as a Eurovision Nirvana moment as we sat on the back of the stage with Conchita watching Loreen perform ‘Euphoria’ to 150,000 people! It also saw me turn to a complete mush when fate lead me to styling LeKlein for the Gala Finale that night, the woman I had been melting over since ‘Ouch!’ was released as a contender for the Spanish National Final!
And of course then there is The X Factor, I was at every stage with Slavko, including the first meeting at Freemantle Media, just a couple of weeks after Eurovision then the Judges Auditions, Bootcamp (sneaking into his hotel room to fix the braid!) Arena Auditions, Six-Chair-Challenge (which is brutal!) and then the night before he flew off to South Africa for Judges Houses.
So whilst this song started out for me as an acceptable disco banger of no real significance, it has quite simply changed my life and given me a new friend (friends actually, it has bought me into contact with so many other new friends), new experiences and new focus for my own life – not bad for a song that crashed out of the Semi-finals in 16th place!
Suile Glasa, by Muirean McDonnell
Tbilisi 2017 was was only my second Junior Eurovision on the ground and only the third I have ever watched – before then I was firmly in the ‘oh God, stage-y annoying kids singing’ camp. Well all that has changed and now I cannot imagine for a second not being at Junior Eurovision. For my second song I’ve picked Ireland’s entry ‘Suile Glasa’ by Muireann McDonnell, because really it was Muireann and her family who really made this years JESC so special to me.
Firstly there is Muireann herself and what a truly inspirational young woman she is. She is fearless, she stood on that stage in Tbilisi challenging the watching continent what it means to be a female artist. She doesn’t wear dresses, has short hair dyed purple and ties back in mini bunches and wears lilac glittery DM boots; a far cry from what is ‘expected’ from little girls on stage. Despite the numerous things said about her, that (a) shouldn’t matter anyway and (b) are no one else’s business and, while I’m at it (c) are totally inappropriate to be being spoken of in a singing contest, especially when talking about a child (sorry, I’ll climb off this soapbox) Muireann just carried on singing her song.
Secondly the song, written by Muireann and her music teacher James and his brother Robert (both delightful Irish boys who also travelled to Tbilisi to be there with Muireann) is brilliant. It’s simple and completely unexpected in the Junior Eurovision world which is perhaps why it didn’t garner many points on the night. But that doesn’t really matter, it is a song that I adore and this one also makes me smile when it comes round on the playlist, because I love it and I can’t wait for more music from Muireann in the future.
Her Mum, who also I became friends with and who else I admire no-end for the unwavering support of her daughter’s goal to be a singer, often wrote of her as ‘Our purple-haired Irish glitter fairy’, I challenge that, she is no glitter fairy, she is a glitter warrior, forging a way for other girls who like football (Gaelic or otherwise!) and sparkly things in equal measure – the future is bright, the future is… purple!
We’re Not Finished!
ESC Insight is more than our core team of writers, so naturally the call for Musical Moments went out to many of the ‘friends of the parish’ who contribute throughout the year, from Juke Box Juries and daily podcasts to articles and opinions. Want to know what they thought of the year of music? Read part two of ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2017… tomorrow!
And if you want to support ESC Insight as we cover the Song Contest, please visit our Patreon page, patreon.com/escinsight.