ESC Insight

ESC Insight
17
April
2018

Fireworks And Feelings: What We Mean When We Say ‘Real Music’

Fireworks And Feelings: What We Mean When We Say ‘Real Music’

(Listen along to Ellie as she narrates ‘Fireworks and Feelings’ with some musical accompaniment).

When I was a kid, I got it into my strange little head that pop music was somehow not worth my time, and so I spent a couple of years quixotically refusing to listen to any music other than Mozart and The Beatles. I got over it, but it turns out that was a mere rehearsal for my teenage years and young adulthood, where the questions of identity and preference find themselves inextricably linked with what you listen to. I found myself divided in a way that took years to unravel. It was all connected with an idea of being seen as smart and sophisticated and somehow setting myself apart from my peers by only listening to this very restricted diet of what I considered to be real music.

Is This Real Life, Is This Just Fantasy?

This question of real music though.

What a weird term. It’s so loaded. It’s the NME before it became a bizarre freesheet and eventually shrank away like a mammal’s vestigial tail. It’s teenage lads with lank hair who learn to play guitar through making perfect facsimiles of classic mod singles. It’s lumberjack shirts and big stupid beards.

The stuff that we call ‘real music’ is coded to be very white, very male and lately very middle class, just like in fiction what we call ‘literature’ is generally stuff written by older white guys and anything else is seen as a genre market and somehow, lesser.

So I could see why my favourite Portuguese drama magnet got everyone’s backs up when he spontaneously used his Eurovision winning speech to praise real music that magical night last May. A beardy, masculine, jazz-bore definition of ‘real music’ seems to run counter to everything that the modern Eurovision Song Contest stands for. And maybe that’s what he meant. Maybe he didn’t want anyone to bring their pyro to Lisbon, maybe he’s wanting to preside over two weeks of no LED screens or backing dancers, just serious bebop and chin-stroking, culminating in a huge victory for whichever nation chooses to go rogue.

But given that Salvador and Luisa spent their time in Kyiv during May making friends and enjoying the other songs in the 2017 Ccontest (especially Blanche, Norma John and Sunstroke Project), and given what a delightful spread of diverse musical treats we’ve been served for Lisbon 2018, I don’t think that we necessarily took the ‘real music’ message in the spirit it was delivered.

No Escape From Reality

In the 21st century, the commodification of almost every part of our lives is taken absolutely for granted. Companies use our life details to sell advertising to us and every transaction we take part in (social, financial, emotional, sexual) can be mediated by an app that is probably also using the data of that transaction to sell us more of what it thinks we might like. The entertainment industry commodifies art and sells what it thinks we desire back to us, with the edges sanded off by focus groups with the aim of selling to the biggest market possible. And we feel that. This is why we love to see a pop star mask slip – we’re craving something real.

Then there’s the whole component of teen girl fandom that is handmade and from the heart. Fandoms across all media are full of the creative work of girls and young women in response to the way that things have made them feel. Whether it’s slashfic, image edits, scrapbooks presented to favourite artists, hand-painted fan t-shirts, cover songs filmed sitting on beds or intense gif tumblrs, the response to art is real and deeply personal. Going back to Salvador’s unfortunate ‘fast food music’ metaphor, fangirls are that person who reassembles MacDonalds meals into gourmet meals.

Fangirls, in short, are great. I’ve had enough of hearing it used as a dirty word, used to dismiss people who are having a genuine emotional reaction to something when cultural gatekeepers would rather they didn’t.

Fangirls helped turn me into the adult I am today. They’re my best and most interesting friends. I learned to write HTML to code a nice home for my fandom writing, and one of the ways I practiced my writing was through cultural criticism discourse in fandom. I learned what little I know about graphic design and image sorcery through creating Livejournal icons. Fandom had me travelling to meet people I barely knew and sent me on adventures. Fandom gave me friends around the world and confidantes who I’ve never met. I am only on Twitter because that’s where Doctor Who fandom was slightly less virulent than the pedant-heavy messageboards. Fandom made me.

One of the demographic groups that gets basically no respect is teenage girls. Through a combination of condescension and misogyny, it’s assumed that teenage girls will basically eat up whatever is advertised at them. Nah. Have you seen what teenage girl fans are actually like? They respond to music and artists with such genuine passion that the paranoid dudes trying to convince themselves that they really enjoy Captain Beefheart or hard bebop or Dream Theater are scared. If a musical package doesn’t make teenage girls feel something, then it’s going to fail. The power of teenage admiration is only exceeded by the power of teenage disdain at something they realise is phoney and naff.

I had a strange dual identity as a teen. On the one hand, I was obnoxiously into Britpop and guitar music and had the bucket hat to prove it, but on the other hand I was a young queer woman who wanted nothing more than to break it down to S Club 7. I tried settling this dichotomy in various different ways (wearing a handpainted Hearsay t-shirt to the indie night, performing a death-tango version of Baby One More Time in my covers band, developing an unhealthy obsession with the post-Spice careers of Mels B and C) but really the only thing keeping me from sitting comfortably with my own taste was that I hadn’t worked out that all music that makes you feel something is ‘real music’. Once you embrace the power of ‘and’ you find that the world is a beautiful and full place.

That’s not to say that this self-knowledge came to me all at once. I spent a lot of my 20s dating people who didn’t think that my musical education was complete without an appreciation of their various blokey or dull or otherwise dreadful faves. Like a lot of women I’ve been in situations where to say “I don’t think this critically maudlin singer-songwriter is anywhere near as good as Madonna singing ‘Like A Prayer’” would have been to make myself seem significantly less sophisticated in the eyes of someone who, let’s be honest, didn’t really deserve to be dating me.

The assumption that ‘girl music’ is somehow shallow and not worthy of consideration as art runs deep, and most of us have internalised that idea to some extent. I think that I relaxed significantly as I got to my 30s, and stopped giving anywhere near as much of a damn about what people thought of me and my taste. I like what excites me and what sounds good to me and it’s as simple as that.

Lisbon Bound

So back to Salvador and the Song Contest and what on earth this all means. In the run up to the Lisbon 2018, our dorky jazz hero has been the subject of conversation amongst a certain subset of lady Eurovision fans. We were all thinking that he really strongly reminded us of the various dorky prodigies that we’d known and crushed hard on when we were younger and significantly more naive. Everything that’s happened at the Contest and since basically confirms that we were right. As well as the incredible talent, he’s got a sort of determined awkwardness and an almost magical ability to say the right thing in the wrong context.

That’s Salvador. He is just that kind of a dork who just says unfortunate things, bless him. I’m kind of looking forwards to seeing him be maximally jazzy and real in Lisbon for his winner’s reprise (twenty minute hand trumpet solo! Waggling in and out of shot! Strange vocal mannerisms!) but in general, I think that now he’s got the time and star power to develop his own musical world he’ll relax a lot more about what other people like. Also, with any luck, he’ll mellow out in his thirties.

Really, all the guy wants to do is perform and he’s not massively interested in a lot of the showbiz trappings. I was able to catch him for a brief interview backstage during one of his first days in Kyiv – he was hanging around doing selfies with people in his SOS Refugees sweater and looking distinctly weirded out by the whole Eurovision promotional process. He wasn’t too bothered about the generic ‘How are you feeling, are you happy with the rehearsals’ chat, but when I asked him a question about a track on ‘Excuse Me’, he perked up visibly. “Oh! You want to talk about music!”

Look Again

In the meantime, while we wait for Salvador to catch up with the implications of his new, bizarre status as Portuguese national hero and champion of ‘real music’, can I just suggest that Luísa might be the Sobral for you? You already know from ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ that she’s an amazing songwriter, and you already know from her magical rehearsal footage and that winning duet that she’s also got a superb, emotive voice.

Her 2017 album – called ‘Luísa‘, helpfully – is a really gorgeous selection of superbly adult songs that take her musical style further outside the traditional jazz format. There’s the almost Leonard Cohen style slinky rasp of ‘My Man’, there’s a beautiful song about enduring female friendship called ‘Janie’ and there’s the super cute and bouncy ‘Je T’Adore’. You can listen to it on Luísa’s web page, or you can order it on export. We’ll work on getting it properly available in the UK, but this will do for now.

But they didn’t accidentally win Eurovision – RTP and the Portuguese delegation were aware of the buzz building around ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ from the very early stages. They knew they had something special that had to be treated with sensitivity and integrity, even though they were working within the limitations of their performer.

One of my favourite bits of interview footage with Luísa in Kyiv is where she’s talking to Will of Wiwibloggs, who is really trying to work a sort of hyper-emotional angle to the fact she’s filling in for Salvador in rehearsals, and Luísa is really not having any of it. As far as she’s concerned, she’s just doing her annoying little brother a favour and not making any kind of mystical statement about emotional links between siblings. Even as a slightly melodramatic plot arc was trying to settle on her, she was resisting it.

The business over Salvador’s SOS Refugees sweater might also have contributed to his desire to say something non-political (but much more controversial) in the moment of victory. It now appears that Salvador’s humanitarian message in the Semi Final press conference was perceived as being an issue that was in contravention of the very vaguely defined ‘No political messages’ rule and he was prevented from wearing the sweatshirt under threat of disqualification.

This seems to be a bit harsh, considering the nature of the message. Also, I am sure I remember a Semi Final interval act in 2016 that was basically Salvador’s message interpreted through contemporary dance. This year we’ve got the French entry explicitly repeating that message on the stage in the Grand Final. How is that going to work out on the ground? What if Madam Monsieur’s turtlenecks suddenly develop an SOS Refugees print?

Back To Reality

But we were dangerously close to reaching the point before I went off on that tangent. The point is that Salvador’s message about real music wasn’t what you thought it was. It wasn’t a direct dig at Sweden or Moldova or the general concept of fun. One of the big memes in Eurofan twitter this year is ‘Imagine Salvador being forced to hand the trophy to this’ with particular reference to Netta from Israel, as if she’s some sort of disposable pop mouthpiece instead of a terrifyingly talented multi-instrumentalist producer DJ blues-hollerer rapper and free jazz improvisational prodigy. Real music doesn’t look how you think, fandom. Real music isn’t just made by serious white men with facial hair staring at their shoes. Real music is made by all musicians who feel something and want to tell you about it.

You know, I don’t even think that Salvador’s victory was a victory for this ‘real music’ thing anyway – his story and mystique added significantly to what was already a really special performance. The big victory that Salvador could probably claim, even if he doesn’t believe it, is that his stage show was one hundred percent appropriate for the song. Without a great song and a great vocal performance, you can’t win. With a great song and a good singer, you can only win if the performance looks appropriate on screen. Obviously, what is appropriate for an intimate ballad is different from what is appropriate for a party song about disapproving mothers or a gleeful yell of feminist energy.

Real music is any music that you make to communicate something real that you are feeling, with the intention of making the listener feel something too. Toy’ is just as real as ‘Amar Pelos Dois’. They both have a strong idea of what they want to communicate, and whether that message is ‘I am a person not an object’ or ‘I live only to love you’ they both communicate it very effectively.

Real music is all about fireworks, but the fireworks are made of feelings.

Categories: ESC Insight

07
April
2018

Eurovision Insight Podcast: It’s Time To Pay Some Bills

Eurovision Insight Podcast: It’s Time To Pay Some Bills
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20180407_546/escinsight_20180407_546.mp3

Videos and opinions from the preview parties can be found everywhere, pictures from backstage at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, our journey towards this year’s Eurovision Song Contest continues.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: It’s Time To Pay Some Bills

A call for sponsors, a new airline for Eurovision, and the creation of a curious pizza. Ewan Spence and ESC Insight bring you seven more days of Eurovision Song Contest news.

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.

Categories: ESC Insight

05
April
2018

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #5

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #5
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20180404_545_JJBJ2018_5/escinsight_20180404_545_JJBJ2018_5.mp3

Round five of Eurovision Juke Box Jury, as Ewan Spence is joined by Danny Lynch and Ross Barber-Smith to offer hits, misses, and maybes to Romania, Bulgaria, Ireland, Estonia, and Austria.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #5
with Danny Lynch (ESC Bubble) and Ross Barber-Smith (Bridge The Atlantic)

Romania: Goodbye, by The Humans.
Bulgaria: Bones, by Equinox.
Ireland: Together, by Ryan O’Shaughnessy.
Estonia: La Forza, by Elina Nechayeva.
Austria: Nobody But You, by Cesár Sampson.

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.

Categories: ESC Insight

02
April
2018

When Local Celebrations Take On Eurovision Song Contest Selections

When Local Celebrations Take On Eurovision Song Contest Selections

I am something of a Eurovision heretic.

I don’t follow the National Finals season as closely as a lot of other Eurofans. I used to, quite a number of years ago, but I very quickly learnt that leaping from show to show to show each weekend between December and March was exhausting.

And too often, rather sad.

There Goes My First Love

I have a particular knack for getting emotionally invested in songs that did not win. Songs which were, in fact, never going to win. I still have not forgiven Sweden for sending ‘The Worrying Kind’ rather than ‘I Remember Love’ in 2007… certainly I do not like to be reminded that Sarah Dawn Finer’s amazing power ballad finished fourth (fourth!) – in Globen that year:

Sarah Dawn Finer (Pre-Woodruff) – I Remember Love (Source: YouTube/escfan1)

The Ark , by the way, ended up 18th in that year’s Grand Final in Helsinki.  Serves Sweden right. See? I get wound up too easily.

Nowadays, I generally skirt over much of the national selection season, picking a few selections to follow somewhat closely, but even for selections I love (Estonia: no surprise there), I generally skip the National Semi Finals. Doing so makes it easier to manage things time-wise: I live in New Zealand, which is 12 hours ahead of Central European Time, putting many shows on at breakfast time. It also means the ‘discover, fall in love, then betrayal’ cycle only happens a few times a year, rather than weekly.

This year I watched the live finals of France, the UK, and Switzerland, along with a bit of Spain and Portugal. I also attended the Eesti Laul final in-person.

And Norway’s MelodiGrandPrix.

Why Norway?

Since I had a weekend to fill between two work events in Europe, I grabbed a ticket for NRK’s MGP and booked an inexpensive hotel in Oslo back in January. This wasn’t a decision based on love of the country. Certainly there have been Norwegian Eurovision entries I loved (Yes Margaret Berger, Bettan, and Secret Garden, I’m looking at you), but it’s not a selection that year-upon-year has enamoured me. In fact, I very nearly cancelled my hotel booking (and forfeited my MGP ticket, which was not expensive). But then the lineup was announced for this year’s final…

  • Three former Norwegian Eurovision representatives, including Aleksander Rybak (2008 Eurovision champion with Fairytale), Aleksander Walmann (who with JOWST finished tenth last year singing ‘Grab the Moment’), and Stella Mwangi (who crashed out of her semi-final with ‘Haba Haba’ in 2011).
  • Another entry was composed by Kjetil Mørland, whose ‘A Monster Like Me’ finished eighth in the 2016 Grand Final.
  • Another that Per Gessle, the creative force behind Roxette, co-wrote.
  • If you follow indy pop at all, seeing Ida Maria’s name was a surprising bonus.

This was about as heavy-hitting a ten-song National Final any small sized nation could put together. I was in; so too were several of ESCInsightcolleagues, along with a friend or two of the parish.

Local And Low Key

Norway is the homeland of the current Executive Supervisor for the Eurovision family of events—whom we ran into at the dress rehearsal funnily enough, before he headed to Lisbon for the impending Heads of Delegations meeting two days later. Having never met ‘JOS’ (not to be confused with JOWST) before, my first impressions were professional and friendly. In fact, those two words largely capture my impressions of Oslo, Norwegians and MGP. As a comparison, I found Swedes are a bit more reserved during my Melfest experience in 2017.

Unlike the Eurovision Song Contest itself (and some other National Finals), getting media accreditation for MGP was not a complicated matter: arguably it was very, very low key. In fact, when one of our group’s member’s name was missing from “the list” it only took some common sense discussions to solve the problem. Like most press rooms the coffee was more of a caffeine delivery platform than a lovely warm beverage.

For the final dress rehearsal we were escorted into the arena and directed to take whatever unoccupied positions were free. This is an excellent strategy: it facilitates media seeing what the show will be like from various all parts of the venue if they wish. For MGP the Spektrum’s steep gradient seating means that people who were going to be in the top of the arena (like me) still felt close to the action. In addition to the stage itself, punters sitting in most sections could easily see the green room.

ESC Rules Be Damned

Dress rehearsals are just that: rehearsals. Tempting as it might be, what really counts is what happens during the live show. Some acts were still tweaking things a wee bit on Saturday afternoon, and the arena was populated by various entries’ production teams checking out how things came across on the big monitors (and, I suspect, the reaction in the hall). The seasoned performers always hold something in reserve. MGP 2018 only underscored the differences between practice and the one that counts.

I had only listened to each entry once previously, on the day they were available to be streamed. During the rehearsal I focused on (as a sidewalk social scientist) data collection. Here are a few of my observations:

  • The average (mean) transition time between songs was two minutes (range 0.5-3). In some instances the entire transition was for tear down (of the prior performance) or set up (of the subsequent one), but many were a combination of both. There was a transition between the opening and the first entry (which I did count): I did not pay attention to how long it took to break down song ten (since it had no impact on any act’s scoring). The ability to manage a snappy transition is important for whichever entry is selected, since the Lisbon producers are not obligated to recreate what wins a National Felection. 
  • The average number of performers on stage was nine, including the named artists (range 1-20). Eurovision’s six person rule be damned! There also seemed to be a number of entries with pre-recorded backing vocals.
  • I saw only one obvious missed shot during the rehearsal, where a singer’s top of their head was out of shot (which was fixed for the live final).
  • I heard one microphone fail (also fixed).
  • There were no obvious in-ear monitor fails, though one artist did “test test” as they were being announced—in the rehearsal and during the live final.

Had one of the song with 20 persons on stage won, adjusting that to the rules of the Eurovision would be a challenge. It did not come to that.

Without understanding any Norwegian, it was still clear that the hosts were fabulous, from their mashup opening number of previous Norwegian Eurovision entries, to their managing the results and the green room. And the crowd in the arena.

The main vibe for the show was “we’re having a party!” This was a Norwegian celebration of Norwegian music, with songs sung mostly in English (though two were in Norwegian and Spanish, respectively). But the show was also welcoming to outsiders, whether viewing online or in the venue itself. I was sitting with a Norwegian man and his Swedish girlfriend. We all agreed that NRK MGP 2018 was an outstanding event in terms of the quality of entries and the overall TV production

To The Results

All the previous MGP winners made the super finals, as did all three acts with an Alex (Alexandra, Aleksander or Alexander) as an artist. There were only two acts that got a massive reaction in the arena: Aleksander Walmann and Alexander Rybak. There were no acts whose reaction was poor, however. It was a very loved up crowd.

We don’t yet know the full allocation of the 10 international juries’ points. We do know which entries received a douze points from at least one jury:

  • Stella and Alexandra: Two juries’ favourite
  • Aleksander Walmann: One jury’s
  • Rebecca: Three juries’
  • Alexander Rybak: Four juries’

We also don’t know the televote results for the first round. But these four acts were also the four super finalists.

The second round is an ostensive battle round, but there’s no  accompanying live performances. Instead the public continue to vote during an interval act. The battles were gendered: Stella & Aleksandra and Rebecca faced off: Rebecca wins. Then Aleks and Alex faced off: Alex (Rybak) wins. At this point we get second performances of Rebecca’s ‘Who We Are’ and Rybak’s ‘That’s How You Write a Song’ for a third and final round of voting.

In the end, Rybak had over 50 per cent of the public votes in the second round and over 70 per cent of the votes in the third.  He was also first with the juries, in terms of receiving top marks. And probably first with the televoters throughout the evening.

A consensus victory, in other words.

‘That’s How You Write a Song’ lyric video (Source: YouTube/AlexanderRybakVideo)

Reaction

I had a rather jaundiced view of ‘That’s How You Write a Song’ before seeing it rehearsed in Spektrum. After the dress rehearsal, I could see that the song, even with its cringy lyrics, was a performance vehicle for Rybak—a very effective one. I anticipated it doing well later that night. Rybak is also something of a local hero, having won the Eurovision for Norway with ‘Fairytale’ in 2009. He’s a pro—and he saved the fairy dust for when it mattered most. Pithy as it might sound, he reached out and grabbed the audience, myself included, and said “Pick me!”

Can he manage to do that in Lisbon—twice—and become only the second artist ever to win the ‘modern’ Eurovision Song Contest twice with the public voting? That remains to be seen.

Rybak’s 2009 victory was comprehensive, in terms of both public and jury support. Many would argue that ‘Fairytale’ had a freshness and charm that ‘That’s How You Write a Song’ lacks. I never was a fan of his 2009 entry: In Moscow I was team Urban Symphony all the way:

Urban Symphony (Estonia) – Rändajad (Source: YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)

Qualification for Norway seems rather straightforward, however: this is an entry that is well performed and cleverly staged. Unlike many of the other 2018 MGP entries, Rybak’s staging featured two groups of performers: a core group of six (including himself) and a secondary cast of several more. Neither the staging nor the audio actually needed the second group, so working within the 2018 Eurovision rule book won’t be an issue. Clever, very clever.

Eurovision heretic or not, I can no longer deny Rybak’s skills as a performer, nor how effective a vehicle ‘That’s How Your Write a Song’ is for him. Even if it leaves me a bit cold…like a Scandinavian.

Ida Maria – Scandilove (Source: YouTube/NRK)

Categories: ESC Insight

01
April
2018

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #4

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #4
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20180328_543_JJBJ2018_4/escinsight_20180328_543_JJBJ2018_4.mp3

Round four of 2018’s Eurovision Juke Box Jury, and the home baking is back. Along with the shortbread, Ewan Spence is joined by David Elder and Ross Middleton to discuss the hit, miss, or maybe potential of five more songs that are heading to Lisbon for this year’s Song Contest.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #4
with David Elder and Ross Middleton

Armenia: Qami, by Sevak Khanagyan.
Belarus: Forever, by Alexseev.
Croatia: Crazy, by Franka.
Poland: Light Me Up, by Gromee, ft. Lukas Meijer.
Sweden: Dance You Off, by Benjamin Ingrosso.
Belgium: A Matter Of Time, by Sennek.

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.

Categories: ESC Insight

01
April
2018

Uncovering The Popular Tropes Of The Eurovision Story Contest

Uncovering The Popular Tropes Of The Eurovision Story Contest

There are many ways to win the Eurovision Song Contest – after all, Russia didn’t even compete in 2017 but there will be many that would consider the outcome to be positive for the Kremlin (but it’s not a political show, you understand).

It’s a Song Contest that looks for the best singer, expects the flashiest fireworks, anticipates a well-choreographed dance routine… but it also treasures a low-key performance, artistic simplicity, reflecting modern music all packaged for family entertainment. We expect each entry to be the pinnacle of what that country can presents, but assuming a delegation finds the right balance of every factor, the audience has to be told ‘this is the one’

What role does press and marketing play in the Song Contest?

Storytelling Tools For A Modern Song Contest

The same topics rise in the public conscious as  each Eurovision approaches: ‘This country will vote for that country every year, regardless of song quality;’ ‘That country only won because of current events, not because the song is any good;’ ‘If a country does well, it’s because they found a way to cheat.’

But if those were actually true and actual deciding factors each year, how does that explain Portugal’s victory? Or Denmark, Austria, or Germany in recent years?

Salvador Sobral

Polls wavered in the days leading up to Kyiv 2017 between an Italian man with literal ‘sex appeal’ backed up with an ape suit and a Portuguese jazz singer standing alone onstage. It was all but decided: Italy was destined to win, so what happened?Italy’s Francesco Gabbani appeared cocky and bored and seemed to be ready to move on leading up to the Final – did that affect his outcome?

Meanwhile Portugal’s Salvador Sobral was in and out of hospital and most appearances in preparation for the performance were made by his sister. The story presented through the media was one of hope, never one looking to pull heartstrings. The result was that of a pure song winning, but could a native language-jazz waltz combo have won without such a narrative? How important is the attachment to the singer and their journey in a song contest?

The songs with the high notes, vocal presence, best-sounding song with headphones, etc are not mentioned in a Song Contest. Is it because our favourite show is something different… the Eurovision Story Contest? What tropes perform well at each year’s Contest, and can we predict the final result based on the trope that will be employed?

The No Shows

Albania seems to love those long, drawn-out notes perfect for impressing the juries at the Eurovision Song Contest, and it certainly helped achieve their best result, fifth place in 2012 with Rona Nishliu. 2017’s Lindita didn’t get this same treatment with ‘World’, reaching 14th and not qualifying, but then, what do you remember hearing of Lindita? She was missing the elements that told a story during the three minutes.

This year’s No Show: Romania’s entry with The Humans. ‘Goodbye’ is soaring at times and has big moments as a pop ballad, but what will happen onstage and will it be enough?

The Enigmas

Armenia in 2017 had a three minute song that sounded like it lasted an hour—in a good way! It grew and grew until it exploded, but for a first listen would it work? Watching a video taken from the crowd while she performed at the final, the crowd seemed distracted, waiting. When the big moment finally happened (in the last 30 seconds) it took some pyrotechnics to get an explosion from the crowd. It scored 18th and nobody talked about it, even to say that it was cheated out of Saturday night á la Finland not qualifying at all.

This year’s guesstimate: It’s hard to say who no one is talking about so early when the preview concerts have just started, but given how early they were announced I’m going to go with Switzerland’s Zibbz and  ‘Stones’.  The song has a fine message, a different sound, but no one’s talking about that—yet. Let’s be positive for Switzerland’s indie-flavored duo!

The Under-Performers

Maybe it was always a stretch, and maybe they were never bound to qualify, but I took personal offense when Latvia didn’t qualify with the electronic pop ‘Line‘ – in fact, they placed last. Latvia hosted its fourth annual Pre-Party in Riga for 2017  and the band performances there were strong, but maybe they required Aminata to get press instead of… awkwardly shaped neon art? I had high hopes for the performance, and I think I can admit it fell short of what I had wanted.

This year’s guesstimate: I’m looking at you, Czech Republic’s Mikolas Josef with ‘Lie to Me.’ This artist has the swagger, charisma, and charm that Jüri Pootsmann sorely needed in 2016 and I will be heartbroken if he underperforms on the night. Dear Mikolas, you’re on fire.

How about winners that didn’t, well, win? The songs that should’ve never rested on their laurels as it were. The song is everywhere and everyone is talking about it, but tripped on the edge of greatness?

The Promised Ones

Belgium’s Blanche was in the group of potential winners with her low-key song ‘City Lights’, but the press reports of her nervous rehearsal caused her betting pool to swim for the edge. The advantage to that was the synergy with the lyrics,,, her chorus including the sublime line “all alone in the danger zone”. To first time viewers it could be seen as a “performance”, though those who followed her story knew her struggle.

This year’s guesstimate: Let me do some non-jinxing, perfectly safe rituals here, alright, now that that’s done, prepare yourself… Finland’s Saara Aalto with ‘Monsters’. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love this, but it’s doing really well right now, and that causes me panic. Let’s just leave it at that and pretend I didn’t say anything, shall we?

The Gimmicks

The press loved to discuss whether or not Romania’s Ilinca and Alex Florea rap-yodeling track, aptly titled ‘Yodel It!‘, was a gimmick or a legitimate song. The song was in every Eurovision conversation in 2017, but the question was “was it a real song?” rather than how well could it do—would it have mattered if it had been the latter? The duo still gave them seventh place in the Grand Final, not even beating Romania’s overall best of third place.

As with Saara, I’m going to need another moment with the warding-off-evil tricks. Ok deep breath. This year’s guesstimate: Estonia’s Elina Nechayeva with the opera track ‘La Forza.’ This is perfection—she’s proven she can do it live, it’s clear, she’s talented, but how many out there will see and hear opera and tune out? Hopefully they’re impressed by her dress…

The Linguists

Language as its own gimmick? In a Song Contest involving multiple countries with their own languages, English is still the most prevalent choice—sometimes to an artist’s detriment (my precious Greta Salóme).

In 2017 we were treated to the first all-Belarussian language entry with Naviband. The group was ever-present in interviews, performances, on the red carpet—everywhere they went they were delightfully entertaining, and the track was well-discussed. However, the band still scored 17th place. I was hurt; I anticipated them landing Top 5.

This year’s guesstimate: This year’s entries have presented a delightful mix of native language entries, and so far I’m loving all of them. I’m going to go with Hungary’s AWS and the post-hardcore track ‘Viszlát nyár’ because they have a chorus including the translation “Goodbye, summer, you’re out late / Because you lied, you will be me / But you did not come.” Last year’s Hungarian entry, also non-English (Hungarian and Romani) landed eighth place, and do you know how much I would leap into the air if a post-hardcore non-English song did well at Eurovision?!

For Eurovision 2018 the big news (yet) doesn’t seem to be how good anything is yet. The point is that we all have an idea of what we want from our Song Contest. If an article surfaces that puts our favourites in a bad light, will it affect our take on the night? If it were truly about the performance, should we let it?

Sometimes it comes down to presence, that star quality that demands you stare at, or more importantly, a song that makes you vote for it. Loreen performed mostly solo on a mostly bare stage, as did Jamala (plus her tree). Måns Zelmerlöw had a simple costume, if you could even call it a costume, and danced alongside a stick figure on a screen. They were all favourites to win going in, not surprise winners. The same can be argued for our Salvador Sobral; the song may have been a “dark horse” in nature, but it was slated to land at least second place for the time leading up to the Grand Final.

Show me this, fellow internet citizens: I would like another Netherland’s The Common Linnets performance—a shock win, or at least second placement. I want to have the song no one mentions, no one expects to do well, but secretly loves.

Here’s hoping—wouldn’t it make for such a fantastic show?

Categories: ESC Insight

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