It occurred on the way to writing this week’s instalment on the glittery yellow brick road to Eurovision that I hadn’t regaled you with even one solitary piece of Eurovision trivia, a glaring oversight when there are so many pages devoted to that very thing.
So to rectify such an egregious omission, here are five juicy tender morsels of Eurovision minutiae so compelling that you will want to memorise them and impress fellow guests at dinner parties between now and late May. I’m not kidding. You will.
Did you know?
* Ireland has won the most times. Yes, they have held aloft the Crystal Microphone a record obliterating seven times, including three times back to back in the 1990s, with Luxembourg, UK and France having won five times a piece.
* The First Time Lucky Award goes to Poland who came second on their debut in 1994 with Edyta Gorniak impressing with the song “To Nie Ja”.
* Morocco entered but once in 1980 and no, it was not because they were not actually in Europe. (As Israel has demonstrated that is hardly an insurmountable barrier.) It was more to do with any real success on their one and only attempt to seize the pan-European singing crown.
* Norway, though it has been successful three times – most recently in 2009 when the cherubic Alexander Rybak boyishly swept all before him (they also won in 1985 and 1995) – has the dubious of finishing stone motherless last 10 times (1963, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1990, 1997, 2001 and 2004).
* It’s no surprise that the majority of winners have sung in English (24) or French (14). But winners singing in either Dutch or Hebrew have stood upon the glittery dais not once but three times apiece.
You feel richer for knowing that already don’t you? So start memorising and somewhere in the middle of all that intense brain activity, you might want to fire up the stage lights, load up the glitter cannons and see what I thought of this week’s lucky six countries chances at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Baku, Azerbaijan.
AUSTRIA: “Woki Mit Deim Popo” – Trackshittaz
Oh where to start! Where to start with this interesting duo who have picked the sort of name that will endear them to teenagers and impressionable young adults everywhere – who let’s face it are the majority of Eurovision voters these days – but will have their parents, and possibly the august members of the Jury whose votes play a part in their fate on the big night, reaching for the remote (or that hidden trap door located strategically somewhere on the stage).
But good folk of Eurovision-land I fear this is the least of this duo’s troubles. It’s not so much their sound which possesses a very streetwise hip-hop boyband vibe vaguely reminiscent of the group that brought “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”, The Offspring. (They apparently refer to it as “Tractor Gangsta Party Rap” which makes no sense at all but when has that ever got in the way of entering Eurovision?). Now while The Offspring have moved on from the 1990s, Trackshittaz have only just discovered it. I am guessing this hasn’t stopped becoming wildly popular in their native land but it does not bode well for future success in far flung climes, which I am presuming is their glorious intent.
The duo, which consists of Lukas Plochla alias “G- Neila”, and Manuel Hoffelner alias “Manix”, have done very nicely in Austria, if not Europe itself by releasing beats-heavy hip-hip that focuses on a life of partying and wait for this, living in villages. So yes, it seems that contrary to expectations they do indeed have raves in Austrian barns when the good burghers in charge aren’t looking.
Frankly I don’t think rapping about milking cows and throwing straw bales at startled sheep have the makings of Eurovision greatness so you would presume that the song which is sung in their native dialect veers away from these topics. Thankfully that appears to be the case as this excerpt from an interview with the duo confirms:
“When writing the text we realised that even though we kept the text in our local dialect, the song could also work in other countries because the topic is not too difficult ==> “Woki mit deim Popo” means “Come on, shake your booty”. The songs aim is to let people have a good time and to make them go to the middle of the dancefloor and shake their hips. Forget problems, have a good time!”
It is entirely possible that some Eurovision voters may decide to do just that but I don’t think there will be enough of them to propel this unique duo and their admittedly energetic, fun-loving song to Eurovision glory anytime soon.
SAN MARINO: “The Social Network Song (Oh Oh-Uh-Oh Oh)” – Valentina Monetta
Scandal! Yes small delightful inoffensive San Marino, a small state tucked away in the mountains near the east coast of northern Italy managed to create the closest thing that Eurovision manages to a headline grabbing scandal this year. In a brazen act of thumbing their nose at the rules, they submitted a song with a reference to commercial entities in it, which as one of the big four countries who pays for the bulk of this festival of glitz and glamour would no doubt point is verboten under the official entry rules.
Quickly leaping to enforce these rules – which make sense since if there was no restriction on brands being mentioned in songs, who knows what we’d end up with lyrically? Yes the lyrics could get worse – San Marino were given 10 days from March 14 to change the lyrics or get a new song entirely. They wisely chose the former since when you have written a world class song that will no doubt go No 1 all around the world and… ah who am I kidding? The five year old who wrote these lyrics originally was having a nap and they couldn’t walk her in time to write a whole new song.
So now we have the same singer, almost the same song and zero chance of making much of an impression. It’s not that the song is all bad. It’s a catchy dance number, and I was humming the melody all the way into work. It’s this melodic stickability which will no doubt carry it some way up the rankings since a catchy melody can cover a multitude of lyrical sins, and Valentina Monetta, the singer chosen internally by RTV, San Marino’s national broadcaster is bright, and engaging and a lot of fun to watch. She can certainly entertain and I found myself warming to her far more than I expected to.
But in the end, my friends, it is the song. It is always about the song (and the pyrotechnics and the key changes and the oddly inserted back up dancers and the…) and in this case, while the tune is poptastic bouncy fun, the lyrics are desperately cringe-worthy. The more I listen to them, the more I think that the now expunged commercial references were the least of San Marino’s issues.
MOLDOVA: “Lautar” – Pasha Parfeny
Thank you Pasha Perfeny! Not only are you breathtakingly good looking with the sort of infectious smile that would melt the heart of the most hard-nosed of Eurovision voters, but you have brought folk back into Eurovision, where it once had a cosy much loved home, and have made it sexy again.
“Lautar” is purely and simply joyous boisterous fun. And you can tell within seconds of the song starting that Pasha, or Pavel as he was christened by his musician parents, has a real passion for singing and performing. You don’t get exuberant performances like this one from someone simply clocking in and hoping they sound vaguely in key. No, Pasha, as he is simply known to his many fans, is a man who loves what he does, and it is so refreshing to see that kind of unbridled happiness from someone, anyone really.
Obviously I am not the only one so entranced. Pasha has a shelf of trophies groaning under the weight of the baubles he has accumulated from his many wins, including Duet of the Year and Silver Lantrei Festivals in Bulgaria in 2007, and the 2009 International Music Festival Slavianski Bazar in Vitebsk in Belarus. So I am not along in my fulsome praise of this major talent although last I checked I don’t have a trophy to hand out alas. An old Coke can ring pull perhaps?
Thankfully Eurovision has a bright shiny crystal trophy that would look resplendent along all this other trophies, and while I can be certain he will win, he has to be in there with a real chance. That smile alone is worth douse pointes surely.
ESTONIA: “Kuula” – Ott Lepland
Speaking of passion, Ott Lepland has it in spades. Lots and lots of emotionally powerful spades. I am not usually a cheerleader for ballads, finding them only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry, but this is one slow song so rich and deep and beautiful that it gave me goosebumps. Yes goosebumps.
What makes him so amazing to watch, besides his drop dead gorgeous good looks – and let’s not pretend for a moment that you weren’t all thinking the same thing – is his vocal precision. He lands on every note with pinpoint precision, never once coming close to sliding off key. It’s impressive any time but in front of a live audience, when so many singers, even the truly gifted ones can come royally unstuck (ending up as the subject of sundry ridiculing YouTube videos) is a rare gift.
But then he has had a lots of practice. A veteran of the music industry, having sung his heart out since he was but a child, he has won the Estonian version of Pop Idol, released four albums of childrens’ songs when he was smack bang in the same demographic as his target audience in the mid 1990s, and also released two albums as an adult, most recently in 2011.
So he has experience, he has passion, looks and snappy dress sense, and while ballads rarely catapult their delivered to the oxygen-starved heights of Eurovision fame, you can smack me with a large halibut fish and called me Martha if he doesn’t leap, passionately of course, into this year’s top ten finishers.
U.K.: “Love Will Set You Free” – Englebert Humperdinck
Oh dear Englebert. Your ridiculous name aside, which granted has, along with your stellar voice, and show business nous, given you a long and storied career, you are hampered into your attempt to bring glory to old Rule Brittania by a song which is as dreary as a bunch of socially awkward long-haired misfits trying to make conversation with those around them in the midst of unexpected tropical downpour.
Yes that dreary. The song doesn’t so much as run its course as trudge along miserably, convinced it can do better and everyone hates it anyway so why bother walking any faster or smiling? God knows he tries to invest it with some real emotion, and almost succeeds which is more testament to Englebert’s talent than any inherent virtues in the song itself.
You would have thought that after securing the services of such a show business legend, who while not in his musical prime can still sing with the sort of verve that powered his hits “Please Release Me” and “The Last Waltz” to the top of the charts, that you’d try to get him a song that didn’t sound like it took its pacing queues from molasses oozing down from the kitchen bench to the floor far below (the half-hearted key changes towards the end a limp attempt to inject some last minute verve failing miserably).
But that’s exactly how it feels. No scratch that. I think molasses moves faster than this dirge-like ode to lost love, and probably has more emotion invested too. Alas poor Englebert. Great name but this song will not be your ticket to an inspiring comeback.
At least he’s on first so he can at least get an early night which at 75 is no doubt an appealing prospect…
CROATIA: “Nebo” – Nina Babric
Nina, a former bank teller turned Croatian pop darling, has a deep and abiding love for billowing swathes of whit material. we know this because her official clip for this would-be captivating song is awash with it.
Alas what it isn’t awash with is real presence. It is pretty sure, and you can tell Nina is a talented lady (she wrote the song herself) because it does soar with something approaching emotional gravitas. She comes close and admittedly there is some abortive goose bump-inducement going on, but like Kim Kardashian’s marriage, it is short lived and doesn’t amount to much.
Even as I type this, I am already forgetting the song which frankly is not a good thing if what you want is a song that will lodge in the minds of eager voters, and demand at melodic knife point that it vote for Croatia and vote now dammit!
Lovely though she is, and earnest though she tries to be, I think that the best dear Nina can hope for is that voters sense a slightly more than apathetic urging to at least throw as nil pointe in there somewhere. Anywhere. Maybe.
Assuming they even remember she took to the stage which can’t be guaranteed (unless of course she becomes entangled in all that white material in which case she may stand a chance).
So who lulled you into a stupor this week? Or had you excited beyond belief? Let me know as soon as you awake from your song-induced coma, or come down from the ceiling once the excitement wears off.