WHAT IS THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST?
Started way back in 1956 as a way to draw a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.
Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.
Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the proceedings – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.
The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of musical figures in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines.
Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.
Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the 100s of millions.
This year’s contest will be held in Malmö, Sweden.
In the six weeks leading up to the grand final on Saturday 18 May 2013, I will be reviewing 5-6 songs each week and giving my unvarnished, unguarded and glitter-coated take on all 39 songs competing for glory in this year’s contest.
It will be brutal, it will be camp, it may or may involve copious use of pyrotechnics, key changes and scantily-clad but limber back up dancers (and possibly a stray Ukrainian grandmother or two) but above all, it will hopefully give you some idea of who has the best chance of success at this year’s contest.
This post, I preview this year’s “Big Six” countries – UK, Spain, Sweden, France, Italy and Germany, who thanks to either paying for most of the event, or hosting, or well, just being Italian, get automatic entry into the glittering grand final.
No slumming their way through the semi finals for these lucky countries.
They simply have to turn up on Eurovision’s Night of Nights, back up dancers at the ready, and do their thing.
SWEDEN: “You” by Robin Stjernberg
After going all stripped back and minimalist last year with Loreen content to sit on the floor alone, with just the spirit of Kate Bush to keep her company, Sweden have opted this year for full on bombastic lights, cameras, randomly-choreographed backup dancers … hell, just about everything really.
They have even given the winningly-handsome Robyn Stjernberg a rather interesting suit that doesn’t know if it’s being worn inside out, or outside in, just to make sure we’re paying attention.
It is all very hard to ignore but just in case you were thinking of looking away for even a second towards the end of the song, they have inserted an eye-poppingly bright curtain of orange pyrotechnics that may or may not set Robyn’s heavily-gelled impressively-coiffed hair on fire.
It’s big, it’s loud, it’s says … it is in short, A STATEMENT.
Of what exactly I’m not sure.
But I suspect it’s not that we have a great song and you must hear it.
In fact the more I listen to the song, sung with a great deal of effort and little else by Mr Stjernberg, I am beginning to wonder if all the razzle dazzle, which may or may not include a wind machine, a rented Ukrainian grandmother, and a duck or something by grand final time, is designed to distract from Robyn’s rather lacklustre vocal delivery.
The song itself shows a great deal of promise, even if it does suffer from “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” syndrome, relying a little too much on a powerful chorus to bring things home after rather timid, underdeveloped verses.
Alas in Robyn Stjernberg’s hands, which have a habit of shooting out in odd directions throughout the performance (perhaps he is using his time on stage to catch up on some physio exercises?), it fails to fly.
I appreciate that he does possess a reasonable voice, and was the runner-up in Sweden’s version of Idol in 2011, so he can sing to some extent.
But far too often in the song he sounds out of breath or just plain out of key, and the song ends up grating on me when really it should have me up dancing.
I think he’s going to need the wind machine and pyrotechnics throughout … and perhaps the gel will catch on fire and distract us from what is a second-rate, we-don’t-want-to-host-Eurovision-two-years-in-a-row effort.
GERMANY: “Glorious” by Cascada
Let me say at the start that I quite like Cascada.
Like many other gay boys the world over I have danced like a fiend to “Evacuate the Dancefloor” and “The Rhythm of the Night” on packed dance floors lost in the soaring voice of singer Natalie Horler, who works with producers and writers Yann Peifer (Yanou) and Manuel Reuter (Manian).
Clearly Natalie has the vocal chops to drive a knock a dance tune out of the ballpark (yes I know it’s a sporting metaphor and this is Eurovision but work with me on this one), and the stage presence to entertain and get the crowd up dancing, singing along and clapping.
And she sports a nice line in glittery outfits which as Latvia will tell you, does get you noticed (although in their case it may be less the clothes and more the song that is garnering them all the wrong kinds of attention).
So she and her team clearly know how to deliver a song that will whip a crowd into a Germany-voting beat-induced frenzy.
All that being said, “Glorious” is not the most innovative or cutting edge of songs.
In fact, for the most part it’s like the “Little Song That Could”, huffing and puffing up the big hill of Eurovision threatening at any moment to break out into a dancefloor-filling crowd pleaser.
But it never quite gets there.
It’s upbeat, danceable and sort-of catchy but that sounds a little bit like damning with faint praise (and if there’s one thing you don’t want at Eurovision, home of the eye-catchingly over the top everything, it’s faint anything).
And alas, Natalie, dear Natalie, who does possess a fine voice somehow manages to sound perpetually off pitch every time she reaches the chorus.
So close, Germany, so very close, and yet so very far …
UK: “Believe in Me” by Bonnie Tyler
What is going on, oh countries of Eurovision?
You keep saddling very talented singers, and let’s face it Bonnie Tyler, whose delightfully raspy rich strong voice gave songs like her mega bestselling 1983 hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and 1984’s similarly-successful “Holding Out For a Hero” that extra x-factor something, with songs that simply don’t give them enough to work with.
Granted Bonnie has been favoured with a better song than poor benighted Englebert Humperdinck last year but that’s not really saying much.
While “Believe In Me” is a sweet enough song, it pretty much meanders along like a stream flowing through a lush green meadow where sheep graze, and bluebirds trill and leap gaily from branch to branch, looking delightful and the perfect spot for a relaxing picnic but not really amounting to much.
In other words it doesn’t go anywhere fast and lacks any real emotional centre.
It is also possessed of something of the oddest rhymes and phrasing that I have ever heard in a song.
Try the first 2 lines of the song on for size, which are structured in such a way that Bonnie Tyler is forced into an awkward pause at the end of the second line that doesn’t do much for her her or the song:
“You say you don’t believe in signs from up above
And you laugh at the thought of putting your faith in stuff like love”
There may have been even odder lyrics further on down but frankly I fell asleep somewhere between the first verse and the chorus, or was the bridge and the chorus?
Hard to say really but a song that induces falling asleep into your scrambled eggs with musical-onset narcolepsy is not a grand final winner in the making.
Bonnie is still undeniably a star; the song not so much and I will go so far as to boldly predict that booking tickets to Eurovision in the UK next year may be a tad premature.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to spread out a picnic rug …
FRANCE: “L’Enfer Et Moi” by Amandine Bourgeois
Angst. You’re soaking in it.
Amandine Bourgeois, who won La Nouvelle Star (the French version of Idol), hasn’t just dipped her toe into the choppy waters of love gone wrong; she has dived in with gusto, wringing every last drop of searing emotion of “L’Enfer Et Moi”.
It’s clear that she has suffered greatly and there will be hell to pay if these lyrics are any guide:
“I’m gonna give you hell
Right where you’re losing yourself
Have a good look in the rear mirror
I’ll be the one standing behind you”
Known for being a very cool rock chick who doesn’t sing her sings so much as live them, she is the perfect for a song that is all smoky late bars, growled delivery and bluesy misery.
Channelling the spirit of a thousand lovers spurned, this is an hypnotically-rendered song that deals with the sadness of lost love far better than Belgium’s wrist-slashing inducing entry does with the same sort of material.
It’s yet more evidence that France is the one you back every time if you want a quality song well sung.
The country has always danced to its own tune when it comes to The Eurovision Song Contest, a brave go-their-own-way philosophy which I find quite heartening in a world where slavishly following trends seems to be the preferred way to go.
While it often means they are out of step with the prevailing trend, the one which is usually embraced by the European voting public, and means they never rate highly in the rankings, it does mean we can always expect something fresh, energetic and different from them, a relief in years like this when anodyne ballads are all the rage.
And what sweet relief Amandine is.
She brings swagger. She brings soul. She cleans the floor with her dress as she crawls aggressively across it. And she has a winning way with rose petals, mortar and pestle and voodoo dolls.
And even more impressively she eschews the usual pyrotechnics for candles. Lots and lots of candles.
She should make the top 10 on her green credentials alone but I would hope it’s because she’s a sassy singer, with the voice from the gods, who sings and breathes the song she’s singing.
And also because her floors are clean … very, very clean.
ITALY: “L’Essenziale” by Marco Mengoni
You have to hand it to Marco, winner of the Italian iteration of X Factor in 2009 – he knows his way around a good old-fashioned love song.
“L’Essenziale” is as sweet, devoted and nailing-your-colours-to-the-mast as they come, and Marco delivers it with enough passion for 5 or 6 would be suitors.
Who could resist being told they are the “essential thing”?
I say no one, man or woman, and frankly if Marco was running down the street towards me in full rom-com (romantic comedy) flight, a technique he displays with flawless precision in the clip, I would likely swoon.
And should there be a pool, a big deep blue pool right in the middle of the intersection of the very large city he was rom-com running in, and I was swooning in, and let’s face it don’t you always have to dodge Olympic-sized pools crossing the street, I know he would also dive in and save me.
Or trip and fall onto me. One of the two.
The point is he would do it romantically.
Fresh from composing a beautiful heart rending song of love and commitment at his piano, papers strewn across the floor, the detritus of a thousand sleepless nights of songwriting – which could explain the falling into the pool episode; actually it would explain why he thinks there is a pool in the middle of the street in the first place – he would rush to my side, hand on heart.
Alas it would likely be to my comatose side.
For while he sings beautifully, and is the very personification of Italian hipster cool and uber romantic chic, the song itself, though sweep-you-off-your-feet beautiful in one respect, is also not the most exciting thing in the world.
It kind of burbles along, leaving not much of an impression, which means it will likely sink without a trace with voters.
Good thing Marco can swim.
SPAIN: “Contigo Hasta El Final (With You Until The End)” by ESDM
The candles return!
Not to be outdone by Amandine Bourgeois of France who hasn’t met a candle she does love passionately, ESDM (El Sueño De Morfeo), a pop-rock band from Spain who know how to get their Enya on with more Celtic influences than a troop of line dancers, have made it clear they are in love with the austerity-friendly power of candles too.
And their clip is full of them.
Bright flickering candles packed by the hundred into each square metre, making me deathly afraid that one false step by singer Raquel del Rosario, or bandmates Juan Suarez and David Feito could see a pyrotechnic display of entirely the wrong kind.
Fortunately they don’t spend all their time indoors, with Raquel showing a great love for standing forlornly on cliff tops watching horses gallop by and leaping onto on occasion.
There is also gazing out to sea … much gazing out to sea but then this is a song about lovers rediscovering each other and apparently that happens via boat onto impossible high, and difficult to land on cliff tops.
I suspect though that all this activity, horse-oriented and otherwise is designed to distract us from a song that frankly is rather less than thrilling.
Worthy sentiments of love and all that true, and who doesn’t want to see two separated lovers come back into the embrace of the other, but frankly you would want to hope their relationship is a tad more thrilling than this song or could be a very short lived reunion.
It’s not that the band themselves aren’t talented and Raquel’s voice is a thing of fragile, winsome beauty that manages to stay in key even atop a galloping horse, but the song they have chosen lack any real personality.
It’s like that perfectly lovely model-good-looks person who comes to a party, and who you think will be the most wonderful entrancing person you have ever met based on looks alone, who turns out to be unable to talk about anything other than paint drying and algal blooms on slow rainy days.
Looks pretty true, and we should like it, but the song fails to spark on any level, which will likely be a problem if they want to light any more of those candles.
* So who’s in with a chance? Have you awoken from your ballad-induced coma yet?