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 week, I preview five more countries from semi-final 1 which will take place on Tuesday 14 May, debating all the while whether dressing as Agnetha or Annifrid from ABBA will get me in even more of a Eurovision-esque frame of mind.
UKRAINE: “Gravity” by Zlata Ognevich
I want to live in a giant metal flower.
There I said it.
And it’s all thanks to Zlata Ognevich, graduate of Rheingold M. Glière Music College in Kiev, who is Ukraine’s official entry to this year’s contest, and appears to share a predilection for sleeping on towering artificial plants high in the sky (don’t we all?).
But that’s not all this quirky girl gets up to in her unusual eyrie in the clouds.
She also appears to share a Snow White-esque love of communing with glowing dragonflies and humming birds, atop magical floating mountains in the sky.
All of which makes perfect sense when you consider the title of her song – “Gravity”.
Alas gravity as they say is a b**ch and while her mind is consumed by dreams and love, her body, butterfly-like though it may be (no, I am not objectifying her; it’s in the lyrics trust me) keeps me dragged down to the ground.
But is she fearful of that? No … no she is not.
If the lyrics didn’t tip you off, this song falls firmly, and perhaps with more than a little bruising, into the “Worthy Ideals” camp of Eurovision songs.
Nothing wrong with that of course since after all, Eurovision was founded on dreams of peace, love and mung beans.
But it does make for a rather bland, overly-intense song that is saved from blanding out completely by her accomplished voice – clearly she didn’t skip too many classes during her musical studies – and a rather catchy melody that builds and builds into the sort of anthemic ecstasy beloved of Eurovision-ers throughout the ages.
Pretty though it is, it’s nothing eye-poppingly remarkable, and while it’s strong enough to likely get her into the grand final, the odds of getting back off the ground with an epic win are fairly slim to none.
Unless of course the dragonflies and hummingbirds get to vote in which case all bets are off.
THE NETHERLANDS: “Birds” by Anouk
God bless The Netherlands.
While other European countries rush to professionalise their Eurovision entries, in the process robbing them of any claim to the sort of quirkiness Eurovision tragics crave, the country that gave us windmills and tulips is defiantly eccentric as hell.
And we love them for it.
While Anouk (full name: Anouk Teeuwe), who has dominated the Dutch and Belgium charts since her first hit single “Nobody’s Wife” back in 1997, eschews the headdress of last year’s representative Joan Franka, she embraces the sort of uniqueness that makes entries from The Netherlands such compelling viewing.
“Birds” is, as far as we can tell, is all about being true to yourself, not giving in to fear, and rather wisely carrying a big ass umbrella to protect you from our fine feathered friends who are apparently falling out of the sky en masse.
Either that or the rooftops are way too slippery and the birds can’t get a grip.
Whatever’s going on, The Netherlands is having one big Hitchcockian moment, and has wisely channelled their angst at having to dodge falling avian torpedoes into this oddly affecting song.
Yes, folks a song that, while possessing the sort of lyrics that make you scratch your head in amusement – perhaps even digging furrows along your hairline such will be your unceasing need to make sense of them – is achingly beautiful song and sung with the sort of ethereal passion that would suit a vast sweeping intensely moody cinematic score.
While I am not convinced it has what it takes to win, it is unique, utterly different from much of the Eurovision field and that alone should be welcomed with open arms.
Assuming you have hands free while holding your bird-warding-off umbrella.
In which case give Anouk, and why the hell not, the entire country of The Netherlands, a great big hug for daring to think outside the musical box.
And then duck! Remember those birds aren’t done falling yet.
MONTENEGRO: “Igranka” by Who See
Oh thank to the Eurovision gods, this song has it all!
Want rappers in bright yellow radiation suits? Check!
Who are attacked by sword-wielding ninjas in a deserted warehouse? Hell yeah!
While a rather buxom young lady dances, rather lasciviously, with a chair? Yes please.
Which is kicked by a tight-wearing bubblegum-popping gal with attitude? Of course you want that!
Gratuitous shots of women’s breasts and beefy men’s chests? Need … you … even … ask.
While it’s never entirely clear why the men of Who See are trafficking in what appears to be stolen plutonium, at a rave no less, you don’t end up caring.
Because ninjas! Yes ninjas!
Along with this visual cornucopia of images, Who See have actually recorded a one-of-a-kind song that is all hard-slamming raps, distorted techno and insistent melody that kept insisting I listen to the song.
Thanks to Nina Zizic’s powerful set of pipes, the song possesses a power and presence that is, surprisingly, quite hard to ignore.
Frankly I wouldn’t have picked it as one of the songs that I would end up really liking but god dammit I do and I am not ashamed to admit it.
And I have a sneaking feeling we are in for quite the stage show, given how energetically they power through the let’s-toss-it-in-and-see-what-sticks approach to crafting the video.
Let’s just hope they can afford fresh radiation suits and ninjas in these financially-challening times.
LITHUANIA: “Something” by Andrius Pojavis
You might be forgiven for thinking this song was originally titled “Something Something Something yada yada yada” since the title suggests a songwriter who got halfway through the song and wasn’t really sure what he was writing about anymore.
“Um, it’s about, ah, you know … yeah, that.”
But the “something” of Lithuania’s official entry refers, rather sweetly, to the fact that Lithuania’s photogenic, if rather unprepossessing, Andrius Pojavis is in love with, uh, something, or possibly someone.
The objection of his affection is never made entirely clear – it could be his favourite armchair, his postman or woman, a big bag of candy, anything really.
What is somewhat clear from the rather muddled lyrics, which appear to be more a bohemian jumble of phrases strung haphazardly together rather than any attempt at a coherent narrative of any kind – yes, yes I know perhaps they are going with the much loved anarchy school of lyric writing; let’s just sing and see where it takes … oh look SHOES! – is that his love is a tad seasonal, and yes, his feet hurt.
Or, not, depending on which shoe you’re referring to (one is love, one is pain).
It is, in fairness a high-quality, rather cute, musically current song.
Alas whatever the merits of the song itself, it’s the delivery that lets it down.
Andreas, god bless his devil-horned overly-large eyebrows, does his best and enunciates each line beautifully so you’re left in no doubt that he is (a) in love and (b) possessed of emotionally-charged footwear.
And can that boy smile! Light up a room material, and the solution to all of Vilnius’s future lighting needs.
What he doesn’t have is much stage presence beyond that.
His singing is hesitant and uncertain as if he’s not entirely sure what lyric comes next and is desperately trying to recall it.
It saps all the life out of the song and renders it rather lifeless, and inert, which means that the chance of anyone remembering it even exists when semi final 1 is done and dusted, and the hard business of voting begins, is about as likely as pyrotechnics being banned from Eurovision performances.
Perhaps he just needs new shoes?
BELARUS: “Solayoh” by Alyona Lanskaya
Ah Alyona, you are living la Eurovision vida loca!
No wait, it’s insistently danceable melody simply recalls one of Ricky Martin’s most in-your-face hits in all the right ways.
Still I get the feeling Alyona loves to live as large as possible and isn’t shy about admitting it.
Throwing just about everything into this song – including hunky men in leather harnesses and linen, PVC outfits and if my eyes do not deceive me a somersaulting Alexander Rybak, winner of the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest – Alyona is determined to get noticed.
And goodness knows she has the vocal chops to do it.
She powers into the song with enough gusto to send a thousand ships ashore onto the beach where she and an army of hedonistically-inclined, impossibly beautiful friends are all singing, dancing and doing the Pantene hair flick manoeuvre (seriously they should be signed up for an ad pronto), and doesn’t let up for one moment.
It’s like she’s is daring you to try and ignore the song.
And naturally enough, you can’t.
Combining two of my favourite Eurovision things – sizzling ethnic beats and an invitation to party and feel that “powerful beat” – “Solayoh” will not be denied.
Whether the good folks out in Eurovision voting land, the most politically charged land of them all, feel the same remains to be seen.
While it sounds not unlike many other traditional folk/electronic dance hybrids that have graced Eurovision Song Contests past, and suffers a little from it,its tsunami-like beats and unstoppable good times vibe should see it romp into the grand final.
At which point, Alyona may need to kick the sand out of her shoes, stop the Pantene-hair tosses (only for a moment, just a moment) and hope that the grand final viewers want a “hot night” every bit as badly as she does.
* So which song gets your top marks this week?