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 six more countries that will be strutting their stuff in semi-final 2 on Thursday 16 May, all of whom will be wondering how best to use their allocated singers, dancers, pyrotechnics effects, acres of shiny lycra, and aged relatives to best effect, in hopes of winning a place in the much-vaunted grand Final.
BULGARIA: “Samo Shampioni (Only Champions)” by Elitsa Todorova, Stoyan Yankulov
Let’s hear it for distorted synths and aerobic drumming!
Elitsa and Stoyan are either pioneering a new cardiovascular exercise regime – a good fallback should the song not place at Eurovision and they do have the music ready to go for the informercial; all they need now is a cheesy host whose all teeth and endless patter – or they have decided that what Eurovision needs is an upbeat song.
And this year it does … it really, really does.
In a sea of rather anodyne ballads, which suck the life force out of you faster than Kim Kardashian can say “A new reality TV show, I’ll be in it thank you!”, Bulgaria has given us a rip-roaring ethnic folkfest that may just convince you that jigging is a good dance option should you feel so inclined.
Of course it really isn’t, but don’t let that stop you.
While Elitsa’s voice is an acquired taste – I tend to like it for the most part; a little grating perhaps but it is quirky and unique and I always like that in a singer – and the simplistic lyrics tend towards the triumphantly jingoistic “Only champions, Only champions”, the song at least possesses a pulse.
It’s jaunty, playful, and the bagpipes, not always my instrument of choice in a song (unless accompanied by a shirtless Scot in which case play till the world ends thank you very much) actually lend the song a real personality, something sorely lacking in many other entries.
And Elitsa and Stoyan, who according to euorvision.tv, are “famous especially for their innovative ways of combining traditional singing, percussions and modern influences” put their all into their presentation playing those drums and singing like it’s the last thing they’ll ever do.
It’s infectious, it’s fun and energetic … and you’re guaranteed to lose 10kgs in one night jigging along to it.
ICELAND: “Ég Á Líf” by Eythor Ingi
Eythor Ingi, or Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson to use his full name, has decided that what Eurovision needs, and he may well be right, is some Viking-ness.
I say that not just because of his rugged manly bearing, long sweeping blond hair and the neatly-trimmed beard and moustache.
No, the man also spends an inordinate amount of time looking wistfully out from boats which seem to cruise endlessly around the waterways of Iceland, gliding ” above every hardship”.
If you’re going to tackle your troubles head on, then a nice boat ride is the way to do it (pillaging and ransacking optional).
Even better if you bring your imaginary Lego man-like imaginary crayon friend along.
Just don’t dive in to save him when he looks to be drowning because he’s not real and … oh too late!
Thank god Eythor can swim at least.
Boat rides aside, “Ég Á Líf” is as gorgeous a ballad as you could want.
Yes it joins the long and winding procession of earnest ballads seeking entry to the Eurovision Grand Final, an event which may require more than usual quota of vodka to get through this year if ballads dominate as expected, but it is a supremely beautiful song with a philosophical heart sung to perfection by Eythor.
It is hard not to get swept up into its melancholic wistfulness and lyrics like this, which though verging on the overly saccharine, are made real and grounded by Eythor’s passionate delivery:
“I am alive, I am alive
I glide above every hardship
I am alive, I am alive
When the winds turn against me
I climb over the high mountains
I’m alive, I’m alive because of you.”
If there is any justice, this will make it through to the Grand Final where a ballad that actually has some genuine heart and soul can help but stand out.
Just make sure he doesn’t perform never any water as he may just dive in mid-song.
GREECE: “Alcohol is Free” by Koza Mostra feat. Agathon Iakovidis
I so desperately wanted to award Greece some sort of award for this song.
How can you not want to plaster Koza Mostra, which is reputedly one of the most famous Balkan ska bands in Greece, with shiny blue winners’ ribbons for a song that combines ska, a call to excessive alcohol consumption, kilts – yes kilts! On a Greek band; let’s hear it for multiculturalism! – and everyone’s favourite instrument when they’re tone deaf or drunk, the accordion.
It has it ALL.
They have even roped in Agathon Iakovidis, a devotee of rebetiko music, a collective term for urban Greek folk music, for some added folk richness.
But the result is … well it’s … frankly awful really … and I can’t reward for anything other than questionable taste.
Not that the hirsute band don’t give it everything they’ve got.
The song is a fun-filled romp with enough energy to power a suite of LED screens on stage in Malmö and they appear to have a genuinely good time being stalked by Agathon who appears to have taken a multitude of jobs to make his way in Greece’s austerity-deprived economy.
But fun though it is on one level, it’s also repetitive with a chorus that jack hammers at your brain till your neurons beg for mercy, and a song that sounds like a jingle for a big barn liquor chain.
And frankly though I applaud Greece for trying to inject some crazy whimsy into an increasingly staid and worthy Contest, I very much doubt it’s going to get them into the Grand Final, which will be a very rare occurrence indeed.
But will they care? With all that free alcohol, they may be too drunk to even make it to the stage anyway.
ISRAEL: “Rak Bishvilo” by Moran Mazor
Even if 21 year old Moran Mazor, the 21 year old daughter of Georgian emigrants to Israel, never sang a note, I would adore her.
How could you not?
She sports a look that is a winning melange of Elvira, Nana Mouskouri – which whom she shares a love of bold retro black glasses; although to be fair in Nana’s heyday, they weren’t retro – and Daphne Blake from Scooby Doo.
That is a crazy number of pop culture touchstones to squeeze into one stage persona, and must have Madonna and Lady Gaga swooning with stylistic envy.
This girl has a look that is right in keeping with the nerdist zeitgeist currently in vogue and for that reason alone, she deserves to do well at Eurovision.
Alas the song, while redolent with heart stopping emotion, and sung to perfection by Moran who should sell a healthy number of her soon-to-be-released debut album, isn’t as compelling as her distinctive look.
It’s easy to get swept up into fervent declarations of love true, and on sheer passion alone, Moran deserves to get into the Grand Final.
But it’s not a strong enough song to help her rise above the almost identical swarm of worthy, heartfelt ballads that will make this year’s Eurovision Song Contest sound like a musical therapy group for the dangerously sad and broken hearted.
Admittedly it’s a lyrically hopeful song so points to songwriters Hen Harari and Gal Sarig for forgoing wrist-slashing wailing and gnashing of teeth but it will take all of Moran’s considerable vocal power to get “Rak Bishvilo” anywhere decent on the rankings.
Still if she fails to make it to the Grand Final, she can always solve a spooky mystery or two while she waits for the plane ride home …
ARMENIA: “Lonely Planet” by Dorians
Let me say at the start that if Dorians was simply a funky fashion label that sold you a pack of blank t-shirts and a small portable projector that hovered a discreet distance from you showering you with all manner of interesting imagery, I would be sold in a second.
Yes it’s choosing style over substance, something I usually try to avoid but in this case it would entirely justifiable since Dorians look is so cool, fun and adventurous.
And if you’re aspiring to a cutting edge hipster look, you could do much, much worse.
Sadly the Eurovision Song Contest, all indications to the contrary, is not an avant garde fashion contest – I’m talking to you Latvia with your sparkly jackets of joy – and in the end it’s the song that matters.
This where, alas, Dorians, falls down, and won’t be making the list of Must Have anythings really.
Their song, “Lonely Planet”, the lyrics for which suggest they were written by a collective team of monkeys at typewriters and pot-smoking hippies on a bender, is a workable rock ballad which ticks all the 90s Bon Jovi-esque boxes with requisite attention to detail.
And lead singer Gor Sujyan, while not possessing the best voice I have ever heard, nevertheless has all the necessary charisma, swagger and fabulous hair (both facial and cranial) needed by any band’s frontman.
They are, in essence, the total rock package.
Except, of course, for the fact their song is nothing special.
It’s there, and then it’s not, and you don’t particularly miss it when the last guitar chord has shimmered into the ether.
Love the style Dorians; now you just need to work on the substance and Armenia may have a chance.
HUNGARY: “Kedvesem (Zoohacker Remix)” by ByeAlex (Alex Márta)
Now if we’re talking the perfect marriage of style and substance, then ByeAlex, known to his no doubt doting parents as Alex Márta, has it all tied together with a big red, perfectly coordinated bow.
Recalling the music of Swede Jose Gonzalez, “Kedvesem” is one of those happy, smile-inducing tunes that you find yourself humming as you skip down the street (for those who are aiming for a more manly gait, walking briskly and humming is entirely acceptable too).
It reminds me in the best possible way of a lovely Yugoslavian cartoon (back when there was a Yugoslavia of course; yes I am that old and spend my days slathered under a heavy layer of moisturisers and face creams), Professor Balthazar, which possessed a bright simply happy tune that made my day every time I heard it.
ByeAlex, a journalist from from a small town called Fényeslitke in the eastern part of Hungary, possesses the perfect voice for this sort of bright, lilting song.
Its dusky and rich, powerful and light as air all at once, and merges perfectly with the joyously giddy melody.
“Kedvesem”, which is one of the most original songs to be presented at Eurovision this year, suggests a magical world where bright cartoons come to life, and everyone’s dreams can come true.
All very Eurovision-esque and surely the sort of tune that should have people voting for it in droves since it stands stick figure heads and shoulders above the run of the mill ballads massing around it.
Alas I fear this could also be its undoing since most people are by and large innately conservative and will favour the been-there-done-that over the interesting and one-of-a-kind.
Still never say never since “Euphoria”, sung by last year’s winner Loreen, is as unique as they come and she took home the crystal trophy.
That should mean there is hope for ByeAlex and his happy graffiti figures come to life yet.
* So which song has you wanting to skip, manly or otherwise, down the street?