Sunday, May 6, 2018

2018 Eurovision Song Contest Predictions



We are only two days away from the start of the 2018 edition of the Eurovision Song Contest. The fun and festivities kick off with the first semi-final that has been dubbed by critics and fans as the "bloodbath" due to the high number of popular entries competing to get one of only ten slots into the Grand Final.

Like what I do with the Oscars, I wanted to jot down my predictions very close to the event because my opinion would be more set in stone by then. One of the best things about Eurovision is the sheer unpredictability of it all. For instance, if you told me during the national selections that I would be enamored and swoon by the picks for Moldova and Georgia, I would think you were mad.

So here's what I think and believe about this year's entries, grouped together into special categories that seem fitting:


THE FRONT RUNNERS

When the music video for "Toy" dropped on YouTube, everybody was raving and hailing Israel as the winners. My opinion for them however has remained the same: it's wacky and great but will make it to the top ten, not the top spot. Firstly, there's the easy comparisons to Italy from last year: very popular music video and the high fandom and early hype that burned out too quickly. Then you have the rehearsal footage that shows the performance is going to be riddled with Japanese theming and walls of maneki-nekos. How is that supposed to match a song about female empowerment?

Australia got an early boost to win thanks to the star power of Jessica Mauboy and the simple messaging of its boppy banger "We Got Love". Plus, the Australian committee has done a whole lot of press and meet-ups in Europe in order to increase their chances with the public vote, which has always hurt them for the past two contests. The rehearsals were promising but many people are worried for Australia's chances due to Mauboy's vocal issues, the barren staging, and the weird gift-wrapped dress that she will be wearing.

If I was to make a bet, I would put money down on Estonia to win the contest. Elina Nechayeva is very beautiful, she's vocally amazing, she hits that operatic high note with ease, and the stage lighting and her special light up dress increase the power of the song. Nobody has been a winner with an opera tune but this could be the year.

Out of the Big Five currently, France is nursing a nice little streak of ending up in the top ten. This year however they have a chance at the gold medal with "Mercy", a story song that focuses on the refugee crisis still affecting Europe. The band behind it Madame Monsieur has been winning over crowds with it at concerts, especially during the breakdown.


THE QUEEN SLAYERS

As odd as it might be, Eurovision has had a country win with a metal song. I'm of course referring to Finland's famous victory in 2006 with the heavy makeup laden metal group Lordi and their song "Hard Rock Hallulejah". The 2006 contest was fairly known for how open the field was. This year's contest is pretty much the same way thus why I and many others can see Hungary shocking the world and winning it all. AWS have a killer song with "Viszlát Nyár" and seem to be doing wonders with the main stage in order to pump up their performance.

Spain has been running wild with the social media crowd due to the audience friendly story behind Amaia & Alfred. Two teens who really fell in love with each other on the reality show Spain used to find their Eurovision pick?! That certainly will win over hearts and minds. It remains to be seen whether the couple can pull it off live on television as many critics have been questioning the lack of on-screen chemistry between the two and the not-so-stellar staging.

The good folks in Ukraine picked a real winner with Mélovin and his bombastic "Under The Ladder". The country's leaders however are crossing their fingers very tightly after all of the troubled they had hosting the contest last year. Mélovin has a great look, has the "it" factor, and brings the energy of the song at its conclusion by singing at a piano while surrounded by fire. The only thing that could trip him up at the post is his struggle with the diction of English.

I may be overreacting with my enthusiasm for Sweden this year, thinking they have a real shot at winning the contest, but the complete package is right there. Good looking male singer, some sex appeal, the compact LED set, and the direction of making the performance a real-life music video.


TOP TEN HOPEFULS

Alexander Rybak is going to be trying his damnest to win again but even he knows that Norway will likely walk away and be fine with a top ten placement. Rybak, his fiddle and his goofy tune about the passion for music and songwriting will certainly steal a lot of points away from the other acts.

Finland brought the international star power this year by selecting Saara Aalto. The runner-up of The Voice in her native land and one of the most recent runner-ups in the U.K. version of The X Factor, she is looking to slay with the dark dance track "Monsters". Her pre-contest performances with the song have been vocally dodgy but she and her crew seemed to work all of the kinks out of it judging from the rehearsals.

I absolutely loved them last year but I wasn't so hot on Moldova this year. The group DoReDoS were a talented bunch and were able to survive the hard press and concert tour in tact. My opinion about their chances to qualify all changed however when the footage of their first rehearsal went live. The colorful costumes, cheeky humor, and exuberant happiness on display will greatly benefit their shot at the gold.

"I love beyond the bones/Oh-oh-oh". I really wish I could hate Bulgaria and their supergroup entry Equinox just for the terrible lyrics of the song "Bones". But the harmonies on the track are so tight. They will prove that their second place showing last year wasn't a fluke and keep their streak of top ten finishes going strong.

People want another Beyonce in the contest and they have in the form of Eleni Foureira. Cyprus chose the Greek singer to represent their island country due to her music success and to once again easily nab 12 points from Greece. Foureira will certainly bring the fire with "Fuego" as the rehearsals have been earning high marks from critics.

I must be one of the very few people thinking that Denmark has a chance to place high. Rasmussen and "Higher Ground" was an early favorite for me and I think many will fall in love with the Game of Thrones/Vikings aesthetic of the performance.

When I first heard "Light Me Up" from Poland, I instantly had a feeling that it had an easy path to the final. I have since fluctuated on my overall opinion on the song but I think it could really have the crowd jumping, bring a must needed boost to the show if placed during the middle, and could make it to the lower end of the top ten.


FINAL FILLERS

Good ole country boy Waylon of The Netherlands drew some attention from Eurovision fans with his country rock song "Outlaw in 'Em". He drew even more attention recently when the rehearsals revealed that his fake band members on stage will be doing some krumping during the tune. I think he has a shot at making it through the first semi but will stumble at the final.

Despite having themselves in the form of SuRie and the chorus of the song being a major hit with live audiences, I don't think The United Kingdom will be able to reach the top ten this year. Top 15 on the other hand is viable.

Unless there is a shocker in the semi-finals, Azerbaijan will continue their streak going into the final. However they will also continue their middling streak of not doing well in the Grand Final despite the efforts of Aisel, the dance track "X My Heart", and their special triangle props.

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Czech Republic really looked like a winner this year with Mikolas Josef and his Jason Derulo rip-off song "Lie To Me". Unfortunately, during the first rehearsals in Lisbon, Josef suffered a very painful back injury while doing a flip. His crew are desperately trying to remedy the situation and change up the staging to prevent him from exerting too much. He should still make it through the semi final but I think the unforeseen circumstances and the paired back performance will harm his chances at the top ten.

Lithuania is one of my favorite underdog nations in the contest due to their wild selections. I really hope that the cute Ieva Zasimauskaitė and her sappy yet still heartwarming "When We're Old" do well and cause a lot of people to reach for the tissues.

I do not love Belarus at all. They changed up their song "Forever" too many times to no avail and I can't really stand Alekseev and his weird smile. The only reason I can see him in the final is because of their intended Eurovision performance. Instead of having Alekseev wearing a LED suit like he did in the national final, the singer is going to be interacting with the steady camera by literally giving it a rose, there's an interpretive dancer running amok, and there's going to be something involving an arrow piercing the singer's hand and blood coming out. It sounds nuts but that makes good Eurovision.

I can't take Armenia seriously mainly because of their song. It is called "Qami" and a great majority of it consists of Sevak Khanagyan saying it over and over again before he bellows out a big final one. Qami sounds a lot like "Come Me". Seeing and hearing someone languishing over the words "Come Me" and then screaming it out to the world is beyond hilarious. That being said, it will more than likely make it to the final but the stupid Stonehenge set design will detract voters.

In terms of songs that could play well here in the States, Germany has one with Michael Schulte and his bittersweet tale of parental loss with "You Let Me Walk Alone". I'm crossing my fingers that he and the song can finally lift Germany out of the bottom rung of the final rankings but I fear it's too depressing to draw a lot of votes.

Italy has two ugly looking rock singers singing a somber song about anti-terrorism. Add that with the self-plagiarism charges levied against the song and you have a potential recipe to fail.

Like all host countries before them, Portugal doesn't want to win back-to-back. The very sleepy and wistful "O Jardim" proves that.

I really, really don't want Romania to go to the Grand Final but I can see them there, thus keeping the qualification streak alive. The Humans' lead singer is great but the song is so pathetically trite.


PAINFUL ELIMINATIONS

I don't want F.Y.R. Macedonia to fail at all. "Lost and Found" is an unique dance track and they can really accentuate the sex appeal of the lead singer of Eye Cue but the rehearsals show they are faltering in their staging and costumes.

Another fan favorite I sadly can see getting axed, Slovenia might lose out at the finals because of their continuing struggles with the chorus drop.

"A Matter of Time" may sound like a James Bond song, which really works in Eurovision, but I have not been very moved by Belgium this year. Sennek has a cool voice but she's still struggling in the vocal department and the rehearsals didn't look promising.

The bizarre spaceship theme they are doing for Cesár Sampson's performance of "Nobody But You" could really hurt Austria.

They might break their streak of non-qualification but Ireland is competing with too many popular favorites in the first semi-final.

We have two dark dance songs about mental illness this year and I think Malta will be the one sitting home during the final.

Eugent Bushpepa of Albania has a soaring song and gets to unleash a hell of a high note but he might get forgotten about in the first semis.

I'm really pulling for Serbia but I can see Sanja Ilić & Balkanika missing out on a Saturday performance. "Nova Deca" is a moving ethnic dance song yet the flat staging is hurting their chances.

Laura Rizzotto has a great look and voice but I don't think Latvia will earn a spot with their Fifty Shades of Grey "inspired" song "Funny Girl".

Switzerland just can't catch a break. I actually like the American stylings of "Stones" but as with other nations it needs to somehow do far better than the heavy favorites in the first semis.


DEAD ON ARRIVAL

Russia spent this entire time shitting the bed. Julia Samoylova is a talented singer and I was glad that the Russian committee kept their promise to her to participate in Eurovision after the controversy with Ukraine last year. However, I was really turned off by "I Won't Break" upon first listen and remain tepid after multiple re-listens. She can't sing well in English, she bombed hard at the Moscow event, and she remains off key during the Eurovision rehearsals. Adding fuel to the dumpster fire is the continuing marketing decision to hide her wheelchair and having her sit atop a turd-looking mountain for the performance. It sucks that it had to be her but this could very well be the first time Russia doesn't qualify.

Now for the second elephant in the room: San Marino. The country's decision process was an abomination. The song "Who We Are" rips the chorus from the 2015 contest winner "Heroes". The featured rapping of Jenifer B is incredibly laughable. And then they come to Lisbon with those ridiculously stupid little robots. The mini sign of "Justice for Valentina!" is cute but they will be scrapping for some points in the semi-finals to avoid a nul points.

Greece still doesn't have the money to pony up to host the contest and they have no chance winning this year's edition, let alone pass the semis with the tedious ""Oniro Mou".

Franka has improved the chances for Croatia with the song "Crazy" judging from the rehearsal footage in Lisbon but it will be one of the first to bleed out in the first semi-final.

Ari Ólafsson can hit that hit note in "Our Choice" but Iceland will not make it very far. The staging is too pathetic and the song doesn't ring too well.

Georgia disappointed a lot of people when after so much build up and being one of the last countries to announce this representative they gave us a bunch of old men. Ethno - Jazz Band Iriao (yes, that's their real name) has good harmonies but unless everyone in Europe wishes to have an entry in the final solely for a piss break, they will not advance.

"Inje" has grown on me just a little but everyone has already written off the chances for Montenegro this year. The terrible suit jacket Vanja Radovanović is wearing gives him a chance to win the Barbara Dex Award.



As a little incentive, here's my top ten favorite songs from this year's Eurovision in alphabetical order:

Australia
Denmark
Estonia
F.Y.R. Macedonia
Hungary
Israel
Lithuania
Serbia
Sweden
Ukraine

I also asked my non-fan father to listen to the official recap video of all 43 songs and come up with his own top five. Here's what he came up with:

1. Germany
2. Lithuania
3. Spain
4. Cyprus
5. F.Y.R. Macedonia


I hope you enjoyed these articles on Eurovision. The Grand Final will air live in America on Logo at 3:00 PM on Saturday May 12. The semi-finals will take place on May 8 and May 10 but will not air on American television. You will need to stick to Twitter updates or via other countries' streams in order to enjoy them.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

30 Eurovision Artists That Americans Will Know



For this year's edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, Australia has selected Jessica Mauboy as their representative. She is one of the heavy favorites to win this year due to the fan popularity of her song "We Got Love" and her considerable worldwide success as a pop artist. Though she still hasn't landed a hit on the charts here in the United States, many Americans will recognize her for playing the lively and musically gifted ingenue Julie in the Australia musical film The Sapphires.

She is not the first major music artist that Americans can easily identify. The Eurovision Song Contest has been going on for more than half a century now and many popular artists and acts from all around the world have graced its stage, including several legendary figures. I have rounded up 29 of them.

Now for you hardcore Eurovision fans and music lovers, I just wanted to focus on the performers that the average American could go "oh yeah, I love him/her/them!" A couple of artists that didn't make the cut here due to low visibility include Bucks Fizz, Dschinghis Khan, Susanne Georgi, Blue, Anggun, the recently departed France Gall and the late great Ofra Haza.



ABBA

You can't talk about Eurovision without talking about this Swedish quartet at some time. Missing out on being the Swedish representative in 1973, the pop group and their manager Stig Anderson reconvened and produced a rocking song linking the power of love with a famous war battle. They won their nation's own singing competition Melodifestivalen and went to Brighton looking to win. Their performance that night brought shockwaves to the contest: they wore flashy outfits, the song was upbeat pop and not a ballad, and they sung it in English instead of their native Swedish. ABBA won and went on to have a legendary music career. Meanwhile, the status quo of Eurovision was firmly uprooted by their victory and the presentation of the contest and the performances all had to change with the times.



Céline Dion

The Canadian singer and ballad belter was only 20 years old when she won the national final to become the representative of Switzerland for the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest. She gave it her all with the track "Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi" while rocking a bizarre white leather jacket and accompanying tutu. But the real accomplishment for her came later in the evening during what still is the most suspenseful voting process of all time. Dion was neck and neck with the United Kingdom's Scott Fitzgerald for first place and it all came down to the jury from Yugoslavia. She received 6 points from them, which gave her an one point advantage over Fitzgerald. When the Yugoslavian spokesperson revealed that their 12 points would go to France, the green room and the crowd exploded. As per tradition with the contest winners, Dion kicked off the 1989 contest in Lausanne by reprising "Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi" before moving on to her new single, a little diddy called "Where Does My Heart Beat Now". That song would of course become a worldwide smash and led to more international hits.



Olivia Newton-John

Yes, good old Sandy herself was in Eurovision. Just off the heels of the success of "Let Me Be There", the English-Aussie was selected by the U.K. as their representative for the 1974 contest. She was to sing "Long Live Love", which she vehemently hated but had to sing due to it winning the public vote. She came in fourth place, tying the spot with Luxembourg and Monaco. She didn't have to worry about her career though as her next album was set to come out, containing a little number that has become her signature song, "I Honestly Love You".



Andrew Lloyd Webber

This is a bit of a copout entry but he actually performed on the Eurovision stage so it counts. The famed West End and Broadway composer was brought into Eurovision by his home country in 2009 in order to break their streak of bad entries. He along with the great songwriter Diane Warren churned out "It's My Time", a rousing yet hollow pop ballad for the former Sugababes member turned solo singer Jade Ewen. For the grand final performance in Moscow, Webber himself popped up on stage playing a heavenly white piano while Ewen hit the high notes. The U.K. came in fifth place on the night, which still remains their best ever result in over a decade.



Bonnie Tyler

One of the biggest female singers of the 1980s, Tyler was having a hard time getting anyone to turn around and hear her raspy singing in the 21st century, even those with the brightest of eyes. She got a major boost though in 2013 when she was selected as the U.K. representative as part of the country's new strategy of only sending established and famous singers to Eurovision. Taylor was holding out for a hero when it came to a song. Instead of another operatic banger from Jim Steinman, she had to be saddled with the tepid "Believe In Me". She came in 19th place and has since spoken negatively about her experiences in Eurovision save for some salacious backstage talk about some national juries being bribed.



Katrina and The Waves

Forever tied with their cheery hit single "Walking On Sunshine", Katrina and The Waves struggled to escape the shadow of the song and shake the misconception of them being labeled as an one-hit wonder. The rock band was slumming through the 90's until 1997 when they became the representative of the U.K. for that year's contest. Spurned on by Tony Blair's landslide victory two days previously and the eye-popping green blouse lead singer Katrina Leskanich was wearing, the band made the most of their call for peace with the song "Love Shine A Light". They were the runaway winner that evening, putting a final plug to Ireland's dominate victories during the decade and gave the U.K. another well-deserved victory. Unfortunately, "selling out" to Eurovision fractured the band and Katrina left the following year. She has since had a hot-cold relationship with the contest, spending much energy mocking her grueling time to the press but also finding time to accept ambassador roles in Eurovision-themed television programming.



t.A.T.u.

Speaking of one-hit wonders, the infamous Russian girl duo who rode their faux-lesbian act to the bank spent a part of their peak time in the limelight performing at Eurovision. They had a firm shot at bringing a win to mother Russia in 2003 but the two female singers and their masterful press manipulator of a manager essentially helped squandered their chances. Their "controversy creates cash" approach started with them badmouthing the other competitors. When it came time to do rehearsals, they skipped the first day due to "vocal issues" and then proceeded to lambast the production crew. Possible chicanery involving them doing some kind of lesbian act on stage drew the ire of the EBU, quite the ironic thing to get angry about when it comes to Eurovision. Finally, the band had their shot at the gold at the Grand Final but their performance was and still is widely mocked. Their song ""Ne Ver', Ne Boysia" was very contemporary but was plainly just sloppy seconds of their hit single "All The Things She Said". The girls didn't help matters with their off-key belting and their dreadful costumes consisting of plain white-ts and jeans. Their worldwide popularity helped drive them up the final rankings but only to 3rd place, losing a mere three points away from the top of the podium. More controversy and wild displays of obnoxious behavior followed the group soon after the contest but everyone had their fill of them by the year's end.



Blackstreet

If you had a chance to appear on television before millions of viewers, you sometimes have to do some mercenary work. The R&B group Blackstreet was quite a strong force in the mid to late 90s, thanks mainly to the intense work ethic of its lead singer/writer/producer Teddy Riley and the huge success of the single "No Diggity". However, a fast drop off in popularity and internal fighting caused the group to break up at the turn of the century. Members Mark Middleton, Eric Williams, and Levi Little eventually got the right to perform under the name again (along with the group's co-founder Chauncey "Black" Hannibal) and has since gone on to do several international tours. One stop involved the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest, where Middleton, Williams, and Little performed as the back-up singers for F.Y.R. Macedonia's representative Daniel Kajmakoski on the song "Autumn Leaves". Unfortunately, Kajmakoski couldn't get past the semi-finals and Blackstreet went back to banking on 90s nostalgia.



Julio Iglesias

Before he sired one of today's biggest music stars and sang with Willie Nelson about their former beaus, the legendary latin singer represented his home country of Spain for the 1970 contest. He and the song "Gwendolyne" came in fourth place, tying with Switzerland and France. The crooner's participation at the contest helped contribute to his popularity around the continent and he soon after began his famed distinction of recording songs in multiple languages.



Cliff Richard

Poor old Cliffy. The rock legend had many hits in the United States but never at the same height of fame as he is in the U.K. Most will remember him only for his duet with Olivia Newton-John on "Suddenly" for the infamous flop turned cult classic Xanadu. But he had the worst luck when it came to Eurovision. He first participated in the 1968 contest in London and was firmly set to give the U.K. back-to-back winning entries with the rousing "Congratulations". Unfortunately, possibly due to some chicanery and bribery, he was nipped at the post by Spain by one point. He tried again in 1973 with "Power To All Our Friends" but only ended up in third place and again lost the top spot by a few points.



Engelbert Humperdinck

Probably more famous nowadays for Eddie Izzard's hilarious stand-up routine about his name, the English crooner of "Release Me" is still going strong well into his eighties. However, everybody was in a total daze back in 2012 when he was announced as the U.K. representative for that year's Eurovision as part of the as-mentioned "famous only" policy. How in the world would a well past his prime 76 year old be able to draw in votes, especially when he was set to perform a creeky tune called "Love Will Set You Free"? More bad news soon followed when it was revealed that per a random drawing that the U.K. was set to perform first. Instead of the usual exhilarating kickstart to the proceedings, the audience of Eurovision 2012 was bored by a banal ballad and some lame fireworks. Humperdinck came second to last and took the painful loss to heart, skipping a major afterparty later that night. To add salt to the wound, the Russian entry consisted of a group of very elderly women flatly singing a dumb dance song and they came in second.



Lulu

Two years after taking the United States by storm with the movie single "To Sir, With Love", the lovely Scottish singer was in a bit of a pickle. Then currently hosting her own variety show, she was asked by her bosses at the BBC to not only have a special episode with her singing the six selected songs for Eurovision participation but to also be the U.K. representative. Thinking there was no choice in the matter, she accepted and hoped to get a real banger. She got a banger all right in the form of "Boom Bang-a-Bang", a goofy pop song in the same vein as the infamous winner of the previous year's Eurovision, the Spanish entry "La, La, La". She powered through it while wearing a nice pink outfit only to receive some more comedy at the contest. She was announced as the winner but had to share it with three other competitors as they all received the same amount of points. Despite laughing the song off as being "rotten", it when on to become his 2nd biggest hit in the UK charts.



Mocedades

Fans of the 1970s pop music scene and of the movie Tommy Boy will recall the sweeping Spanish ballad "Eres Tú". It actually originated at Eurovision, as the folk band Mocedades harmoniously sung it at the 1973 contest. They were able to secure second place after the hotly contested voting process concluded, beating Cliff Richard by two points but losing to Anne-Marie David by four points. They had the last laugh though as "Eres Tú" became a huge hit all over the world, made ever more special in the United States where the original Spanish track was the preferred choice over the English version and went to #9 on the Billboard charts.



Gina G

The U.K. had a strong shot at winning the 1996 contest in Oslo thanks to an attractive Aussie and a high energy house song with sexual connotations called "Ooh Aah... Just A Little Bit". Unfortunately, the country were set to perform second aka the dreaded death slot due to no nation ever able to win the contest from that position. Ireland once again claimed the throne that night with the U.K. coming in a respectable but still disconcerting eighth place. But while Ireland's "The Voice" floundered all around Europe, "Ooh Aah..." became a big international hit and crossed over the pond to the United States, reaching #12 on the charts and earning a Grammy nomination.



Las Ketchup

Novelty can only get so far in terms of a music career. The girl group Las Ketchup had a worldwide hit with "The Ketchup Song" thanks to the girls' good looks and the goofy dance that came with it. However, that was back in 2002 and the trio didn't really follow it up with anything worthwhile. They seemingly vanished from the public sight as many one-hit wonders often do only to suddenly reappear in 2006 as Spain's selected representative for Eurovision. They also gained a fourth member that according to the other three girls was always one of the group despite never appearing before hand. They sang the song "Un Blodymary" in an awful performance, spending the majority of the stage time swinging around on chairs and boring the audience to tears. They came in 21st place and proceeded to quietly disappear once again.



Cascada

Germany was still riding high after winning Eurovision in 2010 and having two top ten entries in the following years. They thought they had another hit in 2013 in the form of "Glorious" by the popular dance act Cascada. I say popular a bit loosely because though they were very successful in their homeland, other nations including the United States only remember them for "Everytime We Touch" in 2005 and "Evacuate The Dancefloor" in 2009. Still, they were favored to be a possible winner of the contest that year only to be derailed by plagiarism accusations. Their song sounded just a little too much like the 2012 winner "Euphoria". Eurovision has had a history of imitation and songs playing off what worked the previous year and the EBU ultimately cleared Cascada of the charges. Unfortunately, the accusations stuck for some people and along with Cascada's disappointing performance on the night, Germany ended up in 21st place and began a streak of dismal entries.



Nicki French

Speaking of dance acts that profited from other people's work, Nicki French had a hit across the globe with a house rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in 1995. Other dance covers of popular songs soon followed. Five years later, the U.K. public picked her as their representative for the 2000 contest. Since they had to have an original song for the competition, French was bequeathed the tune of "Don't Play That Song Again". As many a jokester has said, everyone certainly did in fact refuse to play or even remember the song. It came in 16th place, then the worst ever placing for the United Kingdom. French didn't take the blow very hard as she continued her music career and has co-hosted the annual London Eurovision Party several times.



Verka Serduchka

When Eurovision fans want to show non-fans the insanity of the contest, they tend to point to Ukraine's entry in the 2007 contest. Verka Serduchka is the drag persona of comedian Andriy Danylko and left all of the previous novelty/comedic entries of Eurovision in the dust when she came in second place that year. The catchy accordion dance beat, bedazzled Nazi outfitted dancers, loose grasp of languages, star ornament headwear, and the secret message of telling Russia to fuck off all worked to make one of the most entertaining entries in Eurovision history, for better or worst. You may have come across the performance on YouTube but most Americans will be well aware of Serduchka and the song "Dancing Lasha Tumbai" from the Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy, where the comedian has a cameo and the song is included on the official soundtrack.



Jedward

Back when people really cared about televised singing competitions such as American Idol, there was this trend from anti-fans who would vote for the worst entries to move forward. The zenith of this phenomenon wasn't with someone like Sanjaya Malakar but with two plucky Irish twins who couldn't really sing very well or stop annoying everyone around them. The Brothers Grimes ran rough-shot on the 2009 season of The X Factor, driving the judges crazy with their unrefined singing, goofy antics and their wild high tower hairdos. However, their popularity with the show's main audience, along with the ironic crowd, kept them in the competition and a hit among online viewers and writers. They were eventually voted off but when on to a very lucrative music career. For the 2011 Eurovision contest, Ireland narrowly voted for them as their representative. Say what you will about their takes of "Oops... I Did It Again" and "Ghostbusters" but for the 2011 contest, the twins brought their all into the song "Lipstick" and accompanying vibrant performance, earning a solid 8th place. The charm of the boys quickly wore off however when they returned to Eurovision the following year; they got passed the semis but their repetitive antics and the mediocre pop song "Waterline" landed them in 19th place.



Ruslana

Ukrainian pop singer Ruslana helped fuel the next chapter in the presentation of the Eurovision Song Contest with the song "Wild Dances" in 2004. While the ethno dance track blasted throughout the Abdi İpekçi Arena in Istanbul, she and her backup dancers/singers did a bombastic and well choreographed performance. She won the contest and became an all-around major figure in Ukraine to point of being one of the popular leaders of the Orange Revolution. Us Americans will most likely know of Ruslana in the hugely successful video game Grand Theft Auto IV, where the pop singer acts as the DJ for the in-game radio station Vladivostok FM and a remix of her Eurovision song "Wild Dances" is prominently played.



Alexander Rybak

It's 2009 and the Eurovision Song Contest is set to take place in heart of Russia, a country known for their harsh anti-LGBT views and policies. What better way to shut those conservative assholes up then to send an outspoken gay-friendly performer with a rigorous work ethic, dashing charisma, and a passion for the fiddle. Alexander Rybak was dubbed "The King of Eurovision" for his electrifying performance of the song "Fairytale" and earning the highest tally of points under the old voting system. The official video of the performance was handpicked as one of the 31 memorable videos of 2009 from a certain video site called YouTube.



Conchita Wurst

Dubbed "The Queen of Eurovision" by the commentators, Conchita Wurst became an overnight gay icon and a huge symbol for the LGBT cause in Europe thanks to her amazing performance and win at the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. The drag persona of pop singer Thomas Neuwirth, Wurst overcame intense criticism from discriminating Eastern European nations and the negative viewpoints from a few of her fellow competitors to belt out the James Bond-like "Rise Like A Phoenix" into the victory lane. Her win along with the fashion statement of a bearded drag queen made headline news across the globe and made her a fixture of the fashion and entertainment world. Wurst has returned to the headlines recently when she announced following an extortion attempt that she's HIV positive.



Silver Convention

"Fly, Robin, Fly" is safe to say one of the famous disco tracks of all time. Consisting of only six words in total, the song was a #1 hit in America, the first ever for a German act. Most people seem to forget that they actually had a second major hit with "Get Up And Boogie", which also only had six words in total. But a lot of people are completely unaware that they competed in 1977 Eurovision Song Contest with the song "Telegram". They came in eighth place and soon flew off up up to the sky.



The New Seekers

This English folk rock group had a couple of hits here in the States most notably "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing", a reworked version of the famed Coca-Cola ad that some zen ad man came up with. During that song's chart success, the group represented their home nation in the 1972 contest with the little ditty "Beg, Steal Or Borrow". The performance was a huge hit that night mainly because the contest was taking place in Edinburgh. They earned the once traditional placing for British entries (2nd place) and had a fruitful career in the U.K. for the rest of the decade.



Brotherhood Of Man

The U.K. had to wait until the 1976 contest to finally stop being the bridesmaid for a spell. They sent off the pop quartet Brotherhood of Man to The Hague with their cutesy tune "Save Your Kisses For Me". They drew the first performance position and went wholeheartedly into their little jig for the song about a father saying goodbye to his three-year-old. They quite handily won the evening and became a major act in the U.K. and across Europe, even still performing to this very day. The song itself was a minor hit in America but is overshadowed by the group's previous hit, the 1970 song "United We Stand", which was performed by a different set of singers.



Domenico Modugno

"Volare". Need really I say any more? The second most famous song to ever come out of Eurovision, Italian superstar Domenico Modugno came in third at the 1958 contest with the song under its traditional name "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu". But the song quickly outpaced its the gold and silver winners to become a hugely successful song across the world, the #1 single of 1958 in America, the very first Grammy winner of Record of the Year and Song of the Year, and a popular standard for every crooner.



Vicky

Most of you may not know who Vicky aka Vicky Leandros is but you will know of her Eurovision song. Representing Luxembourg in the 1967 contest, she came in fourth with the song "L'Amour Est Bleu". Later that year, French conductor Paul Mauriat covered the song but took out the vocals and modified the musical arrangements. The track now known as "Love Is Blue" went to #1 for five weeks on the Billboard charts and is a stable for many easy listening radio stations.



Il Volo

Not to be confused with Il Divo, this all-Italian operatic trio and have been a near staple of American television programming in the 2010s. From talk shows to the Emmys to the Rockfeller Christmas Tree Lighting, the two tenors and a baritone have had several successful albums and tours of America. After winning the Sanremo Music Festival in 2015 with the song "Grande Amore", they accepted the invitation to be Italy's representative for Eurovision that year. They were the heavy favorite going into the contest and had to fight off Sweden and Russia for the top spot but instead walked away with third place.



SunStroke Project

Memes can last forever. For the 2010 contest, Moldova sent SunStroke Project and Olia Tira to Oslo with the dance track "Run Away" and a lot of 80s inspired makeup and costumes. They got past the semis but came in 22nd place at the final. But all was not lost to the sands of time. A clip from the semi final performance of SunStroke Project member Sergey Stepanov grooving and pelvic-thrusting while doing his staged saxophone solo became a popular internet meme later in the year. Dubbed "Epic Sax Guy", the clip was looped, remixed, and also utilized as a new form of rickrolling. SunStroke Project went on to continue submitting themselves for Eurovision consideration, winning a spot in 2017 with the track "Hey Mamma!". Thanks to the considerable love of the televote, the group came in third place at the final, the best ever result for Moldova.



And now for a couple extra entries that weren't really artists or acts at Eurovision but had a substantial part in its history and will be recognizable by my fellow Americans:



Maria Menounos

The famed entertainment journalist and part-time professional wrestler took a break from Hollywood to co-host the 2006 contest with pop singer Sakis Rouvas. The Greek American did her very best but nerves got to her at many points, most notably when she kept calling everything "amazing" to the derision of the commentators and critics.



Ronan Keating

Former Boyzone member turned very successful solo singer Ronan Keating stole your mother's heart with "When You Say Nothing At All" on the Notting Hill soundtrack and made her buy his subsequent albums. But Eurovision fans will remember his impressive double duty performance of being the co-host and part of the interval act for the 1997 contest in Dublin.



Pilou Asbæk

Danish actor Pilou Asbæk is currently one of the top scourges on the popular television series Game of Thrones as the brother-killing, king usurper Euron Greyjoy and recently popped up as the live-action version of Batou in the sci-fi flop Ghost in the Shell. But back in 2014, when he was still riding high from his acclaimed supporting role in the political drama Borgen, he was one of the co-hosts of the Eurovision Song Contest. He brought considerable charm to the gig and is mostly remembered for his recurring bit about paying respect to the Chinese viewership and pulling a surprise prank on the BBC commentator Graham Norton.



Aqua

The only europop band that can say they were able to beat major toy company Mattel in court, Aqua sold a lot of albums and drove a lot of people crazy with their satirical single "Barbie Girl". When Denmark won the 2000 contest, the band was asked to be the interval act and perform a medley of their European hits at the following year's show in Copenhagen. The performance was certainly energetic and high-pitched but created a storm of controversy when they swore several times (a big no no in Eurovision) and lead singer Lene Nystrøm did the "jerk off" motion.



Justin Timberlake

For the 2016 contest, the EBU delivered a major shock a day before the first set of semi-finals: They somehow got one of the biggest pop singers of our time to be the interval act of the Eurovision Grand Final. With his usual gusto, Justin Timberlake performed some of his previous hits before delivering the world live premiere of his then just released new single "Can't Stop The Feeling!". This would be a major coup for Americans since the 2016 contest was the first Eurovision to air on live television. Unfortunately due to rights restrictions and probably Viacom, JT's mini concert was not shown and the interval act of the first semi-finals was its replacement.



Riverdance

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the greatest interval act of Eurovision of all time. The 1994 contest needed some extra juice as it looked like Ireland was about to win yet again. The show's producers asked composer Bill Whelan to come up with something for the interval and it responded with something rooted in traditional Irish music. It was set to be accompanied by some dancing performed by native ballet dancers including Michael Flatley and Jean Butler, who were the leads in the performance and the choreographers. When it was all put together, the seven minute routine caused the theater to explode in excitement and received a well-deserved standing ovation. The success of the interval act would lead to the theatrical show of the same name that is still performed today.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

What Is Eurovision and Other Answers For The Curious American



I frankly can not get enough of Eurovision. It is one of my new favorite things in life. It pushes all of the right buttons and caters to several of my deepest pleasures of entertainment.

I crossed paths with it several times in the past when searching through YouTube, watching a video or two of a random performance or seeing some recaps buried on some user’s channel. However, I didn’t really go absolutely bananas for Eurovision until I sat down and watched last year’s edition which was broadcasted on Logo. I went into it completely blind and just marveled at all of the artistry and craziness on display. The fat Croatian who dueted with himself, switching between a high pitch pop voice and a deep soprano. The Moldovan going hard on a saxophone while wearing a tuxedo and doing the Running Man. The singer from Azerbaijan whose performance had Holocaust-like imagery and a suited man with a horse head perched atop a ladder. The sheer irony of the contest’s slogan of “Celebrate Diversity” yet had three very white Ukrainian male hosts with limited English skills. The high notes, the flat notes, the cheeky prankster who bared his ass live on television, and the rigorous but compelling voting before the eventual crowning of the winner.

Since that special Saturday last May, I spent a huge chunk of my time and energy on everything Eurovision. I explored the official channel on YouTube and all of their posted performances, watched past Eurovision editions, went through many lists and fan opinion videos, bought and imported the official CDs of past contests (including the awful copy-protected ones!), and picked up any book which delved into the history of the entertainment event.

This magical time of the year is mere days away so I thought it would be best to write up a series of articles about the annual event. I wanted to create some easy and helpful guides for the curious American viewer who wants to dip their toes into Eurovision. I also wanted to nerd the hell out about it and showcase my opinion about the best and worst aspects of the contest. But let's first start off by answering some of the most frequently asked questions about Eurovision, beginning with the one that tends to pop up all the time:


What is the Eurovision Song Contest?

To best sum it up, it is what you get when American Idol is crossed with the Olympics and has the budget and craftsmanship of the Super Bowl Halftime Show.


Care to explain it more plainly?

Sure thing. It’s an annual event of national pride, visual spectacle, artistic flair and insanely produced kitsch. Nearly all of the nations of Europe along with a few outlier countries each submit an artist and an original song clocking in under or at three minutes as their representative. They are all presented live on television via highly staged performances. National juries and the public view them all and determine a winner from their combined votes.


Outlier countries? What do you mean?

Throughout its history, the contest has had several countries outside of Europe participate. Examples include Turkey, Azerbaijan, Israel, and Australia.



Australia?! Why the hell are they here?!

Eurovision is a huge deal in Australia. Their deep fandom for the contest led to them having Jessica Mauboy, one of their most popular singers, be a part of the 2014 contest. The country was given a special one-time guest inclusion into the 2015 contest as part of Eurovision’s 60th anniversary. They ended up in 5th place. This major success help lead them to become an official participant.


But that still doesn’t fully explain how come they get to participate?!

Okay, if you want to get technical: Australia paid the fee to get into the contest.


Wait, what fee?

In order to enter the Eurovision Song Contest each year, a country has to pay the show’s backers, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).


So the United States can actually participate if they pay the fee?

Yes.


What if a country doesn’t pay the EBU?

Those that refuse to put coin down are disqualified from participation.

Some countries, such as Ukraine in 2015, simply can’t afford to pay for their ticket due to financial issues and/or having more pressing matters such as political upheaval. Others, most notably Romania in 2016, are forcibly withdrawn due to non-payments and heavy debts to the EBU.


Okay, okay. So how many countries can participate in a given year if they pay up?

All of them. Eurovision has seen much fluctuation in its participants. They will have 36 countries one year, the next it jumps up to 43.



That must make for one long boring show.

No, that’s not really the case. The Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final currently consists of only 26 countries, 26 songs. Earlier in the week, Eurovision has two semi-final rounds which are also broadcasted live. Each round usually has around 18 participating countries, who get to perform their songs early before everybody. After some voting, ten countries are chosen to move on to the grand final.


Wait, the semi-finals only offer up 20 of the final participants. Where do the other 6 come from?

The United Kingdom, Spain, France, Italy, and Germany are referred to as “The Big Five”. They are the major backers of the EBU and the Eurovision Song Contest so they get a bye to the final. The last participant, who also receives a bye, is the host country.


How is the host country determined?

The nation that won the contest the previous year gets to be the host country. For example, the 2017 edition was won by Portugal. Therefore, this year’s edition will take place there, specifically the city of Lisbon.



Please run down how the Eurovision Grand Final normally plays out.

Sure thing. First, there’s a opening video and ceremonial introduction designed to hype up the host country and the contest itself. Then, similar to the Olympics, there’s a parade of champions, consisting of the 26 artists that made it to the final. After all of that processed sound and fury, the presenters of the evening pop up and explain the rules and the running order of performances, both in English and French.



What’s with the bilingual explanations?

English and French are the two most widespread languages across Europe and are a stable of the contest, particularly during the voting process.



Okay, please continue.

We then get to experience the live performances. Before each and every one of them, there’s a “postcard”, a little video vignette where usually the upcoming performer(s) experiences the culture of the host country in a playful way. To give some relief to the audience, the presenters occasionally re-appear after a couple of performances to do a brief skit or have a walk through the green room to chat with the artists. After the 26th song is finished, the presenters and usually a special guest announce that voting has started.



How do you vote?

As an American, you can’t. You need to have a working phone and be somewhere in Europe in order to vote. A little recap video will play which will show all of the performances and their associated voting phone numbers. Simply call it up and pay the required phone fee to vote for your favorite.



Any other catches with the voting?

Yes. The public can not vote for their own country while residing in there. For instance, if you want to vote for Ireland, you can’t be sitting in your gaff in Dublin. However, if are in a different country at the time of the contest, you can vote for your home country all you want.



So what happens with the show during the voting process?

The public is given about 20-40 minutes to vote (the national juries already placed their votes after viewing the final dress rehearsal). During this time, you are treated to an interval act, aka the halftime show. It can range anywhere from more artists from the home country performing to interpretative dance to Justin Timberlake.



What?! Justin Timberlake was at Eurovision?!

Yes he was but that’s for another article.



You tease. So then what happens?

After the interval act and any other special performances, the votes are then presented and read out.

First up are the national juries. The presenters basically Skype in with every country and their respective spokesperson. After some banter, which can go off the rails or be very awkward because of the video delay, the spokesperson presents the top ten of their country’s national jury, displaying the first nine and then verbally declaring their number one pick. This goes on until all of the national juries have chimed in.



Are there points involved with the top ten?

Yes. Tenth place to fourth place receive 1 to 7 points respectively. Third place gets 8 points. Second place gets 10 points. First place gets 12 points aka “douze points”.



What about the public vote?

After the national jury votes are locked in, we then move on to the televote. Unlike the more arduous task of finding out how the national juries voted, the presenters bequeath the points of the public vote to the participating countries from the tabulated results, starting first with the country with the lowest amount of televotes to the highest.

To best explain it, let’s say that Iceland was No. 10 in the televote for Austria and No. 4 in the televote for Switzerland. Iceland’s overall point total from the televotes would then be 8 points.

The points from the televotes are added to the points from the national juries, thus determining the final results of the contest.


Can a country receive zero points?

Oh yes, very much so. Many entries have received the dreaded “nul points” throughout Eurovision history. Back during the contest’s early days, it was quite common to see many a song receive no love. But the real stigma of a big fat zero really gained strength after an update to the scoring system in 1975. Three years after this significant update, Europe was treated to Jahn Teigen’s infamously spectacular performance of “Mil Etter Mil”. The goofy Norwegian singer bellowed out odd notes, played with his suspenders, and delivered a jumping split at the end. He was award no points and was told that may God rest his soul. Thus, the dishonor of receiving “nul points” began.

After the 2015 contest saw two countries earn zeroes, including the host country for the very first time, the scoring system was changed to the one that was previously explained. Nevertheless, countries now have to worry about receiving double zeroes since the jury and the televote points are no longer combined. Since the changeover, three countries have suffered zeroes from one or the other: Spain in 2017 got no love from the jury while Czech Republic in 2016 and Austria in 2017 received no love from the public.



So how exactly do you win Eurovision?

That’s the million dollar question. If we lived in a perfect and just world, the winner would be determined by democratic means, where the very best performance gets to win the giant glass microphone, i.e. the country with the best artist, best voice, best song both lyrically and production wise, and best staging. However, music like others forms of art and entertainment is purely subjective. Plus you have favoritism, marketing campaigns, political and social tactics, the diaspora of Europe, bloc voting, some illegal practices, etc.

To best answer this question, I suggest watching the humorous BBC documentary special How To Win Eurovision, which someone on YouTube was kind enough to upload. Fans of old VH1 programming will enjoy its “Best Week Ever” formatting and it provides a nice encapsulation of the insane history of the contest up to 2012 and the tough time the United Kingdom has been having trying to win again.


I now want a taste of Eurovision. Where should I start?

I would suggest starting first with the recap videos of the grand final that Eurovision themselves have uploaded to YouTube. From these buffet-like montages, you can then pick and choose the performances or songs that capture your attention.


But I want to have the whole experience. Which Eurovision contest should I watch first?

Since the newest edition is right around the corner as of this writing, I would say start with the 2018 edition. You can certainly watch it by yourself but it’s a whole lot better to watch with someone else or with a group. The contest will air on May 12 on Logo and will feature live commentary from Ross Mathews and Shangela of RuPaul's Drag Race fame.

If you want to delve into the past first, I would suggest any contest from the last four years. However, the easiest one to watch is the 2015 edition because the official Eurovision YouTube channel was nice enough to stream the entire contest (both semis and the grand final) and allow Americans to watch. This edition is also well suited due its high quality of song offerings, at least in my opinion, and the lack of any joke/troll entries. Be warned though that these videos are just the live satellite feed so there will be no commentators and you will lose some of the minutiae of the songs and performers.


I can't find the performances from the 2016 or 2017 contests. Where are they on YouTube?

Unfortunately, thanks to those jerks in Viacom, the official performance videos from the 2016 and 2017 editions are currently still geo-blocked on YouTube. But with a little searchy-searchy you can find them via other countries' broadcasts.



I've given you all of the background you will ever need for the contest itself. Now it is time to have some fun and explore the bevy of songs and artists that graced the Eurovision stage.