03 May 2009

Vote in the prediction poll for the overall winner

With the prediction poll for the top 10 in the final now closed, there is time for one last poll before next week's semi-finals and final. From the countries predicted to make the top 10 in the final in Moscow you are now asked to select the one country you feel is most likely to win this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

If the country you think is going to win is not on the list, click on the country you think is next most likely to walk off with victory, or alternatively don't vote ;-) In less than a fortnight we'll see how right we all were!

Finalists: poll results

The prediction polls for the most successful automatic finalists and ten countries you think will make up the final top 10 are now closed and reveal that people are fairly convinced about which songs will be doing well this year.

While seven of the countries predicted to make the top ten in the final were all nominated by at least 2 in 5 voters, only three were forecast by 1 in 2: perennial top tenners Greece, fan and bookie favourite Norway and diaspora darling Turkey. The bottom of the top 10 saw some close also-rans, with France and Malta only just missing out, but all of those predicted to make it were selected by pretty much every third voter. Here then are the ten countries predicted to be making up the top 10 in the final in Moscow, in alphabetical order:

- Armenia
- Azerbaijan
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Estonia
- Greece
- Norway
- Sweden
- Turkey
- Ukraine
- United Kingdom

I have my doubts about some of them, especially with juries involved, but there you are. Interestingly (or not), the results for the top 10 poll didn't quite seem to tally with those for the automatic finalist most likely to do well: although the UK came out top in both, France was thought more likely than Spain to make the top 10, but Spain was thought likelier overall to be the more successful of the two. I'm not sure how that works; it probably does on some level. Germany and Russia are both seen as unlikely to do very well, although Russia outscoring any of the Big 4 is a bet worth taking any time!

With rehearsals due to get underway in Moscow later today, reports will start trickling in that will change our perspectives somewhat before next week's semi-finals and final. In the meantime, one last poll will be opening in which you will be asked to predict the country you feel is most likely to win this year's contest.

29 April 2009


La Noche Es Para Mí Soraya

"No importa si quieres o no, porque hoy mando yo..."

You've got to wonder how much store broadcasters set by their results at Eurovision from one year to the next. Some clearly do, finding a winning formula and sticking to it, or conversely having no luck and therefore copying and pasting from more successful entries. Others tend not to notice, or at least care, content to do their own thing whatever result it produces. This year some countries seem to have reacted to the reintroduction of the juries by choosing songs more likely to appeal to them; others, in turn, don't seem to be doing very much that's different at all; and still others seem to have looked at the 50/50 results for 2007 and responded accordingly, if perhaps ill-advisedly. And then there's Spain. Harking back to their most recent equivalent to glory days (the string of top 10 results they got with uptempo Iberian trash from 2001 to 2003, plus 2004), their entry for Moscow - La Noche Es Para Mí - is geared pretty much exclusively towards the flag-waving, statement-making OGAE crowd in the front five rows. Bugger the juries.

A suitably Eurovision number to end the final on, La Noche Es Para Mí is not without its good points (the acoustic and string arrangements are great), but the focus is on the disco campness of it all. Blonde bombshell Soraya is the perfect front man for the song, delivering it with energy and attitude, and with the luck of the draw on their side - something getting the #24 spot which takes the wind out of the UK's sails rather than their own - Spain may just provide enough spectacle in closing the show to snap up the dance music votes of an audience still enthusiastic about it by the time the televoting lines open a few minutes later. Certain juries may be more disposed to the kind of music and entertainment La Noche Es Para Mí offers, too. So in theory the song could go on to give the Spaniards their best result in at least five years.

In practice, I can't see Spain doing any better with La Noche Es Para Mí than they did with I Love You Mi Vida in 2007 - a very similar song in a year we have comparable results for. The one thing it has working in its favour is that it is being performed last rather than second, but even then I suspect its chances of breaking out of the right-hand side of the scoreboard are slim. There's just something about the song that screams 'fan favourite' rather than 'audience favourite' to me, and Soraya comes across a little too much like Finland's Laura Voutilainen for me to think she'll be any more attractive as a performer. But whether or not the night proves to be Spain's, La Noche Es Para Mí will be something of a measuring stick for the 50/50 system and quite possibly indicative of the direction Eurovision will be taking in the coming years, making for interesting viewing.

United Kingdom

It's My Time Jade Ewen

"I've earned the right to show you it's my time tonight..."

Eurovision is not a big name contest. It is a massive event, in terms of the sheer number of countries taking part and the scale it now works on, but it is not one that attracts world-famous names in the music industry. Many composers and performers who are highly respected at a national or regional level do take part, and while it would be brilliant for each of the 40+ acts each year to be identifiable by the majority of the people watching, with the best will in the world the nature of Eurovision just doesn't allow it. One of the few countries who could theoretically have entered internationally renowned and/or popular artists every year (and possibly won) but hasn't is the United Kingdom, second only to the United States in providing Europe with chart-topping acts. Instead, in recent years, they have tended to go for relative unknowns with unremarkable songs, and have had their worst ever run of results in consequence. But all that is set to change in Moscow, with the BBC having somehow managed to persuade Andrew Lloyd Webber - one of the biggest household names in music in the world - to write the nation's 2009 Eurovision entry for them: It's My Time.

While promising much, the approach seemed to deliver very little, with many fans underwhelmed by the song the composer (and American lyricist extraordinaire Dianne Warren) had come up with. The idea was fine, but the execution appeared to be flawed in two basic areas: the fact that Andrew Lloyd Webber, for all his credentials, has very little in common with contemporary pop music; and that however amazing the names behind It's My Time, the song would still end up being fronted by a nobody due to its being written for Eurovision and therefore failing to interest established groups and singers. This led many viewers to dismiss eventual performer Jade Ewen* and, by extension, the entire process that led to the creation of the entry whilst choosing to overlook the fact that what emerged from the national selection show Your Country Needs You was very much a work in progress.

I'll admit I was one of those nay-sayers upon the unveiling of It's My Time. I mightn't have shot it down in flames, but it had disappointed for being so very Lloydwebberish and also, as I saw it, slightly cynical for suggesting that the names involved made its success not only a foregone conclusion, but almost a right. However, Lord Webber's obvious uncertainty about the song and Jade's ability to do it complete justice - and the BBC's determination to see both be as good as they could - persuaded me to give It's My Time the chance to improve, and that's exactly what it has done. While not the most immediate of songs, it has been reworked and remixed to make it sound more contemporary and less like a forgotten musical number, without sacrificing the ALW trademarks; and the very likeable and suitably humble Jade has, through endless national final appearances, polished her delivery to the point where, at the Russian national final (one of the last of the season), she achieved something she had utterly failed to do when performing the song originally: give me goosebumps listening to it.

Yes, you might say, but by that point you'd heard it a hundred times. Which I had, but that's just it: song and singer have reached a point where they're both pitching it just right. This is a hugely important consideration when we're dealing with a song that could so easily have fallen flat. It's My Time has a plum draw in the final, and if Jade nails it on the night she may have the same effect on the audience as she had on me in Moscow. That alone should see the song doing much better for itself than most other recent UK entries, but combined with a jury vote suddenly propels the song into top 10 or even top 5 contention, if not outright victory. Any jury determined to overlook the song would only be doing so as a reaction against the names behind it, since it is a classy piece of music. It might not be the most modern song in this year's contest, and it may seem better suited to Eurovision as it was 20 years ago, but It's My Time has come a long way in a short time - and for the first time in many years the UK has every chance of once again winning the contest it dominated for so long.

*for want of a better word; is there a single verb for loudly, repeatedly and almost always baselessly criticising something seemingly for the sake of it?

26 April 2009


Miss Kiss Kiss Bang Alex Swings Oscar Sings!

"Extra-ordinary and oh so cool..."

The "if at first you don't succeed" maxim with Eurovision seems to go "try again, and again, and again, and if that doesn't work, try again, but reverting to an earlier try... and then try again". Countries often fall into the trap of repeating themselves when they are desperate to return to the upper reaches of the scoreboard, but generally without success, since nine times out of ten the copy is a pale imitation of the original. Some countries can get away with pulling the same song apart and putting it back together slightly differently each year, but that's because they have a sound that appeals to a broad cross-section of the audience, and some success to go on in doing so. Germany doesn't, and hasn't, and as a result is likely to find that the only title Miss Kiss Kiss Bang is in contention for in Moscow is that of least successful automatic finalist.

The thinking behind NDR's choice of Alex Swings Oscar Sings! is a little hard to fathom. The release of the combined televoting and jury results from Helsinki, which showed that Roger Cicero's Frauen Regier'n Die Welt would have fared immeasurably better under such a system, may have encouraged the broadcaster to try the same formula again; it's hard to account for their faith in Miss Kiss Kiss Bang otherwise, since it has only a fraction of the quality of their 2007 entry. A brass track alone does not a swing number make, especially when the rest of it is so blatantly programmed. It leaves the song feeling cold and soulless; more like something discarded from Madonna's I'm Breathless (the Dick Tracy soundtrack) than a true representative of the genre. Which was fine in 1990, and in context, but not when it's abandoned to a Eurovision fate without any of the cartoon appeal.

None of this is a reflection on the song's performer, Oscar Loya, who has a decent voice, although he too feels out of place singing Miss Kiss Kiss Bang, for any number of reasons. People have suggested he and his entry will pose the only threat to Greece's Sakis Rouvas in the final, drawn as they are at the three-quarter mark, but nothing about the German entry suggests to me that it will challenge anything much, let alone something as 'properly' calculated as This Is Our Night. Audiences impressed by the level of songs and singers employed on shows like Strictly Come Dancing might enjoy Miss Kiss Kiss Bang, but that doesn't alter the fact that it is Germany doing what they've done before with far less panache. As such, I can't see it finishing in Moscow anywhere other than at the lower end of the scoreboard, and a record three-from-five last place is well within the realms of possibility.


Mamo Anastasya Prihodko

"Я дождём девичьи слезы разолью..."

Eurovision might not be a matter of national pride for the majority of people who watch it, or even for some who take part, but it invariably is for the host country. Whatever it ends up being a PR exercise in - from mending fences to attracting long-term foreign investment - it is a chance for the previous year's winner to outdo the last lot, propagate cultural cliches in a cheesy and lighthearted way and and generally say "look at us, aren't we great/better than you expected". They also usually come up with a home entry that sees local singing and songwriting talent produce something indicative of the country, if not in their native language then at least in the international one. It comes as something of a surprise then to find 2009 hosts Russia, who redefine what it means to be nationalistic, choosing Mamo to represent them in Moscow - a song written by a Georgian and an Estonian and sung by a Ukrainian. In Ukrainian.

Well, half-Ukrainian. Of course, what all this does represent - in a way I'm happy to admit I would never have expected Russia to allow - is the multicultural hotchpotch the modern nation has become, thanks, for want of a better word, to Soviet intermingling. It would be like last year's Serbian entry having been written by a Swedish composer (who else) and a Swiss lyricist and performed by a singer from Kosovo partly in Albanian. Or not, since that's the irony of Mamo: whoever wrote it, it's one of the most quintessentially Russian Russian entries in a long time, and completely representative of what the country's music industry does so well. That is, take mediocre and frequently unattractive talent, school them in melodrama and the heart-rending ways of 'gala' television and write songs for them that both politely and sycophantically pale in comparison to the Alla Pugachova numbers they aspire to be.

Everything about Mamo is contrived, from its victory in the national final (coincidentally heavy on the Women's Day advertising) to its tragic interpreter, Anastasya Prihodko. Anyone who was privileged to hear Albanian singer Frederik Ndoci speak at his press conferences in Helsinki in 2007 about the pain of history - his own and that of his nation - will see through the catharsis of spurious sentiment accompanying Mamo instantly, however thick it's layered on. Whether it's true or not is immaterial: the Russian (and clearly also Ukrainian) love of drama twists it out of all proportion, leaving little room for sympathy. Not that Russia lacks an audience at Eurovision, but this year they find themselves no better off than they were with Yulia Savicheva or Natalia Podolskaya in 2004 and 2005 in terms of known names or songs with obvious widespread appeal. As hosts they should generate enough self-promotion to counter this effect, and even under the 50/50 system a left-side-of-scoreboard finish should be within their reach. They start with a good 100-point lead, after all.

Besides, if Mamo comes and goes and passes everyone by in all but their most fervent of supporting states, Russia can always resort to that other aspect of their national psyche: the argument that everybody is against them and that no one understands or appreciates what the country has done or ever will do. It wouldn't occur to them that with an entry like Mamo the only understanding and appreciation they're going to get is from those who already do. (That, needless to say, being the point.) Ms Prihodko and her tale of woe are Russia in miniature, with all of the angst, nostalgia, fake emotion and duality that entails. Ticking all of these boxes as it does, it is sure to do the hosts proud.

24 April 2009


Et S'il Fallait Le Faire Patricia Kaas

"Je veux bien tout donner, si seul'ment tu y crois..."

It's no exaggeration to say that many great songs have been overlooked in Eurovision's history. Often the justification given by those clearly more enamoured of them than those who had the chance to vote on them is that they are "too good for the contest", whatever that means. It implies that the audience or juries are incapable of recognising quality or at least that they are unwilling to reward it, perhaps because of the level Eurovision is perceived to work on. The truth is generally closer to home: as good as a song might be, if it lacks that certain something on the night that grabs the voters and hangs on to them, all the quality in the world counts for very little. Admirable as it is, it won't win you the contest just because, and that's despite the stated purpose Eurovision serves - a lesson the French may learn in Moscow with Et S'il Fallait Le Faire.

Not that winning the whole shebang is in the forefront of every broadcaster's mind in entering the contest: many are content to contribute quality in an era when 'quantity' (i.e. performance and spectacle; more bang for your buck) plays perhaps a greater role in determining the outcome. There's certainly much to admire about Et S'il Fallait Le Faire, as a song and as an approach to Eurovision. Not only does it boast some typically wonderful French lyrics - far and away the most poetic and meaningful of the year - and an arrangement that works perfectly with what the song is saying, but in Patricia Kaas France 3 have given the contest what many, indeed most other countries either do not or cannot: one of their biggest stars. If Eurovision worked the way it ideally should, it would showcase 40 of Europe's biggest national music acts every year, with none of the cobbled together groups and 'specially written' entries that have earned the contest its dubious reputation. In this light, the fact that France could persuade a star of Patricia Kaas' stature to even consider taking part is a coup.

Which is not to say either she or Et S'il Fallait Le Faire should therefore automatically be handed victory on a plate; quite the opposite. With televoting still accounting for 50% of the result in Moscow, Mlle Kaas will have to prove to the people watching at home that she and her song are worthy of the hype that accompany them, since in any case she'll be just another singer to many. If she invests enough of herself in the performance to convince both the televoters and the juries, and to keep them convinced irrespective of the two dozen-odd songs that follow, France could well find themselves back at (or at least near to) the top of the scoreboard at the end of the voting. Which is probably a place they could have been at various times in recent years had they not failed to connect with the audience.

And let's face it, redemption is not at the top of televoters' lists of reasons to vote for a song or country at Eurovision. For Et S'il Fallait Le Faire to succeed among ordinary voters - for it is likely to fare better with the juries - they will actually have to like the song, and that may be its biggest sticking point. No song is too good for the contest, but some can be too good for their own good: an appreciation of the quality of an entry is not enough if it doesn't reach out and grab you, and move you, and make you want to hear it again. And as many people have admitted, Et S'il Fallait Le Faire is not the easiest song to like even if everything is telling you you ought to. For better or worse, Eurovision is designed to enthrall as much as it is to shine the spotlight on great music; only if the French entry does both will it achieve the result it arguably deserves.