“East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.” Back in 1892, Rudyard Kipling probably didn’t realise that he was summing up reactions on this forum to Spain’s 2012 Eurovision entry, ‘Quedate Conmigo’ by Pastora Soler which has divided opinion starkly among commenters. See her perform the song live here.
In the Spanish red (and yellow) corner, we have fiveleaves, who explained, “It’s in a different league to previous female ballads to my ears.” Tim B is in full support, stating, “The performance itself is extremely powerful and emotional.” In the aptly blue corner, I said, “She’s much better than this very dated Eurovision-y ballad,” and went on to explain why in terms that annoyed some of our Spanish readers. Panos, however, agreed with my opinion.
Since then it has at least been given a nice draw in the final at 19 of 26, and has remained steady to back at around 25 in the Betfair win market. I’m not expecting to change too many minds on this one, given that I have already made my views clear, but the best I can do is compare it to other recent Eurovision female ballads and see if that could help east meet west in any way.
The gold standard of recent female ballads has to be Yohanna’s ‘Is It True’ in 2009, which overcame Iceland’s geographical isolation to beat all bar Rybak. The benefit of hindsight and watching the performance again helps us explain its success. We have a pretty girl, singing a contemporary, radio-friendly tune in English. The presentation was brilliant, from the effective use of instrumentation on stage (remember my theory that juries fall for this kind of thing – Iceland was ultimately second with this constituency), to the flying dolphin in the background.
As more of a slow-build power ballad, ‘Quedate Conmigo’ is a different kettle of fish altogether. But it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not as contemporary nor as radio-friendly, and of course it isn’t in English either.
A more dramatic female ballad that did even better than Yohanna was Serbia’s Marija Serifovic who won in 2007 with ‘Molitva’. This at least, like ‘Quedate Conmigo’, was a more dramatic number that was in its native language. But its vibe was one that was always going to appeal to plentiful regional and diaspora support. Spain just doesn’t have that to rely on, and nor can the song.
I think it’s more hopeful for supporters of Spain’s song that fifth in Yohanna’s year was the UK’s Jade Ewen with ‘My Time’, which was far less contemporary or radio-friendly than ‘Is It True’. As I’ve already stated, that wasn’t my cup of tea either, but the juries gave it a bronze against 24 rivals. Once again, a mixture of solo female balladeer and on-stage instrumentation (not to mention Andrew Lloyd Webber) helped with the judging panels.
It has been reported that Soler will have five singers join her on stage in Baku, so there won’t be any instruments, but she does have a better voice than Ewen and shows it with a killer note.
But even the UK’s result here wasn’t that impressive with televoters. Ewen had in many ways a perfect draw, 23 of 25, surrounded by the upbeat nonsense of Ukraine, Romania, Finland and Spain among the final five. Yet she could still only manage tenth with the European public. Soler will sing from 19 of 26, with a more contemporary ballad following hers from Germany’s Roman Lob.
Incidentally, it still seems strange that having won the right to choose, the Spanish head of delegation decided on a slot so relatively early. The line was that it mirrored the winning position from last year (which in fact contained one less song than this year’s final), but it didn’t smack of a country desperate to host the contest next year.
Panos compared ‘Quedate Conmigo’ to, amongst others, Austria last year. I think the comparison with Nadine Beiler and ‘The Secret Is Love’ is instructive. Here we had a power ballad with a timeless or old-fashioned 80s sound (depending on where you stand). Beiler’s vocals impressed all, including myself, during rehearsals. It was drawn, like Soler, eighth last in the running order and followed by a far more contemporary slow song. The public virtually ignored it, giving it just 25 points in total, second-last in this part of the equation.
On paper, there’s no reason for televoters to pick up and vote for Soler when they didn’t for Beiler. Nadine looked the part, sang in English, and got to the point more quickly. As Gavster put it in his inimitably blunt fashion, “The Spanish singer looks constipated. That won’t look good on TV. Also the song takes ages to get going.”
Fiveleaves disagrees here, and argues that it, “hooks me in from start with the repetitive piano line”. Actually in my opinion, this year’s contest has a female solo power-ballad with an opening piano line that in general terms has far more going for it, and that comes from host country Azerbaijan’s ‘When The Music Dies’.
This example alone is enough to make me disagree with Marigold who reckons of ‘Quedate Conmigo’ that, “It is a much better ballad than any of the other ballads this year or indeed last years Austrian and Slovenian efforts.”
Still, perhaps both sides in the debate can just take solace in another Kipling quote: “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you / But make allowance for their doubting too……you’ll be a man my son.” I’m not sure Marigold would want it put quite that way, but you get my drift.
My predictable take on this year’s Spanish entry is that not even a decent jury score may get it into the top ten. Do let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.