[Daniel writes: it’s great to welcome back eurovicious with his thoughts on the 2015 contest. This is the first of a few thematic articles he is penning for us on this year’s entries.]
National final season: it’s like your weird foreign friend who turns up on your doorstep in December with nowhere to go and ends up sleeping on your sofa for 4 months. At first you enjoy reconnecting with them and have a few good evenings in together, but before long, you grow increasingly weary of their company and start to realise just how inconsistent and frequently disappointing they are. Just as well that by Easter, they’ve gone again – rewarding your hospitality with a few nice thank-you gifts and keepsakes, but also forgetting to take their rubbish with them and leaving a bad smell in the bathroom.
That’s right, another underwhelming year has left us with another underwhelming line-up: like the last two years but even more so, we have a flood of songs that are well-produced and -arranged and will in almost all cases be well-sung and -performed in May, but which are unmemorable, extremely safe and with fewer hooks than Abu Hamza. This year’s vintage is one heavy on overly conventional ballads that don’t seem to aim for victory or even a high placing, let alone originality or sincerity (unlike 2012’s diamond crop), and as such, it’s perhaps a modern equivalent of the notoriously ballad-heavy Eurovision 1994.
In lieu of emulating the bearded drag queen that tottered away with last year’s trophy, many countries have chosen to try and repeat the success of 2014’s second-placed act – country duo The Common Linnets, whose low-key song and disarmingly intimate performance could well have won in a year sans Conchita – by sending male-female duos, ranging from excellent Estonia to execrable San Marino. (If the queer Eurovision revolution that Conchita’s victory superficially appeared to herald had truly happened, at least one of the 8 duets would be male-male or female-female; alas, we can dream.)
A huge amount of fan buzz surrounded Elina Börn and Stig Rasta’s Goodbye To Yesterday throughout the first weeks of 2015 until its deserved victory in a weak Eesti Laul where it faced no real competition, with many pegging it as this year’s surefire Eurovision winner; since then, enthusiasm towards it has waned, I suspect due in fair part to the slew of entries selected in its wake having diverted people’s focus. When I recently asked on Twitter “What’s this year’s fanwank that will do less well than everybody expects?” after all songs had been revealed, “Estonia” was the #1 answer I received. However, this dynamic of fans who follow national finals quite naturally tiring of, moving on from, or reacting against a song they first heard two months ago can’t be allowed to cloud us as to how viewers will react seeing and hearing Goodbye To Yesterday for the first time on the night.
And while fan tastes and public tastes can be anywhere from strongly aligned (Euphoria, Rise Like A Phoenix) to strongly opposed (Same Heart, What About My Dreams), I believe the overwhelmingly positive reception Goodbye To Yesterday received when it was just one national final song among hundreds was deserved (and indicates qualification should be a given). For me, as someone who generally doesn’t do middle-of-the-road (if it’s not wails of Albanian anguish or insane Icelandic eurodance, I don’t wanna know), it’s not only the best song in this year’s competition, but also the one I think has the greatest potential to resonate with a broad viewing public on the night.
Concerns have been raised by some as to whether Elina and Stig’s performance is engaging enough: I’m less concerned, as Ilse and Waylon’s performance in Copenhagen was totally static apart from the guitarist and featured minimal interaction – arguably, it was the anti-performance nature of the entry that helped it unexpectedly capture people’s hearts, in an analogous way to past very low-key entries with a strong acoustic feel like Fly On The Wings Of Love, Fra Mols til Skagen, Rock ‘N’ Roll Kids and Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet, none of which were expected (until the weekend of the contest at the earliest) to score nearly as highly as they ultimately did. Post-Måns, I think attention should be back on Estonia as a strong, sophisticated package with a huge amount of heart and the legs to do well Europe-wide.
What about the other duets? Boring Belarus and conventional Czech Republic can’t challenge, and the less said about San Marino’s latest Ralph Siegel stinker the better – I’m not sure I’d bet on any of these three qualifying. Lithuania offers a package with some similarities to Estonia’s effort – less character, mystique and pathos, but more warmth, chemistry and
raw masculine sexuality foot-tapping fun. It’s catchier but not as classy, and I don’t see it coming a cropper of its opening draw in the semi.
Last year when I dismissed Cliché Love Song as a potential winner, I wrote that it had “no hint of depth and no sense of finding love or overcoming adversity, unlike all winners since 2007 apart from perhaps Satellite.” With Conchita’s victory, this trend holds: so while This Time has the ingredients to deservedly do very well, and certainly has a very palpable and infectious sense of “finding love” – not least due to Vaidas and Monika’s I’m-sure-they’re-shagging-level chemistry – is it perhaps too upbeat and jangly to win the modern contest?
Apropos upbeat and jangly, UK fan reaction to the BBC’s red-button reveal resembled a high-pitched hurricane of jazz-handed online outrage descending on Broadcasting House, with change.org petitions started and so-called fans tweeting abuse to both the group and the BBC Eurovision team. I generally don’t care what the UK sends and don’t support any particular country patriotically, so having gone in with zero expectations, I was delighted at the refreshingly outside-the-box choice of a hooky, upbeat Charleston song unlike anything else in the contest and centered around playful interaction between a male and female singer.
While criticism of elements like Alex’s slightly weak vocals on the studio version, the perhaps dated production of the electro bridge and the lack of a true chorus is understandable and constructive, there seemed to be an almost visceral revulsion at the song from many UK fans that I think has a lot to do with the difference between how the British see themselves and how Europe still sees us – something that’s incisive when trying to gauge the entry’s prospects. Aside from truly standing out and having great potential as a performance piece – ideally as even more of a flirtatious, gesamtkunst skit than the video – I think Still In Love With You smartly taps into notions of Britishness that are distinctly uncool in the UK but are exactly how Britain exists in the popular imagination abroad (not just in Europe).
It’s fun, old-timey, mannered, and proudly stuck in the past, while the performers are pasty, proper, and a little awkward but very game – having lived in Germany for a decade, I know this is how we’re still seen by many, and for UK fans I think it’s too close to home and too outdated despite being a knowing retro piece. Ask a Brit what they think of as British comedy and they might say anything from Dad’s Army to Gavin and Stacey; ask many a European and they’ll say Mr Bean and Dinner For One, deceptively simple slapstick comedies both hugely popular Europe-wide but not esteemed at home. This is the divide in perceptions that I think Electro Velvet are on the right side of.
Moreover, Europe is in economic and existential crisis right now, and the UK entry is an injection of old-time joie de vivre that allows viewers a moment of nostalgia for a Europe past, both real and imagined; it lets us inhabit perceived better times and take solace in an era of charm, class and Charleston, when songs had a tune, women were women, and men blew trumpets and were into scat. The narrative and built-in chemistry should very easily lend themselves to an engaging performance with strong visual storytelling, while the song has an outstandingly strong USP and is very immediate and digestible, very melodic, rhythmic and catchy, in a year when that’s exactly what’s missing from the contest. Crucially, I don’t think that continental juries or viewers will bring to the table the cultural baggage that caused its poor reception in the UK. (And if it comes 20th I will print out and eat this entire paragraph live on ITV2.)
Norway’s A Monster Like Me has a fair amount going for it on the face of things, though like Silent Storm last year, I’m not sure it’ll grab people enough, and I also think Estonia beats it on similar territory. As a sort of dour, slowed-down cousin of James Morrison’s Broken Strings with a slight country-ballad feel in the final minute, it’s perfectly effective on its own terms and should please juries. But while it deserves a respectable finish, I think it’s a hard one to predict and could even be in danger of going completely under the public’s radar on the night (though I’d expect it to qualify from the semi even with its poor draw) and doing surprisingly badly. Staging idea: pixelate Mørland’s face throughout the performance to pique viewers’ curiosity and make them think the song is about Debrah having fallen in love with a sex offender.
Unlike the other duets this year, Slovenia’s Maraaya (consisting of singer Marjetka and pianist/songwriter Raay) are a married couple and established musical partnership rather than a singing duo put together to perform heterosexuality (in case you hadn’t realised that’s what the above-mentioned acts are doing, as discussed last year). While a penultimate slot in its semi should see it sail through, as others have already commented, Slovenia’s track record on staging isn’t amazing, and judging by the national final performance and official video, the headphones and violin-mime seem to be a fixed part of the package.
Fake DJ shtick on the Eurovision stage is nearly always cringeworthy and has rarely served an entry well, whether Kurt Calleja in 2012, Tereza Kerndlova in 2008, Nicola in 2003 or Lindsay Dracass in 2001. (Who knows, maybe Marjetka just can’t bear to miss The Moral Maze.) When I asked on Twitter which fan favourite people thought would do less well than expected this year, this was the song I had in mind. The tune is great, don’t get me wrong – it could be a continent-wide radio hit for sure – but like Lithuania, the question of whether it has enough depth to win stands, plus I don’t by any means bank on it coming over effectively enough on stage to do as well as it deserves to, even in this field.
What do you think about this year’s battle of the duets? Let us know in the comments below