Having previously looked at the girls, the boys, and the girl-boy duos, all that’s left now is for me to take stock of the 6 groups in this year’s contest, all of whom but Armenia are all-male. These entries also haven’t proved memorable to me: as I start this article, I can’t remember how the Danish song goes after one listen (just that it was innocuously pleasant and radio-friendly), nor the numbers from Romania and Austria after two listens each.
Despite liking Armenia’s entry quite a lot and thus listening to it three times in the week or two after its premiere, while I can recall its atmosphere and vocals as well as many elements of the video, I can’t remember any of the tune apart from the ethnic breakdown towards the climax. Similarly, no trace of Italy’s popular song stayed in my head after two listens, and it’s only on account of listening a third time to see what the fuss was about when people continued talking it up as a favourite that I now have a vague idea of the chorus. Rounding off the forgettables is Aina mun pitää: unlike previous Finnish entries with a hard rock sound (Hanna Pakarinen, Teräsbetoni, Lordi), PKN’s fleeting punk ditty offers no tune to remember, just arrhythmic, guttural spoken-word.
So that’s 6 out of 6 songs I couldn’t remember after two listens. What about you?
Your average European isn’t particularly knowledgeable about the Armenian Genocide of 1915, if they’ve even heard of it at all, and this being the case, the context of Face The Shadow absolutely isn’t clear from the cryptic lyrics. What’s more, rather than straightforwardly commemorating the genocide for a general audience, the entry instead is a highly politically charged coded message to two of Armenia’s neighbours (Turkey and Azerbaijan) to stop denying that it happened. In other words, this is by Armenians for Armenians about Armenians, and thus can’t expect much more than a shrug of the shoulders from the rest of the continent, who aren’t the target audience even if they do manage to decipher what the song’s about.
I like Face The Shadow musically, though I’ve seen quite a few fans characterise it as an overwrought screaming match, something I can definitely appreciate given the overlapping and competing vocals and that may be a common reaction on the night. Armenia has a lot of friends and diaspora countries voting in its semifinal, which should see it through if juries reward the strong voices – there’s a lot of talent in this group. But if jury members oblivious to the song’s context understandably overlook it, it could conceivably fail to qualify despite considerable televoting support: in the past couple of years we’ve seen songs as high as 4th, 5th and 6th in the semi televote fail to qualify due to lack of jury enthusiasm. If it makes the final? Going nowhere fast. There just isn’t enough relevance here for viewers and jurors, and no key figure or motif to latch onto, unless you really hate Turkey or fancy Vahe Tilbian. It’s like being asked to take sides in someone else’s family argument, and should have been disallowed, as Georgeia’s entry was in 2009.
I don’t think Finland’s submission is primed for success because while story and sympathy are important, song and performance are still absolutely key. A learning-disabled group whose song and performance were anywhere from pleasantly adequate to genuinely great? I’d suggest backing them all the way to the top. But this? It’s not friendly on the ears, contains no English, is half the length of a standard eurosong, and offers viewers pretty much nothing as a package. As a result, viewers even being aware of the narrative here, let alone investing in it, depends entirely on how their national commentator introduces the entry and how closely viewers happen to be listening at the time. As commentators are all given the same notes, we can assume the group will be introduced as learning-disabled across Europe. But given that light-entertainment event television like Eurovision is very often viewed socially, with people talking to each other in the brief gaps between songs (as well as eating, drinking alcohol, and nipping to the loo or for a smoke), not everyone will pick up on this. As a student I watched Eurovision 2002 with someone who didn’t realise Corinna May was blind, despite the title and lyrics of her English-language song being thematically linked to her disability.
With Conchita and Buranovskiye Babushki, the context was even more self-evident, and the songs and performances were charismatic, incredibly engaging and told their own story – Rise Like A Phoenix and Party For Everybody are medial masterpieces of emotive communication that vibrantly convey a strong personality and set of values in 3 minutes, engendering empathy and respect for the artist and letting viewers connect with them one-to-one. No information on the artist’s “story” is needed other than that contained in the song and performance. I can’t say this of PKN’s entry, which doesn’t convey a narrative to non-Finnish speakers, isn’t entertaining or emotive, and seems to end almost as soon as it’s begun; it’s hard to imagine a less musical song and less visual performance. On merit alone, qualification seems unlikely, and I don’t expect a significant sympathy vote to materialise.
Denmark’s The Way You Are has that One Direction/McFly thing going on and is telegenic, melodic and incredibly easy to consume – it looks great and is the sort of buoyant pop that’s a staple on commercial radio stations from Birmingham to Bucharest. The song feels enjoyably familiar rather than generic or a copy, its repetitiveness is an asset, and Anti Social Media explode the non-threatening boy test: your mum would love you to bring them home for dinner, and so would your dad if he’s Armin Meiwes. What more can I say? There’s not that much to the song, but it slips down like a crème brulee – for me, its sheer upbeat good-naturedness overcomes any concerns it might be too facile, and I see it sailing through and easily bagging a place in the top 10, though I’m not sure it’s strong enough for top 3. Any quibbles aside, this is perfect for Eurovision and shouldn’t be underestimated. And now that I’ve listened to it for only the second time since February, I’ve a feeling that chorus is there in my head for good…
Voltaj’s De la capat is soaring, emotive and atmospherically arranged – there’s true heart here, and if the video backdrop in Vienna is similar to that in the national final, the theme (children) will come through effectively despite the language barrier. Romania has never failed to qualify, and I think that record will be maintained this year. But it doesn’t feel like top 10 material; bottom of the left-hand side of the scoreboard on Saturday would be my best guess. I could level at it the same charge as I did above for Genealogy – this is by Romanians for Romanians about Romanians in Romanian – but its theme is more accessible and better communicated, and the song friendlier. Passes the non-threatening baldy test.
I can take or leave shaggy-haired pop muskehounds The Makemakes and their 3 minutes of blandly heart-on-sleeve jury catnip. But I also think Austria’s entry shouldn’t be underestimated: it looks and sounds appealing and is in a credible, accessible niche of its own, while given the blandness of this year’s field, juries could potentially reward it very strongly indeed, if not quite to the extent they did Italy’s ivory-tinkling underdog in 2011. I like the first minute or so of I Am Yours well enough, but from there it fails to develop or progress, though this is another case where repetitiveness could be an asset. I can see this in the bottom end of the top 10, but it’s one I find hard to assess given how viewer- and jury-friendly it is (and appealingly unique in the field) but how little meat there is to the song.
Is popera in Italian by three non-threatening boys relevant to a European audience in 2015? I don’t think so, because popera in Corsican by a non-threatening boy wasn’t in 2011. I see the fan community’s love of Grande Amore in the same vein as its love of Spanish power ballads and French chansons – it doesn’t translate to televotes on the night. It may seem funny for me to lump Patricia Kaas, Pastora Soler and this in the same basket, but they’re good examples of the countries of old Europe sending songs with an old sound in their own language, to the restrained delight of juries but much less so televoters. Not speaking Italian, like the overwhelming majority of viewers on the night, I don’t know what Il Volo are singing about (other than “love”, which everyone sings about) and can’t latch on to a thematic motif or sing along at home. While there isn’t much emotional affect here, the song is appealingly dynamic and well-constructed – rousing if not touching – offers a lot to juries, and is sure to please plenty despite the language barrier. If I had to guess, I’d say bottom half of the top 10 – I can’t see this in the top 3.
As always, let us know what you think below, as well as continuing to discuss your latest thoughts. Rehearsals begin next Monday.