2017 Review: Belarus

Last year a lot of people were complaining that Belarus actually planned on voting for NAVI but read the letters in the opposite direction than intended and voted for IVAN instead. This year there won’t be that problem, since NAVI (or NAVIBAND, as the official Eurovision site is calling them) is going this year with the song “Historyja Majho Zyccia” (“Story of My Life”). Note: the English translation has no relation to One Direction.

Even before listening to the song I was already excited for NAVI since this is the first time history that Belarus has presented an adult Eurovision entry in Belarusian instead of English, WTF/Google Translated English, or 3% Spanglish. (In contrast, Belarusian has appeared four times in Junior Eurovision, in 2003, 2004, 2008, and most recently 2014).

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Given that it was the jury that pushed for Nadezhda Misyakova’s JESC entry back in 2014, I’m not surprised that the jury (read: broadcaster/government) votes boosted NAVI from 5th place to 1st. I’m not saying that this may or may not be a slightly political move away from Russia given the relationships between Russia and neighboring countries, but yay to NAVI for confirming that the song will remain in Belarusian. They also have a point that Belarusian and Ukrainian (and according to YouTube comments, Polish) share a lot of similarities, so things could get interesting in the cultural voting bloc.

While the song might get a bit repetitive after a few consecutive listens, it’s a breath of fresh air and should *hopefully* do well next to the Top-40 pop entries and the “the world is shite”-themed ballads. Even though Ikea’s never going to agree to my suggestion, this is something that should be on the café playlist instead of the same loop of Michael Buble, Katy Perry, and 4:33 paired with screaming infants. It’s upbeat and it’s going to get me moving around a bit, though not to the point that I’ll be bouncing around the floor at work so much that I can’t hold a stock bottle still.

On a completely separate note, outside of the Eurovision world Navi is the annoying advice fairy from the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Similarities between Belarus’s NAVI and OOT’s Navi is that both shout “Hey!” a lot. (However, I haven’t heard NAVI yell “Listen!” yet.)

The ocarina already appeared in 2004, in a similar act consisting of a male playing guitar and a female singing. Hmmm…

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In that case, who’s sending Link?

2017 Review: Georgia

Last year one of my friends (let’s call him SF, short for Serhat Fan) told us how despite taking a year of Spanish in high school, the only things he knew were “si”, “no,” “rojo”, “¿Cómo estás?”, and “mi llamo es Taco.” (For anyone too lazy to put the phrases into Google Translate, they are: “yes”, “no”, “red”, “how are you”, and “my name is Taco.”)

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He wasn’t kidding about the tacos. Apparently when the teacher asked SF to pick a name he picked Taco as a joke; as a result the person next to him picked the name Burrito or Enchilada or something food related.

Unfortunately, maybe someone should now tell SF: had he been in Georgia (country), Taco wouldn’t have been a guy’s name.

Following a 25-song national final, Georgia picked Tamar “Tako” Gachechiladze to represent the country with the song “Keep the Faith.”

When I first saw the results at work, my initial reaction was something on the line of “WTF Georgia, another ballad?” A complete 180 from last year’s entry, she was dressed like Conchita Wurst, yet her song reminded me a bit more of Cristina Scarlat’s “Wild Soul” (minus the hair extensions removal) and Maria Elena Kyriakou’s “One Last Breath”. I didn’t pay attention to the lyrics (still haven’t as of this posting), but based on the backing images the song’s content seemed to be something like a combination of Finland 2005 and Ukraine 2016: still bitter about the past, announcing that the world was currently shite a la Hungary 2015, but the people had to hold on, be strong, and keep the faith in order to keep going. Okay, so a diva peace ballad it was then. Also, yay for being a 100% self-composed entry:

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Later I found out more about the artist: Tako Gachechiladze was one of the backing vocalists of Stephane and 3G, who almost represented Georgia in 2009 before getting disqualified. Their song, “We Don’t Wanna Put In” was interpreted by the Russian broadcaster as a political response to Vladimir Putin the war in Ossetia the year prior and deemed too overtly political to be performed at Eurovision. While the lyrics to “Keep the Faith” aren’t as explicit, Gachechiladze (or whoever designed her stage backdrop) decided to make an extremely unsubtle political jab:

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Given that the host country typically has a bit more say in what’s “too political”, and that the current host Ukraine isn’t exactly on best terms with Russia right now, I would guess that the song will not be disqualified. However, like the Israeli broadcaster IBA complained about the Hungary’s stage backdrop in 2015 posting facts about the Gaza strip, Rossiya-1 is extremely likely to make similar complaints about Georgia’s backdrop, and the images will have to be changed.

It’s currently too early to tell whether Georgia will qualify or not since only 3 songs have been released. However, it’s pretty likely that there will be a lot of “the world is shite” ballads this year due to 2016 drama, so “Keep the Faith” might end up as a borderline qualifier if more countries send similar entries. One thing is completely certain though: Just like Macedonia (FYR) was swamped by donut (or less commonly, döner) memes, someone’s going to start spamming taco memes because of the artist’s name. So much for being named for Tamar the Great…

 

2017 Review: Albania

At the end of 2016, Festivali i Kënges kick-started the 2017 national final season, selecting Lindita Halimi with the song Botë (“World”) to represent Albania.

It’s a very typical FiK winner: female soloist, orchestra-friendly, a lot of belting, and at least one guitar getting 5 or more seconds of screen time. In other words, my coworkers will probably ask if I was listening to show tunes before coming to work at the Pharm. (It doesn’t help that the baseline in the verses remind me a tiny bit of “Hurricane” from Hamilton). Lyric-wise it’s going for the Finland 2005 “the world is suffering, why can’t we all come together and find a solution,” putting all the emotion in the belting.

Once the song and artist were announced, Lindita Halimi confirmed that she would revamp the instrumentation and perform the song in English at Eurovision. While I’m concerned about the revamp due to what happened to Albania’s entries in 2014 and 2016, I’m not worried about the lyrics. Like Macedonia (FYR)’s 2015 entry, the song lyrics were originally written in English and changed to the country’s native language to fit rules of the national selection. Also, Lindita previously took part as a lyricist for Elhaida Dani’s entry “I’m Alive,” showing that whatever lyrics originally written for “Botë” are pretty unlikely to sound like Google Translate.

Due to the confirmed revamp and language change, I’m not going to comment on whether the song is likely to qualify yet. I’d like to joke and say that the song will qualify and place 16th or 17th based on previous Albanian qualifiers, but we don’t know about the competition with only 3 songs so far. I will say that no matter how she does, as an American I feel obligated to support her because she lives the same time zone as I do (she in Georgia, I in Michigan). So I’ll be waving an Albanian flag in front of the TV during Eurovision Week.

Finland vs. Sweden

(Well I’m back writing less rant-y stuff!)

Finland and Sweden might not be the best of friends in ESC for historical reasons, but they’re still together in the Nordic pot. Most people in the Eurovision fandom would say that Sweden tops Finland, but that might not always be the case.

Relations might be friendlier now, but the rivalries still remain.

Relations might be friendlier now, but the rivalries still remain.

Points/Scores: This is what people in the fandom tend to look at while comparing the two countries. If you do that it’s pretty obvious that Sweden wins. With a current count of six victories, including one win with a record breaking 18 sets of douze pointe, Finland’s one win in 2006, 10 last places, and a 7/13 qualification rate can’t beat Sweden, at least not when considering only points.

Production: Given that Sweden’s been treated as Eurovision’s modern powerhouse since the language rule was lifted, and that Sweden’s been hosting a 6-city Melodifestivalen tour with production comparable to Eurovision, it’s not surprising that SVT excels at production of songs and performances. Camera work is tight enough that separate music videos usually aren’t needed for promotion, and there’s typically no excuse for building acoustics, so live and studio versions typically sound pretty similar. Finland is also pretty good when it comes to production, but Sweden edges out due to SVT’s over-the-top work and that they put on semi-readable subtitles on the performances.

More material to work with: Melodifestivalen has 28 songs this year; Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu has 10. If all the songs were the same, then I would say that Mello wins over UMK. However, that’s not exactly the case…

Variety: Even though Melodifestivalen has more songs, more doesn’t always mean better. Half the songs sound really similar to each other, like some radio friendly entry that I’d hear on the bus or another schlager entry. And even if Björkman and his team tried to increase diversity of genres behind the scenes, all the weird stuff (e.g. everything that involves Sean Banan in any way, shape, or form, or any of the ethno-themed entries) gets cleared out, making the sound pretty uniform once on the Eurovision stage. Schlager. Schlager. Mid/uptempo. Schlager. Schlager. Ballad. Mid/uptempo. Radio-friendly mid-tempo. Rinse and repeat. I’ve tried listening to Swedish ESC entries in the shower and more than once I couldn’t tell 2004 apart from 2006 over the sound of falling water. (This is now a great time to announce that the first half of Euphoria won’t play over the shower.) With Finland it’s really hard to predict the sound of next year’s entry without listening to the UMK selections; there’s been tango, peace ballads, rock/metal-inspired entries**, folk-y dance tunes, and ballads. There have been more non-English entries for Finland than for Sweden; even the most recent Swedish-language entry was from Finland. Within the national finals realm there’s also more stage opportunity for older artists. In Mello anyone over the age of 45 is pretty much relegated to last place in the semi, yet in UMK Eini managed to a) perform the hell out of her entry, b) qualify from her semifinal, and c) not place last in the final.

** because Hard Rock Hallelujah’s genre is disputed a lot.

There was also Sleepwalker, which beats out La Voix by 9 years.

Waiting period: One of the methods SVT uses to take up space on ESC news sites is to release only a tiny bit of information at a time. So maybe we’ll know the hosting sites in October, the names of artists in December, the running order in January, and we won’t get to hear the songs until the semifinals in February. As a result, unless someone decides to post every single Eurovizijos atranka or A Dal heat result the news I most likely to be clogged up with Mello announcements. Also, due to SVT’s reluctance to release information, incidents such as Anna Book-Gate are likely to show up instead of something relevant. My points would go to YLE posting two substantial updates about the songs, artist, and their running orders; I don’t need to watch a full live stream to figure out which entry I like the most. I’d be much more likely to just go on the Wikipedia page and check if it got updated.

Access: Now that the EBU’s decided that there won’t be any live streams on the official Eurovision website, SVT gets a bit of edge for livestreaming Melodifestivalen on both SVT Play via phone app as well as SVT Play online. However, that edge goes away after finding out that the performances are only available for 30 days, and that live performances on YouTube are geoblocked in the USA. (For some reason my Youtube account thought it was in Ireland and had access for a month to the videos. And then it decided to switch back and I couldn’t see any more Mello performances anymore.) In that case, Finland gets the edge for access because of the music videos on the UMK YouTube channel, and that performances on YLE don’t get deleted.

If people only looked at points earned or production, then Sweden definitely edges out. However, if they’re looking at variety and access to the songs, then Finland wins. I’m a bit biased because UMK is my favorite national final (and that there’s probably a specific friend on FB who’s actively booing Sweden right now), but in most cases neither country is inferior or superior to the other. I’ll probably end up watching UMK over Ikea’s free Wi-Fi and coffee (because the signal at home sucks), so I’m not going to claim either one.

Everything.

Okay, it’s a new year.

Here’s Anna Vissi’s “Everything” for two reasons:

  1. This is pulling it a bit far, but “pan” is the a prefix of Greek origin meaning “all/everything,” and I realized a month ago that I’m panromantic asexual. (Which means I’m an pancake, because ace memes are often related to cake.)
  2. I’m currently in the middle of writing application essay stuff, and I hate everything about it.