2017 Review: United Kingdom

So the UK actually selected their entry before Finland’s national final, and I didn’t get to watch it because I was at work. From what I heard off Twitter, the contest You Decide was somewhere between really awesome (by people in the venue sitting in close proximity to some VIP’s) and a vocal trainwreck with microphones breaking (by people watching the contest on BBC2). In the possibility that it was the latter scenario, BBC at least made its national final a bit more of a priority than last year by moving it from BBC4 to BBC2, and they pulled over one of the judges from Strictly Come Dancing for extra viewership.

After a few hours back at work I returned to Twitter at break time and saw the winner Lucie Jones perform her song “Never Give Up on You.”

Well it’s definitely not going on my work playlist because it’s way too calm, though it might work when paired against a dental drill. Otherwise I’d have to prepare myself to be in the right mood before listening to it, possibly while sitting in a café with a hot drink sometime.

Unlike the song that comes to mind when looking at the first three words (i.e. click here to be rickrolled), it’s a ballad a la Mikael Saari at UMK last year: vocals on point stripped back to just the artist, a simple backing track with strings, and lights. There’s no backdrop, no dancers, no backing vocalists. I partially questioned whether all the extra frills were just excluded from the budget, or whether the staging was supposed to be this simple. Maybe it would work in Kyiv if performed in a similar fashion, with a simple backdrop that doesn’t clash and a lot of dry ice on the ground that doesn’t flood Lucie Jones from the performance.

I guess the Beeb and a lot of the fandom decided to promote more that she’s an X-Factor artist who performed in the same year as Jedward (and finished one place lower than the duo who later went on to represent Ireland 2 years in a row), but why not also promote that she’s been a West End performer since 2010, debuting as Cosette in Les Misérables and currently playing in Rent? Adding that would have had a greater effect than “Former X-Factor artist performs song co-composed by 2013 Eurovision winner Emmelie de Forest”, and the focus would be on Lucie rather than her song’s composing team.

On a completely separate note, some people have been comparing “Never Give Up on You” to the Common Linnets’ “Calm After the Storm.” I don’t see any similarities. CATS has a driving beat, while NGUOY doesn’t. CATS is a duet, NGUOY is a solo. CATS is American-country-ish, NGUOY is Broadway/West End.

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2017 Review: Finland (+ UMK2017 Review)

Ahh, yes, Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu, one of the best Lunar New Year’s presents this year outside of red envelope money…  (Kiitos, YLE!)

Finland’s national final as of 2012 has been my favorite national final since I started watching NFs seriously in 2014, primarily because a) I get access to the songs on YouTube a month before the national final starts and have some time to process the entries, b) UMK in recent years is pretty similar to Melodifestivalen (which I also really like) in production terms but I don’t have to download an app to watch the show, c) there’s actually some variety in song genres so it doesn’t sound like 30 minutes of the same song playing over running water. Also it definitely didn’t hurt that Krista Siegfrids was hosting, and the show ended up trending #3 on Twitter that night.

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So despite having an exam to study for and a lab report to write, I put down my school stuff for two hours and tuned into YLE’s stream. Even better at the time: The rest of the family was out and I didn’t have to put on headphones or watch the performance on silent. And then the program started:

Circle of Light:

Emma’s WDM “Wooden Dance Music” entry was the immediate fan favorite on social media once YLE posted all the UMK songs on YouTube. A folky tune sounding a bit like Denmark 2013 meets Belgium 2003, the song contained a nyckelharpa (which I originally thought was a hurdy gurdy due to the clicking keys and drone string) and would probably fit in at the local renaissance festival. I debated whether to put Circle of Light as my #1 or my #2 but eventually decided on #2 due to calculus class. As Emma sang, “Nothing bad will ever cross the line, let me draw you a circle of light,” I couldn’t help but think of the circle of light as the domain where Bad=0, and the nyckelharpa’s instrumental solo reminded me of the protective dome in Atlantis, that there might be a protective surface above the domain created using a combination of magic and double integration (probably using r dr dθ because the domain’s a circle and because square rooting trig functions sucks). Math class blues aside, I didn’t get to see Emma’s live performance because my stream froze. I did get to see a few rehearsal pictures beforehand of her standing in a circle of flames similar to Maria McCool a few years ago in Ireland’s national final, wearing a floaty blue coat/dress holding a torch like in her music video. Unfortunately, her in-ears didn’t work as well as expected, she was thrown off rhythm, and her flame went out mid-performance. Rakas, we are not fine, I guess. However, despite her troubles on stage, she still earned enough points for a respectable placing, and maybe she’ll come back to another national selection in the future (3rd)

Arrows:


Each year in national final season there always seems to be at least one 16-year-old from some country that manages to sneak their way in. Not that it’s illegal (the limit is 16), but I just get really jealous. Two years ago UMK had Eeverest, last year they had Attention 2, and this year they had Alva. Her act was the first performance I got to see without the stream freezing (yay national final problems), and I could definitely see the Melodifestivalen influence as “Arrows” seemed like a very Mello-like song performed by a person who was a cross between Isa in 2015 and Krista Siegfrids. I didn’t care for the song as much as it didn’t immediately grab my attention, but after watching a few ranking videos, I had the “I’ve been shooting arrows, arrows, arrows,” hook stuck in my head. Alva seemed a bit off-key but it was most likely due to in-ears but visually it was a solid performance. (6th)

Love Yourself:

Yes, this is from the same guy that did the Ding Dong/ “You touched my tralala” song. Before I mention anything about the Günther and D’Sanz’s entry, I’d like to mention that there is a guy in one of my classes who looks just like Günther, minus the moustache. (He seemed really happy knowing about it). Anyways, this song is annoyingly catchy and it’s Marmite. I despised it at first listen, questioning why the hell a) YLE would ever send a Swede to UMK, and b) why a song about…self-love…would be okayed by YLE staff. My rational side wanted to keep “Love Yourself” in my bottom 3; however, the non-rational side decided otherwise. After about 3000 listens, about 80% of which came from the Ohrwurm Network, 10% to shock my friends (which only resulted in one friend talking about the seemingly super-low-budget video where according to him, “the backing dancers had to sell their clothes to be able to pay for Günther’s chair”), 7% because I needed something to stay awake at work/school which wasn’t System of a Down, and 3% because I was driving on a really cold day and the song just happened to appear on shuffle, the irrational side decided that this was going to at least be a guilty pleasure. Fast forward to the day of the national final and “Love Yourself” was the first performance that didn’t have any in-ear issues. D’Sanz sounded a little bit different because of the autotune in the song but the black and white-themed performance was slick and Günther didn’t sound like he’s snoring in the live performance anymore. So as an apology to my rational side, I’ll say it’s the performance that brought the song up. (5th).

Reach Out for the Sun:

Well I recognized Anni Saikku’s face from “my top 10” ranking videos  and Eurovision fan sites, and the performance where her face was blown up a la Jüri Pootsmann’s face at Eesti Laul, but I didn’t recognize her song. When I did after the voting recap played 3 times before the votes were announced, I decided that this was probably the best dental office song out of the night’s UMK entries: enjoyable while the song was playing, and that there was some movement in the music to the point where patients wouldn’t fall asleep but it was still relaxing enough so patients wouldn’t bounce around in their chairs. Well she did have that 3D light cage, which I guess counts as an upgrade from Brinck’s 2009 stage backdrop? (7th)

Caveman:

I think I might have listened to the song once in a “My top 10” ranking video and then totally forgot about it. All I remember is the ranking put Knucklebone Oscar (and the Shangri-La Rubies) last, complaining that the song was noise. After watching the well-performed live performance I vaguely remember the general feeling of the song, all I really remember is a lot of bright colors in the visuals, so probably like a WTF American football halftime interval act. ESC Pulse mentioned that Knucklebone Oscar looked a bit like Gary Glitter (yay, middle school band flashbacks playing the Hey Song), and I guess due to people dropping their phones from shock and forgetting to vote, someone had to get the wooden spoon that day. (10th)

Blackbird:

This entry is probably to blame for putting out the review over a week late, because I didn’t know how to describe the song’s angst without repeating myself or copying Wikipedia’s current description of “[X title] is a song performed by [X artist] representing [X country] in [X year]” without expansion. Blackbird was my 4th place in studio behind Lauri, Emma, and Club la Persé (please don’t judge; or if you have to judge, just glare coldly into your screen where I can’t see you), but given all the technical issues and tragic stagings in the contest, everything fell into place for Norma John. Seated between two upbeat songs, singer Leena and pianist Lasse worked their magic, pulling a Mikael Saari. No audio issues, no visual issues, just the two working their magic, pulling Adele-ish vibes on a Norway 2015 meets Norway 2014 entry. The staging was pretty simple: Lasse on piano and Leena standing a few meters away, Leena asking the blackbird representing a former relationship to fly away so she could grieve, Lasse slowly flooding the air with so much tension so that it might as well have been as dense as maple syrup. In that case, it was probably a good thing for Leena to wear a floor length dress, so that no one would ever know whether she was standing or floating. (1st)

Helppo Elämä:

This was my favorite UMK entry this year. With an integral-free (*cough*CircleOfLight*cough*) entry of Avicii meets Justs meets Pall Oskar’s more recent stuff performed in Finnish (ugh, all that R-rolling…Orz), I couldn’t help but listen to the song at least 100 times prior to the competition to the point that my manager would have banned the song from the work playlist if not for the fact that I could keep my feet still. It’s also 100% self-composed, which is also a bonus. While I completely understand that it’s impossible (or technically, highly unlikely) for the results to match perfectly with my personal ranking, did Finland really have to rank Helppo Elämä 8th out of 10? I suppose the (IMO, tragic) staging had an effect on the scores, but this was not bottom 3 material.  Thank you, Sweden (the country that I thought was most unlikely to give a Finnish-language song 12 points) for giving Lauri Yrjölä the credit he deserves. And even though he’s not going to Kyiv, I’m keeping the song in my playlist until my coworkers and I can all sing along to the words. (8th)

My Little World:

YLE is really weird when it comes to selecting tweets to display on UMK. When someone told me my tweet made it onto Finnish TV, I thought it might have been a tweet about how my coworkers probably hated me for blasting Club la Persé’s entry at work or how I was confused about why there were random Japanese characters on the backdrop or how hard it probably was for Mr C*** to breathe through their pig nose. But nope, it happened to be this one:

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Anyways, this is another guilty pleasure, but I’m not afraid to tell anyone that this one was my top 3 in studio because it has a good beat and I was really easy to sing along with. The lyrics were pretty straightforward with explaining my life as well. Yep, my little world is smashed to pieces and going nowhere; it’s trashed, useless, and doomed according to *certain family members* as well. So excuse me, I’m going to go sing didididididididididi now. (9th)

Perfect Villain:

Twitter had it right: Australia 2015 staging + Malta 2015 staging + pole dancing shirtless guys a la Slovenia 2016= Zühlke’s staging. She had a good voice and the performance was definitely very stereotypically Eurovision, but the lyrics were pretty random. Not as in the lyrics were badly Google Translated, since the composers were from Norway, but that everything was grammatically correct but didn’t make sense. For starters it would probably get a lawsuit from mentioning the X-Men and Kryptonite, and second those are from two completely different universes. I also didn’t bother listening to the song more than twice before the national final, and as a result I was definitely surprised to see her receive such a high score. (2nd)

Paradise:

This song would have been great if I used my first pair of headphones, i.e. the pair that allowed me to hear instrumentals but not vocals after some wire inside broke.  Maybe that’s why out of the 10 entries this song had the most listens on Spotify. The backdrop was pretty memorable as well, with the neon lights. However, the lyrics were terrible, cringe-y, and a bit explicit (Hmmm… “I wanna kiss your paradise?”); I’m waaaaaay too ace for this. I told one of my friends that if My First Band placed in the top 3 I would scream. Thankfully they placed outside the top 3, but it was really close. (4th)

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Unlike the past two years, in which the juries and televoters went separate directions (PKN vs Satin Circus and Sandhja vs Saara Aalto in 2015 and 2016, respectively), both the juries and televoters decided to give overall maximum points to Norma John.  I was a bit surprised that Zühlke obtained so many points (probably due to the performance and vocals), but overall I was okay with the results. No screaming about My First Band placing higher than it should, though I’m pretty sure I quietly flipped off the computer screen a few times when France and Israel decided to split a point on Lauri’s performance and when he only received 15 televoting points. But overall, Norma John should do Finland proud with a song that seems pretty likely to get into the final as of so far, if they amp up the piano instrumentals and keep the performance at Eurovision similar to their UMK staging.

*Image credits: Miikka Varila/YLE (taken from Eurovision.tv)