2018 Review: Albania

So I tried watching Festivali I Kenges. Note that the main word is *tried* and I got through 6 out of 11 songs of the 1st semifinal before running low on battery, having to run an errand, and having approximately zero motivation to watch any more. From what I remember, there was a reeeeaaaaalllllly long interval act, a lot of ads (i.e. one every two performances), and interviews before and after each performance. And the host may have said “fake news.”

He also apparently did this. I’m not sure what happened but okay then.
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**This is a disclaimer that you are a not a bad fan if you don’t watch national finals. If you do have the time to follow all of FiK, MESC, and San Remo, good for you and kudos for having all the patience. If you don’t have time to watch all or any national finals (e.g. me, a pharm student who’s already terrible at time management), you’re okay.**
So I might have missed the winner but Twitter clearly hadn’t, so I woke up to people cheering over the winning entry of FiK 56, “Mall” (“Yearning”) by Eugent Bushpepa.


(Also according to dict.cc, the Albanian word for “shopping mall” is “mapo.” Fingers crossed it’s correct unlike google translate…)

Let’s start with the obvious: Unlike the past 3 winners of FiK, the performance Albania/RTSH plans on sending this year is NOT a woman belting a diva ballad. Okay sure there’s still belting and some people might still put it in the ballads category, but it’s definitely less typical of what Albania’s been sending. As for the performance, Eugent Bushpepa has definitely sold it. We know he can sing live (as shown in his covers of Rona Nishliu’s “Suus” and Scorpions’ “Still Loving You”) and can fill a stage, so we might expect something similar in Portugal. As for the tune, it reminds me of a national park documentary when the camera is taking footage of the landscape combined with a bit of Voltaj’s “De la Capat” and Common Linnets’ “Broken but Home” and some extra drums and guitars. I also appreciate that the song’s in ¾; it’s not very waltzy but “Mall” definitely has a pulse that I could obtain a blood pressure reading from.

So yeah, I really like the song; it’s currently my top ESC entry of 2018 so far XD.

 

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Like this happens EVERY SINGLE YEAR. And then fights break out on YouTube because one person ranked their #1 as someone else’s #2. 

But I’m about 200% certain that I won’t be able to rank this song fairly due to one reason: the lyrics. While I might be lactose intolerant, the first time I read the lyrics translation I got severe feels, churning out serious Lane Moje– like vibes. Had I been single it probably wouldn’t have done much, but at the time of me writing this, I’m not. (Rather I’ve fallen so deep, I’m in too deep). The lines were relatable to the point that I could see myself again in my student apartment 700 miles/1120 km from home missing my partner, having trouble falling asleep due to test anxiety, and my pulse keeping me awake until 2:30 AM (as well as the subsequent phone call from my ex-manager reminding me to concentrate on the course material for exams and not on my partner).

 

 

Eugent Bushpepa mentioned in an interview that he wrote the lyrics when he was “away from his family, away from his better half.” But unlike me, who only managed to pull off a 2:30 AM sleep-deprived letter closely resembling a 2-page drunk text, he actually wrote a coherent poem, fit it to a tune, and won a music festival with it.

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ESC semi predictions

Well it’s Eurovision Week and I’ve been terrible at blogging this year. So here’s my predictions for who’s qualifying. Disclaimer: I don’t watch the rehearsals, but I do look at pictures on Twitter.

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2017 Review: Australia

In 2015 SBS was told that Australia could stay as long as they won. They haven’t won yet, but last year Australia almost won the entire contest and actually placed first in the jury vote. So maybe they’re here to stay.

Given last year’s good results, SBS decided it was a good idea to go with their (almost) winning formula: Pick an X-Factor artist, and get DNA (David Musumeci and Anthony Egizii) to compose their song. The song would be simple but the production would be great, and it would show off the artist’s vocals, because sometimes it seems as if it’s the Eurovision Belting Contest.

Enter Isaiah Firebrace and “Don’t Come Easy” (which I’m going to guess Microsoft Word is going to pick up on as a grammatical error sometime in this post).

It took me about 10 minutes to listen to the song, not because I didn’t dislike it, but because I kept pausing the video and thinking, “That’s the exact same face that the pharmacist at work gave me when he forgot his phone on the other side of the building and tried to get me to grab it.” Except the pharmacist maintained it for about 10 seconds; Isaiah maintained the same expression for 3 minutes straight. It’s probably all due to the eyes; it definitely helps if he’s getting out the message of “Look, I’ve been through a lot of relationship drama; and I want to keep going with, but it’s going to take a lot of work from both of us.”

As for the song, vocally he pulls it off. It reminds me a lot of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me”, but DNA managed to make the two songs sound distinct enough (unlike Greece *cough*). It’s simple, but given last year, you never know what Australia’s going to bring to the stage (once it turns into the Eurovision…Effects Contest…)

 

2017 Review: Greece

Greece didn’t qualify last year and broke their streak of 100% qualification when they placed second last in the semi. Needless to say, ERT wasn’t very happy to see that and needed something to bounce back to a respectable placing. A win would mean bankrupting the country (or at least the TV broadcaster), but somewhere in the top half would be great.

In that case, the best thing would be to call Ghostbusters the guy responsible for a bunch of Dream Team entries that’s in town and ask him to write a song for a big-name artist. And that’s what they did. After announcing that Demy would represent Greece, ERT announced that Dimitris Kontopoulos (co-composer of 6 Eurovision entries from 5 countries, all of which placed in the top 10) would compose the entry. Three songs were composed, a (somewhat questionable) national final was held, and Demy’s song turned out to be “This is Love.”

Okay so #ControversialEurovisionOpinion: Even though I wasn’t a major fan of “Utopian Land” at first, last year was better.

Even though Demy’s confirmed to be a good singer, even though we’re pretty much guaranteed to see a great stage show, especially if choreographer Fokas Evagelinos is involved, this seems like a rehash of Germany’s 2013 entry, except ERT changed up the artist, made the song three minutes to start with (so no weird fail edit), and avoided copyright/plagiarism issues. (ESC Pulse also mentioned that “This is Love” appeared to have the same structure of Russia’s entry last year…which was  *surprise* co-written by the same person.)

So yes, Greece is sending a plug and chug entry. It’ll qualify, and it’ll get a score more respectable than second last in the semi, and I might put it on my work playlist because it’s uptempo, but it’s not really going anywhere outside the contest.

2017 Review: Germany

Okay. So now that national final season’s been over for pretty much a month, Eurovision promotion parties are popping up (all of which I can’t attend because I live six time zones away), I might as well mention that outside of Sweden, Finland, and the second half of Estonia, I didn’t watch any national finals.  Even if I did sit through every Super Saturday, I would still have an excuse not to watch Germany’s national selection because it’s on…Thursday? And I had class at the time? Due to this the only German national final I’ve watched in the past 5 years has been 2016, which I’m still bitter about NDR not selecting monks with lasers.

This year’s German national selection was pretty much a condensed version of its 2010/2012 national selection; instead of happening over the course of probably 6 weeks, NDR made a shortlist of 32 artists (33 if Nathan Trent hadn’t been selected for Austria) and narrowed it to 5 artists that would make the stage. Once this was done, over the course of 3 hours the audience had to decide 1) which artists would make the “audition”, 2) which versions of the two selected songs would make the superfinal, and 3) which superfinal entry would represent the country. Artist Levina went to the superfinal alone, her version of “Perfect Life” eventually defeating her version of “Wildfire.”

I don’t know if the massive amount of dislikes is due to the song or because the national final was a mess. However, I will mention that this song sounds super generic. It might be well produced, well performed, and be a great radio hit with a good beat to keep morale up at work, but nevertheless generic. When my friend listened to this song for the second time, he started singing Katy Perry’s “Firework” on top of the refrain. And then there’s been a major plagiarism accusation of the composers ripping off the introduction of “Titanium.” This probably shouldn’t be the worst case scenario though; last time when Germany got caught in another plagiarism accusation, i.e. “Glorious” sounded like “Euphoria”, Thomas G:Son put down his verdict: Most pop songs sound the same. No further comment.

Anyways, in a way it’s similar to Sweden’s 2003 entry, in which the lyrics write themselves. I don’t want to go the same route as Julie Frost at Austria’s national selection last year (i.e. “As an American/native English speaker”), but the lyrics are really cliché, especially “I’m not afraid to make a mistake/sometimes it’s wrong before it’s right.” I still like the first part of the refrain, where Levina sings that she’s “walking asleep, dreaming awake” or “almost a sinner, nearly a saint,” and she explains that she’s a mess of contradictions. It might be simple, but it gets the job done and fits the syllable count.

The “almost a sinner, nearly a saint” line distracted me a bit after listening to the song a few times. If she’s almost a sinner and nearly a saint, she’s therefore neither a sinner nor a saint. Anyone up for her to do a version of Alcazar’s 2003 Melodifestivalen entry?

2017 Review: Russia

So Russia obviously didn’t win Eurovision last year, due to placing fifth in the jury vote despite winning the televoting. I can definitely feel for Sergey Lazarev, especially after the presidential election here in the US: same story with second place winning the televote popular vote but losing out on jury electoral vote. And of course in both cases, the winner turned out to be involved in major controversy. In the US, that turned out to be whatever circus is going on in the executive branch right now. In the Eurovision world, that meant another year of messy relationships between Russia and Ukraine. Sending an internationally popular artist in attempt to create a “positive stereotype” didn’t work in 2016; as a result, Channel One went back to its original tactic from 2013: sending a seemingly apolitical peace ballad by a female artist. This time they chose Julia Samoylova with the entry “Flame is Burning.”

Even though I don’t dislike Russia’s entry this year, it’s not one of my favorites and took me about 20 listens to enjoy the song. It’s probably due to the supposed “ballad dominance” every year, despite ballads making up only 1/3 of the songs this year. And yes, there can be ballads with drama shooting up and down like Albania’s, or ballads that pull a Scorpions’ “Still Loving You” and drag out emotion for as long as possible. However, Russia’s entry is not one of them. It’s there, it’s sweet, but it doesn’t stand out in its initial listen, and somehow it reminds me of the one image on FB of Charmander in the rain.

Also, even if Julia Samoylova had been announced, selected by Channel One Russia, or even shortlisted, her song seems to have been given to her at even shorter notice. Given her previous performances in Faktor A (Russian equivalent of X-Factor), especially this performance of Molitva, a) she didn’t seem to have as much time to rehearse, b) she’s 200% likely to not be a native English speaker and probably learned the lyrics phonetically, or c) both a and b. However, if it weren’t a Eurovision entry, I could definitely picture her singing this song with a children’s choir (or at least at some elementary school’s music event).

Politics aside, the song isn’t terrible. Song-wise she can definitely pull it off (especially since she’s singing while sitting down and therefore with reduced lung capacity), and it theoretically could be viewed as sincere and a part of her personal story. But then there’s…Cry-Me-A-River-Gate.

Due to the Russian and Ukrainian claims over Crimea (i.e. Russia has claimed Crimea as Russian territory since 18 Mar 2014; Ukraine rejects this claim and still considers the area Ukrainian soil), Ukraine passed a law stating that individuals entering Crimea without a permit from the Ukrainian government have entered illegally; individuals who do so will be declared personae non gratae and banned from any future visits to the country.

And that was what happened with Julia Samoylova. She performed in Crimea in 2015 (and posted it on social media), a year after Russian annexation. As a result, the Ukrainian parliament blacklisted her from entering the country for three years. Channel One Russia retaliated by threatening to withdraw from the competition and leave. I’m going to guess that Channel One Russia and Russia-1 pay a lot to the EBU for participation in Eurovision, because the EBU suggested that Ukraine delay the travel ban until after Eurovision, or let Russia bypass the entry ban by performing via satellite link. (Ukrainian Parliament blocked the offer by stating that they refused to live-stream personae non gratae, and Channel One Russia refused because a) it was weird and b) it seemed to go against the spirit of the contest.) The EBU has also suggested negative consequences for not allowing Russia’s participation, but besides the Romania’s incident last year nothing has been forcibly done. Armenia, which had a clear violation of the “no explicit politics” rule last year by waving a Nagorno-Karabakh flag at the semifinals, was told to meet with the EBU in June for discussion, and that has not led to anything visible outside the world of Eurovision HOD’s.

No comment on how Channel One Russia made the decision, but it definitely seems like a live action YouTube comment page full of trolls. I still don’t know what’s going on between the three individuals fighting in the sandbox (and commentators on the side selling fruit gushers), so I’ll back off and say that if “Flame is Burning” participates, it probably won’t do well due to its lack of immediate impact and be propped up to 9th-11th place simply with the connection to Russia.

I still want to hear that children’s choir version though…

2017 Review: Sweden

Aside from Finland’s Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu, Sweden’s Melodifestivalen was the only national final where I watched/listened to all the NF entries. I’m still pissed off that the official Mello channel is blocked on YouTube in the USA, but thanks SVT Play and everyone else who isn’t SVT on YouTube posting all the videos.

Overall it was a pretty good Mello year. There was a lot of variety and favorites in the semifinals (and a lot of returnees—12/28 of the artists this year participated in former years). The final didn’t turn out as diverse as UMK but I’m still fine; I liked most of the entries. My favorites were Jon Henrik Fjällgren+ Aninia, Robin Bengtsson, and Mariette; Nano, Ace Wilder, and Boris René were pretty good too. I also found myself warming up to Benjamin Ingrosso’s entry after seeing the results in Semi 2.

As for the ones that didn’t make it, my favorites were Loreen, De Vet Du, Roger Pontare, and Adrijana. Loreen and DVD crashing out of AC was slightly understandable, due to the entries being either a)marmite or b)entries that needed to be watched at least 2-3 times to get what was going on, as was Adrijana’s entry getting 6th in Semi 1. Roger Pontare placing 5th, on the other hand…I’m still annoyed. Even though I knew that Benjamin Ingrosso was going to qualify direct when there was only one more name to be announced I was hoping that it would have been the epic anthem rather than the entry that sounded similar something on a Disney Channel special. Eventually I warmed up to Good Lovin’ but I still wish there could have been an extra 13th slot. (SVT would have put me on Mariette’s bungee cords to keep me from tampering with the results though). So now I’ll just imagine that everyone who didn’t vote for Roger probably took A and P with one of my professors and didn’t do very well in his class.

Anyways the eventual winner was Robin Bengtsson with his song “I Can’t Go On” (which is sort of a prequel to his previous entry “Constellation Prize”). And fun fact, this is the second artist named Robin that won Melodifestivalen by winning the jury vote only. One of his song’s co-writers, Robin Stjernberg, did the same in 2013.

When I first listened to the song in Semi 3, I couldn’t get it out of my head after one listen and I wanted to listen to/watch it again, with the slick performance, the snapping, the catchy hook. Okay I’ll admit it; the lyrics aren’t going to be AP English material and someone posted in a confessions box that they could fit on a Post-it note due to all the repeating lines. Then again, that’s probably one of the reasons why “I Can’t Go On” is Ohrwurm-y as hell. I’m probably guilty for at least half the listens on YouTube, most of which are involve rolling down the car window and singing with at the top of my lungs.

Or should I say “as fuck” instead? Had the original Mello version been sent to Eurovision, the contest would have been rated R in approximately one minute, and/or the EBU would be slamming the dump (censor) button on average every 18 seconds. I’m not the EBU, SVT, or anyone in Robin’s delegation, but IMO throwing an R in the system interferes with the sound aesthetic. However, like any of the three parties mentioned above, I don’t want the song disqualified, so I’m keeping my discourse down about the song getting Kidz Bop treatment and the word “fucking” getting changed to “freaking.”

OK so I can definitely say this song is in my top 3, and that’s despite two major things that should be keeping me from liking it:

I got food poisoning when listening to the song. Something similar happened prior in 2015, when my friend tricked me into drinking milk when I’m lactose intolerant and I got really nauseous while listening to Moldova’s entry at the time. As a result, I associated the song with nausea and was forced to put it in my bottom 3 even though it would have gone maybe 5-10 places higher. As for Sweden’s entry this year, somehow I didn’t end up hating the song after combining it with food poisoning, nausea, and a migraine. Okay then.

I’ve probably mentioned this ad nauseam (*facepalm due to above paragraph) but I’m asexual. I’m a pancake and a bit flux-y, but I definitely have my baker’s cred. The issue is that this song is literally about sexual attraction. I’m pretty sure after the third semifinal I’d been having an internal debate over whether I should even like the song being a cakey person. Eventually the “Liking this song has absolutely nothing to do with your identity; you’re still valid” voice won over, but I still find it a bit ironic.

So yeah…I really like this song, despite factors suggesting that I wouldn’t. I don’t have any flags at the moment; maybe I should borrow one from Ikea for the semi/final?