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…

You are the Only One (Good Wi-Fi on Campus)

Sergey Lazarev mentioned in a lot of his interviews at Eurovision that the staging of “You are the Only One” represented a journey to find “the only one.” Judging simply by the music video, I’ll guess that most people interpreted “the only one” as a significant other. After all, how many Eurovision artists sing about love? This year there were fewer songs about love, but you could probably say about 1/3 to ½, if you tweak the interpretations. “The Only One” doesn’t have to a significant other. Judging by the lyrics, there’s a chance that it could be about connecting to the Internet.

Well time to play T-Rex Run again...

Well time to play T-Rex Run if the Internet doesn’t work…

The uni I go to has two kinds of Wi-Fi. The first one is the typical shite kind everyone complains about: it constantly lags, it takes months to load up a 3-minute YouTube video, and it logs off every 5 minutes (yes I’m exaggerating but you get the point…). Then there’s the second one: it’s still somewhat slow compared to the library’s super-fast Ethernet, but loading times are reasonable (seconds vs minutes) once you’re able to connect and log in to the Internet once, your phone/laptop/insert device that connects to the Web will automatically connect. However, not all buildings on campus have this secure Wi-Fi, and if they do, you have to connect to the system around 8AM (when everyone is still half-asleep). In the particularly nasty case that the “good” Wi-Fi shuts down (e.g. every few months in the dorms), it’s really frustrating. Even if my stuff could connect to the other system, I won’t be able to do anything besides open files that are offline. In that case, the “good” Wi-Fi on campus is the only (usable) Wi-Fi.

Won’t ever give up ‘cause you’re still somewhere out there, nothing and no one’s gonna keep us apart: If I have to do my homework that’s due by midnight and it’s 10pm already (when the library’s computer lab shuts down), I’m not going to accept slow Internet. I will have a good connection, and I’m going to find it.

I’m breakin’ it down but I’m still getting nowhere, won’t stop, hold on: I still can’t find a good location and still have to use 4G on my phone, but I’m going to keep searching.

Thunder and lightning it’s getting exciting; lights up the skyline to show where you are: Okay fine this is probably just a good hook in the song. But let’s interpret “skyline” as “the Wi-Fi bars” on my phone… and lightning is in the electric department.

My love is rising, the story’s unwinding; together we’ll make it and reach for the stars: Once my phone connects and there are 4 bars of signal, I’ll be able to do anything.

You’re the only one; you’re my only one: You’re the only one (good/usable Wi-Fi on campus)

You’re my life, every breath that I take: How many people agree with this?

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Unforgettable, so unbelievable; you’re the only one, my only one. (Syllable filler fluff; put in some big words with multiple syllables. At least it’s not off the TOEFL list…)

Everything but the kitchen sink

When you’re an American Eurovision fan in 2016, things can get pretty frustrating after the contest ends. PED (Post-Eurovision depression) sets in, the Eurovision stream and official YouTube videos get geoblocked due to the Logo TV deal, and there are very few people to talk about the contest with.

Source: ESC-Confessions on Tumblr

I usually have to go on Twitter or Tumblr to talk to someone in the fandom, but my geography professor, who is constantly subjected to me crashing her office hours at uni and ranting about the contest, was nice enough to set up a Skype session for us to talk in person. She also teaches a class focusing on Russia and neighboring states, so just the results and surrounding events were enough material to talk about for hours.

While she hadn’t watched the contest in full, she explicitly mentioned that she didn’t like Sergey Lazarev’s performance because it appeared like “Russia just threw in everything but the kitchen sink.”  After thinking about it for a while, it did make sense. Yes, Russia definitely looked like it wanted to win, host the contest with expensive production that would beat out 2009, and possibly even set up a few positive stereotypes. And they would do anything, i.e. take aspects from a bunch of top 10 entries and combine them into a hopefully winning entry:


(Edit: Previous video had been taken down, so here’s a rehearsal video instead.)

**Disclaimer: There is more than a bit of sarcasm in here; imagine this announced by some Russian media person looking forward to a win in May.**

Having an international team

Source: ESC Today

The artist is Russian, but obviously the Russian delegation has to have the best of everything, from composers to choreographers to producers. Let’s go with the Dream Team then, with composers Filipp Kirkorov and Dimitris Kontopoulos working with choreographer Fokas Evangelinos. Just add lyrics co-written by John Ballard, a Scottish person working in Sweden, four Swedish backing vocalists/dancers, and Cypriot vocal coach Alex Panayi, and that’s a team involved in 19 past Eurovision entries, including 2 wins and 8 non-winning top 10 entries. Even if it’s not enough to win, it has to be enough to get points from countries of involved team members.

(To no one’s surprise: 14 points from Sweden, 22 points from Cyprus, and 22 points from Greece.)

Bringing a projection screen on stage

Well Måns Zelmerlöw won the entire thing with a projection screen last year, so why can’t Russia?

Source: Eurovision.tv

Interacting with the projection screen

Last year’s winner might have had a projection screen, but it just looked like an animated chalkboard drawing. Maybe it was supposed to look like that, but check out all these 3D effects!

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Including a ledge on the screen

Belarus had ledges for the dancers on moving screens, but even without the dancers they’re still visible. Check out this wall with a ledge that’s hidden by Spandex, so you can’t see it with the camera. Not to mention this ledge is higher off the ground

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Including wings on the backdrop

Well Conchita won with wings, right? So why can’t Sergey with wings?

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(Or he’s using wings simply because they’re part of his artist identity, as he has wing tattoos, wings on his microphone stand, and a past Russian national final song called “Flyer.”)

Source: Wiwibloggs

*Cue Maltese commentator saying that they still have better wings*

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Having dancers appear “by magic” (read: zooming out after doing a closeup of the artist)

Camera magic is wonderful. This trick has worked for other Dream Team-composed entries, so why can’t it work this year?

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Climbing a wall

We still have no idea what Guildo Horn was doing back then. Don’t worry, we know exactly what’s going on here. And it should be as safe as that third grader climbing up the slide while playing tag on the play structure.

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Singing while lying down

We’ve definitely seen that singing while lying down on the floor stands out. But while Loic does it on the ground, let’s up it a notch and have Sergey sing while mid-sit-up and on a ledge a meter and a half off the ground! And let’s add 3D effects so it looks like he’s falling into a black hole!

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Zooming in on the artist’s face

The hosts even sing about this in Love Love Peace Peace! It has to work!

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But on the other hand, they did mention “look into the TV camera so the audience can see that you’re lovable, not desperate.”

Standing on top of a box

So Ani Lorak standing on a box with a Dream Team-composed entry got her 2nd place because Dima Bilan threw in an ice rink, an Olympic figure skater, and a Hungarian guy playing a Stradivarius. What if we put Sergey on a box with a Dream Team-composed entry and involve the backdrop and screen?

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Or maybe it looks like next year it’s time to sit on a box instead, because that seems to get more jury votes…

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The Russian delegation clearly understands that Eurovision is a TV show and needs all the effects to get a good placing. However, maybe they might want to focus a bit more on the song next year. Considering that Bulgaria and France got top 10 with fewer effects on stage, that might actually work out.

 

2016 Review: Russia

Rossiya One’s not changing their plans of sending their country’s well-known artists to the competition. This year they internally selected Sergey Lazarev with “You are the Only One.” And while it shares a title with Croatia’s 2004 entry, that’s the only similarity between the two songs.

For starters, it’s not an “ironic peace ballad” or detergent commercial like in 2013 and 2015. I wonder if the selection had anything to do with the artist booing/canned applause in the two years prior due to Crimea and LGBT+ issues. And while Sergey Lazarev can pull off a ballad, another neutral peace/love song wasn’t going to cut it if similar issues were to happen. Rossiya One probably needed to send a new positive stereotype to the competition, so they picked someone who was more widely accepted in Western Europe. With a good enough song and a well-known, popular, artist across all of Europe who can pull off live performances, hopefully Russia would deal with less booing during the voting process.

I’m a little curious to what the composers were listening to and watching prior to writing “You are the Only One.” Maybe they were watching Pirates of the Caribbean, since that ended up in the baseline. Maybe they were also listening to the Herreys’ winning entry in 1984, since “Lightning and thunder, magic and wonder” got changed around to “Thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting.”

Considering that the song has been #1 in the betting odds to win for weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised at all for the song to qualify and hit at least top 5. But wherever he places, I hope there won’t be any incident similar to last year, where the hosts had to tell off the audience to stop booing, and that for just 4 hours, 200 million people can put politics aside, enjoy the music, and have some fun.

Updates in the universe…

So it’s finals week, and this happens to be the same week that the ESC world decides to announce a crap load of information. Måns Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede will be hosting Eurovision, and Albania is about to kick off national finals season in two weeks. Most countries with national selections have presented their national final schedules, and starting January 16th, Belgium will kick off the series of Super Saturdays with national finals every week until Sweden hosts the Melodifestivalen final on March 12th. Between the two will be Malta, Belarus, Hungary, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Estonia, Denmark, Moldova, Germany, and Latvia. At least those are the countries that have confirmed dates. And then there are all the presentations for the songs internally selected.

In that case, so much for class and my sanity. I’ll probably have to split my screen 8 ways (which is impossible on my laptop) to watch all the programs on February 13th. Maybe this (and not organic chem) is what weeds out the students in the chemistry department. Ahhhh, the joy of being a chem major…

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As of so far, the one country that’s received the most hype so far is Russia. Unlike the past 3 years, where Russia has sent female singers and politically-correct peace ballads, Rossiya 1 is sending Sergey Lazarev. Judging by his recent songs, his entry should be pretty EuroClub-friendly. On the other hand, there’s this:

If I were to summarize this song in 5 words, it would be “Shirtless Russian singing English K-Pop”. What’s with the lyrics saying that he wants to take off someone’s clothes? The asexual part of me is rolling my eyes and wondering if it’s that warm in Russia right now. It’s also trying to come up with an ace-friendly reason to strip outside of changing clothes or taking a shower. As of so far, it’s failed. Let’s just get back to a different video, shall we?

(Well at least he’s having fun playing the awkward guy trying to get a date…)

Safe space for everyone?

RFSL, one of Sweden’s most prominent organizations for LGBT+ rights, is suggesting a “pride park” safe space in Stockholm during Eurovision season. While I’m not opposed to the idea, it could mean worse traffic issues in the city (not that hosting ESC ever meant great traffic conditions anyway). Given all the political issues and locational bias towards participants and fans, I also wouldn’t be surprised if someone (outside of RFSL) put a sign by the park excluding fans from much of Eastern Europe.

We don’t want this happening.

Ever since Dana International’s victory in 1998, the Eurovision Song Contest has been viewed as a haven for the LGBT+ community. It’s as normal to see a rainbow flag in the audience as it is to see other countries’ flags, and Alexander Rybak called the contest the “world’s biggest pride parade.” However, the community isn’t equal in its treatment towards participants in the contest, and the contestants are still judged by the country they represent. For an LGBT+ friendly country, the artist is usually welcomed with open arms, until a tiny incident results in negative press to reject them. For a less LGBT+ friendly country, the artist has to prove themselves to the community, though any incident is simply blamed on the conservative country’s influence.

Prior to winning Melodifestivalen 2015, Måns Zelmerlöw said (while possibly drunk) on a TV show in 2014 that LGBT+ people were “avvikelse” (deviant). Though he apologized multiple times for the incident in Sweden (and most parties accepted the apologies), the incident was dug up by the press again after his victory at Friends once the bookies claimed he would win Eurovision: How could someone singing about childhood bullying and being a hero say that LGBT+ was unnatural? The press claimed that he could be a homophobe based off the one minute of drunken speech on TV and the YouTube commenters immediately followed, claiming that they weren’t going to vote for him anymore. Even while he was in Vienna, the press kept bringing up the incident, ignoring that he had also performed at prides and hosted the 2014 QX Gaygalan. After his victory either based on the song/staging/claiming a week before the contest that he would date a guy if he woke up one day and felt attraction to guys (logic class people: that’s a conditional statement written as “q if given p”), the negative press against him suddenly disappeared outside of a few angry audience members on social media.  Once again, he was viewed as a hero and an ally.

On the other side of the Iron Curtain, the non-LGBT+ press doesn’t really do anything.  During the first season of X-Factor Adria (for those people in ex-Yugo countries), Željko Joksimović made openly transphobic statements at Fifi Janevska, a transgender woman, during her audition (e.g. using the term “trandža/tranny,” questioning why she used female pronouns when she used a male name in audition paperwork, then using plural “you” to refer to her, saying that “there are two of you”). He and the broadcaster Channel Pink later claimed on Twitter that no apology was necessary and that he was entitled to his own opinion. However, this incident was pretty much ignored outside of raging LGBT+ groups within Serbia with only minor coverage from international LGBT+ sites and Eurovision news sites. Despite Željko Joksimović’s participation as an artist/composer/host in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2012 (note: all after 1998), the ESC press did not dig up the incident when he re-appeared in the contest to compose Knez’s entry in 2015. Instead, the press simply noted that the ex-Yugo region was still much more conservative with gender/sexuality minority rights and chose not to bring up the incident. Both acts related to him (Macedonia (FYR) and Montenegro) didn’t have very high chances of winning the contest either anyways.

The X Factor incident isn’t even written on his Wikipedia page, while MZW has a section on his page specifically about the TV show incident.

For Russia, Polina Gagarina was dealing with a double edged sword. Due to the Kremlin passing the law against “LGBT+ propaganda,” and the state-owned Channel 1 internally selecting her to sing another “ironic peace song”, she was booed simply for representing her country, even when she made it clear on social media that she herself didn’t represent the government’s policies and appeared to be an ally. The media might have enjoyed her performance, but after the 3 minutes they returned to side-eying the country’s participant, especially after she took on a lead in the voting: if Russia won the contest, the contest’s reputation of being a safe haven for LGBT+ could be damaged. Even during the performance, members of the audience silently protested by waving rainbow flags, blocking her performance on camera. At the same time, she was criticized in by members of the Russian government, as politicians in Moscow voiced concern about her posted images of her and Conchita Wurst.

If RFSL’s plan for a safe space/pride park does go through with SVT and the city of Stockholm, then the safe space cannot discriminate people for country of origin or their country’s LGBT+ unfriendly policies. Though politics and bookie statistics might mar the contest’s “neutrality,” SVT can at least try to keep most of the issues out of the city during Eurovision Week.

What if (I was “normal” for one day)

I spent some time debating whether to use “What if” or “What if We,” in the title before finally deciding on Russia’s (overrated) 2013 entry.

Yeah, sure, how many times have people complained about the irony of Russia sending a world peace song while [insert item on the news] is happening in the country? Dina Garipova and the song’s composers keep asking “what if,” though they don’t (or can’t) do anything.

On a smaller scale (as in: shrink the scale from 143 million people and 17 million km2 to just one person who’s barely 160 cm tall), there’s a bunch of “what ifs” in my life. It’s not easy being an undiagnosed case of ADHD who gets told off for “not thinking,” and on really bad days I keep fighting with myself over wanting to be “normal” but to also be “myself.” But how would things work if I didn’t have a mess of brain chemicals sloshing in the wrong levels for one day?

Pretty much how it works right now: If it’s not ESC, barefooting, or food, then I don’t want to talk about it when someone triggers a meltdown.

  1. I would probably be amazed at my ability to drink coffee and feel energized instead of somewhere along the spectrum of mellowed out to passed out on a table snoring. This coffee machine clock would probably be able to better wake me up, and I wouldn’t have the entire house complaining about being forced to listen to Circle of Life at full blast at 6AM.
  2. My head would probably feel silent without the Ohrwurm Network playing in the background. I’d probably be able to finish this post in the expected 20 minutes instead of suddenly wondering what the song playing in my head right now is (currently it’s “Keep your head up” by Tajči, and YES, I’m now complaining about untypeable letters on my English keyboard because I had to copy/paste the č).
  3. I would probably be (slightly) more able to concentrate while reading boring texts and be amazed to be able to think in a straight line instead of going round and round and round and suddenly jumping from rotational motion to Vaidas and Monika’s performance at Eurovision.
  4. I’d probably be able to hold my tongue a little bit better, not saying the first thoughts in my head when someone tells me off. I’d probably write it down later and find out it looks stupid on paper. But at the same time, without the Ohrwurm Network playing in the background, all those insults would hit my head at full blast instead of distractions to prevent another shaking meltdown.
  5. I’d remember to do laundry and cook dinner, unlike yesterday. And probably look over my class-related stuff too. And now that I’ve typed this up, I probably should start doing that early.