Monday, January 16, 2017

The 2016-40: No.10 - 1

10. Viva Love – ABC.

2016 was the year when I reconnected with the 80s, mainly thanks to Absolute Radio 80s and its fantastic Sunday night show Forgotten 80s, presented by the brilliant Matthew Rudd who is probably the best DJ on British radio at the moment; his enthusiasm, knowledge and empathy is a rarity in a time of plastic, generic presenters.

But I digress.  ABC, one of the finest acts of that decade, made their recording comeback this year with “Lexicon of Love II”.  Of course they couldn’t top that original classic album, but this lead-off single took the best elements of their sound and the result was pretty special indeed.

9.  Hotter Than Hell – Dua Lipa.

As you know, I'm no fan of these 'next big thing' lists which we get at the beginning of every year. This is usually just a marketing ploy to ensure that record companies will get their artists onto every radio playlist.  2016 misfired though (now there's a surprise eh!) as the music-loving public did not take critics' favourite Jack Garratt to their hearts.  Another name who turned up time and again on these lists was Dua Lipa, so I was initially sceptical.  However as the year progressed, Dua completely won me over and "Hotter Than Hell" became her biggest hit to date here in the UK.

8.  Cake By The Ocean – DNCE. 

Joe Jonas has come a long way from the squeaky-clean Jonas Brothers hasn’t he! Apparently the song has nothing to do with cake (!) and he also throws a wee sweary word into the chorus too.  This was on heavy rotation on radio playlists over the summer but for once I didn’t mind.

This is the kind of uptempo catchy pop song which I love, and we need more of them and less of the generic tropical house/Chainsmokers-style garbage which has filled the charts this past year.  

7.  Give It Up – Nathan Sykes feat G-Eazy.

He still only looks about 14 years old (!) but Nathan has been the surprise breakout solo star from The Wanted, releasing a number of rather good singles over the past year or so.  This is my favourite of them, channelling 80s soul vibes.  And of course to match the steamy nature of the song, there is a steamy video to go with it too!

6.  Can’t Stop The Feeling – Justin Timberlake.

Like many others I was initially sceptical at the news that JT was going to be one of the interval acts at ESC in Stockholm: but then I thought why not?  A world-class entertainment event deserves a world-class act.  This was another radio playlist staple over the summer but I still don’t get tired of it even now.  He is probably the only one of the globalised superstars of today who I can be bothered with.  As they say on my favourite TV quiz show, "The Chase", "we need you back here".  So please hurry up with a new album Justin!

5. Merrmë Që Sot – Aslajdon Zaimaj.

My 2015-50 was written up by the time I heard this song for the first time in FiK54 in December 2015, so that explains why it makes an appearance on here a year later - yes, it's one of my good old “technicalities”.

Festivali i Këngës is always prone to a rock song or two, and this one stood out among FiK54's sea of dramatic divas and drunk uncles (!) Aslajdon won The Voice of Albania and went on to FiK54 where he delivered an energetic performance which brought him a well-deserved 2nd place behind Eneda Tarifa's winning song "Përrallë" which was later watered-down into "Fairytale" by the time it got to Eurovision and failed to make the final.  This, on the other hand, was my real FiK54 winner.

4. Be The One - Dua Lipa. 

And now on to another of those "technicalities" which pop up in my chart every year. Although this song initially made an appearance in 2015, it never really came onto my radar until 2016.  I used to have my "great lost European hit of the year" on my annual chart and if it was still going, then I suppose this would get the 2016 prize.  This song performed very well indeed on the continent and despite being used to soundtrack a car advert, it missed out on UK success. Perhaps it's just too subtle to appeal to the "Spotify generation" who now dictate the chart hits?

3. Laika – The Hungry Hearts feat Lisa Dillan.

"My life is sadness/my life is madness".

Following Eurovision national finals every year always brings its rewards.  You discover the most unlikely songs which you inevitably grow to love.  It would be fair to say that this brilliant, offbeat electro-pop song by this avant-garde Norwegian lesbian collective was a particular favourite of the fandom in 2016.

If you haven't heard "Laika", it's probably quite difficult to explain it, but it's a delightfully bizarre, mix of the disco, the streets of Moscow and a weightless Laika, topped off by Lisa Dillan's vocals which give the song some emotional weight too.

2. Constellation Prize – Robin Bengtsson.

So....up until just over 3 weeks ago, it looked like normal service would be resumed and yet another Swedish song would top my annual chart.

My first thoughts: what a bloody ridiculous song title.  I initially wrote this off as a "Stole The Show" copy. And I don’t always like songs on first listen; especially since I wasn’t really in a great place around national finals season and didn’t enjoy Melodifestivalen at the time.  However I was very impressed by the simple but effective staging - and particularly lighting - which helped to make this song the highlight of the Swedish national selection for 2016.

The test of a song for me is how it grows and grows from those first listens and eventually makes its way into my heart over a longer period of time.  So it was with “Constellation Prize” which just grew and grew on me after the contest and  current and more timeless influences.  Although nothing's changed, I still think it's a bloody ridiculous song title...!

So just when my chart was ready to go, there was a very late inclusion which not only caused me to rewrite my 2016 chart, but which also meant a change at the top, as this very quickly became my favourite song of (what was left of) 2016!

1.  Sot - Lynx.

Yes, in a very short space of time, this Festivali i Këngës 55 finalist quickly went from being a song I liked, to a song I loved, loved, loved!

"Sot" is a rock song, performed by a group of men in suits, fronted by the outrageously gorgeous Renato Rexha.  So as faithful travelling companion would probably remind me, a number of boxes are being ticked here.  But shallow moments aside, it's a cracking example of the greatness which can happen when rock music is mixed with a terrific orchestral accompaniment and in this instance it's such a perfect fit for the song.

This is a very appealing and accessible rock song in the Albanian language, and it just buzzes from beginning to end and you just want to play it over and over again.  Oh, and Gridi Kraja is the conductor, just so you know....  although we never get to see close-ups of the conductors at FiK any more :(

"Sot" only placed 10th out of 14 songs in the FiK55 final, but attracted many favourable comments among the Twitter fandom during the contest.  In the weeks which have passed since FiK, I have played this song non-stop and there's no sign of that changing any time soon.

So there you have it.  I hope you enjoyed my annual chart rundown!  Unfortunately though, I now have to abandon love for hate as I am about to bring my annual listing of my most hated songs of the past year...!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The 2016-40: No.20-11

20. J'ai Cherché - Amir.

After a few years of propping up the bottom of the Eurovision results table, you could be forgiven for thinking that France had given up.  But in 2016, they turned to Amir Haddad, finalist from the French version of The Voice, who delivered a very pleasant surprise.  A ridiculously catchy pop song in French and English, sung by a very charismatic vocalist.  It wasn't only a fan favourite: it went on to charm the juries and televoters of Europe and achieve 6th place on the scoreboard, the best placing for France in 14 years. Celebrations all round!

19. This Girl - Kungs vs Cookin' On 3 Burners. 

Summer dance hit anyone?  During a very dark summer, this brought some rare sparkle for me.  The ridiculously young French dance DJ talent Kungs delivered what for me was the dance hit of the summer and autumn, mixing soulful vocals with that irresistibly catchy brass riff.  He then followed it up with another couple of cracking tunes which were criminally ignored here in the UK.

18. High and Low - Empire of the Sun. 

Long-awaited lead single from that equally long-awaited 3rd album.  Over the past year, EotS became massive in the USA thanks to the use of "Walking On A Dream" in a car advert.  Fandom aside, the UK continues to be resistent to the guys' unique image and wonderful music though: an appearance on "Later With Jools Holland" sparked much criticism and confusion on Twitter.  To date, the "Two Vines" album has not really had the same impact on me as the previous two, which probably explains the low position of this song on my chart.  But I still love them, and long may they continue on their own unique musical path.

17. Human - Oscar Zia.

It was a different kind of Melodifestivalen final for me. For once I wasn't at home but was in London with faithful travelling companion for a hugely enjoyable weekend break.  Anyway by that time it was very clear that the result was a foregone conclusion and that the Frans juggernaut was unstoppable.  But who would come second?  As it turned out, it was this one, which won the jury vote, despite some vocal wobbles.  The staging was simple but those sharp camera shots were very effective indeed.  Like many of the songs in Melodifestivalen 2016, it took a long time for me to love "Human" but once I got there, it took up residence on my iPod over the spring and summer along with a few other songs which also figure in my annual chart.  I can see Oscar returning to Melodifestivalen at a later date....

16.  Mos Harro - Dilan Reka. 

A very late addition to my chart, from Albania's Festivali i Këngës which took place just before Christmas.  Dilan tried to bring some modernity to the contest this year with this song, and he certainly had the momentum at the semi-final stage (pictured above).  However, in the final it was a different matter; Dilan's styling took a turn for the worse (that back-to-front baseball cap really wasn't a good look). Still, 3rd place was a pretty good result in one of Europe's most unique and gleefully idiosyncratic song contests, where something as completely bonkers and bizarre as Genc Salihu's "Këtu" can come second...!

15. Way To Go - Empire of the Sun.

My current favourite song from "Two Vines" and probably the closest in spirit to the best songs from their first two albums, with a similar driving beat to, say, "Standing On The Shore" and some upbeat, hopeful lyrics; "Doesn't matter what's tripping you out, there's ways to go / This is where we get carried away enough to start again" and "Like a cannonball shot across the floor / We have found a way through the darkest hour".

14. Melekler Ölmez - Mor ve Ötesi.

Another very late addition to my chart. In 2016, my all-time favourite Turkish rock band celebrated their 20th anniversary with a box set compilation but I wondered if we would ever get any new material from them.  Then came a new song released earlier in 2016 (Anlatamıyorum) and at the end of the year we got a nice surprise - this brand new song, and it didn't disappoint.  Hoping we don't have to wait too long for that next album...!

13. Put Your Love On Me - Boris René.

Singing footballers seem to be a thing in Sverige: not only did Kevin Walker win Swedish Idol in 2013, but also in 2016 we had the Degerfors defender Boris Lumbana a.k.a. Boris René compete in Melodifestivalen with this hyper-catchy pop song.  If you're looking for deep and meaningful, then look elsewhere: but if you just want a song to make you smile and have you tapping your feet then this is most definitely the one to do it.  Boris will open Melfest 2017 in three weeks: expectations are high that he will deliver another cracking little pop tune.

12. Afterglow - Laila Samuels. 

No offence to Agnete, but there were two better songs in MGP 2016 - the other one will appear later in my countdown.  Looking back, "Afterglow" could have gone that extra mile and presented a serious challenge in Stockholm.  This has the strength and intensity required of a contemporary Eurovision contender.  I hope she returns to MGP some day.  And as for MGP 2016 - well, it could have been so much worse...Freddy Kalas, anyone ?!?!?!?!?!?!

11.  Heartbeat - Justs. 

During a packed Eurovision national finals season, one national selection process stood out for me.  Latvia’s “Supernova” impressed for (at least) 3 reasons: 1) it was on Sundays rather than the increasingly congested Saturday nights; 2) the weekly appearances by Riga Beaver were just life-affirming and topped everything else in national finals season; and 3) Justs and his leather jacket brightened up our Sunday nights with the pulsating, industrial beats of this song, written by Aminata Savadogo who pushed the boundaries of ESC the previous year.  When it came to ESC in Stockholm, the song was staged well and Justs did the best he could - but sadly he only came 15th in the final. 

Saturday, January 07, 2017

The 2016-40: No.30-No.21

30. Snacket på stan – Danny Saucedo.

In a time when many reality formats are flagging, Så mycket bättre continues to buck the trend in Sweden where it remains a massively popular ratings winner and genuine, hitmaking success.  The commercial winners of the most recent series appear to have been Jill Johnson and Magnus Carlson (that's the Weeping Willows frontman, not the ex-Barbados and Alcazar legend), but I was really interested to see what Danny would come up with.  This was his energetic dance-pop revamp of Tommy Nilsson's 1986 poodle-permed rock number "Talk Of The Town" which he completely reinvented with great style.

29. I Took A Pill In Ibiza – Mike Posner.

You should always expect the unexpected in this chart.  A Mike Posner song would probably the last thing you would expect to see here as "Cooler Than Me" became a "hate chart" favourite a few years ago here at EuropeCrazy HQ thanks to the extreme annoyance which it caused faithful travelling companion because of its excessive airplay at the time.  "Ibiza" however managed to strike a chord with me, thanks to its very honest lyrics depicting the fleeting nature of fame.  In the most amazing irony, it was reinvented as a pop/dance anthem thanks to its remix by Seeb. 

28. On Dirait – Amir.

One of the nicest things about following the Eurovision Song Contest is seeing it actually have a positive impact on an artist's career.  Since Amir represented France in 2016 he has gone on to have a very successful post-contest career and it's been very nice to see him winning MTV and NRJ Music Awards.  "On Dirait" was the very catchy follow up to his ESC entry and got a lot of airplay on the music channels when we were on holiday in France in September.  

27. My Heart Wants Me Dead – Lisa Ajax.

My first encounter with this song wasn't really so positive.  During that Melfest heat I struggled with my internet connection and when the results were announced I wrote this off as a Zara Larsson "Uncover" wannabe.  However, I am well known for not liking songs on first listen, so you won't be so surprised to learn that it grew on me by the time of the final and continued to grow on me over the summer.  Despite the inexplicable toilet-roll staging and silly title - in a Melfest year marked by many a silly title, it must be said! - I eventually liked this song rather a lot.  Hopefully she will bring a good song to Melfest 2017.

26. Goodbye (Shelter) – Sanja Vucic ZAA.

In my Eurovision review this year I described the staging of this as "Molitva-meets-Mad-Max". Serbia is taking ESC seriously again and sent Sanja, a very talented singer (as evidenced in the pre-season promo events) with this dramatic song which had the very serious theme of domestic abuse.  I expected a top 10 placing and it certainly deserved better than that 18th place in the final.

25. If Love Was A Crime – Poli Genova.

Bulgaria's 10th performance in ESC proved that you should never give up.  After years of failing to qualify for the final, followed by a couple of years of no participation at all, it turned out that all that was required was a charismatic singer with tons of charm, a winning personality and a very catchy uptempo song which stood out in a line-up of predominantly mid-tempos and ballads.  Fan favourites do not always translate to ESC success, but this was that moment.  Whilst everyone was focusing on the three-way battle between Russia, Australia and Ukraine for the win, Bulgaria sneaked in and grabbed 4th place. It was their best ever result at ESC and will be a hard act to follow.

24.  Duele El Corazon – Enrique Iglesias.

The world is a lot smaller now than it used to be, and it takes no time for a clip, a song or a craze to go viral across social media and YouTube.  So it's even sadder these days that the tradition of the "summer hit" across the continent seems to have died out, with the continued all-conquering globalisation of (what passes for) pop these days.  Give thanks then for Enrique, rushing to the rescue for the 2nd year in a row - after "El Perdon" took Europe by storm in 2015, 2016 brought a song in a very similar vein, "Duele El Corazon" which was also a massive hit in Europe and the Latin music markets.  Hurry back this summer Enrique!

23. Final Song – MØ.

Do you remember 'landfill indie'?  This was a description for faceless early noughties guitar-band music which solely existed to boost record company profits.  Fast-forward a few years and we have landfill tropical-house.  Yes, in 2016 you couldn't escape this particular musical trend which quickly jumped the shark.  This was one of very few exceptions to the rule: it wasn't just another bandwagon-jumper - it was actually a rather good pop song.  

22.  Are We Awake – Tal. 

In a stagnant musical year, I was somewhat reassured during our late summer trip to France, that (a) there was still a strong French-language music scene, and (b) we could watch the music channels in our hotel room!  This was one of the songs which immediately appealed to me during that holiday.

21.  My Way - Calvin Harris. 

I may have been in a minority of one, but I was always of the (unpopular) opinion that Calvin Harris made his best music when he sang on his own songs.  In recent years he's had everyone from Rihanna, Kelis and Ellie Goulding to Hurts, John Newman and Florence Welch as featured vocalists, and in the process he has become the world's highest-paid DJ and grabbing the headlines for his high-profile relationships with Rita Ora and Taylor Swift.  But in 2016, Calvin surprised us with his return to the microphone and all was well again.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The 2016-40: No.40-31

40. Glorious - Måns Zelmerlöw.

It was indeed a "glorious" 2016 for the 2015 Eurovision winner.  Måns returned to the Eurovision stage as co-presenter with Petra Mede in Stockholm.  Their presentation raised the bar so high that they will probably never be topped.  He also had a massive hit in France with the French version of "Should've Gone Home" and released a new album "Chameleon".  We don't often get big pop bangers from Måns these days so this was a little treat.  It's a shame that he doesn't do much uptempo pop these days.

39. All In The Name – Bright Light Bright Light feat Elton John.

A very catchy and appealing pop song featuring a guest appearance from Sir Elton.  Sadly, there no longer seems to be space in the charts or the radio for quality pop music as we know it, so if I hadn't discovered it through a Twitter recommendation then I wouldn't have heard it at all.  

38.  Love Manifest – SunSay.

During what seemed like an interminable national final/selection process in Ukraine - which was obviously worthwhile, given Jamala's eventual ESC win - this rather strange little song grabbed my attention.  Do you ever get songs where you wonder why you like them, but you just do?  This is like that.  It doesn't have any melodic qualities, it's minimal, it feels as if he's just making it up as he goes along, and there isn't much more to it than "love, love, love is the only way".  But for some strange reason, I like it.  

37. Kizunguzungu – SaRaha.

Sara Larsson - not to be confused with Zara Larsson - made her Melfest debut in 2016 with this song which brought the ultimate feelgood factor.  Ridiculously catchy, although admittedly with more than a whiff of "Waka Waka" about it, "Kizunguzungu"made it to the final (via Andra Chansen) and placed 9th.  

36. To Stjerner – Muri and Mario.

I didn't really enjoy DMGP this year, but that was probably more to do with a lot of other distractions around that time I guess.  The main battle was between fan favourites "Never Alone" by Anja Nissen and "Heart-Shaped Hole" by Simone, but if I might just bring an #unpopularopinion here, I didn't really like any of these two songs.  There was a shock winner of course - "Soldiers of Love" by now-defunct 'man band' Lighthouse X, which attracted much criticism from the fan community after it was selected to represent Denmark.  My own DMGP fave this year was this lightweight synth-pop song which I liked in spite of those annoying vocal effects at the beginning of the song....!

35.  Lieblingsmensch – Namika.

Now here's one of those annual little chart-anomalies: a song released the previous year but which only came to my attention in 2016.  This is a bright and breezy, happy and uplifting song, which seemed to provide a bit of light during the darkness of an otherwise horrible year. 

34.   The Real Thing - Highway.

Every year in ESC there are some songs which you don't really bother about until the contest itself and then they start to grow on you thanks to a performance which completely elevates the song.  In 2016 this was one of them.  Despite poor lyrics and not much of a tune, the band from Montenegro performed the hell out of this.  The live version was much better than the recorded one, the vocals and harmonies were spot-on, and the staging was just perfect for this energetic rock number.  And that riff still kicks ass.  

33.  LoveWave – Iveta Mukuchyan.

This has something in common with no. 34 in my chart as I never really rated it before the contest and couldn't understand its appeal.  That was until the semi-final, when Iveta absolutely blew everyone away with her performance.  "Lovewave" epitomises how to get it right in the modern-day Eurovision Song Contest:  take a strong singer who is also a visually stunning and confident performer, add some terrific camera work, some very effective staging and visual effects and voila! There it is.  Armenia "gets" Eurovision and I can see them winning the contest sooner rather than later. 

32. Anlatamiyorum – Mor ve Ötesi.

One of the few musical bright spots of 2016 was the return of my favourite Turkish band, who celebrated their 20th anniversary.  No new album to celebrate, however there was a retrospective release covering 1996-2004.  We did get two new songs though and this is the first of them: a piano-driven piano ballad.  The second song will appear later in my chart.... 

31.  Stressed Out – Twenty One Pilots

I knew nothing about this band until this song popped up earlier in the year.  A catchy atmospheric pop with an absolute killer chorus.  This was one of the very few 'top 40' songs which I could be bothered with in 2016.    

The 2016-40: an introduction

Regular readers will know that at the end of every year I usually post my annual top 50 favourite songs of the year.   This year, however, for the 10th annual running of my chart there will be 10 less songs on the list.  2016 altogether was just one big struggle, and it was the same when it came to music.  Due to a number of other distractions and difficult circumstances, I probably missed out on a lot of new music and much of what I did hear, didn't impress me at all.

When I usually compile the year-end top 50 there are always at least another 15-20 songs which fail to make the cut, whereas this year I have 40 songs, no more, no less, and they're all in this chart :)

The other thing I wanted to mention was that I usually have a cut-off point of early December for my year-end chart. So this would mean that, say, a song released in December 2015 would go into the 2016 chart.  There is a change this time round, which was due to a couple of songs working their way very quickly into my affections in the last week of 2016.  Rather than leave them until next year, I decided to extend the qualifying period from 01.12.2015 until 31.12.2016 so that they could be included this time round.  And I'll have the usual 'anomalies' i.e. songs released in 2015 but not on my radar until 2016.

Right up until posting this chart I've been re-writing and amending, but now I'm happy with my final list.  So let's start the countdown!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Sorry for the delay...

I had planned to post my year-end chart and FiK55 review this week, however I'm not feeling too well at the moment and will also be back at work between tomorrow and Friday, so won't really have much time to blog between now and the New Year weekend. Hoping to catch up with my overdue posts then!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Everyone aware of European customs will know that Christmas Eve is the main attraction and is a very special day indeed. For me Christmas Eve has always had a very special and magical feeling. So in time-honoured tradition, I would like to take the opportunity today to send best wishes to all the readers of this blog for a happy, peaceful and enjoyable festive season.

Today I finally got Netflix after promising myself that for a while, so I've been a bit of a couch potato today :)

On Boxing Day I will be publishing my annual year-end chart of my favourite songs of the year (as well as its 'flip side', the hate chart!).

Something which has become a major highlight of my festive season in recent years has been my favourite musical marathon, Festivali i Këngës.  It was the epic grand final of Fest 55 last night, which was won by "Botë" sung by Lindita Halimi.  I'll be posting my review of the three-night extravaganza over the next few days.  In the meantime I'm off to get ready for a visit from Santa!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The EuropeCrazy Holiday Hit List: Carcassonne September 2016

One last outstanding post from late summer before I turn my attention to the year-end chart.

Yes it's back!  It's a long time since I've done one of these.  The reason for that is mainly due to going on holiday and not having any music channels on TV, or programmes showing music clips.

However, on our holiday in September in Carcassonne, that wasn't a problem.  Between the W9 and CStar channels, there were lots of current/recent music clips to choose from and even better, about 99% of them were by French artists or other artists outwith the usual loop of overplayed artists.  

"Cette Année-La" - M Pokora.

I'll admit that I was pretty shocked on seeing and hearing this video for the first time.  Why?  Well, for one thing, the blonde hair.  Sorry Matt, but IMHO it's not a good look.  Or is it maybe also a tribute to Claude François' famous blonde hair?

I also didn't expect to see Matt Pokora, one of France's coolest pop stars of recent years - for the uninitiated, think France's answer to Justin Timberlake - performing a cover version of the song best known in the English-speaking world as "Oh What A Night" as performed by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  In the parallel universe of French-language music, the song is better known as "Cette Année-La" as performed by French music legend Claude François, who tragically died in 1978.

But after some research it all became clear, because it was the first single from Matt's Claude François tribute album, which was released in October

This clip probably had the heaviest rotation of all during our short stay in Carcassonne.  It's certainly a strange career move for Matt, who just a few years ago was working with Timbaland and his team, but credit to him for trying something different and acknowledging his French music roots.  In case you didn't know, Claude François was one of France's most legendary singers and songwriters of his time: he wrote and recorded "Comme d'habitude" the original French version of the song later translated to English by Paul Anka and recorded by Frank Sinatra as..."My Way".

"Are We Awake" - Tal.

Another video which was on quite heavy rotation.  I know that Tal's been quite a successful artist in France over the past few years. although I'm not familiar with her music.  This is a nice easy-going pop/r'n'b number which, apart from its English title and the line "time to wake up right now" is in fact in French. I've been quite annoyed of late about the proliferation of the English language in French music, so I'm relieved that there's still plenty of native-language music around, even if a little English slips in here and there.

"On Dirait" - Amir.

Of course Amir used the bilingual approach very well on "J'ai cherche", France's 2016 ESC entry which achieved the country's best result in the contest in 14 years.  Even more pleasant is that Amir seems to be making a successful career post-ESC.  This follow-up single is equally as catchy and likeable as its predecessor.

"Le Lac" - Julien Doré.

Unlike in the UK, where a talent show win doesn't guarantee a long career (with the occasional exception), some artists in France have won talent shows and gone on to have sustained success, whether it's Jenifer and Nolwenn Leroy (Star Academy), Kendji Girac and Frero Delavega (The Voice), and Christophe Willem and Julien Doré (Nouvelle Star - French Idol)

Julien has followed his very individual musical path.  It's a quite epic video for "Le Lac" which is quite a laid-back and hypnotic song with soft, whispered vocals by the man himself.

"Lost On You" - LP.

Our holiday in Carcassonne introduced me to this song which has since gone on to become a very big hit in a number of European countries.  In the earlier years of my blog I used to have my "Great Lost European Hit of The Year" award and this looks like being 2016's winner as so far, this has escaped the attention of the tiresome and stagnant UK singles chart.

LP is American singer/songwriter Laura Pergolizzi is no overnight sensation: she initially established her career as a songwriter for the likes of the Backstreet Boys, Erik Hassle, Rihanna and Christina Aguilera, but she is now finally achieving fame in her own right with this song from her 4th album.

"Vivre ou ne pas vivre" - Coeur de Pirate, Arthur H and Marc Lavoine

A combination of older and younger stars. Many of our earlier holidays in France in the late 90s and early 2000s were soundtracked by Marc Lavoine who has been a big star in France since the 1980s and still remains popular today.  This is quite a haunting and hypnotic tune which grabbed my attention on the music video shows.  

Melodifestivalen 2017: surprise surprise!

Surprises can be thin on the ground in the Melfest bubble, particularly when most of the line-up is "exclusively revealed" by the Swedish tabloids in the weeks leading up to SVT's official presentation of the artists and song titles. However if you are a fan of the contest then at least some of your own predictions/speculation will probably be right. 

I call it the Melfest bubble because over the past few years, most of the artists appearing in the contest have had no lasting success outwith the contest, so we shouldn't really be surprised by recent performers making a quick comeback or older established stars having one more shot. They're all guaranteed maximum Swedish media coverage and of course that all-important attention from the wider fan community. 

The announcement of the 2017 Melodifestivalen artists on 30.11.2016 brought one genuine, almost-fell-off-my-seat surprise. Loreen? I mean, really, who expected that? Obviously no-one, as this completely slipped under the rumour-radar. 

Loreen's "Euphoria" is one of the most iconic winners of the modern Eurovision era: in 2012 it blended song, performer, performance, choreography, lighting and staging in a way which had never been done at the Eurovision Song Contest before. It has become one of the most popular winners within the fan community.  It redefined what we expect from "a Eurovision entry" and had a massive impact on the contest as a whole. 

Bearing all that in mind, you'd wonder why Loreen wants to come back. But since 2012, she has not been able to build on her success. So perhaps we can understand why she wants to return to Melodifestivalen, although my own view is that we will inevitably be disappointed. She may surprise us though...! 

At this stage, we don't know anything about the songs so we have to focus on the songwriters. Fredrik Kempe songs either for the first time in, is it, 10 years? I wonder if that's his punishment for going to work for the "other side" joining the judging panel on TV4's Idol? The Debs-and-Anton have a much lower profile than in previous years, with only two songs in the 2017 contest. One songwriter who is definitely back in the Melfest fold is Thomas G:son, fresh from his success with Cyprus and Georgia in 2016. It will be very interesting to see what style of song he delivers in Melfest: will he return to the schlager which made his name, or will he stick with the pop-rock which has brought more recent success? 

Heat 1: Gothenburg 04.02.2017 

"Amare" - Adrijana
(Martin Tjärnberg, Adrijana Krasniqi)

"Her Kiss" - Boris René 
(Tim Larsson, Tobias Lundgren)

"Hold On" - Nano
(Nano Omar, Gino Yonan, Ayak, Carl Rydén, Christoffer Belaieff, Rikard de Bruin, David Francis Jackson)

"Mitt Liv" - Charlotte Perrelli
(Charlotte Perrelli, Lars Hägglund)

"One More Night" - Dinah Nah
(Thomas G:son, Jimmy Jansson, Dinah Nah, Dr Alban)

"Road Trip" - De Vet Du 
(Johan Gunterberg, Christopher Martland)

"Wild Child" - Ace Wilder
(Peter Boström, Thomas G:son, Ace Wilder)

Ace will be hoping it's third time lucky, but to avoid Melfest's law of diminishing returns, it will need to take a very special song and production to finally get her to ESC - or maybe she's going down the Sanna Nielsen route (make enough appearances and eventually Sweden will send you). 

Glad to see Boris back after an enjoyable debut. There's also a welcome return for dance diva Dinah Nah, whilst Charlotte is back in "it's not schlager!" shock despite her schlagertastic interval act in 2016, and internet stars De Vet Du could be the new Samir and Viktor. 

Don't know anything about new names Adrijana or Nano - they may surprise us although could be left on the sidelines of a heat where it's all about the name-recognition. 

Heat 2: Malmö, 11.02.2017

"A Million Years" - Mariette
(Thomas G:son, Johanna Jansson, Peter Boström, Mariette Hansson, Jenny Hansson)

"Good Loovin'" - Benjamin Ingrosso 
(Benjamin Ingrosso, Louis Schoorl, Matt Pardon)

"Hearts Align" - Dismissed
(Ola Salo, Peter Kvint)

"Himmel och Hav" - Roger Pontare
(Thomas G:son, Alexzandra Wickman)

"I Don't Give A" - Lisa Ajax
(Ola Svensson, Linnea Deb, Joy Deb, Anton Hård af Segerstad)

"Up" - Etzia
(Johnny Sanchez, Hanif Sabzevari, Simon Gribbe, Erica Haylett)

"Vart Haru Varit" - Allyawan 
(Masse Salazar, Samuel Nazari)

This heat boasts the worst song title of the year: if you thought "Youniverse" was bad, don't even start me on "Good Loovin'"!  Benjamin is the son of Melfest legend Pernilla Wahlgren so he will get a lot of attention in a heat with 3 new/unknown names as well as returning recent artists Lisa Ajax and Mariette.  I think Lisa and Mariette will be a cert to qualify.  Ola is back and it will be very interesting to see what his co-write with the Debs-and-Anton delivers. 

The other big news in this heat is the return of Roger Pontare.  Will he get a Hasse Andersson-style bounce and make it to the final or will he suffer the fate of "older" artists who have competed over the past couple of years and failed to make it?

With Ola Salo and Peter Kvint as songwriters, I'm particularly looking forward to the entry by Dismissed. 

Heat 3: Vaxjö 18.02.2017

"Boogieman Blues" - Ove Thörnqvist
(Ove Thörnqvist)

"Crucified" - Bella and Filippa
(Peter Hägerås, Mats Frisell, Jakob Stadell, Filippa Frisell, Isabella Snihs)

"Gotta Thing" - The Fooo Conspiracy
(Robert ”Mutt” Lange, Tony Nilsson)

"Gravity" - Jasmine Kara
(Anderz Wrethov, Jasmine Kara)

"I Can't Go On" - Robin Bengtsson
(David Kreuger, Hamed ”K-One” Pirouzpanah, Robin Stjernberg)

"Kiss You Goodbye" - Anton Hagman
(Christian Fast, Tim Schou, Henrik Nordenback)

"Snurra Min Jord" - Krista Siegfrids
(Krista Siegfrids, Gustaf Svenungsson, Magnus Wallin, Gabriel Alares)

For me this heat is all about Robin and whether he will be able to follow up with something as good or better than "Constellation Prize", a song which went on to have a very long post-contest life as one of my favourite songs of the year - just how favourite you will soon find out in my 2016-50 chart to be published around Christmas week!  This time round, 2013 Melfest winner Robin Stjernberg is among the songwriters so hoping for maximum Robin fabulousness :)

This heat will be a headline-grabber thanks to the appearance of Melfest's oldest ever artist, Ove Thörnqvist, and in contrast there will be a lot of attention given to the hugely popular young boyband The Fooo Conspiracy.  There's some heavyweight songwriting talent here - "Mutt" Lange (ex-husband of Shania Twain) has been responsible for writing and/or producing a massive number of hit songs and albums over the years -  whilst Tony Nilsson has written/co-written some Melfest classics in the last decade including "Love In Stereo", "The Queen", "Headlines", "You're Out Of My Life", "Like Suicide" and "Shout It Out".  

Krista returns in another attempt to boost her profile on the Swedish music scene.  Watch out for young Swedish YouTube star Anton Hagman who could be the new..Anton Ewald!  Tim Schou - yes, none other than the ex-lead singer of A Friend in London (DK, ESC 2011) is among the songwriters. If Anton taps into his key fanbase - Justin Bieber/Shawn Mendes fans - he will easily go direkt till 

Bella and Filippa could also be surprise qualifiers with their country-flavoured sound.

Heat 4: Skellefteå 25.02.2017

"As I Lay Me Down" - Wiktoria
(Justin Forrest, Jonas Wallin, Lauren Dyson)

"Bound To Fall" - Les Gordons
(Jonatan Renström, Albert Björliden, Andreas Persson, Carl Ragnemyr, David Runebjörk, Jimmy Jansson)

"Du får inte ändra på mig" - Sara Varga and Juha Mulari
(Sara Varga, Lars Hägglund)

"En värld full av strider" - Jon Henrik Fjällgren feat Aninia
(Jon Henrik Fjällgren, Sara Biglert, Christian Schneider, Andreas Hedlund)

"När ingen ser"- Axel Schylström
(Behshad Ashnai, Axel Schylström, David Strääf)

"Running With Lions" - Alice
(Anderz Wrethov, Andreas ”Stone” Johansson, Denniz Jamm, Alice Svensson)

"Statements" - Loreen
(Anton Hård af Segerstad, Joy Deb, Linnea Deb, Loreen)

Aah, heat 4, which over the past couple of years has been "the one with the winner in it".  So I'm not surprised at all to see Wiktoria in this heat; it was inevitable that she would return quickly and there is definitely a whiff of "the chosen one" here.  She has some competition here though: much will be expected of Loreen's song, whilst returning artists Sara and more recently, Jon Henrik have been Melfest finalists in recent years therefore they would also be in with a chance.  Don't write off the Idol-effect though, as 2008 runner-up Alice Svensson (with a Wrethov co-write) and 2015 4th-placed Axel Schylström are also making their debut in what could be quite a hotly-contested final heat. 

So who is going to win Melodifestivalen 2017?  We will know the answer in March 2017, but in the meantime we will just get excited and speculate wildly until it all kicks off in just 8 weeks time!

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: November 2016

Reboots, reunions, revamps, call them what you like - when it comes to TV shows, they don't always work.  In my November TV review I'm focusing on two much-loved TV favourites who have made a comeback over the past couple of months.

Firstly I caught up with the revived series of "COLD FEET" (ITV) which recently returned to our screens with its 6th series, 13 years after it made an emotional farewell.

This show was a phenomenon when it arrived on TV in the 90s.  But would it work in the 21st century?  The answer is a definite yes.  It is of course a testament to the quality of the writing and acting on this show, that it was no time before it felt like they had never been away.  And one very important thing hadn't changed - David remains one of the most irritating characters I can remember in a TV drama.

Cold Feet deserves the praise though - it's warm-hearted, funny and sad, mixing light-hearted and serious issues, but in the end it's just a lightweight, soapy relationship drama - an everyday story of Mancunian middle-class folk.  After the show's success with the critics and viewers alike, it wasn't too surprising to learn that the series has been renewed for another series on ITV.

However, contrast this with the rather shabby treatment by ITV of another lightweight drama series which also enjoyed ratings success over this summer.  Things were looking good for "Brief Encounters" after a successful first series. so it was expected that the 80s-set story of Ann Summers reps could be returning for a second series. However, ITV announced that they would not be recommissioning the show.  Like Cold Feet, it's a lightweight, soapy drama about relationships, and family, and it's also set "up north".  But the characters in "Brief Encounters" are more working-class, more "ordinary" than the reasonably affluent protagonists of "Cold Feet", and the series has not been given the chance to develop characters and storylines to the extent that "Cold Feet" was able to do over several series.  This to me says a lot about the television executives who dictate what appears on our TV screens.

One final mention of "Cold Feet" for a moment - and a very familiar face turned up in the final episode.  None other than Sanjeev Kohli, best known as the hilarious shopkeeper Navid, one of the best characters in "Still Game".

Which brings me on to the 7th series of a Scottish comedy institution.  "STILL GAME" (BBC1). The main characters, Jack and Victor, initially appeared in that other Scottish comedy institution, "Chewin' The Fat", before being given their own spin-off which ran for six series before Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan ended their partnership somewhat acrimoniously.

But time of course is a great healer and the consistent popularity of what is (in this part of the world) a very relatable comedy meant that the calls for a reunion just kept on coming, whilst we were all wearing out our copies of the DVD series 1-6 box set).  Eventually the gang reunited for a series of sell-out live shows at the SSE Hydro arena in Glasgow in 2014.  This was recorded live and televised by BBC Scotland however if I'm honest, I found it a huge disappointment watching it on TV.  I guess you had to be there.  What couldn't be argued was that there was still a massive appetite for this show, so it was great news when a long-awaited new series was announced.

Something else happened on the way to series 7: the show reached a much wider audience via Netflix.  Anyway, was the new series worth waiting for?  Well, yes, I would say, although there has been some criticism but I think that may be down to the burden of expectation which would inevitably result in disappointment.

Particular highlights for me were Isa's talking dog (episode 1), new arrival Methadone Mick's dental treatment and job interview (episode 3) and my favourite episode of this series, episode 5, when Jack and Victor tried some dog-sitting with Zeus and Onion and traded some "History Today"-style insults:

"Your dug needs a gastric band!"
"Your dug's an a***hole!"

The series ended on a slightly disappointing note for me but on the whole I didn't think the series was as bad as some people made out.  It looks as if this will be the final series as there will be another series of live dates in 2017 - which will not be filmed, and the title of the shows is "Bon Voyage" which suggests something quite final.

A quick mention for the latest instalment of "THE PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF POP" (BBC4) which covered the decade 1986 to 1996.  It was Lauren Laverne's turn to take us from Depeche Mode to the rave scene, the Hacienda, Take That, Blur and the Spice Girls.  A particularly poignant end to the show featuring Craig Gill, the Inspiral Carpets drummer, and his memories of Oasis.  Craig passed away in the week the show was aired; one of far, far too many losses to the music world in this hellish year.

I'm still struggling to get through the TV backlog - haven't seen series 2 of "Humans" or "The Code" yet whilst I'm slowly working my way through series 2 of "30 Degrees In February" and will review that in my December post.  And despite promising myself Netflix in November, well that still hasn't happened!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

UMK 2017 songs: first listen

A few days ago the line-up of finalists for UMK 2017, the Finnish national selection for Eurovision, was announced.  Today I listened to the songs for the first time.  Here are my thoughts.

Arrows - Alva
This is a pleasant and reasonably contemporary pop song although it has a rather bland and generic feel.  The "arrows, arrows, arrows" hookline is memorable enough but this song is lacking that something extra to appeal to the voters.

Blackbird - Norma John
I'm not a fan of ballads at all, but for me this is the standout of the national selection and could have the best chance of getting Finland a decent result at ESC.  This song's slow brooding drama immediately made me think of something which would turn up in Norway's MGP - and I mean that as a compliment.  Norma has a beautiful voice too.  If they get the staging right, this could do very, very well.

Caveman - Knucklebone Oscar and The Shangri-La Rubies
UMK certainly brings a bit of diversity every year but in 2017 there seem to be more novelty/joke entries than should really be necessary in a national final.  This isn't so much a song as a messy mishmash of ideas and will probably need to lean on significant staging to give it any chance.  It sounds like a leftover song from an axed musical and has no redeeming features for me at all.

Circle of Light - Emma
For me this is immediately drawing a comparison with "Hear Them Calling" and I'm visualising similar staging with added wolves (!)  This would make a very predictable and safe winner and it's all just too "been there done that" for me.  It's not the worst song I've ever heard but it's totally lacking in originality and brings nothing new to the table.

Helppo elämä - Lauri Yrjölä 
Hooray!  A native language song - the only one in the national final. The title means "Easy Life" and it goes from a "Hey Brother"-styled beginning to a chorus with some serious dance beats.  I quite liked this on first listen, I know it doesn't really have a chance in the contest but I'm glad it's there.

Love Yourself - Gunther and D'Sanz
Yes, that Gunther, sleazy old Gunther of Ding Dong Song and Like Fire Tonight fame is back, back, back. And he's crossed the border into Finland!

Love Yourself, eh?  This isn't Justin Bieber's worldwide mega-hit ballad, but instead it quickly makes its intentions very clear.  This song appears to be an ode to, erm, "touching your tra-la-la" and the chorus takes it into Eurodance banger territory.  It did make me smile, I have to admit!

Paradise - My First Band
This is just a bad, bad parody of an r'n'b pop song.  "I wanna see you satisfied/let me kiss your paradise"?  Goodness gracious. No thanks.  Perhaps I might have liked this better if the lyrics weren't so hideous.

Reach Out For The Sun - Anni Saikku
It boasts the kind of empowering "you can do it!" lyrics which turn up in numerous national final songs every year. My main problem with this song is that it's desperately needing a big old dance remix.  The sentiment of the song deserves something more uptempo than the sea of blandness which it's sailing on.

My Little World - Club La Persé
All together now..."I just love my little world, I don't need no new sensations..." oh wait.  It's not that one.  What's with rehashing song titles in this year's UMK?  31 years after Waterloo and Robinson brought us that cheesy tune, Club La Persé will bring something completely different to the Finnish national selection.  Visually this collective is, well, let's just say, interesting.  I like the beat and the retro-dance feel of the chorus but the whole thing is a bit of a waste.  Another "novelty" song.

Perfect Villain - Zühlke
When I saw her picture I was immediately reminded of Nina Soderquist in Melodifestivalen 2009. Zühlke could be just as fierce. This modern, mid-tempo number has the potential to do quite well, and the song's chorus starts with "what would the X-Men do?".  What would the voters do?  What would Brian Boitano do? (sorry).  I think this could do well.

All in all, on first listen I found this selection of national final songs to be disappointing.  Was that the best Finland could do?  You always expect something better (see what I did there!) and at least something different/unusual from a Finnish national final: but 2017 is more different/unusual in a bad way rather than a good way.  Maybe a few more listens will change my mind - or maybe not?

My preferred winner would be "Blackbird" as I feel it would give Finland the best chance at ESC.  I guess it's between Emma, Zühlke and Norma John, although in recent years UMK has given us some surprising results so anything can happen!

The UMK final takes place on 28 January 2017 - yes, just one national final, no semi-finals this time round - and it will be hosted by Krista Siegfrids.