Saturday, February 18, 2017

Just a minute....of this week's Melodifestivalen songs - Heat 3

Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts lately, the past couple of weeks have been hectic and I haven't been feeling too great.  However I have been watching as many heats and national finals as time allows,  I have (surprise surprise) built up a large backlog of posts to write up since December, unfortunately I can't promise when I'll have the time or energy to get round to posting these but hoping to do this within the next 4 weeks.  This blog is very much a 'retrospective' one these days, sad to say.

It's Super Saturday tonight with 3 finals (Hungary, Poland and Malta) as well as various semi-finals going on.  If you thought last Saturday night was a challenge then tonight is an even bigger one, trying to catch as many of the shows as possible.  Good luck everyone!

Anyway let's get on with a quick first listen to this week's Melfest entries competing in Växjö.  Who will go direkt, who will make it to Andra Chansen and who's going home?


Song 1: "I Can't Go On" - Robin Bengtsson. 

Melodifestivalen 2017 has been the year of the f word.  It first popped up in week 1's opening number, then it was all over Lisa Ajax's song last week, and now here it is again in Robin's song. Now I'm no prude and I'm not a fan of musical censorship but I think it's all getting a bit tiresome now.  I will probably write more about this when I get round to publishing my full reviews.

In the meantime, we have Robin's quick return to Melfest with a song which on first hearing has, to be honest, left me cold.  Of course I've only heard a minute of the song so maybe it gets better, and and maybe the live performance will give it that something extra.  It has a little Justin Timberlake vibe to it, but apart from that and the unnecessary f-word, it all just sounds far too generic and dull.  I expected something a bit more special from Robin, although having said that, it took a while for "Constellation Prize" to grow on me so this might be the same.

PREDICTION: To the Final.

Song 2: "Snurra Min Jord" - Krista Siegfrids. 

I thought Krista did an excellent job hosting the Finnish final a few weeks ago.  Now she's popped over the border again to compete in another Melodifestivalen but I fear it will be another year without success.  This is an upbeat dance/pop song in Swedish, and the fanboys are all loving it.  For me, it's OK and I think it might grow on me after a few listens.  I can't see this qualifying from the draw-of-doom slot and even in a musically unspectacular week there are other songs which have a much better chance of qualification.

PREDICTION: Non-qualifier.

Song 3: "Kiss You Goodbye" - Anton Hagman.

Two things which have me running for the hills: the phrase "YouTube star" and a solo singer with an acoustic guitar.  But wait!  I think I might like this one.  It's a catchy, uptempo (if a bit too lightweight) pop song which I would definitely want to listen to again.  This will be one for the app voters this week though, as Anton has teen-appeal and could be a Swedish version of Shawn Mendes. So for that reason...

PREDICTION: To Andra Chansen.

Song 4: "Gravity" - Jasmine Kara. 

This seems to have that 'something extra' to take it on to the final.  It starts well but then it all goes wrong and goes all EDM/Titanium on us.  In the current Melfest fashion for the F-word I would like to say this: "Not another f***ing Titanium copy!  Can Titanium please f*** off now?  We suffered it enough when it was all over the radio for about 2 years so we really don't need all these f***ing songs which sound like Ti-f***-ing-tanium in Eurovision as well.  And that goes for you too Germany!"  "Gravity" is not as blatant a Titanium copy as "Perfect Life" though, so that's something.

PREDICTION: To the final.

Song 5: "Boogieman Blues" - Owe Thörnqvist. 

A man called Owe!  In this case, he's Melodifestivalen's oldest contestant ever, 87 years young, and he is still rockin' and rollin' with this fun song.  I still haven't a clue how this is going to go - it's probably not a qualifier but if Hasse Andersson could do it then who knows?  In a heat with two acts with teen appeal though, the young voters are likely to greatly influence tonight's result.

PREDICTION: Non-qualifier.

Song 6:  "Crucified" - Bella and Filippa.

A cheery wee country-flavoured number is this.  But OMG, what a cheeky steal from the Common Linnets' staging, with the road line going down the middle of the stage. There's a lot of comparisons with First Aid Kit, although Bella and Filippa seem to be a more mainstream/commercial version. This is very nice, but it's maybe too lightweight to make enough of an impression with the voters.

PREDICTION: Non-qualifier.

Song 7: "Gotta Thing About You" - FO&O.

Right then, Firstly, have this band got the monopoly on stupid band names?  Firstly we had The Fooo. Which was at least quite funny as we could call them "The Foooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo".
Then they changed to the rather silly The Fooo Conspiracy.  Finally when they lost a band member (an O) they changed it yet again to FO&O.  Which is a pretty rubbish band name really.

They are hugely popular in Sweden with a very enthusiastic fandom to say the least. Despite the heavyweight songwriting input from Mutt Lange, something is missing here for me.  I expected a stronger song but it just sounds like something else off the boyband production line.  It's JTR all over again.

PREDICTION: To Andra Chansen.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Just a minute....of this week's Melodifestivalen 2017 songs - Heat 1

The biggest, most popular, most hyped of all the Eurovision national selections kicks off tonight in Gothenburg.  Yes, Melodifestivalen is finally here.  However I am taking a very different approach to it this year and have lowered my expectations so that I won't be disappointed!

My problem with Melfest is that every year I get carried along with the hysteria and end up expecting far too much, only for the inevitable disappointment to follow.  If we're all spared and make it to the end of 2017, some of this year's Melfest entries may make it into my annual chart, but at this stage of the game it's likely to be a very different story.  Let me explain! Very few songs manage to grab me on first hearing, so I can become quite negative about songs which I eventually grow to like or love.

Anyway it's time to look at the first set of songs which will compete to go either direkt till final or to Andra Chansen.  As usual SVT published snippets of the songs the other day, so here are my views based on what I've heard so far.


Song 1: "Her Kiss" - Boris René.

His debut entry last year "Put Your Love On Me" remains one of my favourite songs from 2016's national finals season.  I fear though that Boris may be subject to Melodifestivalen's Law of Diminishing Returns - where returning artists bring a song which just isn't as good as their previous entry.

That said, I quite like this - it's an agreeable (many would call it old-fashioned) pop song, nothing more, nothing less.  Although for some reason the 'she's got that sunshine' part in the chorus makes me think of "The Clapping Song" - "my mama told me/if I was goody" etc (!?!?!)

It's not a serious contender though, and people may struggle to remember the song, but he's a likeable performer and all in all I think it'll be enough to ensure a qualifying place.

PREDICTION: To Andra Chansen. 

Song 2: "Amare" - Adrijana.

Oh no, second position in the running order, the 'slot of death' for unknowns, newcomers and the acts which SVT don't want to qualify.

I can't see Adrijana breaking this curse.  This is a very contemporary hip-hop song but it lacks a strong hook and is easily forgotten.  This isn't really my type of music but extra points from me for it being in Swedish.

PREDICTION: Non-qualifier. 

Song 3: "One More Night" - Dinah Nah.

So Christer says that there is no schlager in this year's Melodifestivalen.  Well to these ears, this song has a definite whiff of modern schlager about it and if you're one of those fans who like to regularly use the words "yaaasssss", "slay" and "queen" when referring to song contest entries, then this one's for you. It has a touch of the 'Bombo' about it as well.  However, times have changed and songs like this just don't do well in Melodifestivalen any more.

PREDICTION: Non-qualifier.

Song 4: "Road Trip" - De Vet Du.

Something which does inexplicably do well in Melodifestivalen is this type of 'joke' entry (previous contenders: Sean Banan/Samir and Viktor).  When you factor in this new style of celebrity - YouTube stars - then it's looking good for this gang who are also going to put on a bit of a show.  It's in Swedish, which is a good thing, but I didn't think much of this song on first listen.  However I think it could be one of those songs which could dangerously grow on me as time goes on.  Be very afraid :D

PREDICTION: To Andra Chansen. 

Song 5: "Mitt Liv" - Charlotte Perrelli.

The schlager world went into mourning at the news that La Perrelli was returning to Melfest with *a ballad*.  And - shock horror - am acoustic guitar!

I'm not a fan of ballads and it has to be particularly memorable to stand out.  I found this rather dull and it's quite likely to be down near the foot of the scoreboard.  I doubt whether Charlotte will care too much though as she will solely be using this appearance as a promotional tool for her new style of music.

PREDICTION: Non-qualifier. 

Song 6: "Wild Child" - Ace Wilder.

Will it be third time lucky for Ace this year?  Despite the title it's not that wild at all, and it actually shows a 'softer' side based on this clip.  I don't like her new platinum blonde hair colour though!

She is not the strongest vocalist, it has to be said, and the overall staging and presentation of the song has been such a huge factor in the success of her previous Melfest entries so I guess a lot will depend on that.  She could even find herself battling against De Vet Du for that final spot - but I think she'll make it to the final based on the name-recognition and her past successes in the contest.

PREDICTION: To the Final. 

Song 7: "Hold On" - Nano.

Much has been written over the years about the power of the "pimp slot" which is usually reserved either for a much-hyped well-known 'name' or as a launchpad for an unknown artist.  Many were surprised when the previously-unknown Nano was given week 1's "pimp slot" in preference to Ace Wilder.

If you had to put Hozier's "Take Me To Church", Rag N'Bone Man's "Human", Sigma & Rita Ora's "Coming Home" and Rudimental's "Feel The Love" into a blender, it would probably produce this on-trend, generic recipe for success.  Mix that with his strong, powerful vocals and this is an absolute qualifier without a doubt.

PREDICTION: To the Final.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

5000 tweets later.

So, 7 years and 8 months after I joined Twitter, I finally reached 5000 tweets tonight.  So of course it had to be something very special:



Of course I also love national finals too, and I posted that tweet during the Finnish national final, UMK.  I will be writing up my review of that final and will post it over the next few days.

2016: the hate chart

Time for my last word on my most hated songs of 2016 - a year which delivered many songs which were overplayed, overrated and overstayed their welcome in a top 40 singles chart which is now more depressingly stagnant than ever, thanks to streaming. The radio stations were no better, playing the same songs, hour after hour, for months on end.

All of these songs were hits either in the UK or elsewhere, but just because something's popular doesn't automatically mean I like it.  However music is a matter of taste, so I must acknowledge that although these were my least favourite songs of 2016, they may be in your list of favourites. Please understand that this is purely my personal choice!


15. "Say You Won't Let Go" - James Arthur.

This guy won X Factor in 2012 but it wasn't long until his career went into freefall after some controversies.  He returned in 2016 with this dreary acoustic number which makes it into my chart for two reasons: 1) its blatant similarity to the vastly superior "The Man Who Can't Be Moved" by The Script; and 2) the did-he-really-sing-that? line "I held your hair back when you were throwing up". How romantic.


14. "I Would Like" - Zara Larsson.

Zara is obviously a talented and very ambitious young artist who is going all-out for world domination, and she is refreshingly frank and fearless in expressing her opinions. However, can I throw in an #unpopularopinion here: if this trashy track with it's cringeworthy "I would like to get/under your sexy body" chorus is anything to go by, quality control seems to be slipping. She needs better songs.

14. "Pillowtalk" - Zayn.

The only bit I like in this is the "bed all day, bed all day" line, because I would rather sleep in bed all day than have to listen to this forced attempt at being all sexy-and-grown-up-and-let's-forget-I-was-ever-in-a-boyband piece of nonsense.

13. "Back To Sleep" - Chris Brown.

In case you wondered if romance is dead, then here's that most odious of r'n'b superstars to confirm it for you with this gruesome chat-up line.


12.  "One Call Away" - Charlie Puth.

It looks as if young Mr Puth could become a regular visitor to my annual hate chart. After the abomination of "let's Marvin Gaye and get it on" in 2015, he returned to torment us with this song which, you can just imagine high-profile featuring in all those Jamster ringtone ads from the days of Crazy Frog (!) if they were still going. The horror is not imaginary, it is reality, because one of my workmates has this as her ringtone. I think I'll get Crazy Frog for revenge.


11. "Summer 2016" - L.E.J.

Let's face it, friends, where would a EuropeCrazy hate chart be without an annual appearance from everyone's favourite irritating French trio?  This time they're mashing up the hits of 2016, from Hello to Hotline Bling to Stressed Out to Love Yourself and so on.  The only thing which would make them even more irritating would be to cover fellow cello-wielding bores Clean Bandit.  Same time next year!

10."Don't Let Me Down" - The Chainsmokers.

Impossibly successful faceless dance act with supremely irritating summer hit.  Don't let me-don't let me-don't let me down-don't let me down-don't let me down.  Remind me what it's called again?? This could probably have done with a guest appearance from Sean Paul.  I mean, surely they can afford him now with all the airplay royalties??

9. "Starving" - Hailee Steinfeld
8. "Sexual" - Neiked

Both of these songs share one very irritating quality - annoying vocals/sound effects.  You know the one. Whether it's the screaming screech in the chorus of "Starving" or that, well, screaming screech two minutes into "Sexual", it's enough to make me launch my radio against the wall every time I hear these songs.

7. "Secret Love Song" - Little Mix featuring Jason Derulo.

I'm not really a fan but credit where it's due, Little Mix have made a few decent pop songs since winning X Factor, but this is not among them.  What propels this into the top 10 of my hate chart is the guest appearance of The Amazing Jason Derulooooooooo And His Autotune Machine.  "Why can't I take my autotune machine out in the street/why can't I take it on the dancefloooooo-autotune-oooooooor?"

6. "Rockabye" - Clean Bandit featuring Anne-Marie and Sean Paul.

Unpopular opinions time again....everyone seems to love this, but for me Clean Bandit will never be anything other than the posh, smug, slappable face of commercial dance music.  This is just a blatant recycling of Sia's "Cheap Thrills", and just to labour the point, they even get the rejuvenated Sean Paul to do his thing, just as he did on....oh, come to mention it, "Cheap Thrills".

Not only was this no.1 for weeks and weeks and weeks, but thanks to the delights of streaming, this completely killed off the tradition of the race for the Christmas no.1.

5. "Closer" - The Chainsmokers.
4. "I Hate U I Love U" - Gnash.

Two songs which I hate in tandem.  "Closer" is a cracking example of the new tedious face of dance music which you can't dance to.  The Chainsmokers' popularity completely escapes me. "#Selfie" was a laugh and a parody to end all parodies, but their newer music is just plain dreary.

Don't get me started on "I Hate U I Love U"....which is a cracking example of the new tedious face of...tedious music, the John Lewisification (!?!) of pop, where everything is slowed down to snail's pace with minimal (usually piano) backing.  I hate this, I hate this....



3.  "7 Years" - Lukas Graham.

This song was all over the radio for at least the first six months of 2016.  Normally I would be cheering if a European act broke through into the British charts but in this instance it just had me reaching for the 'off' button.  Playing devil's advocate for a moment, I can understand the emotional aspect of the song's finale: one day he'll be 60 years old and he hopes that he won't be lonely and that his children will come and visit him occasionally....but I can't see that happening if he keeps singing this bloody song to them.  My main problem with Lukas Graham (the band) is Lukas Graham (the singer) whose voice just grates on me.


2. "One Dance" - Drake.

A song which I managed to escape for the bulk of its almost record-breaking stint at no.1 over the summer.  Whilst I was never particularly a fan of either "Everything I Do, I Do It For You" or "Love Is All Around", both songs had wide-ranging appeal.  To this day I can't understand the appeal of "One Dance" - it's not even a remotely good song, and the autotune (or whatever they used on this) just bumps up the irritation factor.

Where this differs from those other two record-breaking songs from the 90s is that crucially, people chose to buy and own those songs.   My biggest problem with streaming is that it mainly removes ownership from the equation and the main focus is on how many times you listen to a song, without it actually being yours.  Although having said that, who would actually want to own a song as dire as this?

There was never any question about what was going to be no.1 in my chart.  The very first minute I heard this version of a much-loved song, I hated it with a passion and that has not changed.  My number one is....drum roll....


1. "Dancing On My Own" - Calum Scott.

This was an absolute runaway winner as my most-hated track of 2016.  In fact I would go further and say that it is probably the worst of the last 10 years at least.  The most worrying thing about this was that there are people out there who don't know Robyn's version and think this is an original song. 

The original version is a fantastic pop song.  But in this 2016 reinvention, John Lewis Christmas ad-style, all the heartbreak and genuine emotion of the original was replaced with fake emotion and sincerity as this Britain's Got Talent contestant proceeds to destroy everything which was wonderful about Robyn's song.

There are even cover versions of Calum Scott's cover version on YouTube.  Be very afraid.  

So there goes 2016.  I'm sure there will be more songs to hate in 2017 - but most of all, I hope there will be many, many more songs to love :)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Eurovision: You Decide 2017 - UK National Final Songs: first listen

The final 6 songs which will compete in this year's UK national final, "Eurovision: You Decide" to be broadcast this coming Friday, were premiered today on Ken Bruce's Radio 2 mid-morning show.  I was off work today so could have tuned in, but I guessed that the songs would be spread over the duration of the show and I didn't have the patience to listen!

The songs are all available to listen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04qg63c

1.  "Freedom Hearts" - Olivia Garcia.  (Gabriel Alares/Sebastian Lestapier/Linnea Nelson/Laurell Barker)

THE SONG: This is reasonably contemporary, in that mid-tempo style which still seems to be a thing.  For some reason this reminds me a little of Leona Lewis and at first I thought she'd put yet another song in - but in fact it's written by an international team including Gabriel Alares (by now a very familiar name in Eurovision national finals). On first hearing it's a little too generic, and the 'freedom hearts' hook is a little silly, but I have to say in its favour that I remembered the chorus for quite a while after I heard the song for the first time, which let's face it, is crucial in ESC particularly when, in the case of the Big 5, you only get one shot.

THE SINGER: 16 year old Olivia appeared on the 2016 series of X Factor, reaching the Judges Houses stage.  She has an impressive voice on the recorded version of this song and if she can replicate this on the night, then this song is in with a good chance.

2.  "I Wish I Loved You More" - Holly Brewer.  (Kevin Fisher/Courtney Harrell/Laurell Barker/Magnus Frändå/Johan Åsgärde/Oliver Lundström)

THE SONG: Another mid-tempo song with a multiple line-up of songwriters and some more Swedish names in there.  There is nothing new or particularly spectacular about this: it's strong and solid, and again the vocals sound good on record, but it's sounding more like an album track/4th single release from an album.  For some reason, on first listen this was giving me Beyonce "Halo" vibes (although I don't like that song at all!) but I wonder if that will work in this song's favour?

THE SINGER: Holly is a 21 year old singer-songwriter and her CV includes singing at the wedding of well-known UK TV celebs Michelle Keegan and Mark Wright (!).  Again, a strong vocal on the recorded version so hopefully she can deliver a strong performance on the night.

3. "Never Give Up On You" - Lucie Jones.  (The Treatment/Emmelie de Forest/Lawrie Martin)

THE SONG: Presumably this came out of the songwriting camp which ESC 2013 winner Emmelie attended.  Unfortunately it's yet another of these mid-tempo songs, and this one in particular is crying out for a big old anthemic dancey remix.

THE SINGER: Although I don't follow X Factor, the media attention given to the show means that I don't really have to.  Lucie's name was familiar from that show and on further research she actually took part in series 6 in 2009, where she made it to the 3rd week of the live finals.  She won't be the last XF 2009 entrant in this year's UK ESC selection either....

4.  "Light Up The World" - Danyl Johnson.  (Dan McAlister/Rick Blaskey/Greg Walker/Chris Sutherland/Ameerah Roelants) 

THE SONG: Oh for goodness sake....can we have something which isn't a flippin' mid-tempo?  This is particularly bland, beige, been-there done-that, and even if it tries to tack on a little bit of an apology for a dance beat, it was to win the national final not only would it flop in ESC but I couldn't see it having much commercial success either.

THE SINGER: So you wait 8 years for an X Factor 2009 singer in the UK ESC selection and two come along at once.  Again, I remember that Danyl was hotly tipped as a winner in the 2009 series but he ended up in 4th place.  Of course he is strong vocally, but he deserved a better song here.

By this point I am hoping for some diversity, whether it's a country song, or a pop banger, or even (God forbid) tropical house, or some good old-fashioned Europop.

5. "I Don't Wanna Fight" - Salena Mastroianni.  (The Treatment/Nicole Blair/Marli Harwood)

THE SONG: Another multiple co-write, this time including Marli Harwood whom we all remember as Marli Buck from Fame Academy (2002) and more recently she had a writing credit on Kygo's megahit "Stole The Show".  It does sound reasonably contemporary and there's a little bit of the on-trend tropical house sound in here, but despite the 'put down our weapons' line there just isn't a strong enough hook to impress the ESC voters in May.

THE SINGER: In this year's running theme of past X Factor contestants, we now have Salena from 2012.

6.  "What Are We Made Of" - Nate Simpson. (Jon Hällgren/Eric Lumiere/DWB)

THE SONG: A piano ballad in the vein of John Legend's "All Of Me" but unfortunately there are too many cliches and not enough originality,

THE SINGER; ...and yes, it's yet another X Factor contestant.  Every single UK finalist this year has appeared on that show, and in Nate's case he made it as far as Judges Houses.

So that's it then.  After my first listen, I listened to the songs all over again and came to the conclusion that a) the right side of the scoreboard is inevitable and b) given the UK's poor record over recent years, and therefore with nothing to lose (and a guaranteed place in the final) I always hope for a few more risks to be taken and therefore a more musically diverse selection of songs, instead of this rather beige and bland selection, none of which is likely to make ESC's juries or voters sit up and take notice.  Never mind X Factor, where is the *cliche klaxon!* "wow factor"??

There are some good enough singers this year who probably deserve better songs. But I have to ask, is a group of exclusively past and recent X Factor auditionees the best we can hope for in 2017?  I guess that just reflects this country's (lack of) Eurovision ambition.  We also live in musically generic times, where styles and formats are being recycled over and over again, so some genuine originality or quirkiness wouldn't have gone amiss.

Of course Eurovision's as much about the performance, where often unspectacular songs can be transformed into something quite special indeed.  Do any of the UK final songs and artists have that capability?  I guess we won't know until this Friday, but I'm not holding my breath.

One final thought: at least I suppose that the BBC has tried to make an effort this year and is slowly building on its plan to re-establish the UK's tarnished reputation in ESC, whether it's with the introduction of songwriting camps or with another actual national final, promoted in 2017 from BBC4 to BBC2.  But there is still a long, long way to go. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to choose a song from my first/second listen. I'm not particularly excited by any of the songs but if I had to choose a winner it would have to be "Freedom Hearts" because it's the only one which I still remember out of the six songs.

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!