Sunday, April 13, 2014

Eurovision Memories Part 5: Previews, cassette tape and a vow of silence....

OK it's time for another in my occasional series of random Eurovision memories which I like to share from time to time.
Let's face it, these days in the internet age we are spoiled rotten.  Whilst many casual viewers probably look on the Eurovision Song Contest as a one night only event - they probably don't even know about, or watch, the semi-finals - we fans know better.  It's a year-long event, with a little bit of off-season in the middle.  Every little piece of news, every song/artist announcement is shared, and thanks to the wonders of technology, we can watch national finals and follow the process from beginning to end.
Yet it's hard to believe, especially if you're a 'younger' fan who has embraced the contest in the internet age, that there was once a time when exposure to Eurovision songs was top-secret.  So it was in the 1970s and 1980s (and maybe even the 90s if I remember rightly) that Eurovision songs were chosen, then you weren't allowed to hear them again - apart from your own country's choice of course.
The only way of hearing Eurovision songs before the final was via the Eurovision Song Contest Previews.  In this country, there were usually two programmes, broadcast over two weeks, on a Sunday afternoon.  The previews would consist of a video clip from each country - either a 'music video' or a clip of the national final.  Even as a child, the Eurovision geek in me craved the national final clips, to see the song in a more honest, live form rather than the music videos which often doubled as a tourism clip.  You could bet your life that a contestant from one of the Mediterranean countries would either be walking along a beach, or climbing a mountain, and you could rely on the Greek artist to be wailing against the backdrop of some important ruins.  Over the years, the previews were presented on the BBC by then-TV-royalty, the likes of Michael Aspel, David Hamilton, David Vine, Gloria Hunniford and a certain Mr Terry Wogan, long before the cynicism set in.  The other absolute certainty in the previews was that the United Kingdom entry would be shown last, after all the other entries.
In 1977, I got my first cassette player.  Apart from taping the top 20 off the radio - admit it, we all did it! - I quickly realised that it would be a good idea to tape the preview shows off the telly.  Just stick the cassette player as near to the TV speaker and hey presto!  There were some conditions attached to this of course: if mum and gran were watching, they had to keep quiet so that I could just record the TV sound.  Amazingly, they agreed and would watch in complete silence while I recorded the show!  Once the recording was made, I would play the songs over, and over, and over again.  My 1977 favourites were "Telegram", "A Million In One Two Three" and "Mathema Solfege" which got more plays than most, however it would be fair to say that all of the songs got an equal hearing.
The preview-taping would continue for the next few years.  Later on, I would also record Ken Bruce's Radio 2 commentary, which was always very descriptive and informative, in the hope that I'd pick up some additional snippets of information about the songs and/or artists. 
All good things were to come to an end.  The BBC eventually stopped broadcasting the previews, so it meant that our first hearing of the songs would be in the final.  As I said earlier, it's hard to understand that fact in the internet era.
In the early 2000s, the BBC resurrected the previews in a new format, Liquid Eurovision.  This was an offshoot of BBC Three's daily entertainment round-up Liquid News, presented by the late, much-missed Christopher Price.  In 2002/2003 there was (by UK standards) pretty impressive coverage by BBC Three - back in the days when it was actually quite good - and even after-shows, which came in very handy in 2003 for the Jemini nil-points post-mortems.
Over the past couple of years, Chart Show TV has stepped in with their ESC preview videos - hope they'll be back again this year!
In 2014, we are completely reliant on the internet for our daily Eurovision fix.  It could be argued that there is no longer a need for a preview show.  Which is just as well really, as the BBC shows no interest in resurrecting the preview format.  But we can make our very own preview shows by watching the clips on YouTube, or at, or head on over to SVT Play to watch theirs.  The BBC has, however, announced a pop-up radio station, BBC Radio 2 Eurovision, broadcasting from Thursday 8th May.  This is quite an inspiring move, and hopefully the content will deliver.  (Although I hope they remember to put the shows on iPlayer, in case we won't be around to listen to all the shows as they're broadcast). 
And as for those cassettes?  Well, they survived for a number of years then I started digitising my music collection and unfortunately they were destroyed.  Happily, YouTube is a great source of archive national final footage.  Long may it continue - and it looks as if the EBU's plan to create a massive digital Eurovision archive is under way.  Bring it on!

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: March 2014

It was long-awaited (well, here at EuropeCrazy HQ it was anyway!).  Series 2 of Chris O'Dowd's  "MOONE BOY" finally arrived on Sky One, and if I'm honest it was a little bit patchy at times.  After all that first series was going to be a tough one to beat.  But when there are such loveable characters and enough surreal and absurd moments to keep us happy, you quickly overlook any minor deficiencies.  The legendary Bressie also turned up in a cameo role as the school PE teacher. Pity it was only for only one episode :( The good news is that there's a 3rd series on the way. 
Above: Bressie in "Moone Boy": sadly it was only for one episode.
Back in my February Square-Eyed post I forgot to mention that I had been watching "THE MUSKETEERS" (BBC1) although my initial reasons for watching it were very different from the reasons that faithful travelling companion was watching...he was in it for the historical aspect, the swash and the buckle.  As for me, I noticed that Santiago Cabrera (aka him off Heroes) was in it, then I saw a photo of Luke Pasqualino in a magazine and that was it for me :)))  Eye candy aside, it was a very enjoyable series, which I enjoyed so much that I bought the DVD last week.  There is a second series on the way, so at least that will be one show to look forward to in 2015...

Above: Mmmmmmmmmmusketeers.  Aramis and D'Artagnan, yum yum.

Above: Gogglebox's Steph and Dom.
The first series of "GOGGLEBOX" (Channel 4) managed to pass me by.  When the second series was due to start, there was a ridiculous amount of inescapable publicity, so it couldn't be avoided.  I tuned in for a couple of weeks and then the novelty wore off very quickly.  Yes, some of it was funny, but watching people watching TV?  More like watching paint dry.  Maybe I'm just missing some psychological subtext here, and I'm not entirely convinced that it's as spontaneous as it looks: in this age of 'scripted reality' I can't believe anything I watch on TV any more. 

And now for viewers in Scotland....whilst there's English football going on, STV will often fill-in with the usual repeat cop shows, obscure movies or boring documentaries.  For once though, they got it right with "FU LONG - LITTLE PANDA, HAPPY DRAGON" which turned out to be an Austrian TV documentary with English language voiceover about a panda born into captivity in Vienna Zoo.  Rather good it was too, and it's just got all of us looking very enviously at the lack of panda action at Edinburgh Zoo and counting the days till they finally get it together...!

BBC4 continues to be the home of foreign-language drama and films.  How often do we get the chance to see a Belgian drama on British TV?  Unfortunately "SALAMANDER" couldn't hold my attention beyond the first episode.  There was too much going on in February/March that too many demands were placed on my attention span, so I had to ration my TV time, and Salamander was one of the casualties.  I did stick with "BARBARA" which was a recent German-language film set in the GDR in the 1980s, about a doctor banished from Berlin to rural exile, Stasi surveillance and degrading body searches. The slow-paced film captured the bleakness of that period perfectly, and the heartbreaking choices which the lead character had to make.  Maybe not quite as brilliant as "The Lives Of Others" but highly recommended nonetheless.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Still here....

If things had gone to plan, I would be in Cyprus right now, rather than sitting in EuropeCrazy HQ on a very cold night.  However, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

My beloved mum has been unwell for a little while and was admitted to hospital yesterday.  I don't really want to say any more about this right now, not wanting to tempt fate, but she has made great progress over the last 24 hours. 

Anyway I'm feeling emotionally and physically exhausted by the events of the past few days so I don't really feel like blogging/tweeting right now, but I promise I'll be back soon.  Now off to watch some Eurovision clips/contests as I usually do at this time on a Saturday night :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Melodi Grand Prix 2014: The Final - 15.03.2014

This year's MGP was scaled down from previous years.  No more big arena tour across Norway for the contest.  Unfortunately due to what felt like most of this year's national finals being crammed into a very limited amount of weeks, something had to give, and that happened to be this year's MGP heats :(

Ironically, for a show which in recent years had used the Melodifestivalen template, it now looks as if Sweden could learn a lot from their Norwegian counterparts.  Scaled-down heats and a showpiece final, presented by an attractive, classy and professional duo.  There's none of the 'baggage' which weighs Melfest down.  Although the show begins with a sketch (featuring WigWam) and an irritating child spoiling the opening, the contest quickly settles into a smooth, high quality show. 

Erik and Jenny are such lovely hosts.  And by the way, isn't Erik getting better looking, the older he gets?  Jenny has yet another of her lovely dresses on, this time it's all glitter and gold.  Now let's have some songs shall we?

"Ain't No Love In This City No More" - El Cuero
I always like a wee bit of rock in MGP.  It's not death metal this time, just a straightforward rock song.  It's nothing brilliant, but it's ok.  The singer reminds me, looks wise, of the lead singer of the Boo Radleys. 

"Soul Survivor" - Elisabeth Carew
I love, love, love her green dress.  This is a highly fancied, very contemporary soul/r'n'b number.  It's catchy and decent enough. 

Now we have some bloke with a big chain round his neck - he's like the Mayor of MGP! - talking about Knut. Which nicely leads us on to ....

"Taste of You" - Knut Kippersund Nesdal
Big big cheers in the Spektrum for a guy (with an amazing name!!) who, for me, is this year's Bjorn Johan Muri - he won't win but this is going to be a big hit.  Knut scored a record deal just before the final so I think we'll be hearing more from him.  There's a spectacular intro where Knut directs the laser lights.  This is just a great pop song which I'll take into off season.  The song ends with a golden firework finale a la Only Teardrops.  This deserves a spot in the superfinal.

"Needs" - Dina Misund
Even the songs I'm not personally fond of are still better than some national finals this year.  Dina gives a very nice performance.  Well done.

"Heal" - Mo
There's a big back story here: as Mo survived the Utoya massacre.  He performs the song well enough, although it's not a winner, but one thing's for sure already - this year's MGP final is ahead of the pack. 

"High Hopes" - Linnea Dale
Yet another dress which I love - Linnea's wearing a long satin dress in my favourite shade of green, which is the same as the curtains and cushions in my living room :)

This is contemporary, in a good way, and the song really draws you in.  By the way, I've been pronouncing her surname wrongly all these years: I thought it was pronounced 'Dale' the English way but it's actually like "Daa-le" so that's my Norwegian lesson for the week!

"Hit Me Up" - Charlie
Not really impressed by the title, and the song is probably the 'filler' of the night.  I never watched the heats but I'm sure this one must have beat off better songs.  It's one for those people who like the 'Disney girls'/Carly Rae Jepsen kind of sugary pop.

"Silent Storm" - Carl Espen.
From the ridiculous to the sublime.  He looks like an off-duty member of a death metal band.  This song's intensity is unmatched, and the fragility of his performance complements the song perfectly.  The buzz is already building for this one....

"Sing" - Oda and Wulff
So just when I'm enjoying the contemporary songs, along comes something which would have been at home in the Eurovision Song Contest of the 1970s.  National finals season has been littered with folky-acoustic numbers this year, but this is old fashioned.  Distressingly, disturbingly old-fashioned.  I think the Norwegian voters are too smart to let this win though.

The only down side is a 40 minute break between the first show and the gullfinal (superfinal): which gives us all a chance to take stock, and in my case do the washing up  :)

So 40 minutes later, the dishes are done, the wine is opened, the internet stream is faultless (see, SVT - this is how you do a live stream, watch and learn!) - Saturday nights just don't get any better than this. 

The wonderful Jenny has changed into a lovely navy blue glittery dress, and Erik is still looking good :)

But who are the gullfinalists?

Knut!!  With that hairdo he looks like Jedward's long lost brother.  He sounds good though, and he can be proud of his impressive debut this year. "Taste of You" is just a good pop song, we used to get lots of them in Melfest season...

Carl Espen is gullfinalist no.2.  Maybe it's just the way I've been feeling lately but the lyrics and sentiment of "Silent Storm" touch a very raw nerve.  He may be a little more nervous vocally, but this is an absolutely real experience which, if chosen to represent Norge this year, will completely slice through all the fakery. 

As my two favourite songs are through, I'm not too fussed about the 3rd and 4th songs but I'm sure they'll be ok...

Gullfinalist no.3 is Mo, with "Heal".  But firstly, is that really Stella Mwangi with her head shaved?  Yes it is!  Mo also has a distinctive look, but I'm not totally sure that this would be such a great choice.  It's a modern, slightly dubsteppy/drum n' bass style of song, but Hungary and Armenia have cornered that market this year.  Nevertheless this is a good performance.

And finally, gullfinalist no. 4 = Linnea Dale, with "High Hopes".  Glad that "sing sing sing sing sing like you mean it" dreck missed out.  Linnea brings effortless cool and lots of charm.  She has an interesting voice and this is another song for the off season.  There is background dancing, but it's not intrusive background dancing in a Melfest way.  This final is totally kicking Melfest's butt!

4 songs done, on with the voting so let's be having the interval act.  Firstly, Karin Park, the striking co-writer of "I Feed You My Love" with a song in a similar vein...

which leads us to the return of Margaret Berger, singing her latest song "Scream".

Finally it's time for "I Feed You My Love" which she performs in duet-version with Karin Park. 

There are some past MGP stars delivering the various regional voting totals, first up is Stella Mwangi, delivering the Østlandet votes.

1st - Mo
2nd - Carl
3rd - Linnea
4th - Knut

Jørn Hoel - from further back in the day at MGP - delivers the Nordnorge votes:

1st - Carl
2nd - Linnea
3rd - Mo
4th - Knut

Margaret Berger gives the Midtnorge totals:

1st - Carl
2nd - Linnea
3rd - Mo
4th - Knut

Helene Bøksle gives us the Sørlandet scores. 

1st - Linnea
2nd - Carl
3rd - Mo
4th - Knut

Christine Guldbrandsen - who doesn't look a day older than she did in 2006! - gives the Vestlandet scores:

1st - Carl
2nd - Linnea
3rd - Mo
4th - Knut

So Carl wins Vestlandet with a resounding majority, and takes home the MGP 2014 title ahead of Linnea in 2nd place, Mo 3rd and Knut 4th. 

"Silent Storm" may not be to everyone's taste, and I don't usually go for this minimalistic type of song - but it is an absolutely perfect choice for Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest.  Even my mum woke from her slumbers to declare "that sounds like a Eurovision winner to me" ("I don't know about you but that sounds like a Eurovision winner to meeeeee....."). 

The song was written by Carl's cousin, Josefin Winther, who was overcome with emotion after the final result. Carl's not even a professional singer - he's been a soldier, a glazer and a nightclub bouncer!  I'm sure this will be a springboard to a great career.  "Silent Storm" will stop the viewers of Europe in their tracks: whether that translates into votes is another matter.  It may be too "dark" and minimal for the 21st century Eurovision Song Contest, but it would be a unique winner.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Blog birthday: 7 Up!

A quick glance at the calendar reveals that today marks my 7th anniversary in blogland.  Where have all those years gone?  Unfortunately I can only rewind to my last blog-birthday and tell you that things are pretty much the same - I don't really have the time anymore to update this (or my other blogs) as regularly as I'd like to: I don't have the time or energy - the last few months have been particularly difficult and I only feel as if I'm beginning to see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. 

The good news though, is that I have no intention of giving up blogging just yet.  Welcome to the 8th year of EuropeCrazy! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Melodifestivalen 2014: The Final - 08.03.2014

So, how was it for you?  You may be one of those people who are happy to see Sanna Nielsen finally get the ticket to ESC on her 7th (yes! 7th) attempt; you may be one of those who feel bitterly disappointed that Sweden didn't pick Ace Wilder; you may be one of the pop-boy fans who are taking it very personally right now that their favourite didn't win.

Or you might feel like I do: drained by it all, and (shock horror) glad it's finally over.  I never thought I'd see the day when I was glad to see the back of Melodifestivalen season, but 2014 finally brought that feeling.  But there is one big show to go - and all we've got is that little blue/green buffering circle going round and round.  By the time the stream recovers, there's a Danish vibe going on.  Charlotte Perrelli is singing "Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen" then Rasmus Seebach's "Natteravn" plays over the introduction to the contestants. 

Mum remains unimpressed by it all. 

M: This is the show I don't particularly like.  Why the hell do they wave those balloons every week?
When's this show going to start?

Normally at this point I would defend the greatness of Melodifestivalen, but this year that would be defending the indefensible.  In 2014 Melfest has lost its greatness, for some of the reasons I described in my previous post.  But I can't stress enough that the credibility of any final would be seriously stretched if one man wrote 4 out of 10 songs in it. 

Finally, time to get started.  And the good news is, the painting postcards have gone in favour of a slo-mo 'look at me, I'm in the final!' VT. 

Anton Ewald: "Natural".

My mum's toyboy.  And she wastes no time in telling me how much she likes him and his mirrored jacket. The fact remains that for all the Michael Jackson-influenced dance routine and the slight improvement in his vocals, the song is just not strong enough.  The key change is very good though.

M: He's got a nice smile ...:)
L: I think him and Oscar Zia will cancel each other out.

Ellen Benediktson: "Songbird".

She's had a grown-up makeover since she first qualified for the final.  And if I may say so, it's far too 'old' for her.  Mum eventually remembers the song and I remind her that she predicted it to go to the final.  However, this is one of those songs which you can only really listen to once - on second hearing it's just too boring for words, and conversation at EuropeCrazy HQ turns to the size of Friends Arena, and how long it would take everyone to get out of there after the show.  (Maybe one of you lovely people could answer this question??)

Someone has clearly annoyed the hairstylist tonight.  Both Ellen and host Nour have been restyled back to the 1940s or thereabouts.  Talking of going back in time, let's go back to the golden age of the glitterball.  It's Alcazar time.

Alcazar: "Blame It On The Disco".

I've made no secret of the fact that I think this is possibly their weakest Melfest entry to date, but it can't be denied that they out-perform everyone else in the line-up.  Even mum is impressed.

M: There's been some s****y songs in this tonight, but they are good.
L: I'm still not so keen on the song, it's too close to Stay The Night for me to judge it on its own merits. 

Now there's a guy on stage, with seemingly a cake (to bake) for every entry in the final.

Oscar Zia: "Yes We Can". 

Of course the TV screens make it look like 5 Oscar Zias.  I still think him and Anton will cancel each other out.

M: I don't like this one as much as the first song ("Natural").
L: It's far too repetitive and is a lot more annoying now.
M: Yes we can what?  Too much canning.  Can the Can.  Suzi Quatro!  (I love my mum's random trains of thought!!)
L: No he can't. 

In my Melfest final preview I highlighted my irritation that Fredrik Kempe has managed to carve up 4/10ths of the final, and that represents everything that is wrong with the contest's current format.  Even mum is beginning to get sick of the sight of him.

M: Who is that baldy man with the pointed ears?
(Please note that this blog does not condone any personal insults of that nature, but having said that, it's pretty damned spot on)
L: Time for another Kempe song.  Zzzzz.  The one about the brother.

Linus Svenning: "Bröder".

With all those tattoos and piercings he looks like the kind of guy who walks down your high street with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier on each arm.  But wait!  Throw such judgemental clichés out the window because this is a sensitive, anthemic ballad.  Which none of us have any time for.

M: I don't like this much at all.
L: Neither do I. 

And that's all we have to say on that one, really.  He's a good enough singer, but it's the curse of Kempe again.  Milking real-life sadness to get a maudlin ballad.  That's when he's not writing derivative versions of "Stay The Night" or "Wrecking Ball" or the Cheiron back catalogue.

Helena Paparizou: "Survivor".

A very accurate song title, as she survived Andra Chansen (along with Linus) and made it to the final.  But why the costume change from the lace dress of her original heat, to a much more unflattering stripey blouse and leggings combo?

M: This is another very mediocre and repetitive song.  Singing the same line over and over again.  It's funny how when you don't like a song that it feels as if it's never ending!

But end, it does.  Now we haven't said much about the presenters, but our opinion remains the same.  They may be good enough in their own fields of work, but as a Melodifestivalen presenting duo, Anders Jansson and Nour El Refai completely lacked chemistry and were unimpressive from week 1.  Anders looks a little bit relieved tonight: as if he's glad that it will soon all be over.  In the past week the Swedish tabloids reported Anders and Nour's displeasure at how they were treated by SVT, how they weren't allowed to bring their ideas to the show.  But whatever happened or didn't happen, the fact remained that they were just not right for this show.  SVT needs to choose its presenters very carefully next year.

Yohio: "To The End".

L: He's toned down his image this year.
M: That's him toned down?!
L: Again, this is just a non-song, and it sounds even worse than it did previously.
M: He's very unusual.
L: His real name's Kevin, don't you know.
M: Kevin?!?!?!

Mum is now extremely bored, by this song and by the evening's proceedings as a whole.

M: This is just...nothing.  Why did anyone bother writing this?
L: Not even the pyros can save it.

Sanna Nielsen: "Undo".

And now to, inexplicably, this year's favourite.  Although not in my world. Lots of cheering from the crowd, greeting Sanna on her 7th attempt at Melodifestivalen.

L: Oh look who it is!  Fredrik Kempe!
M: Don't know what's so special about it.  It's just another boring ballad.  She is a good singer, but too 'shouty'.
L: The best thing about it is the lasers/staging.  Otherwise = Wrecking Ball rip-off.  And I've always thought she's just too cold and clinical in her performances.  And the grammar is atrocious.  I mean, "undo my sad?"

Sigrid, the show-stealing little girl from a couple of weeks ago, is back with a present for Yohio.  And she goes and steals the show all over again, even if you don't understand what she's talking about.

Panetoz: "Efter Solsken".

Mum is impressed that the word "efter" in Swedish is pronounced the very same way as we pronounce "after" in this part of the world.  Poor old Panetoz haven't had much support from the fan community in the lead-up to the final.

L: Everyone seems to hate them.
M: Why?  This is very lively.  And there should be more groups - too many solo singers.
L: I think it's because the fans always feel the need to pick out one or two songs to hate every year, which don't fit into a certain style.  I actually have quite a soft spot for this.  They're having fun and know they've no chance of winning so they're just having a blast and hoping to sell a few records off the back of their appearance here.

The marathon nature of a Melodifestivalen final is not lost on mum.
M: You start watching this about teatime and it ends at bedtime!

Time for the final song of the evening.  I tell mum that if Sweden is serious about sending something more 'contemporary' than usual to ESC, then this is the one.

Ace Wilder: "Busy Doin' Nothin'". 

Now I know this isn't the type of thing I would usually listen to - I'm one of a very small minority in blogland who couldn't understand the appeal of Icona Pop's I Love It - but in terms of Eurovision, I wanted this to represent Sweden.  The Eurovision Song Contest needs great songs of course, but it also needs potential international hit songs.  Fairytale/Satellite/Euphoria worked in this regard; Only Teardrops, whilst charting all over Europe, didn't have the same longevity or impact.

M: I quite like this song.  Yes it's very modern.  Does it have a chance of winning?
L: It's no.1 in the Swedish charts this week, but as we know that doesn't always guarantee winning Melodifestivalen. 
M: It's better than that boring ballad. 
L: I hope this wins. 

So, songs over, summing up:
Anton - not good enough
Ellen - boring
Alcazar - I think their time's come and gone
Oscar - no we can't
Linus - the one about the brother
Helena - too repetitive/boring
Yohio - non-song
Sanna - undo this song
Panetoz - lively
Ace - 12 points from the EuropeCrazy HQ jury!

Time for the interval act.  You'd have to live on Mars not to know that 2014 is the 40th anniversary of Abba winning ESC with "Waterloo" and to celebrate this, some past Melfest winners are on stage for an Abba medley.  It's a rather downsized Abba medley though: Marie Bergman's "Knowing Me Knowing You", a posh "Chiquitita" by Malena Ernman, a blinged-up "Gimme Gimme Gimme" by Charlotte Perrelli, and a vocally astounding Robin Stjernberg with "Thank You For The Music".  (By the way, didn't Robin look great?).  I expected more from this interval act.  A few more singers and songs would have been welcome, for starters. Ladies and gentlemen, the fact remains that no Melodifestivalen interval act will ever top this one from 2000:

In recent years, Melodifestivalen scrapped the local juries in favour of a group of international juries to help select the Swedish entry.  The international jury votes and the Swedish televote have often differed, but this year even the juries differed in their choice of favourite songs...

Italy - 12 to Ace, 10 to Alcazar, 8 to Sanna
Israel - 12 to Ace, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Alcazar
Germany - 12 to Linus, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Alcazar
France - 12 to Alcazar, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Ace
Netherlands - 12 to Ace, 10 to Ellen, 8 to Panetoz
By the way, Anders' turn as the Dutch jury spokesperson was probably the funniest thing he'd done on the show.  A few more moments like that and it could have all been very different. 

Malta - 12 to Helena, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Oscar
Russia - 12 to Ace, 10 to Linus, 8 to Sanna
Estonia - 12 to Linus, 10 to Ace, 8 to Yohio
United Kingdom - 12 to Alcazar, 10 to Ace, 8 to Oscar
Spain - 12 to Sanna, 10 to Helena, 8 to Ace

Finally, the Danish jury - whose spokesperson is none other than bridge-hopping Sofia 'Saga Noren' Helin - gives 12 to Ace, 10 to Yohio and 8 to Helena. 

So what did we learn from the jury votes?  That Ace won the jury vote, but also polarised the juries; that no-one (apart from my mum) loved Anton Ewald, who was propping up the foot of the table; and most surprisingly, just how much they were wowed by Alcazar.  Which proves that there is no doubt that their image, styling, stagecraft and professional performance, honed over many years, can lift a rather mediocre song.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the voting process in the final is that the televote remains open after the jury votes have concluded, leaving it potentially open to tactical voting, should people be that way inclined of course.

In every Melodifestivalen final, there is always an 'unusual' cover of the previous year's winning song.  This was even given the cheapo treatment this year, as rather than bring in a guest artist, it fell to Anders and Nour to perform a personal, Swedish language version of "You" which had us running for the hills and for once actually welcomed the intervention of the backing dancers. 

M: I remember this song from somewhere?
L: Yes it won Melodifestivalen.  It was sung in English, though.  In a better version than this one. har ett resultat.
M: Get on with it!

But we don't actually have ett resultat after all, as there's some technical chaos going on, leaving Anders and Nour to fill in whilst they await the golden envelope.  I explain to mum that the televote result can completely overrule the jury vote, depending on how the percentages are converted into random points totals.  So here are the final televoting totals:

14 - Anton
18 - Panetoz
21 - Oscar
27 - Helena
30 - Ellen
37 - Linus
43 - Yohio
48 - Alcazar
113 - Ace
122 - Sanna

Added to the jury totals, here are the final results.

212 - Sanna
210 - Ace
110 - Alcazar
84 - Helena
83 - Linus
82 - Yohio
61 - Ellen
53 - Oscar
33 - Panetoz
18 - Anton

In one of the closest final results I can ever remember at Melodifestivalen, Sanna Nielsen finally wins the contest on her 7th attempt.  Ironically, this was in a year when many of the 'veterans' like Shirley Clamp and Linda Bengtzing couldn't even make it out of their heats, and Martin Stenmarck fell at the final Andra Chansen hurdle; yet Sanna and Alcazar, who both have a long Melodifestivalen history, fared better with the juries and televoters than fancied newcomers and recent returnees.  Alcazar's result both surprised and puzzled me; they've had better songs in previous years, and I thought their time had come and gone.  This would be the right time for them to go out of Melodifestivalen on a high, if not a win.  I still think this is the last we've seen of them in the contest. 

Don't expect to see Yohio back again.  He's not happy with the international jury set-up, and I believe that I read somewhere that Anton says he's not coming back. 

You know how we feel about this result: There is a lot of love for the artist and the song in ESC fan land, but we don't like "Undo" although have to acknowledge that it will get a pretty good result in Copenhagen.  Whilst Sanna is a good singer, and I'm sure there will be no vocal wobbles at Eurovision time, I still feel that she doesn't connect with the viewers and lacks warmth and empathy as a performer.  I have seen her on some other Swedish TV shows and she seems to have a pretty good sense of fun, but have never seen her translate this warmth into any of her Melodifestivalen performances.  Then of course there is the song itself: derivative and recycled from the "Wrecking Ball" template. 

Perhaps I should just get over it.  As mum says, it's only a song contest...(to which I reply, "no it's not, it's actually an all-year-round event!") But as a long-time Melfest fan I'm sure I speak for many when I say that we invest so much expectation in the contest based on the spectacle and the production values; we spend months speculating about the songs, the artists, the writers, the presenters, the interval acts, the host venues, the postcards, the set, every last detail.  I used to feel sad when Melodifestivalen season ended: on Saturday night I only felt relief, because this whole season has been a disappointment in almost every area.  But on the plus side, there are some songs which I'm taking with me to off-season though....

"Red" - EKO
"Love Trigger" - JEM
"Glow" - Manda
"Bedroom" - Alvaro Estrella
"När Änglarna Går Hem" - Martin Stenmarck
"Hela Natten" - Josef Johansson

Major surgery is now required to get Melodifestivalen off the critical list.  So, SVT... Ditch the comedy.  Get talented presenters who can sing, or talented singers who can present.  Bring in new songwriting rules - 1 song only, per writer per year.  Disqualify songwriters (and artists) who were in the previous year's contest and defer their participation for a year, to give other writers/artists a chance.  Ditch Andra Chansen: after the 4th heat, open up the televote for a 'wildcard' round where all the eliminated songs would be eligible for the two final places up for grabs. 

That's just some suggestions: Melodifestivalen needs to become 'event TV' again.  Perhaps we can just write off 2014's Swedish selection process.  To paraphrase the winning entry....undo this year. 

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: February 2014

February was all about catching up with the unmissable second series of "THE BRIDGE" (BBC4).  Shocking, upsetting, riveting.  As with series 1, it was loaded with layer upon layer of complexity and red herrings, eco-terrorism and people in pig masks.  In the meantime, Saga and Martin were dealing with family/relationship problems and establishing a new level of trust in each other.  The partnership of Martin and Saga is an incredible one which is hard to beat.  But just as they built up trust, even the best friendships end in betrayal.  Poor Martin :(

The good news is that there will be another series, but after that ending, just how can they put everything back together?

Telly chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall headed off to Sweden, Denmark and Norway to celebrate the highs (and occasional lows) of life there, and to find out why they've been voted the happiest countries in the world.  In a too-short series, "SCANDIMANIA" (Channel 4) he covered Abba, flatpack houses, lagom, Nordic Noir, the law of Jante, and the Ylvis brothers.  What does the fox say?  We probably wouldn't find out as HFW would have cooked it.  Great series, but I could have done with all the hunting stuff.  And don't even start me on the smoked sheep's head. 

Managed to fit in a couple of films in February too.  "ROCK OF AGES" (Sky Movies) was based on a stage musical set in the 80s, about a couple of rock music-loving hicks from the sticks trying to make it in Hollywood.  My main gripe was that the two leads, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, were just a bit too 'nice' to be convincing, and some of the soundtrack of American hits may be unfamiliar to British ears.  Russell Brand did what he does best - being Russell Brand of course - and Tom Cruise was a revelation in his role as over-the-top rock idol Stacee Jaxx. 

Another music-related film, but it couldn't have been further removed from the bright lights of the Sunset Strip.  "VINYL" (Sky Movies) was a film I'd never heard of, however I decided to check it out because it seemed to be an interesting story.  Remarkably based on a true story too.  The main plot was about a rock band making a comeback, but no-one was remotely interested until they came up with the bright idea of putting together a young band to front the song.  A very interesting concept and an observation on the image-obsessed music business.  Well worth watching, and I guarantee that "Free Rock n'Roll" song will be stuck in your head for ever. 

I'd hoped for more from "RUSSIA ON FOUR WHEELS" (BBC2) a timely pre-Sochi travelogue, however it was less in-depth exploration and more 'Top Gear'-ski.
Talking of the Winter Olympics, this brings me on to "DAN SNOW'S HISTORY OF THE WINTER OLYMPICS" (BBC2), a very interesting documentary which took us through the years of the unmissable winter event.  Sadly, it was only an hour long - it should have been a series.

And proving that I am the queen of the backlog, I'm still working my way through the Winter Olympics coverage.  Should be finished in time for the next one.  One of the most shocking things about this Winter Olympics - apart from the IOC deciding to award it to Russia in the first place - was the lack of atmosphere/cheering by audiences, notably in the ice skating arena, which only came to life when the Russian competitors appeared.  This time round, it was the 'extreme' sports which grabbed my attention: the slopestyle snowboarding and freestyle/halfpipe events. 

On "WHO DARES WINS" (BBC1), the dominance of Chrissy and Joe completely wasted the early weeks of the 2014 series.  But then in February....the impossible happened and they were finally knocked out. 

Whilst on the subject of quizzes, two words: fantastic fun!  Yes, that old quiz from the early days of Channel 5, featuring a younger version of the wonderful 'punslinger' himself, Tim Vine - I refer to "WHITTLE" which resurfaced on the home of classic quizzes, Challenge.  It's time to put on your Whittle masks. Are you ready to be whittled?  Whittle away!

Time for an ad break.  Followers of the Compare the Meerkat saga - yes, I am one - are delighted to welcome a new meerkat to the fold.  Oleg has been adopted by Alexander, but once again it's poor old put-upon Sergei who's been left to bring him up :( 

And just when you think you couldn't get anything cuter than Oleg, along came the McVities kittens.  Awwwwww.......

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: January 2014

I have a little backlog of posts which I'm finally going to publish over the next week before I take a little blogging break.  Let's jump into the telly time machine and rewind back to January. 

So I started the year as I finished the last one: in backlog-mode.  Over the new year period I finally finished "BORGEN" (BBC4) which all wrapped up nicely, although left me in some turmoil nonetheless - I couldn't understand Katrine's new relationship, and Torben just frustrated me.  But it all ended reasonably triumphant anyway, se third series saw Birgitte forming a new party and Katrine balancing family life with her new career as spin doctor for the New Democrats, and trying to keep up with Kasper's ever-changing hairdos.  Some new arrivals too, notably evil TV1 baddie Alex Hjort, complete with that all-important scarf.  Gratuitous picture time:

Another show in my to-watch list was the acclaimed Swedish three-parter "DON'T EVER WIPE TEARS WITHOUT GLOVES" (BBC4).  Again, I caught up with this at the start of the year.   This award-winning drama drama was set in the 1980s, in the time when AIDS came to Sweden.  If you were living in Britain in the 1980s you may remember the scaremongering, the sensationalism and the "Don't die of ignorance" ads.  I get the feeling that things would have been very different indeed in Sweden.  This series was sad and moving but also warm and funny at times.

Whilst we're on the subject of Danes, let's talk about Claire Danes (!) which leads us onto another highly rated TV show which also just recently finished its third series.  "HOMELAND" (Channel 4) spent much of its third season jumping the shark, and being, dare I say it, boring.  That Dana storyline...yawn.  And several Brody-free episodes - what were they thinking?  Yet at other times it never lost its ability to be compelling and frustrating at the same time. Following that ending, it would have been a very good idea to bring the series to a natural end at this point, so the news that there will be a fourth series just puzzles me.  But this is an American TV show, not a Danish one, and they'll flog a dead horse as long as the ratings are high enough. 

Whilst we're on the subject of series overstaying their welcome, I was ready to quit "DOWNTON ABBEY" (ITV) after that awful Christmas 2012 special, with that ending.  But I stuck around for the 4th series which managed to hold my interest, although it's now past its prime.  If there is going to be a 5th series, can we have some happier storylines after what has been a pretty dark series?

We're usually used to "WHO DARES WINS" (BBC1) popping up on telly on a Saturday night just after national finals season has ended, so it was a surprise to see it in January.  Unfortunately the early weeks of the quiz were dominated by knowledgeable Joe and his nodding, grinning sidekick Chrissy, who spanned two series....

"COACH TRIP" (Channel 4) returned to our screens with the legendary Brendan taking a group of random Brits around the continent.  Unfortunately they didn't seem to have any respect for European culture, or the places they visited, and that annoyed me enough to bail out after a couple of weeks of the show. 

The biggest story in soapland?  Terminally ill Hayley Cropper's decision to end her own life in "CORONATION STREET" (ITV).  Since the character was diagnosed with cancer, the storyline has been sensitively portrayed and well-acted by Julie Hesmondhalgh (Hayley) and David Neilson (Roy) - in the hands of other characters in the show, it would have been disastrous.  Despite the potential sensationalism offered by the subject matter, when the end came, it was moving and sensitively acted. 

I end, as I started, with something originally from Scandinavia.  Remakes of foreign-language dramas can be hit or miss, however “THE TUNNEL” (Sky Atlantic) has been a definite hit for me.  It was a remake of “The Bridge” of course, replacing said bridge with the Channel Tunnel and British-French cop co-operation.  Karl and Elise may not be Martin and Saga, but they were a very acceptable substitute.  It was a direct copy of series 1 of “The Bridge” – remember the “truth terrorist”? – but it was still extremely watchable.  This is due to the programme makers’ ability to interpret some of that ‘darkness’ – or as faithful travelling companion calls it, ‘Nordic bleakness’ -  and transfer it to the British/French setting, a refreshing change for a British TV drama indeed.  Highly recommended.  I wonder if there will be a second series of "The Tunnel"? 

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Tonight I'll be watching Melodifestivalen - against my better judgement

After my previous post, I gave some thought to which national final I should be watching tonight - Melodifestivalen or Dansk Melodi Grand Prix.  It's been a rather miserable Melfest season and I didn't even make any effort to watch Andra Chansen.  However, I have decided to be a 'survivor' and see the process through 'to the end' to find out who Sweden will be sending to Copenhagen.  Well it's only 'natural' that we watch the Melodifestivalen final every year - 'yes we can' hope that they will 'undo' what has been a dire contest so far and put on a great show, but that's probably a lot to hope for.  Disappointment is inevitable.

Anyway, against my better judgement, I'll be watching Melfest and will no doubt regret not watching DMGP live.

I don't have a particular favourite this year at Melfest, in a list of mainly underwhelming songs.  However, I have decided to support...Ace Wilder with "Busy Doin' Nothin'"!  It's catchy and contemporary, with a memorable chorus/rap.  Admittedly it's not much of a song - and that is where I have my reservations - and she really needs to up her game with her live vocals, as they fell well short of the studio version. 

If "Busy Doin' Nothin'" gets to represent Sweden, it will probably send certain sections of the schlager/fan fraternity into apoplexy.  Remember the negative reaction when Robin Stjernberg was chosen last year, because he wasn't schlager enough.  If Ace wins, this will be yet another giant step towards Sweden breaking out of the schlager straitjacket at Eurovision.  

2014 would be the ideal time to take that risk, to send an entry which is 'different from the norm', and best of all - a song which is not written by Fredrik Kempe.  For me, his domination represents everything wrong with Melodifestivalen right now.  A shake-up of the songwriting rules would freshen up the contest, for example if you have managed to get a song through to the final 32 in one year, then you should be automatically disqualified for putting a song in the following year.  Also, you should only be allowed to write 1 song in the final 32, rather than the same people repeatedly turning up week after week. 

Kempe, as solo writer and part of a songwriting team has no less than 4 songs in tonight's final.  Which, when you think about it, is quite outrageous.  Sweden, the land of established international songwriters, and they've got the same guy writing 4 songs in a national final!?!

So as I said earlier, I'll be watching, but with major reservations.  Melodifestivalen in its current form has become stale and needs a major overhaul to bring it back to the unmissable TV event it once was.  If SVT doesn't change its ways in 2015, then this time next year I won't be wondering whether to watch the final or not; that decision will be a very easy one to make.  And I suspect I won't be the only one switching off.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Melodifestivalen 2014 final: the running order

I didn't watch Andra Chansen tonight, but I know that Linus Svenning and Helena Paparizou advanced to the final next week in Stockholm.

Here is the running order for this year's Melodifestivalen final: for me it's the most unexciting final line-up in years, and I'm still deciding whether or not to watch it live, given that there is the small matter of the DMGP final on the same night (bad planning, Eurovision planners!).  Anyway, Ace Wilder has the 'pimp slot' - if Sweden wants to take a risk on a reasonably 'contemporary' song then that's the one - but Sanna Nielsen remains the outright favourite.  Yawn.

1. Anton Ewald – Natural
2. Ellen Benediktson – Songbird
3. Alcazar – Blame It On The Disco
4. Oscar Zia – Yes We Can
5. Linus Svenning – Bröder
6. Helena Paparizou – Survivor
7. YOHIO – To the End
8. Sanna Nielsen – Undo
9. Panetoz – Efter solsken
10. Ace Wilder – Busy Doin’ Nothin’

The UK's Eurovision entry to be revealed on Monday

So, we've had yet another entertaining series of rumours - yes folks, the lead-up to the announcement of the UK's Eurovision entry is always an unmissable feast.  Who would be this year's UK entry?  Well, if you've been playing UK Eurovision bingo, this lot might just get you a full house!
  • Geri Halliwell
  • Belinda Carlisle
  • Dame Vera Lynn
  • Wet Wet Wet
  • Paloma Faith
  • Nina Nesbitt
  • Olly Murs
  • Sam Bailey
  • Aiden Grimshaw
  • Wet Wet Wet
  • Charlotte Church
  • Adele
  • One Direction
  • Jessie J
  • Amy Macdonald
...and the list is endless.

In the last couple of days, the BBC has finally broken its silence and announced that this year's UK entry will be revealed at 7.30pm UK time on Monday 3rd March. 

In this blog post, executive producer Guy Freeman announced:

"With 9 million UK viewers watching last year’s show and a very active online fan base, the contest is as popular as ever. There’s certainly no shortage of ideas out there as to what needs to be done.
It’s clear that people genuinely care about it and I do too...Some countries use selection shows and we’ve done this in the past, but this year we began by taking a dispassionate look at recent winners. We discovered that simply by and large they’ve been very good songs that have deserved to win.
It’s clear there’s a disconnect between what kind of songs and artists are now winning Eurovision, versus the stereotype that many people – including much of the music industry - still hold in their minds. Yes, novelty songs and acts do still turn up in the show, provide great entertainment and make good press – but they don’t tend to win. So, early on in plans for 2014, we took the view that we needed a bespoke, contemporary song, written specifically to suit the conditions of the competition – rather than trying to get lucky with a pre-existing track from an artist",

Mr Freeman goes on to say that this year's artist and song has been chosen via the BBC Introducing process, which has uncovered unsigned/unknown acts who have gone on to bigger things.  The BBC approached a few artists who were actually interested in writing and performing a song specifically written for Eurovision: "The end result is that we now have a powerful and impressive song that we hope will do us proud in Copenhagen. We’re keen to introduce the song and artist to everyone as soon as possible, so it will be premiered on BBC Red button next Monday (3rd March) evening at 7.30pm and available to catch up on BBC iPlayer".

So after all the rumours, it looks like we're sending an unknown artist to Copenhagen.  Which presumably means that there is no reputation to destroy, because said artist hasn't actually established one yet.  That's a promising, if slightly defeatist, notion: we should be sending our best artists to Eurovision, but there's no chance of that thanks to the disastrous reputation which this country's media (and a certain Mr Wogan) built up over the years: Representing the United Kingdom in Eurovision is something to be ashamed of.

There are some hopeful signs: no to novelty, yes to quality songwriting and performance.  However, why the red button?  Surely if this is a sign that things are changing, why bury it there?  It's a challenge to overturn the prejudices of a generation, but putting it on prime time on BBC1 would be a start.

However, I will reserve my judgement until Monday night: in the meantime my excitement is building.  Hoping that the song (and artist) won't let us down.

Estonia.... :(

(to the tune of Euphoria)

Why, why do I watch this contest every year
Only for the whole damn thing to end in tears
Good songs, but they don't make it to the final vote
Remember, the last decent one you had was Ott

Estonia!  You really f****d it up this time
The song you picked was such a crime
You're going out, out, out, out

Estonia! Why didn't you vote for Nurmsalu?
She'd get you top 5 that's for sure
You're going out, out, out, out

You, you have such vocal talent in your ranks
So why, do you choose something that's a pile of w**k
Reject potential winners with a lot of class
For bog standard parody that's total trash

Estonia! I'm really angry with you now
So would you like to tell me how
You chose the wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong song

Estonia! I can't believe the Sandra-hate
So I guess that we'll just have to wait
For another win, win, win, win

Sandra Nurmsalu is now the one that got away
And one more time, I'd really like to say....

Estonia!  You got it wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!!!!

Melodifestivalen 2014 Week 4: Alcazar glitter and Tomas folks it up in Örnsköldsvik

After the all-time low of Heat 3 we weren't expecting much.  So it was no surprise that Melodifestivalen continued in the same vein with a rather pointless, sport-themed opening act.
Mum: I'm not impressed.  There is always something.....demented about this show, don't you think?
The beleaguered hosts take to the stage in black, mourning clothes, which is presumably a comment on their performance so far this year.
M: Oh, not him again!  He has NO personality!!
But hopefully things are about to improve.  There's a giant glitterball in sight, which signals the arrival of the mighty Alcazar.  Unfortunately my internet connection is still not up to the job so it's a pixellated version of their fabulousness. 
Alcazar: "Blame It On The Disco".
The song I was most looking forward to this year turns out to be a bit of a disappointment.  I would never usually use the words 'Alcazar' and 'disappointment' in the same sentence, but I guess there's a first time for everything.  It's an inferior version of Stay The Night, with weaker verses, but being Alcazar, they perform everyone else off the stage.  But I'm wondering just how much of this is live and how much of it is Memorex (one for the older readers here!). 
L: This, I think is probably their weakest song that they've done in the contest.
M: Oh, I know them!  What was that song they did...?
L: Not A Sinner Nor A Saint.  That was an absolute classic.
M: That should have won Eurovision.
L: It's still good to have them back though.
IDA: "Fight Me If You Dare".
Ah, the dreaded second spot in the running order. 
L: This is going to be the week when everything sounds like something else.
M: I've heard worse.
L: It's quite a good performance of not much of a song.  And it won't qualify.
Janet Leon: "Hollow".
I tell mum all about Janet being in the contest last year with blonde hair and a better song.  Now she's back with a new image, but her live singing hasn't improved any since last year.  And in the style of many a Swedish song contest entry, the whole thing is brought to its knees by f****** stupid background dancing. 
M: This song sounds very familiar.
L: I'm cracking up trying to think what one.  But whatever it sounds like, this song's going nowhere.
Anders is back on stage and my mum just can't take it any more. 
Ammotrack: "Raise Your Hands".
L: Tonight's full of songs which sound like other songs.  This is doing nothing for me. Thoughts?
M:  This is not much of a song.
L: I'm not feeling this at all.
We both agree that it's been a poor year. 
Then G:son appears on screen and mum recognises him! 
M: Oh that's him....
L: ...yes, the guy who looks like grandad from Mrs Brown's Boys :)
M: He's in this a lot, isn't he?
Josef Johansson: "Hela Natten".
Josef is a new name to me but seems to be this week's "death by fashion" candidate.  Think Nordic jumper pattern as designed by someone who's taken far too many drugs.
M: He's got very interesting hair. 
L: Indeed!  And at last, a song in Swedish, thank goodness.
This is the first song which really had me sitting up and taking notice tonight.  There are little shades of Christer Björkman's 1992 entry, but despite that, this song's actually quite good and he performs it very well.
Linda Bengtzing: "Ta Mig".
In a little nod to this year's ESC hosts, she takes to the catwalk to Rasmus Seebach's "Natteravn".  I explain to mum that Linda is another one of the Melodifestivalen schlager legends on a comeback.  It may be a more 'modern' song for her, with its pulsating drumbeats, but it's not particularly memorable.  Neither of us are particularly impressed by the song and chat through it.
M: What a strange outfit.  And look, there's another man in a bun!
L: I was expecting a lot more from her - this song doesn't really have a hook and I can see it missing out on qualifying.
Ellinore Holmer: "En Himmelsk Sång".
The weekly 'solo female singer with a ballad near the end of the running order'. A ballad which, for some reason, reminds me of Molly Sanden's "Så Vill Stjärnorna".
M: That outfit looks as if she's going to do some Irish dancing.  And I don't like that dress.
L: This is the type of song which could qualify, although like everything else tonight it is not a great song. 
M: She has a nice voice, but the song's not up to much.
And finally...
Anton Ewald: "Natural".
'Second year syndrome' and a pre-contest favourite based on the draw position.  I remind mum that she liked him last year.  She can't quite remember him but she likes what she sees. 
M: I like his mirrored jacket.
L: He's stolen last year's choreography! 
The song's not in the same league as "Begging" and already I'm struggling to remember it.  And although his live singing has only improved slightly, he would definitely struggle without all those taped backing vocals as I mentioned in a previous post.  But never mind all that, because mum is ever so slightly in love with Mr Ewald. 
Songs over, interval acts time.  And finger puppets.
M: Finger puppets would be better presenting this thing.
Time for 'melodi no.9' with Anders and Nour, possibly the worst interval act of this Melfest season, and that's saying something. 
M: He reminds me of someone out of the Wurzels.  This p**h has been going on for far too long.  Get the good-looking guy back on.
Resultat time part 1.  Anton, Linda, Ammotrack, Ellinore and Alcazar to the next round of voting. 
Unfortunately there is no place for Josef, who has truly been killed by fashion.  He finishes in 7th place, behind the 6th placed I.D.A. and in front of Janet Leon, who's last. 
Now to the main interval act of the evening, which I had also been looking forward to.  I've been a big fan of Tomas Ledin for 34 years - yes! - since he made a serious impact on this impressionable teenager in 1980 with those leather trousers :)  But we are all 34 years older now, although Tomas is ageing very well.  A medley of his Melodifestivalen songs will do just nicely, but even here there is a problem.  Tomas recently released a folk/acoustic album - a genre of music I can't be doing with at all - and this week he has chosen to perform his medley in that style.
L: What the folk!!!
M: Does he always make that kind of music?
L: NO!!!!  He's more of a pop/rock singer, but he's just made a folk album.
M: This is a bit too boring.  I can't believe what I'm watching here.  I thought you said he was good.
L: He is, and they are great songs in their original version, but I don't like this style.  If he folks-up "Just Nu"...
Well, he does.  But even though I disapprove of this style of reworking, Tomas' interval act is still the best thing on this week's show by a mile, and exposes the modern day Melodifestivalen for what it is - a once-unmissable event which has gone stale and is in serious need of a major revamp.  And, crucially, some great, memorable songs, which have been missing this year.  
Eventually after about 3 hours, it's resultat time.  It's Anton till final.
M: Yesssss!  He's my toy boy.  He is a nice looking guy although the song is very similar to a lot of others.
Ammotrack and Ellinore get the tickets to Andra Chansen, so two Melfest 'veterans' Alcazar and Linda are in that cliffhanger situation.  One will go to the final, one will miss out.  A big cheer goes up at EuropeCrazy HQ - it's Alcazar who are going to the final!  I'm delighted for them, even if I'm still not loving the song. 
The Swedish press reported Linda Bengtzing's distress at missing out, and I doubt if she will be back again.  It would appear that outwith the schlager/fan fraternity, Sweden no longer feels the love for traditional Melodifestivalen artists like her and Shirley Clamp.  Yet on the other hand, Alcazar and Sanna Nielsen are not only bucking that trend, but are now favourites in the betting odds.  Could this be the year when one of them is 'rewarded' for their years of Melodifestivalen service, just like Lena Philipsson 10 years ago? 
So it's all over, with only Andra Chansen and the final to go.  I never thought I'd see the day when I stopped caring about Melodifestivalen and turned down the chance to watch any of it. but I've decided to give Andra Chansen a miss.  None of the songs particularly inspire me, and there is the small matter of two competing finals - Eesti Laul and the Romanian national selection - which I'll be watching live instead. 
(photos courtesy of Aftonbladet and SVT)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Just a minute...of this week's Melodifestivalen songs

Does this week's line-up contain the winner?  Possibly.  Or then again, maybe not !?!

Alcazar: "Blame It On The Disco": It's the return of Stay The Night!  Only with a weaker verse, and it's probably a weaker song than we would expect from the 'Zar.  But there is a glitterball, and they will give it their all.  It will be all about the 'show' on Saturday night and this is always their ace card. And their outfits are fab-u-lous.

I.D.A.: "Fight Me If You Dare": being second in the running order means you know what to expect by now (although last week's song by EKO is definitely an exception to the rule) so I didn't expect much from this song, and can see it propping up the scoreboard this week.

Josef Johansson: "Hela Natten": not really sure what's going on with his hairdo, but I'm happy to report that this electro-ballad is actually rather good and might just steal a qualifying place.

Ammotrack: "Raise Your Hands": I was looking forward to them but this is a very average rock song, nothing to get excited about.

Janet Leon: "Hollow": death by choreography.  What is it with Sweden that they must have stupid 'lyrical' dancers?  Unfortunately this song isn't good enough to rise above the bad dancing,

Linda Bengtzing: "Ta Mig".  Another much-loved Melo-veteran making her comeback this year.  This one was pretty hard to judge on the 1 minute clip and I need to hear more of it

Ellinore Holmer: "En Himmelsk Sång".  Yes there is one of these slow songs every week, usually towards the end of the running order, with no choreography or faffing about.  Can't see this qualifying.

Anton Ewald: "Natural": cashing in on all the goodwill which he picked up during last year's contest, Anton returns in the mythical 'pimp slot' which has predicted him as this year's winner.  I will probably be shot down in flames for saying this, but Anton is a dancer who sings, rather than a singer who dances.  His voice sounds very weak here, and if he is to make it to Copenhagen, there will be no recorded backing vocals to hide behind.

Melodifestivalen 2014 Week 3: hitting new lows in Gothenburg

It would appear that I'm not the only one who's unimpressed with Melodifestivalen this year.  Ratings figures published last week show Sweden's most popular TV event is in freefall, and viewers are switching off by the week.  Then there's the Swedish media whose knives are out for presenters Anders and Nour.  So what's gone wrong?

  • The presenters.  When Anders Jansson and Nour El-Refai's names were announced as this year's presenting duo, I thought they were a strange match.  I still feel that way; they do not appear to have much charisma or chemistry.  The Swedish media have also highlighted a drop in the quality of their scripts compared to previous years.
  • The songs.  It's called Melodifestivalen, but just how many memorable "melodies" have we heard this year?  I'm not advocating the return of schlager, far from it, but some good tunes would be nice!
  • The interval acts/sketches: tiresome.
Would this week change my mind about any/all of the above.

But let's get on with the proceedings in Gothenburg's Scandinavium.  Here at EuropeCrazy HQ, mum continues to lose the will to watch a below-average internet stream.  Unfortunately our internet connection isn't up to the job of watching it in HD quality.  

The stream then crashes/freezes and by the time it has recovered, Nour and Anders have swapped clothes. So that is supposed to be funny?  They are becoming increasingly annoying by the week.

One other annoying thing this year is the paint-postcards; neither of us can warm to them at all.

Outtrigger: "Echo"

Very smart staging here, with the band members all in individual cages and the singer kicking off the song as Hannibal Lecter then freeing himself from his straitjacket and his cage.  This is an assured performance and a very good start to the show.  The song isn't too bad (apart from the screaming) and I might listen to it again.

M: Are they well-known?
L: They did a cover of last year's Melodifestivalen on YouTube which impressed the songwriters so much that they wrote this song for them. 

By the end of the song: 
M: Don't like this.  Thankfully he's stopped "singing".  

Off topic, I'm about a year behind the rest of the world as I've just discovered Haim, who were one of those 'next big thing' bands touted by the critics last year.  What does this have to do with Melodifestivalen, I hear you ask.  The next act, EKO, walk the catwalk to a Haim song, so it's a good start.  Unfortunately the group are in that "spot of death" which as in Eurovision guarantees only failure.

EKO: "Red"

M: She looks like Toyah!
L: (!)

This song has a very 80s electro feel and we both rather like it.  I think this is going to be one of the very few songs this year that will make it onto my iPod playlist.  

Mum is no fan of Anders.  "Who is he?  He looks like a politician.  Was he a politician in a past life?"  I explain how in recent years, the male presenter of Melodifestivalen has been younger and reasonably easy on the eye.  Unlike Anders.  

M: He's even too old for me!!

Next on stage, the foregone conclusion of the night.

Oscar Zia:  "Yes We Can"

Another song by Mr Smug himself Fredrik Kempe. It sounds like one of Max Martin's leftovers and conjures up memories of N*Sync, and it's staged like an Eric Saade cast-off. Oscar won't be saying bye bye bye to the contest though. Can he make it to the final? Yes he can.

M: He'll get votes because of his looks.  
L: It's a bit bland and generic for me, nothing special about it.

Shirley Clamp: "Burning Alive"

Wind machines ahoy! We are now in the "death by fashion" section of the evening. Recent song contest history has shown how styling can make or break a song's chances. Shirley turns out to be the Moje 3 of Heat 3. 

M: She is a good singer but that dress....ugh.  Worst looking thing ever.

L: This is a fashion nightmare. We spend the rest of the song talking about how bad the dress is. Probably the whole of Sweden is doing the same, and not actually listening to the song. Therefore, this is not qualifying.

State of Drama: "All We Are".

M: That painting (the postcards) is annoying me. L: This is nowhere near as good as the song they did last year.
M: I'm not interested in hearing about 'last year's song', that is in the past. This one is annoying.
L: The repetitive chorus is really getting on my nerves. Extremely annoying.
M: Probably only took them about 2 minutes to write. 
L: They seem a lot more arrogant this year than they were last year.  Getting a bit full of themselves now. Next!

Cajsa-Stina Åkerström: "En Enkel Sång".

I'm not familiar with her work but I'm guessing that like many of the 'older' artists in Melodifestivalen, she's not in it to win it but to use it as a shop window for her new material.  Cajsa-Stina walks the catwalk to "Wild World" which gets mum's approval.  She looks like a blonde Sandie Shaw, and performs her 'simple song' on the satellite stage.  Very well staged with everyone waving little lights and a ticker-tape finale.  

M: That was quite nice and might do well.
L: I think there's too many other potential qualifiers tonight though.

Unfortunately, this week's show is dying on its a*se, but look who it is! Only Bjorn Gustafsson to the rescue, hanging from gymnastic rings, and indeed hanging around just a bit too long and overstaying his welcome.

M: Who the hell is this?
L: Remember when Salem was in the final with "Keep On Walking", well, he was the other guy on stage with him.  And he once memorably appeared as Swedish jury spokesperson in Eurovision, awarding 12 points to Sweden. He is a very famous comedian in Sweden.
M: Well I don't think he's very funny.
Bjorn is also of course the guy who did the interval acts a few years ago and became very famous as a result.  But now the whole thing just looks like a desperate attempt to salvage a very poor show. Bjorn finally flies off, as does Mum who has had enough and is off to gather her thoughts and escape the tedium.

Ace Wilder: "Busy Doin' Nothin'"

Another song by the Debs - it's a very busy night for them - and Melodifestivalen debutant Ace is walking the catwalk to Hollaback Girl. Which sets her up nicely for what surprisingly turned out to be one of the surprises of the night.  Although she's still a bit iffy vocally, and the sentiments of the song a bit dodgy in places, this has grown on me and I think I'd listen to it again after the contest, even if it is clearly "influenced" by Icona Pop's I Love It.

Dr Alban and Jessica Folcker: "Around The World" .

They look good in their white outfits, and it's not as car-crash as the 1 minute clip, however the good Doctor fails to prescribe a top class performance. Jessica is great though and it's a pity that she's dragged down by the substandard 'singing'.

Mum returns in time for the recap and the rest of the show. The interval act this week, "Sochi The Musical" may have had the best intentions but went right over my head. There are people on stage in gold skin-suits; mum thought they were naked ("nothing would surprise me about this show"). There was some good old fashioned Sweden-Norway rivalry, and Gustafsson is back again, dressed in a gold siamese-twin Olympic skinsuit with Nour. And then he goes and does something very, very stupid indeed. One word - #gropegate.

Top 5 time, with Outtrigger, Ace Wilder, State of Drama, Oscar Zia and Dr Alban and Jessica Folcker going to the next round of voting. Shirley 6th place, Cajsa-Lisa is 7th, and the song which probably impressed me most this week, "Red" by EKO, finishes last.

There is a silly football-themed sketch, a guy peeing, and a big wheel out of control. Quite frankly, you have lost me by now.

M: What's this got to do with anything?

Then there is a little tribute to Alice Babs, who passed away a few days ago.

As expected, Oscar Zia is on his way direkt till Friends.
M: It's his looks what won it!
L: As I said earlier, it's like a wee Max Martin cast-off.
M: Sounds like a lot of other songs. Pretty ordinary.

It's the two rock bands, Outtrigger and State of Drama, who go to Andra Chansen.
M: "All We Are" is sh*te. And you can put that in your blog post.

But who's going to the final? Only Ace Wilder! Dr Alban and Jessica's car-crash number ends up in 5th place. Mum missed "Busy Doin' Nothin'" when it was performed earlier, but she's quite amused and likes Ace.

M: Chain-gang onesies! This is alright. Very modern.

Above: winners Ace and Oscar celebrate reaching the final. 

Heat 3 was hailed as a triumph for pop over schlager and rock, and the most obvious evidence yet of a shift in the voting demographic for Melodifestivalen. It will probably be the last time that we see Shirley Clamp at the contest, as she is yet another of the 'veterans' to fall victim to televoting, and the rise of the contest's new generation. Melodifestivalen needs new blood, but it would be nice to have a mix between the old and the new in the contest. It doesn't bode well for my beloved Alcazar this weekend :(

When it comes to presenters, Melodifestivalen also needs new blood.  Bin the comedians and give the gig to, say, Lena Philipsson or Sarah Dawn Finer.  It's a song contest after all, not a comedy night!  (although that's debatable a lot of the time...!)