Norway's Melodi Grand Prix process for 2013 seemed shrouded in secrecy, with week 1's songs and artists only being revealed a few days beforehand. There's also been a change in the presenters this year: out goes Per Sundnes and his various female sidekicks, in comes Erik Solbakken (who seems to have got better looking since he co-hosted ESC in 2010) and Jenny Skavlan.
Bizarrely, my usually reliable internet connection chose Saturday night to go a bit erratic, just when I wanted to watch the first heat of MGP live online, and I didn't get to join the show until later.
As I tweeted on Saturday night, national finals season is the same every year: anticipation, followed by disappointment, followed by further disappointment. But we love it. Because good or bad, national finals season gives us the kind of diversity which we just can't find in the all-too-generic music scene at the moment. Even in what was, I think you will agree, a below-par heat of the usually high-standard MGP, you can't deny that it was certainly diverse: rockabilly, Euphoria-clones, gentle acoustic pop, death metal and electro-disco to name some musical styles.
First out in Steinkjer this week was Vidar Busk with his rockabilly-tune "Paid My Way". Now, seasoned Eurovision fans should be well-aware of the 'underestimate rock n' roll songs at your peril' rule in national finals, particularly in the Nordic region (although it can also be a non-Nordic thing: the-hell-that-was-Copycat) yet despite this I didn't see it qualifying to Oslo Spektrum. WRONG!!!! I will never learn.
Next up was "Sleepwalking" sung by Carina Dahl. This was the first of the week's entries co-written by Ben Adams, no less, which caused brief excitement, however the result was a kind of generic Taylor Swift-style contemporary girlie-pop and nothing really special. I only caught this in the recap and listened to the song later on, however it never really changed my mind.
A break from all the frenzied dance routines next: "Det Er Du" sung by Tom Hugo. Which was rather nice. I'm not really into this acoustic style but this nice sweet song was actually very welcome here and I would have been very happy if it had qualified. But it didn't :(
Then there are "songs" which you just completely shake your head at , but allow them a spot in the running order whilst giving thanks for diversity. Oh look, it's Didrik Tangent-Thingy's brother Emil Solli-Tangen! Teaming up with a death-metal combo named Gromth with a "tune" called "Alone". Now I've always been partial to a bit of the old metal but this is taking it too far, then the less-handsome Tangent-Thingy brother goes and does his little 'I'm a proper singer, me' bit before the scary death-metal screamers take over again.
My internet connection recovered in time to catch Julie Bergan sing yet another Ben Adams co-write, "Give A Little Something Back" the title of which called to mind "Give A Little Love Back To The World" from that horrific era of ESC. This was burdened with hellish staging, with people dancing and faffing about around a park bench and distracting from Ms Bergan's vocal efforts. Unremarkable.
There is an established Eurovision trend where a song wins and then a fair amount of songs try to copy it the following year. So the "Euphoria" tribute prize on Saturday evening went to Mimi Blix, she of "Allergic" fame. The very generic EDM of "Catch Me" sounded like the Swedish House Mafia featuring Loreen....
You only live twice! Tomorrow never dies!
And so we arrive at the final song, which immediately grabbed me on first hearing. After just one hearing, "The Underground" by Datarock became my absolute favourite of national finals season so far - OK there's not much to compare with at this stage, but hey ho - it's got a brilliant introduction and even if it borrows the title from Girls Aloud, and the tracksuits are a bit naff, you succumb to the irresistible electro-disco rhythms. This is the first song to book a place in my 2013-50 year-end chart as we speak. What I really like about national finals season is that it will introduce us to acts which we were previously unaware of. So I checked out more of their music on iTunes. They sound like a Norwegian version of Chromeo. And yes, long-term fans of this blog will know that's a good thing.
So, after a little interval segment and some very long X Factor-style pauses, the three qualifiers were revealed in reverse order:
3rd - Vidar Busk. (Damn! Foiled again)
2nd - Datarock. (Yay!!!!)
1st - Gromth and Tangent-Thingy. (?????)
Above: this week's qualifiers celebrate in Steinkjer.
(All of the above pictures courtesy of www.nrk.no)
I wonder what next week's heat will bring? Hopefully it will be better than this week.
If you're up for a bit of nostalgia, NRK's website still has all the old MGP heats and finals from the past few years...check out http://www.nrk.no/nett-tv/prosjekt/218