Saturday, May 14, 2016

Eurovision 2016 - The Grand Final: preview, predictions and thoughts

Hi guys....once again I've fallen behind with all my blog posts so my 2 semi-final posts will be written up and published, along with my review of the final, hopefully - time permitting - within the next couple of weeks (and not 4 months later, like in 2015).  I'll make sure I don't lose my written notes this time!

Well, although I haven't really been into many of the songs this year, on the other hand I don't actively dislike any songs in this year's final either. Many of them just leave me with that 'meh' feeling but who knows, I might look back in future years with rose-coloured glasses and think '2016 was actually quite a good Eurovision year'.  Stranger things have happened.

I really ended up enjoying both semi-finals.  SVT have once again given us a very slick production whilst Måns and Petra are a good combination; a massive improvement on last year's dull trio of presenters, not to mention the screaming presentation duos of the mid to late 2000s.  I'm sure that M & P will do a great job in the final, with lots of humour guaranteed.  There is also the small matter of a big, big change to the voting.  This new format - which I guess is very similar to that used in Melodifestivalen? - should bring some much-needed excitement and will keep us on the edge of our seats until the last minute, rather than knowing who's won with several countries still to announce. That's assuming we don't have such a runaway winner that the end-section will be irrelevant of course.

We are also promised something very different tonight - an appearance from none other than Justin Timberlake (above), performing his new song.  Now, firstly, can I say that I've always been a big JT fan, but I don't really appreciate ESC being used as a vehicle to plug his music.  So there may be the tenuous link with Swedish songwriters, but I would have preferred a Swedish artist (or selection of artists) to showcase their talent - thinking back to Darin and Agnes in 2013's semi-final for example. ESC may be constantly looking to the future and innovating year on year, but the inclusion of an American act, along with the contest being broadcast by a US TV network for the first time, suggests that there may be more afoot.....are we looking at the USA's eventual participation in ESC?  The contest is also being screened in China, so who knows what may happen next.

To be honest, I wouldn't want ESC to expand any further and go down that 'globalisation' route, and further diluting the European aspect of the contest.  Maybe the various continents/regions of the world could establish their own equivalent song contests, with, say, the top 4 songs from each contest then going on to compete in a "World Cup" song contest event along with the top 4 of ESC. I believe there are plans for an Asia-Pacific version of ESC and I'll be very interested to see how that goes.

Which inevitably brings me to the elephant in the room.....there has been a bit of criticism lately regarding Australia's participation in ESC; much of this is from people who haven't bothered to research the reasons why they are in the contest.  By this stage I'm quite ambivalent about it - I'm happy to see such a genuinely Eurovision-loving country get an opportunity to compete, but I can't really see them sticking around in the longer term, especially if an Asia-Pacific version of ESC becomes a reality.  What cannot be disputed is that in just two years of competing, Australia have raised the bar for professionalism and credibility.  Guy Sebastian was excellent last year - I still love "Tonight Again" and although I'm not a particular fan of "Sound of Silence", Dami Im gave a faultless vocal performance worthy of an international superstar.

By sending hugely talented, experienced and professional performers with strong songs, Australia in just two years have cracked the formula for Eurovision success and acclaim, which the UK can only watch and envy.

Tonight Joe and Jake, two agreeable young lads who formed a duo after competing individually in "The Voice" (which now seems to be a breeding ground for many a Eurovision contestant from various countries) will be representing the United Kingdom with "You're Not Alone".  This song won the rather half-hearted UK final - although I suppose we should be grateful that the BBC even ran to a national final at all - and as Simon Cowell would say, "do you know something?" I think this is the UK's best entry for a long time, and it deserves a place on the left hand of the scoreboard for a change.  I'm proud of this as a UK entry - it's contemporary enough and you remember it after just one hearing.  The guys sing well and do the best with the material and staging that they are given. Come on Europe - vote for us!  We don't all want "Brexit" despite the media's obsession - and in the words of this song "we're in this together"!

In an interview during the BBC4 semi-final coverage I think it was Jake who said that they wanted to change the perception of the contest in the UK.  However, given the UK mainstream media continuously perpetuating wildly inaccurate stereotypes and ideas about the contest, that will be an uphill struggle.

By the way, I was thrilled to get 10 out of 10 qualifiers from semi-final 2.  Don't think I've ever had a 10 out of 10 before....just wish I'd put bets on!

So, on to my predictions for the final.

Being a year-round ESC fan, it is very easy to get swept up in the hysteria generated by bloggers, tweeters, superfans etc about certain songs.  However, the majority of the ESC viewing audience will (a) only watch the final and probably don't even know about the semi-finals and (b) be completely oblivious to months of gossip and speculation in the fan world.  So, putting myself into the shoes of a "casual viewer" it would be impossible (or is that impaa-see-baal, eh Dima?) to see past a Russian win. Viewers will be blown away by the technical excellence of the staging, just like last year's winner. Unlike many superfans and bloggers, the casual viewer won't be debating with themselves that the song is too "old fashioned"/reminds them of Sakis Rouvas etc etc.....they will just be impressed by the whole spectacular "show".  And I wouldn't mind Sergey winning, because he is a good pop star, and he takes me back to the good old "Sounds of Europe" days when Rachel and Keira introduced me to his music.

On the other hand, maybe the problem with the staging of "You Are The Only One" is that it's just too cold, too clinical, too calculating?  Sergey didn't really need all that over-the-top staging - he's good enough without it.  Then there are the wider implications of Russia hosting the contest again, given the specific issues around, let's just say, gender politics.

What are the alternatives?  Well, I'm predicting big things for Ukraine.  Jamala's performance of "1944" in the semi-final the other night was emotional and spine-chilling.  But is it just too intense to be a winner? Meanwhile, after that performance on Thursday, Australia have also become serious contenders.  And if they win, the contest will have to take place somewhere in Europe.  Dear Australia, if you win, please please please host ESC 2017 in Glasgow....! #wishfulthinking

But Eurovision's not all about the big show or the big voices, so I still predict Sweden and Italy as top 5 contenders. The "less is more" nature of their entries will contrast the bombastic staging or vocal performances of the top 3 favourites.  There was so much hate for Frans after he won Melfest; but to a viewing public who have never heard of Melfest or schlager, they will 'get' his song and he will tap into the Justin Bieber/Ed Sheeran fandom.  And there are a lot of them.

As for Italy, it took a long time for "No Degree of Separation" to register with me, but the staging is unusual and very sweet, I think Francesca's natural low-key charm will appeal to viewers and there is also a lot of love for Italian-language songs in Europe.  All of this will add up to a successful final placing.

Another one to keep an eye on is Austria's "Loin d'ici" sung by Zoe.  I'd originally written this off as too sickly-sweet but it all made sense in the semi-final.  In a time when native language at Eurovision is an endangered species, we have to support the only fully native-language song, which comes from a country which doesn't even speak that language!  I think even Alanis Morissette would be impressed by that level of irony.

What about my own favourites?  Well, I'm still cheering for Justs but I can't see "Heartbeat" winning now, for some reason.  I'm also pretty gutted that the draw has killed the Netherlands' chances - as has that embarrassing 10 second pause - because I really thought at one time that "Slow Down" could win the whole contest. I still think Serbia is underrated too; when I heard "Goodbye" for the first time it gave me "winner-chills".  As for France, it's one of the few accessible, catchy pop songs in the contest but the staging of the song seems to have rolled back its chances of winning.

So with just under 2 and a half hours to go, let's hope for a memorable and enjoyable Eurovision Song Contest final tonight.  And of course may the best song win!  On a personal note, it will be a very strange night: it will be my first Eurovision final on my own, without mum.  But she is with me in spirit and will hopefully inspire me to write a good review :)

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