Sunday, March 05, 2017

Notes from National Finals - Eesti Laul, Estonia 04.03.2017

For me, Eesti Laul is always one of the strongest national selections in ESC and this year was no different.  I'm not usually one for watching heats and semi-finals, especially in the high-demand Super Saturday weekends when there are so many contests competing for attention; however, choices had to be made and I chose to invest in the whole Eesti Laul process this year.  

The semi-finals were staged in what appeared to be a TV studio, whereas the final was in the completely different environment of the 2002 host venue, the Saku Suurhall in Tallinn.  The move to the larger venue last year was very successful and I hope this venue will host the final for years to come.  

This year's final was opened by last year's Eesti Laul winner, Jüri Pootsmann, with his latest song, the drum-driven "Silmades", which led on to a special performance of "Play" accompanied by Stig Rasta on guitar and a choir backing.  Jüri seems to be growing in confidence as a performer and I hope he goes on to greater things. 

1. "Keep Running" - Liis Lemsalu.

A good, uncomplicated pop song which was sung by a charming performer.  The audience got in on the act, flashing glow sticks. Liis was all alone on stage but surrounded by lots of pink orbs!  It was a solid start to the show.  

The two presenters, Mart and Ott, were also responsible for the between-song sketches ("Reklaam") which were done in the form of spoof adverts.  Sometimes they were funny, but as the show went on they started to annoy me and they got in the way of the flow of the songs.  

2.  "Verona" - Koit Toome and Laura.

Back in't day in 1998, still one of my most favourite Eurovision Song Contests ever, a young Koit Toome represented Estonia with "Mere Lapsed", in the final year of compulsory native-language entries.  19 years on and a) he still reminds me of Gary Barlow and b) he hasn't really aged that much, has he?  Koit and Laura were dressed up for the occasion, more straight outta Vegas than Verona, and they gave a very strong and professional performance of a song inspired by Romeo and Juliet, with a Verona as a metaphor for love lost and found.  

3. "Have You Now" - Whogaux and Karl-Kristjan featuring Maian.

You would have to be living on Mars not to be aware of the chart-conquering boring-dance-music phenomenon that is the Chainsmokers.  Song number three was basically just a Chainsmokers tribute act, with the two singers - an irritating hipster in a hat, and a Holly Willoughby lookalike in a dress and trainers - walking around in a circle on stage.  This kind of thing is popular, but it did nothing for me. 

4. "Slingshot" - Lenna Kuurmaa. 

When I saw this song in the semi-final I had initially wrote it off as yet another in a very long line of Sia-alikes, but Lenna had won me over by the end of the song.  She  was surrounded by her backing singers doing slow but sharp choreography, then she disappeared during the middle-8 of the song, only to reappear, flying above the audience, to bring that "wow" moment.  It was another very controlled and professional performance from Lenna - I like her and I hope that she will get a chance to represent Estonia at ESC some day, with a stronger song.  

5. "All I Need" - Daniel Levi. 

Firstly I have to explain that I always get Daniel Levi and Markus Riva mixed up.  Now you are probably wondering why, as one is Estonian and one is Latvian, but they always seem to be competing in their respective national finals in the same years and I have to always remind myself which is which.  #badfan

Daniel must have offended a barber, with that hairdo.  He also had to perform mainly in darkness, accompanied by lasers, but at least he resisted the temptation to do that moving-lasers-about thing like David Lindgren on "We Are Your Tomorrow" in Melfest 2016.  But I digress.  This song was ok, but not great, and his vocals weren't always up to scratch.  

6. "In or Out" - Elina Born.

Now there is no doubt about it that Elina is in my list of fabulous Estonian female ESC contestants - "Goodbye To Yesterday" still remains one of my favourite ESC entries of recent years.  When I heard she was coming back to Eesti Laul, I was quite excited - but that was followed by extreme disappointment after seeing her first performance of this on the semi-final.  Where had the cool and classy Elina of 2015 gone?  In her place was another version of Elina, (under)dressed in a very revealing leotard.  The overall effect of the styling and staging was just trashy and cheap, and it completely overshadowed the song (another Stig Rästa co-write, by the way).

7.  "Suur Loterii" - Ivo Linna. 

67 year old Ivo is an Estonian music legend who previously represented his country back in 1996.  I find it hard to dislike "Suur Loterii" as a) it is in Estonian and b) it's a sweet and likeable song.  If my mum was still here she would have described this as "a nice song" too. I'm glad he made it to the Eesti Laul final :)

8.  "This Love" - Rasmus Randvee. 

Like Daniel Levi before him, Rasmus must also have offended his barber as he has another one of those lopsided-haircuts!  

This song was co-written by Ewert Sundja from Ewert and the Two Dragons, who have been hugely popular in Estonia over the last few years.  So "This Love" had some credibility to begin with, and Rasmus gave a very enthusiastic and strong performance, throwing himself around and giving it all he had.  I never really paid too much attention to it in the semi-final, but he took it to a whole new level in the final and so we should not be surprised that he ended up as one of the superfinalists.  

9. "Feel Me Now" - Ariadne.  

A big contrast to Rasmus' powerful indie anthem, "Feel Me Now" wasn't trying to be anything else other than a sweet, lightweight and understated little pop song.  Her styling reminded me a little bit of Zara Larsson, and she did the 360 back-to-the-audience shot which was a regular feature in Eurovision 2016.  I liked this song in the semi-final and also in the final, but the only thing I didn't really like about it was the song's title. 

10. "Spirit Animal" - Kerli. 

In the world of internet Eurovision fandom there is a certain word - you know, that one, which is used to describe songs/artists which are massive favourites among particular sections of the fandom. "Spirit Animal" has been one of  those songs this year.

My problem with this song is that it tried too hard to fit the new Eurovision stereotype of a very "modern" and minimalist song which is more of a performance piece accompanied by striking visuals.  In a contest with several very impressive vocalists, Kerli's voice just sounded rather weak and the song wasn't memorable enough to cover up her vocal shortcomings.  

The Eesti Laul final was broadcast in two parts, with the second part devoted to the superfinal where the 3 songs with the biggest combined jury and televote from the main show would then compete again solely for the televote.  

The three finalists were Kerli, Koit and Laura, and Rasmus.  Unfortunately during the superfinal, my internet stream was playing up, presumably collapsing under the weight of running Andra Chansen and Eesti Laul at the same time, and not to mention the reaction of a shocked fandom coming to terms with the fact that Loreen did not make it to the Melfest final...!

Back at Eesti Laul, Måns Zelmerlöw was doing his interval act thing, with a medley of "Heroes" and "Glorious".  This was followed by a group called, I think, Beyond Beyond, although by that point my internet connection was "beyond" a joke!

Eventually it was restored in time for the results.  Rasmus was 3rd - well done to him and I hope we see him back in Eesti Laul again.  Then in a night of shocks came yet another shock result - "Verona" won, beating "Spirit Animal".  By the look on Koit and Laura's faces, I don't think they were expecting that either!

The win had hardly been announced and Twitter, and presumably everywhere else in social media land, was incandescent with rage, that another fan-fave had been eliminated, this time at the hands of an "old-fashioned cheesy song".

Well, I say, what's wrong with cheese?????  

Yes, "Verona" is old-school Eurovision.  But in yet another national finals season when songs without tunes outnumber memorable melodies, and indeed when the 'Melodi' is sadly absent from the contests bearing that name in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, you have to ask if things have got so bad that you can't send a song with a tune and/or memorable chorus to ESC anymore without it being branded "old-fashioned", "cheesy" and the like.  The same criticism was levelled at Sergey last year of course.  
But what about those songs in many a national final this year, which have tried so hard to be "current"?  The tropical house ones? (Although I do have a soft spot for the daft and funny "I Love My Phone" from the Lithuanian national selection).  The ones which are inspired by Sia's "Chandelier"/"Titanium"? The ones which are inspired by Shawn Mendes or the Chainsmokers? All of these may be "current" but they will also become dated very quickly, because they lack that "timeless" quality.  That same quality which characterises many of the Eurovision songs which certain fans accuse of being "dated". That thing called.... "a tune".

OK, rant over.  There will be more national final reviews to come over the next couple of weeks, when I'll be taking a look back at the selections from Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Germany and Slovenia.

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