Sunday, April 16, 2017

Notes from National Finals - Germany: Unser Song, 09.02.2017

Over recent years, Germany has tried everything from internal selections to multi-artist national finals.  In the case of the latter, there have been some quality artists and songs, but in recent years they fell foul of the "curse of the underdog".  The situation wasn't helped either by the shock refusal of Andreas Kummert to compete 2 years ago, or by Jamie-Lee's very individual (but misunderstood) styling.

In 2017, there was a change to Germany's selection process, and not for the better either.  Five unknown singers would compete in a series of rounds, whittling down along the way to find the best fit of song and singer to represent Germany in Kyiv.

Cologne is the venue and once again, Barbara Schoneberger (pictured above in the opening number) is the hostess with the mostest.  She is a big personality with a great sense of humour, and it could be said that she would need to have a great sense of humour to wear that skirt :O

There's a panel of judges this year, featuring schlager star Florian Silbereisen, popular singer-songwriter Tim Bendzko, and the one and only Lena Meyer-Landrut, Germany's last ESC winner in 2010.

The first round features all five of this year's lambs to the slaughter contestants, when they will sing a cover version each and then there will be an elimination round, leaving three singers.

Round 1: The Cover Versions

"Folsom Prison Blues" - Helene Nissen. 

An interesting choice here for a cover version.  However, as a recent convert to Johnny Cash's music (thank you faithful travelling companion!!), I am paying especially close attention to how she performs this.  Helene is young and cute and wears big Harry Potter glasses.  She reminds me of those student buskers which you'll find in any city on any Saturday afternoon.  She is just too "shouty" on this song, This performance bizarrely reminds me of the late Lena Zavaroni, a child star discovered in the 70s on "Opportunity Knocks" (the 'Got Talent' of its day), who used to belt out songs which were far too grown-up for her.

"Love on Top" - Yosefin Buohler.

Next up is Swedish-German Yosefin who performs a lightweight and somewhat "cabaret" cover of the Beyonce song with the multiple key changes.  It's a mistake for her to cover such a big song requiring a spectacular vocal.  What has become of the musical variety which characterised German national finals over recent years? I am just despairing at this year's final already.

It's also a shame though that regardless of what you think of the contestants, that two of them won't get the chance to sing even one of the two songs in the running.  This is an extremely flawed format for a national final.  A far better idea would have been for just one straightforward final of 5 artists singing the 2 competing songs each; this covers-round is just an irrelevance.

"Dancing On My Own" - Felicia Lu Kürbiß.

Of all the songs in all the world....why, really, would anyone choose this dismal cover-of-a-cover?  If such a thing of an international court of crimes against music existed, then Calum Scott's cover version of Robyn's classic song - which topped my 2016 hate chart on this blog - would be first in the queue to be tried.  Felicia does the best she can, but she seems to be modelling herself a bit too much on Lena.

"You Know My Name" - Axel Maximilian Feige.

I'm not so sure about the manbun - it's not the best look is it?  This song was originally performed by Chris Cornell and was the theme to the James Bond film Casino Royale.  It's perfect for Axel's gritty rock voice and, although many of the notes fall short to begin with, he eventually gets there. Although he is no Chris Cornell, Axel admittedly does have a good voice but I'm not feeling much charisma here.  Maybe it's nerves, I don't know....

"When We Were Young" - Isabella Levina Lueen.

It becomes clear very quickly that Levina is the favourite as she is cheered throughout her very decent, tuneful cover of the Adele song which is a safe choice here.

After the votes are counted, it's time for two of the singers to be eliminated.  We say goodbye to Yosefin (unsurprisingly) and Felicia - I'd like to think she was punished for that terrible song choice (!), but I thought she would sneak a qualification place over Helene.  Oh well, there you go!

This final is already at a very cringeworthy stage.  I'm even getting the feeling that Barbara is not usually her sparky self, and this feels like a contractual obligation.

Round 2:  "Wildfire" (Marit Larsen/Tofer Brown/Greg Holden)

I think what's annoying me about this whole national final shenanigans is that there is no room in it for German-language music.  Now I can understand sending a song to ESC in English (although I wish that, even for one year, that all countries would submit an entry in their native language.  Not gonna happen though, is it?) The covers round would have been a good chance for the singers to express themselves in their own language, but that was a missed opportunity.

So I had hoped that if we couldn't hear anything in the German language, then it would have been good at least to have German involvement on the songwriting side.  As it turns out, neither of the two songs in contention are written by German songwriters and are "bought in" co-writes.  This is one aspect of the modern ESC which I really struggle to deal with.  It would be nice if a country was represented by a song even co-written by a native of that country, but it's just another aspect of that generic, globalised mish-mash which ESC has become, and I feel that the contest has lost something special as a result.

"Wildfire" - Helene.

So, the cute young shouty-busking-student is growing in confidence after that surprise qualification to the ESC songs round.  Her take on "Wildfire" is an upbeat country-flavoured song in the style of Amy Macdonald. The performance is lively enough but her vocals suffer as a result.

"Wildfire" - Axel.

This song seems to suit his rough, gritty voice.  Unfortunately it loses the momentum thanks to the low-key staging and there is not much in the way of "performance" as he just sits on a stool.  The lyrics of the song may say "run through the wildfire", well Axel, never mind running - getting off the chair would be a start!  Axel looks as if he'd rather be anywhere else and he's not "selling" the song at all.  He is not bringing the charisma or the confidence which will make all the difference in being chosen as this year's German representative.

By the way there is a simultaneous English language commentary running through this long final which is very beneficial for us non-German speakers.  It happens that Tim Bendzko (below left), who is injecting a lot of honesty into his comments, isn't too delighted with Axel sitting down either.

"Wildfire" - Levina.

Visually, Levina puts me in mind of a mix of Emma Marrone and Lena Meyer-Landrut.  There is cheering throughout her interpretation of the song which she turns into a mid-tempo ballad.  Unlike Axel, Levina knows how to work the camera, she is very confident and is coming across like the winner of "Unser Song" already.

Time for a musical interlude - something finally in German!  Tim Bendzko performs "Leichtsinn" and I have decided that is way better than any other songs we've heard in this cringeworthy, lengthy and interminable final.

Elimination time again.  Helene leaves the competition, and Axel and Levina are the only ones still in contention.  They will now perform the second prospective ESC entry.

Round 3: "Perfect Life" (Lindy Robbins, Lindsey Ray, Dave Bassett)

Lindy Robbins has written quite a few hit songs over recent years including Jason Derulo's "Want To Want Me" and "Skyscraper" which was covered by X Factor winner Sam Bailey.

Like "Wildfire" this song isn't all that spectacular either and you just wonder, is this really the best that Germany can do?  Can we tempt Stefan Raab out of retirement??

"Perfect Life" - Axel.

He sings this well, but I just wish that he showed more personality in his performance as it just looks as if he can't be arsed.  He's got a distinctive voice and I think he could make a good recording artist if he gets the right material.  But he's not winning this competition.  He performs this song as a mid-tempo ballad with little James Bond-style musical flourishes.

"Perfect Life" - Levina.

All together now... "I am titaaaaaniiiiiuuuum!"

This version of the song has a lawsuit-worthy intro as it is clearly inspired by the David Guetta/Sia track - although many have also pointed out the "Every Breath You Take" guitar riff which has been ripped off by many other artists over the last 30 years.  The artists tonight are performing with a live band which is one very positive aspect of an otherwise unremarkable final.  I presume that the recorded version of Levina's take on this song will have more of a dance beat?  Whatever, it goes big in the hall and the audience are clapping along from the beginning.

So now it's another round of voting, to decide who's done the best version of each song.  In an unsurprising result, it's Levina versus Levina: the voters have decided that she sung the best versions of both songs and so it's on to the final round, where she will sing each song again.  No wonder she's probably got a sore throat by now!

By the way, did I say how rubbish this format is?  They're singing the same songs over and over again .It reminds me of the old Andra Chansen format which was thankfully dropped.  Anyway, no matter how many times they sing "Wildfire" and "Perfect Life" I still struggle to remember them.  In the end, the voters choose "Perfect Life", probably because it's got that Titanium recognition factor.

The epic final finishes almost 3 hours after it started,so congratulations if you lasted for the duration. Germany really needs to rethink the way it chooses its Eurovision entries. This is not the best format, that's for sure.

So just how well will Germany do in this year's Eurovision Song Contest?  Levina seems a confident performer and sings well enough, but at this point, the whole package just isn't special enough to get Germany over to the left-hand side of the scoreboard.

No comments: