Tuesday, May 09, 2017
Eurovision 2017: an overview
Just an explanation before I go on - I have still to post my Melodifestivalen 2017 reviews but as these are rather extensive and my time is consumed by both Eurovision and upcoming holiday preparations, I've decided to leave these until nearer the end of this month.
Although I haven't been blogging or tweeting very much over recent months - due to lack of time/health reasons - I have extensively followed the lead-up to the contest over the past 5 months, through national final season to the pre-parties and finally to the rehearsals, watching every video clip, downloading and listening to lots of podcasts etc. As ever at this time of year I want to thank all of you who put so much work into bringing ESC season alive, particularly for those of us whose Eurovision experience is confined to watching the contest on TV in the living room :) I'll be watching both semi-finals but this year, due to what I can only describe as a scheduling conflict, I will be on holiday and "off the grid" on the night of the final. Call me a bad fan, but it was unavoidable as I could only go on this particular date. Anyway, I haven't missed an ESC final since 1997 and we know what happened then!
In my "Eurovision Memories" post published on this blog in 2012, I wrote:
"That was a pretty significant night for me, as it would be the first time since the early 1970s that I hadn't been at home on the evening of the contest due to a prior engagement. On the way home by taxi, the driver had the radio news on, and I heard the announcement that the UK had won Eurovision. My first thought was, for goodness sake, I really must be drunk!! Did they just say what I thought they said?"
I haven't written much about this year's ESC on the blog or on Twitter so I thought I'd take the opportunity to give you a little overview of my feelings about the contest this year. As national finals season progressed, I was beginning to feel that this was going to be another one of those "meh" years, dominated by ballads and songs lacking memorable melodies. As I say every year, I'm an old-school ESC fan who still puts "the song" above all else. If a song moves me in any way - whether it makes me happy, or sad, or just makes me want to dance, as long as it makes that crucial connection, then that's enough for me.
However, I have also moved with the times and accept that the modern-day ESC is as much about the Euro-"vision" and the importance of costumes/staging/camera angles/choreography; at their best, these can make or break a song's chances. Nevertheless, I've watched all the rehearsal footage and nothing has changed my mind. I still love the same songs and although there are others which I'm not so keen on, I wouldn't go as far as to say that I hate any of the songs (ok then, maybe there is one, which is quite popular but which I would detest the idea of it winning. More on that in a later post) because the bar has been raised so high over recent years and every artist and their delegations put so much work in delivering the best possible performance they can.
One of the very nice aspects of social media, which has transformed the Eurovision Song Contest beyond recognition over the past few years has been the way that the contest has brought all of us together in the fan family. Over the past 2 or 3 years however I have also noticed the artists developing a strong camaraderie with each other, thanks to the many pre-parties and also on Twitter. This may be a contest, but we now see a lot of love, friendship and respect between the contestants, not to mention artists covering each other's songs or duetting with each other on YouTube videos. Honourable mentions to Spain's Manel Navarro and Austria's Nathan Trent. Probably the most bizarre clip is Switzerland's Timebelle doing a mash-up of this year's ESC entries to the backing of Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You". Proof, if any was needed, of the more "contemporary" nature of ESC songs. Although try telling that to the UK media who still think the contest is stuck in the 1970s/80s....!
Forget the politics and the dark clouds - ESC should be celebrated as a competition like no other, a happy place and a genuine escape from the increasingly dark world around us. Although from the minute Ukraine won the 2016 contest with a song about historical events with an undercurrent relevant to more recent history, politics have never been far from the surface.
Rewind to that crazy Sunday evening of 12th March, when within the space of a couple of hours we digested the news that Valentina Monetta was representing San Marino for her fourth time, and then we all headed off to Russia's Channel One to suffer our way through their news show - the things we do for Eurovision! - and eventually, at the end of the show, we got to see the Russian entry: a pleasant female singer Yulia Samoylova, singing a simple and rather saccharine song, "Flame Is Burning". In a year where the contest's theme/tagline was "Celebrate Diversity", the Russian singer happened to be in a wheelchair. So far, so good for Russia, although by the end of the song, my thoughts were...."is that it?" Over the past couple of years, Russia have been winners in waiting, yet on hearing this song I just felt that they weren't even making an effort. They were "phoning it in" this time round. Just what was on their mind?
Of course we would eventually find out what was on their mind. This was a classic exercise in manipulation: no-one would dare to criticise a singer in a wheelchair with a "nice" little song. But since Russia annexed Ukraine in 2014, Ukraine introduced a law banning any performers who have performed in Crimea. You would need to be completely off the scale of naivety to think that Russia had accidentally chosen a performer who'd played in Crimea. They knew what they were doing here. When Channel One eventually announced in April that they would not broadcast the contest and therefore withdrew, it brought a very troubled few weeks of Eurovision season to an end. So Yulia was effectively collateral damage - an artist and song which was never really a contender, sacrificed in an exhausting political stand-off. But that wasn't the end of it: Yulia will perform in Crimea while the ESC semi-final is going on. So it would appear that she wasn't such an innocent victim after all.
As usual, the mainstream UK media will go down that same old road. The excuses are being prepared even as we speak, for why the UK entry will not do well this year. "Blame Brexit" they will say, in the same way that the Iraq war was blamed for Jemini's nil points in 2003, rather than their car-crash vocal "performance" and cringeworthy stagecraft. The UK this year is represented by Lucie Jones (above), with "Never Give Up On You" which was co-written by 2013 winner Emmelie de Forest. Although I'm not a particular fan of the song in its current form (I'd have preferred a dance-banger version, but that's just me) you can't argue that this is probably the best package of song and singer we've put together since 2009. At that time I described Jade Ewen's "It's My Time" as "a pile of mince" but what a well-performed pile of mince it turned out to be. The BBC really made an effort, and it proved that the more effort you put in will bring rewards. What we would give for 5th place now.
Former X Factor contestant Lucie has gone on to establish herself as an actress and experienced musical theatre performer. This experience will serve her well on Saturday night and I have every confidence that she will do nothing less than her very best. She has been vocally flawless during the rehearsals and the pre-party season. For once the BBC have also made an effort with the staging - Lucie is standing inside a mirrored shell-like shape with the backdrop of a shower of golden firework-style lights. Whatever the result on Saturday, we can be proud of Lucie, who seems genuinely thrilled to be participating in Eurovision.
This year's line-up of songs is a very strange one - for all the "meh" songs which either leave me cold or don't trigger any emotion in me at all - there is a spectacular trilogy of songs which are among the best Eurovision entries in years, so ESC 2017 may end up being a vintage year after all! In my next post I'll tell you all about my three favourite songs this year.