Thursday, December 26, 2013

Catch-up: Melodifestivalen 2014 - the songs and the artists

Catching up with a few overdue blog posts this week!  Back in October/November, hardly a day passed without a new rumour about who would be appearing in Melodifestivalen.  In late November, the 32 artists competing in next year's contest were finally announced, and in the past week SVT revealed the running order.  So let's have a look at who will be competing for the honour to represent Sweden in Copenhagen and, more importantly perhaps, get a major career boost or revival from appearing in the contest.  Looking at the line-up alone, it suggests that Melodifestivalen is looking backwards rather than forwards, and taking a little break from 'the new' to acknowledge the wishes of the disgruntled Melfest fans who haven't been too happy with the direction which the contest has taken over recent years. 

Deltävling 1: Malmö 01.02.14

1. ”To the End” - Yohio
2. ”Aleo” - Mahan Moin (Mahan Moin, Anderz Wrethov)
3. ”Bröder” - Linus Svenning (Fredrik Kempe)
4. ”Casanova” - Elisa Lindström (Ingela ”Pling” Forsman, Bobby Ljunggren, Jimmy Jansson)
5. ”Bedroom” - Alvaro Estrella (Jakke Erixson, Jon Bordon, Lauren Francis, Kristofer Östergren)
6. ”Songbird” - Ellen Benediktson
7. ”Bygdens son” - Sylvester Schlegel (Sylvester Schlegel)
8. ”Survivor” - Helena Paparizou

Melfest 2014 season starts where Eurovision left off: Malmö.  A number of new or unfamiliar names in the week 1 line-up which leads to my own little conspiracy theory: this should give Yohio and Helena Paparizou a better chance of qualifying.  But Melodifestivalen also has a habit of surprising us all.  Two other potential qualifiers: Alvaro Estrella, who's been mentioned quite a lot on various blogs over the last couple of months - I expect something contemporary/uptempo here, whilst schlager fans are probably wetting themselves with excitement about new schlager queen-in-waiting Elisa Lindström singing a song written by the Pling/Ljunggren team. 

As for the other artists, Linus Svenning's been popping up regularly on YouTube with his acoustic covers of recent hits.  That 'acoustic' stuff isn't my thing, but he does have a good voice and I just hope Kempe has given him something a bit more uptempo or anthemic.  By the way, can we maybe have one year where all the usual songwriting suspects are kept out to give new, less well-known writers a chance? I do like the Fransson/Larsson team though so it will be interesting to see what they do for another new name, Ellen Benediktson. 

I'd have loved to see Ola Salo back - well, we are getting a member of The Ark but it's sadly not him - it's the drummer, Sylvester Schlegel, instead. 

Helena Paparizou, official Eurovision royalty (although, shock horror, I never rated "My Number One" and thought it one of the contest's weakest winners) has been linked with Melodifestivalen for many years.  I'm guessing she must finally be doing this to revive/boost her career in Sweden.  As for Yohio, the public's choice in 2013, well I think he would have crashed and burned at Eurovision and Robin was the right choice.  I'm expecting an anthemic, mid-tempo song by the Johnson/Kvint team.  Second time lucky?  I don't think so -  I just have this feeling that he will not do so well this year, the novelty has worn thin and the bubble may just have burst. 

Deltävling 2: Linköping 08.02.14

1. ”Love Trigger” - JEM (Thomas G:son, Peter Boström, Julimar ”J-Son” Santos)
2. ”Hallelujah” - The Refreshments (Joakim Arnell)
3. ”Glow” - Manda (Joy Deb, Linnéa Deb, Melanie Wehbe, Charlie Mason)
4. ”Efter solsken” - Panetoz (Johan Hirvi, Mats Lie Skåre, Nebeyu Baheru, Njol Badjie, Pa Modou Badjie)
5. ”I Am Somebody” - Pink Pistols (Joakim Törnqvist, Nestor Geli, Per Ivar Hed, Susie Päivärinta, Diztord)
6. ”Undo” - Sanna Nielsen (Fredrik Kempe, David Kreuger, Hamed "K-One” Pirouzpanah)
7. ”Set Yourself Free” - Little Great Things (Charlie Grönvall, Cristoffer Wernqvist, Felix Grönvall, Adam Dahlström)
8. ”När änglarna går hem” - Martin Stenmarck (Andreas Öhrn, Alexander Bard, Martin Stenmarck, Peter Boström)

Sanna Nielsen and Martin Stenmarck - it's a definite trip back in time in the old Melodifestivalen time machine here.  Schlager fans will be very excited about Sanna's return, although I've never understood all the love for her.  With a title like "Undo" that made me think of Zara Larsson's "Uncover" so can we maybe expect a more modern, r'n'b type ballad?  I'm hoping for a "7 Milakliv"-type song from Martin to take him to (at least) Andra Chansen. 

I think Panetoz will also be serious challengers in week 2 - "Dansa Pausa" was such a massive chart/radio hit in Sweden so they have the recognition factor and I'm expecting a very similar type of song.  I hadn't heard of Little Great Things, but they are all about the back story.  For the band consists of none other than Charlie and Felix Grönvall, the sons of the legendary Nanne so that makes them the grandchildren of Benny Andersson which is bound to be a headline-grabber in the year of the 40th anniversary of Abba's ESC win.  Hope the song matches up to the ancestry!

JEM should give us a contemporary pop number with J-Son among the songwriters.  The Refreshments are a well-known name in Sweden, whilst Manda and the Pink Pistols are new names.

Deltävling 3: Göteborg 15.02.14

1. ”Echo” - Outtrigger (Joy Deb, Linnéa Deb, Anton Malmberg Hård Af Segerstad, Outtrigger)
2. ”Red” - EKO (Linnéa Deb, Joy Deb, Anna Lidman, Hannes Lundberg, Michael Ottosson)
3. ”Yes We Can” - Oscar Zia (Fredrik Kempe, David Kreuger, Hamed "K-One” Pirouzpanah)
4. ”Burning Alive” - Shirley Clamp (Bobby Ljunggren, Marcos Ubeda, Sharon Vaughn, Henrik Wikström)
5. ”All We Are” - State of Drama (Göran Werner, Sanken Sandqvist, Emil Gullhamn, Sebastian Hallifax)
6. ”En enkel sång” - CajsaStina Åkerström (CajsaStina Åkerström)
7. ”Busy Doin’ Nothin’” - Ace Wilder (Ace Wilder, Joy Deb, Linnéa Deb)
8. ”Around the World” - Dr. Alban and Jessica Folcker (Dr. Alban, Jakke Erixson, Karl-Ola Kjellholm)

This, for me, is the completely unpredictable week.  State of Drama return after their 2013 success but could miss out this time round, as the rock vote may go to Outtrigger.  This is a nice story as they did a great metal cover of "You" ( and will now be singing a song written by the same songwriting team!  It's a very busy week for the Debs as they're competing against each other.  Ace Wilder (who sounds like a Hollywood action superhero!) is a new name, EKO won that Svensktoppen-thingy so they're probably doomed, webbjoker-style, and Cajsa-Lisa, an established artist from a few years ago, could do a Louise Hoffsten.  So it's wide open.  I think Oscar Zia - a.k.a. Eric Saade 3.0 (Anton Ewald is Saade 2.0!)

But there is one name which stands out for schlager fans in week 3: Dame Shirley of Clamp is back again!  However, she is not a guaranteed qualifier and has missed out in previous years.  Melodifestivalen may have moved on from Shirley's glory days, but with this year's line-up having a definite backwards-looking appearance, the retro vibe may just work.  Talking of retro, 90s dance king Dr Alban is finally making his debut with Jessica Folcker who is returning to the contest.  I love my 90s dance music so hopefully this won't disappoint.

Deltävling 4: Örnsköldsvik 22.02.14

1. ”Blame It On The Disco” - Alcazar (Fredrik Kempe, David Kreuger, Hamed "K-One” Pirouzpanah)
2. ”Fight Me If You Dare” - I.D.A (Albin Nicklasson, Nicklas Laine, Louise Frick Sveen)
3. ”Hollow” - Janet Leon (Karl-Ola Kjellholm, Jimmy Jansson, Louise Winter)
4. ”Raise Your Hands” - Ammotrack (Jari Kujansuu, Thomas Johansson, Calle Kindbom, Mikael de Bruin)
5. ”Hela natten” - Josef Johansson (Peter Boström, Thomas G:son, Josef Johansson, Peo Thyrén)
6. ”Ta mig” - Linda Bengtzing (Nicke Borg, Jojo Borg Larsson)
7. ”En himmelsk sång” - Ellinore Holmer (Ellinore Holmer, Vanna Rosenberg, Åsa Schmalenbach, Josefina Sanner, Henrik Wikström, Amir Aly)
8. ”Natural” - Anton Ewald

There is only one name on that list which matters to me - the mighty Alcazar!  Yes, glitterballs at the ready.  If the title is anything to go by, it's going to be fa-bu-lous, dah-ling! But will they qualify though?  This is going to be a tough one to qualify from, what with the return of the Bengtzing.  With a song written by the Borgs.  Is she leaving schlager behind and going all 'rock'?  Hopefully the stylists will be kinder to her this time round - I still have nightmares about that yellow dress.  Janet Leon is also back and hoping it will be second time lucky.  Seems no time since the last "Hollow" in Melfest.  Suggests a ballad.  And I don't like ballads.

IDA is a new name although I have read about her on pop blogs.  Ellinore Holmer is also a new name to me, an actress and singer best known for her work with the Glada Hudik theatre. I haven't heard of Josef Johansson at all but with team G:son on board this could be his big breakthrough.  Could he be Saade 4.0?  (Stop it Laura, this is just getting ridiculous now!).  Rock songs always do very well at Melfest so Ammotrack will be hoping that this is their year to qualify.  Check out their "Living Like An Angel" ( which sounds as if it would slot perfectly into Melodifestivalen. 
So, finally, to the mythical 'pimp slot', the final song in the competition and the one most likely to win the whole thing.  Step up Anton Ewald, this could be your year.  Or could it be a David Lindgren-style disappointment?  Either way, Anton's singing "Natural" which I expect to be a contemporary, uptempo tune with lots of dancing going on.  It will need to go a long way to top "Begging", but Anton has probably more chance of winning than Yohio.  As long as he's mastered the art of singing and dancing at the same time.  My biggest pet hate about Melodifestivalen is the pre-recorded vocals/backing vocals which just makes it feel like a miming/playback show.  What's the point of this?  Any act should be able to prove that they can sing live, after all that's what's required of them at Eurovision. 

5 weeks to go.....

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato Bumper Edition: October-December 2013

One month has gone into another and I've never had time to get round to posting my telly review.  So I thought I'd just wrap it all up to clear the way for whatever 2014 will bring us on the small screen. 

The Danes, of course, have the right idea.  Three series and then they're out....and leave them wanting more.  "Forbrydelsen" for example.  And the same goes for "BORGEN" (BBC4) whose third series saw Birgitte forming a new party and Katrine balancing family life with her new career as spin doctor for the New Democrats, and trying to keep up with Kasper's ever-changing hairdos.  Some new arrivals too, notably evil TV1 baddie Alex Hjort, complete with that all-important scarf.  Gratuitous picture time:

As I said during the last series, "Borgen" has done the impossible and made us care about politicians.  Which we would probably do if Britain was more like Denmark, and a coalition actually meant something rather than a coalition covering up a dictatorship.  But I digress.  Shamefully, my never-ending telly backlog (only 20% space left on the Sky+ box!!) means that I haven't as yet finished series 3.  And before you ask, I have still to watch the acclaimed Swedish three-parter "DON'T EVER WIPE TEARS WITHOUT GLOVES" (BBC4).

Whilst we're on the subject of Danes, let's talk about Claire Danes (!) which leads us onto another highly rated TV show which also just recently finished its third series.  "HOMELAND" (Channel 4) spent much of its third season jumping the shark, and being, dare I say it, boring.  That Dana storyline...yawn.  And several Brody-free episodes - what were they thinking?  Yet at other times it never lost its ability to be compelling and frustrating at the same time.  As with Borgen, I haven't seen the final episode.  Although I know how it ends, and I don't really know if I can face watching it now.  It would have been a very good idea to bring the series to a natural end at this point, so the news that there will be a fourth series just puzzles me.  But this is an American TV show, not a Danish one, and they'll flog a dead horse as long as the ratings are high enough. 

Whilst we're on the subject of series overstaying their welcome, I was ready to quit "DOWNTON ABBEY" (ITV) after that awful Christmas 2012 special, with that ending.  But I stuck around for the 4th series which managed to hold my interest, although it's now past its prime.  If there is going to be a 5th series, can we have some happier storylines after what has been a pretty dark series?

A few final words on "STRICTLY COME DANCING" (BBC1) which, to me, lost its soul in the race for ratings.  This year's crop of celebs left me cold, with much of the dancing pretty mediocre, and worst of all, those ridiculously high marks and unnecessary praise from week 1 onwards.  The panel used to be much more nasty/honest (delete as appropriate) and didn't feel the need to pander to celeb egos all the time.  But these are different times, the judges are just a caricature of themselves, Brucie continues to dodder his way from one year to the next, and why all the love for Claudia Winkleman?  Am I missing something?  It was an all-female final this year, won by Abbey Clancy.  I'm usually a fan of all things Liverpudlian but I couldn't warm to her for some reason.  She wasn't the best dancer (Natalie Gumede was) but of course this is more a popularity contest than a dancing one.  Which would probably explain why facial-expressions-irritant Susanna Reid made it so far, although her appeal escaped us here at EuropeCrazy HQ. 

In October I caught up with "A TOUCH OF CLOTH II: UNDERCOVER CLOTH" (Sky 1) which was screened back in August.  John Hannah and Suranne Jones reprised their roles as Cloth and Oldman ("Old-Man") in Charlie Brooker's played straight police parody.  Police dramas are always a rich source for parody, so yet again the wordy wit and visual gags came thick and fast.  It maybe wasn't quite as funny as the first one, but it's still worth watching and I'm glad to hear that there will be a third instalment.  There is some life left in this show.

After “The Story of the Jews” ended, another excellent documentary series took its place in the Sunday night 9pm slot.  “THE OTTOMANS – EUROPE’S MUSLIM EMPERORS” (BBC2) presented by Rageh Omaar.  In this country, the period of the Ottoman Empire is not very well-known to most people so this was a very informative and highly educational series which held my interest throughout.  It also helped me to understand the background to many of the continuing hostilities in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.  As the presenter put it, “the West intervening in a country it doesn’t really understand”, with the most dire consequences. 

"PUSSY RIOT - A PUNK PRAYER" (BBC4) was yet another compelling documentary screened in the Storyville documentary slot.  On the face of it, no-one should feel threatened by a feminist collective in knitted balaclavas performing punk anthems of iffy musical merit.  But in Putin's Russia, where individual freedoms are being eroded by the day, lyrics like "Mother of God...rid us of Putin" sung in the setting of a Moscow cathedral, landed three band members a prison sentence.  This film featured interviews with family members and court footage of the caged women who have become a worldwide symbol of the fight for free speech in the country.   In recent days they have of course been released, but you get the feeling that the story's a long way from over.

For some inexplicable reason, we're in the midst of a baby boom (a pretty irresponsible one, IMHO) despite the world recession and economic crisis.  Yet one of the world's most densely populated countries is turning its back on the trend.  "NO SEX PLEASE, WE'RE JAPANESE" (BBC2) was a very interesting documentary which tried to find the reason why.  However as it went on it began to explore an even more fascinating aspect of Japanese culture - immigration.  Maybe this could be the answer to the problem?  Although it's not as easy as that.  It's a rigid society which lives to work, and one immigrant nurse eloquently described how difficult it can be to become part of Japanese society.

Stacey Dooley, the queen of the BBC3 documentaries-for-the-yoof, was back with “BOOZE, BARCRAWLS AND BULGARIA” a rather depressing programme revealing the horror of a holiday in Sunny Beach. Thank you Stacey, you have just saved me a trip to this hellhole.

I’m enjoying all these observational people-at-work documentaries these days, however some of them can come over as a bit depressing in their portrayal of mean-spirited, drunken Britain.  “UP ALL NIGHT” (Channel 4) was another short series which included late night life in a taxi office, and perhaps reached an all-time low with “The Nightclub Toilet”.  If you thought that TV was going down the toilet, then this was the absolute proof that it has!

Happily though, we also had another series which brought back the feelgood factor.  “ICELAND – LIFE IN THE FREEZER CABINET” (BBC2) focused on the retail chain described as one of the happiest in Britain to work for.  The big boss man is Malcolm, the company’s CEO who was no stranger to the odd faux-pas: he almost seems like a natural heir to Mark from the much-missed “The Hotel”.  It was a highly entertaining series, can we have some more please? 

The curtain fell for good on "SMASH" (Sky Atlantic), cancelled by its TV network in the US.  Many hated season 2 but I actually enjoyed it more than season 1, although it did probably overstay its welcome by a few episodes and became a little repetitive.  I guess it's a format which can't really stick around for too long, so the parallel stories of "Bombshell" and "Hit List" couldn't run for ever and got the 'Big Finish' it deserved.  I thought Megan Hilty was particularly outstanding in her role as Ivy Lynn.  I'm going to miss this show!

"STRANGE DAYS – COLD WAR BRITAIN” (BBC2): After his romp through the 70s, historian Dominic Sandbrook was back on our screens once again to take us through the history of the Cold War, from its post-WW2 beginnings to the present.  The most irritating thing about Sandbrook’s presentation style is that he can try to come across at times as ‘I was there’ when he blatantly wasn’t.  But just as with “The 70s”, this was actually a pretty good series with a fine soundtrack. 

It's been a long time since Karl Pilkington was on our screens, but he made a welcome return to Sky 1 with "THE MOANING OF LIFE".  This time there was no Ricky Gervais pulling the strings, but Karl exploring the world on his own in search of the answers to life's big questions. Whilst Pilkington's deadpan wit still produced a few laughs over the hour, it has to be said that this was nowhere near as laugh-out-loud funny as "An Idiot Abroad". 

ITV, oh ITV, I am old enough to remember the days when you used to broadcast programmes which didn't have 'celebrities' in them.  It distresses me to think that there is probably a whole generation of people now who can't remember those days.  Now it's all celebrity this, celebrity that, sometimes doing it all in the name of charidee so does that make it alright?  No, it doesn't actually.  ITV - WHO TOLD YOU WE WANT CELEBRITIES ON EVERY BLOODY SHOW?  Next thing it'll be Joey Essex reading the News at Ten.  Remember where you heard it first. 

A new TV game show about TV.  Sound familiar?  Remember "Telly Addicts" from a few years ago?  Well, "SHOW ME THE TELLY" (ITV) was a similar idea.  Only with ordinary people playing against, ahem, 'TV legends'.  Oh, and how uncomfortable did Richard Bacon look on this show? 

I end, as I started, with something originally from Scandinavia.  Remakes of foreign-language dramas can be hit or miss, however “THE TUNNEL” (Sky Atlantic) has been a definite hit for me.  It was a remake of “The Bridge” of course, replacing said bridge with the Channel Tunnel and British-French cop co-operation.  Karl and Elise may not be Martin and Saga, but they were a very acceptable substitute.  It was a direct copy of series 1 of “The Bridge” – remember the “truth terrorist”? – but it was still extremely watchable.  This is due to the programme makers’ ability to interpret some of that ‘darkness’ – or as faithful travelling companion calls it, ‘Nordic bleakness’ -  and transfer it to the British/French setting, a refreshing change for a British TV drama indeed.  Highly recommended.  I wonder if there will be a second series of "The Tunnel"?  Of course the big news is that series 2 of "The Bridge" on BBC4 is only a couple of weeks away :)))

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The 2013-50: No.5 - No.1

No.5: "Get Lucky" - Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers.

Now, a wee song which you might be familiar with.  Pharrell Williams "featured" on two significant chart hits this year: one was only fit for the dustbin (clue: hashtag-Thicke) and the other was this.  One of the year's most pleasant musical surprises, which marked the resurgence of the legendary Nile Rodgers and brought his music to a whole new audience.  And then Linda "I know a drag queen when I see one" Martin brought her cover version, and no-one expected that.  So all in all, a win-win situation.

Linda's version:

No.4: "DNA" - Empire of the Sun.

My favourite song off "Ice On The Dune" and probably the one that's closest in spirit to, say, "Walking On A Dream" or "We Are The People".  DNA was the second single off the album and yet again, failed to make any impact over here.  However, the band does have a loyal following in the UK and Luke Steele has promised that they will bring their big theatrical show over here for a tour at some point.  Now if Nick Littlemore could only get over his aversion to touring...

Official video:

No.3: "Mi Servirebbe Sapere" - Antonio Maggio.

So I won't bore you with the details, and no offence to Marco Mengoni, but suffice to say that in my world this should have been the song which represented Italy in Eurovision this year. 

Antonio did win the best newcomer prize at Sanremo so that suggests that he'll be back again at some point.  Whether his song will ever better this quirky, "We No Speak Americano"-influenced, catchy-as-hell song which still sounds as wonderful every time I play it, remains to be seen. 

Official video:

No.2: "The Underground" - Datarock.

Although I was mainly disappointed with MGP this year it still managed to produce some tunes which I’ll listen to again.  And again and again.  Songs with that kind of staying power will always turn up in my top 10, and this bold fusion of electro-dance and old style disco, sprinkled with a little "Music Sounds Better With You" immediately hit the spot.  It was never in any doubt that this would be in my top 5 and in any other year it would have probably topped my chart.  But then along came my favourite song of the year... 

Datarock at the MGP final:

No.1: "Hur Dom Än" - Oskar Linnros.

Sometimes the most long-awaited songs can be the most disappointing. But not in this case: the ambitious structure of "Hur Dom Än" which was premiered at the Grammisgalan - not a week goes past without me watching that performance - finds Oskar in more epic, complex musical territory than ever before. This song completely soars and takes you on a breathtaking musical journey from beginning to end. If he is achieving this level of greatness so early in his solo musical career, it only makes you wonder just how much more he can achieve.  Unfortunately nothing on "Klappar Och Slag" came close to matching it; further proof that 2013 was the year of the great individual track, rather than the great album. 

That Grammisgalan performance:

So there you have it.  Another year over, and a new one on the way, which will hopefully bring some good new music for my 2014-50, which will be published on here one year from now :)

The 2013-50: No.10 - No.6

No.10: "In And Out Of Love" - Martin Rolinski.

Otherwise known as The-Song-Which-Lost-To-"You"-in-Andra-Chansen. But it is no loser in my chart. I love Martin, and I love this homage to Modern Talking. Oh, and while watching Melodifestivalen this year, my mum fell in love with Martin and declared him to be pretty wonderful because he reminded her of the Pet Shop Boys. Greatness, greatness, greatness.

Melodifestivalen performance:

No.9:  "Take Back The Night" - Justin Timberlake.

And the horns say...! 

Flippin’ eck - this is completely at odds with anything released in 2013....think more 1979, summoning up the spirit of Michael Jackson. This only managed to make the lower reaches of the UK top 30, which says a lot about the state of our charts.  Funky and irresistible, with JT on top form. I know I'm going to be at odds with popular opinion when I say I like this more than "Mirrors", but I always have to be different :) 

Official video:

No.8: "Alive" - Empire of the Sun.

The comeback single.  Question: what more do Empire of the Sun have to do to get a hit record in this country?  This was the band at their most commercial and I thought this would have finally been their breakthrough, but it was not to be.  Yet the instrumental version seems to be soundtracking a lot of telly programmes/trailers so someone has noticed.  "Alive" is a great big anthemic singalong which was just made for a live setting. 

Official video:

No.7: "Invincible" - Jack Rowan featuring Sam Gray.

Yes, this was officially my favourite DMGP song of 2013, in which Danish dance producer Jack teamed up with English singer Sam.  On first hearing I dismissed it as a "Titanium" clone, but there's room for the two of them in my world.  Read the lyrics and it looks like, say, an X Factor winner's song, but the vocal performance by Sam Gray turns the whole song on its head and (for me) turns it into a sad, regretful song, as if on the outside he's invincible but inside his heart is breaking.  This is one more reason why following Eurovision national finals season can be such a musically enriching experience. 

Dansk MGP performance:

No.6: "Safe and Sound" - Capital Cities.

The winner of my annual 'Great Lost European Hit of the Year' award.  Not actually by a European act, but an American duo who shot to fame in their native country thanks to that very inventive dance video.  Regular readers will know that I tend to gravitate towards pop music with a 'retro' feel and in this case we are transported back to, say, maybe 1984 or thereabouts.  This only managed to reach no.42 in the UK charts.  I suppose we should be grateful that it even charted at all. 

Official video:

The 2013-50: No.15 - No.11

No.15: "Begging" - Anton Ewald.

Melodifestivalen always establishes new stars every year, and Anton was one of 2013's biggest breakthrough artists from the contest.  So much so, that he's back again in 2014.  I'm not usually into computer-game-bleepy artificial 'pop' tunes, but this took some of the best bits of that genre and turned them into a memorable pop record which stood up to repeated play. 

No.14: "Alibi" - Eddie Razaz.

This, more than any other, was the moment I was waiting for in Melodifestivalen 2013.  I've been a big fan since his "Idol" days and eagerly awaited his MF debut.  Eddie performed this uptempo, generic dance-pop song very well, but he failed to make it out of a tightly-contested heat 3.  Why Eddie didn't make it and Ravaillacz/Caroline af Ugglas did remains a mystery, but that's Melodifestivalen for ya!

No.13: "Mirrors" - Justin Timberlake.

Unforgettably premiered at an otherwise forgettable Brit Awards, this immediately made an impact and proved that he was back, back, back!  Justin is another one of those artists who, for me, doesn't really make great albums but is a fantastic singles artist.  He is going to have one hell of a greatest hits album.  "Mirrors" is, musically, a sequel to the equally awesome "Cry Me A River" and is one of the best mainstream international pop songs of the year. 

No.12: " Lacht Nor Mij" - Slongs Dievanongs.

If someone had said I'd have a Flemish rap song with a kiddie chorus in my top 50 this year....oh well, here it is.  Another song which I came across by accident, checking out the iTunes charts. This was a massive hit in her home country and was nominated for the prestigious Radio 2 Zomerhit award.  It also pretty much soundtracked my summer too, and became one of my most-played songs of the year.  Yet I still don't understand why I like this song so much; I just do. 

No.11: "Ekki Lita Undan" - Magni Asgeirsson.

Magni is one of the best pop-rock voices in Europe today and although this song took a little time to grow on me, I eventually became addicted to this anthemic mid-tempo stomping tune, passionately performed by my favourite Icelandic rocker.  Magni has entered Songvakeppni on several occasions and yet again, he missed out with this one.  We all know now that he won't be competing in 2014: the contest will be a much emptier place without him. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The 2013-50: No.20 - No.16

No.20: "Chiedi di Me" - Renato Zero.

His name sounded familiar, however I wasn't familiar with any of his music until this year.  It was only during a brief phase of listening to Radio Italia ( during the spring that I discovered this dramatic, brassy, against-the-current pop song, passing on an older man's advice and life experience.  Having done some research, it would appear that Renato is a bit of a character and has certainly lived an exciting life!

No.19: "Ice On The Dune" - Empire of the Sun.

First (but, surprisingly, not last) appearance by my favourite Aussie duo.  This is the title track of that long-awaited album and is one of the tracks which is closest to the spirit of that debut album.  Other-worldly bright, clean, pop music not tainted by the kind of rot which marks much of this decade's so-called 'pop'.  Distinctive and unique. 

No.18: "Broken Parts" - Måns Zelmerlöw.
This was the year that Måns decided to break away from being Sweden's Mr Light Entertainment - quitting Allsång at a time when he was more popular than ever as the host of that famous 'poisoned chalice' which is always a target for the Swedish tabloid critics.  Måns also broke away from the commercial pop/dance of his first two albums and reinvented himself with this grown-up ballad.  Now I'm no ballad fan but this ticks all the boxes.   

No.17: "Old Flavours" - Empire of the Sun.

Here they are again!  This predominantly instrumental track, premiered at their Sydney Opera House concert, was previously the subject of a YouTube teaser video (we all thought it was called 'Discovery' to begin with).  Musically, it's all the things I love about Empire of the Sun and it would probably have been up there in my top 5 if it had been a proper 'song' rather than an instrumental with a couple of lines near the end. 

No.16: "Ti" - Rezarta Smaja.

Time to bend the rules/criteria a little, as this is a song which first came to my attention at the end of 2012.  Around this time last year to be precise, as I experienced my first ever Festivali i Këngës, a very enjoyable start to a long national finals season.  Along came Rezarta with this big old Italian-style ballad, backed by a live orchestra.  No playback or pre-recorded backing vocals here! She gave it her all, and this song immediately sailed into my heart.  She'll be back later this week at FiK 52: hope her song is as good as this one.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The 2013-50: No.25 - No.21

No.25: "This Is What It Feels Like" - Armin van Buuren.
This for me was 2013's equivalent of "Don't You Worry Child" (a song which, incidentally, placed at no. 32 in last year's annual countdown but went on to become one of my most played tracks of the first half of 2013).
This is the kind of song which gives EDM a good name, a rarity these days.  Danceable and melodic, great vocals, and staying power.  For a long time, the Eurovision rumour machine had Armin representing the Netherlands in 2014.  Turned out to be wrong of course, but we live in hope.
No.24: "Tomorrow" - Gianluca Bezzina.
Good ol' Jeremy makes it to the 2013-50!  From the 'Hey Soul Sister' template, Dr Gianluca prescribed a fun and feelgood song which deserved to do better than it did, although 8th place is very respectable indeed.  I think this is probably my favourite ESC entry from Malta, and I'd like to see him come back again and win the whole thing.  As Jade Ewen may have sung, "It's their time, it's their time" (groan).

No.23: "Ljubav je Svuda" - Moje 3.
Or as it's known in my world, death by styling.  If you thought the angel/devil set up was ridiculous, that was nothing compared to the horror of those semi-final costumes.  Which is a great shame as this is actually a pretty good pop song sung by three very talented solo vocalists who actually looked good as a band, although this was only ever going to be temporary.  It would appear that Serbia does better with the Zeljko-type song, which they will probably come back with after they recover from their non-qualifying strop/financial difficulties (delete as appropriate).

No.22: "L'Essenziale" - Marco Mengoni.
OK, regular followers of my blog know that I was none too happy at the time of Sanremo, when they made the decision to send this song rather than another one - which will appear much later in my countdown.  Moving on from that, there is nothing much wrong with a nice Italian man in a lovely blue suit singing a ballad which was a real grower.  I really hope Italy wins ESC some time soon, although I have mixed feelings about them hosting...1991 ring any bells?
No.21: "Pronto A Correre" - Marco Mengoni.
If "L'Essenziale" was good, then this - the title track of his 2013 album - was even better.  Co-written by none other than Mark Owen!  This is just a cracking uptempo pop-rock song which showed off Marco's versatility.  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The 2013-50: No.30 - No.26

No.30: "You" - Robin Stjernberg.

I was pretty delighted when this won Melodifestivalen - finally an Andra Chansen winner and a true underdog, although over the space of a year there were other songs from that contest which had a much longer shelf life, thus explaining this song's drop to a lower place in the 2013-50 rankings.  Anyway all these months down the line, I still wonder how such a great singer with an impressive voice was saddled with one of the most ridiculous dance routines ever seen at Melodifestivalen.  And that's saying something...

No.29: "Can't Hold Us" - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Confession time: I like Thrift Shop.  And then this came along and I liked it even more.  There’s been a genuine excitement and vitality missing from the carefully controlled pop of 2013. Proof that commercial rap/r’n’b can still offer something fresh, exciting and enduring. Even my mum loves this, and she hates rap and r’n’b.

No.28: "Radioactive" - Rita Ora.

Winner of this year's "can't stand the artist but like the song" award.  When Rita Ora arrived on the music scene I was expecting something different due to her noteworthy origins - but instead all we got was what appeared to be a fame-hungry Poundland Rihanna with a succession of overplayed, overrated r'n'b nonsense.  Happily, Sia sprinkled her songwriting magic on this slice of space-age electropop, elevating it well above the mundane. 

No.27: "Love Kills" - Roberto Bellarosa.

OK admit it: when you first saw and heard this, you were probably underwhelmed.  Yet what an incredible transformation from when the song was originally chosen as Belgium's Eurovision entry to its great achievement in qualifying for the final.  Ridiculous choreography aside, this is just a very impressive dance-pop song which went on to have a very long post-contest life for me.

No.26: "You Make Me" - Avicii featuring Salem Al Fakir.
If you continue to follow Salem's career you will know that he's had a very successful year as super-collaborator, writing, producing and performing with Petter and Veronica Maggio and his biggest success came with his collaboration with Avicii on the follow-up single to "Wake Me Up", as well as his contribution on "Shame On Me" from the "True" album.  Oh, and he co-wrote a little song called "Hey Brother" which you might have heard of.  "You Make Me" is a great dance song however it continues to irritate me that Avicii never seems to credit his featured vocalists...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The 2013-50: No.35 - No.31

35.  Check You Out – Darin.

Upbeat, modern dance-pop worth repeated listening.  Mr Zanyar had a pretty good year – lots of airplay for “Astrologen” and “Jag Och Min Far” and that all-important ESC semi-final interval act appearance.  Unless you were at the mercy of BBC3 of course, whose powers-that-be deemed that we would not be allowed to watch his performance.  (Yes I’m still feeling very bitter about that BBC3 coverage...!)

34.  The Righteous Ones – Ben Ivory.

I loved the diversity of this year's German national final.  In this instance it was time to party like it’s 1982.  Ben sounded as if he’d just woken up from a long sleep after 31 years and sprung right back into action with an anthem for all of us who are different and proud.  This is just great, and is yet another reason to love national finals season, as you get to discover songs and artists whom you'd never otherwise hear about.

No.33: "Heartstrings" - Janet Leon.

This would be yet another one of those national finals songs which went on to have a lengthy post-contest life.  Janet was hotly tipped this year, yet couldn't even make it as far as Andra Chansen.  Perhaps it was the underwhelming live performance, because the studio version stands up as a very good pop song with a killer chorus. 

No.32: "Under Control" - Calvin Harris & Alesso feat. Hurts.

It saddened me recently when I read that Calvin Harris had disowned his early songs and refuses to play them.  Back in those days I thought he was a quirky and interesting artist before he became the ubiquitous press-play superstar megabucks EDM DJ that he is today.  You won't be surprised to hear therefore, that I haven't been too thrilled by the direction his music has taken since 2010.  Most of it has left me cold ("Sweet Nothing" surprisingly excepted), but finally along came "Under Control" which I liked immediately.  Probably the main reason for that is the inclusion of Theo from Hurts on lead vocals.  More of that kind of thing and I might start taking an interest in Mr Harris' music once again. 

No.31: "Undressed" - Kim Cesarion.

Firstly, I still hate the lyrics.  This is also the kind of song I usually hate, yet it sneaked under the radar and into my brain.  Several months after its release, I was pretty addicted to it yet couldn't explain the reason why.  I still can't.  It will be interesting to hear what he comes up with on his debut album, as he has the potential, Prince-style, to be the next big international Swedish breakthrough artist.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The 2013-50: No.40 - No.36

No.40: "We Got The Power" - Loreen.

It’s a well known fact by now that I don’t like songs on first listen, and this was one of them.  I was underwhelmed by it at ESC but it grew into something well worth listening to.  Not really much else to say about it: it's no "Euphoria", there’s nothing particularly original or groundbreaking but I like it now and it sounded very good on Rix FM during that hot summer. 

No. 39: "Falling" - State of Drama.
The haters are already out in force for the return of this band to Melodifestivalen in 2014; but let's agree to disagree as I rather liked this song, even if, again, it’s not the most original song ever written.  It’s a radio-friendly rock song with a good chorus though, and if they can come up with something equally as good next time round, then maybe there’s a good chance of them turning up in my 2014-50 countdown?

No.38: "Trying To Be Cool" - Phoenix.

Phoenix made a very welcome comeback this year and for me this is the best thing they’ve done since “Everything is Everything” – it’s not as good as that (what is?) but it proves once again that the hype on this French indie band is justified.

37. "Les Chansons de l'innocence" - Etienne Daho.
This was the year in which the legendary French singer-songwriter rediscovered his pop mojo, going back to his musical roots with a sound lifted right out of his 80s output.  Which is all good.  I've only heard clips of the album though it sounds pretty good.  One faux pas though: in a year of gratuitous sexism everywhere, the album cover stinks. 

No. 36: "Precis Som Jag" - Daniel Adams-Ray.

2013 was all about the comeback, wasn't it? This time, one of Sweden’s most promising artists of the last few years, and ironically, in the same year as his former Snook bandmate Oskar Linnros.  See, it’s impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other.  Anyway this wasn’t as great as anything on his first album, but well worth its position in my countdown.   I haven’t heard Daniel’s album yet either (boy, do I have a lot of listening to catch up with).