Saturday, March 29, 2014

Still here....

If things had gone to plan, I would be in Cyprus right now, rather than sitting in EuropeCrazy HQ on a very cold night.  However, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

My beloved mum has been unwell for a little while and was admitted to hospital yesterday.  I don't really want to say any more about this right now, not wanting to tempt fate, but she has made great progress over the last 24 hours. 

Anyway I'm feeling emotionally and physically exhausted by the events of the past few days so I don't really feel like blogging/tweeting right now, but I promise I'll be back soon.  Now off to watch some Eurovision clips/contests as I usually do at this time on a Saturday night :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Melodi Grand Prix 2014: The Final - 15.03.2014

This year's MGP was scaled down from previous years.  No more big arena tour across Norway for the contest.  Unfortunately due to what felt like most of this year's national finals being crammed into a very limited amount of weeks, something had to give, and that happened to be this year's MGP heats :(

Ironically, for a show which in recent years had used the Melodifestivalen template, it now looks as if Sweden could learn a lot from their Norwegian counterparts.  Scaled-down heats and a showpiece final, presented by an attractive, classy and professional duo.  There's none of the 'baggage' which weighs Melfest down.  Although the show begins with a sketch (featuring WigWam) and an irritating child spoiling the opening, the contest quickly settles into a smooth, high quality show. 

Erik and Jenny are such lovely hosts.  And by the way, isn't Erik getting better looking, the older he gets?  Jenny has yet another of her lovely dresses on, this time it's all glitter and gold.  Now let's have some songs shall we?

"Ain't No Love In This City No More" - El Cuero
I always like a wee bit of rock in MGP.  It's not death metal this time, just a straightforward rock song.  It's nothing brilliant, but it's ok.  The singer reminds me, looks wise, of the lead singer of the Boo Radleys. 

"Soul Survivor" - Elisabeth Carew
I love, love, love her green dress.  This is a highly fancied, very contemporary soul/r'n'b number.  It's catchy and decent enough. 

Now we have some bloke with a big chain round his neck - he's like the Mayor of MGP! - talking about Knut. Which nicely leads us on to ....

"Taste of You" - Knut Kippersund Nesdal
Big big cheers in the Spektrum for a guy (with an amazing name!!) who, for me, is this year's Bjorn Johan Muri - he won't win but this is going to be a big hit.  Knut scored a record deal just before the final so I think we'll be hearing more from him.  There's a spectacular intro where Knut directs the laser lights.  This is just a great pop song which I'll take into off season.  The song ends with a golden firework finale a la Only Teardrops.  This deserves a spot in the superfinal.

"Needs" - Dina Misund
Even the songs I'm not personally fond of are still better than some national finals this year.  Dina gives a very nice performance.  Well done.

"Heal" - Mo
There's a big back story here: as Mo survived the Utoya massacre.  He performs the song well enough, although it's not a winner, but one thing's for sure already - this year's MGP final is ahead of the pack. 

"High Hopes" - Linnea Dale
Yet another dress which I love - Linnea's wearing a long satin dress in my favourite shade of green, which is the same as the curtains and cushions in my living room :)

This is contemporary, in a good way, and the song really draws you in.  By the way, I've been pronouncing her surname wrongly all these years: I thought it was pronounced 'Dale' the English way but it's actually like "Daa-le" so that's my Norwegian lesson for the week!

"Hit Me Up" - Charlie
Not really impressed by the title, and the song is probably the 'filler' of the night.  I never watched the heats but I'm sure this one must have beat off better songs.  It's one for those people who like the 'Disney girls'/Carly Rae Jepsen kind of sugary pop.

"Silent Storm" - Carl Espen.
From the ridiculous to the sublime.  He looks like an off-duty member of a death metal band.  This song's intensity is unmatched, and the fragility of his performance complements the song perfectly.  The buzz is already building for this one....

"Sing" - Oda and Wulff
So just when I'm enjoying the contemporary songs, along comes something which would have been at home in the Eurovision Song Contest of the 1970s.  National finals season has been littered with folky-acoustic numbers this year, but this is old fashioned.  Distressingly, disturbingly old-fashioned.  I think the Norwegian voters are too smart to let this win though.

The only down side is a 40 minute break between the first show and the gullfinal (superfinal): which gives us all a chance to take stock, and in my case do the washing up  :)

So 40 minutes later, the dishes are done, the wine is opened, the internet stream is faultless (see, SVT - this is how you do a live stream, watch and learn!) - Saturday nights just don't get any better than this. 

The wonderful Jenny has changed into a lovely navy blue glittery dress, and Erik is still looking good :)

But who are the gullfinalists?

Knut!!  With that hairdo he looks like Jedward's long lost brother.  He sounds good though, and he can be proud of his impressive debut this year. "Taste of You" is just a good pop song, we used to get lots of them in Melfest season...

Carl Espen is gullfinalist no.2.  Maybe it's just the way I've been feeling lately but the lyrics and sentiment of "Silent Storm" touch a very raw nerve.  He may be a little more nervous vocally, but this is an absolutely real experience which, if chosen to represent Norge this year, will completely slice through all the fakery. 

As my two favourite songs are through, I'm not too fussed about the 3rd and 4th songs but I'm sure they'll be ok...

Gullfinalist no.3 is Mo, with "Heal".  But firstly, is that really Stella Mwangi with her head shaved?  Yes it is!  Mo also has a distinctive look, but I'm not totally sure that this would be such a great choice.  It's a modern, slightly dubsteppy/drum n' bass style of song, but Hungary and Armenia have cornered that market this year.  Nevertheless this is a good performance.

And finally, gullfinalist no. 4 = Linnea Dale, with "High Hopes".  Glad that "sing sing sing sing sing like you mean it" dreck missed out.  Linnea brings effortless cool and lots of charm.  She has an interesting voice and this is another song for the off season.  There is background dancing, but it's not intrusive background dancing in a Melfest way.  This final is totally kicking Melfest's butt!

4 songs done, on with the voting so let's be having the interval act.  Firstly, Karin Park, the striking co-writer of "I Feed You My Love" with a song in a similar vein...

which leads us to the return of Margaret Berger, singing her latest song "Scream".

Finally it's time for "I Feed You My Love" which she performs in duet-version with Karin Park. 

There are some past MGP stars delivering the various regional voting totals, first up is Stella Mwangi, delivering the Østlandet votes.

1st - Mo
2nd - Carl
3rd - Linnea
4th - Knut

Jørn Hoel - from further back in the day at MGP - delivers the Nordnorge votes:

1st - Carl
2nd - Linnea
3rd - Mo
4th - Knut

Margaret Berger gives the Midtnorge totals:

1st - Carl
2nd - Linnea
3rd - Mo
4th - Knut

Helene Bøksle gives us the Sørlandet scores. 

1st - Linnea
2nd - Carl
3rd - Mo
4th - Knut

Christine Guldbrandsen - who doesn't look a day older than she did in 2006! - gives the Vestlandet scores:

1st - Carl
2nd - Linnea
3rd - Mo
4th - Knut

So Carl wins Vestlandet with a resounding majority, and takes home the MGP 2014 title ahead of Linnea in 2nd place, Mo 3rd and Knut 4th. 

"Silent Storm" may not be to everyone's taste, and I don't usually go for this minimalistic type of song - but it is an absolutely perfect choice for Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest.  Even my mum woke from her slumbers to declare "that sounds like a Eurovision winner to me" ("I don't know about you but that sounds like a Eurovision winner to meeeeee....."). 

The song was written by Carl's cousin, Josefin Winther, who was overcome with emotion after the final result. Carl's not even a professional singer - he's been a soldier, a glazer and a nightclub bouncer!  I'm sure this will be a springboard to a great career.  "Silent Storm" will stop the viewers of Europe in their tracks: whether that translates into votes is another matter.  It may be too "dark" and minimal for the 21st century Eurovision Song Contest, but it would be a unique winner.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Blog birthday: 7 Up!

A quick glance at the calendar reveals that today marks my 7th anniversary in blogland.  Where have all those years gone?  Unfortunately I can only rewind to my last blog-birthday and tell you that things are pretty much the same - I don't really have the time anymore to update this (or my other blogs) as regularly as I'd like to: I don't have the time or energy - the last few months have been particularly difficult and I only feel as if I'm beginning to see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. 

The good news though, is that I have no intention of giving up blogging just yet.  Welcome to the 8th year of EuropeCrazy! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Melodifestivalen 2014: The Final - 08.03.2014

So, how was it for you?  You may be one of those people who are happy to see Sanna Nielsen finally get the ticket to ESC on her 7th (yes! 7th) attempt; you may be one of those who feel bitterly disappointed that Sweden didn't pick Ace Wilder; you may be one of the pop-boy fans who are taking it very personally right now that their favourite didn't win.

Or you might feel like I do: drained by it all, and (shock horror) glad it's finally over.  I never thought I'd see the day when I was glad to see the back of Melodifestivalen season, but 2014 finally brought that feeling.  But there is one big show to go - and all we've got is that little blue/green buffering circle going round and round.  By the time the stream recovers, there's a Danish vibe going on.  Charlotte Perrelli is singing "Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen" then Rasmus Seebach's "Natteravn" plays over the introduction to the contestants. 

Mum remains unimpressed by it all. 

M: This is the show I don't particularly like.  Why the hell do they wave those balloons every week?
When's this show going to start?

Normally at this point I would defend the greatness of Melodifestivalen, but this year that would be defending the indefensible.  In 2014 Melfest has lost its greatness, for some of the reasons I described in my previous post.  But I can't stress enough that the credibility of any final would be seriously stretched if one man wrote 4 out of 10 songs in it. 

Finally, time to get started.  And the good news is, the painting postcards have gone in favour of a slo-mo 'look at me, I'm in the final!' VT. 

Anton Ewald: "Natural".

My mum's toyboy.  And she wastes no time in telling me how much she likes him and his mirrored jacket. The fact remains that for all the Michael Jackson-influenced dance routine and the slight improvement in his vocals, the song is just not strong enough.  The key change is very good though.

M: He's got a nice smile ...:)
L: I think him and Oscar Zia will cancel each other out.

Ellen Benediktson: "Songbird".

She's had a grown-up makeover since she first qualified for the final.  And if I may say so, it's far too 'old' for her.  Mum eventually remembers the song and I remind her that she predicted it to go to the final.  However, this is one of those songs which you can only really listen to once - on second hearing it's just too boring for words, and conversation at EuropeCrazy HQ turns to the size of Friends Arena, and how long it would take everyone to get out of there after the show.  (Maybe one of you lovely people could answer this question??)

Someone has clearly annoyed the hairstylist tonight.  Both Ellen and host Nour have been restyled back to the 1940s or thereabouts.  Talking of going back in time, let's go back to the golden age of the glitterball.  It's Alcazar time.

Alcazar: "Blame It On The Disco".

I've made no secret of the fact that I think this is possibly their weakest Melfest entry to date, but it can't be denied that they out-perform everyone else in the line-up.  Even mum is impressed.

M: There's been some s****y songs in this tonight, but they are good.
L: I'm still not so keen on the song, it's too close to Stay The Night for me to judge it on its own merits. 

Now there's a guy on stage, with seemingly a cake (to bake) for every entry in the final.

Oscar Zia: "Yes We Can". 

Of course the TV screens make it look like 5 Oscar Zias.  I still think him and Anton will cancel each other out.

M: I don't like this one as much as the first song ("Natural").
L: It's far too repetitive and is a lot more annoying now.
M: Yes we can what?  Too much canning.  Can the Can.  Suzi Quatro!  (I love my mum's random trains of thought!!)
L: No he can't. 

In my Melfest final preview I highlighted my irritation that Fredrik Kempe has managed to carve up 4/10ths of the final, and that represents everything that is wrong with the contest's current format.  Even mum is beginning to get sick of the sight of him.

M: Who is that baldy man with the pointed ears?
(Please note that this blog does not condone any personal insults of that nature, but having said that, it's pretty damned spot on)
L: Time for another Kempe song.  Zzzzz.  The one about the brother.

Linus Svenning: "Bröder".

With all those tattoos and piercings he looks like the kind of guy who walks down your high street with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier on each arm.  But wait!  Throw such judgemental clichés out the window because this is a sensitive, anthemic ballad.  Which none of us have any time for.

M: I don't like this much at all.
L: Neither do I. 

And that's all we have to say on that one, really.  He's a good enough singer, but it's the curse of Kempe again.  Milking real-life sadness to get a maudlin ballad.  That's when he's not writing derivative versions of "Stay The Night" or "Wrecking Ball" or the Cheiron back catalogue.

Helena Paparizou: "Survivor".

A very accurate song title, as she survived Andra Chansen (along with Linus) and made it to the final.  But why the costume change from the lace dress of her original heat, to a much more unflattering stripey blouse and leggings combo?

M: This is another very mediocre and repetitive song.  Singing the same line over and over again.  It's funny how when you don't like a song that it feels as if it's never ending!

But end, it does.  Now we haven't said much about the presenters, but our opinion remains the same.  They may be good enough in their own fields of work, but as a Melodifestivalen presenting duo, Anders Jansson and Nour El Refai completely lacked chemistry and were unimpressive from week 1.  Anders looks a little bit relieved tonight: as if he's glad that it will soon all be over.  In the past week the Swedish tabloids reported Anders and Nour's displeasure at how they were treated by SVT, how they weren't allowed to bring their ideas to the show.  But whatever happened or didn't happen, the fact remained that they were just not right for this show.  SVT needs to choose its presenters very carefully next year.

Yohio: "To The End".

L: He's toned down his image this year.
M: That's him toned down?!
L: Again, this is just a non-song, and it sounds even worse than it did previously.
M: He's very unusual.
L: His real name's Kevin, don't you know.
M: Kevin?!?!?!

Mum is now extremely bored, by this song and by the evening's proceedings as a whole.

M: This is just...nothing.  Why did anyone bother writing this?
L: Not even the pyros can save it.

Sanna Nielsen: "Undo".

And now to, inexplicably, this year's favourite.  Although not in my world. Lots of cheering from the crowd, greeting Sanna on her 7th attempt at Melodifestivalen.

L: Oh look who it is!  Fredrik Kempe!
M: Don't know what's so special about it.  It's just another boring ballad.  She is a good singer, but too 'shouty'.
L: The best thing about it is the lasers/staging.  Otherwise = Wrecking Ball rip-off.  And I've always thought she's just too cold and clinical in her performances.  And the grammar is atrocious.  I mean, "undo my sad?"

Sigrid, the show-stealing little girl from a couple of weeks ago, is back with a present for Yohio.  And she goes and steals the show all over again, even if you don't understand what she's talking about.

Panetoz: "Efter Solsken".

Mum is impressed that the word "efter" in Swedish is pronounced the very same way as we pronounce "after" in this part of the world.  Poor old Panetoz haven't had much support from the fan community in the lead-up to the final.

L: Everyone seems to hate them.
M: Why?  This is very lively.  And there should be more groups - too many solo singers.
L: I think it's because the fans always feel the need to pick out one or two songs to hate every year, which don't fit into a certain style.  I actually have quite a soft spot for this.  They're having fun and know they've no chance of winning so they're just having a blast and hoping to sell a few records off the back of their appearance here.

The marathon nature of a Melodifestivalen final is not lost on mum.
M: You start watching this about teatime and it ends at bedtime!

Time for the final song of the evening.  I tell mum that if Sweden is serious about sending something more 'contemporary' than usual to ESC, then this is the one.

Ace Wilder: "Busy Doin' Nothin'". 

Now I know this isn't the type of thing I would usually listen to - I'm one of a very small minority in blogland who couldn't understand the appeal of Icona Pop's I Love It - but in terms of Eurovision, I wanted this to represent Sweden.  The Eurovision Song Contest needs great songs of course, but it also needs potential international hit songs.  Fairytale/Satellite/Euphoria worked in this regard; Only Teardrops, whilst charting all over Europe, didn't have the same longevity or impact.

M: I quite like this song.  Yes it's very modern.  Does it have a chance of winning?
L: It's no.1 in the Swedish charts this week, but as we know that doesn't always guarantee winning Melodifestivalen. 
M: It's better than that boring ballad. 
L: I hope this wins. 

So, songs over, summing up:
Anton - not good enough
Ellen - boring
Alcazar - I think their time's come and gone
Oscar - no we can't
Linus - the one about the brother
Helena - too repetitive/boring
Yohio - non-song
Sanna - undo this song
Panetoz - lively
Ace - 12 points from the EuropeCrazy HQ jury!

Time for the interval act.  You'd have to live on Mars not to know that 2014 is the 40th anniversary of Abba winning ESC with "Waterloo" and to celebrate this, some past Melfest winners are on stage for an Abba medley.  It's a rather downsized Abba medley though: Marie Bergman's "Knowing Me Knowing You", a posh "Chiquitita" by Malena Ernman, a blinged-up "Gimme Gimme Gimme" by Charlotte Perrelli, and a vocally astounding Robin Stjernberg with "Thank You For The Music".  (By the way, didn't Robin look great?).  I expected more from this interval act.  A few more singers and songs would have been welcome, for starters. Ladies and gentlemen, the fact remains that no Melodifestivalen interval act will ever top this one from 2000:

In recent years, Melodifestivalen scrapped the local juries in favour of a group of international juries to help select the Swedish entry.  The international jury votes and the Swedish televote have often differed, but this year even the juries differed in their choice of favourite songs...

Italy - 12 to Ace, 10 to Alcazar, 8 to Sanna
Israel - 12 to Ace, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Alcazar
Germany - 12 to Linus, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Alcazar
France - 12 to Alcazar, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Ace
Netherlands - 12 to Ace, 10 to Ellen, 8 to Panetoz
By the way, Anders' turn as the Dutch jury spokesperson was probably the funniest thing he'd done on the show.  A few more moments like that and it could have all been very different. 

Malta - 12 to Helena, 10 to Sanna, 8 to Oscar
Russia - 12 to Ace, 10 to Linus, 8 to Sanna
Estonia - 12 to Linus, 10 to Ace, 8 to Yohio
United Kingdom - 12 to Alcazar, 10 to Ace, 8 to Oscar
Spain - 12 to Sanna, 10 to Helena, 8 to Ace

Finally, the Danish jury - whose spokesperson is none other than bridge-hopping Sofia 'Saga Noren' Helin - gives 12 to Ace, 10 to Yohio and 8 to Helena. 

So what did we learn from the jury votes?  That Ace won the jury vote, but also polarised the juries; that no-one (apart from my mum) loved Anton Ewald, who was propping up the foot of the table; and most surprisingly, just how much they were wowed by Alcazar.  Which proves that there is no doubt that their image, styling, stagecraft and professional performance, honed over many years, can lift a rather mediocre song.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the voting process in the final is that the televote remains open after the jury votes have concluded, leaving it potentially open to tactical voting, should people be that way inclined of course.

In every Melodifestivalen final, there is always an 'unusual' cover of the previous year's winning song.  This was even given the cheapo treatment this year, as rather than bring in a guest artist, it fell to Anders and Nour to perform a personal, Swedish language version of "You" which had us running for the hills and for once actually welcomed the intervention of the backing dancers. 

M: I remember this song from somewhere?
L: Yes it won Melodifestivalen.  It was sung in English, though.  In a better version than this one. har ett resultat.
M: Get on with it!

But we don't actually have ett resultat after all, as there's some technical chaos going on, leaving Anders and Nour to fill in whilst they await the golden envelope.  I explain to mum that the televote result can completely overrule the jury vote, depending on how the percentages are converted into random points totals.  So here are the final televoting totals:

14 - Anton
18 - Panetoz
21 - Oscar
27 - Helena
30 - Ellen
37 - Linus
43 - Yohio
48 - Alcazar
113 - Ace
122 - Sanna

Added to the jury totals, here are the final results.

212 - Sanna
210 - Ace
110 - Alcazar
84 - Helena
83 - Linus
82 - Yohio
61 - Ellen
53 - Oscar
33 - Panetoz
18 - Anton

In one of the closest final results I can ever remember at Melodifestivalen, Sanna Nielsen finally wins the contest on her 7th attempt.  Ironically, this was in a year when many of the 'veterans' like Shirley Clamp and Linda Bengtzing couldn't even make it out of their heats, and Martin Stenmarck fell at the final Andra Chansen hurdle; yet Sanna and Alcazar, who both have a long Melodifestivalen history, fared better with the juries and televoters than fancied newcomers and recent returnees.  Alcazar's result both surprised and puzzled me; they've had better songs in previous years, and I thought their time had come and gone.  This would be the right time for them to go out of Melodifestivalen on a high, if not a win.  I still think this is the last we've seen of them in the contest. 

Don't expect to see Yohio back again.  He's not happy with the international jury set-up, and I believe that I read somewhere that Anton says he's not coming back. 

You know how we feel about this result: There is a lot of love for the artist and the song in ESC fan land, but we don't like "Undo" although have to acknowledge that it will get a pretty good result in Copenhagen.  Whilst Sanna is a good singer, and I'm sure there will be no vocal wobbles at Eurovision time, I still feel that she doesn't connect with the viewers and lacks warmth and empathy as a performer.  I have seen her on some other Swedish TV shows and she seems to have a pretty good sense of fun, but have never seen her translate this warmth into any of her Melodifestivalen performances.  Then of course there is the song itself: derivative and recycled from the "Wrecking Ball" template. 

Perhaps I should just get over it.  As mum says, it's only a song contest...(to which I reply, "no it's not, it's actually an all-year-round event!") But as a long-time Melfest fan I'm sure I speak for many when I say that we invest so much expectation in the contest based on the spectacle and the production values; we spend months speculating about the songs, the artists, the writers, the presenters, the interval acts, the host venues, the postcards, the set, every last detail.  I used to feel sad when Melodifestivalen season ended: on Saturday night I only felt relief, because this whole season has been a disappointment in almost every area.  But on the plus side, there are some songs which I'm taking with me to off-season though....

"Red" - EKO
"Love Trigger" - JEM
"Glow" - Manda
"Bedroom" - Alvaro Estrella
"När Änglarna Går Hem" - Martin Stenmarck
"Hela Natten" - Josef Johansson

Major surgery is now required to get Melodifestivalen off the critical list.  So, SVT... Ditch the comedy.  Get talented presenters who can sing, or talented singers who can present.  Bring in new songwriting rules - 1 song only, per writer per year.  Disqualify songwriters (and artists) who were in the previous year's contest and defer their participation for a year, to give other writers/artists a chance.  Ditch Andra Chansen: after the 4th heat, open up the televote for a 'wildcard' round where all the eliminated songs would be eligible for the two final places up for grabs. 

That's just some suggestions: Melodifestivalen needs to become 'event TV' again.  Perhaps we can just write off 2014's Swedish selection process.  To paraphrase the winning entry....undo this year. 

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: February 2014

February was all about catching up with the unmissable second series of "THE BRIDGE" (BBC4).  Shocking, upsetting, riveting.  As with series 1, it was loaded with layer upon layer of complexity and red herrings, eco-terrorism and people in pig masks.  In the meantime, Saga and Martin were dealing with family/relationship problems and establishing a new level of trust in each other.  The partnership of Martin and Saga is an incredible one which is hard to beat.  But just as they built up trust, even the best friendships end in betrayal.  Poor Martin :(

The good news is that there will be another series, but after that ending, just how can they put everything back together?

Telly chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall headed off to Sweden, Denmark and Norway to celebrate the highs (and occasional lows) of life there, and to find out why they've been voted the happiest countries in the world.  In a too-short series, "SCANDIMANIA" (Channel 4) he covered Abba, flatpack houses, lagom, Nordic Noir, the law of Jante, and the Ylvis brothers.  What does the fox say?  We probably wouldn't find out as HFW would have cooked it.  Great series, but I could have done with all the hunting stuff.  And don't even start me on the smoked sheep's head. 

Managed to fit in a couple of films in February too.  "ROCK OF AGES" (Sky Movies) was based on a stage musical set in the 80s, about a couple of rock music-loving hicks from the sticks trying to make it in Hollywood.  My main gripe was that the two leads, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, were just a bit too 'nice' to be convincing, and some of the soundtrack of American hits may be unfamiliar to British ears.  Russell Brand did what he does best - being Russell Brand of course - and Tom Cruise was a revelation in his role as over-the-top rock idol Stacee Jaxx. 

Another music-related film, but it couldn't have been further removed from the bright lights of the Sunset Strip.  "VINYL" (Sky Movies) was a film I'd never heard of, however I decided to check it out because it seemed to be an interesting story.  Remarkably based on a true story too.  The main plot was about a rock band making a comeback, but no-one was remotely interested until they came up with the bright idea of putting together a young band to front the song.  A very interesting concept and an observation on the image-obsessed music business.  Well worth watching, and I guarantee that "Free Rock n'Roll" song will be stuck in your head for ever. 

I'd hoped for more from "RUSSIA ON FOUR WHEELS" (BBC2) a timely pre-Sochi travelogue, however it was less in-depth exploration and more 'Top Gear'-ski.
Talking of the Winter Olympics, this brings me on to "DAN SNOW'S HISTORY OF THE WINTER OLYMPICS" (BBC2), a very interesting documentary which took us through the years of the unmissable winter event.  Sadly, it was only an hour long - it should have been a series.

And proving that I am the queen of the backlog, I'm still working my way through the Winter Olympics coverage.  Should be finished in time for the next one.  One of the most shocking things about this Winter Olympics - apart from the IOC deciding to award it to Russia in the first place - was the lack of atmosphere/cheering by audiences, notably in the ice skating arena, which only came to life when the Russian competitors appeared.  This time round, it was the 'extreme' sports which grabbed my attention: the slopestyle snowboarding and freestyle/halfpipe events. 

On "WHO DARES WINS" (BBC1), the dominance of Chrissy and Joe completely wasted the early weeks of the 2014 series.  But then in February....the impossible happened and they were finally knocked out. 

Whilst on the subject of quizzes, two words: fantastic fun!  Yes, that old quiz from the early days of Channel 5, featuring a younger version of the wonderful 'punslinger' himself, Tim Vine - I refer to "WHITTLE" which resurfaced on the home of classic quizzes, Challenge.  It's time to put on your Whittle masks. Are you ready to be whittled?  Whittle away!

Time for an ad break.  Followers of the Compare the Meerkat saga - yes, I am one - are delighted to welcome a new meerkat to the fold.  Oleg has been adopted by Alexander, but once again it's poor old put-upon Sergei who's been left to bring him up :( 

And just when you think you couldn't get anything cuter than Oleg, along came the McVities kittens.  Awwwwww.......

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: January 2014

I have a little backlog of posts which I'm finally going to publish over the next week before I take a little blogging break.  Let's jump into the telly time machine and rewind back to January. 

So I started the year as I finished the last one: in backlog-mode.  Over the new year period I finally finished "BORGEN" (BBC4) which all wrapped up nicely, although left me in some turmoil nonetheless - I couldn't understand Katrine's new relationship, and Torben just frustrated me.  But it all ended reasonably triumphant anyway, se 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:

Another show in my to-watch list was the acclaimed Swedish three-parter "DON'T EVER WIPE TEARS WITHOUT GLOVES" (BBC4).  Again, I caught up with this at the start of the year.   This award-winning drama drama was set in the 1980s, in the time when AIDS came to Sweden.  If you were living in Britain in the 1980s you may remember the scaremongering, the sensationalism and the "Don't die of ignorance" ads.  I get the feeling that things would have been very different indeed in Sweden.  This series was sad and moving but also warm and funny at times.

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. Following that ending, 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?

We're usually used to "WHO DARES WINS" (BBC1) popping up on telly on a Saturday night just after national finals season has ended, so it was a surprise to see it in January.  Unfortunately the early weeks of the quiz were dominated by knowledgeable Joe and his nodding, grinning sidekick Chrissy, who spanned two series....

"COACH TRIP" (Channel 4) returned to our screens with the legendary Brendan taking a group of random Brits around the continent.  Unfortunately they didn't seem to have any respect for European culture, or the places they visited, and that annoyed me enough to bail out after a couple of weeks of the show. 

The biggest story in soapland?  Terminally ill Hayley Cropper's decision to end her own life in "CORONATION STREET" (ITV).  Since the character was diagnosed with cancer, the storyline has been sensitively portrayed and well-acted by Julie Hesmondhalgh (Hayley) and David Neilson (Roy) - in the hands of other characters in the show, it would have been disastrous.  Despite the potential sensationalism offered by the subject matter, when the end came, it was moving and sensitively acted. 

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"? 

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Tonight I'll be watching Melodifestivalen - against my better judgement

After my previous post, I gave some thought to which national final I should be watching tonight - Melodifestivalen or Dansk Melodi Grand Prix.  It's been a rather miserable Melfest season and I didn't even make any effort to watch Andra Chansen.  However, I have decided to be a 'survivor' and see the process through 'to the end' to find out who Sweden will be sending to Copenhagen.  Well it's only 'natural' that we watch the Melodifestivalen final every year - 'yes we can' hope that they will 'undo' what has been a dire contest so far and put on a great show, but that's probably a lot to hope for.  Disappointment is inevitable.

Anyway, against my better judgement, I'll be watching Melfest and will no doubt regret not watching DMGP live.

I don't have a particular favourite this year at Melfest, in a list of mainly underwhelming songs.  However, I have decided to support...Ace Wilder with "Busy Doin' Nothin'"!  It's catchy and contemporary, with a memorable chorus/rap.  Admittedly it's not much of a song - and that is where I have my reservations - and she really needs to up her game with her live vocals, as they fell well short of the studio version. 

If "Busy Doin' Nothin'" gets to represent Sweden, it will probably send certain sections of the schlager/fan fraternity into apoplexy.  Remember the negative reaction when Robin Stjernberg was chosen last year, because he wasn't schlager enough.  If Ace wins, this will be yet another giant step towards Sweden breaking out of the schlager straitjacket at Eurovision.  

2014 would be the ideal time to take that risk, to send an entry which is 'different from the norm', and best of all - a song which is not written by Fredrik Kempe.  For me, his domination represents everything wrong with Melodifestivalen right now.  A shake-up of the songwriting rules would freshen up the contest, for example if you have managed to get a song through to the final 32 in one year, then you should be automatically disqualified for putting a song in the following year.  Also, you should only be allowed to write 1 song in the final 32, rather than the same people repeatedly turning up week after week. 

Kempe, as solo writer and part of a songwriting team has no less than 4 songs in tonight's final.  Which, when you think about it, is quite outrageous.  Sweden, the land of established international songwriters, and they've got the same guy writing 4 songs in a national final!?!

So as I said earlier, I'll be watching, but with major reservations.  Melodifestivalen in its current form has become stale and needs a major overhaul to bring it back to the unmissable TV event it once was.  If SVT doesn't change its ways in 2015, then this time next year I won't be wondering whether to watch the final or not; that decision will be a very easy one to make.  And I suspect I won't be the only one switching off.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Melodifestivalen 2014 final: the running order

I didn't watch Andra Chansen tonight, but I know that Linus Svenning and Helena Paparizou advanced to the final next week in Stockholm.

Here is the running order for this year's Melodifestivalen final: for me it's the most unexciting final line-up in years, and I'm still deciding whether or not to watch it live, given that there is the small matter of the DMGP final on the same night (bad planning, Eurovision planners!).  Anyway, Ace Wilder has the 'pimp slot' - if Sweden wants to take a risk on a reasonably 'contemporary' song then that's the one - but Sanna Nielsen remains the outright favourite.  Yawn.

1. Anton Ewald – Natural
2. Ellen Benediktson – Songbird
3. Alcazar – Blame It On The Disco
4. Oscar Zia – Yes We Can
5. Linus Svenning – Bröder
6. Helena Paparizou – Survivor
7. YOHIO – To the End
8. Sanna Nielsen – Undo
9. Panetoz – Efter solsken
10. Ace Wilder – Busy Doin’ Nothin’

The UK's Eurovision entry to be revealed on Monday

So, we've had yet another entertaining series of rumours - yes folks, the lead-up to the announcement of the UK's Eurovision entry is always an unmissable feast.  Who would be this year's UK entry?  Well, if you've been playing UK Eurovision bingo, this lot might just get you a full house!
  • Geri Halliwell
  • Belinda Carlisle
  • Dame Vera Lynn
  • Wet Wet Wet
  • Paloma Faith
  • Nina Nesbitt
  • Olly Murs
  • Sam Bailey
  • Aiden Grimshaw
  • Wet Wet Wet
  • Charlotte Church
  • Adele
  • One Direction
  • Jessie J
  • Amy Macdonald
...and the list is endless.

In the last couple of days, the BBC has finally broken its silence and announced that this year's UK entry will be revealed at 7.30pm UK time on Monday 3rd March. 

In this blog post, executive producer Guy Freeman announced:

"With 9 million UK viewers watching last year’s show and a very active online fan base, the contest is as popular as ever. There’s certainly no shortage of ideas out there as to what needs to be done.
It’s clear that people genuinely care about it and I do too...Some countries use selection shows and we’ve done this in the past, but this year we began by taking a dispassionate look at recent winners. We discovered that simply by and large they’ve been very good songs that have deserved to win.
It’s clear there’s a disconnect between what kind of songs and artists are now winning Eurovision, versus the stereotype that many people – including much of the music industry - still hold in their minds. Yes, novelty songs and acts do still turn up in the show, provide great entertainment and make good press – but they don’t tend to win. So, early on in plans for 2014, we took the view that we needed a bespoke, contemporary song, written specifically to suit the conditions of the competition – rather than trying to get lucky with a pre-existing track from an artist",

Mr Freeman goes on to say that this year's artist and song has been chosen via the BBC Introducing process, which has uncovered unsigned/unknown acts who have gone on to bigger things.  The BBC approached a few artists who were actually interested in writing and performing a song specifically written for Eurovision: "The end result is that we now have a powerful and impressive song that we hope will do us proud in Copenhagen. We’re keen to introduce the song and artist to everyone as soon as possible, so it will be premiered on BBC Red button next Monday (3rd March) evening at 7.30pm and available to catch up on BBC iPlayer".

So after all the rumours, it looks like we're sending an unknown artist to Copenhagen.  Which presumably means that there is no reputation to destroy, because said artist hasn't actually established one yet.  That's a promising, if slightly defeatist, notion: we should be sending our best artists to Eurovision, but there's no chance of that thanks to the disastrous reputation which this country's media (and a certain Mr Wogan) built up over the years: Representing the United Kingdom in Eurovision is something to be ashamed of.

There are some hopeful signs: no to novelty, yes to quality songwriting and performance.  However, why the red button?  Surely if this is a sign that things are changing, why bury it there?  It's a challenge to overturn the prejudices of a generation, but putting it on prime time on BBC1 would be a start.

However, I will reserve my judgement until Monday night: in the meantime my excitement is building.  Hoping that the song (and artist) won't let us down.

Estonia.... :(

(to the tune of Euphoria)

Why, why do I watch this contest every year
Only for the whole damn thing to end in tears
Good songs, but they don't make it to the final vote
Remember, the last decent one you had was Ott

Estonia!  You really f****d it up this time
The song you picked was such a crime
You're going out, out, out, out

Estonia! Why didn't you vote for Nurmsalu?
She'd get you top 5 that's for sure
You're going out, out, out, out

You, you have such vocal talent in your ranks
So why, do you choose something that's a pile of w**k
Reject potential winners with a lot of class
For bog standard parody that's total trash

Estonia! I'm really angry with you now
So would you like to tell me how
You chose the wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong song

Estonia! I can't believe the Sandra-hate
So I guess that we'll just have to wait
For another win, win, win, win

Sandra Nurmsalu is now the one that got away
And one more time, I'd really like to say....

Estonia!  You got it wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!!!!

Melodifestivalen 2014 Week 4: Alcazar glitter and Tomas folks it up in Örnsköldsvik

After the all-time low of Heat 3 we weren't expecting much.  So it was no surprise that Melodifestivalen continued in the same vein with a rather pointless, sport-themed opening act.
Mum: I'm not impressed.  There is always something.....demented about this show, don't you think?
The beleaguered hosts take to the stage in black, mourning clothes, which is presumably a comment on their performance so far this year.
M: Oh, not him again!  He has NO personality!!
But hopefully things are about to improve.  There's a giant glitterball in sight, which signals the arrival of the mighty Alcazar.  Unfortunately my internet connection is still not up to the job so it's a pixellated version of their fabulousness. 
Alcazar: "Blame It On The Disco".
The song I was most looking forward to this year turns out to be a bit of a disappointment.  I would never usually use the words 'Alcazar' and 'disappointment' in the same sentence, but I guess there's a first time for everything.  It's an inferior version of Stay The Night, with weaker verses, but being Alcazar, they perform everyone else off the stage.  But I'm wondering just how much of this is live and how much of it is Memorex (one for the older readers here!). 
L: This, I think is probably their weakest song that they've done in the contest.
M: Oh, I know them!  What was that song they did...?
L: Not A Sinner Nor A Saint.  That was an absolute classic.
M: That should have won Eurovision.
L: It's still good to have them back though.
IDA: "Fight Me If You Dare".
Ah, the dreaded second spot in the running order. 
L: This is going to be the week when everything sounds like something else.
M: I've heard worse.
L: It's quite a good performance of not much of a song.  And it won't qualify.
Janet Leon: "Hollow".
I tell mum all about Janet being in the contest last year with blonde hair and a better song.  Now she's back with a new image, but her live singing hasn't improved any since last year.  And in the style of many a Swedish song contest entry, the whole thing is brought to its knees by f****** stupid background dancing. 
M: This song sounds very familiar.
L: I'm cracking up trying to think what one.  But whatever it sounds like, this song's going nowhere.
Anders is back on stage and my mum just can't take it any more. 
Ammotrack: "Raise Your Hands".
L: Tonight's full of songs which sound like other songs.  This is doing nothing for me. Thoughts?
M:  This is not much of a song.
L: I'm not feeling this at all.
We both agree that it's been a poor year. 
Then G:son appears on screen and mum recognises him! 
M: Oh that's him....
L: ...yes, the guy who looks like grandad from Mrs Brown's Boys :)
M: He's in this a lot, isn't he?
Josef Johansson: "Hela Natten".
Josef is a new name to me but seems to be this week's "death by fashion" candidate.  Think Nordic jumper pattern as designed by someone who's taken far too many drugs.
M: He's got very interesting hair. 
L: Indeed!  And at last, a song in Swedish, thank goodness.
This is the first song which really had me sitting up and taking notice tonight.  There are little shades of Christer Björkman's 1992 entry, but despite that, this song's actually quite good and he performs it very well.
Linda Bengtzing: "Ta Mig".
In a little nod to this year's ESC hosts, she takes to the catwalk to Rasmus Seebach's "Natteravn".  I explain to mum that Linda is another one of the Melodifestivalen schlager legends on a comeback.  It may be a more 'modern' song for her, with its pulsating drumbeats, but it's not particularly memorable.  Neither of us are particularly impressed by the song and chat through it.
M: What a strange outfit.  And look, there's another man in a bun!
L: I was expecting a lot more from her - this song doesn't really have a hook and I can see it missing out on qualifying.
Ellinore Holmer: "En Himmelsk Sång".
The weekly 'solo female singer with a ballad near the end of the running order'. A ballad which, for some reason, reminds me of Molly Sanden's "Så Vill Stjärnorna".
M: That outfit looks as if she's going to do some Irish dancing.  And I don't like that dress.
L: This is the type of song which could qualify, although like everything else tonight it is not a great song. 
M: She has a nice voice, but the song's not up to much.
And finally...
Anton Ewald: "Natural".
'Second year syndrome' and a pre-contest favourite based on the draw position.  I remind mum that she liked him last year.  She can't quite remember him but she likes what she sees. 
M: I like his mirrored jacket.
L: He's stolen last year's choreography! 
The song's not in the same league as "Begging" and already I'm struggling to remember it.  And although his live singing has only improved slightly, he would definitely struggle without all those taped backing vocals as I mentioned in a previous post.  But never mind all that, because mum is ever so slightly in love with Mr Ewald. 
Songs over, interval acts time.  And finger puppets.
M: Finger puppets would be better presenting this thing.
Time for 'melodi no.9' with Anders and Nour, possibly the worst interval act of this Melfest season, and that's saying something. 
M: He reminds me of someone out of the Wurzels.  This p**h has been going on for far too long.  Get the good-looking guy back on.
Resultat time part 1.  Anton, Linda, Ammotrack, Ellinore and Alcazar to the next round of voting. 
Unfortunately there is no place for Josef, who has truly been killed by fashion.  He finishes in 7th place, behind the 6th placed I.D.A. and in front of Janet Leon, who's last. 
Now to the main interval act of the evening, which I had also been looking forward to.  I've been a big fan of Tomas Ledin for 34 years - yes! - since he made a serious impact on this impressionable teenager in 1980 with those leather trousers :)  But we are all 34 years older now, although Tomas is ageing very well.  A medley of his Melodifestivalen songs will do just nicely, but even here there is a problem.  Tomas recently released a folk/acoustic album - a genre of music I can't be doing with at all - and this week he has chosen to perform his medley in that style.
L: What the folk!!!
M: Does he always make that kind of music?
L: NO!!!!  He's more of a pop/rock singer, but he's just made a folk album.
M: This is a bit too boring.  I can't believe what I'm watching here.  I thought you said he was good.
L: He is, and they are great songs in their original version, but I don't like this style.  If he folks-up "Just Nu"...
Well, he does.  But even though I disapprove of this style of reworking, Tomas' interval act is still the best thing on this week's show by a mile, and exposes the modern day Melodifestivalen for what it is - a once-unmissable event which has gone stale and is in serious need of a major revamp.  And, crucially, some great, memorable songs, which have been missing this year.  
Eventually after about 3 hours, it's resultat time.  It's Anton till final.
M: Yesssss!  He's my toy boy.  He is a nice looking guy although the song is very similar to a lot of others.
Ammotrack and Ellinore get the tickets to Andra Chansen, so two Melfest 'veterans' Alcazar and Linda are in that cliffhanger situation.  One will go to the final, one will miss out.  A big cheer goes up at EuropeCrazy HQ - it's Alcazar who are going to the final!  I'm delighted for them, even if I'm still not loving the song. 
The Swedish press reported Linda Bengtzing's distress at missing out, and I doubt if she will be back again.  It would appear that outwith the schlager/fan fraternity, Sweden no longer feels the love for traditional Melodifestivalen artists like her and Shirley Clamp.  Yet on the other hand, Alcazar and Sanna Nielsen are not only bucking that trend, but are now favourites in the betting odds.  Could this be the year when one of them is 'rewarded' for their years of Melodifestivalen service, just like Lena Philipsson 10 years ago? 
So it's all over, with only Andra Chansen and the final to go.  I never thought I'd see the day when I stopped caring about Melodifestivalen and turned down the chance to watch any of it. but I've decided to give Andra Chansen a miss.  None of the songs particularly inspire me, and there is the small matter of two competing finals - Eesti Laul and the Romanian national selection - which I'll be watching live instead. 
(photos courtesy of Aftonbladet and SVT)