I was pretty happy after You Decide on Wednesday night. The contest was won by an entry which I’d seen some potential in beforehand, but wouldn’t claim to have liked. Storm is a pretty by-the-book Eurovision entry, but on the night it was lifted by a fantastic live performance.
I left the venue fairly optimistic, but upon checking my phone found some scathing reviews online and dire predictions for another last place. One of the chief arguments used by Storm’s detractors is that it reminds them of Perfect Life, Germany’s second-to-last disaster from last year.
I don’t think this is fair.
I’ve been studying the two songs side by side and see few of the faults of Perfect Life in this year’s UK entry. I’ll start with the most striking aspect of the UK entry – the live performance. What made Surie stand out as a winner on Wednesday was the way she acted her song.
From the little half squint and shake of the head to accompany the line “no fear,” to the glance upstairs as she seeks approval from her mother, to the wide eyed smile at the end, the performance was a masterclass in conveying emotions through the face.
The use of body language also complemented the performance perfectly. Surie comes across as confident throughout, beginning more simply and more open and getting more expressive as the performance goes on. She tells a story.
Compare this to Levina. She smiles a lot. I tried to inject some variety in the montage on the right. There are a couple of occasions where she gestures with a hand. I don’t mean to be unkind, Levina does come across as confident and has a nice smile, but the performance is just nice.
It’s not all her fault though. A big part of the problem with Germany last year was the song. There is very little for Levina to get stuck into. There are no little accents and changes of pace. There’s a gradual build from start to finish but with little or nothing along the way to grab the attention. In comparison, Storm starts out quiet and builds through the verse, before the music cuts out as the bridge starts, builds up again and then the volume gets turned up for the chorus of punchy direct statements.
Neither song can claim to be a lyrical masterpiece, but only one grabs the ear. I’ve listened to Perfect Life a few times in a row now and I don’t really notice the words. There’s a hint of “sometimes it’s wrong before it’s right” in there if you listen, but the only one that stands out is “that’s what you call a perfect life,” although even then it feels tacked on as an afterthought at the end of the chorus. This main lyric we’re left waiting for tells us that everything’s fine, there’s nothing to worry about, all’s good. Again, the song is just nice. It’s just there.
Storm, meanwhile, is hardly poetry, but the songwriters know what they’re doing. I like how the verses are each split into halves starting “Hey, hey brother/sister/mother/father”. That kind of repetition is such a simple but effective trick. By the end of the song the audience will have built up a recognition of this structure and feel comfortable in it. Invoking family members is also a handy shortcut to making a fairly generic song seem personal. Then there’s the central hook of “Storms don’t last forever” which neatly sums up the hope over adversity message that so many modern Eurovision songs go for. Plus, putting the song title front and centre and again, repeating it a lot, plays a big part in establishing familiarity with the song.
Another big plus point for this year’s UK entry is the camerawork. This has traditionally been a big problem for the UK, but the BBC got it right with Never Give Up On You and all the signs point to Storm continuing this run. We start with a shot zooming in on Surie and cut to a close up as soon as she starts singing. Every shot is either close in to capture her facials or a longer one that zooms in on her. The vertical lights on stage act as a frame and focus all attention inwards on our performer. It’s only later as the performance gets bigger and more expansive do we follow Surie’s arm movements outwards for extended long shots.
I particularly like the shot from below as Surie asks her mother if she’s making her proud. Surie directs that question upwards and the camera mirrors her gaze. There’s no guarantee that this camerawork will be as good in Lisbon, but someone obviously has a clear idea of what the song needs, which is half the battle.
I’m feeling sorry for Levina at this point, but let’s compare.
We start off with a long shot coming in from above as we move towards a prone Levina in an outfit that nicely blends in with the background. Just as we get a chance to see her up close and the right way up we cut away and watch her sit up on the floor. Before we get too close though, we cut to a nice picture of her back and then move away to a long shot. It’s not until 35 seconds in that we get our first 2 second shot of her face. Throughout the performance a lot of the shots the zoom out, away from Levina. The camerawork does not lend itself to the sort of commanding performance that Surie puts in. Levina is a passenger.
Storm is not perfect by any means. There will be more original, more engaging, more memorable songs at this year’s contest. However, it shouldn’t be put into the same bracket as Germany 2017. Perhaps both are attempts at safe and conventional Eurovision-style entries. However, Storm executes its aim more effectively than Perfect Life in just about every way. I don’t expect it to get much further than mid table in May, but I’d be very surprised if we found ourselves battling with Spain to avoid last place.