Reasons why Occidentali’s Karma isn’t a winner

At about 2am on the Saturday night/Sunday morning of 11 February, the Eurovision community rejoiced. In part it was due to the fact that the good people at RAI had finally got round to announcing the winner of Sanremo 2017 – as is customary, they leave it until the delay is not funny any more, then wait another fifteen minutes. Mainly though, it was due to the fact that everyone’s favourite had won. The fun, uptempo song with the gorilla was going to Eurovision (assuming singer and simian companion accepted the invitation).

At this point, there was little talk of us finding a certain winner. With only ten songs chosen, the consensus was that Francesco Gabbani’s Occidentali’s Karma was a contender, but was most likely going to finish somewhere in the top ten. This wasn’t quite the cast-iron winner we were looking for. Something will turn up.

Fast forward to the middle of March and our Micawber-like wait hadn’t reached fruition. Something hadn’t turned up at Melodifestivalen, something hadn’t turned up at Eesti Laul. We weren’t sure if Russia were going to turn up at all. Italy remains top of the pile with the bookies, but is this just because they got there first? All the reasons for us to think they were destined for top ten and no more are still there. It’s still my favourite entry and I would like to stick my fingers in my ears and pretend it’s now a certain champion and always has been, but that wouldn’t be true. Let’s recap.

It’s in Italian

I still think it is possible for a good song to win Eurovision without resorting to English lyrics. However, going for a native language does mean you have to work harder to get your universal message across. Occidentali’s Karma includes a few of the clever things that Foreignish songs can try. The title is repeated a lot, which is handy, as the audience get it written down for them at the start of the song and it’s some words they can recognise (see Molitva and Kedvesem for precedents). There are also plenty of Alés and the odd “sex appeal”. However, when a song has such a complicated message as Occidentali’s Karma, the lack of English will only make things harder and compound some of the other problems.

“It’s simple, Geraldo. You are here to symbolise the backward progression of evolution as we hypocritically seek simple answers to cope with our increasingly insulated modern selfie-culture. Let’s dance!”

The Gorilla

General consensus has since relabelled Francesco’s dance partner as a monkey, but look at him. That’s no monkey. We’ve changed the animal’s species, because we’ve since learnt the lyrics and know that la scimmia nuda is dancing. To us, having the primate on stage is a (somewhat) logical extension of the lyrics and all makes sense. It’s going to be a harder sell to the public on 13 May. I imagine the general reaction will be “lol there’s a dancing gorilla on stage, that is so Eurovision”.

The Italian team is going to have a lot of work to do on its staging to telegraph the logic behind the appearance of Geraldo the Gorilla. Otherwise the song could be miscategorised in the same vein as Norway 1980, with its funny Eskimo man coming on mid-way through to yodel.

Sanremo is a world away from Kyiv

Eurovision is not Sanremo

Though supposedly an early inspiration, The Sanremo Festival is a very different beast to modern Eurovision. It’s still a black tie affair largely dominated by classy ballads with few extra adornments on stage. Francesco only had to do a little dance to stand out. His energetic performance brought the show alive.

One of the highlights was how Francesco had the entire orchestra join in to shout “Alé”. A potential benefit of Russia withdrawing this year is that we don’t need the noise cancelling technology and may be able to hear the crowd take the orchestra’s place in Kyiv. However, it still won’t have quite the same effect of breaking through the staid and formal setting in which Occidentali’s Karma had been placed.

Viewed through the world of Sanremo, it was easy for Eurovision fans to fall in love with this song. Will it stand out as well as a fun entry when it has an Epic Sax Guy to contend with?

That Savage Cut

There must have been another way to shave thirty seconds off the song for Eurovision. Put in an abbreviated first chorus and maybe cut down the bit where Francesco’s on his knees pre-namaste and you might be able to save some of the second verse. As it stands, we have an awkward gap between first chorus and second bridge. It sounds wrong, and I’m sure will still stand out to new listeners. I hold hope that the gap will be filled in Kyiv by a big entrance for Geraldo the Gorilla.

Even if the stage version makes the transition less jarring, it still brings a problem. While the song’s in a Foreign language, the language of music and of contemporary pop song structure is universal. A comforting verse-bridge-chorus structure has been lost from the song. It has become even less familiar to our ears.

Namaste?

It doesn’t fit the recent winners mould

Occidentali’s Karma would be a slight departure from recent Eurovision winners by not being a unifying anthem about triumph over adversity. His main “vote for me” weapon (gorilla aside) is the build up to the Namaste moment which should hopefully culminate in some sort of pyro (the confetti he used in London could be perfect) and joyful gorilla dancing.

We don’t know exactly how they plan to stage it, but Francesco is unlikely to be presented as the heroic figure conquering his demons that Måns, Conchita and Jamala all have been in very different ways. His song is not set up to elicit that sort of emotional response.

But who could win instead?

This is the biggest puzzle. The bookies seem to like Bulgaria’s chances. Beautiful Mess has been written to more of a Eurovision-winning template. However, while Kristian is “up against the wall,” he doesn’t actually overcome anything. He just stays in his beautiful mess. The song is also a bit limp and uninspiring. Australia does the young male with a ballad a lot better than Bulgaria, for me. Don’t Come Easy has a more anthemic feel and has the big note ready and waiting for its winner pyro. Both are more convincing contenders than fellow bookies’ darling, Sweden. Francesco Gabbani may not come across as a hero, but that’s better than a poser on a travelator

Could it be you?

Belgium is another strong contender. The song perhaps doesn’t reach the emotional climax that it feels destined for at the start, but it is very well set up for a commanding visual experience as Blanche controls little balls of light around her. Her shy and diffident performances in the preview shows put a big question mark over whether this will be convincing though.

We may need a big surprise to come through and challenge, in Common Linnets style. Looking through the forgotten acts, Norway may have some of the ingredients to surprise. Grab the Moment is all about overcoming one’s fears and is pretty catchy. The MGP staging was terrible though. If they can come up with something less big and empty and instead use scary mask face as the demon on JOWST’s shoulder it could spring a surprise. Alternatively, the most Common Linnetsy act this year is Estonia. I find their gurning for the camera a bit overwrought (and much preferred Kerli in Eesti Laul), but they do look to tell a story on stage.

While Italy’s problems are very much their own, they are a favourite this year in a very similar way to Russia was in 2016. The entry is deeply flawed, but something has to step up and deliver something brilliant in May to beat it. Is there a Jamala out there this time round?

Maybe something will turn up.

Posted in Italy, Kyiv 2017 | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

20 Years of Hurt

A little while ago there was a nice programme on the BBC looking back at the summer of 1996 and the brilliant run England had in our home football tournament. Euro 96 was the first football tournament that I was old enough to fully engage with (might have been USA 94 if we’d been there).

As someone who loved anything where countries come together in a competitive format it holds many special memories for me: Gazza’s wonder-goal, our demolition of the Dutch team in the group stages, David Seaman’s goalie jumper of many colours. Most of all, Paul Gascoigne’s outstretched boot narrowly failing to connect with the ball as it flashed teasingly across the German goal line will always be etched in my mind.

It occurred to me that there was another 20th anniversary coming up this year. On 3 May it will be 20 years since the United Kingdom last won Eurovision. To be honest, the occasion probably feels more momentous now than it did at the time. When Katrina and The Waves romped to victory at the Point Theatre, Dublin, it felt like the natural order of things. This was back in the day when a Eurovision failure for the UK was to come second yet again. What I’d give now, for a UK second place finish?

Anyway, I wrote a little something to mark the anniversary. I don’t particularly have the means to record a proper song and do it justice, so the words will have to do. I’m sure people will know the tune.

Everyone seems to know the score
It’s on the right side of the board
What a joke, what a bore

The UK’s gonna pick a bad song
Gonna stage it all wrong
But we know we belong

‘Cos I remember

Two girls with short skirts
Brotherhood still waving
Twenty years of hurt
Never stops me craving

All the wrong notes, all the missed keys
And so many wannabes
Bring us down to our knees

But still I see that puppet from Shaw
Lulu get a score draw
The Waves good as before

And Sir Cliff dancing

Two girls with short skirts
Brotherhood still waving
Twenty years of hurt
Never stops me craving

[Terry Wogan commentary]
 “Ireland have come in second, but we all know who’s won. They’ve been leading since the beginning, first time since 1981, since Buck’s Fizz”.
 “Ok, where are we going to hold it? Where are we going to hold it? Somewhere close to my house, alright?

I know that was then, but it could be again.

It’s coming home, it’s coming, Eurovision’s coming home
It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, Eurovision’s coming home
Two girls with short skirts (it’s coming)
Brotherhood still waving (It’s coming)
Twenty years of hurt (it’s coming)
Never stops me craving (it’s coming)

FADE

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Stats Corner – 2017 Semi Final Draw

2017-semi-draw-jamala-ruslana

We learnt a lot about Eurovision this week. We learnt the slogan and logo. On Tuesday we learnt what the stage would look like. We learnt that even Vitali Klitschko thinks the massive set of ceremonial Eurovision keys is too heavy. We learnt how to pronounce Tako Gachechiladze and that even fellow Eastern Europeans take great joy in being able to say it. We learnt that among certain Eastern Europeans, the mention of the name “Russia” has a delicious ability to bring an extended awkward silence to even the brightest of host broadcaster chit chat. We learnt that Ruslana has quite a laid back fashion sense when it comes to formal bureaucratic events. Most importantly, though, we learnt who is going to be in which semi final at this year’s Eurovision.

I love my semi final draws. It means I get to break out my massive, incredibly convoluted and multi-tabbed spreadsheet that deciphers the results and tells me who has been given an advantage by the way the little slips of paper fell. Like the keys in the formal mayoral handover, every year I find an extra nuance that I can add to my formulas, creating a progressively larger and more complicated piece of work.

I'm giving you...LATVIA

I’m giving you… LATVIA

This year I’ve had the headache of adapting my spreadsheets to cope with the new scoring system (the source data is not in a handy format any more!). It does make 2016’s data more useful as there are a wider range of scores that the combined televotes and juries can give out, to more different countries. I get a more detailed picture from now on. In terms of the numbers, though, the only effect is that the final figure is multiplied by two.

As in past years, I’ve collated the results from Eurovisions going back to 2008 and for each year I’ve compared how many points each country received from those voting in this year’s semi 1 with those voting in semi 2. I then average the differences between the yearly scores and multiply them by the expected number of points in their semi (i.e. total number of points available divided by number of countries). This gives me an estimate of how many extra points the draw could be worth.

My study looks into how many points each country would normally get from their semi-mates compared to the countries on the other side of the draw. It doesn’t take any account of how successful a country normally is or what sort of competition they may have from those they’ve been grouped with.

I’ve rattled on long enough now, like a local mayor with a speech to give. So here’s a graph.

2017-semi-1-draw-stats

Part of the idea of doing this work is to look beyond the over-simplistic “Oh Greece and Cyprus are together, so they have a great draw” logic. So having done all the hard work, I can now tell you that Greece and Cyprus together have the best draw in semi 1. It doesn’t always happen that way, I promise. Among others, they have the extra bonus of the UK voting in their semi. Portugal have also done quite well out of the draw. They have the likes of Spain, Sweden, Belgium and Slovenia at hand, who are all frequent point-givers.

At the other end of the graph, Sweden have come out worst. Their Scandinavian friends are over in the other semi. They do at least have Finland as a Nordic to keep them company as the most wronged by the draw. Norma John is also in the first half of semi 1, so may have her work cut out to qualify. I suspect Sweden may be fine though.

Georgia have also had a bad draw, and are in negative territory with their pot-mates Azerbaijan and Armenia. Ukraine being the host and therefore not separated into a pot, has harmed them somewhat. UK vote in this semi, so Georgia must regret not sending another indie rock anthem to Kyiv. We may not get Richard Osman appearing at their next national final.

2017-semi-2-draw-stats

At one end of semi 2, Denmark and Norway pick up all the votes that Sweden have missed out on, or some of them. There aren’t many big winners in this semi. There are a lot of countries getting small advantages. The big story in this semi is at the other end.

Romania is this year’s biggest loser. Their most reliable points-givers – not just Moldova, but Slovenia, Cyprus and Poland as well – are all in semi 1. This could be a test of their perfect qualification record. Welcome back.

Challenging Romania for most disadvantaged from this draw is poor little San Marino. The results from my study are quite remarkable. Every single country that voted for Complice, The Social Network Song, Chain of Lights or Maybe (in the final) is in the other semi. There’s only one Sanmarinese artist that got more votes from semi 2 countries than semi 1. There’s nothing for it; San Marino are going to have to turn to daddy Serhat.

Posted in Kyiv 2017, Stats Corner | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

My Referendum Playlist

Bucks_Fizz BPop LiveOn 19th June the guys and girls from the Leave campaign in the UK’s EU referendum were due to have their end of term party. In a big arena in Birmingham they were putting on BPop live, a concert featuring all your favourite Brexiteering pop stars. Except there aren’t any. The event had been plagued with pullouts as all their stars gradually discovered that they’d signed up for an anti-EU political rally.

Before it got cancelled today, there was just one last big name left over to entertain the assembled Ukippers and Tories. They were Cheryl, Mike and Jay, the leftover husk of what once was Bucks Fizz. They were a great fit for the occasion; relics of a bygone era when the UK used to rule the world, but have since been overtaken by harder-working continental rivals and are beset by destructive separatist in-fighting.

The veteran skirt-rippers were due to drop in on the festivities as part of their Land Of Make Believe Tour (I know). Their now cancelled appearance (I’m going on with my post anyway, damnit!) has made me think of which Eurovision entries I’d choose as my alternative soundtrack for the remain campaign. Eurovision is an evening where a continent can come together and celebrate the music that unites us, after all. These are the songs I’ll be humming on 23rd June.

Liam Reilly – Somewhere In Europe (Ireland 1990)

First up is Eurovision’s great paean to borderless visa-free travel. Liam’s song revels in his ability to hop on a cheap Ryanair flight. Without a thought for paperwork, he can be on the Champs Elyssee, then on the slightest whim, he can move on to Rome, or Seville, or Amsterdam. He can even go to the Black Forest, for some reason. All of it arranged easily on his mobile internet, with not a care for the data roaming charges.

InCulto – Eastern European Funk (Lithuania 2010)

Some may look on the flip side of free travel and worry about migrants taking our jobs. I think if more people were aware of Eastern Europeans’ hard-working commitment to playing inflatable instruments and wearing shiny pants, they would look on our Polish and Lithuanian friends much more kindly. This seminal work of 2010 proves we have nothing to fear.

Da Da Dam -Paradise Oskar (Finland 2011)

Oskar is smart. He knows his EU air quality directives by heart. While Boris Johnson goes “Da da dam da da dam dadada da dam. Brrr… Cripes!” this song highlight how the EU works continent-wide to invest in renewable energy, ensure clean oceans and work against climate change.

Idiot – Kali Briis Band (Estonia NF 2015)

“If there is something that you don’t know, that you dont’ know, tell a lie, tell a lie”. The purported £350 million cost of EU membership comes to mind.

Power To All Our Friends – Cliff Richard (United Kingdom 1973)

There’s a man growing flowers. There’s a woman making wine (probably in Cliff’s Portuguese Vineyard). There’s a man ploughing in the field. All of them have the power to sell their goods to the European Union on the same terms as their continental neighbours. Sir Cliff’s sadly overlooked second entry to Eurovision is a stirring anthem to the benefits of a single market. And it has some wonderful choreography.

Luta É Alegria – Homens Da Luta (Portugal 2011)

Homens Da Luta may have been protesting against cuts following the 2008 banking crisis, but many of the workers’ rights they hold so dear are protected by the European Union. The construction worker on the left is kept safe by EU health and safety legislation, while someone with such unreliable working patterns as a member of a revolutionary paramilitia can still get statutory paid annual leave. With the EU by your side, the struggle is joy!

My Słowianie – Donatan & Cleo (Poland 2014)

I don’t know about everyone, else, but when I watch Poland 2014, the first thing I think of is the EU’s generous subsidies to the dairy farming industry.

Si – Gigliola Cinquetti (Italy 1974)

Finally, I need a big, all-encompassing positive anthem. When you look for a Eurovision song to win you a referendum, you turn to Italy 1974. It was banned from Italian media that year in the run up to a referendum on divorce laws, for fear that it could be a hidden campaigning tool for the “Si” vote. I want to harness its undoubted power for those who say yes to the EU.

I do have an alternative all-encompassing anthem, mind.

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Stats Corner- Juries who think alike

Montenegro vote eurovision 2016

With the jurors for this year’s Eurovision announced during the week, I’ve been thinking a bit about what they get up to. For the last couple of years, we’ve had access after the contest to the full jury vote and can see exactly who voted for who out of each five-member panel. I don’t necessarily think this leads to greater fairness in the vote, but it gives me some numbers to play with.

Many fans have been struck by how uniform some countries’ votes have been. There are certain sets of jurors who seem to have remarkably similar tastes. That may just be coincidence or down to broadcasters selecting jurors with similar backgrounds, or it may be something more pernicious. I thought I’d look at how the points are given out in a more scientific way than just looking at certain countries and saying that looks funny.

Each juror ranks all the songs in the final (other than their own country’s) from first to last. For both the 2014 and 2015 contests I’ve looked at each set of five placings a jury have given to each country in the final and taken the standard deviation of those scores. This gives a measure of how far apart these marks are spread; the higher the standard deviation the more varied the opinion of that song.

I then average these standard deviations for each national jury to give an overall standard deviation for each jury that year. I then average again to give a standard deviation over the two-year period my sample covers. This is a very small sample, so the results I’ve got are vulnerable to overstating the effect of one unusual set of jurors. It’s entirely possible my figures represent the result of chance variation. However, this is all the data we’ve got and the results are quite striking.

Eurovision jury variance 4

Everyone sticks pretty solidly to an average deviation of about 3 or 4 places. At the bottom, though, Azerbaijan and Montenegro are by some distance the juries with least variety of opinion.

It should probably be pointed out at this juncture that Montenegro’s result comes from an even more limited sample than most. They’re one of the countries whose jury vote was thrown out in 2015. One wonders how much more uniform it got.

So what happened to the other countries who have had a jury vote disqualified? This is probably the most interesting part to me. FYR Macedonia (jury votes disallowed in 2015) and Georgia (2014) are at the other extreme on my graph. The years for which I have non-disqualified data for these countries sees the two most diverse sets of jury opinions of the lot. When this transparency thing was set up, I pointed out that countries could try to arrange their votes so that they show enough variety to avoid suspicion. Is it possible that countries are trying this approach, but overdoing it? Perhaps a standard deviation of over 5 places is so abnormally spread that it should arouse suspicion.

I’ll update this graph after this year’s contest. It will be interesting to see if these outlying nations shuffle back into the pack. Such a move may be down to the evening out of an innocent coincidence. If a country is cheating, it could instead be that the fixers use the EBU’s transparency policy to figure out what “normal” looks like. If I was in charge of rigging a jury, it’s what I would be doing.

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Moments of Silence – Lost Eurovision Entries

Ovidiu Anton Moment of Silence

With the sad news that Romania won’t be participating this year, due to non-payment of EBU debts by its broadcaster, I’ve been thinking a bit about other entries that for one reason or another didn’t make it to Eurovision. I love looking into items of historical ESC trivia and there’s something fascinating about the missing piece of a contest that gets lost from history. I’ve dug up a few what-could-have-beens from Eurovisions past.

France 1974 – Dani – La Vie a 25 ans

This is probably the latest withdrawal of the lot. Dani was all set to compete in Brighton for the 1974 contest. She’d been drawn to appear at no. 14 in the running order and was there at the Dome to rehearse, but her Eurovision adventure got cut short when French president, Georges Pompidou, died four days before the contest. With Eurovision set for broadcast on the night of his funeral, the French broadcaster decided to withdraw. Dani instead watched from the audience and was shown on camera in between songs 13 and 15.

It was a pretty good song too. A strong top 4 aside, I don’t consider 1974 to be a great year. France would have been a welcome addition and would have got a high placing. I wouldn’t even rule out Dani beating ABBA. Georges Pompidou’s death could have changed music history.

Georgia 2009 – Stephane & 3G – We Don’t Wanna Put In

If you’re going to get yourself disqualified from Eurovision, then this is one helluva way to do it. I wasn’t yet a committed Eurofan in 2009, so only heard about the Georgian controversy in the newspapers. I presumed at the time that a song protesting against Russia’s invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by hiding a reference to Vladimir Putin in its lyrics was going to be a serious and slightly mournful affair.

It took a couple of years for me to discover it was actually a clownish disco stomper advocating the shooting of someone, so that everyone can disco tonight and give sexy-ah.

United Kingdom 1956 – Dennis Lotis – Everybody Falls In Love With Someone

This may be pushing it a bit. The United Kingdom was never due to enter the inaugural Eurovision Song Contest. Exactly one week before the EBU decided to launch an international song competition, the BBC had given the green light to its own Festival of British Popular Songs. This contest would feature six monthly heats with the final in October, long after the contest in Lugano. The BBC decided to concentrate on this programme and observe the first Eurovision from a discreet distance. Had the dates matched up properly, though, the UK could have easily sent the winner, Everybody Falls In Love With Someone, as its first entry (or rather, one of its first entries, as each country had two that year).

The song was performed by Dennis Lotis in the final of The Festival of British Popular Songs, but he never recorded it. The show was more a competition for songs than singers. It was even performed by someone else in the heats. There are a few recordings around though; the one I’ve found on Youtube is by Matt Monro, who went on to represent the UK in 1964. I much prefer this to the UK’s eventual debut in 1957.

Turkey 1979 – Maria Rita Epik and 21. Peron – Seviyorum

You’ve got to know your obscure geopolitics for Eurovision. While these days you need a working knowledge of the Armenian-Azerbaijani war, in the late 70s it was the Oil Crisis. In the run up to the 1979 contest, Turkey had come under a great deal of pressure from its Arab neighbours to boycott the event in Israel, partly due to the crisis. Unfortunately for Maria Rita Epik and 21. Peron, this meant their song was eventually withdrawn. On the bright side, it did mean that the following year Turkey gave us one of the stranger Eurovision songs, in Pet’r Oil (Petroleum).

This song’s lively enough and features the same mixed gender group standing in a line formula that Turkey seemed to send every other year. It’s no Pet’r Oil, but it would have been one of Turkey’s better efforts of the era. Like their other early entries, though, I can’t see Seviyorum troubling the scorers if it went to Jerusalem.

Greece 1982 – Themis Adamantidis – Sarantapente Kopelies

This song was pulled out of the contest just two weeks before the show in Harrogate. There seems to be no great political incident for this withdrawal. It was just due to the fact the Greek minister of culture, Melina Mercouri, didn’t like it. Imagine having that power. One hopes John Whittingdale, the UK culture minister, never takes a moment between his searches for topless models and dominatrices on match.com to google our entries.

One also hopes he has better taste in music than Mercouri did. This song is great. It’s got a funky little groove to it.

Serbia and Montenegro 2006 – No Name – Moja Ljubavi

It’s long been one of my favourite items of Eurovision trivia that the 2006 Serbia and Montenegro national final is considered by some to have been a contributing factor to Montenegro’s vote to become an independent country. Montenegro’s referendum was due just after Eurovision and national final night became the moment the campaign turned nasty. As the Montenegrin jurors voted en masse for Montenegrin boyband No Name’s song, boos rained down from the Serbian audience in Belgrade. The protests would continue as No Name attempted to do their winner’s reprise. Eventually, in an effort to avoid a riot, the Serbian runners up,  Flamingosi, took to the stage in No Names’s place and performed surrounded by the other Serbian representatives.

The result of the subsequent row was that Serbia and Montenegro withdrew from Eurovision. They would be back as separate countries the next year. What makes the whole thing even weirder for me is that Flamingosi were an embarrassing novelty act. The Montenegrin juries were right to pick No Name.

Israel 1980 – The Brothers & The Sisters – Pizmon Chozer

After winning the contest for the second time in a row in 1979, Israel decided that they weren’t going to be able to host it again in 1980. The costs were going to be too high. After hunting around for a replacement host, the EBU eventually settled on The Netherlands who would be able to put on a scaled-down Eurovision in The Hague on 19 April. Unfortunately this clashed with a national holiday in Israel, so the defending champions had to withdraw.

It was a shame because this is a very charming little thing. It would have been a worthy successor to Hallelujah, although Israel wouldn’t have had to worry about hosting again.

Romania 2016 – Ovidiu Anton – Moment Of Silence

Poor Ovidiu had tried five times to represent his country at Eurovision, only for his eventual victory to be taken away by the mismanagement at TVR. I met him briefly at the London party. I was being too shy and retiring to ask for a photo, but his delegation came to me and included me in a toast they were doing. He seems a really nice guy.

Romania will definitely be back at some point. I think Ovidiu will be at the front of the queue to represent them when that time comes.

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2016 Lyric Review

Julie Frost Austria Eurovision

As an English-speaker, as an English Eurovision fan, lyrics are very important to me. Language, I find, as an English person, is vital in order to understand someone’s message. It is why I study the lyrics of Eurovision entries very closely. This is what I’m all about. I find some Eurovision songs have genius lyrics, that are just world-class. Others are in French. This is the blog post where I try to decide which is which. I can only hope to do it as well as Julie Frost did in this year’s Austrian final.

I think, overall, Julie would be reasonably impressed by this year’s efforts. Most of them are in English, for starters. There’s also a notable lack of the tiresome cliches about flying in the sky and swimming across oceans that normally make me want to jab at my eardrums with a rusty needle. There is on notable exception to that rule, yet it’s somehow one of the best songs this year.

If I were sorry lyrics

If I Were Sorry, by Frans piles on the cliches. As well as crossing deserts and climbing the highest mountain, he swims across the ocean, he runs a thousand miles. It works though, because he has his fingers crossed behind his back. The “if” is very powerful in the song. It holds up a sign throughout saying “In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic”.

What I love about the lyrics is that everything is so well held together. There’s the theme of these cliched expressions of love while teasing that Frans won’t do these things and gradually brings in more detail about his relationship. It tells a story and then has the long-awaited payoff at the end.

My one concern is how focused Frans is on asphyxiation. He won’t take a break to breathe, threatens to hold his breath until his face turns blue, he’ll explode his lungs. If Frans ever is sorry, one fears for his physical wellbeing.

At the other end of the scale, Julie may be less impressed by Australia, although she’d be too nice to say so.

Sound of Silence lyrics

There’s nothing there, is there? Dami’s songwriters have just found a phrase they decided sounds cool and put hearts around it to try to make it meaningful. Three times. It’s a cop out. I’ll try to delve deeper into the verses.

Sound of Silence lyrics 2

We learn two things from this lyric. (1) Dami’s partner is absent, but they’re still together, (2) Dami has an iphone. This line really winds me up. It’s there to tell me how cool and modern Dami is. “Hey, look, she’s using new technology, just like all the kids. Everyone loves Apple and all their products”. It makes me cringe. I’m surprised it got past the EBU’s rule prohibiting commercial messages. Googling maps, as Teo did for Belarus, is a far more generic activity than conducting a video call on an Apple-only app.

Since I first started working on this post, the EBU has reached its judgement on the face time issue. Apparently “FaceTime” isn’t allowed, but “face time” is fine and Dami doesn’t sing the capital letters. The Australian delegation claim they are using the common alternative meaning of “face time” to mean speaking face to face in person. Two problems again. (1) This is rubbish; I’ve never heard anyone use face time like that. (2) The lyrics quite clearly say “But baby you’re not here with me,” so the face time is not in person. The Aussies are taking the piss.

While Australia has problems with lack of worthwhile content, you certainly couldn’t level that criticism at Germany. There’s a lot going on in this song; maybe slightly too much. There’s a story book metaphor, a dragon, and a keyless money chest full of love, all before we get to the main ghost imagery of the chorus.

Ghost lyrics

It might seem strange for two ghosts to haunt each other, but I quite like it. The song is all about a couple sort of breaking up but not quite separating their lives and still relying on each other. The idea of the ghost of the relationship sticking around them is a very interesting and evocative one. It also breathes life into the slightly tired “alone in a room together” line. They’re alone because no one else can see them!

It took me a google to understand “playing house”. Apparently house is a girlish children’s game when you make believe you and your friends are a mummy and daddy raising a family. Maybe the problem was Jamie-Lee came on a bit too strong.

You can learn a lot from Eurovision lyrics. Last year Georgia taught us all about the process of oximation, but I find this year’s Cypriot entry to be equally informative.

Alter Ego lyrics

See, when I first heard this I thought the lyrics were stupid: dawn and sunrise are the same thing. Turns out they’re not. Dawn is defined as the time when first light appears, as the sunlight is refracted over the Earth’s atmosphere. Sunrise is when you first actually see the Sun. The time difference between the two is typically about 30 minutes. Therefore, if one assumes that the events of this song occur on the day of the first semi final in Stockholm, then the first line above translates as “It’s about ten past four in the morning.”

This precise chronology then falls apart a bit. Somehow the Moon is still providing most of the light. And how is the singer then howling in the moonlight if he is under a spotlight? The spotlight is surely much more powerful than the Moon at any time of day or night. Perhaps he’s not turned the spotlight on? One has to ask, why is Francois from Minus One carrying such cumbersome lighting equipment round downtown Stockholm at stupid o’clock in the morning if he’s not going to turn it on? I think he needs to get a life.

Cyprus may get a bit confused about when the Moon comes out, but Belgium could certainly do with the benefit of their Sun expertise.

What's the Pressure Lyrics

Laura seems perfectly happy to accept the completely contradictory idea that the Sun will be out when it’s not daytime. Or, it might be possible that it’s so long after the day has done, that it’s now morning again.

Thankfully, Ireland are here to sort out all this Sunny-Moony talk. You see, Laura, “It’s only dark until the world turns round”. Nicky Byrne must be some sort of scientist. His song does, however, have its own problems. Sunlight is mostly your typical Eurovision fare about believing in yourself and taking your chance to live for the moment. Then there’s the chorus.

Sunlight lyrics 1

It’s a bit sexual-assaultish, isn’t it? I know Ireland haven’t won Eurovision in a long time and they needed to try something new in order to find non-Jedward success, but I don’t think anyone expected an uplifting soft rock ode to one’s right to indiscriminate frottage. The next lines take the song into more confusing territory.

Sunlight lyrics 2

It’s an interesting idea, that you can be a predatory sex pest, just as long as you’re still a virgin. It does beg the question: is this song about the Catholic church?

I can’t help but think of Bulgaria after studying Sunlight.

If Love Was a crime lyrics

Let’s hope it’s not that crime. My real problem with If Love Was A Crime is that it seems such a pointless and redundant premise. You could insert anything into that line and it would hold true. If eating Galaxy Ripples was a crime then I would be a criminal. There’s also not enough jeopardy in the verses to make Poli’s love forbidden.

Denmark also prove the old rule that if you put the word “love” in anything it becomes suitable fare for a pop song.

Soldiers of Love lyrics.png

It sounds quite nice, doesn’t it? I can imagine the Lighthouse X lads going out on a nice day’s marching with their amores. They can spend their afternoons together firing their Kalashnikovs of enchantment and throwing grenades of lust. Then they can have a romantic picnic on the killing fields, before they torch an enemy village of infatuation and walk off into the napalm sunset, as they chat convivially about their future together committing crimes against disharmony. Bless.

It is a bit concerning that you’re not allowed to leave the army of love though. It sounds a bit like the indefinite forced military service that is practised under the tyrannical regime of Isaias Afwerki in Eritrea. Denmark isn’t as liberal as it used to be.

I very much doubt that Jamala from Ukraine has such romantic notions of soldiers. Her song is a stark and brutal depiction of the 1944 Soviet oppression of the Crimean Tatars (any connection to current political events are, of course, purely in the ears of the beholder). I like how Jamala avoids euphemistic dancing around the subject. Strangers come to your house and kill you all. She doesn’t pull her punches.

1944 lyrics

I love the cynical and dismissive rejection of the people that are attacking her homeland. The “Ha” is very important to me. My initial interpretation of “everyone dies” was as simple as it seems: that her people are coming under attack and everyone is dying. However, looking at it now, it seems directed elsewhere. I view it as saying that evil leaders such as Stalin (or Putin if you want to interpret it that way) may want to destroy the Tatars now, but every dictator eventually dies. Their regime won’t live forever and her people will be back. The lyrics work either way and that ambiguity is very attractive to me.

Best of all, 1944 has the best hidden swear words in a Eurovision Song since Krista’s Marry Me in 2013.

1944 lyrics 2

This year’s Ukrainian entry is deeply personal and based on genuine emotion. It’s the obvious winner of the 2016 Julie Frost award for best lyrics. World class.

Posted in Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Lyrics, Stockholm 2016, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment