It’s exactly 35 days (I’m totally not keeping count or anything) until the final of the 57th Eurovision Song Contest in the city of Baku, Azerbaijan which also equates to 5 weeks because I can do maths me. So, to get in the Euro-mood each week i’ll introduce you to five of this year’s entries all linked together by a (extremely tenuous) link as a WhatCulture! Countdown to the big, shiny event.
First up, I know Eurovision has this stigma in the UK for being camp and indulgent where we can never win because of political block voting (i.e. everyone hates us but Ireland) and yes, most of that is correct, although us sending completely rubbish entries doesn’t really help either. The fact is sometimes, if you give it a chance, the songs in Eurovision are actually quite listenable without the rocket explosions and glitterball drag queens you may come to expect. So to ease you all into appreciating the wonders of Eurovision, here are five accessible entries that I hope won’t fit the stereotype (plus it’ll prepare you for some of the more questionable entries in the coming weeks):
Roman Lob – Standing Still (Germany)
Now Germany were probably unsure who to send this year considering Lena had done the duty the last two contests in a row (first with winning song Satellite, the pre-teen Kate Nash soundalike, and then Taken By A Stranger, which was way too cool for the Eurovision crowd to ‘get’) but Roman Lob was finally selected via a X-Factor like national competition singing songs like Drops of Jupiter – Train, Use Somebody – Kings of Leon and Bad Day – Daniel Powter not to mention one of his own compositions (a big one-up on any of the Simon Cowell shows). Before you start thinking he’s Matt Cardle 2.0, Roman and Standing Still sound like a cross between OneRepublic and The Fray (especially How to Save a Life) and is the kind of melancholy alt/pop that seems to be making a comeback in the wake of Adele‘s global onslaught (See The Fray, The Script and John Legend all bounding up the charts due to recent talent show TV exposure). Still it’s strange seeing someone who looks fairly normal (ear stretchers, tattoos and beanie hats like a teenager at the local skate park in this case) taking to Eurovision without a rock band or a guitar in his hand, just trying to get by on vocals and ‘charisma’. Whether it’ll work is yet to be seen but expect to see Roman at the final (Germany get through automatically so he’d be there anyway)…
Odds of Winning: 18/1 – quite reasonable but I think the song is a little too middle-of-the-road to really get into the top 10.
Aggun – Echo [You & I] (France)
Now in the UK its often accepted that no current pop artists are going to represent us in Eurovision for fear of losing face with the ‘Great British Public’ so we have to deal with faded acts looking for another crack of fame like Blue last year or Englebert Humperdinck this year (perhaps one of the greatest names of all time may I add). Anggun, on the other hand, has been around since the late 80′s when she was only a teen and has been scoring number ones here, there and everywhere ever since (well ok not here and probably not everywhere but definitely there). We haven’t heard of her in the UK but she’s extremely big in her two homelands, Indonesia and France, hence why she’s representing them this year. Echo [You & I] is an electro pop stormer with a crafty little whistling hook that’ll get stuck in your head by the time the second chorus hits and feels quite 90′s but current at the same time (which is looking like the next trend in pop music). This will probably mean its too chart-worthy to actually do well in the contest but Anggun can really sing, doesn’t wear many clothes whilst performing (which is always works a treat at Eurovision) and, if the video is anything to go by, will be surrounded by muscly army types in gas masks and not much else. Winning performance? We’ll have to wait and see…
Odds of Winning: 66/1 – about mid-table odds and she’s not in the best running order position but I think its a modern pop song that deserves to get into the top half at least.
Mandinga – Zalielah (Romania)
Sometimes musical authenticity can get a bit drab, the sky clouds over under the tyranny of indie muscianship and you sigh ‘More guitars. Really?’. Do you know what you need? a samba party with bagpipes featuring nonsensical words! That’s exactly what Romania band Mandinga are offering and they’re a much needed sunbeam in a Eurovision saturated with ballads. Mandinga were a fan favourite back in their homeland but concerns were raised by the critics and the government (is there seriously nothing better going on in Romania?) that it was pure rubbish, the singer Ionescu Elena should just strip onstage to compensate for her lack of vocal abilities and even some calls for it to be banned. Why, oh, why killjoy Romanian critics? Zalielah (you will not find that word in any dictionary anywhere) is a summery riot finally proving bagpipes, trumpets and an accordian CAN come together to create a danceable tune plus you don’t need to know the words to this so you can rejoice in your lack of lyrical knowledge whilst sipping tequila sunrises by the pool. If anyone is going abroad to sunnier climbs in the next few months expect to be dancing along this like you were to Danza Kuduro last year. Will it win? Who cares when you’re having this much fun!
Odds of Winning: 28/1 - Probably right, great summer song but hardly a winner.
Max Jason Mai – Don’t Close Your Eyes (Slovakia)
It’s safe to say i’m not a big rock fan, and probably never will be, but even I recognise that rock music from Eurovision is generally of a very high quality. Remember Lordi a good few years back coming from nowhere to storm the contest, their big mutated latex faces aglow with success? We’re a little light on rock music this year but our main contender for the rock crown are Slovakia’s Max Jason Mai with the nifty little Don’t Close Your Eyes. Ok, yes, I admit he came second on Slovakian Pop Idol but ignore that – can you imagine this song as Gareth Gates‘ first single back on our Pop Idol? No didn’t think so. He looks a little Axl Rose-esque, the song sounds like every track I remember from WWE wrestling games and he’s not really got a gimmick going on (unless he brings the man with some tights over his face from the video with him) but it should come across as a respectable, if muted, performance. Of course it’s going to struggle, rock hasn’t done particularly well in years (you usually only get one successful rock song a year at most eg. maNga two years ago) so it’s a bit of a risk for Slovakia but we shall see how it goes. I’m off to fetch my axe or whatever, peaaace.
Odds of Winning: 150/1 – everyone is counting it out but it’s in semi final 2 with a ton of ballads so that could work in its favour. Saying that, it has no hope in the final if it makes it there…
Loreen – Euphoria (Sweden)
Finally, for the bookies and fan favorite. Yes, Sweden never do things by halves and this year is no exception. After getting through and then winning Sweden’s monsterous Melodifestivalen (which is potentially the most hardcore selection process in the whole of Europe) Loreen will be brandishing the Swedish flag with her song Euphoria. What’s it sound like, I hear you ask? Well… pretty… umm… euphoric really. Basically, this is Kate Bush tackling 90′s trance with a side order of kung-fu ninja shadow boxing and a snowfall finale. If that sentence seemed too incomprehensible for your mind to absorb then just watch the video and soak it in, yes she is fighting against the wind machine. My favourite youtube comment on this was one guy who said the end move (where she jumps over some man’s head) looked like a fatality out of Mortal Kombat – FINISH HIM (and all that jazz). What do we know of this mystical Loreen character then? She was also in Pop Idol and came 4th, has tried to enter eurovision once before and has a very nice fringe. This song has been smashing the scandinavian charts recently, so don’t be suprised if it picks up a handful of twelves from those guys but whether the rest of Europe, and I embedded the live video because, shock horror, it sounds a lot better than the recorded version. It’s becoming a bit of a runaway with the bookies but they’ve been wrong before (especially saying France’s pompous opera last year was going to walk it only to come 15th) so who knows if it’ll live up to the hype its creating. As far as I can see the only way this can go is uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-Up! (ok i’ll stop it now…).
Odds of Winning: 2/1 – bang on favourite to win and with all due respect it’s her contest to lose. The big thing will be seeing if her stage performance can work in such a huge arena.
For next week, we shall tackle the wonderful (and occasionally painful) world of big Eurovision ballads. There’s an icy shout-off, chinese strings (hardly european that), some magical flute work and the sounds of a woman being tortured (at least that’s what I thought it was…). Enjoy!