It’s that time of year when Kev Nickells undertakes his annual mammoth
hatchet job feature-length review of every entry in the Eurovision Song Contest. Let the ritual ruination and Eurotunnelvision enthusing literally begin.
It is with no small amount of trepidation that we begin what is surely the sine qua non for global cultural events of imperative brilliance, Eurovision 2016. This is my third year doing it for Freq and, in a snub to usurp all snubs, (petulance alert — Ed) the powers that be behind so-called ‘Euro’vision elected to try and suppress my voice by not sending me a CD. BUT LITTLE DID THEY KNOW that I am a small and petty man AND THUS I contrived to listen to it all through elite hackers-only illegal downloading web-site “the you-tubes”.Eurovision’s often a good yardstick for what’s happening in the broader pop world (I imagine, I only really pay attention to so much pop), so we’ve got a few things to note from this year’s entries — cod-Taylor Swift is IN (Hurrah!), spray-on dubstep breakdowns are OUT (Woohoo!), and boring sexless bloke-rock that pretends it’s not boring sexless bloke-rock isn’t even bothering to pretend any more (frownyface). There’s a soupçon of disco-pop, a terrifying minimum of garish holiday pop (eg, pimba, disco polo, manele, skiladiko…) and a refreshing number of songs not in English (which is still not enough). There’s typically a degree of confusion as to what constitutes the Euro of Eurovision, so I finally gave in and found out — it’s member states of the European Broadcasting Union — and if you’re wondering what that includes, here’s a list. Something you might like to note: bloody Australia does not feature on that list, yet they’re back again this year (BOLLOCK OFF AUSTRALIA). Something else you might note — Lebanon do feature on that list, but have yet to compete in Eurovision. There’s some puerile politics going on there, but fundamentally, there’s absolutely no reason that Haifa Wehbe couldn’t enter and thereby usher about global peace with one of her literally very good songs. Or Fairuz (who is, astonishingly, still around). Or Nancy Ajram. Basically, Lebanon really should enter Eurovision. Go on Lebanon. Go on.
Right, following with the established tradition, I’ll be going through song-by-song, but the tl;dr version is: it’s a better field than last year; nothing will ever be as bad as the UK’s entry for last year but the UK’s entry for 2016 is literally boring; I’m repping Slovenia this year (because as is well known, I have strong roots in Slovenia). And finally — EUROVISION I HAVEN’T HAD ENOUGH TIME TO GO THROUGH THESE SONGS BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T SEND ME A BLOODY CD AND BY GOD I SHALL BE DRINKING SOUP THROUGH YOUR COCHLEAS.
(Small note — I’m doing this in the order of this youtube playlist rather than the canonical order because FUCK YOU EUROVISION YOU DIDN’T SEND ME A CD AND I HATE YOU.)
Austria – Zoë – “Loin d’ici”A very auspicious and exciting beginning to proceedings. A very good song that borders on poppers o’clock very quickly. It’s in French and is better than the French entry. It has a bridge the exact dimensions of the gates of heaven. It has one of those really cursory verses that’s not really a verse but a breather before the enormous chorus which doesn’t really stop being amazing. It’s in the kind of French that muggins here, with his utterly bollocks vocabulary, can understand. Some cute little production touches (variegation on each element despite repetition) that make for repeated listens. I would not be upset if this won. Fabulous frockwatch on high alert early on.
Albania – Eneda Tarifa – “Fairytale”
This is quite sensible. It’s a bit Bond theme (which was the 2014 theme)… she’s a lovely voice, but I don’t think I can say more for this other than it’s all right. No whistling, real instruments, men with beards or pointless dubsteppish bits, but that just positions it in the lower echelons of “not incorrect”. Frockwatch still in the red.
Armenia – Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave”
The video reminds me of a perfume advert. It threatens to be a bit lively with a big middle eight, but then goes into that ridiculous bass drum thing that’s fairly popular at the moment, rather than four-to-the-FUCKME gabber up your bollocks that all good music should do. No objections to the frock in the video and she’s a lovely voice… in fact, I’ll go so far as to say great singer, shame about the song. Oh, there’s a little dash of some sort of spike fiddle type affair, which is always nice.
Australia – Dami Im – “Sound Of Silence”I’m really not keen on Australia being in this competition. It seems a bit like, at this point, Eurovision could’ve picked a country that wasn’t primarily populated by white people, or one that wasn’t part of European colonialism, but they chose Australia. Not Australia’s fault, I’ll grant you (and Dami is also Korean-Australian with a fair pedigree in Australian X Factor), but until they turn in a bone fide FUCK ME I’M LITERALLY MADE OF ACTUAL COSMIC SPACE awesome song, I’ll keep pointing out they don’t belong in Eurovision. As it happens, this is about half a decent song, but ultimately a bit “I’m making an investment in a new car and I’ve thought about it quite sensibly“.
Azerbaijan – Samra – “Miracle”
I haven’t checked this, but I don’t think there’s been a Eurovision without a song called “Miracle”, ever. If the competition was judged solely on awesomeness of eyebrow (and bear in mind that I can’t categorically state that it isn’t), Samra would be the winner for perpetuity. I can’t remember disliking an Azeri entry to Eurovision and this is also great. I’m hoping she turns in a slightly more pyrotechnicy performance than the promo video, but it’s ticking that box marked eu(ro)phoric end-of-the-relationship headfuck song. Not a patch on Dilara Kazimova‘s 2014 entry for Azerbaijan, but it’s all-literally-right.
Bosnia Herzogovina – Dalal and Deen featuring Ana Rucner and Jala – “Ljubav Je”Singing in (what I assume is) Bosnian. Balkan sounds. The guy who does the rap in the middle has a genuinely good beard (and God knows beards haven’t been good since time). A very good choir in the background. Basically, a sound entry from Bosnia Herzogovina. It’s not going to win, but you can enjoy the outfits, I’m sure.
Belarus – Ivan – “Help You Fly”
Cack. There was some controversy over this involving the singer being naked with a wolf for the performance. I hope that is the case, because this song is cack.
Belgium – Laura Tesoro – “What’s The Pressure”A literally good disco number. With just enough variation to be varied without quite going LOOK I’M A PRODUCER I CHUCKED SOME CONGAS ON THERE. There’s a load of production on Tesoro‘s voice which I didn’t notice the first time — some dusty distortion here and there. I’m rubbish at picking Eurovision winners, so the fact that this isn’t appalling but isn’t quite my favourite means that it’s probably going to win. Or something. Fuck knows, it’s all about the music at the end of the day.
Bulgaria – Poli Genova – “If Love Was A Crime”
This… this wants to be a great song. There’s loads of those very-2016 synth touches, but it’s more in a lily-gilding fashion than, y’know, Grimes or whatever. That’s a dreadful comparison, but I just mean to say that this sounds like loads of things in a way where I can’t quite place what it actually sounds like. It features many of the qualities that songs do, such as a verse and a chorus and some production, etc.
Croatia – Nina Kaljic – “Lighthouse”
Mysteriously sounds like she’s singing with an Irish accent. I have a suspicion this should nail the lesbian vote. I REALLY like her look, but because of her voice I can’t help but put her somewhere between Enya and the Cranberries.
Cyprus – Minus One – “Alter Ego”One of those ersatz rock things that says they may well one day look to be supporting Lenny Kravitz in Nicosia. They look a bit like a nu-metal band. The sort of “real” music that can bollock off out of Eurovision, thanks very much.
Czech Republic – Gabriela Guncíková – “I Stand”This started off as a bit meh, but the more I listen to it, the more I like it. The fact that Eurovision has mystifying semi-finals and such now might mean that this has a chance to be a grower (cf Dutch runners-up Common Linnets), but I’m not entirely sure this wouldn’t be a better song if it just had a little go at being poppers o’clock. Frockwatch on reddest alert. I’m going to guess she’ll do a cry on the night as well. It’s that sort of song.
Denmark – Lighthouse X – “Soldiers Of Love”
Transparently chasing the tail of Sweden last year. Boy band. Bollocks. OK, maybe not bollocks. A bit late Take That, which is a shame as early Take That was clearly the correct answer. I struggle to understand how you can have a boyband of people who aren’t that close to looking like boys and/or aren’t particularly good looking. Plus ça change.
Estonia – Jüri Pootsmann – “Play”
Something I realised fairly late in the game is that I don’t like most male voices. I tend towards the lower registers. This guy’s all right. This is schmaltzy crap. Brilliant. Strange use of quasi-sailor’s formal jacket, but that’s OK, this is Eurovision and Eurovision is a time for radical experimentation.
Finland – Sandhja – “Sing It Away”I’m going to wager this is the second-pick for lesbians, though Croatia’s Nina Kaljic is just peaking the OMG dress-sense. More disco for the chorus. It’s kind of struggling to do much with the verse, which kind of makes the chorus look a bit sticky-outy rather than OMGAMAZE like Austria’s entry. You’ve tried, Finland, and we can’t ask for more than that.
France – Amir – “J’ai Cherché”
In French. Obviously, because France isn’t a dick. Big disco chorus again. Possibly shouldn’t be put next to Finland (and may, canonically, not be), because it just drifts into a bit of a nothing on the back of Sandhja. Still, mad props to France always singing in French.
Georgia – Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz – “Midnight Gold”
Rubbish. Rubbish rubbish rubbish rubbish. Every year there’s some trendy wank of shabby indie wank. Wank. Rubbish. If I was in charge of Eurovision I’d ban this shit forever. Absolute pish. I just noticed their name as well. Piss off.
Germany – Jamie-Lee – “Ghost”
This, now, this is like the UK’s entry last year, but worked on to the point where it’s not cack. I’m not too sure about her outfit, but I’ll forgive that because she’s got a deep voice. Minimal arrangement, drums and backing which makes the chorus look bigger than it is, which is as well because it’s not quite got a strong enough chorus to make it seem like the sort of thing Mariah does, always.
Greece – Argo – “Utopian Land”So I go on about languages quite a lot, because I think it’s important — Europe’s a big place and full of different cultures and expressions. The exclusive use of English feels a bit like hegemony writ over culture. I happen to work with an amazing Greek woman (hi Viktoria) who pointed out that this is not just in Greek but in Pontic Greek; so it’s a minority language within a minority language within Europe. Politically, that’s an astonishing veneration of what Europe should mean, arguably.
It’s a bruisey little number with a sparing kemençe (!) motif and I would not object to it winning. Needs more poppers o’clock, but I do have a dreadful habit of saying that about pretty much all music. Say yes to Greece.
Hungary – Freddie – “Pioneer”
This literally exists.
Iceland – Greta Salóme – “Hear Them Calling”I quite often write “Runriggy” when it comes to Eurovision entries and it strikes me that I’ve no idea what Runrig actually sound like. It’s this kind of touchpoint for a specific kind of stadium pop that doesn’t quite hit the U2 buttons… large in the way that a lorry is large (that is, entirely mundane). Oh, there’s this trick that appears a few times this year where the second verse is cut short to allow for a “Wah, surprise chorus!'” — when this trick works, it’s amazing, really exciting. When it doesn’t (as here), it’s just a bit transparently poo. She’s got a great voice, the mix of that voice is odd but… nah.
Ireland – Nicky Byrne – “Sunlight”
When I was a lad, you had great boybands. Take That, East 17. Nowadays, it’s all this modern, soulless crap (thanks Verity). But seriously, the competition for boybands in 2016 is Kazaky. Have you heard Kazaky? No? OH MY GOD, YOU’LL LOVE THEM. But basically any boybandry that gives the impression of only ever having listened to fucking Westlife and fucking Boyzone can fuck the fucking fuck off. Having written that, I googled his name and realised he’s a former member of Westlife. THAT’S HOW BORING WESTLIFE ARE THAT I COULDN’T RECOGNISE THAT A MEMBER OF WESTLIFE LITERALLY SOUNDS LIKE WESTLIFE.
Israel – Hovi Star – “Made Of Stars”Strong haircut. Could get a lot of points with the gay/emo crossover audience, provided they’re not listening to the song. But a total tease of a track – keeps threatening to bring in a filthy bassline and something in the poppers o’clock register, but piddles about being a bit background to a radio advert for life insurance. Israel typically strong, so a fair disappointment.
Italy – Francesca Michielin – “No Degree Of Separation”Because Italy are great they have decided to do singing in Italian. An absolutely, utterly beautiful song, big swooping and gorgeous and she’s a lovely voice and it’s doubtless about something ineffably sad and she really gets her mouth around a load of syllables and basically I love it. But not quite my favourite (though there’s still time by Saturday). Huge, huge improvement on last year’s ‘will this do’ fest.
Latvia – Justs – “Heartbeat”
This starts off like a really good, lush, clinical disco pop number… but the chorus just isn’t quite face-melting enough. It’s like they’ve got Chris Lowe to do the music, but ran out of budget for the melody. Frockwatch frozen off at this point.
Lithuania – Donny Montell – “I’ve Been Waiting For This Night”
This is a bit U2. I’m sure I’ve said “this is the most generic Eurovision” song a million times today, but this is definitely the most generically Eurovision track. There is a LOT of performance here, but you can do all the backflips you want, Donny boy, but this song is fundamentally gash.
FYR Macedonia – Kaliopi – “Dona”OMG THIS IS LITERALLY VERY GOOD. Not in English. Every Eurovision needs an entirely over the top song that would probably make Meatloaf blush and this is it for this year. I’m pretty sure it’s followed that rule of ripping off Pachelbel‘s canon (or close enough). And she has got an insanely lovely vibrato. God yes. Still not my favourite though. Which doesn’t stop it from being, demonstrably, the best song ever.
Malta – Ira Losco – “Walk On Water”
In some ways, this is the worst. Everything about the verse says, “Yes, this is a build to FINALLY POPPERS O’CLOCK”, and then it goes for something a bit Massive Attack-y for the chorus. Fine, I like Massive Attack, we all do, but ultimately everyone likes things that are banging more than they like things that are not banging. OK, it’s not the worst, but it’s a tease, and that’s not what we, the European people, want.
Moldova – Lidia Isac – “Falling Stars”POPPERS O’CLOCK! FINALLY IT IS POPPERS O’CLOCK. YES. HURRAH! THIS IS WHY EVERYONE I HAVE EVER KNOWN LITERALLY LOVES EUROVISION MORE THAN EVERYTHING ELSE. YES! (It’s probably not the best example of poppers o’clock and the modulation just prior to the chorus is odd, but it is poppers o’clock and that is the most important thing).
Montenegro – Highway – “The Real Thing”
Absolute bollocks. Bloody blokey bloody bollocks. Doesn’t even have a proper chorus. Rubbish. Literally too long and there isn’t even any actual ideas. Bollocks. There’s a dancer in the video and even she looks bored, probably because this is ABSOLUTE BOLLOCKY BOLLOCKS.The Netherlands – Douwe Bob – “Slow Down”
Absolute pish. The sort of thing you’d hear in the background of This Life. Bollocks. The singer has a crap Bob Dylanism to his voice and he can piss off. Bollocks.
Norway – Agnete – “Icebreaker”
Another one where it’s building to a poppers o’clock chorus and THEN ACTIVELY DROPS THE TEMPO. This is cruelty of the highest order. Frockwatch at moderate-high.
Russia – Surgey Lazarev – “You Are The Only One”See, you can blame Russia for their human rights abuses, but you literally can’t accuse their 2016 Eurovision entry of not being a bit poppers o’clock. This was, on first listen, my favourite (and make sure you watch the literally rubbish video) but on subsequent listens it’s just very good. A big chorus, proper bassline, disco strings. I would literally accept it if this were to win.
Romania – Ovidiu Anton – “Moment Of Silence”
Romania won’t be in it because of a dispute over unpaid bills by Romania’s broadcaster TVR. This is a shame, because they’ve obviously put some thought into their outfits. It’s a bit dungeons and dragons, but whatever. NEXT.
Poland – Michał Szpak – “Colour Of Your Life”Worst key change of the 2016 Eurovision. A bit Beatlesy, but not as good as that might imply (top tip: “a bit Beatlesy” means “unmitigated shite”). POLAND YOU MAKE DISCO POLO DO THAT AT EUROVISION DAMNIT. Iotar of this parish has just pointed out “He’s hot though. And that hair.” Which is a legitimate and strong point.
San Marino – Serhat – “I Didn’t Know”
This sounds like late Leonard Cohen over disco. It makes me really uncomfortable. I think it might be inspired but I’m also pretty confident that it’s not actually very good. Yeah, probably cack.
Slovenia – ManuElla – “Blue And Red”GOD THIS IS LITERALLY THE BEST THING EVER. LITERALLY. I like this a lot. This song will almost certainly not win, because it is my favourite song ever and the Eurovision is a dick and it’s always something cack that wins (except Conchita) because people are awful and won’t notice that Slovenia’s entry is very clearly the best thing ever.
Absolutely and entirely transparently a (post-Red) Taylor Swift rip-off, but Taylor’s my favourite writer of, like, this century (or is at least vying for that position with Xenomania) so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing Taylor well. This does Taylor well. I’ve definitely played it more than I should. And it has one of those proper feminist (ahem) messages that’s a bit like, “Boo, I’m sad, you’re a dick” and then “Ah, you dick, I’m SO MUCH BETTER OFF NOW BECAUSE I AM A STRONG WOMAN FUCK YOU BOO!” It also includes those utterly rubbish dancemoves that Taylor does. There’s a Bucks Fizz routine in the video.
There’s nothing wrong with this song and I think it should probably win this and every other competition.
Serbia – Sanja Vučić – “Goodbye”All hands on deck. Frockwatch has exploded. This is very, very over-performed and therefore entirely brilliant. Lots of Winehousery over orchestral arrangements, an iffy key change. So very nearly brilliant.
Sweden – Frans – “If I Were Sorry”
Not only is this rubbish, but it makes no sense whatsoever. Unless it’s trying to express the emotion of smug disdain, but that’s not a real thing. It’s like a sentimentality for MRAs. Fuck off, Frans.
Switzerland – Rykka – “The Last Of Our Kind”
I keep vacillating between thinking this is passable to thinking it’s pish. There’s something really dislikeable about it that I can’t put my finger on. In the spirit of journalism 2016, I’ll just leave it like that. Because spiteful, unqualified non-opinions are perfectly valid as comment. (Sorry Rykka)
Spain – Barei – “Say Yay!”Mo’ disco. Big. And once again begging for a trance remix. A good and amorphous disco structure (that is, not particularly verse/chorus/verse etc). Quite an odd mix in the video version, but I’ll guess it’s flattened out for the performance. Also a contender for lesbian’s favourite. V good hair. Actually quite a feat of construction in that there’s basically one theme that gets added to, like proper techno (but this isn’t proper techno). Yeah, seriously good.
United Kingdom – Joe And Jake – “You’re Not Alone”
Not entirely bollocks. But definitely bollocks. First line doesn’t have a proper terminal rhyme, but has an “O-oh-oooh”, which is cheap and rubbish. Still, the country that voted for the pig-fucker could’ve voted for something as pig-fuckingly bad as Electro Velvet of last year, which remains the worst thing. Thank heaven for small mercies.
Actually, no, fuck that, this only isn’t offensive because last year was the very worst thing. This is definitely shit.
Ukraine – Jamala – “1944”Opens with a duduk, I think. I love duduks. This is surprisingly heavy for a Eurovision song. She’s got an incredible voice. There was apparently some controversy over the political content of this. Astonishing vibrato. There’s a breakdown and some vocal gymnastics in the middle and she hits just south of Mariah’s whistle tones. This is one of those where it shouldn’t be one of my Eurovision favourites because, well, it’s a bit “musicianly” rather than “songly”, but it’s just such a performance — and like a lot of Mariah, the song’s actually dwarfed by quite what an astonishing voice she has.