With the annual festival of all things Europop upon the screens of a continent and beyond, Kev Nickells runs through the entries.
Eurovision – a cherished institution. Writing this has been a bit of a nightmare, to be honest, because Europe’s a lot bigger than you think it is. Spreads all the way over to Azerbaijan. And for all the tack/awesome stage-setting, it’s a timely reminder that Europe, as a concept, is a weird thing. And a thing in which popular culture is, y’know, pretty indistinguishable.I’ve mentioned the ‘world music’ caveat before, where it’s easy to write yourself into knots talking about unfamiliar traditions, but that’s not really the problem with Eurovision. The problem with Eurovision is that it takes some pretty spectacular/vainglorious squee on my part to ignore the quite astonishing mundanity of so much of it. Important to remember though, that if we object to UKIP (and we DO object to UKIP), we’re obliged to at least tolerate Eurovision.
I’d really like to do some Žižek/Kung fu Panda style reading of this where it turns out that there’s a whole world of discrete politics here, but that’s a step too far for me (a shame, as I was really looking forward to making this my shark-jumping moment in reviewing for Freq). A lot of Eurovision’s music says little more than “commercial music exists, and is apparently very similar Europe-wide.” The broad absence of native-language songs here says a lot – the language of international capital is English. Switzerland, for instance, has four official languages, none of which are English, but here they are, singing away in English. What would it mean, internationally, for Belgium to throw in a Flemish song? France of course sings in French but if the French can’t be a bastion of “actually, we think our language is alright,” who else is going to? It’s hardly like the auld country’s going to turn in a sean-nós number, is it?So the politics we find might take a bit of getting out and, perhaps depressingly, fall into the category of “problems that are international” rather than specifically loaded songs. So there’s some dreadful, boring “hey girl, you’re fine, dance for me” type shit across the board and lots of “we are the world” universalist sentiment. Very heteronormative, in spite of the long-standing association with high camp. And, perhaps worst of all, there’s a lot of that X Factor notion of credibility – you know, excessive vibratos, “cool indie rock” songs and one utterly Runrig/Mumford (delete according to age) song.
I made a point of only listening to the (double) CD because I’m pretty confident that I can turn into an excitable 12 year old girl in the face of an amazing stage show. And there is a lot of stuff. Obviously no-one in the entirety of history has ever bought the Eurovision CD because that’s complete insanity. There’s a lot of it. And a lot of it is boring/average, on a just listening basis. Why someone would even bother pretending to be objective about it, I have no idea, but this review is a music-only thing. Come the night, you’ll probably find that I’ve drastically changed my opinion because someone was wearing an awesome pair of shoes or their dancer did a nice pirouette.I’ve decided to eschew my preferred approach of giving a general sense of the album and, in a spate of foolhardy egalitarianism, have elected to give you the Freq’s-eye comprehensive view of each entry. (Views do not necessarily represent those of anyone at Freq, including me because of aforementioned “shoes change everything” caveat). Feel free to message me to tell me how entirely wrong I was because of shoes.
Oh, small note – this will probably not be published ’til the day of the final, so do check out how entirely wrong I was about the ones that were knocked out.
- Albania – Hersi – One Night’s Anger
Hersi has a lovely voice. It’s a bit like Shakira. But, y’know, probably not because it’s a bit crap of me to say that someone sounds like Shakira just because she doesn’t sound like Beyoncé or whatever. Also, I think there’s a cajón on this. I hope this doesn’t open the show because it’s alright, and there’s been innumerable times when great songs get buried at the start. A big voice, and a mildly dramatic arrangement that doesn’t quite make me swoon.
- Armenia – Aram – “Not Alone”
- Austria – Conchita Wurst – “Rise Like A Phoenix”
I can’t make out this person’s gender from their voice, which is always exciting. It’s a bit Bond theme in terms of arrangement. Which is, quite obviously, amazing. I usually make notes when I listen to records and on my first listen I wrote “OH MY FUCKING GOD THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER” but I suspect that may have been rash. I have a sickness for big swoony arrangements though and I’m hoping for some good white jumpsuits from the brass section on this.
- Azerbaijan – Dilara Kazimova – “Start A Fire”
- Belgium – Axel Hirsoux – “Mother”
Utterly saccharine, sentimental tosh. Best thing ever. It’s called “Mother.” Do you know “Pal of my cradle days?” Of course you do. It’s a lot like that – one of those sentiments that you don’t see these days “You are there mother/you are my guiding light” and definitely more Jim Reeves than hip young thing but if you’ve got a mother, you’ll know that Mums are awesome and it’s totally cool to say thanks to your Mum to the whole of Europe because your name is Axel.
- Belarus – Teo – “Cheesecake”
At the risk of dignifying this with more explanation than it merits, this is utter bollocks.
- Switzerland – Sebalter – “Hunter Of Stars”
Danger trope #2: whistling. First sign of it here. I kind of want to like this one because the breakdown has a really loose drum skin on it but ultimately the only thing I like about it is Sebalter’s pronunciation of the word “door.” There’s a mildly iffy hunter/prey metaphor here which I’m really not sure about. And banjos are very, very close to ukuleles.
- Germany – Elaiza – “Is It Right”
- Denmark – Basim – “Cliché Love Song”
Utter horseshit. All bloody “she looked so fine/she was crazy.” This is not part of the new Europe I want to be part of. It’s got whistling in it. Fuck whistling. It’s got a bit that’s guaranteed to be all “c’mon everyone, clap along!.” LIKE HITLER DID. Lyrics mentioning Katy Perry. Fuck the fucking fuck off, Denmark.
- Estonia – Tanja – “Amazing”
- Spain – Ruth Lorenzo – “Dancing In The Rain”
First sign of a non-English lyric, but goes back to English for the chorus. I imagine it’s Spanish, but I’d like to be corrected and find out it’s Basque. That’d be awesome. Epic drums, Vivaldi-esque strings in the chorus, very “give it everything you’ve got.” And it does that thing of talking about dancing but you wouldn’t really dance to it unless your salad days have become colostomy bag days. But not quite epic ballad.
- Finland – Softengine – “Something Better”
It’s in that busy electro-indie thing – bubbly keyboards, “driving” guitars. The Killers and all that. S’alright. There’s a shouty bit that I can only assume is a reference to hardcore shouty bits. Except it doesn’t sound like hardcore. Obviously. Plus point, no whistling or dubstep.
- United Kingdom – Molly – “Children Of The Universe”
- Georgia – The Shin And Mariko – “Three Minutes To Earth”
This has yodelling on it. And some odd chord/time signature changes. Dangerously close to fusion for Eurovision. I’m not really a fan of space themes in music so this kind of leaves me a bit irritable. Positive points – no whistling or dubstep, and actually not that much singing, or a chorus. Weird, in this context.
- Greece – Freaky Fortune Feat. RiskyKidd – “Rise Up”
Dusty marching band intro that segues into some Eurohouse. Rapping rather than singing. I don’t want to read too much into the song being called “Rise Up.” But yeah, it’s a bit Balearic dance vibes. Would do the job in your local dancing house.
- France – TWIN TWIN – “Moustache”
- Ireland – Can-Linn (Feat. Kasey Smith) – “Heartbeat”
Horse. And when I say horse, I mean bad. It’s a word I use to mean bad. Which this is. It’s not offensive or anything, just a bit horse, y’know? No whistling or dubstep though.
- Israel – Mei Finegold – “Same Heart”
A bit Bonnie Tyler. Good old gravelly voice. And some signs of not singing in English (assuming the second verse is in Hebrew?) I keep thinking she’s talking about skinning people up but I’ve been known to be wrong about these things before.
- Iceland – Pollaponk – “No Prejudice”
- Italy – Emma – “La Mia Citt ”
Italy, singing in Italian. A definite plus here. Mysteriously, it keeps reminding me of Elastica, but shot through with proper disco drums and a real chorus. Well done Italy.
- Lithuania – Vilija – “Attention”
- Latvia – Aarzemnieki – “Cake To Bake”
YES. It’s like Leonard Cohen or Loudon Wainwright, but brilliant in a different way. I don’t really want to spoil this one, so do check it out.
- Moldova – Cristina Scarlat – “Wild Soul”
I’m not convinced by this. It’s a bit big and dubsteppy. It’s like they took a good singer and a passable song and thought “how can we make this more bollocks?”
- Montenegro – Sergej – “Moj Svijet”
- F.Y.R. Macedonia – Tijana – “To The Sky”
This is probably what stadiums sound like now. God knows. Boy bands and that. If you could imagine something boring, you probably wouldn’t. But if you could transgress the impossibility of imagining something boring, this is what it’d sound like.
- Malta – Firelight – “Coming Home”
Utter pish. Runrig/Mumford. Awful. Awful awful awful. Exactly the sort of “authentic” bollocks we do not need in our Eurovision.
- The Netherlands – The Common Linnets – “Calm After The Storm”
- Norway – Carl Espen – “Silent Storm”
Slow ballady number. Nothing really happens but will probably have a fucking unicorn for the performance. I don’t know at what point the slow ballad became the point where you could have entirely perfunctory arrangements and no ornaments to the chords. Probably Chris Martin‘s fault. Well, this is bollocks anyway.
- Poland – Donatan & Cleo – “My Slowianie”
This is a good song, in a bouncy head nod, let’s get frisky kind of way. Bits of it aren’t in English. Reminds me of Lumidee, though that’s a stupid comparison because the only real comparison is the spare arrangement. And a polka breakdown. And Slavic girls know how to use their charm and beauty, so that’s a good positive sentiment.
- Portugal – Suzy – “Quero Ser Tua”
- Romania – Paula Seling & OVI – “Miracle”
It’s a proper pop number with those keyboard that feel like an escalator being electrocuted. All euphoric and stuff. Holds off from the drop for a bit, but it’s a good one when it’s there. Y’hear that UKIP? Romania are fucking AWESOME.
- Russia – Tolmachevy Sisters – “Shine”
This is a bit post-Winehouse in arrangement and a bit Bananarama b-side. There’s a small danger that it needs a few more listens to make it a bit second album Steps a-side. But for now, it’s alright (close harmonies and all that) but not, y’know, outstanding.
- Sweden – Sanna Nielsen – “Undo”
- Slovenia – Tinkara – “Round And Round”
Not English for the introduction! Flutes! Lots of production! Arguably, the production is an act of turd-polishing, but you never know what the live performance is going to bring out, eh?
- San Marino – Valentina Monetta – “Maybe (Forse)”
Did I miss the Bond theme theme to pop music in the last year or so? It’s quite noticeable. I mean, it’s a particular way of doing arrangements on things and it’s quite nice, but it’s popped up in a few entries this year. Anyway, it plods along nicely, picks up a disco beat. Falls a bit close to that affirmative, heroic “Let’s all win” stuff for my liking, but does the job. I’m always a big fan of a spoken verse though.
- Ukraine – Mariya Yaremchuk – “Tick”
Best entry featuring whistling. Kind of funky and alright, but it’s no winner. Because GERMANY MUST WIN.