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Various Artists – Eurovision 2015: Building Bridges

Universal Music

Eurovision 2015 - Building BridgesHas it been twelve months already? Twelve months since Conchita Wurst swooped into our hearts and planted a big blue, pink and white flag in the heart of Europe for the second time in Eurovision‘s history. I realise that for a lot of people Eurovision is some chintzy, end-of-the-pier nonsense, but when you can have someone advocating trans* politics in front of millions of people across the world, that is quite literally a big fucking deal.

Eurovision has a reputation for being ‘camp’ but I think it’s pretty important to emphasise that it’s not a camp that’s worthy of humiliation and denigration – Conchita Wurst in 2014 meant a lot for LGBTQIA politics the world over and was a beacon of “FUCK YEAH”. There wasn’t any global gender revolution and trans* folk still have it astonishingly rough the world over BUT Eurovision, unlike so much of the old media, can say “You know what? Fuck you guys, we’re doing the right fucking thing”.

It’s the stuff of a million queer journals, but there’s this capacity that camp has to seem facile but reveal something trés important, or politically untenable, or the unspeakable, to a wider audience. There are so few platforms where you can talk about gender identity seriously and fewer of those are national, let alone international, so Eurovision remains something very important. Its thrust, typically, has been the sort of music that appeals to under-represented folk — LGBTQIA folk, for a start, but also the working classes (cf Portugal’s Pimba entry last year) and Céline Dion-loving housewives. Credibility in music typically means “appeals to white middle-class able-bodied men” and Eurovision is not that… or at least, partially not that.

Anyway, so there’s a lot to get through here, but I just wanted to note that Eurovision is really important on an international scale and, given that the UK has recently elected a government of the worst humans possible, it’s really necessary to cling onto those rare glimpses of light that appear over Europe.

*

As with last year, Eurovision is far too important to glibly ignore entries, so I’ll be dealing with each one in turn, with the exception of the UK, who I’ll add at the end as it’s really very important that the sheer dreadfulness of our entry is given the appropriate level of detail. Spoiler: the UK’s entry is literally the worst thing that has ever happened. Note that the ordering of the CD is alphabetical by country according to the two-letter codes as defined in ISO 3166-1 – it’s quite fun reading ISO definitions, so if you’re interested, you can read that here.

AlbaniaElhaida Dani – “I’m Alive”: So perhaps a warning this year — there really isn’t much in the way of properly ridiculous stuff. This is a bit “background to a cruise liner advert”. Metaphors about a bleeding heart, healing scars, that sort of thing. Seems to me like a lot of pop nowadays seems to be afraid of kick drums, and this is no exception. Starts looking like it’s building to a thing then stops. S’alright.

ArmeniaGenealogy – “Face the Shadow”: This is one of those songs that seems like it’s either going to be the best thing ever or it’s going to be hilariously dreadful. It’s not quite either. A load of singers with quite different voices (including some quasi-operatic stuff), something of a Queen/ELO vibe, some quite odious time signature changes. It’s like it wants to punch the face of brilliance but just keeps poking it in the arm then apologising. A reasonable effort, our Armenia.

AustriaThe Makemakes – “I Am Yours”: The Makemakes is an awful name. Fuck knows how Austria can go from HRH Conchita Wurst to this stillborn drivel, but it has. The verse seems half Bacharachy but then goes into one of those Beatles bits. Basic, and basically shit. It’s a valuable lesson though — if your name is shit and says fuck all, your music will be shit and say fuck all. Maths, innit?

AustraliaGuy Sebastian – “Tonight Again”: No. Fuck off. No. First of all, I was entirely enraged that Australia be included. Really, there’s literally millions* of other countries which are capable of producing music that’s worth listening to OR ARE AT LEAST CAPABLE OF WEARING A DECENT FROCK. I haven’t seen what “Guy” (I bet he pronounces it “Guy” to rhyme with Sky rather than Guy like the Indian clarified butter) looks like, but he sounds like he wears really badly cut shorts and probably some sort of ill-fitting blazer and a shit hat that looks shit.

*Actual number not millions.

Azerbaijan did an amazing song last year and I am entirely all in favour of expanding Eurovision’s remit in that direction — Turkmenistan is just over the water and you’ve got a border with Iran. If you draw a line between Azerbaijan and Australia you go through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Malaysia and Indonesia before you get to Australia, all of which would be welcome long in advance of this invidious drivel.

It sounds like the kind of thing that’d be in the background of a fucking chain restaurant advert, that sort of thing that says “I like this, this is a little bit racey” to the sort of people who keep the teeth of infanticide victims in bottles on their window sill. Perhaps worst of all, this isn’t the worst song this year (stand up, UK) which basically makes it the person who would try and mimic Hitler’s fashion of standing at the urinal in the hope it’d have a chance to be as cool as him. FREQ READERS — SAY NO TO AUSTRALIA IN EUROVISION.

AzerbaijanElnur Huseynov – “Hour of the Wolf”: Speak of the devil… ok, Azerbaijan aren’t a devil. They also haven’t turned out a particularly great song. There’s an agreeable lack of drums, but a bit much in the way of spraytan-epic. Has a strange shuffly off-tempo post-chorus thing, does some swelling and dropping. But yeah, it’s not top. Still, Azerbaijan used a fucking duduk last year, they get a free ride forever for that.

BelgiumLoïc Nottet – “Rhythm Inside”: So Joe, a mate of mine who’s usually right about pop and introduced me to Kazaky (AND OH MY GOD DO YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO KAZAKY) reckons this is the best song of this year. Joe has good taste and is usually right, but I don’t get it. The vocal production is pretty sharp — quite a bit of subtle modulation things going on — and the song’s kind of interesting, but the pseudo-acapella thing doesn’t quite gel with me without a big melody. Might work well in remixular form.

BelarusUzari & Maimuna – “Time”: In which we learn that time is like thunder. It’s one of those songs that is essentially bollocks but in the light of Australia — and definitely in the light of “redefining bollocks for the remainder of history” UK, it’s not that bollocks. In real terms, it’s bollocks. Relativism is a dangerous thing.

SwitzerlandMélanie René – “Time to Shine”: The rhythm keeps threatening to remind me of Dead Prez‘s “Hip Hop” except the vocal scotches that. And it doesn’t really sound like that anyway. It’s arguable that there are two sorts of stereotypical Eurovision songs — this sort, the epic-ish ones where the lyric is about achieving your goals or something, and the good ones. Except “Rise like a Phoenix” was good because it was more torch song than generic Eurovision.

CyprusJohn Karayiannis – “One Thing I Should Have Done”: Entirely bizarre that Cyprus should have those semi-nasalised consonants here and there as if he’s from Essex. Maybe he’s from Essex. But this isn’t what I’d typically think of as Cypriot. This is the sort of thing that your mum might like if your mum was less of a real human and a little bit more banal of a stereotype in her tastes.

Czech RepublicMarta Jandova & Vacla Noid Barta – “Hope Never Dies”: I keep wanting to like this. He’s got a likeable voice. She sounds good. But he’s a bit gravelly which and the arrangement is a bit Evanescence (as my partner pointed out). Which means that it sounds like Creed do Eurovision. Of course, Creed do Eurovision is better than Creed do Creed. It’s also got the problem of having a not great chorus and not enough verse. So not entirely unlike a sandwich with more filling than the bread can sustain, only the filling is alarmingly bread-like. Bread with a really poorly thought-out key change. I hate that bread.

GermanyAnn Sophie – “Black Smoke”: Somewhere along the lines — probably in the Mariah Carey fallout, actually — it was de rigeur to add some sort of accentuation to every note, particularly terminal ones. It started off with erratic vibratos and then it came down to every bloody note having something other than the note in it. Great, if you’re a Diamanda, a Meridith or a Mariah, but here it just seems like lily-gilding — not enough melody to merit polishing it. Not a dreadful tune (cf the United Kingdom who have really created whole new dimensions of utter shitness this year) but not as hot as last year’s entry from Germany.

DenmarkAnti Social Media – “The Way You Are”: It’s probably going to seem this year like I don’t really like the kind of music I’m writing about, and that’d be fair. I’m genuinely quite disappointed in what Eurovision’s doing this time around. But amongst the fair-to-middling of this year, there’s some utterly shit music. Hello Denmark.

Do you remember Sean Maguire‘s “Today’s The Day” from sometime in the ’90s (Cheers for picking in my memory gap there, Zoë)? It was fucking rubbish. The worst kind of jangly “Oh, I’ll jangle a fucking guitar and the jangle will make music because jangle is music” EXCEPT JANGLE IS NOT MUSIC, SEAN MAGUIRE. And Anti-Social Media, hang your heads in shame. Actually, bathe your heads in shit, this is pissing awful, but not awful enough to even begin to grace the very perimeters of the universe of shit the United Kingdom have squitted onto Europe.

EstoniaElina Born & Stig Rasta – “Goodbye To Yesterday”: This is kind of like a Tindersticks with levity or something. VERY NEARLY a good song, but just falls short because it’s too chorus-heavy to be good in the way it’s trying to be The Auteurs. Last year’s runner-up, the Common Linnets from the Netherlands, did a great job of being a grower and I’m hoping Estonia fill that space. It is a bit “real music”, but it seems Eurovision 2015 is a bit “real music”. I guess that’s a cross we’re all going to have to bear.

SpainEdurne – “Amanecer”: The first sign of a not-English song so far. So that gets a lot of points for me. If Eurovision’s going to stand for hegemony then it can fuck off. I don’t know which of the Spanish languages this is — most likely Castillian, obviously — but it’s alright. Something about the heart or something. Sits somewhere between Riverdance and the closing scene of a spy movie. Accurate descriptions of music FTW. It’s also the first time so far where the performance could well include an outstanding frock, so let’s hope Edurne wears an outstanding frock.

FinlandPertti Kurikan Nimipäivät – “Aina Mun Pitää”: This is, I think, the shortest song. And I think I’m right in saying that it’s the least Eurovision-y entry, which is no bad thing — it’s a straight-up punk number. It’s the entry I heard about first because the folk behind it aren’t implausibly young and are also folk with developmental disabilities. It’s the sort of thing where I end up going “Yeah, perhaps not my thing but fucking crack on lads”. [pullthis id="rhythm"]Rhythm section of the year, I’d say, and reminds me of a band called the Rottentrolls who I’ll have to see if I’ve still got a 7″ of. Also also, not in English, which is great.

FranceLisa Angell – “N’oubliez Pas”: I think the first time I heard that I thought it was my favourite for this year but it’s actually more embarrassing than that. But I’ll get there soon enough. NOT IN ENGLISH (good thing). It’s got that quality of a load of Aznavour/ Brél songs where it’s only really got a build up then a whacking great chorus, and then a military drumbeat for a “second verse”. Brilliant, entirely brilliant. Well done France.

Those of you who are following the ISO will note that the UK should be here but I’ll save that ’til the end. Spoiler: it is literally the worst thing that has ever happened.

GeorgiaNina Sublatti – “Warrior”: This has the unfortunate position of being my second-favourite song called “Warrior” this year (the other being Malta’s entry, below). I don’t really know what to say about this, it seems like the sort of thing that might be behind a razor advert or something like that. She is a warrior. Good for her. Strong chance of pyrotechnics and astonishing frock for this performance.

GreeceMaria Elena Kyriakou – “One Last Breath”: So I accidentally watched a video of Maria — I’ve been trying to do it on music alone and BY GOD was she ever wearing an amazing frock. And you know what? This is a fucking great song. A fucking great proper torch song. I hope they don’t put her next to France because those two would sit really nicely next to each other. I am disappointed with this year’s emphasis of “epic” torch-y songs, but that’s not France or Greece’s fault.

Fun facts about Greece: I’ve never met a Greek person I didn’t like and their best sort of music is Skiladiko. Only slight problem is that there’s this small piano motif in the first verse which is just too laboured to be a proper trill so it just sits around like a drunk ambulance.

HungaryBoggie – “Wars For Nothing”: So I am, personally, a complete no-go-zone for anti-war songs. Yes, of course everyone agrees with the sentiment that wars are bad. People aren’t idiots. Hungary’s is an anti-war song. I really dislike anti-war songs. Have you heard Bob Dylan? Absolute turgid shit. It is a matter of no small embarrassment that my favourite song for 2015’s Eurovision is Hungary’s. The lines don’t quite scan. Usually, when I like something I can find some kind of place where it fits in my personal schema, but this? This is empirically bollocks and I entirely think it’s entirely amazing. “Can YOU justify all the eyes/ that’ll never see daylight?” Fair play Hungary. Fair play.

IrelandMolly Sterling – “Playing with Numbers”: I think I’m right in saying that Molly’s the most Irish voice in Eurovision for a while. Molly is apparently from Tipperary, which, as you may know, is a long way. [I’m so sorry]. It’s alright. She’s impossibly young too and has a great voice. Not a winner, I’d wager, but not the worst thing this year (that accolade goes to the UK, whose entry this year is very, very shit indeed).

IsraelNadav Guedj – “Golden Boy”: Our first foray into holiday music, by which I mean it sounds like discos somewhere ineffably foreign (if you’re British and therefore entirely stupid, which I am). Nadav has a cracking vibrato. There’s not much in the way of song, but a nice ersatz synth figure in the chorus. I’m a little bit surprised that they didn’t use more punchy drums, but thank fuck I’m not in charge of Israel’s entry for Eurovision. Can you imagine? It’d be bedlam. Bedlam, I tell you. Has grown on me with each listen, so by the weekend it might be a contender. [NB: I’m shit at picking winners for Eurovision]. Also, I may be right in saying that this is the closest we get to scales outside of central Europe, which is exciting.

IcelandMaría Olafs – “Unbroken”: Iceland, usually good for a curious if not amazing entry, seem to have dipped into the inkwell marked bland and written something illegible in a faint and boring hand with too much emphasis on chorus. I can’t even think what it sounds like and I’m listening to it as I write. That can’t be good, surely?

ItalyIl Volo – “Grande Amore”: Italy sing in Italian. Why wouldn’t they? Good for you, Italy. Italy write a song that’s a bit bollocks. Sorry Italy, your entry is a bit bollocks. Seems to be something of a boy band goes opera (meaning opera-ish), which is fundamentally bollocks.

LithuaniaMonika Linkyte & Vaidas Baumila – “This Time”: I’m pretty sure Eurovision used to have more male/female duos. There’s a few this year, but not so many. I think that’s about as much enthusiasm as I can muster for this Runriggy cock. Oh, a banjo. Fuck banjos.

LatviaAminata – “Love Injected” : Right, so in quite a few ways this is one of the more interesting entries. The verse is a bit like a terse and poppier Björk, replete with electro bubble and vocals in the distance. But then the chorus is just a wee puncture of sentiment. And it just ends up sounding like an advertiser’s dream of “edgy” young person music. Unfortunately, the rule is that you can get over a shit verse with a great chorus (cf Abba‘s “One of Us”, which is absolute slurry for the verse) but you can’t get over a shite chorus with a great verse (and the solitary exception to that rule is the Cheeky Girls‘ “Cheeky Song, and even that’s a push).

MoldovaEduarde Romanyuta – “I Want Your Love”: Above I may have intimated that Eurovision is capable of progressive politics. This song is not an instance of that. I find it helpful in songs like this to imagine the singer being a sweaty older man with quite a grip on a female teenager’s arm, in which instance “I ain’t going to let you let me let you go” seems much less like a confession of admiration and more like the kind of sentiment that isn’t making public space comfortable for women.

MontenegroKnez – “Adio”: A spare arrangement, not in English. Features an accordion. Good unison playing between guitar and violin. These are all mildly hapless euphemisms for my not really liking the song but not disliking it enough to lay into it. I must reserve some disdain for the United Kingdom, whose entry this year really is the very worst thing that has ever happened.

FYR MacedoniaDaniel Kajmakoski – “Autumn Leaves”: Typically, as I’m listening to an album, I write notes on each track. My notes in full for this track: “Bollocks piano intro. Basically bollocks.” Very little has changed or needs to be added to those notes, except to say that the chorus is shitter than the verse.

MaltaAmber – “Warrior”: My favourite song called “Warrior” for this year. The singer’s voice reminds me of Nicola Roberts or ‘best Aloud‘ as I like to refer to her – similar really wide vibrato and a really nice way of not flapping about on every note but making the emphases count. Unfortunately, this another one that’s far too keen to do the chorus again — a case of amazing singer, not the best song.

NetherlandsTrijntje Oosterhuis – “Walk Along”: YET ANOTHER song far too heavily weighed down on the chorus. It’s one of those bland songs that make you incapable of finding decent similes, like someone lacking in imagination or flair. The song is literally three minutes and three seconds long.

NorwayMarland & Debrah Scarlett – “A Monster Like Me”: I really like the octave jumps on the chorus. It’s one of those “Oh, I’m dreadful, you’re better off without me” jobbies. A duet. She’s got a really quite amazing voice, he’s got… less of a good voice. I’m not sure if the lyrics make sense, but it’s significantly less dog’s piss dull than the preceding. It is, in fact, a great deal like the duet Taylor Swift did with someone boring on “The Last Time”, except Taylor Swift is really, really good at writing songs and Dave Norway (not his actual name) who wrote this song isn’t as good at writing songs as Taylor Swift is.

PolandMonika Kuszynska – “In The Name Of Love”: It’s at this point, over three quarters of the way through, that the truth of this year’s Eurovision really sinks in: there is a distinct lack of poppers o’ clock music in this Eurovision. Worse, it’s all much more the Michael Ball side of Radio 2 than Bonnie Tyler. In a rightful competition, this entry would be dismissed without hesitation, but I’m finding myself groping for something nice to say about it. Uh… it’s relatively short.

PortugalLeonor Andrade – “Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa”: Not in English, which is good. But perhaps more than any other song, this is emblematic of what’s most disappointing about this year’s Eurovision. [pullthis id="ridiculous"]Portugal can usually be relied upon to be pretty ridiculous. It was 2014’s entry that led me to spend a good month obsessed with Pimba. There’s always this impression that Portugal are going “You know what, fuck you guys, we’re going to make something fun and there’s going to be lurid outfits because fuck you, we’re Portugal”. And this year the song is a bit sensible and has some really tepid “Oh-oh-oooohs” and basically could be any country that doesn’t have a tradition, nay, RESPONSIBILITY to be entirely garish in the best possible way. Portugal, I am sad at you and I am sad for you. You used to be cool, man.

RomaniaVoltaj – “De La Capat”: I really like how they’ve recorded the close “Shh” sounds on this. It’s not in English, which is a definite bonus. Unfortunately, it also sounds like Christian beige-rock’s answer to U2. NB, it’s entirely gauche to use U2 in a comparison in 2015 but rest ye safely in the knowledge that I thought about it for literally seconds as I’m desperately racing towards the end of this really quite dreadful season of Eurovision.

SerbiaBojana Stamenov – “Beauty Never Lies”: Track thirty-six of forty and it’s the first time we have anything that’s even familiar with poppers o’clock, and that takes precisely one minute and fifty one seconds to arrive. Serbia, I salute you. The rest of “Europe”, hang your head in shame. If it weren’t for the fact that this isn’t a particularly effective use of poppers o’clock methods, I’d say Serbia had won and we could all fuck off down the pub. A moral victory, nevertheless.

RussiaPolina Gagarina – “A Million Voices”: this nudges some Bonnie Tyler buttons so by GOD there had better be a fucking explosion of sequins or I am literally never going to say the name of the country Russia again. Don’t think I won’t do it. Probably the best terminal cadence of the Eurovision year.

SwedenMans Zelmerlow – “Heroes”: Utter cock. There’s a children’s choir. It is not possible to get away with a children’s choir. Fuck off, Sweden. He sounds like Eddie Vedder or one of those earnest skinflap turds. Mysteriously, the chorus approaches pilly synths, but the damage is done by the incongruous slide guitar.

SloveniaMaraaya – “Here For You”: It’s like a bad song with a poorly thought-through arrangement and dreadful production decisions. I say “it’s like”; I mean “FUCK OFF SLOVENIA”. It’s one of those where the producer’s trying to do all sorts of smart stuff with her voice and she’s trying to show off how much she can do and between the two of them they’ve just utterly shagged it up royally and limply chucked a vapid violin part. NEXT.

San MarinoAnita Simoncini & Michele Perniola – “Chain of Lights”: Again, my listening notes probably say as much as you need to know: waste of a key change. Very, very nearly starts sounding interesting with her passing melody in the bridge, but it’s not interesting, it’s just a waste of a key change. In fact, there’s two key changes, but the second one is just limp and bollocky.

United Kingdom: I’m not going to condescend to looking at their names. These people have no names. No identities. At least, that’s what they deserve. Come the revolution, come the days when the people rise up, we shall hold the United Kingdom’s entry to Eurovision 2015 up as the reason. It is literally the worst thing that has ever happened.

I know that seems like hyperbole, but only if you haven’t heard it. Because it is literally the worst thing that has ever happened. Sure, I know your first impulse is to go “But what about this song, or that song, or this war, or that famine?” And I say to you: go. Go and listen to the United Kingdom’s entry for Eurovision in 2015. And then come back to me and say in all honesty that you don’t agree that it is the worst thing that has ever happened. And you will agree with me, for it is an empirical fact, a matter of absolute fixity, that the United Kingdom’s entry for Eurovision in 2015 is the worst thing that has ever happened. Perhaps you might appreciate if I were to qualify that? I’ll indulge that.

The first two seconds — before anything genuinely, earth-shatteringly shit happens — feature a squelchy synth sound which somehow conjures the sadness of clowns being attacked by teenagers with the emotion of really wanting to shoe the prick yourself. Two seconds. That’s quite evocative in some sense, but it’s not some modernist project of agitation — it’s just very, very shit. But at this point, only two seconds have passed, and more intolerable things have probably happened in the duration of history. BAM. There’s a shit violin motif. It’s UTTERLY UTTERLY SHIT.

There’s a bass drum and a snare. They’re not badly recorded, they’re not mixed badly, but they’ve somehow made something so simple as a rhythm into electro swing. If you don’t know what electro swing is, it’s like this: you know how really posh people pretend that they want to do fox hunting and get all antsy about it because they secretly want to harvest the kidneys of enslaved humans but have to pretend they want to do fox hunting? Electro-swing is precisely that principle, but for people who are middle-class and want to pretend they’re not deeply, deeply racist. Because it operates in a cultural space where black people were very much not present, and because it venerates the values of an exceptionally problematic time when actual humans still owned other humans, it is basically a veneration of white values over anything that could even begin to approximate an inclusive society.

Just to take a breath for a second here, to give you an idea of quite how phenomenally shit this song is — this song has conjured up the very worst of humanity, the absolute pit of the terrors of which humans are capable in my mind and I have paused it SEVEN SECONDS IN. If David Cameron seemed to be making swift work in five years of a coalition, this has managed to be EVEN SHITTER to a factor of several sextillion percent (I actually don’t understand numbers and stuff so that’s possibly hyperbole. BUT IT MIGHT NOT BE).

Another six seconds – this time I noticed a bassline. IT’S JUST CHROMATIC FAFF. I bet the person on stage will have a double bass, but this instrument is not a double bass. After several thousands years of agony the vocals come in. He has a shit voice. She has a shit voice in a very different way. They haven’t used the same mics or post-production. It is shit. It is really really shit. It is really, really, really, really, really shit. She has one of those faux-eggshell mic effects, except no-one at any point thought that SEVERAL MILLION PEOPLE might hear this, so no-one involved at any point had the decency to burn the studio down and commission NASA to send every last object that may have been touched by this into space.

45 seconds in. I feel that it’s important to note, dear Freq readers, that I made it 45 seconds in before I turned it off, ran out of the room, and cried tears enough to pre-empt global warming by a century. The United Kingdom’s entry for Eurovision 2015 is literally the worst thing that has ever happened. Literally.

[If you’re looking for a wager, I’d like to see Finland or Hungary win but Greece or France would be all right.]

-Kev Nickells-

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