Which National Finals Got It Wrong? Written by on May 22, 2016 | 20 Comments

Every National Final that wasn’t Ukraine’s arguably made the wrong choice – they didn’t win the Eurovision Song Contest – but there were some selections that left the brightest, the best, and the bravest, at home. Ewan Spence looks over ESC Insight’s nominations for the National Finals that got it wrong.

And now, the flip side… The countries that left the perfect three minutes back in the Eurovision National Finals. And before you ask, I’ve already answered the Margaret question. Go and read ‘The National Finals That Got It Right‘.

Norway Should Have Sent ‘Laika’

Agnete’s health after Melodi Grand Prix has been in the news, and I have a huge amount of respect for what she put herself through. But many dreamed of a different story for Norway.

If there’s one band that could rival Winny Puuh for ‘publicity achieved by not going to the Eurovision Song Contest’ it’s Norway’s Hungry Hearts. Their collaboration with Lisa Dillan at Melodi Grand Prix was arresting, powerful, and the chances of the energy being recaptured on the Swedish stage were tiny. They were miles down the final rankings in the National Final, but no matter. They’ll be back.

Let’s be honest though, it would have struggled to qualify out of the semi-finals, and while it would have been a footnote in the ‘Ukraine vs Russia’ headlines, it would have been unlikely to trouble the top of the table.

Altogether… “the streets of Moscow, with my girlfriend!

Finland Should Have Sent ‘On It Goes’, Or ‘No Fear’, Or ‘Good Enough’

Seriously, YLE have turned a corner with UMK and the range of songs in its National Finals over the last three years is impressive. Every year there are a number of songs that would do well at Eurovision and one of them will get the ticket. Except this year. What happened to allow a piece of lightweight dated disco-fluff to Stockholm? The crazy ‘jury’ system that gives ten percent of the final vote to ‘Refuse Collectors’ or ‘Traffic Wardens’, that’s what. It’s time for a genuine jury to be used.

Everyone at ESC Insight has suggested one of the Finnish songs for this feature. Saara Aalto, Mikael Saari, Barbe-Q-Barbies, the list goes on. But I’m calling it for Annica Milan and Kimmo Blom. ‘Good Enough‘ was the bombastic duet missing from this year’s show, the mirror-based staging deserves its own episode of ‘Every Song A Story‘, and the official music video is everything the modern music scene demands.

Switzerland Should Have Tried Something Else

Seriously Switzerland, your designed your entire National Final system to find the most inoffensive song possible. In striving to upset nobody you manage to remove everything that could make a song work on the Eurovision stage. Just… rip it all up and start again.

Estonia Should Have Sent ‘Seis’

A haunting melody, striking visuals, and a performance that stays in your mind long after the three minutes, ‘Seis‘ would have been one of the most challenging songs not just at Eurovision 2016, but in the Song Contest’s long history. The double-punch of this against 1944 would have been a huge statement for the Contest to make.Risky, artistic, beautiful, and left behind in the National Final.

I can’t help thinking that having Stig Rasta’s name attached to Juri Pootsman’s entry helped it play better with the public.

Albania Should Have Sent ‘Infinit’

Much like Switzerland, Albania has a structural issue with its selection show. Festivali I Kenges is set up to find the best Albanian song of the year. Performers are limited to static staging, song lengths go well over three minutes, and of course there’s a full orchestra. As Ben Robertson found out when he went backstage at FiK, it’s the wrong environment to select a Eurovision song.

Given the choices that could have been made, Enxhi Nasufi’s ‘Infinit‘ was already in a ‘Eurovision-ish’ format and would have stayed closer to the artistic vision than any other FiK song. It’s not much of an alternative, but there you go.

Denmark Should Have Sent ‘Never Alone’

A strong local fanbase gave Lighthouse X enough votes to get through a superfinal of three performers. The vote for ‘big female ballad instead of a tired Depeche Mode tribute band’ was split between Simone’s ‘Heart Shaped Hole‘ and Anja Nissen’s ‘Never Alone‘. Both would have had tough competition in the female singer department at Stockholm, but the back-story behind Nissen’s entry (an Australian performer, the return of Emellie de Forest, and a ‘by the book’ use of pyro that screamed ‘ready to win’) feels like it could have captured the media in the aftermath of a victory at MGP… just as ‘Only Teardrops‘ managed.

Still, it’s not like DR have seen that episode of Father Ted where Irish Eurosong chiefs throw the National Final because they can’t afford to host another Eurosong.

Oh… what’s Danish for ‘dodged a bullet there, DR’?

UK Should Have Sent ‘Shine A Little Light’

Much like Norway and Denmark, the United Kingdom’s ‘You Decide‘ saw the winning performance come from the act with a substantial fan-based already in place. Although appearing separately on ‘The Voice’, Joe and Jake had an audience that was primed to do one thing… vote for them. Which they did, and off they went with the ‘honestly we’re not a couple’ duet to the Song Contest.

In hindsight, without jury input into the final result, Joe and Jake’s victory was odds-on. The love from the ‘panel of experts’ may well have tipped the balance in a 50/50 voting system towards Bianca’s ‘Shine A Little Light‘. Whether the BBC would have stepped up to the challenge of staging a power ballad is something we’ll never know.

Iceland Should Have Sent ‘I Promised You Then’

Where were the duets? Seriously, it was Joe and Jake and that was it. At which point I turn back to Iceland’s Söngvakeppnin and one of my songs of the year. Erna Hrönn & Hjörtur Traustason ballad ‘I Promised You Then‘ is one of the few songs from this year that I have never skipped over. It’s arresting, it’s emotional, and it hurts.

I know I can wax lyrical about native language songs, but while Hugur minn er‘ sounds nice, this is a track that needs the lyrical kick to start you crying. Iceland was blinded by the star power of Greta Salome and the visual trickery of ‘Hear Them Calling‘, when what they really should have done was sent the piece of pure emotion.

Sweden Should Have Sent ‘Love Love Peace Peace’

Frans did better than Robin Stjernberg on home soil, but for all the hype ‘If I Were Sorry‘ feels like a failure to deliver. It’s a week later after the Contest and there’s only one lyric still hooked into the Eurovision conscious. “…and a burning fake piano.

The real winners from this year’s Song Contest were Fredrik Kempe, Edward af Sillen, and Daniel Rehn. Sweden had the best song all along. They just forgot to enter it…

You can read our thoughts on the Eurovision National Finals that got it right, or head to the comments to argue with us about those we think were wrong!

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (facebook.com/ewanspence).

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20 responses to “Which National Finals Got It Wrong?”

  1. U.K.- shine a little light was a bit mediocre. I think the jury (if the uk selection) would love it but as an ok ballad goes won’t get public votes. For me darline’ ‘until tomorrow’ had more chance to win the uk public.

    Finland- any song from umk 2016 would have been good enough

    Iceland- crazy (still won’t qualify but wierd robo and dancing and screaming drag queen what’s not to like.

    Ukraine- I know Jamala won but ‘every Monday’ had that great britpop vibe

    Agree with Switzerland. It needs to change

  2. Denmark:
    I think there was a bit of the ‘Margaret syndrome’ there, superb studio version but Anja’s live vocals in the main show weren’t great (her SuperFinal was a lot better). Simone had the best voice but poor staging – Lighthouse X was the compromise for each. What will they do with their voting? 2015 – Anne Gadegaard scuppered by the juries, let’s get rid of them. 2016 – Anja and Simone scuppered by the public… errrr…

    UK:
    We were both there – Joe and Jake were the best on the night, Bianca was good but not stand out amazing and the reggae undertones was all very weird. Great legs though…

    Iceland:
    Erna Hrönn & Hjörtur Traustason would have been lucky not have got 4 crosses on BGT! I don’t think anything from Iceland this year would have done better than Greta – most of it was poorly sung, only “Augnablik” and “Á ný” might have stood a chance of making it out of SF1…

    As for Sweden, they would have had to cut down the cast list a tad… 🙂

  3. Ewan Spence says:

    At least Anja could smile and emote when singing live.

  4. Ewan Spence says:

    For me Darline was the big disappointment live. It had the right vibe in the studio version.

  5. Seattlesque says:

    Iceland: Agree with Martin about “Á ný” for Iceland, but only if Elísabet Ormslev worked on her facial expressions; it was great to listen to, but at times scary to watch.

    UK: The reggae undertones of “Shine a little light” were what made it interesting musically. I suspect Bianca wouldn’t have done that much better than Joe and Jake, but top right would have been better than bottom right.

    Sweden: The international juries went with “Human” rather than “If I were sorry,” and I think they were right – provided Oscar could hit those lower notes at the start. “Love Love Peace Peace” might be hard to stage with just the six people – unless the whole thing were done with holograms.

    Estonia: “Play” (without the visuals) was one of my favourites this year (just me? Oh, ok then….), but “Seis” would’ve been ground-breaking, so I have to agree with Ewan there. It might even have done a “Suus.” Could we arrange for the UK to send
    a song called something like “Saas” next year? Likely to do better than usual.

  6. Eurojock says:

    Ewan, (admittedly on first listen) my view is that none of your national final alternatives would have made a big impact on the contest (Sorry!).

    UK – sadly none of the 6 national final songs were good enough. Bianca would have been ploughing the same furrow as Gabriela from the Czech Republic (they even look similar) – i.e. a well sung, decent (but no more) song – and that came second bottom.

    Estonia – for me the most inventive package was Cartoon’s Immortality, which potentially could have done very well at Eurovision. However, they were so hung up on the special effect they forgot to establish at the outset with the viewer it was a live performance. And frankly the singer didn’t look great and wasn’t up to it vocally.

    Iceland – Whatever you thought of it, Hear them Calling had by far the best prospect of doing well (by ‘well’ I mean mid table final). I still don’t quite understand why it failed so miserably – and I suspect most other fans and pundits, if they are honest, were as equally puzzled by its non-qualification.

    That brings me on to Serbia and Latvia. I still can’t for the life of me understand why two well sung and well written songs did so badly with the juries. Serbia reminded me of Kallay-Saunders ‘Running’ which came 5th in a strong field two years ago while Latvia was a cross between Belgium and Latvia last year which came 4th and 6th respectively. Neither songs were blatant rips off though, so that shouldn’t have penalised them, and the parallel songs all scored heavily with the juries. Can anyone explain their ‘failure’ to me?

  7. Ewan Spence says:

    Maybe not made a big impact, but would have made a better impact than those songs that were sent!

  8. Rob says:

    There were more errors than usual among national selections during the 2016 season. This is an excellent cross-section of songs that had the potential to improve the Contest in Stockholm.

    The sickener for me is ‘Seis’ not making it to Stockholm. ‘I Wear Experiment’s’ track was fantastic as well & would have done SO much better than the turgid ‘Play’. Eesti Laul was so strong this year and choosing Juri’s track was a huge mistake.

    Laika would have been a fantastic addition and I think would have sailed through to the final on a strong televote. Laila Samuels ‘Afterglow’ was also a far superior song to ‘Icebreaker’.

    I would have also much rather have seen Margaret performing the Rihanna-esque ‘Cool Me Down’ for Poland. An excellent contemporary track that yes, required plenty of work in terms of performance and staging based on what we saw in the Polish NF, but is the sort of thing I’d personally enjoy more on the ESC stage, helping to bring the Contest kicking and screaming into 2016, instead of old-fashioned power balladry like Michal Szpak’s track which, yes, finished 8th thanks to Polish diaspora, but doesn’t escape the fact it was an awful dirge.

  9. Excellent selection of woulda coulda shoulda been entries.

    I think the UK selection experience in the audience was different from televiewers. Joe and Jake came across fine, but “Shine a Little Love” came across massively better. Better vocals, better lift in the chorus: Bianca’s experience showed.

    In hindsight Seis seems like such an obvious choice over Juri…curse of the reality star televote strikes again.

  10. Robyn says:

    I’m not convinced that “Shine a Little Light” would have done any better for the UK because it would have been staged by the same team. It would have probably been Bianca, four backing singers and a pantomime drummer, all in a row.

  11. Ewan Spence says:

    Robyn, agreed. But there’s less to go wrong with solo female than a ‘not a couple’ duet of Joe and Jake. Hence the wrong choice. And yes, Bianca has a lot of musical instruments around her.

  12. richie says:

    COME ON….I have always considered this to be a serious, worthy and creible site…but NORWAY SHOULD HAVE SENT LAIKA?? That cheesy, kitschy pink crap. I xpected MORE of you! 🙂

  13. Shai says:

    Estonia – “Seis”remind me of Estonia’s 2010 song, Siren by Malcolm Lincoln, a song I still love to hear. I think “Seis” would have the same results.Ie. staying in the semi.

  14. richie says:

    and I din’t like those from Iceland / Denmark either…DK should have sent Heart Shaped Hole, Icelceland the Broke Student. Albania a rock song. Switzerland Disque d’or. Estonia the strange ethno song. Latvia the metal band. UK the country duet

  15. Shai says:

    Love Love Peace Peace – Am I the only one hearing hint of “I will Survive”in the chorus of that song?. It was and still is a fun piece of interval.

  16. Samantha Ross says:

    Shai, I don’t know about you, but I hear No Name’s “Zauvjiek Moja” in the chorus of “Love Love Peace Peace”! 😉

    As for my picks (some of which did make it into this article), I would have loved to have seen Belarus pick Navi’s “Geta Zemlya”…it was sweet, bouncy, and a total 180 from their anagrammed rival Ivan. Also, it would have been the first time hearing Belorussian in the contest, which would have been a bit of a victory for the Linguists among us. https://youtu.be/jbQ26m58Xa4

    As for Estonia, while I loved “Play” in studio, it simply didn’t connect live. I think “Seis” was stunning, and would have been interested to see “Immortality” in Stockholm (assuming Kristel could tighten up her vocals), but I think that “Patience” by I*Wear Experiment was another fantastic option. Great beat, soaring vocals, and a not-quite typical song structure keeps this one on my playlist. https://youtu.be/vzjsQ2fihw4

    So many “what ifs”…so little time…

  17. bogtrotter says:

    Agreeing with what’s said above – I still think “Play” is a fantastic song, though I remember not being impressed with it on first listen either. I did put the studio version on repeat an absurd amount of times and I did grow extremely fond of it. That being said, “Seis” captured me immediately and it would have been my number one pick. And as much as I disliked the gimmicky lack of a performance brought to the stage by “Immortality”, it couldn’t have done any worse for Estonia in Stockholm, could it?

    Not that it would have mattered much on the end result, but I think Eesti Laul would benefit from the Melfest vote system (or, hey! The actual Eurovision vote system now!). The way the jurors all read out their points is a lot of fun – but the way the final jury results are then simplified into the 12-point system, effectively making close differences between songs much bigger, does the show a great disservice.

    Speaking of reading out the points – I’m still a bit miffed that the BBC didn’t release any results for the You Decide show. I think the show itself also needed a point section. Given the lack of mass international appeal over the past years (and picking the wrong winner based on existing fanbases), international juries might not be such a bad idea?

  18. Ben says:

    Although I think Estonia had one of the best National Finals of the year, I struggle to see anything that would have made it out of the semi finals. My personal favourite, Laura, would have struggled against the female vocalists in the 2nd half of the semi-final, and I struggle to see a male vocalist that would have qualified.
    I think ‘Seis’ would have scored better than ‘Play’ but it is quite a difficult song to understand on the very first listen and I think it would still fail to qualify from it’s semi final.
    So, yes, I do think Seis may have scored better with the juries, I just cannot see it being pushed through by the one-time listeners.

  19. I think we missed out on some extremely fun, uptempo, folk influenced good times when Moldova sent Lidia Isac instead of DoReDos. As fun as Lidia’s spaceman was, we could have done with something as bracing as this. Also, imagine those amazing folk art graphics on the big Globen LED stage!

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