Roy Delaney (Eurovision Apocalypse)
Amar Pelos Dois, by Salvador Sobral
Sometimes you just know.
Myself and Mrs Hacksaw had settled in for a Sunday night of slightly unpopular Portuguese song as we inflicted the frequently fairly fruitless Portuguese semi-final upon our sorry selves. Well, it was that or some cosy Sunday night detective show. All the usuals were there. A grinning lad, a scowling gent, numerous ladies in encrusted frocks, and a bit of popera. Popera, I tell you!
But it the middle of it all, out sauntered and unassuming scruffy angel, with a beautiful, gentle song, and an unassuming, yet edgy delivery. I was immediately drawn into the telly, hanging on his every twitch and vocal crumble. The trappings of my living room melted away and I was swirling around inside the song with this unlikely looking songster, feeling the all-too-real pain in his heart. Then, the moment it ended, I was deposited gently back on my sofa with a tear at my eye and a flutter in my chest, and turned to Mrs Roy, who was thoroughly red of eye and utterly unable to speak – both of which are incredibly rare happenings for an old goth like her.
This is the one, surely, we both bleated at the same time. This is the one to finally win this thing for Portugal. I immediately contacted my Portuguese pals to let them know that they had finally found their golden moment, but to be fair to them they didn’t believe me. Well, it had been beaten into second place in its semi by that accursed popera tune. But surely the good people of Portugal would see sense and send the poorly looking lad to Kiev?
And thank heavens they did. What happened next I don’t need to tell you about, as it’s passed into Eurovision legend. But from that day, 19 February 2017, to this I have listened to the song less than a dozen times – and not once since the final reprise. I just never want to wear it out. I never want to dilute that first perfect moment. I just want to remember how it made me feel, not how it actually sounds. Get well soon, Salvador. And don’t rush back too quickly.
‘Free World’, by Tosca Beat
One of my longest loves in the musical world have been a Slovenian art noise band called Laibach. If you’ve never come across them before, they play a dark, industrial, neo-classical style of music with impossibly deep voices and an unsettling martial atmosphere. Very unEurovisiony indeed, but utterly Slovenian and totally unique. Which is why I was somewhat surprised to see what effectively amounted to a Laibach tribute act performing in the Slovenian EMA process last time around.
From what I’d heard of Tosca Beat before they were a mildly diverting popera act that, despite being considerably better than that Portuguese lot that nearly stopped history from happening, were still pretty unremarkable. But when they stepped out onto that impressively industrial EMA stage, my jaw dropped.
At first I was a little miffed. How did they think they were ever going to get away with aping the style of their nation’s biggest ever musical export so completely without ever coming close to their style, their menace, or their power. But then I stopped being a precious arse and watched, agape.
The military-style uniforms, the incessant marching beat, the situationist slogans barked out of a megaphone by a cold-eyed angel, the deep, growling male voice and the staccato delivery of the trio of operatic ladies at the front – this was everything that my Eurovision had been crying out for for years, and seeing as there’s zero chance that the real Laibach are ever going to do this accursed Contest this was the nearest I was going to get. So I soaked it all up while I could and loved it to the death. I still get goosebumps watching it now.
It failed terribly in the voting, of course, because the Slovenian public clearly saw through their ruse. But flipping wow I was so glad it was there.
Ross Middleton (Pif Paf Blog)
‘Never Give Up On You’, by Lucy Jones
I still remember the first time I heard this song. We were drip fed this, along with the five other entries for You Decide, on Ken Bruce’s show all the way back in January. I recall in did not move me at the time, I had it down as my third preference from the six. It left me feeling slightly let down as this was the track co-written by Emmelie De Forest, this was meant to be the highlight of the lot.
From there, though, every development built my confidence in the UK entry. The obviously superior live performance on You Decide, the much improved revamp released in March and then the staging. Oh, the staging. The UK’s visuals at Eurovision had become something of a joke is recent times, reaching peak UK with Electro Velvet’s hideous light up outfits in 2015. My expectations were, as ever, rock bottom. Therefore I was left stunned when we saw a three minute performance that was not only not awful, but was actually really bloody good.
By the time the big night rolled around, Lucie hit the big note and the pyro curtain fell I was near enough in tears. The left hand side of the leaderboard was ever so slightly out of reach but it felt so good to finally have an entry to be proud of. Long may it continue.
‘Boogieman Blues’, by Owe Thörnqvist
This is the song from this year that will live with me for years to come. If you listen to Boogieman Blues and don’t feel that little bit more joyous then you obviously cannot feel happiness.
I’m aware that his live performance wasn’t perfect but when he made it through to the Meloldifestivalen final it was my favourite moment of the whole National Final season. I was desperate for Owe to make it through Meloldifestivalen and Ivo Linna to win Eesti Laul so we could have the battle of the octogenarians come May. Sadly, it was not to be.
It also strayed out of our own little bubble and into the ‘real world’. When a certain Mr. Trump suggested we should “look at what happened in Sweden last night” in relation to an entirely fictional terrorist attack Aftonbladet’s subsequent report on what actually happened in Sweden went viral. It was suggested that the Forty-Third President of the United States of America may have in fact referred Owe Thörnqvist’s difficult MF rehearsal as Sweden’s troubled evening. The moment that man starts to comment Melfest rehearsals I may actually listen to him!
Also the heat performance contains Henric von Zweigbergk dressed as a hot dog vendor. What more do you need?
Gavin Lambert (ESC Tips)
‘Il diario degli errori’, by Michele Bravi
2017 was the first year I followed the Sanremo Music Festival in any depth, and in terms of musical quality it was a vintage year. It was the year that gave us Francesco Gabbani and his internationally successful ‘Occidentalis Karma’. However, my absolute favourite song from any Contest in 2017 (including Eurovision) was Michele Bravi’s ‘Il Diario Degli Errori’. It’s a wonderfully haunting song with its introspective verses and explosive second half when the orchestra gets cranked up to the max. The instrumentation is truly sublime.
The Italian X-Factor winner managed to finish second to Francesco Gabanni on the second night of Sanremo when there was more reliance on first impressions, and was only 0.49% adrift of Fiorella Mannoia on the fourth night – where he topped the telvote and scored highest with the press jury. In the final he placed fourth, just 0.67% behind Ermal Meta, which is an incredible achievement for such a young singer.
‘Unthink You’, by Wiktoria
Wiktoria’s ‘As I Lay Me Down‘ promised so much yet failed to win Sweden’s annual ‘let’s show everyone how it’s done’ selection show, despite being the strong favourite going into the final.
Prior to Melodifestivalen 2017 getting underway, Wiktoria released the delicate pop-ballad, ‘Unthink You’, which showcased the softer, more soulful side of her repertoire. Nevertheless, one of the great injustices of 2017 is that this gem failed to chart. Hopefully Wiktoria sticks to writing quality songs and opts against performing future Avicci pastiches… even if Mr Björkman comes knocking.
Robyn Gallagher (Wiwibloggs)
‘On My Way’. by Omar Naber
The Eurovision Song Contest can be many things to many people, but it never stops being a song contest. This is something that Slovenia learned the hard way when they sent Omar Naber and ‘On My Way‘ to Kyiv.
To describe ‘On My Way‘ as dated feels like a gross understatement. It sounds so old-fashioned that it comes across like a bad parody of a Eurovision song from the 2000s. Naber’s modern pop style was swept aside in favour of this clanger.
And yet ‘On My Way‘ was a hit at the Slovenian National Final, especially with the expert juries. But was it the Slovenian celebrity who won the National Final, rather than his song? Did Slovenia expect that Naber’s impressive vocal talents and star quality alone would be enough to do well at Eurovision?
In Kyiv – to absolutely no one else’s surprise – ‘On My Way‘ flopped. It placed second to last in its semi-final with only 36 points.
Plenty of other countries send their big stars to Eurovision. But when singers like Måns Zelmerlöw or Sergey Lazarev go to Eurovision, they take a great song with them. It’s not enough to wheel out a local hero and expect the rest of Europe to be in awe.
Eurovision is a song contest and if the song isn’t good enough, no one’s going to be inspired to vote.
‘Contigo’, by Mirela
I’m not all that fussed by ‘Contigo’. but I can’t stop thinking about what might have happened had Mirela’s song won the tiebreak in Spain’s Objetivo Eurovisión 2017 and gone to Kyiv. It’s always seemed to me that if Spain wants to do well at Eurovision, they just need to send a cute, upbeat, beachy song that makes people think of their holidays. And ‘Contigo‘ was exactly that.
But more importantly, if ‘Contigo‘ had gone to Kyiv, it would have caught the initial rise of ‘Despacito‘. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s reggaetón track was a worldwide hit and sparked an international appetite for Latin-inspired pop.
Sure, ‘Contigo’ didn’t have the darker, saucier sound of ‘Despacito’ and company, but it would have still felt right on trend and could have delivered Spain one of its best Eurovision results in years.
It seems too late for Spain to jump on that bandwagon now. Any attempt at sunny Latin beats at Eurovision this year will sound like a tired ‘Despacito‘ copy – best leave that to Latvia’s ‘Soledad‘.
But still, it’s nice to daydream and wonder what could have been…
Richard Taylor (Eurovision Ireland)
‘Kewkba’, by Janice Mangion
For many of you that know me, I am a great one for the reintroduction of the National Language rule back at the Eurovision Song Contest. Janice Mangion brought to the stage a stunning entry called ‘Kewkba’, which was sung entirely in Maltese – something we haven’t heard at the international final since the 1970s.
Performed entirely by herself on stage with no backing singers, Janice gave us something beautiful and three minutes of pure enjoyment on screen, rightfully securing her the runners up position in the national final. Had ‘Kewkba‘ gone through to Kyiv, the Maltese delegation would’ve had to do very little to enhance the performance as they already had a winning package sitting there.
‘Speak Up’, by Isabella Clarke
At Eurovision Ireland, alongside ESC Insight and a number of other websites, we cover the Junior Eurovision Song Contest on the ground every year. I wanted to choose a Junior song because I always find the acts very professional, yet inspirational at the same time for people of their age.
I could’ve chosen from a few of this year’s entries, but I plucked for ‘Speak Up’, sung by Isabella Clarke. While Isabella is the only third person to represent her country at the November Contest, it feels like Australia have been a firm fixture in Junior as well as the Eurovision Song Contest for years now.
Isabella came to the contest, not only with a potential winner, only missing out due to the online voting – but with a message through the art of song. ‘Speak Up’ does exactly what it says on the tin. “What’s inside me, what defines me” are strong lyrics. Stand up for who you are and what you believe in – don’t let others tell you or try and persuade you otherwise. Although we sometimes get a message through song at the Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Speak Up’ is a good example of how it’s done properly.
Luke Giles (ESC Flash Malta)
‘Spirit Animal’, by Kerli
I’m a keen follower of the National Final season – for me, it’s another way to widen my musical horizons, discovering new artists and songs from across Europe and beyond. However, it doesn’t happen all that often that I see an artist who I’m fond of from outside the Eurovision spectrum trying to penetrate this border. Over the years, those interested in Estonia’s Eesti Laul will have seen the name of the country’s most successful musical export – Kerli – being thrown around as a potential participant time and time again.
Whilst she had two unsuccessful attempts at Eurovision at the beginnings of her career, with the help of a US record deal, she subsequently achieved moderate success in North America and Europe both as a songwriter and artist.
For many years it seemed to me (at this point a fan of her work) that she was pretty content with her career to not consider having a stab at the domestic market – or even Eurovision – ever again. However, when she began a collaboration with her homeland’s national tourism board – and later appeared as a songwriter on Cartoon’s ‘Immortality’ in Eesti during 2016, I had a feeling that something could be on the horizon.
Moving forward to the end of last year, as soon as Kerli was announced on ETV’s ‘Ringvaade’ to be part of the twenty-strong Eesti Laul lineup, I knew I had to be present in Tallinn for the National Final. The beginning of March came around soon enough and there I was in the Saku Suurhall, alongside some good friends who were equally as hyped as I was, donning a huge Ukrainian flag which I’d painted on the words “Kerli to Kyiv” a few days before flying out to Tallinn.
Having watched ‘Spirit Animal’ sail through at the semi-final stage, I’d seen a taste of what was to come. It felt good that my favourite singer and song of the final was also one of the favourites to go to Kyiv. Once the final song of the night came around – Kerli’s – I was in full fanboy mode. And for those in attendance in the arena – her performance the aura of a winner’s reprise, rather than a competing entry. Her song was brash and bold, like no other in the line up – and whilst Estonia is not known for a good track record when it comes to decent staging, Kerli pulled it off effortlessly.
Although, as we saw, she was trumped in the superfinal by Koit and Laura – her appearance in Eesti Laul will go down in the books as a memorable one for Eurovision fans, and especially for me.
‘Like I Love You’, by Greta Zazza
Lithuania’s national selection system confuses the hell out of most Eurovision Song Contest fans, including myself. A collection of songs, battling it out over a marathon ten-week show that’s difficult to keep up with. Survival of the fittest, some would call it. Often it seems like the rules are made up on the spot, but that’s another story. The winner this year of course turned out to be Fusedmarc, but it was another song in the line up that stuck out for me as a musical highlight of the year.
I came across this song via Spotify at the end of 2016 – not realising that it would later appear in contention for Eurovision. It’s no surprise that I came across it, considering half of the time I can be found listening to female pop vocalists. Greta Zazza’s ‘Like I Love You‘ packs in the punch over the course of three minutes, with an infectiously catchy beat. The lyrics I could identify with, and it was great to see her develop her performance and stagecraft over the course of the selection show. For me it seemed like a breath of fresh air to have a song like this amongst an otherwise dreary line up. Whilst Greta did not win, I’m excited to see what magic she and her producers come up with in the years to come.
Monty Moncrieff (On Europe)
‘Occidentali’s Karma’, by Francesco Gabbani
San Remo may be the ‘granddaddy’ of the Eurovision Song Contest but by heck, it’s a bit of a chore to sit through at home. The five-day event of established and upcoming artists may still exude class and glamour, and make a case for a return to an orchestra at the main event (sonically, if not practically, at least) but it also requires some stamina. The effort often pays reward, as there’s usually some excellent examples of Italian song writing to be enjoyed, and of course in the domestic setting songs are not limited to an artificial 3 minutes.
The format allows the audience to become familiar with a song they hear on the first or second evening, and follow its progress to Saturday night’s final. This can favour those songs which are growers, although this year one song stood out from the offset. Rarely has interest been piqued quite so readily as following the first performance by Francesco Gabbani (winner of the previous year’s newcomer section) and his infectious song ‘Occidentali’s Karma’. It had all the ingredients of a Eurovision hit: instantly catchy, a clever lyric, something to join in with (those ‘alés!’), and a ready-made dance routine – with a gorilla.
Gabbani topped the favourites throughout the entire build up as the song went on to be a major hit in Italy and charted across several European countries. But could he recreate the magic in May? His energy certainly lit up the preview party season; his performance in London was one of the most electrifying I’ve ever seen.
But sometimes the elements that make San Remo special are the very things which constrain another Italian victory in Eurovision. A clunky edit lost the entire second verse, and with it a lot of the song’s natural build. Sloppier TV editing in Kyiv missed some of the key moments captured by RAI in Italy, not least the ‘alés’ from the orchestra. And Gabbani himself looked like he’d run out of steam, ready to move on with the next single from his (excellent) second album which had been released the week before.
For me, ‘Occidentali’s Karma’ in its original form remains the best song of this year’s season, and by some measure. It’s a near perfect piece of pop, musically and thematically, and has confirmed Gabbani as an artist to watch. It’s always a shame when the ‘best’ song doesn’t win, but then the ‘best’ song wasn’t competing – just a pale three-minute cover version. At least in Salvador Sobral’s unexpected victory for Portugal, the sting of defeat was softened by the sweetness of a debut win for a country so beloved by the fans.
‘Origo’, by Joci Papai
I’ll admit, my initial interest in this song wasn’t just in its musicality; ‘Juicy’ Papai was quite a visual draw himself. But from the moment I heard it I really wanted it to get to the Eurovision Song Contest.
I followed its progress through A Dal, a selection show that seems to have built a great niche for itself over the past few years, growing interest domestically in Hungary and allowing international fans to have a say through borderless app voting. I was thrilled when he won.
One of my greatest joys of Eurovision growing up was the opportunity to get a taste of different languages and cultures (a theme that came to the fore when I was selecting my choices for the Ile de Bezençon with Ellie earlier this year). It’s something that’s been lost a little since the free language rule change and the dominance of English at the Song Contest. I wouldn’t advocate a return to national language restrictions, but it’s still a joy when those entries sung in one perform well.
Joci also drew on his Romani culture (something which was controversial to some Hungarians in his selection to represent them) and experience of being an outsider in the lyrical and performance themes for the song. Even without understanding the words, the theme of star-crossed and forbidden lover was obvious, and it was probably this integrity as a performer that helped boost his placing to an impressive 8th, the third non-English song to finish inside the top 10, and Hungary’s third best ever result.
Eurovision seems to have boosted Joci’s popularity in Hungary, although he’s also shown himself to be a great sport appearing on Sztárban Sztár performing – often in full drag – as artists as diverse as Kylie, Olivia Newton John, and David Bowie (whilst also demonstrating there are few men not improved by a beard – please grow it back!).
David Elder (The Eurovisionary)
‘Get Frighten’, by Lolita Zero
“Ain’t nothin’s obvious…” proclaimed Lithuanian dancer and actor Gytis Ivanauskas as he topped the pools week by week in the seven year long Lithuanian final. Indeed, the thing that wasn’t obvious to the untrained Eurovision eye was that Ivanauskas, who performed his song as his alter-ego drag diva Lolita Zero, was miming his way through the entire song! Lolz only actually delivered the spoken monologue in the middle about fighting adversity whilst her “vocals” were provided live by one of her overtly camp backing dancers.
The whole package was as delicious as the very best Drag Race “Lip-sync for your Life!” with Lolz smashing up whole watermelons shortly before her devil horns spouted a golden shower of raining fireworks at the climax.
Sadly, by the time she made the final (thanks to a craftily introduced Wild Card round introduced after she’s been knocked out in the semi) the element of shock and surprise was gone and instead the Lithuanians plumped for a tuneless racket that saw them plummet out of Eurovision in the Semis.
Never mind, for the true fan we will always have this delicious performance to savour…
‘Statements’, by Loreen
From the moment her name was announced at that fateful SVT press conference at the end of 2016, Melodifestivalen 2017 was destined to be all about one name alone – it was to be the triumphant re-crowning of the undisputed queen of Swedish Eurovision, Loreen!
Ever since she won the Eurovision Song Contest in spectacular style back in 2012, Loreen’s Euphoria has continually topped polls taking it into the stratosphere of Eurovision greats – “Best Winner Ever”, “Best Song in The History Of The Contest”, “Best Use Of Snow”, and “Most Desirable Hairdo”… there was no end to the accolades.
In January the running order was announced and, as widely expected, the anointed one was performing last in the final semi. She was a shoe-in as bookies the world over not only slashed odds on her winning MF, but also installed Sweden as the hot favourite to win Eurovision some four months away. Surely nothing could stop this speeding juggernaut…
On 24 February the world waited with bated breath as SVT released the all-important snippets from the fourth and final semi. At last the song that was about to slay everything in its path was revealed.
Never has the word “complex” featured in so many reviews. Others called it “inaccessible” and “avant garde”. They knew with all certainty, however, that the live performance on Saturday night was going to save the day…
With a baffling staging that could only be described as “Les Miserables meets Doran Gray” the appointed one had managed to confuse and perplex the public, and whilst the visuals were confusing the song itself was an esoteric mish-mash of bizarreness. There was shock as the results were announced and The Queen failed to go “direct til finalen”, instead being offered the indignity of a trip to Linköping the following week for Andra Chansen.
But there, the ignominy was only to intensify as the sure-fire, dead-cert winner lost out to a young man with more use for hair product than either melody or stage presence.
And that, sadly, was that.
Chris Halpin (Wiwibloggs)
‘Story of my Life’, by Naviband
It’s easy for me to call myself an ironic fan of Belarus at Eurovision. With a bizarre tendency to somehow always pick the wrong song from a national final (by hook or by crook), they often show up to the event itself with something out of place. Thankfully, in 2017, that was most definitely not the case.
I met Naviband’s return to the National Final this year with some trepidation. My fears were that the mobile phone wielding forces would conspire against them, as they seemingly had against ‘Heta zymlia’ in 2016. On the night of the Belarussian final, that fear seemed to be coming true – until some equally remarkable jury voting meant Navi would be going to Kyiv.
Still, my fear was that ‘Historyja majho zyccia’ would be turned in to something unrecognisable, revamped away from what made it special. An English translation would most certainly have sunk their chances. But once again, those fears were allayed: bar the language change in the title, it remained at heart a truly Belarussian folk song, brought to life by two wonderful performers.
Ultimately, that was always the winning part of Naviband for me. Arciom and Ksieniye are genuine: two performers who clearly love what they’re doing. In every performance, or every song, that joy comes across. They sell whatever they’re doing, and that’s a universal language that transcends the normal language barrier. It’s why I rank their EP ‘Iliuminacyja’ and album ‘Adnoj Darohaj’ amongst my top tracks of the year. They were a true bright spot for me in this year, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
‘My Little World’, by Club La Persé
It’s almost passé to talk about how little diversity was actually on show at Eurovision, in the year of “Celebrate Diversity”. The closest we got to any such moment on stage was perhaps the rainbow effect during ‘Occidentali’s Karma’. Still, at least that was a better effort than the failed “rainbow arch” in Kyiv itself…
It’s that issue which makes Finland’s failure to send ‘My Little World’ all the harder to deal with. Club la Persé are a club night/queer club kid collective from Helsinki, made up of artists heavily inspired by Leigh Bowery, with names including “Mr. C**T”. You couldn’t really get much more diverse than that. But, at the same time, it was no surprise to see many Eurovision fans write them off as a joke from the start. Even then, calling the group a “joke” or “troll” was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to some responses. A not so faint air of homophobia lingered with many comments.
So that’s why it was great to see the band perform so well during the UMK Final – putting on a much better live show, in fact, than many of the pre-show favourites. It was unashamedly queer and camp, just as it should be. The song itself carries much more subtext than many would look at. “My little world is smashed to pieces”; all too true in 2017, as many LGBTQ+ bars, clubs and safe spaces have closed down, and rights have been challenged. For me, this was the song the Eurovision Song Contest needed this year.
Over To You
And that, as they say, is that. It’s almost time to turn over the calendar to say 2018, and start running towards Lisbon and Eurovision 2018. As always ESC Insight will be chronicling the journey for everyone to read, see, watch, and listen to. We look forward to your company!
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