Emma Backfish (Meanwhile In Europe)
Cool Me Down, by Margaret (Polish National Final)
I remember getting an excited text message from my friend with a link to listen to ‘Cool Me Down’ once it was released. I was hooked pretty instantly. Sure, it was a bit of a Rihanna-esque rip-off, but let’s be real: we’re served with quite a few “familiar” songs in the Eurovision pre-season, and luckily this was a pretty good one. In the lead up to the Polish National Final in the weeks prior, I thought this was easily the winner. I think most of us did, actually. It was far and beyond one of the most current, radio friendly entries in the pre-selection stages of the 2016 season.
However, when it came time for Margaret to perform at Krajowe Eliminacje 2016, the performance didn’t meet expectations. The spark wasn’t there, the staging and the vocals paled in comparison to the eventual winner, Michał Spzak who, even with a forgettable song, gave a strong and heartfelt performance. It was disappointing, but in the months that followed ‘Cool Me Down’ found success in Sweden as a summer radio hit, and the video for the song has garnered 11 million hits on YouTube since its release. Margaret may not have made it to the Eurovision stage, but the success ‘Cool Me Down’ has had regardless is not surprising.
It was too good to fade away.
Save Me, by Wiktoria (Melodifestivalen 2016)
In the past few years, I’ve become pretty bored with Melodifestivalen. The revolving door of returning artists has left me feeling like I’m dealing with a never-ending case of déjà vu for the most part, but it’s always a treat when a new face emerge.
2016’s installment definitely gave us some great new talent. Eventual winner Frans was an exciting, modern choice and a worthy representative for the home country in Stockholm, but I was left enamored with newcomer Wiktoria.
Every element of ‘Save Me‘ just clicked with me – from the tiny bit of twang that gave me low key Taylor Swift vibes, the brilliant use of costume light projection that, even though we’ve seen it a ton of times in the past few years, felt fresh somehow to Wiktoria’s blossoming stage presence paired with her massive vocals. All of this left me in that annual wait Eurovision fans endure until the full versions of Melodifestivalen entries are released in early March so I could listen to ‘Save Me; on an endless loop (spoiler alert: I did just that). Wiktoria’s performance was a breath of fresh air, and I knew she probably had no chance of winning, but I was happy to see her come in a respectable 4th place. I don’t know if Wiktoria plans on going down the same light country pop route with her 2017 entry, but ‘Save Me’ has left me excited to see what she plans to offer us next year.
Lisa-Jayne Lewis (ESC Insight’s JESC Commentator)
Dona, by Kaliopi (Macedonia 2016)
A song that will forever remain with me as a noted moment in my Eurovision journey is ‘Dona‘ by Kaliopi. Stockholm was my first ever attendance at the Eurovision Song Contest, which is surprising as I’ve been following the contest for twenty-five years. However it was in Sweden this year that I ‘cut my teeth’ in the press room. Having arrived later than the rest of the team, I had missed most of the rehearsals but I did make it to the venue in time for the very last ones.
Sam Ross took me over to the Globen Arena from the Press Centre to show me the way and help me get my bearings for what was where, and as we crossed over the bridge and walked round to the press section I could hear the stains of ‘Dona‘ bouncing around the corridor. I stepped into the arena and got my first view of the stage.
I had to stop, catch my breathe, and hold back a tear, I couldn’t believe I was finally here, twenty-five years after that teenager would kneel in front of the TV with a notepad and pen writing down all the scores to discuss in school on Monday morning, and now, not only was I actually there at the Eurovision Song Contest, but I was there as press and the first song I ever heard live from a Eurovision stage was that Balkan power ballad ‘Dona‘.
Ok it didn’t make it out of the semi-finals and to be honest it was never one of my favourites for this year, but it will remain forever in my heart and memory and Kaliopi along with it, maybe now I will always have a little place in my heart for Macedonia too, perhaps I need to buy another flag!!
Mzeo, by Mariam Mamadashvili (Georgia, JESC 2016)
Eurovision threw up another surprise for me in 2016, when I was asked if I’d like to join the team in Malta for Junior Eurovision to host the live radio broadcast with Ewan for Radio Six International. My diary would only allow me three days on the Mediterranean island so whilst my time was limited, my first time at Junior Eurovision was also full of memorable moments…
Ewan falling sick just seconds before the final dress rehearsal leaving me to host the first two hours of our recorded backup on my own with a two line briefing note on how to control the sound board in front of me… Staying in a hotel with all the delegations and performers, Martija from Macedonia was fabulous to hang out with (I really do need to buy a Macedonian flag don’t I!?) and Zena Donnely from Ireland was just as lovely as she appeared… Discussing future plans and dreaming big dreams about what the future might hold for me at Eurovision… oh and meeting Jedward who to my utter surprise turned out to be utterly wonderful guys who I could quite easily have spent hours chatting to and who I now have a completely newfound respect for.
But for me the most memorable element of Junior Eurovision 2016 has to be that amazing moment in the final dress rehearsal (in front of the Juries who made up over ninety percent of the final score) when tiny, sweet Mariam Mamadashvili from Georgia walked onto the stage and delivered and absolute belter of a performance of her song ‘Mzeo‘ as we’d never heard it before.
She left the entire press room and me in my commentary booth utterly speechless, and yet again fighting back a tear, it was simply beautiful. Mariam then went on to win, I was so happy for her, I bought the song and it makes me smile every time it rolls around on my iTunes playlist. I really hope Georgia say yes to hosting next year’s Junior Eurovision, I’ve always wanted to visit Tblisi, and although I am a relative newcomer to Junior, wild horses won’t be able to keep me away!
Ross Middleton (ESC Insight’s Juke Box Jury)
No Degree of Separation, by Francesca Michielin (Italy 2016)
When asked to name my song of the year I had no degree of hesitation in choosing ‘No Degree of Separation‘.
I’ll confess I was busy during the week of Sanremo 2016, struggling to keep the pace of this musical marathon. By the time I heard Francesca’s hauntingly beautiful ballad Stadio had said “no graze” and Michielin was confirmed to be heading to Stockholm. On first listen I wasn’t fully sure how I felt about the song, it had a complexity that required a 2nd/3rd listen to fully appreciate it. This lack of immediacy is perhaps why No Degree failed to deliver on the night, finishing 16th, Italy’s second worst result since returning in 2012.
It’s only after a few re-listens that I was able to fully get on board with the beauty of the song. The Italian language has such a natural musicality but using the English verse to break up the song was very effective. It could’ve otherwise been quite repetitive and it allowed English speakers to further understand the meaning behind the vocal. Her live performance was for me one of the strongest in the competition. As well as the strong vocal performance her eyes and connection down the camera to the audience was strong.
She was well versed in live TV having come from the Italian X Factor and this shone through on the night. The cracking voice at the end helped to add to an emotional depth to the already touching performance. Even though by May I’d heard the song countless times I was moved to tears in Stockholm, this is the song from 2016 that’ll stay with me for many years to come.
It also led to my favourite image from the 2016 season, rubber ducks!
Love Shine a Light, by Katrina & The Waves (Eurovision Village 2016)
My first memories of the Eurovision Song Contest date back to 1997. As a six year old lad I sat at home watching Katrina and the Waves running away with the victory thinking “Wow, we’re really good at this. We must win every year!” Little did I know how badly the United Kingdom would fare in the subsequent 19 years of Contests. As well as the convincing win our music teacher at the time taught our class that song to perform a school concert, only further cementing this song as one of importance to me.
Year after year from there my interest in the Contest grew into an obsession. An obsession that finally led to me attending the Contest for the first time this year in Stockholm. On the Wednesday between the semis the Eurovision Village held a concert with previous Eurovision and Melodifestivalen acts. The concert was closed by none other than the wonderful Katrina singing her winning song.
Through the Eurovision Song Contest I’ve met some wonderful people, had much lovely debate and learnt about other countries and cultures I wouldn’t have otherwise. The community of Eurovision fans I have found myself a part of is so warm and friendly and I feel privileged to have been welcomed into this fold. So to see the song that first sparked this love being performed live at my first Eurovision was a truly unforgettable moment for me.
If she’d just sung ‘As If Tomorrow Never Will Come’ as well it would have been perfection!
Steef Van Gorkum (ESC Daily)
‘Gyöz a jó’, by Oláh Gergö (A Dal 2016)
Attending the Final of A Dal this year allowed me to see things a different way. I came to appreciate X-Factor winner Oláh Gergö and his traditional gypsy tune ‘Gyöz a jó‘, not just for the catchy sound & interesting choreography, but also for the symbolic meaning of this ethnically diverse national final.
Besides Oláh Gergö, who is of Romani descent, the final field also contained Roma-band Parno Graszt, African-American/Hungarian András Kállay-Saunders and Mushu, a band with a dark-skin punker as its lead singer and a song about slavery (see Roy Delaney’s Musical Moment). For a country struggling with (sometimes overt) racism not only in the streets but also in its parliament, such a line-up is a massive sign of hope.
Yes, none of these four entries ended up winning the final and yes, most of them only got so far because of jury votes. But still: here we had over two million people watching a show in which half of the contestants were from non-Hungarian descent – and they loved it. During the emotional rollercoaster that A Dal is, fans sympathized with all of these contestants and that alone is a reason for me to love the show.
‘Gyöz a jó‘ did not bring the Eurovision Song Contest to Budapest, but in a way it did so much more than that.
‘Love Wave’, by Iveta Mukuchyan (Armenia 2016)
From the very first time I heard the Armenian entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2016, I just felt that something amazing was going to happen on stage. I told it to all my Eurovision friends (who were mostly very skeptical of the song) and to everyone who would listen: “This is going to look great. Wait for May before you write it off.” I said it so many times it started to annoy not just the others but also myself.
When we sat down and watched the first rehearsals at the press center and saw what stage director Sacha Jean Baptiste had made of it, I could finally say: I told you so. Iveta is the master of a mysterious setting, and the camera follows her hand like it is attached to it.
I love those moments – when you see a song being lifted so much by its staging. Jean Baptiste has done it before with Georgia in 2015, Hans Pannecoucke did it for the Common Linnets in 2014 and let’s not forget Fokas Evagelinos who has done it so many times already (best example is probably Azerbaijan 2013, “the guy in the glass box”).
However I probably was not the only one who saw this particular “wow-moment” coming. It was all there in the music, especially the first minute with the whispering and the siren. And it was not a coincidence: At their Stockholm press conference, the Armenians told ESCDaily the song was written with staging already in mind.
The song was written for this stage. Written for television. Written for Eurovision… but all in a good way. It was completely unique in the field, both musically and visually.
Phil Colclough (On Europe)
‘Soldiers of Love’, by Lighthouse X (Denmark 2016)
DR, Denmarks Radio for the uninitiated, clearly seem to think they know what they are doing and that is to enter precisely the same formulaic song for so many years that no one actually remembers when the Danes used to be good at Eurovision. Yes there have been some highpoints including when they accidently won the whole contest in 2000, and in 2013 with something, well, repetitive, then these three rock up, pretending to be a boyband but are actually in their late 20’s/early 30’s, singing a song that could well have been written in about 20 minutes in a GCSE music class by 15 year olds and yet DR polish it up and present it for public viewing. As songs go, its not that bad. It’s a competent piece of song writing with a decent tune, performed well enough but the lyrics are horribly trite:
“Take my hand and never let go, Side by side we walk an open road”
No wonder the votes weren’t forthcoming. So why is this one of my musical moments of the year? – Because when I started to listen to this song, saw it through to it’s inevitable conclusion and then guffawed when Danes couldn’t realise why, It hit me.
This contest is still about the music! – People will tell you its all political and all fixed but this song, with its poor lyric and its cardboard staging proved to me once and for all that they were wrong. If those people were right, then in my mind this thing would have sailed though. It is commercial and, if Eurovision was all fixed, this would be a prime example of a non-descript song being raised to the rafters. It didn’t, because it isn’t fixed. The boys may have been an unwilling target for my ire, but thank the lord they were there because this song reinforced my love of the contest and my belief in it
Play, by Juri Pootsman (Estonia 2016)
If ever there was a prime example as to how to get the mood wrong at Eurovision, this is it. Play is a very clever song and Stig rastamouse who wrote it should know better than anyone how to stage a song.
Sadly, though, he got Juri Postmaan to sing it for him and on record/cd/tape, that’s a good idea because he has a damn fine voice. However, the contest is called the Eurovision Song Contest – Vision being the most important part of the first word. Rocking up to your biggest TV gig looking like a crazed axe murderer is going to put people off.
Again, like Denmark, it’s a moment of 2016 for me for all the wrong reasons. Other people will wax lyrical about how GOOD something is, and good luck to them, but not many people will tell you when something is wrong. This was wrong, and it’s a crying shame on both the songwriter, singer AND Broadcaster. They deserved something much better than this and Play has the potential to be great, it’s just shows that when you match a great song with a dodgy performance, things can go badly wrong, no matter how much you don’t want them to.
Monty Moncrieff (On Europe)
‘Made of Stars’, by Hovi Star (Israel 2016)
I hadn’t followed any of the Israeli artist selection shows and the final was a confusing watch. Once we had the contending songs, the singers performed to notch up an approval rating in the audience’s televoting. Hovi set the bar, and when Ella stepped up to the mic she was hidden from the audience by an LCD wall which, it transpired, would lift if she bested Hovi’s score. It was quite the oddest device I’ve seen in a national final, as though I much preferred her song the lack of contact with the audience created an additional hurdle for her, and one she couldn’t surmount.
‘Made of Stars‘ didn’t really connect with me at first and it wasn’t until they’d ummed and aahed about whether to actually send it or replace it that the final version grabbed me and became my joint favourite track of the year (along with Poli from Bulgaria’s ‘If Love Was A Crime’). I like its understated simplicity that builds to give the feeling of strength, yet simultaneously feels so fragile with its sparse lyrics. The staging was beautiful: of all this year’s entries Hovi’s first rehearsal made the strongest impression on me.
I didn’t get to meet him personally, but off-stage Hovi seemed like a hoot and I warmed to him greatly. There was a sense that despite the camp façade behind it lay a quiet confidence of character and I like that even in the gayest competition in town he was an unapologetically LGBT artist without it being the most crucial aspect of his identity. His altercation at Moscow’s airport security was handled with graciousness, having only been made public by another contestant in the first place.
Laika (The Hungry Hearts featuring Lisa Dillon, Norwegian Melodi Grand Prix)
For all its reputation as a feast of delights for an LGBT audience, the Eurovision Song Contest is associated with gay men far more than with lesbians. What a treat then to get such a delicious slice of sapphic song in the form of The Hungry Hearts and this camp marvel that piqued interest in the Norwegian selection.
It was refreshing to hear women owning their own sexuality and pouring it so liberally into their art in a field where female artists are so often exploited to and by a straight male audience. Add to that the hint of a sideways swipe at Russia’s treatment of LGBT people through the lyrics, and a playing-to-its-audience animated video and you have a most-excellent recipe for this year’s Fan Favourite.
The hype within the fan community was indeed huge, seldom a good prospect for a national finalist, and it was difficult to know whether any of the fan-generated buzz had made it to the consciousness of Gjøvik, Vadsø, or Brønnøysund. Come the final a slightly slip-shod, slap-dash and OTT performance failed to ignite the support of the housewives of the Arctic Circle, and the Hungry Hearts were eliminated in the first round of voting.
It’s one of the great national finals tragedies that this didn’t make it to Eurovision. It just felt like one of those songs that, with the benefit of some international press attention (you know, the kind that gave Jamala just the boost she needed) this would have fared much better than it did in Norway (and much better than either half of Norway’s eventual entry did). This is the kind of gloriousness that a Saturday night in May needs.
Richard Talyor (Eurovision Ireland)
‘Don’t Worry’, by Ace Wilder (Melodifestivalen 2016)
“Don’t Worry” was performed by Ace Wider at Melodifestivalen after Busy Doin’ Nothin last year. Melodifestivalen isn’t always about Schlager, but in this case it has to be! This was pop-tacular from start to finish and the staging of the performance was ready to be taken straight from the Melodifestivalen stage and placed on to the Eurovision stage.
I’d obviously watched “Don’t Worry” during the semi final stage, but it wasn’t until I arrived at the Friends Arena to cover the rehearsals did I realise how much of an impact the overall stage performance actually gave. The ‘Pryamid of Cubes’ not only added structure to the overall performance, but it added a 3D element too that few National Final entries or those that reach the Eurovision Song Contest stage actually do.
The thing that sticks in my head though over anything else from March and the Friends a Arena was this, everyone in the Press Centre was humming “Don’t Worry” all day long. But hey, what do we, the Press know? Frans went on to win and represent Sweden!
‘Brice ar Bhrice’, by Zena Donnelly (Ireland, JESC 2016)
“Brice ar Bhrice”, which translates into “Brick by Brick” was performed by Zena Donnelly at this year’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest in Valletta, Malta. Zena Donnelly returned to the National Selection process after narrowly missing out to Aimee Banks last year in Ireland’s debut participation.
Zena Donnelly certainly brought her own unique style in costume to the performance in Valletta. In Ireland, this had already been seen last year and this year in the National Selection. Zena had a say in her various costumes we saw, including the Red Carpet. For me, this helps bring her personality out even more on the stage.
TG4 took a brave turn this year. Last year they stuck to 100% Gaelic with the language of Aimee Banks entry, something their remit as a broadcaster requests. Now, like many I’m a fan of the National Language rule when it comes to both ESC and JESC, but TG4 decided to change the last quarter of the song this year into English – but not until the Second Dress Rehearsal!
Well done Zena for not only dealing with a last minute change, but carrying it off well on stage without the average viewer knowing a change had happened!
Kylie Wilson (ESC Pulse)
‘Heartbeat’, by Justs (Latvia 2016)
I actually got a sneak peak of this song before it was even announced to be taking part in this year’s Supernova, and on first listen I really liked it, it was a simple heartbreak song but it had this dark electronic production with some deep house touches that I tend to gravitate to. But I was also very much of the “let’s see how this sounds live first” mentality. So I watched that first heat specifically for this song, and I was blown away at how this scrawny little blond kid in a leather jacket three sizes too big for him could have such a big, raw rock voice beyond his years. Everytime I saw him perform I was always impressed. He performs this song like he wrote it himself. Some might say that he overdoes it in the final chorus (in fact my mum told me so when I got home after the contest), but I like that overblown passion.
And the amazing thing is, Justs is only 21 as of this writing, he’s already at such a high level of talent and yet I believe he’s not even reached his full potential yet, and being the driven person that he is, I expect that he will achieve it one day.
‘Kaugel sinust (Far away from you)’, by Kati Laev & Noorkuu (Eesti Laul 2016)
Here’s something coming a bit from left-field here. This wasn’t my favourite song in this year’s Eesti Laul, and it didn’t do well in the final result, but regardless of that it was a song and performance that caught me by surprise as I watched that wonderful final back in March. How I would describe the song is this: if the Estonians ever made their own old-school Bond theme, I’d imagine this is pretty damn near close to what you’d get.
Staging-wise, it’s a demonstration of how you can do a simple, yet effective performance, allowing the song to carry most of the bombast. Kati’s performance is a little on the “deer in the headlights” side but the whole thing makes an impact for me regardless. My favourite part of the whole presentation is how the stage goes completely black right as that final big note of the orchestra is struck. Now that is how you do a dramatic ending on stage!
Now We’re Finished!
And there we go, along with Part One’s moments from the core ESC Insight team, our recap of 2016 is almost complete… there are two songs left that are not only huge moments, but so intertwined with each other, and of Eurovision 2016 itself, that you can read about them tomorrow.
While you wait on that, what were your moments of the year? Let us know in the comments.