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ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2018: Part Two Written by on January 2, 2019 | 6 Comments

As 2019 begins and 2018 fades into the history books, lets complete our look back at 2018’s Musical Moments. Previously some of the Insight team walked through their choices, now it’s time to ask the rest of the team and the Friends of the Parish.

Samantha Ross

‘Viszlát nyár’, by AWS (Hungary)

I’ve often theorised that one year’s Eurovision winner may influence the next year’s musical lineup, and nowhere is that more evident than in Hungary’s unabashedly badass AWS and their song ‘Viszlát nyár‘. But Sam, you may be asking, how exactly does a something like ‘Amar Pelos Dois‘ lead into a song that feels like its polar opposite? The change in BPM alone could give a person whiplash.

Following the Sobrals’ win in Kyiv, we saw an uptick in non-English-language content, as well as a broadening of genres. Furthermore, in Salvador’s case we saw a winner who saw Eurovision as a single stepping stone in a career, rather than the be-all, end-all. While Contest success would be lovely, Salvador was more focused on projects he had on the boiler back in Lisbon.

I saw echoes of this in AWS, as well. These guys came into the show as outliers, with a divisive song in a language spoken by few outside their borders. They had nothing to lose, so they went headlong into this musical festival, showcasing what they did best on their own terms. They were unrepentantly true to themselves, and while it didn’t result in a victory, they ended up with a ticket to the Grand Final, a precious and much sought after slot at Wacken Open Air, a #2 album in Hungary (their highest chart placement to date), and a meme-able moment that will live on forever.

Even beyond the unlikely parallels between AWS and Salvador Sobral, it was just a damn fine song. Their energy was palpable, their performance raw and honest, and their use of pyrotechnics rivaled your average Apollo mission.

Viszlát nyár‘ proved that a song can have fireworks and feelings.

‘(Can’t Keep Calling) Misty’, by Frankie Animal (Estonia, Eesti Laul)

One of my favorite moments in the annual Eurovision Song Contest routine is my first pass-through of the candidates for Eesti Laul. It never fails to provide a mix of brilliant (or at least memorable) songs to keep my playlist fuelled for the rest of the year. As I ploughed through the list for 2018, one song grabbed me by the lapels and still hasn’t let go: Frankie Animal’s ‘(Can’t Keep Calling) Misty’, a bluesy rock number that sounds both classic and modern, all about grasping onto the last threads of communication in a failing relationship, even when the ones involved know it’s unhealthy.

Slinky, coy vocals from Marie Valga leading into a chorus that flows like warm honey and a ripping guitar solo, combined with a staging that felt less like a National Final performance and more like you’d wandered into an intimate underground club… I was hooked.

The rest of their back catalogue is just as strong, including their collaboration with Juri Pootsman, ‘Funny’. (I was sure to include both tracks on a Eurovision-inspired driving playlist I set up during a recent road trip through Scotland. Even my boyfriend, who is generally Eurovision-unaware, was into them, which says a lot.)

I dig through National Finals in order to find hidden gems, and ‘Misty’ was an absolute diamond.

John Egan (58 Points)

‘Mall’, by Eugent Bushpepa (Albania)

To be fair, the Festivali i Kënges preview video of Eugent Bushpepa lipsyncing in what looked like my Parents’ basement was far from remarkable – even he looked embarrassed. Bushpepa comfortably won the Festivali, albeit with a four and a half minute version of ‘Mall‘; we would have to wait and see how it would survive the three minute chop for Lisbon

We didn’t get a live, high quality audio performance of the Eurovision version of ‘Mall’ until the preview party circuit was wrapping up in April. There was a bit of a frisson after that; Bushpepa’s epic vocals certainly commanded attention. And yet, few seemed to rate Albania’s chances in 2018.

Lisbon was my first year on-the-ground for an entire fortnight inside the Contest’s bubble. The intial Albanian run-through came on that first Sunday morning, after the rather uninspiring sessions with Azerbaijan and Iceland. But ‘Mall‘? Camera shots were all sorted and the audio perfectly mixed. The vocals? Bushpepa motored along until the first chorus and then let it rip.

It was during the bridge – when he just sort of casually makes side-eye contact with the camera that he knew was going to be there while hitting the mother of al rock howls – that sent a ripple through the press room. Another run-through; he did it again. And again, two more times. Eurovision had itself a proper rawq gawd.

While the public didn’t quite love Mall as much as jurors (18th with the former, 7th with the latter), eleventh place in the Grand Final is the third best ever result for the delegation, and the second best ever for an Albanian language entry.

‘Together’, by Ryan O’Shaughnessy (Ireland)

It was all planned. ‘Twas all his Mam’s fault. And also Salvadorable’s.

In May 2017, as Portugal romped to an unlikely Eurovision triumph, Mrs O’Shaughnessy ostensibly turned to her musician son and said ‘why can’t you represent Ireland at The Eurovision?’” Musicians doing the hard graft, it seems, saw in the Sobrals’ win in Kyiv (and Jamala’s the year before) something of a game changer. If a timeless bossa nova ballad sung in Portuguese can win both the public and jury votes, why couldn’t their music find an audience on the Eurovision stage?

Together, as it turns out, was presented to RTÉ as a comprehensive package. Team O’Shaughnessy crafted it as a three minute song specifically for the Song Contest. They had storyboarded the preview video and staging for Lisbon: RTÉ wrote the cheque and provided some video production nous. ‘Together’ was as much a campaign as an entry.

Yet… while other entries were delivered fully formed at their first rehearsal in Lisbon, Ireland needed their rehearsals to workshop camera angles and lighting. To be honest, the first rehearsal was majorly awkward, but each run-through improved a bit. Things were a lot better for the second rehearsals, and after that, things were largely locked in.

I wasn’t convinced Ireland would qualify… but I knew ‘Together’ was worthy of qualifying, which hasn’t been my opinion of most of Ireland’s recent entries. The whole package was just wonderful. That squee you perhaps heard from the bowels of the press room on Tuesday night? That was me when Ireland was announced as the tenth qualifier.

Lisbon totally transformed my way of assessing Irish entries. A good result is nice: being proud of our entry is more important. As a member of the Irish diaspora I was proud of ‘Together’. Ryan O’Shaughnessy managed to wipe away a lot of negativity around the Contest in Ireland by taking it seriously, stay true to his own creative voice, and having a bloody good time while doing it. Imagine a Contest where every participating broadcaster did exactly this: send an entry it could be proud of.

Philip Colclough (On Europe)

‘OK ou KO’, by Emmy Liyana (France, National Final)

Well sitting at my desk at work, I chose this song as a moment of the year because it’s been in my head for months and it was playing over and over when the esteemed webmaster asked me to write something about 2018!

As you will read in other people’s words here (Monty specifically), the French National Final was a masterpiece. It showed that technically there would be no issues with ITV producing the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK if the BBC ever gave up (this was a France 2 production in association with ITV Studios France) but of course the French music industry’s current opinion to both Europe and the Song Contest isn’t exactly in step with the UK – but enough about that, it’s this song that matters.

OK ou Ko‘ starts with a thumping backbeat which Emmy does her very best to drive along during the first verse. To me, it’s a perfect combination of a beat that literally shakes me to my soul and a performer who you instantly believe and, frankly I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of Emmy because she could take me in a fight and, I suspect, part of me likes that!

The thumping beat goes through the entire song instead of wimping out like so many songs do. However for me it’s the what might have been that makes it. This song could have won the Song Contest with the right staging. I don’t say that lightly but if Loic and his chums can come quite high up the board with a song that is not dissimilar in style then France2 could well have put their shoulder to the wheel and done something similar with Emmy. The potential is there for all to see in the video, the song is there, the Jurors saw it… yet the Televoters went for a more populist song.

Death to televoters!

‘Outlaw In ‘Em’, by Waylon (Netherlands)

Yes, some of you will have had gone apoplectic when you have seen the title of this ‘Moment of 2018’ but stay with, because you’ll agree with me soon enough.

First off, the studio version of the song is excellent when taken in isolation. It’s a well rounded country-pop song (albeit one that Garth Brooks would have rejected in his pomp), but be that as it may it has a beat that gets your toes tapping and lyrics that are just the right side of cliché for a song of this genre, especially when he just plays it straight in the Eurovision video recorded in The Melkweg (the version we’ve used below). Couple that with Waylon’s well-practiced southern drawl (more Limburg than New Orleans though) it’s not a bad listen.

And then you turn up to Lisbon and all hell breaks loose.

There he is lauding over his two black male dancers like he’s some nineteenth century colonialist in a leopard skin jacket pointing and seemingly making them dance at his command. It looked absolutely wrong to everyone …but not the Dutch.

To Waylon, the Dutch commentators, Dutch fans and certain members of the Dutch press it looked fine and we were over-reacting and some of us were even called Social Justice Warriors. I did think the words they were looking for was “human” but it lost translation from Dutch to English …yes lets say that. Thankfully someone at AVROTROS saw sense, or at least saw what we were saying about it, and sanded down some of the rough edges of the performance but it still didn’t sit well for the rest of the rehearsal period.

So why is this a moment of 2018? – I guess it’s the point when the power of what I write and say in a Eurovision context comes to the fore. Broadcasters shouldn’t go blindly into the Eurovision Song Contest and believe they are always right and the community, so often derided, do know something. It might not be much and it might sound discordant, but it proves that we should never stop shouting to improve the end product.

Richard Taylor (Eurovision Ireland)

‘Every Single Day’, by Felix Sandman (Sweden, Melodifestivalen)

In recent years, Melodifestivalen entries have drifted into the vaults of time, but ‘Every Single Day’ seems to, in my opinion, have bucked that trend.

Just like when Sanna Nielsen lost out to Charlotte Perrelli back in 2008 with ‘Empty Room’, we have an entry that is memorable for all the right reasons. Like ‘Empty Room’, Every Single Day’ provides great storytelling through drama, emotion and overall performance.

Had Felix Sandman qualified for Lisbon, I’m sure we would’ve had seen a better connection with the audience when it came to the voting.

‘Perta’, by Manw (Wales, Junior Eurovision)

Finally, one of our regional languages has finally made it to the Eurovision Song Contest stage – albeit the Junior version. Welcome Welsh!

Ever since S4C took the runner up spot at Eurovision Choir last year, they’ve aimed to go bigger and, without the presence of a national broadcaster, they were allowed to take to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest stage in Minsk.

While Manw failed to win over the juries and the online voters, she brought Welsh to the forefront in one of our beloved contests. Just like ‘Every Single Day’, Perta’ too had the drama and emotion, which for me helped make this entry a stand out amongst others.

Robyn Gallagher (Wiwibloggs)

‘Storm’, by SuRie (United Kingdom)

Coming into Eurovision: You Decide 2018, it seemed that the UK had at least a couple of strong contenders. But to the surprise of many, the National Final was won by Eurovision Song Contest veteran SuRie (albeit with Belgium) with her song ‘Storm‘. It was, however, no surprise to those who attended the show in Brighton, who reported that SuRie was the only act who really connected with the audience. She was also praised for her excellent social media presence, showing a smart, witty character – like your cool friend who just happened to also be doing Eurovision.

But ‘Storm’… well, it wasn’t the best song. It felt dated and didn’t come remotely close to the sort of singles that dominate the streaming charts – or indeed the songs that do well at the Song Contest.

In Lisbon, it became clear that even though ‘Storm’ might not be the best song, SuRie was a great performer. She put everything into the performance and her seamless recovery from the stage invasion is something that few could have managed.

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the song didn’t do especially well with either the jury or the televoters, resulting in yet another 24th-place finish for the UK. If there’s a lesson to be learned by the BBC it’s this; don’t waste your best performers with average songs.

‘Tempel’ by Indrek Ventmann (Estonia, Eesti Laul)

After Salvador Sobral won Eurovision 2017 with the lovely ‘Amar Pelos Dois‘, the 2018 National Final season had more than a few songs inspired by its gentleness. Estonia delivered its moment of Zen with Indrek Ventmann’s ‘Tempel’.

The song was simple and short, clocking in well below the three-minute maximum. The lyrics were equally simple, mostly consisting of a frequently repeated mantra (in Estonian) that painted quite the chilled-out picture. “Here is my temple, the springs and the palm trees/Here is my peace, here is my peace”

At Eesti Laul, Indrek sat still on stage as the distractions of the modern world buzzed around him. Chatter, electronics, bright lights, media (and a Koit and Laura coffee mug) tempted him, but he was immune to their allure, just being peaceful in his own world.

With the 2019 line-up of Eesti Laul now published, it seems that the classic left field acts are mostly absent – and that’s a pity. Even if a song like ‘Tempel’ is not a likely contender for Eurovision, it’s still a pleasure to have it in the lineup, bringing a little moment of Zen to the otherwise chaotic National Final season.

Monty Moncrieff (OnEurope)

‘Tu Cancion’, by Alfred & Amaia (Spain)

I’m not usually given to overblown saccharine schmaltz, so it was as big a surprise to me as it was to almost everyone I mentioned it to that I loved this overblow saccharine schmalz from Spain. I mean, really loved. There were times I had to pinch myself to check I hadn’t gone to bed and woken up as drenched in puppy love as poor Alfred himself.

No, I still can’t really explain it. I’d not followed their story, or their TV talent selection, but something about the way this ballad soared into that swooping crescendo of ‘Siento que bailo por primera vez’ steered it in just on the getting away with it side of the queso. Despite all the sugar-coating the teenage emotion of their burgeoning love underpinned this with a genuineness that you could completely relate to, even if you did have to watch it cringingly through your fingers at times.

By the time of the promo video and studio version they’d managed to rein it in to the point where you were at least convinced he’d make it to the end of the song without popping. Ironically this also meant that by the time they got it to Lisbon it had been rehearsed to within an inch of its life and the additional two months of life’s hard knocks has squeezed some of its spontaneity from it.

The Spanish fans’ had double-dropped their enthusiasm pills, urged on by both a tabloid romance and the opportunity to bury their determined indifference to Manel Navarro from twelve months earlier. Fever pitch took over Lisbon’s Bairro Alto on the Friday night as the song tinkled from a thousand mobile phones in the tiny, cobbled streets, masked by about ten thousand (mostly) male voices screeching along. It was hard not to be enthused for, if not exactly with, them. It was always a long shot but I did see a route to victory for this if a lot of other conditions were met, albeit one that was scuppered the moment we saw the running order.

‘Eva’ by Lisandro Cuxi (France, National Final)

Like Phil, I wasn’t prepared for the French National Final. I had read or previewed nothing about it before the first Semi Final so it came as a hugely welcome surprise to me that it was actually bloody brilliant. A refreshed formula was so welcome for a country that I believe has not received its due rewards for being bold at the Eurovision Song Contest, an unrequited history stretching back as long as Joëlle Ursull, albeit not in every year.

Standout performer for me was Lisandro Cuxi, hot from France’s ‘The Voice: La plus belle voix’. I liked his competing song ‘Eva’, but I’m cheating slightly here, as this is my musical moment only insofar as it opened up his 2017 hit ‘Danser and album ‘Ma Belle Etoile’ to me, both of which stayed on my playlists all year. Although to be honest I could pick the entire French selection as it was so nice to see this level of effort being made with contemporary artists.

Eva’ is good, but it never quite hits the standard he finds on his debut release, which leaves me hoping his National Final experience was a good ‘un and we’ll see him back in it soon. Just imagine if he could deliver France their long-overdue win.

Karie Westermann

‘Tror du att han bryr sig’, by Benjamin Ingrosso & Felix Sandman (Sweden, Post-Contest)

The one track from the 2018 Eurovision season that really, really stuck with me was Felix Sandman’s vulnerable ‘Every Single Day’. The track was positively Troye Sivan-esque with its stark honesty and Sandman’s performances were contemporary, effective and memorable.

I curled my lip when Sandman lost to Benjamin Ingrosso’s forgettable slice of Swedish radio-pop, ‘Dance You Off‘. Ingrosso went on to achieve one of the biggest snubs of recent Swedish Eurovision history when he received just 21 points by the public in the Grand Final (although the jury vote pulled him up to a respectable seventh place overall). I felt vindicated. Felix Sandman would not have won in Lisbon, but his song had been the more interesting choice for Sweden.

Enter ‘Tror du att han bryr sig‘ – Ingrosso’s first single after his mildly embarrassing experience in Lisbon. A duet with… Felix Sandman! Swedish lyrics are an interesting choice for artists poised to break outside of Scandinavia, but it felt like a defiant statement for them both. “Do you think that he cares / cares the way I care about you?” they sing – both detached and too cool for school with Ingrosso’s slick, summery charm and Sandman’s slight brittleness on display.

The lyrics are curiously gender neutral, the beat is radio-friendly, and the vocals mingle effortlessly. The end result is a song that is heavy on ambiguity but easy on the ears. Maybe this should have been the real contender for Sweden?

‘Under the Ladder’, by Melovin (Ukraine)

In 2018, Ukraine entered Melovin and I think this is closest I’ll ever get to see Patrick Wolf at the Eurovision Song Contest. Whenever the Song Contest season rolls around I find myself hoping that this is the year that the BBC manages to coax Wolf out of semi-retirement and onto the Eurovision stage. Wolf’s curious brand of camp, cynicism, romanticism, and high production values always seemed destined for greater things than niche singles on BBC Radio 6. Alas, I’ve waited a decade and it hasn’t happened.

Under The Ladder’ was the recipient of early hype but became the underdog a long time before we even made it to Lisbon. I loved everything about it: the intensity, the high drama, the conviction, and the staging. Ukraine clearly got the memo that this year was all about pyro, death, and drama — what better way to achieve this than put Melovin in a vampiric outfit, catapult him out of a piano-coffin, and then set everything on fire?

It was memorable, even if Melovin was given the slot of death. I don’t think a song has won from being first in the running order since Herreys in 1984, and it wasn’t going to change this year. ‘Under The Ladder’ proved an effective contest opener (I saw plenty of “vampire guy from Ukraine” tweets) but was soon buried under an avalanche of pyros, pelicans, and maneki-neko figures. I think the song is blooming lovely and has stood the test of time while other entries have lost their allure.

Patrick Wolf, your move. Can you do better?

Roy Delaney (Eurovision Apocalypse)

‘Toy’, by Netta (Israel)

I think you need to look at this, Roy…

I love it when my readers give me tip offs and local knowledge on Eurovision Apocalypse, and when an especially reliable regular called Ido dropped me a note back in the first week of February I quickly rushed to click play on the YouTube link he’d sent. It was from the early stages of an Israeli casting show called HaKokhav HaBa (Or The Next Star to you and I), and a lass called Netta Barzilai had utterly blown the audience away with a barnstorming loopstationed version of the Spice Girls’ Wannabe. I was hooked on the spot.

Of course, there was no guarantee that she’d even make the next round of the show, let alone the Eurovision Song Contest proper, so leftfield was she as a performer. But her creative presence was enormous, and I figured that if she made it to Lisbon then she’d stand a very good chance of doing very well indeed. I quickly checked the odds for Israel at the bookies and found them to be incredibly favourable, so popped down a respectable little cover bet, then sat back and anxiously followed the action for the next few weeks.

This turned out to have been something of a wise move, as this beautiful creature not only wiped the floor with all before her back home, but her knock-’em-dead performance in Portugal tapped into the prevailing #MeToo atmosphere of the time, and effectively paid for my trip to Tel Aviv next Spring. You can often overthink Eurovision and talk yourself out of things that are sitting plainly before you. But sometimes you’ve just got to go with your gut and stick with the thing that you first thought of, as more often than not it’ll pay off for you. Especially when the artist is as charming, talented and unique as Netta.

 

‘Canção do Fim’, by Diogo Piçarra (Portugal, Festival da Canção… briefly)

Most years my second pick would be some bonkers-in-the-nut confection from a far and distant land. But this season there was a song that touched my heart in such a manner that it’s still flowing around my music-addled brain to this day. The only problem was that it was already somebody else’s…

The moment I heard that Diogo Piçarra would be taking part in Festival da Canção I was excited.

Salvador’s massive win the previous year had encouraged some of the big hitters of the Portuguese scene to come out and attempt to represent their nation on home ground. And what an utterly beautiful piece of work it was. Gentle, understated, and powerfully performed, I was drawn into my telly with every word this consummate storyteller effortlessly breathed out. Understandably it won massively with with both the juries and the folks back home. But that’s when the issues began.

For somebody watching had noticed that the song’s structure was almost identical to the the obscure Pastor Walter McCallister song ‘Abre Os Meus Olhos‘. It’s still not clear whether this was a deliberate ploy to borrow the melody from a lesser known release, or merely a forgotten earworm that was unwittingly woven into the fabric of the new song. But either way, Diogo immediately stood down from the Contest, and in one fell swoop we were robbed of an entry that would surely have been another big contender for Portugal rather than the table proper they eventually plumped for. However it turned out, we’ll always have this performance – one that utterly stopped me in my tracks. How flipping dreamy is this!

Over To You

Along with part one, those are the Musical Moments of 2018 from ESC Insight and the friends of the parish. Now, it’s up to you. What songs did we miss out, which singers caught your heart, where was the lyric that made your emotions soar? Let us know in the comments.

And if you want to support ESC Insight as we cover the Song Contest during 2019, please visit our Patreon page, patreon.com/escinsight.

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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6 responses to “ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2018: Part Two”

  1. […] ESC Insight is more than our core team of writers, so naturally the call for Musical Moments went out to many of the ‘friends of the parish’ who contribute throughout the year, from Juke Box Juries and daily podcasts to articles and opinions. Want to know what they thought of the year of music? Click here! […]

  2. Shai says:

    @John Egan – I am sorry but the best ever result for an Albanian language entry still remain 2012 who finished 5th

  3. Shai says:

    ‘Toy’, by Netta (Israel)-

    Israeli people have a love and hate relationship with the contest. Don’t get me wrong, there are avid fans there as you will see all around the globe, but for Israeli people the contest is merely a reflection of how the world/Europe treat Israel in general. ,it’s all painted in black and white.
    If an Israeli song fail or does poorly, it’s all because of politics, because no one like Israel and let’s face it Israel will never wins Eurovision( prior to the contest, I had a chat with my mother and when I told her that Netta could win, she answered me with a defiance:”They will never let us win”- Had to explain her that it doesn’t work like this, but she wasn’t buying it).
    Israel as favourite and the song made sure that even people who don’t follow the contest and think the contest is full of rubish songs, followed the contest and the sheer joy that erupted after Netta’s win was genuine and felt like a victory for the whole nation.
    As for the song itself, it’s not to everyone’s taste but the fact that it is not made in any typical Eurovision module or even sung by a typical singer , opens the door for more musical diversity and send a signal that everyone can win Eurovision. All you need is to have a good song, in the right year at the right moment.

    ‘For You’, by Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao(Georgia)-

    If ‘Toy”is the fireworks, this is the calm after the storm.
    And sometime it’s all you need. There is gentleness and kindness in the whole composition and the harmonies are just working so well that you hear that there is a professional craft behind this song.
    It got lost in the contest and was bit forgotten but the fact the song exist in Eurovision contest is actually quite a small miracle.
    I felt sad they did not qualify, but was happy, that through ESC, I got acquainted with such a gem.

  4. 4porcelli says:

    A bit baffled that neither part of the review includes “My lucky

  5. 4porcelli says:

    …OK obviously my laptop’s acting up – starting again “Amazed that nobody’s mentioning Moldova’s “My lucky day” which, even if you don’t like the song, had a great stage show. Puzzled at the raving on any ESC blog about AWS. Not a metal fan/expert but it seems the song is hailed as some sort of groundbreaking masterpiece when it seems rather typical of the genre. Sure, it’s different from usual ESC fare and the guy with the ‘stache is kinda hot but why do some – usually exceptionally purist and/or nerdy – comment(at)ors eem to consider it the greatest thing since (before) sliced bread?

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