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Eurovision 2013: The final May 17

It seems only a few days since the semi-finals kicked off in Malmö, probably because it was. But now it’s time to look ahead to the Big One. No, not the rollercoaster. Not a long-forgotten Sandi Toksvig/Mike McShane sitcom, references to which will be lost on almost everyone, resulting in a convoluted sentence that adds nothing. No. I’m talking the Eurovision final 2013! 26 songs, 12 hours of voting and the chance for one country to take away the coveted joint prize of the Eurovision title and the financial millstone of hosting 2014′s competition.

Let’s meet the teams.

  1. France – We open with our cousins over the English Channel. They’ve become quite good over the last decade at dropping something refreshing and different into the Eurovision pot and this is one of those. It’s not going to blow the contest away but it’s different, coherent, passionate and a good use of three minutes
  2. Lithuania – A surprise qualifier for Tuesday’s semi-final. Andrius may have screen presence but this is still a song in desperate need of a melody. Not amount of hair gel and staring into the camera can make up limiting yourself to three notes.
  3. Moldova – Like so many songs this year – especially the solo female vocalists’ – this rather takes its time to get going. It could do with a stronger finale but no-one will be listening because it’s all about the dress.
  4. Finland – Krista Siegfrids went down very well with the crowd on Thursday, topping off a camp display with a same sex kiss that overjoyed the audience in the stadium but led to Turkish television refusing to screen the semi-final. The lyrics are controversial – by turn demanding and submissive – but there’s no doubt this has a strong balance of playfulness and tunefulness. It should do well.
  5. Spain – A long folky introduction often serves as a warning but once this gets some percussion behind it, it’s not bad. It’s fairly unmemorable but not unpleasant.
  6. BelgiumLove Kills came alive on Tuesday night. It came across much better than I expected and will hopefully do the same again in the final. After a good sixth in 2010, Belgium spent two years failing to qualify so it’s about time they had another decent result. This upbeat number might well trouble the top ten but it’s a strong field.
  7. Estonia – Loo break.
  8. Belarus – I’m by no means the only person to have noticed that Belarus is taking full advantage of Turkey’s absence from the contest this year. Presentation, production, music, performance, nonsense lyrics: it’s all straight out of the Ankara playbook. This should do well although it can’t be allowed to win as Belarus is an entirely inappropriate host for the contest. Look out for the daring rhyme “Solayoh/We play-oh”.
  9. Malta – Yes it’s twee, but there’s something endearing and positive about this simple song that forces you to like it. Gianluca’s performance on Thursday night wasn’t especially powerful and this might get lost in the grandstanding of the final.
  10. Russia is another country that I wouldn’t want to see hosting but this, with its marginally hypocritical lyrics about everyone loving one another and ending violence, could do well. It’s another number that really takes off for the final third.
  11. Germany – Blimey, this rips off last year’s winner Euphoria something chronic. It may not actually have plagiarised Loreen but it’s certainly fallen into the common trap of trying to emulate the previous victor’s success by copying the style and approach. It loses points for that and also because I wasn’t a big fan of last year’s winner, of which this is a pale imitation. Bah.
  12. Armenia – I’m sure I heard booing in the hall when this qualified from the second semi-final and, however gauche that way, I can undersand why because it’s proper naff. The lyrics are the main fault – “Lonely planet/Who has done it?” – but at least there’s a key change.
  13. Netherlands – Now we get to the good stuff with a run of six strong contenders. First up is Anouk with her birdie song. She has a great voice, although I’d've liked it to be a bit stronger in the semi-final, and the song is refreshingly different – understated and musically lush. I really hope this does well.
  14. Romania – I hope this does well too. It’s quite audacious and Cezar gives it his all (though will hopefully get them back later). Sure, there’s a gimmick, but the underlying song is strong enough to work with it. I’ll say no more because it has to be seen to be believed.
  15. United Kingdom – Heeeeeeeeeere’s Bonnie! The latest act given Eurovision day release from the UK pop retirement home to take part in Eurovision is Gaynor Hopkins (call her by her name) carries the UK’s vain hopes this year. An experienced performer with a track record of touring Europe, she should do all right – although that’s what we said about Englebert last year. This is perfectly serviceable but sadly not the kind of dramatic power ballad that we associate with its singer. It’s a grower – admittedly not helpful when you only have one performance to hit home – and there’s a strong middle eight but after that it fades to nothing. If it wasn’t the UK’s entry, we probably wouldn’t look twice at it. Fingers crossed for top ten.
  16. Sweden – the host country have decided to keep to the dancey type of song that won them the contest last year. It’s by no means as distinctive as its predecessor and is slightly overwhelmed by Robin Stjernberg’s vocal gymnastics but it’s nevertheless a catchy and upbeat track. I hope he doesn’t grin as much as he did in Melodifestivalen.
  17. Hungary – Like Malta’s entry, this was less strong in performance on Thursday night than it is in it’s studio recording. Frankly, singer ByeAlex looked terrified by the whole thing. I hope getting through to the final has perked him up because this is a nice little song, another gentle track that’s a bit different from the crowd, and it would be a shame if it was let down by a performance that holds back.
  18. Denmark – This run of six ends with the bookies’ favourite and another potential winner from northern Europe. I could do without the cliché flute but you can see why this has attracted a lot of attention. Mix together a catchy chorus, syncopated percussion and good backing vocals and you’re halfway to the prize.
  19. Iceland – I can’t say anything negative about this other than it’s rather bland. It builds up nicely and has a good singer behind it but after the previous six, this is a good opportunity to make the tea.
  20. Azerbaijan – This won me over much more on Thursday night than it had previously. Very clever staging and a singer who exudes confidence complement a fun if fairly familiar song. I’ll even forgive “Hold me/Unfold me.”
  21. Greece – Like Azerbaijan, this worked much better than expected on stage. I’m entirely on side with a song that says alcohol is free and I rather suspect the UK will give this plenty of points. There’s funky instrumentation and a memorable chorus – worth a look.
  22. Ukraine – Bless the giant at the beginning (no, really) but it’s a terrible idea that adds nothing. It’s two styles stitched together as if it can’t quite make up it’s mind – or is cynically trying to appeal to two different demographics. The danger is, of course, that you alienate both. Will probably do better that I’d place it.
  23. The last of the automatic qualifiers is Italy and I’m not sure it would be in the final if the country didn’t put so much money in. There are a few OK moments scattered through the song but on the whole it’s pretty dull even if, like so many of its competitors, it improves towards the end.
  24. Norway – Despite the annoying bleating noise, this is another strong entry from Scandinavia. I’d've liked a bit more oomph in the performance on Thursday night. The song has a relentless drive to it but the vocals need that stark power to pull it off.
  25. Georgia perhaps turned in to BBC Three’s How to Win Eurovision because this is certainly by the book. It left me feeling a bit flat but you can see why it could do well, especially if the audience have forgotten the dull opening by the time it reaches it’s worthier conclusion.
  26. And finally, benefiting from the relief and greater attention afford the last entrant, it’s Ireland. Already growing on me in the run-up to Tuesday’s semi-final, this still took me a bit by surprise – and not just for it’s cynical but welcome approach to staging. This could get a very high placing if it comes off on the night.

There you go. Denmark’s a favourite but it’s quite an open field, especially with every one of the former Yugoslavian states out of the running. Will their votes stay east? Will Scandinavia retain the title? Will millions of viewers across Europe believe in a Welsh lass called Gaynor? Only time will tell. And if you’d like to cast your judgement alongside, you can download my 2013 scoresheet.

Eurovision 2013: Semi-final Two May 16

The first semi-final was pretty good. Good work, Sweden, and a particular mention to Ireland and Belgium, who both came across much better than I expected. Most of my preferred songs got through – although Serbia didn’t help themselves with their bizarre Hello Kitty outfits and didn’t make the cut. We rightly said au revoir to Slovenia and Montenegro, with the dreary Lithuanian entry an unexpected qualifier.

Tonight it’s the second semi final and 10 of tonight’s 17 songs will progress through to Saturday’s final to join Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the UK and Ukraine on stage.

Here are my thoughts on the 17 songs vying for those coveted final places coming up tonight (from 8pm on BBC Three).

The Good

  • Azerbaijan – This is nice enough middle-of-the-road Eurovision fare, albeit with a key change that’s almost squashed. I actually prefer it to their winning song Running Scared, but “Hold me/Unfold me”? No.
  • Finland – Now here’s a fan favourite and no mistake. It’s pretty silly but has its camp sense of humour in exactly the right place and the result is good, toe-tapping fun.
  • Hungary – This is a lovely, gentle little number and not traditionally Eurovision at all. It might not come off as well live as in the pristinely produced studio recording but it’s another good entry from Hungary and I hope it does well.
  • Latvia – The first couple of seconds are awful but suddenly it segues into a genuinely catchy chorus – and then they ruin it all with some naff rapping. Despite that it’s very jolly and that could be enough to carry it through.
  • Malta – Yeah, this is a bit twee but it’s sweet and hard not to like. It’s gentle, tuneful and, let’s face it, a nice change for Malta from a big-lunged ballad.
  • Norway – That bleating noise on the backing track is pretty annoying but the vocals are stark and the whole thing has a relentless drive to it.
  • San Marino – This is another song that leaves it almost too late to get going. Two minutes in, it finally goes up a few gears and we have one third of a good song. Most of it is pretty middling but the end, including a handsome key change, push it up to the next level.
  • Switzerland – Not only have Switzerland got a very well-thumbed copy of a rhyming dictionary, it appears to be a simple primary school version. Nevertheless, this is hard to dislike and the Salvation Army singers manage to beat you into submission through repetition.

The Bad

  • Armenia – This is in danger of turning into the Stonecutters song from The Simpsons. “Lonely planet/Who has done it?” is as good as the lyrics get and they are sufficiently cringeworthy to spare us considering the reasonable melody and render this worth avoiding. The end’s annoying too. Still, key change.
  • Israel – Israel does seem to swing back and forth wildly with its entries. Last year’s was fun but this is dreary entry and a perfect moment for popping out to make a brew.

The Ugly

  • FYR Macedonia – Good grief. With the rest of the former Yugoslavia out of the running, Macedonia could be on the receiving end of a lot of local douzes, and Macedonia’s answer to Freddie Mercury (Lozano) and Monserrat Caballé (Esma) will certainly need them. Not only did they forgot to bring a decent song, Esma genuinely appears to be gargling at one point. It’s like Lozano’s great aunt has turned up drunk to ruin his big moment on The X Factor. Are these two even talking to each other?
  • Greece – Bless Greece. Things have got so bad, they’re left with a song in honour of booze. I’m entirely in favour of the sentiment but some funky instrumentation can’t get away from vocals that sound like the subject of the song is also its fuel.
  • Romania – Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve struck the motherlode. This is almost impossible to judge but I’d like to see it get the exposure it deserves on Saturday night. It’s kind of got a good melody but that’s hard to talk about without… Well, you really have to see for yourself. This is going to be Friday morning’s water cooler momment and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. I just hope he finds them again.

The Rest

  • Albania – A fairly standard rocky chorus and an OK guitar solo are undermined by letting the guitarist’s gravelly blandless loose on the opening verse.
  • Bulgaria – Oh dear. This starts promisingly enough with a bit of Eurovision Percussion but then the singing says the same for three minutes, with no variety or structure aside from a bit of wailing near the end. There’s a drumming interlude that’s enjoyable enough but otherwise it’s only real use is as background music in an Indian restaurant.
  • Georgia – It’s not bad when it gets going, pulling out a nice key change and (unintentionally, I’m sure) name-checking Denmark’s best entry of recent years. It could do well but lyrically it’s pretty flat and the opening is dull.
  • Iceland – Slightly bland but it builds gently, has a good key change and Iceland’s Badly Drawn Boy sings it well.
Eurovision 2013: Semi-final One May 13

Hello, Europe!

It’s that time again – the most important TV event of the year, the Eurovision Song Contest. And the final is the same evening as the Doctor Who finale, just to make the whole night even more exciting.

Before we can reach the final, though, 33 countries have to fight their way through the two semi-finals. I’m a bit busy at the moment so let’s get straight down to business. Here’s what you can expect from the 16 songs in the first semi-final (Tuesday night at 8pm on BBC Three).

The Good

  • Belarus – With no Turkey in the contest this year, Belarus could be moving tanks onto their lawn. It’s the kind of catchy female vocal and borderline nonsense lyrics we’re used to Turkey taking to a good position in the table. Seriously though – “Solayoh/We play-oh”? No rhyming prize for you.
  • Belgium – A basic melody and a well-thumbed rhyming dictionary work well with an upbeat tempo and a nice middle eight to produce a fairly decent result. At the very least it’s NBFB – Not Bad For Belgium.
  • Cyprus – There’s an awkward moment in the first verse of many Eurovision songs where they either take off or sink away. This didn’t shoot into the sky but it improved as it went along, averaging not bad at all..
  • Denmark – One of the top tips for the contest and one of many strong entries from northern Europe. The penny whistle is a bit of a gimmick but I’m a sucker for a Danish entry and while this isn’t up there with the best she’s got a good pair of lungs, a catchy chorus, some syncopated percussion and nice backing vocals, and that’s a strong combination.
  • Ireland – First things first: no, it’s not Jedward. And even ignoring them, this is the best Irish entry in a long time. Going full throttle for a club feel, you could really imagine this as a summer hit or a One Direction single. I mean, I wouldn’t buy it but I could see it going down well. A lot of this is in the production, though – live on stage, it could be abysmal.
  • Moldova – I spent the first half willing this to be one of the good ones – would it go for it? It did, rising up the scale to some big notes, although it slightly pulled its punch at the end.
  • Netherlands – All those people who bought Lana Del Rey’s records? Anouk is after your votes. She has a characterful voice and the song has a simple, unchallenging beauty to it. It’s memorable and it deserves to do well.
  • Russia – A sweet little ditty although very much afflicted with twee Eurovision lyrics about ending wars and poverty and that. A million times better than singing grannies though and the final third is terrific.
  • Serbia – Serbia have dispatched their own version of Bananarama and you know, it works. The three Mojes work well together and the result is a proper toe-tapper – albeit one that ends rather suddenly when the three-minute maximum hits.

The Bad

  • Lithuania – The upbeat backing track can’t conceal that this song is missing something quite major: a tune. Each time it segues into the chorus, it feels like it’s going to grow big but no, it just carries on with one of the three notes Andrius condescends to use. A shame.
  • Slovenia – Predictably, some entries will attempt to mimic the previous year’s winner and so enter Slovenia’s answer to Loreen, Hannah. Unfortunately, creating a backing track of really annoying electronic pulsing doesn’t automatically make for a euphoric anthem. Well, sadly it probably does but the song itself can’t carry it and no amount of bleeping will fix that.

The Ugly

  • Montenegro – Now here’s some Eurovision awfulness of the old school. An intro of screechy vocals is followed by some naff rapping before a chorus that’s all over the place. The second verse appears to be a rapped seafood recipe. A mishmash of dreadful. Hurrah.

The Rest

  • Austria – Starts promisingly but after a few lines swerves so far into the middle of the road it’s a danger to traffic in both directions. The big key change comes too late to redeem it and with too much wailing.
  • Croatia – They might look like an identity parade in Moss Bros but this is melodic and harmonious. It doesn’t seem anywhere near as miserable as it should really.
  • Estonia – This seems fine. Nothing desperately wrong with it but yeah. Next.
  • Ukraine – After a gentle start, the change in direction and stabbing synths caught me by surprise. It’s fun while it lasts but it doesn’t really build to anything. It’s one of the tips for a good placing, which bemuses me.
What’s influential? Apr 26

There have been articles from a number of media organisations recently attempting to list the most influential TV shows of all time. I can’t be bothered to look them up or link to them because, as we all know from people on Twitter, old media is dead.

But, in the olden days of blogging – and this dear, neglected blog of mine is nine years old this month – we liked to join in a conversation by writing our own posts and linking to someone else’s. So, since Laurie has compiled his top 10 most influential TV shows in the new media world of teh internets, I’m happy to link to and discuss it – and then, of course, put my money where my mouth is with my own stream of consciousness list.

The first question to consider, though, is what we really mean by “influential”? Are we talking television that changed the world? Does that mean we’re morally obliged to dig up Cathy Come Home – and lull comatose into our kitchen sinks? Is affecting the words people use in everyday life as significant as heralding shifts in public policy? (Probably not.) Or do we mean TV that influenced TV itself and shaped what subsequently reached our screens? I’m going to assume we mean influence on both the world and on television, although as a fan of good TV, my list will lean towards the latter. And, while good TV can certainly influence the mood of the audience, I’m going to assume that we don’t just mean “Was it good telly?”

These lists are subjective but I nevertheless take issue with a fair few entries in Laurie’s. The Office? Sure. Only Fools and Horses? Nah. Very successful in its own right and yes, it popularised certain words and phrases, but its lasting influence is minimal. I’m not sure what the case is for The Avengers either – a classic show but what’s the major influence? A string of half-baked and now largely forgotten ITC knock-offs? And I don’t agree either with Tenko, Blackadder or Secret Army. While the latter had the crucial effect of leading directly to ‘Allo Allo!, that doesn’t seem a strong enough reason to put it in a shortlist of the most influential shows.

Off the top of my head, then, here are my ten. Where I’ll also differ from Laurie in compiling my list is that I’m happy to include shows I haven’t seen or don’t like because it’s not a list of shows I’ve seen or like but about impact. I’m also going to cast the net wider than the UK – although measuring influence largely with respect to the UK – and beyond just drama. Like Laurie, I’ve differed from the lists that sparked this off as I haven’t limited myself to one pick per year but instead plumped for ten notable programmes.

These all probably have a good case for inclusion but bubbling outside my top 10 are shows like Newsnight, Blue Peter, Big Brother, World in Action, Brass Eye, Sesame Street, Spitting Image, EastEnders, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Murder One, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Yes, (Prime) Minister, Brookside and Twin Peaks. I was tempted to include “the news” but have stuck to specific programmes.

My top ten most influential TV shows

Doctor Who

I was tempted to leave it out because as a fanboy I’m biased, but Doctor Who has at least three strong reasons in its favour. First, it’s drilled its way deep into the national consciousness. Getting into a large lift only today, one of my fellow passengers commented, “It’s like the TARDIS.” Secondly, its current, post-2005 incarnation revitalised Saturday night drama and telefantasy as suitable for British prime-time – without Doctor Who there would be no Merlin, no Primeval, no Demons, no Bonekickers… Maybe I should stop there. And thirdly, the show has played a big role in inspiring writers, directors, composers and other creative people to pursue their vocations.

Top of the Pops

Gone but enjoying a walking death on BBC Four, Top of the Pops was the definitive weekly music show. I always preferred ITV’s The Chart Show personally but there’s no doubting Top of the Pops’ influence on the charts and the number of live (or live-ish) performances by major artists captured in its aspic.

Coronation Street

I’d conservatively estimate that I have seen fewer than ten episodes of Coronation Street but I’m still happy to include it as the grandmother of all UK soap operas. While EastEnders might have gone for the more hard-hitting storylines and tackled issues that challenged public perceptions, EastEnders itself owes a lot to Corrie, which had laid the ground work of the evening community soap opera for more than 20 years before the BBC’s young upstart exploded onto the scene.

The Office

The mockumentary style had been tried before – People Like Us springs to mind – as had the comedy of awkwardness – look no further than Fawlty Towers – but The Office jumped up and down on the corpse of studio sitcom (now, thankfully, resuscitated by shows like Not Going Out and Miranda) and influenced the style and approach of many of the shows that followed in both the UK and US.

That Was the Week That Was

I’m not going to pretend to have watched much of it but TW3‘s legacy is widely recognised. It chipped away at the political establishment that had previously been treated with reverence and genuflection. It paved the way for other satirical shows, including Spitting Image and Brass Eye – both mentioned above as candidates for the list – and with its transition to American TV, there’s an argument that its influence even stretches to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. It attacked apartheid, helped to bring down Profumo in 1963 and attracted complaints from the people it lampooned – always a good sign. It also boosted the careers of Frankie Howerd, John Cleese and Graham Chapman, Willie Rushton and Peter Cook, as well as making David Frost a household name. Frost’s profile led to both The Frost Report – which thrust Cleese and the Two Ronnies onto Britain’s TV screens – and, perhaps most importantly, Through the Keyhole.

Fawlty Towers

While I’m trying not to treat quality as a major factor, the sheer brilliance of Fawlty Towers in both scripting and execution means that it remains the yardstick by which other sitcoms will measure their success (a hiding to nothing really). That so many writers and producers respect it and would give their right arm to emulate it is a sign of its influence nearly 40 years (blimey) since the first episode was broadcast.

The Simpsons

A noble spirit embiggens the smallest show – and The Simpsons is certainly not small. While early cartoons like The Flintstones pushed animation into the realms of sitcom, it was Matt Groening’s creation that showed that animation wasn’t just for kids, and with huge success. King of the Hill, American Dad, Family Guy, Archer – once The Simpsons had broken through the celluloid ceiling, a new genre was born. It affected sitcom more widely, popularising visual gags and an approach focused on maximising the laugh rate. And as for the show itself, its influence on American life can be seen in the words of George H.W. Bush in 1992: “We’re going to keep trying to strengthen the American family. To make them more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons.” And no, I’m not including The Waltons in this list.

The Killing

It’s hard to predict its long term influence and it’s not as if there weren’t already bleak crime shows from Scandinavia (Wallander) or elsewhere (Spiral), but The Killing caught the imagination enough to coalesce around itself a whole genre of Nordic Noir. That opened the gates for series like Borgen and The Bridge to break through outside Scandinavia, and it also influenced the style of new dramas in the UK and US – most recently ITV’s murder mystery serial Broadchurch.

Popstars

Two shows that dominate the schedules and the public consciousness now are Britain’s Got Talent and The X-Factor. But before them came Pop Idol (and its chum across the Atlantic American Idol), and before those came the show that launched Hear’Say, Pop Stars. These series launched the careers of Girls Aloud, Will Young, Leona Lewis, Olly Murs and many more, including assorted Eurovision entrants and everyone’s favourite boy band, One True Voice. But they also reinforced a cultural shift towards the desirability of celebrity and “being famous” as an unachievable aspiration for thousands of young people. Prime-time talent shows have spread like the plague and Popstars was Typhoid Mary.

Friends

This one has sneaked in as I was disinclined to put another sitcom on the list but, on reflection, I think Friends justifies its inclusion. Its longevity and endless repetition has made it one of the best known sitcoms of the last twenty years. Like The Simpsons, it encouraged the genre to push for a high laugh rate, but – in common with many of its American predecessors – its characters and their relationships were a key part of the story, with Ross and Rachel possibly the ultimate will-they-won’t-they TV couple. It inspired a haircut, spawned a spin-off and did for studio comedy what The Office did for single camera.

So there you go. Ten shows, off the top of my head. Anything major I’ve missed? Or anything you think doesn’t deserve its place?

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