No geek is an island http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog Sat, 16 Jun 2018 07:24:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 Eurovision 2018: The Final http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2018/05/12/eurovision-2018-the-final/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2018/05/12/eurovision-2018-the-final/#respond Sat, 12 May 2018 17:51:26 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37261 SuRie in the flag parade

Tonight it’s the grand final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon – and it’s on of the most open fields in years.

Before I look at the 26 finalists, it’s worth remembering the 17 who didn’t make it through. They all worked hard and they didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. It could have been the song, the staging, the specific competition and electorate in their semi-final – or just bad luck. All the acts have been travelling thousands of miles meeting fans, promoting their entries and singing their hearts out so hooray for them.

That’s worth saying ahead of the sarky comments I’ll be posting on Twitter later…

This year’s finalists are a brilliantly mixed bag so there really should be something for everyone. You can read my thoughts on them back when they were just done semi-finalists too, in heat 1 and heat 2.

Ukraine: Under the Ladder by Mélovin

A great way to open the show and the first of many pyromaniacs to take to the stage tonight. It’s rocky, gothy and ridiculous, but all in support of a decent song.

Why it should win: Pushing all the rock buttons.

Spain: Tu Canción by Amaia & Alfred

A lovely couple from Spain singing about love. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Why it should win: They’re so sweet.

Slovenia: Hvala, Ne! by Lea Sirk

This explodes into life before settling into a funky if slightly ineffectual rhythm. But then it divides the audience by releasing the worst gimmick ever seen at Eurovision.

Why it should win: Audacity.

Lithuania: When We’re Old by Ieva Zasimauskaitė

A super soft ballad the Ieva carries off beautifully. And if you know the man she meets at the end is her real life husband, it’s all more poignant.

Why it should win: Both Ieva and her song are adorable.

Austria: Nobody But You by Cesár Sampson

Steely-eyed Cesár arrives on a spaceship with a gaggle of gospel backing singers to deliver a solid piece of contemporary pop.

Why it should win: That chorus.

Estonia: La Forza by Elina Nechayeva

Her voice. Her dress. Her high notes. If you’re into opera, this may not seen anything special, but it’s a tour de force vocally perfectly reflected in her amazing outfit. Will the juries love its aura of credibility?

Why it should win: That voice.

Norway: That’s How You Write A Song by Alexander Rybak

There has been a lot of very reasonable criticism about this by the numbers attempt by Rybak to garner his second Eurovision win. But for all that it has at least partially worked, getting him to the final and for a time favourite in the odds. It’s trite as anything but you can’t blame the guy for trying.

Why it should win: Carefully ticking all the boxes.

Portugal: O Jardim by Cláudia Pascoal

I wasn’t a great fan of this but it’s warmed on me every time I’ve seen it, plus Cláudia and songwriter Isaura seem a joy. It’s simple and probably won’t do all that well but it’s better than last year’s Portuguese entry and that won…

Why it should win: It’s beautifully sung.

United Kingdom: Storm by SuRie

We’re a self-critical country so there’s a lot of debate among fans. Was it the right song? Is it the right staging? There’s definitely one sensible choice: putting SuRie in the spotlight. She wowed the crowd at the Brighton selection show and has been performing this flawlessly (albeit modulated down a little!) ever since, as well as being a fantastic ambassador for the UK and the Contest. As usual, it’s not good to raise UK expectations but this is more than respectable and we should be proud of it.

Why it should win: Because SuRie is great.

Serbia: Nova Deca by Sanja Ilić and Balkanika

When this gets going, it’s good fun, even though I have no idea what they’re singing. Sanja’s vocals devotedly work more than the ladies’ though which makes this hit and miss overall.

Why it should win: Bringing the traditional ethnic sound back to Eurovision.

Germany: You Let Me Walk Alone by Michael Schulte

This is a touching solo number flawlessly performed by the ginger German. In a year where background video screens are banned, Michael has cheekily brought along an inflatable backdrop onto which twee graphics are projected. They’re unnecessary and rather on the nose, but it’s hard to say they’re not effective at making this as heartrending as possible.

Why it should win: You need a heart of stone not to be affected by it.

Albania: Mall by Eugent Bushpepa

I’ve never got around to finding out what this is about (sorry) bruises it just doesn’t grab me. It’s another rock entry and one that’s all about Eugent’s live performance.

Why it should win: He knows how to sing, man.

France: Mercy by Madame Monsieur

It’s unlikely that the message of this song (about a child born at sea, I think) will come across to the casual viewer but you’re assured that you won’t forget the title as you hear it many times. It’s in French but mostly school level thankfully and overall this is a confident, low-fi entry performed well by the two Frenchest people you will ever see at Eurovision.

Why it should win: That hand movement.

Czech Republic: Lie to Me by Mikolas Josef

With a very different sound and some gloriously eccentric lyrics (“eat my spaghetti”, “set my camel in the mood”), Mikolas is an eccentric bundle of fun. What’s in his backpack? Will he bring a camel? His stage performance has been hampered by an injury during rehearsals, but he seems recovered and is bringing energy if not backflips anymore.

Why it should win: A triumph over adversity.

Denmark: Higher Ground by Rasmussen

It’s about time a Nordic country sent some Vikings to Eurovision. These guys look ominous, huffing and puffing and marching about the stage, but you know they wouldn’t hurt a fly – not least because their song is a pacifist anthem draped in the garb of pillaging marauders.

Why it should win: It’s got a really good message but also beards.

Australia: We Got Love by Jessica Mauboy

I love Jessica. I love this song. I wish her vocals didn’t sometimes sound a little off because I am longing for this to do well. When she hits it, she really hits it. Watching the semi-final at home, it wasn’t quite there; last night in the hall at the jury final, she sounded terrific. I hope she nails it tonight. It’s a standard pop song but it’s really well done and let’s not complain about good pop in Eurovision, eh?

Why it should win: It’s going to be a Eurovision dancefloor classic (and of course Australia needs to win soon).

Finland: Monsters by Saara Aalto

This is pop too but brasher and really going for it with the staging. There’s spinning (lifted from the staging of one of her other Finnish selection songs), dancing, dropping, and backing troupe dressed only borderline fascist. Saara clearly loves Eurovision and I hope she gets a good result.

Why it should win: She took three good songs to the Finnish selection.

Bulgaria: Bones by Equinox

This supergroup still feels like less than the sum of their parts but if you like it dark and broody, they are serving that in spades. These are talented vocalists with some sharp harmonies and Bulgaria clearly have their sights on winning one day soon – but probably not tonight.

Why it should win: Those harmonies.

Moldova: My Lucky Day by DoReDoS

God, I love DoReDos. This was lightweight in the best kind of way even before they added the staging; now they’re pulling off the song and a little dance routine dressed in their flag’s colours and while acting out a Whitehall farce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched their rehearsal clips. The spirit of 1981’s Bucks Fizz is here in 2018 and thank goodness for them that.

Why it should win: The most fun item on the menu.

Sweden: Dance You Off by Bejamin Ingrosso

The Swedes know what they’re doing. This is Justin Timberlake in Tron and it’s been polished within an inch of its life. It comes with a good pedigree having of course already won Melodifestivalen (and Benjamin’s aunt having already won Eurovision!) but they’ve tweaked the staging so that he is warmer and engages more with the audience. They’re probably not set for a win but the Swedes remain at the top of their game.

Why it should win: It’s like watching a music video.

Hungary: Viszlát nyár by AWS

That screeching of metal is AWS setting the pyro to 11 and charging around stage like there’s no tomorrow. You’ll either like this or you won’t but as metal goes, they make a very good fist of it – while making Lordi look like Brotherhood of Man.

Why it should win: It’s the metallest thing ever to hit a Eurovision stage.

Israel: Toy by Netta

Netta’s arrived with a feminist pop song accentuated by chicken noises, vocal loops and dancing cat toys. It’s bravura genius although it’s never quite translated on stage as well as it did in those early “WTF?!” studio versions. It totally catches the ethos of Eurovision.

Why it should win: She’s absolutely unique.

Netherlands: Outlaw in ‘Em by Waylon

The Netherlands has an obsession with sending folk and country songs to Eurovision that I just don’t get. Waylon is partly responsible, having come second as part of The Common Linnets in 2014 with a song that everyone seemed to love. (I didn’t and was more than happy for Conchita to beat it.) I actually prefer this, despite some contrived lyrics (In Eurovision? Never!) and he can certainly hold his own.

Why it should win: Hmm. He’s got presence?

Ireland: Together by Ryan O’Shaughnessy

This was promoted by a beautiful video of a couple of guys dancing in Dublin. The Irish team have incorporated that into the staging and it works seamlessly. It’s a little distracting but then distracting from the song isn’t a bad thing. It’s a servicable if weirdly falsetto ballad but the presentation lifts it hugely. China’s having their EBU contract cancelled as a result of blurring out the dancers has given this a burst of publicity that has sent it shooting up the odds.

Why it should win: It made me cry live. Twice. And I don’t even like it much.

Cyprus: Fuego by Eleni Foureira

Last year, Portugal won with a slow ballad. The year before, Ukraine won with a slow ballad. Wouldn’t it be nice if this year we went down the 100% fullscale pop banger route? Eleni certainly thinks so. This is by no means the most musically accomplished nor the most original entry but by George it’s on fire as good as its name. The outfits; the dance routine; the hair flick. This has all the ingredients to go the whole way if that’s the mood the voting public is in.

Why it should win: It’s time for a banger (and Cyprus has never won).

Italy: Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente by Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro

Cyprus should’ve been the big finale. Instead we have this. There are a lot of words in here and alas some of them are on the screen, getting in the way of the action (such as it is). There’s a message in here somewhere but it’s lost in the two guys’ angry expressions that make it seem like they don’t want to be there.

Why it should win: Urgh. Let’s say because of the message.

There you go. 26 songs. More than 20 justifiable winners in the right year with the wind blowing in the right direction. In practice, we’re probably looking at Cyprus, Estonia, Ireland or Estonia. But it’s still hard to completely write off Hungary, Israel, Norway, Sweden, France, Spain or Germany. The voting is going to be exciting. Long. And exciting.

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Eurovision 2018: Semi-final 2 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2018/05/10/eurovision-2018-semi-final-2/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2018/05/10/eurovision-2018-semi-final-2/#respond Thu, 10 May 2018 09:10:50 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37255 The Altice Arena

So 7 of my 10 chosen qualifiers made it through on Tuesday night, and it probably would have been 8 if I hadn’t accidentally missed out dead cert Estonia when writing up the list. The biggest surprise for me was Ireland, whose staging really lifted the song and gave them a deserved place in the final for the first time since 2013.

Tonight, 18 songs battle for the 10 remaining spots. Let’s meet them.

Norway: That’s How You Write A Song by Alexander Rybak

Alexander won for Norway 9 years ago with Fairytale and he’s back for another stab. This wasn’t the best of Norway’s song options but probably the most likely to win the Contest so in that sense it was the right choice. It’s cheesy as hell but slickly and cleverly (if not cynically) executed, ticking every box it needs.

Verdict: One of the favourites even if that’s not how you write a song.

Romania: Goodbye by The Humans

The first of several rockier numbers in this semi arrives from Romania and it’s a cracker. The quiet opening is electrifying before it bursts into life with electric guitar and power ballad vocals. I fear that its early position in the running order and competition from similar songs may scupper it but this deserves to qualify.

Verdict: Triumph of the Autons.

Serbia: Nova Deca by Sanja Ilić & Balkanika

This is the most traditional song we’ve seen so far this year and it’s a bit start-stop, the male vocals markedly more interesting than the female melody with which they alternate. The staging feels a little chaotic despite very little happening and I suspect this will be forgotten about as soon as the singers leave the stage.

Verdict: Already forgotten.

San Marino: Who We Are by Jessica feat. Jenifer Brening

This one won’t be forgotten though – at least it’s staging won’t, thanks to a selection of dancing (well, slowly moving) robots. You read that right: this has a “feat” in the credits as we’re treated to a Wannabe-style rap break mid song. The rest of it takes an inspiration from Heroes, which isn’t a bad place to start, but it’s nowhere near the same level.

Verdict: A guilty pleasure.

Denmark: Higher Ground by Rasmussen

The Vikings have arrived. This is a stompy Scandi anthem, complete with ships’ sails and huge beards. Everything about the way it looks says the group are coming to pillage your village but the lyrics are deceptively pacifist, all about being the first to lay down your weapons. It’s hard to pigeonhole this in a genre but it works well.

Verdict: All Aboard the longboat.

Russia: I Won’t Break by Julia Samoylova

There has been talk of a shock failure to qualify for Russia and it’s a real chance, although this seems to have improved in both singing and staging. The song is fine is unexciting but the visuals pull frustratingly away from Julia, lost atop of meringue mountain, who should be the centre of attention.

Verdict: Not Russia’s finest hour.

Moldova: My Lucky Day by DoReDoS

The spirit of Bucks Fizz is alive and well and living in Moldova. The words and music and at the lighter end of pop but this is all about the staging, the harmonies and the performers’ undeniable charisma. We have brightly coloured costumes and random body parts populating a Whitehall farce transported to the Eurovision stage. Their biggest risk is not pulling off the challenging dooreography.

Verdict: If Ray Cooney had produced Making Your Mind Up.

Netherlands: Outlaw in ‘Em by Waylon

Waylon almost won the Contest four years ago as half of The Common Linnets with their inexplicably popular Calm After the Storm. Now he’s back with a frankly better song which I mostly enjoy despite not being a fan of country music, of which this is at the rockier end. I heard someone on the Tube last night criticise him for being too slick, which is simultaneously fair and unfair.

Verdict: One to like but not to love.

Australia: We Got Love by Jessica Mauboy

Jessica represented her home country in 2014 when Australia were invited as guest performers and now she’s back to compete. We Got Love is a solid pop song supported by simple and elegant staging: all flashing lights and cheerful prancing. She’s an engaging performer who sounds great when she hits her stride, which she did in jury rehearsal – the result will depend on whether she does tonight.

Verdict: Australia continue to more than justify their inclusion.

Georgia: For You by Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao

The worst named act of the show turn up to give you your much-needed mid-show loo break. They are impressive singers but this is not engaging and the look of it only adds to the feeling that Georgia have accidentally sent a team of accountants.

Verdict: More loss than profit.

Poland: Light Me Up by Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer

It’s another “feat” but this time Lukas is the lead singer and Gromee the goofy DJ. We’re going into club anthem territory with this one, which they sell with a lot of energy. On the one hand, there are moments in the live vocals that always let this down a little; on the other, there are some great vocals too and this is a song where that’s not the most important element.

Verdict: Wave that glowstick.

Malta: Taboo by Christabelle

Dark and broody with an upbeat line through it, Christabelle sells dystopian warnings with the help of an LED chamber. This feels different and interesting and it’s a strong performance but I’m not sure who’s going to vote for it.

Verdict: Could be Mad Max; could be Waterworld

Hungary: Viszlát Nyár by AWS

If you like the sound of screeching metal, this is for you. It’s loud, brash and energetic and well executed, although the singer’s long hair gets in the way of fully engaging with the audience. If you don’t like this genre, though, it’s unlikely to win you over.

Verdict: The heaviest rock but probably won’t sink.

Latvia: Funny Girl by Laura Rizzotto

I really like this song. The lyrics are interesting, the music is sultry and her vocals are pleasant on the ears. But the staging is wrong, wrong, wrong. Even though she’s alone on stage, what should feel heartfelt and spontaneous looks choreographed and contrived. Arm movements that should come from the passion of the music instead look rehearsed, and that takes away so much from the song.

Verdict: Deserves better.

Sweden: Dance You Off by Benjamin Ingrosso

There have been a few tweaks to warm up Benjamin’s relationship with the audience but this is otherwise the same polished performance we saw in Melodifestivalen – and there was little reason to change it. It’s a Michael Jackson/Justin Timberlake number performed on the set of Tron.

Verdict: Sweden know what they’re doing.

Montenegro: Inje by Vanja Radovanović

Vanja has the oddest stage persona. He looks like a nerdy guy who has accidentally wondered into a huge international arena and is asking the ladies surrounding him for directions. However, he also has a good pair of lungs to deliver this slightly dull song.

Verdict: There’s only room for one of this and Serbia at most and it should be this.

Slovenia: Hvala, Ne! by Lea Sirk

The best part of this is the very beginning. The worst is an unnecessary gimmick towards the end that just gets in the way of the song, which has run out of steam a little at that point.

Verdict: Just sing the song.

Ukraine: Under the Ladder by Mélovin

As in semi-final 1, we end with fire. This is emo, gothic, overblown and theatrical and all the better for it. The staging is dramatic but it’s all in support of the song and Mélovin’s engaging performance.

Verdict: Bring me to life.

So which 10 am I sending through? The winners are less clear this time even though fewer songs will miss out but here’s my list:

  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Moldova
  • Netherlands
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Sweden
  • Montenegro
  • Ukraine

I came up with 11 so I’ve bitten the bullet and taken Russia out. We’ll find out tonight if that was right.

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Eurovision 2018: Semi-final 1 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2018/05/08/eurovision-2018-semi-final-1/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2018/05/08/eurovision-2018-semi-final-1/#respond Tue, 08 May 2018 14:04:17 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37248 Eurovision poster in LisbonLike clockwork come the seasons: winter follows autumn, spring follows winter and now we rejoice as the greatest season of all follows spring: Eurovision.

You can expect bangers from the ladies and ballads from the boys as well as a glut of songs about dead family members. There are hardly any video screens but lots of lights and pyro, and an enormous stage.

Following Salvador Sobral’s victory in Ukraine last year, we find ourselves in sunny Lisbon where 43 countries do battle for the Eurovision Song Contest title. First we must whittle those 43 down to just (just!) 26, so we begin with the first semi-final, from which 10 of 19 songs will qualify.

If you’re in the UK, you can watch the BBC coverage on BBC Four or livestream the show free from commentary on the official Eurovision YouTube channel from 8pm. Although the United Kingdom qualifies for the final automatically, this is the semi-final in which we can vote, so get that dialling wand ready.

Enough with the preliminaries; on with the songs!

Azerbaijan: X My Heart by Aisel

It’s a strong opening to the show with a banger from Baku. The staging reflects the Contest’s nautical theme (slogan: “All Aboard!”), Aisel has a great voice and there’s a clear Euphoria influence. The weak links are the lyrics, which are weirdly infantile at points and include some unwise advice about not using firewalls. Also it’s spelt “Cross” not “X”.

Verdict: Good start, poor cybersecurity.

Iceland: Our Choice by Ari Ólafsson

One of the hosts at the London Preview Party commented on Ari’s visual similarity to Johnny Logan and once you’ve had it pointed out it’s hard not see it every time. But whereas Johnny Logan lifted the Eurovision trophy more than once, Ari will be lucky to qualify. He’s a talented singer but this is the epitome of worthy peace and love dirges and should be sent to Davy Jones’ locker.

Verdict: Not our choice.

Albania: Mall by Eugent Bushpepa

Eugent is an experienced performer with an effective stage presence but however many times I listen to this it just doesn’t stick in my head. It’s being in Albanian doesn’t help – of course people should sing in their native languages if they want but it’s a fact of life that English language entries do better. I’m assuming this isn’t about shopping but I don’t like it enough to look it up.

Verdict: Touch and go for qualification.

Belgium: A Matter of Time by Sennek

It’s a law of Eurovision that there must be at least one Bond theme and this has a heavy Tomorrow Never Dies vibe about it. But while the recording sounds great, the arena version has failed to bring it to life in any of the clips I’ve seen so it might well be heading out tonight.

Verdict: From Brussels with Love.

Czech Republic: Lie to Me by Mikolas Josef

An early favourite thanks to a charismatic singer, eccentric lyrics and contemporary music, its chances have suffered since Mikolas injured himself during rehearsals. The song is fun but needs an energetic performance to sell it, so if Mikolas is back to strength, this should sail to the final.

Verdict: Gets my camel in the mood.

Lithuania: When We’re Old by Ieva Zasimauskaitė

I discounted this for a long time. It’s deceptively simple, soft vocals delivering a gentle melody and personal lyrics, but complemented by some emotive staging this dark horse could find its way through.

Verdict: The sweetest ballad in the Contest.

Israel: Toy by Netta

It’s fair to say that Netta has a unique performance style. This is bold, brash and stands out – maybe like a sore thumb for some but for others it is a potential winner. There are chicken sounds, vocal loops and vibrant costumes but Netta is so idiosyncratic that it all fits together rather than feeling like a gimmick. The feminist lyrics are timely too. Send it to the final.

Verdict: A Eurovision classic.

Belarus: Forever by Alekseev

This has been tinkered with a lot and I’m not sure the changes have all improved it. There’s now a slower opening and more of a build, but that could work if it’s staged well – and this definitely does have some attention grabbing floral stage gimmicks. I love the way Alekseev’s vocals move between octaves although clips of his live performances have made me a little sceptical of how well he’ll pull it off on the night.

Verdict: One of my favourites but the performance needs to live up to the song.

Estonia: La Forza by Elina Nechayeva

Estonia haven’t had the success their songs deserved of late but that will all change in 2018. La Forza is operatic in music and in scale. Elina’s vocals alone will take this to the final but an eye-catching dress of epic proportions can only help. The song itself is not especially memorable but it’s another entry that is totally different from anything else in the competition and that’s never a bad thing.

Verdict: A dead cert for the final and a potential winner.

Bulgaria: Bones by Equinox

Bulgaria held back revealing this until late in the day and hyped it a bit too much. It’s good but it’s not as good as it thinks it is and Equinox still feel more like a cobbled together group of disparate talents than a coherent whole. They can definitely sing though and having a large group of strong vocalists gives this an oomph.

Verdict: This will feel either weighty and meaningful or just gloomy.

FYR Macedonia: Lost & Found by Eye Cue

This skips around between time signatures and styles which keeps your interest, building to a super catchy chorus – only to revert back to the ska opening and do it all again, which feels both creative and mildly frustrating. Macedonia’s Achilles heel with this is the staging: they’ve struggled to translate the song into an effective live version that gives it an extra push.

Verdict: Fun but frustrating.

Croatia: Crazy by Franka

A classy number backed up by quality vocals and an engaging live performance, albeit with some slightly cringeworthy spoken lines halfway through. It doesn’t really go anywhere, though, which is dangerous in this semi final.

Verdict: Could easily get lost among strong competition.

Austria: Nobody But You by Cesár Sampson

Like the UK’s SuRie, Cesár has a Eurovision pedigree, having been a backing singer and dancer in previous years. Now he’s front and centre giving a strong account of himself supported by some effective gospel backing vocals. The rehearsal clips have held back the main element of his staging so it’s hard to predict how that will look on TV.

Verdict: Deserves to qualify.

Greece: Oniro Mou by Yianna Terzi

A low key entry from Greece that won’t be helped by being sandwiched between Austria and Finland. It’s melodic and feels very… Greek. At least it’s fortunate to be in the same semi final as Cyprus when it comes to the voting.

Verdict: Only the most memorable of performances will see it through to the final.

Finland: Monsters by Saara Aalto

X-Factor finalist Saara Aalto performed three songs for UMK, the Finnish selection show, all of them contenders, and this is the one the public went with. I’ve seen her do this live in person a couple of times as well as in rehearsal clips and she nails it every time. It’s generic pop but no less good for it and there’s quite the heart stopping moment at the end of her performance.

Verdict: Love it.

Armenia: Qami by Sevak Khanagyan

Sixteen songs in the audience may be starting to lose track, so Armenia have not chosen a good moment to serve up a forgettable ballad in Armenian.

Verdict: A forgettable ballad.

Switzerland: Stones by ZIBBZ

On first listen, I didn’t like this. Then I did. Then I didn’t. Then I saw it at the London Preview Party and was sold. This is a rocky number (with a bit of politics in the lyrics) that really comes alive in performance, as Coco prowls energetic around the arena.

Verdict: Stones over Bones.

Ireland: Together by Ryan O’Shaughnessy

While Ryan can pull it off, I still don’t know why he’s put so much of his song right at the top of his vocal range. Anyhoo, this is a pleasant, borderline insipid ballad lifted by some beautiful staging, complete with ye olde streetlamp.

Verdict: Ryan will be on Ryanair tomorrow morning.

Cyprus: Fuego – Eleni Foureira

It’s the last entry of the night. You’ve got your scores sorted. You know who you’re voting for but might as well see what the last country brings. And BOOM! It’s back to the scoring board courtesy of Cyprus. If you were wondering where the big pop number was hiding, wonder no more. The studio version was good but Eleni explodes with the staging. It’s an unashamedly big Eurovision performance from the dance routine to the memorable costume to the fire. FUEGO!

Verdict: Five pelicans out of five.

Predicting the qualifiers is a fool’s errand but here we the ones I’d be putting through to Saturday’s final:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Czech Republic
  • Lithuania
  • Israel
  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Austria
  • Finland
  • Switzerland
  • Cyprus

Will the wise voters of Europe agree? I’m off to the Altice Arena to find out.

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Should you vote if your vote doesn’t count? http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/06/08/should-you-vote-if-your-vote-doesnt-count/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/06/08/should-you-vote-if-your-vote-doesnt-count/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 10:17:22 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37237 Last night, in the run up to today’s festival of democracy, I tweeted this:

Subsequently, I’ve been pondering whether taking part in an election built on an unfair system gives legitimacy to that system.

There are plenty of countries in the world where opposition groups boycott elections because they don’t believe them to be free and fair. Now I wouldn’t for a minute draw comparisons between our pretty sturdy electoral process and a vote that gave Saddam Hussein 100% support, but the word “fair” is an important one. Campaigns for proportional representation have long boiled that unwieldy description down to “fair votes”, which clearly implies the current system is not fair – and can’t, then, be “free and fair”.

Does that outweigh an abstract notion of “civil responsibility” to take part regardless? Or is there a separate civil responsibility to challenge systems that don’t work? Suffragettes fought for the right to vote (not for me, obviously) but that was also a challenge to an unfair system. That said, I don’t picture the Electoral Reform Society chaining themselves to railings any time soon.

One of this week’s poll projections suggested the election will be decided by 37 seats changing hands. That’s out of 650. Of course, a seat changing party isn’t a definition of good democracy – people absolutely should re-elect an MP (or, by proxy, a government) that they’re happy with. But it highlights how much power a handful of swing voters in a handful of seats have. I live in a pretty safe Labour seat and that means my vote will make little difference one way or the other. On the other hand, in the London elections – using a system the Conservatives have been talking about scrapping because *eyeroll emoji* – I get a second preference for mayor that gives more choice and a London-wide party vote for the Assembly that brings greater plurality of representation.

So I’d say that yes, taking part does legitimise a broken system. But is that a good enough reason not to vote? An ever-falling turnout might flag up to our rulers that something is wrong – but having been elected under the very same system, they have no incentive to change it. The most likely outcome would be the introduction of compulsory voting. That’s a convenient way for politicians to force up turnout without addressing the underlying issue and at the same time conceals disenfranchisement and takes away a personal freedom – the right not to vote.

Elections shouldn’t be about electoral systems: they’re about the economy and taxation and public services and, this time round, how we implement our collective decision to walk the country off a cliff into the English Channel. So if the party you support has no hope of winning in your constituency, there’s a good case for voting tactically for the least worst option. That’s the best choice under our electoral system; it also entrenches the status quo. The more tactical voting, the more skewed a seat becomes towards just two parties and the more tactical voting is required in future. Great.

The only “democratic” route left then is to carry on slogging under the current system and try to elect enough people who are altruistic enough to pursue genuine reform.

None of that fires me up to vote in my safe Labour seat, but I’ve come up with three reasons to do it anyway.

1. Keep buggering on. A tactical vote in my seat would continue to minimise the smaller parties. For one of them to win they need to get into contention and the only way to get them into contention is to vote for them.

2. Short money. My vote (for the Liberal Democrats, if the tweet wasn’t clear) won’t help them win in my seat this time round. I don’t want to talk down their changes but no polling suggests a surprise upset of that scale. But opposition party funding is related to the number of votes cast as well as the number of seats won, so my vote goes a small way to seeing a greater proportion of parliamentary funding going to the party I support.

3. OFCOM. It’s the job of everyone’s favourite media regulator to decide which are “major parties” for the purposes of public elections. In particular this affects the number of election broadcasts a party is allocated and the overall level of coverage given. Broadcasters may also take it into account when putting together debates or other political programming. Overall national vote share is a factor that OFCOM will consider and so maximising this helps to ensure TV and radio coverage, which is important for future growth.

Of course one can argue that the systems underpinning points 2 and 3 are further reinforcing the status quo, but that’s a discussion for another time. I have a vote to cast.

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Eurovision 2017: The Final http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/13/eurovision-2017-the-final/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/13/eurovision-2017-the-final/#respond Sat, 13 May 2017 12:12:09 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37233 The day is here and, excitingly, it looks like anyone could win! And by anyone, I mean Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria or the UK. Of course, probably not the UK but it really is the best of the bunch and Lucie Jones has been nailing it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Twenty countries have made it through from the semi-finals to join the six pre-qualifiers: the Big Five who put the big money in and Ukraine, last year’s winner and this year’s host.

The running order was decided after the second semi-final so here they are in order with my comments. I’ve revised my views on a few after the semis, in particular dark horse Bulgaria.

Israel
The contest opens with one of the few full-on uptempo bangers. It’s one of the weaker vocal performances, which is traded for energetic choreography.

Poland
Poland shouldn’t be in the final and are hogging a place that could have gone to someone more deserving, like Finland or Estonia. They need to take their hackneyed love song, go and sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

Belarus
There are a lot of white outfits in this year’s contest, even with some of them having been evicted earlier in the week. One of the few duets to make it through, both singers are in white. The song is jangly nonsense but they seem to be having a lovely time, possibly because they are not in Belarus.

Austria
It’s another white ensemble for Nathan Trent, who is also sporting this year’s fashionable but awful too-short trousers with no socks. It’s a recipe for cold ankles, folks. Nathan himself is charismatic and clearly loves being part of the contest but the song is weak. If the dry ice machine is turned up any higher, he’ll disappear completely.

Armenia
Visually interesting with strong singing and a doinky backing track. Here it helpfully breaks up the ballads.

Netherlands
This Dutch trio could put the rest of the competition to shame with their tight harmonies, which lift what could be quite a mediocre track. I was one of apparently hundreds on Twitter during their semi-final to comment on the similarity between their sound and 1990s Beach Boys/Mamas and the Papas offspring mash-up Wilson Phillips.

Moldova
One of the most fun songs and performances in the show, marking the Eurovision return of Epic Sax Guy (and his Sunstroke Project bandmates). Get that leg wiggle on.

Hungary
Time for that classic Eurovision folk music moment – and, fittingly, in Hungarian rather than English. There’s rapping too, and then the song kind of just stops at the end. Points added for good pyro. Points deducted for the top knot.

Italy
Yes, there’s a man in a gorilla suit doing a dance routine. We get it. Very clever. This was the early favourite (thanks to the gorilla) but it remains to be seen how it will come across with the revisions they’ve made to the staging since it won the Italian national selection. Performed in Italian with plenty of energy, the song itself isn’t bad but it’s by no means my favourite in the competition.

Denmark
We pop briefly back into English for Anja’s Where I Am, which seems to have got stronger with each performance. It’s one of the better of the night’s ballads, especially when it kicks up a gear towards the end.

Portugal
Salvador performs from the small satellite stage, giving this a low key, intimate feel that matches the song and the singer. It’s a piano bar ballad with a timeless elegance that defies you to dislike it even though you won’t understand the words (unless you speak Portguese, obviously). It could be twee as hell but it’s genuinely endearing and a return to the final for Portgual after six years of failing to qualify. If it makes the top five – which is likely – it will be their best result ever, and it could even be their first win.

Azerbaijan
This is in danger of geting lost given the songs on either side. It includes a man with a horse’s head standing on a stepladder, but this might feel like a cop out after a dancing gorilla.

Croatia
I find myself irrationally annoyed by this one. Jacques is talented. He can sing high pitched pop. He can sing bassy opera. Alternating between them both? Urgh. This would be great in cabaret; at Eurovision it feels like a gimmick, and I say that as someone who liked Cezar and Malena Ernman. I expect the juries to score it highly.

Australia
Another bed blocker. Shouldn’t be in the final. Take a toilet break during this one.

Greece
This feels like it’s improved over the course of the week but I’m afraid we’re now in the weakest section of the show. A pair from Men’s Health casting performing a cheesy dance routine do little to make this more interesting.

Spain
Spain are the second of the Big Five in the final and boy are they lucky to qualify automatically. This is embarrassingly bad. You will be in no danger of forgetting the title – your man sings it about 200 times in the space of three minutes. As My Lovely Horse as this year gets.

Norway
For those counting, it’s another white shirt, although set off by an ill-advised hat. It looks like it’s going to be awful but it’s actually a good package: lyric-packed verses, fun (and controversial!) vocal samples, an unusual middle eight and a strong chorus. None of it’s innovative but if there’s a weakness it’s likely to be the performance. Probably won’t stand out from the crowd.

United Kingdom
This is a juicy spot in the running order for Lucie Jones and rightly so: Never Give Up On You is the UK’s best entry in donkeys’ years. I didn’t even like it much among the various bland options the BBC gave us to choose from but it’s been reworked into something terrific. Add to that a great vocal performance (touch wood) and some absolutely stunning staging and this deserves to do really well. The juries will like it but will the phone voters? I’m set to see it rising up the table and then come crashing down when the televotes are added – but there’s still a part of me that thinks it could win. It’s certainly our best chance of the 2010s so far by miles.

Cyprus
Now that I’ve seen this in place with the video backdrops, the choreography makes much more sense. The track jumped out at me when I first listened to this year’s Eurovision album and I still like it. It’s upbeat and catchy with a good bridge. Probably competing for votes with Israel.

Romania
Strap yourself in for the classic Eurovision event of the night. Yodelling and rapping come together at last in what I believe is referred to as “a hot mess”. Naff choreography, nonsense lyrics and a video background drawn by a three-year-old child all make it stand out – and that’s even without the glittery cannons that are tragically forbidden from firing glitter. It’s dreadful but in all the ways UK audiences love.

Germany
“Oh, hi, Germany here. We just thought we’d saunter in at the end and drop a female soloist with an upbeat pop number on you when you were least expecting it.” I like this and Levina has an interesting voice, not hindered at all by plenty of support from unseen backing vocalists.

Ukraine
There’s not much danger of Ukraine hosting the contest again in 2018. That said, Time is the only guitar rock number of the show so it could attract its own section of televoters. Switzerland in 2015 might be wanting their “time to shine” lyric back, please.

Belgium
Blanche has a gloriously deep voice but it’s still unclear whether her stage presence is selling vulnerability or incredible discomfort. A tough result to call.

Sweden
Robin Bengtsson has been performing this for months but he and his team of Debenhams stylists have continued to polish I Can’t Go On since arriving in Kyiv. It’s a catchy song that no longer has the f-word in the chorus (replaced by “freakin'”) and five treadmills. Great for fans of Waterloo Underground station or City boys who like to spend three minutes on cardio between important meetings.

Bulgaria
Danger, Will Robinson! The dark horse of the second semi-final has got a prime place penultimate in the running order. I had this down as just “OK” and I’m still not a fan but I can see the appeal and a flagging audience could be won over. Sofia 2018 is not out of the question.

France
It’s a pleasant closer to the show from France (in French with a smattering of English). The video screen graphics are almost too engaging: a found my attention almost constantly drawn to them rather than to Alma and her song.

So that’s 26 countries and 26 songs. Plenty of contenders, a few potential surprise successes and some crowd pleasing silliness to keep things light. Portugal, Italy and Bulgaria still seem the most likely winners, but the UK definitely deserve a top 5 finish.

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Hello, Kyiv! http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/13/hello-kyiv/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/13/hello-kyiv/#respond Sat, 13 May 2017 08:18:25 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37230 A man in a hamster wheel

Ukraine have been in Eurovision since 2003 and have reached the final every year, save 2015 where they weren’t able to take part in the contest because *cough* reasons.

In that time, they’ve won the contest twice and have also been responsible for some of the most memorable staging of the last 20 years.

In honour of their hosting this year’s contest, here are my top 5 entries from Ukraine.

5. Ani Lorak – Shady Lady

This is what Ukraine entries have excelled at over the years: three-minute power pop brought alive on stage. Ani Lorak came second with her gaggle of energetic dancers and light-up fridges – and this is only number five.

4. Verka Serduchka – Dancing Lasha Tumbai

Verka’s 2007 entry is a load of nonsense but it’s also unashamedly fun and pretty unforgettable. The tin foil Timmy Mallett lost out to Serbia’s Molitva but remains an enduring fan favourite.

3. Ruslana – Wild Dances

This was the country’s second time in the competition and they only went and won! Ruslana subsequently spent a year as an MP in the Ukrainian parliament and continues to be politically, supporting ties between Ukraine and the EU and campaigning on human rights. The song’s good, too.

2. Maria Yaremchuk – Tick-Tock

The man in a hamster wheel in Love, Love, Peace, Peace? This is where that’s from. It’s a simple idea that works brilliantly and fits the song perfectly. Mariya came sixth in the 2014 final.

1. Svetlana Loboda – Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)

It might have been the least successful of the five, coming 12th in 2009, but this is my winner. What a first glance look like hamster wheels rotate outwards for Svetlana and her dancers, who are dressed like a Barbarella version of Roman centurions – someone in Ukraine really likes silver. The backing track is funky, Svetlana bangs the drums in the bridge, and the song has the best chorus of the lot. And then there’s the dance move at 1m40s. Anti-crisis BOM.

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Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 2 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/11/eurovision-2017-semi-final-2/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/11/eurovision-2017-semi-final-2/#respond Thu, 11 May 2017 13:42:33 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37226 Do you like white outfits? Do you love male-female duets? Do you crave male-female duets where they’re both dressed in white? Then semi-final two has been made for you!

After some upsets on Tuesday – Finland being the biggest expected qualifier knocked out – tonight it’s the second set of songs vying for places in Saturday’s final. And they are these.

Serbia
If the opening part of this song seems strangely familiar, I reckon it’s because it’s the Sugababes’ About You Now. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as that. There’s a white dress, a shirtless dancer doing a cool/weird backwards routine and a good button at the very end of the number, but it’s not enough.

Austria
Nathan Trent sports the second white outfit of the night. And too-short trousers with no socks. Seriously, people, this has to stop. Nathan is a charismatic performer which will help (as long as he doesn’t disappear completely into dry ice) but the song is bland up until the finale, which is pretty overblown.

Macedonia
Can we stop with the performers’ own faces on the video wall please? There were a couple of act in this year’s Melodifestivalen that did this and it’s weird if not downright egotistical. The song itself is fine but nothing special and destined for mid-table obscurity.

Malta
A white dress? Great idea! This is an elegant Eurovision ballad with the best singing of the show so far but, like so many Eurovision ballads before it, the song doesn’t really go anywhere – including, potentially, the final.

Romania
Yodelling and rapping, together at last in the night’s first duet. I don’t even know if this is a pastiche but it’s a hot mess. Naff choreography, nonsense lyrics and a video background drawn by a three-year-old child make it memorable even if Alex doesn’t fall off his glittery canon (not a euphemism). It’s pretty dreadful, so in many ways the entry the UK audience has been waiting for.

Netherlands
Hello to the best harmonies in the competition. The staging and backing track are minimalist, focusing rightly on the three performers, who lift what could be quite a mediocre track. A final place surely awaits.

Hungary
Missing the traditional eastern Europe folk song vibe? Fear not – Hungary deliver, although sadly not playing the kvinnaböske. There’s rapping too, and then the song kind of just stops at the end. Points added for good pyro. Points deducted for the top knot.

Denmark
This starts off middling and gets much stronger as it goes through, with some big notes adding interest. Look out for the golden shower at the end.

Ireland
Yes, there’s a hot air balloon. No, I don’t know why. Dressed in white, of course, Brendan Murray does a perfectly good job and looks and sounds about 15 so I’m not going to be mean about his song. And therefore have nothing else to say.

San Marino
On her third appearance at Eurovision, I joked that San Marino is so small that Valentina Monetta is the only singer they have. Well, she’s back again. As if to disprove my point, she’s found a friend to duet with. As if to prove my point, he’s American. I actually really dislike the harmonies they’ve chosen but the song’s fun (if you can stomach hearing the phrase “spirit of the night” 300 times in three minutes) and sounds like it has not one, not two, but three key changes!

Croatia
Get your face off the big screen! Jeez. So… Jacques is talented. He can sing high pitched pop. He can sing bassy opera. Alternating between them both? Urgh. This would be great in cabaret; at Eurovision it feels like a gimmick, and I say that as someone who liked Cezar and Malena Ernman. The song could stand on its own without the operatic parts.

Norway
For those counting, it’s another white shirt. At first glance I wasn’t expecting to like this but it’s a really good package: lyric-packed verses, fun (and controversial!) vocal samples, an unusual middle eight and a strong chorus.

Switzerland
It’s an OK ballad with an OK chorus. There’s not much else to say other than the singer’s dress is twice as tall as she is.

Belarus
It’s a duet. They’re dressed in white. Tick off your bingo squares and down your drinks. They seem to be having a lovely time, so that’s something.

Bulgaria
This is OK when it eventually gets going. Maybe it could be a One Direction b-side? Are they still a thing?

Lithuania
I like the brassy backing track. The melody, if there is one in there somewhere, not so much. This is another one that starts going off towards the end, once you’ve already written it off. Still, brass.

Estonia
Our final duet and our final singer in white (although Israel has some dancers in white still to come). It’s a long show and at this point I’m struggling to tell what they’re going for here. Is it a love song? Is it a song about regret? Is it advertising package holidays to Verona? For all that, the singers work well together and the overall effect is surprisingly endearing.

Israel
It’s another face on the big screen although at least this time it explodes. Imri Ziv closes the semi-final with an uptempo banger. Bookies might be offering odds on some of the high notes but their quality matters less in this number than in the big ballads.

Picking ten to put through the final was hard because I’m not sure I would put ten through. However, I’ll go for:
Malta
Romania (because I don’t want to deprive UK viewers of it)
Netherlands
Hungary
Denmark
San Marino (for the key changes)
Norway
Switzerland
Estonia
Israel

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Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 1 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/08/eurovision-2017-semi-final-1/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2017/05/08/eurovision-2017-semi-final-1/#respond Mon, 08 May 2017 11:27:15 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=37223 Time out is gone – the quest is on. Singers representing 42 countries have assembled in Kiev for the world’s greatest festival of music and wind machines: the Eurovision Song Contest.

The fun kicks off on Tuesday night with the first of the two semi-finals, and this is the one in which UK viewers can vote. Here are the runners are riders.

Sweden
Robin Bengtsson was the winner of SVT’s rigorous Melodifestivalen selection process so you can expect a slick performance. They wisely inserted the word “freaking” to replace a swearier lyric after its victory in the Melfest heats. The staging will particular appeal to fans of Waterloo Underground station and the Debenhams Blue Cross sale. A stronger opener.

Georgia
Fiery staging. Big sing. Reminiscent of a Bond theme. Plagiarise like a Phoenix.

Australia
Performed well but this is the weakest of their three entries so far and pretty dull to watch.

Albania
Lindita has quite the pair of lungs. There’s an OK hook in here but when the clocks from the Doctor Who title sequence appear the video wall behind her, I’ll be looking at the time.

Belgium
Blanche has a gloriously deep voice but seems incredibly uncomfortable on stage. The lyrics make me think of Kenny Loggins’s Danger Zone.

Montenegro
If you’ve been worried that Eurovision has traded in its campiness for slick professionalism, worry no longer. This is not a performance you’ll forget – and not just because Slavko uses his hair as a propeller.

Finland
It’s not just the title, “Blackbird”, that reminds me of Anouk’s brilliant “Birds” from 2013 – this is melancholic and beautiful. Unfortunately it’s also pretty forgettable.

Azerbaijan
This has quite the staging, judging from the rehearsal footage. It’s not the only time you’ll see a performer dressed as an animal in this year’s contest, but it is the only man with a horse’s head on a stepladder.

Portugal
Portugal have returned with a slow, low key, piano bar ballad with the simplest staging possible. It could be twee as hell but instead it’s incredibly endearing and, if you’re in the right mood, surprisingly moving.

Greece
A couple of dancers from Men’s Health casting performing naff choreography do little to make this more interesting.

Poland
Poland need to take their violin and their cliché love song and sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

Moldova
I prefer this to Sunstroke Project’s previous entry, from 2010. Both the song and the choreography are straightforward and fun, and this also marks the Eurovision return of Epic Sax Guy.

Iceland
A song about paper cuts. It’s perfectly competent but got repetitive quite quickly and there’s little interest in the staging. One of way too many performers dressed in white this year.

Czech Republic
I nearly didn’t make it to the end of this. Next.

Cyprus
This track jumped out at me when I was listening to this year’s album and I still like it. It’s upbeat and catchy with a good bridge. The choreography looks a little odd in the rehearsal videos but will probably make more sense on screen alongside video backdrops.

Armenia
Visually interesting, strong singing and a doinky backing track. It’s not to my taste but it’s not bad.

Slovenia
Omar represented Slovenia in 2005, also in Kiev. You can watch that performance on YouTube – be sure to stick with it until the creepy final moments. His song this time is, you know, fine: it’s uninventive and dated but I find myself guiltily liking it despite that. The lacklustre staging won’t help it.

Latvia
A hyperactive child appears to have been let loose on the designs for this: fluorescent coloured backdrops and a costume that’s Hello Kitty does Barbarella. At least the shiny things distract from the the song, which is run-of-the-mill Eurodance.

So that’s your 18 songs, 10 of which will be promoted to the final.

The ten I’d put through:
Sweden
Albania
Belgium
Finland
Azerbaijan
Portugal
Moldova
Iceland
Cyprus
Armenia

But I’d be feeling guilty about Slovenia while I did it.

Update: Now I’ve seen more info about Slovenia’s entrant, I no longer feel guilty about not including them. Bin him.

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I have written a play, Mr Jaffee http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/07/09/i-have-written-a-play-mr-jaffee/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/07/09/i-have-written-a-play-mr-jaffee/#respond Sat, 09 Jul 2016 10:34:10 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=33921 SquareIt’s called Square, and it’s produced by my longtime friends The Pensive Federation.

Key facts:

  • It has a cast of four awesome actors.
  • It’s inspired by the “square” concept.
  • It’s an hour long.
  • It’s been developed through the PenFed’s tried and tested process of workshops.
  • It’s on at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe from Monday 8th to Saturday 13th August at 7.30pm each night.

Tickets are available from the Tristan Bates website.

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Eurovision 2016: The Final http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/05/14/%ef%bb%bfeurovision-2016-the-final/ http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/2016/05/14/%ef%bb%bfeurovision-2016-the-final/#respond Sat, 14 May 2016 17:32:03 +0000 http://www.willhowells.org.uk/blog/?p=32586

My view for the Jury Final

Today’s the day! I went to yesterday’s Jury Final and I can honestly say I don’t remember a higher quality line-up. And there’s no single outstanding song, which means the results is less predictable than it has been for some time – and certainty less so than in the last couple of years.

What’s struck me too is the number of songs that have been lifted by their live performances. Latvia, Israel, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Australia, among others, have really come alive on the night. It’s also interesting to see the difference in reception between the hall – where the sound is huge – and the TV audience. So while I know what made an impression on the crowd last night, the voting audience at home, and the juries, may feel very differently.

That also means that, while I’ll refer you to my previous posts on the semi-finals to get an idea on the songs that have qualified, I’ve already changed my views on many of them. On top of those I’ve mentioned above, Georgia, Lithuania and Malta have all gone up in my estimation. Russia, on the other hand, feels trapped in its staging. For example, the projection screen Sergey is using doesn’t fill the TV – so when it’s giving him a white background, he doesn’t look like a man sprouting wings so much as a man standing in front of a PowerPoint. And he’s so engrossed in engaging with the video presentation that he sings to the audience less and feels a little disconnected.

The countries I highlighted above, on the other hand, have relatively simple staging that allows the songs – and the singing – to shine through. In the hall, at least. I suspect the juries will be attracted to that.

What then of the automatic qualifiers?

Italy
It’s a simple song well sung but in a high quality lineup, this is the first in the show I felt a little disappointed by. And I’m not convinced the late change into English helps.

Sweden
This is simple and pared down compared to the rest of the songs and that will help it to stand out. Most people seem to either love it or hate it. It certainly wasn’t my favourite of the Melodifestivalen finalists. Look out for the most ridiculous lyric: “I’d rob a bank, and a post office too.”

Germany
This is a grower, which annual readers will know I don’t consider a positive attribute in a Eurovision entry. Her Manga costume just looks silly.

France
France brought along a lovely number that mixes English and French. It has a touch of Sebastian Tellier and works well on the CD. However, Amir doesn’t seem to do too good a job with it live, so despite being one of the favourites, this could end up anywhere.

Spain
Say Yay is a fun old party number, but it’s style over substance for me – Barei has better songs, which I saw her perform in the Eurovision Village alongside this one. And I also learnt from that performance that she has “vocal support” in the wings helping with the melody.

United Kingdom
If Joe and Jake can pull it off tonight, this could do well with the phone voters. It’s one of our best songs in years and I’d love it to do well – not least to encourage the Beeb to stick with a public selection vote. But I’ve learnt the had way that we’re good at convincing ourselves that “this year we’ll make the top half of the table” or somesuch. I have no idea where we’ll come – but I have an inkling the juries will be distracted by the Big Sings and overlook this.

Here’s the full line up:

Belgium
Czech Republic
The Netherlands
Azerbaijan
Hungary
Italy
Israel
Bulgaria
Sweden
Germany
France
Poland
Australia
Cyprus
Serbia
Lithuania
Croatia
Russia
Spain
Latvia
Ukraine
Malta
Georgia
Austria
United Kingdom
Armenia

I genuinely think that in the right year, any one of those 26 songs could win. A dark horse like Armenia could benefit from going last. Ukraine’s not at all political passion could sweep them through. Israel or Australia’s big vocals could knock the other ballads out of their way. Or Russia’s video effects could steer them through. I can’t predict it.

What I do know is that we’re likely to see a new high score to knock Alexander Rybak off the top. That’s because the jury and phone votes are being reported separately this year, doubling the number of votes available.

I also know that the interval act is worth waiting for. And I don’t mean Justin Timberlake, although he’s part of it too. It’s almost like musical legitimacy has come to the Eurovision Song Contest. Who let that happen?

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