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Eurovision 2015: Semi-final 1 May 19

Oh my god, we’re back again.

Conchita’s storming victory in Copenhagen last year means the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest finds us in Vienna. Last year 31 countries were competing for places in the final. This year it’s 33 so the semi-finals, of which tonight is the first, are extra important.

Tonight’s winners will head to the final to join the Big Five – France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the good ol’ UK – plus reigning champions Austria and guest competitor Australia.

The show will be on BBC Three this evening, with Scott Mills and Mel Giedroyc hosting. If you’re in the UK, don’t try to vote: we get to have our say in the second semi on Thursday.

Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect tonight:

  1. Moldova – This is very Europe, as befits an opening act. Eduard Romanyuta is Adam Rickitt’s 90s pop career reborn with a mainstream pop song that I seem to like more than everyone else, even if the verse could do with livening up. He appears to have recruited his dancers from Uniform Dating.
  2. Eurovision entrants are allowed six performers on stage and Armenia are taking full advantage, opting for six vocalists. Unfortunately, they appear to be singing six different songs. This is the musical theatre entry and that’s not a bad thing, but they’re trying to squeeze so much into their three minutes that the audience may be left baffled. Still, key change.
  3. Belgium – Now this is different. 19-year-old Loïc Nottet channels Adele in places with a song that could do really well. Its success will depend on how it comes across live but it deserves to breeze through to the final.
  4. Netherlands – They came so close last year (albeit with a song I wasn’t fussed about) but this doesn’t stand out. It’s perfectly serviceable but not a winner, and after a while you get sick of the incessant “why-why-yi-yi-yi”.
  5. Finland – They’ve not had a winner since Lordi and this won’t change that. It’s great to see a group of artists with learning disabilities represented at Eurovision. Alas, the song itself is dreary.
  6. GreeceOne Last Breath is, in the video at least, performed suitably breathily. A key change kicks it into gear and then it tries to squeeze all the dramatic stuff into the last third. Regular (well, annual) readers of these posts will know that this is one of my biggest Eurovision bugbears. Don’t write a song that’s boring for two minutes and only good for one. That’s not building to a climax, that’s wasting two-thirds of your stage time. And yet, as Greece are perhaps aware, people still vote for them. Grr.
  7. I’m always well disposed to a strong duet, and there are several this year. Estonia‘s is suitably upbeat and the closest to last year’s Netherlands near miss. I’m concerned that at times they’re singing parts too low in their ranges, which detracts from the power. There’s room for improvement but it’s a solid entry and should go through.
  8. FYR Macedonia – It’s a strong, contemporary song, if a little slow for me. It’s biggest danger is being overshadowed in the final by the Swedish entry, of which more on Thursday.
  9. Serbia make a welcome return with Beauty Never Lies. This starts quietly but instead of suddenly getting good too late, it builds steadily into a full-on dance track. Could be popular.
  10. Hungary – The curiously-named Boggie goes for the Eurovision stalwart of the anti-war message. Over the last few years, Hungary have had a very strong run of songs without being rewarded with a win. This is different and not particularly to my taste but it’s not bad. The version in the promo video is pleasantly chilling. It might struggle to have the same effect live.
  11. Belarus – This is the love child of 2014’s Azeri and Hungarian entries and gets a boost from a well-utilised violin. Very toe tappy.
  12. Russia – Them again. The worst of all the options for 2016 host. This is a song about peace and healing and how we’re all really the same. From Russia. And it’s as twee as that sounds, although the chorus is good.
  13. Denmark – Tonight’s only guitar pop entry. McBusted could release something similar tomorrow to disprove my point but this still feels dated to me. Retro is fine but it needs an original twist. Competent filler.
  14. Albania – This is a classic example of my bête noire: it washes over you for two minutes and then suddenly there’s some syncopation and you remember you were supposed to be listening.
  15. Romania – After a night of songs in English, a sudden change! For a while anyway. It’s OK but we’re all flagging now.
  16. Georgia – Bizarrely, there are two songs this year called Warrior. This is the first and I think demonstrates what is meant by “fierce”. It’s a pumped up Evanescence (remember them) but will need big drums on the stage to work. One to reevaluate after the semi final if it progresses, which it should.

There we go. Only 10 can make it through to the big night on Saturday. And on Thursday, we’ll be back like the gluttons for punishment we are for 17 more songs.

Why I won’t employ The Bangles: an analysis of Manic Monday Jun 20

On paper, the job application from The Bangles seemed promising. They met the key selection criteria, they seem passionate, and they clearly work well as a team.

But then we have to take into account the lyrics of their 1986 Top Ten hit “Manic Monday” and things fall apart.

Six o’clock already
I was just in the middle of a dream
I was kissin’ Valentino
By a crystal blue Italian stream

This is less a criticism and more a pre-emptive warning: this is not the kind of chat we want to hear around the water cooler. Feel free to share your intimate dreams with millions via easy listening radio stations, but not, please, with your colleagues.

But I can’t be late
‘Cause then I guess I just won’t get paid

No, you absolutely shouldn’t be late, but we can’t help thinking you’re throwing shade on your employers here. If you’re paid by the hour, being late may have an impact but it’s unfair to imply you wouldn’t be paid at all. The best thing to do if it’s feasible would be to stay a little later at the end of the day – then everyone’s happy.

These are the days
When you wish your bed was already made

We all love a freshly made bed but if you’re choosing rearranging your duvet over getting to work on time, it suggests an inability to prioritise.

It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it were Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day
My I don’t have to run day
It’s just another manic Monday

If you allow enough time on a Monday morning, you won’t need to run. Fail to plan: plan to fail.

Have to catch an early train
Got to be to work by nine

This is not an unreasonable requirement and most of your colleagues achieve it without breaking a sweat.

And if I had an aeroplane
I still couldn’t make it on time

If anything, commuting by plane would take longer, considering the requirements of check-in and security and connections to and from the airport. Unless you work for an airline.

‘Cause it takes me so long just to figure out what I’m gonna wear

Pro tip: choose your outfit the night before.

Blame it on the train
But the boss is already there

You’re unlucky if your boss lives on the same train line as you but lies will be found out regardless. We value honesty and would rather you told the truth and made up the time.

It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it was Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day
My I don’t have to run day
It’s just another manic Monday

You might like to consider whether you’re trying to pack too much in to your Monday. Could some of your activities be moved to later in the week?

All of the nights
Why did my lover have to pick last night
To get down?

Again, please don’t share the details of your love life in the office. This should be the subject of innuendo and gossip from your co-workers and they can’t have that pleasure if you’re all upfront about it.

Doesn’t it matter
That I have to feed the both of us
Employment’s down

We appreciate that it’s a recruiters’ market at present but that’s all the more reason to think about what you’re saying in public. You’re not the only applicants and, all other things being equal, we’re more likely to opt for the candidate who hasn’t recorded a song about their lack of punctuality.

He tells me in his bedroom voice
‘C’mon honey, let’s go make some noise’

We do not need to know this.

Time it goes so fast

It’s an interesting conceit although Einstein’s special theory of relativity indicates that when you’re travelling to and from work, time is actually passing at a marginally slower rate.

It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it was Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day
My I don’t have to run day

You might actually find that running at the weekend lowers your stress levels and keeps you fit and healthy, ready to tackle the working week.

It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it was Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day

Oh, hang on. Sunday is your “fun day”?

It’s just a manic Monday

You’re hungover, aren’t you?

I’m sorry but on this occasion we’re not able to offer you the position.

Constructive feedback: next time write your application yourself rather than getting Prince to write it for you.

Category: Music  | 3 Comments
Eurovision 2014: The final May 10

The time has almost come to find out who’ll be crowned this year’s Eurovision Song Contest champion and there are plenty of countries being tipped. Will it be the early favourite Armenia? Can Sweden retake the title two years after their last victory? Momentum is building for the Netherlands after Tuesday’s semi-final, while Austria’s entrant wowed the arena on Thursday. Could Hungary achieve their first win? Or will our strongest entry in a decade bring the competition back to the UK in 2015?

In semi-final 1, we said goodbye to Latvia, Estonia, Albania, Belgium, Moldova and Portugal, and in semi-final 2 we lost Israel, Georgia, Lithuania, Ireland and Macedonia (so my prediction was 80% right!). One of the down sides of the semi-final process is that some of the more characterful, extravagant, ridiculous or comically bad entries for which Eurovision is notorious get weeded out – but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of idiosyncrasy in tonight’s show.

  1. Ukraine – And the idiosyncrasy starts here, with a cunning ruse to distract us from the song using an attractive man performing gymnastics in a giant hamster wheel. It works and this song, with lyrics as Eurovisionly banal as its possible to create, came off better than I expected during its appearance in the first semi-final. It’s a fun bit of nonsense but even extra geopolitical sympathy votes are unlikely to propel this to the top of the table.
  2. Belarus – While Latvia’s cake song was relegated on Tuesday, Teo’s Cheesecake made it through to the final two days later, ensuring bake-off fans still have something to slaver over. It would benefit from losing the very dated pop culture references and the air of Robin Thicke.
  3. Azerbaijan – It’s the Year of the Classy Ballad, and Dilara is the first of several female vocalists vying for that vote. Start a Fire is hard to criticise but it has some stiff competition and, despite the name, the fire never quite gets going.
  4. Iceland – Iceland’s cartoonish Pollapönk were a surprise qualifier for the final. Their message of tolerance is very welcome but the song itself is a bit of a mess, jumping jarringly from reasonable verse to laboured chorus, then diverging, to its credit, into a disco break and a key change. My favourite lyric is indicative of the rest of the song: “Even if you’re taller / Or someone who is smaller / Or perhaps you’re thinner / Or one who loves his dinner.”
  5. Norway – I have warmed to Carl Espen’s ballad over the last few days. A strong performance in the second semi-final saw this rightly through. It’s sung well and nicely put together but it remains at the duller end of tonight’s spectrum.
  6. Romania – Paula and Ovi attempt to distract us with a hologram and a novelty keyboard (Ovi’s fingerwork fooling nobody), but it detracts from rather than enhances this middling track. It’s an OK song but OK just isn’t going to cut it.
  7. Armenia – Armenia was the early favourite and while Aram MP3’s odds may have lengthened, he is still definitely in the running. I wasn’t too impressed by his performance on Tuesday which contributed to my view that this is style over substance: it’s the crescendo, the build, the dramatic final minute, the fireworks on stage – but cut that away and the song has little to it.
  8. Montenegro – With Norway, this makes up the pair of male vocal ballads in the final. It comes alive towards the end but is the weaker of the two songs and could well be forgotten – and with most other Balkan countries not taking part this year, it can’t rely on its neighbours for easy votes.
  9. Poland – This was the one I didn’t expect to go through on Thursday, when it was notably popular with the live audience, but I hadn’t counted on the vote-winning attractions of live, busty butter churning. Or maybe it was the music. (Or maybe it was the butter.) It’s fun and bawdy but not much a song.
  10. Greece – I was worried for this in its semi-final after some sound issues at the start but I needn’t have been: the boys done good and now find themselves in the final. It’s upbeat, it’s positive, it’s funky (I still feel embarrassed to use the word) and there’s nothing else like it in the contest. It could sink or it could do extremely well. I hope it’s the latter.
  11. Austria – There was an almighty roar in the area on Thursday night when Conchita Wurst was announced as the last act to reach the final. The crowd loved her and another strong performance tonight would definitely put her in contention for the prize. Rise Like a Phoenix is another ballad but with a James Bond theme sensibility. It oozes with style. Conchita will appeal to viewers for her singing voice and for her beard, which will ensure no-one forgets her when it comes time to decide who to vote for. What’s the Wurst that could happen?
  12. Germany – As one of the Big Five moneyed countries, Germany automatically qualifies for the final. This is the weakest of the five. The lyrics are banal but there’s a folksy, middle of the road charm to it. It shouldn’t trouble the top ten.
  13. Sweden – I’ve liked Undo more every time I’ve heard it and Tuesday night’s performance was a stonker – aided but some extremely effective stage lighting. Sanna Nielsen is a veteran of the Swedish Melodifestivalen, qualifying after numerous attempts, and her set in Copenhagen’s “Eurovision Village”, which I caught on Wednesday afternoon, proved she’s a very talented singer. Expect a strong placing.
  14. France – We move into the second half with the second of the Big Five, and the most eccentric. You don’t need to speak French to understand that TWIN TWIN’s song is about a man’s desire for a moustache. Whether or not that’s a euphemism, only they know, but the choice of syllable to emphasise does needlessly bug me. It’s a simple but infectious number and I’m looking forward to seeing if the staging is as odd as the song.
  15. Russia – The audience applauded Russia’s performance politely on Tuesday but it was the announcement that the Tolmachevy Sisters had made it to the final that brought boos. Away from the geopolitical context, there is of course nothing sinister about two clean cut, photogenic blonde girls singing about a star rising in the east. In context, though… It’s one of the weaker vocal performances (although perhaps, ahem, assisted from the wings) and the song itself sounds like a hundred Eurovision entries before it.
  16. Italy – The third automatic qualifier is Emma Marrone’s upbeat and rhythmical La Mia Città. It’s not at all bad but will struggle to stand out.
  17. Slovenia – Tinkara’s successful semi-final appearance on Thursday confirmed my view that this is a cracker, the (admittedly obvious) rotating camera work and stage images effectively reinforcing the song (Round and Round). It begins with a flute, played, as is now required, by the singer, but don’t worry – it’s a cunning ruse! The song is a thoroughly modern pop track and deserves to do well.
  18. Finland – High school students Softengine are the only guitar band in the contest so their brand of Brandon Flowers will be looking to conquer that section of the audience. Something Better does that competently but it’s rarely been a winning approach at Eurovision.
  19. Spain – The fourth song from the Big Five is performed by Ruth Lorenzo, who was apparently on The X-Factor when Softengine were still at primary school. It’s another classy ballad from a female solo artist whose lungs will be going full whack at the end but it’s now a crowded market.
  20. SwitzerlandHunter of Stars is a jolly, catchy song you can whistle along to and Sebalter is a charismatic singer. I’m glad this reached the final but it did feel a little lost in the huge arena on Thursday. Switzerland haven’t broken the top 10 since 2005 and last won with Céline Dion back in 1988 so this could give them one of their better results of the last 20 years.
  21. Hungary – Now this has to be in the Running to win. Andr´s was the last to perform on Tuesday and his energetic performance and strong song immediately leapt into contention. Like Armenia, it starts gently and builds but, unlike Armenia, it gets to the point quickly and has proper depth. Dark lyrics with an upbeat dance backing? One for an each way bet.
  22. Malta – Turn down your Mumford detectors unless you want to break them – here’s Malta and the twee-est song of the night. It’s cheesy but it stands out and you might find your foot tapping despite yourself.
  23. Denmark – As last year’s winner, Denmark also gets a free pass to the final – which is good news for the hosts as this song would have been at risk of not qualifying. It’s a wannabe Timberlake performing nonsense lyrics that quote Katy Perry. As clichéd as its title suggests, its closest competition is Belarus, whose laid back approach makes it the better of the two. I heard some drunk Danes singing this in the streets of Copenhagen but the only two who expressed an opinion to me were embarrassed by it.
  24. Netherlands – I misunderestimated the popularity of Calm After the Storm, which is up against with Malta for the country music audience. It’s a perfectly respectable track but more calm than storm. It’s absolutely perfect for Radio 2, which you may interpret as you will.
  25. San Marino – It was fantastic to see Valentina Monetta reach the final on her third attempt. Two years ago she tried with The Social Network Song (urgh) but it’s Maybe that’s done the job – and guess what? It’s a classy ballad. It’s not going to win the Battle of the Ballads but top marks for effort.
  26. There’s one more song to go and one more of the Big Five left. Yep, it’s the United Kingdom with our best song in years – and possibly our best chance since 1997, although there’s some stiff competition. After two unsuccessful attempts to mine the Singers’ Retirement Home, the BBC has found in Molly Smitten-Downes a talented singer-songwriter – which is what they should have been looking for all along. I was at the first public performance of Children of the Universe and there was genuine excitement when the audience realised this year’s entry would be a song that is, you know, actually good. Plus we’re trumping all those old Eurovision songs about us being children of the same world by going for the whole universe. A good performance tonight – and word is that’s what we got in the jury final yesterday – and we could be top 5 for onl the second time since 2002. Touch wood.

So there are the 26 songs. The organisers have revealed the voting order, which is supposed to make the voting as “exciting as possible” based on the jury results already in. This has put Slovenia last – which could be a sign that it’s between Austria and Hungary.

While we can expect some of the usual tit-for-tat voting (which exists of course, but only impacts on the lower orders), there are some interesting differences from past years. With Cyprus not taking part this year, Greece loses a bankable 12 points. None of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia qualified, so where will their votes go? And will the female-led ballads split the votes, opening the way for Hungary, Armenia or even the UK?

Answers from 8pm.

Eurovision 2014: Semi-final 2 May 08

Hello from Copenhagen!

My first experience of Eurovision up close on Tuesday was terrific fun and we found ourselves sitting right behind the “green room” with a great view of the acts. The favourites got through, the main surprise qualifiers for me being Iceland and the Netherlands. I was gutted to see Moldova go, but there’s a replacement Bond theme waiting in the wings tonight, ready to rise from the ashes…

In one sense it’s marginally easier for the acts in the second semi-final as only five, rather than six, will be knocked out of the contest. But on balance I’d say the competition is tougher, with more strong songs in the running. Let’s look at who they are.

  1. Malta – We start with this year’s obligatory tribute to Mumford and Sons, for Malta do love their tweeness. It’s cheesy – even more so when you add the schmaltzy video – but at least it will differentiate itself from everything else.
  2. Israel – Mei Finegold delivers toe-tapping anger with a big-lunged key change. And that’s all I really want from a Eurovision song.
  3. Norway – It’s worthy and your man can sing. So no, it does nothing for me. A little bit haunting and a little bit boring.
  4. Georgia – So. Based on the video, a group of ageing hippies got drunk at a barbecue and decided to put together a Eurovision entry, couldn’t agree on a song so decided to play three at the same time, and coerced a family friend – who felt too polite to refuse – into improvising some vocals on top. Based on the song itself, I reach the same conclusion. It has moments of musical interest but overall it’s rather baffling.
  5. Poland – This one’s fun and insistent if a little bawdy. Will split the audience down the middle. Possibly with an axe.
  6. Austria – With Moldova gone, the path is clear for this year’s other Bond theme – and you can hear the style from the opening note to the final sting. It’s Conchita Wurst, the bearded lady, and that alone will help this to stick in the voters’ collective memories. Plus she’s got a good set of lungs on her. With a strong staging, Rise Like a Phoenix could do very well indeed.
  7. LithuaniaAttention grabs exactly that, but not for the right reasons. The official recording is better than the national final recording, which was pretty awful. This could well go the way of Latvia and Estonia – i.e. home.
  8. Finland – The contest is light on guitar bands this year but Softengine do a creditable, sub-Killers job of filling the gap. Cornering the market may see it through.
  9. IrelandHeartbeat starts off somewhere south of the Corrs but it’s enjoyable, if forgettable, once it gets a pulse. Not a patch on last year’s Irish entry but that came last in the final, so what do I know?
  10. Belarus – Return of the cake! This reminds me of Pasha Parfany’s Lautar, Moldova’s 2012 entry, although it’s not as good. The clumsy pop culture references in Cheesecake will date badly but it’s laid back and fun – although I could do without the touch of Robin Thicke. As it were.
  11. Macedonia – An OK bit of Eurodance.
  12. Switzerland – You do know how to whistle, don’t you? If you do, now’s the time to join in. Sebalter is massively endearing and the song is good, catchy fun. I hope it makes it to the final.
  13. Greece – I should hate this. Really, I should. It’s funky (although I feel embarrassed to use the word), it’s upbeat, it’s positive, and while it might not be the absolute freshest sound, it’s certainly within its Use By date. If you told me this was a new act from London rather than a Eurovision entry, I’d believe you, and that’s high praise indeed.
  14. Slovenia – This is a cracker. It kicks off with a flute that will make your heart sink, but fear not – it was a cunning ruse! It bursts into life as a thoroughly modern pop track. Tinkara deserves a place in the final, but if not, at least there’ll be a place in the Sugababes.
  15. Romania – And finally, it’s an above average pop track, boosted by some powerful vocals. I can’t remember how it goes but there’s a circular keyboard to distract you.

And that’s your lot, apart from an interval act that will see Autralia’s first participation in the contest – discounting Olivia Newton-John’s fourth place for the UK in 1974, of course.

I’m not one to predict but I could see the eliminated five including Georgia, Poland, Lithuania, Ireland and Macedonia. I may be live tweeting (on @willhowells) but I’m in the standing section this time so I may be busy dancing. Or just be too hemmed in by gays enjoying the semi.