Archives for posts with tag: music

It is that time again where I air my thoughts on the results of Eurovision Song Contest. It was a year of contrasting musical styles, with the traditional ballads, dancefloor bangers and ethno-pop meeting pop opera and BDSM techno-punk. Oh, and Madonna turned up.

In fact, let’s start with her. You would think after being in the industry for nearly 40 years she would know how to make chat with TV hosts, but no. Her stilted conversation with the poor presenter was the most awkward moment of the night. Until that is we got to her actual performance. Barely a note was in tune and was actually mind-numbingly dull. A waste of 10 minutes that could have been given to hurrying the vote along so we could have gone to bed before midnight.

Honestly, most of the half-time entertainment was sub-par. Thank god for Verka, who should be a feature every year. At least give him a five-minute cabaret slot at some point.

The songs themselves were all very middle of the road in terms of quality. Bar a weirdly cold Slovenia and an overly saccharine Germany (and the bizarre world of San Marino) there were very few clangers, but also very little genuine quality. Norway was a personal favourite of mine, for actually bringing a bit of a tune and some energy. Azerbaijan was another high point and I have to reluctantly give some credit to Russia.

The biggest talking point was, of course, Iceland. The song itself was deliciously OTT, as was the staging. How they got away with something bordering on BDSM porn is beyond me (we were one ball gag away from an 18 rating), but I’m glad they did. Quite what Europe’s take on their Palestine protest during the voting will be is another matter. It’s interesting Madonna got away with her political statement with the crowd but not them.

The Netherlands were victors. It wasn’t a surprise though. Although not a personal favourite of mine, it obviously had a quality to it that would chime with juries and public alike. It is yet more proof that sincerity, regardless of genre of song, is the biggest vote winner. If you can sell the story of your song to the audience, you are going to be in the running to win.

Which brings me to the UK. Whilst the song was poor and the staging no better, last felt harsh when you consider some of the other songs out there. But it did lack anything to make it sound special. It takes more than a good voice. There will always be a debate as to if internal selection or public is the way forward, but there needs to be quality to begin with.

Still, there’s always next year. Amsterdam here we come!

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Some mysteries are easier to solve than others. I for one wouldn’t want to unpick any of those impossible maths challenges. I can however solve the case of the UK’s terrible run at Eurovision.

All the clues are there, but the problem is too many people look at the symptom, the grand final in May, rather than the cause, which in this case is the national selection process, the final of which occurred on Friday. I present to you, the criminal that is Eurovision: You Decide.

The format this year was a little different from normal, with six acts divided into pairs and having a song each. In other words, three songs in two different styles. In theory this is a good idea, as you can pair up the arrangement and the singer better to the song. It does prevent self-written songs though, with all the tracks produced by committee.

Of course, that relies on the three songs being quality to begin with. I don’t think any of them were. ‘Freaks’ was infuriatingly catchy but had awful lyrics. ‘Sweet Lies’ never really hit top gear as either a dance track or a ballad. ‘Bigger than Us’ was the cheesiest of cheese-fests. A stronger performer on all three was fairly self-evident, although if true justice occurred the public would have been able to vote on both versions of ‘Bigger than Us’ and ‘Freaks’ eliminated straight away.

Michael Rice’s take on ‘Bigger than Us’ was the best vocal of the night and an understandable winner. It fails the charisma test though. Some proper performance arts training will help, as will someone teaching him how to keep the microphone in the right place at all times. There is too much arm flailing in the choreography at present and a cruel draw in the final will guarantee us last place.

In some respects the problems run deeper than the songs though. The mocking tone we associate with Eurovision is present here. There is an amateur hour standard of production, with Mel Gidroyc and Mans Zemerlow frequently looking at the wrong camera and Gidroyc even at one point wandering off the set. I doubt you would see such sloppiness on any of the Scandinavian selection shows.

It is this feeling we are taking it as a joke that costs us every year. We can send whatever song we like, but if it is done with a sneer or a giggle we will get punished.

I argue we need to promote Rylan Clarke-Neal from head judge to presenter (he is surprisingly professional for a reality TV graduate). I also think that as good as the matching exercise was in theory, it didn’t work in practice. If they want a twist, make is self-written songs only. This encourages the performers to sing sincerely, a common theme amongst previous winners. And make the whole thing more professional. If even all that fails to produce a result, then we may need to make a second exit from Europe.

I spoke last week about the fad of having people who are fundamentally unpleasant as lead characters in sitcoms. The kind of person who is rude, selfish and not as smart as they think they are, living under the impression that the world should fall into their lap. Man Down is a good example of this genre, with the central figure of Dan never believing that the bad things are happening because of him, but because the universe is against him.

His co-star Roisin Conaty treads a similar beat in her own sitcom GameFace. In it, she plays out of work actress Marcella, who gets by on temp jobs that she can never keep and is forced into life coaching sessions. To be fair, she is not as rude as the above description but is always trying to take a short cut in life and failing. And, most crucially, she has that most crucial character flaw for the genre, a lack of accountability.

Yet you actually feel a bit more sympathy for Marcella. I wonder if this is a gender issue – there is that feeling that if a man fails it is because of his own actions, a woman because of those of others. Or it could be that her actions never stem from a place of anger; she is merely scatty and impulsive rather than aggressive.

Conaty is, of course, brilliant, although when you play an exaggerated version of yourself it is hard not to be. Still, no one can deny the air of authenticity on the show. Her elaborate daydreams add a surreal dimension to the show and are probably the highlight.

Also, it is actually funny in amongst some the cringe. The best humour comes from her one-line responses as opposed to any of the elaborate set pieces, although that is just my take. I have never been one to be bowled over my embarrassing people as a form of humour, preferring witty repartee or caustic off-the-cuff remarks.

Basically, this functions as a short diversion. It is certainly good enough for you to spend your time on, but is also slightly throwaway and disposable. It certainly doesn’t match the sharpness of This Country, which has grown on me from being mildly enjoyable to bloody amazing. GameFace is perfectly fine in its own way. It may follow a well-walked path, but you won’t regret going down it.

If you watch something over and over again, no matter how much you enjoy it, you inevitably start asking questions. In the case of drama or comedy, it could be plot holes or plausibility. Why has a character done x? How could event y have happened? What about thing z? This is perhaps why the best shows only last a few series, because the writers know that in order to reduce these questions they are working in a tighter framework.

Reality TV has a similar problem. Big Brother lost its spark as it drifted ever further away from being about normal people. Likewise, The Apprentice has perhaps lot its way a little as it has become ever clearer that there are people on it who use it as a passport to fame instead of furthering their business.

Because there is always one. They tend to leave about week seven or eight, when it is no longer plausible for Lord Sugar to keep them in, as they have shown they are incapable of running a business. Last year it was semi-professional ‘lad’ Andrew, who used his 15 minutes of fame to go on Celebrity Big Brother and date a C-lister. My money this year is on Kurran, a wannabe actor who can’t act but is a fan of grandiose statements about his genius.

Another problem with The Apprentice is some of the tasks feel deliberately designed to put candidates under ridiculous pressure which I’m not convinced reflects how business is done. For example, would somebody working in the advertising industry be expected to turn around a logo, advert and devise a presentation for an airline in 48 hours? Highly doubt it and you certainly wouldn’t be expecting with no knowledge of said industries to complete that workload.

Of course, there is the argument that this is all about seeing how people react to pressure. But seeing as many of the candidates are running their own businesses, you could argue they know all about pressure already. Lord Sugar could just as easily film them doing their normal jobs for 10 weeks rather than having them jump from gardening one minute to selling on TV shopping channels the next.

But then that wouldn’t be good TV would it? We want to see people flail and fail, having tetchy arguments about the price of plant pots along the way. And many of the eventual winners are actually successful post-show with their businesses. The right person does seem to win even if it takes a while to get there.

How much longer can the show last? Who knows. Once they have run out of ideas for tasks maybe, or Lord Sugar descends into senility perhaps. For now, we just need to sit back and take it all with a pinch of salt.

A while ago, I talked about adaptations and what purpose they served. Surely people who read the book would be too frustrated with any changes, and those who hadn’t wouldn’t have the motivation to watch? Hence my general rule not to watch them unless I really wanted to.

I broke my rule with Picnic at Hanging Rock. One of my excuses is that I didn’t know the book existed, or even the previous film adaptation for that matter. The other is that there was nothing else on. To be honest, that was the more powerful one.

The plot revolves around three girls and a teacher going missing on a school trip. The school in question is a ladies finishing school run by Ms Appleyard (played by Natalie Dormer), a figure with a mysterious past that is hidden beneath a tough exterior. There are therefore two mysteries, what happened to the people who disappeared and what is Ms Appleyard hiding exactly from her past?

We get hints of the latter throughout, with the general picture being one that she is some form of con artist who helped fleece men for money. This led the viewer to unfortunately seeing a very ugly penis in the second episode, which made relieved I had not chosen to partake in supper that night.

Having said that, it is beautifully shot. Everything has that dream-like edge that heightens the sense of mystery and ties in nicely to the theme of superstition that dominates. It can leave you feeling quite woozy in places, and you need your wits about you to follow the plot at times, but there is some excellent shot framing.

Dormer is also brilliant, playing Ms Appleyard with the right amount of austereness balanced with a creeping paranoia. Her scenes are by far the strongest and you find yourself gobbling up every icy bon mot that comes out of her mouth.

The scenes with the ‘coven’ of the teenage girls go missing are also strong, particularly in the second episode onwards where the politics of the group are clearer. The sexually questionable Mike Fitzhubert is also intriguing, especially is barely hidden crush for one of his servants. These characters all slip into the dream weaving quite nicely.

Sadly, the show falls when it steps out of this into the real world – the police doing routine questioning, the everyday admin of school running. You are shaken out of the state you are put in. You also feel that it could afford to go a little deeper, that if you were really to study what was going on it could be potentially just some well-made bobbins.

It is still a good distraction though, albeit one that will no doubt be frustratingly open ended in its resolution. Try and ignore the fact it is often style over substance. Come for Dormer and the mystery, stay for the weirdness.

We have come to that time of year again where I offer my thoughts on the Eurovision Song Contest. This year felt like a bit of an odd one. A lot of slow ballads and weak mid-tempo songs in the first half, lifted only by the cheesy Norway and distinctly odd Ukraine, with a second half filled with party bangers and eccentricities.

It was the slow start for the show that made me struggle more to enjoy it this year than normal, blandness topped with mediocrity being the theme. Of course, interest was piqued with the stage invasion during the UK’s song. One of these seems to happen a year now – if it’s not an onstage protest we get a member of the crowd mooning. Security is clearly a bit lax at this event.

The voting system also highlighted massive disparities in terms of what the critics want and what the public loves. The juries rewarded tight pop efforts from Austria and Sweden and dismissed the theatrics of Ukraine and the earnest folksy Denmark, both of which got more love from the viewers. The former I could understand, as it proved to be one of the high points of staging. The latter less so. It takes more than a beard for me to buy into some Viking backstory.

But did the right song win? Well, in my opinion, yes. TOY – the Israeli entrant – was one of the other masterclasses in staging, although one that was driven by the performer rather than the props. Netta worked the arena and the audience at home, no mean feat considering the stakes. The song also managed the feat of being up tempo but still with a message, in this case female empowerment. There have been grumblings of cultural appropriation with her geisha styling, but if we are to celebrate coming together as one, shouldn’t we be prepared to incorporate such things without fear of criticism? Or is that not woke enough?

I also enjoyed Moldova, despite Graham Norton’s criticisms of it. If you are going to bring the novelty, do it with conviction. It was also one of the few performances to really throw everything into the pot – props, choreography, a storyline – what more could you want? Likewise, Finland was too harshly judged by jury and viewer alike.

And finally, what about us? Well, I found the song to be beige in musical form. The staging was little better. The invasion probably saved us from being forgotten and SuRie’s admirable fortitude picked us a few sympathy votes that saved us from last place. But we wouldn’t need that if the song was stronger to begin with.

Which brings us to how we go about doing better next year. Two things for me. Firstly, the song writing by committee has to stop. Some of the best songs over the last few years have only written by one or two people, preferably the artist themselves or someone close to them. Second, there needs to be more of an investment from the record industry as a whole – genuine up-and-coming acts need to be scouted. An undiscovered talent who writes their own material seems to be the perfect act for Eurovision. But, until next year, that is that.

This week I’m not going to talk about why I watch a show. Instead, I want to discuss why I’ve stopped watching a show. This is a big deal for me, to officially give up on something, as it almost never happens. I am psychologically programmed to stay to the end, as horrendous as it may be.

But this year, I’ve decided: no more The X Factor. Thirteen years is enough. But why, you may ask, especially as I’ve spent the last few years vigorously spent the last few years defending its place on our schedules?

Well, the simplest and most honest reason is that I’m just not excited by its return. It felt like investing two nights a week was becoming a millstone round my neck. This was increased by the fact virtually none of my friends watch it, so I couldn’t discuss the highs and lows as a viewer even if I wanted to. I felt a similar relief when I let go of Big Brother when it left Channel 4 – I had got my summer back.

Digging deeper, there are several reasons for my lack of excitement. Firstly, the reduction in live shows and increased audition shows is not something I’m a fan of. I didn’t like how the live shows were hacked away at two years ago, as I felt we saw less of acts ability to demonstrate variety and quality. It also makes it easier to manipulate the results, knowing Cowell now has two shots at ditching acts he doesn’t like with double eliminations.

Another is that, whilst we always knew there were machinations to push viewers to backing the producers preferred choice of winner, we now KNOW these occur. It is very unsubtle. We know the tricks – the bland praise, the props and song choices, the carefully planned running order. The only excitement comes when such plans go wrong, when an act earmarked for an early bath picks up traction.

Finally, it seems to me like the show has given up, happy to trundle along until ITV give up on it entirely. Yes, I like the fact they are having another go at letting acts produce their own material, but other than that it feels like decidedly subdued. Don’t get me wrong, the judging line-up is the best since the Minogue/Cole era. But last night I didn’t find myself compelled to watch.

Whether I last all autumn and winter is another question. Dark nights make for poor companionship. But for now, I feel happy in my choice. A new life for me at the weekend beckons. Wish me luck!