Archives for posts with tag: Sweden

And so to my yearly review of The Eurovision Song Contest. I did not have high hopes for this year’s contest – stories of backstage chaos, tensions between the hosts Ukraine and Russia and an overall opinion on the fan forums of the quality of the songs being lower left me concerned that I was facing a very dull and badly organised three hours.

Thankfully, events transpired rather better than that. I don’t profess to be an expert on musical quality, but I found enough of the songs enjoyable to compensate from any that were lacklustre, and there seemed to be return to the creative eccentricities the contest is known for.

Amongst my favourites this year were the joyful Moldova, the cool and contemporary Norway and the slightly oddball but magnificently done Azerbaijan and Croatia. Quite how a man wearing a horse’s head sitting on top of a ladder was designed to add anything to the song is beyond me, but it worked, as did the solo duet. I even warmed to Sweden’s entry, which had been written off as cold and cynical by many fans.

But what of the winner? Well, I personally didn’t fall for the charms of Salvador from Portugal. The song seemed reminiscent of a particularly downbeat Disney song from the 1950’s and the singer’s tics were not sweet gestures that people seemed to be worshipping. Yet clearly enough people fell for the simplicity and subtlety of the moody staging and the quirks of the performer, as it won in a landslide, topping both sets of votes by some distance. Expect next year to feature a glut of foreign language retro love songs on minimal staging.

Speaking of next year, where do the UK go from here? We sent a strong package: a decent song, excellently sung and well staged, and still only managed 15th (although we did get a top 10 finish from the jury). To be fair, the song always did seem more jury bait than something that would win over a public vote, but even so, it felt harsh to only receive 12 points from the televote.

The solution to this problem is perhaps to keep up and build on the efforts of this year by throwing our weight behind the song but adapt where we went wrong. Find an artist that writes their own stuff and knows how to sell the narrative, keep the staging subtle but effective and make sure there is a story to tell the viewers. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the winners for the past two years have written very personal songs. Perhaps rather than hiring the best songwriter and pairing them up with the best singer, we get the performer who can do both.

As this year’s Eurovision Song Contest once more blows through, it is time once again for me to conduct the post-mortem on the event. As ever, I will be asking three basic questions. Firstly, was it a good show? Secondly, did the right song win? And finally, where next for the UK after another spectacular failure?

In response to the first, I have to say it was very enjoyable. The fact it was in general much more up-tempo this year helped, as last year did seem to creak under the weight of the ballads. Plus, elaborate staging as embraced in such a way as never seen before.

Sweden are always good hosts anyway, striking the right balance between tongue-in-cheek humour whilst keeping an ordered seriousness. Petra Mede, in particular, is a natural at this kind of thing, with a sharp wit and a keenness to hurry along any spokesperson who is taking too long. Justin Timberlake’s appearance didn’t hurt either, giving the interval a Superbowl feel. He won’t be the last big superstar to happily exchange pleasantries with the hosts about how lovely European music is in exchange for promoting their new song to 200 million viewers.

So on to the songs. The split voting system certainly made things tenser, whilst also showing the disparity between the juries and the public. In fairness, the juries seemed to have got it spot on – Bulgaria, France, Russia and Ukraine all hovering around the top with Australia leading. Even the UK seemed to be doing alright.

Then the public votes came in. Countries that had been on course for doing well plummeted, such as Malta, Belgium and The Netherlands. Vice-versa, Poland and Lithuania found themselves shooting up. Poland is a particular bug bear of mine – a weak song and dull staging that took third in the public vote and then managed to finish 8th overall. Then the biggest shock – Australia had taken 4th in the public vote but still looked good for the win. Then, a gigantic wodge of points went to Ukraine for 2nd, pushing them to first overall. Even Russia couldn’t stop them.

In my view, Ukraine was not the right song. I found it too heavy and political. The staging was beautiful and she sang well, but I am confused how a Saturday night voting audience wanting a good time rated it so highly. Maybe the diasporas have it now.

Personally, I preferred France and Bulgaria. I also, to my surprise, enjoyed Russia, whilst Cyprus was the most underrated song of the night. Israel, Australia, Spain and Armenia also delighted me. On the flip side, Italy bored me, Sweden and Poland irritated and Georgia gave me a migraine.

So, what of the UK? Well, the splitting of the vote has helped identify our problem. A respectable 17th from the juries, including a douze points from Malta. But then, a crushing second to last in the public vote. To be fair, as pleasant as our song was, there did feel to be a missing ingredient from it. The staging didn’t wow me or my friends, and it felt overall like it was competent rather than stunning.

The lack of love from the public suggests it is this connection between the performers, the song and the staging that is missing. We didn’t exploit the new technologies other countries have embraced over the last couple of years. In 2011 we had the opposite problem of a weak song from Blue but a good connection with the public. Clearly we need to combine the two halves – an experienced and charismatic performer with a strong sense and great staging.

How we achieve this though is a different matter. I think perhaps we need to make a bigger thing out of our selection process, which will lead to bigger names, and perhaps better songs. It also wouldn’t hurt to mirror the voting system used, giving an equal split to juries and the public.

Anyway, until next year, when it looks like the show will be coming from Kiev with artillery fire in the background, we will just have to lick our wounds. Again.

 

Another year rumbles on, and it is now time for the annual post-mortem of The Eurovision Song Contest. This time, although I still want to ask the questions ‘did the right song win?’ and ‘did we deserve to do as badly as we did?’ I feel that this year they are so easy to answer that I may have to pad out with a general overview of the event as well, which is where we will begin.

Much has been made of Australia’s inclusion and the fact this was biggest final ever. To be fair, Australia didn’t disgrace themselves despite the temptation for them to go down the novelty act route. A strong singer, well-written song and nicely put together staging made for a strong performance, one which we could learn from (more on this later).

I do feel the execution of the show overall was quite weak, lacking the military-tight organisation of the Soviet bloc whilst also lacking the joie di vivre of the Scandinavian broadcasters. In fact, they were points during the interval and voting, and even occasionally between the songs, where things were boarding on the shambolic. Faulty satellite link-ups, wandering cameras, and hosts that struggled to left the awkward chats up from being almost funeral eulogies. Thankfully we are returning to Sweden next year, who are able to present with a nod and a wink whilst still being professional.

That leads us smoothly to the question of whether they should have own. For me, it is a strong yes. There were half a dozen or so songs that could have challenged, but each had a fatal flaw. Belgium had a strong song and charismatic performer, but I felt the staging (especially the dancers) a bit so-so. Russia had a very strong song and staging, but having a country that is a poster-child for intolerance singing about coming together as one stuck in the throat slightly. Good on countries like Lithuania for breaking rank and awarding none or low points for this. Italy was very good, but didn’t quite make the jump to ‘winner’ for reasons I can’t tell you other than gut instinct. Finally, Georgia was a favourite of mine, but too many flashing lights and a profusion of smoke in the first 30 seconds put me off. Sometimes less is more.

Sweden had none of these issues. Realising that it is the centre of European EDM it put that genre front-and-centre with imaginative and beautiful staging and a singer that knew how to sell the song. They are now officially behemoths of this competition with barely a foot wrong over the last 5 years. Again, this is a country we could learn from.

So what went wrong with us? Well, whilst I don’t think it was the best song, or staging, or performance, I still feel we deserved a few places higher on the scoreboard. Having said that, the genre was of electro-swing is slightly obscure, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find this bombed more with juries who perhaps spotted the limitations of the singers than the public. Our place in the draw didn’t help – a slot in the second half would have helped where we could have broken up the ballads could have seen a few more points come our way.

Where we go from here to me seems obvious, if difficult to achieve. We have two models to choose from based on this year’s line-up. The first is what I will dub the ‘Australian Model’. Keep the internal selection, but pick an act that is current and has some credibility. Allow them to write the song, perhaps even give them free reign over the staging as well. Obviously we won’t get Adele or Ed Sheeran, but a respectable act from The X Factor like Fleur East would work.

The other route is the ‘Swedish Model’. Sweden spends weeks of airtime and money selecting an act. The vote is split between juries and public, and new acts and established alike compete. It is now coincidence that the last time we even attempted something like this was 2009 when Andrew Lloyd Webber was involved an there seemed to be a genuine search for a star, and we eventually managed to place a very respectable 5th. We shouldn’t be surprised that the years we where we don’t sneer at it, we do well. A culture change is need in how we treat the show, and we need it fast.