Friday, March 22, 2013

Europe Too Happy to Vote for Sad Songs

Are Europeans too happy to vote for sad songs? The last time a dark, somber song won the contest was in 1995 with winning-weary Ireland's - I mean Norway's Secret Garden's "Nocturne" - so dark of a song that would induce a bloody mass suicide on Sesame Street. After, the introduction of televoting changed the standard of selecting Eurovision winners. Ever since, Eurovision song contest winners have been songs of inspiration and hope like "Love Shines a Light" (1997), "Molitva" (2007), and "Believe" (2008). Some songs were tongue-in-cheek, fun, and celebratory such as "Everybody" (2001), "I Wanna" (2002), "Fairytale" (2009), and "Satellite" (2010). None of the songs that won after 1997 were sad songs. It begs the question, will Europe select a sad song as its 2013 winner?

Picture: Eurovision 1995's "Nocturne"
This year, the bookies put three songs with gloomy productions and melancholy lyrics as the frontrunners to win Eurovision 2013: Denmark's "Only Teardrops," Norway's "I Feed You My Love," and The Netherlands' "Birds." Before we start placing bets on which one of the three will win, let us reflect. Which past Eurovision winning songs had lyrics like "You put a knife against my back" or "Hopes turned into fear and with my one wing I can't fly" or "Look at us now, we only got ourselves to blame?" In reality, Eurovision audiences are not filled with gothic, emo teenagers partaking in daily self-harm. While these favorites are actually some of the best songs in this year's Eurovision, I fear these songs will not properly connect with the rest of Europe and may lead to a rude, surprising awakening on the night of May 17.

Picture:, compiled by
As Europe dithers in financial crises one after another for the past several years, Europeans are still selecting a mix of upbeat, happy, or overly saccharine songs as their winners. Eurovision is normally a time of celebration, having fun, and enjoying diverse cultures. When it comes to depressing songs, Sweet Brown puts its nicely, "Ain't Nobody Got Time for That." If Europeans are still feeling happy, then I would not count out countries like Sweden's "You", Germany's "Glorious," Russia's schmaltzy "What If," Ireland's "Only Love Survives," and Italy's sentimental "L'Essenziale" - extravagantly sentimental "feel-good" songs so sweet that a couple listens can cause Type II diabetes. Look at their track records. Sweden has been very successful since its Melodifestivalen revamp in 2011. Germany and Russia are recent winners and do well when they put in the effort. Italy does well when we all least expects it to do well (e.g. 1990 and 2011). Ireland may be a big underdog since it's been under the radar since 1997, but didn't they win in Malmö 1992? Where is Eurovision this year?

Picture: MTV Italy
Conclusively, Eurovision pundits should be very cautious calling 2013 a three-way race. 2013 may be as close as 2003 (when Turkey beat Belgium by two points) or 1998 (when Israel barely won against Malta and the UK). Frankly, this is good for Eurovision and terrible for the bookies and pundits. For the past several years, the competition became too predictable albeit with some great winning songs becoming Eurovision classics. An unpredictable contest in Malmö will definitely make incredible television. Who will win? I can definitely say it will not be Greece, Hungry, Montenegro, or Lithuania. Be very cautious betters and gamblers.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Hold Me" is Bland and Overrated

It is always interesting to see how competitive countries after they host Eurovision. Do they maintain their competitive edge or intentionally decline into a nadir of ridiculously vapid song selections for  a couple years? Azerbaijan's recent successes stem from the work of Swedish composers and songwriters, Anders Bagge, Stefan Örn, and Sandra Bjurman, giving them 5th place in 2010 with "Drip Drop," 1st place in 2011 with "Running Scared," and 4th place last year with "When the Music Dies." After, Örn and Bjurman, with great reputations and credentials, went back to Sweden only to give them "Only the Dead Fish Follow the Stream." But, even strong, well-established songwriters have their occasional flops.

Photo: Ictimai/Euromedia
Just imagine if the Dead Fish song goes to Farid Mammadov? Nonetheless, Azerbaijan ditches their first love Swedish imports and went more Greek with the song, "Hold Me," contributed from famous Greek composer Dimitris Kontopoulos and Swedes, John Ballard and Ralph Charlie.  Azerbaijan has a strong record, and the song's generic production and singer's good looks will probably give Azerbaijan another Top 10 showing, but this song is no "Hold Me Now" (for those older Eurovision fans who can appreciate the pun) - it has a zero shot at winning Eurovision. 

Unfortunately, Azerbaijan departed from a direction they could have gone with Sabina Babayeva's "When the Music Dies," which in my opinion is the best entry the Azeris submitted. The tactful and intentional convergence of western production and strong, pronounced Azeri elements from the kamancha to balaban was groundbreaking and captivating. The creativity and strong production set Azerbaijan with a formula of assured long-term Eurovision success. "Hold Me" is just simply another ballad. What if the UK, France, or Spain sent this song? I don't think pundits would have gushed over this entry because it's not Azerbaijan, and it's not Farid Mammadov.

Kontopoulos terribly disappoints in the production of "Hold Me" with a barely adequate, generic, and bland production lacking any creativity whatsoever - sorry to xylophone enthusiasts. Mammadov fails to compensate for and actually exacerbates the production's short-comings by supplying a decent, ordinary singing voice with as much natural charisma as a discount store brand of kidney beans.  However, Mammadov has a couple of months to improve his performance and his showmanship to overcome the lack of natural charisma. In addition, I don't believe the version he sang at the Azeri final was live, begging the question on whether he'll be able to carry a note at Eurovision?

With the song not as powerful as 2011 and 2012, I don't expect this in the Top 5. Because Turkey left this year, Azerbaijan will perform 12 points less than before. I predict this song, albeit a bland song, will finish 8th to 11th.

Listen to "Hold Me" here:
ESCritic's Rating: 4.5/10

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

With Great Expectations, Anouk's "Birds" Won't Deliver

Picture from

Approaching a decade of failing to get into the Final, the Netherlands invest this year on an established and well-respected artist, Anouk, who has seen great commercial success in the Netherlands and Belgium. Today, Anouk revealed in entirety her song "Birds." You can listen to "Birds" here: The bookies catapulted this to the top five. But, Swedish producer Tore Johnsson's scathing yet realistic prediction on "Birds" may be all too foreshadowing on how the Netherlands will do this May in Malmö.

The Song


"Birds" deviates from the routine of tongue-in-cheek, brainwash-inducing, and head-slamming-against-the-wall pop. One major strength is the artistic songwriting, though rarely a crucial factor in Eurovision. The songs lyrics seems like an allegory with birds acting as a metaphor for someone whose hurt, unhopeful, and struggling to get back up. Beyond the lyrics, the song's structure is not your typical five-note bubblegum pop. Some reviewers cite influences of Adele and Lana Del Rey, but I hear slight subtleties of French singers such as Edith Piaf's "La vie en rose" and Patricia Kaas's "Et s'il fallout le faire." Overall, the song has an old-fashion classiness mired in mystery.

However, the song is a departure from an edgy, rough-on-the-edges, and raw sound Anouk gave the Netherlands for the past fifteen years. Edith Piaf's intangible captivation and Patricia Kass's drama are severely lacking in "Birds," desperately needed to elevate the song. As I take multiple listens, there was a lack of a crescendo-like build up that would make a song with mysterious and dark lyrics feel mysterious and dark. So what do I feel after listening to "Birds" multiple times? It would be a nice substitute to percocet and vicodin.

"Birds" along with several other songs from her upcoming album, "Sad Singalong Songs," show a rather tamed, subdued, and dulled sound for the rocker. Dutch music critics may praise Anouk for finding a new sound and discovering new dimensions to her unique voice. But, when put on the stage watched by hundreds of millions of ordinary and clueless Europeans, what defined her then and now as an artist does not matter. The song is too mature and too complex for the Eurovision audience. This is when we all should anticipate for failure and not success.

Be Prepared For Disappointment

Eurovision can become fairly predictable if you can spot the patterns. It has been a pattern for the past few years that at least one of the frontrunners, as perceived by the bookies, flop so badly that it makes Hera Björk's pool dive in her "Je Ne Sais Quoi" music video worthy of an olympic medal. For example, in 2011, we clearly didn't care when Kati Wolf belted "What About My Dreams?" In 2012, we all should have known better that Denmark's Soluna Samay had no shot competing against Loreen, Buranovskiye Babushki, and Željko Joksimović.

After losing their retirement savings from betting on YOHIO for Melodifestivalen, the bookies are at it again putting Anouk in the top five in betting odds to win in Malmö. To the bookies - stop sniffing the skunk-like air from the Netherlands and consuming those magic brownies. I would not bet on The Netherlands this year. I predict Anouk's "Birds" will be this year's "hype-to-flop," possibly breaking the Netherland's semifinal curse but at best, ending up around 15th to 20th place.

ESCritic's Rating: 4.7/10

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why Robin Stjernberg won Melodifestivalen 2013

Picture: Sveriges Television (SVT) AB

It was three weeks ago that Robin Stjernberg was banished to the Death Row of Melodifestivalen, Andra Chansen, where songs are given a second chance just to meet an eventual defeat at the end - or so we thought. Now, Robin Stjernberg has proved the bookies wrong and became the first Andra Chansen winner to win Melodifestivalen. Bookies are still scratching their heads from having hypes-to-flops, Amanda Fondell and Janet Leon, as their favorites to win to predicting a YOHIO-Ralf Gyllenhammar race. This year was not a year for betting. With the bookies wrong and unprecedented history, how did Robin Stjernberg's "You" win?

First, never count out the International Jury normally filled with music industry professionals - the only exception is Cyprus, which gave Sean Banan 12 points. Nonetheless, the results strongly communicated to Supervisor Christer Björkman that average singers with great songs do not simply cut it. Ulrik Munther croaked all his big notes on a great song with superior production. YOHIO was terribly off-key and sounded like a mash-up of viral goat-screaming-like-human videos. Everyone else was overshadowed by the strength and finesse of Robin's voice. It seems like the International Jury wanted a good singer. As a result, Robin was awarded 91 points by the Jury, and runner-up YOHIO received a depressing 30 points. By then, we all knew that it was game over for YOHIO.

Picture: Sveriges Television (SVT) AB

Why? A 61 point deficit is tough to overcome. If you are a Melodifestivalen "historian" as I shamelessly think of myself at times, 61 points when converted to percentage of the vote is 12.8% - meaning the only way YOHIO could have won is by getting 12.8% more than Robin. That is nearly improbable when you consider Loreen beat Danny by 10% last year and Nanne Grönvall beat Martin Stenmarck by 11% in 2005. At the end, YOHIO received 22% of the vote, and Robin received 16% of the vote - only a 6% difference. The numbers were never in YOHIO's favor after the Jury vote.

Second, the Andra Chansen winners tend to get a bounce in public support. It happened to Caroline af Ugglas in 2009 and Thortsen Flinck & Revolutionsorkestern in 2012. It was much more evident this year. Robin and Anton Ewald's "Begging" came 2nd and 3rd in public voting respectively. What was different for this year? The bar was absurdly set low with the dissatisfaction of current finalists pre-Andra Chansen. While the hype around YOHIO was greatly exaggerated, he was still popular. But, the hype of other front-runners like Ralf and Ulrik have rapidly disappeared after their heats.

Third, a semifinal is not representative of a final. The demographics change, and the watching audience changes. "You," a mid-tempo ballad with pronounced percussion, was the "safest" and "easiest-hearing" song for the entire Swedish population - old, young, and middle-aged. Melodifestivalen may be invaded by a ubiquitous harem of annoying teenage girls, but other demographics still proved that they are important to woo over.

Looking forward at Malmö - this may be a blessing in disguise. While other countries send their Loreen-wannabes (just wait for the interpretative dancing choreography for Casada’s Glorious performance), Sweden is staying ahead of the game with someone different with a different type of song that is palatable to a general population. I expect this will do very well.