23 March 2014
Having listened to all songs at least twice, it’s time to present the current Fab Five. Of course, this could change slightly as the songs become more familiar approaching the contest, and probably will change come Eurovision performances themselves. The key example of that was Belgium’s “Love Kills” last year, which presented as an absolute horror on first listen. On the dawn of ESC it was still my fourth worse, with only Ireland Montenegro and Greece ranked worse. ESC changed that, easily a favourite in the semi (so was Montenegro!) and in my top 3 after the final.
Overall the quality of the songs this year is down. There’s a group of dreary songs that just plod on, and there’s nothing really that sticks out as winner. It could be a year like 2010 where Azerbaijan won with an average song that capitalised on consistent medium points accumulation (it only received 2*12 points) in a very close race.
5 Sweden – Sanna Nielsen – Undo
The wonderful Sanna finally makes it – at her seventh try. She should have qualified in 2008 with Empty Room, except Sweden got caught up in the name of Charlotte Perelli (nee Nilsson), winner of ESC in 1999. Even though Undo is not quite as good as Empty Room (both are ballads), it’s a strong enough song to showcase her talents. She’s a great singer and a superb performer. She’ll lift the song and it will stand out being one of only two really strong ballads.
4 Spain – Ruth Lorenzo – Dancing In The Rain
This is the other quality ballad, better than Sweden’s Undo, and an even better singer. The issue with Spain will always be Spain. For some reason they don’t attract points. Just ask the magnificent Pastora Soler in 2012. She was amazing, her song was stellar, and she barely made top 10. This year Spain sings mostly in English, and in fact Ruth came to prominence in Britain’s “X-Factor” talent show before then returning to Spain. Regardless of its outcome at ESC, that doesn’t detract from the quality of the song. Easily in the Fab Five.
3 Italy – Emma Marrone – La Mia Citta
One of only two rock-edged songs in the contest, and this one really pumps along. Great energy, and the song just motors through its sections, taking you on a rollercoaster. Rock songs don’t have a great record unless they are outstandingly performed or the artists are partial to wearing rubber monster suits, so Emma will need to perform and reproduce her vocals live. She will, because Italy don’t send duds to ESC.
2 Estonia – Tanja – Amazing
Let’s hope this song escapes the comparisons with Sweden’s “Euphoria” of two years ago. Other than the single word title and the long, strong notes that lead the choruses, the songs are quite different, and personally, Amazing is better. In fact, the one word title is misleading, because Tanja’s big emphasis into the chorus is “Amazing Life”. In hindsight it would have better to name the song that – at least to diminish the comparison. Will the comparison matter? Not as long as the presentation is sound. Tanja was great at her national final and she’s also not Loreen. Comparisons more likely fail when it’s the same artist as fans have such a high expectation. Also, to casual ESC fans, which make up the vast bulk of the TV audience, they won’t remember Loreen. They’ll fall for the infectious melody and superb choreography, marvelling at Tanja’s athleticism to do all that moving and not lose a breath.
1 Russia – Tolmachevy Sisters – Shine
The winners of Junior ESC in 2006 are in the senior contest. Has this ever happened before? One thing is certain is that no JESC winner has gone on to win ESC. The sisters present an interesting song. The music is superb, and their voices sound great together, with a beautiful harmonic tone. Often multiple female voices annoy me, sounding too loud and destroying the individual pitches that the mutation created sounds like a cat on heat. Really nice female voices need to be heard in singularly.
The song is co-written and produced by the famous Greek composer and producer Dimitris Kontopoulos, which explains the infectious melody and tight, almost formulaic, structure and production. He produced Ani Lorak’s “Shady Lady” for Ukraine in 2008, wrote “This Is Our Night” for Greece’s Sakis Rouvas the following year, and wrote Azerbaijan’s superb “Hold Me” last year. He’s had many other attempts to reach Eurovision, placing in several Greek and Russian national finals. “Shine” shares so much of the structure of “Hold Me”, including that same instrumental interlude after the first chorus, and the soaring choruses themselves. The presentation will need to reach an even greater standard for the song to beat the second place of Azerbaijan in 2013.
Most interesting about this song – and quite irrelevant to the basic musical appreciation of it – is the messaging. With Vladimir Putin annexing Crimea in the Ukraine, what does Russia do? Send two adorable (and innocent) young ladies to Eurovision with a song about hope and peace, “telling all the world to show some love”. Love or hate Russia, you really must admire their temerity. With lyrics like “cross the line a step at a time”, “drive away the madness”, “nothing will bring me down”, “our love will last a thousand miles” and “you’re my rising sun”, this seems a calling from Mother Russia to all their expatriates that, don’t worry, nothing can break us and that Russia will always be there for you if required. This is exactly the situation in Crimea that led to Russia’s intervention, and could be the case in the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania if the Russian Bear feels their people are being treated unfairly too. With speculation of protests against Russia at ESC, most particularly that the public will withhold voting for Russia, Russia send the sisters to taunt the world, just as Russia used the Sochi Olympics and their anti-gay laws, to say “we dare you to do anything”.
Politics and ESC should not mix. For Mr Eurovision, it doesn’t. This song has captured my heart. It’s pure pop genius and the sisters sound and look adorable. In the preview video they lift the song further, capturing perfectly the innocence, tranquility and beauty of the Russian people! It’s a wonderful statement of defiance, all wrapped up in a delectable ironic charm. How could anybody not love them?
– For a great insight how Russia and Putin used the Sochi Olympics to fool the world, check this article from a sister blog (scroll down to the Putin section):
Sochi 2014 – Champs, Chumps and Putin
Sisters Tolmachev – Vesenniy Jazz – Junior ESC Winners 2006