24 May 2015
We are all heroes
So it proved for Sweden’s Måns Zelmerlöw, the song about bullying that ironically triumphed over the song from the world’s most recent geopolitical bully, Russia, to win the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna. With the flood of ballads and slower songs at this year’s contest, it proved a return to the up-tempo format, particularly with a brash staging featuring clever interactive graphics, was the key to success. One can only imagine the impact this may have on next year’s contest. Maybe Sweden can shock the world by going without giant LED screens. That would be interesting.
Winning Sweden’s national selection of Melodifestivalen by a huge margin, being a hot favourite in the betting, being the casual fan’s favourite, and winning Eurovision itself by a whopping 63 points, there can be no complaints with Sweden’s victory. The usual whinging from fans about this song and that, it doesn’t really matter. Even personally, “Heroes” has never resonated. Strip back the graphics, make Mans’ face look like the north end of a south-bound camel, and change the country’s name to Spain, and you’re left with a familiar formula of subtle verses leading into a big chorus that’s rather average on its own. It succeeded because it was part of an exemplary package that could hold the viewer tight for the entire presentation. Of course, I’m one person, and one opinion is irrelevant without worldwide power. So we look to Europe (and Australia!) as a collective. They are the judges and every single country gave Sweden votes. You don’t get more definitive than that.
Rating The Top 10
01 Sweden: Heroes – Måns Zelmerlöw – 5 (365)
Mans did improved on his semi final performance. His timing was a tad off with the interaction with the graphics, which he fixed in the final. It’s also important to know that Mans would have represented Sweden in 2009 if not for their flawed voting system. This year was his third attempt so it was redemption in the biggest possible way. Sadly Sweden’s win means even bigger problems with Melodifestivalen will remain a bit longer.
02 Russia: A Million Voices – Polina Gagarina – 10 (303)
Polina somehow managed to exceed her stellar semi final performance and gets the perfect 10 from me – a rare event for any song. Russia had the complete package of song, singer and presentation at almost the absolute highest level. I got emotional – again. Polina’s song took me several listens to really love it, and that was probably the key factor holding it back from victory. At Eurovision, viewers don’t have that luxury of growing with a song. Sweden had that instant, albeit expendable, appeal.
03 Italy: Grande Amore – Il Volo – 7 (292)
As good as this was, it was formulaic, and personally achieved its maximum. The guy with the glasses sounded the best of the trio, while the goatee guy was the least impressive. They kept it simple and sung it well to complete the schedule on a grande scale.
04 Belgium: Rhythm Inside – Loic Nottet – 6 (217)
A big gap to fourth place. Belgium was in my bottom four before the contest and still only scored a 6, which is made mostly of the excellent presentation. I’m beginning to understand its appeal, particularly the heavy bass style, and might stop skipping it on the CD. Belgium alternate between their French and Flemish broadcasters to select their performers, and it was the turn of the French this year. They had an excellent similar story in 2013 that they did with Loic this year. Don’t expect much in 2016.
05 Australia: Tonight Again – Guy Sebastian – 7 (196)
Inexperience showed here in the presentation. I didn’t understand the street-lamps and the backup singers looked like they had stormed a karaoke stage. I expected a band of maybe 3 pieces with two backers standing and Guy doing his stuff. He said he scaled back the lighting and pyrotechnics so the song assumed the greater focus. As wise as that was, he should have went further. In the context of the grander and more spectacular acts, Guy’s song did lose a little of its lustre.
Australia’s novelty status meant it benefitted well from sympathy votes, with the bulk of the points coming in the 4 to 8 range. They got 12 from Sweden and Austria and 10 from UK and Norway. In reciprocation to our former colonial masters, Australia gave zero to the UK. Ouch! Guy and the team compensated for that by waving flags with Union Jacks enthusiastically all night. Australia bounced its “douze points” back to Sweden.
Only 6 countries failed to vote for Australia. Should we name and shame them? Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, FYR Macedonia, Georgia, Montenegro and Portugal. Overall, the top 5 result was perfect. I’m sure both the organisers and the Australian selectors wanted an accomplished, professional performance that would perform well without winning – and maybe sell a few records. Job done. Let’s hope it’s not 60 years until the next invitation. Finally, even though there were more exciting options than Guy, the right choice was made and Guy Sebastian proved faultless for us. I’m proud of him!
06 Latvia: Love Injected – Aminata – 7 (186)
I expected Latvia to return a strong result with this number, and sixth spot is just reward. The song, electronic arrangement and performance reminded me of something you’d see in a 70s sci-fi film. It’s so high in artistic values that it would not surprise if this song was the winner from the juries. Thing is, had Aminata scaled back some of the distracting lighting effects, maybe it does even better.
07 Estonia: Goodbye To Yesterday – Elina & Stig – 10 (106)
The other song to get a perfect ten, just like I gave them in the semi. Elina shed a tear during the song. There was a glassy look to her eyes in both performances, possibly something to induce a tear. Ultimately this was swamped by more spectacular songs. Ten or so years ago, without all the giant LED screens, it wins easily. Being a fan of the Estonian music scene (who isn’t?), I’ve been aware of Elina for several years, particular from her Eesti Idol days, and she’s tried for Eurovision before and failed. Her vocals have developed so much and were sublime during this event – nailing that soft, subtle register that is often so difficult for female vocalists. Debrah Scarlett from Norway had persistent troubles with this.
08 Norway: A Monster Like Me – Mørland & Debrah – 7 (102)
One of my early favourites to win, it just couldn’t capture the audience as needed, and consequently I dropped it off the radar after the semi. Still accomplished and I couldn’t really fault Debrah’s vocals this time. Probably the stage too big and the song too slow to get going.
09 Israel: Golden Boy – Nadav Guedj – 5 (97)
Up-tempo made it stand out. I found it average. We are also into the lower echelon of the votes received, so top 10 only in name.
10 Serbia: Beauty Never Lies – Bojana Stamenov – 6 (53)
Forty six points behind ninth position so it’s really best of the rest. In fairness, Bojana performed it well and she has lots of “personality”. Being up-tempo also helped.
Rating The Rest
11 Georgia: Warrior – Nina Sublatti – 6 (51)
Brilliant costume and power vocals. A better song and who knows with this woman?
12 Azebaijan: Hour Of The Wolf – Elnur Huseynov – 3 (49)
Toilet break! It was the 24th song of the night and I was busting. I’ve never liked this and, after finding it acceptable in the semi, liked it even less in the final.
13 Montenegro: Adio – Knez – 6 (44)
Same comment as the semis: Balkan ballad by numbers, using mid-range numbers.
14 Slovenia: Here For You – Maraaya – 9 (39)
Poor Marjetka and her husband who form Maraaya. My favourite song this year and the favourite of many established fans, it wasn’t to be. Too understated, maybe too eclectic, and lacking the first impression “oomph” to claw above the more spectacular efforts. Even I could only give it a 9, which confirms the broader view that it just wasn’t quite stellar. Who cares. Eurovision is about the music (shocker!) and I’ve found a great artist to follow. I’m looking forward to a great career from them.
15 Romania: De La Capat/All Over Again – Voltaj – 7 (35)
It’s confirmed: Soft rock is not successful at Eurovision. Still a lovely song and a welcome presence. As long as songs like this make the final, good artists will still be encouraged to attend, and that’s all that matters. Along with Iceland, this song had a ridiculous amount of people credited as songwriters.
16 Armenia: Face The Shadow – Genealogy – 2 (34)
After Finland, my worst song this year. Too much focus on artists than a decent song. Deserved this poor result.
17 Albania: I’m Alive – Elhaida Dani – 8 (34)
A change of hairstyle and dress made Elhaida as hot as she sounds. Albanian fans were especially bullish about a top result here. Yes, Elhaida is an amazing performer. Yes, she has a scintillating voice. Yes, the song is good. No, it was never a winning hope at Eurovision. Even this low down in the results is not a surprise. It’s a song that takes a few listens. If listening to peerless vocals is not your thing, then out goes a good chunk of the song’s appeal. Do Eurovision viewers really listen at such a level? No.
18 Lithuania: This Time – Monika and Vaidas Baumila – 5 (30)
After I was beginning to be seduced by the saccharine happiness and humming banjo, the two boobs on stage gave an extra long kiss, which killed my potential of awarding a six. It broke up the song. The backers performed a same sex kiss with each other, which was cool.
19 Greece: One Last Breath – Maria Elena Kyriakou – 8 (23)
Brilliant performance again, and the best pure ballad of this year’s contest. I love you Maria Elena!
20 Hungary: Wars For Nothing – Boggie – 6 (19)
How many votes did Boggie get just for being so cute? The song’s a glorified plodder, let’s be fair.
21 Spain: Amanecer – Edurne – 8 (15)
Poor Spain. Despite a good song and excellence performance (including a tear effect), it was mostly rejected by Europe. The song’s in the same boat as Russia, maybe in a slower boat, that it takes a long time to really like. Other than that explanation, Europe just doesn’t vote for Spain these days.
22 Cyprus: One Thing I Should Have Done – John Karayiannis – 5 (11)
An actual plodder. Take away the 10 points from Greece and it finishes with one. There’s a bit of Nana Mouskouri in him. Maybe he can harness that.
23 Poland: In The Name Of Love – Monika Kuszynska – 7 (10)
Making the final was the big achievement. It was also the first time Poland made the final in successive years. If I can look past Monika’s beautiful voice and the sentiment, the song was always a bit too fluffy and always repetitive. I’m so glad that Monika regained her confidence to perform again and enter Eurovision because she gave me my “win” for this year. I shed tears during the semi.
24 United Kingdom: Still In Love With You – Electro Velvet – 5 (5)
It just didn’t work on the big stage. The four dancers tried their best to mimic the preview video when the UK would have been better served to have a swing band with the two singers out in front. I gave them a vote only because, on a BBC 5 radio interview, I said I would.
25 France: N’oubliez Pas – Lisa Angell – 8 (4)
A really nice song and well sung and presented. Despite the rapturous applause from the crowd, it’s just too old fashioned for the Eurovision viewer at home these days. I’m glad Lisa showed to make for an interesting show. Imagine if we have 25 Mans Zelmerlow wannabes?
26 Germany: Black Smoke – Ann Sophie – 5 (0)
Ann Sophie is really cute and you can hear a similar partial Australian accent, especially the “ay” sound in “stay”, to Lena, Germany’s winner in 2010. This song grew on me from listening to the audio. Sadly it returned to its average status that it had from the German final once it returned to the stage. Not even neighbours, Austria, could give this a vote.
27 Austria: I Am Yours – The Makemakes – 4 (0)
There was an even greater disparity between hearing this on CD and watching a performance. Nice radio song on one hand, a lame stage experience on the other. The only interest was whether the singer’s beard might catch alight from the flaming piano. Not even neighbours, Germany, could give this a vote.
An average score of 6.3. That places the final in the good category, which is the most common result since I’ve been tracking the scores for the past few years. The first semi scored 6 and the second 6.4 (or 6.8 if Finland is excluded).
My top 10: Russia, Estonia, Slovenia, Spain, Greece, Albania, France, Latvia, Poland and Romania.
My 20 votes were split like this: Slovenia 4, Estonia 3, Russia 2, Greece 2, Poland 2, Spain 2, Latvia 2, France 1, Albania 1 and UK 1. Australia’s votes went to Sweden, Russia, Italy, Latvia, Belgium, Serbia, Norway, Estonia, Israel and Georgia. Eerily, that’s the same countries in the actual top 10 (excluding Australia itself) in roughly the same order. Switch Belgium with Latvia, and you have the exact top 5. Why waste all that time getting Europe to vote? Just ask Australia. Australia’s results were also a departure from the long established trend on SBS’s web-polls that would see nations of the larger immigrant communities of Turkey, Greece, Italy, Serbia and Croatia dominate. Two of those countries weren’t in Vienna while Italy were popular regardless. Greece came 11th on the televote.
Highlights of the actual voting were the three signal drops of Portugal, Estonia and Georgia, and Lee Lin Chin’s dress! No they weren’t. Strange to have three technicalities like that, and Ms Chin, a long established SBS newsreader in Australia, is normally such a stylish dresser. Weird. I loved the spelling of “Vienna” on the map in the language and alphabet of the country next visited to read the votes. That was the real highlight.
For the past three years, the sequence of vote reading is done by an algorithm so to keep the result unknown for as long as possible. Nice in theory, I’m not sure in practice. It means that any close race early on is likely to be artificially created, and it means that once the brakes are released on the eventual winner, you know the chances of them being caught are zero. Last year the Dutch suffered this, and this year it was Italy that was given the false hope early and then Russia. In fact, I sensed Russia might have been the winner when they extended to 14 points just before half way (16 had the three drop-outs read). The 12 points then dried up, the lead hovered for a few more countries, and then bang, a flood of votes to Sweden. When Russia received nothing from Lithuania, it was all over.
I think the voting is better without manipulation. So be it if the race is over a bit early. It’ll be over early anyway, maybe only a few minutes earlier than by artificially extending it. As we saw, it doesn’t really add to the tension because you don’t really know the real status of the voting. A consolation and a late celebration for Russia is that they received 12 points when Estonia returned at the end. Polina really milked that one. The stark reality for Russia is that they only received 5×12 points.
One manipulation from the organisers that is working is the allocation of nations to perform. Before the last three years, it was random, which often meant really dull portions of the show. Now you get a really vibrant show; the 27 songs just breeze past. It was a strong opening and an end, with few holes in the middle. Possibly the one alteration is rather than countries draw first half or second half, make it one third or one quarter of the draw. It’s not popular to go first, so to be placed there when potentially you could also be 13th slot, it might seem unfair. Picking a quarter means between 1 and 6, and surely within that is enough room to move songs about to allow for a vibrant show.
Battle of the Warriors
Georgia and Malta both had songs called “Warrior” and Georgia wins outright. Georgia won the battle on first impressions on hearing each song while Malta won on longer listening appeal, particularly on CD. On the Eurovision stage, it was no contest. Nina destroyed Amber with her respective performance. Even if Malta won the first two rounds of this battle, I’d probably award Nina overall based on a knock out. To add more salt to the wound, I’d love to hear Nina sing Amber’s Warrior.
Still no interviews by Conchita! Apparently she did some in the semi finals, which were seen on the webcast of the shows. I did see Conchita sitting with Polina before the halfway mark of the voting so it looks like the advertising break soon after cut out the green room interview (update: the prime-time replay skipped the ad-break altogether at this point so the green room was cut). Otherwise, the green room itself was really nice. It was great that the performers could watch the show directly, and there they could get up and dance at the front of the platform, as we saw after Australia and Italy.
The second semi final had me confused about Poland’s introduction to the stage during the opening. I saw Monika at the foot of steps near the green room in a fleeting camera shot; I never heard Poland announced. She then appeared on stage midway through the introductions. I checked the recording and “Poland” was muffled by the crowd cheer. In the final, it was much clearer, and Monika had a longer shot on her and could wave properly to the viewers at home. Isn’t that nice?
It’s been fun, and certainly been great to watch Eurovision live. Let’s hope SBS continue for future years. After all, they can’t be serious about Eurovision if they hold onto the first semi final for 3 days before broadcasting it here. No doubt when the ratings come out, the prime-time telecasts will not have suffered. The commentary was improved, which it had to be, because Australia was involved. Now they, and even the general media, were looking at other entries in a comparative form, rather than to find something to mock or ridicule. Sam Pang was often commenting about songs rather than joking about, particularly he noted the beautiful voice and song from Poland, and liked Albania. I just wish Julia Zemiro would not drop into that horrible bogan accent as often as she does, and please learn some basic geography or look at some flags. After 6 years now, Julia is still surprised when Moldova and Romania exchange votes. Also, stay silent through one of the recaps and a lot less chatter during the opening act would be appreciated. Why talk over the beautiful orchestra?
SBS’s online media still focused heavily on things like Epic Fails, Ultimate Drinking Games and they digitally put Guy Sebastian in a granny outfit. General fans of Eurovision would be receiving the important stuff from the official site, so no reason to duplicate that. Still, there needs some sort of evolution. After all, promoting your show as bad music with even worst costumes and a chance to get drunk, it’s effectively saying “please watch this cheap, trashy show”. Guy Sebastian’s involvement this year shows clearly that there’s no harm in focusing onto, you know, the music.
Simply an amazing event. I loved the stage, I loved the design motif, I loved the breezy pace of the shows, I loved the minor return of the orchestra, the “Building Bridges” slogan proved a good one, and the hosts were fine. Only the postcards were the disappointment. Little touches like interviewing the pre-qualified finalists during the intervals of the semi finals was a much better use of time than a nondescript interval act, and I loved the virtual building bridges segment involving the public. Conchita’s new songs, especially “Unstoppable”, were great. The only pity is – again – the lack of any green room to make into our Australian broadcast. To rate Vienna 2015 overall, it’s in the top 5. It seems each year gets elevated more and more, displacing older events. In a historical sense, I still keep Riga 2003 and Kiev 2005 in the top echelon. More on this in the future when I introduce a Blast From The Past category.
I’ve never been to a Eurovision Song Contest and was contemplating it if Slovenia, Estonia or Russia won. If Slovenia won, it might have been a certainty, having never seen that part of the world. Russia potentially would host in Sochi, and that’s quite a beautiful place. I’ve always loved Estonia, having visited a few times, so it would be another reason to visit. Sweden? It’s wait and see. The Swedes should hold it in Stockholm this time. It would be just that bit more exciting, and it’s their most beautiful city. Hej då!