My Eurovision 2016 – Verdict

It’s no secret, I’m a die-hard Eurovision viewer. I may not have the parties with friends, the costumes or the drinks, but I’ve always watched the show staying up to the late hours of the night watching what I consider an annual, spectacular extravaganza of the weird, zany, cringe-inducing, emotional and worthwhile events to sink your teeth into one weekend of every year (now how many events can be described that way and fulfill those criteria every time?). Eurovision is the mother of all talent shows that will leave you arguing about the geopolitics of Europe, about who was the best/worst act, laugh with the impeccably awkward (but comedic) timing of every host, gape at awe with the spectacular to the eccentric and leave you feeling good that something exists in the world where a whole continent and other parts of the world forget their problems for a weekend and have a massive party that transcends borders and differences.

What’s more shocking is I haven’t written about it since 2012, which was where Loreen had won it for Euphoria, an amazing dance song with chilling vocals and arguably the unanimous best song and performance of that year in all departments. Well, now I’m back furiously watching the grand final over and over, sharing my thoughts about the night (and if I agree with the results!)

I’ll write up about each performance with a set criterion that follows:

The Song: Of course, this is the integral part of the judging process. After all it’s a song contest, so careful reflections will be made on the lyrics, arrangement and of course how good it sounds.

Vocal Delivery: Sometimes you can get the best of both worlds, where someone like Loreen would deliver a real knockout vocal, or something that’s a little… unique  or interesting to put it lightly. Here we look at how good the vocals sound.

Presentation: Eurovision is quite inspired when it comes to this, with gorgeous and very, very cool screen effects, amazing choreography and costume. When it comes to a singing talent show, nothing comes even close to some of the amazing productions that go into every performance at Eurovision, and clearly the fans see this as an important facet for every song.

Then I’ll deliberate on how I would’ve ranked my top 10 and reflect on the actual results for Eurovision 2016. So without further ado, lets get it started! (links to performance will be in the titles.

  1. Laura Tesoro – What’s The Pressure (Belgium)

We start with a funky, retro tribute to Motown era with Belgium’s entry. There’s a lot to like about this performance, with great choreography, a sparkly outfit and on point vocals. This song could’ve easily been a hit when the pop, Motown crossover style was big a few years ago. The song is infectious, with a positive message (albeit pretty clichéd) and that would get your feet tapping. Although as I watched, I didn’t see it as a contender for winner, it’s definitely a harmless, fun hit that would translate to the pop market quite well. Laura Tesoro has a lot of fun with the song and that just adds to the performance

2. Gabriela Gunčíková – I Stand (Czech Republic)

The second entry couldn’t be any more different. The Czech Republic’s entry is a dramatic,  gorgeous orchestral ballad. The vocals are powerful and the performance demands your attention. The bridge where Gabriela shouts that one note is immense and gives the performance that boost it needed. The song itself however is a little repetitive and needed a little more “oomph” in vocal delivery or arrangement since it can feel like it doesn’t go anywhere for a bit. The danger in presenting a ballad is that although it can definitely showcase a powerful vocal, it can be a little boring if either the vocals or the arrangements don’t change up and this performance could get lost in the 24 performances after it. However the vocals, arrangement and presentation was gorgeous (and Gabriela is beautiful), the song could’ve used a bit of work.

3. Douwe Bob – Slow Down (The Netherlands)

Shock horror fact from me – I generally don’t like these kinds of songs and this song in particular jumps quite awkwardly at a few parts that transition to the chorus. However, I actually really did like this performance. The unique country blend, the vocals and the arrangement is great. I love how the presentation was understated and it just looked effortlessly like a fun jamming band session with musicians singing a catchy country song.

4. Samra – Miracle (Azerbaijan)

From the start, this already sounds like a chart topping club hit. A nice from production is the fiery backgrounds. While I love the verses, I do think the chorus could’ve used a bit of work as the verses build up to something, but the chorus doesn’t really deliver as they end abruptly and don’t really do much. Samra’s vocals are great, the song needed a bit of change up as the chorus is quite repetitive and it felt like she was holding back on perhaps a vocal “powerhouse” moment that could’ve made it a little more interesting.

5. Freddie – Pioneer (Hungary)

Hungary’s Freddie continues in a passionate rock performance. His gravelly, powerful voice really fits the song and the whistling from the back up singers is a nice touch. It starts off with a gentle, lone vocal with piano and then bursts into a bombastic rock song with lightning special effects flashing in the background. The vocals were superb, especially towards the end where you see Freddie just ripping apart and roaring into the song giving it that passionate fire that keeps it dynamic and interesting. Although it does delve into the generic pool due to some of the lyrics, this performance was definitely a highlight in the vocals.

6. Francesca Michielin – No Degree of Separation (Italy)

I always appreciate when contestants sing in their native tongue. Although this may seem polarising due to not being able to understand the song, it makes for Eurovision to being an interesting viewing experience, giving us a taste of both culture and the type of music that gives entries that distinct identity. Italy’s Francesca Michielin’s vocals, a little subdued with vocals and with nature based props actually works well the loud techno beats but the song doesn’t really build to much and stays relatively the same all the way through. Thinking of it on a competition standpoint – with 25 other contestants, you would want to have a song that stands out and remains in the memory of the voters. However, it is a gorgeous song with a great message.

7. Hovi Star – Made of Stars (Israel)

This guy’s voice is amazing, nuanced and powerful and you don’t generally see that in Eurovision where everyone’s generally having fun or shouting all the time! The simple piano and strings that accompany his vocals that dips in and out from fragile to powerful. Then it transcends into a rock where the arrangement and his vocals erupt for a brief moment. I didn’t particularly like the moment where it went from a heartfelt ballad into generic rock. The song, from how it was arranged and to the production has “winner” written all over it like an inaugural American Idol “winner’s single”. While it was not my favourite, I was quite shocked about how low it scored. It definitely deserved to be placed higher.

8. Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime (Bulgaria)

Now if you were missing the “weird” and “zany” bits of Eurovision from this point, you’ll be happy that Bulgaria has provided a “what the hell is she wearing” moment where it goes from “okay I can accept that” to “oh god, those are actually glow pads”. But aside from the snark, the performance was fun and this could easily be a summer hit and the cheeky lyric if love was a crime, then we would be criminals, locked up for life, and I’ll do the time is brilliant and Shakira-esque in delivery which makes me love this performance more. Poli had given the finale’s zany and looked/sounded good doing it.

9. Frans – If I Were Sorry (Sweden)

Sweden generally has great numbers. And after reflecting on that montage of Sweden’s music over the years, it made me realise how much music I love and listen to, to this day comes from Sweden. Frans performance was an obvious crowd pleaser and he oozes that cheeky, childish confidence with his hipster-ish vocal delivery and the infectious beat that accompanies him in this easy-breezy pop song that is worlds different from last years winner. He’s so cool, chill, plays with the crowd and grins at the camera knowing the crowd loves him. It’s hard NOT to like this performance. Not my favourite, but a likable number.

10. Jamie Lee – Ghost (Germany)

Where this was placed really upset me. This performance was good. If you thought Bulgaria’s Poli Genova had a “WTF did she wear number”, Jamie Lee takes it further sporting an almost anime/LARP-like costume. There’s a lot to like about this performance, the production and how things are set out, Jamie’s vocals, the catchy beat. Although the song does sound generic (I think you can sing Rihanna’s Umbrella alongside it), it did not deserve such a low score.

11. Amir – J’ai Cherché (France)

(Sigh). This is where I show my unequivocal love of being a Francophile and my irrational bias for this number. I love this performance. It’s no doubt one of my favourites.  An infectious pop number that can anyone on their feet dancing and smiling. And Amir looks good doing it. While the vocals are good generally, it does get a bit problematic especially during the “high” bits where it’s quite evident he struggles and when he prolongs the note at the end. I love the song, his dorky dance moves and the arrangement. It’s not perfect but I love it. (Shut up.)

12. Michal Szpak – Color Of Your Life (Poland)

Like with France, I love Polish things without shame. I still watch We Are Slavic sometimes when I need cheering up. This is no different. This is a great song and his vocals were incredible. He effortlessly moves from fragile to just absolutely soaring with the music and everything he sings is captivating. And when he reaches for that key change in the end where he adds that gravelly, rock edge cements the deal for me, I didn’t want it to end. Just one more and it would’ve been perfect.

13. Dami Im – Sound of Silence (Australia)

I came in with a bit of concern with this song. Even though I thought it was a good song, it is a little repetitive. However, if you are looking for vocals masterclass at Eurovision, look no further than Dami Im who’s representing Australia. She is above and beyond the best vocalist in the competition where her vocals just soars and keeps eclipsing again and again until the end. While the song is repetitive and the production was lacking (le’s be completely honest, it was lacking and could’ve used much more work). She made this song her own and the little changes she did made it so much more better. No bias, but this really deserved to be at the top and with a bit more work, would’ve defiantly been the winner.

14. Minus One – Alter Ego (Cyprus)

After the two show-stopping ballads of Poland and Australia, Cyprus’ Minus One takes us back to an electronic rock (similar to early The Killers – I thought it was Somebody Told Me). Not my cup of tea, but the performance was good and having a rock number really did set it apart and make it a more unique entry to this years’ Eurovision.

15.  Sanja Vučić ZAA – Goodbye (Shelter) (Serbia)

Serbia’s entry is a powerhouse one that got a lot of viewers questioning why it didn’t perform better than it did that night. The vocals were on point (actually better, her vocals were one of the best) and the song was decent. I think the issue with this song was that it wasn’t “distinctive”. Sounding like a Bond theme with a rock spin, the audience probably didn’t remember the song being drowned in the midst of more upbeat songs or arguably better and more unique pop-ballads like Poland’s or Australia’s. Not to discredit Serbia’s entry, since it was a very good one, but such is the fate of songs that are placed in the middle of the competition.

16. Donny Montell – I’ve Been Waiting For This Night (Lithuania)

To say that Donny and I have a history together is an understatement. What is it that you may ask? I remember him fondly from 2012’s Eurovision of course where he rocked the blindfold and did that amazing somersault with Love Is Blind. Back then he was my underrated favourite that I  think I placed that above Loreen as my favourite performance for that year. Four years on, his vocals are much better, his dancing (still a little awkward) better and he’s come back more confident and arguably with a much better song and better production. And he’s kept his signature acrobatic skills and rocking it alone on stage. This one of my favourite performances this year. Like with France, his vocals are a little shaky on the high bits (I didn’t like the falsetto, but I do appreciate and understand why they were there). He’s back… and I’m glad he is. You could say I was “waiting for this–” nevermind.

17. Nina Kraljić – Lighthouse (Croatia)

Continuing on the “what is she wearing” vein, this song is gorgeous. While she looks a bit like Robyn, the song sounds like what the Cranberries’ might have done if they techno’d their songs. One of the lower performing entries of the night, it is a shame since Nina’s vocals were amazing, ethereal and the performance itself was good. Perhaps could’ve used a bit more stage presence? Fun fact; she had bronchitis while singing this so kudos for her for being one of the stronger vocal performers despite illness.

18. Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One (Russia)

The favourite to win the competition and it really shows due to the flashiness and stage production. The presentation of this performance was incredible where Sergey interacts with every bit of the stage. While I’m not a big lover of the song (sounds like a hectic Irish jig), I can appreciate the effort and work that was put into the performance and can see why it was the favourite. The stage was used incredibly well, the effects worked well with the song and the song itself was decent.

19. Barei – Say Yay! (Spain)

Spain’s result was another perplexing one for me. The song was actually really good, had a lot of good change ups and her vocals were pretty good for the night. One of the distracting things for me was the foot dancing (I know a lot of people actually loved it), but it was an unnecessary gimmick which I think really took away from the song. I didn’t think it was bad to warrant a place 22nd and considering it was one of the favourites, this was quite strange.

20. Justs – Heartbeat (Latvia)

Over the years, I’ve grown to love things that are Latvian. As soon as I read the caption of song written by Aminata and after the performance, I thought could they mean this Aminata? Aminata was my favourite from Eurovision 2015 and this song sounded quite similar. Even without this consideration, I loved this performance. From the uniqueness of the track, the rawness of Justs voice and the change in tempo from quiet seriousness to dance track. The song and voice spoke for itself, with the juxtaposition of rock sensibility and unique head-bopping electronica, this landed as one of my favourites quite quickly and was memorable.

21. Jamala – 1944 (Ukraine)

So we’ve come to the winner of the whole thing. How does it stack up? Already creating controversy, here are my thoughts. Jamala has a Kate Bush sensibility which I like. Her vocals are also powerful and amazing transitioning from soft to operatic with ease. And the tree of life symbolism was powerful and added a lot to the performance. And that final note, I wish we could have more. It felt like the song was building up to even more and then abruptly stops. Is it one of the top 10? Yes. Was it my favourite? No. While her voice spoke volumes, her stage presence was lacking. However it was a mighty powerful performance that was both unique and emotional. Still, it doesn’t top this beast of a performance from Gaitana.

22. Ira Losco – Walk On Water (Malta)

Ira Losco from the moment she walks out seems like their version of Mariah Carey. Powerful vocals no doubt but the song itself is lacking and the addition of the lone back up dancer is awkward at best. The abrupt song structure of the song doesn’t do it any favours as a dance track, and while it isn’t bad melody wise, it takes onto too many transitions and gets lost into what it wants to be. I do like the bridge and the parts leading to the chorus, but I don’t like the chorus itself.

23. Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold (Georgia)

It wasn’t surprising that this performance didn’t do well. Eurovision certainly favours the more dance-pop genre or power ballad rather than rock numbers. But while Cyprus (which this performance is akin to, in comparison to the other performers) had a rock number, I preferred this one. The production and setting certainly was an interesting one, going for an Arctic Monkeys kind of like sound, drug/hallucinogenic presentation and actually sounding really good and adding some uniqueness to the fray. It goes from rock, to sort of rock-dance and then transitions back to the start which was a really cool change up.

24. ZOË – Loin d’Ici (Austria)

Her voice is absolutely gorgeous. It’s soft, dreamlike, ethereal and definitely my favourite singer of the competition. The song itself is not bad, transitioning from a softly sung ballad into a string-based techno track that is catchy, sweet and upbeat. It’s a simple beautiful song that is easy on the ears. What could’ve used a bit of work is her stage presence where she really only stood in one place. That might be good for a ballad, but singing a dance track, getting into it and getting the crowd involved could’ve made her results better.

25.Joe and Jake – You’re Not Alone (UK)

While I do like this song, this didn’t seem like a “Eurovision” winner track. The UK are notorious for getting sub-par to really bad results in the Eurovision and what they really need is sending an act that really stands out from the rest. The vocals were good and the song itself as very strong U2 and Coldplay vibes. Where powerful ballads, extremely cheery party songs or dark dance-pop rules the roost, sending in two guys with a non-showy song that sounds albeit radio friendly won’t garner the appreciation it deserves. I really did like the song, but the reasoning of it scoring badly probably was from the fact that it didn’t really “fit” with the competition but definitely does in the UK or US charts.

26. Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave (Armenia)

Entering in with the fierceness of Beyonce or Nicole Scherzinger, Iveta Mukuchyan’s LoveWave is an interesting number that blends bombastic pop with sultry tones. While her voice powerful, is a little abrasive and gets quite grating especially when she tries to project and go louder, emitting this shrill tone of her voice. The song itself is quite repetitive and even the holograms were quite confusing and a little distracting from the performance.

AND FINALLY, it is time to form my TOP 13 of the Night

1. Australia (Dami Im – Sound of Silence)

2. Latvia (Justs – Heartbeat)

3. Poland (Michal Szpak – Color Of Your Life )

4. France (Amir – J’ai Cherché)

5. Lithuania (Donny Montell – I’ve Been Waiting For This Night)

6. Austria (ZOË – Loin d’Ici)

7. Spain (Barei – Say Yay!)

8. Belgium (Laura Tesoro – What’s The Pressure)

9. Bulgaria (Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime)

10. Ukraine (Jamala – 1944)

11. Georgia (Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold)

12. The Netherlands (Douwe Bob – Slow Down)

13. Russia (Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One)

But nothing beats – Valentina Monetta – Social Network Song

Final Comments:

I picked a Top 13 because I thought it would be fair to split the performances from what I definitely liked to ones I didn’t like so much. This year was quite hard considering a lot of the performances were generally quite conservative and there wasn’t really any “bad” performances in my eyes. Australia’s entry was my favourite due to the stellar above and beyond vocals of the night as well as having quite a decent, catchy pop song that has universal appeal.

Latvia’s entry was above and beyond one of my top favourites because of that rich juxtaposition of raw vocals and a really great dancing beat and track arranged with it. Poland’s ballad soared and was effortlessly beautiful, France and Lithuania had feel good, pop tracks with good vocals and handsome singers, Austria’s entry was gorgeous, Spain/Belgium and Bulgaria had great choreography with good upbeat songs.

Ukraine, Georgia and Russia’s entries were also very good. Ukraine’s vocals and emotionality, Georgia bringing good rock into the table with a bit of dance elements and Russia’s production was top notch.  The Netherlands made country pop actually fit in quite well with the Eurovision sphere.

As for the other entries, it wasn’t that I didn’t like them but in the scheme of things as I was rewatching and writing frantically, I forgot about some of them. The Czech Republic entry was beautiful but also a little boring, I preferred Latvia’s vocals and Georgia’s rock entry over Hungary and Cyprus respectively. It was all a matter of who’s ballad/rock song/pop song was better and I felt that the ones listed on my top 13 were the best of the bunch.

Alright that’s enough from me. Let me know what you think!

And see you next year in the Ukraine in 2017! I pray that Valentina Monetta, Gaitana, Donny and Amir will be back.

C.

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