Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 6 – Austria, Moldova and Ireland

Here we go then, with the final trio of countries taking part in the first of this year’s Eurovision semi-finals. Today’s preview starts with Austria, who made a credible return to the contest last year after several years of self-imposed exile. That entry was a pleasing ballad – the one being sent this year couldn’t be much more of a contrast. The duo, resembling Angus Young from AC/DC and Stewart Lee, but called Trackshittaz (no, really), appear to be Austria’s answer to LMFAO, although the reaction produced by this performance is more likely to be WTF or FFS. The song, performed in an Austrian dialect called Mühlviertlerisch, is called Woki mit deim Popo. Which translates, as you might possibly guess from this clip, as “Shake Your Bottom”.

Nice to see that feminism is alive and well in Austria. On now to Moldova, who more often than not have qualified for the final, but have only achieved a couple of Top 10 finishes to date. Their effort this year, called Lăutar, is performed by Pasha Parfeny, who has a vague look of Edward Norton about him. With braces.

A jolly, folky number, which might well get through, although it’ll either prosper or suffer from being sandwiched between hyperactive male duos. Which brings us on, finally, for today and for the first semi-final, to Ireland, and Jedward. Such was their success last year that Ireland have chosen them to represent them in Baku with Waterline. Having first found fame as the comedy irritants in The X-Factor in 2009, the brothers Grimes do seem to have been smoothed down considerably, even since their Eurovision stint last year, and really it’s only the trademark hair, and the sparkly Power Rangers outfits, that distinguish what is otherwise an efficient but run-of-the-mill pop song.

The fact that they’re last in the running order – always advantageous, of course – might give them enough of a boost to make it into the final, but I’m sceptical as to whether Jedward will have another Top 10 finish. And one can’t help feeling they’ve been comprehensively out-Jedwarded by the Austrians.

So that’s it for the first semi-final. Ten of the eighteen acts who’ve been featured in these first six previews will make it rhrough to the final on Saturday 26 May. Next time we’ll be moving into the second semi-final, and waiting to show us their wares will be Serbia, Macedonia and the Netherlands. I’ll see you then…

Chris x

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Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 5 – Denmark, Russia and Hungary

Here come the next three countries all hoping to get through the first of this year’s Eurovision semi-finals, a fortnight from tonight. Denmark have enjoyed back-to-back Top 5 finishes by sending non-threatening soft rock numbers that sounded curiously like Simply The Best (in 2010) and Fight Test by the Flaming Lips (last year). This year they’re sending Soluna Samay, singing Should’ve Known Better. Sadly this has nothing to do with the old Jim Diamond hit – rather it sounds like it could have been a hit for Sheryl Crow about 10 years ago. The outfit, on the other hand, is rather more Cheryl Cole:

So, as non-threatening and easy on the ear as the Danes’ last couple of entries, which probably means it’ll do quite well. Easy on the ear is not a description that could be applied to the Russian entry, one that has already garnered a fair bit of attention. Buranovskiye Babushki previously entered the national selection competition in 2010 with a song whose title translated as Very long birch bark and how to turn it into a turban. Incredibly, they didn’t get selected. This time, however, they got lucky, mainly one suspects by entering a song with the slightly more Eurovision-friendly title of Party For Everybody. You may watch this and smirk, but ask yourself: would voting for this be any more ridiculous than voting for a man singing about the whereabouts of his keys and his phone?

This is actually one of the favourites to win, and frankly given that this is Eurovision, anything is possible (even if the country you’re representing is fresh – or rather rotten – from an election with a grimly predictable outcome). As well as singing about birch bark, turbans and partying, Buranovskiye Babushki also have a line in unlikely cover versions. Like this one:

They beat Dima Bilan and one half of T.A.T.u in the national final. You’ve got to admit, that result has made things a bit more interesting than they would have been otherwise. It’s certainly more interesting than the Hungarian entry that’s up last today. Here are Compact Disco performing Sound of Our Hearts, with a similarly uninspiring video in which the lead singer plays both an Apprentice reject and a tramp.

Nothing really memorable going on there, and with the song sandwiched between two rather more striking entries in the semi-final running order, it’s likely to get lost in the mix. The second of those two rather more striking entries is the Austrian one, and we’ll be taking a look at that, Moldova and Ireland next time. I can assure you that Jedward are far from being the most mind-boggling act in that trio…

Chris x

Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 4 – Israel, San Marino and Cyprus

Time to cheer up this typically dreary Bank Holiday Monday with the latest selection of Eurovision hopefuls, all of whom will be competing in the first semi-final on 22 May. First up are Israel. After the failure of former winner Dana International to qualify last year, this year the Israelis are pinning their hopes on Izabo, who perform Time. This is quite a cheery, old-skool Eurovision number (old-skool as in 1975). However, it’s best listened to with one’s eyes closed. If listened to with one’s eyes open, one is confronted with Bob Fossil off The Mighty Boosh impersonating David Essex. And clowns. Lots of clowns.

With all its retro jollity, Israel’s entry is undoubtedly different from those around it. But not as different as the entry from San Marino. For every generation of Eurovision fans, a song comes along whose jaw-dropping awfulness makes it all the more amazing. For instance, in 1983, there was this:

Then, in 1991, there was this:

And then, in 2000, there was this:

Now for this generation’s equivalent. The entry, performed under several miles of autotune by Valentina Monetta, was originally called Facebook Uh Oh Oh. However, as this breached one of Eurovision’s many, many regulations by effectively acting as an advert for said website, the song was hastily re-recorded with all mentions of the F-word removed, and retitled (with the gratuitous addition of two extra “oh”s) The Social Network Song (Oh Oh – Uh – Oh Oh). To be honest, though, it’s about as effective an advert for that social networking site as a film in which its founder was depicted as a weaselly, double-dealing, misogynistic douchebag with limited social skills. Enjoy, if that’s the right word:

Lyrically, there are so many gems to choose from, each one of which makes Friday by Rebecca Black sound like Leonard Cohen by comparison. However, “googling, giggling, gaggling” in particular gets me every time. And the awful brilliance is somehow ramped up by the obvious substitution of “F***b**k”s with “ooh-ooh”s and “beep-beep”s. Truly staggering. And in a semi-final that also features Jedward and a troupe of Russian grannies, that’s an achievement.

If you have any will to live remaining, then here’s the Cypriot entry for this year. Catherine Zeta-Jones-a-like Ivi Adamou performs La La Love, an efficient three minutes of Gaga-lite, with the accompanying video a take on Snow White featuring giant fruit:

Of the three entries previewed today, that one probably stands the best chance of making a decent impression. Although arguably that wouldn’t be too hard. Next time, the aforementioned Russian grannies will be getting an airing, sandwiched between Denmark and Hungary. Don’t miss it!

Chris x

Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 3 – Switzerland, Belgium and Finland

So, after a triumphant night for Labour in Manchester at the local elections, it’s time to look over three more Eurovision contenders. All of today’s hopefuls are representing countries that have won the Contest in the past. Switzerland won the first-ever Eurovision back in 1956, then had a second victory courtesy of Celine Dion in 1988. Since then, their record hasn’t been amazing – they looked to be back on track when they qualified for the final last year for the first time in ages, only to finish an undeserved last on the big night. Their hopes this year lie with Sinplus performing the song Unbreakable. And possibly the fact that the lead singer has a vibe of John Barrowman with hair by Jedward:

They also look like they’ve borrowed the dancers from Lena’s effort last year. Nothing amazing about the song itself – it might squeeze through qualifying but can’t see it doing much more.

Belgium won for the only time to date back in 1986, courtesy of 13-year-old Sandra Kim who, thanks to a subsequent rule change on the lower age limit, will forever be the youngest-ever Eurovision winner (as we will see in the not-too-distant future, there is no such cap on an upper age limit). And they’ve chosen a young performer this year – 17-year-old Iris, who performs Would You:

Slow-burning, gimmick-free ballads have had a tendency to surprise everyone and do really well in recent years (see, for example, Norway in 2008). There’s a bit too much of the hiccupy, Janet Devlin-esque vocal mannerisms going on for my liking, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say this one could do quite well.

Last up today are Finland who, ever since Lordi’s victory in 2006, have struggled to have a follow-up success. This year, for only the second time ever, they’ve sent an entry performed in Swedish (the last time was in 1990, and on that occasion they came last, so it doesn’t augur that well). Pernilla Karlsson is the singer, and the song is När jag blundar (which translates as “When I Close My Eyes”). It contains leaves and interpretative dance:

Not sure if coming straight after another female solo artist singing a pleasant mid-tempo ballad in the semi-final will do Pernilla any favours, although personally speaking I find it more pleasing. But who knows, they might both go through.

That’s a wrap for now – next time we’ll have Israel, San Marino and Cyprus. But mostly San Marino, with one of the most hilarious, jaw-droppingly bad entries in the history of Eurovision. And you don’t want to miss that…

Chris x

Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 2 – Latvia, Albania and Romania

Time for the next trio of hopefuls in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, all of whom will be competing in the first semi-final three weeks from today. Latvia are hoping to reverse three years of poor semi-final results by invoking Ireland’s very own Eurovision demi-god Johnny Logan. Anmary, like Estelle, was born in 1980, the year of What’s Another Year. But also the year of this:

And this:

And, most amazingly of all, this:

But I digress. Here she is with Beautiful Song, accompanied by her girlfriends straight out of a Danone Activia advert:

Not sure that, even with name-checking Logan, Jagger and McCartney, that song will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And frankly, if it’s not got a protest about a hydro-electric power station, or a man in a penguin costume, or a bloke in a dinner suit throwing confetti all over the stage and taking a photo afterwards, then who cares?

On to Albania now, still chasing a second Top 10 finish since the one that marked their 2004 debut. This year, they’ve got Rona Nishliu singing Suus. Which translates as “Personal”. And if there was some personal inspiration behind a video consisting of Rona standing in a box and a couple of very odd children (think a Minipops Gilbert and George), then I wouldn’t like to say what it was:

Last up for today are Romania. They’re represented this year by Mandinga, who performs Zaleilah in a mixture of English, Spanish and Autotune:

The ethnic instruments, chanting and “leilah” bit are all very 2004, and I’m not sure it’ll do much to trouble the top end of the leaderboard, should it make it past the semi-finals (and Romania have never failed to qualify for the big night). But she does have quite a fierce wardrobe.

That’s it for now – next time, Switzerland, Belgium and Finland will be gracing us with their presence. I’ll see you then!

Chris x

Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 1 – Montenegro, Iceland and Greece

Apologies, first of all, for not having blogged anything since New Year. It’s been a busy few months, and the last few weeks in particular have got very busy indeed with election activity. So now, with things at their most hectic and the local elections only a week away, I’ve naturally chosen this juncture to start my preview of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The Contest this year comes from Baku in Azerbaijan. Their win last year was perhaps inevitable, given that they’d been going all out to win since their first entry in 2008 – plus, with its oil reserves, Azerbaijan is one of the few countries that can actually afford to host Eurovision.

It’s also a country whose democratic standing is somewhat dubious, and whose bitter history with Armenia informed the latter country’s decision that it might be safest for them not to send a delegation to this year’s Contest. So there’s darkness lurking not far behind the usual Eurovision facade of glitz and gloss. Arguably only Spain in 1969 (still under Franco) and Russia in 2009 (where gay activists were, and remain, ruthlessly suppressed, a cruel irony given that the openly gay Dima Bilan had won the Contest for Russia the previous year) have been more morally difficult venues for Eurovision fans.

As for the preview itself, well this year I’m going to be doing three countries a go, and as usual I’ll be working through the two semi-finals in order of performance, and then finishing up with the hosts and the “Big Five”: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, represented this year by Engelbert Humperdinck, who would have been the oldest-ever performer in Eurovision until Russia selected their entry. But more of that anon. First of all we welcome back to the fold Montenegro, who’ve been absent since 2009, and now return with the hope of making the final for the first time. Whether they will with this extremely oddball entry is questionable, but it undoubtedly wins marks for rhyming “hermetic” and “cosmetic”. Here’s Rambo Amadeus with Euro Neuro:

Fans apparently compare him with Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart – he’s certainly just as much of an acquired taste. Still, it’s nice to see him modelling knitted headgear last seen musically on a regular basis adorning Badly Drawn Boy.

Next up, with some more woollens, are Iceland. This year they have the frankly hot pairing of Gréta Salóme & Jónsi, modelling some fabulous knitwear in some gorgeous landscapes. The song itself is called Never Forget, which has nothing to do with the Take That song of the same name, and is instead reminiscent of Evanescence with a bit of Rybak-style fiddle thrown in:

Jónsi will be hoping to do rather better than last time he entered Eurovision, when he only finished 19th in 2004. It’ll need really strong performances though to carry it through the semis and get a decent finish in the final, as there’s nothing particularly remarkable going on musically.

Last up in this initial trio is Greece, who in terms of being financially equipped to host Eurovision are probably at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Azerbaijan. Having got political last year, the Greeks this time round are playing it conventional, sending Eleftheria Eleftheriou with the song Aphrodisiac. There’s lots of hairography going on here:

Copper-bottomed ethnic Eurovision pop that could have appeared in pretty much any Contest in the last 6-7 years. Given this, and the fact that Greece seem to have had a pretty much permanent Top 10 berth in recent times, it’s hard to see this not doing well.

So, that’s the first tranche of hopefuls. Next time there’ll be Latvia, Albania and Romania. See you then!

Chris x

2011: One final look back

Yesterday’s blog post, concluding my review of the year, was intended to be my last for 2011. However, I’ve been cajoled into doing one further post that takes into consideration my personal travels through the last 12 months. Roughly speaking, this is the path I’ve taken:

Six Feet Under. Anti-Valentine Party. Birthday. Frankenstein’s Wedding. Elbow. iPhone. Doctor Who Party. First Quizzing event. Eurovision Party. Sufjan. Degree completed with a First. Avenue Q. Chris Barstow’s 30th. Chris Barstow leaves for Japan. That Day We Sang. Mastermind. Move to Manchester. Greenbelt. Kaisers at Kirkstall. Masters started. Masters stopped. Data-entry tedium. Graduation. New job at MMU. Labour doorstep. Movember. Stepping Out. Petra’s funeral. DJ-ing at Pop Curious again. Christmas. About to move again.

2011 in 10 “things”:

1) My OU graduation and the day of great pride for me and my mum
2) Stella Duffy wearing the “I AM NOT CAROL ANN DUFFY” T-shirt
3) The “wedding dance” in Kirkstall Abbey with Rob Butler and Debbie Gibbs
4) The Six Feet Under blog collaboration with Jon Hickman
5) The three-headed Greenbelt Literary Quiz with Ben Whitehouse and Andy Tate
6) Being back in the Black Chair
7) Calling Chorlton “home”
8) Smiths Night with Debbie and the Chrises
9) The joy of live music with wonderful friends
10) Those many quiet moments with the ducks at Kirkstall, and in Alexandra Park

And what of those who’ve helped make the good times good in 2011, lighting up my life face-to-face or via illuminating and entertaining discussions in the Twitterverse? The Special Guest Stars? I can reveal that, in no particular order, with Twitter usernames in brackets so you can follow them if you know what’s good for you, here are just some of them. They’re all very special indeed:

Ben Whitehouse (@benjiw)
Rob Butler (@theninthdoctor)
Debbie Gibbs (@plainnorthern)
Jon Hickman (@jonhickman)
Mary Costello (@maryecostello)
Chris Styles (@iamdresden)
Chris Fitzpatrick (@saxonwhittle)
Chris Barstow
Andrew Tate (@cloudatlaskid)
Stella Duffy (@stellduffy)
Nick Jones
Simon Best (@simonpjbest)
David Gilchrist
Jason Prince (@Jason_Prince)
Jenny & Matt Whitham (@Jenny_Whitham & @mattywhitty)

Oh, and my Mum. Obviously. Love to you all and here’s to happier times in 2012.

Chris x