A Year Of Eurovision Song Contest Memories
ESC Insight’s Musical Moments Of 2015
Originally published on ESC Insight, December 31, 2015
As the calendar year draws to a close, it’s time to look back over the last twelve months as ESC Insight asks the team, and the friends of the parish, what their musical moments from the Eurovision Song Contest have been.
(You can also listen along to the full playlist of ‘ESC Insight’s Musical Moments of 2015‘ on Youtube).
Black Smoke (33/45 Remix), by Ann Sophie (Germany 2015)
In the hours before Eurovision’s Greatest Hits, I was chatting to NDR’s Thomas Schreiber, reminiscing about the German National Final a few weeks previously and I casually asked him who had taken the decision to slow down ‘Black Smoke‘ into a ballad. At which point that classic german look of confusion and skepticism crossed his face. “We never changed it.”
Like many, I had grabbed a copy of the National Final tracks ahead of the Germany seection, but for some reason, my copy of ‘Black Smoke‘ was time-compressed. The three minute dirge that ‘won’ the Contest was only 2 minutes 37 seconds in my playlist. In the grand tradition of John Peel, I’d been playing the equivalent of the long-playing album version at the speed of a seven inch single.
There is always room for improvement in music, nothing is every truly complete. Presentation can change, songs can be reworked, covered, or remixed. Singers can approach the material from a different emotional angle. Thats what makes music so exciting to me. The version that crashed to nul points in Vienna was one variation on a million artistic choices.
You know what? It’s a far better song when you give it a bit more welly… even if I’ve had to upload my version to the ESC Insight account for you all to experience.
All For Victory, by Angelo De Nile (UMK, Finland 2015)
I’m pretty vocal in what I like from my music. I like to have lots of changing tempos and a wide mix of phrasing, I like music that evolves over the three minutes and is a genuine story. I want to feel the emotion behind the performance, I want to be dragged away to another world by the singer.
One song stands above all others as the perfect embodiment of what I look for in my music… not just my Eurovision music, but across all of my listening experiences. Angelo De Nile’s ‘All For Victory‘ from UMK this year has pretty much everything I want, it’s theatrical, it’s powerful, and it’s memorable. The live performance even ends on a cliffhanger! I just love it to death.
Eurovision rarely attempts to do the Symphonic Narriative Concept Album, but De Nile captures the tone of ‘The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur and the Knights Of The Round Table‘ and ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of The Worlds‘ perfectly, albeit this is more a short story to those mighty opuses. Pop always turns up at Eurovision, as do mighty ballads, Bond themes, and worthy songs about stopping war. But it can turn away from the mainstream and still deliver. It’s not always about victory.
De la capăt (All Over Again), by Voltaj (Romania 2015)
My day job requires me at times to be rather intensely focused: something that is either happening or is not. On that afternoon it was not; rather than torture myself trying to force things, I did a bit of mental palate cleansing online and the 2015 Romania national selection entries had been recently made available online. The first one I clicked into was ‘De la capăt’; after listening to them all, Voltaj’s was the only one that stuck in my mind. It was obviously a really good song, even without understanding Romanian. I wasn’t aware that it was already a hit in Romania.
I didn’t find the time the time to watch the final itself — national finals often start at breakfast time in New Zealand — but I was pleased that Voltaj had won. Curious about how it was staged, I found and played the live performance on YouTube and thought “those suitcases; major distraction.”
Mind you, a few weeks later and the preview video left me a blubbering mess. I had found my song of the year.
Let’s be honest: social message songs don’t do very well at the Eurovision: they can be difficult to communicate effectively to a multilingual, global audience, and sometimes when a vocalist is really, really intent on conveying a social message they fail to create a moment. But 2015 has been a year where a UK general election was focused significantly (thanks to populist right wing cretins) on “Romanians taking our jobs” blah blah blah. ‘De la capăt’ gives us on the other side of that discussion: the families that have chosen long-term separation between parents and children as the best, sometimes only, option. Think about that for a moment: the impact on families, and the impact on a society where hundreds of thousands of parents are absent.
While I never thought ‘De la capăt’ had a chance of winning, ‘All Over Again’ the fully English version of the song could well have — or at least it would have done much better than 15th place. The English lyrics are sophisticated and musical and moving. Voltaj had planned on singing in English in Vienna, but their fans reacted so negatively, they decided against it. A shame really, since what they had to say was something more people would have been able to understand in English than in Romanian: you do whatever you think is in the best interest of your kids, no matter how difficult. Even if your kids can’t understand it.
In Vienna, I brought my big arsed Romanian flag to both the semi-final and grand final. During their performance on Tuesday night, Himself (a reluctant Eurovision fan at best), who had earlier said that none of the songs on the official CD had caught his attention, was singing along to the chorus:
“You would be the reason, you would be the reason to start, to start all over again.”
“That’s the best song of the year, isn’t?” he said. I couldn’t reply. Blubbering, again. Since Vienna we’ve seen so many Syrians making an even more treacherous decision, in the hope of something better for their families: a lot of the footage features Wien Westbahnof station, the nearest station to the Wiener Stadthalle. ‘De la capăt‘ is the sound of 2015.
Here for You, by Maaraya (Slovenia 2015)
If I were to move to Europe, Slovenia would be near the top of my shortlist. The people, the natural beauty, the mélange of Slavic, Germanic and Latinate cultures all work for me in a big way. Some of my good friends are Slovenians. No, really.
Slovenia’s not, however, one of my Eurovision crushes, (waves to Malta and Estonia). How many really good Slovenian entries have there been? ‘Energy‘ was a cracker of a song, but the staging destroyed its chances in 2001. ‘No One’ (2011), now that ticked all the boxes: Maja Keuc totally deserved a top ten finish. I tried to watch the EMA once, really, but found it really boring: small countries (like Slovenia) are lucky to have more than one song to choose from in their national finals.
But there was a bit of a buzz after Marjetka and Raay won the EMA with ‘Here For You‘. So I clicked into the “super final” performance online and thought “whaaat?” Then clicked replay and thought “wow, that is interesting.” Clicked again “no… that’s bloody brilliant.” Maaraya was quirky (air violin and headphones and disco lights), but not distractingly so. Marjetka’s voice is distinct, but still easy to listen to. My only worry was that it took three plays to “get” it — though my first one was a half-listen: folks watching the live grand final would almost certainly be more focused.
I was certain Slovenia would qualify easily from their semi-final (they did) with such an excellent draw. And had they received a good draw for the Grand Final, they would have a good shot at Slovenia’s best result in fifteen years. Alas both the killer half from hell (so many of the strong entries in Vienna pulled the first half of the draw) and the evil “producer-led” order of performance meant that ‘Here for You’ was the ultimate party-starter as show opener. Strong up-tempo openers have a 50/50 shot at the top 10; alas ‘Here For You‘ ended up 14th, exactly the midpoint of the scoreboard). But remains a song that doesn’t get skipped when randomly queued on my iPhone. Few songs from 2015 are.
Tonight Again, by Guy Sebastian (Australia 2015)
I only have the one song to highlight for this year, but it’s a pretty special one. Guy Sebastian’s ‘Tonight Again‘.
This year, despite whatever reservations I hold towards Australia being an actual part of the Eurovision Song Contest, I saw my first actual fully fledged homegrown ‘cheer for it like your life depends on it’ entry.
And I am so proud.
Unlike what I may have imagined our broadcaster doing, they sent a proper known artist, with just a damn good party tune and a decent stage show that left me not shrinking into the corner with embarrassment but rather made my heart swell with pride. Sebastian was an outstanding start to what is obviously a now regular entry from Down Under. He set the bar very high not just for Australia but the contest and itself, and gained 5th place. I was only sad to not actually be there to witness it in person.
Make Me (La La La) by Dinah Nah (Melodifestivalen 2015)
One of the many reasons why Melodifestivalen is — in my opinion — the ultimate Eurovision national final, is that the depth of quality is so high that songs as infectious and chart-ready as ‘Make Me (La La La)’ are routinely kicked out in 9th or 10th place, only to enjoy lengthy afterlives on the Swedish charts — where Dinah achieved Platinum sales.
In light of his Viennese victory, it would be difficult to argue that Sweden made the wrong choice in selecting Måns this year, but I do think it’s a shame that songs as quirky and infectious as ‘Make Me (La La La)‘ tend to lose out to safer, more formulaic Eurovision hits. Had a smaller country like Romania, Slovenia or even Norway sent this song, it could have been one of the surprise hits of the season. On the other hand it may have bombed horribly. But you only have to listen to the similarly techno-influenced recent UK number one ‘Turn The Music Louder’ by KDA, Tinie Tempah & Katy B to appreciate what a bold and contemporary Eurovision entry this might have been.
Rhythm Inside, by Loïc Nottet (Belgium 2015)
Marrying understated Lorde influenced verses with a walloping Sia-esque chorus, Belgium did the best job this year of putting a truly 2015 song on the Eurovision stage thanks to the incredibly talented Loïc Nottet. One of the most focused and driven young talents the Eurovision stage has seen in recent years, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if this was just the beginning of a long and interesting career for the 19 year old performer, whose stock has just received a major boost through his victory on France’s Dancing With The Stars.
Not everybody saw the potential in this leftfield entry, especially coming immediately after the more fancied Swedish and Australian entries in the final, but everything came together on the night. Having believed in it from day one, watching it grab high scores from all over Europe was immensely satisfying.
Guld och Gröna Skogar, by Hasse Andersson (Melodifestivalen)
When we look back months after the Eurovision Song Contest, we can start to be critical to how much of a success our winner was. In many a case Måns is a huge winner, he’s got to tour around Europe, released an album and is buzzing about his co-hosting role in Stockholm next May. However his tour struggled to sell tickets, the album sounds as rushed as it was to get out and his stock as a TV host now seems stronger than that of being a commercial artist. He won Eurovision and has had a blast after it, but the full potential a Eurovision win can provide some artists wasn’t exploited.
The best and most surprising exploitation of their success this year is from the most bizarre of National Final entrants. Hasse Andersson, a country singer in the Skånska dialect with more in common than Danish to Swedish, had not released an album since 2002. He may be a beloved character from a different era, but his entry into Melodifestivalen was never expected to set the musical world on fire. It took time, after only just sneaking through the Second Chance round of Melodifestivalen, but ‘Guld och Gröna Skogar’ became this swing-around-the-maypole sing-a-long extravaganza. Hasse may have had a captive senior fan base, but Melodifestivalen gave him a surprising new one as his entry became the pre-school classic. Tons of toddlers knew the words and we’re dancing around to the tune from their old grandad with an accent so strong they don’t understand.
Running last in the Melodifestivalen final was a big surprise from Christer Björkman, The Friends Arena jumped to life in a way I haven’t seen before in the cavernous 30,000 seater stadium. Across the entire floor of the arena fans started twirling with each other and dancing with strangers in one of the most bizarre yet lovely ways to end a National Final ever. The televoting surge Hasse got brought one of the least predictable top three placings in Melodifestivalen history, and provided a huge platform post-contest.
Hasse’s been out of retirement touring all summer and all through the Christmas period, entertaining small children who are adorably sweet in getting their albums and posters signed. And that album infact reached number one in the Swedish charts on release. It’s hard to think of an artist who has ‘won’ this year as much as Hasse did.
Let’s not mention the songwriters already released a Japanese version years ago though.
One Last Breath, by Maria Elena Kyriakou (Greece 2015)
Now bear with me on this one.
In many ways there are songs that define a Eurovision and the direction it takes in the future. Pundits in the Eurovision bubble are quick to point out how ‘Calm After The Storm’ inspired a series of duets in the 2015 Contest, or how Lordi’s 2006 victory brought a short wave of rock back onto the shores of Eurovision.
From Vienna’s hosting, we can expect many countries to be thinking about tinkering their stage performances to within an inch of perfection, or to embrace the indie and electronic sounds as demonstrated by ‘Love Injected’. However there’s one trend for me which really symbolises what came out of Eurovision 2015, and Maria provides the perfect example.
The song with nothing wrong with it.
It’s a ballad, tender in its first few notes, filled with an angst genuine but at the same time moderate. Maria holds her fair hair and shiny dress against the gale force wind machine with a professionalism that shows it’s good, but not finding a wow moment of new magic. The musical movements up to the big crescendo may not crowbar in a key change, but are ramped up in energy in a way we’ve heard one hundred times before but yet nobody is horrified to hear again.
Despite plodding through the three minutes, it did so well enough to pull a 6th place finish in the Semi Final, before crashing in the Grand Final to nineteenth. However ‘One Last Breath’ is the style icon for what 2016 might sound like, and it worries me. If there is a formula to qualify this is the one, with an act good enough to be worthy and a song that works by not offending the voters.
I really hope I’m wrong, but I can’t help but feel if we are talking about the Songs of the Season then this is the 2015 definition.
Goodbye to Yesterday, by Stig Rasta And Elina Born (Estonia 2015)
If this article is about the Musical Moments that grabbed our attention this year, it would be woefully incomplete without a mention of Estonia’s entry for Vienna, Stig Rästa and Elina Born’s ‘Goodbye to Yesterday’. First, there was the moment I heard the song in full for the first time, all sultry and moody, thoroughly modern, yet timeless.
Then, there was the moment when they clinched victory at Eesti Laul with a staggering 79 percent of the Superfinal vote, especially after so many valiant near-misses for Rasra over the years (I still mourn for ‘I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan’ and ‘Für Elise‘). There was the reveal of their dark, brooding video, arguably one of the best Eurovision preview clips in recent memory. There was the rehearsal process, where we got to witness the synergy of two talented performers who have full artistic and personal trust in each other, and the package they were presenting.
And finally, when it all mattered, there was that moment at the climax of the song during the Grand Final, when all of the hard work, all of the emotion, and all of the relief of a job well done coalesced into a single teardrop that rolled down Elina’s cheek, and into the Top Ten.
Heart of Stone, by Andreas Kümmert (German National Final, 2015)
For so many artists that take the stage, the pressure of competition spurs them on to accomplish amazing things. The rush of adrenaline that accompanies the roar of an audience, the blinding lights, the flutter of a gown against a wind machine, that glimpse of your nation’s flag waving in the crowd, the sensation that your heart is trying to bust out of your ribcage, the mental image of your Grandma watching from home, the last-minute realization that you have to pee, the feeling of the microphone almost slipping from your now-sweaty palms, the uncertainty of whether your in-ear monitor is really working correctly, the echoing memory of hearing somebody whispering “Barbara Dex” to their neighbor during your press conference, the hope that your makeup artist effectively covered up the massive zit that you woke up to this morning, the urgency of your brain saying “no, seriously, you really have to pee”, the knowledge that millions upon millions of people are watching every bead of your flop-sweat on their HD-TVs…holy crap, what have you gotten yourself into?
For some people, it’s simply too much to take.
The natural, animalistic response to dangerous situations is “fight or flight”. Unfortunately for Andreas Kümmert, his instincts (as correct as they might have been for his needs) veered towards “flight”, and that was revealed at an incredibly inconvenient (albeit memorable) moment. Whether ‘Heart of Stone‘ would have fared much better than ‘Black Smoke‘ in Vienna is a question that can never truly be answered; it was a great song, but midtempo blues-rock doesn’t have a spectacular track record at Eurovision. (Just ask The Makemakes.) Furthermore, Eurovision is so much more than three minutes (or six if you’re lucky, and nine if you’re truly fortunate) on television. The endless rigmarole of rehearsals, press conferences, promotional appearances, and interviews leave precious little time for quiet moments of solitude and self-care, which could be vital for someone facing anxiety issues.
All we can hope is that NDR learn from this experience, and take the time to truly get to know their candidates and affirm that they’re ready to handle the Eurovision madhouse.
You know, like Xavier Naidoo. He seems like a squeaky-clean, seasoned professional.
Aina Mun Pitää, by Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (Finland 2015)
After a lifetime of hoping and waiting fruitlessly, a boyhood dream was finally realised with this song. Constantly derided, marginalised, pushed to the fringes and meant to feel like society’s rejects, my people had finally been represented at Eurovision… the punks.
But a funny thing happened upon their selection. People who would previously call any pretty boy pointlessly waving a guitar about in front of them a heavy metal singer, or anyone with a banjo a bluegrass act, suddenly became full-blown, university educated experts on punk rock. “I know punk rock, and this isn’t it!” they’d bark authoritatively, before citing the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks or Nina Hagen, and very little else that has happened over the last 30 years of this manifold and wondrous genre.One would almost sense that they were using it as an excuse to slag PKN off, seeing as they boys weren’t entirely like you and I, and they had to try and find an excuse to hate them in a more publicly palatable flavour. Not that I’m cynical or anything.
“They’re not even a real band!” I heard a few people bleat. A not real band that up to that point had been putting out records regularly since 2010, had toured the world, and even had an incredible, award-winning rockumentary made about them? There’s a good seventy-five percent of the acts who were on the Eurovision bill this year who could never ever dream of being that real.
But what really disappointed me about the ESC community this year was that less than 12 months after heralding how #Together we all were, as soon as someone with a bit of different difference came along, they closed ranks and spat out some really spiteful invective. But all I can say is that when the boys stepped up there for their semi-final performance I felt as proud as any father could if it were their own kids up there. Not because I was being all PC and patronising to some funny little disabled lads, but because some true punks were up there and giving it large — and we punks are a bit more inclusive aren’t quite so quick to judge, despite our seemingly gruff exterior.
Fair play PKN, you played a blinder, no matter what he snooty judges thought!
Wounded Swan, by Sasha Bognibov (Moldovan Selection, 2015)
I know, I know, I bring this fella up every year, and you must be getting bored of him by now. Except… ‘Wounded Swan’ was one hell of a good song, and it was as near to tragedy as a silly little song contest can muster that it never got heard by a wider audience.
I don’t know how Sasha did it, but this three minute opus of gloom is one of the finest songs that I heard in the last 18 months, Eurovision or not. From the beautiful symbolism of the swan’s broken wing, to the dark allegories to suicide, this for me is second only to ‘Seasons In The Sun’ in the “I’m about to cark it” death ballad stakes — and then not by a long way.
And Sasha’s broken, wispy voice suited it perfectly — although I’d love to hear some gravel-larynxed American troubadour give it a go too. Imagine hearing someone like Mark Kozelek or Bonnie Prince Billy having a go on this. Oh, how joyfully gloomy that would be.
‘Heroes’ by Måns Zelmerlöw (Sweden 2015)
Jag älskar Melodifestivalen, och jag älskar Måns. So, when the two hooked up yet again in 2015 (after a five-year, post-host hiatus), the result was inevitably going to make an impression on me. Having set the standard for innovative, intimate staging at both Melfest and Eurovision in 2012, Sweden managed to wow us with more of the same via ‘Heroes’, without cultivating unfavourable comparisons with said game-changing presentation of Euphoria, thanks in part to Måns’ lack of crab-dancing. Wearing tight leather trousers isn’t conducive to pulling off choreography like that.
Right from that very first public performance of ‘Heroes’ in Örebro, I was captivated…and I don’t (just) mean by the leather pants. The song’s accompanying projections, and the way Måns interacted with them? Nothing short of magic. Even now, many months and about a hundred viewings later, I remain mesmerised by those visuals. Such originality — pilfered cartoons aside — is the kind of thing that gets great results, and grabs the attention of the masses with both hands.
Of course, we are here to discuss musical moments. While it can easily be argued that the staging of ‘Heroes’, not the song itself, won Eurovision 2015 for Sweden, the song is also a winner as far as I’m concerned. Writers Anton Malmberg Hård af Segerstad and the Deb duo tapped into Avicii-esque country-dance trends to craft a track with the power of an arena anthem, the infectiousness of a karaoke favourite, and lyrics that don’t make you want to crawl into Trijntje Oosterhuis’ voluminous jumpsuit and die. This song, in less elaborate terms, soars. Every time I hear it, I feel buoyed — and convinced that we really are the heroes of our time, et cetera. Sad, isn’t it.
FYI, the victory of ‘Heroes’ also marks the first time in history that my favourite song took the Eurovision trophy home. If that’s not memorable, then I don’t know what is!
‘Ne Engedj El’ by Kati Wolf (Hungary, National Final 2015)
If ‘Heroes’ hit me in the head — i.e. had me thinking, ‘Now this is winning material…take note, every country that isn’t Sweden!’ — then Kati Wolf’s almost-comeback to Eurovision at A Dal hit me in the heart — i.e. had me insisting there was “dust” in my eyes that was making them water. Funnily enough, I wasn’t enthused when I saw her name on the national final’s 2015 participant list. ‘What About My Dreams?’, and Kati’s questionable styling at the time (there was something painfully Dynasty about that dress and that hair) had never managed to park all the way up my street, and I assumed we were to witness the sequel this year.
I was wrong… it happens occasionally. Come Kati’s time to compete in Hungary, gone was the garish blue satin, the bling and the Michael Bolton wig. Sans all of the above, she simply stood on stage and emptied herself of emotion, without a trace of cliché or cloying faux-sentimentality tarnishing her performance. ‘Ne Engedj El’ may have been a plea in ballad form, much like the eventual Hungarian entry ‘Wars For Nothing’ — but while the plea within Boggie’s song screamed ‘Donate a dollar a day, and me and my backing singers will be able to pay for our own schnitzel dinners at the hotel this evening!’, Kati’s was a pared-back plea for her lover not to let her go. The effect of that, plus the beautiful melody and mysterious allure of the wholly-Hungarian lyrics, meant the song really stuck with me.
I wanted ‘Ne Engedj El’ to win A Dal — though truth be told, I wanted pretty much anything other than ‘Wars For Nothing’ to win — but I can see that it wouldn’t have stayed afloat in the sea of ballads that was Eurovision 2015. And the fact that Hungary didn’t like the Wolf doesn’t matter much now anyway, because — and prepare yourself for some cheese here — her song did win a special place in my heart.
Þú Leitar Líka Að Mér, by Hinemoa (Iceland’s Söngvakeppnin)
Söngvakeppnin is always one of my favourite national selections. It has a joyeous, slightly homespun charm with an eclectic mix of acts. Sometimes one of the leftfield candidates end up on the international stage (see: Pollapönk in 2014) but this year those acts were left behind as a generic pop princess stomped to victory.
It was a shame that Hinemoa did not make it out of the Icelandic semi-final. ‘Þú Leitar Líka Að Mér‘ is a lovely, lovely song with ukuleles, a jolly Icelandic brass section, and a sweet boss nova-esque rhythm. If Etsy did music, this would be it. Would ‘Þú Leitar Líka Að Mér‘ have made a huge impact in Vienna? No, but it would have warmed the souls of more people than the relatively small number of people who saw the performance back in January.
Pass me the elderflower & lime martini in a jam jar.
Love Injected, by Aminata (Latvia 2015)
Anybody who likes following Eurovision beyond that last glitzy week of finals knows that this was the year of Frozen clones. Pretty much every National Final had Disney princesses in big frocks warbling a heartfelt song with emphatic hand gestures.
I loved how Latvia’s Aminata subverted this trend with a song that may have looked like it was straight from the generic Disney princess handbook, but which sounded like nothing else on the night.
‘Love Injected‘ was the feral love child of Elle Goulding, FKA Twigs and Kate Bush — its minimalist beats and Aminata’s big voice was all it needed to sell itself. I was overjoyed that it did so well for Latvia and Aminata who wrote it herself. Taking chances pays off.
(It’s also worth noting that ‘Love Injected‘ saw the memorable and unique ‘Ewan’s just thrown a great big queenie fit of rage’ across the press room in Vienna.. I was expecting even more from the choreography and thought Lativa had blown its chance of success… I was thankful wrong — Ewan).
Garrett Mulhall (Eurovision Ireland)
Réalta na Mara, by Aimee Banks (Ireland, Junior Eurovision 2015)
For as long as I can remember one of the joys of watching the Eurovision Song Contest was the excitement and wonder at listening to a song sung in a language that I couldn’t understand, yet fully enjoying and comprehending the meaning of the song in my own mind. So as the Song contest has evolved in many aspects, it’s refreshing to see that the Junior Eurovision Song Contest still celebrates the wonders of the foreign language.
You can imagine my surprise and then delight when Ireland decided to make their debut at Junior Eurovision and realising that a huge breath of new life was going to be breathed into the Gaelic language. Me, like the majority of Irish people my age (the ’30 plus’ age box to be ticked), had lost touch with the splendour of our national language that played a huge part in our founding identity.
When a young 13 year old girl called Aimee Banks, stepped onto that international stage in Bulgaria and sang like an angel in Irish, it was more than just us entering into a new contest from the Eurovision family, it was a reawakening of pride and a new found love in what it means to be Irish and how important it is for all of us in Europe to not lose sight of where we have come from while we still strive to our future. I’m just happy that I managed to play a small role in that musical and national moment for Ireland and Europe.
Love And Let Go, by Ekklesia Sisters (Maltese National Final, 2015)
Malta maybe a small island but it has the biggest and most passionate Eurovision heart. Each year they serve up a national selection that is worthy of a Eurovision contest itself. Twice Junior Eurovision winners, they have come close to winning the adult contest on several occasions and they will do it — Trust Me!
Why do I say that? Simply they take chances in their national selection competition and leave any pre conceived notions of ‘What is a Eurovision style song?’ far behind. So this year when they were selecting their entry for Vienna they made the brave and inspired choice of selecting the Ekklesia Sisters (or to me ‘My Six Pack’) the opportunity to represent their country.
We all know that Amber was the eventual winner yet the enduring memory for many in Malta and across Europe, is that of 6 nuns in their white habits performing full of joy, joy for singing, joy for performing and joy in celebrating the now!
They were different from what we deem the norm (whatever that is), they sang a song that is different from what most countries send to Eurovision and they were different in that they broke all notions of what it is to have faith. My interview with them is possibly one of the happiest eighteen minutes I have ever experienced in my life as 6 ‘Singing Nuns’, 6 Singers, no 6 women, reminded me what the contest is all about — bringing us together in music and breaking down those stereotypes. So eighteen minutes in my life — plus their 3 minutes on stage — showed me that Malta and the Ekklesia Sisters truly know what it means to say ‘I love Eurovision’.
Kylie Wilson (Eurodummies)
Fjaðrir, by Sunday (Iceland’s Söngvakeppnin 2015)
Here’s something a bit different from the Icelandic national final. A dark electronic ballad that uses feathers as a metaphor for a failing relationship. It’s atmospheric, it’s ethereal, it’s mournful, it’s all-round wonderful.
They performed an English version in the final, which is equally amazing, but the original Icelandic version wins out as the language gives it more of a mystic quality.
A part of me still thinks that it would’ve been a great addition to the 40-strong lineup in Vienna, it might’ve even qualified and saved Iceland some embarrassment. Oh well, that was the past, and maybe they’ll have learnt their lessons and come back fighting to celebrate their 30th Eurovision anniversary in 2016.
A Monster Like Me, by Mørland & Debrah Scarlett (Norway 2015)
Yes, I’m well aware that it’s pretty obvious by now that I have a strong Norway bias.
March 2015 saw me head out to Oslo for my first national final (I know, very late), fearing that none of my favourite songs in the lineup would not see victory. ‘A Monster Like Me‘ was my number one, hands down, favourite. I was impressed by their performance in the dress rehearsal but I still worried. That carried on through the voting, resigned to seeing my pet country send a lame Swedish import, until the very last vote when the underdogs took victory. To say I cackled and jumped around like a maniac was an understatement, much to the bemusement of the typically reserved locals.
The Japanese have a type of aesthetic they value called “wabi-sabi”, which views beauty as something imperfect or incomplete and simple. That would be the best word to use for this entry: it’s simple, it’s staging is imperfect/incomplete, and that’s the beauty of it.
Richard Taylor (Eurovoix)
Jag Är Fri, by Jon Henrik Fjällgren (Melodifestivalen 2015)
‘Jag Är Fri‘ (translated as ‘I Am Free‘) was performed by Jon Henrik Fjällgren, a Swedish-Sami performer. For me, ‘Jag Är Fri‘ is a traditional Swedish/Scandinavian song, that had probably represented the country/region one hundred years ago, had the Eurovision Song Contest existed back then.
Melodifestivalen isn’t always about Schlager and if you can look beyond the average pop song, you can understand why I’ve chosen ‘Jag Är Fri.‘ It is unique and this uniqueness is what grabbed me from the outset. Jon Henrik himself and his dancers are dressed in traditional colonial outfits that match the overall performance of the song.
Friends thought I was mad when I chose this as one of my favourites up there with Måns for this year’s Swedish National Final. Until I actually got to the Friends Arena, I didn’t realise how much the Swedish audience had actually taken to this entry and for a moment, I actually thought Måns was going to lose out on representing his country yet again! Whether this would’ve taken victory as well at the Eurovision Song Contest, we will never know.
A Million Voices, by Polina Gagarina (Russia 2015)
“We are the world’s people, different but we’re the same” are the opening lines and sums up ‘A Million Voices.’ This year Polina Gagarina won everyone over in Vienna and brought something to the Contest that Russia would’ve hoped for — universal love.
Through the emotion she managed to display, Polina managed to bring everyone together, forgetting about the politics that Russia has engulfed itself in over recent years. Fans both in Vienna and around the globe fell in love with this song throughout the week. It is just a shame a few decided to boo, bringing politics back into the fray during the voting in the Grand Final and you could visibly see the upset on Polina’s face while this was happening.
Since Vienna, Polina has released a Russian version of her Eurovision entry. This has been played on several Eurovision related radio shows and anyone who hadn’t heard the English version, would’ve fallen in love just as much as we did in Vienna. I do wonder had Polina taken ‘A Million Voices’ to Vienna in Russian, could she had gone on to be the hero?
Gavin Lambert (ESCTips)
Suitcase, by Anne Gadegaard (Danish Selection, 2015)
Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2015 is a fine example of that well used trope ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ On February 7th in Aalborg, Anti Social Media won the chance to represent Denmark in Vienna, beating the favourite, Anne Gadegaard, by six-points. The untelegenic foursome were always destined to struggle in that unfriendly semi-final.
The Danish public, who actually preferred Gadegaard, can blame the new regional jury system on their nation’s failure to qualify for the first time since the two semi-final format was introduced. Anne Gadegaard’s more ‘Eurovision-jury-friendly’ ‘Suitcase‘ will be forever lost in Eurovision’s baggage reclaim.
Ostarilla, by Shava (Finnish Selection, 2015)
When Lordi won for Finland in 2006 with ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah‘, there was a sense of novelty and fun for viewers to invest in. The fist pumping celebrations following Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät’s national final win were somewhat premature, as was the optimistic ‘Helsinki 2016’ chatter. Fans were slow to acknowledge the obvious impact of national juries (reintroduced in 2009) and the new ranking system (introduced in 2013) and the ability of it overcoming any potential sympathy vote.
Having been disappointed by Satin Circus’ live performance of ‘Crossroads‘, I favoured the zany originality of Shava’s ‘Ostarilla’. And if the Finnish public didn’t care too much about qualifying, surely a big bhangra banger would have stopped half of Europe scrambling for the mute button.
Planet of the Children, by Krisia ft. everyone in the Arena Armeec (Junior Eurovision 2015)
It’s not often that you can pinpoint a country’s Eurovision interest being down to one person entirely, but in Bulgaria Krisia most definitely holds that honour.
In November BNT put on a spectacular Junior Eurovision Song Contest a year on from taking home the silver medal, thanks in most part due to the huge popularity of Krisia, Hassan, and Ibrahim following their result. Of course she was then to star in the halftime show on home soil, but for me it was spine-tingling to have the entire 7,000 seater arena singing along with her every word!
Save Your Kisses For Me, by Brotherhood of Man (Eurovision’s Greatest Hits)
Yes, I know this song isn’t strictly from the 2015 Contest, but it did come from a Eurovision event this year, so it counts!
Throw back to April and the BBC’s sixty year celebration of Eurovision at the Hammersmith Apollo. Brotherhood of Man were the first Eurovision interview I did back in 2005, and while I’d seen them perform live in Herning (of all places!) in 2013, this performance just stuck in my mind. Whilst on the TV show you could hear the crowd singing along, what you didn’t get in the BBC final edit of the show was the huge noise at the end of the song that lasted for minutes — literally! None of the four members wanted to leave the stage, and nor did the public want them to go.
There was just something very special in that moment for me as still forty years later not only did everyone know all the words, but this band can still hold the audience in the palm of its hand. I wonder if any of our recent winners will still be so beloved when we’re celebrating 100 years?
Don’t Forget To Tell Us Your Moment!
The ESC Insight team would love to hear what you would nominate! Let us know in the comments…
Originally published at ESC Insight on December 31, 2015.