What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.
Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.
Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.
The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.
Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.
Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.
This year’s contest will be held in Stockholm, Sweden.
FRANCE: “J’ai cherché” by Amir
Amir Haddad has had one of the more unusual career trajectories of this year’s Eurovision entrants.
While he dreamt of singing on stage from the moment he could make the word “chanson” out of Play-Doh, he first trained as a dental surgeon before launching himself into a musical career.
No disservice to the many fine dental surgeons out there, but it’s highly likely that appearing before thousands of screaming fans singing a song you have written such as, oh I don’t know, “J’ai cherché” is a tad more glamorous than yanking out someone’s tooth.
And so it is that the son of a Tunisian father and a Moroccan-Spanish mother, who found fame back in 2013 as a finalist on The Voice finds himself concerned less with teeth and gums than wowing millions of people across Europe.
And it is highly likely that those millions of screaming fans could well deliver the Eurovision trophy in all its Kosta Boda glass glory into Amir, and thus, France’s hands.
“J’ai cherché” is insanely, gloriously, upbeat, a catchy pop tour de force that effortlessly channels hand-clapping, toe-tapping danceability, and the kind of smile-on-the-face joyousness that only the Grinch on a really bad day could resist.
Oh c’mon! Even he couldn’t stop himself loving this song.
Moving between French and English, a rarity in a French entry which usually resolutely stick to absolument français, the song is brilliantly, crowd-envelopingly warm and welcoming, everything you’d want in a Eurovision song and then some.
And merde if it won’t just win the whole damn contest.
Channeling a pleasing mix of Gwen Stefani, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Harujuku Girl manga-inspired street style, Jamie-Lee Kriewitz is all quirk and fun and as Eurovision assures us, and why would they lie, “doesn’t take herself too seriously.”
All of which means that this schoolgirl from Hanover, who won The Voice in December last year before leaping across to Unser Lied für Stockholmm, Germany’s official selection contest for Eurovision 2016, is going to inject some fun not just into her career but Eurovision itself.
It’s what you would expect from someone who wants to live as a vegan, travel to Korea (and Japan too surely?) and loves dressing in what’s known as Japanese Decora Kei style.
So she has the style and clearly a winning musicality down pat but does, ah yes does she, have the song to go with it?
It’s not the first song you’d associate with a quirky Manga-loving singer.
Gripping and evocative yes but quirky and fun … ah, not exactly.
It’s actually a pretty catchy song in its own downbeat way, all dark introspective albeit pretty melodies and thoughtful lyrics and you can see why it won her a contest or two but it runs hard up against her playful, haha style and that could be a real disconnect on stage.
Anyway, great though the song is in its own way, it’s not strong enough to beat out the crowd of Eurovision aspirants around it which likely means that Jamie-Lee won’t be adding a third trophy to her mantlepiece just yet.
ITALY: “No Degree of Separation” by Francesca Michielin
Another musical prodigy, Francesca didn’t spend her childhood aimlessly skipping or playing with Barbies; instead she spent her childhood studying piano and the electric bass … and eating pizza which apparently she adores (its uncertain if this augmented her musical talent or not).
All that hard work paid off for the aspiring young musician with success finding her nice and early – she won X Factor at the age of 16 and followed that up with a double platinum EP Distratto.
She’s go on to release a double platinum duet with rapper Fedez, sung the song “Amazing” on the The Amazing Spider-Man 2 soundtrack and came second this year at the Festival di Sanremo, which also meant she got to represent Italy at Eurovision 2016. (Apparently the winner, Stadio chose not to embrace the wind machines and pyrotechnics of Eurovision, handing the gig to Michielin.)
So all that hard work has landed her a dream Eurovision appearance but what of the song? Is it worthy of all that successful hard work?
It’s a pretty song that kicks along with a nice driving beat that should find favour with parents and grandparents with a liking for mild-electronica laced MOR ballads.
Unfortunately fetchingly listenable though it is on some levels, it sounds tad too generic to be ultimately memorable.
Just when it looks like it’s going to go somewhere truly unique, it skirts away at the last minute and demur, and it’s not helped by a clip that features Michielin doing her best impression of a lobotomised, sunlight-averse zombie.
A singing, songwriting veteran of 15 years standing, Barei aka Barbara Reyzábal draws her influences from a fairly diverse roster of artists including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, One Republic, Maroon 5, Sia and Pink.
If that’s not diverse enough for you, and frankly you’re not easily pleased if it isn’t, then consider the fact that she went to live in Miami in her late teens to write songs and record demos before heading home to Spain.
With two albums under her belt, not to mention a fairly good frequent flyer portfolio, Barei has really made a name for herself with her Eurovision entry, “Say Yay!” which like pretty much all her work is in English.
Title aside though, is the song worth celebrating?
It’s actually a whole lot of upbeat fun with a nice moody opening that quickly builds in intensity to a powerhouse of a track.
Granted, it’s not exactly way out of the box originally – it sounds like a lot of stuff on the charts – but that doesn’t detract from the song which in the chorus especially picks up a fearsome amount of momentum, transforming itself into a barn-burning dancefloor filler in no time flat.
The only downside is some weird shifts in tempo as if the song isn’t sure what it really wants to be; they stop it going from great to brilliant and could harm its chances in the grand final.
Still if you’re happy to dance up a storm, stop, dance it up again, stop and repeat then this could be the song for you; it’s likely Europe will be so inclined, promising though it is.
SWEDEN: “If I Were Sorry” by Frans
It’s not an enviable task for any artist to follow in the footsteps of the singer who brought Eurovision home to your country.
So you have to feel a certain of sympathy for Frans, who first found fame 10 years ago at the tender age of 7 when his song about football player Zlatan Ibrahimovic made a big splash during the 2006 World Cup, as he follows the handsome, accomplished Måns Zelmerlöw onto Eurovision’s glitter-strewn stage.
Believe it or not but Frans’ Eurovision appearance is his comeback, yes comback – how must that feel at the age of 17 when most people are just getting going with their life plans – and so there’s an awful lot resting on how well the schoolboy does with his song “If I Were Sorry” which went to #1 in Sweden.
But does a chart-topping song make for a Eurovision-winning entry?
You’d think so right? I mean all those Swedes can’t be wrong surely?
Not necessarily wrong but maybe a tad carried away? Starting with a rather lacklustre spoken word piece, the song does pick up some speed as it gets going but not nearly enough.
It seems to be building up to something but never really get there.
It’s catchy yes in its own goofy-smile, loping away but seems to shift back and forth between inordinately fun to listen to in the chorus before easing off to almost nothing in the verse.
Sweet enough but it won’t be the song to give Frans his pre-pubsecent meteoric fame back in a hurry, Spotify number 1 notwithstanding.
United Kingdom: “You’re Not Alone” by Joe and Jake
The United Kingdom hasn’t exactly performed brilliantly well over the last decade or so (or more) at Eurovision and so a lot is riding on the slight shoulders of Joe and Jake, a duo who were voted in by the public during a BBC-televised selection process.
Welshman Joe (21) and Englishman Jake (20) – they’re putting the United back into UK in some many symbolic ways – first met as competitors on The Voice UK before realising they could make more beautiful music together than apart.
Embracing musical eclecticism in a big way – they cite Bob Marley, Måns Zelmerlöw and Rudimental as musical influences – they have bonded in a big way, exactly the kind of thing Eurovision loves.
But do they have the song to make all those unified dreams come true?
If you like generic pop, then sure, absolutely yes.
A damn sight better than many other songs offered up by the UK in recent years – I must confess I was one of the few who liked last year’s entry “Still in Love With You” by Electro Velvet, evidence if you needed it that my finger isn’t always on the popular pulse – its definitely as catchy as Graham Norton suggested when the guys first performed the song during the selection contest.
And frankly it will likely work really well in a live setting; having said that, again it’s lacking any real sense of authentic musical personality.
So score one for catchiness yes but is it enough to vault the UK up to the dizzying heights of repeated douze points? Alas, I think not.
2 thoughts on “Road to Eurovision 2016: The Big Six – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, UK”
Thanks for another great round-up. Hope you enjoyed yesterday’s show and that many of your favourites got through.
Very sad about one country but predicted 9/10, a personal record. I am usually way off.
I hope Amir delivers a great performance…
Actually haven’t watched semi final 1 – we’re saving it for the delayed telecast here in Oz on Friday night. So I am avoiding my Eurovision Twitter list like crazy right now! LOL I usually hover around 50-60% success rate so clearly I am out of step with Europe 🙂
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