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.
ARMENIA: “LoveWave” by Iveta Mukuchyan
Armenia’s state broadcaster, the Public Television Company of Armenia wasted no time confirming Iveta Mukuchyan as the country’s entrant to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
They announced the Yerevan-born, Germany-raised, now Yerevan-based singer – think of the moving bills! – as Armenia’s representative, way back in October last year giving the one time student at the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory plenty of time to get herself ready.
Like many singers though, Iveta has been singing since an early age, in her case since the age of 3, even doing some inadvertent preparation for her appearance at the contest when she sang 2012 winner Loreen’s winning song “Euphoria” during her appearance on The Voice of Germany that same year.
So Iveta has the singing runs on the board but does the song “LoveWave”, for which she co-wrote the lyrics, have what it takes to be a winner?
Kicking off with some emotive spoken word imagery, part of what the artist calls its “experimental and unique” sound, “LoveWave” has plenty of that Eurovision anthemic bombast we have to know and love (or tolerate; your call).
Channeling some Taylor Dane, there’s no doubt that Iveta has a powerful set of pipes, tearing through the song with a pleasing power and ferocity, lending the song, which comes with some devastatingly good fiddling accompaniment and airy backing vocals, the kind of presence it will need to make its presence on the vast stage in Stockholm and across Europe.
While it’s nothing out of the box in certain ways, and nowhere as musically-envelope-pushing as Armenia seems to think, it’s certainly not your grandma’s cookie cutter ballad and stands a better than average chance of making it through to the grand final and who knows, even victory.
There’s no telling where a “LoveWave” can take you.
It’s a case of second time lucky for Zoë Straub – how much does she love being a music artist? Why she even capitalised her stage name! – who competed once before to represent Austria at Eurovision to no avail; this time though she found success, importantly, given this is how Eurovision determines its winning ranking, by a combined vote of a professional jury and the voting public.
Born in Vienna to musical royalty of sorts – she is the daughter of one the founder of popular duo Papermoon, Christoph Straub – the 19 year old has music coursing through her veins and not surprisingly, and haven’t we heard this a thousand times before, aims to take on the world through Eurovision.
“For me, representing Austria at the Eurovision Song Contest is not only the greatest honour of all, but also a chance to reach all of Europe with my music.”
Vaulting ambition? Tick! But is her song “Loin d’ici” up to the task of fulfilling it?
Well for one thing, the song “Loin d’ici” (“Far From Here”) is unusually for Austria (but not for France which understandably loves this kind of thing) is entirely in French, and not German.
It’s a strange move when you first consider it, since while French and English are the two languages of Eurovision, and so singing in one of them makes perfect sense, it’s not something you need Germanic language countries doing too often. OK at all, let’s be honest.
Once you get over this bold linguistic move, the song, full of regret and heavy emotion moves along at a briskly upbeat pace, barely pausing for breath as ZOË (don’t forget the capitalisation!) pours her relative heart and soul into the song.
But why it’s pleasing and heartfelt, all the things Eurovision usually loves tied up with a bright, red pretty bow, and could well take Austria into the grand final, it is not a winning song, lacking a certain memorability and presence, all too important when you’re wanting to leave a lasting impression on voters.
AZERBAIJAN: “Miracle” by Samra
Unsurprisingly, Samra – who is pulling a Madonna by only using her first name for hoped-for pop glory and stardom – has long harboured dreams of stepping onto the LED light-heavy surrounds of a Eurovision stage.
The 16 year old first competed to represent Azerbaijan at the tender age of 12 when she entered the 2012 selection contest to select the country’s entrant.
While everyone loved her youthful vim and vigour, it didn’t get her the nod and so she busied herself entering talent shows like O Ses Türkiye (The Voice of Turkey) in 2015 and The Voice of Azerbaijan (2016), all the while honing her skills at Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Arts.
So clearly she has the musical prodigy thing down pat but is it enough to take her where she so clearly longs to go?
“Miracle” certainly kicks off with some tasty musical bells and whistles, the Kate Bush-esque feel of the song as well as Samra’s measured delivery, something dispensed with in the chorus where she goes full pop diva-in-waiting, pushing the vocal petal to the metal.
While the chorus is a perfectly serviceable piece of music making, all emotive intensity and soaring vocals, it pales next to the haunting experimentality of the verses and bridge.
As Loreen’s “Euphoria ” (there’s that utterly memorable song again) made all too clear, it’s possible to go all out with the ethereally-powerful flourishes and performance and still come out the other with an utterly beguiling, winning song.
Still, while the chorus is a tad ho-hum pedestrian (though not as much as Azerbaijan’s cookie cutter ballads of last couple of years), “Miracle” delivers the goods, and with a great semi-final delivery, which I think Samra is eminently capable of, should see the country in the grand final, and maybe even in the top five or 10.
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA: “Ljubav Je” by Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala
Not so much artist, as artists, Bosnia & Herzegovina’s entry this year, which marks their first appearance at the contest since 2012 (they debuted in 1993), is a case of gathering the finest talent the country has to offer, or at least the ones who will say “yes” and seeing what happens.
Both Dalal and Deen, pop sensations both and solo artists of many albums making, have the kind of name recognition and industry staying power that reassures the good selectors of Bosnia & Herzegovina that their entry has what it takes to not be a national embarrassment.
Throw in rapper hip-hop artist Jala and cello instrumentalist Ana Rucner and you have the sort of supergroup of Bosnian & Herzegovinian music that might stand a chance at this year’s contest.
After all, there’s talent and experience in abundance.
The thing is that even with all the thumping of drums that opens the song, and a distinct air of throw things in the musical pot and see what comes crawling out the other side, “Ljubav Je”, there’s nothing particularly special or new about Bosnia & Herzegovina’s entry this year.
Yes, it ticks many of the Eurovision boxes – ethnic flourishes mixed in with modern (just) pop sensibilities, over-emotive performances and oddly-injected rap or instrumental bridges – but it sounds all too much mid-Noughties rather than the sort of thing that going much excitement in 2016.
It’s a clear case of been-there-done-that, got the T-shirt, the mug and the USB stick, and moving on thank you very much.
Not a bad song or delivery, if suitably Eurovision odd, but we’ve seen it all before and I think the good voters of Europe will have a hard time stifling a yawn.
CROATIA: “Lighthouse” by Nina Kraljić
Wearing the kind of soft punk aesthetic that would please Debbie Harry of Blondie, and which recalls Italy’s 2014 entry Emma (“La mia città”), Nina Kraljić is a singer with a distinctive sense of who she is as a music artist.
A 24-year-old student from Lipovljani, Nina has been singing since early childhood, all that practice leading to her sensational appearances at the The Voice – Najljepši glas Hrvatske (2015), which essentially wiped the floor with her less memorable competition.
Hailed as the “Best Newcomer by Croatian national public broadcaster’s radio HR2” and the proud owner of a debut single (“Zaljuljali smo svijet”) and three nominations at the Croatian Music Awards, Nina is a woman on the rise.
But even though Croatia likes her, they really REALLY like her, will the rest of Europe?
On the strength of “Lighthouse”, you’d have to say YES.
While the song lacks the power and distinctive ferocity of Emma’s entry and frankly sounds like a thousand other Eurovision entries that have sunk without a trace, Nina’s voice lifts its far beyond where it might otherwise sit.
It’s a case of an ordinary though pleasing song being given an extra something by an extraordinarily gifted artist and I strongly suspect she’ll take the song and Croatia’s standing at the Eurovision far beyond where it might otherwise have sat.
That being said, this is no winning song and I think the best Croatia can hope for is escaping the semi-finals for the glory of grand final prestige.
CYPRUS: “Alter Ego” by Minus One
Comprising five suitably rock-attired musicians and singers – Francois Micheletto, Constantinos Amerikanos, Harrys Pari, Antonis Loizides and Chris J – Minus One formed in 2009 playing covers for the most part.
But they weren’t satisfied with simply entertaining punters in Cyprus’ many bars and clubs with their takes on “pop and rock classics to today’s newer hits” – yes Eurovision’s description of their repertoire sounds like a tagline for an Adult/MOR radio station – they began releasing their own songs under a completely different band name until good sense prevailed and they merge Minus One the cover band with Minus One the aspiring band with original material.
After making a play for Cypriot representation in 2015 and coming up empty – but only just; the judges ranked them first, the public not so much – they’ve made in 2016, staking their claim for Eurovision glory with “Alter Ego”.
Channing the ghost of Bon Jovi – odd since he isn’t dead yet; just one of the many recycled elements to this band – Minus One are all wolves in their clips (there are wolves everywhere this year for some reason), smoke drifting across the band and a power-filled chorus that will not be denied.
Except by the voters of Europe.
No matter how much intensity and bravura is injected into the song by Minus One, who to be fair know their way around a rock song lick or two, there is nothing especially memorable about “Alter Ego”.
Catchy yes in its own way, and it’s hard not to see it making a monumental splash live, it’s a yawning case of Rock 101 with little to suggest a band with many unique ideas of their own.
6 thoughts on “Road to Eurovision 2016: Week 1 – Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus”
I love your views on Eurovision. Looking forward to the next post. This year seems wide open. Although there are some frontrunners in the betting, they are not strong enough to convince me. A good performance a la Conchita could bring an outsider to the front of the field, I think.
Thanks! I love reviewing these songs each year – lots of fun and contrary to what people think some very good songs. Haven’t reached anyone of them yet though – think it’s going to be a weak-ish year really although I quite like Bulgaria and Belarus and France. I agree – a stunning live performance and everything could change.
Belarus should be an interesting performance I hear. I find the quality of songs better and worse at the same time. Less brilliant songs but less terrible ones. Usually I’d like to award several 12 points, this year I don’t have that problem. Italy, Czech Republic and Estonia are amongst my favourites. I found an app to rate the songs and have flags with my votes. The joys of Eurovision. Looking forward to your next post 🙂
Belarus looks like a cross between a cool pop song and a deranged wildlife documentary. Definitely interesting – and naked apparently LOL The overall quality seems marginally better this year, at least there are a number of songs I’d listen to away from a Eurovision broadcast 🙂 Next post is up this Sunday night – 6 more fabulous songs!
Circumstances are such this year that my comments may well be quite brief; still I’m going to have a go.
Firstly, much as there are a large number of songs to get through at the semi-final stage as always, I would caution you to not get too attached to songs. Both semis are at a nearly 1 out of two chuck out rate, ie 10 songs to be selected from 18 (Semi 1) & 10 songs from 19 (Semi 2) & from past experience, perfectly stellar songs don’t get the votes & totally woeful songs somehow get through to the Final stage. You’ve been warned!
So just my thoughts re the following entries:
Armenia – Dramatic Euro song which I think will go through to the final purely because it meets/includes the following criteria: at least 6 outfit changes & you could include another one if you include a questionable profile shot; has some folksy elements with pan pipes; wind machine; key change if you count the screaming; good looking man w/sultry looks.
The female singer needs to work on her lip synching; needs more conviction.
Austria – This happy fluff song, I think will go through to the final because of its point of difference; being sung in French, is upbeat, involves a frequent theme of this year, ie nymph & flowers, wind machine; won’t win but will get through.
Azerbaijan – At times Samra sounds a little like Shakira; expect will go through to the final because Azerbaijan’s final’s hit rate is excellent for the short time it has been entering Oooooorrrroooovision.
Bosnia & Herzogovina – Typical off the planet Oooooorrrroooovision song. I think it deserves to go through to keep things interesting but I half expect the majority of voters won’t agree with me.
Croatia – Croatia’s Nina does a ‘Sia’ on her video & is nowhere to be seen. Hopefully she turns up for the performance on the night. Much as it’s a nice song, I don’t think it will go through to the final. Its D&M lyrics are memorable! Hint… the song is about a lighthouse.
Cyprus – Final’s worthy because it’s a rock song; at minimum, it will wake people up. I consider it to be one of the best entries by Cyprus for YEARS!!!!
Hmmm I can’t like Cyprus. It’s so fantastically ordinary. Tried to but can’t … Croatia is way catchier than you give it credit for but still … Can Azerbaijan do ballads or can they do ballads? Thing is this is a good one! Yes I am embracing a ballad LOL … Austria – don’t love it but increasingly don’t dislike it either … over-listening to songs affects me again! … thank you once again for your fab reviews. You nail it every time even if I don’t agree with all your picks
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