Eurovision 2011: Semi-Final Preview Part 1

Eurovision 2011: Semi-Final Preview Part 1

Like the World Cup, but more fun.

Evelina Sašenko, “C’est ma vie”

Sadly for Lithuania, there’s already a Bon Jovi song called “It’s My Life,” and it rocks hard. This is sort of a downtempo ballad, like something a Disney princess would sing as her animal friends looked on. Or maybe I’m just saying that because of the dress.


Great is the sorrow
But just look straight for tomorrow
When sun will shine at your face
Don’t close your eyes

Glen Vella, “One Life”

Is it just me, or are there lots of Eurovision songs with the word “life” in the title?

I can’t help rooting for the underdog, so I find myself wanting to see Malta in the finals. This tiny island nation has a population of 400,000. The singer has tried to qualify for Eurovision four times before, and this is the first year he’s gone the distance. And he did it with a “be yourself!” anthem for the ages.

Sadly, Times of Malta is reporting that rehearsals aren’t going well, with the CEO of Malta’s public television talking some smack about the Eurovision organizers:

“We are not happy at all with the visuals. We expected much better from the broadcaster’s production team here,” he said. He expressed hope that the demanded adjustments will be delivered.

On the bright side, even in a year that features a transsexual (Israel), Malta may have the gay vote tied up with a rainbow bow.


Life is strange and heavenly a sweet surrender
Love begins within ourselves
Makes up our lives
Hold on to what life brings you
Just be who you are
You can do it too
It’s all up to you

Stella Mwangi, “Haba Haba”

Okay, here we go! Bring on all the Nordic blonds! Wait, what the hell?

A lot of countries try to encapsulate the whole nation (or at least its stereotypes) in two minutes of pop music. In 2009, Israel sent a Palestinian singer and an Israeli singer, with a duet entitled “There Must Be Another Way” which alternated between Hebrew and Arabic. It was the “Ebony and Ivory” of Eurovision. But Norway is going a different way, with a song about growing up in… Kenya. The chorus and title are in Swahili. But the singer is actually half-Norwegian, and has lived in Norway since she was five. Personally, I love this song. I love that it’s based on something her grandmother actually told her, I love that the people of Norway voted for it, and I love that, according to Wikipedia, the single knocked Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” out of the number one spot on the Norwegian pop chart. Give ’em hell, Stella.


When as a little girl my grandma told me
That it’s the little things in life that’s gonna make me happy
She said that: Little by little, fills up the measure
Don’t ever give up, keep on moving

Magdalena Tul, “Jestem”

Judging from the video, this is either the Pussycat Dolls of Poland, or a touring company of Chicago. Not that I’m complaining, either way. By the way, it’s kind of nice to actually see somebody sing in a language they speak.

SAMPLE LYRIC (translated):

I’m your inspiration
The consolation for your tears
(your world is spinning around me)
You’re like my shadow
Whenever I call you
(you appear right next to me)
(You would jump into the fire if I wanted)

Homens Da Luta, “Luta é Alegria”

So this one’s a little different, right? I was hoping there was a story behind it, and I was not disappointed. Are you ready for this?

This song overthrew the government of Portugal.

I am not kidding.

You need to read the entire story here. A sample:

Over the next several weeks the song became an anthem of the street protests that engulfed Lisbon. As Prime Minister Jose Socrates attempted to push his austerity package through parliament the protesters sang louder. Lawmakers ultimately rejected the bill, and the Prime Minister resigned on March 23. The media attributed his failure to the demonstrations — and the music that fueled them.

The official rules of Eurovision state that it’s a non-political event, and ban songs with a political message. How this entry slipped through the cracks remains a mystery.

I didn’t believe it either, until I saw this video of Homens Da Luta singing the song at a massive rally:

So wow. But in any case, I don’t see this song getting any votes from outside of Portugal. And since the Portuguese are not allowed to vote for their own entry, they won’t receive any votes at all. But hey, you brought down the government; that’s not too shabby.

SAMPLE LYRIC (translated):

There are plenty who’ll warn you take care
There are plenty who want to shut you up
There are plenty who will leave you resentful
There are plenty who’ll sell you the air itself

Alexej Vorobjov, “Get You”

You can’t argue with the guy’s pop song pedigree; “Get You” was written by RedOne, the gentlemen behind “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance.” Alexej is looking pretty strong up there, which raises an interesting philosophical question. Controversially, the Russian network Channel One decided to just pick the country’s Eurovision representative by itself, instead of through a voting process. If Alexej does well, is that just going to hasten the nation’s slide away from democracy, and back towards the iron fist of the Politburo? Can we risk it?

Also, I don’t know if it’s on purpose, but this singer seems to have the accent of the guy from “Don’t You Want Me Baby,” as well as the narcissistic message.


And you look so good
On the floor
Put my mind in a dirty zone
If they watch
let them watch
Not losing you tonight

San Marino
Senit, “Stand By”

I know nothing about San Marino, but judging from the music video, it is a cold place full of castles, in which the ladies wear tinsel in their hair.


Waves of eternity, waves of serenity
As I stare through them all around me just dies
Tonight I will pretend there’s no more time?
Let’s lock our doors and leave this endless world outside

Nina, “Caroban”

Either Serbia is going for a retro 70s vibe, or the 70s is just reaching Serbia for the first time. It’s possible; Slobodan Milošević was a bad dude. Anyway, Nina appears to have stolen the set from Laugh-In and the backup singers from The Shirelles. But the song is actually really cool. By “cool,” I don’t mean “a song that people will like and vote for.” I mean, “an interesting song that I’m glad exists.” And it’s a shame this song isn’t in English, because the lyrics turn out to be really sweet.


And at the same moment I’m a thousand women worth
because, to him, I’m beautiful and strong as a rock
and when he holds me, I know everything is alright
the man is magical

Anna Rossinelli, “In Love For a While”

This is maybe my favorite song of the competition, if only because it combines ukulele, banjo, and upright bass. It’s not epic enough to win, but it’s catchy as hell and cuter than a sack of kittens.

No one tell Jason Mraz about it, okay?


I love everything about you, I couldn’t do without you
Whenever you’re near me all my days are on the bright side
But when I’m not around you I have to find the way to
Be with you each night and every day

Yüksek Sadakat, “Live It Up”

If you have a fever and the only cure is more cowbell, Turkey will deliver. I also quite like the “old stodgy orchestra audience is brought to life by the power of Rock” music video. Sadly, the song isn’t that interesting. It’s got no arc; the chorus is basically the same as the verse. Yüksek Sadakat may have a string section and a beefy lead singer, but they lack the operatic heights of Meatloaf, which is a shame.

Fun fact: the comments for this YouTube video are largely about the Armenian genocide.


Here’s your favourite song on the radio
shake your head to the beat- it’s rock n roll
if you’re feeling the world has kicked you down
all you need is just to have a little fun

Is anyone still reading? Anyone? Bueller? Well, if you’re still here, than maybe I’ve made a believer out of you. And if you want to help me cover Eurovision, watch the playlist for the remaining acts and let me know your thoughts on any of them in the comment section below. I’ll quote you in my preview for Semi-Final #2, coming on Wednesday morning.

In the meantime, I’m going out in the world to save our planet.

30 Comments on “Eurovision 2011: Semi-Final Preview Part 1”

  1. Nat #

    I’m so glad that you’ve taken in upon yourself to inform the US about the epic cheesiness that is Eurovision. I’ve been watching it since I was tiny, and I adore it. What you didn’t really inform people of is the obligatory block voting for neighbouring countries, eg all Scandinavian countries vote for other Scandinavian countries etc. It’s not so much of a problem for the semi-finals, but it does kind of ruin the big show for me. It can also get really political, as in 2003 when no one voted for the UK because of the war in Iraq (OK, the song was also terrible, but that usually doesn’t make a difference in Eurovision). The final thing I’d like to mention is costume changes, which add a lot to the performances but seem to have fallen out of fashion in the past few years, which I think is a real shame. Generally if I see a woman in a long dress start to sing anything other than a ballad, I know that skirt is coming off in time for the key change.


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      It’s true I didn’t go into bloc voting, because I don’t understand it. I tried to read up on it, got confused, and watched the Switzerland song again instead.

      The idea is that the Slavic countries all vote for each other, the Nordic countries all vote for each other, etc, correct? But looking at Eurovision winners, it seems like a lot of different countries are sharing the glory – in fact, there’s barely any repetition at all.
      2010 Germany
      2009 Norway
      2008 Russia
      2007 Serbia
      2006 Finland
      2005 Greece
      2004 Ukraine
      2003 Turkey
      2002 Latvia
      2001 Estonia
      2000 Denmark

      So bloc voting doesn’t seem to preordain a winner. I guess there’s a distinct lack of Western Europe in that list… but I also keep reading how France is a favorite to win this year. So I’m confused. Can you explain how the bloc voting makes the competition less fun?


      • Christina #

        A couple of years ago they changed it from being entirely viewer’s votes to also having a jury in each country and their votes count for 50% and the remaining 50% is from the viewers. This has stopped a bit of the bloc voting.
        But I must say that sometimes it isn’t true about bloc voting. If the song is really crappy not even the neighboring countries will vote for the song. Like in 2002 when we (Denmark) came in last with only 7 points – the winning song had 176 points.


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      Oh by the way, are you from the UK? If so, you’ve got to share a couple observations about the songs in Semi-Final #2. I’ll put them in my next post.


      • Nat #

        Whilst bloc voting might not preordain a winner, it certainly promotes mediocre songs to get a lot more votes than they otherwise would. And the songs are generally heavily promoted before the actual event, which means that people in Europe are often familiar with the songs before the voting comes along. I know this is certainly true of the last two years’ winners. They also tend to get singers who are famous in the country/bloc they come from, so there can also be an inbuilt fanbase before the event, although that backfired majorly when Russia entered Tatu a couple of years ago. But the main reason why bloc voting takes away enjoyment is in the semi finals, when songs get through because of where they are from rather than the quality of the performance.

        I am in the UK, but am half Belgian half Swiss, but I’ll be sure to check out the songs for semi-final 2 and let you know what I think. But of course I’ll be voting for Switzerland, as Belgium’s entry seems to be lacklustre this year, despite us coming 6th last year.


    • Archie #

      I don’t think the bloc voting is really as big a thing or nearly as political as people make it out to be. As I understand it it’s really just more about neighbouring countries obviously having shared cultural standards and tastes and reference to draw upon.

      For instance the Russian winner a few years ago who got the votes of most of the other Slavic countries, if I recall correctly was actually already a successful popstar with a large following in all of those countries. So I think it’s less about politics and much more about common cultural experience.


  2. Oddtwang #

    The only reason I’ve evr found to watch Eurovision is the wonderful commentary we get here in the UK from Sir Terry Wogan, with just the right amount of the verbal equivalent of a knowing wink.
    (look out for him making himself laugh at Spain’s entry. It’s also worth pointing out that Finland won that year.)

    Of course, there’s the greatest Eurovision entry ever to consider:


    • sarielthrawn #

      We use to get Terry Wogan’s commentary in Australia as well. Sadly, no more.

      Generally the bloc voting doesn’t hamper the end result too much. It’s just that it gets kind of annoying that obviously terrible songs/performances get big scores because of the bloc they belong to. But at least Terry always let you know why the Russians (or whoever) had such poor taste.

      The singing in English gets really annoying too. I could never understand why they make that much effort to sing in English when so often it comes out sounding terrible and struggles to make sense. Matt, you mentioned that it was an attempt to appeal to a wider audience but I’ve yet to meet anyone who thought it was a good idea. Including my friends and relatives in Europe.


  3. Sean #

    Small thing: Pretty sure Monaco is European and you mean Morrocco?


    • Nat #

      Morocco isn’t in Eurovision…although it’s always annoyed me that Israel gets to compete, and isn’t even remotely European.


      • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

        You’re both right. I meant Morocco, which I pulled from a list of countries which HAVE participated in Eurovision. Apparently, Morocco was in the contest exactly once, in 1980. They finished second to last and never came back.

        I agree that Israel seems definitely not European. But so does Russia! Parts of Russia are thousands of miles away from Europe. You can see Sarah Palin’s house from Russia.


  4. Howard #

    How did I not know about this until now!?


    • Miguel Lavín #

      It’s 3:30 am and I have to go to work early !!!DAMN YOU EUROVISION!!!

      Father ted seems awesome…


  5. Liam #

    This isn’t the first time that Eurovision has played a role in Portuguese politics, either.

    In 1974, the Carnation Revolution started with the broadcast of a Eurovision song, E depois do Adeus, or “And After the Goodbye”.

    I think that event, combined with current – shall we say, unhappiness – with the Portuguese Government, had a big impact on the selection of Portugal’s entry this year.


  6. Mark #

    I have Lordi to thank for adding the word “a-rock-alypse” to my vocabulary back in 2006. It comes in handy more often than you’d think.


    • Oddtwang #

      Are you familiar with the Adult Swim cartoon Metalocalypse? I’d recommend giving it a try.


  7. Sylvia #

    I read the entire article, and I look forward to Wednesday morning. However, I could only manage 2.5 songs before this became a ‘read-only’ experience.


  8. Richard #

    With regards to San Marino, they are a real-life Duchy of Grand Fenwick. You see pretty much all of the mountaintop republic in the video. Regarding their history, they have managed to stay independent through the unusual method of politely asking people to leave them alone. They were neutral in both World Wars, thanks to not having anything either side wanted. And when your troops are armed with crossbows, you’re probably going to be staying out of wars anyway. Their chief industries seem to be tourism and reminding people that they really exist by entering international competitions like this one.


  9. Nils #

    I might be slightly out-of-topic but the Eurovision always reminds me of one of the weirdest way it entered pop culture in my country (France).
    You often hear that the length of a Eurovision song (exactly three minutes) is exactly the time it takes to strangle someone to death. Everytime someone mentions Eurovision, there’s a good chance that someone else will point out that a successful strangulation should be made to the tune of a Eurovision song.

    The creepiness of that statement can be effectively used to conceal a genuine appreciation for the event’s total cheesiness.


  10. Marie #

    Ah Eurovision! It’s great to see it up on our favourite nerd- sites! Though I don’t think you’ve actually managed to capture the scope of the Swedish contest: the thing is, that it consists of 32 songs that are successively elimineated through no less than 4 semi finals, one final to capture some of the runners up and one big final, all in the space of six weeks. Then there are a few weeks of resting time until some “midly” racist jury starts to pick apart the entries of all other countries, also over the space of four weeks. Then there is the grand finale. What does all of this mean? It means that from early january to the middle of may, the Eurovision song contest rests on the public conciousness. I don’t even think there is another country in europe that can beat that kind of ESC exposure. (Oh, and some standard trash talk: the Swiss entry isn’t Jason Mraz, as it is Colby Calais. The refrain is pretty much wholesale lifted from Bubbly)


  11. Timothy J Swann #

    Quick well, actually. Monaco is European, in that it is in Europe. The EBU predates the EU, it’s not some sinister federalist plot… yet.


  12. Timothy J Swann #

    Substantive thoughts (when I’ve read the article) to come later…


  13. Timothy J Swann #

    “Controversially, the Russian network Channel One decided to just pick the country’s Eurovision representative by itself, instead of through a voting process.”
    See also, Dimitri Medvedev.


  14. Nat #

    I’ve just been catching up on the live performances, and Croatia had 3 costume changes, and bucked the trend by going from a smaller dress to successively longer dresses. And features a guy in an amazing top hat.


  15. Peter1980 #

    The “European Broadcasting Area” is bounded on the west by the western boundary of Region 1 (see below), on the east by the meridian 40° East of Greenwich and on the south by the parallel 30° North so as to include the western part of the USSR, the northern part of Saudi Arabia and that part of those countries bordering the Mediterranean within these limits. In addition, Iraq, Jordan and that part of the territory of Turkey lying outside the above limits are included in the European Broadcasting Area.


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