Once a year, the people of Europe put aside the important work of going completely bankrupt to focus on what’s truly important: overly-manufactured pop songs. The first semi-final took place on Tuesday; check out our look at all those acts.
So who’s moving on to Saturday’s finals? Well, the big disappointment is that the first Eurovision song ever to be performed in Swahili didn’t make the cut. I was kind of in love with Norway for sending Stella Mwangi, who sang a very un-Norwegian song about her childhood in Kenya. I’m sure next year, they will overcompensate by sending a literal band of Vikings.
Here are the other countries that have been eliminated, along with my shorthand for remembering their acts: Poland (touring company of Chicago), Albania (redhead who may or may not be an eagle), Armenia (puffy sleeves and sparks), Turkey (beefy bald rock dude), Malta (inspirational gay disco), San Marino (I still don’t believe this is a real place), Croatia (“Celebrate,” not the Kool & the Gang version), and Portugal (the protest song that brought down the government). I got to say, I’m delighted and horrified that Finland’s environmental fable about the little boy who runs away from home to lobby parliament actually got some votes. I might have to root for it to win, if only to read some sneering editorials about it in the New York Post.
Okay, we caught up? Good. Because at 3 pm EST, Thursday afternoon, 19 more countries will be competing, and you can watch it go down live. If you make it to the end of this post, you’re going to know about all of them. But just as Napoleon did before me, I’ve discovered that Europe is too much for any one man to handle. For this preview, I’ve called in reinforcements in the form of my Overthinking It Marshalls (that’s the “1” on the Stratego board, so keep your spies at home). Special thanks to Fenzel and Jordan for subjecting themselves to this.
Nadine Beiler, “The Secret Is Love”
BELINKIE: The good news is she can actually sing, and she’s not shy to show it off with her acapella opening. The bad news is that she has a Prince Valiant haircut. But the song is actually pretty good. It reminds me of the tuneful ballads they used to make in the 90s, like “Hero,” “One Fine Day,” or “I Will Always Love You.” Yes, I know that technically that last one is a Dolly Parton song from the 70s, so save your “well actually”s.
FENZEL: The tone is earthy and soulful (schnitzel soul, as it were), with a bright mid-aughts pop vibe underneath Gospel choir. And yet in the presentation the singer is wearing a slinky sparkly dress with a severely coiffed pageboy, and there is liberal use of smoke machine – the combination aims for that elusive cyberspiritual space called “Mariah Blade Runner” – and/or “Las Vegas.” The song either says “disregard petty artifice and focus on the awesome things that matter in the world,” or “disregard the petty things that matter in the world and focus on awesome artifice.” Not sure which. There’s also a lot of conflation between people reaching out their hands to one another and spreading their wings, which pulls in the same conflict between redemptive social connection and redemptive personal fantasy, because people are not birds.
It’s an athletically performed song, but it leaves me thinking the people who wrote it don’t sincerely believe they have actually found “the secret” and are using love as a temporary placeholder.
JORDAN: That’s not a Prince Valiant haircut, that’s half a Prince Valiant haircut. I don’t use this word lightly, but that haircut is tragic. That haircut has a five-act structure and demonstrates unity of action place and time. That haircut purges emotions of fear and pity in the people who see that haircut. That haircut has a climactic moment of peripeteia. You see where I’m going with this. Thomas Kyd wrote that haircut.
BELINKIE: I’m guessing that the other secret is that it’s a wig.
When I close my eyes I fall into a dream
Can’t you see this world of people live in peace
The sun is shining in my heart, rainbows in the sky
Spread your wings and fly, fly, fly high
Anastasiya Vinnikova, “I Love Belarus”
BELINKIE: When I first heard this song, I figured that Belarus had missed the part of the rulebook where Belarusians are not allowed to vote for their own country. Unless Belarus has a lot of immigrants living abroad, this seemed like an incredibly silly Eurovision entry. The video is a nationalistic neon orgy, with traditional folk dancers kicking away during a frenzied dulcimer solo. (But here’s what mystifies me: why would you come to Eurovision with a nationalistic anthem called “I Love Belarus”… written entirely in English?)
Those were all things I thought when I first heard it. And now, I have a confession to make. I cannot get this song out of my head. I am obsessed with it. I realized this is probably a sign that I am mentally ill, or that there’s a radon leak in my apartment. But it cannot be denied: I love “I Love Belarus.”
JORDAN: Hey Belarus, Boney M. called, he wants “Ra-ra-Rasputin” back.
I’m feeling great and it’s easy to be strong
When all the hearts keep on beating as one
The sky is blue and I’m writing a new song
Saying that I’m free, friendly and young
BELINKIE: Is it just me, or does this sound like a Craigslist Casual Encounters ad? It’s just me? Okay, moving on…
Witloof Bay, “With Love Baby”
JORDAN: I like two things about this one. The first is that if you try to say the name of the song after downing a liter of Trappist lambic, you end up saying the name of the group. The second is that Belgium apparently thought that acapella vocal jazz was the wave of the future. It’s certainly a bold choice, and for the first minute of the half it kind of works. You find yourself thinking “Hey, this isn’t so bad. Why do people hate on this kind of music so much?” And then the hip-hop breakdown starts, and you’re like “Oh, right, that’s fucking why.”
FENZEL: Wow, this blew my hair back. Brussapella? Antwerp Transfer? Obligatory joke about delicious waffles, Batman — the market for older, unattractive a capella groups has a new titan, and it speaks either a variant of French or a variant of Dutch when it isn’t speaking English. The Belgian Beat Box is the biggest thing to happen to Flanders since Flanders. The guy actually says “break it down, now.” This is a stunt act – Eurovision periodically pumps out strange, fun, or just plain ballsy approaches to song that won’t win, but make the night worth watching. These crooners are my pick for favorite act so far, even though their song’s lyrics don’t say anything, the group doesn’t necessarily stay on key and their beat-boxing is junior varsity at best – if you’re waiting for the second coming of Belg Markie, you’ll have to wait for it, folks.
BELINKIE: I blame Glee for this.
The… warrant!! [Ed. — Hah! If only.]
REAL SAMPLE LYRIC:
When I love you,
And you love me too,
There is nothing left for us to do
But to hug and to kiss and to tug and to bliss,
With love, baby, with love.
Dino Merlin, “Love In Rewind”
JORDAN: I had a whole bunch of snark lined up for this one — stuff about how goofy the piano player’s hand movement looks, stuff about how stupid it is to hire an aerialist if you’re not going to aim the camera at her now and again, maybe some stuff about the adventures of Dino-Merlin, triceratops advisor to King Arthur. But then the Peter Gabriel-ish section with the disembodied “Sweet girl!” “Sweet boy!” shouts came in, and I realized that I was kind of loving this song. It’s quirky enough to stand out from the pack, but not so much as to rub anyone the wrong way… I could see this one going the distance. Lyrics are kind of stupid, but so what else is new?
BELINKIE: Dino Merlin’s real name is apparently Edin Dervišhalidović. How do you pronounce an “s” wearing a hat?
One to one-hundred, multiplied by you
It all looks great, it all looks cool
healthy children go to school
my daughter’s in love, my son loves too.
Poli Genova, “Na Inat”
FENZEL: There’s an 80s New Wave vibe to some of Europe’s emerging female pop singers these days, rocking out a look I always associate with Roxette – the jazzed-out platinum blond pixie cut atop a feminine made just slightly androgynous, with a heart full of love and rage. The neo-Roxette look’s lead practitioner (other than the domestic Pink) is Flock-of-Seagulls-Inspired Robyn from Sweden, who has broken through and these days is on tour with Ke$ha. Here we see Bulgaria’s contribution to the look, Poli Genova, who is just attention-grabbing enough to distract – for a minute or two – from the fact that one of the women in this band is playing keytar. Once that minute is over, though, it’s keytar time !!!oneoneone1!!
The keytar (!!!) takes center stage when this song uses one of my favorite karaoke tricks. It works particularly well when singing Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.” In order to stand up dramatically in the middle of the song, you have to start the song sitting down. In this case, it created a bit of awkwardness – nobody gave Poli Genova a chair, and it made no sense at all for that girl to be playing the keytar (!!!) sitting down – why not just play a keyboard? But Poli Genova sat on the floor and distracted everybody from these questions with her haircut until, BOOM! Everybody just stood up! Ante is upped, folks. That. Just. Happened.
If Eurovision was strictly a keytar (!!!) contest, Bulgaria would probably win. And it is, so I like their chances.
REAL SAMPLE LYRIC (translated):
There are people like you and me
I will stay, fight in spite of everything!
Who does it depend on? Yes – on you and me!
Chrystos Mylordos, “San Aggelos S’Agapisa”
FENZEL: I love local language Eurovision songs because they broaden the idea of what Europe is and can be, and because in a world that people too often think of as homogenized by cultural imperialisms, it helps to see something like “San Aggelos S’Agapisa” compete on even footing against something like “Angel” or “Popular.” Not that it stands a chance, of course, unless the Cyprus Broadcasting Company that backs Chrystos Mylordos has quite a bit more clout than I assume it does. Still, it’s cool to see it in the running – to see the points of friction within a Europe half-aspiring to be N*Sync, half still drawing energy and art from its thousands of years of customs, local language and attitude.
I have no idea what this song is about, but judging from the video, it is about the sad sexual tension between the halves of the politically divided island of Cyprus and how they alternate sitting in dark rooms with wine glasses, running around on beaches or getting lost while searching for the Cypriot Sasquatch.
It is interesting that Chrystos’s song is presented alongside a narrativized video rather than just a live performance like so many others, especially because the video is so awful. That, and asking the continent to vote for a song in Greek that is no different from any other song ever shows the kind of balls that, to be Cypriot, one must have in no short supply.
JORDAN: I’ve heard Euro-pop ballads that took a turn for the heavy metal before, but this one really commits. Once the guitars kick in, the restrained music from the opening is gone — just… gone — and if the place where the song winds up is somewhere south of Zeppelin, it’s arguably north of Whitesnake. Oh, and I almost missed it, but hey, part of the song from 0:55-1:26! Rihanna called, she wants the hook from “Umbrella” back.
Why are you so sad?
Is the wine not to your liking?
Or do you prefer your rooms
to have walls? Too bad. Oh no,
It is a smoke machine
REAL SAMPLE LYRIC:
You crucified me, you made me bleed even when I was dying for you
My tears were flowing like blood, forgotten words.
By the way, when I say it’s interesting that Estonia is the only country singing about America, I don’t mean that I’m shocked more countries didn’t realize how interesting and awesome we are. Rather, I’m shocked that anyone would enter a song about America into Eurovision. What was the calculus there? I can’t imagine it’s going to win them any votes.
I was curious about this too, and the answer turns out to be a bit weirder even than that — if you look up Eesti Laul 2011, the even by which Estonia picked its Eurovision song, you’ll see the second-place song was called “I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan” by the Outloudz (which is a great name for a band), and written by Stig Rästa and Fred Krieger.
So, the Estonian Superfinal was two different songs about America.
I haven’t found anything out past that.
Since the end of the cold war, the Baltic states have been the most pro-Western of the former soviet bloc (consider that they were the first Soviet Socialist Republics to declare independence), and Estonia the most pro-Western of the Baltics. They were the first former SSR to apply for EU membership, and they caused a minor row with Russia when they applied for NATO membership. They border and feel threatened by Russia, and want to align themselves with the states for protection.
Perhaps this fliters down to making songs about America popular there.
It’s not the first time either. Germany once sent a pink country singer and another time a 50’s inspired sing starring Dita Von Teese, and Sweden sent an entry that was entirely about Las Vegas. All of the tanked pretty hard if I remember correctly.
The German country singer did pretty well, as I recall. Didn’t win, but made the final.
I loved the German country song for the pure novelty of it. The Germans all loved it, it just bewildered everyone else.
The Swedish entry finished last I think, which was a great shame and the artist had to go out publically and say that he was sorry for having brought this down upon the great country of Sweden and its music traditions… :)
I don’t think it did, because the rankings only got worse after that and we weren’t bumped from The final until last year…
Well, wasn’t last year the first with the two semifinals that everyone (but the big five) had to participate in in order to get to the final.
Stenmarck and Las Vegas was in 2005 and the year after is the first year that Sweden had to qualify in the semifinal.
That said in 2008 Sweden didn’t even make it to the final and that didn’t get as much of a uproar as I remember Stenmarck getting when he came in 19th (of 24).
So after I went to sleep last night, frequent OTI commenter and actual European Nat Hopchet emailed me a whole bunch of commentary on these songs. It was too late to get it into the post, but I’m sharing it below. Thanks Nat!
Austria – “The Secret is Love”
The usual shout out for peace, love and unity, delivered by a girl giving her best Christina Aguilera impersonation. Apparently she wrote the lyrics as well, which means only she is to blame for lines such as “All the fears and doubts, they turn into believe.” But she does get bonus point for the black choir which suddenly appears.
(While I see it, look at last years entry from Armenia – “Apricot Stone”)
Belarus – “I Love Belarus”
Not so much a Eurovision entry as a propaganda song, shouted rather than sung. Reminds me scarily of that ‘Friday’ song. I love that apparently in Belarus they have traditional folk dancers in their night clubs. Can’t see how this will get anyone other than people from Belarus to vote for it.
Belgium – “With Love Baby”
I might be biased, but I love this acapella song. Could do without the beatboxing, but in general it’s very catchy. The beatboxing is apparently provided by RoxorLoops (who co-wrote the song) who is described as a ‘beatboxing genius’, so I guess they had to include it. Also, am I the only one who noticed that their song title is very similar to the band’s name? For the record, witloof is the Belgian word for chicory. Apparently they come from all around the country to represent it as a whole, which is kind f ironic seeing as the country is constantly threatening to split into two, and last I checked didn’t have a functioning government. But yeah, sweet song.
Bosnia & Herzegovina – “Love in Rewind”
I don’t really get this song. They seem to have wholeheartedly embrace the folky vibe which seems to be fashionable at the moment, but still trying to be a pop song and it doesn’t really succeed. And it’s message of a man looking back on his life is not really going with Eurovision’s aim of getting younger demographics interested in the show. Also, he apparently wrote their national anthem, and is therefore far too prestigious to be involved in the melodrama that is Eurovision.
Bulgaria – “Na Inat”
A decent pop-rock attempt, which is one of the few songs to not be in English (there seem to be in English than in previous years). She seems very enthusiastic. I love the use of keytar and the random headphones around her neck. First song I’ve seen to try a wind machine as well, although certainly not the last.
Cyprus – “San Aggelos S’agapisa”
I thoroughly disapprove of this song. It’s a standard angry breakup song, which has no place in the cheesy trashy forum of Eurovision. The video is creepy and incredibly tacky, and the guy seems to be incapable of showing emotion on his face. Two thumbs way down for Cyprus.
Denmark – “New Tomorrow”
Now this is more like it. Cheesy, light, no real depth to the lyrics, good looking young lads with crazy hair. I think in fact I may have heard this song before, but then it is so generic a pop song it’s entirely likely I haven’t. for a band named ‘Friend in London’, apparently they’re big in Canada. Denmark typically does quite well in Eurovision, so I think these guys have a good chance.
Estonia – “Rockefeller Street”
Strange for a Eurovision entry to be all about New York, and it doesn’t quite work. I do love the bright colours of her dress, her crazy attempts at dancing, and the building set pieces. But overall, less than average.
Ireland – “Lipstick”
Ugh, these guys are awful. Once again, I’m biased after being completely over-exposed to them from their stint on the X Factor (also, I’m noticing a trend that a good number of entrants seem to have risen to fame after entering reality talent shows. A sign of the times to be sure) but I find nothing appealing about these two idiots. The song is repetitive and annoying, and whoever told them to wear their hair like that should be imprisoned.
Israel – “Ding Dong”
Dana International also has a decent following, but I don’t care for this song. They’ve done well to do the song half in Hebrew and half in English, but the weird electro-synth thing that it has going on doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. And as I’ve already expressed, Israel doesn’t belong in this contrest anyway.
Latvia – “Angel in Disguise
Now this is the way to get the youth involved in Eurovision. While the song is nothing special, it ticks all the boxes for a successful RnB song, and will doubtlessly fair quite well in the contest. The performers are a little bland, and need to build up their showmanship for their live performances, maybe get some backing dancers or something.
FYR Macedonia – “Ruskina”
If I had to think of the Eurovision song contest, this song is what I would think of. I can’t quite explain it, but this song is so quintessentially Eurovision it actually makes me nostalgic even though I’ve never heard it before. The music video makes me a little dizzy, but could make for quite a fun performance.
Moldova – “So Lucky”
A bizarre rock song that doesn’t have much going for it apart from the only instance i can think of of a clarinet in a rock song. Easily forgettable.
Netherlands – “Never Alone”
Very reminiscent of the Fray, once again a very generic bland song, with none of the spetacle I expect from Eurovision. They do seem very intense, and definitely emote their song well. I wish them luck but I don’t think they’ll get very far.
Romania – “Change”
The name ‘Hotel FM’ inspires a vision of annoying Muzak from hotel lobbies. What they give instead is a charming, catchy and incredibly likeable song. Once again, its very simple, very generic (the usual lyrics about believing in yourself, making a change, living the dream etc.) but does it in a cheerful, pleasant way.
Slovakia – “I’m Still Alive”
More eagles! Sorry, I got distracted from the incredibly boring song. I think the best thing this song has going for it is that its performed by rather pretty twins. The viedo implies that the song represents the country’s ability to overcome adversity etc. but that’s not exactly going to make other countries vote for it. On to the next one.
Slovenia – “No One”
This girl seems to be a very good singer, who has unfortunately gone blue. The video director seems to have watched Twilight one too many times (which is once). I quite like this song, but it’s not a standout. I hope for some aerial acrobatics.
Sweden – “Popular”
Another song going for the youth vote. Absolutely awful lyrics “Stop don’t say that it’s impossible/Cos I know/It’s possible” and seems to express stereotypical teenage boys wants of popularity and sex. But at least we can expect some good dance moves from this one. He’s the Swedish Justin Timberlake.
Ukraine – “Angels”
A singer who’s apparently very popular in Russian bloc countries doesn’t seem to be trying very hard in this song and yet trying way too hard at the same time. This is another song which could be saved by the theatrical element of its performance, because it wouldn’t win anything on the song alone.
By the way, we shouldn’t be making too much fun of Belarus – isn’t there a big Overthinking It fan from Belarus who was one of the first people to donate to us when we first asked for money?
There was some talk among the writer’s group at the time of having a global contest where the country that donated the most to OTI would get a week of custom content all about its country. We rejected it for a whole bunch of reasons (several of which should be obvious – it would be kind of a jerk thing to do), but the winner would have been Belarus, and a week of Belarus-only content would have bee awesome – because we probably would just play “I LOVE BELARUS” over and over again.
Hopefully, our Belarussian fan appreciates the special place in our hearts Belarus continues to claim this Eurovision season, and I look forward to other Belarussian cultural exports in the months and years ahead.
Who’s mocking Belarus? If the worst thing you can say about a dance song is that it sounds like Boney M. (not to mention that you “love [it]”), that’s not such a bad dance song.
You know, if I were in an actual dance club, and “I Love Belarus” actually came on, it would actually be the best thing ever.
Hey Jedward: Wing Commander called; it wants its font back.
Okay, it’s not an exact match, but it’s pretty close.
The FYR of Macedonia wanted to just call itself “Macedonia” after independence from Yugoslavia, but, insanely and hilariously, Greece said that it felt ‘threatened’ by having a neighbor name itself ‘macedonia’, considering the history that the Greeks and the Macedonians had TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO, and so they had to add the “Former Yugoslav Republic” bit
Also, Jedward walks the line between too ridiculous to even mock and so absurd that it’s the best thing ever.
but they might get quite upset when you call them FYRoM or something, personal experience
“How do you pronounce an “s” wearing a hat?”
The caron adds a h sound following the letter: č is ch, š is sh, and ž is zh (at least in Croatian and Serbian). Zh is hard to pronounce.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ja0Cfjjhkwo should give you everything you need to know about Jedward. The two are exceptionally well-known in Britain and their native Ireland (their debut album hit No. 1 there). It is often difficult to accept that they are real: their butchery of Ghostbusters has gone done in legend.
Are there any other competitors spawned from non-Eurovision reality contests?
“Their butchery of Ghostbusters has gone down in legend.”
Maybe on your side of the pond, Tim, but I suspect this is new to our American readers.
This is a MUST WATCH:
Skip to about 2:30 for the good stuff.
Well, possibly the isles as the only impression I got from them was “oh, PR people have gone out of their way for these guys” Without the hype, they seem like a decent couple. It’s like cross between Saade and these guys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPa0t2Sbr6s
Or it might be a glimpse of their future. Anyhow, they better get the number right this time.
‘I’m Still Alive’
No-one else wishing that it was the Jonathan Coulton track?
Re: vaguely racist Ukrainian lyrics:
It looks like the song was originally recorded in Russian, and according to somebody on the Internet the literal English translation of the Russian chorus is
Like how birds in the deep blue sky
Forgive me for all the undaring dreams!
We call ourselves people on this earth
We just hide behind big wings
So the white power-sounding stuff only came in when they rewrote the English lyrics to rhyme, fit the melody, etc.?
It still sounds like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-t271itvSGQ