Eurovision 2011: The Swann Song

Eurovision 2011: The Swann Song

We can’t vote in Eurovision. But we know someone who can.

As Americans, we Overthinkers are blessed with many rights. We enjoy freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom to act as if Kim Kardashian has made a meaningful contribution to humanity.

Sadly, we are not allowed to vote in Eurovision.

However, friend-of-the-blog Timothy Swann is an actual British person, and he’s graciously allowed us to try and convince him who to vote for. Tomorrow night there will be 25 contenders, but there can be only one… Swann Song.

Dear Mr. Swann:

This is honestly a strong field of finalists.  There are three or four songs on this list that I legitimately liked.  I would not envy the man who had to come in and make a fair decision as to who deserves to win.  But luckily you don’t have to make that choice, because one of those finalists is Moldova, and like I said if Zdob shi Zdub doesn’t win I am going to come back and smash up the place.  I am pretty sure that you wrote in to one of the podcasts with your exact latitude and longitude, Mr. Swann!  That was not entirely wise, Mr. Swann!  So choose Moldova.  Choose life.

If it makes you feel any better, you’ll be rewarding a hell of a song.  For most of its running time, it suffices itself with merely being quite good.  But when those horns kick in — oh my! — right there, for ten seconds, or whatever it is before they drop back out again, I would put Zdob shi Zdub up against any band in the world.  Even without the threat of physical violence backing them up.

– Jordan

Tim –

I came to Eurovision prepared to hold it at arm’s length, like some radioactive isotope you have to handle via those thick rubber globes embedded in a Lucite wall. The idea was to pull a reverse de Tocqueville; the American pointing out what culture reveals about the European character. But after listening to every song, there’s one I’ve fallen in love with: “In Love For a While,” from Switzerland. I’ve downloaded it, memorized it, and caught myself humming it on a crowded subway.

It’s not going to win; this is a small, cutesy number, in a contest that eats small and cutesy for lunch. But this song makes me happy, honest to blog. It’s a song about the giddy excitement that a new relationship brings: “I knew right from the start, life is good for a while.” That’s a nice feeling, isn’t it? Remember seeing that person’s name pop up in your inbox and feeling your heart race? Briefly considering how long to wait before replying? And then replying way too soon, because you just can’t help yourself? The song is the first warm Saturday of Springtime. It’s finding the perfect couch for your new apartment. It’s the promise of happiness to come.

But there’s a touch of slyness behind the giddiness. “I know you and I are in love for a while,” goes the final lyric. That titular “for a while” cuts two ways. It can mean “for a long time,” as in “I don’t think Osama is going to be releasing anymore tapes for a while.” But it also acknowledges that the bliss might end. Even as the singer is reveling in the sunshine, she knows it won’t always be sunny. Maybe the relationship will last five months, maybe fifty years, but everything is temporary… and that’s what makes everything special. Being “in love for a while” emphasizes how fleeting life’s pleasures can be, and therefore how truly worth celebrating.

– Matt

Look, Tim —

I’m going to level with you. This was a tough. I wanted to make a challenging pick – a meaningful pick – a pick that was different from my fellows. I didn’t want there to be an OTI consensus to put pressure on you, and perhaps there still isn’t. I wanted to find a choice that felt right to me and could maybe also feel right to you. I watched all the videos of all the finalists at least twice. It was brutal.

I saw cases for a few of them. Germany’s song is sexy. Slovenia’s song is sung by a very attractive Slovenian woman. France’s song makes me want to find and defeat Kefka, which is always a good thing.

Estonia’s, Serbia’s and Switzerland’s songs were all snappy and well-performed, but none to me commanded my attention except as academic exercises. I already know your feelings about Jedward, but I would have skipped the boy bands altogether anyway. And the “save the world” songs are rubbish.

I tried to write this recommendation about Italy’s song, which is probably the best song in the bunch – except we’ve all heard songs like it a million times and it seems out of place in this contest. Italy knows it can make music that is too good for Eurovision – it doesn’t feel compelled to stoop to conquer. News flash: every country has some music that is better than all the music on Eurovision. Given these wonderful weird choices, it was hard to go with the latest track off NOW: That’s What I Call Italian Crooning 34.

Besides after I tried to start my case for Italy with “Which of these songs makes you want to do all your favorite things – savor a glass of wine… sit outside on a fine spring day… make love…” all I wanted to do was have sex to “I Love Belarus,” and it took like 25 minutes to shake off how awesome that would be and get back to work.

I tried to write it about Bosnia and Herzegovina’s song, which is of a kind with a lot of fine old country songs and has some sad wisdom about life – except the English lyrics have almost no poetry to them, and the music has no spark – it just doesn’t earn half the sweet sadness to even be the B side of the last track on a C.W. McCall album.

But in the end, there is only one song on this list that deserves to win Eurovision – that stands astride the others like a colossus. I tried not to look directly at it, I tried to find some other way of writing this, but there really was no help for me. There was no other way.

You need to vote for Moldova. You need to vote for Zdob shi Zdub. “So Lucky” ought to win Eurovision.

I even talked with my sister hundreds of miles away, who got her Masters in France and works in international relations, so she knows a few things about Eurovision. I tried to talk myself out of repping Moldova. But in the end, I needed to rep Moldova. And you do, too.

In the end, Eurovision is an annual ritual where Europe discovers itself anew – it finds a new face for itself that it wants to celebrate, and it invests in this face both pride and humility, both meaning and absurdity, and, most importantly, when it works, the joy of life and glory of music. With this in mind, there is no better Eurovision song in the final than “So Lucky.” Period.

And I would say this even if I weren’t both a trombonist and a unicyclist.

– Pete

And now, Mr. Swann’s response:

Choosing the Swann Song, incidentally, the putative title of my autobiography, isn’t going to be easy. Jordan has threatened me with actual physical violence, and even if my official theme song warns of the dangers of crossing me, I don’t think the legend lives up to the fact. It’s fascinating that two of the three songs mentioned here are the most struggling post-Soviet European states… Moldova with a huge human trafficking issue, and Belarus with Alexander Lukashenko, the so-called ‘last dictator in Europe’. Clearly adversity is the mother of Eurovision.

Zdob shi Zdub is an epic band title, a bit like the percussive sounds of !!!. I love the traditional instrumental breaks, as Mr. Stokes suggests are the best bits. I was expecting this judging process to be a bit of an ordeal for someone not especially into pop, but I genuinely thought this was an okay song, which for Eurovision, is doing pretty well. I’m not sure what it is about. I’m not sure I’m supposed to be sure. The ‘so lucky’ bursts sound like they’re from another song, or dimension, entirely. Of all the songs that are mentioned in this final line up, this is the musical victor. It’s a song I’m actually tempted to put on my iPod, alongside the Polish drum-and-bass, the French Celtic Hip-Hop and the Finnish post-metal. I can’t remember the last time a Eurovision track even came close to doing that. But it’s not just about the music: What does it mean for the second-poorest nation in Europe to be singing about how they’re so lucky? Well, I like Fenzel’s idea about things being better than they used to be. Maybe the UK needs a dark age of austerity before it could win Eurovision… in fact, the last UK win was in 1997 after the Thatcher and Major governments… I guess there is an upside to our current parlous economic state. But I’m not sure that it’s another Eurovision track that is putting the gloss on its nation’s state.

Switzerland is very cutesy, it’s cuter than a national stereotype about wooden houses and elegant hand-painted clocks. Makes a contrast to the only Swiss band I regularly listen to (Eluveitie, look them up. They’re fond of hurdy-gurdys and voyolentz), but practically all of the lyrics do point to the temporary, ephemeral nature of the feelings, and that tied with the sweet froth of the music, works well together. The last scene of the video really pushes that idea of the end, with the post-gig musicians slumping at a more darkly lit table. There’s a nice bittersweet edge in here that I really did appreciate… but probably not enough to win.

I Love Belarus sounds like Eurovision from the offset. The video disorients you with all of the shifting, and the cuts to the presumably tradition Byelorussian dancing. I increasingly suspect that this was, like General Franco’s attempts to bribe the judges in the past, a dictatorship knowing that huge amounts of political capital lie in the Eurovision Song Contest. You hear this song, you don’t think ‘egregious human rights violations.’ You think: ‘I love Belarus!’ But why do you love Belarus? It’s secret mind control, is why. ‘When all the hearts keep on beating as one’. As one marches in time, to the beat of the drum of the last dictatorship in Europe. This song is either mad, given that the Belarusians can’t vote for it, or dangerous, being an insidious nationalist paean, and though Pete didn’t really want it, we all know what is lingering in his subconscious. No plausible argument for So Lucky can stand… I Love Belarus must be victorious. I may fear Jordan, but I fear the hypnotic musical might of White Russia far more.

That’s the verdict of Timothy Swann, genuine European, from Worcester, UK, where radon levels are oft rumoured to be dangerously high.

[The editor then broke the news to Timothy that “I Love Belarus” was eliminated in the semi-finals.]

Woah, that was weird. Like a strange dream… what was I talking about? Oh yes, the Eurovision. So Lucky has to be, with two votes from the Overthinkers, a great song, with its description of how great a life one can lead on around $1500 per capita annually, allusions to Charlie Sheen and his bipolarity (Winner/A dusk to dawn sinner/Love traded in for lust/It’s emotions I don’t trust), a tale of redemption and clarinets, So Lucky, by the onomatopoeic Zdob şi Zdub!

I will vote for them, and hope they are indeed so lucky on the night.

That’s Timothy Swann, London(ish) Agent, bona fide European, signing off.

12 Comments on “Eurovision 2011: The Swann Song”

  1. Johann #

    So what would you have done if one of you guys would have wanted for Tim to vote for the UK song? Pay him the trip to another country for the weekend?


    • Timothy J Swann #

      As much as the OTI team have lavished free stuff on me, including an expense account, an Adamantite Amex card, live-size statettes of each of the team members, including the rare Callot, and the 1st edition Schechner from before he was back on the podcast a lot, I think they would struggle to get me a plane ticket while I’m still listed as being a ‘flight risk’.


      • Johann #

        Maybe a short boat trip to France or Belgium?


  2. Timothy J Swann #

    Update: I have added the discography of Zdob şi Zdub to my spotify.

    (The temptation to write ‘their older stuff was better, before they did Eurovision and got popular.’ I wonder if any hipsters have ever listened to a band which became Eurovision competitor and then made that complaint…)


    • SwedishFrog #

      Yes, the Fatals Picards were a very respected trash punk band in France before they did Eurovision. Now they are so uncool they are on the verge of flipping it back into hipster cult territory.


  3. Nat #

    I’m tempted to vote for Zdob şi Zdub based on their hats alone.
    But I’m sticking with Switzerland, my homeland, even though, as Matt said, they have no chance of winning.


  4. Timothy J Swann #

    I have just, as I was honor-bound, cast my vote. I will now salve my conscience by watching a Woody Allen film.


  5. petrlesy #

    thumbs up for Eluveitie shout out, great music and even better live


    • Timothy J Swann #

      Yep, saw them in London on the ERAINW tour… I love their truefolk stuff more than their metal stuff, but it all rocks. The hurdy-gurdy players are legendary.


  6. rtpoe #

    It’s Azerbaijan… Next year in Baku, presumably…


  7. cat #

    I actually would have gone with Matt’s choice but I’m a sucker for a cheery-moody singersongwriter. Serious Colbie Caillat vibes.


  8. Nat #

    Boo, Swizterland came last. My heart is broken. On the bright side, I do quite like the Azerbaijan song. Hope Overthinking It will conver the contest next year


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