EUROVISION 2018 PREVIEW: NATIONAL FINALS FAVORITES (CONCLUSION)

FINLAND

Finland  has always staged a national contest to select their entries to Eurovision–since 2012  the Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu (UMK) [New Music Competition] is the one that conducts this search.  Normally different artists compete but this year they decided to change the format and handpick Saara Aalto as the artist.  Saara competed three times in the precursor competition to UMK, twice as backup singer in the 2000s and as a solo artist in 2011 placing second to Paradise Oskar.  She tried again at UMK in 2016, but Sandhya beat her to the punch that time.  With her rising profile since placing second in X-Factor UK 2016, the Finnish broadcaster aptly reward her with a guaranteed representation to this year’s Eurovision–the only thing to be decided on now was the song.  So they presented three songs for the international jury and public to select.  The winning song was universally well-regarded and deemed the right choice, but we have to hand it that the other two songs were strong, too.  “Domino“is a sleek modern pop ballad and “Queens” is a fun dance number which can deliver a solid finish and lift Finland from its recent semifinal doldrums, but of course the winning entry is their best bet.

POLAND

It’s an interesting mix of finalists for this national final–several are modern pop entries that can be staples of dance clubs and some 20th century throwbacks that tend to do well in these national finals (and have been selected as the entries in recent years).  Most Eurovision fans outside of this country gravitate towards the modern songs, but interestingly, they did not rank high in the final results (with the exception of the eventual winner, which was also of that ilk).  Let’s take a sampler of the eclectic mix, below:

“Delirium” – Isabell Otrebus.  I’m shocked this polished tropical-style electro-pop number finished ninth overall, as so many fans have a high regard for this entry.  So might say her live vocal may have been weaker than the studio recording, but for me it’s not as rapid a drop from the studio-to-live like…

“Nie Chcę Ciebie Mniej [I Don’t Want Less of You]” – Szazan.  Here is another electro-pop number sung in Polish that fared weaker than what fans expected, placing only 6th.   Many fans noted her live vocals are such a letdown that its fall from a possible front-runner status was expected.

“Love is Stronger” – Ifi Ude.  This placed 2nd with the jury, and I get it as it’s a quirky electro-pop number with mild folk touches.  It’s sung in a combination of English and Polish, and some might criticize her English diction, but I do appreciate this quirky number.

“Don’t Let Go” – Happy Prince.  Winning the jury was this entry.  It’s a good song and the accompanying contemporary dancing couple does jazz up the presentaion, but for me it’s dated–it sounds like a modern rock song from the late 1980s.  A 4th place televote prevented this from winning, allowing what I deemed the worthiest entry to win.

I have a note for the entry that place 2nd with the televote and 3rd overall, “Momentum” by Monika Urlik:  yes, she delivered on the live vocals, but it doesn’t detract the fact that the song seems better fit for the 20th century than the 21st.

ESTONIA

This national final has a lot of adherents swearing by the strong song quality, and this year is no exception.  Just like in previous years, after the ten finalists performed, the three top performers with the jury and the public would perform again in a super-final and the winner was decided by popular vote.

“Thousand Words” – Sibyl Vane.  This cool modern rock entry was 2nd with the jury, but a weak 7th place showing in televote made her tie with Stig Rästa in ordinal points, that the tie was broken on who has the higher popular vote–Stig got the edge here so he advanced in the superfinal and she was left out.

“Laura (Walk with Me)” – Vaje.  This song has a cool vibe, too, evoking a cross between the recently departed Avicii‘s “Wake Me Up” and David Guetta‘s “Lovers on the Sun“. My only quibble is that he couldn’ quite hold his pitch live, and with the eventual winner so pitch-perfect, he couldn’t get a win.

“Home” – Stig Rästa.  This Eurovision veteran‘s entry, a lovely acoustic waltz ballad, was actually 4th in both jury and televote, and was in a tie with Sibyl Vane, but because he had the higher televote score, he advanced to the superfinal and it seems he collected some of the votes that went for others in the previous round that he officially finished 2nd overall.

SAN MARINO

I’m glad this micronation did not quit Eurovision as it threatened.  Instead it ramped up its search by scouring willing entries over the internet, and then staging a three-week televised contest–interestingly not in San Marino but in Slovakia, a country that quit Eurovision after 2012.  It is also interesting that also played around with combinations of singer and song, so there were some artists performing the same songs, and some experimentation with artist pairings.  The process did generated entries that are above the average San Marinese entry, but were any of them strong enough to at least equal Valentina Monetta’s 2014 finals finish with “Maybe“?

“Under the Morning Light” – Jenifer Brenning.  This German singer eventually got the right to represent this country as she participated in the winning entry as a rapper.  But her forte was singing, and this grittily sung song has its virtues.  But yes, as good as this song was, it’s not really strong enough compared to the next entry and the eventual winning entry.

“Out of the Twilight” – Sara de Blue.  Yes, this gothic ballad is not modern or radio-friendly, but it was terrifically sung by this comely singer, and many fans felt with the right staging, she can deliver a “Maybe”-like inals finish.  But then again, does San Marino have the resources to stage this entry as it could have?

ICELAND

This year’s roster, for me, was kinda weak, wih some novelty entries mixed with some old-fashioned entries.  The one entry many thought would win (but didn’t) was…

“Gold Digger” – Aron Hannes.  This is a fun, funk-infused number and Aron looks good trying to bring the preppy look back (you might say the alternate title to this entry is “PreppyBack”.  It’s such a shame it fell short from advancing in the two-song superfinal, ranking 3rd with the jury and 4th with the televote which led to a 4th place finish overall.

The entry that advanced to the superfinal besides the eventual winner was “Í stormi [In a storm]” by Dagur Sigurðsson, an overly sentimental gruff rock ballad that actually ranked first in the main finals round, but was pipped by the eventual winner as the latter probably collected votes that would’ve gone to the other entries.

PORTUGAL

The national selection, Festival de Cançao, was given a bright lease in life thanks to Salvador Sobral’s win last year, and for most part this year’s entries were a quality lot, albeit too heavily ballad-laden.  But there was a major controversy as one major standout and potential winner was forced to withdraw.  Why?  Read on…

“Canção do fim [The last song]” – Diogo Piçarra.  This entry reportedly topped its semifinal heat and was poised as one of the favorites to win this national selection.  However, many fans have pointed out that the melody of this song sounds identical to a religious song–many cited the Portuguese version of this performed by Father Walter,Abre os meus olhos” but it turns out that is not even the original version as it was originally 1980 English-language religious song, “Open Our Eyes by Bob Cull.  I’m actually familiar with this song, as my mom used to conduct Catholic charismatic prayer meetings in our old house when I was growing up and up to my late 20s and that song was regularly sung at those meetings.  I guess it’s similar to the case of George Harrison‘s 1971 mega-hit “My Sweet Lord“, which turned out to be lifted from the 1960s girl group the Chiffon‘s “He’s So Fine“–Diogo may not have intentionally wanted to plagiarize the melody but he might have “unconsciously” thought of that song when he created this entry.

“Para sorra eu não preciso de nada [For your smile, I do not need anything]” – Catarina Miranda.  This ballad actually was 1st with the juries but its 2nd place finish with the televote put this in a tie with the eventual winner, and the tie was broken by the popular vote score.  Admittedly the quirkier champion was the right choice, as this conventional ballad may not make as much impact in the finals as the eventual entry.

LITHUANIA

This country is notorious for its lengthy national finals selection period, as it has two months’ wprtj of eliminations before the national final.  Eventually there were six finalists and the winner was decided via botth juries and televote.

“1 2 3” – Paula.  Going into the finals, this sleek pop number (which was co-written by two-time Eurovision star Donny Montell)  was one of the favorites to win.  But in an interesting twist, Paula and her team decided tha for the final they switch up the original tropical EDM version and turned it into an acoustic number.  I actually liked the performance, but the risk didn’t pay off as this then ended up as 6th and last place among the finalists.

“4Love” – Jurgis Brūzga.  Though the singer has a resemblance to actor Seth Green, he delivered on Justin Timberlake/Robin Bengtsson swagger with this engaging, danceable entry.  The choreography with his three male backup dancers was particularly awesome.  Its win with the jury was well deserved, but the Lithuanian public were clearly in a heart-tugging mood and this only ranked 4th with the televote and ended up 2nd overall.

NORWAY

This year’s Norwegian Melodi Grand Prix was loaded with heavy hitters, with three Eurovision veterans competing against seven relative newcomers.  Several of them fielded impactful entries but I’ll limit this to four standouts…

“Scandilove” – Ida Maria.  This is the closest thing to a “troll” entry as it’s a catchy naughty novelty song touting the sexual prowess of Scandinavians.  The recording is a likeable, entertaining romp, but as performed live, Ida Maria obviously lacks the ability to control her pitch, hence it’s obvious why besides the novelty factor it failed to advance to the second round of superfinals.

“Talk to the Hand” – Garth Brooks, er, Chris Gaines, er, Aleksander Walmann.  Though I love to poke fun at Aleksander’s resemblance to American country music legend Garth Brooks, I have much respect for his deft way with intricate lyrics and his singing ability and songs like “Grab the Moment” and this entry are great EDM songs.  JOWST is the producer of this track, though he doesn’t get artist credit this time.  If it weren’t for the tidal wave of residual love for the most recent Norwegian winner of Eurovision, this could’ve gotten a great break and be a strong representative for Norway, again.

You Got Me” – Stella & Alexandra.  Stella is Stella Mwangi, who represented Norway in 2011 with the Swahili-language “Haba Haba“, which failed to make the final that year.  This time she assumed the role of rapper in this upbeat retro-bopper, while newcomer Alexandra Rotan brought a bubbly girlishness singing the main verses and the chorus.  Again, for many Norwegians, the winning entry was simply too unstoppable, and there was a very moving entry that pipped ahead of this, namely…

“Who We Are” – Rebecca.  This earnest empowerment ballad was indeed a well-constructed pop song and was powerfully sung that it deserved to edge out heavy-hitters like Aleksander Walmann and Stella & Alexandra and duke it out with the eventual winner.  Though many fans have extreme reservations (to the point of disdain) with the winning entry, we have to salute that this entry put up an excellent fight and would’ve been a great representative for Norway if it won.  We missed the opportunity to see two competing entries with the same title (a la Malta vs Georgia in 2015 with “Warrior”) and in the battle of “Who We Are”s, this would’ve had the edge over San Marino.

SWEDEN

Though for many fans (including myself) this year’s Melodifestivalen wasn’t as exciting as the previous two years, the Top Seven entries did make a strong impact and would’ve made worthy entries if they competed for other countries.  I’ll leave honorable mentions for fan favorites like non-finalist “Cry” by Dotter and lower-ranked finalists “Everyday” by Mendez (12th), “Party Voice” by Jessica Andersson (11th), and “All the Feels” by Renaida (9th).

In My Cabana” – Margaret.  She first garnered notice with the Eurovision fandom when she competed in her home country, Poland, two years ago, with the tropical-laced electro-pop track “Cool Me Down“, which many fans felt was unjustly outranked by “Weird Al” Yankovic Michal Szpak‘s sentimental “Color of Your Life“.  She decided to try her luck with the ultra-competitive Swedish national selection with a bouncy track.  To be honest, it’s not as good as “Cool Me Down”, but it’s peppy and entertaining.  Plus, I like the fact that she tapped at least two of Robin Bengtsson‘s backup dancers here.   But yes, I really don’t think this deserves to win.

“Last Breath” – LIAMOO.  There are some fans rooting for this R&B/rap ballad to win, and it’s a solid quality entry in my book.  But I don’t really have winner vibes for this song, unlike, say, the one that eventually won the right to represent this Eurovision powerhouse to the contest.  Still, it’s a worthwhile treat.

“For You” – Mariette.  This dreadlocked singer had ranked pretty high in recent editions of Melodifestivalen, placing 3rd in 2015 with “Don’t Stop Believing” and 4th last year with “A Million Years“.  I was rooting for her to finally win, but admittedly this song is not as strong as those two previous entries so again, another frustrating finish for this lady, and she fell down a notch to 5th overall.  Wonder if she’ll give this contest another go and finally get the chance to represent Sweden in Eurovision?

“Shuffla” – Samir & Viktor.  This cute duo are noted for singing solely in Swedish and for delivering entertaining EDM pop songs that normally are not taken seriously in terms of musical merit (especially they’re not really noted for their singing abilities), but charmed the Swedish public enough that they always qualified to the finals (previously having to undergo the Andra Chansen [Second Chance] round to do so).  They placed 8th in 2015 with the Avicii-inspired “Groupie” and 12th in 2016 with “Båda Nåkna (Bathe Naked)“, the latter of which was memorable for them stripping down to boxer shorts and showcasing their chiseled beefcake physiques at the song’s end.  They kept their shirts on this time for this homage to LFMAO‘s “Party Rock Anthem” and not only that this time they automatically qualified to the finals from their semifinal heat, they delivered their best finish yet, placing 4th overall (and actually faring a respectable 6th with the international juries).  All this, despite declaring they have no intentions to win this contest this year, especially with Viktor having a conflicting gig as a celebrity contestant in Sweden’s version of Dancing with the Stars.

“My Turn” – John Lundvik.  This track athlete turned R&B singer delivered a song that is like the R&B version of Sanna Nielsen‘s highly regarding Eurovision 2014 3rd place entry, “Undo“.  Yes, some fans dismiss this entry as too conventional and sentimental, but no one can doubt he delivered a near-flawless pitch-perfect performance, hence his 3rd place finish overall.

“Every Single Day” – Felix Sandman.  Admittedly I don’t really dig this ballad, but well, even if it didn’t win it actually became the biggest hit in Sweden amongst this year’s Melodifestivalen entries as it topped the Swedish charts for a few weeks after the contest.  It’s also notable that it had to endure the Andra Chansen (Second Chance) round to make the finals–it’s a rare feat for an Andra Chansen finalist to then rank this high.*5

*5 Back in 2013, Robin Stjernberg also survived Andra Chansen  to then ultimately win Melodifestivalen and become Sweden’s host entry with “You“.

Actually this is one of those years where if you think these losing national selection entries were exciting, you better check out the actual Eurovision entries this year, as they are actually even more exciting and awesome.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH