This Big Five country also staged a national final format with six entries, like the way it does over the last three years. The twist this year, though, was it actually only has three songs in contention with two artists having differing versions of each song. These three pairs of artists would then square off and the public would vote for which one has the better version, and the winner per song would then square off against each other to determine the winner. I’m not crazy about this format–there are thousands of songs available out there so why not follow the older format?
“Bigger than Us” – Holly Tandy. Many fans have high regard with this country-pop version, and Holly is actually a great lilting singer. But what worked against this version was that it was obviously written with a more “gospel”-ly intention, and to worsen matters was the presentation–country style doesn’t necessarily mean bringing out cowboy dancers all the time, you know? Shows the BBC producers’ frame of reference for something “country” seems to be Madonna‘s “Tell Me” video. With such factors stacked against it, it’s no wonder it was roundly beaten in its showdown with the eventual winner.
“Freaks” – Jordan Clarke. The song is basically a sped up remake of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major“. with lyrics empowering society’s underdogs. It is deemed the weakest of the three songs in competition, and as much as Jordan gave a solid go with his boy-band pop take on the song, it definitely is not going to improve on this country’s weak showing in this contest as of late.
“Sweet Lies” – Kerrie-Anne. Many fans favored this entry over the eventual winner, as this is a diva-tastic club banger reminiscent of Robin S.’s 1993 hit “Show Me Love“. Admittedly, high energy dance tracks don’t always translate well live, but Kerrie-Anne is a stronger vocalist than most. However, the British public were in a more sentimental mode so voted for a powerfully sung but reality-talent-show-cliche style inspirational ballad instead.
For the first time ever, this country decided to use the national finals route instead of internal selection to select its entry. Called Australia Decides, it proved to be a rewarding exercise with an eclectic mix of high quality entries that would put all the UK entries this year to shame.
“Set Me Free” – Leea Nanos. The studio version excited a lot of fans and treated this electro-pop ditty. Leea is indeed an exciting young talent, but she obviously needed a little seasoning as shown in her live performance. As a result, she ended up in ninth place, second-to-last among 10 entries.
“Dust” – Aydan. The most recent winner of The Voice Australia was tapped to sing this R&B-laced pop ballad. He sold the song well, to his credit, but well it doesn’t distract from the fact that this is otherwise a tad too conventional to make major impact. He’s not the only champion from that reality series competing, though…
“To Myself” – Alfie Arcuri. He’s champion of the The Voice Australia 2016, and he joined with this self-written song. Sure, the chorus melodically reminds me of Charlie Puth‘s “Marvin Gaye” song, but his passionate singing and moving lyrics ensures there isn’t a dry eye in the house when listening to this song. I also have a soft spot for him as he’s a LGBTQ hunk. He’s just one of three acts raising the Rainbow Flag in this competition…
“Fight for Love” – Courtney Act. This drag queen is a huge veteran of the reality show circuit, having participated in Australian Idol, Celebrity Big Brother UK, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and many others. She is renowned for her live singing voice, closely approximating that of a real female. That quality is in full effect on this club banger. Now, fans were polarized about this entry, saying the song is subpar and beneath Courtney’s caliber. But for me, I thought it was a strong entry and can compete on the main Eurovision stage…until I got to listen to the bets that ended up in teh Top Three…
“On My Way” – Sheppard. This band had achieved worldwide success with “Geronimo” four years ago. Things have quieted down since then so to revive their international profile they fielded this upbeat, rhythmic number that is a joy to listen to. However it had two other bigger, riskier contenders that it had to deal with and criticisms that this is a tad “safe” have prevented this from being granted the right to represent Australia.
“2000 and Whatever” – Electric Fields. This is also a fierce club banger featuring an LGBTQ singer, but this time with an Aboriginal twist: some of the lyrics are in the Pitjantjatjara language and lead singer Zaachariaha Fielding bringing androgynous shaman fierceness. The song expresses pride for millennials, who are often being criticized in various media. It emerged to be a close fight between this entry and the eventual winner–I would’ve been very pleased with any of those that ended up in the Top Five representing this country.
Basically this small country staged a small national final with five entries duking it out. Most non-Montenegrin fans seemed to be displeased with the choice of winner, and I have to agree with them especially with one edgy entry they could’ve fielded…
“Ja sam ti san [I am your dream]” – Andrea Demirović. She represented this country 10 years ago with the peppy (and underrated) disco romper “Get Out of My Life“. She is acing the 10-year challenge as she still looks great (arguably even better) and it’s nice to see her shift to modern, edgy electro-pop. To be blunt I would’ve rather chosen this as their entry, but this only ranked third and did not even advance to the two-entry super-final. Instead, the Montenegrins chose…
“Nevinost [Innocence]” – Ivana Popović-Martinović. Yes, it’s a decent ballad, but admittedly if this was Montenegro’s entry this would be drowned out as it’s not quite distinctive, like its entry last year.
Like in most years, this Big Five country selects its Eurovision representative via the long-established Sanremo Music Festival (which was the main inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest in the first place). For this edition, they decided to eschew the “New Artists” section and had the 24 competing artists perform their entries four times across five nights, with no elimination process and the only twist is that the penultimate night they feature a collaboration with another artist on the same song. As much as I try to feature the live national final performances, apparently RAI had not made the content available on YouTube so we have to settle wtih the studio music videos instead.
“Mi sento bene [I feel good] – Arisa. I first heard of this artist when I happened upon the 2017 Takagi & Ketra song “L’esercito del selfie [The army of the selfie]“–I just love the cheery retro vibe of that song which is also translated to its unforgettable music video with the distinctively infectious choreography. But upon further research, I discovered that Arisa is also a “What-if” story, as it turns out she was the 2014 champion of this festival with the lilting “Controvento [Against the Wind]“ but broadcaster RAI decided to give 2012 champion Emma Marrone*1 a chance to compete in Eurovision and internally selected her with the brash, abrasive rocker “La Mia Citta [My City]“. Emma ended up bringing Italy its worst ranking in this contest to date at 21st place. Would Arisa have gotten a better showing if she was the one chosen to compete instead?
*1 Emma won Sanremo 2012 with the song “Non è l’inferno [This isn’t hell]”, a terrific orchestral rock piece, but somehow that year, RAI decided to emply a special jury to select the artist who would compete in Eurovision that year. They chose Nina Zilli instead, and she competed in Sanremo 2012 with the well-regarded ballad “Per sempre” but competed in Eurovision with a different (and better) song, “L’amore è Femmina (Out of Love)“. As much as Emma’s song is really strong, Nina Zilli proved to indeed be the better choice.
Anyway, about this entry: I love this upbeat pop-with-orchestral number, and I feel this deserved o fare better than its ultimate eighth place showing. I can only console myself that she got to perform with ex-Spandau Ballet frontman Tony Hadley on a version of this song on the fourth night, which for me is a highlight.
“La ragazza con cuore di latta [The girl with a tin heart]” – Iramo. There are a significant amount of fans who love this song, believing it deserved to rank hgiher than seventh place. This half-spoken-word (can’t quite classify this as rap, but it seems the words rhymed so maybe it was rap) half-sung ballad does have a dramatic/epic romantic feel and can understand why it’s well regarded.
“Argentovivo [Quicksilver]” – Daniele Silvestri. Here is a very edgy, dark number with a rocking rhythm that I find very intriguing. The singer is already 50 years old, but the lyrics keep repeating he’s 16 and it’s an angsty song about some despairing existence, about being trapped in a “jail”.
“Cosa ti aspette da me? [What do you expect from me?]” – Loredana Berte. Imagine Emma Marrone, but older and raspier and you get this lady and this edgy rock number. It’s pretty badass if you realize this modern rock song is sung by a woman who is almost 70 years old.
“Musica che resta [Music that remains]” – Il Volo. There are many fans who feel this hunky operatic trio deserved vindication after placing third to Sweden’s Måns Zelmerlöw in Eurovision 2015 as they were the big winners of the televote and many fans felt they were unfairly marked down by the juries. This ballad is a strong bet, but well, it’s not as strong as “Grande Amore“, so being beaten by the eventual winner was justified.
“I tuoi particolari [Your particularities]” – Ultimo. I would’ve rather have Loredana Berte take his place in the Final Three showdown, but somehow this piano-driven ballad struck a chord with the Italian voting public that this is the ultimate second placer instead. The right-wing Italian government would’ve preferred this entry be the Eurovision representative but I’m glad that didn’t happen as I don’t think this would strike as strong a chord with the rest of Europe.
A note about the fifth place entry, “Abbi cura di mi [Take care of me]” by Simone Cristicchi: this sentimental plain-spoken ballad is just not my cup of tea, to be blunt, so I find its fifth place finish overrated.
COMING UP: The week of 16-17 February