EUROVISION 2019 PROLOGUE: NATIONAL FINALS FAVORITES (PART 4)

GERMANY

For this year’s national final, dubbed Unser Lied für Israel (“Our Song for Israel”) they fielded seven finalists, one of whom was a “wildcard” that came in late in the game.  It turns out that wildcard became the champion.  The weightings of this selection is unique as on top of televotes and an international jury, they also factored in votes from a 100-member panel of “superfans” as a third component.  It led to some interesting stats–though the eventual winner won both televote and international jury, the superfans marked it down to fifth place.  This resulted in a closely fought contest…

“Our City” – Linus Bruhn. Linus has a dreamy teen boy appeal that can get hormonal teenage girls a tizzy and this entry is a likable electro-pop ditty.  He didn’t finish below fourth place (with the superfans) and actually finished third with both jury and televote.  But he was pushed down to fifth place overall as the entries ranked above him turned out to have polarizing reactions with each component.

“Wear Your Love” – Aly Ryan. The superfans (and many of the YouTube fan rankings I encountered) ranked this dance ditty as their favorite to win, and hence it topped the superfan vote.  However, the international jury were not as fond of this, placing it fifth and this entry placed fourth with the televote, resulting in a fourth place overall finish.

“Surprise” – Lilly Among Clouds.  I have a feeling she is highly inspired by Kate Bush as she is very much like a clone of that legendarily iconoclastic artist if Kate’s voice is a mezzo instead of a soprano with a throatier register.  Televoters particularly loved this placing it second, while it finished third with the superfans and fared the weakest with the jury, who marked her for fourth.  I would’ve preferred that this or Aly Ryan won, to be honest, and those two would’ve given Germany a chance to sustain the high finish delivered last year by Michael Schulte and not return to the bottom doldrums.

“The Day I Loved You Most” – Makeda.  This is a pretty, simple ballad that is well-sung and it tugged the hearts of the superfans and jury, who placed this second.  However, this is marked down by the televote, who placed this in fifth.  I’m not as bullish as the prospects of this entry at the big Eurovision stage, but I would’ve also preferred this to win over the eventual winner.

HUNGARY

 

Like what happened in Romania’s Selecția Națională, Hungary’s A Dal jury had a heavy say in the results.  In a protracted process lasting three weeks, the 30 shortlisted entries were divided into three groups of 10 competing against each other in an initial heat, and the judges select their top five for each heat and one of the remaining entries can join these five via popular vote.  The resulting 18 would then be divided into two groups of nine and the jury selects its top three entries of each semifinal round to advance automatically to the finals and the fourth finalist for each heat determined by popular vote.  Like last year, for the finals, the jury would then decide their four favorites who would then compete in a superfinal that is determined solely by popular vote.  The jury here serves as gatekeepers and this year, their “peculiar” tastes undermined the prospects of many fan favorites, like…

“Incomplete” – yesyes.  Many fans (including myself) have a high regard for this entry, pegging this the favorite to win A Dal, especially since many are hungering for vindication as this act was also the favorite to win last year with “I Let You Run Away“.  This entry is the same high-quality electro-accordion-laced pop-rock that may not be as brilliant as the previous entry, but still terrific.  Unfortunately, for some odd reason, the four-person jury are just not that into this entry–this struggled in the first heat as it had to win the televote to advance to the semifinals and then since the jury is in full control of the semifinals, they marked this down so much that it ranked in a tie for seventh in its semifinal heat.  Another, even more outrageous injustice was committed against this duo, and I’m not alone in thinking this.

“Help Me Out of Here” – Petruska.  The jury actually dug this entry and selected this lilting guitar folk ditty to the finals.  However somebody noticed that the ditty sound so similar to US band The Vampire Weekend‘s “White Sky” so glaringly that after an expert examination it was deemed to be a plagiarism and this entry was disqualified.  Listening to the songs concerned, I agree with the disqualification, despite vehement denials from the band they copied the song.  So advancing to the finals in its place was…

Hozzád bújnék [I want to snuggle with you]”Gergő Oláh.  I find his swarthy features kinda appealing even if I heard other fans deem him homely.  It’s a pretty listenable pop ballad.  Interestingly, while the disqualified entry was from the first semifinal heat, this entry was from the second semifinal heat and was chosen to advance because of its high total score.

“Kulcs [Key]” – Fatal Error. Here is a hard rock act who wanted to follow AWS‘s win last year.  This entry had mellower passages than AWS’s entry but the hard rock was undeniable.  The jury were not that impressed that it took the popular vote for this entry to advance to the finals.

“Roses” – Middletonz.  This is András Kállay-Saunders‘ fifth time competing here.  He had previously won the right to represent Hungary five years ago and delivered this country’s second best showing thus far with “Running“.  Since then, he competed in A Dal in a band setting, like in 2016 and 2017 in his eponymously-named band, and now as part of a duo with Dutch rapper Farshad Alebatool.  With yesyes missing the finals, many fans were rallying behind this entry but the jury don’t dig this reggae/electro-rock/rap fusion and did not receive enough marks to advance to the superfinal.

“Madár, repülj! [Bird, fly!]” – Gergő Szekér.  Sensing that the jury might prefer a native-language entry, some fans felt this is the best bet (besides the eventual winner) among such entries.  It’s a quality narrative electro-pop ballad.  Again, the jury seem to have other ideas as this is probably a tad too dynamic for their tastes and hence this missed advancing to the superfinal.

“Holnap [Tomorrow]” – Bogi Nagy. This artist is different from the singer who represented Hungary four years ago, who went by the name Boggie.  But it’s understandable why some fans might make the confusing as both acts fielded quiet sleeper ballads.  To distinguish between these girls, this one performed a more pop-oriented Hungarian language ballad.  It’s a pretty pop ballad, but well, it takes a certain temperament to appreciate this, and most fans wouldn’t put this in as high a regard.

“Szótlanság [Speechlessness]” – Bence Vavra.  This is a well-sung, well-presented pop ballad entry, so this making the superfinal is acceptable.

“Nyári zápor [Summer rain]” – Acoustic Planet.  This year, the jury tend to prefer mellower entries than the more dynamic entries delivered by yesyes, the Middletonz and even Gergő Szekér. The jury ranked this second, and for some fans’ ears (including myself) this act was way overrated especially since the lead singer missed a few notes during the finals that they should’ve been penalized and have Gergő or the Middletonz advance instead.

LITHUANIA

If you think Hungary’s six-week format was a slog to go through, it has nothing on Lithuania which has a seven-week schedule, featuring four weeks of heats, followed by a two-week semifinal and then the finals.  The big story of this national selection was Monika Marija, who fielded two entries that were so good they were big instant fan favorites and many (including myself) believed she would’ve been the shoo-in winner and the question would only be for which song.  But somehow, a big upset was in the offing.

“CTRL ALT DELETE” – Jurgis Brūzga.  “Funky Seth Green” is back after his runner-up finish last year with “4 Love“.  This time, he slowed the tempo down a bit but the groove is still undeniably funky and we are still treated to his tightly choreographed posse trio.  Unfortunately the song is not as strong as his previous entry and it showed in the results, as this ended up in seventh place in the finals.

“Your Cure” – Alen Chicco. His multiple facial (and cranial) piercings may frighten some people but once you look past that, along with the unusual folk costuming, you can appreciate this otherwise conventional pop number.  The interesting story is that he only got to advance to the finals because after Monika Marija‘s “Criminal” advanced in the second semifinal, she chose to withdraw that song so she can focus her energy on her other song.

“Sing!” – Jurgis DID & Erica Jennings. Jurgis DID actually previously made it to the big Eurovision stage as part of the band InCulto back in 2010 with the amusing “Eastern European Funk“.  Now in a couples act with his Irish-Lithuanian wife, we are still treated to his cabaret theatricality and loopy humor and this entry is actually an enjoyable treat, so its fourth place showing is laudable.

“Mažulė (Babe)” – Antikvariniai Kašpirovskio Dantys.  There is a term for the Eastern European (typically Slavic) lower-class person:  gopnik.  This act brought some gopnik realness with their performance and yes, it’s fun and catchy.  They came pretty close to winning as they placed third–they would’ve been the “novelty/troll” act for this year if they won.

“Criminal” and “Light On” – Monika Marija. I’m baffled and upset that despite fielding arguably the two strongest entries in this national final, Monika didn’t win.  Both entries are beautiful, high-quality ballads. “Criminal” is a dramatic, orchestral piece about a mea culpa for a slight she committed towards someone and “Light On” a soulful number (yes, it has a few similarities with Sam Smith’s Stay with Me” but I won’t take that against her) with a personal human interest story as it’s about her recovery from a life-threatening illness.  EIther song would’ve almost secured this country a slot in the Eurovision grand final, but well, it turned out the winning entry had a larger fan base and favoritism with the jury so he was chosen over her.  Oh well, a major missed opportunity here, if you ask me.

UKRAINE

There is a lot of politics-fueled drama in this year’s Vidbir as the broadcaster NTU, realizing the line-up featured acts who have strong ties with its nemesis Russia, decided to impose additional rules including that the winner of the contest is not guaranteed to compete in Eurovision, especially if that act doesn’t agree with the onerous contract it chooses to impose.  It’s shameful this happened and all the goodwill this country garnered when Russia invaded its eastern portion and annexed Crimea dissipated by the act of this broadcaster.  It is also interesting that the winning act was actually a replacement for a previously shortlisted, highly regarded act with a great track record in this national selection…

“Ochi [Eyes]” – Tayanna.  For past two years, Tayanna competed in this contest and came pretty close to representing Ukraine, finishing a close runner-up in both occasions.  Many fans felt this time should be her vindication and that she could finally be the winner.  Unfortunately, she then announced on 22 January that due to “unforeseen circumstances” and to make way for other worthy artists, she would withdraw from this competition.  Now that we got to hear what would’ve been her entry, could she have been the winner?  Well, this ethno-pop piece with orchestral and tropical elements is a strong entry, but as it turns out it’s a highly competitive field this year that not only I’ll discuss all the six finalists but a couple of notable semifinalists.  Boy, what a messy pot Tayanna had stirred with her withdrawal…

“Hate” – Tsesho.  This is an avant-garde piece that can polarize listeners, but I found this entry extremely entertaining, and I think it is meant to make you think about what’s going on in today’s society and interpreted in multiple levels, like political or personal.  The three-person jury (featuring Andriy Danilko a.k.a. Verka Serduchka and Jamala) marked this down in fourth place, while the public placed this in its Top Three.  But it missed the cut as it was beaten by the jury darling in this heat, as its first place ranking offset its fourth place finish with the public.

“2 dni [2 days]” – Laud.  Last year, he made it to the finals with the Rag’N’Bone Man-inspired song “Waiting“.  This native language balladic entry is a tad more original and won over the three-person jury who ranked this third.  Unfortunately the Ukrainian public were not that into this number, as it ended up in sixth place with the televote, and as a result finished fourth in its heat and could not advance to the final.

“My Road” – Anna Maria.  This rhythmic number performed by a pair of red-haired twins impressed many fans (including myself).  However, during the finals, the jury marked this down as last mainly because of political reasons, since the twins’ parents work for the Russian administration in occupied Crimea.  Not even a fifth place showing in televote was enough for it to rise above last place.

“Galyna Guliala” – YUKO.  This rap-pop number reportedly featured passages lifted from an ond Ukrainian folk song.  This was a jury darling, as the juries placed it first in the semifinal heat and in the finals ranked it third.  The public beg to differ as this placed fourth in the semifinal and last in the final.

“Houston” – Brunettes Shoot Blondes.  This is a pretty boy-band pop ballad that is actually a very pleasant listen.  The multi-gadget piano gimmick is also a very interesting sight.  Ranking fifth with the jury and fourth with the televote, it was actually tied with Yuko in points, but the tie was broken as this entry had the higher popular vote rank, so this was officially fourth.

“Apart” – Kazka.  This band actually has an international profile as it had already charted throughout Eastern Europe, especially with their 2018 hit “Plakala [She cried]/Cry“. Their ethno-infused electro-pop sound continued with this entry, and many fans thought this was the biggest rival to the eventual winner to represent Ukraine.  But the juries were not as fond of this number, ranking this fourth.  It was second with the public vote, and this helped salvage a strong third place finish for this entry.

“Cupidon” – Freedom Jazz.  This all-female retro-jazz band were not in many fans’ radars, but when I saw footage of their quirky high-energy semifinal performance, I became a bit obsessed with them.  First thing that would catch your eye is the glaringly obvious baby bump on the lead singer, who resembles Dixie Chicks‘ lead singer Natalie Maines and was reportedly eight months pregnant during this national selection.  Secondly, the retro-style vocal harmonies are very much on-point.  Finally, their showmanship was undeniable.  With all that I realized it was a three-way race and there’s a side of me that was rooting for this to win–in what was turning out to be a quirky year for Eurovision overall, this would ratchet up that quirk factor.  Two members of the three-person jury, Jamala and producer Yehlen Filatov (Onuka) were also rooting for their win and their first place votes made this the top-notcher with the jury.  If you know Jamala’s 2011 national finals entry, “Smile“, you would understand why she would particularly adore this entry.  The Ukrainian public, though, placed it third, and that allowed the eventual winner to eke out a victory.

Since Ukraine eventually withdrew from this year’s Eurovision since the winner did not agree to the onerous contract being offered by the broadcaster, and all the other finalists opted not to agree to replace the winner, I would normally discuss the winner in this portion of this essay.  But I choose to pay tribute to this entry in my main Eurovision song review article.

DENMARK

The Dansk Melodi Grand Prix this year was deemed a relatively low-key affair, but there are a few entries worthy of your attention…

“Kiss Like This” – Jasmin Gabay.  There is something about her features that made me think if she has Filipino blood in her veins, but then when I listen to this tropical pop number I wonder if her heritage leans more Latin American instead.  I like this entry, but if this was chosen as the entry it would’ve been drowned by the three “Fuego” semi-clones.

“Anywhere” – Simone Emelie.  Many fans adore this sweet electro-pop ditty, that it’s shocking it fell short of advancing to the superfinal at least.  Sure this ingenue has the occasional bum notes, but it’s still a fine listen.  I have a feeling this actually did well in the televote but the jury marked this down.

“Say My Name” – Sigmund.  It’s interesting that the highest ranked male entry in this year’s national final was an effeminate LGBTQ act.  I can understand why this ranked high with the jury as there was flash in this presentation and he hit his notes better than Simone Emelie.  There was also consolation that there are leather clad male backup dancers for some eye candy.  Still, I prefer Simone Emelie to advance over this guy, but I can tolerate him.

“League of Light” – Julie & Nina.  The jury missed the opportunity to bring Greenlandic Inuit realness to Eurovision as they marked this entry down to third, that even if it won the popular vote, its points were not enough to beat the eventual, cutesy winner.  Yeah, their staging was a tad too simple to the point of being forgettable (and hence this might be why the jury penalized them), but it’s a special entry that deserved to see action in the big Eurovision stage instead of something that we have already seen before.  I feel frustrated for this entry.

Coming Up:  Week of March 2-4

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