The Eurovision 2018 Review: Day 36

Step aboard my time machine. The comfy seats are at the back and please don’t stick your chewie under the seats. Our schedule tonight involves two hops, one of 30 years, then a smidge forward five before bringing you back home to the present day? Are we all sorted? Everyone been? Good. Let’s go.

It’s about 1988. We’re in a fictional North London school, right after sports day. A slightly bewildered headmistress is addressing the assembled crowds, preparing them for the entertainment to come. Her name is Bridget McCluskey. The school is Grange Hill. The act she’s about to welcome the stage performs something called ‘rap’ music and they go by the name of Fresh & Fly. They’re truly awful and I promise you will only suffer them for mere minutes before onward we scoot, geographically and chronologically.

It’s about 1993. We’re in a youth centre in the North East of England. A kindly gentleman with a beard is calming some excited youngsters down before the evening’s fun can commence. There is a band on stage, they too will be performing ‘rap’ music, joined by a seeming interloper who’s only there to bounce about. The rappers are PJ & Duncan, they’re saying something about looking through a window and the whole experience is truly painful – worse, if possible, than Fresh & Fly’s offering.

Fellow travellers, I have subjected you to so much this evening. Homewards we must fly, turning left at the sign for Byker and back into the time-space continuum. I’ll have you home for Emmerdale, don’t worry.

And while those offerings of ‘rap’ music from British children’s TV of the ’80s and ’90s are fresh (& fly) in our minds, let’s turn our thoughts to this year’s San Marinese Eurovision entry – whose contribution to the ‘rap’ music canon is surely on equal, if lesser, par.

To be frank, it’s dreadful. When hip Jenny B turns up next up her mate Jessica with a limberjack shirt wrapped round her waist, it feels like the most unwelcome Contest-related stage invasion since Jimmy Jump. Performing ‘rap’ music that can only have been written by her nan, this is what it must have been like when Rod, Jane and Freddie were asked to stand in for Run DMC on her night they took their mums to bingo. Has rap, real rap, ever sounded like this?

Anyway, let’s leave Jen for a bit and focus on Jess. This is, at least, competent. If they’d just let her carry on with her workmanlike pop song for the full three minutes, they could have dressed it up with all the bangs and whistles going. But no, Jen has to turn up like the unwelcome bucket in Carrie just when the prom was going OK.

We’re now in rehearsal week in Lisbon. We’ll see exactly what these two have in store for us in a couple of days. Presumably more than those two robots from Argos. But a stage show rivalling Charlton Heston’s ability to get two halves of the Red Sea in a huff with each other is required if this is to make any sort of progress.

And no, you can’t borrow my time machine to find out what happens next. I saw you stick that chewie under the seat as we left Grange Hill.

The Eurovision 2018 Review: Day 35

When the exhaustive history of Eurovision is written, nobody is ever going to have an entry as intriguing as Julia Samoylova’s – and none of it is going to involve her songs.

Quick update on the story so far for anyone who’s just passing through. This was the woman due to represent Russia in Ukraine last year with a song about flames or other. It then transpired (whether engineered in advance by Russian telly or not, the story’s still unclear) that her live appearance in Crimea prior to arriving in Kyiv meant she was unable by law to enter Ukraine following Russia’s annexation of the area in 2014. That made Ukraine’s Eurovision organisers look cruel for denying a wheelchair user who just wanted to sing in a song contest the opportunity to perform – perhaps the biggest victory Russia could ever seek from the event. But let’s leave that sort of discussion to the political analysts.

Now Julia is being given her chance to do this thing properly as there are no issues surrounding her showing up in Portugal as far as we know.

Which means we can just look at her song as far as 2018 is concerned. That and nothing else.

And the sad fact is that when you remove the political sideshow, there isn’t a lot left to discuss.

I Won’t Break is about as interesting as a warmed over blini. Not only does it commit the lyrical crime of rhyming ‘ocean’ with ’emotion’, it’s also set to one of the most unmemorable tunes ever. The template for 21st Century teenies power ballads has been tweaked so often now it’s getting threadbare and this could be the tug that makes it unusable from 2019 onwards.

Bland and uninspiring, the very opposite of what it’s supposed to be, that’s not the biggest problem facing Team Moscow at the moment. It’s not that long since footage surfaced of Julia performing this live at a Russian preview party. To say her performance was painful to listen to is like saying the moon landings were mildly impressive. This was ¬†of sub-Jemini levels and yet another reason to fear that a representative more vulnerable than most is going to look exploited come the show night.

Of course, Julia’s mic can always be switched off allowing five backing singers to carry her through but then there’s the setting to take into consideration.

Russia’s first rehearsal in Lisbon is still a few days away but there is a rumour that her stage outfit will reflect the striking final image in the video where Julia is represented as a lush mountain, replete with foaming waterfalls.

If I was Miranda Hart, I’d be doing a side-eye to camera right now.

Surely they won’t do it. Surely they won’t think it’s a good idea to have Julia in a frock on stage which carries on that same theme. Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive but this whole exercise feels like an uncomfortable lesson in exploitation. Julia has finally got her chance to sing at Eurovision but it may end up being an experience she’s sorely glad to out behind her.

The Eurovision 2018 Review: Day 34

There was a time when the Romanian entry was eagerly awaited as the Kids from Bucharest genuinely seemed on the cusp of a win. Let Me Try and Tornero were oh-so-close back in 2005/6 and surely it wouldn’t be long before the Eurovision logo turned vertical stripes of red, blue and yellow for 12 months.

It just didn’t happen. The briefest of blips came in 2010 when Playing With Fire took bronze in Oslo but after that Romania just seemed to fade into the background.

 

I would love to sit here now and tell you that’s all going to change in 2018. But it’s not.

Goodbye by The Humans (what a ridiculous name for a band. It’s not as though we’d mistake them for vegetables. Or ironing boards) is perfectly pleasant. There’s a strident intention in the lead vocalist’s voice as the song gets underway but little of interest happens after that.

There is a touch of The American about this. An ’80s soft rock America but US nonetheless. It would be interesting to see The Humans not take themselves so seriously. There is so little fun on show here that it becomes a chore of before the two minute stage.

And please promise those people in masks aren’t following the band to Lisbon. They’re just creepy.

The Eurovision 2018 Review: Day 33

There must be something liberating about being the hosts. You’ve already proved your douze hoovering potential the year before. Now you get to show off your hosting abilities. So the song’s not all that important.

It means you can go a bit experimental, try connecting the chorus up to a different power supply and see what happens. Nobody at home is that bothered, they had their proud bit twelve months back. So that is partly the reason we have this as the hometown song this year.

Admittedly, the absolute favourite to win Festival Da Cancao was disqualified late in the day so it’s naive to suggest this was the under-the-radar preferred choice of Portuguese telly all along. What it does do is save the aforesaid station a heap of cash in hosting Eurovision 2019. Which is nice for them.

It’ll be an interesting experience for the viewers at home this year. Songs like this are too subtle to make it through the semi-final post 2004 and it’s not the type of stuff that host nations put out either. While trying to be polite and not detracting from the obvious musicality of this song – this feels like the most obvious toilet break of the evening once the hometown cheers have died down.

While putting together the graphic for this post, there was some head scratching as to whether Isaura, Claudia’s mate who hangs around at the back of the stage should get a mention. I decided not although it’s an admirably curious addition to proceedings, like a deconstructed version of Azerbaijan’s horse from last year.

With the best will in the world, with all due respect to our hosts, it’s not going to be another Portuguese Eurovision in 2019. This song, it’s delicate delivery and gossamer presence is so anti everything the Contest is all about that it’s not even worth rebelling by giving it a vote. Sorry Portugal. But you do make exceedingly good tarts, so obrigado for that.

Podcast: Eurovision 2018 – as seen by a family who NEVER watch the thing

We had some visitors this evening – and a lovely time we had too. Manon Haf-Jones is not a Eurovision fan (she refuses to watch because it means Casualty isn’t on that week) so we reckoned her opinion on what was likely to win this year meant a lot more than those who listen to each entry 383 times a day. And just to make doubly sure Whoops Dragovic is in touch with the real world, we got her two sons involved too.

Don’t worry, we fed them first before unleashing 43 Eurovision songs on them. You can find out what happened next in our podcast.

Thank you very much to Manon, Owen, Dan and Glyn for getting involved. We’re all still perplexed as to why that Greek lady is down a big hole.

The Eurovision 2018 Review: Day 32

Well, for a start, those are some lovely hats. We need to see more lovely hats at Eurovision.

With Poland at Eurovision, there’s usually one of two options. A little bit of controversy and fun or a nobody-worrying big ballad. You can have your overly demonstrative milk churner getting the perv vote, your full-on tropical stomper favourite falling at the domestic hurdle to something very ordinary – or someone in a floaty dress singing about bullets or other.

So this year, the Polish entry is proving rather tricky to categorize. It’s not a ballad, there was no controversy surrounding its selection, no sexiness as far as we’re aware. It’s just sort of there. Poppy, but there.

To be fair, if Light Me Up appeared in the UK selection, we’d get a bit excited and start talking about left-hand sides. Then it wouldn’t get chosen and whatever did would suddenly be bigged up with regard to left-hand sides. What we’re trying to say is that this is a very ordinary bit of pop. It’s the sort of dance-lite that would be given to younger, more attractive soap stars in the 1990s to mime to playback on Saturday morning TV. Sadly, the audience which would whoop for this is now circling 40 and scouring the internet at lunchtimes for the next nostalgia gig coming to a provincial arena near them.

Of course, everyone deserves a caveat. There could be some absolutely stupendous staging lined up for this. Gromee (or Lukas Meijer) could have spent the time between their national final success and Lisbon ingesting enough lightbulbs that by the time they get to their first ‘light me up’ (of many) in the chorus that they shine like human glow-worms. That would be something to see. And also serve a wonderful dual purpose of distracting us from the song.

We haven’t looked at the running order much in these previews but we’ll break a habit and do just that today. Gromee and Chum are in the second semi-final, sandwiched between two other nations with red and white flags. Georgia go before them with Malta on its tail. This will be a massive contrast to the laid-back chanting of the Georgian boys and is different enough from Christbelle’s offering to be spared any long-lasting harm. But look even further down that semi list and you’ve got the more instant rumblings from Hungary and the as-yet unreviewed Sweden. If you were thinking of sending your semi vote uptempo-wards, that’s a lot of distractions between Poland’s slot and the time to pick up the phone.

It pays to be bold so I’m predicting non-qualification for these plucky boys. I just hope they don’t regret all those months of having 40-watters for pudding.

 

The Eurovision 2018 Review: Day 31

If you have absolutely no knowledge, connection or experience of my home town Liverpool, today you’re going to learn a brand new word. Are you excited? Would you like me to tell you what that word is? Here we go.

Meff.

For the uninitiated, a meff is someone perfectly harmless, loveable even. The only thing separating a meff from the remainder of the populace are those unfortunate, defining moments they (among other meffery-branding actions) try to act a bit cool, be funny or stand out from the crowd with a distinctive look. In every ill-advised case they fall flat on their face, instantly branded either a ‘proper’ or ‘big’ meff by supposedly more sophisticated Merseyside-based onlookers. It’s even worse when a meff tries to dance.

Now let me make one thing clear. This doesn’t mean you would never have a meff in your gang, or even marry one. Everyone loves a meff. In many ways, calling your mate a meff is the ultimate sign of affection. But it’s a distinctly Scouse piece of phraseology and one that’s going to come in very handy today.

If you need an example before we go any further, here’s the perfect one. Cliff Richard is without doubt King of the Meffs.

Picture him trying to look a bit funky on the sleeve of his Motown covers album; rollerbooting in the Wired for Sound video without any sense of irony; swaying his arms far too enthusiastically during the climax of Mistletoe and Wine or that dance to Power to All Our Friends. Such actions could never be deemed cool under any criteria. Truly, he is a proper meff. Beloved by a few – but definitely a meff.

So, are we sorted on what a meff is? Good.

Let’s talk about this year’s song from Norway.

Returning 2009 champ Alexander Rybak thinks he is a very cool young man, what with his Motor City-type riffs and air guitar that’s helped along with graphics from the Smiggle shop. He even guides the lyrics of his Sesame Street-type ditty along with hand actions, demonstrating how one should write down an idea, play the drums, or thump out a melody on the piano. We were none the wiser beforehand so cheers for that Alex.

But let’s examine the ways in which That’s How You Write A Song is a Rybak masterclass.

See how Alexander tells of a song’s composing process without referring to the hours of dark despair, swearing, cigarettes, bottles of whisky and taking an axe to your keyboard. How he wants people of all ages joining in with his performance because that’s how universal he knows his music to be. How he thinks the writing camps churning out album fillers for the biggest names in the business really do believe in every last line of their compositions. How that really is the way to pen a tune. How having a ‘skiddly-bop’ break towards the end of his performance will make people realise he’s the next Sammy Davis Jr.

These are all things Alexander Rybak thinks. And we all know why he thinks that. It’s been glaring us in the face since the start of this review.

Alexander Rybak is a proper, proper meff.

How well he does at Eurovision 2018 all depends on how much Europe loves him being one. And how long that blimmin’ guitar riff stays in its collective head before the phonelines open.