Out of the light, like a star, like a hero

I’m terrified of this post. This is the genre most associated with Eurovision and the reason why people who hate Eurovision do. Oh, and I have to prove that this post is worthwhile in the wake of ESCInsight’s explanation of the genre. This genre is called schlager, and it’s…um…well…hmm…

You know how disco died a sad death in the U.S. years ago? Well, in Europe (or at least at Eurovision), that didn’t happen. They still have uncynical, delightful dance music that doesn’t have the clinical slickness of EDM. I’m outsourcing what the genre is to my unrequited friends over at ESCInsight; you can access their definition in the link above.

This is, in the minds of many of the more obsessive Eurovision fans (myself included), the music that should always make up Eurovision; schlager tends to do extremely well in pre-contest fan polls. However, it receives quite a bit of derision outside the Eurovision bubble and never does super well when the voters are, for the most part, not diehard Eurovision folk. To defend this genre from some of this criticism, we’re going to use Charlotte Perrelli’s 2008 entry for Sweden, “Hero.”

“Ughhhhhhh it sounds so dated.”

Three years later, Lady Gaga took this to a top 10 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and I fail to see any serious difference between the two of them musically. The synthesized strings, the processed electropop, the pre-final chorus energy fakeout – it’s all there. This music is still being made; it’s just being made under a different name.

“Ughhhhhhh the lyrics are terrible.”

I’m not hearing this from a member of the same listening public that made “You know what to do with that big fat butt, wiggle wiggle wiggle, just a little bittle, little bittle little bittle” a thing.*

*That was an extremely difficult sentence to type because AutoCorrect kept trying to turn “bittle” into a word. The things I do for all three of you who read this.

“Ughhhhhhhh she can’t sing.”

Is there anyone working today who can pull off a scream as pained and in tune as “NEVER DIE ALOOOOOOOOOONE?”

So, with that song stuck in your head until the end of time, I’ll leave you with this mashup, which speaks for itself.

(A few others:

Iceland 2010 – Je Ne Sais Quoi

Sweden 2006 – Invincible

Sweden National Final 2015 – Möt mig i gamla stan

San Marino 2013 – Crisalide

Sweden 2009 – La Voix

Serbia 2015 – Beauty Never Lies

Arguably Georgia 2015 – Warrior)

Y ahora que te veo marchar, sé que no te voy a olvidar…

For most of Eurovision’s history, songs were performed with a live orchestra. For the first few years, the microphones were such that the singers weren’t permitted to move around the stage. Hence, the path of least resistance was to send a ballad. Additionally, between 1977 and 1998, songs had to be performed in the native language. One of the easiest ways to get around the obvious difficulty in getting Italians to understand a song in Swedish and vice versa was to stand in place and sing a highly dramatic number of some kind. Most of the time, the singers just had to stand there and look wistful, and they were set.

Nowadays, all instruments at Eurovision are playback. The language rule is long gone. The rule about standing there left the building in the early 60s, about five contests in. But vestiges of these institutions still exist, and there’s no shortage of entries that follow them. Today, we’re going to look at one of my favorites, Spain’s 2012 entry, “Quédate Conmigo,” sung by Pastora Soler.

Before I begin, I’ll note that this kind of entry can be in English and doesn’t have to be a ballad, either. The criteria to fit this mold, as I see it, are:

1) A focus on the singer’s voice,

2) Sparse or non-existent choreography and staging,

and 3) An overwrought yet simple emotional story so as to be understood by everyone.

There are no instrumentalists onstage with Soler, but it’s very easy to imagine an orchestra right behind her. The song is also somewhat timeless; it could have existed thirty (or more) years ago. The viewing public is able to figure out what the story of the song is very easily, even if they don’t speak Spanish. Her facial expressions scream “passionate sadness,” so the audience at home is able to figure everything out. And if the audience at home does speak Spanish, they’re in for a treat, since the lyrics deliver Shakespearean levels of emotion. The lyric when the key changes translates to “and now that I watch you leave, I know that I will never forget you.” The build helps deliver some of the passion, too, which is another cue for non-Spanish speakers. That kind of “starts off soft and low and goes out with a bang” build is not uncommon in this set.

Even though a full contest of stand-and-sing numbers might get a bit boring, having a few classy ballads with nice lyrics really gives the contest some grounding and legitimacy. Enjoy and anon!

(A few other entries I could’ve discussed:

Iceland 1987: Haegt og hljótt (Slowly and Quietly)

Albania 2015: I’m Alive

Norway 2014: Silent Storm

San Marino 2014: Maybe)

What is Eurovision, and why?

Eurovision is a song contest in which the nations of Europe (as well as a few in Asia and the occasional one in North Africa – hey Morocco!) each send a song to represent them. Then everybody votes for the best one, and whoever receives the most votes hosts the whole shebang next year. Simple, right? Yes? Ha.

“So it’s basically American Idol, right?”

Erm…not quite. In terms of scope, it’s more like the Olympics but for songs and with a geographical restriction. The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the most watched television programs in the world, drawing around 200 million viewers every year. For comparison’s sake, the last Super Bowl drew about 120 million viewers.

I know. It’s sad. You got your arse handed to you. Wait, was this guy in the Super Bowl last year?

Eurovision has been an international career springboard for folk such as ABBA, Celine Dion, and Gina G (of “Ooh Ahh Just a Little Bit” fame – also known as “that song in every yogurt commercial ever”). It’s also been used by artists such as Bonnie Tyler and Cascada as a career revival technique. Since the late 1990s, the contest has lost most of its dignity in much Western Europe but has grown even more popular in Eastern Europe as countries have fought to say “Hey! I exist!” and prove that they’re more than just ex-Russia. Oddly enough, Eurovision is huge in Russia.

Across the continent, Eurovision has a huge gay following, even in Western Europe. The 2014 winner was the Austrian entry, a bearded drag queen with a killer set of pipes by the name of Conchita Wurst. Wurst eventually became one of Eurovision’s most well-known performers; “the one with the beard” recurs when I mention Eurovision over here.

“What’s the format?”

Before the show, the competing countries are divided into two semifinals that take place on Tuesday evening and Thursday evening of Eurovision Week. Each semifinal gives ten tickets to the final, where the twenty victors join France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, and the host country in the final. At both the semifinals and the final, each country gives out 12 points to their favorite song, 10 points to their 2nd favorite, and 8-1 to their 3rd-10th favorite, with the winner being the song with the most points in the final.

“How does the voting work?”

50% of the points are determined by a televoting of any and all residents in each country who wish to vote, while the other 50% are determined by 5 music professionals from the voting country. The televoters vote for their favorite, while the juries provide a ranking, so the ultimate goal is to present an entry that will garner both the most love and the least hate rather than only one or the other. You also can’t vote for your own country, which is why a lot of the songs eschew the national language for English. Boundaries and diasporas have a massive impact on who receives points from whom; Greece and Cyprus almost always exchange 12 points, as do Romania and Moldova. There are a whole host of voting partnerships, so I’ll do a full post explaining them all at some point.

“So what’s the music like?”

I split the entries nowadays into six categories. In the next six posts, we’ll go into each in more detail:

1. Stand there, shut up, and sing ballads

2. Happy, uncynical europop

3. Positively ridiculous spectacles

4. Artsy hipster tracks

5. Slick, well-produced, American-style pop

6. Selling out your folk traditions to pop music

So if any or all of those six sound enticing, stick around! There really is a lot to Eurovision, so I hope to have you. And it’s not for another ten and a half months, so “I don’t have time!” isn’t going to cut it as an excuse. I’ll leave you today with my favorite Eurovision winner ever, the Ukrainian performer from the 2004 contest, Ruslana. Enjoy and anon!

Good evening, Europe! ‘Murica calling!

I’ve become one of those obsessive fans who writes about Eurovision on the Internet. Huzzah for me!

My guess is that y’all fit into one of two categories: 1) another one of those obsessive fans who writes about Eurovision on the Internet and wants to laugh at an inferior competitor or 2) one of my friends who took pity on me and read my blog. Either way, welcome.

“What’s with the name?”

Good question! This blog is named for HRH Samanta Tina’s attempt to represent her native Latvia in 2014. Here she is performing it impeccably.