16 April 2016


Eurovision 2016: Big Five and Host

There are two things that define my life these days: the Tridentine Mass and the Eurovision Song Contest. I figured that I should get a blog post out of at least one of them . . . and the ESC won out. It would be a little too indulgent to review all forty-three entries, but I figured the six automatic qualifiers should, you know, automatically qualify for a post.


Well, it seems I'm the only one who not only really likes Sweden's entry this year, but also prefers it to the song with which they won last year! I guess I'm fed up with humanist hymns atheist anthems that were written to the scale of the biggest stage in the world . . . but that you couldn't really sing to a child at home. In all seriousness, one thing I ask when I evaluate a Eurovision entry is, "Could little children and their grandparents have fun singing this together?" Granted, a breakup song like this one probably doesn't cut the cheese as well as I'd like. But the light melody makes the overall effect one of playfulness. And if you can tell a story like Naso d'Argento in the nursery, then you can sing the "devil in disguise" lyric there, too. I also really like the structure of the song, and its irony, both of which are worthy of last year's Nonsense and Some Sense Verse Writers Smackdown.

United Kingdom

I really want to say something nice about this, so I will. Here we have another mediocre entry from a country that can't seem to emphasise enough how little it cares about the ESC . . . but it sounds like the modern British charts, Coldplay influence and all. And I do like it when you can listen to a Eurovision song and know which country it came from. I also give points for radio-friendly arrangements. Although television has always been the Eurovision medium of choice, it is in radio play that its songs live on--for it is through radio that we are reminded to keep singing them as a culture. (Well, it is through liturgy, holidays, and rites of passage, really . . . but who pays attention to those these days?)


Don't tell Il Volo I said this, but they've just been shown up by a ragazza. What a lovely song! I panicked a little when something she said made it seem she would be singing an English translation at the finals. Now, English is a fine language, and I've enjoyed many songs with English lyrics in my lifetime; but there's something about English translations of romance language originals that sucks all the life out of them. The good news is that all she did was edit in an English chorus. I'm still not crazy about it, but she does make it work. (Compare this, however, to France releasing an official "English version" of its song.) Perhaps there should be similar versions for French, German, and maybe even Russian (for we all know Mother Russia would make it Big Six).


Spain's entry is fun, catchy, and not trying to be anything bigger than it is . . . so I guess I can forgive it for being in Ingles. (At least there's some Espanol in the second voice.) I also appreciate the cleverness of a dance "hook" to complement the conventional one in the lyrics: now the song is sticky for both our ears and our eyes . . . and you can both sing along and dance along! People tend to complain about the Big Five buying their way into the Final, but I think there is a reason they are the Big Five that goes beyond money and into a historical tradition of being Europe's cultural leaders. And I think this year's entries are, in general, a strong reminder of that--not necessarily because their quality is exceptional, but because they hint at a greater awareness of what is going on. Hence the number of Big Five entries that didn't win, but went on to be classics or standards anyway--some more memorable than the actual winners. I think that shall be the fate of this Spanish entry. I doubt it will win when it's so awkward (for little children and grandparents!) to sing, but it will probably be the song that most powerfully evokes 2016 for all Europeans who lived through this year.


Now let me qualify what I just said about the Big Five. One of them has never quite pulled its weight, though it boggles the mind that the land that gave us the greatest pop song ever through the combined genius of Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller have been so musically underwhelming for the past sixty-one years. I've been listening to contemporary German pop for months, and while I've found a couple of artists with a really cool Indie vibe that I'm glad the masses also appreciate, the aggregate are generally left in the dust by their Italian and French counterparts. And the best example of both points I can give you is no less than Germany's 2016 entry. Now, it's not bad . . . and I've caught myself humming the chorus on the metro, which is always a good sign . . . but for all its worthy points, it's really not a song that gets off the ground. At this point, I really, really want Germany to send some Schlager.


I have saved la mieux for last! And I've decided to share the official video instead of a live performance because it is the strongest visual statement from any country this year of a serious desire to win. The last frame showing us a modern (modernist? =P) Jeanne d'Arc leading France to a new victory should put fear in the hearts of all the other contestants. Especially you, Russia. But long before the video came out, it was love at first listen for me: I was thrilled that France was sending something fun, unpretentious, radio-ready, and Anglophone-friendly (!!!) . . . and I'm not sure if I'm talking about the song or its composer-performer! =P The best part is that it's not a song written specifically for Eurovision--that is, not a song that thinks size and spectacle are equal to substance. It's a song that's just happy to be a song . . . whether it's sung by a man to a woman . . . by grandparents to their grandchildren . . . or by its own composer to music itself. Oh, just let it win, Europe!


Belfry Bat said...

Hm. "Neunundneunzig Luftballon..." it was a catchy tune, at least.

However, if pressed, I can't think of another new tune thence, so perhaps we must say your point stands (modulo my own insular tendencies).

r said...

Eurovision! One of my guiltier pleasures, though I usually just tune in for the finals. Haven't heard any of the entries yet, but I definitely know where you're coming from re: the UK being consistently mediocre.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- That's a good one but it's not a Eurovision song!

R -- I used to tune in just for the finals as well, but I've found that I need more time than that to figure out what I really think and feel about a song. It's also nice to be able to go into the finals already rooting for specific contestants.

Belfry Bat said...

Well, that's me told, isn't it?

r said...

The best Eurovision entry of all time is definitely Dschinghis Khan, btw.

Enbrethiliel said...


HA! You're right!!! The best part is that it's a song Germany sent to Israel. =P

I don't know how much of a standard it has become among non-German speakers, though.

Come to think of it, I don't know how much of a standard it is among German speakers. It definitely has its notoriety, but I'll have to ask my friends for more details . . .