05 June 2016

+JMJ+

Eurovision Song Contest Country Smackdown!!!

It's smackdown month again, friends!!! =D And surely you all saw the theme coming . . .

If you're not a Eurovision fan and don't really have a favourite winning country, that's excellent. Then you can actually vote for the song in each face-off--which is how it's still supposed to work. (Yeah, really!) I arranged sixteen of the top countries in a bracket and tried to find a good mix from the contest's six decades. I hope you enjoy listening to them and casting your votes!

And if you are a Eurovision fan and can't believe which sixteen countries made my official cut, well, it is in the spirit of ESC fandom to leave really angry comments on social media. I welcome them all! =D

The "Insieme" Sixteen

vs.
Switzerland vs. Ukraine

Let's begin with the first winner and the latest winner: the oldest of the old school and the way of the future. For all its political neutrality, Switzerland was eager to help its neighbours heal the wounds of WWII with song and became the very first Eurovision Song Competition host. And apparently good deeds still went rewarded, for it won with the nostalgic chanson Refrain! Sixty years later, it was all about politics: Ukraine entered the ethnically-influenced 1944, inspired by the deportation of Crimean Tartars by the Soviet Union. While I personally think countries should keep their squabbles out of Eurovision, I also see the advantages of settling national disputes on cultural stages rather than literal battlefields. Which country would you rather see in the next round?

vs.
Sweden vs. United Kingdom

Now let's get interesting. These are two countries I would have liked very much in the Final Four, since they each have two of the best Eurovision showings ever. This means outright victories, top 3 finishes, and participation. They also go above and beyond, with Swedish songwriters composing winning songs for other countries and the UK volunteering to host when the winning country can't or won't. Since this face-off is going to be bloody no matter what, let's make it really hurt. Sweden's Waterloo and the UK's Save Your Kisses for Me both went on to be major international hits and are probably the only songs in the Insieme Sixteen that need no introduction from me. Which one do you love more?


vs.
France vs. Luxembourg

Although English has become the ESC's dominant language, French arguably put up a great fight. And it emerges from that tussle smelling like irises, because at least no one will ever say an entry was sung en francais merely for votes. (Not even that new one from Austria!) French evokes Eurovision's early golden years more than any retro music ever could, and I have chosen songs from the top Francophone participants accordingly. The last time Eldest Daughter France won the ESC was back in 1977--and if L'oiseaux et l'enfant sounds familiar to you, that's because it was recorded in English and three other languages. (As I've been saying, some countries just take for granted that they are cultural leaders.) The last time Luxembourg even participated was 1993, so it's extra vintage. It is represented here by its first winning song, Nous les Amoureaux, which in turn best represents the lost age of the chanson. Which country do you think is worth a deeper retrospective in our smackdown?


vs.
Netherlands vs. Spain

When you can't sing in a strategic language, you can at least make do with vocables. The Netherlands did a bit of both with Ding-a-dong, though it's not quite clear why that sound made it over all the other onomatopoeic possibilities. What we do know is that La La La had already been taken, a few years earlier, by Spain. This Spanish entry doesn't even try to be subtle, breaking up the Spanish verses with a chorus anyone in the world could sing along to, and laying everything on top of an exuberant melody that ensures we would all want to. Which one already has you humming along and feeling confident you could sing most of the "words"?


vs.
Denmark vs. Germany

Sometimes you can pick out the winners before the contest even begins, and sometimes the bookmakers go bankrupt. Who could have predicted, in the year 2000, middle-aged fuddy-duddies would turn a corny Country song like Fly on the Wings of Love into the most popular song in Europe? Probably the fans who were gobsmacked nearly two decades earlier, when the saccharine but sincere Ein bisschen Frieden from Germany won by by a landslide. The only way the latter could have been a less likely winner is if its composer, Eurovision staple Ralph Siegel, had had half the notoriety then that he does now. Which country is the dark horse you are betting on here?


vs.
Ireland vs. Norway

You'd never know it if you just tuned in, but Ireland is the greatest Eurovision country there is . . . so far. They currently have the most number of wins--four of these from a single decade. The 1990s was all about Ireland swallowing Eurovision. A French friend of mine has said that the only reason the Irish are doing as badly as they are now is that they'd just rather not bankrupt themselves with another hosting gig. (And if you think they'll stand for winning and then having the UK host because they "can't," well, you're cute.) Rock and Roll Kids is the song everyone loved and no one thought would win, for by then Ireland had already won two in a row . . . and surely Europe had grown tired of them. Oh, music lovers of little faith! Norway, on the other hand, has a spottier more interesting Eurovision history: the record for highest number of points earned by a winning song under the previous system, the record for most last place finishes (more than Ireland's wins!), and the distinction of cracking Ireland's winning streak in the 1990s. But which of those feats will they repeat in this smackdown?


vs.
Italy vs. Yugoslavia

To know Eurovision is to know modern European history. It's not a bad mirror of the political and cultural changes that the continent has experienced since the end of World War II. At the close of the 1980s Insieme: 1992 was meant to encourage everyone watching, whatever country they hailed from, to support the proposed European Union. It was richly Italian (all the more so for being Sicilian), and therefore, very European. However we may judge the EU now (and you can bet that I judge it), this song stands on its own. Around the same time Western Europe was coming together, Eastern Europe was splitting up: in Yugoslavia's case, ironically enough, in 1992. And this is part of the reason the ESC today requires two semi-finals leading up to the real deal: with over forty European Broadcasting Union member countries at a time wanting a shot at the crown, they simply can't all sing at once. For years now, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia have been sending their own delegations (one of which will carry the torch should Yugoslavia qualify for the next round); but once upon a time, they celebrated as one when Rock Me took home the prize. Which of these Eurovision time capsules did you enjoy more?


vs.
Austria vs. Belgium

Finally, we have two countries that we can hardly call Eurovision superstars. If it weren't for virtue-signalling voting two years ago, Austria would still have only one win to its name--but one earned by a singer-songwriter who went on to give his country some of its most beloved pop standards. It's highly plausible that we will never see "The Voice of Austria" join the rest of the "Voice" franchises because all Austrians already know that title belongs to Udo Jurgens. As for Belgium, it really has only one win to its name, despite being one of the original contestants and one of the most faithful participants through the years. Indeed, the only reason it made the smackdown is that another country got, shall we say, "disqualified." =P (I'll explain in a future post.) But Sandra Kim has also built a decade-spanning pop career since her Eurovision triumph . . . and if you like her song better, you like her song better. =)


* * * * *

As always, voting in a smackdown is also a chance to earn points for the Philippine Literature Giveaway. Which naturally begs the question of what the Eurovision Song Contest has to do with the Philippines?

Answer: Absolutely nothing!!! =D And it is my dearest wish that this trend will continue until the ESC is no more. But it's a Shredded Cheddar tradition to have a smackdown during giveaway month, and something Eurovision-themed is simply the only thing I can manage this year. The rules are the same: leave a comment with your picks from each of the eight pairs, then claim your points on the Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

15 comments:

cyurkanin said...

Wahoo! First voter! The reasoning for my ballots will remain shameful and secret.

Sweden
Luxembourg
Spain
Germany
Norway
Yugoslavia (this matchup against Italy was by far the most painful to endure though in the end I may be pulling for Yugoslavia to destroy all comers...)
Austria

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Congratulations for being first! But you forgot Switzerland vs. Ukraine!

Such an interesting early favorite you have . . . I wonder if any of the wildcard countries will get you to change your mind. ;-)

Sullivan McPig said...

Ok: here are my votes!
Switzerland - it's the better song of the two, hands down.
UK - I can't stand ABBA! My parents played their albums all the time when I was a kid.
Luxembourg - like the song the best
Netherlands - got to support my own country ;-)
Germany - I used to have a Dutch version of this song.
Norway - The one time that a song I liked best actually won!
Italy - just like it better.
Belgium - Memories! I taped this song from the radio and always sang along in my bad French :-p

Brandon said...

So mine would be:

Ukraine
United Kingdom
Luxembourg
Spain
Germany
Norway
Italy
Austria

Of these I think the Luxembourg, Germany, and Norway entries are probably the strongest. (I also find it amusing that Norway broke the streak of Irish singers winning with a song that is mostly carried by an Irish violinist. Sneak attack!)

Belfry Bat said...

Switzerland:
hmm... it's... it's a nice old radio song.

Ukraine:
Well, it's more interesting, musically; but on the other hand, it's not easy listening at all.

UKRAINE (under protest)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sweden:
you know who actually beat Napoleon, at Waterloo?

England:
these folks don't remember who.

SWEDEN wins. (but it's really cute that the girl the narator is asking to save all her kisses is apparently his 3-yr-old daughter.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

France:
makes me think of WYD musics... can't tell if this is WYD being terribly ESC, or this ESC entry cribbing jazzified Gregorian...

Luxembourg:
what an "R" trill...

both of these songs seem to be invoking supernatural qualities of "Love", but... there's something REALLY WEIRD about both of them. They both give me the creeps, actually.

I think I'll spoil my vote here by nominating the part of Sibelius' Finlandia that found its way into hymnbooks (e.g. "Now we know not the meaning of Life's sorrow")

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Netherlands:
it's a song about singing... and yet I don't find it quite as singable as all that. This and France both have that strong reliance on Dorian mode... Here's some older Dorian music at another famous traditional celebration of EuroMuse.

Spain:
Yes... I see what you mean. But it is both more singable than Netherland's and More Spanish than theirs was Nederlands (even ignoring language choice)

SPAIN

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Denmark:
Speaking as one growing up in the midst of "country" music (though it wasn't ever really my music...) "Corny" is what it's made of. Happy or sad, candy corn is the stuff.

Germany:
This is going to echo the previous pairing: Denmark's sounds American, and Germany's sounds (even through the Pop sensibility) German. And it would sound about as German in English, too.

GERMANY.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ireland:
More Country, eh? Well, country does have some Irish roots, too... Blue suede, hee... invoking "Rock/Roll" in this quiet Irish/country way is a bit... odd, isn't it? But, of course, one couldn't say "never seem to" while actually __ either, right? It's funny.

Norway:
Oh! Here is someone actually singing. Or... they did for five seconds... Oh here she is again with words... I'm all for chansons-sans-mots as a form, but ...

Now, to break the theme of the previous three, Norway's sounds more Irish than Ireland's. Or maybe it's just more "Northern"?

Hm. Don't know how to decide. I think England's contribution more deserves to survive one round than either of these (but I also know that is the way of the bracket)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Italy:
Meh.

Yugoslavia:
Hm. Eighties.

I think I like the relative innocence of the refrain in YUGOSLAVIA's offering, while italy's is just too... naïve.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Austria:
I kind-a like this one! But I'll need you who know more German to tell me what it's about.

Belgium:
"J'aime la vie". Well, it's a happy tune, and a happy refrain. In theory, I would understand the French lyrics, except... I can't make out the lyrics.

AUSTRIA (which may be naïve of ME)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

cyurkanin said...

How could I forget that one, hm? lol An easy remedy since I have come to despise most everything Ukraine these days: Switzerland.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Sully -- This is one Eurovision contest in which it's perfectly acceptable to vote for your own country! ;-) And just so you know, Douwe Bob's song really grew on me this year. Thanks for your ballot!

Brandon -- That wasn't the last time Norway got sneaky on Eurovision, to astounding success. And if they make it further in this smackdown, I just might explain . . .

Bat -- Hmmmm. I seem to have loaded the Insieme Sixteen down with an inordinate amount of Country music. Despite my not really caring for Country at Eurovision! And to think my main worry was that the twenty-first century was underrepresented. =P

I like to think of Merci, Cheri as the Austrian answer to the English Yesterday: it's about someone saying goodbye to "Cheri" before he must go and telling her not to cry, but to look forward instead because nobody can force fate. And I must be the only one in the world who is reminded of Yesterday when she hears it.

Christopher -- Salamat!

Itinérante said...

I LOVE Song Smackdown!

My votes:
Switzerland
United Kingdom
France
Spain
Germany
Norway
Yugoslavia
Austria

:)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Thanks, Itinerante! I'm glad you're enjoying the music. =D

love the girls said...

I'm voting the Miss E. ticket.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

LOL! As much as I'd love to fill in your ballot for you, I kind of have to be impartial here. ;-)

love the girls said...

Switzerland, UK, Luxembourg, Spain, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Austria.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I appreciate it very much, LTG. =)

Pentimento said...

1. Switzerland, obviously. 1944 is an awful song for reasons wholly apart from its shameless manipulation.
2. UK. Although their backing band is great (and so are their clothes), Abba are just so amateurish.
3. Luxembourg. Of course. The Jacques Brel thing.
4. Spain. That Dutch song is simply horrible.
5. It’s very hard for me to vote against any folk song on the theme of peace sung in German. It may not be Ode to Joy, but it reminds me of Marlene Dietrich singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” which always makes me cry.
6. Norway. I like the folk elements, and besides, the Irish entry is just insipid.
7. Italy, whose entry seems almost heartbreakingly utopian on this day of days.
8. Oh. Austria (though I love the Belgian hair).

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Thanks so much for your ballot, Pentimento! It's always wonderful to have a musicologist weigh in. =)

Your opinion on the Irish entry makes me wonder whether I picked the worst possible song for them to lead with. They have six others, two of which I honestly don't like, three I wanted to leave free for later rounds, and one more which probably should have stood in for Rock and Roll Kids here. Oh, well . . .

With the exception of Italy vs. Yugoslavia, people's tastes have been very similar. I find this interesting--and again, I wonder how much of it has to do with the songs I picked.