Saturday, May 23, 2015

EUROVISION 2015: SWEDEN WINS ALL (plus Mel's Faves)

It's the end of May so you know what that's Eurovision Time!

For the Americans/folks who aren't as familiar, Eurovision is basically like a giant week-long reality show between countries across the globe. Each country selects a song and a singer to perform to represent their country. There are two semi-finals (already held this past week) and the final (being held today) to select the ultimate winner and winning country. 

Picture it like a reality show a la The Voice or American Idol (since so many of these performers actually come from these types of shows in their native countries) if every state had their own song and performer and then all fifty songs were showcased and the public voted on a winner. I would totally watch that show. Wouldn't you?

While I usually lean toward female voices, there was an onslaught of contestants this year that were female singing (somewhat boring) big ballad anthems about equality, peace, or loving yourself for who you are (the theme is Building Bridges -- it's like, we get it, already). This isn't too surprising considering Eurovision tends to lean heavily on whoever won the year previous -- in this case, Conchita Wurst's "Rise Like A Phoenix" (representing Austria, hence the fact that this year's competition is being held there). 

Yes, it was a great song but do I want to sit through hours of a similar type song? Nope. I'm here for the dance music. Luckily, lots of the fellas were able to help me out in that department. Read on to listen to and hear more about my favorites from this year. Click on the song titles to view the live performances from the semi-finals (as applicable).

LIVE UPDATE: It's official! SWEDEN wins in what was a close race between themselves and Russia!

1. Sweden
2. Russia
3. Italy
4. Belgium
5. Australia
6. Latvia
7. Estonia
8. Norway
9. Israel
10. Serbia

PLACED: #1 (365 points - a record-breaking # of points in Eurovision's 60 year history!)
Unsurprising that the native land of All Good Pop Music would gain my vote as my absolute fave this year, right? Hunky Mans is a bonafide popstar in his native Sweden following a run on Swedish Idol in 2005 and has released five albums with a sixth on the way. "Heroes" is the first single from that record, Perfectly Damaged, set to be released next week in Sweden. It was co-written by Anton Malmberg Hard af Segerstad who has also written for Le Kid, ex-Play member Janet Leon, Eric Saade, and even Fifth Harmony. It starts slow like a country-western ballad before building to a climactic dance jam, very akin to David Guetta's recent work. Plus - if Sweden wins, it means the competition will be back there next year. Sigh.

2015 marks the first time Australia is allowed to compete in Eurovision which has raised more than a little bit of ire by fans. I get the confusion since Australia is technically considered part of Oceania, but given it's ethnic ties to Europe and ardent love for Eurovision, it was included in this year's competition. Even if you don't agree with it (angry fans on Twitter), you should at least give props where it's due that Australia selected criminally underrated popstar Guy Sebastian as their representative. He's the primer winner of Australian Idol in 2003 and is a current judge at the Australian X-Factor. Oh, and he writes his own music and can sing his ass off. He's released seven albums (the latest: Madness in 2014 which included features by Sage the Gemini and 2 Chainz). "Tonight Again" has a slight funk feel to it and sounds a bit like a dancey Bruno Mars cut. 

PLACED: #11 (51 points)
While so many of the ladies go the safe feel-good ballad route, 20-year-old Nina choose epic performance art. She won Sarkartvelos Varskvlavi (the Georgian Idol) in 2013 and released her debut album last year. Her song "Warrior" is still very much a strong female anthem a la Kelly Clarkson and was co-written by Sublatti herself with Swede penman Thomas G:son (who also co-wrote Loreen's "Euphoria", the Eurovision winning song in 2012). Her incredible voice and Xena-meets-Evanescence look totally sets her apart.

PLACED: #9 (97 points)
"Golden Boy" is the perfect blend for Eurovision -- it's a mainstream pop song that still has lots of shades of cultural color. It also marks the first Israeli entry sung in English. I thoroughly enjoy it because it heavily reminds me of Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You" (shouldn't be too surprising -- Nadav actually auditioned to be Israel's representative by singing JT's "Mirrors" so the influence is obviously there). He's cute to boot! I initially wouldn't mind him "showing me Tel Aviv"...until I realized he's only 16 years old. Wow.

LOIC NOTTET - "Rhythm Inside" {BELGIUM}
PLACED: #4 (217 points)
Another teenage reality comp runner-up -- in this case 2014's The Voice Belgique. The song itself has a nice mixture of dancey bits and stark quiet which lends itself well to its intense, choreographed(!) performance. It's one of those that grows with you upon seeing its live production.

While I still maintain that Raylee's "Louder" should have snagged the Norway Nod at the Melodi Grand Prix, "A Monster Like Me" is quite captivating due to its simplicity and lyrical darkness. Morland fronted the British rock band Absent Elk, who saw some success in the UK and opened for Girls Aloud on the road.

IL VIVO - "Grande Amore" {ITALY}
PLACED: #3 (292 points)
OK, so I'm a sucker for handsome men who can sing opera and look good in suits. Il Vivo is a decorated Italian opera-pop trio who rose to fame in 2009 and have since signed a deal in the US(!) performing on a handful of television shows here and releasing their album Il Vivo as well. They range in age from 20-21.

Armenia's entry is interesting because it's made up of a "super-group" of people of Armenian descent who are from around the world to represent all continents, including American Tamar Kaprelian who saw some fame stateside for her 2009 song "New Day". I really love this concept and it's a beautiful song.

ANN SOPHIE - "Black Smoke" {GERMANY}
PLACED: Tied for last with 0 points (wow)
Ann Sophie is still a relative newbie in the German music market, releasing her debut album, Silver Into Gold, just last month. She joined the competition when another artist chosen to represent Germany dropped out. "Black Smoke" was co-written by British pop talent Ella Eyre

UZARI - "Time" (feat. MAIMUNA) {BELARUS}
PLACED: Cut during Semi-Finals
OK, so this one has already been cut from the final but I'm crying foul. This song is ridiculously catchy ("Time is like thunder, ah-ahhhhhh!") and sung well plus it includes live violin. I find it odd that previous Belarus songs -- including "Cheesecake" last year -- made it through while this didn't. Imagine it with a bit of a suped-up backbeat by Zedd and a feature by Lindsey Sterling and try to tell me this couldn't be a global dance phenom?

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