The 6oth year of the contest should probably have been spectacular, but it… wasn’t. It was very downbeat. This was partly because there were a lot more ballads than usual, but it also seemed to be intentional from a TV production perspective, which is odd. I mean, when this final opened I quite liked that they had the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra, as they bought a bit of class to the whole thing. But then the opening sequence took a sharp left turn straight into daft Eurovision territory, with last year’s winner Conchita Wurst on a panto Peter Pan harness, a children’s choir and an Austrian rapper with a Jamiroquai-like hat. Why not go the whole hog with the rest of the final?
The fact that this was the 6oth was barely mentioned, but one way they did commemorate it was to invite Australia on. (And to shoehorn a gratuitous Simpsons reference in; it reminds me a bit of in ‘Bart Vs. Australia’ when the family visit Down Under, and there is the Parliament-Haus der Austria, with “al” scribbled above the r and the i in Austria). While Australia aren’t part of Europe, or even remotely near it, the contest has been very popular over there for quite some time, so as a one-off they were invited to take part. Apparently this year the final was also broadcast in China, and it seems to be increasingly getting a cult following in North America.
So we got a lot of references to the timezone difference for Australia (Eurovision being “breakfast TV” was the first). But the Australian entry fit right into the contest. Guy Sebastian – ‘Tonight Again’ was catchy, fun and a little cheesy. He had been a contestant on Australian Idol, as well as a judge on Australia’s version of The X Factor, and ex-reality TV show talent contestants were something of a theme this year. Sweden and Israel’s entrants had appeared on reality TV contests, and you could even do a subcategory of former contestants of a version of The Voice! Those included entrants representing Belgium, Greece, Azerbaijan, Albania, and the UK.
There were a lot of rumours at the time that Alexandra Burke would be representing the UK in Eurovision this year, but she always denied the rumours. In the end, the entry we got was a duo named Electro Velvet. One had auditioned for The X Factor and The Voice, the other had been in a Rolling Stones tribute band. Their song, ‘Still In Love With You’ was a bit of a din. I get that the whole point was to be a clash of retro-jazz and modern neon lights nightclub electronic music, but it just didn’t gel and wasn’t very good. We kind of deserved the lowly 24th place we got, to be honest.
When Germany were deciding who would represent them, the top choice in the phone vote Andreas Kummert (who has a beard which looks a bit like a pile of tobacco!) turned it down, so the runner-up Ann Sophie was given the chance instead. The track, ‘Black Smoke’ was pretty good, and was co-written by British singer Ella Eyre and the staging to it made it look a bit like a James Bond film title sequence. But from good luck of ending up representing the country in Eurovision, came very bad luck as the entry ended up in the “nul points” club. Poor Ann Sophie. Still, at least she and Germany had company. The host country no less! Austria, winner to “nul points” in just a year. In fact, if it was still just televotes only, Austria still would have got “nul points”, whereas Germany would have finished a couple of places higher. Austria’s entry this year (The Makemakes – ‘I Am Yours’) the song itself was a bit forgettable. All that anyone seems to remember about it at all is the piano being set on fire.
My favourite one, by a long way, was Estonia’s entrant, Elina Born & Stig Rästa with ‘Goodbye To Yesterday’. It started out good, with Stig Rästa strumming his guitar singing a “woke up in the morning” type song which would probably get played a lot on the radio. But it got even better when Elina Born came on, the track taking a more smoky, sophisticated turn and sounding like something that would be on the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino film. I liked how it started off with just Stig Rästa on stage, and ended with just Elina Born on stage, that was quite a clever way to stage a duet.
I also loved Georgia’s entry, ‘Warrior’ by Nina Sublatti. She looked like a fierce, angry goth chick with a costume of raven feathers, and the song was an atmospheric electronic track complete with imposing black thunder clouds and lightning storms.
Azerbaijan’s entrant was Elnur Hüseynov. The song was called ‘Hour Of The Wolf’, and featured a total eclipse moon which became blood red and a black forest of thorns. With all you’d think it might be a rocky song, or at least dark, but what a disappointment it turned out to be. It was about as middle of the road as you can get.
Slovenia’s track was called ‘Here For You’, by a husband and wife duo who’s name Maraaya was a combination of their two names, like those annoying portmanteau couple names shippers and showbiz goss magazines and websites insist on doing. Both of Maraaya wear headphones all the time, which I approve of, obviously. Not too sure about the doily dress though.
Israel’s entrant was Nadav Guedj – ‘Golden Boy’. While it might have referenced gold, it was copper value at best. Seriously, it did sound quite low budget. The singer had gold sprayed shoes with… wings, I think, attached to them. He didn’t fly though.
For Norway, we had Mørland & Debrah Scarlett with ‘A Monster Like Me’, which was fairytale-ish, and I wondered if they were going for a sort of Beauty and The Beast thing, but unfortunately the song wasn’t as interesting as it promised to be. Apparently, Mørland used to be in a band called Absent Elk.
Greece’s entry (Maria Elena Kyriakou – ‘One Last Breath’) was nice enough. She wore a glittery dress, was accompanied by a piano and sounded a bit like Shakira. It wasn’t as good as Iceland’s ‘Is It True’ by Yohanna from 2009, but it reminded me a bit of that.
Poland’s entrant was Monika Kuszynska, who was once in a rock band called Varius Manx. The band were in a car accident which left Monika paralysed and needing to use a wheelchair. She decided to pursue a solo career, and her song ‘In The Name Of Love’ with the blossom on the trees staging was quite sweet.
Serbia’s entrant, Bojana Stamenov – ‘Beauty Never Lies’ was a bit like a glitterball in human form. She was a large disco diva absolutely covered in glitter. I don’t know what the people with white masks and capes surrounding her were about though. This song was a bit overhyped before the contest to be honest, but it was still one of the stand-out tracks.
Spain’s singer, Edurne, singing ‘Amanecer’, also wore a lot of glitter. She a red hooded glittery cape which was removed to reveal a slightly less glittery green dress. There was a shirtless dancer and some bubbles too.
Belgium’s entry (Loïc Nottet – ‘Rhythm Inside’) was compared to Lorde. Not former Eurovision winners Lordi. I don’t think it sounded much like Lorde (or Lordi) at all really. It was a good song though, it had an intriguing minimalist electronic backing and was written by Nottet himself. It was different for Eurovision, and unique and refreshing among this year’s finalists, I liked it. Ruth Lorenzo was on Spain’s jury, and according to the released voting figures, this was her favourite song. It did well in the overall vote too, finishing 4th.
Latvia’s entry (Aminata – ‘Love Injetced’) was also a fairly different sort of Eurovision entry that did quite well, finishing 6th. It was the 2nd most popular in the overall jury vote, though it still would have finished in the top ten if it was still televotes only. I suppose it’s understandable why it was slightly more popular with the juries than with the televoters, as while it was one of the most creative tracks, it was also one of the most bizarre. But I think it was good. It had one of the most compelling production backing tracks and Aminata has one of the most interesting voices in the competition. Her costume was quite something too, it made her look like a space age queen from some sci-fi dystopia.
Lithuania’s entry (Monika Linkyte & Vaidas Baumila – ‘This Time’) was kind of like if Mumford & Sons had been reincarnated as a male/female romantic duo. Monika Linkyte and Vaidas Baumila were rumoured to be going out, and kissed during their performance. There was a big huge sunrise in the background, which turned purple and blue. It was a decent enough bit of guitar pop, and you could imagine it being used in an advert. Randomly, this topped the UK televote!
Italy’s entrant was a “popera” group Il Volo with ‘Grande Amore’, which had staging which looked a bit a museum, all classical statues and Roman pillars. It was probably the best choice to close the show, and that probably helped it top the televote (the “pimp slot”, as some UK X Factor fans would call it). It ended up in 3rd place when combined with the jury vote. While I can understand there’s an argument that the entrant that wins the televote should be the overall winner, I think jury vote helps raise the general quality of the songs which are entered. That’s not to say ‘Grande Amore’ is a bad song any means, it’s fine, but I think bronze is about right for it to be honest.
Quite a few songs merged into one mass of balladry and was hard to find anything distinctive about them. Montenegro (Knez- ‘Adio’) was probably the most guilty of this. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about it, in fact it could have been plucked from any Eurovision in the past decade. Albania’s (Elhaida Dani -‘I’m Alive’) was inoffensive I suppose. Cyprus (John Karayiannis – One Thing I Should Have Done’) started off in black and white. It looked as if he was trying to resemble Buddy Holly, but he sounded more like Marti Pellow.
If there was a pattern this year, it was that were a lot of songs that were highlighting a good cause, but were a bit dull musically. These included France (Lisa Angell – ‘N’oubliez pas’) which was about remembering soldiers. Romania (Voltaj – ‘De la capat’) was about a charity for abandoned children.
Armenia’s one was Genealogy – ‘Face The Shadow’, about the Armenian genocide. Again, while it’s a worthy subject, it wasn’t a good song. It was a little strange, with the band dressed a bit like elves. That’s Lord of the Rings style elves as opposed to Santa’s little helper style elves, though the latter would probably be a bit more Eurovision.
The worst of this bunch was Hungary (Boggie – ‘Wars For Nothing’), which was about as by the numbers as a “I wish for world peace” anthem could get. If you want to talk “a bit too on the nose”, the staging even had a pile of guns turning into a tree!
The best of this bunch came from Russia. Polina Gagarina – ‘A Million Voices’, a big power ballad, a good singer and performer, and a call for the world to be united. The fact that it was coming from Russia may have looked a bit hypocritical, but it was one of the better songs. With the hosts saying that politics should not override music in this contest, and Conchita Wurst telling Polina she “deserved to be in the lead” when it looked like she was when the votes were being counted, and all but saying “don’t boo Russia”, it was trying to downplay political tension and for it to just be about the music. As a song, ‘A Million Voices’ probably deserved to do well, but it’s a good thing it didn’t win really. With Russia’s current political climate, it’s hardly a good place to host Eurovision.
The winner was Sweden, Måns Zelmerlöw with ‘Heroes’. It had one of the best stagings the contest has ever done. Making great use of a projecting screen, there was a black background with swirly white lights, and what looked like an animated chalk drawing of a wooden puppet. The song was very good as well, a storming electro-rock backing track, the lyrics were about being “heroes of our time” but “dancing with the demons in our mind”. Yeah, that he’s a handsome guy helps a bit too. But regardless, ‘Heroes’ is a really good, very well deserved winner.
Despite celebrating its 60th, Eurovision 2015 wasn’t exactly a vintage year. If I’m going to stretch the “building bridges” theme which ran throughout this competition, then it was bridges over a sea of average. There were a handful of interesting songs, and a good winner – we’ve had a great consecutive run of winners ‘Euphoria’, ‘Only Teardrops’, ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ and now ‘Heroes’. But hopefully in 2016’s contest things will be a bit livelier.