Sometimes if you’re tired of documentaries that try to push a one-sided political message, a musical documentary can fix that. The documentary Music Pictures: New Orleans is an insightful documentary of a town with a century of a music legacy.
The film begins with Irma Thomas. She has been dubbed the Soul Queen Of New Orleans. They show her as she’s finishing up a recording session. She had a Top 40 hit in 1964 with “Wish Someone Would Care.” She’s had many songs and albums on the R & B charts. However she’s often been overlooked by the likes of Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner. She tells of her career. She’s had a career since she was 19. She has had cases where she has been a victim of racism in music. Nevertheless she’s fought on and continues to record. She also tells of living in New Orleans, of her experience, of her loves, of raising a family.
The second part comes after the passing of one of Thomas’ band members. Leading the funeral parade is led by the Treme Brass Band. The vignette then focuses on Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones. The marching brass band is an important part of New Orleans. They’re the band that would perform during festivals, especially Mardi Gras, and funeral processions. Benny was born in a family of musicians and he always wanted to be a part of it. He even married a woman who had family in music. The film goes into how he founded his first brass band, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and then goes into his latest brass band, the Treme Brass Band.
The third vignette focuses on blues legend Little Freddie King. King was actually born in Mississippi and moved to New Orleans when he was 14. He recorded his first album in 1969. In 1976 he did a European Tour with Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker. However his second album didn’t come until 1996. Since then, he has been more active and has release twelve albums since. King has performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival since 1980 and is a charter member.
The fourth and final vignette is with Ellis Marsalis Jr. He himself is a renowned jazz musician who comes from a family of musicians and is widely regarded as the patriarch in the “First Family Of Jazz.” However in his latest venture, he finds himself working with his youngest son Jason and Jason’s daughter Marley Marsalis in recording his latest album For All We Know. Jason plays xylophone and Marley plays percussion and piano. Returning to a family project was the furthest thing from his mind before this project. Over time, it grew to be something he liked doing and he became happy returning to family roots. In the end we have an album of three generations of Marsalises. Also in the end, it would be Ellis’ last work. Ellis died in April 2020: one of the earliest fatalities of the COVID pandemic. The film also shows images of New Orleans’ legendary night clubs closed because of the pandemic.
For those who like music, New Orleans is a city that has some of the biggest music history. I mean what first comes to mind when you hear New Orleans? Most likely it would be things like Mardi Gras, Dixieland, brass bands. Those that know music will know that it’s the sounds of New Orleans that would be most influential in some of the biggest music of the 20th Century and sounds that are very influential today. The town gave birth to jazz before it took over all of the US. The brass bands of New Orleans are influential in the sound of jazz. New Orleans didn’t give birth to blues, but New Orleans did a lot of shaping of blues. New Orleans has done a lot of shaping of soul music, too.
This documentary is a good reminder of how New Orleans has been quite the shaper of music. It originated sounds and shaped a lot of sounds. This documentary gives good examples of New Orleans musicians and vocalists who have had an impact on these sounds. The film shows a soul legend who is often overlooked, a leader of a legendary brass band, a blues legend, and a jazz father. Through out the documentary, we learn of what led them to their sounds. Some may be for income, some to marry, some because they loved it, each one had their unique story. All of them did talk of the ups and downs. They talk of successes and setbacks. However as we hear each story and listen to the music, we get a good sense of it.
The final vignette of Ellis Marsalis and his family is especially poignant because it’s a reminder that New Orleans should not just be admired for the music of its past. New Orleans is also very much in the present of music and in the future. That is especially made aware in the vignette as he works with son Jason and granddaughter Marley. That was unique that such a vignette was done. The film could have been about Ellis, his life and the careers of his two famous sons Brantford and Wynton, but instead it focused on Ellis with his youngest son and granddaughter. Almost like a legend passing down sounds to the younger generations. And just before his death.
This is a very good work from writer/director Ben Chace. Chace is not known for doing documentary films. His previous films Wah Do Dem and Sin Alas are live-action fiction films and has only previously written and directed a single documentary short. This is his first attempt at a feature-length documentary and it’s impressive. It doesn’t offer any tricks and twists one would see in modern documentaries. Nevertheless it allows the musicians to tell the story. It allows the viewers to hear the music. It allows viewers also to witness other behind-the-scenes looks at making music and working with musicians. It’s a film one who is into music would take a lot of interest in. Especially those that would want to pursue music as a profession. Chace picks out the most signature sounds of New Orleans music, matches them up with New Orleans’ biggest living examples of the sounds, and shows off how they embody the sound of their genre and the sound of New Orleans.
Music Pictures: New Orleans is a great documentary showcasing musicians, both individuals and groups, and how their sound has an impact not only on the sounds of New Orleans but on musical genres as a whole. It’s as much about its past legacy as it is about its present and future.
In the middle of May 2021, the Eurovision Song Contest took place while the COVID pandemic was still happening. In addition, it allowed seating capacity for thousands of spectators. One would consider this to be a very dangerous move as the world is trying to recover from a world wide pandemic. Few know that this is an event to test whether it’s possible to hold a concert during a pandemic.
EUROVISION 2020 CANCELLED
2020 started like any other year. If there was COVID happening, it was half a world away and showed no real signs of crossing any borders. The Rotterdam Ahoy arena looked like it had plans to be made ready to stage the Eurovision 2020 while national TV networks were getting their performers and songs ready, whether by internal selection or by hosting national finals. Then the pandemic crossed borders. The news got more frightening every day as cases were starting to crop up from country to country. Sports events like the PGA golf series, MLB and NFL football had to cancel their seasons, the Olympics had to postpone to the following year. Then in mid-March Eurovision 2020 had to cancel because of the pandemic. That was just after all 41 competing nations had already submitted their entries and songs.
With no Song Contest happening and it being hugely complicated, if not impossible, for people to meet up, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) decided to have all the entered songs recognized for the participation. There would still be a set of Eurovision shows during the days the Song Contest was originally intended to take place. The Tuesday and the Thursday which were originally supposed to have the semi-finals contested had the Eurovision Song Celebration which paid tribute to the songs and performers of that year and during what was to be their respective semi-final performance. Even before the Song Celebration, the Eurovision Youtube channel had the artists of 2020 perform ‘home concerts’ to keep people’s spirits up.
On the Saturday that was to have the Grand Final held, May 16, 2020, there was Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light. It was a two-hour show which paid tribute to the 41 songs and performers who were to be participating that year. A piece of the video of their song was played followed by a message of well-wishes during this pandemic from the respective entered act remotely from their home country. The show was held with a central location of Studio 21 in Hilversum instead of an arena. Past Eurovision entries gave their wishes to all during this time. There were additional performances from past Eurovision entries singing past Eurovision songs with encouraging messages like ‘Ein Bisschen Frieden,’ ‘Molitva,’ and ‘What’s Another Year.‘ Italian entry Diodato performed ‘Volare‘ live from Milan as well as showcased his song ‘Fai Rumore‘ from an empty arena in Verona. Singers of the two most recent winning songs, Israel’s Netta and the Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence, performed original songs about the frustration of loneliness one receives during the time we all have to isolate ourselves to prevent contagion. Israel’s Gali Atari performed her 1979 winning song ‘Hallelujah‘ with Dutch Junior Eurovision contestants and Junior Songfestival entries from past years. It was done as a Zoom-style ensemble. The show ended with all the 41 contestants singing a piece of the 1997 winning song ‘Love Shine A Light‘ with the song ending with all of them singing together as a Zoom-style choir with Katrina Leskanich, formerly of Katrina and the Waves, to sing the last part.
There were also two noteworthy announcements that happened during the show. The first announcement came during the part when they were with the 2019 Junior Eurovision winner Viki Gabor from Poland. From her home in Poland, she announced that the Junior Eurovision Song Contest will be taking place in Warsaw on November 29, 2020. The second announcement came from the hosts of Europe Shine A Light. It was announced that the Eurovision Song Contest will be taking place in May 2021 in Rotterdam.
CONSIDERING OPTIONS FOR EUROVISION 2021
The announcements of a Junior Eurovision in six months time and a Eurovision in a year’s time seemed like far-fetched things at the time. Nobody knew what the pandemic would be like over time. Rates were increasing at frightening rates, people were still in lockdowns and a vaccine of any kind had not been discovered. Nevertheless it was something still worth pursuing. Twelve months since the ill-fated 2020 Contest is enough time for the pandemic to either subside or for preventative measures like vaccinations to be in effect. Countries were already announcing their intention to compete in 2021. Many even announced their intended 2020 entry would be their performer for 2021. However staging the Contest would be difficult. Possible, but difficult. The EBU had four scenarios to deal with. Each of the scenarios would involve the holding of shows, presence or non-presence of performers, number of spectators, side events and the media press:
Scenario A (normal): This would almost be as if the pandemic never happened. All shows from Ahoy Arena, all the participants in Rotterdam to perform, arena filled to 100% capacity, side events happening throughout Rotterdam the Press Centre would have all 1,500 anticipated press people on site.
Scenario B (1.5 metre social distancing): All shows would be from Ahoy, but only performers who are COVID-negative could perform on stage. Since there would still be no guarantee that the performers would all be COVID-negative on the day of the show, they would all do taped back-up performances that would act as their Contest submission in case. Those whose country was still under lockdown because of travel restrictions could have a taped performance recorded by their network. Arena audience could be anywhere from 0% to 80%, side-events would have to be adapted virtually, and the 1500 press people would be limited to 500 on site and 1000 virtually.
Scenario C (Travel-restrictive): All shows would still be from Ahoy and the arena would still have a capacity of spectators anywhere from 0 to 80%, but participants would all do their performances in their home country. There would still be adapted side performances, but greatly reduced and all 1,500 press people would conduct interview questions virtually.
Scenario D (lockdown): Even with a lockdown mode, there would still be a show from Ahoy arena as there was a show from a studio during 2020’s lockdown in the Netherlands as well as most of Europe. The arena however would only be empty of spectators, consisting only of show and network personnel. There would be no side-events, performers would do their performance in their home country and again all 1,500 press people would conduct interview questions virtually.
JUNIOR EUROVISION 2020: THE FIRST TEST EVENT
Six months in between the intended Eurovision Song Contest 2020 and the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2020 was enough time to get a good sense of how to conduct business and events during the pandemic. The 2020 Eurovision Contest couldn’t be held because everything happened all of a sudden and it was too sudden to plan an alternate for holding a Contest. However the EBU was well-aware statistics and restrictions would change by the time Junior Eurovision, the song contest for performers aged 9 to 14, would come around on November 29, 2020. Some would be for the better, some worse. It was decided that the Junior Eurovision would be held in a situation close to that of Scenario D. I will get to the specifics in the next three paragraphs.
Over time, seven nations that competed at the 2019 JESC such as Australia, Italy, North Macedonia, Ireland and Portugal would not participate because of the COVID situations in their country. Armenia intended to compete, but the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that happened a month before Junior Eurovision was about to start led to their withdrawal. In the end, twelve countries, the lowest since 2013, chose to compete. Germany was one country that would make their Junior Eurovision debut. The Contest organizers were sensitive to the pandemic and announced that the Contest would be restricted to studio performances. They gave two options where the performers could do their performances in Warsaw in the studio of the host network TVP (Telewisja Polska) or in the studio of their respective nation’s network. I believe it was a case of three performances could be done and the best of the three was chosen as the performance for the competition. Only performers from four nations — Poland, Malta, Ukraine and Serbia — were willing to do their performances in Warsaw. Performers form the other eight countries stuck to doing their performances in the studio of their respective nation’s network. Also performances and parts from the Common Song — a song performed by each nation’s singing entries as an ensemble onstage — had to be recorded from whichever studio they performed at beforehand.
Junior Eurovision 2020 was finally held on November 29 inside the TVP headquarters in Warsaw. There was an audience but it was restricted to network organizers and their families. The show began with a performance from last year’s winner Viki Gabor performing her winning song from that year: ‘Superheroes.’ Back-up dancers were present during the performance. For the remainder of the show, the chosen performances from the studios were the competitive performances the juries judged on and the home audiences would vote for online. Instead of the Green Room where the competing performers would normally sit, drink and mingle in, the performers and their assistants were in a special room in their respective network studio. It was also live broadcast from the room where interviews were conducted and their reactions to the scoring would take place.
For the Interval Acts after all the competitive performances were shown and viewers voted, the Common Song was shown as if all the performers gathered together as one. It was actually created through hologram technology. Another hologram performance was the performance of the 2019 Eurovision-winning song ‘Arcade’ by winner Duncan Laurence and Poland’s two Junior Eurovision winners Viki Gabor and Roksana Wegiel. Viki and Roksana performed together, but Laurence’s part was done in an NPO Zapp studio in the Netherlands. The winning song — “J’Imagine” by singer Valentina from France — was a song whose submitted performance was taped one month earlier in a France 2 studio in Paris. There was not the usual Winner’s Reprise where the act of the winning song traditionally goes back on stage, accepts the award and gives and encore performance of their winning song. Instead Valentina and her team celebrated in the France 2 studio and a replay of the submitted competitive performance was done instead of the Winner’s Reprise.
EUROVISION 2021 PLANNING
In all honesty, that year’s Junior Eurovision did feel like a constricted event with all the performers limited to taped performances in a studio, hologram performances of most interval acts, and studio rooms instead of a green room. It didn’t have the same look and feel as if the performers were performing in from of a live audience full of excitement or the same celebratory feel of the performers all getting together in the Green Room having their post-performance fun. What it did do is that it showed that a Eurovision contest was possible. It would be very limited but very possible. Also on an optimistic note, that year’s Junior Eurovision’s online voting had the most online votes totalling 4,500,000! That showed the pandemic can’t stop the Eurovision excitement. For the organizers of Eurovision 2021, this Contest served as an example on how to do a Eurovision if it does come down to a Scenario D situation. Of course they would want to do the Contest with a bigger stage, as many performances on that stage as possible, and with a live audience full of excitement. It would be dependent on time and the situation involving the pandemic as they got closer and closer to Contest time. This would be dependent on statistics of numbers of cases, possible other COVID variants and their effects, the potential for vaccines to be distributed, the efficiency of testing, and the latest studies in COVID prevention.
As time passed, it was announced all 41 nations that entered in the 2020 Contest intended to participate in the 2021 Contest. Many nations intended to enter their entry from 2020 into the 2021, but a new song had to be created in order to keep within the rules. Some nations stuck to having their usual national contests to have the performer and song selected, but said their respective 2020 entry can participate without having to audition. As for the pandemic, there would be a lot of changes over time in terms of the pandemic. The statistics would yield differing results, but vaccinations would also begin to take place en masse in the countries and many travel restrictions would be lifted. This would allow for the ability for performers to travel to the Netherlands to perform and even foreign visitors to come. The one thing the vaccinations and eased restrictions did not do over the time is decrease the potential contagion of COVID significantly nor the disease’s effects on those that caught it. The organizers in the end decided to do the Contest via Scenario B. There would be live performances for all six live rehearsals and three live shows, and the Dutch Cabinet approved a live performance one month before the Contest. Concert crowds would be a limited number and there would be no spectators standing on the arena floor level. More details on the concert crowds in the Handling Of Ticket Holders section. Side events would be impacted such as the ‘Turquoise Carpet’ being the only in-person side-event to take place normally, the Opening Ceremony not held, the Eurovision Village to be held only as an online event and the EuroClub cancelled completely.
Safety Measures For Performers
None of the nations from 2020 that intended to compete in 2021 cancelled out because of COVID-related reasons, but two nations did withdraw. Armenia withdrew because of political unrest from after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Belarus withdrew because their entry for this year had a political message, which is against the EBU rules for the Contest, and would not submit a replacement song. Thirty-nine nations did compete in the Contest. Twenty-six of those nations had the act that was intended for the 2020 Contest as their entry for 2021.
The COVID pandemic was just as real of a threat in the performers’ home countries as it was if they were in Rotterdam. The EBU knew this. They were still aiming for live performances for rehearsals, jury performances and live Contest performances. They still wanted to make sure the performers didn’t endanger themselves or others. In addition, not all travel restrictions had been lifted for the participating countries. The EBU gave the entries the obligation to record back-up performances on video for in case they could not perform their song live on stage whether it be the semifinal, final, or even rehearsals because of travel restrictions. Rules for back-up performances were the artists were each given an hour and during that hour, they were allowed to give three performances of their song. At the end of taping, the delegation would decide which one of the three performances they were most satisfied of. The choice would be the entry’s official back-up submission.
There was also the possibility that some performers would test negative while in their home country, but end up testing positive or being a high-risk group any time while they were in Rotterdam. It could happen anytime, whether it be after the first rehearsal, but before the jury performance or even the live performances. Performers had the option to use their best rehearsal performance or even a jury performance, whichever they were happiest with, as their back-up performance for the Contest. There could even be stand-ins for the rehearsals should one test positive and have to sit the rehearsals or performances out. There were times when these regulations for this year’s Contest were very helpful for all thirty-nine to have a performance worthy of submission for the Contest:
Australia was still unter travel restrictions. Montaigne could not travel to Rotterdam to do her performance of her song ‘Technicolor‘ so the chosen back-up performance acted as the entered song. Audiences both in the arena and through television would see the performance on the LED.
Kateryna Pavlenko, lead singer of the Ukrainian band Go_A, reported feeling ill before the performance of their song ‘Shum’ for the second rehearsal just before the first semifinal. Rules were that anyone reporting feeling ill before performing no matter what had to miss because of a precaution. All other band members tested negative for COVID-19. The band continued with their performance as a Dutch singer, Emmie van Stijn, acted as the stand-in. Pavlenko soon after took a COVID test and the results were negative. Pavlenko was able to continue performing for the remainder of the competition. The band was so impressed with van Stijn’s singing and diction of the Ukrainian language, they had her sit with them in the Green Room during the semifinal as a thank-you!
All six members of the Icelandic entry Daði og Gagnamagnið were COVID-negative when they arrived in Rotterdam. Their performance of their song ’10 Years’ went as normal during the first and second rehearsals. However one of the members tested positive for COVID. They had a rule that they would all perform as a band on the Eurovision stage. They opted to miss out from further performances. Their performance from the second rehearsal was their chosen submission for the jury performances and live shows.
2019 winner Duncan Laurence was slated to reprise his winning song ‘Arcade‘ and perform his new song ‘Stars‘ as part of the interval act of the Grand Final. Laurence opened the first semifinal with the song ‘Feel Something,’ but tested positive for COVID shortly after. Duncan had to miss performing live in the Grand Final, but he did deliver a message of well-wishes on the LED screen and pre-recorded performances of ‘Arcade‘ and ‘Stars‘ were used instead.
Handling Of Ticket Holders And Rapid Testing
It was decided by Dutch Parliament in less than three weeks before the start of the Contest that the event would be open to spectators. Organizers set the limit to the number of performances accessible to public audiences to be nine: all jury shows, family shows and live shows of the two semi-finals and Grand Final. The number of spectators per show was set to a limit of 3,500. Now I know a lot of people would be freaking out over live crowds occurring during a pandemic, but there were rules and regulations regarding spectators for the Contest. In fact the Contest was a pilot event event under FieldLab Concerts. Rules included:
High-risk groups as defined by the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (such as those 70 years or older) cannot purchase tickets.
Those attending the events couldn’t just simply purchase tickets. All sold tickets had to be personalized and registered. Meaning only the specific person is allowed to use the ticket. There are to be no ticket exchanges. Part of the personalization includes ticketholders to download the Close app and CoronaCheck app.
Just after purchasing the ticket, the Eurovision Contest Shop will bring ticketholders to a webpage to personalize the tickets. The ticket will be accessible for the Close app.
Ticketholders will need to take COVID tests the day of the ticketed event. Maximum 24 hours before the event’s anticipated end. Showing a card that confirms COVID vaccination is not enough. Appointments for COVID testing would have to be made through the Dutch ‘Testen Voor Toegang’ website which assists in setting appointments for rapid COVID testing throughout the Netherlands. Even attendees coming from other countries will have to be tested in the Netherlands. Test results can be made available as soon as an hour after they’re taken. Tests done through Testen Voor Toegang appointments are the only valid COVID tests for the Contest.
Results of the COVID test will be made available through the CoronaCheck app. Those that test negative are allowed to attend their ticketed event. Those that test positive are not allowed and they do not receive a refund.
All spectators who test negative can’t simply arrive at the Ahoy Arena anytime. In their Close app, they are given an entrance time-slot for them to show up at the entrance to their ticketed event and do their airport-style security check.
At their entrance, they are required to show both their ticket and their negative COVID test result in order to be admitted.
As far as face masks go, attendees are allowed to take off their face masks when they’re inside the actual arena seating. Spectators are allowed to eat and drink inside the arena seating.
Spectators will have to put their face masks back on once they leave the arena seating area. That includes in areas of the Ahoy Arena such as concession lobbies or the washrooms. Arena seating is the only mask-free area for Contest spectators.
Once spectators are outside the Ahoy Arena building, all mask-wearing regulations made by the Dutch government apply.
Also worth taking note is that all spectators had to be in seated areas. In fact the Green Room took up the whole arena floor area outside of the stage to ensure no spectators on floor level and the performers’ own social distancing. This is arguably the first big event with large spectators to be held during the pandemic so it’s obvious strict regulations would be required. Since the Contest has been completed, there has been no news of massive positive tests from spectator attendance. It so far has proven to be an excellent success, if not a flawless success, that a concert can still take place during the latter period of a pandemic and make progress to more back-to-live performances. Even spokespeople throughout the Contest were speaking their delight and approval of the Contest getting back to live performances and celebrative spirits. Also for those who want to know who the winner is, but don’t know, it’s Italy’s glam-rock band Måneskin who won with the song ‘Zitti e Buoni.’
This year’s Eurovision Song Cotest proved that live performances with spectators can happen during a time of a pandemic. Measures in terms of ticket holders and performers had to be strict and within government regulations, but it all turned out to be successful in the end.
I’ll admit I had no intention of posting a preview blog about the final. I was just content with watching the performers and playing ‘armchair judge’ for my own leisure. Besides I intended for my detailed blog of the ESC to be my only blog about it.
However that all changed last night as I was on Youtube and the ESC channel watching video after video of the night’s semi-final performances. Hey, when the show’s on live at noon your time, that’s your resort. That all changed after I added comment after comment with many of the videos. And that’s what inspired me to do this preview of the final for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest.
For this preview, I’ve decided to post my opinions about the performances in the semi-finals. I will be judging the performances of both the competitors from the semis as well as those from Sweden and the Big 5 whom I will call ‘automatics’ because they automatically have their berths in the Final and their performances in the semis are simply a dress rehearsal for the Finals.
I felt it best that I place my judgements mostly on their semi-final performances. A lot of people have based their judgements from the song’s official music video released on YouTube months before the Contest. The videos are very telling in terms of how well each song will do however I feel the performances in the semis are more telling as it gives a good sense what their live show will be and even how together they are as a performer. Sure the semi won’t tell it all but it will tell it most. I do feel that the song is the key thing to base a judgement on. No matter how big of a show you put on, the song and its content is unavoidable. However I will consider showmanship as a performer will still have to make the song entertaining and eyecatching. Simply put, I will give top kudos to those performances who deliver best.
I will also start with my first section where I give opinions of the performances that have qualified for the final. I will then give my personal picks for who I would give the biggest point to if I were a jury. Note I will not be making predictions like I normally do. I will be giving my preferences and opinions. I’m not familiar with the music tastes of most European countries nor am I familiar with jury tastes. So here goes:
Hungary: Freddie ‘Pioneer’ – Very good song with a very dramatic opening. Freddie has very good vocals in singing the song. The song is far from boring. It will catch your ears. A deserving finalist.
Croatia: Nina Kraljic ‘Lighthouse‘ – Nina came to Stockholm in hopes of breaking Croatia’s bad-luck spell of missing out in the finals since 2009. She did exactly that. As for her performance, you’ll think her outfit at the beginning is ridiculous but that’s part of adding drama or theatrics to the song. I’m cool with that as long as it’s done right. Her performance was very good and deserving of her final berth.
Netherlands: Douwe Bob ‘Slow Down‘ – This is one of my delights of the night. I’m impressed to see how the Dutch know how to do bluesy rock or rockabilly. The Dutch did it before in 2014 with ‘Calm After The Storm‘ and they do it again here. Best song of the evening that delivers as a great alternative after so many techno numbers. Stage show is minimal but it works for the song instead of against it. I ranked it my 3rd place of this semi.
Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan ‘LoveWave‘ – It’s not the best of the night but it’s still good and a deserving finalist. Very good song with good vocals. I felt the stage show was a bit iffy. Otherwise very deserving nonetheless.
Russia: Sergei Lazarev ‘You Are The Only One‘ – What can I say? For me that was the show of the first semi and my #1 pick for that night. It didn’t have the same song quality the Netherlands had but still an entertaining song with the most entertaining stage show of the evening. Definitely an eye-catcher and it will not surprise me if this song is a top contender for the win on Saturday.
Czech Republic: Gabriela Guncikova ‘I Stand‘ – Not exactly a song that stands out too much. Nevertheless Gabriela did sing it well and perform it well on stage. what it lacks in catchiness, it makes up for in its consistency and professionalism. A very deserving finalist. Especially since this is the first time in five tries a Czech performer qualifies for the final. Great job!
Cyprus: Minus One ‘Alter Ego‘ – You’d think with this being Cyprus, it would be ethnopop, right? Actually this is a hard rock song high in energy. I could even feel the energy of the song while watching it. Great song and great performance which was one of my favorites of the night. I feel it should do strong on Saturday.
Austria: Zoe ‘Loin d’Ici‘ – This was my surprise of the night. I like it when a song goes beyond my expectations. At first you’d think a number too sweet would come off as saccharine to you. However this is one ‘sweet’ song that actually did everything right and even charmed me. Excellent stage show that tried mimicking what was in her video. However if anyone had doubts about her song while watching her video before the Semi, I think her performance in the semi increased her chances of winning. It was better than the video. I consider this my 2nd place of the semi.
Azerbaijan: Samra ‘Miracle‘ – Once again a case of an Azerbaijani singer performing a song written by Swedes. This is one of only two semifinalists whom I did not have on my list of my ten ‘finals picks.’ The song was good but I’ve seen better performances by Azerbaijani acts in past ESCs. I think 2013’s ‘Hold Me‘ is their best ever. Also the back-up dancers did a real tacky job of dancing. That’s all I can describe about it. Their dancing was tacky. Nevertheless Samra was dressed well and she did sing her song very well despite t not being much of a song. I just feel it didn’t deserve to be in the semis.
Malta: Ira Losco ‘Walk On Water‘ – Once again a case of a stageshow that was hard to swallow thanks to backup dancing. Ira did her song very well. However the dancer on stage just plain came off as ridiculous and irritating. It actually turned me off the song. This is the other finalist from the first semi that I felt didn’t deserve it.
Latvia: Justs ‘Heartbeat‘ – The biggest thing about the song is its arresting instrumentation. The stage graphics fit the song very well and Justs delivers the song in style and with the right moves you’d expect from a male pop singer. Justs does it solo without backup singers or backup dancers and does it with style. I ranked it the best performance of this semi because it grabs your attention from the very start and won’t let go.
Poland: Michal Szpak ‘Color Of Your Life‘ – This is a good ballad delivered very well from Michal. Its style really stands out. Michal delivered it very professionally despite missing a note near the first chorus. The biggest glitch I feel has to be the vintage military jacket he wears on stage. I don’t think it fit the performance that well. Especially since Justs that was on just before him came on stage with a leather jacket. Backup violinists and stage graphics blended well with the performance.
Israel: Hovi Star ‘Made Of Stars‘ – This is an excellent ballad delivered very well with excellent singing from Hovi. I almost thought he was doing a cover of an Adele song. The stage graphics added excellently to the song. However the two dancers on the spinning hoop had me questioning whether they were worth it or not? Do they add or subtract? Because Hovi delivers well in a no nonsense performance.
Serbia: Sanja Vucic ZAA ‘Goodbye‘ – It’s both a ‘Balkan Ballad’ and a power ballad. Excellent vocals full of emotion and a set up back-up singers that add to the drama and power. Might bring back memories to some of 2007 winner ‘Molitva’ but it holds its own. The male backup dancer didn’t add but he didn’t subtract from the performance either. If there’s one weakness, it’s her stiff black dress. Overall an excellent package and I rank it second-best of this semifinal.
Lithuania: Donny Montell ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night‘ – A powerful song with a lot of energy and Donny knows how to deliver it vocally. However I didn’t like how he added Michael Jackson-like dance moves to his performance. I feel it did not fit the song at all. Maybe the front flip near the end helped but the dancing didn’t. This is one of two from this semi that qualified for the final that didn’t make my personal Top 10.
Australia: Dami Im ‘Sound Of Silence‘ – A very powerful ballad delivered excellent by Dani. I also have no problem with the dress since it was meant to fit the song. However I’m not too happy about some of the stage choices she was given such as sitting on that platform until after the second chorus. She does walk around after that and deliver the song well but I don’t think she was given enough movement.
Bulgaria: Poli Genova ‘If Love Was A Crime‘ – Many people felt Poli was robbed of a finals berth five years ago with ‘Na Inat‘ but she finally gets it here.I’ll admit this is not that much of an attention-grabber of a song. Nor were a few of her dance moves the best. Nevertheless Poli delivered the song well and gave it its energy and made it enjoyable to hear. It’s very good for the most part.
Ukraine: Jamala ‘1944‘ – This is the first song at the ESC with Crimean Tatar lyrics. This is probably the most political song at this Contest. She has a song with a message and she delivers it with emotion in the song. The wailing at the end of the song is a big plus and especially shows off her vocal abilities. However political songs are touchy grounds at the ESC. They welcome it as long as it’s subtle. I feel this is deserving of its finals berth.
Georgia: Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz ‘Midnight Gold‘ – The number starts with a lot of potential with some exciting rock instrumentation and fitting stage graphics. However it goes downhill when the singer delivers vocals with notes that don’t seem to fit the song. I don’t know if he did it for creative purposes but his choices don’t really fit at all. Can’t complain about the instrumentation as it’s the best part. However this is the second qualifier to the final from this semi that I felt didn’t deserve it. Actually I ranked it second-to-last of this semi.
Belgium : Laura Tesoro ‘What’s The Pressure‘ – At last! A song that makes you wanna get down! Laura delivers a funky, feel-good energetic number that delivers all the best qualities of a pop number including vocals, dancing and even trying to get the crowd involved. I ranked this the third-best of this semi.
France: Amir ‘J’ai Cherche‘ – Good song, has a lot of energy, very good singing, but it comes across as rather boring. I don’t know what it is but when I saw Amir perform, I felt like there was something missing. I don’t know how this will fare on Saturday.
Spain: Barei ‘Say Yay!‘ – Now this is one number I feel will go far. A very good song that is full of energy and has good potential of being catchy. Also she performs excellently on stage. She dances like she’s in control and delivers the song as she should. I question her dress, especially with the 03 on it. However I feel she will be great on Saturday night.
Sweden: Frans ‘If I Were Sorry‘ – Sweden has one of the best success records at Eurovision. This number however is very questionable. Frans delivered a boring performance where the background tries to make the song interesting by flashing key words. He does sing the song well but his accent is too thick to comprehend some of the lyrics. I think he might score well in the popular vote because of his teen idol status but I don’t think he’ll score well with the judges.
Germany: Jamie-Lee ‘Ghost‘ – I have to say a good song and Jamie-Lee is a very good singer. However her outfit was too over the top. I’m cool with a weird outfit done for theatrical purposes such as Nina Kraljic’s outfit during the opening of ‘Spotlight’ but that was too ridiculous like Alice In Wonderland went through a flower garden. The backup singers had on sensible clothes and the trees that shot laser beams worked good but that outfit is dumb and works against her performance. However the outfit will make her win the Barbara Dex award.
United Kingdom: Joe & Jake ‘You’re Not Alone‘ – I have to say it’s a very good song with a very good performance. The two sing the song very well and add to the young energy of the song. It’s hard to find something to dislike about this number, especially since it’s very low in gimmicks. I think the one cheesy thing was probably the jumping near the end. One thing we have to keep in mind is that ‘no nonsense’ performances like these are great but they face the obstacle of winning attention from both televoters and the juries. Nevertheless I do wish the best for both of them. Especially since the UK used to have quite a Eurovision legacy and the 21st century has been very unkind to them with only two Top 10 finishes.
Italy: Francesca Michielin ‘No Degree Of Separation‘ – Italy rarely disappoints. They’ve mostly delivered some top notch performances to the Contest over the years, even in the last few years. And this year’s entry is a delight too. 21 year-old Francesca Michielin is already a seasoned pro. You’ll notice it as she sings the song consistently and with feeling. Adding the feeling to the song is a big plus. A big minus to the song however is all those stage props and stage graphics. I don’t know if they were trying to reflect a theme or emulate the music video but I feel it went too far and they were distracting from the song. This could work against her performance which holds its own without all the added stuff.
So those are my thoughts for the qualifiers. As for the ‘also-rans’:
Semi-Final 1: I know I said Malta and Azerbaijan didn’t deserve to be in the final. In their place should be Iceland and Moldova. They did their performance better. Finland’s Sandhja was good but came off as flat. That’s not good especially when you’re first up. Greece must have forgotten the golden rule of rap acts at Eurovision: rap acts go nowhere, even if it’s mixed with ethnopop. It’s a shame because I usually like the Greek numbers. San Marino’s Serhat had a style but I didn’t see it as enough to qualify for the final. Estonia came off as ridiculous in his stage antics and his voice. Montenegro’s number sounded like a mashed-up song and Bosnia’s on-stage theatrics made me wonder if it was really necessary for the song.
Semi-Final 2: If I were to trade Georgia and Lithuania from the finals, I’d put in Ireland and Macedonia. Ireland was full of energy and delivered well. Macedonia was also excellent, especially in her vocal range. Switzerland had a good song but it all fell apart with all the on-stage props and moves she was given. Belarus had potential but I thought the face stripes were dumb. Slovenia was good but the singer delivered awkward stage poses that worked against her. The Danish vocal trio came across as rather boring. Norway delivered a song that alternate from one tempo and mood of the verses to a different tempo and completely different mood in the chorus. It didn’t really mix well. And Albania had good potential but I feel her chances were marred by lousy backup singers.
Overall I have to say this is a mostly good set of performers for this Contest. There is a bit of the eccentric in some elements but it’s nothing compared to the ‘freak shows’ of five years ago or even ten years ago. I think the freakiest moments will come from Germany and Italy. I guess the country’s are now getting the message that doing something super-eccentric or super-gimmicky doesn’t pay. I didn’t notice too many off-key moments and those that did recovered well.
Like I said, I don’t know enough about European music tastes to make predictions. So instead I’m giving my personal Top 10. Eurovision style, of course:
Poland, 1 point.
Australia, 2 points.
Spain, 3 points.
Cyprus, 4 points.
Netherlands, 5 points.
Belgium, 6 points.
Serbia, 7 points.
Austria, 8 points.
Latvia, 10 points.
And my personal 12 points goes to…Russia!
So there’s my summary of the 2016 Eurovision finalists and their semifinal performances. I’m glad I don’t have to be a jury member because it’s a headache ranking them. Mind you anything can change on Saturday. They may go off key or something may malfunction or the energy that was there in the semi may not be there in the final. Even things like performance order can play a factor. How ironic how Belgium who ended the second semifinal will open the final? Ending the final will be Armenia. Whatever the situation, I wish all the performers the best and the winning performer’s country to get ready to host next year!
On May 24, 1956 a song contest was started in Lugano, Switzerland that would eventually become a major entertainment event in Europe and even attract major interest around the world over the years. It was called the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Prix back then. Now the Eurovision Song Contest heads into 60 years of showcasing music and song and is bigger than ever.
THE START OF SOMETHING BIG
The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is the brainchild of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a union of all the national broadcast associations from around Europe. It was in the early 1950’s. Europe was a divided war-torn continent struggling to rebuild itself and struggling to heal international relations that had only worsened due to the fighting of World War II that had ended in 1945.
In 1951, the Italian city of Sanremo started a music festival to help revitalize the city’s economy and the image of the city of Sanremo. The festival which was titled Festival della Canzone Italiana, or the Italian Song Festival, was held in January that year in the Sanremo Casino and was a hit.
The contest attracted the attention of the EBU and it inspired them of their own idea. They hoped for this Contest to unite the European nations through art and song. At a meeting of the EBU broadcasters in Monaco in 1955, the idea of a pan-European music festival was brought to the table. The Sanremo festival and its format served as the base for how this contest would be held. The following year on May 24, 1956, the first ever Eurovision Song Contest was held.
THE FIRST CONTEST
The very first Eurovision Song Contest was held at the Teatro Kursall in Lugano, Switzerland. The contest was only one hour and forty minutes long. The contest was broadcast both on television and radio since most people didn’t yet own a television set. Only solo performers were allowed to perform and songs were not to exceed three and a half minutes in length. There were fourteen songs performed by a total of twelve acts from seven different countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Austria, Denmark and the UK planned to perform but missed the submission deadline.
All participating countries fielded two songs performed with only Luxembourg and Switzerland having the same singer sing both songs. An orchestra for the whole contest was fielded but each country would have their own conductor conducting. Voting was done by two jury members from each participating country in secret ballot. In the end, 32 year-old Swiss singer Lys Assia won the contest for her song ‘Refrain.’ Along with her prizes, Lys was to perform her winning song at the end of the contest.
The first Contest was however marred by controversy. First, the fact the winner was decided by secret ballot. Second was the fact that the two members of Luxembourg’s jury who were to vote didn’t make it to Lugano. Both members of the Swiss jury were allowed to give a second vote. In fact no one knows what the official results of the contest are to this day. The EBU knew they had to make changes for the next contest if it were to continue.
THE SECOND CONTEST SETS THE STAGE
As I mentioned, the Contest had to iron out some things if it wanted to go further. One thing that wasn’t ironed out back then was the host nation. It was planned in the future that each competing nation would have their chance at hosting. However the increasing number of countries would make that concept an impossibility. Germany who finished second at last year’s contest was allowed to host the 1957 contest in Frankfurt.
This time there were ten nations competing with all seven nations from the previous year returning and Austria, UK and Denmark meeting the deadline this time. As in the previous year, there was an orchestra which was to be conducted by a conductor from each country. This time there was to be only one performance per country. There was no time limit of songs and the contest was open to duets. Denmark would field the first-ever duet in the Contest’s history.
In response to the voting controversy from the previous year, this year would start a judging format that would still exist to this day. This time the juries stayed in their home country and watched the competition from television and they were not allowed to vote for their own country. One voting aspect for this Contest and the four following was the juries were all given a total of ten points to divide among the performers whom they felt worthy. Only two performers from last year’s contest–the Netherlands’ Corry Brokken and last year’s winner Lys Assia– returned. Brokken won the contest but the big news was of the kiss of the Danish duo who performed: it lasted 13 seconds.
However it’s not to say this contest experienced issues. There was the issue of the time length of the songs. The Italian song was 5:09 minutes in length and the UK entry wasn’t even two minutes. Further Eurovision contests would permit for a song of a maximum length of three minutes.
THE CONTEST GROWS OVER TIME
In 1958, the contest was held in Hilversum, Netherlands. This would be a Eurovision tradition as the nation of the Contest winner would host the following year’s contest: a tradition rarely broken. Lys Assia and Corry Brokken were back. For the record, past champions are allowed to perform again and there’s no limit to how many Eurovisions they can participate. The contest was won by a French singer but it was the song that finished third– Domenico Modugno’s Volare— that would win the world over. Already the first hit generated from the Contest.
The contest would grow over the next ten years from ten countries in 1958 to eighteen in 1966. Yugoslavia debuted in 1961 and would become the only nation of the former Eastern Bloc to participate in the Contest during the years of the Cold War. The Contest was known for being out of tune with the common tastes of the record-buying public. While the times were embracing rock ‘n roll and Beatlemania, most songs in the Contest were in fact big band-style songs and the winners up to 1964 were all ballads. The first non-ballad to win was Luxembourg performer France Gall’s ‘Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son’ which sounded like the popular go-go music of the 1960’s. However there would be a major problem in 1969 when four songs shared the top score and thus four winners were declared. Five countries boycotted the following year and the EBU knew it had to revamp the scoring process in time for the 1970 Contest.
1971 allowed for groups up to six to perform.1973 saw the first non-European country to enter performers: Israel. It would not be the last but it would be the most consistent, appearing a total of 41 times and winning three times. 1974 saw the performance of ABBA and ‘Waterloo’ which would launch the band into stardom and would even considered by most to be the best Eurovision Song Contest ever. 1975 would see the one-to-twelve points scoring system that would stick ever since. Before the 1976 contest, there would be protests in Sweden over how commercial the contest became. Sweden withdrew that year as a result.
1980 would see Morocco enter for the first and only time. Over the years the Contest would grow in terms of nations being broadcast to although participating nations were the only ones allows to field juries for voting. The Contest would also see more numbers include dancing in their performances as dance had a key factor in the UK’s Bucks Fizz winning in 1981 for ‘Making You Mind Up.’ Also from that winning performance was the rip of the female singers’ skirts to reveal a miniskirt. That would lead to more onstage gimmicks and more sexually provocative performances over time. The Contest would even introduce the world to a Canadian diva competing for Switzerland in 1998 by the name of Celine Dion and even won with the song ‘Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi.’ The 80’s would also see the Contest’s first and only two-time winner with Ireland’s Johnny Logan: in 1980 with ‘What’s Another Year’ and in 1987 with ‘Hold Me Now.’
1990 would pave the way for the post-Cold war era of Europe and would also change the ESC as a result. 1990 was known for featuring a lot of politically-focused songs with the fall of Communism being a top song topic. The winner was ‘Insieme:1992,’ an Italian song about the upcoming European Union. The changes of Europe were first evident in 1993 when three nations of the former Yugoslavia entered the contest for the first time. However they would be the three winners of a pre-qualifying round of seven ‘newcoming’ nations to the ESC: all former members of the Eastern Bloc. That was another difficulty for the contest: dealing with new nations who wanted to participate. 1994 saw the seven lowest-placing countries from 1993 not invited the following year and allowing for seven debuting countries all from the former Eastern Bloc. 1996 tried to solve things by having an audio-only pre-qualifying contest to reduce the 29 submissions to a manageable 23 performers.
1997 saw the introduction of televoting but only five of the 25 participating countries used televoting to decide the winners. The number would grow to 22 out of 25 in 1998. 1998 would also have the first ever transsexual, Israel’s Dana International, to perform. She even won with her song ‘Diva.’ 1999 would see the departure of the orchestra and the arrival of pre-recorded music. However pre-recorded vocals were not allowed and are still not allowed.
The maximum number of countries was always a frustration with the EBU. Due to the break-up of the USSR, the fall of the iron curtain and Yugoslavia’s republics going their separate ways, more nations wanted to compete at the contest and that would lead the EBU to make rules to put a limit on having a manageable number of countries performing on the night. That would be seen unfair in many people’s eyes. Then 2004 saw the debut of a Semi-Final for the Contest. 2008 would see the current format of two semi-finals and a Grant Final for the Contest. 2015 would feature the debut of the first non-European invitee since Morocco in 1980: Australia.
This year the contest will have 42 competing nations including Australia returning. The contest will be held in the Globe Theatre of Stockholm, Sweden; host country of last year’s winner Mans Zelmerlow who won for ‘Heroes.’ 42 countries will perform. There were to be 43 but Romania was disallowed because of unpaid debts owing to the EBU. 36 of the countries will compete in the semi-finals. The host nation and the Big Five countries (UK, Spain, France, Italy and Germany) are to bypass the semis as they qualify for the final. However they are to perform in the semis as a ‘dress rehearsal’ and they are allowed to vote on the other semi finalists who are contending for Finals berths.
RULES, RULES, RULES
It never fails. When you have a performance contest, you have rules that go along with it. Here’s a brief guide to some of the rules of the Contest. And I’ll try to make it brief.
When the contest started, a performer could sing in whatever language they wanted. In 1966, it was declared performers can only perform in their native language. The restriction was lifted in 1973 but returned for 1977 as songs sung in English from Austria and Finland at the 1976 Contest delivered sexually-suggestive lyrics. The restriction was kept intact from 1977 to 1998. However regional dialects and even rare languages native to the country–like Switzerland’s 1989 entry which was sung in Romansh– were permitted. 1999 saw a return to singing in whatever language the performer chooses to perform. There have even been entries in past Contests which consisted completely of imaginary languages.
Since 1999, all but one winner have been sung either partially or completely in English. It’s very common for a performer to sing their song in the national song contest in the native language but sing their song in English at the Eurovision Contest. Thirty-nine of the 42 songs in the Contest this year will either be partially or completely sung in English. Only three songs will be sung completely in another language and an additional three songs will mix English lyrics with lyrics of another language. The one song with a regional language is Ukraine as Jamala’s ‘1944’ will be sung both in English and Crimean Tatar.
It’s pretty obvious most of the performers at the ESC are citizens of the country they represent. However it’s not set in stone. There have been many times certain countries would field a singer or songwriters from other countries. The best example is Luxembourg. In its 37 appearances from 1956 to 1993, only four singers were actual citizens of Luxembourg. In fact all five singers who won the ESC for Luxembourg were in fact citizens of other countries: four from France and one from Greece. And Monaco’s winning entry from 1971 consisted of the lead singer, backup singers, songwriter and conductor all French citizens. In fact lead singer Severine only ever set foot in Monaco only once just weeks before the Contest when she performed her song live before Prince Ranier.
It’s still happening in modern times. There have been three times when a Canadian singer sang for Switzerland including a then-20 year-old Celine Dion back in 1988. Azerbaijan always fields singers that are citizens of their country but hires Swedish songwriters to write winning songs. Ir’s paid off as Azerbaijan has had five Top 5 finishes including a win in 2011.
Although this is a European Contest, there have been countries outside of Europe who have participated. Israel is the most notable with 38 appearances and even winning three times. Morocco participated only once in 1980. Australia was invited last year and they were invited again this year.
Ever hear the saying “Never work with animals or children?” I’ve never known of a Eurovision act with a live animal involved but I’ve learned about children. There have been times when children performed as backup singers or even as a performer and the EBU didn’t have a problem with that. However the problem first started when 13 year-old Belgian singer Sandra Kim won the contest with ‘J’aime la Vie.’ The problem was she passed herself off as fifteen in the song. But it would be the 1989 Contest that would cause chagrin among the EBU as France’s entry was an 11 year-old girl and Israel’s entered duo consisted of a 12 year-old boy. The EBU made a rule for the following year that performers on stage must be 16 years of age in the Eurovision year, including dancers and backup singers. Performers under 16 would have to wait until 2003 for the Junior Eurovision Song Contest to begin to have their day in the sun.
There’s no specific guidelines for what topics the songs should be about. For those who’ve seen the contest, anything seems to go. There have been topics that are universal like love and peace, topics that are regional like war or triumph among past genocide, topics that are sexual in nature, topics that are political, topics that are humorous and even topics that are either ridiculous or sent in an eccentric manner. Anything goes, almost. The only time I’ve heard of a song disqualified for its content was back in 2009 when Georgia entered ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In.’ Many felt it referenced Russia’s Vladimir Putin especially since Georgia was part of the victorious Orange Revolution years earlier. The fact that the ESC was being held in Moscow that year made things that more complicated. There was one case in 2012 when the act for San Marino was to perform ‘The Facebook Song’ but couldn’t because it interfered with the Contest’s product placement rules. The song would be retitled ‘The Social Network Song.’
The Performance and Performers In A Nutshell:
There are some unbasic rules when it comes to submitting a country’s performer and/or performance. Some countries hold their own national song contest to determine the national entrant for the ESC that year and some have a board that picks the performer and the song. Most likely they are a citizen of the country but they don’t have to be. Past performers are allowed to return again, even if they’re a past winner, but Johnny Logan the only two-time winner as a performer.
Then there are the basic rules. The song must be no longer than three minutes in length. The limit of on-stage performers varies over the years but the current limit is six performers on stage at once, including dancers. Up until 1999, the song was to be orchestrated even if musicians were added along. Live music, even by artists performing on stage, has been banned since 2004. Vocals are all to be done live with no lip-syncing. The biggest thing however is that the song is to be completely original. No cover songs are allowed and no sampling of other records are allowed either, not even in rap entries. Recorded versions of the song are allowed to be released before the Contest or even the national contest but a release before September 1st of the year before the Contest would disqualify them. These eligibility rules have led to a number of entries in the past being disqualified.
Voting The Winner:
As the rules of the Contest are ever changing, so are the rules in declaring the winner. Starting with the topic of who decides the winner, the secret-ballot from the first Contest caused friction. Then from 1957 to 1962, it was ten member juries who viewed the Contest from their home country and called in their results. 1963 brought it to a twenty-member jury but was reduced back to ten from 1964 to 1970. Then from 1971 to 1973, there were juries of only two that were present at the actual contest to give points to the winners. In 1974, the format returned to juries staying at home to decide and call in the results. The number of jury members started at 11 but eventually rose to sixteen.
In 1996, it was noted how out of sync the ESC juries were with the record-buying public in terms of deciding winners. In 1997, televoting where viewers called in their favorites was introduced but used as an experiment given to five of the 25 countries at the Contest that year. In 1998, it was expanded to all countries except those that had weak telephone systems. 2001 and 2002 allowed the country’s respective broadcasting association to decide between televoting or a jury decision. The Contests from 2004 and 2008 were exclusively televoting. From 2009 to 2015, televoting and jury results were combined into a single score per country with the televoting result taking precedence if there was a tie. In 2015, it was the juries that took precedence.
Deciding the winners is harder to explain than the points system for the songs. From 1957 to 1961, juries were given a total of 10 points to divide among the performances they liked best. In 1962, juries gave 1 point for 3rd place, 2 for second or 3 for 1st. From 1964 to 1966, it was a point for 3rd, three points for 2nd and five points for third. 1967 marked the return of 10 points to divide however 1970 saw an introduction of tie-breaking rules after the four-way tie in 1969 which led to many countries respond by boycotting. From 1971 to 1973, the juries gave anywhere from 2 to 10 points per song. 1974 was a return to 10 points to divide.
However it was the 1975 Contest that would introduce a scoring format that has stuck since. Each country would rank their Top 10 but of course would not vote for their own country. The country they rank 10th would get one point, 9th would get two points, and so on until 8 points for 3rd place. The country they ranked second would be awarded 10 points and the country they ranked #1 would get 12 points. Since then, twelve points or douze points would be synonymous with Eurovision.
For This Year:
This year’s Contest will be held in the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. They were awarded the Contest upon the win of Mans Zelmerlow for his song ‘Heroes.’ In a rare turn of events, Zelmerlow will co-host the Contest with Petra Mede. Not that often the reigning champion co-hosts. It seems right that Sweden hosts as they have one of the biggest Eurovision legacies with a total of six wins. Only Ireland has won more with seven.
The Contest will be broadcast to 50 countries and can be viewed on LiveStream through the website eurovision.tv. The USA will have live broadcast of the final for the first time ever: on Cable channel Logo-TV. Draws were held months ago to decide who competes in the two semi-finals. The officials allocated the draw for geographical means to keep ‘neighbor voting,’ which I will reflect on later, down to a minimum. Most countries will have citizens of their own country as performers but Switzerland will again have a Canadian as a performer: Vancouverite Rykka with ‘The Last Of Our Kind.’ Romania wasn’t the only country to experience friction before this year’s Contest. Germany had to replace its entry because it soon came to light their originally entered performer had been vocal in the past of extreme right-wing views.
There’s the interval acts too: performances taking place while viewers place their televotes. Zelmerlow will perform his winning song from last year ‘Heroes’ during the interval of the first Semifinal held on Tuesday the 10th, the interval act for the second Semi on Thursday will be a dance ensemble and the interval act for Saturday’s Final will be Justin Timberlake performing ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ from the movie Trolls. Interesting note is Timberlake co-wrote and co-produced the song with two Swedish songwriters: Shellback and Max Martin.
Also something new for this year’s Contest. You know how there’s always confusion with the 50/50 system of televoting and jury voting on which overrides in the case of ties. Well, introduces for the first time this year countries will deliver two sets of scores. Now both televoting and juries from each country will give their own separate one to twelve points. This should take away from the confusion and make the contest more even.
I’ll admit I like seeing the Contest. I was lucky to see it live on LiveStream in 2013 and 2014. I live in Canada and none of the networks will be showing the contest live. I will be too busy to watch any of the Contest live thanks to my work schedule and music rehearsal.
I can understand of the Contest’s greatness. It’s the world’s most watched non-sporting event with a wide array of performers of various countries performing their song to win over the rest of Europe. It’s excellent that it helped launch the careers of Celine Dion, ABBA, Bucks Fizz and Ruslana as well as a stepping stone for Julio Iglesias and Nana Mouskouri. It’s also been the stage for established acts like Toto Cutogno, Cliff Richard, Lulu and Engelbert Humperdinck. It has also unleashed some classic songs like ‘Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son,’ ‘Waterloo,’ ‘Making Your Mind Up,’ ‘Volare,’ ‘Love Is Blue (l’Amour Est Bleu),’ ‘Save All Your Kisses For Me,’ and ‘Euphoria.’
However I won’t deny the drawbacks of the Contest. I will admit there are some idiotic performances that rely too much on getting their gimmick to propel them to the win. In fact I hope I don’t sound bigoted but I strongly believe the wins of Israel’s Dana International in 1998 and Austria’s Conchita Wurst in 2014 were because of the hype of both being transgender. I’ll admit there are some songs and performances too eccentric to be real. I will also admit that often the winners are out of sync with the current trends in music. Even with the inclusion of televoting starting in 1997, the winning songs still don’t sound that current. I can even remember while teenpop ruled the late 90’s, early-2000’s worldwide and even in Europe, 1999’s winner was a schlager song from Sweden , 2000’s was a folksy rock song from Denmark and 2001’s was a calypso number from Estonia. Speaking of televoting, I will admit that even though countries can’t vote for their own performers, that hasn’t stopped them from giving top votes to performers from neighboring countries. Yeah, ‘neighbor voting’ has definitely been an issue with the Contest lately and has even questioned the credibility of televoting. I will admit there have been times I felt the song that came in second place was often better than the winning song. I will admit the Contest can propel the winning song to hit status internationally but not always. I will also admit that sometimes the Contest can end up being the peak of a performer’s career in most cases. I really learned a lot from the 2013 BBC show ‘How To Win Eurovision’ that was a show that showed all the idiocy that happens with the ESC but still showed why it was still important for the UK to get back on top. For the record, the UK’s fifth and last win was in 1997, their 23rd and last Top 3 finish was in 2002 and had all three of their last-place finishes in this 21st century. Yes, their legacy of five wins and 15 second-places is definitely a thing of the past.
I will admit to the negative but I still believe it is an enjoyable show to see. I won’t deny some acts try to gimmick their way to the win. However there have been many times even in the era of televoting that the less-gimmicky songs like 2007’s ‘Molitva’ and 2010’s ‘Satellite’ have gone on to win. Even 2012’s ‘Euphoria,’ which some people compare to David Guetta’s ‘Titanium,’ could not only win but burn up the dance floors worldwide too. I myself welcome gimmicks but only as long as they’re not stupid, not too weird and not too distracting from the song itself or could even boost the song. Hey, 2006’s winner ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ had a gimmick that made the song. I still like seeing it on YouTube. Basically the Contest was to focus on the song. More often than not, it is the song that rises to the top. Even last year’s winner ‘Heroes’ was a song with a good message with a stage performance from Zelmerlow with an interactive backdrop that worked with his movements and help make for a stage show that helped him win. Actually the Contest is less eccentric than it was seven years ago. I guess those no-nonsense songs that won are sending a message.
The Eurovision Song Contest was originally created in 1956 to bridge gaps in Europe that was healing after World War II. 60 years later, Europe is more unified and there’s less international animosity than ever. I don’t know if the Contest actually achieved all that in its 60 years but it does make for one entertaining show!
When you think of the Grateful Dead, who’s the first person that comes to mind? Jerry Garcia, right? Even though Jerry is the most famous member, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir is also a key part of the band. The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is a documentary focusing on Weir both as a member of the Grateful Dead and his own personal life.
Bobby weir was born in San Francisco in 1947 and was adopted by a well-to-do family. He had an adopted brother and a sister born to his adoptive parents. However Booby grew up a very restless boy. He was expelled from schools within a matter of months. However he developed a passion for the guitar at a young age. There’s even mention of how excited he was when he got a guitar for Christmas. At a young age, he caught the attention of a band playing in the back alley of a Palo Alto spot. They were the Grateful Dead. They took a liking to Booby and the rest is history.
The funny thing about Bobby is that he was a bit of an oddity with the Dead. The other members of the Dead describe themselves as ‘uglies’ and Booby as a ‘cutie’ and they describe the Grateful Dead in its early days as ‘Bobby and the four uglies.’ It seemed like a good break to be welcomed into a band at such a young age but his parents were firm on his education and reminded the other dead members of that.
Over time the San Francisco music scene of the 60’s would rise and eventually become a permanent fixture on pop culture and even definers of the counterculture of that period. The Grateful Dead themselves would become synonymous with the psychedelia of that time. But even before that happens, the documentary pays attention to the band’s first few years trying to make a name for themselves. It reminds you they had to struggle with small gigs just like many other bands before them. Then they signed onto a big label. Then they went from playing in bars to playing in concert halls. Then came the Deadheads: a group of people that stayed loyal to the band year after year, decade after decade. A loyalty not seen before in rock ‘n roll.
Even despite playing music and hitting the big time, the documentary shows of the friendship Weir had with the band. It was of a family nature to the point that Weir almost ignored his own family. The family relation with the other bands did take challenges of their own. The first sign was in the 1980’s when they made a comeback which included a chart-topping album for the first time with 1987’s ‘In The Dark’ and the single ‘Touch Of Grey.’ There was the focus of Jerry Garcia’s cult-of-personality: something Jerry didn’t really welcome in his life. There were even times Bob took personal vacations. Then there was the time Jerry was going through rehab and Bobby acted as a support for him up until his dying day.
It doesn’t stop there. It also focuses on how Weir decided to finally settle down after decades of womanizing with Natascha Munter. The two wed when he was 52 and they have two daughters. Even then the trip wasn’t over. Weir tried to learn of his birth parents. He learned of his mother after she died that she had gave birth to 12 children. He was able to meet up with his birth father and the two have been close ever since.
This documentary is definitely one for people who like biographies of musicians or biography shows in particular. No question Deadheads young and old will want to see this. In fact I remember seeing a wide range of people in the audience watching this documentary. It’s possible some of the seniors in the audience may have been amongst the first generation of Deadheads. If you only care about musicians and their star power, this is not for you. Also if you’re a Deadhead simply because of Jerry Garcia, this will remind you that you’re not a true Deadhead. It’s not just a biography but gives you a feel of the music Bob helped create and continues to play whenever he performs with surviving members of the Dead. The mix of biography with live performances of his music really adds into the feel of it.
The documentary doesn’t really offer anything original as far as documentary film making goes. What it does is showcase a musician’s life that is a life less ordinary. The stories of how he was adopted and how he got into a lot of trouble as a kid will surely raise eyebrows and even a giggle or two. However seeing how he was able to settle down in his older years and even meet up with his adoptive father in recent years shows this is no ordinary life. The intimacy of the biography doesn’t stop with his personal life. It also shows how Bob treated the other Dead members like family even more than he treated his own. In fact hearing from Jerry’s daughter how Bob was like a brother to Jerry up until his last days shows how much the other members meant to him.
The are some flaws with the documentary. Most noticeably, it focuses almost exclusively on his music with the Grateful Dead and hardly ever focuses on his music with his other bands like Kingfish, RatDog, Booby and the Midnites and Furthur. Also the documentary made him look like he was a swinger all his life before Natascha. There’s no mention of his seven-year relationship with Frankie Hart back in the 70’s.
The Other One: The Long Strange Trip Of Bob Weir is a very good documentary to watch even if you’re not a fan of the Grateful Dead. It was time well spent for me. It reminds you there are a lot of great rock ‘n roll musicians that contributed a lot to the genre but don’t get the star status as many others.
I’ll admit these controversies happened months ago. Nevertheless I feel it’s still worth pointing out since both topics still stimulate excitement amongst the young and both songs are still in the US Top 40.
You may have remembered that over the past four or so months there was a load of controversy over two happenings in the music business. One was Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” in terms of its lyrics. Another was the performance of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards. Both were good at causing controversy in its time. But both wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow say twenty or even ten years ago.
THICKE AND THIN
First up is some controversy actually caused by music. This was courtesy of Robin Thicke and his song ‘Blurred Lines.’ which featured rappers Pharrell and T.I. The biggest controversy came from the video. There were two videos shot: one with the three models topless (which were actually flesh-colored G-strings) and the other with them covered. The topless version was first banned from Youtube but then restored albeit flagged as inappropriate for minors. There were even lewd messages like: “Robin Thicke has a big dick.” in the unrated version. My own problem with the video was seeing all those annoying hashtags.
Robin later commented on the controversy of the video: “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.'” Once again, the sexist-or-satire debate came up. I’m sure all three wives, especially Paula Patton, would have their own things to say about it.
Then there were the lyrics of the song. One lyric–“I know you want it”– hinted to many of date rape, especially at many universities in the UK. The first shout came from the University Of Edinburgh and at least twelve other UK universities followed in the ban. Thicke would later defend the song, declaring the song was about his wife (actress Paula Patton), and that after 20 years together, he indeed knew she wanted it from him. Once again, the fact that the three of them were married came up in the debate.
This proved to be the most controversial song of the decade and the first in years to stir up debate. The song has hit #1 in eighteen countries including Canada, Germany, France and even the UK. In the United States, it spent twelve weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 and became the first song of the decade to do so. The song currently sits at #31 on the Hot 100.
Oh, the song has also sparked a lawsuit from Thicke after the surviving relatives accused the writers of copying the ‘sound’ and ‘feel’ of ‘Got To Give It Up.’ I find it funny because I thought it was trying to capture the ‘sound’ of ‘Stuck In The Middle With You.’
MILEY GONE VILEY
Miley Cyrus has been a star in entertainment since 2006 when her Disney channel show Hannah Montana won over young girls nationwide and made Miley a star. The success of the show also helped start her music career. However it was later years when she tried getting records released as Miley Cyrus that she tried to disassociate herself from her former Hannah Montana label.
It wasn’t until this very year that she finally did away with her former Hannah Montana label. But in a way that made tons of news. Not surprisingly it was at the MTV Video Music Awards of this year. Surprisingly, it was along Robin Thicke with his performance of ‘Blurred Lines.’ But before Robin, Miley performed her song ‘We Can’t Stop’ in a teddy bear attire. Then once Robin performed ‘Blurred Lines,’ Miley stripped down to a skin-colored latex two-piece outfit, touched Thicke’s crotch with her foam finger and then twerked against his crotch. Twerking was already the sexually-charged dance fad of 2013 that was already getting a lot of talk but it’s there where it got it’s peak.
The reactions were angry and they came from all sides: viewers and musical guests. Many felt her actions were distasteful. The incident set a Twitter record as the ‘most Tweeted’ event in history with 360,000 tweets in a single minute. News and social media sites published articles to do about parental concern. The incident was even considered responsible for Australian actor Liam Hemsworth to break off his engagement to Miley. Even Gloria Steinem was questioned about it, asked if that incident is setting the women’s movement back. Miley responded to the flack: “They’re overthinking it. You’re thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it.” My feelings were as I saw it: either sleaze-for-chart-topping’s-sake or cashing in on the good-girl-gone-bad image. Her response did little to quell the controversy. Cyrus even received a letter from Sinead O’Connor warning her about the music industry and what it could do to her. To which, Cyrus gave a bratty response where she even brought up O’Connor’s psychotherapy.
Whatever the situation, it did nothing to quell Cyrus’ record sales. “We Can’t Stop” hit #2 and her album Bangerz debuted at #1. Further Cyrus controversy came with the release of her second single ‘Wrecking Ball.’ The video consisted of images of her swinging naked on a wrecking ball and licking a sledge-hammer. Sure it was your typical sleaze-for-sales-sake–I dare anyone with half a brain in their head to describe how those images are ‘artistic qualities’– but it paid off as it became Miley’s first ever #1 hit in the US. Just when you thought sleaze-for-sales-sake eemed to be fading, we’re reminded that the good-girl-gone-bad image is still a hot chart-topper. For those that care, ‘Wrecking Ball’ is now at #20 on the Hot 100 with the follow up song ‘Adore You’ climbing up the charts and sitting at #30 right now.
MUCH ADO ABOUT LITTLE
As you can tell, the controversies have sparked a lot of news and a lot of talk. There’s just one problem. They both pale in comparison to musical controversies of the past. I know because I’ve seen decades of musical controversies come and go. In fact I even saw VH-1’s countdown of the 100 Most Shocking Moments In Rock ‘N Roll. Here’s a refresher of the Top 10 most shocking for those who forgot:
John Lennon Assassinated (1980)
Michael Jackson Accused Of Child Molestation (1993)
Altamont Concert Ends In Tragedy (1969)
Kurt Cobain Commits Suicide (1994)
Marvin Gaye Jr. Shot To Death By Father (1984)
The Who’s Cincinnati Concert Marred By A Tragic Stampede (1979)
Milli Vanilli: Girl You Know It’s Fake (1990)
Woodstock 1999: Where There’s Smoke…There’s And End To Peace ‘N Love
Sinead O’Connor Disses The Pope On SNL (1992)
The Beatles: Bigger Than Jesus Boast (1966)
I don’t have the energy to list #11 to #100 but you would be able to see how legendary a lot of those shocking moments are. Even though the list was compiled back in 2001, you can be sure there are few controversies since that could be worthy of a spot on the list, should it be revamped. My best bets for replacements would be Metallica vs. Napster (2000-2002), Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl Exposure (2004), Lil Kim Big Liar (2004), Britney’s Divorce Outbursts (2007) and Phil Spector Guilty Of Murder. Outside of that, little else. Don’t forget the list came right after the 90’s when shocking moments were left, right and centre. We all remember how infamous acts from rappers like Snoop Dogg’s alleged gang-style murder participation that launched his stardom in 1993. Or Death Row manager Suge Knight’s menacing, even gang-style, methods of doing business. Or even the murders of Tupac Skakur and The Notorious B.I.G. that turned them from star rappers into rap legends. So it’s obvious that Miley’s incidents are not necessarily anything that will take shock to new levels nor are they anything too new. They’re just simply the shock of the moment that simply gets a lot of press. Nothing new or revolutionary. Just the stuff stealing the show and the headlines.
‘Blurred Lines’ isn’t much in terms of shock material as it happens. It’s not as controversial as say the lyrics on Enimem records back from 1999 to 2002: lyrics that causes censorship discussions and lawsuits from those people that felt slandered. Must I say they were lyrics that fueled Eminem’s superstardom and made him a hero to the young back then and a legend to his time.
Neither is ‘Blurred Lines’ as controversial as say the lyrics of rap group 2 Live Crew in their 1989 album ‘As Nasty As They Wanna Be.’ Those lyrics were nasty enough to be taken to a court in Broward County and judged obscene. The 2 Live Crew fought the obscene conviction and won. The court cases rewrote the book on record censorship and paved the way for more explicit and irresponsible lyrics from gangsta rap records to be released and sell like hotcakes for many years. If you want to dig deeper into lyrics controversy, ‘Blurred Lines’ doesn’t even contain the same shock elements as many disco records like the simulated orgasms heard in Donna Summer’s ‘Love To Love You Baby’ or Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real.’ Nor does ‘Blurred Lines’ cause the same controversy as say the ‘Filthy Fifteen’: fifteen explicit songs labeled ‘filthy’ by the Tipper Gore-led ASPCA back in 1985 and would pave the way for warning stickers on records. It doesn’t even have the same shock value as say the psychedelic songs of the late-60’s, early 70’s that reference drugs and illicit sex. And those songs came just as the counterculture was starting to happen and the older generation were frustrated of what to make of it. Just to put it plainly if you released ‘Blurred Lines’ as little as say ten years ago or even during the disco days of the 70’s, you’d have young people labeling the song as boring because of its lack of shock value and its video not full enough of scantily clad women. Just like Miley’s twerking, ‘Blurred Lines’ was a case of a controversy pale in comparison to music controversies past but was able to own the spotlight at the right time.
It’s no secret that controversy has made many a music career. Miley’s and Robin’s controversies were pretty tame compared to music controversies of the past. Nevertheless they were the right controversies at the right time to steal the show and make their records top the charts. As for me, all it does is make me glad to be old.
In the past year, Lady Gaga has gone from being the latest diva phenomenon to getting people suspecting if she’s stealing Madonna’s act. How could that be? She’s already been able to start buzz with her own songs and her own outrageous wardrobe.
Lady Gaga arrived at the right time. In 2008, she blew the world away with her electronica-dance song Let’s Dance. That one song was enough to create buzz on the charts and welcome the world to the biggest female singing debut since Britney Spears and the biggest diva since Madonna. Let’s face it. As much as Britney is often refered to as a diva, she’s really more tart than diva. Further hits like Poker Face and Paparazzi followed and we had a new diva phenomenon. Her stage show at concerts would add to the new legend.
Like Madonna, she also knew how to rattle cages on her own. At awards shows, she would frequently thank “God and the gays.” She was also known to wear a meat dress at performances. Her video to Bad Romance took outrageous to new lengths and won the Video Of The Year award at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Further hits like Telefone, Alejandro and Dance In The Dark followed. Even though she may not have been as original as Madonna, she knew how to be provocative and entertaining on her own.
Lately however, she has brought upon suspicions of trying to copy Madonna. The first such issue came almost three months earlier with the release of the single Born This Way. Many have drawn comparisons to Madonna’s Express Yourself, while one magazine writers claims it’s actually a mix of big pop tunes meshed together. Then came the song Judas and its accompanying video. Along with the controversy the video has cause, it has also drawn comparisons from a certain Madonna video: Like A Prayer. This is enough cause to suspect that Lady Gaga is a Madonna wannabe. Gaga would have to come up with something less like Madonna for her next single and video release.
Anyways I’ll hold off from any more accusations and wait until her next hits play out. Right now Gaga is facing another sort of flack for her albums cover in which many critics and fans dismiss as amateurish Photoshop work. In the meantime, I want to see Gaga being more Gaga than Madonna.