Thursday, May 1, 2014

2014 Eurovision Song Contest Sampler

The Eurovision Song Contest has been broadcast every year since 1956, making it one of the longest-running television programs in the world. Thanks to satellites, Eurovision draws an annual audience of about 600 million. All active members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) can take part -- 38 countries are sending artists to compete in Copenhagen, Denmark this year. The 2014 winner, chosen via a combination of televoting and juries, will be announced May 10th. It's all done live for the contest, but you can find performance clips or music videos for all the songs online. I can't show you all 38 acts, so I picked nine -- sublimely silly, controversial, some personal favorites, a guilty pleasure, real contenders and the odds-on favorite to win. I picked the winner in 2012 and 2013. Can I make it three in a row?

They've Got Spunk, But Not a Chance of Winning

Iceland: "No Prejudice" by Pollaponk. These guys are like a kid-friendly cartoon punk band armed with a sincere, unsophisticated sugarcoated message for the world (especially Russia and Uganda). Oh, and they happen to be school teachers. Cynics be damned!

Poland: "My Slowianie" by Donatan & Cleo. Polish musician and producer Donatan has written an anthem for Slavic girls. Cleo does the singing, encouraging her bosomy friends to "shake what your mama gave ya." Attention heterosexual males: This video is filled with bosoms. Lots of bosoms. Also, I think Donatan might be trying to reinvent polka music, bless his heart.

Most Controversial

Austria: "Rise Like a Phoenix" by Conchita Wurst. In 2011, Austrian-born Tom Neuwirth created a public alter ego, Conchita Wurst. Some would call this a drag persona. The song sounds like an old-fashioned James Bond movie theme, circa 1964, perhaps. Ms. Wurst kinda knocks it out of the park. And this video is a hoot. Edelweiss!

Tom Neuwirth AKA Conchita Wurst will represent Austria @ Eurovision 2014

Two Personal Favorites

The Netherlands: "Calm After the Storm" by The Common Linnets. For anyone curious, a common linnet is a small passerine bird of the finch family. This Dutch duo is comprised of Ilse DeLange and Waylon. The sound is country pop with a dash of bluegrass. I love the way their voices blend on this song; it's an understated gem.

Israel: "Same Heart" by Mei Finegold. One of the UK's online tabloids, Mirror, had this to say about her: "Mei has the voice of Pink, the body of Gaga, the empowering angst of Kelly Clarkson and the dance moves of Beyonce -- so basically she's pretty gosh darn amazing." The song, in which she bounces back and forth between English and Hebrew, is a galloping dance pop power ballad.

Most Likely To Place in the Top Ten (Or Even Win!)

Norway: "Silent Storm," by Carl Espen. He grew up on Osteroy, an island off the coast of Norway. His mother encouraged him to sing and Carl eventually entered a local music competition -- that he won by singing Cat Stevens' "Wild World." Trained singers will note the lack of polish to his voice, but he makes up for it by finding an emotional connection to this song (written especially for him, incidentally, by a cousin). He also happens to be the hottest man in the competition this year, in my totally subjective and lustful opinion.

Carl Espen will represent Norway @ Eurovision 2014

Sweden: "Undo" by Sanna Nielsen. She's been performing since she was eleven! Now, after seven appearances at Melodifestivalen, Sweden's annual music competition, Sanna was selected to represent Sweden at Eurovision. She claims that Celine Dion is a major inspiration, and that's exactly who I thought off when I listened to "Undo" the first time. Comparisons aside, this is one of those pitch perfect pop songs that would probably be a worldwide hit for somebody.

My Guilty Pleasure

Romania: "Miracle" by Paula Seling & Ovi. She's a huge star in Romania, having released 15 albums since 1998. This is her second Eurovision appearance with Ovi, another  popular singer-songwriter. I'm not even going to pretend it's a great song, but around 45 seconds in it becomes the kind of irresistible dance track that has the power to make you dance around the apartment in your socks and underwear.

The Odds-on Favorite to Win

Armenia:  "Not Alone" by Aram Mp3. He's a singer-songwriter, comedian and actor. He started out doing humorous covers of popular songs, even appeared on an Armenian sitcom, and then got more serious about the music. The song is a beautifully crafted, state-of-the-art production that's dramatic and intense.

My Prediction: I thought the 2012 and 2013 winners were pretty obvious. This year, not so much. The millions of people who've been watching Aram Mp3's "Not Alone" video on YouTube are going to be disappointed if his live performance doesn't match the intensity of the recording. If he nails it, he's the winner. If not, Sweden's Sanna Neilsen ("Undo") has the advantage. But I do love a dark horse victory, and Norway's Carl Espen ("Silent Storm") is the man -- an endearingly raw performer with a great song and great personal backstory.

*Post-Eurovision Song Contest 2014 Update* And the winner is... Austria's bearded drag performer, Conchita Wurst! Taking the stage with presence and poise, Wurst delivered a fantastic performance of a great song. Protests and homophobic attacks from a handful of countries, like Russia and Belarus, failed to make any difference. In the end, European voters and juries embraced Conchita Wurst and "Rise Like a Phoenix." In scoring, she was way ahead of her closest competition, Netherlands' Common Linnets (second place) and Sweden's Sanna Neilsen (third place). Accepting the win, Wurst declared, "This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom -- you know who you are. We are unity. And we are unstoppable." Amen, sister.

For everything you ever wanted to know about Eurovision, go here.

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