Sunday, August 06, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Semi-Final 2, Thursday 11th June 2017: Rewatch and Review

Following the now standard recap of what happened two days ago at the first semi-final, it was time for semi-final two.  I missed the live broadcast at the time as I had to get some sleep before setting off on holiday in the middle of the night.

Although I thought our three hosts were a bit wooden and underwhelming in the first semi-final, there was a glimmer of some personality coming through, (particularly from Vova) and the Alex/Vova partnership grew on me as the evening progressed.  Although Timur, dressed in tribute to Robin Bengtsson's backing dancers, remained a rather wooden and robotic green room host.  Sorry Timur :(

Alex and Vova kicked off the show with quite an entertaining Ukrainian-style Eurovision medley with folklore dancers and musicians, ending with an emotional "Rise Like A Phoenix".  

SERBIA: "In Too Deep" - Tijana Bogićević.

This song had never appealed to me since first hearing.  I would always expect something special from Serbia at ESC with some kind or originality or national characteristic.  Instead we got "Walk On Water II" and I really couldn't stand that song.  Tijana, in a see-through floaty dress, looked uncomfortable throughout and the whole package just didn't give anyone any reasons to vote for this entry.  I was therefore surprised to see that it closely missed out on a qualifying place.  This was written by the same songwriting team who wrote this year's entries from Bulgaria and FYR Macedonia.  That kind of thing really gets on my nerves, but I'll rant about it some other time.

AUSTRIA: "Running On Air" - Nathan Trent.

For me, Nathan had been one of the most likeable characters of the pre-season, with his high profile at all the promotional events.  Nathan didn't do much running here but the crescent moon staging was quite sweet.  The song itself was average rather than great, but Nathan delivered it with such enthusiasm and I was glad to see him make the final and defy the running-order curse.

FYR MACEDONIA: "Dance Alone" - Jana Burčeska.

Jana delivered one of the most unique postcards yet as she revealed her pregnancy!

For me this was one of the more likeable dance-pop songs at this year's contest, although I had to level the same criticism at this as the Serbian entry as it could come from anywhere; there was no defining national flavour.  What it did have was that "HEY!" which seems to turn up in many a modern pop song these days.  But her delivery fell short of what was required of the song; she didn't deliver a believable performance and there was just something missing from the whole package.

MALTA: "Breathlessly" - Claudia Faniello.

Another song with an egomaniac LED music-video backdrop of the performer.  I really don't like this trend.

Claudia finally got the chance this year to represent her country.  This ballad may have been a bit too old-fashioned for the modern contest, but you couldn't deny that she delivered a very professional and faultless performance, which oozed class.  The song just didn't have any televoting appeal at all.

ROMANIA: ""Yodel It!" - Ilinca and Alex Florea.

And now from class to trash.  Yodel It! divided the fan community this year.  Some loved it, and some hated it with a passion.  I was definitely in the latter camp.  Now you know I'm all for either native language or national characteristics, but a Romanian duo performing a rap/yodel combination just left me baffled.

NETHERLANDS: "Lights and Shadows" - O'G3NE.

When this trio were announced to represent the Netherlands, I was incredibly excited at this news. Amy, Shelley and Lisa are very talented singers and their harmonies are unique and exquisite. Although they deserved a much better song than this to showcase their vocal talents, I understood that this was a very personal song to them, written about their mother's struggle with her illness.

They performed the song with their usual professionalism and faultless harmonies.

HUNGARY: "Origo" - Joci Papai.

This was one of the songs which I had probably ignored before the contest and I couldn't get into it at all.  However, in similar style to Armenia, which has the awesome skill of transforming an entry with an unforgettable visual presentation, Hungary absolutely got it right here and I finally sat up and took notice.

DENMARK: "Where I Am" - Anja.

An Australian entry in all but name, Anja finally succeeded in representing Denmark.  The staging and the pyro curtain finale matched the performance quite well, although this wasn't much of a song in my opinion.

IRELAND: "Dying To Try" - Brendan Murray. 

Brendan was previously a member of Irish boyband Hometown, masterminded by Louis Walsh. So it was no surprise really that in an internal selection masterminded by Louis Walsh, he chose Brendan. Unfortunately from the minute this song was revealed, it was under fire in the fan community. The problem with "Dying to Try" (co-written by Jorgen Elofsson) is that it sounds like a dated boyband album track, the one in which the young, cute one (not the lead singer) finally gets the chance to take the lead. For some reason they had Brendan standing on a hot air balloon prop.

SAN MARINO: "Spirit of the Night" - Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson. 

Aww bless.  You can't have San Marino at ESC without Valentina, can you?  So she came back again this time accompanied by musical theatre performer Jimmie, and together they took us back to the disco days with call-and response lyrics and energetic moves.  Unfortunately it's not 1977 but 2017, so when it came to voting time there wasn't much love for this Ralph Siegel co-write.  However, I do have a soft spot for this; it wasn't the worst song of the evening.  Maybe now that a jazz-flavoured song has won ESC, Valentina might want to come back again and finally sing something in her own style!

CROATIA: "My Friend" - Jacques Houdek.  

Where to begin with this?  Jacques was a buy-one-get-one-free combination of r'n'b balladeer and opera singer, and the split-personality song had enough novelty value to make people vote for it. However it had no appeal for me whatsoever.  Apparently Jacques had made some allegedly homophobic remarks earlier in his career so he found himself backtracking rather a lot after being selected for Croatia.  As if to labour the point, he then ended the song with a big rainbow display on the arch covering the stage.

NORWAY: "Grab The Moment" - JOWST featuring Aleksander Walmann.

One of this year's most contemporary entries from a country which has brought two of the top dance acts of the past couple of years (Kygo/Alan Walker) so it was interesting to see them send something in that very current EDM style with a twist - the particular "X factor" here being Aleksander Walmann who managed to bring warmth to the cool electronic beats.

SWITZERLAND: "Apollo" - Timebelle. 

Sebalter excepted, Switzerland continue on their merry way and maintain their reputation as every year's Eurovision "fillers" and failures.  Trying to say something positive here, this was at least better than "The Last of Our Kind" - it wouldn't be hard, but the combination of the overpowering yellow styling and the stupid lyrics of the song had this near the bottom of my annual ranking.  (OK then, I don't do an annual ranking but if I did, this would be near the bottom of it).  Please, please, please Switzerland, send something good to Eurovision,  It can't be that difficult.

BELARUS: "Story of My Life" - Naviband. 

This is a great story.  Belarus had sent an entry to ESC in their national language for the first time ever, and it was just a little joyful explosion of hey-heys.  I originally had this down as a non-qualifier based on the fact that their qualification rate is not the best, but the charm and happiness radiating from this charismatic couple definitely floated the voters' boats.

BULGARIA: "Beautiful Mess" - Kristian Kostov.  

A 17 year old young man (who only looks about 12!) with a vocal maturity beyond his years, Kristian went into the contest as one of the favourites.  Thanks to Poli's excellent result last year, Bulgaria is now rated at Eurovision and is likely to win within the next few years if they get the mixture of song and performer just right.

LITHUANIA: "Rain of Revolution" - Fusedmarc. 

Lithuania has an interminable annual selection which goes on for weeks and months only for the process to deliver yet another also-ran.  YEAH YEAH!  YEAH YEAH! YEAH YEAH!

They do have an impressive diaspora vote so that was the only reason I had this down as a qualifier. It started off with all the right moves and funky foot-tapping rhythms and then went nowhere and turned into a mess.  NO NO!  NO NO! NO NO! NO NO!

ESTONIA: "Verona" - Koit Toome and Laura.

I wanted this to be a qualifier, well, because Estonia.

Secondly, the old-fashioned fan in me wanted it in the final because it's an old-style song with a tune, something which, for example, Modern Talking might have done back in the day.  However, with hindsight and with fresh eyes, I understood why it didn't qualify.  It was too old-fashioned, and rewatching flagged another few things up which might have put the viewers off.  The song's concept meant that the duo spent very little time together, and many viewers may not have understood the reason for that.  Then there was Laura's diction ("like two silly boats in the sea") whilst she missed her initial cue.  Finally, was Koit's stare just too much....?

ISRAEL: "I Feel Alive" - Imri.

During pre-season I constantly got this entry and Cyprus' mixed up, and I couldn't remember who was Hovig and who was Imri.

Basically both of them were eye candy and I was very happy about that, even if neither of their songs particularly appealed to me.  There were probably a lot worse ways of spending 3 minutes and it was an energetic performance, so I was ok with this qualifying over, say, Serbia, or Switzerland, which just left me cold.


Another episode of Verka's Eurovision journey before a quick segment to meet some of the fans.

Interval act time, with a contemporary number by Ukraine's Apache Crew with a piece called "The Children's Courtyard". At one point they were playing one of my childhood favourites - you all know it as hopscotch but in my part of the world it was called peever and you had to play it by throwing a shoe polish tin.  But I digress, because my attention was wandering....contemporary dance never holds my attention for too long.

After this interval act it was back to the green room with a very big surprise.  We've never had a live marriage proposal on air, but that's exactly what happened here as the partner of Jana from FYR Macedonia asked her to marry him and she said yes!

Next we had the preview of Saturday's remaining automatic finalists - France and Germany, and this year's host country Ukraine.

Finally, Jon Ola gave the go-ahead for results time! Qualifying to Saturday night's final:


I got a couple of my predictions wrong in semi-final 2: I'd predicted Estonia and Lithuania to go through in place of Belarus and Denmark. I was delighted for Belarus however, and completely undersood why Estonia and Lithuania never made it.  I felt a little bit sad though, that none of the Baltic states (especially Latvia) would be represented in Saturday night's final.

Coming soon: my review of the Grand Final.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Eurovision 2017 Semi-Final 1, Tuesday 9th June 2017: Rewatch and Review

My Eurovision experience was a bit different this year.  As usual, I had intensively watched all the rehearsal clips and also the first semi-final, however as I was going on holiday very early on the day before the ESC final, this meant that I wouldn't see the second semi-final or final until I returned home.

As so much time has passed since then I have decided to rewatch all three shows and review them here.  Although it's almost 12 weeks since the contest took place, my opinion on the songs or the whole event itself hasn't changed, so my views now were the same as they were back in May.

I am reviewing the shows from the commentary-free DVD rather than the BBC's coverage.  I particularly find the BBC's semi-final commentary very tiresome - Scott Mills is ok but the less said about Mel Giedroyc the better - and I hate the way they miss out chunks of the televised shows to broadcast stupid VTs and sketches instead.  At least with the DVD you get the full show to enjoy uninterrupted.  Who needs commentary anyway?

On with the show...

Although there hadn't been much blogging action from me over national finals season, I had followed all the rehearsals.  I was also off work on 9th June so had lots of time to prepare myself for the first of three big nights.

The show began with a display of Ukrainian national costume and in a contrast from ancient to modern, straight into a performance of "Spinning" by Monatik (above).

In a year where 'Celebrate Diversity' was the catchphrase it would be fair to say that the host broadcaster didn't get the memo and sent three young men to host the competition!

Oleksandr Skichko (Alex), Volodymyr Ostapchuk (Vova) were the main hosts and Timur Miroshnychenko was the green room host.  We were clearly spoiled by Petra and Måns last year, and my first impressions were that we were back to the days of the stilted and wooden presenters. Although at least Vova was trying to inject some humour into the proceedings.

The Postcards

I rather liked these.  They began with a freeze frame shot of the artist and their entourage, followed by a video clip of the artists at work and/or play in their home countries or elsewhere, and then they ended with the artist getting ready to go on stage.

The evening has only just begun, but Vova declared "I can't go on!"  Anyway, let the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 begin! 

SWEDEN: "I Can't Go On" - Robin Bengtsson.

I recognised one of Robin's backing dancers as Alvaro Estrella who had competed back in Melfest a few years ago (remember that saucy "Bedroom" song?)  There were no other changes to the staging of the song which won Melodifestivalen.

One thing which really annoys me about Eurovision these days is that with very few exceptions, the backing singers are hidden away, if they're not singing and dancing around the main arist.  Backing singers do a very important job at Eurovision and they should have their moment in the spotlight too. This year Sweden was hiding away no less than Erik Segerstedt, formerly of E.M.D.!

GEORGIA: "Keep The Faith" - Tamara Gachechiladze. 

Georgia is a country which I have quite a soft spot for at ESC, because they submit something genuinely different every year.  This is not always a good thing though: for every "Visionary Dream", "Shine" and "Midnight Gold" there is a "Three Minutes to Earth" and "I'm A Joker".

"Keep The Faith" is this year's attempt at the great lost Bond theme.  Tamara's red dress is gorgeous and she definitely delivers a weapons-grade diva performance to match. A couple of interesting facts: Tamara was a member of Stefane and 3G of "We Don't Wanna Put In" fame (a song I still love, love, love!) and this song was co-written with Anri Jokhadze, not just a joker but proving that he can write 'serious' songs too. I never rated this song in the lead-up but Tamara certainly gave it all she had.  

AUSTRALIA: "Don't Come Easy"- Isaiah Firebrace. 

In the spirit of "Celebrate Diversity", Isaiah is the first Aboriginal performer to represent his country. This was another DNA composition (they wrote "Sound of Silence") but for me this was the weakest of the country's three entries so far and a bit too much of a Sam Smith soundalike.  Isaiah is only 17 years old but his voice has an incredible maturity.   But what the hell happened with that vocal wobble towards the end?  Looking back he was very fortunate to make it out of the semi-final, as other songs have been punished for less. 

ALBANIA: "World" - Lindita. 

When Lindita announced that she was competing again in Festivali i Kenges, I had hoped that she would come back with another banger like her debut FiK song "S'të fal".  However, it was this song which won FiK back in December.  It disappointed me then and it still does.  She is a very strong performer but nothing about this song or its staging really connected here or did her any favours - what have clocks and flying ships have to do with the song's theme?

BELGIUM: "City Lights" - Blanche. 

One of the things which makes the lead-up to Eurovision so special is the coverage of the rehearsals, which are supposed to give some insight into how the artists will do when the semi-finals and finals come around.  However, I was rather annoyed this year as many of the critics had already written off Blanche following some nervous performances in the rehearsals.  She is still a very young and relatively inexperienced performer and this has to be taken into account.  By the time we reached the semi-final, it was still a little tense, nervous and edgy, but I thought this worked perfectly with the theme of the song.  After all, you wouldn't be singing lyrics like "all alone in the danger zone" with a big grin on your face, would you?

MONTENEGRO: "Space" - Slavko Kalezic.

In its studio version, "Space" had been one of my most-played songs in the lead-up to the contest.  A deliciously trashy piece of disco with hilarious single-entendre lyrics.  And when you add that wondrous Montenegrin specimen to the mix then it was inevitable that he was going to be one of my favourites. However we have been here before.  I quickly drew parallels between this and Zoli Adok's "Dance With Me" which the song shared a lot of similarities with.

This was probably the most "visual" of the evening's entries which inevitably meant that the musical side would suffer.  So let's just talk about the visuals, shall we... Slavko began in his see-through vest top and a long blue skirt, before throwing off the skirt to reveal glittery leggings. And then of course there was the plait.  The sight of Slavko swinging his plait around will live in the memory for years to come.  Rocket to the stars :)))))

Alex and Vova were then back to plug the Eurovision app before our first trip to the green room which, Timur pointed out, was not green.  Oh, and thanks Timur for reminding us that the UK didn't award Abba a single point in 1974...!

FINLAND: "Blackbird" - Norma John. 

Neither of them is called Norma, or John, but they are in fact two very talented individuals named Leena and Lasse and I hope there is much more to come from them.  This song blew me away when it won the UMK final and became one of my favourites of 2017 searon.

Leena was dressed in a black gothic gown to match the theme and the staging, which hadn't changed too much since the UMK final.  The staging started off as dark blue and turned to red by the end of the song.  Leena delivered another terrific vocal performance and Lasse's piano solo was exquisite and beautiful. It wasn't quite a burning fake piano but there was dry ice coming out of it!

AZERBAIJAN: "Skeletons" - Dihaj.  

This was another song which passed me by in the lead-up but is proof yet again that memorable staging, combined with an unique and quirky personality, can go a long way.

I am never all that excited about Azerbaijan at Eurovision, with their bland, bought-in songs and performers with no personality.  This year, Azerbaijan finally brought something worthwhile thanks to Dihaj, a genuine artist, and a thrilling staging concept.  It goes without saying that every song can be improved with the addition of a man wearing a horse's head, standing on top of a ladder.

PORTUGAL: "Amar Pelos Dois" - Salvador Sobral. 

When this won its national final, I was blown away.  The song sounded as if it had come from another era, and the unique and expressive delivery by Salvador Sobral, dressed in loose clothing as he recovered from hernia surgery, gave birth to a new adjective: "Salvadorable".  The song, written by his sister Luisa, quickly found a lot of appreciation within the fan community (although was not universally popular it must be said) purely because it was different. Just how would a  jazz-flavoured ballad in a native language do at a modern Eurovision where English language mid-tempo ballads and top 40 dance-pop songs are the norm?

There was also the question around Salvador's health, with some out-of-control rumours flying around.  Salvador sent Luisa to rehearse and he would then arrive for the dress rehearsals and contest. Happily he made it.

Standing all alone on the satellite stage, with a simple forest backdrop, Salvador delivered yet another unforgettable performance.  Many watching for the first time will have felt that same feeling that we had seeing him win the national final; and there would be even more people, those who only watch the final on Saturday night, who would experience that feeling for the first time.  He just needed to get to the final.

Alex and Vova are back with some tweets.

GREECE: "This Is Love" - Demy

She is a vivacious and attractive performer and visually reminds me of Nolwenn Leroy - now there's someone I'd love to see represent France in ESC some day...but back to Greece.  This song is written by the Kontopoulos/Ballard team who wrote Russia's song last year and ridiculously over-the-top staging from Fokas Evangelinos with everything but the kitchen sink - well there's water anyway and topless male dancers.

Unfortunately there seems to be a problem with the backing singers on the chorus.  After the beauty and simplicity of the Portuguese entry the contrast is more evident and this just seems tacky and trashy.

POLAND: "Flashlight" - Kasia Mos

Fire, like a burning desire, taking me higher, walking a wire....oh FFS. Remember Norway and their "bad crimes", well this should be done for "bad rhymes".  Poland has a very powerful televoting diaspora which was particularly evident in 2016.  The difference then was that it was a melodic if old-fashioned song.  This is just drama for the sake of drama, and one of their worst entries for some time.

MOLDOVA: "Hey Mamma!" - Sunstroke Project. 

The trio first came to our attention in ESC 2010 - who could forget Epic Sax Guy - and came back this year bigger and better than ever.  Slick stagecraft and choreography to go along with a fun song.   which brought some much-needed charm and fun to the proceedings. But after this semi-final performance there was only one thing on my mind.  How did Sergei Yalovitsky get so hot?

ICELAND: "Paper" - Svala.

It seemed to escape my attention until recently that Svala is the daughter of Bo Halldorsson who represented Iceland in 1995.  That's an amazing statistic - have we ever had a parent and child separately represent their country at ESC before?  (Bo would deliver the Icelandic votes at Saturday's final).  The other question here is: what does Iceland have to do to qualify for a Eurovision final?
Svala, dressed in a white catsuit and cape, gave it her all with a dramatic and professional performance.  I had called this as a non-qualifier though as I thought it may have just come over as being a little too cold and clinical.

Back to the green room with self-confessed ESC geek Timur, who met the Sunstroke Project.  Not that he ever needed much persuading, but the legendary Epic Sax Guy gave us a blast of his greatest riff from "Run Away".

CZECH REPUBLIC: "My Turn" - Martina Barta.

Martina is obviously a very good singer who deserves a much better song than this.  And don't get me started on the costume, the Barbara Dex-worthy metallic gold jumpsuit-thing with a bra top underneath.  Even her hair and make-up is awful.  The LED screen features images from the 'under-dressed' video for the song.  This is probably one of the worst entries this year, which is a shame because as I said she is a good singer.

CYPRUS: "Gravity" - Hovig.

Another year and another Cyprus entry written by G:son.  This year it's not a 'schlager-rock' song but rather a modern pop song. In the lead-up this has been another one of those songs which has just screamed "meh" to me and even with all the visuals it still doesn't impress.  He's quite pleasant to look at, but that's it.  Before the semi-final I didn't have this qualifying and it was probably one of the evening's most surprising qualifiers.

ARMENIA: "Fly With Me" - Artsvik.

I still see Armenia as one of those countries who are "winners in waiting" over the next few years. Iveta was always going to be a hard act to follow, but Artsvik did a decent job.  They seem to get the importance of the visual impact of a song.  For that reason alone it was inevitable that this would be a qualifier.

SLOVENIA: "On My Way" - Omar Naber.

The last time Omar Naber represented Slovenia in ESC, it was in Kiev.  He didn't qualify for the final then either.

When this won EMA, his rock star styling didn't match the song, which originally was a rather nice and moving, if old-fashioned, ballad.  Since that time, the song had undergone a horrible makeover into a bombastic mess.  But at least his styling now matched the song.  A cabaret singer in a glittery suit, to match his cabaret song.

LATVIA: "Line" - Triana Park.

Postcard: the band hanging out in Riga and eating doughnuts.

A very popular winner of its national final and another credible ESC entry for Latvia to be proud of. Visually, the staging was a hallucinogenic assault on the senses, whilst Agnese was as unique and compelling as ever.  What I particularly liked about this is that they don't seem to have compromised themselves for the competition and stayed true to themselves.  I never thought this was anything other than a qualifier, so its last placing in this semi-final came as a great shock to me.


After the recap we had a performance of the song which brought ESC to Kyiv, last year's winner "1944" by Jamala in a slightly different version with an orchestral track.

Second recap and then EUROPE! STOP VOTING NOW!

It was then time for one of Ukraine's greatest: Verka Serduchka.  We are taken on a colourful journey through Kyiv, starting with a baby Verka in 1974 to singing "Hallelujah" in 1979, to the present day, styled by Dolce and Gabbana.

Then Jamala returned to sing "Zamanyly", an ethnic folk number.

One more trip to the green room with Timur, whose robotic delivery didn't improve over the course of the evening.

In the first semi-final we were introduced to 3 of the "Big 5" automatic qualifiers.  Firstly Manel Navarro, whose "Do It For Your Lover" has, to say the least, been one of the most reviled entries I can remember for a long time.

Manel had been quite prominent on the pre-party circuit and it was then time to meet one of his best mates - the UK's Lucie Jones, who for once actually gave us hope that the UK might get off the bottom of the scoreboard thanks to an experienced singer who actually wanted to be there; also, the BBC had actually put some effort into impressive staging for a change.  By the way if Timur was such a Eurovision nerd I thought he might have mentioned that to his right was the 2013 ESC winner, Emmelie de Forest who has co-written the UK's entry this year.

FInally we have the hottest favourite to win Eurovision in years - Francesco Gabbani - "the gorilla is not just for fun...." before mentioning Desmond Morris' book "The Naked Ape".   The clip of "Occidentali's Karma" was shown.

Jon Ola gave the go-ahead to announce the qualifiers.  Which 10 countries were going to Saturday night's grand final?  In random order:

Moldova - before the semi-final I was calling this as a very tight 10th place with Moldova edging out Greece. However it was one of the most impressive and assured performances of the night and absolutely deserved its qualification.
Azerbaijan - this country's always a guaranteed qualifier, but it was a deserved one for a change thanks to a wonderfully wonky and obscure effort.  It's the horse wot won it. 

Greece - my initial predictions had either Moldova or Greece qualifying, not both of them.  Someone was going to be disappointed...
Sweden - No freakin' surprise that smarmy Robin and his smarmy dancing sidekicks would qualify.
Poland - I can only attribute this yet again to the power-voting diaspora as this song really did not deserve a final place.
Armenia - this was again an obvious qualifier thanks to the visual impact.
Australia - credit to them again, qualifying in spite of that vocal wobble.  I guess there are more Sam Smith fans out there than I first though.
Cyprus - What?  When this was called out, I quickly had the realisation that one of my favourites was not qualifying.
And finally....
Belgium - relief mixed with great disappointment as neither Finland or Latvia would be in the final on Saturday night.

I didn't take Finland and Latvia's non-qualification very well, it had to be said.  Semi-final 1 was probably the toughest of the two, but I still can't understand the result, even all these months later.  At least Portugal had made it.....

Melodifestivalen 2017: The Final, Stockholm, 11.03.2017

Finally my review is here - I had a lot of technical problems and had lost a large chunk of my review due to problems with HTML codes and tags and whatever you call them, so had to rewrite a part of it. Anyway, it's only almost 5 months late :)

After the traditional story so far recap, it was time for the first musical number of the evening.  A funky although rather underwhelming start to this year's final as the 3 hosts performed "Skaka Den" backed by funk collective Damn!  Funky yes, but final-class? Hell no!

David and Hasse were in suits and Clara was in a lurex trouser suit.

"Wild Child" - Ace Wilder.

An upbeat beginning to tonight's line-up of songs, even if the initial momentum was very quickly lost and we knew that this wasn't going to be a contender.  Which is a shame, as despite its title, "Wild Child" was for me the most accessible of her three Melfest songs.  The floor dissolved Sergey-style after the middle eight.  Ace proved once again that she was queen of the Melfest performance, even one as simple as this.  However, one of the things which has spoiled Melfest for me in recent years has been the reliance on pre-recorded backing vocals. These were particularly obvious on this song and Ace’s vocal shortcomings were shown up before the final chorus.  

"Her Kiss" - Boris René.

No hat for Boris this year, but he was dressed in a red silk bomber jacket and tight trousers which were too short for him!  His dancers were also in silver silk bomber jackets. Boris has a lot of charisma and the "likeability factor" and managed to hold my interest.  He may be the whipping boy of the Melfest fandom but I like him, and I liked this song a lot more than I probably should - although not as much as last year's song about the little box/litter box/letterbox but it's still quite decent, and the writers have been a regular fixture in Melfest over the past few years as well.

"I Don't Give A" - Lisa Ajax.

Which precisely summed up my feelings about this song.  Although it must be said that she doesn't get the most favourable draw positions - 2nd last year and 3rd this year. I can’t believe Ola Svensson had a hand in writing this.  Not his greatest moment was it? Horrible styling and staging. Bad language isn't big or clever, I don’t know what story it was trying to tell. The nasty girl image just doesn’t fit well with her. Last year's song was infinitely more preferable to this one.  I feel she really needs to rethink who she is as an artist, and come back in a couple of years with something more substantial.

Next up, a parody of the phenomenally successful Norwegian teen drama Skam, or as it was called here, Smak - featuring a guest appearance from Alexander Rybak (below) who seems to have popped up everywhere during national finals season this year.

Clara changed into a navy blue sequinned gown in time for the next song.

The previous song was by an ex-Idol contestant - Lisa was actually a winner in Idol 2014.  Melfest seems to be a logical progression for ex-Idol contestants.  Talking of which....

"I Can't Go On" - Robin Bengtsson. 

Well, he remembered to sing freakin' rather than f*****, as it had now been “cleaned up”. It was a very slick and professional show, and major credit to Robin and his crew for managing to dance on treadmills, but the vocals weren't that great.  The whole package just left me cold, and the most annoying thing about it was that stupid hand signal. Actually, there were a lot of annoying things about it...!  Was it a song or a fashion show?

“En värld full av strider” – Jon Henrik Fjällgren and Aninia. 

Unfortunately I can't listen to this now without thinking of the Norbergs' ski-ing parody.  They looked good together although they spent much of their time apart on stage.  There was a talky bit and a joiky bit and a great big singy chorus by Aninia who I’m sure will return to Melfest in her own right at a later date.  My main criticism remained that it just got too shouty towards the end.  But it was very pretty and wintery and filmic and staged in epic fashion. They hugged at the end.  Awww.

“Kiss You Goodbye” – Anton Hagman.

How must this young guy have felt, with all that criticism since Andra Chansen for daring to take Loreen’s place in the final?  But he won that vote so he deserved to be there as much as anyone else.  Like Lisa Ajax, his image dominated the back projection screen and that’was a bit too much of an egotistical touch. The chorus was catchy but the main problem remained that this song is not his own, for it is instead “Stitches” by Shawn Mendes.

 A brief intermission here: the day I understand what Hasse Andersson is saying is my new life goal :)))

“A Million Years” – Mariette.

She is a charismatic and genuine performer. The circus show going on in the background was a bit too distracting and unnecessary (quite unsettling too as at points they looked as if they were hanging themselves).as Mariette is such a compelling performer she didn't need all that. One of the genuinely good songs in this year's Melfest - and there weren't many of them - and one which I would listen to long after the contest was over.

“Gotta Thing About You” – F O and O.

Pee break time sorted then. Even the songwriters couldn’t be arsed to turn up, so why should the voters be arsed to listen or vote for it?  Sorry boys but this for me was one of the worst songs to grace a Melfest stage in years, with no appeal whatsoever outwith their vociferous fanbase.

“Hold On” – Nano. 

Written by Nano and a cast of thousands yet this ended up sounding very much like a Hozier/Rag N’Bone Man/Sigma mash-up.   The staging started in shadow and then exploded into light at the chorus.  Check out that burning app heart - there was no doubt that this was going to be a big hit with the televoters.  This wasa quality modern song and deserved success. It would have been interesting to see how this would have done if it had got the ticket to Kyiv. I think this will be a good starting point for his music career and I'm curious to see what else he will come up with.  

“As I Lay Me Down” – Wiktoria.

For the final, she swapped her dress for a red catsuit.  Wiktoria strikes me as a 21st century Carola who will make multiple appearances in Melfest and will keep going until she wins the thing, and then she will keep coming back again after that.  My problem with her is that she also oversings like Carola.  So it was all a bit too shouty/shrieky for me, and the staging with the metal “bed” was still a little too clumsy.  I preferred this song to "Save Me" though.

Part 2 of “Smak” and then it was time for one of the more understaged efforts this year.

“Good Lovin’” – Benjamin Ingrosso.

With not much more than a tinfoil backdrop (which again I can't watch any more thanks to the Norbergs' parody) and Benjamin dressing down for the occasion in his jumper, he delivered a slick enough performance of this rather lightweight pop song with Justin Timberlake influences.  It did better than I thought it would, particularly with the juries.  I wonder if he'll follow his mum's example and make a few more Melfest appearances in the future?

“Boogieman Blues” - Owe Thörnqvist.

The novelty to end all novelties, yes, but this was a fun song packed with personality.  Owe managed to make it through his big number and could walk away with his head held high.  Another great achievement in a long career.  I don’t for a minute deny him his place in the final.  That’s what Melfest is about, there is always room for a long established artist as well as the new up and coming names.

All 12 songs have been sung and it's now time for a quick interview with Zara Larsson.  Would that be the same Zara Larsson, whom I recall some years ago on her journey up the ladder to worldwide fame, said words to the effect that she basically wouldn't touch Melfest with the proverbial bargepole unless her career was doing down the dumper?  But I guess that a special guest appearance is ok to plug her songs then?

Recap time and then off to the green room for David's movie medley of power ballads. That boy can certainly sing.  And Robin, be very afraid.

Of course Melfest wouldn't be Melfest without an unusual cover version of the previous year's winner.  This year it was the turn of Damn! who opened the show, performing a jazzy version of If I Were Sorry, featuring Shirin, who was a little reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, and then Frans joined them for the end of the song.  Frans has been quiet over the past year and hasn’t capitalised on his Melfest 2016 win: instead he’s been focusing on his studies.

The international juries have been reshuffled a bit this year with some newcomers joining the fun.  It should be noted that there was therefore no place in 2017 for the legend that is Cyprus' jury spokesperson Klitos Klitou, whose name always raises a chuckle in the fan community :))

This year's international juries came from Poland, Czech Republic, Norway, Italy, Malta, Israel, France, Australia, the UK, Armenia and Ukraine.  There was no obvious favourite with the 12 points being shared between Robin, Lisa, Jon Henrik and Aninia, Nano, Benjamin and Mariette. although Robin had the most 12s (from 3 juries).  Benjamin's song did surprisingly well in the jury vote but Wiktoria's song was probably the biggest jury flop as it was one of the original frontrunners to win.  

By the end of the jury vote:

1. Robin
2. Nano
3. Mariette
4. Jon Henrik and Aninia
5. Benjamin
6. Ace.

Televote recap and then a rather ill-advised interval act song from the 3 hosts which was like a parody of an 80s movie song and had lyrics like "din mamma jobbar inte har" or something, and I just didn't get what they were trying to do. I am going to miss Hasse's wonderful accent even if I didn't understand a word over all those weeks.  His "nio nio nio" when reading out the televote numbers was a classic.  He also introduces the next interval act, the one and only Showra Lowson.

You know Showra - she's had a lot of chart hits over the past couple of years and she was going to perform a couple tonight. OK then it's actually Zara Larsson which in Hasse-speak is Showra Lowson!  Firstly a ballad, "Only You", and then she moved on to a medley of "I Would Like" and "Ain't My Fault" which provided enough time for a change of clothing for Clara and David to announce the final televote results.

Melfest's exciting jury and televote announcement always ensures an exciting end to the evening, and this voting system has now been introduced to very exciting effect in the Eurovision Song Contest to great effect.  Not for the first time did the final results of the jury and televote differ. What was very noticeable this year, like last year, was that the televoting percentages were all very close and that there was no runaway winner.

Although Nano topped the televote with 11.9%, when this was translated into points it wasn't enough to beat Robin Bengtsson, who only came 3rd in the televote but the combined total was enough to send him, complete with his treadmills and Dressmann ad polo-necked sidekicks, to represent Sweden in this year's Eurovision Song Contest in May in Kyiv.

Final Result:

1. Robin Bengtsson - 146 pts
2.  Nano - 133pts
3.  Jon Henrik and Aninia - 105 pts
4.  Mariette - 99 pts
5.  Benjamin Ingrosso - 87 pts
6.  Wiktoria - 80 pts
7.  Ace Wilder - 67 pts
8.  Boris René - 66 pts
9.   Lisa Ajax - 46 pts
10. Anton Hagman - 43 pts
11. FO and O - 41 pts
12.  Owe Thörnqvist - 33 pts

For me, the whole Melfest 2017 experience left me feeling a bit underwhelmed, a bit like last year., although I thought the presenters were an improvement even if many of those musical numbers fell well short of greatness.

The contest no longer creates long-term stars and increasingly for many artists, they don't have any kind of career outwith Melfest.  This seems to create a rather stagnant and below-par contest where certain people can be relied upon to compete, with the content being secondary.  Being the old-school fan who's all about the melodi, I would like to see an improvement in the standard of songs at Melfest.  Sweden has a reputation for slick, well-produced pop music; but Melodifestivalen no longer seems to deliver the quality it used to.  It may be Europe's biggest and best national selection, but it now needs better songs if it is to maintain that reputation.