Sunday 20 February 2022

Iceland 2022 - Haffi Haff - Gía

(Click here for some Icelandic funtimes if you can't see the video panel above…)

It's relatively back to normal after a few incredible years for Iceland at this contest. Söngvakeppnin 2022 may have lured a few more cool indie stylists out of the woodwork after their recent high profile entries, but they've mostly kept it fairly safe, which is a bit of a shame. However there's one artist who's at least giving it a bit of a go this time round, and he's got form…

Readers with long memories and an eye for the obscure may just about remember Haffi Haff from the 2008 Icelandic selection shows, where he got knocked out in the second round of a wilfully complicated process with an entry called The Wiggle Wiggle Song. Anyone? No? Anyway, he had a bit of a career as a flamboyant dance pop artist for a couple of years, before disappearing from international view and probably doing something really interesting with his life, as most Icelandic musicians seem to do. However, now he's back, and he's a little more unhinged than you might be expecting if you remember his old material.

Y'see, Gía is Icelandic for Volcano, and they know a lot about that kind of thing out that way. The song itself appears to be a pean to said fiery mountains, all set in a bed of sparse electronica with the occasional out-of-place bit of Eastern flavour. It's one of those songs where you can't work out of it's terrible or a work of mild genius - and one suspects that Haffi boy here kinda likes it that way. And of the video's anything to go by, we can't wait to see what he's going to do one stage with it come the semi this Saturday.

Norway 2022 - Subwoolfer - Give That Wolf A Banana

For the whole of Norway's interminable MGP process we've been trying to ignore the wolf in the room, but now we're lumbered with the thing it would probably be remiss if we didn't mention it in passing. Because unless Russia offer us a live birth on stage or something equally as extra, this is almost certainly going to be the one that the normals will be talking to you about at work come Monday morning.

And we have to confess to a spot of eye-rolling when we first saw it. To our jaded eye this one is not so much fun as "fun", and it all came over as a bit of moderately forced turn-of-the-century irono-humour. But do you know what? We're gradually coming round to it. In a year littered with mid-tempo plod this is as near to a dance banger we've got so far, and is likely light up the arena with silly dancing and extreme Yum chanting come the live shows.

Of course, we've already been hearing the old traditional bleats of 'joke song' and 'it's not taking the contest seriously' from some of the usual moaners. We thought we'd seen that lot off when Fandom started getting younger, but sadly no. But it's no joke. It's a well crafted, if not a little flimsy, pop number with a nicely worked out stage show - and at least there's a rough narrative to it, rather than just a string of random sentences that sound a bit songy in English, so it's about 63% ahead of the rest of the field on that count already.

But who are they? We hear some people cry? It doesn't especially matter - we grumble back. It's just some blokes in some masks having a bit of a romp. They're signed to the massive Universal label, so they must have some weight behind them, but once we discover who's behind the mask their major point of interest will evaporate. Would your life get any better if you found out that Banksy was just a middle-aged little chap called Robin that you'd never heard of? No it wouldn't. So just enjoy it for what it is - a marginally entertaining bit of lightweight fun. Or should that be "fun"?

Saturday 19 February 2022

San Marino 2022 - Achille Lauro - Stripper

(If you can't see the video panel above, the internet hates you, so click here for maximum joy…)

I make no secret of the fact that Achille Lauro is just about my favourite pop star on the planet right now, so he could have sung the Sammarinese phone book tonight and I'd still have got unfeasibly excited. That wouldn't have taken him long, mind.

But when he was announced as one of the big artists already qualified to the delightful national final process I at once got a little bit excited and somewhat anxious at the same time. After all, those grumpy old blokes who'd been doing the voting in this week's endless cascade of semi-final shows were never likely to go for him, surely? And it was a weird old show for sure - the sight of the good lord Achille stood on stage in a final three that also comprised of the perpetually plucky British trier Aaron Sibley and some Turkish DJ felt more than a little awkward, so thank heavens someone from the label slipped the old voting goats a couple of brown envelopes to give me a chance of standing in the same room as the big fella.

The song itself is a good old fashioned boot boy glam rock stomper of the sort that was ridiculously popular in Italy in the seventies, and our lad here seemed faintly embarrassed to be plodding around that tiny stage in Dogana to singe for his supper and take the back route into Eurovision. But of course, absolutely none of this matters, because he's most likely to do something utterly messianically beautiful on the big stage in Turin this May. And I for one couldn't be happier.

Friday 18 February 2022

Slovenia 2022 - Luma - All In

Slovenia have been quietly going about their business this year while all the other nations have been getting embroiled in showbiz and controversy, and they're doing really rather nicely in their own unassuming way, and will most definitely be worth keeping a quiet eye on this Saturday. There's two songs among their final selection that we've taken a bit of a shine to: a delightful over-produced bit of whimsy called Nova Romantica, and this curious little beast.

Of course, the slower minded commentators among us are immediately going to bleat "Sebi copy!" - but this, in reality, is an entirely different kettle of fish - the anti-Sebi, if you will. Where Sebi was sweetly understated and innocent, All In is dirty, edgy, and just a little bit creepy - with a fabulously entertaining bit of stage business.

While Martin stares on all impassive, with a look on his face akin to Father Dougal trying to work out if something is small or far away, Lucija prowls around the stage like a semi-posh vamp, making the poor lad look increasingly awkward. Oh, and the moment we discover the keyboard is on wheels is an absolute treasure.

It's minimal and light for sure, but there's an underlying sense of menace that we really rather enjoyed, and we suspect this one could be troubling the scorers come the big night.

Thursday 17 February 2022

France 2022 - Alvan & Ahez - Fulenn

After Voila's success last season, it's easy to forget that in 2021 France had a right dog of a final that just happened to have their best song in decades hiding in the creases. This year they seem to be following the same pattern - only they've forgotten to bung in the good one. But it was all so very nearly promising with this one. Until…

Picture the scene. A moody, folksy opening few bars suggested that kind of regional dance crossover that works so well at Eurovision. Better still, the song is sung in beautiful Breton, and appears to be something of a feminist anthem. We were ticking the goodness boxes all over the shop… but then the beat dropped and it all went a bit Pete Tong.

We've got nothing against the song itself, as it's an unassuming little cracker, but boys did that lad in the middle stand out like a sore thumb with his over enthusiastic rave dancing. It was like he thought the first Mitzy hadn't worked, so necked another and came up instantly. But while he was writhing about, the two singing girls in hoods just stood there impassively, looking a tad embarrassed by their boy pal hogging the limelight in a song defending the emancipation of women. And we'll let you discover the ukulele bit for yourself.

We genuinely can't wait to see how they perform this in front of a crowd on a big stage. It's going to bloody hilarious. Which is a shame, because it'll overshadow a pretty sweet little song. But hey, y'know… laffs!

Tuesday 15 February 2022

Romania 2022 - E-An-Na - Marale


(If you can't see the video panel above, click here. You definitely won't guess what's coming next!)

Right then, we've got a lot to get through with this one, so where do we start? OK, how's about the song itself. On the outset it seems to be another one of those foot-stomping Romanian cabaret folk numbers what we all seem to enjoy. But dig into the song's lyric and it appears to be about malaria. No, seriously, it's either an allusion about the kid of love that you just can't shake - or it's about actual bloody malaria! And there's some awkward lines in there too… how does "With your saffron face, Colourful on the heart, Like a Pakistani truck, You won't get rid of me" grab you for starters?!

Apparently there were some in Romania who didn't even want this to get onto their curiously sparse televised semi-final, claiming that it was Satanic in nature. Well unless Satan has got a tropical quaking disease, we're not really too sure where that one's coming from.

With most other songs, that would be the end of the wonkiness, but we've got so much to uncover here. For a start, it's well worth watching twice so that you can follow the antics of the two guitar laddies at the back. There's the lanky bass-player who seems to think he's in some kind of rustic metalcore band, while the little guitar lad on the right is jigging about like a folky Angus Young. And that's before we've even got to the accordionist's incredibly shiny trousers.

But no, there's still one more major moment yet to come. As the song progresses you'll start to notice that there's an empty drumkit to the side of the stage that wasn't there for the previous act. Could it be that an over eager stage hand has bunged it up in readiment for the next act? No, it's much more unlikely than that.  Because in the song's dying breaths, what should shuffle onto the stage but A BLOODY GREAT INFLATABLE DINOSAUR! Obviously. Who then stands behind the drums, sticks grasped in his tiny, useless forearms, and begins to air drum over them! Of course! Why didn't we think of it! It's obvious that a song about a viral disease should a bloody great inflatable dinosaur drumming on it!

We've seen some things in our time, and this most certainly was one of them.

Even more unexpectedly, it didn't even qualify for the final. In fact, none of the last six songs did - which is unusual enough in itself, but word on the street tells us that the judges had to choose their favourites six songs before the end to that the production staff could print up the flashy big qualifier certificates that were awarded to each of the lucky ones who made it through, and didn't get to see or vote on the last lot.

As a few of you may know, I've got a Eurovision-themed novel coming out in the next few of weeks, and even I wouldn't have had the nerve to make this kind of shit up!

Monday 14 February 2022

San Marino 2022 - Elis Mraz - Imma Be

(Click here of you can't see the video panel above. You'll thank us. Possibly…)

The semi-finals of Una Voce Per San Marino have been utterly delightful. Held in a small opera house with more of the feel of a provincial village hall, a large number of plucky local hopefuls - plus a scattering of familiar faces to those of us who follow the lower reaches of Eurovisionia - have all shuffled out onto the tiny stage looking a bit awkward and have proceeded to warble anxiously into the unchecked mic trying to impress three sour faced judges who make Statler and Waldorf look cheery. Or so it was until Elis Mraz strutted confidently onto the stage.

You might remember Ms Mraz from her brief fling with Eurovision fame as one of the Czech video finalists who didn't quite make it in her home nation. So she's upped sticks, brought her two side girls along and is trying again in a completely different land. And didn't she give it some!

Starting off with a few a cappella vocal runs, she cocked a cheeky wink to the sound man and instantly began to writhe around in the floor in what looked like a rustic swimsuit made entirely from plastic pearls. The song itself was about being comfortable in her own skin - which we're glad to hear, because a more unkind commentator than us might make fun of the way she looked in that most uncommon garment, but we bloody loved her attitude and moxy!

The locals, clearly, looked terrified - although not half as shocked as they'll be when Achille Lauro and Spagna turn up at the weekend - and the miserable jury grudgingly pushed her through to the second chance round - her rightful place stolen by a couple of pasty-faced teens who did a weak rave version of Eleanor Rigby. And no, we didn't just make that up!

The best bit of all? This was only day one! We've got five more nights of this, and it's brilliant fun. Car boot Sanremo, here we come!

Sunday 13 February 2022

Ukraine 2022 - Kalush Orchestra - Stefania


(Click here if you can't see the panel above for a peek into the Ukrainian psyche…)

Ukraine's Vidbir selection show is always a curiously charged affair. Indeed, daily life in the country bubbles with politics at the best of times, but with their neighbours to the north knocking belligerently on the back door, and talk of war being only a matter of days away this was always going to be a stranger edition than most. For a start, we couldn't quite tell if the audience were having the best night of their lives, or getting in the fun times before their darkest days began. And while there was a feeling of fiddling while Rome burns about the whole affair, it's an easy thing for we into the West to read into the event without knowing the entire story.

And of course, the show wasn't without its controversies. It never is. There had already been considerably bad blood between the Kalush Orchestra here and the eventual winner Alina Pash, who claimed that the band had ripped off the bassline to her song Bosorkayna for their Vidbir effort. In turn there were many who were accusing Pash of having visited Crimea in recent times - a move completely against the competition rules - as well as questioning why her musical collaborator Tina Karol was allowed on the panel. There were even accusations that there was some dark money behind Pash's win by a single solitary point at the end of the evening - which were particularly heightened when the scoreboard apparently broke down right at the crux moment in the voting.

When the eventual result was announced you could have tinned the angry scowls of Kalush, as the camera lingered on them just that bit too long to be comfortable. And while Ms Pash's song, on musical terms at least, is going to be a welcome addition to the slate in Turin, there's already much disquiet bubbling up at home in Ukraine about what actually happened last night, and who the winning artist is friends with. This was never going to be a normal year for Vidbir, but somehow they seem to have surpassed themselves with the complications. One suspects this isn't the last bit of news we're going to hear about the Ukrainian song this year.

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Latvia 2022 - Miks Galvanovskis - I’m Just A Sinner


There must be something in the water in Latvia this year, because they're all having a go at being edgy or creative or a little bit wonk - and few less than old Miks here. Well I say Miks, but the reason this particular song has made this esteemed list is more in the hands of his guitarist.

Flaming hands that is.

Now I've been around this big old rock'n'roll world for many years, and I've seen a lot of rock'n'roll things, but I'm not sure that even dear old flamey Rammstein have tried the guitarist's-ands-on-fire gambit. And boy it's an impressive opening. 

Sadly it only lasts a short twelve seconds before the stringsman has to dash off and quickly plunge his burning mitts into a bucket of water, and after that the song simply decays into a dreary derivative bluesy rock sludge that sounds like at least a dozen other songs all at once. So don't feel that you have to watch the whole tedious thing.

But I tell you what, where that hateful Salad lot absolutely bottled out of their one and only gag in the first few seconds of their Supernova performance, this lot gave it a right old pop. It's just a shame about the rest of the song! Fair play, that guitarist - now pre-book yourself an ambulance for the final…

Monday 7 February 2022

Latvia 2022 - Mēs Jūs Mīlam - Rich Itch

(Click here if you can't see the panel above for quite the curious confection…)

There's already been quite the discussion this year over what constitutes an admissible live performance for the Eurovision stage. We've already had Luna Ki and her autotune issues on Spain, the Polish sign language rappers, plus whatever the heck's going on with Subwoolfer on Norway, and this weekend this mob from Latvia only added to the rich stew of consternation.

Y'see, while the rules of Eurovision clearly state that whoever's doing the actual singer must be visible on stage, at least to someone in the audience, few of the local qualifier shows have such strict guidelines. But it still appears that the singer from Mēs Jūs Mīlam (Latvia for I Love You, language fans) was actually on stage - somewhere - during this performance. Only we didn't get to see him for a minute-and-a-half… and then only for eighteen seconds.

So is this wrong? Or just a really creative way to carve out an interesting performance from a song that didn't hold much promise from the audio alone? The arguments will rage… or at least mumble on a bit. But one thing's for certain, Sanremo aside, this was probably the most eye-catching of stagings from a busy old night in Eurovisionia. And don't even get us started on those faux funk salad cop outs!

Friday 4 February 2022

Estonia 2022 - Elina Nechayeva - Remedy


(Click here to see a true 'did they mean to do that?' moment…)

Eesti Laul's been a bit below par this year. Where usually we'd expect many layers of chilled tunes and arch batshittery from the Estonians, this year it's all been a bit, well, beige. However, it's not been without its special moments.

Songwise, Elina Nechayeva's return to the competition was a smudge disappointing, and when we could clearly see the dancers attaching the flying lines to her we let out a sigh of resignation and we were expecting a spot of same old same old. Sure enough, she flew into the gods, warbling out and operatic trill, before… wait… was that meant to happen?

On the 2:50 mark in this clip she suddenly dropped from the roof at great speed, landing on the stage flat footed with a giant oof, before wobbling out her next couple of lines in mild distress, seemingly winded. But fair play to the girl, she quickly retrieved the whole thing like a pro, and a couple of bars later she was belting it out as if nothing had happened.

But was that REALLY supposed to be such a perilous descent? We'll be watching the final avidly just to be sure!

Thursday 3 February 2022

Italy 2022 - Dargen D’Amico - Dove Si Balla


(RAI Uno have taken this cracker off YouTube, so you'll have to click here to see it…)

Every year at Sanremo there's that one song that nobody gave much hope to from an unfashionable artist that suddenly bursts out of left field to build a bit of a bandwagon and become a genuine contender. And somehow this year it's come in the form of a beardy 41-year-old rapper in a terrible suit.

Even as the first bars started to play we thought it was another of those quirky bill fillers that we're happy to see, but that would have no chance when it came to the scoreboard end of each night. But then the most beautiful thing happened. With each new chorus the atmosphere began to build and build, and by the time the entire room began to spontaneously belt out the 'pà para-rà pararà pa-pà' refrain we were on our feet, punching the air and shouting along with it. The neighbours must have been most confused.

On the face of it this stands no chance when it's up against a raft of past winners. But in this contest you never quite know what's going to happen until the very end, and the thought of a whole arena full of people in Turin singing along gives us the absolute goosebumps. The press room vote plumped it in fourth out of the 25 over the first two days of performance, so it's clearly not just us that are loving the thing. It couldn't, could it?

Wednesday 2 February 2022

Italy 2022 - Achille Lauro - Domenica

We make no secret of being complete and utter Achille Lauro fangirls here at Apocalypse Towers. For us the lad could read out his shopping list in a greasy blue boiler suit and we'd be swooning like Bobbysoxers. But neither of us expected our boy to be effectively opening Sanremo 2022 wearing nothing bar a pair of tight leather kecks! I mean, what a way to start Italy's biggest family light entertainment event!

And while it's probably not one of his more stunning songs - slotting somewhere between the edgy social commentary of Rolls Royce and the more singalong shuffle of Bam Bam Twist - it still manages to bring some hefty slices of anarchy to its seemingly amiable rocking pop stylings. Teaming up with the delightful Harlem Gospel Choir was a masterstroke, while the end-of-song self baptism was beautifully odd - and probably just a little bit divisive in such deeply Catholic country like Italy.

But would we want to see this at Eurovision? Of course we bloody would! It's probably not the best introduction to his work that Europe could ever see, but you'd just never quite know what he was going to bring to the stage, and it's worth it for that danger alone. He might not have much of a singing voice, and he clumps about like a bricky, but somehow Achille Lauro is the last great pop star of these times, and we just can't get enough of the lad!

Tuesday 1 February 2022

North Macedonia 2022 - Viktor Apostolovski - Superman

(Click here if you can't see the panel above - but you probably won't thank us…)

It's a pretty rare event where a Eurovision hopeful can make you feel physically dirty, but every now and again on pops along that sees you dashing for the wire brush and Dettol before the first chorus is out. There's plenty that have left us sad, disappointed or just plain angry over the years, but with this one we just felt soiled.

Could it be because the singer himself has the smug look and demeanour of a gropey cousin at a shit wedding? Maybe it's the pure pain of some of the rhyming couplets - and the early crowbarring in of the hoary old fave 'fire/desire'? Or perhaps it's just the weak and half-hearted lift of Party Rock Anthem in the chorus? There's so many filthy ingredients that it's hard to list them all, but somehow the whole manages to become more than the sum of its parts, and has left us with a right binfire of a three minutes.

But it gets worse. It seems like there's been some kind of a song famine in the honourable republic this year, and this one stands a more than decent chance of sliding its way through to Turin. Let's hope the traditionally more staid Macedonians elect to send something more dull and deliberate instead. Because the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.