Ones to Grow On

A lot of the previews we write for this site are based on our initial gut reactions to songs. We try to listen to songs a few times before writing them up, but we often can’t tell right off the bat what songs are going to really stick with us long after the winner is announced in May.

Granted, a lot of times our initial impressions are correct: “Shady Lady” and “Visionary Dream” were hits with us from the start. Kabát’s “Malá Dáma” was a sludgy mess from first spin to semifinal fizzle, although we couldn’t predict the success of the “HE’S POINTING” drinking game we invented during their live performance.

You! Over there! I’m POINTING!

But there always seems to be a song that either leaves no impression on us initially or that we hate from the start, but then grow to love. There are two songs in particular that I’d like to highlight, both from 2007.

Finland hosted Eurovision that year, coming off of Lordi’s epic win in 2006. The Finns selected Hanna Pakarinen to represent them next, and her song “Leave Me Alone” was a hard rock song that gave the impression Finland was going to go the Swedish route of never letting go of the sound that won them the competition.

Jen and I were both harsh on this one: I called it “Evanescence lite, and tedious to boot,” while Jen said, “On the opening riff you think the song is going to be cool. Then it isn’t.” Even during the live show that year, I called it “mediocre.”

Since then, we’ve watched the 2007 final more than a few times, and damn it all if “Leave Me Alone” doesn’t linger as a highlight every time. When you watch her performance now, you see that she really delivers:

Moreover, “Leave Me Alone” has a lot more going for it than labeling it “Evanescence lite” would show. That opening riff is monster, and the lyrics have a lot more depth than we credited them for at the time. (Although that “I gotta go crazy just to stay sane” line makes me cringe every time.)

The key is to separate “Leave Me Alone” from “Hard Rock Hallelujah.” Lordi loomed large over Eurovision 2007, nowhere more than over Finland’s own entry. We didn’t give Hanna her due at the time, but she came through under difficult circumstances.

The other song from 2007 that confounded us at the time is now one of the songs we listen to the most: “Dancing Lasha Tumbai.” Of course, we listen to it all the time because our son Kieran adores it. He even sings along. If you’ve ever heard a three-year-old say, “Okay, here’s the end — bink!” you can understand why we want to hear this one over and over again. (That’s not the actual lyric, but are you going to argue with a toddler?)

When we first heard this song, though… man. Jen said, “This song to me sounds subversive. It takes me to a very dark place.” I dismissed it as “a good old-fashioned Eurovision nonsense number.” During our recaps of the live show, I said it was “awful” and Jen said, “I don’t get it.”

However, something Jen also said during her recap became the key for us to finally get “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”: “But, hey, the performance has good energy, and is well sung even though there is a lot of movement.” The amount of work Verka Serduchka and his crew put into their stage show is staggering. If you haven’t watched this one in awhile, check it out, and pay close attention to those back-up dancers:

Obviously, it had immediate impact to viewers: Verka came second, just 33 points behind winner Marija Šerifović. For us, it took repeated viewings for “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” to catch on. Is it still a deeply bizarre song? Yes. Do we dance along every time we hear it? Hell yes.

And thanks to Verka, Kieran is picking up his German numbers.

The Problem of Knowing

To me, one of the most appealing things about the ESC is that it’s a puzzle. [I admit the kitsch factor is what got me in the door, but it’s not what has kept me interested. Just as well, because I believe that what goes for kitsch in the contest is evolving.] Like many different cultural products, you don’t really know what will add up to success until the public has their say. But the beauty of Eurovision is that it is a contest, and it has a clear, immediate outcome. In that respect it is unlike a lot of other types of popular culture, where outcomes are often unknown for weeks or months. The international dynamics take a purer form as well in the ESC, since you get to see how countries vote for each other–voting which may or may not be politically tinged. For me, this blog is part of a process to sort out the contest and document our previously successful and unsuccessful reads on the ESC.

This year, we went further down the rabbit hole than ever before, paying close attention to the selection processes in most of the competing countries. That proved helpful, to a point. If you’re looking at the entrants and trying to understand how Lithuania, for example, could have possibly served up such a dud, all you needed to was look at the quality of songs in its national final. The selection process also may signal how intrusive the delegation is going to be in the staging and how committed the artist is to promoting their song in other countries.

But now we’re in phase 2 of the buildup to the ESC, the waiting game. The songs are selected, the draw has been made, and we will have very little useful new information until rehearsals. It’s a time where close observers like me go into information withdrawal and go into our heads trying to make sense of what information we have available to us. It’s also a time of jockeying for position.

For those interested in “knowing,” it is a dangerous time. Close observers are a vocal minority, and they often hold different opinions from the casual observer. Also, important information about the staging and the artists’ live performance has yet to emerge. Slovakia 2010 stands out as the perfect example as an entry with fan enthusiasm that flopped in the Semis.

Continue reading “The Problem of Knowing”