We’ve been overvaluing France in our Eurovision predictions the past couple of years. No chance of that happening this year.
Here is a song co-written by two former Eurovision contestants. Amir took “J’ai cherché” to France’s best result in the 2010s. John Lundvik closed out Sweden’s decade of dominance on a high note by finishing 5th last year with “Too Late for Love.” They both wrote the songs that they rode to the upper echelons of the leaderboard. On paper, it was smart of Tom Leeb to bring them into the fold when he was preparing for this year’s Song Contest.
In practice? Well, they came up with a wedding song.
Now, John Lundvik has experience with that sort of thing. His songwriting career took off when “When You Tell the World You’re Mine” was performed at the wedding of Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria. It’s a mawkishly awkward love song, but hey, you want that kind of thing at a wedding, right?
So if you are in Paris and dreamy McDreamboat Tom Leeb proposes to you while you are visiting the Eiffel Tour, then we can see how you would want to crank “The Best In Me” during your first dance. However, while “The Best In Me” may be a foundation for a strong marriage, that doesn’t make it a strong Eurovision entry.
Look, the United Kingdom finished last at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest with “Bigger Than Us,” which was also co-written by John Lundvik. It’s a good song that deserved a better fate than finishing behind “Sister.” But it was done in by an unimaginative staging and a likable singer who lacked the necessary star power to make his song memorable. France has the singer with the it factor, but their song is much, much worse. In a just world, Michael Rice would have a better result than Tom Leeb. But we’ve seen Pretty In Pink, so we kinda know how this is going to work out.
Bilal is a self-assured performer with a striking androgynous look. He cuts a unique stage picture, and he has the vocal chops to back up his style. He’s not perfect: there are some high notes in the chorus of “Roi” that he never confidently hit in either Destination Eurovision performance. But we have a good feeling he will be busting his butt to nail that vocal at the Song Contest.
We see his song as his biggest liability. “Roi” is more of a mission statement like “That’s What I Am” than an anthem like “Rise Like a Phoenix.” It’s good, but we don’t feel like it completes Bilal’s total package. We wonder if the Destination Eurovision results are a harbinger for his fate in May. He was the overwhelming winner of the televote, but he finished fifth with the juries.
Regardless of how he finishes at the end of the day, we have no doubt Bilal is going to be a great ambassador for France and for the Song Contest. The road to Tel Aviv won’t be easy, but he seems to have a good, strong head on his shoulders. We’re happy to have him in the Eurovision family.
Madame Monsieur won a corker of a French national final with a corker of a song, “Mercy.”
Singer Émilie Satt and musician and producer Jean-Karl Lucas formed Madame Monsieur in 2013. They cowrote and were featured on rapper Youssoupha’s 2015 single “Smile” from his top five album NGRTD. Their debut album Tandem was released in 2016.
“Mercy” tells the story of a girl born prematurely to a refugee on a boat from Libya to Europe. Madame Monsieur have since had to address whether or not it is a political song, but we think whether you believe it is speaks more to your own politics than to the song’s narrative.
We got excited when we first heard “Mercy” in Destination Eurovision’s semifinals. We both had it stuck in our heads for days afterwards, even without repeated listens. It’s a cool, modern adult contemporary song and it is very, very catchy. Plus we dug Madame Monsieur’s Sprockets-esque stage look.
However, we grew concerned when we heard “Mercy” in the final. Madame Monsieur’s performance seemed to lack the intensity of their first performance, as if the added fog machine had blown away all of their warmth. We worried that they had ceded victory to Lisandro Cuxi’s “Eva.”
Our concerns seemed to be justified when the international juries placed “Mercy” third and “Eva” first. While “Mercy” took the public vote overwhelmingly (118 points to Lisandro’s 72 points), we are left wondering if the song will appeal to the international juries it will face in Lisbon.
Hand-wringing aside, we love “Mercy.” It’s sleek and memorable and it will tell a story of modern Europe at a Song Contest with a theme that hearkens back to the continent’s maritime history. How Madame Monsieur get that story across, short of a language change, will be important. Romania’s Voltaj finished 15th in 2015 with a similar humanitarian message and we hope “Mercy” does not suffer the same fate.
Out of nowhere, France has announced Alma will represent them at Eurovision with “Requiem.”
Alma is a 28-year-old singer with a degree in economics who is at the start of her music career. Her first single “La chute est lente” came out last year, and “Requiem” is the second single from her upcoming debut album. It is a catchy song with an upbeat Latin rhythm (which is surprising for a song called “Requiem.”)
Alma performed “Requiem” live at the melty Future Awards on February 6, three days before the Eurovision announcement. Our impression was that she doesn’t quite own the song yet. While “Requiem” doesn’t have a difficult melody, it does has a crowded lyric that may be hard to sing live. We heard pitch issues, and it seemed like she didn’t always know where to breathe. We shouldn’t be thinking that singing a song is hard work.
Whether or not this is still a problem in May remains to be seen. She’s got time to figure it out. We also have seen that audiences can forgive minor pitch issues if they like you well enough. We had similar concerns about Amir last year, but his charm and charisma carried him far. Alma seems just as charming. She has a strong stage presence that radiates on camera.
“Requiem” was written by Nazim Khaled, who may turn out to be the more interesting part of this story. Khaled co-wrote “J’ai cherché” for Amir. So, Khaled has provided France with two solid Eurovision entries for two straight years. If it continues, he may prove to be a key voice in France’s Eurovision renaissance.
Beware the Ides of March, but beware the Eurovision Song Contest entries from San Marino more.
San Marino: Serhat – “I Didn’t Know”
For those of us who first came to Eurovision for the campiness, the past decade has been relatively slim pickings. Sure, you sometimes get a countertenor on a plinth or an Albanian Gumby impersonator, but most countries are increasingly taking this seriously. Fortunately, San Marino and Serhat have teamed up to offer us a slice of old school hokum that has transported us to a magical land where that strap-on monocle is an actual thing that people actually wear. We want to vacation in Manfred T. Mugler’s artistic vision. With any luck, the staging of this least self-aware miracle will live up to the amazing video. San Marino, don’t fuck this up.
UPDATED 03/21/2016: They fucked this up. Since we posted this review, San Marino decided to use the disco remix of “I Didn’t Know” as their Eurovision entry. Sadly, the original video has been scrubbed from the Eurovision YouTube playlist. Why do you got to stick it to the Manfred, San Marino?
Lisa Angell will represent France at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “N’oubliez pas”:
Angell first performed “N’oubliez pas” (“Do not forget”) during a concert held as France commemorated the 100th anniversary of World War I, but the song is intended to be more of a universal statement about war. Because the song is in French, I don’t know how much its themes will resonate with the general Eurovision audience unless the staging specifically draws attention to them.
Lisa is an established cabaret performer, with a big, clear voice. She should have no problem selling “N’oubliez pas.” The question is whether or not we will buy it. In recent years, ballads like “N’oubliez pas” make the Final, but then drop like a rock when the final tallies come in. I don’t really expect anything different here.
UPDATED 5 MARCH 2015: The video is from Lisa’s official presentation of “N’oubliez pas” on the Chico And The Gypsies, Le Grand Show on 28 February 2015. She sings it well, but the song still does not strike me as one that gets people to pick up their phones and vote.
France has voted to send Twin Twin to Eurovision with “Moustache”:
After “Moustache” was initially presented in January, there were rumblings that it sounded similar to Stromae’s hit song “Papaoutai.” Per esctoday.com, Virgin Radio did a mash-up of the two songs, along with “Dur Dur D’etre Bebe” by French child star Jordy, who won A.V. Club’s Least Essential Album by a Minor in the 1990s. Actually, “Moustache” sounds more like “Dur Dur D’etre Bebe” than it does “Papaoutai.”
Regardless, “Moustache” is a bright, bouncy gimmick song. It’s goofy and catchy, but Twin Twin are going to need to figure out how to expand the staging when they perform in Copenhagen. Something this light and airy is in danger of falling flat when being performed on a big stage. If they can get the tone right at the Final, then “Moustache” will be a fun way to spend three minutes. If not… well, it will probably be a bit annoying. C’est la guerre du Concours Eurovision de la chanson.
After last year’s dismal result, France revamped how it chose its Eurovision entries, and they selected Amandine Bourgeois as their performer back in January. The song, “L’enfer et moi,” was released today, and it is very French. I know you don’t believe it coming from an American, but I mean that in the absolute best possible way.
Listening to it, I’m whisked away to Paris 1968. I have no idea what Paris was like in 1968, but I’m pretty sure “L’enfer et moi” captures it. The song is a great example of a song that feels retro without feeling dated. While the song doesn’t really go anywhere musically, the intensity of the vocal increases as the song progresses, ending with a real wallop.
“L’enfer et moi” reminds me a bit of Nina Zilli’s “L’Amore È Femmina” from last year’s Song Contest. Only… well, dirtier. Not in a ribald way. I just mean that it sounds more raw, more worldly, less slick, and more bad-ass. (Which is saying something, because Nina Zilli was pretty bad-ass in her own right.)
France has been one of my favorite Eurovision countries the past few years. Sébastien Tellier, Patricia Kaas, Jessy Matador, and Anggun have all had really good songs. Unfortunately, like Amaury Vassili, Tellier and Anggun ended up fizzling on the Eurovision stage. I hope that Bourgeois can emulate Kaas’ success and that “L’enfer et moi” finishes toward the top of the leader board.
France, continuing with recent tradition, made an internal selection for Eurovision this year. Here’s Anggun with “Echo (You and I).”
I am in like–not in love–with the song. It’s a perky, upbeat dance-pop song, but there’s a strong melody behind it. The whistling in the mix does bug me. Obviously what we are hoping for as the entries roll in is something that captures the imagination, inspires us. “Echo (You and I)” is not that song. However, I think we saw last year is that under some circumstances a song can win by just being good enough. Those other factors include the mix of songs in the contest, placement in the draw, presentation. Except for presentation, these factors are largely out of control of the artist and the national selection.
So does this Indonesian beauty have what it takes to win? Vocally, Anggun has a distinctive alto that will be remembered. Also in her favor is she’s no novice. Anggun was an established recording artist in Indonesia before moving to France in 1994 and has been actively trying to establish an international recording career since 1997. However, she never quite got the breakout success she wanted. Eurovision, in this sense, offers the 37-year-old singer what is likely her last best chance to raise her international profile.
France is playing it smart this year, having her actively tour the National Final circuit to promote the song. Though she may be lip-synching some or all of these early performances, YouTube is full of her live vocal performances, many in front of large crowds. Vocally I suspect she’ll be ready come May, and even if she goes a little pitchy, which could happen, I don’t think it would be so bad it’s to the song’s detriment. Anggun can handle herself on stage, and it’s not playing to the large audience that I think will be her weakness. Rather, for me, I’m concerned about her likability on camera with first-timers who do not already know her.
We’ll keep our eyes peeled to see how her stage show develops and what else shows up from the competition. Hopefully they’ll change up that orchestration too. Whether to contend or simply one of the stronger entries, I think France will be part of the conversation this year.
I have to admit, I was pretty surprised this afternoon when I saw France atop the bookies list. I have no problem with classical opera, but I am not a big fan of the crossover classical pop style. Thus, when France announced they were going with Amaury Vassili, and then when they released the song, it did absolutely nothing for me. Here’s Amaury Vassili with “Sognu.” He’s singing in Corsican, isn’t that nice?
Here are a couple of (relatively objective) observations:
To be where he is by age 21 suggests a lot of talent and drive.
He is very good looking, and the camera loves him.
As an opera singer, there’s a certain depth that I find lacking in his voice, and I’m not confident he really has the power in the upper notes. Either his voice hasn’t fully matured yet, or he hasn’t got the goods. Not sure which.
I do think all the pieces are there for him to emerge as a popular classical crossover singer, and Eurovision will be a great platform for him to raise his profile internationally. But let’s not fool ourselves, please. We are talking about another Il Divo or Andrea Bocelli, not another Pavarotti.
Much as I don’t like it, this shit sells.
In case you have any doubts about how this guy wants to position himself, here from his (platinum selling) debut album, is his cover of U2’s “With or Without You.” I threw up a little in my mouth. He also covered Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” because everyone has to.
I have no idea how he’s going to do in Eurovision. Patricia Kaas finished 8th in 2009, my guess is something similar. Regardless, I suspect we’ll be hearing more from him after the Contest is long gone.