Hungary’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

The nice thing about artists returning to Eurovision is that a lot of our work is already done. Case in point: Joci Pápai. Just read the bio we wrote when he represented Hungary in 2017, then note that he finished 8th in the Grand Final that year.

Of course, that was then. What about now?

“Az én apám” is a gentle ballad about Joci’s dad. (That’s two songs in a row from Hungary about fathers. Wonder if there’s something going on there?) It’s a lovely song, but it doesn’t strike a chord with us the way “Origo” did. Maybe we are being unfair comparing the two songs, but we think his latest effort lacks the spark that made his previous effort so successful. If he wasn’t an artist the audience was already familiar with, we wonder if he would have made it out of Hungary’s A Dal competition.

We will be thinking a lot about artists coming back for a second bite of the apple, mainly because Joci, Nevena Božović from Moje 3, Sergey Lazarev, and Serhat are all returning to Eurovision this year. They likely aspire to be like Dima Bilan, who finished second in 2006, then came back and won in 2008.

However, a lot of returning performers often find their second go-around isn’t quite as successful as their first one. For example, Elitsa Todorova and Stoyan Yankoulov snagged Bulgaria’s best finish to date in 2007, but missed the Final when they came back in 2013. There wasn’t a lot wrong with “Samo Shampioni,” but it sure wasn’t “Water.” We’d love to say we got Dima Bilan vibes out of Joci this year, but we’re feeling more Elitsa and Stoyan.

Hungary’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

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AWS are a metal band that formed in 2006 and made a name for themselves tackling social issues in their lyrics. In 2011, they were named Brand:New Discovery of the Year on MTV Hungary.

Their path to Lisbon was interesting, to say the least. Hungary’s A Dal format gives the panel of four judges the power to send four songs to a superfinal. The superfinal result is then determined by a televote. Generally, songs that get a lot of points from the jury end up winning the televote.

That was not the case this year. “Viszlát nyár” squeaked into the superfinal with only eight points total from just two jury members. This after it received nines across the board from the four jury members and the televote in its heat, then three 10s and a nine from the jury and just a seven from the public in its semifinal. You can understand when AWS seemed genuinely shocked that they pulled off the win.

We were pretty happy with the A Dal result. To be fair, one member of the Lemurs household in particular is an old metalhead, but we both admired the unconventional choice. It’s almost like the Hungarian public collectively realized that maybe the key to Eurovision success is to not resemble the previous winner at all.

We think there are two omens that hint at good things for AWS in Lisbon. First, stylistically similar songs to “Viszlát nyár” have done pretty well: maNga’s “We Could Be the Same” finished second in 2010 and Eldrine’s “One More Day” finished ninth in 2011. Second, “Kedvesem” was another song that made the A Dal superfinal in the jury’s fourth place slot. ByeAlex went on to finish 10th at the Song Contest.

This could just be wishful thinking, but we always hope that countries that break out of the pop mold are rewarded for their choices. We have our fingers crossed for Hungary this year.

Hungary’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

Joci Pápai has won A Dal 2017 and will represent Hungary at the Eurovision Song Contest with his song “Origo.”

Pápai is a Romani musician who participated in the 2005 edition of the Hungarian talent show Megasztár. He has since put out a number of singles, including a 2015 collaboration with A Dal 2017 judge Caramel.

A Dal is one of our favorite national selections, and we followed it from the quarterfinals. “Origo” is the song we were rooting for all along. It is a gorgeous melody with a hook you remember, and it stood out against the more commercial entries on display. It was also the rare song in this year’s national selection that united the judging panel and the Hungarian televote. This is another number that we have high hopes for at the Song Contest.

We were concerned during the early stages of A Dal that Pápai looked too nervous to really perform the song. He only got comfortable during the rapped verse. In the final, however, we thought his performance came together. We could see a repeat of that in Kyiv, where nerves that are on display in the Semi dissipate during the Final.

As a side note, Good Evening Europe has a lovely interview with Pápai where he talks about the significance of a Romani-Hungarian musician representing Hungary at Eurovision. A must-read for Eurovision fans.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Leap Year Edition

It’s a good thing it’s Leap Year, because we need an extra day to process all of the songs chosen for Eurovision this weekend!

Finland: Sandhja – “Sing It Away”

Donald Trump is going to be the Republican Party candidate for President and Sandhja’s European jazz festival closer is going to represent Finland at Eurovision and I do not understand the world anymore.

Hungary: Freddie – “Pioneer”

We are Eurovision hipsters, so A Dal is of course our favorite national selection competition these days. There were eight songs in the A Dal final, and we felt that the four super finalists would ably represent Hungary in Stockholm. Coming out of the semis, we thought Freddie would not only finish top 5 at Eurovision, but even take the crown. His performance in the final was a bit rougher, so we’re not quite ready to proclaim him the champion yet. But his husky voice and rugged good looks may make him very popular in Sweden.

Continue reading “Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: Leap Year Edition”

Hungary’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Boggie will represent Hungary at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Wars for Nothing”:

Boggie (Boglárka Csemer) is best known for her song “Nouveau Parfum” (“Parfüm” in Hungarian), which was a number one hit in Hungary. The song’s video shows Boggie being edited in Photoshop as she sings. It is a stunningly good video that gained some international attention.

If only her Eurovision entry were as good as that. Of course, I admit to being biased against this sort of holier-than-thou socially conscious message ballad. It’s like a sledgehammer of earnestness banging on my guilt-ridden soul.

To be fair, the melody is simple and compelling, and Boggie and her back-up singers sing it beautifully. Try to get this out of your head an hour after listening to it.

Maybe the problem isn’t with the song, but with my own cynicism. Maybe my give a damn’s busted. Maybe some internal reflection and a donation to a worthy cause will help me appreciate “Wars for Nothing” more. Let me dig a little deeper…

 

 

 

 

No, sorry. Nothing.

P.S. Don’t die, Europe!

Hungary’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

To say that we are thrilled that Hungary picked Kállay-Saunders András is an understatement. Long time readers of our blog will know last year Kállay-Saunders András’ retro Motown doo-wop number “I love my baby” was one of our favorite entries that didn’t make the Eurovision cut. Musically, this year’s song, “Running,” is a major step forward.

“Running,” at first glance, is a modern, radio-friendly R&B ballad. But there’s much more going on. The richness of chords from the piano (think Alicia Keys), supported by the solo vocal (“she cries, cries, cries, she’s all alone”), engage the listener in an impressionistic treatment of the impacts of child abuse.  The presentation complements the lyrics. We see a teddy bear on the piano–at first you think it’s something quirky, but the image on the screen shows a child with the same teddy bear. Musically the changes in rhythm between verse and refrain put the listener off balance. The backing harmonies are dissonant. These songwriting conceits underscore the upsetting thematic material.

What’s interesting to us is that, thus far, reception to the song has been mixed. Part of his challenge is that Kállay-Saunders has favored introversion in order to keep the tone dark, respectful, serious. To succeed in Copenhagen, Kállay-Saunders needs to continue to work on connecting with his audience.

Born and raised in the United States, Kállay-Saunders András relocated to Hungary in 2012 after placing 4th in Megasztár, the Hungarian equivalent of Pop Idol. Since then, he has been signed to a Hungarian music label and has had several top 10 hits in Hungary. We don’t speak a word of Hungarian, but when watching in-language interviews his American accent is obvious even to us. We’ll be interested to see in weeks to come if European fans criticize his sound for being “too American” (a dig we’ve heard on other R&B numbers). Well, if it is, so be it, but it sure works well for us.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS: Since returning to the contest in 2011, Hungary has been making great song selections and is rapidly turning into one of our favorite countries in the contest. Last year, we said Hungary’s A Dal lacked depth. Wow, what a difference a year makes. This year, Hungary displayed an embarrassment of riches–the deepest, most competitive selection we’ve seen this year. What a joy it is to watch a country blossom.

Hungary’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

The Hungarians have sent a good song to Eurovision. Not a song that’s viable at Eurovision, mind, but nevertheless a good song.

Here’s ByeAlex and “Kedvesem.”

Indie singer-songwriter ByeAlex reminds us of Sufjan Stevens. Now there’s a comparison I never thought I’d make on a Eurovision blog. “Kedvesem” (Google translate: Dear) is a gentle, introverted number, and it creates a mood. It feels like the soundtrack to a stroll by the river on a Sunday in Spring. And how cute is that animated backdrop?

Much as we like it, we are pessimistic “Kedvesem” will fare well on the international stage.  It’s a subtle piece, and there is a risk that subtlety will fall flat when 20 other numbers are scrambling to shake viewers by the shoulders, yelling “pay attention to meeeee.”  Also, Alex is pitchy in this performance. Whether this is Alex or a weakness of A Dal’s sound mix remains be seen. (Last year, Compact Disco sounded awful at A Dal, but they were fine in Baku.)

Something interesting is happening in Hungary. This is the second year in a row that Hungary has selected a Eurovision song from an alternative music artist. Hungarians aren’t going for “Eurovision songs” and they’re not going for “radio-friendly” songs; they’re just picking cool songs from cool artists. How refreshing.

Other lingering thoughts:

  • Hungary’s A Dal, as a song contest, doesn’t yet have the depth that we see in Estonia’s Eesti Laul, but it follows through with what it has. Eesti Laul, post-Malcolm Lincoln, has had its share of alt entries that it rejected in favor of something safe. A Dal, in contrast, has had its share of safe entries that it rejected in favor of something alt.
  • Shout out to Kállay Saunders András, who with his doo-wop number “My Baby” served up one of our favorites from this year’s national selection season.  Totally retro, but charming from start to finish.

Hungary’s Eurovision 2012 Entry

I do not understand why Hungary picked Compact Disco’s “Sound of our Hearts” as its Eurovision entry this year. Not that any of the other songs they had in their pool would have had a shot at winning the title, but “Sound of our Hearts” is just such a sludgy dirge:

On top of that, Csaba Walkó has such a reedy, nasal voice that isn’t helped by the fact that sounds slightly pitchy throughout the chorus. Blergh. Blergh blergh blergh.

Hungary’s Eurovision 2011 Entry

Like Austria, Hungary has decided to ante up for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Their record in the past has been mixed. They achieved 4th place in 1994, and the best entry in recent memory was 9th place in 2007 with Magdi Ruzsa’s impressive “Unsubstantial Blues,” which we highlighted in our Biggest Diva Performances. Since then, however, Hungary has languished in the semi-finals, and sat it out last year.

For this year’s return, Hungarian organizers selected Kati Wolf, former contestant on Hungarian X Factor. Wolf will sing “What About My Dreams” partly in English, partly in Hungarian:

I like this song. I don’t think it’s your next winner, but it’s upbeat and appropriately big. The songwriters say the song “brings back the atmosphere of the disco music of the 80s,” and I suppose there is a little Whitney in there, but the arrangement sounds pretty contemporary to me. Wolf has a nice voice, and on this recorded track I was impressed with her musical phrasing, especially through the octave leaps and resolution. The English lyric, brought in after the announcement, is excellent.

However, something about the song’s structure, tempo, and chords in the chorus reminds me of Croatia’s current entry “Celebrate.” That’s not good, because both countries are slated to be in the back half of the first semi-final. At minimum Hungary has to think carefully about how to showcase Wolf’s singing abilities and make the song stand out. But Hungary and Croatia had both better hope for a draw that separates them, or else they could wind up killing each other off. I sure hope it doesn’t go down that way, because Hungary appears to be returning to the contest on a good note.