Norway’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Sometimes it’s not the journey, it’s the destination.

Ulrikke Brandstorp competed on the 2013 edition of Norwegian Idol and was runner up on the 2018 edition of Stjernekamp. She finished fourth in the 2017 Melodi Grand Prix with “Places.” She also played Liesl in a production of The Sound of Music. She co-wrote her song “Attention” with Christian Ingebrigtsen from A1 and Mørland, who represented Norway in 2015 alongside Debrah Scarlett with “A Monster Like Me.”

The moment I heard “Attention” during MPG’s fourth heat, I knew that it was going to win (and I’m still kicking myself for not proclaiming that on our Twitter account). It’s a gorgeous ballad, beautifully orchestrated and terrifically performed by Ulrikke. Her control throughout the song is remarkable, restraining her emotions when she needs to and unleashing them for maximum effect.

What impressed us the most is how well “Attention” is constructed. The orchestration is gentle and sparse at the start, and it barely swells for the first chorus. When it gets to the second chorus, “Attention” goes big, with subtle choral backing vocals emphasizing the big notes that Ulrikke belts out. We thought, “Well, they kind of went too big too early. Where do they go from here?”

Well, they go a quiet space for the bridge, a brief piano interlude which reloads the emotional rocket launcher. For the third chorus, the pyrotechnics are unleashed, both literally and vocally. It gives us chills, even though we are normally fire curtain cynics at this point.

If we want to nitpick, we’ll point that it’s a downbeat song that makes Hooverphonic’s “Release Me” sound like “Walking On Sunshine.” (It is a Mørland song, after all.) But damn, does Ulrikke make desperation sound great!

Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix was a hot mess this year for a variety of reasons. We’re not going to cover that here because that will be long forgotten come May. (Then we’ll remember it in June so we can write our 2020 WTF post.) For right now we’re just happy that in the end, the right song won.

Norway’s Eurovision 2019 Entry

This isn’t a dream! This is really happening!

KEiiNO is a pop group who formed to perform “Spirit In the Sky” at Melodi Grand Prix. Tom Hugo is a singer-songwriter who had a top 20 single on the Norwegian singles chart in 2012 with “Open Up Your Eyes.” He wrote “Spirit In the Sky” with his husband Alex Olsson, then recruited Alexandra Rotan and Fred Buljo to form the band. Alexandra teamed up with Stella Mwangi for MGP in 2018 to perform “You Got Me,” while Fred is a member of the Sami rap group Duolva Duottar that competed on the 2008 edition of Norske Talenter. The band took its name from Fred’s hometown of Kautokeino.

This is not good. It’s not. It is generic schlager gussied up with some joik singing to give it gravitas. The lyrics are bland aphorisms tricked out with folk tropes. It gives into every mawkish instinct with a straight face. Then there’s the official video, which is irrepressibly cheesy.

Needless to say, we love it. “Spirit In the Sky” is ridiculously catchy and KEiiNO’s earnestness makes it both more compelling and more kitschy in a way that bring us joy.

We will always defend the Eurovision Song Contest to any casual viewer who pokes fun at its hokey excesses and only tune in for the next Nicole and Hugo. On the other hand, Eurovision’s campiness is what sent us down this rabbit hole in the first place. We may not be in an era with a high cheese factor anymore, but that doesn’t mean the cheese platters have gone away either. It’s that combination of the ridiculous and the sublime that makes Eurovision so entertaining to us.

Also, we still hold out hope that KEiiNO will wear the fox ears in Tel Aviv.

Norway’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Listen up kids, I’ll tell you a story
Dreams can come true, two-time Eurovision glory
Can’t write a melody? Can’t come up with a rhyme?
No need to waste your time
Own the stage, show them you belong
That’s how you perform a song

Step one: camera tricks
They surprise and delight
Step two: smize like a boss
That’s how you perform a song

Come on!

Sing
Shoo-bee-doo-bee dab dab (Shoo-bee-doo-bee dab dab)
Sha-ba-da-da hey (Sha-ba-da-da hey)
Sing it all day long (All day long)
And that’s how you perform a song
Scoo-bee-doo-bee bap bap (Scoo-bee-doo-bee bap bap)
Boogie boogie woogie hey (Boogie boogie woogie hey)
Sing it all day long (All day long)
See, that’s how you perform a song

Step one: camera tricks
They surprise and delight
Step two: smize like a boss
That’s how you perform a song
Step three: engage the crowd
Make them sing out loud
Step four: play violin
That’s how you perform a song

Norway’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

This year’s winner of Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix is JOWST with “Grab the Moment.”

JOWST’s real name is Joakim With Steen. At Melodi Grand Prix 2017, he was the dude with the light-up mask. Up until now, Steen has been a sound engineer and producer. “Grab the Moment” is his first foray into making his own music. For this effort, JOWST teamed up with Aleksander Walmann, who is best known for his runner-up finish in 2012’s The Voice Norge. Walmann is also early in his career, but this is not his first collaboration with a house music DJ. Last year, Walmann was featured on Simon Field and Jamie’s rather fabulous cover of Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings.”

In the bio on his website, JOWST says he is seeking to mix genres and to make something that sounds new. Well, with “Grab the Moment,” he has created a cool beat, a patter-heavy verse and a harmonic chorus with voice modulation. Walmann is a good singer, and he handles the crowded lyric with ease. The combination is successful, and it is an enjoyable way to pass three minutes.

But, as much as we like “Grab the Moment,” it’s a song that doesn’t necessarily pack a visceral wallop. It’s sort like the movie Dodgeball. Both are well-done and likable. You enjoy them both in the moment, but you don’t remember much about them when they are over. Also, they both feature Alan Tudyk.

Hopefully Aleksander Walmann will voice the chicken in the Norwegian dub of Moana.

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”

Norway’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

When I was 15 I loved The Phantom of the Opera. I listened to the soundtrack A LOT. My passion for that score spilled over to other Victorian monster musicals–Jekyll & Hyde, Ken Hill’s the Phantom of the Opera. I also listened to the Smiths a lot.

If I had heard Norway’s “A Monster Like Me” when I was 15, I would have totally obsessed over it.

“A Monster Like Me” was written by singer-songwriter Mørland. Mørland was the front man of Absent Elk, a British indie rock band that sounded like Hard-Fi and released a couple singles in 2009 that didn’t go anywhere on the UK charts. He is now pursuing a solo career in Norway. He is joined by Debrah Scarlett, a Norwegian-Swiss singer who competed on The Voice Norway 2013 under her real name Joanna Bussinger. The song has a stripped down arrangement and uses negative space to depict alienation and regret. There’s a triumphant point at the 2:15 mark, where the two hit their big notes in harmony and the camera does this dizzying spinning trick around them.

Unfortunately, I am not 15 anymore. Now, all I hear is a melodramatic ballad full of angst and self-pity. It’s utterly sincere in its intention. With “A Monster Like Me,” I feel this visceral need to inject satire, slap it in the face, something, anything to snap it out of its pathetic, self-serving funk. Ironically, Forgetting Sarah Marshall already did it back in 2008 with the Dracula song:

Timing is everything I guess.

Norway’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

Norway has decided on Carl Espen and “Silent Storm” for Copenhagen.

Before a single vote had been cast at the Norway Melodi Grand Prix, “Silent Storm” had been flagged by close observers as a possible winner for the whole darn thing. This based on the audio track released by the MGP producers before the national competition.  The betting markets responded, and Norway was established as a front runner in the Eurovision outrights betting.

That’s a lot of pressure for a guy with virtually no professional music experience. Prior to the MGP Espen had entered a few local music contests, but he had been making his living as a carpenter and doorman for a rock club in Bergen. But Carl Espen built up his confidence over the course of the MGP, and by the final delivered a performance that did the song proud.

“Silent Storm” was written specifically for Carl Espen by his cousin, Josefin Winther, herself a recording artist who now lives in London. The strength of the song is in its lyric, which seems very much like the feelings of a strong, silent type put to paper. As sung by Espen’s heady tenor/falsetto it feels very personal and very honest. The melody in the refrain repeats itself three times, and then resolves. If done well, that type of repetition makes a song memorable; if done poorly, the repetition betrays a lack of ideas. Here it’s done well.

“Silent Storm” is a contender. At MGP, the team was smart to keep him looking working class. You get what they’re going for, and then that beautiful lyric does the rest. Success for Norway will largely depend on how well Espen handles the pressure of being a front runner during the Eurovision fortnight. Stray from the path but a little, there are many other ballads eager to take his place.

Norway’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

Margaret Berger has won Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix with “I Feed You My Love,” a trip-hopped up James Bond theme number featuring a solid vocal, a pulsating beat, and the tightest outfit since Paula Seling graced the Eurovision stage.

This song is cool, engaging, and modern. However, we’re not proclaiming it the next winner of Eurovision yet. Here’s why:

  1. The beginning of the song has a dissonant electronic noise very reminiscent of the start of “Euphoria.” It’s usually not a good idea to sound even remotely like last year’s winner.
  2. The verse portion of “I Feed You My Love” sounds like Adele’s theme to Skyfall.
  3. That buzzy, fuzzy electronica under the verse changes into a more orchestral sound in the chorus. While Berger’s vocals provide a link between the verse and the chorus, it does feel like two separate songs fused together.

Still, we like this song a lot.  Frankly, it is the first entry in this year’s contest that we unequivocally enjoy. Once again, we’ll be rooting for Norway.

Norway’s Eurovision 2012 Entry

Norway’s MGP tends to be one of the most unpredictable national finals. Except when it’s totally predictable. And sometimes you think it’s going to be totally predictable and it’s not. That’s the thing about Norway, as an outsider you often have no clue what’s going on.

The semifinals this year stayed true to form. Several of our favorites (such as Rikke Normann’s “Shapeshifter,” Minnie Oh’s “You and I,” and Irresistable’s “Elevator”) were passed over for choices with niche appeal. But never mind the other players because every sign was pointing to Plumbo’s “Ola Nordmann.” Plumbo had buzz, some controversy that kept people talking, and presence on the pop charts. Norway was going to pick the catchy sea shanty about the common man. It wouldn’t translate beyond Scandinavia, but it was unstoppable.

Except Plumbo didn’t win. And the win also didn’t go to Nora Foss al-Jabri’s “Somewhere Beautiful,” the Disney Princess showtune favored by the jury and women who read romance novels.

Norway’s 2012 Eurovision representative will be Tooji, an Iranian-born Norwegian who is a former model and a television presenter MTV Norway. Tooji collaborated with Swedish songwriters Peter Bostrom and Figge Bostrom (no relation) to write “Stay.” Melodifestivalen fans will recognize Peter Bostrom from his work on Eric Saade’s “Manboy” and Danny Saucedo’s “In the Club.” So it’s no surprise that “Stay” operates in the same space.

It is, I think, not a mischaracterization to call this a surprise victory. Tooji didn’t win his semifinal, and he was up first in the MGP Final. But the televote base this year was disengaged. Tooji won with 137,000 televotes. In contrast, last year Stella Mwangi won with 248,000 televotes, and that was considered a precipitous drop from 2010. It seems that Tooji pulled off the win because he picked up fan momentum when it was most needed. Here’s “Stay”:

I love love love this. Yes, Tooji kind of resembles Eric Saade. Personally, I think Eric is cuter, but the Taylor Lautner look is a thing right now. And yes, “Stay” kind of resembles Kesha’s song “Blow.” But for all the comparisons Eric Saade only wishes he could have competed at Eurovision with this song this good. In the end Norway got it right.

Norway’s Eurovision 2011 Entry

In Norway last night, Stella Mwangi creamed the competition and in so doing becomes the first entry we’ve seen this year that has a real shot at winning Eurovision.

The song’s hook is based on an old Swahili saying “Haba na haba hujaza kibaba” (Little by little fills the pot) and talks a lot about “When I’s a little girl my grandma told me…” This cultural mining for positive, family-friendly messages is the stuff that Disney specializes in. The song features harmonies and dance movement that evokes Africa without being too African.

The song is childish and Mwangi isn’t a strong singer. But Mwangi is cute as can be, and “Haba haba” is simple, extremely catchy, and a grower. Watch out.