The Eurovision Lemurs Seal of Approval: Shady Lady

Eurovision Lemurs Seal of ApprovalFor some reason, Ukraine has been on our minds a lot lately. Not really sure why.

But that’s okay, because Ukraine has always been one of our favorite Eurovision forces. Their songs are usually good fun or at least interesting. Their performances tend to be overstaged in an entertaining way. And failing all that, they can be counted on to bring way too much drama to their national selection process. And sometimes to other countries’ national selection processes.

All of which brings us to Ani Lorak. She was widely expected to win Ukraine’s national final in 2005 with “A Little Shot of Love.” But after weeks of semifinals, broadcaster NTU threw four wild card songs into the final at the last minute. Among the new entries was GreenJolly’s “Razom nas bahato, nas ne podolaty,” which had served as the unofficial anthem of the Orange Revolution. GreenJolly won, leaving Ani second in the table.

It may have hurt at the time, but let’s be honest, we don’t want to live in an alternate history where “A Little Shot of Love” went to Eurovision and “Shady Lady” didn’t.

What is it about “Shady Lady” that still delights us over a decade later? Let’s start with the orchestration. “Shady Lady” is propelled by synthesized strings that build and release tension throughout the song. It evokes lush disco-era orchestrations without sounding dated or pastiche.

To be sure, the verse foregoes the orchestral filigree for a bass-heavy grinding rhythm punctuated by beeps that Lorak and her back-up dancers used to full effect at the Song Contest.

But it’s really all about the strings for us. Our favorite moment in “Shady Lady” comes when the beat drops after the bridge and Lorak sings “Shady. Lady. Are you. Ready.” Those strings zoom back in to kick the song back into full gear. That still makes us tingly.

Lorak fully embodies and inhabits the lyrics.  Even though she didn’t write them (Eurovision stalwart Karen Kavaleryan did), she makes them her own. “Baby, don’t call me baby” is one of our favorite Eurovision lyrics.

“Shady Lady” finished second at the 2008 Song Contest, behind Dima Bilan’s “Believe.” We have frequently said on this blog that it’s the best song that never won Eurovision. Even though we’ll posit from time to time that another song has replaced it, we always seem to come back to our original position.

(Though we are ready to say “Soldi” has claimed that title at last. Don’t tell Ani.)

Ukraine’s Eurovision 2019 Entry That Almost Was

Usually we don’t have to do this type of disclaimer on our Eurovision blog, but any opinions we present in this post do not necessarily reflect those of our employers.

You see, Ukraine had planned to enter Eurovision this year. They held the Vidbir national final and everything. MARUV won with her totally awesome “Siren Song,” a pop banger that had the potential to elevate her to Ani Lorak-level heights with the Eurovision fan base.

But there was just one problem: Russia.

Like many Song Contest fans, we followed along with Vidbir aided by the live translations provided by Andy Mikheev from ESCKAZ on Twitter. So like many Song Contest fans, we were taken aback when Andy tweeted that host Serhiy Prytula pointed out that the mother of sister act Anna Maria is in the Crimean government and that Jamala criticized them for not answering correctly about whether or not Crimea is Ukrainian and that Jamala told MARUV that “it is a thing of consience [sic] not to perform in Russia” after discussing MARUV’s plans to tour Russia after Eurovision and that after MARUV said music unites people, Serhiy asked, “if there was anyone after her performance in Russia who said he will put guns down and will not go to fight in Donbass?”

No wonder that fellow judge Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko described the discussions like this:

Now, discussions of politics and national identity are not new to Vidbir’s judging. Jamala’s performance of “1944” back in 2016 included a detailed discussion by the judging panel (which included Ruslana and Andriy Danylko) about how political a song it was.

Maybe it shouldn’t be a shock, given that Jamala won Eurovision with a song about Crimea, that she would bring up Crimea during the judging of a Eurovision Song Contest entry. I mean, other than a fact that this was a show selecting a Eurovision Song Contest entry. But politics and Eurovision have been intertwined in Ukraine for quite some time, from Ruslana’s career in parliament to GreenJolly’s entry being an anthem of the Orange Revolution to, again, their most recent winner.

ESCKAZ and ESCXtra both cover the aftermath in detail, but in short, after reviewing the contract she was expected to sign to represent Ukraine, MARUV decided it was not worth it. UA:PBC offered the spot to second place act Freedom Jazz and third place act Kazka, and both rejected the opportunity as well. Meanwhile, private broadcaster STB, who runs Vidbir on behalf of the underfunded EBU member UA:PBC, cast doubts on whether or not they would continue to manage the national selection. As Eric Graf put it after Ukraine announced its withdrawal:

We in the Eurovision community may be scratching our heads, but if we are honest with ourselves, everything that happened during and after Vidbir is not that surprising. Russia and Ukraine relations have deteriorated since the annexation of Crimea and tensions flared up between the two countries as recently as this past November.

Not long after the annexation, I read an article written by The Economist’s Moscow Correspondent Noah Sneider called “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s a lengthy and often tough read, but it provided me with a lot of insight into the history of Russia and Ukraine. It also reminded me that as big as Eurovision is, it is just a small part of a greater history being played out.

I realize that’s not a deep insight, but people can spend their careers analyzing Russia and Ukraine, and I just came to Vidbir for the divas who slay. This is best sense I can make of it all, and now I can move on to making fun of Denmark’s entry.

Russia’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

As Americans, we’ve been thinking a lot about Russia lately. But at last, the true story has come out and we have clarity: Russia will participate at the Eurovision Song Contest in Ukraine, and they will be represented by Yulia Samoylova and “Flame Is Burning.”

Samoylova is a 28-year-old singer who was runner-up on the third season of Faktor A, the Russian version of The X Factor. She lost use of her legs when she was a child, so she will be the second Eurovision participant to perform in a wheelchair. “Flame Is Burning” is by Leonid Gutkin, who co-wrote “What If” for Dina Garipova and “A Million Voices” for Polina Gagarina. He co-wrote the song with Netta Nimrodi and Arye Burstein.

If you follow either Eurovision or world politics closely, you probably don’t need us to recap the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. (If you do, just go back and read our recap of last year’s Song Contest. And also a newspaper.) Suffice to say, Russia faced a difficult decision this year: whoever they picked would be entering particularly hostile territory, both because the Song Contest is in Ukraine and because, Sergey Lazarev notwithstanding, Eurovision fans in the hall have been more than enthusiastic to boo the Russian entry in recent years.

Despite calls by hardliners in Russia (and apparently Philipp Kirkorov) to boycott the Song Contest this year, Russia’s Channel One decided to stand strong like a tree in the wind. Nothing’s going to move this mountain or change their direction.

Is Samoylova a good singer? Yes. Is the song any good? Sure, if you like Russia’s brand of generically inspiring Eurovision ballads. Does any of this matter? Probably not. Russia has fulfilled its obligation to the EBU to participate and is also daring the Eurovision fans to boo a woman in a wheelchair.

Have we mentioned that Russia has the chrome-plated balls?

We do feel bad for thinking about this in such cold and cynical terms, of course, but you know, we can’t help it: we are Americans.

Updated 3/28/2017: We would be remiss if we didn’t update this post to note the controversy over Ukraine’s security agency banning Samoylova over her concert appearance in Crimea. ESC Insight has a good article discussing the situation and the politics behind it.

The EBU was widely derided for its proposal of having Samoylova perform via satellite if she was unable to go to Kyiv. Not to say it’s not a dumb idea, but we thought it was weirdly brilliant: we figure Russia told the EBU, “If our performer is barred entry, why should we pay fines for pulling out after the deadline?” and the EBU was calling their bluff. Maybe that’s a little farfetched, but then again, how much farfetched stuff has come to pass in the past year?

Updated 4/18/2017: As expected, Russia has withdrawn from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest after Ukraine’s government refused to budge on Yulia Samoylova’s travel ban. We’re kind of bummed the EBU hadn’t suggested Samoylova perform as a hologram as a possible solution.

Eurovision 2016 Round-Up: St. Lucia’s Independence Day Edition

All of the Eurovision Song Contest entries decided in the past couple of days have the ring of familiarity to them. Two artists make their return to the Grand Prix, and two others have tried to represent their respective nations in years past. Let’s try and relive some magic.

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Dalal & Deen featuring Ana Rucner and Jala – “Ljubav Je”

Bosnia & Herzegovina returns to Eurovision with an all-star cast of performers, including Song Contest veteran Deen. “Ljubav Je” is a standard Balkan ballad with a hip hop twist, thanks to Jala. We love how they staged the song presentation: it looked like Dalal and Deen were singing about the Romeo & Juliet-like love story between Jala and Ana Rucner. Will strings melt a hip hopper’s heart? Will rhymes be the hammer to ring the chimes of the cellist’s soul? Tune into SVT in May to find out.

Cyprus: Minus One – “Alter Ego”

Minus One are an internal selection. They vied for the chance to represent Cyprus last year and their song was one of our favorites from the national final season even if it was called “Shine.” They teamed up with the prolific Thomas G:Son to shred the hell out of their entry. It’s rocking good stuff and we’re looking forward their performance in Stockholm.

Iceland: Greta Salóme – “Hear Them Calling”

It seems that Greta Salóme took notice of all that fancy stuff Måns Zelmerlöw did at the Song Contest last year and did her own goth take on it. It’s alright, we guess, but the Lemur household is of the opinion that if Iceland was going to send a Greta song, they should have picked “Á ný,” which she wrote for Elísabet Ormslev. We’re not disappointed, Iceland, just mad.

Ukraine: Jamala – “1944”

Because this is Ukraine, we’re not entirely confident saying that Jamala is representing her country in Stockholm with “1944.” (Heck, she may not be entirely confident either, given her past experience with the Ukraine national selection process.) This is a song about Jamala’s great-grandmother, who was deported with other Crimean Tatars to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin in 1944. Andriy “Verka Serduchka” Danylko noted during Ukraine’s Lord of the Rings-length national final there is concern that it could be seen as political – certain parallels with contemporary times and all that. It’s probably just Ukraine being oversensitive and we are sure that the Russians will not complain one bit. Not one iota. Nope. Anyway, it’s a very effective song, and we could see it doing very well at the Song Contest this year.

Ukraine’s Eurovision 2011 Entry

NOTE: Because this is Ukraine, the status of this post is set to “constant state of flux.” Seriously, we’ve already edited this post 15 times…

We were going to watch Ukraine’s national final this weekend, but after watching clips of all 19 songs on the Eurovision live stream, we decided it was a safe one to skip. Normally we’re huge fans of Ukraine’s ESC entries, but nothing stood out to us. Even Anastasia Prikhodko, who represented Russia in 2009, entered a bland Ladytron knock-off that was livened up only by the weird plastic thing she was wearing as some sort of breastplate:

Ultimately, voters opted to send to Eurovision Mika Newton and her song “Angel”:

It’s fine, I guess. Maybe our expectations are too high now: we were spoiled by Verka, Ani Lorak, and Svetlana Loboda. Even last year, despite all the mess with the selection, they still went with Alyosha, who took a tuneless dirge of a song and turned it into a top 10 finish. Mika sings “Angel” well, but it’s not a number that really moves me. It exists in that bland middle of the pack, slightly better than “Na Inat” and “C’est Ma Vie” and slightly worse than “The Secret is Love” and “Change.”

It’s Ukraine, so it’s going to get out of the semis, but I would be surprised if this reaches the top 10.

UPDATE: It’s like Ukraine felt bad that we were unable to cover the various controversies over their 2010 entry selection last year and they are giving us a second chance. According to esctoday, Ukraine’s national broadcaster NTU announced that they will be holding a new national final on March 3 due to alleged voting fraud during this past weekend’s national selection. The top three vote-getters (Zlata Ognevich, Jamala and Mika Newton) will perform their respective songs again, and only tele-voting will count.

Of course, Mika apparently asked Ukraine’s organizers if she could sing a different song at Eurovision, so even if the voting fraud controversy hadn’t been raised, this post was probably going to be null and void anyway.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Because it’s Ukraine. Jamala has announced she will not participate in the new final, because it’s totally rigged. Is Anastasia available?

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Remember that new final? The one Jamala pulled out of? Zlata Ognevich pulled out as well, leaving Mika Newton as Ukraine’s representative. Of course, Ukraine network Pershy Natsionalny said that after a recount of the votes, Mika still had enough to win, so they declared her the winner anyway. Which nullifies the other two updates. Although Mika still wants to go to the ESC with a different song. Which means the main body of this post may still be null and void. Sigh.

FINAL (?) UPDATE: Ukrainian organizers have announced that Mika Newton will sing “Angels” at the ESC. So you can ignore all the updates.

Generally, it’s not our thing to comment on remarks or press conferences, but on this little gem we couldn’t resist.  At the press conference, Mika said the following:

“I have a lot of new songs written especially for me in America… <snip> If we had millions, we would not be interested in the Eurovision. We would have filmed the expensive video, paid for the rotations in Europe – that is how we would like to achieve popularity in Europe. And now financially ready to support me are not Ukrainians but Americans.”

Umm…as an American, I feel like I speak for many here when I say, “Oooh sure, good luck with that.”