Eurovision Review – 1998: Bip bip bip, orchestra RIP

Posted: 15/01/2012 in Eurovision Song Contest Reviews

Ah, 1998! I’ve watched this one over and over again, probably more than any other edition and it is without a shadow of a doubt my absolute favourite Contest ever. It becomes even more iconic when you realise this is the last one in which one of those key Eurovision elements makes an appearance – the one that can make or break a country’s participation as it can instantly reveal flaws in the composition that otherwise would be covered up by studio tricks but can also lift a song that sounded pretty average in studio version, due to poor production poor, to new hights. Whether you are pro or con, there is no denying the enormous impact the orchestra has had over the years and the decision to take it out if the equation is a pretty big one!

But let’s be realistic: times they are changing rapidly and in the Modern World the orchestra feels a bit out of date and out of place in the flagship of the European Music Scene (sic) – not to mention the fact that it must cost gazillions to have the ensemble rehearse and execute all participating entries ànd to give them a place in the ever expanding stage set-up. Exit the orchestra it is but they are going out with a bang in 1998, where they manage to make every song sound (relatively) qualitative whenever they’re used. I salute you, artists in the shadow, and to quote the infamous Irene Sheer: Bye bye, I love you.

What I also love is the entire production by Auntie Beeb which is near – dare I write it – perfection. Apart from a couple of minor hick-ups the British give us a flawless show with lots of quirky moments (as only they can). The stage looks hugh but feels quite light and although the whale’s tail is a bit of an odd choice it does work somehow – I suspect the lighting department had their work cut out for them. The introduction movies were little jewels with their combination of vintage and modern images, accompagnied by a Big British Hit. Especially the way the flags of each country were included at the end of the intro were great to watch – although the Swiss eye is still giving me nightmares. It’s all very British, down to the presence of the Royal Lifeguards, which makes the fact that the BBC got two non-Brits to host the show even more baffling. But I have to say they made the right choice, as sir Terry Wogan could not be absent – being a Eurovision icon on his own – and the lovely Ulrika Jonsson was the perfect hostess with her great sense of humour and lack of the rigidness we’ve so often seen in Eurovision’s history.

Musically I feel this is, much like the 1997 edition, a very strong year with almost wall-to-wall quality – and I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with the fact I’ve seen it countless times. There are only three songs I can’t stand at all, which must be a record. The absolute low point of this edition for me is, yet again, the Swiss entry – another bleak attempt from the Celine school and the combination with (who let him out of his cave anyway?) Egon Egemann is deadly for Gunvor. Not too keen on the Spanish song either (although I do like the woeful “ahaaaa” by the backing at the end of the chorus) and certainly not on the nasal sounds Mikel Herzog produces. His schlager is too mouldy really, no matter how self assured he’s trying to come across. The same goes for Malta’s Fort Valletta actually, benefitting from coming right behind the German circus in the line-up but failing to impress me at all. I don’t know what the public saw in her but to me this is very cliché and I don’t like Chiara’s colour of voice at all – as if she’s Minnie (or rather Maxi) Mouse on helium.
The others I have near the bottom of my list all have something in common: I don’t like the performance of what could have been an ok entry. Hungary somehow found Charly (roaming the streets of Budapest somewhere I presume, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other by the sounds of it) but should have left the entry to those fab backings. Slovenia’s Vili Resnik doesn’t manage to convince me either and I think it’s down to the combination of his distorted posture, his refusal to look into the camera and his somewhat flat chorus. And the men keep failing me: The hot nerd from Cyprus can’t stop shouting his bombastic song( too much!) and the regular nerd from Estonia almost had me convinced despite a somewhat dull performance until that awful Baywatch-like piano solo kicked in. But the female part of the field wasn’t all that genius either. I’m looking at you, Greece and Ireland! With a mole like that I’d think the Greek copy of Courtney Love would avoid a backless dress while turning her back to the camera. I do like her entry, but her timing was way off and the nerves (or was it the anger over the Greek fight with the BBC?) clearly got the better of her. And the Irish version of the vampire Lestat that is Dawn Martin distracted all attention with that gargantuous mouth of hers, even though her voice was quite okay and the song quite sweet – and I love those floating “you promised me” lines throughout it.

Then we get to the six entries that just missed out on the top ten (this time, but on any given moment they could sneak back in depending on my mood – it really is that close a year). Let’s start with the French Nipple Knight Marie Line, packing a hypnotizing song that’s wonderfully reinforced by the string section of the orchestra but failing to keep the tone for most of the song. I realise those hoarse sounds come natural to her, but they do sound slightly out of tune. Used to be in my top 5 but now I find it too repetitive to get really excited by it anymore. Another one that fails to get my juices flowing enough is Poland, where I feel the second part is much more interesting than the first one – as if it suddenly develops from nothing into something cheery. I presume Europe missed the good part by answering Mother Nature’s call or getting a snack. Then there’s our own Mélanie Cohl, almost as beige as her suit but presenting a nice enough sweet little song that’s happy enough to keep me interested. A bit of a contrast next to Romanian sweetheart Malina Olinescu (bless her soul), who gets the Barbara Dex award from me for that baroque dress and that hideous necklace, with her plastique bombastique song but with a nice vocal performance.
Much more stage presence we got from Guildo Horn and his Orthopaedic Stockings (Best. Name. Ever.) – perhaps even too much so. Looking very much like Gargamel (click to view) with his greasy hair and pyjamalike outfit he gave us a parody on how-do-I-attract-the-attention-of-the-televoters performances before they even flooded the Festival and I personally think it’s hilarious. Too bad people took it seriously. How could they, the beep-beep-beeps alone must have given it away? But it does get a bit too much near the end, and I’d have pissed my pants if I’d have been Katie Boyle. On a song level it’s quite accomplished however with a great Motown vibe to it. Much like the Norwegian entry really, only they went for a much more cliché/middle of the road presentation with the posterboy that is Lars Fredriksen. Boy, he must love himself to death with all that posing – wouldn’t want to be his mirror. Better focus on the bald backing whom I’d gladly slap on a sandwich and have for lunch, takk.

So a couple of misses by the European public in the first ever complete televote but I’m not too unhappy with the eventual top ten and the way it all went on the night – there will be plenty more to complain about in the near future but frankly I reckon that’s more due to the entries being ‘adapted’ to what countries think the public will vote for than the taste of the public itself. To put it mildly. But here’s the result of Dimivision’s own proper inner televote:

1 point: Finland – Aava

This could’ve ended up way higher if only Edea hadn’t struggled as much as she did – by default really because of her throat issues and her national final performance proves she càn do it but it’s the entire package on the night that counts. Pity, because it’s all very special and never-seen-before (the clay pot!). Though they could’ve re-evaluated those outfits on the backings. But one point anyway for the uniqueness of it all.

2 points: Turkey – Unutamazsın

Somebody get this man some taste, quick! This is so beautiful with your eyes closed, so woeful and haunting – I’ve underestimated this for such a long time but it really is a fantastic entry and I prefer it to the fanwank that is Şebnem Paker’s third attempt to go to Eurovision called Çal. Too bad Tüzmen didn’t get a nice haircut, some grooming of the eyebrows and a bit of decent styling advice before gracing the stage in Birmingham – would have done this often forgotten entry a world of good.

3 points: United Kingdom – Where are you?

Now there’s irony for you: using the famous Mini Cooper to introduce what has to be the shortest singer in the competition. But what Imaani lacks in physical presence she makes up for in stage charisma and vocal supremacy – that end sentence is just amazing. She packs a great pop song and gives us one of the most modern entries of the night that sadly gets a bit boring midway through. Not too keen on the staging and styling of it all either but I guess it fits the dark mood of the song. Nice but somewhat unexciting.

4 points: Croatia – Neka mi ne svane

And now it gets really tough. This is a true classic and contains the best/most effective strip-reveal in the history of the Contest but it’s also a bit too by the Book Of Ballads for me. Danijela sings and sells the song very well, though she could have done with looking into the camera a bit more at the start of the song. Boyfriend lovingly calls this ‘Mekmadei mekmadei’ (his way of recognising the song and his only effort to have a phonetic go at a song) and it really is a benchmark song – just has bad luck in being included in such a strong field.

5 points: FYROM – Ne zori, zoro

Again an entry that is al too often forgotten – and I plead guilty as well because I’ve only started to appreciate this a couple of years after the Contest. And appareantly the BBC got tired as well by the time we got to song 25 in the line-up, judging by the dodgy camerawork (I counted three camera crews on screen, did I miss any?). Pity, as this is really interesting stuff! The music is quite mysterious and uses a couple of unusual instruments, the backings build the mood beautifully and Vlado Janevski isn’t an obvious choice to perform it but his suave rendition works. I only dislike the abrupt ending, but I guess that’s a bit of a compliment really. No standard Eurovision stuff at all, which is why I like it even more.

6 points: Slovakia – Modlitba

Isn’t this a bitch to sing along to phonetically? How many syllables can a song contain? And then there’s the belting in the chorus of course, something only Cher’s doppelgänger Katarína Hasprová can do the way it should be done. This is straight up my alley, with a bit of a folksy undertone and a clear idea that comes across very well. La Hasprová is such a class act and has got impeccable dress sense – even in black that dress still bounces of the screen. Very underestimated and undeservedly so, but I guess the European public needed something more instant to get their juices flowing. Peasants.

7 points: Sweden – Kärleken är

Now I know the lyrics could come across as cliché as hell but nevertheless they touch me almost every time and the way Jill Johnson interprets the words might have something to do with it. She’s got a specific colour of voice which suits the song very well and the understated way in which this is performed is really lovely. I LOVE the woeful hobo that sets the mood during the verse and it’s great to see the Swedes in a different setting than the Blond-esque schlagerstorm we’re used to.

8 points: Israel – Diva

Well she was always going to win wasn’t she? Making up for the wrong that was inflicted upon Gina G really – the most commercial song of the evening triumphed in the end and, let’s face it, changed the face of the Contest. And it’s Alla Pugacheva‘s concept translated to a commercial hit as well, isn’t it? I don’t think for a split second that Dana International‘s back story was thé selling point of it all, though I do think the whole of Europe must have simultaneously thought she looked absolutely stunning in that dress. Good choice to keep THE dress for the re-run, a calculated gamble if ever there was one. I dislike the distracting moving by the backing vocals, making it all the more clear the Fat One is left out of the picture as much as possible – for shame. Miss International might not be the best singer by a long shot, but an artist she definitely is – and a Diva as well, of course.

10 points: Netherlands – Hemel en aarde

I’m afraid this wasn’t my favourite in the Dutch national final, I’m still singing dramatically along with Nurlaila, but I must admit this worked fantastically in the National Indoor Arena with the orchestra. The backings are as annoying as the British ones for me, distracting too much, but Edsilia Rombley  makes me forget all about them with her stunning rendition. This is soooo much better live than in studio version! The atmosphere is great, the interaction with the public is very effective and it transcends the not so flattering (we are sadly aware) Dutch language. Brilliant stuff.

12 points: Portugal – Se eu te pudesse abraçar

I’m surprised myself really, but when I put two and two together it’s actually very logical. It ticks all of my boxes: great vocals, a complete idea, great use of the orchestra and a simple but effective execution. It’s all so summery and light and airy and yet so full of musicality – I love this to pieces. And that dress is a fabulous choice. I can even ignore the retarded clapping because Inês Santos is so lovely. A deserved douze points!

As promised I’m giving you an update on the all time ranking by revealing my top 25 rather than my top ten – gives all the new countries some visibility and me something more to write about! I took Monaco (51 points) and Luxembourg (107 points) out of the equation as they’ve retreated voluntarily and I’ve redistributed the Yugoslavian points to its successing new nations based on the language the scoring entries were sung in. But for now the most important news is that the Netherlands managed to reclaim the throne – what the hell? I think I need to go see a doctor!

1             Netherlands 184 (1970 – 1971 – 1993)
2             France 176 (1960 – 1977 – 1991)
3             Belgium 157 (1968 – 1983 – 1986-1990)
4             Italy 149 (1958 – 1964 – 1978 – 1992)
5             Portugal 148 (1972 – 1998)
6             Finland 147 (1962 – 1979 – 1985 – 1988 – 1989)
7             United Kingdom  132 (1961 – 1965)
8             Germany 129 (1959 – 1975)
9             Ireland 119 (1969 – 1980 – 1984 – 1996)
10           Spain 118 (1973)
11           Sweden 114 (1974)
12           Norway 108 (1966 – 1982)
13           Israel 102 (1976)
14           Switzerland 72
15           Denmark 71 (1957 – 1963)
16           Greece 71 (1981)
17           Turkey 57
18           Slovenia 42
19           Austria 40
20          Croatia 34
21           Cyprus 33
22           Iceland 32 (1987)
23           Poland 24 (1997)
24           Bosnia-Herzegovina 19
25           Serbia 14

Now take me to your heaven, Israel!

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