MF semi 2 + Norway + Iceland = Stratego!

Posted: 12/02/2012 in National Finals Reviews

Busy busy busy on Saturday at Casa Dimivision with not only semi 2 in Melodifestivalen but also the Norwegian and Icelandic finals on the menu. An opportunity to compare the different shows by the Scandinavian broadcasters and the differences are clear. But the similarity is striking: everyone is attempting to win this game of Stratego.


So off we went at around 20.00 CET with MF semi 2 which promised to be better than the kick-off last week. SVT brought us in the mood with a tribute to boysbands through a medley. A bit of a weird choice as it’s not that Eurovision related but if fits perfectly in their strategy on which I already commented last week. It’s all about making MF relevant in the Swedish music scene by being a showcase for talent and if anything yesterday’s show was a prime example. This time though it wasn’t about maximizing the difference between the songs, it was however very striking how similar some songs were to proven successes around the world. Winning Stratego by copying? Who knows!

It all started rather inconspicuous with the young Ulrik Munther who basically used a Dima Bilan like R&B production which he camouflaged by going for a Tom Dice approach – two concepts that don’t seem highly reconcilable.  The 17 year old was very strong on a vocal level however and sold his song very well, the first of many professional performances.
The ‘50s rockers then that are the Top Cats made me think of Jason Donovan in an Elvis tribute. Pure schlagerrock but the guys managed to make it quite hip, as if the T-Birds had caught their second breath. Someone who didn’t manage to come across quite so hip was dear Sonja Aldén, channeling Mariah Carey in her power ballad. I know the power ballad is back but with the wind machine and the bridge it all came across slightly outdated. All it needed was a couple of swans to finish it right off. No, then I’d rather have Andreas Lundstedt’s mix of Sam Sparrow and Danny Saucedo. That might seem a bit much for someone who’s not a 21 year old anymore but Lundstedt did a brilliant job. One problem though: he was being an upright Diva and in Sweden only Carola’s allowed to act that way (no?). Modesty’s the key word!
Another act to make an MF comeback was Timotej, building on the return of the power schlager that was re-introduced by Jenny Silver last year. I understand their instruments provide the umbrella concept for their folksy ethnic sounds in their songs but they come across a bit weird in their song that’s really just a dance song. If all vocals were live I’m impressed, even though I’m not too excited by the rather flat build-up of it all. And I see what they’re trying to do by including those dancers but it just didn’t work out. Much unlike the unknown David Lingrén really, who’d clearly spent a lot of time in rehearsals with his army of dancers and it paid off. They all moved so tightly, incredible. Very, here it comes, Eric Saade but in some Rihanna-style eurodance jacket. Très professional but it came across a bit too calculated perhaps – I feel a less severe outfit might already work wonders.
Mimi Oh’s inspiration was quite obvious as the verses in her fresh little pop song could’ve walked out of Robyn’s back catalogue. Until that flat chorus kicked in that is, comparable to the Glee cheers we got from Linda Sunblad last year. Miss Oh’s vocal slip ups made sure she was never a real contender either. The most striking copy-paste however was kept for the end of the show with Thomas Di Leva piggybacking on the world’s biggest group (of the moment). Coldplay was written all over his entry, with the haunting piano melody in the chorus and the floating howling in the bridges. Better to copy cleverly than to invent something that doesn’t work I suppose? Which automatically brings me to his outfit: what’s that all about?? Distracting really, and not at all magical.

The choice the Swedes made weren’t that surprising after all and fits perfectly into SVT’s strategy. Just happy to see that whirlwind of a show with as an absolute climax the interval act with that electrifying mash-up that frankly blew away the songs that were actually competing. Oops! Pity it can’t compete in Baku! But I had fun, bring on semi 3!

Quickly changing channel then to follow the second part of MGP where we were just in time to see the revelation of the 4 super finalists. The professional stage set-up for each act was certainly qualitative but the entire show surrounding it was simply poor. Having just seen the dynamic work SVT gave us it was a real shame to see the lack of modern savvy by NRK – as if we were warped back to ’91.

But let’s focus on those 4 finalists. I didn’t follow the semis on purpose because, apart from MF as it’s the Mother of all finals, I’m getting fed up with the overflow everywhere. As the 4 got to perform again it was perfect for me to get up to speed and judging by this bunch NRK must have had the same mission statement as SVT: what an eclectic bunch! I’d already read Plumbo was supposed to be an early favorite but seeing the performance live I didn’t quite get why they were. Yes, their folksy rock song was catchy enough but it’s the kind of pub stomper you’d expect from a starting youthful band, not a bunch of grown up men. Wasn’t too convinced by the sugarsweet Disney ballad by Nora either, about who my boyfriend sighed that “she’s like the Disney heroine discovering she can be more than she thought she was or could be”. Spot on. I’d rather have the straight-to-the-point country ballad we got from Petter & Bobby, containing that whiff of melancholy to which I can never say no.
It was quite clear however who was the Big Favorite over here. Young Tooji managed to convinced everyone present over here with his strong stage presence and his powerful electropop song. I’d have to stipulate at this point that none of us was terribly convinced by either Eric Saade or Danny – to whom Tooji bares some resemblance when it comes to the total package. The way this builds up is just genius, I feel the ethnic sounds are incorporated extremely well and I’ve only heard Ruslana and Sertab doing it so effectively – there could be worse references. Plus the ethnic sounds are, let’s call it…, justified (?) with his Iranian roots. His vocal could be a bit more refined but his strange presence is abundant and the act is very cleverly put together. A very professional act but I can’t help but fear how this will turn out completely live. I simply hate the fact of allowing recorded backing vocals in a national final – how can people vote in all honesty if they don’t get the act as it would be in Eurovision? Just a side thought. But my clear favorite in the current selection. Winning Stratego by going ethnic again? Perhaps.

 

Cue Iceland and the final part of their Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins 2012. Now, RUV’s a broadcaster with limited resources compared to the other Scandinavian countries but that auditorium we saw yesterday is quite out of place – makes you think about what RUV would have to accomplish if they actually had to organize Eurovision…
Looking at their musical selection however I must bow my head: that was an excellent national final. The reprise of all the songs awakened my interest and I looked them all up – great selection. Very different genres but all executions were spot on. Made me reflect on how exceptional that is – in Belgium we’ve got 11 million inhabitants but our Eurosong is so often too poor and then far up there with far less people such quality is created, as RUV showed through a montage of hits Iceland has spawned over the last decades in Europe. Remarkable. I love their particular way of looking at music, dissecting it and putting it back together in an entirely different way. Their selected song is a reconciliation of their own view with the world of Eurovision with a very clever build-up and some lovely full instrumentation. Topped off with an excellent vocal execution, backing vocals included thankfully, this was a logical choice to me. A comparison to Azerbaijan 2011 isn’t necessary I feel – this one can stand on its own. Not too keen on the emphasis on the violin though – keep it at a Urban Symphony level, watch out for Alexander Rybak or, much much worse, Egon Egemann. Winning Stratego by somewhat playing safe? Okay.

 

But so far I’m happy with how the Vikings are doing. Curious to see if the Swedes will be able to keep up with the team and if the Fins manage to find their way as well. Meanwhile a further bit down to the south Hungary made an excellent choice as well, I love their entrancing bit of electro. A couple of rehearsals should do the trick. On season is on, everybody!!

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