Ask anyone on the street with a passing knowledge of Eurovision who the best countries at it are, and there’s a good chance that they will say Sweden. Only one win away from equalling Ireland’s (somewhat unfairly gained) record number of victories, they are notorious for having the biggest Eurovision selection show in which all of their most modern popstars compete to send supposedly the best pop song in the country to Eurovision and as such, they’re rarely out of contention. Denmark are also not that bad, having had 3 top 5s and a win in this decade so far, although they’ve been out of the final for two years running now. Let’s take a look at what they have for us.
Sweden – Robin Bengtsson – I Can’t Go On
Now here is where I have so much to say that I might just overflow a bit. If you didn’t read my Melodifestivalen posts, and if you’re reading this I don’t expect you to have, I was not a fan of Robin winning, and indeed, I haven’t been totally on board with Melodifestivalen winners a lot of the time. Not many of them are truly bad songs, but mostly through watching the whole pre-selection show, I find favourites I get far more attached to and so I’m often underwhelmed by what they end up sending. The only exception since I started watching has been Euphoria, and prior to that I unconditionally love The Worrying Kind, La Voix and When Spirits Are Calling My Name. You should have been Heartbreak Hotel, Undo was the best post-Euphoria entry and was great for Sanna but I’d have preferred her with I’m In Love and let Ace Wilder have it in Undo’s year, and their last couple of entries have been rather bad for me. Apparently not for everyone else, as Sweden has a very enviable record. Two wins in this decade, two show-stopping wins, even if one, Heroes, I didn’t like at all, and mostly top 5 placings besides, and Sweden is the Eurovision top dog.
And the fun looks set to continue for the Swedes as Robin Bengtsson does have a bit of a hype train with I Can’t Go On. However, I have a big problem with it. A very big problem. It’s a very clinical and emotionless song, strong male pop, but with very little feeling behind it, and the title being I Can’t Go On just makes me want to add ‘listening to this crap’ to the title. To be fair to Robin, I liked him last year, with Constellation Prize, which, questionable pun title aside, was a rather fun tropical bop that used building instrumental flourishes to feel exciting. I Can’t Go On has none of that and it’s just a chore to listen to. Robin’s probably using the treadmills he used in the national final, reminiscent a bit of OK Go’s Here We Go Again but with none of the charm. I really, really don’t like this, but like with Heroes and If I Were Sorry, I’m expecting to be in a minority there. It’s too formulaic, there’s no feeling to it, and it’s ultimately clinical.
As much as I may be hoping that it flops on its arse, I Can’t Go On is almost certain to not do so. Never count out the Swedes in a Eurovision context unless they’ve sent a questionable folky ballad, and a strong modern pop song will have no problems qualifying with points from the accursed fun-sucking juries and the public distracted by the flashy moves. It’s opening the semi so will make a strong first impression and it’ll have Nordics Finland and Iceland to help. I’m not seeing a situation in which this one is out, particularly as semi 1 is notoriously short on songs that feel like nailed-on qualifiers. How it will do in the final is another matter. Because of my… feelings towards it, I’m struggling to see it as a continent-spanning winner, I think there’ll be enough people who, like me, fail to see any sort of coherent message or be wowed by its spectacle, to win. It’s inferior to Heroes on both those fronts and though Robin is certainly an attractive man, he’s no Mans. But I do expect it to do very well and so I’m putting this in a fairly uncontroversial top 10.
Denmark – Anja – Where I Am
Much of the problem that has been spoken about with Denmark’s entries you might think would enrage me enough that they would be one of my least-favourite countries, for most of what they do in a Eurovision context is create songs that are uncontroversial radio hits, middle of the road, unchallenging songs that belong to people who don’t like that much music. If not that, sometimes it’s direct copies of a popular sound, as their host entry in 2014 had more than a few shades of a budget Bruno Mars. And the last few years, when they didn’t make it, they seemed to pick the worst sort of pop-rock and insulting Westlife copies. It’s bad enough when Ireland does it. But their winner was decent and New Tomorrow and In A Moment Like This were genuinely rousing. I was all for Denmark to bring it back.
And it looks like they, in a reverse Melodifestivalen (so I hope some misfortune happens to Sweden so they reverse their appvote), changed the setup of Dansk Melodi Grand Prix to disadvantage this boyband frenzy the Danes had gotten themselves into and get something that could contend on the Eurovision stage. And what they got, Anja, is a pretty good attempt. It’s a solid pop song, there’s not that much to say about it, she has some good chops and there are some nice background vocals, and I’m definitely liking it, it has a good feeling to it, a feeling of purpose as she sings ‘tonight I’m going to show you’. It almost, with its instrumental flourishes, feels in the same spectrum of music as an anime opening. I know it’s in English but it has those same sort of key parts.
It’s hard to predict how this’ll do, for Nordic friends they only have Norway to help them this time around, but well placed between an ethno bop and the Westlife poison they’ve been trying to distance themselves from, this will stand out as a professional high quality pop song. I’d like to believe it’ll qualify, I think the last two Danish non-qualifiers were on lack of merit rather than a sudden lack of Danish support, and I think Where I Am should be well placed to see the country back in the final.