Eurovision · Music

Eurovision 2017 In-Depth: A Blackbird in Verona (Finland & Estonia)

The Eurovision world has had some big news since the last post I did on Eurovision. But in my insulated little corner of the web, we’re going to completely ignore that and pretend that one certain country never existed. What Winter War, you ask? I’m sure Finland and Estonia would like to pretend that they don’t have a big unruly neighbour to their east. But let’s get to the songs they’ve sent.

Finland – Norma John – Blackbird

Finland were a few years ago, bar none, my favourite Eurovision nation. Now, this is partly because I, as a rare heterosexual fan of the contest, consider Lordi basically the best winner ever, not only is it a completely awesome song, it embodies the beauty of song contests in that a country that once was a complete underdog can suddenly somehow have a record-breaking victory. The ultimate in turning previous results and expectations on its head. And given that the next nine entries from Finland were all varying degrees of excellent to good, from the female rock beauty of Leave Me Alone to the wonderful harsh tones of Terasbatoni and PKN, to the crazy Eurorap of Waldo’s People, you could normally count on Finland for something slightly abrasive that nevertheless sounded really good. Which is the exact sort of music I tend to love listening to, harsh music that takes risks with not necessarily appealing to the widest audience and therefore has personality to it. It’s even better when these tracks crossover to a wide audience because the wider audience accepts it. And that’s what happened with Hard Rock Hallelujah.

Thing is, for the first time in a long while, last year, Finland did not do that. Sing It Away had a clone in the Spanish entry that year, only it wasn’t as good. It was safe, and so I wasn’t too sad to see it out, as much as Sandhja herself was a great personality, that didn’t come through in her music. And the thing is, in a large way, the same has remained true this year. It has a bit more of a presence than Sing It Away, true, and for that reason, could get itself into the final. Blackbird by Norma John is a weird one for me. It’s slightly more alive than the British entry, but that’s not by much, and while it has the beautiful frosty Scandinavian vibes in the backing and the singer’s voice, it never really comes alive in the way that I personally want it to. It’s certainly kind of lovely but I’m always wanting a few more dramatic drums or the like to come in when I’m listening to it, that would elevate it to something on the level of Finland’s previous entries. As it is, it’s just a ballad that Eurovision doesn’t really need any more of, only about midtable and that’s not a place I’m used to having Finland in. Oh, and we’ve barely started about Eurovision’s lack of need for ballads, but I think I’ll save my full rant for when I get to the Czech Republic.

Coming through one of the weakest fields I’ve ever seen in UMK, which is the other national final I always make a point of watching, you could hardly imagine the Finns doing much better. Circle Of Light certainly showed promise as a song but the performance showed that singer to be an unreliable live performer and there was a rather large amount of questionable novelty. Which in some sense would have been amazing to see but the thing is with novelty, unless there’s also a good song behind the comedy, it won’t make it to the final and the effort is wasted embarassingly, having not even entertained the Saturday night parties.

As for how this’ll do, I’ve had this on to qualify for quite a while. Now I don’t have that as a safe qualifier, but this feels like something that will very easily slip through the cracks and against the songs that Norma John will be competing against in this semi, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, it feels at a bit of an advantage against them. The duo on stage, the potential for Scandinavian votes to come in, being surrounded by two more midtempo/upbeat songs in Azerbaijan and Montenegro at an ideal position in the middle, I think Blackbird has lucked out rather well for standing out and I’d call this as one of the ballads that is going through. Could well be going through. Semi 1 is a very tough semi to call but this feels like jury bait through and through.

Estonia – Koit Toome & Laura – Verona 

Estonia are normally, like the country across the gulf from them, rather reliable when it comes to music. It’s that elven blood, it gives you voices to inspire a generation. Occasionally, like in 2014 and 2016, they can really mess up, but this is an odd year, so that means a flawless Estonian entry. Actually, looking back, the only song to break the pattern of even years bad, odd years good is the wonderful show-stopping Kuula from 2012. At least as far back as 2005 and then it swaps around a bit. But arbitrary patterns aside, Estonia’s entry this year is interesting for a couple of reasons, firstly, it brings back a couple of those old entrants for a new duet. Like Never Forget for Iceland in 2012, say. Koit Toome represented Estonia all the way back in 1998, before they’d even won the Eurovision once. Meanwhile Laura was one of the girls in 2005’s Suntribe, an entry that never made it out of the semi finals, and is completely unremarkable mid-00s girlband trash, yet I’ve always been really attracted to because it has a certain addictive charm to it.

So two fairly veteran artists have come together for something rather wonderful. And that immediately gives away my feelings about it, for though I tend to love abrasive and challenging music, there’s something very simple and pleasing about nostalgic sounding music, it tickles the senses in a way adds to the feeling that this is an important piece of music, this is worth you investing your time into, and for that reason it comes across as a moment. Couple this with a lyrical theme of lost lovers coming together in their Verona (obvious reference to Romeo & Juliet that I shouldn’t need to explain), and it all sounds rather glorious. And very reminiscent of the similarly wonderful Goodbye To Yesterday from 2015. I love duets where the singers really bounce off of each other and Verona is certainly one of those, with them both sharing equal billing on the track, although Laura’s wails after the chorus are perhaps my favourite part of this, she’s certainly improved in vocal quality since Suntribe. It’s a huge 80s pop tune and I could listen to it over and over again. How does that translate to the Eurovision stage though?

I’d love to say this is in contention but I think that’s going a little far. I’d be very surprised if it didn’t make it through, coming as it is at the end of a semi. Although Estonia aren’t always the most reliant on friends, but they also only tend to fail to qualify when they’ve sent a song that really doesn’t capture the wider public imagination and I can’t imagine that Verona is one of those. The staging will probably be emphasising their couple status, pretty much the same as Goodbye To Yesterday, building to a climax, it’s hard to see how this won’t go down well, as long as they work on their live vocals, I recall hearing a few imperfections from the national final, Eesti Laul. This should be taking up a spot in the final on Saturday night and I’d watch out for it, it probably won’t win, but left side of the board, I’d say that’s very possible.

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