After precious minutes of searching, you have finally found the place to read Daniel Viles’ song reviews for the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest held at the Skonto Olympic Hall in Riga on May 24 and won by Sertab Erener of Turkey. The two-level stage gave the performers a lot of space to work in.
1. ICELAND - Birgitta - Open Your Heart **
The problem with choosing a show-stopping song to sing at Eurovision is that the random draw might not allow you to stop the show. Don’t have too much sympathy for Birgitta, though; this is pop music by numbers. Connected clichés, big chorus, power chords on the guitar, belted vocals from start to finish (except, of course, the soft chorus that immediately follows the middle eight). Neither Birgitta nor her lyricist quite has a handle on the English language. The song and performance is very professional but I defy anyone to enjoy it.
2. AUSTRIA - Alf Poier - Weil der Mensch Zählt *****
Yes, Daniel just gave five stars to a song that combines children’s music, polka and thrash metal. Alf Poier is an Austrian comedian who dances as well as most white guys. The song is about man’s inhumanity to animals and to drive home the message, he is joined on stage by cardboard cutouts of animals that stand behind instruments they can’t play; probably because they’re made of cardboard. The two backing vocalists don’t hit a right note throughout the song which only adds to the charm. This is not one of those Eurovision classics that is so bad it becomes good again. This is good, good, good, good, good.
3. IRELAND - Mickey Harte - We’ve Got the World **
Hmm, big pop ballad, general love theme with a universal undertone, lyrics that only just sound like they’re written by someone who speaks English as a first language – it must be the Irish entry! Mickey does have a rich, colourful voice that is about the best thing this song has going for it. Unfortunately, the Irish Eurovision committee still believe that the type of songs that won them Eurovisions back in the days of juries will win them Eurovisions in the days of televoting. Times have changed, boys.
4. TURKEY - Sertab Erener - Everyway That I Can **
This song just does everything wrong. Firstly, really listen to the lyrics, hear how wussy they are (“I’ll try to make you love me again... I’ll cry, I’ll die”) and then ask yourself if that matches either the Turkish-flavoured dance beat or the Amazonian-strength dance routine. Secondly, listen to the lyrics again and work out if the verses have anything to do with the chorus. Thirdly, in the middle of the song, Sertab raps. And yes, she raps with all the street cred of a Turkish chick. So why did it win? Because, luckily for Sertab, most of the voters neither speak English nor understand music. They just fell in love with the energy of the performance. The discerning listener needs more than that.
5. MALTA - Lynn Chirchop - To Dream Again **
Lynn speaks five languages. I’m guessing English is not among them. It wouldn’t be so bad if her voice wasn’t so whiny. Sing through your mouth girl, not your nose! Her performance throughout this up-tempo pop ballad is the sort that leads to Eurovision being derided as being not that much higher a standard than a television talent show. Oh, and a quick tip for viewers – the more times a performer tells the audience at the end of the song that he or she loves them, the worse the song. Trust me, it’s been proven!
6. BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA - Mija Martina - Ne Brini / Could It Be ***
The problem here is not that Mija sings the first two minutes of this techno-dance song in Bosnian and the last in something that almost sounds like English. The problem is that if you want to create a dark, trancy feel with the music and the lyrics, the vocals have to complement it. If you want to belt out the lyrics with a big smile on your face while five backing vocalists do their best to drown you out with badly written harmonies (big case of ‘overharmonisatia’ here) while singing about your disappointment that your lover won’t die for you, go straight to a casino stage. They love that sort of thing there.
7. PORTUGAL - Rita Guerra - Deixa-me Sonhar / Keep the Dream Alive **
Get your cigarette lighters ready. It’s the first power ballad of the night. Rita’s voice alternates between her lower register, which sounds like a tuba, and her upper register, which is pushed through her nose like air rushing from a balloon. Rita has worked as a voice artist on several Disney and Dreamworks films. Well, if Jim Henson can sound good as a frog, I’m sure Rita can sound good as a warthog.
8. CROATIA - Claudia Beni - Više Nisam Tvoja / I Can’t Be Your Lover **
Whoever wrote this song was going for a Britney Spears “Baby One More Time” feel. It’s not until I heard Claudia belt through this song at full volume that I realised that Britney actually has some level of vocal control. Yes, she was only 16 at the contest, but how many more generations of talent school alumni who scream entire songs with a giant smile on their face no matter the lyrical content or musical mood must I endure?
9. CYPRUS - Stelios Constantas - Feeling Alive **
Spanish guitars, techno beats, white outfits, English-as-a-second-language lyrics. I’m glad Stelios is feeling alive; that makes one of us. To be honest, neither his vocal performance nor his stage performance completely convinced me that he was feeling alive either. He actually looks very awkward on stage as though his choreographer told him yesterday that the routine he’d been learning had been ditched and he had to learn a new one. Looking awkward on stage is fine if your song has substance. If not, better learn to dance.
10. GERMANY - Lou - Let’s Get Happy **
Normally Eurovision entries are kitsch by default; they don’t actively seek the kitsch. Lou looks and sings like that mutton-dressed-as-lamb Speech and Drama teacher you had at high school who flirted with students of both sexes and smoked pot in the staffroom. They don’t normally sing disco shuffles at Eurovision with five of the most embarrassing backing singers in recent history. Oh, and enjoy the blatant attempt to get gay voters onside. You won’t need me to point it out.
11. RUSSIA - t.A.T.u. - Ne ver’, Ne Boisia ***
For those of you who don’t remember t.A.T.u., these two teenage girls caused a trivial controversy in the early 20th century by using graphic lesbianism in their film clips, all engineered by some pervert producer. The genius of their performance was that I was constantly waiting to see if they were going to get it on on stage. They didn’t. My inner prude re-surfaced. They sing completely out of tune during this trance-beat song, but it works because their whole image and sound is one of rebelliousness and non-conformity. Techno-punk is so much more forgiving than polished pop.
12. SPAIN - Beth – Dime **
Spanish guitars, techno beats, white outfits... are we in Cyprus? Oh, it’s okay, they’re singing in Spanish. Phew! Beth’s performance shows how much better she is as a dancer than a singer. Regular Eurovision watchers are used to embarrassing entries from Spain. This isn’t embarrassing; it’s just crap.
13. ISRAEL - Lior Narkis - Words for Love *
This, on the other hand, is embarrassing. Israel won Eurovision a couple of times in the 70s and have been entering 70s pop songs ever since. This is the sort of up-tempo crap that died along with variety shows. The idea here is to fill the chorus with the phrase “I love you” in as many different European languages as possible in the vain hope that everyone who hears their language in the song will vote for it. What’s more, get your backing dancers to have these phrases written across their boobs. No one is stupid enough to fall for that. Are they?
14. NETHERLANDS - Esther Hart - One More Night **
The Dutch - just - don’t - get it. This dance-pop number is designed to get the crowd up and dancing while inspiring them with its hopeful lyrics. It fails twice; that’s not easy. It’s not a song to hate, it’s just so bland. There must have been a million songs written that sound exactly like it. Oh, and Esther, you don’t have to wink at me after every chorus. I said, don’t wink at me, Esther. Esther, I said don’t fucking wink at me!
15. UNITED KINGDOM - Jemini - Cry Baby **
Spanish guitars, techno beats, black outfits! Too much variety; can’t cope! Well, at least they speak English as a first language. The U.K. delegation blamed their poor performance in the voting on opposition to their country’s invasion of Iraq. I’m not about to defend the song, in which Chris and Jemima barely manage to stay in tune while cavorting about the stage, but it is hard to see why this was judged to be so much worse that so many other equally bland songs. Not that I’m suggesting that politics has anything to with Eurovision voting. Oh no, I would never suggest that.
16. UKRAINE - Olexandr - Hasta la Vista **
This song begins like a Josh Groban operatic-flavoured power ballad before making a sudden change into up-tempo 70s pop. Then back to Groban, then back to Peter Allen. The culinary equivalent would be a cake made up of alternating layers of chocolate sponge and broccoli cream. I’m sure Olexandr thinks he’s so cool singing a song with the line “hasta la vista” in it. Courting the Schwarzenegger vote has never been an accepted tactic in Eurovision – and never will be.
17. GREECE - Mando - Never Let You Go **
One of the great features of pop music throughout the last fifty years has been the sight of female singers singing with kick-arse voices, making kick-arse body movements, dressing in kick-arse ‘don’t fuck with me’ clothes... and singing wussy little “Oh I’m so alone, I need a big strong man to protect me” lyrics. Mando probably has some great songs in her, her voice lacks absolutely nothing, but this song (bland mid-tempo pop, just in case you’re wondering) is an absolute waste.
18. NORWAY - Jostein Hasselgård - I'm Not Afraid to Move On ***
Jostein’s vocals are weak, his piano playing is average and the lyrics make no sense whatsover. Yet this is an undeniably charming song. I think it’s strength comes from not trying to be something that it’s not. It’s a simple slow pop song that Jostein delivers with an equally simple sincerity. What’s more, I have utter respect for a performer who finishes a song by just sitting there and letting the song speak for itself rather than shouting at the audience how much he or she loves everybody within a five-mile radius.
19. FRANCE - Louisa Baileche - Monts et Merveilles *****
This song is superbly written. Having a strong chorus doesn’t mean writing lots of high notes that singers can belt out; it means building a sound around the listener and selecting your moments to make an impact. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a singer as talented as Louisa. This contest has lots of great voices, but Louisa actually understands the voice as an instrument. This song is uplifting because the songwriter and performers have created a soundscape for the listener, rather than just following the formula. As an aside, it’s so good to see a band on stage instead of artless dancers.
20. POLAND - Ich Troje - Keine Grenzen / Zadnych Granic ****
The song is called “No Borders” and it’s sung in German and Polish. Didn’t Hitler try that? This song is a good power ballad. The songwriter has managed to avoid the clichés of the format and the theatricality of Ich Troje’s performance is superb to watch. The standout for me, however, is the male vocals. I don’t know how long his voice is going to last (no throat can take that much pressure and not suffer in some way) but while it does, it’s a terrific sound. This song is very good without quite hitting the mark, but I’ve heard enough to want to hear more from Ich Troje.
21. LATVIA - F.L.Y. - Hello from Mars **
Brainstorm is a Latvian band whose command of basic English leads to charming lyrics. F.L.Y. is a Latvian band who command of basic English leads to lyrics that make no sense whatsoever. It’s a quick pop song, it’s almost sung in tune, and the Mars reference is never quite explained. Home town entries usually suck and while Latvia did a superb job with hosting this year’s event, it’s good to see they didn’t break with too much tradition.
22. BELGIUM - Urban Trad – Sanomi *****
When the Eurovision rules were changed to allow songs to be sung in any language, I don’t think anyone expected the law to be exploited so creatively. This is sung in an imaginary language made up of phonetics from other languages – think Esperanto once removed. There are superficial similarities to Deep Forest in that this is folk music set to dance beats, but folk music is a very broad church and lumping this song in any category is unfair. In short, superbly sung, superbly played, and an astonishingly creative idea.
23. ESTONIA - Ruffus - Eighties Coming Back *****
Eurovision often claims to be relevant and contemporary. This song is the only one in the contest that you could imagine being played on a youth-oriented radio station in 2003. If I called Ruffus the Estonian Whitlams, that would be incorrect, but at least you’d get an idea of what sort of pop music we’re dealing with here. This is intelligent pop and had easily the best lyrics of the night as well as the best vocal performance. If Eurovision had any claims to relevance, this would have won.
24. ROMANIA - Nicola - Don’t Break My Heart ***
This is the best of the techno songs in the contest (which is not saying an awful lot). Nicola’s voice is nasal and whiny but it seems to work with this particular song. The backing dancers don’t help with their stripping and gyrating although the giant colourful records being thrown across stage to cross-legged DJs works visually. The main problem with this song is that it actually goes for about 20 seconds and is simply repeated, with very little variation, nine times to reach the required three minutes. Not the worst song but if you hear it once, you’ve heard it enough.
25. SWEDEN - Fame - Give Me Your Love *
It’s the Swedish entry. It sounds like ABBA. Need I go on?
26. SLOVENIA - Karmen – Nanana **
This is one of the more contemporary sounding Eurovision entries in that this particular dance-pop song sounds like it came from the 80s rather than the 70s. Karmen is an interesting woman: she looks like Barbie and sounds like Ken. Still, we all love a Eurovision entry that has a silly title. Not quite “Bing Tiddle Tiddle Bong” but near enough.
I quite enjoyed this year’s contest. Reynard and Marie were two of the most charming hosts and also produced an interval song each that would have been in the top few in the actual contest (“A Day Before Tomorrow” by Reynard’s band Brainstorm and “I Feel Good” by Marie N).
This contest produced four songs of very high quailty, namely, the entries from Austria, France, Belgium and Estonia. For sheer comic value, I’d pick Austria, but for the sake of the contest, a Belgian or Estonian victory would leave the best legacy for Eurovision. Poland was the best of the rest, followed by Russia, Romania, Norway and Bosnia & Herzegovina. To round out my top ten, I’d pick Greece purely on vocal ability. At the other end, Israel produced their usual insipid drivel that we’ve come to know and endure. Not the greatest contest of all time, but there’s enough here to pick the eyes out of.
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