Since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest has thrilled audiences with its diverse tapestry of songs. It has also grown into one of the most-watched events in the world. Last year’s contest was watched by an estimated 195 million people worldwide (by contrast, the most recent Super Bowl was watched by an average of 114.4 million Americans).
For the uninitiated, the way the contest works is that artists in each participating country write an original song to perform at their country’s nomination contest. Those that win each country’s contest go on to compete at the championship round, held in the country of the most recent winner. Last year, Conchita Wurst made history as the first LGBT individual to win the contest, bringing the title to Austria with her song “Rise Like a Phoenix.” On the whole, this year’s field wasn’t as diverse as I’m used to seeing. Usually there is a much wider range of musical genres represented at the contest. Generally you’d see country, pop, rock, jazz, even some weirder ones represented. But a lot of the entries ran together this year, so when I was searching for my favorites, I tended to gravitate toward those that stood out from the rest of the field. That said, here are my five favorite songs from Eurovision 2015:
Electro Velvet: “Still in Love With You” (United Kingdom)
Ever wonder what would happen if Daft Punk and Benny Goodman had a baby together? Well, Electro Velvet seeks to answer that question with this trippy song. Incorporating electronica and violin with big-band jazz sensibilities (complete with a Louis Armstrong impersonator!), this is easily the most original song in the field. I like that it retains the lightness and danceability of swing music while retaining a crisp and modern sheen to their sound.
John Karayiannis: “One Thing I Should Have Done” (Cyprus)
The elegant simplicity of this song reminds me of early Iron & Wine, but with a little slicker production to smooth out the rougher, folkier edges. The stripped-down approach with an acoustic guitar and little else in the background helps the music create the mood that the lyrics evoke, of a man who deeply regrets the end of a relationship, and knows how his pain could’ve been avoided. Karayiannis also sings the song with just the right amount of nuance, further evoking the mood. This is most apparent during a small break near the end of the song where he sings a cappella for a few seconds.
Maria Olafs: “Unbroken” (Iceland)
This song is the reverse of Cyprus’s in many ways. Olafs succeeds by unleashing the raw power of her voice to carry this song as far as she can. It helps that she’s supported by a cavalcade of sounds behind her that give the song more than just a simple pop backbone. The lyrics (especially the repeated “one step at a time”) are catchy and also help the song flow naturally. The fact that she’s easy on the eyes doesn’t hurt either ;). The only weakness is that it does get a tad repetitive, but everything else is so well-executed that you don’t really notice.
Trijntje Oosterhuis: “Walk Along” (Netherlands)
This one blends Cyprus’s simplicity with Iceland’s pop beats and soaring vocals. As you can probably tell, I’m a sucker for a good acoustic guitar song, so the fact that that instrument forms the backbone of this song almost guarantees I’ll like it. I like the why-y-y-y scat parts of the song as the singer asks the age old question, “Why do some couples fall in love and some don’t?” The timbre of her voice is also a little different than the typical operatic fare a lot of the solo acts offer.
Måns Zelmerlöw: “Heroes” (Sweden)
Here’s another exceptionally well-executed pop song. The timbre of Zelmerlöw’s voice is what makes this one stand out. He sings at the lower end of his register for most of the beginning, creating a husky sound that demands the listener’s attention and gives it almost an indie-ish quality. The subject matter is similar to some of the other songs, but its “call to action” idea feels more genuine than most. I have a feeling this one, along with Iceland and the Netherlands’ entries above, would translate the best to the Eurovision live stage.
There were a lot of other strong entries that didn’t make this cut, including Australia’s first-ever entry, Estonia, Azerbaijan, Montenegro, Norway, Lithuania, and Belarus (which always seems to crank out good entries year after year). But the runaway leader for worst entry this year is Finland. Every few years, Finland puts together an entry that speaks to Scandinavia’s role as one of the hotbeds of metal. The trouble is, those entries are typically terrible, and this year’s is no exception.
I’m excited because this year, I will be in Europe when the contest is going on, so I will hopefully get to see some if not all of these songs performed live :). I’ll let you know my reaction to the show in a future post if that happens.