Number 3: ESC 2003

Latvia played host to the last “traditional” contest, as the contest got a semi-final the next year. So, was the original ESC format sent off on a high note or did it fall flat?


Venue: Skonto Hall, Riga, Latvia

Date: 24 May 2003

Hosts: Marija Naumova & Renārs Kaupers

Aside from the note that this was the final single-night contest, Riga 2003 was also the first contest to feature 26 countries in the grand final. This record of participation stood until 2012, when all the Big Five members and the host country (Azerbaijan) were pre-qualified. The previous year, Germany was host and therefore, only five countries were pre-qualified.  2003 was also noted as being a very hastily organized contest, but I don’t see it. I love the style of postcards and the stage looked wonderful. If it was a last minute job, LTV excelled under pressure.

Song 1: Iceland

“Open Your Heart” – Birgitta Haukdal

Before we begin, it’s important to note that in the 2000s, I have knowledge of songs other than the winner. While I’ll try to remain as fair as possible to every song, I thought that this little caveat was important. Anyway, Birgitta had the honors of kicking off the show with her schlager-infected power ballad for Iceland. It’s a plea for her lover to open himself up to her and let her share in his pain. It’s a good premise, but one line just irks me; “The sum of you and is we.” Honestly, why does everything have to become an equation? Isn’t the message simple enough already? The only other problem, aside from repetitiveness, is that it splits sentences into different lines, e.g.  “Like a shadow in the sky <line break> of an eagle’s wing when it’s gliding” and Birgitta accentuates “sky.” It ruins the flow of the message and bugs me like crazy. Aside from that, I like the lyrics and find them to be somewhat different.

Musically, the situation is a bit grimmer. The key instruments are everything you’d expect for a mid-00s power ballad: some strings, an electric guitar, some sort of brass (I think it’s a trumpet here), and a random record scratch. As a whole, it’s fine and does the job of a melody well, but there’s nothing new here. Also, the whole structure is very formulaic; it goes verse, bridge, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge into key change, chorus x2, and final line of chorus. There must be at least 50 other ESC songs with this tired old format. At least Birgitta sold it well, with her very powerful vocals and charming stage presence. Particularly, the flowers were a nice touch.

Personally, I really liked this entry and it occupies a sort of weird place in my heart. It was my first foray into ESC before 2009 and represents the first part of my growth from a casual ESC fan to a full-blown ESC fanatic, so in an odd way, without this song, I never would’ve started this project. With the help of foresight, it’s now obvious that “Open Your Heart” was generic but despite that, I still enjoy it. It’s not a great reason, but it’s mine.

Live: 9 | Staging: 8 | Lyrics: 5 | Music: 4 | Preference: 18

Total: 9.3 pts. (Yes, it’s high. I have a feeling that Preference will decide this contest.)

Song 2: Austria

“Weil der Mensch zählt” – Alf Poier

And now we have another entry memorable for being totally insane. I knew about Alf Poier and his two-faced song before, but I’d never really thought about it in-depth before. Now that I’ve done that, I’m actually a little impressed. The lyrics seem very disjointed, but the message is that even though humans are still animals, we have no empathy for the rest of the Animal Kingdom. This conservationist message is complimented by an absolutely crazy melody that switches between a children’s pop song and a hard-hitting rock anthem. It’s ridiculous, but there’s method to the madness, literally. While the sweet parts in the verses and chorus represent a childlike ignorance about the world, the rock parts act like the animals making their angry presence heard. This explains a staging choice later and is an interesting way of making the song’s message clearer.

The downfall of this entry was the staging and singing. Alf Poier is a comedian so world-class vocals shouldn’t be expected, but I thought that at least the backings would do well. Even though they sounded okay, they were still screechy in many places.  Sharing the stage with the three humans were cardboard cutouts of a bull, a cat, and a bird, possibly a crow.  These animals are outfitted with two guitars and drum, making them the “source” of the rock parts of the melody. Overall, this is a clever song that just falls short of the quality level necessary for a great score. It’s unfortunate, but from what I’ve heard, a good song might be enough for a top 10 finish.

Live: 3 | Staging: 9 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 8 | Preference: 13

Total: 7.95 pts.

Song 3: Ireland

“We’ve Got the World” – Mickey Joe Harte

Well it’s obvious that someone was inspired by the Olsen Brothers, as this sounds like a total rip-off of their winner from 2000, just without any of the charm, aside from the ethnic touches at the very beginning. Speaking of the melody, it’s not good at all. Like I said, it’s very “Fly on the Wings of Love” –esque, especially in the chorus, but it’s weighted by unnecessary instruments like violins and bells and generally just sounds tired.

As for the lyrics, they’re not much better, as it’s just a generic love song, i.e very repetitive, very disjointed, and very annoying. To me, it wouldn’t sound out of place in a Disney movie. On stage, Mickey Joe Harte sounded okay and the casual guitarist look was a smart choice, however the backings looked overly slutty and ended up being a distraction. It looks like Ireland won’t be moving out of my ESC basement any time soon.

Live: 6 | Staging: 4 | Lyrics: 3 | Music: 1 | Preference: 3

Total: 3 pts.

Song 4: Turkey

“Everyway That I Can” – Sertab Erener

This year’s winner certainly got most of what it tried to do right, starting with the music. Having authentic Turkish instruments set the mood for, what in all honesty would’ve been, an anonymous song was a brilliant idea and automatically set it apart from every other song in the contest. The composition also does an excellent job of complimenting rather than overpowering the singer, which can happen very easily. Although, this might just be a testament to Sertab’s strong vocals, but still, it was crafted with care, which is very important.

The song gets a little more anonymous when the lyrics are considered, although it’s not as bad as it could be. In short, Sertab’s lover has lost all feeling for her and she’ll do absolutely anything to get him back. As they’re presented, the lyrics are concise, easy to follow, and catchy albeit repetitive. However, the unnecessary “huh huhs” and “uhs” take away from the message and make the song seem silly.

Despite the verbal clutter, the silliest part of the Turkish entry was the staging. Call me crazy, but I don’t understand how belly dancing, while Turkish, tied into the main focus of the song. Was she trying to woo him? I just feel that there was a better way to present this song. Then there’s the issue of the backing singers. Sertab was good enough to carry this song herself, but if they wanted some additional vocals, perhaps a hidden singer who wasn’t dancing would’ve been a better choice. The dancing girls sounded way too sharp, didn’t harmonize well, and made an already somewhat cheap production look worse. Pity. It was a good song.

Live: 7 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 7 | Preference: 16

Total: 8.55 pts.

Song 5: Malta

“To Dream Again” – Lynn Chircop

For an island country that would seem to have lots of flair and culture, this Maltese entry is just flavorless. It’s incredibly generic, utterly boring, and clinically performed. The worst offender would be the composition, as it overlaid pointless instruments on top of what could’ve been a charming acoustic guitar track. The random ambient synths had to be the worst thing about this.

Lyrically, “To Dream Again” is a terribly repetitive, generic love declaration, nothing more, nothing less. And unfortunately, Lynn Chircop and her backings couldn’t elevate this song at all, leaving it at the bottom of a musical well. The backings were not good at all and it was a glaring issue throughout. Poor Malta and Lynn. Before the song started I wanted to find a nice surprise and love Lynn and her song. Now I’ve torn it to shreds. Ah well, that’s ESC.

Live: 5 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 2 | Music: 1 | Preference: 5

Total: 3.6 pts.

Song 6: Bosnia & Herzegovina

“Ne brini” – Mija Martina

You want to irk me, Bosnia & Herzegovina? Good, because if this is any indication of things to come, you’ll be stellar at it. The song, which Mija Martina and her team croon oh so well, is a send off of the dead weight that used to be Mija’s lover. He doesn’t love her anymore and consequently she sends him on his way with the command “ne brini za mene” (don’t worry about me). The songwriters did a good job of keeping this song from getting repetitive, right until the switched it into English. Then they just had a different chorus that has a similar feeling of anger but not with the same intensity.

The disco beat that accompanied the song wasn’t technically great, but if it was an attempt to channel some sort of Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive,” strong disco diva energy, it did its job well. Hell, this seems like it could be a regular at karaoke parties (which I can’t stand). On stage, it seems like the shreds of Malta’s entry found their way onto Mija’s clothes, as they strutted in tattered black fabric that looked ridiculous. The shots of the male backings crossing their arms sucked excitement from the entry and stuck out like sore thumbs. Otherwise their stage presence was fine. All things considered, this is a stronger than average song that had the foundations for something great. At least we know what this great country will do in the future.

Live: 8 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 5 | Preference: 10

Total: 6.75 pts.

Song 7: Portugal

“Dexia-me sonhar” – Rita Guerra

I fear that this period in Eurovision history will be very taxing for me, mainly because of entries that needlessly switch to English and cheapen themselves dramatically. This is a good example of that phenomenon. When she’s singing in Portuguese, Rita tells her departing lover that he can take everything from her life but pleads with him to give her the chance to imagine an alternate, perfect reality. She’s sad, upset, and almost angry, but when the English chorus rolls around (that’s right, no verses), the whole message changes from one of sadness to one of neediness, as she cries out that she wants him to “help her survive only one more day.”  Above average lyrics ruined so quickly with so little thought.

Musically, “Dexia-me sonhar” is very cookie-cutter. It sounds like probably hundreds of ballads from this time period or anything that Céline Dion has sung. That’s very depressing, because with the right composition, paired with Rita’s gorgeous voice, this could’ve been fantastic. Speaking of, Rita was vocally excellent on stage, but she looked a mess, with the gold lipstick being the worst. What a sad way for a song with abundant potential to end.

Live: 9 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 5 | Preference: 11

Total: 6.9 pts.

Song 8: Croatia

“Više nisam tvoja” – Claudia Beni

Has anyone checked to make sure that this contest actually happened in 2003? Because, after the Irish Olsen Brothers rip-off, we get this Croatian Britney Spears singing something like the rejected B-track to the “…Baby One More Time” single. Lyrically, it’s a disaster, as there are only two lines of this entire song that aren’t bridge or chorus. The message is that Claudia wants a man who won’t judge her and will make her feel heavenly. Aside from the pretty strong vocals from the team, this is, sadly, the strongest part of the song.

Musically, it’s bubblegum pop, which is fine if done by the right people i.e. only Britney Spears! This doesn’t work and comes off as very desperate, right down to the out of place key change and English switchover. The costumes were atrocious and Claudia, even if you have the look to wear something revealing, this wasn’t the right piece to do so. Ugh, this was just awful.

Live: 7 | Staging: 2 | Lyrics: 1 | Music: 1 | Preference: 3

Total: 2.55 pts.

Song 9: Cyprus

“Feeling Alive” – Stelios Constantas

Just based on the outfits and title of this song, I thought we’d be in for a melodramatic ballad. By the end of this hyper-repetitive pop song, I was wishing for that implied fate. This was just terrible. The lyrics were the chorus repeated five times, along with two lackluster verses and a two-line bridge. It was insipid, in every sense of the word.

Then we confront the music. I will concede that the acoustic guitar opening was a nice touch, but the rest was utter trash. Just like the lyrics, it was the same repeated beat over and over again. Now, all this would’ve been less of a problem had Stelios had a nice voice. He doesn’t. It was flat, dull, and awful. The backings did a decent job of covering the mess, though. However, I wished that I could cover those repulsive outfits. Thankfully, I’ll never have to deal with this atrocity again.

Live: 4 | Staging: 2 | Lyrics: 0 (That’s right people, I’m not playing around anymore.) | Music: 1 | Preference: 1

Total: 1.35 pts.

Song 10: Germany

“Let’s Get Happy” – Lou

Kill me for what I’m about to write, but I needed this. I’m will to forget the repetitive lyrics, the fact that Lou’s not a great singer, and the Village People-in-the-club outfits, because this was a cleansing experience. This song wasn’t trying to be dramatic, current, or sexy; it was trying to be joyful. Fun. Happy. And I needed that, so much.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, we can tear this song apart. Lyrically, it’s very Junior Eurovision-esque, talking about how everyone in the “discotheque” (love the use of that word) is glum and how Lou and her positive energy will make everyone friends. It’s infantile, but at least it’s positive, campy, fun. Musically, it’s pretty much the same story. Herr Siegel did a good job of translating that energetic feeling to the music and the result is a slightly danceable track.

After the first four songs, I was thinking I was being too generous. Now I just know that they were the shining stars amongst a sky of black holes. Fortunately for Germany, this song is a cheeky, bright, happy star.

Live: 7 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 4 | Preference: 13 (Not just because it was my respite. It’s also a guilty pleasure)

Total: 6.9 pts.

Song 11: Russia

“Ne ver’, ne boysia” – t.A.T.u.

I might be giving this song more credit for supposed intelligence than it deserves, but this contest has starved me of it so far, so bear with me.  Based on the slightly rough translation from Diggiloo, under the pop-rock exterior, it seems there’s a story of two informants in an autocratic Russian government. t.A.T.U. are moles inside an Orwellian state, where most citizens have given up, out of fear that they’ll be executed (the line “Someone will be tired and stop wanting”). In the chorus, the two girls are giving each other reassurance not to “believe” the messages of fear but to lay low and “calm down” for their safety. The dystopian feel continues in the next verse, as cultural heroes are ambushed trying to save “rare things.” What could be the most important line in the song, “Someone will find a new sun” could either hint at a new sun in heaven or deportation to some desert, under an oppressive sun. While I certainly might be giving this song much more thought and credit than it deserves, I just needed to try and analyze something again.

The accompanying score is very chaotic, but the apocalyptic feel works very well and the whole thing wouldn’t feel out of place in a spy thriller. Vocally, the picture begins to fall apart, as the girls, while technically fine, are just too shrill for my taste. Then they try to run around the stage, further degrading their vocals. With staging in mind, aside from the pointless prancing, it was more or less fine. Overall, I enjoyed this song probably more than I should’ve.

Live: 5 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 8 | Preference: 16

Total: 8.7 pts.

Song 12: Spain

“Dime” – Beth

German commentator Peter Urban described this entry best as “dreadlocks and Latin pop,” because what’s not to like about either of those things? No, honestly, this was a very competent entry from Spain, both as a song and as a show. Starting with the latter, Beth’s carried the song through the complicated choreography quite well, only stumbling upon some high notes after the key change. Everyone was dressed simply and the whole performance looked very polished.

Song-wise, there wasn’t much fault here either. This is a shining example of good upbeat ethno-pop (there are better mid and down-tempo songs, though). It’s lyrically much deeper than it seems, as Beth longs for a lover whom she drove away and is begging him to “tell her what it is that she can do” to keep him in her life. It’s slightly repetitive, following that same format outlined during Iceland, but the story’s interesting enough to look past that. As a composition, it’s simply an infectious, slick, Latin pop song. So slick, in fact, I think they got away with using pre-recorded “oh-ooh-woahs” at the beginning. In my eyes, it is a great example of how Eurovision can get pop right, and I was very pleased with it.

Live: 7 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 8 | Preference: 16

Total: 9.15 pts.

Song 13: Israel

“Words for Love” – Lior Narkis

I’m convinced that big band/swing doesn’t get enough love at Eurovision, so props to Israel for sending such a theatrical, entertaining entry.  Sadly, it doesn’t really expand into having a good song. Never have I seen such a literal song title, as the lyrics talk about Lior’s quest to find the “words for love” of every language. This would be fine if the lyrics weren’t so on the nose, but these leave no room for interpretation. They’re also insanely repetitive, but at least it was done, in conjunction with the music, in a catchy, non-grating way. Speaking of, the composition is where this song shines. The big band sound really gives this song some much-needed depth and it makes it much more fun as a result.

The stage show was equally theatric, but a little on the cheap side. Rather than full costume changes, the backings merely had rip-away tees and fold-down spaghetti straps. The latter was probably the worst thing, as the girls revealed “LOVEU” emblazoned on their chests. I can’t stand the use of the letter “U” for the word, so I really disliked this. At least Lior was strong vocally. All in all, a nice surprise find in the very hit or miss contest of 2003.

Live: 8 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 6 | Preference: 13

Total: 7.35 pts.

Song 14: The Netherlands

“One More Night” – Esther Hart

There’s a very positive energy here right off the bat, which I love. Lyrically, it’s another repetitive plea to Esther’s lover to stay in their wonderful relationship, but the overall construction of the song is done in a way so that it’s fun and entertaining throughout. This is just the kind of song that you want to like. There’s a similar story musically, in that it’s certainly anonymous, but still interesting in some way.

Onstage, the whole team was dressed in shiny, ABBA-like outfits, which complimented the style of song well. The staging was simple and, once again, still done in a fun way that made me smile. And vocally, Esther Hart was very strong and the backings matched with her voice perfectly. It’s a nice, schlager-kissed song that just warrants an emoticon at the end of its review. 🙂

Live: 8 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 4 | Preference: 14

Total: 7.65 pts.

Song 15: United Kingdom

“Cry Baby” – Jemini

This was a total disaster. Lyrically, it tries to tell a story where the Gemma (the girl) is leaving Chris for a more mature love, which would be fine if she carried the chorus. But instead, they both sing it, which obliterated any chance this song had of making sense that way. The composition isn’t very good, but the guitar helps and, overall, it’s not too terrible.

Now we move onto the performance. This was probably the most memorable performance of the night, if not for anything else, for Gemma’s face right as she starts to sing so off-key. It was the perfect “Oh shit” face. Look, you can still sound okay singing off-key, but this was just so odd. Everyone was off-key in the same way. It was freaky, especially when combined with the clinical and forced choreography, which just added to the ridiculousness.  And I don’t think I need to remind you of the now-infamous vocal performance. Let me just say that I’m throwing a pity point or two their way, because no one deserves to be as humiliated as they did. And who knows, maybe there was a problem with the equipment.

Live: 0 | Staging: 1 | Lyrics: 3 | Music: 2 | Preference: 5

Total: 2.4 pts.

Song 16: Ukraine

“Hasta la Vista” – Oleksandr Ponomaryov

As 2003’s sole débutant, Ukraine thought it would be a good idea to serve up some word salad. That was far from a good decision. On one hand, it sounds like Oleksandr is separating with his love interest for a while in the verses, but the chorus makes it sound like he’s happier than ever to dump her since she doesn’t value him. Why would anyone write like this? I understand why in club music (because the beats are what people want to hear), but that’s obviously not the reason here. The composition tricks us into believing that we’ll be treated to a simple, piano-driven ballad, but then the camp knob gets turned up to 11, and the whole thing goes to crap, complete with the seemingly obligatory for 2003 key change.

Staging-wise, it established that time-honored Ukrainian tradition of disguising a lackluster song behind a visual gimmick. For their first effort, they went with a contortionist on a spinning platform. She had no relevance to the song whatsoever and she only served as a black hole for people’s attention so that they wouldn’t realize how weak of a song “Hasta la Vista” was. In the vocal department, Oleksandr was decent, but he wasn’t great. He was fiddling with his earpiece, so maybe Jemini were right. This was simply a disappointment.

Live: 3 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 3 | Music: 3 | Preference: 7

Total: 4.2 pts.

Song 17: Greece

“Never Let You Go” – Mando

At first note of this song, I was thinking that it would be an easy-going lounge number; it would be something to take that pop edge off and, for the most part, it was. Musically, it was very sedate and an interesting production, if marred somewhat by the use of generic synths and things. However, the lyrics simply don’t stand up. Mando casts herself in the role of an overly attached girlfriend and proceeds to proclaim her love for the one for whom she’d “lay her life on the line.” It would be okay if the chorus didn’t pop up so much and the verses made more sense.

When it came to staging, the Greek team had no problem using Mando’s… assets to their advantage. It was so blatantly obvious and distracting from the song. Thankfully enough, the lungs underneath that chest were more than capable of nailing this song’s vocals, even getting a little carried away at points. For me, the whole production fell a little flat, as what could’ve been a gorgeous, dramatic ballad was morphed into another mid-tempo horror.

Live: 7 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 5 | Music: 4 | Preference: 10

Total: 6.15 pts.

Song 18: Norway

“I’m Not Afraid to Move On” – Jostein Hasselgård

Well, we’ve waited a long time for this, but we’ve finally found the first true, good, ballad of 2003, and it comes from Norway. The lyrics tell a poignant story of Jostein’s love interest that has passed on and what he has done since. He’s tried to form new relationships, but they never work and he’s always fearful that his love for the departed might be lost. But, when “he holds her when the rain starts to fall,” he regains confidence in his life and pushes forward with her by his side. The writers deftly managed to craft a story involving the afterlife without mentioning religion, which is a huge plus from me.

On the musical front, things are kept relatively simple, focusing on some drums, a guitar, and the soft piano, which drives the whole song with its air of sadness. The drums and guitar make it a bit livelier and top off a well-crafted melody. Sadly, the quality is degraded slightly by a key change, but it was uneventful and very near the end of the song, so not all hope was lost.

Visually, Jostein looked like a teenager with a purpose, which was fine, aside from his choice to perform in a tracksuit. The backings looked equally frumpy, but sounded wonderful, along with Jostein. The song was performed with purpose and it sounded more genuine than pretty much anything else on the night. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Live: 9 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 9 | Music: 8 | Preference: 17

Total: 9.9 pts.

Song 19: France

“Monts et Merveilles” – Louisa Baïleche

The theme for France seems to be, another year, another great French song. 2003 had Louisa Baïleche singing a song where one could “draw your own backstory,” so to say. In a nutshell, she sings about how she and her lover promised each other everything but now she’s all alone, wondering what to do with a departed lover. That last point is where we’re free to come to our own conclusions, and I’m leaning toward something similar to the Norwegian song, in that Louisa’s lover is dead, with the lines “my heart is on the look-out for a memory, even an illusion” and “I’m naked, without wings, like a fallen angel,” indicating some sort of afterlife. A very melancholy song that drips elegance, the lyrics are a triumph in a year where most lyrics are incredibly basic.

The music does more of the same, even if it is a bit heavier than what I’d imagine. However, the excellent break with the tambourine-like instrument gave the song so much light and was a served as a symbol of hope for happiness for Louisa, in the middle of her expression of sadness. Most of the time, the music fit so well with, not only her voice, but with the mood of the song as well.

Vocally, Louisa was totally on point, doing everything to the best of her ability, though, personally, it didn’t seem as genuine as Jostein. Still, emotions were invoked. And, for what it’s worth, Louisa obviously put more effort into her look, sporting a classy red dress. Overall, a fantastic French effort that’s a pleasure to listen to.

Live: 8 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 9 | Music: 9 | Preference: 16

Total: 9.75 pts.

Song 20: Poland

“Keine Grenzen-Żadnych granic” – Ich Troje

And now we come to a “Imagine”-style peace ballad, done well by Ich Troje. The lyrics are this song’s strongest facet, painting a beautiful picture of how undivided and peaceful the world looks to an astronaut, and how useless wars, borders, races, and countries are. This point is driven home by freely using three languages in the song: German, Russian, and Polish, a meta-example of peacemaking between Poland and its two main oppressors.

Sadly, the music is generic “choral music” that would sound more fitting in a church choir than a peace ballad, but it’s pretty solid, especially at the beginning, where it’s only piano. Michał’s (lead singer) incredibly gruff vocals blended surprisingly well with Justyna’s smooth voice, creating a unique sound. Their outfits were interesting, but too outlandish for the song, in my opinion. The dove on Michał’s jacket was a nice touch, however. Overall, it’s a stunning set of lyrics let down by almost everything around. Still like it, though.

Live: 9 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 7 | Preference: 14

Total: 8.85 pts.

Song 21: Latvia (hosts)

“Hello From Mars” – F.L.Y.

This song is an interesting one, in the sense that I knew it before listening to all the songs, and I liked it then. However, it’s not going to get the high score it once had, mainly because of the lyrics. The predominant message seems to be that a couple’s separated, and the girl so wants to be with her love that she only cares about getting “wings of love” to meet him. That stanza and the chorus (repeated five times) are the only coherent parts of the song, with the rest talking about topics like the girl seeing the guy cry or her being scared to be loved. It’s odd.

Musically, however, it’s actually pretty nice, for that standard that’s been set. It’s enjoyable to listen to and nothing offends the ear. The key change is unnecessary, but it seems to be the in thing of 2003. F.L.Y. were on point with their vocals and really made this song soar *groans* . Their all-white costumes looked very smart and helped make this a competent entry. At the end of this review, I still like this song and enjoy listening to it.

Live: 8 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 6 | Preference: 15

Total: 8.25 pts.

Song 22: Belgium

“Sanomi” – Urban Trad

Eurovision presents many challenges to those who choose to sift through it and rank its songs’ various traits. This song provides one that we’ll only see two more times: a lack of lyrics. That’s not to say that no one spoke onstage, two members of Urban Trad did. However, they didn’t form words, rather sounds. For this entry and the other two, I’ll use the lyric ranking to assess the quality of sounds produced. In this case, the phonetics used work incredibly well with the New Age-y music. Long vowels and nasal consonants always sounded pleasing to me, so it’s no surprise that I like these sounds.

The composition is more mainstream, as a folksy, Celtic-tinged track. It ranges from anthemic in the last chorus to wistful with the opening bagpipes. It’s very successful. The two vocalists are good at producing their sounds and the whole group looks and sounds very nice. Technically, this song is great, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

Live: 7 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 9 | Preference: 12

Total: 8.1 pts.

Song 23: Estonia

“Eighties Coming Back” – Ruffus

This feels very British. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it’s there. Anyhow, to start on a positive note, the music is relatively unpretentious. Except for a few strings that come in at the second chorus, this song is all about the rock, which I enjoy. And that piano solo was fantastic, just so much fun, like the entire performance. Ruffus oozed fun onto that stage and it looked like they made the most out of their experience. Also, Vaiko Eplik’s vocals were quite good, if strained at some points.

Now here comes the hammer. I can’t ascertain what the message of the lyrics is. It sounds like the person Vaiko is singing to had some sort of emotional trauma in the 80s and now they’re reliving it. If that’s the case, then is the cheery orchestration supposed to create some sort of “Twilight Zone”-esque contradiction? I can’t grasp it, and coming from the person that made a spy story out of t.A.T.U., that’s saying something. Still, it’s a pleasant listen and I have taken a bit of a shine to it.

Live: 7 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 7 | Preference: 12

Total: 7.2 pts.

Song 24: Romania

“Don’t Break My Heart” – Nicola

Thank you, Romania. I so needed the Eurovision equivalent of a cheese grater in my life. Wow, this song is repetitive. Not only in the vacuous lyrics, but in the annoying beat. Sorry, Mihai Alexandru, random record scratches have never made the same rhythm played over and over again sound different.  Like I said before, the lyrics are word salad, only this salad is 60 percent lettuce because the chorus makes up six of the 10 stanzas, and that’s being generous, because two of those are made up of either one or two lines.

Let’s talk about Nicola. In 2003, we had good vocalists, bad vocalists, but up until her, we didn’t have a weird vocalist. In the past two contests, I’ve never heard anyone with a voice so odd or grating. Technically, she hit most of her notes, but not in a pleasant way whatsoever. Is it just her accent? Frankly, I have no idea. Finally, the stage show made no sense, but the costume-changing dancer was a nice distraction. This wasn’t good. At all.

Live: 3 | Staging: 4 | Lyrics: 1 | Music: 1 | Preference: 5

Total: 2.85 pts.

Song 25: Sweden

“Give Me Your Love” – Fame

So samey. So Swedish. So schlager-y and boring. I knew this was coming, but I held out hope till the end that this might not be so formulaic. As such, I’ll spare you the task of reading and myself the task of writing by saying that it’s an MF-winning schlager song. Fill in the blanks. No, honestly, it’s just very average. The lyrics are the same “love me forever” nonsense that’s always popping up in Eurovision and the trope for Sweden. Musically, it’s piano schlager, which, to me, isn’t as enjoyable as electro schlager, but better than acoustic. And do I need to mention the key change?

Thankfully Jessica and Magnus were very strong singers and actually made a cute couple on stage (like that extended anywhere else) for three minutes. They and their backings looked good in white and it came off as very inoffensive. Sadly, as a song, it was simply tissue paper.

Live: 7 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 3 | Music: 4 | Preference: 8

Total: 5.4 pts.

Song 26: Slovenia

“Nanana” – Karmen Stavec

We close the book on 2003 with a song pretty indicative of the experience, a repetitive, trying-too-hard, out of place, key change-riddled pop song gone wrong. Karmen is crooning about some guitar-playing stud that she wants oh so badly. The way the lyrics are written makes it sound like it could be a decent swing song, not unlike the Belgian entry for Junior Eurovision 2011. I’m trying to act like everything’s new, but I just had to reference this particular song because it’s a good example of the style that this should’ve been. Unsurprisingly, “Nanana” is incredibly repetitive, but at least it’s hidden decently, with an alternating chorus.

The biggest flop here is the music, which tries to be so modern but ends up sounding ridiculous, the worst offender being the opening beeps that sound like a siren for help. The guitar, though, is alright and would’ve made a great base for that aforementioned swing song. Karmen attempts to save the song with a strong vocal performance, but her bubblegum pink Lycra outfit is just desperate and unnecessary. It’s sad to see a waste of talent like that. Thankfully, we won’t have to think about it or any of the other disasters of this year anymore, because we’re done.

Live: 8 | Staging: 4 | Lyrics: 2 | Music: 3 | Preference: 9

Total: 5.25 pts.

2003 Placements

Average score: 6.4673 pts.

Hall of Fame entrants: 0

My Favorite Song: Iceland (3rd)

Technically Best Song: France (2nd)

My Least Favorite Song: Cyprus (Last)

Technically Worst Song: United Kingdom (25th)

Even though I only have the background from two contests, it’s evident that the contests of the 2000s are similarly generic to others, just with worse songs. It takes something different and high quality to stand out from the crowd now and it won’t be easy to do so. After taking down some songs that I really liked, it’ll be interesting to progress after having touched this millennium once. Now, it’s time to move backwards in time to the year of my birth, 1996. See you next time for Oslo.



Posted in Eurovision History
23 comments on “Number 3: ESC 2003
  1. marcpanozzo says:

    My 2003 rankings…

    10/12: Russia (1st), Estonia (2nd), Belgium (3rd)
    9/12: Romania (4th)
    8/12: Norway (5th), France (6th), Portugal (7th)
    7/12: Austria (8th), Turkey (9th)
    6/12: Iceland (10th), Poland (11th), Netherlands (12th), Greece (13th)
    5/12: Sweden (14th)
    4/12: Slovenia (15th), Spain (16th), Israel (17th), Bosnia & Herzegovina (18th)
    3/12: Germany (19th), Ireland (20th), Latvia (21st), Ukraine (22nd)
    2/12: Malta (23rd), Croatia (24th), United Kingdom (25th)
    1/12: Cyprus (26th)

    As you can see we disagree quite a bit here, our most notable differences being Estonia (2nd in mine, 13th in yours) and Romania (4th in mine, 23rd in yours!!).

    My top three!

    2003 was an incredibly difficult year for me to pick a winner, featuring a strong top pack that was difficult to split apart. I eventually settled upon “Ne ver’, ne boysia” as it was by far my favourite song and I love the aura of danger and unpredictability around the performance (the booing at the beginning added to this in a good way, along with their defiant shout-out to the audience). Vocally I can admit it wasn’t perfect, and indeed threatened to morph into a train-wreck at parts, but it was mostly competent in that regard. Visually, whilst the prancing about was a bit cringeworthy, their casual styling and stage demeanour was refreshing in a contest where every detail is usually planned to the finest degree. Also the lighting was absolutely stunning. “Eighties Coming Back” is a close second, losing out mainly for lacking the special features that my first placed song had. The lyrics are fantastically witty in my opinion – a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of a “nightmare” brought on by the 1980’s revival in fashion and music occurring in the mid-00’s. Musically it was a pleasant, no-frills Bowie-esque brit-pop number, and Vaiko sold it well. “Sanomi” benefited from the best performance of the year, which looked slick and professional and benefited from some stunning camera shots. The song was musically interesting and the final chorus (I was about to write lyrics before realising how pointless that would be ;)) was absolutely stunning. However it didn’t have that special something needed to push it up any further in my rankings.

    Ooh, 1996 next – a pretty good year 😀

    • Nick P. says:

      YES. Dangerous is the perfect word for that entry. It was a very risky move for Russia and, considering the current state of affairs there, probably the riskiest we’ll see for a very long time.

      Your view on the Estonian lyrics makes a ton of sense. I was probably too tired to realize the meaning when going through the songs (it was about midnight when I got to that song). In one day, I went from Malta to the end in more or less one go. Never again. Still, I loved the sound of that entry. Simple but enjoyable.

      It’s that same something missing in my book. To me, it feels just a little too calculated and clinical to be a great “new folk” song. Maybe it’s the same thing that we felt about Denmark this year?

  2. to be honnest, I expected France to be your winner and I’m happy to see my prediction didn’t come far off. Still not yet a win for us, but we’ll get there eventually :p France is my 3rd and Norway my 4th, but it’s overall a bad year, while you don’t have anything above 9.9 you still have a lot of really bad songs around 6-7 which surprised me (like Spain, Israel or oh my Germany)… I have Estonia second, like Marc (quelle surprise) but Belgium is hands down the winner that year to me. Just the best song with a very strong effective performance that was what such song needed. I actually have Turkey 5th. I think Russia was insanely awful and I quite like the song but everything else, down to the way the Russian delegation handed the situation then, awful.

    • Nick P. says:

      France should end up at the top of the podium one of these days. But still, two silvers in three tries is nothing to scoff at. 😉 For me, Norway just ended up feeling a little more sincere than “Monts et Merveilles.”

      I’ll give you Israel and Germany, but I will defend Spain. Compared to the crap that Greece and Turkey ended up sending later in the decade, “Dime” sounds wonderful. Strong melody, catchy hook, and a decent performance. One of the better examples of ethno-pop in recent memory.

      I think bad songs ending up high is just a quirk of my system. If an awful song is sung and staged well and, for whatever reason, I take a shine to it, it can easily pull a 6 or 7. However, the same’s true for a great song performed terribly. It’ll get 8s or 9s for music and lyrics, low scores for the other two and a decent preference number. Personally, I think that it’s just easier to create a great stage show than a great song. We needn’t look further than Azerbaijan 2013 to see that in action.

      I’m not too familiar on the situation, but from what I know, t.A.T.u acted almost like a real life Silvia Night. It seems crazy.

  3. togravus says:

    I haven’t done 2003 for some time but the last time I ranked the songs, Romania came on top. 🙂

    Unfortunately, I am very busy atm and do not have time to go into more depth when discussing the 2003 songs.

    • Nick P. says:

      Wow! I guess I’m in the minority when it comes to that song. 🙂

      Good luck completing all you have to do. Feel free to come back when you’re more available.

      • togravus says:

        I think that if a song is repetetive it all comes down to the fact whether you like whatever is repeated again and again or not. 🙂

      • no you’re not online I also don’t like Romania at all, though it’s saved by vocals; Croatia is my dead last I’m sure there’s a consensus around that one being the worst :p

        • Nick P. says:

          Thank goodness. 🙂 Yes, that was an awful song. It’s nice to know that the Eurovision fan community can agree on some things.

        • togravus says:

          I like Croatia 2003. 🙂
          Unfortunately, the live performance was really bad though.

          I guess that my last place will either go to Ukraine or Cyprus once I have scored and ranked the 2003 songs which I plan to do this weekend.

          • I do dislike Ukraine a lot too, and Cyprus definitely, oh and Greece I dislike a lot too. But Croatia is avoid of any interest, quality, intelligence live and melodywise. So it’s a fat zero from me.

            • togravus says:

              Sometimes I like zeros for unknown reasons. 🙂

              Btw, a decided to take a break from work today and scored/ranked 2003. The results are on my profile page.

              • apart from Romania, again, a strong top 7

              • togravus says:

                Romania is strong too. Otherwise it wouldn’t be in my top 3. 😉

                In 2003, the 8.33 score rules!

              • Nick P. says:

                That is a strong top seven. How’d you break the tie?

                And btw, I started on the first six songs of 1996 and Portugal made it to the Hall of Fame comfortably. 😉

              • togravus says:

                “And btw, I started on the first six songs of 1996 and Portugal made it to the Hall of Fame comfortably.”

                I am very happy to read that. 🙂

                On tie-breaks: In most cases I put the entry with the best whole package on the big night score 1st.

  4. thegoatmarket says:

    Very good review. It really goes in details with the songs, I like that 🙂

    I agree with your ratings most of the time except I actually like “Open Your Heart”. I know it’s not in any way innovative, but it is pleasant and catchy anyway and easy to sing along to. And honestly: we need some old fashioned music inbetween the contemporary. There has to be a balance.

    I also admit liking “Don’t Break My Heart”, as well as “Nanana”, mostly for the electric guitar sound and the catchy chorus. It definitely doesn’t change the world either, but less can make it 🙂

    • Nick P. says:

      Thank you. I’ve been enjoying your intermittent reviews of the 00s Swedish songs. 🙂

      It’s certainly not anything revolutionary, but it was a good take on an old-fashioned mold. Every contest needs at least one of those.

      Surprisingly, “Nanana” I can stand. But, if it sounded more like Denmark 2006, I’d be all over it. That swing/twist sound just fits the lyrics perfectly, in my opinion.

  5. Eulenspiegel says:

    Yay, I can finally comment here! 🙂

    2003 was the first Eurovision I watched entirely through, and therefore it’s something special for me. But music wise, it’s nothing spectacular. My Top 5 would be made of these:

    1. Belgium
    2. Spain
    3. France
    4. Russia
    5. Romania

    Thereafter followed by Iceland, Austria and Portugal. Poland has a good melody and very good vocal chemistry from Ich Troje, but I’m allergic to these kind of lyrics about a happy-zappy utopian world (and yes, I don’t like John Lennon’s “Imagine” or “Happy Xmas – War is over” either). Croatia, Ukraine and United Kingdom form my Bottom 3.

    P.S. The host country had also a good song which was undeservedly unnoticed on the big night. Has anyone btw noticed that composer Martin Freimans reused the musical line between the chorus and verse for his next ESC song, “The war is not over”?

    • Nick P. says:

      Glad you could join us. 🙂

      Everyone’s first Eurovision is special. Mine was 2011, though I have a particular soft spot for 2010, since it had my first Eurovision songs. One of them is coming up very soon, actually.

      Yes! Someone else who likes Spain. Aside from the obvious (wink, wink), you have a strong top five and a good bottom three. I’m not a fan of “Imagine” either, but Ich Troje just wrapped the message in a better way with more convincing and interesting imagery.

      Latvia, Estonia, and France were the three travesties of 2003. All of them should’ve been in the top 15, if not higher. Just out of curiosity, what did you think of Norway?

      • Eulenspiegel says:

        Sorry, but the only thing I can think of Norway 2003 is “booooring”. I think overall that Norway was in a bad period in the early 00’s with many bland ballads.

        But you have chosen a great edition for the next time. 1996 is my favourite Eurovision year. 🙂

        • Nick P. says:

          I can live with that. 🙂

          That’s what’s it’s shaping up to be for me! From the first seven songs, the lowest score I’ve given is 5.7. Can’t wait to get through (most) of the rest today.

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