Number 4.5: ESC 1996 Semi

Welcome to the first semi-final post! This’ll probably be the way I handle extra Eurovision for the other years, but if a few things change, I apologize in advance. Anyhow, let’s talk about the second semi-final ever and the only one to “eliminate” entries from the 1996 contest. Seven songs, including ESC staple Germany, got the axe. So, did they deserve to die or should they have taken someone else’s spot at Oslo Spektrum?

1996 Semi

Venue: N/A

Date: N/A

Hosts: N/A

Axed Countries: 7

The main post for 1996 sort of covered everything about this, so let’s just move on, shall we? A unique thing about this post will be the links to each video I used for the review, because there was never a show that featured every song. Hopefully since I’m in America, the lowest common denominator for all links Eurovision, everyone should be able to view these. If not, comment and I’ll try again. Also, the order of the songs was determined by a random draw. This closed-door business is making my task all that more annoying. Thanks, EBU.

Song 1: Russia

“Ja eta ja” – Andrej Kosinski

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Owl6EmsnbBE

Talk about unexpected depth, lyrically, at least. Andrej is a man who is forgotten by the world and fighting an internal battle for his self-confidence. Surrounded by darkness, death, depression, and destruction, he fights to save his soul and accept himself for whatever reason is necessary. These lyrics are dripping with imagery, but my favorite is “my dreams die in the burning flames. I burned down all my bridges, which I had crossed yesterday” because it illustrates a violent collapse into despair so vividly and frankly. Whatever life he had or hoped to have has gone up in smoke and Andrej now has to find a new way. It’s brilliant.

However, this just has to be marred by the desperate attempt and modernism that is the composition. It doesn’t fit with the lyrics at all and makes the whole thing feel like a cheap attempt at jazz. It’s very unfortunate, because as a ballad, this could’ve easily advanced to the big night and done incredibly well, I think. Andrej certainly had the voice to pull it off. Speaking of, his voice in the video clip from the national final was super and the performance as a whole was enjoyable, if a little restrained. His style in clip, while spartan, might indicate that the fall from grace mentioned in the lyrics has led to homelessness or tough times. If not, well then maybe he should’ve changed his outfit. Still, a poignant poem screwed over by nasty music.

Live: 8 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 3 | Preference: 14

Total: 8.4 pts.

Song 2: Denmark

“Kun med dig” – Martin Loft & Dorthe Andersen

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dugp4xSB4M

Unlike the Russian melody, this isn’t an offensive song by any measure. Unfortunately, that’s because it’s utterly boring and flat, almost like Denmark itself ;). (I’m so sorry, but that joke just wrote itself) Aside from some drums that kick in after the second chorus, there’s absolutely no musical development, which is based off of a piano and guitar combo. On its own, it doesn’t sound bad; in fact, it almost sounds like a decent little country ditty. But the composer tried to add other elements that just don’t work and create something bland.

The lyrics serve up more of the same, with the couple professing the entirely unique realization that their lives only come alive when they’re with each other. Cliché and tired, these lyrics don’t do anything for anyone and leave me with almost no feeling at all. It’s like cotton candy, in that sense; it’s utterly sweet and comes and goes without a trace. There won’t be a score for staging, since the one video I could find cut off about a minute in, but the live vocals were decent from both Martin and Dorthe. At least there’s that positive to be found in this mass of mediocrity.

Live: 7 | Staging: – | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 4 | Preference: 9

Total: 5.68 pts.

Song 3: Germany

“Planet of Blue” – Leon

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eMpaZ2JvqI

At first note, I really do like this song. That’s 90s techno sound is splendid and, for me, a total earworm. The hectic verses build up nicely to a smooth chorus, but it doesn’t seem like Leon is a strong enough singer to take it on. Even then, his accent makes me cringe whenever he croons “I love you.” It’s not an enjoyable effect. There’s also the issue of the “bridge” before the final chorus that is made up of a droning voice counting back from seven. It makes more sense with the lyrics, but it’s not an enjoyable effect.

Talking of lyrics, it seems like these want to have a profound, anti-war message. It’s heavily implied throughout the song, but the chorus annihilates any indication that it’s actually there. The aforementioned bridge further destroys that notion by ending the countdown not with a synth explosion, but with a statement that “the countdown’s on.” Leon, I think you spent too much time in an oxygen-free environment, because you just ended the countdown. Nonsense lyrics like this make my blood boil. This is the complete opposite of the Russian entry, as it’s a strong beat weighted down by pointless lyrics. What a shame.

Live: 6 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 2 | Music: 8 | Preference: 11

Total: 6.6. pts.

Song 4: Macedonia

“Samo Ti” – Kaliopi

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kINdUog9_04

This was a surprise. I never thought that the, frankly, rocking badass-bitch we saw in Baku nearly made it to ESC while trying to be a Balkan Beyoncé/Alicia Keys. This is an R&B-kissed song with an early key-change that puts Kaliopi’s crazy voice on center display. While it certainly is something to marvel at and her special timbre would make this a perfect 10 normally, all the riffing and screaming is just too much for me. So is the slightly insane staging that makes it look like she’s having a seizure.

If she was seizing onstage, the lyrics would make it out to be a love seizure, as it talks about how her lover is the only one who can do anything. This makes her 2012 song even more striking, as it’s such a divisive, independent, power-rock anthem. When we consider her split with her husband, it makes sense as to why the woman who was pleading with her “star who always followed her” became the person who had to declare that “she was not a loser” 16 years later. It’s a very interesting transformation.

Let’s get back to 1996. The lyrics are a tad too needy for my taste, but it fits in with the genre well. The music is incredibly anonymous, but let’s be real, no one will listen to “Samo ti” for the music; they’re going to listen for that voice. And as such, this should pull off a good score for having a stellar performer rather than for being a stellar song, and I’m fine with that.

Live: 9 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 5 | Music: 5 | Preference: 12

Total: 7.2 pts.

Song 5: Hungary

“Fortuna” – Gjon Delhusa

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsmEE8_naDo

This is exactly what I’d show someone to describe 90s ballad fodder, so thanks Hungary for providing me with such an excellent example. Lyrically, I honestly can’t make out a meaning because it seems to change every stanza. The first verse is seemingly about Eurovision itself before the chorus ends on the line “the time has and end, don’t say I still have to wait,” which signals a far darker shift. Then the second verse tries to underscore the importance of having hope, something that makes more sense with the chorus, but still is ruined by that last line. Perhaps it’s just a wonky translation, but this is what I can come up with.

The orchestration here is very, very, generic and makes the whole thing seem like a peace ballad. That’s fine and all, but it’s just so boring and uninspired, right down to the superfluous key change. Gjon’s wardrobe looks the same. It’s almost as if he’s channeling John Lennon but it’s not very convincing. However, having him sing well by himself was the smartest thing this entry did. This just wasn’t a good effort.

Live: 8 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 3 | Preference: 7

Total: 5.1 pts.

Song 6: Israel

“Shalom olam” – Galit Bell

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zmn4KNyaCSQ

This was surprising. Based on the title, I’d expected to find a peace song, but I never thought it would sound this catchy and fun. Although, I’m more confident that the fun came from the wonderful energy that Galit and the guitarists exuded onstage. Speaking of that, she had amazing vocals and looked fantastic. Had it made it to the big night, it would’ve been a big standout just by the staging and vocal performance.

Lyrically, it’s about as advanced as you’d expect a call for peace to get, with the exception of two lines in the second verse that totally flips everything on its head. Galit sings, “it’s written in all the prophetic scriptures. That’s the way-the way to peace.” So instead of a plea for “understanding” and “hope,” now it feels more like a promotion of Jewish faith to have a “great light slowly cover the world.” No, no, no. I don’t like this at all. However, I do like the music, which is spry and fun, even with a key change. Pity they had to ruin the whole mix with shameless religious promotion. It doesn’t ruin everything, but it’s a sad thing to see.

Live: 9 | Staging: 8 | Lyrics: 2 | Music:  4 | Preference: 12

Total: 7.05 pts.

Song 7: Romania

“Rugă pentru pacea lumii” – Monica Anghel & Sincron

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tD4_mK00Mo

To finish this mini-show off, we seemingly head back to the 80s because this song’s melody reeks of old age. It’s a very tired-sounding construction that has yet another key change and just makes me feel happy to be so close to the end. And, what do you know, it’s another peace ballad with a religious twist. However, even though this is another religious cry for peace, at least it didn’t try and be sneaky. That earns so respect with me. However, the lyrics are so repetitive, it nearly wipes out any benefit that my generosity might’ve had.

Onstage, Monica looks presentable but boring in her white pantsuit, but the lighting here is actually particularly interesting. Not too heavy but interesting enough. It’s nice. Aside from that, it’s just generic “woman singing ballad” angles and direction. It’s fine but formulaic. Thankfully, Monica has a stupendous voice that’s put to very good use here. Sadly, that’s the only good thing about this song.

Live: 9 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 3 | Music: 3 | Preference: 8

Total: 5.4 pts.

1996 Semi Placements

Average score: 6.487 pts.

Revised score for 1996: 7.704 pts.

Hall of Fame entrants: 0

My Favorite Song: Russia (1st)

Technically Best Song: Russia (1st)

My Least Favorite Song: Hungary (Last)

Technically Worst Song: TIE Denmark (5th)/Romania (6th)/Hungary (Last)

I must give some massive props to the jury that selected the qualifiers because, with the exception of Russia, they did a good job in weeding out most of the tat to make 1996 really shine. When integrated into the main list, here are the final places of the nixed countries of Eurovision 1996.

1996 Revised Placements

There’s nothing else to say, so onto 1961. Let’s go.

Peace,

-Nick

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Posted in Eurovision History
8 comments on “Number 4.5: ESC 1996 Semi
  1. togravus says:

    Good to see that someone invests so much effort into the songs that did not make it to the contest in 1996. They are totally ignored most of the time. 😦

    I think that the pre-contest juries did a pretty good job. I would only have sent Macdonia to the final instead of Estonia or Finland.

    • Nick P. says:

      Thank you!

      I would’ve sent my semi top 3 (RUS, MAK, ISR) to replace my bottom 3 (EST, SVK, FIN). The shift in point average for the grand final would be vast and welcome.

  2. marcpanozzo says:

    I pretty much agree with your rankings here (not that there’s much room for disagreement ;)) apart from Germany – that song/performance has not aged well at all.

    12/12:
    10/12:
    9/12:
    8/12: Macedonia (9th)
    7/12: Russia (14th)
    6/12:
    5/12: Romania (21st), Israel (22nd), Denmark (23rd)
    4/12: Germany (24th), Hungary (26th)
    3/12:
    2/12:
    1/12:
    0/12:

    • Nick P. says:

      Really? Maybe it’s just me, but I like that semi-retro sound and performance from Germany. Nevertheless, I can see how one would dislike it/find it too cliché.

      Off-Topic: CHVRCHES live-streamed their show from Chicago the other day and, even though I only got to see a few songs, they were completely amazing and now I’m 10 time more jealous of you for seeing them live in person. 😉 I cannot wait for the album and I plan to review it here.

      • marcpanozzo says:

        I watched that live performance too!

        The buffering was dreadful, but the audio/visual quality was surprisingly high and it was interesting getting to hear some of the album songs in greater clarity.

        What were your favourite songs of the night (excluding the singles)? I really liked the opening of “Tether” (the quiet, almost ballad-esque one) and found “Night Sky” as catchy and direct as their best singles. I wasn’t a fan as much of the Martin fronted songs (“Under The Tide” etc.) as I felt he sounded a little lethargic and lacking the charisma and vocal spark that Lauren has in her delivery, and I was also not entirely convinced by “Science/Visions” either, and found it a little bombastic. Still, perhaps the album version will change my mind. Speaking of which, I’m really intrigued to hear “You Caught The Light”. At six minutes it’s quite different to the rest of the album, which is short, sharp and direct – I’m guessing it could either be a slow-burning epic, or a simple, minimalistic closer.

        Exactly seven days to go… 😉

        • Nick P. says:

          It was awful. So much so that I stopped watching after about 20 minutes, because I’d rather listen to new stuff as a perfect album version rather than a skippy, broken live show, no matter the video quality. My stream must’ve stopped five times in 10 minutes. However, there was a softer ballad that I cut into right before “Lies” that sounded great. I didn’t catch a name, but it was great. I actually like “Science/Visions” quite a bit, at least based on the version they did for BBC Radio 1. Similar with “We Sink;” even if Martin has a less interesting voice than Lauren, they complimented each other perfectly.

          11 days of waiting on pins and needles. (Damn your early release date! 😉 ) I’ll take a break from my Eurovision reviews to take it all in while I recover from sinus surgery that week. Can’t wait!

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