Number 8: ESC 1997

In the first consecutive pair of years, we’re in Ireland again for its most recent contest. The winner is, by many measures, the most decisive ever but let’s find out about the not so fortunate of the 25 songs.

8 (1997)

Venue: Point Theatre, Dublin, Ireland

Date: 3 May 1997

Hosts: Ronan Keating & Carrie Crowley

The 1997 contest represents probably the biggest change to the voting ever, as five countries introduced phone voting, giving viewers their first taste of influence. Within five years, juries had all but been eradicated and Eurovision entered its “Dark Ages,” so to speak. The juries are, as we all know, back but the televoting that we’ve all come to loat… I mean, love, is here to stay, probably forever. Also, this was the first year that allowed audio playback, which killed the orchestra in two years. This was pretty much the first in a run of three years that shook Eurovision to its core before emerging as a whole new event in 2000. Now, let’s rearrange that scoreboard!

Song 1: Cyprus

“Mana mu” – Hara & Andreas Konstantinou

Even in the first song, the effects of the rule changes are surprisingly evident. The pulsing techno beat clashed quite a lot with the beautiful violin from the live orchestra, cheapening the song dramatically. For the most part, the ethnic touches were painted on with a heavy hand and would’ve been stunning on their own. How unfortunate. The lyrics are another slight bummer but with a happier ending. Reading the translated title of “Motherland,” I was afraid that this might be some nationalistic atrocity that would be instantly sent to the bin with pleasure. On further investigation, it just turned out to be a tribute to the beauties of the island of Cyprus, which is better but not great. The abundance of choruses and “tam tabadadbabams” isn’t great but what’s said is enjoyable.

For the aural palette, this ended up being somewhat nice, as both singers delivered onstage. The backings were a little off but not too terribly so. The situation in terms of visuals is also pretty good, as the shots were well done and the stage colors fittingly warm. Only Andreas’ unfortunate choice to gel down the little hair he had dampens my score. This is a decent opening to this year that I like enough but not so much so to set my world on fire.

Live: 7 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 8 | Preference: 11

Total: 7.05 pts.

Song 2: Turkey

“Dinle” – Şebnem Paker & Grup Etnic

“A love gone wrong” is the theme of this song and Şebnem and friends sell it well. She plays the role of a girl who’s been cheated on and she doesn’t know how to confront the man. So, she demands that he “listen” and comes to the conclusion that they can make it work. The story is different and the way it’s told intriguing but I’m longing for a bit more depth. It’s too chorus-heavy, in my eyes. However, the mood couldn’t be different with the music, as it’s highly ethnic. The orchestra offsets the traditional instruments to various degrees of success; the strings effectively bridge the gap between the verse and chorus while the brass makes the final refrain sound cheesy. In the end, the mostly traditional sound is enough to cover the problems added by the orchestra.

While “Dinle” isn’t as vocally challenging as Şebnem’s last entry, it showcases her voice incredibly well and the effortlessness of the performance is a testament to her immense capabilities. I loved it. The visual qualities of this entry were also stunning, as she perfectly showed how to be sexy without being slutty. The staging was only marred by a few too many wide shots but it was strong overall. This song is a hair more accessible than “Beşinci mevsim” and for that reason, I love it just that much more, even if it’s not as great of a song.

Live: 9 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 9 | Preference: 19

Total: 10.35 pts.

Song 3: Norway

“San Francisco” – Tor Endresen

Rockabilly music in Norwegian was one of the last things I’d ever expected to pop up here and I’m not so happy it did. Firstly, it’s just a ménage of various stereotypes about San Francisco that long for the days of old. I don’t care for songs that pine over past experiences but I especially dislike this, since the 60s seem like the most annoying decade in recent history and I don’t have the same reaction to the San Francisco scene that seemingly everyone else does. The music is jarringly odd but well executed and somewhat enjoyable. Of course, it had to be trashed with an OKC (obligatory key change) but life continues.

As a singer, Tor is quite capable and has a nice voice but the clash between language and style is just plain weird. It’s not bad but it certainly does nothing to showcase his voice. The multicolored lights add even more chaos to an already schizoid song. And they didn’t even get the ratio right, as blue, not yellow, should’ve been the main color, but that’s just my opinion. Most of the time, I try and have sympathy for Norway but this entry frankly doesn’t deserve any. When it comes to American cities, I’ll stick with Boston.

Live: 6 | Staging: 4 | Lyrics: 2 | Music: 4 | Preference: 6

Total: 4.2 pts.

Song 4: Austria

“One Step” – Bettina Soriat

I’m not sure how to proceed. Let’s start with the lyrics; Bettina’s utterly dissing this man who has failed to satisfy her. Some of these lyrics are cringe-inducing, such as “there hasn’t been much traffic on our highway, from today on, I have the right of way,” “love is no bounced check,” and, perhaps one of the craziest lines in Eurovision history, “sex with you passes by as fast as the Spaceship Enterprise.” A raunchy sex diss tied up in a “Star Trek” reference? Best. Thing. EVER. However, the music just might be, as it’s a big up-tempo soul/funk number with multiple bridges and not a key change to be found. It’s not great but I love it so, so, much.

The stage show was utterly fantastic as well, as Bettina sang incredibly well, as did her backings. At one bridge, there was a slight misstep but it was covered well. And I’d be amiss to not mention the velour trench cape. It’s hideous on its own but somehow fitting here. The powder blue jumpsuit is also working here. All things considered, this isn’t great by any means. But for some reason, I absolutely adore this song.

Live: 8 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 8 | Preference: 20

Total: 10.2 pts.

Song 5: Ireland (hosts)

“Mysterious Woman” – Marc Roberts

Honestly, it would be very hard to follow up “The Voice” but Marc actually did a better job than I would’ve thought. While the music is certainly quite anonymous and boring, the lyrics tell an interesting story. While waiting for a flight, Marc is spellbound by this “mysterious woman” who has all the exotic charms to which he’s weak. The simplicity and everyday-ness of these lyrics is the most compelling thing, as it’s always interesting, at least to me, to wonder about people in mass settings like this: how they got there, where they’re from, and what would it be like if our paths crossed. It’s very nicely done.

The dark purple lighting was a change compared to the first four entries but it looked very smart, even if the dry ice was pushing things a little over the top. Unfortunately, Marc has sort of an uninteresting voice, so even though he was technically strong, it felt unmemorable. Sadly, the lyrics are the only thing I care for in this package of averageness.

Live: 6 | Staging: 4 | Lyrics: 9 | Music: 5 | Preference: 11

Total: 6.9 pts.

Song 6: Slovenia

“Zbudi se” – Tanja Ribič

Thank heavens the orchestra was still around for this song because the melody is exceedingly haunting and beautiful. Using the winds and guitar to create that “dark fairy tale” atmosphere was perfect and, even though I think the piece could’ve gone on without it, the seemingly pre-recorded section that comes in at the chorus works very well within the rest of the song’s context. Lyrically, things are just as wonderful. Tanja plays the part of a girl who’s lost the “prince” that meant everything to her. She pleads with him to “wake up” while the “golden moon counts her tears and the night hides them, just like they’re stars.” In the end, we see “a morning dawning over tears,” revealing that even magic couldn’t save her beloved. They’re gorgeous.

The performance itself was ethereal and breathtaking. Everyone was pitch perfect and their voices just worked perfectly with the song. Tanja in particular was just stellar, since her voice struck the ideal balance between deep, emotive, sad tones and shriller, more vulnerable sounds. It’s truly amazing. Finally, the outfits were kept simple and smart and the only flaw was the addition of one sweeping stage shot right after the chorus began. Had that not been there, this would’ve (almost) been the first totally perfect entry. Alas, there’s always something to improve, but there’s not much with this. And with that, here’s another song to receive my adoration.

Live: 10 | Staging: 9 | Lyrics: 9 | Music: 10 | Preference: 20

Total: 11.7 pts.

Song 7: Switzerland

“Dentro di me” – Barbara Berta

With this self-created song, Barbara seems to have bitten off more than she could chew. The lyrics try to be very deep and philosophical, with lines like “…what keeps you away from what’s within reach but unreachable” and “look within, what moves you and makes you feel a bit lost,” although I admit that I do like the latter example. Anyway, they sound nice alone but in the greater scheme of a song about Barbara making room “inside of her” so he can be loved, it’s way too complicated. The same story could’ve been told in a less complex and more compelling way. The music is a bit dire too, especially with that whiny trumpet. While that’s a personal qualm (I can’t stand shrill things without purpose), the score as a whole feels rickety and unfinished. Instruments sound when they probably shouldn’t and a feeling of white noise accompanies the whole piece. It’s not great.

Keeping in mind the failures of “Dentro di me” as a song, it’s annoying to see Barbara perform it so well. It might’ve been a tad over the top at points but, for the most part, she hung onto it beautifully and gave it her all. The backings also did a spectacular job. And, with one glaring exception(s), the entry was presented nicely, too. Warm colors and tight shots were just what this song needed to come across well to Europe. However, while Barbara Dex lives in ignominy for being “worst-dressed,” someone needs to remember this Barbara because that brown, dual-fabric, velour ensemble was a disaster waiting to happen. Add to that the street clothes of the backings and you have what might just be the poorest wardrobe to ever hit Eurovision. It’s exceedingly bad. Even though I’ve made things out to be quite dire, the song really isn’t terrible; sure it’s a bit amateur but it was a good try and I’m sure that 22nd was too low. There’s always something surprisingly awful and this certainly isn’t it.

Live: 9 | Staging: 2 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 5 | Preference: 10

Total: 6 pts.

Song 8: the Netherlands

“Niemand heeft nog tijd” – Mrs. Einstein

This is one of those songs where different parts shine and others fail dramatically. To get the negativity out of the way, let’s talk about what went wrong with Mrs. Einstein. First, their outfits; they looked good on none of the five, except maybe Suzanne (low blonde hair). It’s like they tried to channel what Turkey’s Şebnem had done but turned it into five equally atrocious and unappealing outfits. Once you get past the nastiness of the dress, there’s quite a nice song there. Mrs. Einstein sing about how no one in the world “has time anymore” to stop and do things with others, not even for “10 minutes.” The idea is solid and, despite some questionable choices, was carried out well. It’s only the decision to have the chorus sung too many times, taking away opportunities for further development.

While the lyrics provided the idea, the music was what really carried it and made the song good. The fast tempo and droning strings channel some energy from Portugal 1981, like stress, agitation, and movement. This piece also does a good job of staying vibrant throughout the three minutes. Using a moment of sedateness as a bridge was very smart and made the OKC a little more tolerable. The performers also helped that out by singing very well. There were only a few instances where they didn’t sound good and most of those were in the quiet bridge. This frankly weird entry isn’t a favorite of mine but it doesn’t do enough wrong to merit a poor score.

Live: 7 | Staging: 3 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 7 | Preference: 11

Total: 6.75 pts.

Song 9: Italy

“Fiumi di parole” – Jalisse

Before this year, I had built this song up in my head to a dangerous degree. Now that I’ve heard it, I’m a tad disappointed. Sure, the music is beautiful, the lyrics poetic, and the performance stunning, but it’s just so much more anonymous than I had thought. Nevertheless, we must continue so let’s go to the lyrics; Alessandra’s relationship is being ruined by words spewing forth from her lover and she’s almost at her breaking point. As “rivers of words” separate them, she expressed how she’d “like to hold a picture” because it can’t speak and that she’s thinking “saying goodbye would be better,” despite the fact that she’s still in love and that going down that road would be “foolish.” They’re stellar lyrics but marred by the same problem that the Dutch song was, repetition. Don’t just sing the chorus to me multiple times; give me more of the story that I’ve fallen in love with. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when done without purpose. The Slovene entry had reason to repeat but this doesn’t, except to act as filler.

That’s a shame because it would’ve been great to hear the score better, as it was fantastic. Using the New Age sounds really helped in creating that flowing feeling that the lyrics elegantly introduced. It did everything right and had a very engaging atmosphere up until the OKC, which was totally pointless and made me more furious than a Neapolitan in a car accident. Nothing is more frustrating than an unnecessary key change, especially in a song as wonderful as this. The soothing feeling that had been so masterfully made was decimated like *snap* that. It’s truly unfortunate.

Thankfully, the stream of negativity can be ebbed by the fact that there was absolutely no vocal flaw whatsoever. Seriously, she sounded as perfect as possible and then some because her voice was out of this world. And to top it all off, the Italian styling was right on the money and tied everything together expertly. Honestly, I like this song more than I let on but that’s only because I had wanted it to be better.

Live: 10 | Staging: 8 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 7 | Preference: 16

Total: 9.75 pts.

Song 10: Spain

“Sin rencor” – Marcos Llunas

Despite living fewer than 10 miles away from Mexico my entire life, I’ve never seen a telenovela. But even without that surely life-changing experience, I can confidently say that this song would find a happy home in one. It surely paints the perfect picture, as Marcos and his amor both realize that their love is gone but that they’ll separate “without bitterness.” That’s not exactly what Diggiloo says but “without grudge” doesn’t sound right at all. The lyrics are somewhat repetitive but just descend into nearly nothing at the end when the whole song becomes some sort of emotive scream-fest. On that note, we need to tackle the music and its three key changes. At least that’s what I think, I might’ve missed one but still, damn that’s a lot. Don’t get me wrong, it works in context but it’s just so much. The electric guitar and drums that lead into the first key change really make this sound like a 90s song but it was done in a tasteful way, at least.

As a singer, Marcos had a surprisingly monotone voice. There was no personality in the performance to speak of unless he was shrieking. He was on point technically, though and that certainly counts for something. By far the worst thing about this entry was the suit that Marcos had chosen. The Dutch commentator made Marcos sound like a big star over here in Latin America so I’m all the more perplexed as to why he went onstage in Dublin in a suit that looked to be twice his size. It was undoubtedly ridiculous and took away from the intensity of the performance. As the last song showed, a great presentation can assist the song a lot, but it can also wreck it and this was an example of the latter. Oddly enough, though, I enjoyed these three minutes and I hope that Marcos went on to enjoy a long and successful career. Mainly so he can hire a tailor.

Live: 8 | Staging: 3 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 6 | Preference: 15

Total: 7.95 pts.

Song 11: Germany

“Zeit” – Bianca Shomburg

It’s incredibly obvious that whoever chose this song was still reeling from 1996’s failure to qualify and picked this ballad-by-numbers in response. And from the Haus of Siegel-Meinunger, no less. The song is about how time passes so swiftly and how Bianca would like to stop it and discover its essence. The Dutch song from 1970 did this so much better it’s barely worthy of comparison. “Zeit” isn’t even consistent between verses, since in the second verse she starts singing about “times gone by.” Then things get really nasty, as she says that we can’t live happily in peace. It might sound harmless, but the anti-immigrant, cultural superiority message is all too evident. Musically, it’s much more of the same generic dross, except without that one nasty streak. Although, one could call the OKC that but I won’t split hairs. It’s properly grandiose and the ending has a strong scent of Malta 2010 in that it just ends sort of abruptly. Since that’s the most texture this piece ever had, I’m not complaining.

Despite all the nastiness from the song, Bianca sang very well but the backings channeled the energy of the song and did a poor job. They were sharp throughout and fiercely clashed with the lead. It wasn’t pleasant. And there have been just too many awful outfits tonight so I’ll only give it one word. Gaudy.

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

Total: 4.05 pts.

Song 12: Poland

“Ale jestem” – Anna Maria Jopek

Yes! This is what my life needed right now. Okay, maybe that’s a touch dramatic but I can’t help it; I love this song. Anna went out onto the stage and sang what was basically a hymn about how no matter how small you are, you are. And how despite any of your preconceived notions about yourself, you need to live life before it ends; basically, it’s a poetic YOLO and it’s perfect and gorgeous and the best thing ever. I’m linking these lyrics because they’re just too much. My favorite line is “I’m a spark, a gasp of wind, a trail of light running up the stars.” Just read them. And tell me your favorite line. http://diggiloo.net/?1997pl

Onto the music and what a triumph it is. It’s just about as moving as the lyrics and it tells a similar story. The beginning minor section is a representation of how scary life can be at first. What do we know about the world at the age of two? But it gives way to something happier and conforting but immensely interesting, using the xylophone and choir-mimicking instrument to create that atmosphere. Then we’re taken into this bridge that’s loud and confusing, like the transition between childhood and adulthood. It’s somewhat disheartening at first but the now familiar and stabilizing force returns and life continues peacefully. It’s just brilliant.

Now for the performance; it’s just as magnificent as everything else. Anna and her backings gave an exemplary song a worthy performance, never feeling too strong as to overpower the song except at the right moments. However, no one ever felt like they were too weak, like the message of the song. And unlike other songs where that sort of thing is calculated, this all felt very organic and natural, strengthening the song and vocal performance at the same time.

Finally, the staging wasn’t totally perfect but why worry? All this song needs is a woman, elegantly dressed, singing on an unimposing stage and that’s what we have. Sure, some camera angles could’ve been tightened and Anna could’ve had a real shawl instead of the sewn-on sleeves but it’s not enough to take away from the essence and raw beauty of the song. And that’s why this song is the first ever to receive a perfect 12. You’ve more than redeemed yourself, Poland. Dziękuję bardzo i gratulujemy! 😀

Live: 10 | Staging: 10 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 10 | Preference: 20

Total: 12 pts. (the first!)

P.S. It’s a total crime that they didn’t walk away with this contest.

Song 13: Estonia

“Keelatud maa” – Maarja

So… following that was never going to be easy but Maarja, now thankfully Ivo-less, was a pleasant surprise. Namely, the lyrics to her song were unexpectedly deep and thoughtful. “Forbidden land,” the titular phrase, is a metaphor for suicide, which Maarja’s significant other has found himself near. She’s looking for him and “promises to fetch him” from somewhere “when he disappears, he’ll stay disappeared.” They’re very intriguing and touching lyrics. And this is a case where repetition is used intelligently; someone on the brink wants comfort so repeating a soothing phrase can aid them in coming back. Unfortunately, the music is pretty generic ballad fare but done surprisingly elegantly, so much so that it distracts from its formulaic nature. The OKC is annoying but other than that, it works well, especially as something minimal compared to the lush chaos that was Poland.

Her vocal effort was very good but a little too clinical for the subject matter. Maarja hit all the notes but if she’s pleading with the love of her life to not kill himself, I don’t expect her to be as refined as she was. The look onstage was great, though. Even the normally OTT dry ice wasn’t too apparent and served a purpose in the song, matching the line “this forbidden land hides you from me like fog.” All in all, this is a strong Estonian effort on almost every front. Good work.

Live: 9 | Staging: 8 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 6 | Preference: 15

Total: 9.45 pts.

Song 14: Bosnia & Herzegovnia

“Goodbye” – Alma Čardžić

This was unexpectedly cheesy. Lyrically, it’s not but the music is, phenomenally so. The choice of genre, which is really hard to place on this song, wasn’t outwardly bad but the execution fell flat. Specifically, the OKC and droning thing that beats twice after Alma sings “goodbye.” It ruins an otherwise very exciting score. Let’s get back to the lyrics. Despite the jaunty rhythm of the song and her peachy delivery, Alma is singing a song about not wanting to hear her boyfriend say “goodbye,” but that if he must go to “calm her with pictures from good movies” and to “look for her in her memories.” This has to be the better of the two halves, as it’s much more compelling than the music. I’m not saying that every break-up song has to be the same sad, Adele-esque, model but that the two halves of a song should at least try and make sense.

Things only get direr with the stage show. An orange top underneath a pantsuit was a good choice for Alma but the idea of making every light slime green was terrible. It was terribly distracting, even if the color itself wasn’t too repulsive. Aside from that, it was fine. Well, her vocals were totally stunning and perfect for a happy song but that disconnect is rearing its ugly head again. Overall, I’m a touch disappointed at this entry. There were heaps of promise but very little delivered.

Live: 9 | Staging: 2 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 5 | Preference: 10

Total: 6.6 pts.

Song 15: Portugal

“Antes do adeus” – Célia Lawson

Hopefully it doesn’t sound like I’m just throwing high points in the air and letting them fall because I’m not. I genuinely think that there are tons of great songs this year, the Portuguese one being a good example. On the surface, the lyrics seem like another break up thing but just a little below that is the true meaning; Célia is leaving Portugal and boding goodbye to her home. There will be no more “poetry or laments heard throughout the whole street” and no more fado that acted like “the tide with challenging sounds, vibrating for us.” A few more references to Portuguese culture and the song ends on an untranslatable word, “saudade.” Diggiloo says “deep sadness” but other sites say things like “deep emotional state of nostalgic or deeply melancholic longing” (Wikipedia) and “overtone of melancholy and brooding loneliness and an almost mystical reverence for nature that permeates Portuguese and Brazilian lyric poetry” (Dictionary.com), which both make far more sense. Regardless of what the word means, the wistfulness is evident and the beauty is recognized.

In a twist, the music is not the referenced fado but lounge-like. It’s very relaxed and elegant but missing a sense of character. Any country could send this piece of music but only Portugal could send the story attached. So it’s odd as to why this sedate and anonymous yet enjoyable melody was joined with this poem.

Regardless, Célia made the best of her situation and conveyed all the emotion of the lyrics in her performance. Her intensely rich voice made the already beautiful lyrics something else; it was almost as if you could feel the longing for home with every note. The four backings were somewhat humorous in their execution but crucial in making the song as melancholic. Finally, simple clothes, colors, and camera angles topped off an entry that was sorely overlooked. It’s unfortunate but at least I can fall in love with the Portuguese entry again. Well, three-fourths of it.

Live: 10 | Staging: 9 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 4 | Preference: 17

Total: 10.05 pts.

I should mention at this point, that we’ve already surpassed the averages of 1981 and 2003 with only 15 songs. 1996 seems to have a very formidable rival.

Song 16: Sweden

“Bara hon älskar mig” – Blond

Why, Sweden? “Den vilda” came third and it was leaps and bounds better than this recycled piece of tat! Urgh, polluting this great edition with this nonsense is inexcusable! *takes thirty second break* Okay, in all honestly, this is just average. Nothing about this group stands out as being great. Same goes for the song, which surprised me in its sameness. Blond are singing about how they’d love for this bewitching woman to be theirs so that “she only wants them” and so “she can never love without them.” Really? So this fabulous woman, if she sinks to your level, can’t enjoy a fine meal or movie or love her friends and family? Gross. The music, while less repulsive, is evidently formulaic and uninspiring. Even as a plain fun thing to listen to, it fails.

As singers, Blond are fine. Just that. There are no interesting vocal qualities or stellar notes, just averageness. Well, at least it wasn’t as off-putting as the lighting, which was just annoyingly bland. I’m done with this. I hope I’m not too hard on this song for having the misfortune of being in a superb year.

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

Total: 3 pts.

Song 17: Greece

“Horepse” – Mariana Zorba

Aah, back to uniqueness. All this indulgence is going to ruin future (as in 2014 and later) contests for me. 😉 Anyhow, this is very, very ethnic in every great way. The lyrics aren’t so much a story as they are a tribal chant that would feel better on a cliff in Peloponnese than on the Point Theatre stage. They’re mesmerizing. Musically, it’s the same story, as only the oboe seems to join the assembly of traditional Greek instruments on the main stage. It works very well and that one instrument provides the perfect base for the other sounds to grow. I really enjoy it.

Marianna and her little finger cymbals were also fantastic. Her delivery was spot on, if a tad refined for the message she was trying to send. It’s an easy listen and viewing, since everything was done perfectly, from the close-up shot of the first instrument to the dress she had. A superb Greek entry of the 2000s, except without the clichés, “pop” of “ethno-pop,” and general smuttiness/nastiness. I’m a fan.

Live: 8 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 9 | Preference: 14

Total: 8.85 pts.

Song 18: Malta

“Let Me Fly” – Debbie Scerri

Let’s get one thing out of the way from the get go; what was that? That dress was nothing short of ghastly. It seriously ruined the look of the entry, which was otherwise very nice and refined. Debbie looked like she had been dressed with the recycled equipment from a stepping class. When you are able to make it past the pitiful garment, there’s actually a decent song being sung. The melody is darker than I had expected and the whole mood is very desperate and dramatic, in a good way. Those little accents in the chorus just add a hint of memorableness and grandeur to the composition that is very well-received. However, the rest of the song is pretty ephemeral, which would be fine if that wasn’t the same problem the lyrics had. Mainly, the lyrics lack focus; it’s hard to discern any meaning from the stanzas, which seem to all have their own meanings.

Debbie saves the grim situation with her vocal performance, which was great but not dazzling. There just wasn’t that something extra that was needed in this song but she gave it her all and we can’t really ask for much more than that. It’s much like this entry, actually; we can’t really ask for much more than what we got.

Live: 7 | Staging: 2 | Lyrics: 5 | Music: 5 | Preference: 10

Total: 5.85 pts.

Song 19: Hungary

“Miért kell, hogy elmenj” – V.I.P.

The one flaw I can think of with my system is that if an entry is terrible overall but gets one thing right, its score goes up dramatically. Coupled with my inability to truly “hate” a song, the average score is, technically, above average. What that totally off-topic introduction was supposed to say is that despite getting the music, singers, and appearance wrong, Hungary’s song is saved by its lyrics, kind of. There’s an unexpected depth to the story of how this person was driven away by V.I.P.’s negligence. Sure, they’re not great but at least there’s meaning and an interesting one, at that.

Like I said, the rest of the song is tripe, as the backing track is cheesy, the singers flat, and the look disheveled. To nail some things down, the melody could easily pass as elevator music, I could probably beat V.I.P. in a game of SingStar, and the “casual suits” look is neither relaxed nor classy enough. And sometimes a song like this would be saved by me liking it; I don’t this one.

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

Total: 4.5 pts.

Song 20: Russia

“Primadonna” – Alla Pugacheva

Theatrics are strong with this one, but is that really a surprise for a song called “Primadonna?” Anna does a great job of playing up the character she’s singing about, the prima donna; the lead female singer in an opera company. The story is that this immensely successful opera starlet is broken on the inside, “like an injured bird with golden feathers.” She hides the struggles of real life by totally devoting herself to take on the lives of her characters, but she can no longer do it. The tragedy of the opera singer ends with her “drinking the wine where nobody has ever been” onstage, as Alla raises her glass to “this strange farce.” In a nutshell, a depressed singer poisoned herself during an opera and ruined the craft that took her life. It’s a stunning and crazy story. The music is much more sane, yet still has an operatic, big-production, mysterious feel to it. While it’s not stylistically tit for tat, an indirect match is better than no match at all. The final notes are D-I-V-I-N-E, though, perfect for such an insane theater story.

However, this would all be meaningless if it wasn’t for the woman singing. Alla’s voice is so full and emotive, it’s too good to be true. Throughout the song, it’s just stellar but that last line, “bravo, primadonna, bravo!” is just too much. Especially the laugh. Oh my God, don’t even get me started on the laugh. Brilliance. The pink lights with the simple dress were smart and understated, if a bit disconnected from the theme of the song. Still, this is a treasure and I’m so thrilled that it’s now in my life.

Live: 10 | Staging: 9 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 8 | Preference: 18

Total: 10.95 pts.

Song 21: Denmark

“Stemmen i mit liv” – Kølig Kaj

I’m glad I gave myself a good ear cleansing with this before listening to this song because boy is it bad. Starting off, the leopard print everywhere gives this entry a very sleazy feel, especially concerning Kaj’s pants. Then the lyrics come into play and all is revealed. Basically, he’s fallen in love with a phone sex girl and can’t stop calling the line to hear her. It’s just so surprisingly vapid, I can’t even continue. The music is somewhat better but still pretty sordid and not in a pleasant way. It’s much less apparent than the lyrics but that’s hip-hop for you.

The performance was very shouty, even for a spoken song like this. The cell phone introduction was downright ridiculous and the vocoder on the “secretary” was hilarious. Aside from the already mentioned dead animal look, the lighting was far too busy and bright for the song. Maybe some red tones would’ve worked better. I don’t know, I’m sick of even thinking about this crap anymore.

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

Total: 1.35 pts.

Song 22: France

“Sentiments songes” – Fanny

Much better. New age doesn’t feel right for this song but that’s all I can classify it as. Fanny sings about how “feelings” enrich and shape life by “making memories strangely precise,” “proving something is bad or good for us,” and “pours without stopping.” The idea is wonderful but the execution just feels a little heavy-handed to me. I don’t know how it could’ve been clearer but that probably would’ve helped it. They’re still excellent. The music is airy, in a pleasing contrast to the lyrics. Unfortunately, nothing about it sticks out in my head as particularly brilliant or memorable. At least I can say the same about things being terrible. It’s just good.

The vocals on this song were actually less wonderful than expected but still enjoyable. Fanny sang well but didn’t feel like the right woman for the job. Perhaps a classic, chanson-belting chanteuse (impressive language skills, riiiiiiight?) would’ve made this shine a little brighter. However, the one thing that this entry got down well was the staging, which fit in perfectly with the lightness of the music but matched the meaning of the lyrics with the layers of instruments. Again, in what’s becoming an alarming trend, I’m just not crazy about the French entry like I want to be. Sigh, maybe next year…

Live: 7 | Staging: 8 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 6 | Preference: 13

Total: 8.25 pts.

Song 23: Croatia

“Probudi me” – ENI

Part of me loves this song and the other part is searching for a way to die. Let me explain myself. Since I was born in a distant 1996, stupidly poppy and fun songs have always been extreme hit or miss cases with me. For the most part, if they’re really happy like this, they’ll get my stamp of approval but if it feels smutty, like 2003’s Croatian entry, it goes straight to the bin. Fast. So, I like this song quite a bit for no other reason than because.

With that out of the way, let’s examine the song. The lyrics are a plea for a lover to “wake her up” as she says “ooh, ooh, ooh.” Innuendo much?  At least these lyrics sort of salvage themselves in the verses, but it’s not nearly enough. It’ll never be. In comparison, the surprisingly peppy music is thin but effective in what it promises; trashy fun. Although an OKC has to rear its ugly head, it’s not too big a deal.

Unlike another one-gender group, ENI can actually sing and harmonize quite well. The opening bars are particularly good indicators of what they’re capable of doing and it’s a tad sad that they couldn’t sing something nicer. And their outfits, while brighter than an atom bomb, work with the song and genre. Coupled with the nice lighting and camera angles, this one, despite being pretty crappy underneath, looked and sounded good.

Live: 6 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 1 | Music: 4 | Preference: 13

Total: 6.45 pts.

Song 24: United Kingdom

“Love Shine a Light” – Katrina & the Waves

As an American ESC fan, it’s very rare that one of our own takes the stage so we sort of relish in that little joy. But by winning, Katrina automatically became our poster child and I couldn’t be happier if I tried. Firstly, this is very gospel-like in its construction but it doesn’t necessarily fall victim to having religious-tinged lyrics. Sure, the possibility exists but their open-ended nature just makes it feel like a glorious peace anthem first and foremost. Little instrumental flourishes, like the woodwinds coming in right when “mighty river flowing from the stream” is sung are charming and smart and elevate the already complex and layered piece to a different level.

The aforementioned lyrics are perfectly anthemic and aren’t weighted down by verses. Normally I’d complain about this but for a big, bombastic, passionate song like this, it’s simply not necessary. That’s not to say that variety wasn’t abandoned. Instead, “love” just starts to “shine a light” in different places, from Katrina’s dream to the world, and the rest of the stanza matches up precisely.

While the song is already great, the interpretation and staging made it a total classic. Her voice couldn’t have been better and her ability to switch so fluidly between dynamics really shapes the song. And try as I might, I simply cannot find fault in the staging, which bathed the stage in bright white light, symbolizing hope, peace, and tranquility. I absolutely love this song.

Live: 10 | Staging: 10 | Lyrics: 9 | Music: 10 | Preference: 20

Total: 11.85 pts.

Song 25: Iceland

“Minn hinsti dans” – Paul Oscar

The contrast between this song and the last is uncomfortably jarring. To start out on a positive note, the lyrics aren’t what I thought they’d be. Instead of some ode to leather, it sounds more like Paul’s a playboy whose life seems to be over (in what way is left to us) and he’s going out without “regretting a thing.” They’re nice lyrics, nothing to write home about, but still interesting and agreeable. As much as I can’t stand that pulsing, unchanging techno thump, it’s all the energy the song has, since the orchestra is just used to accent in different places. It works, enough said.

Vocally, Paul was weaker than he should’ve been. Maybe it has something to do with the downright weird Icelandic language but it’s not necessarily a pleasurable performance in that respect. But nothing compares to the elephant in the room that was the staging. For what the lyrics were, it feels so unnecessarily sexual and misogynistic. Call me prudish, but it felt very awkward to watch. Like Estonia 2010, I don’t get the hype behind this allegedly groundbreaking effort. Not to sound arrogant, but it feels like a desperate plea for attention that shamefully worked. I absolutely cannot stand it.

Live: 5 | Staging: 3 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 7 | Preference: 0 (another first.)

Total: 3.15 pts.

8 (1997p)

Average score: 7.488 pts.

Hall of Fame Entrants: 4

My Favorite Song: TIE Poland (1st)/United Kingdom (2nd)/Slovenia (3rd) / Austria (6th)

Technically Best Song: Poland (1st)

My Least Favorite Song: Iceland (23rd)

Technically Worst Song: Denmark (Last)

For a while, I thought this year could displace 1996 at the top of the leaderboard. Thanks to crap like Denmark and Sweden, that didn’t happen but this is now probably my favorite year, just because of the sheer amount of songs that appeal to me. It’ll take a long time to equal that accolade. The interval act was weak though, sort of like this year’s Benny, Björn, and Avicii song. The runaway voting was obviously boring but Carrie did her best to spice it up, so good on her. Up next, we’ll hop four years into the future and hit up Copenhagen’s last contest, 2001. Till then.

Peace,

-Nick

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16 comments on “Number 8: ESC 1997
  1. thegoatmarket says:

    Agree with some songs and disagree with others. For instance I love the Polish entry (and I have learned to appreciate “Love Shine a Light” recently – actually ending at 12/12). On the contrary I can’t stand “One Step” from Austria whereas I love “Min hinsti dans” for musical reasons – with or without the misogynic staging which I dislike too.

    I have one comment on your reading of the Danish entry: The person in the song is actually not falling in love with a prone sex girl, but in the voice from the telephone number information (which you call in order to get the phone number by this and that person or firm or whatever – or to find out, who has this and that phone number). The voice is represented by the “secratary” on the stage – who is thus not the secratary of the main character. Apart from that, it’s a horrible entry.

    Considering the line “Können wir in Frieden glücklich sein? – Nein” from “Zeit”, I think it can be interpreted in other ways than anti-immigrant. I can’t see anything else in the song pointing in that direction. The English translation at Diggiloo is also a bit unprecise. A more correct translation would be “can we be happy in peace” (not “live happily in peace”). ‘Sein’ means ‘to be’. I know the music of “Zeit” is not particularily innovative, but still, I like the soprano sax part, the dim chords and the “blue notes” (from a lower to a major third) occuring here and there.

    My own rating of 1997:

    1997
    12/12: UK, Iceland
    10/12: Ireland, Slovenia, Italy, Poland, Malta, Russia, France
    9/12: Germany, Estonia, Greece
    8/12: Cyprus, Turkey, BiH,
    7/12: Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden
    6/12: Norway, Switzerland, Spain
    5/12: Hungary
    4/12: Austria, Denmark
    3/12: Croatia
    2/12:
    1/12:
    0/12:
    Average: 8,00 (thus having migh second highest rating so far, only being surpassed by 1996)

    • Nick P. says:

      1997 has a bunch of love/hate songs, so I expected there to be a lot of disagreement, particularly on Austria and Iceland. I can understand how Iceland is seen as something musically different but it’s just not extraordinary for me. Maybe I should give it a second chance.

      That makes sense but at least the phone sex storyline was sort of raunchily funny and stupid. Him falling in love with an operator is stupid and only stupid.

      My line of reasoning about the German entry, which I really didn’t say anything about, is that, throughout the whole song, she mostly refers to time as something that’s passed. In the chorus, she asked where time was and says (laments) about “how quickly the wind turns.” Aside from one line in the first verse, it all seems to be about time that has passed, which gives the second verse it’s hidden meaning. Although, I’m still basing this off of the Diggiloo translation, which has been proven to be wonky in the past (e.g. Austria 1996) so that might not be intended, but the version that I can, sadly, only understand has that nuance.

  2. togravus says:

    I got a bit too much sun today because I walked all the way from Zahara de los Atunes to Cabo de Trafalgar, which is one of the most beautiful stretches of European coastline I know. 🙂

    On to 1997: I am with goaty on the Austria vs Iceland issue. The only good things about “One Step” are the lyrics, which are much wittier in German than in the English translation on diggiloo, and Bettina’s live vocals. “Min hinsti dans” on the other hand came as a very welcome breath of fresh air back in 1997. I still remember everyone at our party thinking the same: Wow, this is a contemporary sound, not one of those ethnic (always popular with the Stuttgart crowd), anthemic, balladic or (dated) poppy sounds everyone expected from an ESC entry back then. I won’t waste any words on crappy ones like Sweden or Denmark except pointing out that those entries gave us a first hint of what post 1998 ESC had in store for us as a result of the unfortunate rule changes of the late 90s (mainly engendered by ARD’s lobbying …)

    1. Slovenia 11.33
    2. Iceland 11.17
    3. Italy 11.00
    4. UK 10.50
    5. Greece 10.00
    6. Turkey 9.00
    7. Poland 8.67
    8. Spain 8.50
    9. Cyprus 8.33
    10. Estonia 8.00
    11. Malta 7.83
    12. Portugal 7.83
    13. BiH 7.50
    14. Ireland 7.00
    15. Hungary 6.50
    16. Netherlands 6.33
    17. Germany 6.33
    18. France 6.17
    19. Denmark 5.83
    20. Russia 5.67
    21. Austria 5.17
    22. Switzerland 4.33
    23. Sweden 4.00
    24. Croatia 3.00
    25. Norway 1.67

    I know that Poland 1997 is a fantastic song and everytime I watch the 1997 contest, I expect it to finally rush up my list and threaten divine Tanja Ribič reigning supreme. However, everytime I watch and listen to “Ale jestem”, the entry leaves me a bit cold which probably isn’t the song’s fault but entirely mine …

    • togravus says:

      I forget to add that from a phonetic point of view (which is the only approach I can take …) Icelandic is one of the most fantastic languages in the world. Icelandic, Polish and Hebrew are probably the three languages I enjoy listening to most. 🙂

      • Nick P. says:

        Interesting. Dutch, Serbo-Croatian, Greek, and Finnish or Estonian top that list, while all the three you mentioned, except for Polish, are very dependent on the context. I can enjoy the other languages at any time.

    • Nick P. says:

      If I’m the only person in the ESC universe that thinks this certain way about Austria and Iceland, I’m fine with that. Maybe I’m just too much of a child of the present, something I’m also happy to be. 🙂

      The way you feel about Poland is the way I feel about Italy. In my head, it was this larger than life, stunning, otherworldly thing but in reality, it just disappointed.

      Pictures from Google paint a wonderful picture of that stretch of coast, so consider me jealous. 😉 The most memorable stretch of landscape I’ve experienced was on a bike ride through Tuscany to the beach with my sisters in the summer of 2009. Can’t remember exactly where it was, though. I guess it’s just an excuse to go back to Italy and look. 🙂

  3. Eulenspiegel says:

    As I said earlier, I really dislike ranking the 1997 contest because there are so many great songs in this year. 1997 is probably the year with most great songs, but it also has some really crappy ones and that’s why 1996 is a bit better imo.

    1. Poland
    2. Turkey
    3. Italy
    4. France
    5. Greece
    6. Slovenia
    7. United Kingdom
    8. Estonia
    9. Portugal
    10. Iceland
    11. Malta
    12. Spain
    13. Bosnia & Herzegovina
    14. Cyprus
    15. Ireland
    16. The Netherlands
    17. Denmark
    18. Hungary
    19. Russia
    20. Switzerland
    21. Austria
    22. Germany
    23. Sweden
    24. Norway
    25. Croatia

    There’s much to be said. First I’m impressed in how you read the messages of some lyrics, like Germany, Denmark and Estonia.

    Malta is in my 11th place, mostly due to a weak performance (Debbie Scerri had a high fever). The song would probably still have been my no. 1 if it had represented Malta in 2000. So great is this year.

    Spain could have been in my Top 5 if it wasn’t for the last minute. It’s screamy, chaotic and destroys all the harmony and atmosphere the song created in the beginning. Plus that Marcos made really odd faces into the camera…

    I’m quite torn when it comes to the lyrics of Ireland. I love the theme of it, a man who discovers a face in the midst of a huge crowd at an airport and then the image is haunting him for the rest of his life. But the way it’s presented feels a bit corny in my ears, especially the rhyming:

    “Did I imagine you smiled
    Or were my thoughts going wild”

    Plus all the name droppings of places: Paris, Italy, The Gulf of Araby… Didn’t we get enough of that from Ireland in 1990?

    More thoughts might pop up later. Next year is unfortunately a quite boring one, so there may not be too many of them then. 😉

    • Nick P. says:

      Thank you for that! Out of the three you mentioned, I think I was most surprised by Estonia’s meaning. It sort of “came out of the fog,” for me.

      That tends to happen. If Poland had entered “Ale jestem” as their first entry, before Eimear Quinn’s victory, they probably could’ve taken it. Likewise, had Safura gone to Düsseldorf instead of Oslo, Azerbaijan’s 2011 victory margin could’ve been a lot wider.

      Aside from Spain, only Russia affected its placement by changing through time. However, it improved while “Sin rencor” diminished itself.

      Compared to the rest of the entry, its cheesiness makes sense. The name dropping worked for me, though. The theme of an airport, presumably a major international one (like Heathrow), lends itself well to that device.

      Here’s one thought; our taste is closer than I first thought. 😉

  4. Unlike people above, I don’t really like 97 to me it’s the start of the downfall instead of 98 or 99. Though both of these years will see a major shift in overal level, whereas 97 is pretty solid overall, 1997 is very uncharming in general and has no distinct masterpieces. I’ve changed through the years between Greece, Bosnia & Herzegovina and of late Russia as my winners. France, Malta, Poland, Slovenia I guess would follow, while the UK is an acceptable song. I’m disappointed at how clichéd “Dinle” is and that’s the only time the juries would put Turkey in the top 5 when the country deserved at least already two wins. Cyprus and Spain are overrated boredom. Estonia, Italy and Ireland are formated pieces of cakes I never warmed up to. At last, Germany is quite awful, but Sweden and Croatia are absolutely horrible, a sign of what’s to come in modern esc atrocities.

    • Nick P. says:

      The change from mandatory to voluntary orchestra was highly evident so it makes sense that it’s very visible this year. Also, the hosts really played up the televoting in the five countries, so that was bound to affect attitudes across Europe in the run-up to 1998.

      You will never convince me that Poland is nothing short of a masterpiece, I’m sorry to say. 😉 However, you’re right that it’s not anything totally innovative; it seemed to take the formula that Eimear Quinn proved successful the previous year and make it something more vibrant and jovial. And since I tend to favor light compared to dark, it makes sense that “Ale jestem” would be ranked highly by me.

      From a technical perspective, Turkey’s 1996 song was much more deserving of a top three finish. I just happen to like it a bit less than “Dinle.”

      Sweden is pure rubbish that I can’t stand but I occasionally take a shine to rubbish like Croatia. 😉

      • Turkey is in my top 5 of 1996 but I really dont like 1997 and I can never quite listen to it entirely without actually being bored. Ireland 96 is untouchable.

        And Croatia is my dead last of 97 it’s pure trash and a dark foreshadowing of what’s coming in the dark era of the contest!

  5. thegoatmarket says:

    I see the mid-nineties as quite an unusual period for Eurovision as the songs were becoming less commercial and maybe a bit more artistic too. Before and after it was more about pop, and there are good and bad examples of both categories.

    That said 1996 and 1997 are quite exceptional years for me in terms of musical quality, whereas 1994 is actually not: Ireland and Hungary being the only really great songs from that year, there are a lot of boring ballads with nearly no musical outstanding elements – you have forgot how they sounded after five minutes. The few uptempo songs from that year (like Finland or Germany) weren’t much better, though. There are some really great and interesting songs in 1995 (e.g. Poland, Norway, Denmark), but a lot of weak stuff too.

    • Nick P. says:

      Even at this early stage of the project (50 more contests to go!), I’m predicting that the 90s will have the highest average score for a decade. Unlike the 60s, which had many variations on one style, this decade seems to focus on stylistic risks rather than safe, subtle changes to a ballad.

      Well, I’m annoyed that it’s only going to go downhill from here. Still, there’s always the chance of finding something unexpected, like the Netherlands 1971. For now, I’m holding out for hope. 🙂

  6. marcpanozzo says:

    My ratings of 1997

    12/12 – United Kingdom
    10/12 – Poland, Iceland, Slovenia
    9/12 – Greece, Estonia, Italy
    8/12 – Russia, Portugal, Turkey
    7/12 – Cyprus, France
    6/12 – Ireland
    5/12 – Malta, Hungary
    4/12 – Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany
    3/12 – Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina
    2/12 – Sweden, Norway
    1/12 –
    0/12 –

    Okay, so it’s a little cheesy, but I really enjoy “Love Shine A Light”, even if for mainly nostalgic reasons. The performance was rousing and atmospheric in the best way (had to double check to make sure I hadn’t written ‘arousing’ by accident) and I like how the lyrics (despite their Christian overtones) didn’t hit you over the head with Biblical allusions, and could be enjoyed from a non-religious perspective too. “Ale jestem” was great, with fantastic lyrics (as you pointed out) and a rather mystic, folksy atmosphere. However, whilst I can fully appreciate its quality, like Togravus I found it easy to like but difficult to love, which is what kept it from scoring 12/12. I am surprised to hear your thoughts on “Minn hinsti dans”, especially the fact you thought it was “dated”. To me it sounded far more contemporary than previous euro-pop efforts, such as “Blauer Planet”, which I seem to recall you liking(?). I agree that the eroticism of the live performance was perhaps a little gratuitous, but I saw it more as Paul injecting his personality in the song – rather than simply standing on stage in a suit with some backing singers to the left of stage. Also, it’s heavy Marc Almond and Gary Numan overtones were bound to appeal to a child of the 80’s (at heart, at least) like me 😉

    • Nick P. says:

      Were you listening to the Danish song while writing? 😉 I kid. You have better taste than that.

      “Love Shine a Light” seems to be a song for all. I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t enjoy it. Poland, on the other hand, was sort of insane and therefore hard to love but brilliant. I just happened to go for that particular brand of craziness. 🙂

      I didn’t say I thought Iceland was dated. If anything, that’s its saving grace; it was so different and against odds with normal contest fare. Aside from the British entry, it’s the most memorable thing from 1997, which is almost certainly thanks to the performance. However, the way in which it was contrasting was fully against my taste, hence the zero. And as for “Blauer Planet,” the way I wrote its review was misleading. It only received a preference score of 11, mainly because it had a good idea behind it but failed to deliver an equally pleasing song. Maybe it’s just my upbringing as a child of the present (I know I said the same thing to Toggie, but I was thinking of what you said when writing it).

      P.S. – I thought you’d get a kick out of the ear bleach that helped me survive Denmark. While listening to it with my headphones on, I started singing/screaming along and didn’t hear my brother and father come into the house, so they heard my terrible, terrible singing. They told me about it today and said it sounded like a foreign language.

      • marcpanozzo says:

        I am very interested to hear your thoughts on Poland 1995, when you come to it. If you loved “Ale jestem” and “Cfhfce zwzwwzhfjf gzegedhgch” (no, I am not hunting down eighty accented characters and copy-pasting) then “Sama” could be very much to your “crazy” taste.

        Oh oops, I misread that part of your Iceland review – sorry!

        And LOL

        P.S. – Interested to hear your thoughts on the 2001 contest. I have a feeling that we could have very different opinions regarding my personal winner 😉

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