Possible Artists: Iceland

Today sees the sixth edition of the possible artists who we think would do well at Eurovision and in this installment, we will journey to the westernmost country in the competition; Iceland. Iceland is one of my favourite countries, not only at Eurovision as they always send the dark horse of the competition, but pop music in general, but could any of my suggestions become reality?

If Iceland sent Bjork... wow.
If Iceland sent Björk… wow.

It’s obvious who I would primarily recommend Iceland to send to Eurovision, and that is the genius that IS Björk Guðmundsdóttir, though she is known by her first name; Björk. She is Iceland’s biggest export in pop music and one of the country’s biggest stars, with nine successful albums under her belt and career that spans nearly 40 years! She is also one of the eccentric and experimental artists the world has ever seen, probably known for her vocalising (all the chaa-anseman-chaaaa!).  It’s hard to talk about Björk without going too much into her musical career, but in 1977, Björk released her first studio album at only 12 years of age and became a child star in Iceland. When she released her international debut solo album in 1993, then she became renowned internationally. In 1995, she released this little song that would eventually be the biggest hit of her career, so if you know it, do ‘ssh’ along!

This show-stopping, burlesque track shot Björk to the top of the charts worldwide and sealed her career as a pop artist. You can really tell how flexible her voice is, from crooning the syllables one by one to screaming and shouting in the riotous chorus. Luckily, the song was released after the September 1st rule so this song could have participated and done really well back in the 1996 Contest in Oslo. Other major tracks Björk had hits with in the 90s are ‘All Is Full of Love’, ‘Jóga’ and ‘Big Time Sensuality’. In 2000, she was even nominated for an Oscar for her musical contribution of the film she starred in (which is also my favourite movie of all time), Dancer in the Dark. She performed on the evening of the ceremony in her world-famous swan dress that has led onto many parodies. Come 2008, and with another two albums under her belt, she released this political song!

This military-influenced song is ‘Declare Independence’. Despite the insane catchiness of it, the song was, and still is, her most controversial single to date, and this is also another example of her flexible voice. As the EBU doesn’t allow political songs, this song would probably not be allowed to go to the 2008 Contest in Belgrade, especially when she has dedicated the song to many causes such as the independence of Greenland, the Faeroe Islands, Kosovo and Tibet, as well as the freedom of Pussy Riot. I forgot to put one of these in, but many of her songs include a form of vocalising, so if you wanna hear a couple of her songs that include it, listen to her songs:

It’s not easy to think of another Icelandic artist apart from Björk or previous Icelandic entrants at Eurovision because, let’s face it, Iceland isn’t really known for pop music. But the other artist I would recommend would be the 36-year-old Emilíana Torrini. She isn’t known as much as her female counterpart, but she did replace Björk when she declined to record ‘Gollum’s Song’, a song that was featured in Lord of the Rings, and in 2009, she released this song:

‘Jungle Drum’ became a massive hit all over Europe, reaching No.1 in Austria, Iceland, Germany and Belgium and No.5 in Finland. The song was even used to promote Iceland in an official tourism video for the country. You can view the video below. (No wonder it’s such an energetic country!) But let it not be said that Iceland has very fine female singers!

As well as Björk and Emilíana, we’d recommend the simply fantastic:

Sigur Rós – “Hoppipolla”
Of Monsters and Men – “Little Talks”
Hera Hjartadóttir – “Feels So Good”

Your views:

So, what would you think if Björk did Eurovision for Iceland? Or would you send another artist for them?

Would Björk win for Iceland if she won?
Would Björk win for Iceland if she won?

Marco Muntean from Romania: God I want Bjork in Eurovision!

Gavin A-Rainey from Australia: Would be awesome but Iceland has some great artists to choose from.

Anders Bach-Vilhelmsen from Denmark:  I LOVE Björk, but as much as it pains me to say it, she’s too good for Eurovision. But Iceland has a huge bunch of good artists to choose from.  At the moment I’m really into Retro Stefson, they’d be fun to have in ESC!

Haris Karas from Greece: She would come dead last and I would so enjoy it!

So the fans agree with me and say that Björk should go to Eurovision, as she is a very contemporary artist, but they would also prefer maybe another artist. Maybe she might enter the national final and win! Who knows, but what do you think? Are you a Björk fan like me or would you rather have another artist represent Iceland? Let us know your feelings by commenting below!

What if… ‘Gravity’ wasn’t changed?

Welcome back to the ‘What If..’ series! In this installment, we will journey to the home of Zlata Ognevich, where I’ll ponder whether ‘Gravity’ would have done better than it did had the song been performed as the version performed at the national final. Obviously, third place is an amazing placing for Zlata, but would it have actually won if the song wasn’t revamped, or it would have flopped and fallen victim to the dreaded “Anggun/ Kate Ryan Effect” (Surely not!)?

Could Zlata have won with the old version of 'Gravity'?
Could Zlata have won with the old version of ‘Gravity’?

To those who are unfamiliar to this fair lady, she is Zlata Ognevich, a 27-year-old who luckily got to represent Ukraine after her third attempt! She tried to represent Ukraine back in 2010 and in 2011, with both songs coming 5th and 2nd respectively. However, in December 2012, she FINALLY got to represent her country with a little song called ‘Gravity’. She completely wiped out the competition with her strong pop/ballad creation. The song was an immediate favourite with the fans, though Ukraine was only the third country to pick its song for Sweden (the first two being Belarus and Switzerland, but Belarus changed the song in March). The performance was perfect for the song at the time as well; she wore a really creative dress (probably Margaret Berger stole the idea and did close to the same thing!) they kept the whole performance simple, but let it grow as the song grew stronger (WHY IS IT GROWING STRONGER? Sorry, couldn’t help myself) and more elements were being added into the mix. Zlata meant business, being denied the chance twice and now, she was a strong contender for the title.

It looked like the song was the outright favourite (until Denmark and the Netherlands came in!), but in late January, Mikhail Nekaserov – the song’s composer – opened a survey on VKontakte to see if the public would want to see any changes to the song. The jist of the results was that people wanted:

  • a stronger opening of the song
  • a third chorus
  • the backing singers to not overshadow Zlata
  • the ending to stay the same, though 25% of those surveyed wanted a higher, louder ending

Nekaserov said that there were modifications to the song after the survey, such as new instruments being added to the song, and changing of the backing vocals. Looking back, I could safely say we were all a little anxious to what the final outcome would be, as it was fine the way it was. But then, THIS happened!

This version was probably as best as the song could get. It starts off with a gentle melody, then beats are added in and it becomes the masterpiece it was when it was presented at Eurovision. How could someone not like this song?! Even at Eurovision, the performance was perfect. The simplicity was kept like the NF, the background was very butterfly influenced (whether it was to pay homage to the theme or that SHE’S LIKE A BUTTERFLY, I’m not too sure) and she was even carried on stage by a giant! A freaking giant!! No wonder the song easily qualified and finished in a very respectable third place. At least she got into the top 3, after Gaitana’s disappointing 15th position in Baku.

Right, so now you’ve heard both versions of ‘Gravity’; which of the two do you prefer? I know right, it’s hard to choose! But would the old version have done any better than the new, modified version? Well, the second version of the song has a few key characteristics that the first version didn’t, for example: the lack of the third verse, the beats were added in earlier and the higher note. Compared to the first version, the second version would probably be the better choice to go to Eurovision. The first version wasn’t as structured as the second version, and there was no real repetition in the song to get the crowd singing along, the only exception of this was the chorus. Even Zlata herself said that the first version was only the idea for the song, and that the new song is the completed masterpiece. Personally, the song that was performed in the NF would have qualified for the final but, given that it wasn’t as structured as the new version, it would have flopped, possibly finishing somewhere in the middle of the right hand side of the scoreboard.

Your views:

Do you think ‘Gravity’ would have done better than it did if it was sung in the NF version?

Do you think she would have done better with the NF version?
Do you think she would have done better with the NF version?

Svetlana Andriyenko from Ukraine: I actually prefer the new version because the lyrics are less clumsy and the tempo is more energetic.. I am so proud of Zlata either way!

Richard West-Soley from the United Kindom: I kind of preferred it there – simpler, less messy. Could have beaten Farid back into third maybe, but not would probably not have beaten Denmark.

Nelly Takis from Greece: Listening to this song twice was enough for me, I prefer to listen to the original song from Lion King, and its more entertaining.

Haris Karas from Greece:  Νope. Too many ballads in the field for a slower tempo to work in my opinion. And it should have beaten Azerbaijan anyway.

Fans are mostly saying that they preferred the NF version to the version that went to Eurovision. It could have worked, but sadly, we will never know! But do you think ‘Gravity’ would have won had it been performed in the original version? Feel free to comment below!

Possible Artists: Bulgaria

Welcome to another instalment of our possible artists series! Quick pit-stop: we’ve done Russia, Italy, Finland and France to date; and today I have the pleasure to guide you through the musical highlights of one of my absolute favourite countries: Bulgaria! Hold on tight, I’m warning you: there’s gonna be a whole lot of fangirling in the next few paragraphs!!

Bulgaria: just send Anelia please?
Bulgaria: just send Anelia please?

I’m gonna start with a very brief introduction to the concept of chalga. A musical and cultural movement in Bulgaria which emerged into popular culture following the dissolution of the USSR, “chalga” is the collective term given to Bulgarian pop-folk music; similar to Serbian “turbofolk”, Greek “laïko” and Romanian “manele”. It is essentially a fusion of dance and pop music with traditional Bulgarian folk; which often culminates in a dance track set to an Eastern rhythm, featuring heavy use of folk instruments like the gadulka, the kaval and the gaida. In recent times, the highly sexualised lyrics and music videos have caused the genre to come under fire from key figures in the country, who claim it is projecting a negative image of Bulgarian culture to the international world. However, the saving grace with all this though, is that chalga is sung in Bulgarian… so from a Eurovision point of view, any controversial lyrics would slip under the radar of the majority of international listeners.

If you know anything about my musical tastes, then you’ll know that chalga is right down my street! I would confidently stake a claim to being the UK’s biggest chalga fan currently in existence (!) so it goes without saying that I’d love to see the genre on the Eurovision stage. But there are soooo many to choose from. The thing with chalga is that the majority of artists are females, who perform under a single name and sing in the typical deep-throated Balkan style, so to an outsider they can sound pretty similar to one another. However, if I had to pick just one, both as a personal favourite and the most suitable for ESC, there’s one name who stands out a mile above the rest…

Ladies and gentlemen; meet Anelia:

I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the above song “Slojno Nevuzmojno” – featured on her 2011 album “Igri Za Naprednali” – is in my all-time top 5 songs ever released. I mean, I can even sing along to THAT chorus, with all those syllables, and still get it just about accurate… that kinda proves how much I’ve listened to it! As a piece of music, it typifies the chalga genre, and whilst ethno-pop is something of a Eurovision staple, I would attest that true pop-folk has never yet featured on the Eurovision stage.

A song like this, with this kind of instrumentation, sung in Bulgarian, by a woman who is a huge star in her homeland… I honestly think this is their best shot at getting into their second final. It could be said that the time for this genre has been and gone, with the more ethnic songs suffering ignominious failure in Malmö; however for Bulgaria, all they need is a final. They’ve only been there once, plus that was a heart-wrenching six years ago. A late draw in the semi-final and this is through.

I would seriously recommend listening to Anelia’s summer smash of 2012 “Iako Mi Deistvash” if you like what you hear so far. However, were she to accept an invitation to do Eurovision, I have a feeling she would commercialise her sound a little more, in the hope of achieving a more pan-European appeal. Panic ye not though, for I reckon this would come out something like “Az I Ti” from earlier this year:

It’s different, yes. And it’s *technically* not chalga. Gone are the swung rhythms and folkloric instruments; this is a piece of top-notch euphoric trance, with a crazy dubstep-inspired middle-8 thrown in for good measure. But it’s still fabulous. And it’s still Anelia. There is not a single thing in the world that would make me happier than seeing Anelia representing her country at Eurovision.

However, I am trying to be realistic. She is one hell of a big name in Bulgaria – this may make her less likely to take the risk of a Eurovision participation. On the other hand, an ESC failure wouldn’t compromise her local following in the slightest, and she would stand to gain international recognition and a potentially larger fanbase. Sofi Marinova classes as a marginal chalga star to a certain extent, and her latest single release has been reported on by a number of ESC fansites. This to me says that even if Anelia didn’t set the scoreboard alight, there is a potential for lasting international exposure, which any artist would leap at the opportunity to acquire.

There are a myriad of lesser-known chalga stars to choose from, however; and were I to be tasked with choosing another one, I would opt for Cvetelina Yaneva, with something like this: her 2010 masterpiece “Za Kontakti”

Okay, so HOW PERFECT IS THAT HOOK!? Cvetelina, alongside Anelia, is one of the chalga stars whose voice deviates from your average Balkan chesty contralto, and as a result, her musical offerings generally spark more interest due to their originality. I remember the first time I heard this particular song, it was one of those moments when the sheer power of the melody just makes you go all fuzzy inside – such a pathetic description, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Pure eargasm right there.

If this style sounds familiar, it’s probably harking back to “Zaleilah”… owing to the fact that the two songs are by the same composer, Romanian Costi Ionita, who is the mastermind behind many a chalga hit.

This in itself suggests that the chalga world is open to the idea; alongside the fact that a number of chalga singers have attempted to represent the country in the past – Kali in 2005, Preslava in 2008, Gergana in 2009 and most recently Desislava, who was the favourite to win in 2012 with “Love Is Alive“. Aaaaand (yes, there’s more!) controversial chalga “king” Azis was one of Mariana Popova’s backing singers in Athens in 2006. There’s precedent for chalga at Eurovision, now all BNT needs to do is take the final step and internally select one of them. What are they waiting for!? 😀

If you have the time, why not have a listen to these other Bulgarian artists which we would both recommend too!

Alisia – “Blizo Do Men”
Djena – “Koi Me Sabra S Tebe”
Yanica – “Nalivai I Me Napivai”
Dimana – “Ne Me E Strah”
Andrea – “Dokrai”
Preslava – “Ako Shte Da Boli”
Emilia – “Iskash Li”
Teodora – “Ako Vdigna”
Galena – “Chakam Si Dozata”

Your Views:

Do you love Anelia as much as I do?
Do you love Anelia as much as I do?

Michael Romano from Australia: I actually think Bulgaria could reach the final if they sent her…  I think the ethnic folk influences mixed with dubstep and dance-pop is a combination that could appeal to voters in both east and west. It’s worth a shot and it might work out for them, provided the juries don’t spoil it, as in recent years it has been the juries that have been Bulgaria’s downfall rather than the televoters.

Gianni Romanus from Iceland: nice but Azis would be a better choice hehehehhe

Jade Carrig from United Kingdom: She is actually one of my favourite artists from Bulgaria, I don’t see any chalga stars being in the ESC apart from Azis but the music she does I think will appeal to the ESC audiences if Bulgaria do ever send her.

Svana Lístí Agnarsdottir from Iceland: After I heard the video, I had to listen to it again because I was so drawn into it! Of course she’s a great choice 😀

Azis does seem to be the main name that gets regurgitated every year in connection with Bulgaria, but the chalga scene really does have so much more to offer than him, and Anelia in particular seems to be a popular suggestion judging by these views. So, will somebody from BNT ever read this and make an attempt to get her on board? They’d certainly make my entire year worthwhile if they did.

But do you agree? Feel free to comment your thoughts below! 🙂