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Album Review: Sanna Nielsen – “7”

Hello everyone – once again, you find yourself reading one of our album reviews, so thank you very much for joining me! Today, though summer may be winding to a close, I’ll be turning the clock back a couple of months to take a look at the studio album Sanna Nielsen released at the end of June, in the wake of her Eurovision bronze medal in Copenhagen. Does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out!

"7" was released on June 30th
“7” was released on June 30th

So, “7” – which, somewhat confusingly, is actually her eighth studio album – takes its title from the amount of times it took Sanna to finally win Melodifestivalen and sing on the Eurovision stage; since it was a lifelong ambition of hers, after all. Taking that into account, you might expect a really personal little album, maybe featuring some tracks written by Sanna herself, or at least those selected to bear some lyrical relevance to her life or her momentous Eurovision journey? I definitely hoped for that, anyway. But did we get it?

Erm… not exactly.

We have nine – yes, just nine – new tracks. One of which is “Undo”, which we all know from Eurovision. So eight new tracks. Oh, hang on. One of those is an acoustic version of “Undo”. So seven new tracks. Actually no scratch that. Three of them were released as part of the “Undo” EP earlier this year. So we have a grand total of four new tracks. Good start.

That’s not to say they’re not good songs though. They really are, in the main. I absolutely adore “Trouble” the most, out of the four real new ones:

A bold electro ballad, sublimely produced and enthusiastically interpreted, the staccato ‘de-de-de-deeeep trouble trouble’ chorus is the real winner here. Perhaps they couldn’t think of enough words to fill in the second line, but what they ended up with is incredibly catchy, and it emphasises the drama in the lyrics perfectly. With this being a Nordic pop album, it goes without saying that the production is just exquisite, on pretty much every single song.

And therein, perhaps, lies the problem. What we have here is a Nordic pop album. Which is all well and good, of course. I love Nordic pop. My only issue is that pretty much anyone could have recorded it. Maybe it’s because I was introduced to the songs on this album in chunks rather than as one cohesive piece, but I can’t find much identity to really link them all together. It’s very anonymous. And anonymous can still be a good listen. It just isn’t quite the album I was expecting from someone with as much of a zest for life as Sanna clearly has. *sigh*

Stepping past that rather obvious problem, though, and taking “7” for what it is, it’s still very enjoyable. “Ready” exudes an air of positivity as it portrays the resolve needed to find love again after a failed relationship. “All About Love”, whilst appearing to tackle the rather difficult subject of family break-ups, is an immensely enjoyable listen, layering a number of catchy hooks over a bouncy uptempo backing. The album opener “Skydivin'” (seriously, why drop the ‘g’? This is 2014.) has an absolutely killer bridge and a contemporary empowering beat. If she’s planning to release another single from this lot, “Skydivin'” should probably be the one.

My personal highlight of the album would be the sublime electronic ballad “Rainbow” – penned by one of my favourite songwriters who is also one half of Ask Embla, Ina Wroldsen.

The beat here is just immense. Powerful, driving, commanding. And Sanna’s vocal line is, as always, magnificently executed. Put simply, this is an Ask Embla song (and a bloody good one at that too), and whilst I wish Ina had been the one singing it, Sanna’s inimitable voice is by no means a poor replacement. Once you’ve got to grips with it, this is one hell of a singalong anthem too!

“Rainbow”s lyrics are rather strong, but it’s a little sad that some of the other lyrics on “7” appear to be cobbled together without a great deal of thought –

you took me high up in your sk-ah-ah-yyyy, to fl-ah-ah-yyyy

… but then again, we need not forget that this is Sanna Nielsen of “undo my sad” infamy. And at the end of the day, no, of course lazy lyrics don’t really affect how good a song is or not. I still really enjoy listening to all but one of the songs on “7”, and a few clichéd rhymes and clumsy sentence structures don’t impede that.

Perhaps if Sanna and her team had spent a little more time on this album, it would have been a more personal affair, but as I keep saying: though it’s undoubtedly clinical, it’s . The majority of these songs have hit potential, and that at least renders them a force to be reckoned with!

Your views:

What do you think of "7"?
What do you think of “7”?
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What if… there hadn’t been so many Balkan withdrawals?

Evening Eurovision fans! 🙂 Tonight, in the latest of our 2014 “What If” series, I’m going to be exploring an aspect of the Copenhagen contest which has been mostly overlooked, but stood out to me as a potential game-changer pre-contest… Would things have been any different without the notable absence of so many Balkan countries in 2014? I’m on a mission to find out!

Sergej Cetkovic reached Montenegro's first final without much Balkan help... but could he have done even better?
Sergej Cetkovic reached Montenegro’s first final without much Balkan help… but could he have done even better?

I am, and pretty much always have been, a self-confessed devotee of anything Balkan. Thus, it should come as no surprise that I was distraught to learn that 2014 would see the withdrawal of Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria, to add to Bosnia-Herzegovina, who were already M.I.A. as of Malmö! However, Copenhagen wasn’t such a disaster in the end, as the remaining countries brought a few awesome entries to the table, restoring my faith in my spiritual home for another Eurovision year.

However, with so many missing Balkan nations in Copenhagen – from the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere on the peninsula – I always wondered whether their absence would perhaps influence the results somewhat. So, this got me thinking: with just four traditional Balkan countries this year, as opposed to the usual seven or eight we’ve been used to in the past, what exactly did we miss in Copenhagen? Without diving too deep into the ‘political voting’ stereotypes, there are a few things we can generally expect from a Eurovision featuring many Balkan countries:

  • One or more of them will send a MEGA-FAMOUS established artist
  • One or more of them will send a typical Balkan ballad
  • They’ll all be… um… ‘generous’ with their votes for each other (this is for cultural reasons, not political ones, before anyone bites my head off…)
  • They’ll very likely feature their national language to some degree
  • They’ll be split between the semi-finals, though as 2012 proved, not always equally
  • There’ll be that one Balkan entry that will overshadow all the others from the region, hoovering up the lion’s share of neighbourly votes, and a lot of the external ones too. [see. Bosnia 2006, Serbia 2007, Bosnia 2011, Serbia 2012 etc.]

2013 proved that none of this will guarantee success, of course, but (excluding 2013 and 2014) in the years since Yugoslavia split into multiple participating nations, there have only been six contests which didn’t feature an ex-Yugoslav nation in the top ten. If we extend this statistic to include nations from across the peninsula such as Romania, that figure drops to just three. The Balkans are an undeniable powerhouse at Eurovision, and in missing so many of them this year, it was always going to be interesting to see how those remaining would fare. As Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia all entered big-name artists with (in my mind anyway) very credible songs, one may think that additional Balkan participants would simply boost the results of all three. I’m not so sure this would be the case.

Of course, any discussion in this article can be nothing more than speculation at best, since there’s no way we will ever know how ESC 2014 would have panned out with more Balkan nations involved. Even looking at the precedent from the last few years, it would still be dependent on which artists and songs the missing nations potentially selected, which semi-finals they were allocated to, and a whole host of other factors besides. However, there are a few notable differences I personally think would have been very likely, had we not had so many Balkan withdrawals…

1. San Marino would not have qualified.

Whether we liked the song or not, I think it’s fair to say we were all shellshocked and delighted in equal measure when San Marino’s flag emerged from one of semi-final 1’s ten virtual envelopes. Valentina Monetta FINALLY brought her country into the Saturday night final, however she did so by the smallest of margins – squeaking into tenth place by just one point over Portugal’s Suzy. As a result, I am pretty confident that one more Balkan country in that semi-final would have been enough to stop this from happening. Either by qualifying themselves, stealing votes that San Marino actually managed to pick up, or giving Portugal that crucial two points to leapfrog ValMon into tenth, I believe more Balkan countries would have prevented San Marino’s historic qualification.

2. Montenegro would have finished higher than 19th.

This year, the leading Balkan song was Sergej’s archetypal “Moj Svijet”, a Balkan-ballad-by-numbers which ticked all the boxes and came complete with a Lane Moje key change, a Lejla final-chorus-unison-walk and … and it came from the most luckless Balkan nation of them all: Montenegro! Now, they’re surely pleased with their first qualification and everything… but with the support of a few neighbouring countries who are already fans of Sergej’s music, surely they could have done a lot better?

  • IF “Moj Svijet” had still been the ‘top’ Balkan song (that is, assuming any prospective Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian entry wasn’t more favoured in general), one could almost guarantee 8/10/12 points from five or six nations. That’s a theoretical sixty points basically in the bag right there. In reality, Montenegro got a total of 37, 25 of which were from Balkan countries. Playing it safe, and saying Sergej picked up an 8 and two 10s from the three absentees, he would finish with a total of 65, just enough to overtake Sebalter for 13th place. Three twelves would put him on 73, just one point shy of the top ten. And this is overlooking the odd point which Bulgaria might have awarded too…
  • Alternatively, if Montenegro’s song played second fiddle to a theoretically superior Balkan neighbour, the result would likely have been improved, but not by as much. The example I’d give here is Kaliopi in 2012: even in other Balkan results, her entry was often ranked below Zeljko Joksimovic’s Serbian song, however she managed to garner enough support to finish a joint 12th/13th with Mandinga from Romania.
  • Or… imagine one of the absent nations sent a similar Balkan ballad that was also drawn in semi-final one? Would we see a repeat of the “Verjamem” effect; whereby all the support for a particular genre goes behind one song and the other similar song is left floundering towards the bottom of the scoreboard? I find it hard to believe that could have happened to Sergej’s spectacular entry, but there’s always room for doubt where Eurovision is concerned…

3. Greece would probably have done a little better

Bulgaria and Serbia in particular have thrown a fair few points Greece’s way since their respective débuts, so it follows that Freaky Fortune would have potentially picked up a few more had these two countries both participated – nothing that would drastically improve their result, but maybe enough to leapfrog Elaiza and/or Molly. A similar thing could be said for Malta, judging by the past voting records of the absent Balkan nations.

4. Slovenia…

Oh, Slovenia. Here’s the real sticking point in my speculation – I honestly have no idea what would have happened to Tinkara from Slovenia in our hypothetical situation. She scraped into the final in tenth, and despite a really strong live performance, she languished in 25th place by the end of the night. Here’s what I think may have happened with a few more Balkan countries…

  • IF she still qualified… then I believe she would have finished a little higher in the final. Her total of 9 comprised of 8 from Montenegro and 1 from Macedonia. As ever, we’re talking about adding Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria into the mix here, all of which could potentially award anything from 0 to 12. Even if Tinkara only managed low scores from all four, say 1,2,3 and 4 points, she would finish with a total of 19 in 24th place. Unfortunately, there was a huge gap between ValMon’s score of 14 and Firelight’s score of 32 above her, so in all honestly, I doubt Tinkara’s final position would have been particularly improved.
  • However, do remember that Slovenia only JUST made it into the final. One or two additional nations in semi-final two (which, since it only had 15 participants, would likely have been the primary receptacle for extra countries) would have potentially been enough to push Tinkara down to 11th. I believe this is the most likely situation in the question of Slovenia, unfortunately.

5. Macedonia and Albania probably still wouldn’t have been able to qualify

Assuming that extra Balkan countries equals extra Balkan points is fair enough, but in some cases from Copenhagen, a few extra countries still wouldn’t have been enough. Hersi needed an additional 30 points to reach tenth place; Tijana Dapcevic needed 20. Given that they would be competing against a couple of potentially more popular new songs, I doubt even four extra Balkan votes would have boosted their scores enough to reach the Saturday night :/

6. The winner?

One final thing to consider would be, of course, the winner. Unfortunately, I don’t think even four additional Eastern European countries could have stopped Austria from taking the victory. In fact, I think the extra points would have just made Conchita’s lead even bigger – judging by what little past data we have to go on, Austria would be slightly more likely to pick up Balkan points than its nearest rivals The Netherlands. The only plausible situation whereby our missing Balkan nations could have altered the 2014 winner would be if one of them sent an entry with more winning potential than Austria. A big ask when you’re competing against a bearded drag queen with a flaming backdrop and a simply stunning voice.

Some may say of these Balkan nations that if they didn’t change the winner, then their absence was not felt in the 2014 contest. I beg to differ. Besides the fact that they always bring unique and interesting pieces of music to the contest, I believe the effect they can have on others was sorely missed this year, and I really hope we can welcome most if not all of them back to the 60th anniversary edition in 2015!

Your Views:

What do you think would have happened if we hadn't had so many Balkan withdrawals?
What do you think would have happened if we hadn’t had so many Balkan withdrawals?

Mariusz Wadowski from Poland: Well,I fear that the results could have been a bit different. I’m almost sure that San Marino wouldn’t qualify because of Some Serbia or Bosnia. 😛

Nick van Lith from the Netherlands: It’s difficult to say, but we could say that all except Croatia would’ve done well. Slovenia only got points from Macedonia and Montenegro in the final, Montenegro got most points from the region. They would’ve done better. And I’d say there would’ve been a chance for Macedonia to qualify. It’s always guessing to think how Serbia/Croatia/Bosnia would’ve done, as nothing would save Ljubav Je Svuda or Celebrate…

Tim Mathieson from Norway: No change. Europe had decided to vote politically correct.

Gijsbert Groenveld from the Netherlands: I’m sure Serbia would have won!

Of course, this is a very difficult question to try and conclude upon, and we will never really know how much of a difference – if any – the Balkan withdrawals had on the 2014 contest. The fans here seem to agree that some qualifiers may have been a little different, and some of the results in the final could have been too, however beyond that, it seems there’s very little we can realistically conclude. One thing’s for certain though: we missed the musical contributions of the region this year, and I’d love to see them all back next time!

Possible Artists 2015: Portugal

We have just over ten months to go before we’ll all be revelling in Eurovision fever once again, and as we continue to look back at 2014 with our “What If“s, we’re also looking towards next year’s contest by starting up our Possible Artists series once more, this time suggesting singers for the 2015 contest! First up this year; it’s Portugal!

Ana Free is our top choice for Portugal!
Ana Free is our top choice for Portugal!

Artist #1: Ana Free

It can’t be denied that Portugal’s Eurovision career is in a bit of a lull at the moment. 2014 saw their much-anticipated comeback to the contest, yet after a hotly-debated national final, and the selection of a song which created its own little publicity storm in the run-up to the contest, Suzy’s “Quero Ser Tua” eventually fell a little flat, and limped in just one point away from qualification. ValMon was evidently too much for her to contend with – now whoever thought I’d ever be saying that, ey?

I’m hoping Portugal will continue taking part, of course, as I think they have a lot to offer the Eurovision world as they continue the search for that elusive first winner. If it were up to me, the artist I’d choose to take up that particular challenge would be Ana Free:

Ana Free has become something of a social media success story – starting out her career by uploading covers and original songs onto her wonderfully personal and quirky YouTube channel, like so many others do, often without recognition or success. Ana’s story is a little different though, as her charming videos and her determined persistence have led to her accumulating a shedload of views, followers, and finally, media attention. Six years after starting up her YouTube channel, she released her début album “Together” last year.

Above is the video for “Kick It Up”, a short, sweet and insanely catchy little tune she released for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. I know it’s technically nothing special, but literally every time I hear it, I can’t help but feel happy. It’s such a singalong number, and it features Ana with her trademark guitar, singing on a self-penned track on which she sounds totally at home. We have precedent for football anthems translating well onto the Eurovision stage, as Jessy Matador’s left-hand side finish in 2010 proved – of course, this track itself is ineligible for next year’s contest owing to the date it was released, however if Ana composed something similarly anthemic, I’m of the opinion it would give Portugal a really decent shot at success in Austria.

Here’s another example of the type of music she makes. “Perfection”, the opening track from her aforementioned album, is more pop-influenced and very radio-friendly, yet retaining the catchy chorus and the charming vocal.

With Portugal, you can guarantee two things. One: the winner will be selected through Festival da Canção. Two: the song will be all or mostly in Portuguese. Ana’s back catalogue to date is mostly in English, although she is of course, fluent in Portuguese, meaning this wouldn’t prove much of a hurdle, if she was willing to compose something in her native tongue. She does live and work in the US at the moment, suggesting that she may fancy a bigger career than Eurovision could offer her. Who knows. As I see it, it would be a real success story if she were to come all the way from YouTube to the international Eurovision stage, and I feel she is the kind of artist who can bridge the gap between traditional Portuguese music and contemporary pop. That’s what Portugal need.

Artist #2: Kika

If Ana Free perhaps feels that Festival da Canção and indeed Eurovision are maybe a little unadventurous for her, then our second artist would very likely disagree. Meet 17-year-old Kika, here in a captivating bilingual duet with French singer John Mamann “Love Life” –

… and if I hadn’t told you, you’d never guess she’s only 17, would you. Her voice already has such a mature, unique tone to it, and listening to her sing is a real real pleasure.  Just imagine how amazing she’s going to sound in a few years, when she’s had more chance to grow into it!

As for her Eurovision potential, I think she is perfectly suited to the kind of singalong guitar-pop anthem that “Love Life” is, however she could really sell a slice of modern R’n’B, or equally pull off a more traditional fado number, if she so desired. She has a hell of a lot of potential, and as yet, she hasn’t been given the opportunity to properly demonstrate what she can do on an international stage. Give it a few years, and she’ll be too big a star to even consider Eurovision… but now might just be her time.

Portugal are at their Eurovision best when they exude the pure, unadulterated sunny happiness of Flor-de-Lis, Manuela Bravo, Suzy, Alma Lusa and Nucha. It’s time for them to go back to what they excel at – both Ana Free and Kika could easily sell a happy Portuguese Eurovision entry – no cheese, no gimmicks, just quality and smiles.

Other Artists:

We didn’t manage to cover Portugal in last year’s series unfortunately.

Here are a couple of other Portuguese artists we would potentially recommend:

Katia Aveiro – “Boom Sem Parar” (yes, she’s Cristiano Ronaldo’s sister…)

Adriana Lua – “Sem Você” (she’s Brazilian, oops)

Your Views:

Who would you like to see representing Portugal?
Who would you like to see representing Portugal?

Claus Michael Fasting from Norway:  I want Catarina Pereira…for a good results’ sake!

Nick van Lith from the Netherlands: Ana Free would be a good choice, but if there’s justice in this world, Rita Redshoes just gets the ticket to Austria. She is awesome.

Jorge Costa Marques from Portugal: if she sings in portuguese…

Lee Spice from the United Kingdom: Santamaria.

The fan suggestions have given me a few new artists to google, that’s for certain, so yey! 🙂 Ana Free seems to be generally popular, although everyone has their own personal favourite, of course. All we know right now is that Portugal haven’t even confirmed their intention to participate, so that’s the first hurdle to overcome before we can maybe see some of our suggestions on the ESC stage!