Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Eurovision 2012 - a draw analysis

It's been a week, which is plenty of time for the draw for the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest to sink in a little, so here's my take on what those random little balls have done to the chances of some of our favourite songs.

Semi 1

Semi 1 starts with, who else, Montenegro! A song like this was always going to struggle to qualify, and I think going first more or less wipes out any chances it may have had. It'll certainly be an entertaining start for the viewers! Iceland and Greece follow, two strong songs which should have decent chances of making the final from any starting position.

I personally feel that Latvia and Albania were always facing an uphill battle to qualify. Latvia risks coming across amateur and silly, if they aren't very careful with it, and Albania is probably just too weird for mainstream ears. In this draw, they're going to struggle. Romania probably isn't the kind of song that's really affected by the draw, but it certainly benefits coming after Albania - two songs could barely be more different!

Romania is followed by Switzerland, which I've automatically assumed is pretty doomed, especially in the first half of the draw. Following Switzerland we have Belgium and Finland. As good a draw as either were going to get really, once we knew they were in the first half, though both could have seriously benefited by getting to be the 'sensible', competent pop song in position 17 after a lot of silly stuff.

The song that effectively gets that opportunity is Denmark, performing after San Marino and Cyprus, one of which is almost certainly going to be ridiculous and hopeless, with the other definitely having the potential to be (I'll let you decide which is which!), as well as Israel's quirkiness. Either way, Denmark, which was already sailing through to the final, really does benefit from this draw.

Denmark is further helped by preceding the Russian Grannies too. Late on in the semi is a decent enough draw for them, but, in contrast, it doesn't work for Hungary. Initially I thought they'd got a great draw, but listening through in order, it really doesn't work coming after Denmark and Russia. Which means that Austria following Hungary comes in like a breath of fresh air; its qualification chances went right up for me after this.

Moldova is Moldova, and has a pretty decent draw, performing close to the end. And the semi concludes with Jedward. Watching these through in order, 'Waterline' came across as very ragged and a little bit hopeless coming on last, but we know how well Ireland polished up 'Lipstick' last year, and Jedward of course have form qualifying from the final starting position. They're almost certainly through.

Semi 2

The second semi-final this year is dominated by the ex-Yugoslav countries, so let's take a look at their draws first. Serbia opens the show, and, while it's probably not the best position for this atmospheric, quiet number with a long introduction (especially if the Azeris choose something along the same lines for the opening act), Ċ½eljko is obviously qualifying. Less clear is Kaliopi singing for Macedonia in the unfavoured second position. I think these two songs would both benefit from performing the other way around. Slovenia and Croatia have been drawn together in the middle of the running order, probably not a great draw for either, and their chances will wholly depend on their performances. If one of Nina and Eva commands the stage and kills it, then the other is probably screwed. And Bosnia takes position 17. As the last ballad, it surely has strong chances of making the final.

Other fan-favourites in this semi-final include Joan Franka, performing third for the Netherlands, and Tooji taking 16th position for Norway. It's probably the worst draw that Joan could have got - I feel that her song would have benefited the most by coming across as a refreshing break from silly, amateur pop, and while Serbia and Macedonia won't be everyone's cup of tea, there's no arguing about whether they'll be performed professionally. Tooji, in contrast, needed a late draw, and he got it.

Others benefiting from the draw include Estonia, who get to perform their ballad after the potential madness of Georgia and Turkey, and also favourites Sweden, who get to follow two ballads. The draw isn't particularly kind for many of the first half - Malta, Belarus and Portugal all probably had slim chances of qualifying anyway, and would have benefited from being in the second half, and Bulgaria risks coming across as a less-good version of Ukraine, which it follows. Ukraine, with its storming performance, is probably pretty safe anywhere, and couldn't have picked a better song to perform after than Portugal.

Which leaves Slovakia, which I generally think is pretty chanceless wherever it performs, and Lithuania. The Lithuanians selected to go last, clearly believing it to be the best position to perform from, and they may well be right, with only one non-qualification from the last spot in the semi since 2008. But still, I do think there's a risk performing last, and that's that you take the chance of coming across as a silly interval act, or just simply not good enough. Both of those things arguably happened to the Netherlands in 2009, and they were effectively left with just one point, from Denmark (plus 10 from the barmy Albanian jury). If you're on last, you have to give people at least some reason to watch, and to vote, otherwise everyone's off to the loo before the reprise. Needless to say, I'm not sure Lithuania made the best decision here.


Moving on to the final, which is much harder to say anything concrete about, since, as much as a late draw can be important for an act, perhaps more crucial is the combination of songs surrounding them.

Either way, performing first probably isn't great for the UK. It didn't work for 'Da Da Dam', another ballad, in 2011, which lost a bunch of its votes from the semi by the time the final voting came around, and if the Azeris put 'Running Scared' in the opening act, it'll be a downbeat first fifteen minutes to the show. Whichever of the semi-final qualifiers gets drawn as the first uptempo of the night should be hoping to do pretty well come the scoreboard.

Later on we have France and Italy drawn together again (at 9 and 10), though this time I don't think the draw hurts France as much as it did last year, with both clearly going for rather different audiences. 13th before the break is probably decent for Azerbaijan, and Spain and Germany will both be pleased to be on towards the end of the show. Their chances, though, will greatly depend on what gets drawn around them.

So, there you have it! Do you agree, or do you have another opinion on this draw? Comment below and share your thoughts!

This blog also appeared in a slightly modified version at ESC Nation.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Soundrop - a Spotify app review

A new Spotify app caught my attention today. And unlike some of the present apps, which merely encourage you to read mediocre reviews of mediocre albums and then (not) listen to them, Soundrop really makes the most of the social heart of Spotify.

Soundrop, which like several other progressive web music projects, is based in Norway, allows users to enter a 'room' and vote on tracks to be played. The founders describe it as being like a jukebox:
"Music was originally social; people had to go somewhere to hear it. Today music is often experienced individually. By combining the concept of the jukebox with the pervasiveness of the web, we can restore music to its social roots."
There are a number of genre-specific rooms already set up within the app, but users are also able to launch their own rooms to share music with friends. I haven't tried this, so this review will focus on the experience in the in-built rooms.

The interface presents a basic chatroom, above a list of the songs in the queue to be played. Users can then simply scroll down and 'vote up' the songs they want to hear first. Songs re-order themselves based on the number of votes they've received, so more popular songs get played first.

It's a great way of making the most of the social aspect of listening, and will only improve as more people start to use it. At the moment, despite popular rooms having around 150 listeners, the voting is often dominated by a couple of people. There's the potential for some great competition between users to get their favourites played first, with positions changing frequently, but this just isn't the case in many rooms at the moment that simply end up with a long list of songs with two votes each.

It is, however, a good way of discovering new music within a genre you already have some familiarity with, and this is clearly how many listeners choose to use the service. It's really easy to add a currently playing song to one of your own playlists by simply dragging and dropping, or you can even make a playlist of the whole queue with a simple click.

No listening experience is without its disadvantages, of course, the most notable being that other people obviously have less good taste than you do. You can't skip a bad song that's voted for by other people, as you would then fall out of sync with other users; similarly you can't pause a track. Where the system falls down slightly is when the community votes for a song unavailable in your region. When this then reaches the top of the queue, the music simply stops for the duration of that track. It spoils the atmosphere somewhat to have to sit in silence for four minutes, or leave the room to find something else to listen to.

Overall though, despite a couple of disadvantages, I do really quite like Soundrop, and will definitely continue to use it in the future. It's simple to use, very easy to get the hang of and is pretty low-maintenance. If you have particularly eclectic taste, it's probably not for you, but if you're just up for some background music in a specific genre, or are up for discovering some new tracks, give it a try!

Find Soundrop within Spotify's app finder. You will obviously need Spotify to use the app, and will have to link Soundrop to your Facebook account.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What we've been watching this weekend

A weekend away with some of my bestest friends, the guys from ESC Nation, always ends up with a few videos characterising the whole experience. The below represents some of my best memories of the last few days.

Obviously we watched Bizek Emi.

And of course there was Ragni. Including doing the Ragni dance moves to random dansband songs at the Patricia nightclub.

For some reason we watched this several times...

Of the many national finals we watched, this performance stands out for the hilarity it caused, as well as being a great song! Ventspils looks nice too!

And of course, there was the whole reason we were there in the first place

It was another great weekend. Thank you to everyone who shared it!