Saturday Flashback: Blazin’ Squad – Teenage Life

“I said ‘huh’ at least three times during that. That’s… huh.”

Tim: So, this week I finally completed that game everyone’s talking about, Netflix, and decided I’d actually watch that Daz Sampson documentary that got put on YouTube a couple of months back. There’s quite a bit of interesting stuff in there – not least the revelation that actually, he didn’t originally intend to perform this song himself.

Tom: I said “huh” at least three times during that. That’s… huh.

Tim: Isn’t it just? The lyrics are pretty different, presumably redone to make them more Eurovision friendly, but otherwise it’s almost identical.

Tom: You say “almost identical” and, okay, from a production perspective it’s close. But context is so, so important. There are two really important changes that transform this from “cringeworthy Eurovision performance” to “semi-competent Blazin’ Squad track”.

Tim: You think? What changes it for you?

Tom: First: the children’s-choir vocals don’t have to be performed live. It’s very clearly a sample: the style and production really emphasise that. Hip-hop can absolutely use cheesy children’s-choir samples, and use them really well given the right production. It’s a catchy sample, too. But at Eurovision, that sample had to be recreated live by just five adults, which means the listener interprets the context of it very, very differently.

And then second: yes, the lyrics are very different. And they’re being performed by teenagers — only just, Kenzie would have been 19, but they’re close enough to school-age that there’s at least some credibility there. Daz Sampson was in his early thirties then, and looked and sounded like he was in his early thirties. You can’t just drop him in and expect the song to work the same.

Tim: All fair, BUT, if I were to position a pro-Sampson argument (though I’ve really no idea why I’d want to): the issue with that reasoning is you’re judging it purely as a music track, and no, of course Daz can’t get away with this out as a standard single. But Eurovision’s different, and on occasion almost more like theatre – Latvia sent actual pirates two years later.

Tom: They weren’t, like, actual pirates, but I get what you mean.

Tim: Sure, the age could have been a problem – you’re right that Daz was definitely too old, but the ones pretending to be schoolgirls at the very least looked like they could have been the right age. Now, I’ll be first to admit that treating it like theatre isn’t a winning formula by any means – the pirates couldn’t even cannonball their way out of the semis – but it doesn’t mean it can’t work.

Tom: I’m not saying this would have been a hit for Blazin’ Squad, I’m not saying it would have been taken remotely seriously. I don’t think it’s all that good a track. But crucially, at no point did I even cringe slightly.

Tim: Okay, I guess that’s all fair enough – and I agree with you that it would have worked better for them as a song, but they would have been a terrible choice for Eurovision, just on a practical note if nothing else. They had so many members that barely half of them would have been allowed on stage, and that’s only if some of them were up for dressing as schoolgirls. The BBC, apparently, were also keen to have him rather than them, and as he put it, by that point Blazin’ Squad were “on the slide”. Only one option, then.

Tom: And that decision’s what killed the song even as a single. That’s not a slight on Daz Sampson (although the BBC press release describing him at the “UK’s most unique MC” feels like a bit of a dig) — it’s just that this track cannot be carried by anyone over 20.

Tim: The documentary’s quite revealing about that period – not enough for any normal person to spend forty minutes watching it, mind, but there are some interesting titbits in there. One example: the reason Daz came bounding out from behind the blackboard so excitedly. Not because of the choreography but because he’d only that second remembered the lyrics that he’d forgotten due to nerves, and that his contingency plan was to do his bit from Kung Fu Fighting instead. (I’ve checked, it really wouldn’t have fitted.)

Tom: I’ll say this much: that would have been memorable. Actually, fair play, it’s been fourteen years since this and we still remember it, and we’re talking about it. There is something to be said for making an impression.

Tim: Another one: following the performance, which had gone better than any rehearsal, they thought it might have done quite well – not a winner, clearly: “I knew we weren’t gonna win Eurovision 2006, I knew from the moment we got there” – but maybe top half. There then follows slightly heartbreaking footage of him and the girls watching country after country fail to give them points for over an hour, gradually confirming that nope, really not.

Tom: It was an incredibly high standard at that Eurovision. The novelty votes went to Lordi (who won), the schlager-loving votes went to Carola (fifth), and the plucky-but-charming underdog votes went to LT United (sixth).

Tim: Ah, well, maybe another time, if only he’d got anot–OH HANG ON but actually then he didn’t even get past the jury into the televised final so never mind. SORRY DAZ.

Saturday Reject: Diana Rouvas – Can We Make Heaven

“You thought Beyoncé hit some high notes in Love On Top, you ain’t heard nothing yet.”

Tim: Here’s one that Australia didn’t have a huge amount of time for; I think that was a mistake.

Tim: SO, first chorus, I’m thinking this is missing something. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something that’s not quite there.

Tom: Yep, that’s what I was going to say. It’s Eurovision: I shouldn’t be drifting away to another tab on that first chorus.

Tim: It’s okay, it’s fine, should qualify to the final. From then until the final chorus, I’m still okay with it – it’ll manage, it’s fine.

Tom: Right! Good voice, half-decent composition.

Tim: But then BLIMEY, you thought Beyoncé hit some high notes in Love On Top, you ain’t heard nothing yet.

Tom: That is an astonishing whistle register. And as Eurovision gimmicks go, “astonishing high notes performed live” is pretty decent. She elevates an okay-ish track to “huh, yeah, I remember that”.

Tim: And that moment there, that single moment, would have single handedly made it one of the best clips of the night for the interminable recaps. It doesn’t matter that the rest of it is just above average – it matters that that final bit is utterly and inordinately ridiculous.

Tom: But I don’t think anyone would have voted for it based on that recap. Because that recap wouldn’t remind you “oh, yeah, that was the song I really liked”: it’d remind you “that was the woman who hit the piercing high note”. And I don’t think people would vote for just the high note.

Tim: Oh. Oh, yeah, good point.

Saturday Reject: Igor Simić – Ples za rastanak

“The first time round it’s okay, as you’re dumbstruck by the outfits and are wondering why they’re re-enacting Batman Forever.”

Tim: We didn’t much rate Serbia’s entry; basically a Little Mix style track with none of the charm or catchiness. This one came third in their competition, liked by the jury but not so much the voters. And to be honest, I’m surprised it was that way round.

Tim: See, the choruses here are fine – nothing that’ll set the roof on fire, but probably enough to get you through to the finals. The verses, though: mate, there’s just nothing. The first time round it’s okay, as you’re dumbstruck by the outfits and are wondering why they’re re-enacting Batman Forever.

Tom: Well done to the costume designer, though: UV clothes are an old trick, but they’re done very well here. I wonder if part of the lack of appeal here is that you can’t really see his face? It’s difficult to connect with the performer when they are, essentially, wearing a mask. And the disappearing act at the end won’t help either.

Tim: The chorus is, like I said, an okay dance bit, so everything’s good until the end of that. Come the second verse, though, we’re good with the outfits, but in the music there’s just…nothing. It’s really, really dull, and I don’t quite understand who could have thought that was a good idea.

Tom: I mean, it’s every mainstream dance track from about five years ago, isn’t it?

Tim: Ooh, get you bitching. Like I said, though, I find it weird the way the points landed – it was very popular with the juries, who I’d assume wouldn’t care much about the costume and notice both verses, and not at all popular with the viewers, who I’d assume would vote for it just because of the costumes. That’s no criticism, mind, as I probably would have done – so I’m just a tad mystified. By everything here, if I’m honest.

Saturday Reject: David Axelrod – Horizon

“It just builds and builds and builds all the way until it shows that sometimes, democracy just isn’t the right solution.”

Tim: We had a run through of all of what would have been this year’s Eurovision entries last week, rating them out of 100, and if you recall, Tom, Ukraine’s was the only song of the lot that got single figures from all of us, what with it being (a) flute-based EDM with a howling vocalist and (b) not even interesting flute-based EDM with a howling vocalist.

Tom: Genuinely baffling.

Tim: What’s truly mystifying is that the voting public had the opportunity to choose this instead, and didn’t.

Tom: I was going to mock you here, Tim, and assume that you were sending it to me purely because of Well-Built Man With Shiny Hair. At least, I was for the first minute.

Tim: Well, yes, that would’t have been too unfair, as until 1:20, it’s possible it could be dismissed as a dull Eurovision ballad, and God knows that yes, there are enough of those that it might blend into the background; even what sounds like the chorus is a bit dull.

Tom: It was going to be the Eurovision of Dull Ballads, wasn’t it?

Tim: Given last year’s tedious victor, there was a risk, but oh boy is this not tedious. Because at that point, the proper chorus arrives, and we’ve actually got something, and he really shows off his voice towards the end of it. And then, even though we’ve only one verse and chorus, a sort of middle eight arrives, and OH MY DAYS with the smoke, and the backing singers, and is that a key change we have there as well? OH it’s just MARVELLOUS.

Tom: Full marks for him continuing to sing through what I’m fairly sure is a CO₂ blast to the face, as well. You’re right about all of that: it’s certainly better than what they sent. Not a winner, I’d guess, and it might well suffer from what got John Lundvik last time — the juries would like it, but the public would think it’s passé.

Tim: Oh, but it just so isn’t – it’s almost novel, differing from being a standard builder because it doesn’t have a second verse where it has to dip down a bit. Instead it just builds and builds and builds all the way until it shows that sometimes, democracy just isn’t the right solution.

Tom: Odd that he seemed to waver on that very last note — was that a technical decision, I wonder, or did he just miss it?

Saturday Reject: Drängarna – Piga & dräng

“It’s not being taken too seriously, no-one will mind if they go home empty handed, and pretty much everyone will have a smile on their face at the end of it.”

Tim: “Girl & boy”; dansband rock; through to Andra Chansen, knocked out by our previously-discussed Mendez. Think that’s all you need to know.

Tom: That’d not make it through the semi-finals, which is a shame, because it would make the grand final so much better.

Tim: Yep, we’re opening with a violin, we’ve an accordionist with an accordion that is very blatantly making no sound at all, we’ve guys throwing girls around like there’s no tomorrow, we’ve a key change going into the final string section and we close with a smashing of what is definitely an enormous pane of glass.

Tom: There is a lot that stands against this song: it’s not even three minutes but it feels a bit long; it’s incredibly outdated; and I couldn’t tell you what instrument or synth is making that boingy-spring sound, but I wish it wasn’t. But despite all that: I like it.

Tim: As exactly you should. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably end up saying it again: I love a song like this in a Eurovision competition. It’s not being taken too seriously, no-one will mind if they go home empty handed, and pretty much everyone will have a smile on their face at the end of it.

Tom: Right! This is the epitome of “go out there and have fun”, which — while it’s a noble goal — just isn’t what Sweden does at Eurovision.

Tim: Sure, I’d have preferred it if it’d have been Mendez with that trashy rap section that got knocked out, but we can’t have everything. At least we’ve got that key change.

Oh, and one final thing: the reason I first looked at this was that the band name rung a bell, though I couldn’t remember why. A quick search found the reason, which is the song Iskall öl & Captain Morgan, and if you don’t listen to that right now you’re really only doing yourself a disservice.

Saturday Reject: Malou Prytz – Ballerina

“It feels like they’re aiming for a Sia track and video and not quite getting there.”

Tim: So let’s go back to Sweden, and hear this one. Spoiler alert: writing credits include Thomas G:Son (whose work we all know and adore) and Peter Borström (whose work includes Loreen’s Euphoria, Eric Saade’s Manboy & Popular, and the phemonemal We Own The Universe, which you may have forgotten so do yourself a favour and listen again).

Tom: All right, that’s a decent back catalogue, which means my expectations are going to be high.

Tim: Takes a while to get really good, but when it does it gets really, really good, doesn’t it?

Tom: …no?

Tim: Oh.

Tom: It gets okay? I’m not convinced by this. “Ballerina / dark arena” is so clunky that I think that it’d get consigned to the bottom half of the table based on that alone.

Tim: Yeah, but the rest: the choruses are good enough, mind, and in a lot of songs I’d be happy enough if that was the level of the best part. But here, oh, we’re just getting started, and that closing chorus truly is a special moment – though that might just be because it’s a relief to be out of the creepy looking middle eight.

Tom: I’m fairly sure that middle-eight vocoder wouldn’t be allowed in the actual Contest — and I’m not convinced by those staccato hand movements, either. It feels like they’re aiming for a Sia track and video and not quite getting there.

Tim: Hmmmmm…maybe, though I’d say that’s a tad harsh. I get what’s meant to be ballet-style dancing, though it comes across as ballet on speed. And I’m really not sure those outfits work, bringing to mind more Maria von Trapp than anything fancy.

Still, top notch song, with an appalling injustice in it not getting to the final – more votes than its opponent, but knocked out due to demographic weighting. Disgraceful.

Tom: Sadly justified.

Saturday Reject: Liza Vassilieva – I Am Gay

“Well, yes, that’s certainly a track, isn’t it?”

Tom: Strong title.

Tim: Indeed, and spoiler alert: this song sounds exactly like you think a Scandinavian Eurovision song called ‘I Am Gay’ will sound.

Tom: Millennial whoop in the first few seconds, and… well, yes, that’s certainly a track, isn’t it?

Tim: It entirely and definitely is. It got through to the final, and then the gold final, but not to the gold duel, which is…well, I’ll be honest, probably about right. It did respectably enough, Liza can go home with her head held high, and Norway get to send a sensible song to Eurovision which might have a fair amount of mass-market appeal.

Tom: The lyrics are… well, I think it’d be wrong to say “trite”, but let’s go with “simplistic and so on-the-nose”. This is a specific simile, but: it feels like the sort of song a sitcom would put together as a cheap joke. It feels like Minimum Viable Pop Song.

Tim: In case you’re wondering, Liza is entirely not gay, but apparently the song was written by her and submitted with the intention that NRK would find someone else to sing it, but then they asked her anyway; my feelings on that are muddled at best, really, so actually I’m kind of glad it didn’t go through for that reason as well, so I don’t have to spend time working out whether or not that annoys me. Well done Norway, sensible all round.

Saturday Reject: Didrik & Emil Solli-Tangen – Out of Air

“He’s dialling down the operatics and he’s ramped up the dance beat.”

Tim: So, Eurovision’s off. It was rumoured Tuesday night, and then confirmed Wednesday morning. Let’s be honest: upsetting but probably the right thing to do. HOWEVER, the songs are all still out there, and so are the ones that didn’t get chosen, so let’s just keep going as per, shall we? You’ll remember Didrik of course from coming a disappointing and unjust 20th at Eurovision 2010 with the stunning My Heart Is Yours; ten years on, he’s back!

Tom: You know how bad my memory is for songs, Tim? Well: not only can I remember the name, not only can I remember the track — I can remember the chorus.

Tim: Cor, bloody hell, that’s a heck of a compliment.

Tom: Although I think if you’d have asked me, I’d have said it was a Josh Groban number. Anyway, yes, I remember him!

Tim: He’s got rid of much of his outstanding hair (seriously, check the artwork); he’s compensating by bringing along his younger brother, who does have good hair; he’s dialling down the operatics; and he’s ramped up the dance beat.

Tom: Those are some strong “woah-oh-oh-oh” bits in the introduction. And it never really lets up from there, does it?

Tim: Oh, it’s just FABULOUS. This one didn’t have to qualify to get to the final (it’s weird, but to celebrate Norway at Eurovision turning 60, NRK made Melodi Grand Prix bigger, more confusing and a tad unfair for many qualifiers, but never mind that), but got knocked out before the Gold Final (though again, that’s complicated, as there was a SCANDAL involving the online voting system breaking down). However and wherever it ended up doesn’t really matter, though, because isn’t it just a TUNE and a half?

Tom: Like last week’s track, it reminds me of a lot of things I’ve heard before: although at least, this time, it doesn’t bring back memories of a specific Eurovision winner. It’s a solid track. And the harmonies in the final chorus!

Tim: Melody, vocals, beat, sparklers, EVERYTHING.

Tom: Full marks to the steadicam operator for that move in the second verse, too.

Tim: They’re both enjoying singing it, and I’m enjoying hearing it. Brilliant stuff.

Saturday Reject: Aistė Pilvelytė – Unbreakable

“I defy you to find me a Eurovision fanatic who wouldn’t lose their absolute shit to this on a dance floor.”

Tom: Right, after a week of Sweden: what’s the rest of Europe got?

Tim: Lithuania had an interesting result this year (well, for a given value of interesting): not just a landslide televote gap between the winner and runner up, but also a landslide gap between that and third place, and continuing down in a sort of reverse exponential curve.

Tom: A “power-law distribution“, I believe.

Tim: Here’s the third place, which actually got quite a bit more love from the the public than the jury.

Tom: That’s… like Carola’s Invincible, but not quite as good?

Tim: Hmm, I’ll give you similarities, I guess, but…nah. Either way, this is a BANGER of sorts, at least compared to everything else on offer that night, and I’m often left wondering what it is that jurors are told to base their votes on. Just the song, with a combination of melody, genre, lyrics; the performance and stage presence of the artist; the lighting and the stage decoration; how they think it’ll do on the night; or just whether or not they individually like it?

Tom: I tried to look up the rules, but couldn’t find anything: I do wonder how much deliberation there is between the jurors, too.

Tim: Because I’ll be entirely honest: for at least the first three of those things, I can’t find a problem with this, at all.

Tom: I’m not convinced by every high note in there, but sure, I don’t know why the jury would rate it that much lower. Perhaps it’s too much schlager and not enough Serious Pop.

Tim: Yeah, it’s that fourth which would most explain it: danced-up schlager isn’t exactly in vogue right now amongst the general populace, which I suppose slightly justifies it (though I defy you to find me a Eurovision fanatic who wouldn’t lose their absolute shit to this on a dance floor). If it’s the fifth, though, well, that’d just show them all to be idiots.

Saturday Reject: Nanne Grönvall – Carpool Karaoke

“If there’s no other water-cooler moment, at least there was the mad woman singing about James Corden.”

Tim: You’re thinking ‘no, it can’t be, can it?’, but yes, yes it is. This Melodifestivalen entry, which finished in last place in last Saturday’s heat, is indeed a tribute to the feature on James Corden’s American TV show.

Tom: I’m going to hate literally everything about this, aren’t I?

Tim: Yes, yes you are.

Tom: Good heavens, at least it was in last place. I genuinely couldn’t finish it.

Tim: Basic message: “I’m feeling a bit down right now, but I don’t want to go shopping, or partying, or to a spa. Nope, what will really cheers me up is driving around in a car with James, singing very loudly, even if we get stopped by the police.” I don’t know why, I really don’t.

Tom: It does, at least, give people something to talk about: if there’s no other water-cooler moment, at least there was the mad woman singing about James Corden.

Tim: True, and it’s not like there are no good things about it: it’s creative, it’s bonkers, it stands out in an otherwise not remotely exciting heat, and it has a table being turned into a car by one person holding up a steering wheel and another person holding two normal wheels.

Tom: I’d say I regretted leaving the video before then, but honestly, I don’t. It’s a heck of a list.

Tim: Nothing there really does it any justice, though, and to be honest I’m not really sure what would. I know we generally have at least one song that’s a bit weird most years – but this? This is just bizarre.

Oh, and yes, he found out.

Tom: I also hate everything about that, too.