My Thoughts on Eurovision Part I

eurovision-2016-logo.jpg

Eurovision 2016 has already come and go. There were really exceptional acts, good acts, and worst ones. As there were 26 performers for the four hours final, it will take me a while to get through all the acts. So, if I can remind myself to do it, there will be a part two next week to cover the other performances.

There were so many good acts this year. Albeit that most of the acts today sing in primary English. 😦 (It’s not that I don’t oppose singing in English but I rather enjoy each country’s song in that country’s primary language).

The Great

Jamala – 1944

I linked the final performance of “1944” instead of the music video because it was incredible to watch.

If you didn’t read the backstory of the song on sites like Wikipedia or new sites, “1944” is a personal song about Jamala’s great-grandmother and her family getting deported from their homeland of Crimea and sent to live in Central Asia when Stalin was leader of the Soviet Union.[1] Jamala beautifully displays the raw emotions of sadness, despair, hurt, the feeling of being lost, and the emotional pain of being separated from a homeland. You can feel all of these emotions that Jamala passionately displays at the 2:20 mark when she sings in the mugham vocal style. At that moment, I feel like I wanted to cry with Jamala as I can feel the pain and hurt she emits from her singing.

The inclusion of the gorgeous mugham vocal style, the duduk (especially in the beginning), and the chorus in the beautiful Crimean Tatar language makes this a song a treat to those who like ethnic music. However, it’s still modern as it includes elements of house.

Many, including Russians, have argued that song should’ve been banned from Eurovision as the lyrics are an attack on Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea and is politically themed, which a big no-no in this contest. However, I believe that this song is more than a political statement, it’s a story. A story about a broken past of an ostracized ethnic group mixed in with hopes for “peace and love” in the future.[2]

The Good

Hovi Star – Made of Stars

Although Telegraph.co.uk has mentioned a verse from this song made their top 18 worsr and weirdest lyrics from this year’s Eurovision,  I thought most of the lyrics were pretty decent. It might’ve sounded like a generic love song to some, it might’ve been about two friends who are looking for a better future to others. I think it’s a mixture of both.

What I like about “Made of Star”  is Hovi’s impressive vocal range. There isn’t a lot of instrumentation with this song as it just a piano, briefly a guitar, some strings, briefly drums, and maybe a bass to make it seem like a pure mid-tempo pop ballad. However, Hovi’s vocals are warm, rock-oriented, not overbearing, and well-fitted for a song like this.

I really like the simplicity of the song the best. Songs like these ones tell you just need a really good vocalist, like Hovi, and a few basic instruments to make a pop masterpiece.

Gabriela Gunčíková – I Stand

I will admit, I might of placed this song in the good pile because I have a bias for any Czech singers (Go Team Czech Republic, my mother’s family is from there and her family takes lots of pride in their heritage). But, I mainly picked this song because of Gabriela’s incredible vocals. I love how Gabriela creates a mystic yet beautiful reverence when she sings a vocal run in the beginning of the chorus with “I”. Also, her vocals are well grounded with the song as they are rich, strong, and vibrant.

Like Hovi Star’s “Made of Stars”, “I Stand” uses a few instruments and a solid vocalist to create something beautiful.

Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime

Instantly, the song starts on the right foot with the use of a high-pitched synthesized voice to produce those eerie vocal samples. Maybe I am just in love with them because American R&B and electronica trio King recently used them perfectly in my new favorite, “The Right One“. Besides that, I really like the chorus as Poli is able to seamlessly blend Bulgarian and English together with the melody to create something extremely catchy.  I swear I am going to be singing the chorus randomly at work this week, even if I can’t sing Bulgarian well.

I have to say that Poli’s costume is one of the best costumes from this year’s Eurovision. It took me a while to figure out that she was wearing a skin colored dress and she wasn’t just naked with some random leather and LED lights. The LED light pieces was a wonderful addition as it was cool to see Poli “light” up the stage like that.

The Ok

Dami Im – Sound Of Silence

This song isn’t really bad. In fact, it’s pretty decent as it showcases Dami’s incredible vocal skills. However, haven’t we heard something like this before from the likes of Taylor Swift, Adele, or Demi Lovato? I swear the melody could of been a part of a Taylor Swift or Adele song. As for Dami’s vocals, they sound like an alto version of Demi Lovato or some other female pop singer that I heard before but I can’t put a finger on.

Overall, it’s a mediocre song. I give props to Dami’s pipes. However, I am disappointing that it’s not original enough.

The Bad

Jamie-Lee – Ghost

There were a lot going wrong with Germany’s entry for Eurovision this year. The most blaring one was the costume. I understand that the decora kei style might be fashionable and cute to some, I just think it’s a weird mishmash of things that don’t relate to each other well, thus causing confusion. And, “confusion” is the word you would think of when you see Jamie-Lee’s headdress. It’s not cute nor goes well with the song! It’s so bizarre and unflattering to watch her sing in that. If she wanted to pick an appropriate Japanese street fashion to go along with the song, how about picking something with lolita or a kimono-style fashion?

I also think that Jamie-Lee wasn’t really ready for Eurovision. Sure, she is a talented singer however, she isn’t quite there yet with her current skill level as she seemed to be still working on getting her style. Throughout the song, her vocals sounded a little bumpy and her tone wavered. It didn’t make her sound totally off key but you could notice some tiny faltered notes here and there if you listen carefully. Also, at the 2:32 mark, she belts out in a way that seems to be lacking breathe support. I wonder if Jamie-Lee was nervous at all during these live performances?

I think Jamie-Lee should’ve polished her skills and waited a couple more years until she was definitely ready for Eurovision.

What did you think of this year’s Eurovision? What was your favorite acts? What were least favorite?


Source

[1]  “The Dark History Behind Eurovision’s Ukraine Entry.” Time. Time. Web. 15 May 2016. (http://time.com/4329061/eurovision-jamala-russian-ukraine-crimea/?xid=fbshare)

[2] Stephens, Heidi. “Eurovision 2016: Ukraine’s Jamala Wins with Politically Charged 1944.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2016. Web. 15 May 2016. (http://www.citationmachine.net/bibliographies/101376594?new=true)

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Music Reactions: Britney Spears feat. Iggy Azalea’s “Pretty Girls”

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While I was listening to today’s featured song, I had a thought of “Hey, you know, I have this blog that emphasizes lesser-known or older-or-maybe-newer music. How about I talk about a song or artist that is hot right now?” Unlike the other blog posts,  I will spare you the long artist introductions. Who needs to introduce these (hopefully) internationally or well-known artists?

This week’s hot topic is the release of Britney Spears’ and Iggy Azalea’s newest collaboration, “Pretty Girls”.

My inner nine-year old self screamed when I first watched the video. It was quite ecstatic when Britney appeared at the beginning, being old-skool Britney. Even though her life been through hell and back in the past decade, I still love Britney. Especially during this moment:

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As for her partner for this song, I really don’t know much about Iggy Azalea. Gasp! This is what I get for living in a foreign country that doesn’t care about Western music except for Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and One Direction. Yuck! However, it all changed when I got cable last year and discovered MTV Japan, which features MORE music than MTV USA. (Gasp!) That’s where I first encountered Iggy last summer, performing “Black Widow” with Rita Ora at the MTV Music Video Awards. I didn’t really care for the duet because it didn’t savor my musical taste buds. However, when her other hit collaboration, “Fancy” with Charlie XCX, was announced multiple times as a nominee for multiples categories, I took notice of her and her rapping style as the song was kick butt and sassy. I also checked her out when she collaborated with Ariana Grande, who I adore so much, on the song “Problem” (which was popular in Japan).

“Pretty Girls” is basically a song that time-traveled back to the 80’s. The synthesizer speaks for the song itself, especially in the beginning with the deep synth melodies from co-writer Invisible Man.[1] The only way you can tell it’s from today is the annoying clapping, the mechanical drum kits, and the musical patterns you usually hear in today’s hip-hop. I am fully convinced that Iggy is an 80s or early 90s music fanatic as her music is heavily influenced by the synthesized beats and odd percussion. I haven’t heard that two-beat clattering during the pre-chorus’ “Eyes on us” since SWV’s “Downtown”.

How about those vocals? I haven’t really listened to a Britney song since her 2008 song “Womanizer”. I can’t really get into today’s Britney as I was totally in love with teen-pop and pure-pop Britney back in the day with songs like “Lucky”, “(You) Drive Me Crazy”, and “Sometimes”. Maaaan, “Sometimes” was my anthem during the summer of 1999. But anyways, I can’t get into the “edgy-let’s-dab-into-other-genres” Britney because her “new” stylistic choices are not as great. Furthermore, her once highly prized voice are faltering.

Listening to “Pretty Girls”, she tries to imitate the hip-hop sound by changing up her style and speed. Her pronunciation changes during this time, going from pop Britney in the chorus to hip-hop Britney during the verses. The high, staccato speed of the song also doesn’t help her as well. Her vocals are less flattering as she tries to fit as many words as possible in one musical line. However, the second verse let’s her unleash her true voice during the “They are buzzing around me like flies”.

The chorus is the gleaming point of “Pretty Girls”. It features the girls both sharing rhe main singing in the powerful (imagine the “We are Sparta”) “We… are… PRETTY GIRLS, no duh”-type of chorus.[2] Speaking of Iggy, is that her leading the vocal transition of “Some things don’t change” before the pre-chorus? If so, bravo to you Iggy! Even though some call your rapping annoying and the accent you have is so weird, you can prove them wrong with adequate vocals. Her rapping is all cool as Iggy succeeds with her smooth voice filled with pockets of crescendo outbursts and curves through each “musical contour”.

Billboard.com tried to compare “Pretty Girls” with last year’s hit “Fancy” recently in a review for the Iggy and Britney song. Sure, the two songs may have the same deep syth beats and a similar theme of “girls who just want to have fun” in the lyrics. But they are so different, which Billboard finally acknowledges at the end. What is different from the two songs is that Britney’s vocals help make “Pretty Girls” more sugary and girlish then Charlie XCX’s harsh and strong ones.

“Pretty Girls” will be crowned the party tune of this summer as it has the energy and fun atmosphere. Iggy still throws down her words in a stylish way without overpowering the song too much. And as for Britney, she still has it in her as she tries to adapt to the electro-hop genre but it doesn’t work well. I still enjoy “Pretty Girls” as it is a “delightful” treat for a hot summer party.

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BTW: I applaud the art direction of the single’s cover and the directors of the music video. When I first watched the music video, I was like “Hey wait, this is sooooooo “Earth Girls Are Easy” with Britney playing Geena Davis’ character and Iggy playing Jeff Goldblum’s.”. I got all nostalgic while watching the music video.

Bravo! Bravo!


References:

[1]  Lipshutz, Jason. “Britney Spears & Iggy Azalea Stay Fancy on ‘Pretty Girls’: Single Review.” Billboard. 4 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.billboard.com/articles/review/6553860/britney-spears-iggy-azalea-pretty-girls-review&gt;

[2] Brown, August. “Listen: Britney Spears, Iggy Azalea Join Forces for ‘Pretty Girls'” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-britney-spears-iggy-azalea-join-for-pretty-girls-20150504-story.html&gt;

It’s Alright by Deni Hines

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So, I been a pretty bad blogger so far in April, right? For an “international” music blog, every entry this month AND even last month was mostly related to something Japanese. I admit, one of my favorite genres is Japanese music because it’s so diverse (and so easy to get). But, let me make up to my non-Japanese music loving readers with this treat from the Down Under.

If you ever mention Deni Hines to any Aussie, they will most likely laugh. Most of my friends and coworkers did. They didn’t believe that Deni had a “one hit wonder” singing career outside her normal acting one. But, if you have no clue in what I am saying, just read on and hopefully things will make some sense by the end of this post.

Daughter of “American-turned-Australian” disco singer and stage actress Marcia Hines, Deni always dreamed that she could have a career like her mother’s successful musical career. After encouragement to pursue a career in music from her friend, Hines became a backup singer for popular Aussie artists’ tours like Kylie Minogue, Peter Blakeley, and others. A little while later, she was approached by the dance meets R&B band Rockmelons to be their leading vocalist for a couple of singles. She agreed and they released their first single together, a cover of Bill Wither’s song “Ain’t No Sunshine”, in 1991. She later parted ways with the band as went on to work with INXS on the song “Not Enough Time” .

But, what Deni was itching for was a solo career. She got her wish granted in late 1994 when she signed a deal with Mushroom Record. She released the R&B groove “It’s Alright” the summer after. According to Wikipedia, the sound from Deni’s solo career sharply differentiated from that from her collaborated singles with Rockmelons.[1] Nevertheless, the song was a slight dance hit, reaching #4 on the Australian ARIA Single Charts. However, the success was short-lived.

Deni released her debut album, “Imagination”, in mid-1995 with disappointing sales. Furthermore, the album was a bigger disappointment when it was released overseas, only selling less than 300 copies. Nevertheless, Deni and her record label didn’t give up, they just went with a different solution; have Deni move the UK and release the album under a different name. It work somewhat as the re-branded album, now called “Pay Attention”, reached #35 on the UK Album Charts and produced some top twenty singles on the UK and US dance charts. Inspired by the semi-success, Deni released a remix album, featuring new versions of songs from her debut album, in 1998. However, like “Imagination”, like it didn’t fare well.

To this day, Deni Hines is still pretty active in the musical world. She has travelled around the world, worked with various artists like will.i.am, and starred in various musicals, movies, and even in the show “Celebrity Apprentice Australia”.

Although many laugh at Deni’s ill-willed solo career, I thoroughly enjoy it, especially “Imagination”. To be honest, I never knew of Deni Hines until I found “Imagination” in the “junk bin”, or what others call the albums that are heavily discounted because no one cares about, at the local second-hand electronics shop. I popped the CD into my computer, burned the songs on iTunes, and started to listen to the album. It was a while after I started listening that I thought, “Hey, this isn’t a bad album anyway!” and “It’s so 90’s R&B but the great part of it”.

I think the best song of “Imagination” is Deni’s first single, “It’s Alright”. It’s so 90’s R&B with the sound, the vocals, and even the video itself! It’s not too bad although as I can listen to this song over and over. The song starts out with a mellow intro with Deni singing a couple of “la la la”s. Then, it goes full in as the song transitions into the chorus and then the first verse. It’s during the first verse that Deni’s beautiful vocals are showcased. I love how Deni’s uses her vibrato, usually using it on the low notes, that enunciates the passion that characterizes the song. Also love her sliding “Ohs” in the middle of choruses; so unique yet pretty. It also has a lot of power; going from a calm setting in the chorus to the release of tension and emotions at the chorus.

I only wished the song had a better promotional video in Australia. I don’t really like to watch Deni just move her body all over a corner in a random room. And sometimes, she is trapped by this freaky men who is doing those weird spider moves on her. Maybe it’s just me, but those men are freaky. I really do like the outdoor shots as they shows off Deni’s smiling, sweet personality and dance moves really well. Actually, these type of shots describe my attitude for this song; I just want to dance freely and blast this song whenever I am driving, especially during the lovely spring weather we had this weekend.

Besides that, The Aussie crew should have took notes from “It’s Alight”‘s UK promo video when they were promoting her works as it isn’t weird as the other one, At least she is doing something normal with other people in a normal place. And her guy doesn’t look like some freaky arachnid!

Despite what people or facts might say about her short-lived music career, “Imagination” has some great songs that are really worthy to listen to. I might be a huge sucker for 90’s R&B, the album has a great sound that features the Deni’s strong vocals throughout. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and try out “Imagination” one of these days!

AUS Promo Video:

UK Promo Video:


References:

[1] Deni Hines. (2004, September 7). Retrieved April 26, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deni_Hines