For way too many of us, February means one thing: the real beginning of the national selection rounds for Eurovision. And this year already looks like it's going to be a feisty one—Lordi's win in Athens last year has obviously unlocked a lot of "why the hell not?!?" pent-up Eurovision energy. There's talk of Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker participating for the UK, Denmark has just selected a statuesque drag queen and as I've mentioned before, the mighty Ark has entered the Swedish competition, Melodifestivalen (MP3s of several 2007 Melodifestivalen songs can be found here). Even perennial loser Poland has come up with a good tune that boasts a total Gwen/Fergie vibe—exactly what you'd expect from Poland, right? (Although that country has given us the awesome Kasia Stankiewicz so it obviously has pop potential.) If Portugal, which usually is Poland's peer in terms of Eurovision wretchedness, somehow brings out something half-decent, it'll be a sign that Helsinki will be the most hotly fought contest in years.
Now things are heating up in France, where France Télévisions has set up a better selection system than usual. This year, each of the channels making up the public group is picking two candidates within an assigned genre, before the Eurovision entry is chosen at a grand final in March. The most encouraging part is that the entries tend eschew the boring consensual slow-to-mid-tempo crap that's plagued the French selections this past decade; not so good, however, is that France is still far from even nearing the Scandis' particular genius at catchy melodies. Hasn't anybody heard of anthemic chorus and strategic key changes over there?
France 2 is meant to represent variété. Estelle Lemée zooms out of the gate with a fairly strong ’60s-flavored number (though the chorus should be a lot more wow) and an even better visual identity. Estelle and her handlers also understand the importance of gay gay gay backing dancers at Eurovision. Now that's progress! BZR and Cheb Hamid have a good song and the little scenario they play out in the video is sorta fun, but they're definitely not variété, and hasn't the turbo-ethnic genre run its course at the main contest? And what's up with wearing a Brazil soccer jersey? Come on! My bet is on Estelle here.
France 3 looks to be embracing kitsch as well as its assigned genre of "nouvelle scène française." Les Vedettes' "Vive papa!" is written by indie icon Katerine (who recently had a freak hit with the brilliant "Louxor j'adore"). They work a latex-cheerleader look and the song isn't bad, but I'm afraid this brave attempt at over-the-topness is too amateurish. Les Fatals Picards' "L'amour à la française" is a lot better, and non-French speakers should be aware it's sung in a fake American accent. Too inside-jokey to work in Helsinki perhaps.
France 4 (rock and rap) is going with Les Wampas, an old-school—or perhaps just old—punk band that also had a freak hit a few years ago with "Manu Chao." True to form, the chorus of "Faut voter pour nous" goes "You gotta vote for us! Les Wampas are going to win Eurovision!" Alas, history tells us that self-aware songs don't do well at the contest, even when they happen to be great, as was Telex's "Eurovision." And "Faut voter pour nous" is far from great, or even good. France 4's other pick, MAP, performs a rap with violin and accordion in French. Not a chance.
Of the two France 5 pop picks, I prefer Jennifer Chevallier, whose mid-tempo R&B-flavored "Mon étoile" is actually fairly catchy. Among my favorites with Estelle Lemée, and one of the few who'd stand a chance at the showdown in Helsinki (though I'm not sure if the interracial angle would play for or against her at this point). Charlotte Becquin is backed by a girl band, and god knows those are rare in France. In the video they act up a certain lesbo vibe, which is novel enough at Eurovision to score points, but would be a lot more believable if the girls didn't look like they have no idea how to play their instruments. I mean come on, even Vanilla Ninja could play!
Finally, RFO, true to form and mandate, goes the world route, which should really please those who think the multiracial soccer team doesn't represent "the real France." Medi T's "On and On" starts with the national anthem before turning into a bouncy party anthem with the usual lyrics about how we're all the same despite being of different colors and how dancing unites the world. Good thing most Eurovision viewers don't understand French. Valérie Louri's "Besoin d'ailleurs" is relatively stark but not bad. Its problem, shared by all the other songs here, is the absence of a cathartic chorus. As long as French songwriters can't come up with one, we'll never win, simple as that.
19 hours ago