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Who needs guitars anyway?


Best Bits
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Who is this man?

If you know him, let me know. He is aceness itself!

In related news, I wasn't sure whether to be amused or offended when this came up on screen.



Someone at SVT seems to be rather annoyed with Hwarlot for not winning! Personally I suspect Carola - that goody two-shoes act fools no-one.

(Of course slut is actually Swedish to say that the series has ended - but the amusement never does!)
Saturday, May 24, 2008

Eurovision: my thoughts on the final

So... Eurovision is over for another year! I enjoyed the show very much, having loads of favourites (and most of them did well), but I must say the result is a bit saddening. I love Dima Bilan for his 3 amazing pop songs, Never Let You Go, Lady Flame and It's Not That Simple, but Believe is only half as good as each of them, if that. Also, although in other years I have thought that the voting was politically influenced, the winner was always at least arguably the best song, but since I've not come across one person who said Believe was their favourite, I don't think it's arguable in this case, especially with such strong competition as Ukraine, Greece and Armenia hot on his heels. In fact, I loved the rest of the top 4, and would have been very happy for any of them to win, even though they are also part of the 'Eastern Bloc'. It is already decided that someone from the East will win, so there's no point in complaining about that - I just want it to be the best song from the East, and this wasn't it.

If Dima had won without having been universally heralded as the political winner prior to the contest, or with a song that at least some people thought was the best this year, I would have been content. As it stands I'm a bit sad, and that is a shame because I am supposed to be a Dima fan. Oh well, I'll just go and listen to Lady Flame and be pleased that its singer finally got some recognition. The other sad thing is that I would rather like to go to Russia, but I can't go to Eurovision next year because I'll be finishing my degree at that time. I'll have to hope someone fun (or at least safe) wins next year, then I can get a nice holiday and finally attend Eurovision.

Eurovision Semi-Finals Part 2

Iceland
This one's grown on me a lot since first listen - it's proper Scandinavian-style Europop, very E-Type actually. I love it! 10

Sweden
Yay, Sverige! A great song of course, but will it get lost among the divas of the night, and will too many people be put off by Hwarlot's scary face? My mum thought she had had plastic surgery to look like a cat. 12

Turkey
There's no place for this kind of rock music in Eurovision. It's not even comedy rock. Go away, please, and make sure you take all your guitars and amps and similar rubbish along with you! 3

Ukraine
I didn't think I cared either way about this one til I found myself continually bursting out with "Shady! Lady!" over the past few days. I don't remember anything else, but I remember that I like it. 10

Lithuania
Forget Hwarlot's face and Turkey's seriosity, this is the scariest yet! He should get the job as the phantom of the opera, it would be quite convincing. 4

Albania
I do like the background picture here, it makes the stage as a whole look great. The song isn't anything special, but it isn't terrible either. I was surprised when it turned out to be a bit rocky when it got going, not just a formulaic ballad. 6

Switzerland
One for the mums here, certainly. Starts off as a ballad (very Idol winner-ish... but I never want to think of Idols again after American Idol this week), but gets quite good as it goes along. I actually quite enjoyed this. 9

Czech Republic
This could be a great pop song (like Nelly Furtado meets Steps), but it's a mess. Listening to the radio edit now, I really like it, but her singing live was rubbish and the arrangement sounded awful. 8 (for the song)

Belarus
I was kind of impressed by this because I recall Belarus being very old-fashioned in past entries, and this is definitely a step forward in that sense. It's not amazing but enjoyable enough, quite a catchy song. 7

Latvia
Yay, my favourites! It's a joke song, but actually very catchy. I kept waking up last night with it in my head, in fact I'm going a bit mad with "hihiho and a hihihey"s. The best bit though is "we're robbing you blind... I hope you don't mind" - a bit polite for pirates! Again this is quite E-Type-esque, always a good thing, also reminding me of ace Dutch group Ch!pz. 12

Croatia
Kind of funny, but not any good, so the amusement was really irrelevant for me. I only like funny songs when they are catchy and jolly too. I expect it'll do quite well though, as it's quite traditional, despite its pretentions to being rap music. 3

Bulgaria
I didn't think I liked this, but I found myself really enjoying it and had it in my head much later. The performance stood out, because they put a lot of effort in to make it interesting and the song was different to all the others. I don't think it's a recipe for success, as voters are generally quite conservative, but I enjoyed it at least. 9

Denmark
Finally my mum spots what this song reminds us off - Wombling Merry Christmas! The "all day long" bit is just the same. I'm not sure this arrogant-looking Chico-alike would be too pleased, but he probably doesn't know the Wombles anyway. My mum still loves the song, and I think it's alright, just not as good as the similar but far jollier Danish entry of 2005, Talking To You by Jacob Sveistrup. 8

Georgia
This is OK, not bad or good, but I'm more concerned about the dress change. It was amazingly quick, and especially impressive considering her blindness. 5

Hungary
This was very boring, and I don't really remember anything of it except their was a female singer, who may have been wearing silver... but that may just be an educated guess as everyone else was. I could look it up on YouTube but I can't quite be bothered. 4

Malta
I didn't realise it before, but this is great! It's got a bit more oomph than some of the other diva songs, as it's more fun and therefore doesn't come across as desperate, even though I know Malta are really very keen to do well in Eurovision. 10

Cyprus
She starts off dressed as a snow queen type of thing, then removes her coat to reveal an even more ridiculous outfit. Well, a horrible one anyway... but at least it's not silver I suppose. The song is better than many, but not actually good at all. They shouldn't be embarrassed, but they've no chance of winning. 4

FYR Macedonia
This isn't too bad, but it simply can't keep up with the other female singers in the competition this year. The chorus is kind of catchy, but the rap bits reek of trying too hard. 7

Portugal
Very boring - I can't see why Paddy seems to have high expectations for it, apart from being the last song of the night. 3

The results came out, and I hadn't made predictions but I was very excited to find that every single Scandinavian entry reaches the final this year! However, I was disappointed to not see Malta through. So, it's the final tonight, I should make some predictions. I have no idea who will win, but those I expect to do well are:

Ukraine
Croatia
Russia
Latvia

Which means it will probably be someone else entirely who wins. Perhaps there'll even be the shocker of a winner from the West. I can't wait to see what happens!
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Great Escape, Part 3 (Saturday)

My slightly delayed opinions on everything I saw on Saturday.

Post-War Years
A boring indie-rock band. The only memorable part of their performance was when the singers hand started bleeding and everyone had to rally round for a plaster. I had one, but I didn't give it to him.

Collapsing Cities
Quite rubbish, but they got gradually better and ended on a really good song. We were all singing "Seriously!" for ages afterwards, even when we'd forgotten how it really went and just ended up singing it to the tune of Obviously by McFly.

Esser
One of the supposed next-big-things of the festival, I'd heard a bit about him already and was interested to see how he'd shape up. Again, he started badly, but ended on a catchy tune called Headlock, which was stuck in our heads for quite a while. He's got potential, but I'm not sure if he could ever be huge.

The Crash
Until this week I'd never seen a Finnish act, and now I've seen two! These were really good, although quite cheesy. I'd definitely recommend you look them up, especially if you like Under The Influence of Giants. The best bit was their song in French!

Broken Records
After dragging a friend to Alphabeat and The Crash, I had to let him pick something, and hence I ended up at Broken Records. They're supposed to be the Scottish Arcade Fire, but I do distinctly remember Arcade Fire being quite good, so I'm not agreeing with that comparison too much. Still, my friend enjoyed it.

Viva Machine
Just caught the end of these as I arrived at the Brighton Coalition (the strange new name for The Beach - that's a club, not the actual beach). They were a rock band with an electro sound, but I wasn't really impressed, and glad I didn't have to see it all.

Robots In Disguise
I planned to see Santogold, but she was ill so I saw this female electro duo instead. They were fun and put on a good show, but I can't help feeling they could be fantastic if they had better songs. They're much better in theory than practice, although I really enjoyed their cover of You Really Got Me by The Kinks.

The Automatic
Not a band I was desperate to see live, but I did quite enjoy singing along to Monster and Raoul, I must admit. I do like that bit with the layered vocals of "let's go back to work" at the end of Raoul. I didn't however have a clue why my friends were all gushing over how "hot" the lead singer was... huh?? He's in the Automatic, isn't that instant unhotness?

The RGBs
Another electro girl group, and I liked them a bit more than Robots as they had an element of Fannypack meets The Light Bulb Project about them. The good thing about electro bands is that you at least remember them, unlike all the blokes with guitars bands who all blend into one at festivals. They had great outfits, especially the lead singer, who was dressed in a sparkly gymnastics outfit complete with rosette.

Sam Sparro
Definitely the star of the night for me, and perhaps the whole thing. This time I agreed with my friends on his hotness, and despite being a big supporter of glasses-wearing, he did look better without them. His album tracks were all good, Black And Gold was unsurprisingly amazing, and he ended on a cover of Gypsy Woman! It was a great end to the festival, and lovely to see a proper pop star after all those guitars.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Eurovision Semi-Finals Part 1

Here are my thoughts, song by song, written as I watched!

Montenegro
Is this an ode to Lordi? It's quite catchy actually. Will being the top frienemies of the host go in their favour or against them? 5

Israel
A ballad by a male solo singer, which is quite atmospheric and actually I rather like it. He's got a good voice... I think? It's hard to tell in such a different language. The end is rather rousing too. Things aren't going too badly so far, but I can't imagine either one as a winner. 8

Estonia
This is genuinely hilarious. Very colourful and endearing. I love it! 10

Moldova
This seems to be someone's mum wandering around the stage clutching a teddy bear. Very odd. The first song of the night sung in English... well I think it is, anyway - it's hard to tell really. 3

San Marino
It seems that not only have San Marino never been in Eurovision before but they've never seen it - don't they know that Eurovision is about having a laugh? This is way too serious. And rubbish. Not a good way to begin their Eurovision career! 2

Belgium
Not content with a choice of French or Flemish, they've invented a whole new language. I suppose to most of us in the West, this makes as much sense as last year's winner, but that's kind of not the point. This is terribly annoying, and the singer looks like one of those strawberries and cream sweets (the TV later reminds me they're called Campinos!). Belgium were once amazing, entering the likes of Kate Ryan - what went wrong? 3

Azerbaijan
Now here's someone making an effort to make their first entry memorable - what a spectacle! Silver hair, sheep singing, crazy laughing... angel wings! Bah (or, more fittingly, baa!) to simplicity. Fans of Lordi will love it. Scary but great to watch - not convinced by the song, though. 7

Slovenia
This futuristic one seems to be aimed at the whole universe, not just Europe, and with 43 entries this year, she can be forgiven for thinking she needs to appeal to residents of Mars and Jupitus as well as Moldova and Armenia. Then it moves into a summer jolly-fest with rollerskates! This one's got everything. Not a very good song but I enjoyed the performance anyway. 6

Norway
OOH! is about all I took away from that one. They do have a nice line in oohs. That's about it. Wasn't this supposed to be their answer to Amy Winehouse? Slightly lacking in personality if so. 8

Poland
Terrible. Poland was such a nice country when I visited, and they have great music in their charts, so there's no excuse for this. Perhaps all their good singers have moved to the UK. 2

Ireland
Stinking of desperation. This may be even more embarrassing than Daz and his schoolgirls. It IS more funny, though. Irlande n'est pas douze points! 4

Andorra
Yay, it's my favourite! Like Steps meets A*Teens. But what is on her head??? Looks like Christina Aguilera i.e. a great big tart, rather disappointing as she seemed so sweet on the song before I saw her. It's still lovely, but not a good performance. Not gonna win, sadly. Quite a mess. 10

Bosnia & Herzegovina
Need tips on how to make a boring song exciting? Just look at this performance! It's insane, quite disturbing in fact, but you certainly take notice! Look at that skirt... and what are the knitting brides there for? 6

Armenia
I wonder which Kelly this is aimed at? Clarkson? Rowland? Matthew? In fact it's spelt Kele, so presumably the one from Bloc Party, who certainly does not deserve a song about him on Eurovision. It's almost quite good, but there have been so much better similar ones before. This is surely no Number One - maybe a Touch My Fire... just. 7

Netherlands
Another Turkish wannabe, and in fact she probably is from somewhere around there originally. Quite catchy, but not something I'll be rushing off to listen to again. I'm feeling that this year may be plentiful in comedy moments, but apart from Andorra and Sweden there's nothing worth a place in any singles chart. 7

Finland
The novelty of being a Finnish metal band has already been used up, but I guess there's not much else Finland can do. It's not good to my ears, but I suppose a metal fan may feel differently. I'll have to ask one. I have done, and he says it's crap too, so that's that sorted. Bye Finland! 2

Romania
Singing partly in Italian, in typically random Eurovision style. Very boring, but mum's might like it. Could be any other Italian ballad, as far as I can tell the difference, although the girl singer makes it a bit more crazy. Not crazy enough though - try harder next time! 3

Russia
Dima is back - he was brilliant 2 years ago, but he's got too much to live up to and this is nowhere near as good as Never Let You Go or even Lady Flame or It's Not That Simple. He's a great popstar and the song is far from terrible, but he's capable of so much more. Still quite cute, though. 9

Greece
Another proper pop song. I didn't like it before, but after all this rubbish I'm feeling more lenient. It's no Number One, but not too bad. I might listen to it again. Well, I wouldn't turn it off anyway. 12 (just cos someone's got to get it)

My favourites? Greece, Bosnia and Estonia. I predict they'll be through, along with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia and... I don't know! Whoever else is popular in the East at the moment. Since I only learn about European politics from Eurovision anyway, I'm not much use in this area. Let's wait and see - I'm sure it'll be a big surprise anyway.

Edit: The surprise was that there wasn't a surprise! I got 6 of my 7 predictions right, only Estonia didn't go through.
Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Great Escape, Part 2 (Friday)

Brooklyn
A French band, but I felt cheated cos they didn't have very French accents at all. Therefore, what's the point? They were alright though, at least compared to the next band.

Elle Milano
Terrible, so we were very pleased after a few songs when the power went out in the whole street! We were worried, however, that the lovely Slow Club wouldn't be on.

Slow Club
They decided to do the gig acoustically, and it was brilliant. Definitely the best thing I've seen so far, even though they didn't do Me and You, their best song. Their harmonies were great, and I love the girl's voice and personality. They even whistled in tune with each other.

We Are Scientists
A surprise gig on the terrace of one of the venues, almost no-one knew of it so we got a great view of one of the biggest bands at this year's festival. They were good - I only know their one famous song, but that was a great moment anyway.

Frank Hamilton
A young lad with some sweet and jolly songs, the ones where the girl joined in being the best. I've written about him here before, actually. He seemed like a nice guy and put on an enjoyable show, but I'm not sure if there's enough standing ou tabout him to give him success.

Astrid Swan
She was great, but sadly I don't think she'll take away good memories of this gig - when we arrived we thought no-one was there (even though Leon Jean Marie had just been on), but they were all hiding in booths around the edges, then halfway through the gig some girls in hotpants on stilts came in and distracted everyone!

Boy Cried Wolf
This is the new band of Wayne Murray, who was in one of my favourite bands ever, The Honeymoon. The style is country-rock/indie, and it's quite heavy but still melodic, so I actually really enjoyed it. He's clearly a good songwriter, but I wish he'd go back to the lovely old style.

Sports Day Megaphone
We only watched this synth-rock singer/guitarist cos we were waiting for Alphabeat, and I must say it was terrible. Not as bad as Elle Milano or Kaiko, but certainly not someone I'll be following in the future!

Alphabeat
The best of the festival so far, of course, and sure not to be beaten. There aren't many times I'm happier than watching Alphabeat, especially when at the front, right next to my favourite member, little Anders the guitar player. The crowd seemed boring, but when the band got going they came alive, and it showed the power of Alphabeat to turn people ace. They even said it was their best gig yet in Brighton. There can't possibly be a better job in the world than being in Alphabeat!

Today I'm hoping to see The Clik Clik, Santogold and Sam Sparro, so a very poptastic day is ahead! Yay!
Friday, May 16, 2008

The Great Escape, Part 1 (Thursday)

This weekend is the Great Escape festival in Brighton - loads of cool gigs I can walk to from my flat! Here's what I've seen so far:

Paul Cook & Julian
This really was just a random bloke singing with his mate. It was very boring. 2/10

Kaiko
A really awful indie band. It was very loud and I couldn't pick out any of the words the singer was singing. 0/10

Ruthie Phoenix
A really funny group, fronted by a lady who was a little mutton dressed as lamb, but had a great personality and camaraderie with the group. She was a bit drunk, but the music was still heaps better than the bands before her. 7/10

Official Secrets Act
Indie-rock group with a look inspired either by Adam Ant or Nelly. Quite heavy, but more professional than the earlier acts, so I didn't complain. I also got to go in a new venue I'd never been in - it was cool, but smelt oddly chloriney. 3/10

Laurel Collective
The name was fitting as there were loads of them on stage, including 2 singers. I think they should have got rid of Bob (they spoke to each other so we learnt their names), as Martin was much more charismatic and really carried the band. Not great music, but not bad considering we picked them at random after Passenger cancelled. 4/10

Ida Maria
The act I was most excited for today, and she didn't disappoint. It was my first time seeing a Norwegian play in England, I think. Some of her songs are much better than others (Oh My God and Stella are my favourites), but her emotional, intense singing style made the songs really come to life. 8/10

Fanfarlo
Their style was nice and jaunty, and I liked the violin, but they did all sound very much the same. Not bad but not one I'll be rushing to buy the album of, either. 6/10

Futureheads
I wasn't intending to see these, but all my friends wanted to, so I did. They were quite good, but Hounds of Love is just not right without "It's in the trees! It's coming!" I did enjoy that one, though, and Decent Days and Nights, Skip To The End and The Beginning of the Twist, but what I heard of their other songs hasn't made me a big fan. I'd still say they were good live, although at the points when I couldn't see them (lots of tall blokes in the audience) they sounded just like Ant and Dec when they spoke, so now I'll forever think of them as how Ant and Dec would sound as an indie-rock band. 7/10

Tomorrow should be good, as I plan to see Slow Club, Astrid Swan and Alphabeat (YAY!), among others.
Sunday, May 04, 2008

I've got a tellybox and I'm gonna use it

I'm back at my non-term time home now, and we have Sky TV, so of course the first thing I do is get onto the music channels, and it's Saturday so I've got to watch all the talent shows. Here are my findings:

1. September is the most played video of the moment, it seems - amazing to see, I'm very proud.
2. I actually managed to watch 2 videos in a row on Kerrang! of all things, and have noticed that Your Love Is A Lie by Simple Plan is a mixture of Jojo and Oasis. They're definitely 2008's most poptastic rock band, I'm even tempted to hear their album!
3. Highlight of the evening had to be the unexpected appearance of fantastic Swedish hit Temptation by Arash on Britain's Got Talent! I couldn't believe my ears, and was very pleased to hear Simon say he liked the music.

Popping the Question: What's so bad about Scouting For Girls?

This is actually a question I've been asking, as I've noticed recently that Popjustice has taken seriously against the British indie-mush band Scouting For Girls. I will tell you what I think of the band in a moment, but first I must explain the concept of indie-mush. It's my new term for indie that appeals to the people who would have liked Boyzone if they were this age a decade ago. And that for me exemplifies what I, and many others, see happening to music as a whole. The mostly male opinion-leaders of the music business, jealous of the attention sweet young boybands got from girls (perhaps rooting back to their schooldays, when Take That reigned), have used their spiteful brainwashing techniques to replace dance routines and cheesy grins with guitars and scruffy hairstyles.

I actually don't mind Scouting For Girls that much. Sure, their music is pretty cheesy, but that's the same criticism that can be levelled at most of the music I love (especially that of male artists), so I can hardly use it myself to dismiss them. My opinion is the same towards the other similar acts, like The Holloways, One Night Only and that lot that sing about toothpaste, and Palladium and the Hoosiers and Air Traffic... I could go on and on. I wouldn't leap up to turn off the radio if they came on, but try and think of how a song by each of them goes. Can you do it? And how about songs by 5ive, A1, Boyzone, Westlife, and so on? Much easier!

My issue is not even that these bands are uninspiring and interchangeable. It's always the case when a band (in this case The Feeling or Keane seem most to blame) becomes popular that a zillion clones come out, but this group are so large and reproducing so fast that they've become a species all of their own. What I take issue with is the trend that they exemplify, as I referred to in my first paragraph: the replacing of dance routines and cheesy grins with guitars and scruffy hairstyles. I fit into the target market of these bands, and I definitely did not ask for this. I'm pretty sure none of my friends did either, and they're very wide-ranging in tastes. We female music fans are not even having 'proper' rock or indie music forced upon us, but a watered down version, presumably the heaviest we poor feeble things could cope with.

Of course it's nothing new that the music business imposes on us the music that we need to like, and as long as they're clever enough with their marketing techniques they can be successful. It has become not a choice between whether we fall for the marketing tricks or not, but which tricks we choose to fall for. Even those who are 16, deciding which music genre to make their own, and they decide to ignore new releases and go for something from the past, are often doing so because new bands are usually either promoted as a return to the superior sounds of the past, or criticised for not sounding "as good as" (i.e. similar enough to) those past styles.

I can only speak from my own experience - perhaps this has always been the case and I just wasn't aware, but I feel more and more that the manipulation of music fans has changed over the past few years. No longer are we manipulated simply to like the acts that they think we'll like, so much as the acts that they personally want us to like. I can't think of any other way to analyse the manipulation of female music fans by a male-dominated industry, to like a style of music which has traditionally been associated almost exclusively with men. I'm sure I just sound like I'm getting on my feminist high horse here, but I do find the way that girls are so strongly targeted by marketing about music, in contrast to boys who are pretty much left to like what they like (as long as it's masculine, of course), quite depressing. Girls just can't be trusted to choose their own tastes, it seems.

But actually I think being a girl is a pretty good thing to be in terms of musical choices. That these media people see the need to control what we like supports my theory that women actually have a lot more freedom to choose musically than men do, and it is probably jealousy that drives this controlling impulse. There is so much music women are socially allowed to like that men aren't, and even if that music is portrayed as inferior, it's clear to me that we are definitely getting the best deal here. We get Girls Aloud and they get Radiohead! In fact, it's young boys that I feel sorry for.

I have of course made some huge generalisations in this post, and I'm plentifully biased, but unfortunately I do think there is a very strong patriarchal influence on music and its marketing. As the control that these businessmen had is slipping, they must work even harder to get it back, and while that can have depressing effects when it succeeds (such as with Scouting For Girls and their ilk), the fact that it's increasingly necessary is quite a good sign. There's also the brilliant recent trend of Scandinavian acts being accepted in the UK, and not just ones with guitars. Even September has reached the top 5, but I'll be interested to see if Radio 1 continue to support her when they realise she isn't a dance act but a proper pop star. I haven't heard Infernal or even Cascada on there for a while. There's also no way brilliant acts like BWO, Amy Diamond or Darin could break through, but that's a problem for another post, perhaps...



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