Stockholm 2016

Xtra Review: We listen to Romania’s line-up

Yesterday, the 12 semi-finalists participating in Romania’s Selecția Națională competition were unveiled. Six of them will progress to the final being held on Sunday 6 March with the winner getting to represent Romania at Eurovision 2016 in Stockholm. As expected, 2006 representative Mihai Trăistariu (now known as M I H A I) is among the line-up, along with some less known names. Peter and Nick have had a listen to what’s on offer.

Andra Olteanu – Nai Nai

Peter: The talltale whistle starts this song off leading us into a summery R’n’B-flavoured ethnostomper. There’s much more synth than one would expect in this kind of song but the traditional flavour is still there and the song being in Romanian helps. I don’t think this will get too far though – it’s got a catchy chorus but it’s very ten years ago, and the production is a bit too tinny for my liking. Good effort though, always nice for this genre to be represented.
Nick: The start of this song is quite excellent; the flute makes it nice and ethnic. The rest of the song throws you back to 2009, the highlight years of ethnic pop. It feels as if I’ve heard this so often before and yet it doesn’t annoy me, because I can’t immediately link it to another song. The pop/dance which starts in the chorus makes it more accessible. The fact that this is in Romanian is a good idea, I’d say. I like it, but the time for these kind of songs has passed.
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Doru Todoruț feat. Irina Baianț – The Voice

Peter: Fairly standard male/female twee musical theatre style duet here with fairly standard lyrics about believing in yourself. It sort of takes a while to build though, and by the second chorus I’m wondering if this is all there is to the song. Well, IT’S NOT. Because suddenly I was hit by some top notch opera wailing, and just as I’ve digested that, the beat kicks in! Yes it does a Crisalide and becomes a completely different, completely gay song in the last minute. It had almost lost me, but it won be round – it’s so crazy that I love it.
Nick: Classic and classy. This is what I call a timeless ballad and these two do it quite well. That is, for the first two minutes. That’s when Irina throws in her opera and the melody goes dance. I had a giggle when that happened, because it’s such a classic move to suddenly do something odd to it. I think you could class this as popera in a new form. I like it, but the effect of the tempo change will put people off.

Dream Walkers – Let It Shine

Peter: This is a rather naff Disney ballad, yet again about believing in yourself and finding “the one.” It’s a bit operatic so I figure what they’re trying to go for is an English version of Il Volo. It’s not nearly as epic as Grande Amore and much more cheesy, but it does have a decent build here. It’s a good example of the genre for what it is, but it will have a lot of gag reflexes going.
Nick: A few men with deep voices encouraging you to let it shine. It’s one of those ‘you’re great, no matter what other people say’  songs and whereas this is vocally nice, the message doesn’t fit these guys. It’s too pompous to be convincing in its message. The female (?) vocal near the end adds to the pompous style and that’s not good. Music is nice, voices are nice, message is nice, but in the total picture, I’m not a fan.
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Florena – Behind The Shadows

Peter: Quite a contemporary ballad here, with heavy beats and etherial production, a bit like something Sia would come out with, but not one of her big singles. I like the production, but the song doesn’t really do much other than introducing heavier beats midway through. It also runs out of time and just stops. I see what they’re going for here but the song itself isn’t nearly strong enough.
Nick: Florena has a great voice, no doubt about it. That is, if she can do this live. There’s quite a few long notes in this song and doing that for three minutes requires excellent vocal control, so that’s an issue she’d need to pay attention to. The song is accompanied by a string orchestra and that is a great decision as it makes the song really classy. It’s nice, but it’s not exciting, though.
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Hayley Evetts – Brand New Day

Peter: Wow – this is SUCH an ELO pastiche, right down to the vocoded backing vocals and twin guitar solo. I have to say I really like this, especially the harmonies in the chorus. It’s very well put together, with the exception of the production. It sounds like a demo and would need a major revamp if it made it to Eurovision (it won’t) in order to polish it up. I think a lot of people will find this a bit too twee, and it probably is, but it’s a nice – if random – addition to the line-up.
Nick: What is it with British X Factor rejects attempting their luck in Eastern Europe? We had Kitty Brucknell in Moldova last year and now we have Hayley Evetts. So, Hayley is singing ‘wake up, wake up, wake up’, but if this would be the first song I’d hear in the morning, I don’t think I’d ever want to get up as it’s a tad annoying. It’s a throwback to the 70s and 80s, but in a way that you can’t call it retro, but just old-fashioned and dated. It worries me that Hayley needs a lot of backing in her studio version already. I can’t see this getting anywhere, but that might be hope speaking.

Irina Popa – Lasă-mă, Eu Te Las

Peter: Boring ballad alert. This is a piano ballad that goes absolutely nowhere for three minutes and end. Irina has a strong voice that I’d imagine will sound good live, but even at that she doesn’t put much light and shade into this song to give it something interesting. Not bad, just not anything really.
Nick: Now we’re talking, thank you Romania. Romanian, a language related to French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, is great in songs and Romania doesn’t use it enough in the Eurovision Song Contest. This is a great ballad, where you can understand what Irina is trying to make clear, without understanding Romanian. It’s really simple, but really effective and that is exactly what could work for Romania. No more pompous nonsense, just go back to basics.
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Jukebox – Come On Everybody

Peter: From the title I expected this to be a horrible cheesy disco throwback, but it’s nothing like that. After starting out a little bit like the spoken word sequences from the grandad in Croatia’s 2008 entry, it morphs into a crazy mix between a Zdob si Zdub song and Moja Štikla. It’s a lot of fun and very fast paced, but it does give me a bit of a headache long before the 3 minutes are up.
Nick: No. This makes no sense and I know it’s not supposed to make sense, but it’s trashy, horrible and nothingy. I don’t even know what to say about this. There’s no redeeming factor for the annoying chanting of ‘lalalala’ in the background, the chorus is completely disconnected from the rest of the song. Sure, this could be fun after loads of beer at a fair somewhere in Romania, but not on national television. Next.

Mihai Băjinaru – Never Too Late

Peter: No, not that Mihai, he’s coming in a minute. This Mihai is bringing a mid-tempo, mid-last decade effort to the table, and it’s doing nothing for me. The piano riff, the chord progression throughout, the lyrics – we’ve heard them all a million times before and I can think of many examples of this kind of song done better. In fact I’d say this is at the worse end of the spectrum and it’s not helped by Mihai sounding a tad too classically trained to pull it off.
Nick: This is nice. It’s a ballad, accompanied by a piano. There is nothing new in this song, it’s a piano and then the canned drums kick in and the tempo of the music goes up a bit. That’s my main issue with this song: I don’t hate it, but there’s nothing that makes me want to listen to it again. I’m indifferent to this song from start to finish. The ethnic instrument near the end (don’t know what it is) is nice, but it feels out of place.
Listen here

M I H A I – Paradisio

Peter: I like it when former contestants return, and this year it’s probable that we’ll have quite a few of them. However when they’re a contestant who previously had a strong song, a strong result and feels they have unfinished business with the contest, like Mihai, I expect a worldbeater when they return. This is not that. It’s a laid back club track, but I think it’s meant to be a bit “bigger” than it sounds, but I can’t tell. The chorus is extremely weak here. I do like the Romanian-sounding dance production but this needs a lot of work if it wants to be competitive.
Nick: Let’s be honest here. The song, for me, isn’t all that bad. It’s a bit dated, but MIHAI (why capitalise it?) has a brilliant voice and he shows that in this song. I however don’t get why he felt it was necessary to spam and promote himself for months now when this was the result. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t justify the months of building up suspense. If he does the live like he does the video (the one he spent €15,000 on and then took down a week later because people laughed at it – and rightfully so), he might not even win Romania. But just go for a decent performance and this’ll be in Stockholm.
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Ovidiu Anton – Moment Of Silence

Peter: Oh great, we’ve reached the obligatory rock moment. This isn’t too bad to be fair, it’s very dramatic – think of Queen trying their hand at a James Bond theme. It certainly does a better job of the angsty rock power ballad than Belarus, so even though it’s not really my thing I have to give them credit for going all out for this. I guess this is the equivalent of dramatic Eurovision ballads like O Mie and One Last Breath for heterosexual men.
Nick: A veteran in the Romanian national final and he never wins. He won’t win 2016 either. He’s going for the pop rock attempt which  reminds me a bit of Angelo de Nile in Finland’s UMK last year and I liked this. I like this too, it’s dark and powerful with the choir (well, the backings) working well with Ovidiu and the guitars are really good.  I however fear he won’t make his performance as outspoken as his song needs it to be.
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Vanotek feat. The Code & Georgian – I’m Coming Home

Peter: I’m instantly drawn to this one as the most contemporary and radio-friendly of all the songs in the selection. It’s a mid-tempo, understated dance number with hints of the east in the instrumental sections. It’s very familiar but also slightly unique. That being said, I’m not sure how it would fare in a competition setting and it might not be the best choice for Eurovision. I also found it dragging a little bit towards the end but I might just be tired.
Nick: He’s going home to his mother. Well, sing this and I’m sure you’re getting the door slammed shut in your face. I don’t like this at all, the vocals are odd, the song is repetitive and the ‘playful’ melody you hear after 2:30 somehow reminded me of Izabo and that wasn’t a good thing at all. I hope this gets knocked out in the semi, so he can go home to his mother and stop bothering us with this song.
Listen here

Xandra – Superhuman

Peter: Finally, where would we be without a Swedish import? Well here it is and you could certainly pick it out of an identity parade. It’s a mid-tempo empowering pop song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the charts in 2008. Imagine a pared back Battlefield by Jordin Sparks or Warrier by Amber. For some reason this kind of song has endured in national finals for years but hardly ever wins. I can’t see this being an exception. It’s well sung and catchy enough, but it feels like it’s missing something. It might be the production which leaves a lot to be desired.
Nick: Xandra has a very powerful voice and the music isn’t bad at all. It feels like a Swedish production (it is, Jonas Gladnikoff is behind this) and that, whatever you think of Swedish composers entering national finals all over Europe, at least makes sure that the production of this song is nice. The chorus, without having a real hook, does stick. I think this will not threaten MIHAI’s position, but it’s nice enough and I hope it does well. It deserves to, as long as she nails that insanely high note near the end.

Who will get the Romanian ticket to Eurovision?

Nick: A question you wouldn’t actually need to ask. We know stars like Ramona Nerra sent songs to the national final, but they were all left out and replaced by filler material like Ovidiu Anton and Hayley Evetts, all in favour of MIHAI. The man has even been on TVR to talk about his intentions to return to Eurovision. He has managed to get so much promo behind him that he has to be considered the frontrunner. I’d like to see Irina Popa giving him a run for his money, though. MIHAI will go to Stockholm, I don’t have much doubt about that at all. But he will need a stunning performance (without spaceships and a bald head being covered in glitter) to get anywhere.
Peter: Some things in this life are unavoidable. Death, taxes, and Mihai Trăistariu going to Eurovision. It just seems like a foregone conclusion what with him being the biggest name by far in the line-up, the generally weak field and Mihai announcing his intentions months before he even knew whether he’d even be chosen. I’m not suggesting anything untoward, but I’m not even going to speculate who I’d like to win here, because it just seems inevitable that Paradisio will be Romania’s Eurovision entry this year, with a performance to attempt to desperately compensate for the average song.

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