Finally I’ve had a chance to see Asia’s inaugural ABU TV Song Festival in South Korea’s capital Seoul, which was filmed a few days after the first ABT TV Song Festival. Australia won that, but who would win the TV festival?
It turns out, nobody. There is no competitive element to the show, making the Eurovision parallels even less appropriate than the Radio Festival (which I wrote all about earlier on this blog, if you are interested). Never mind though, it still looks pretty flash, so I’m writing this as I watch it on Youtube (you can too: click here while the link lasts).
No familiar theme tune to play us in, we just go straight to the opening act, displaying traditional South Korean arts. It’s quite nice really, there’s a love story, lots of drums, much flag-waving. And a completely seamless segueway into a rave-soundtracked laser show, of course! The announcer asks if I’m ready for a good time… best offer I’ve had all week!
A cheesy & lengthy introduction to all 11 participants follows, and I worry if it’s going to be a bit ballad-heavy. There’s a scary bit of shouting on the soundtrack that looks like the Afghan entry is bellowing, but he’s just smiling and bowing thankfully. The Korean-speaking host fires off a barrage of Korean, while the fantastically-named Jamaica dela Cruz replies to his questions in English. A bit of a baffling exchange, and a synapse-melting explanation of the show (in Korean, good luck with that). But let’s get on with the songs!
Nice to see the entries get those little regional postcards, just like Eurovision. Ooh, they’ve got a water fountain that fireballs erupt from? Turns out Singapore is kicking off the show.
Singapore: Taufik Batisah – Usah Lepaskan
A Singaporean Idol winner, Taufik apparently likes ballads, so that’s what we are getting. Dry ice smoke floods the stage, and a pair of dancers twirl around on the fringes. I really liked Singapore’s ballad in the Radio Festival, but this doesn’t quite have the same magic. He’s got a lovely soft voice that’s capable of plenty of vocal aerobics. Just the song is a bit too safe for me, the climax isn’t much of a pay-off.
Australia: Havana Brown – We run the night
Ahh, on more solid turf now, with a postcard taken directly from their tourist board advert. Good lord, what’s going on? I can imagine the more reserved countries getting totally scandalised by this, with Havana shouting her way onto the stage, doing a quick DJ set (!?) and introducing her trashy stripper dancers. You wouldn’t get a Pitbull guest vocal in Eurovision would you?
It’s a really energetic performance, by the look of the audience this is totally against the tone of the show. Despite this, they were playing it a little safe by sending a triple-platinum Australian hit, and a million-selling US hit! Really catchy and fun though, I’ll be seeking this one out later.
Sri Lanka: Arjuna Rookantha & Shanika Madhumali – Me Jeewithe
Who knew there were so many animals in Sri Lanka, judging from that beautiful postcard. A nice little midtemp intro, wonder what this is going to grow into. Her vocals are beautiful and high. His are lovely too, but what in God’s name is he wearing/doing. It doesn’t really feel like an air guitar moment, especially with that church backdrop.
She looks a bit pissed off, rigid with anger and motionless for the whole performance, while he seems to be from some Sri Lankan hair-rock troupe. They sound great together, but they look a strange pair. I was going to say they are like an Asian version of someone, but literally I have NOTHING.
Malaysia: Hafiz – Awan Nano
Malaysia has weird owls, look at that. Nice postcard again! Hafiz is styled as a hipster Willow Smith tonight, not a hot look. Sounds like we are in for another terribly earnest ballad, though confusingly translated as “Nano-clouds”. WTF?
While I think I liked the Singaporean guy’s tone more, Hafiz has more power on this song, and the tune’s a bit more interesting. He’s a lovely singer, but I’m not in a rush to hear this again. And what the hell are nano-clouds?
Vietnam: Lê Việt Anh – Mây
A slightly less bombastic postcard from Vietnam, but another ballad follows. It’s about clouds too?! Is there that much to sing about them? Vietnamese is an unusual-sounding language, it doesn’t sound as naturally musical to my ears, but he does well.
He’s got a deeper voice than I expected, it’s very nice really. But again the song doesn’t do a lot for me. Perfectly pleasant but the tune is just all over the place. I can’t say I’ve yet heard a song about clouds that’s got me too excited on the topic.
Japan: Perfume – Spring of life
Now THIS is what I was excited about. I’ve only just heard about Perfume, I saw the fantastic video for this song “Spring of life” on the flight back from Japan. A friend showed me the “Chocolate disco” video too, I love their style and awesome dancing skills, and they didn’t disappoint this time. I think this is the first mimed vocal though, but I enjoyed it more than anything so far.
Their dancing is so tight, looks well-practiced. OH GOD I WANT TO GO BACK. Love the song, love them, this is my favourite by a mile! I promise the broken robot section in the middle makes more sense if you watch the music video!
Hong Kong: Alfred Hui – Ma Yi
How do you follow that? Poor Alfred has to, with a song about an ant?! I feel that something is lost in translation here. Gorgeous city skyline backdrop. Sounds like he’s a bit artist in HK based on the English bits of the ticker-tape at the bottom.
These Asian ballads seem to blur into one for me, sadly. Maybe that’s why they write them about clouds and ants! He’s a good singer, perhaps a bit too breathy for my tastes, and he certainly likes to EMOTE. I don’t think I could feel that strongly about ants, personally. Maybe this one broke his heart, so he fried it with a magnifying glass.
What’s with these Korean-English conversations? Very confusing. I don’t mind it being two languages, but mixing them up is a strange choice. Hang on, what’s going on? With only 4 songs left we are getting an interval act/toilet break!
It’s “Fly me to the moon”, played on traditional Korean instruments! Of course!! It’s pretty nice actually, if a little bizarre. What the hell is that girl playing? It looks like a cross between a skyscraper and a smoking pipe. The overall result is a little baffling, but it sounds very nice. I decided I love this 😀
Indonesia – Maria Calista – Karena Ku Sanggup
Maria Calista, what a cool name. Indonesia looks great too, and what a strange face on that kid trying to dance! Looks like another graceful ballad, get comfy!
Oh I love the styling, is that a scorpion-tail hairdo? She’s brought a full band too. Is she going to sing at all? OK she’s tried to spice up a fairly standard ballad with a crazy costume, but in fairness, her voice is gorgeous. Powerful but emotional. Like Celine Dion if she knew Indonesian.
Wow, she’s got a huge mouth! One of the more memorable performances, particularly when she launches a surprise English-language attack, evoking Beyonce and Mariah in a climactic final section.
China: Cao Fujia – Quian gua
A surprisingly modest postcard for China, they’ve got more to show than that! I get the idea that Cao is a big deal, or at least the Koreans think so. Another gorgeous backdrop. She’s beautiful too, despite the frumpy outfit.
In a strange way, this ballad reminds me most of Eurovision than any entry so far, sounds like one of those pretty Balkan ballads. Her voice is amazingly pure, and her minimalist dance routine is strangely captivating. Not sure why she plays peek-a-boo with a scarf at the end, but otherwise a really lovely performance.
Afghanistan: Hameed Sakhizada – My eye
Oh this doesn’t bode well, only named “Folk music” on Wikipedia, and confusingly called “My eye” on-screen. Are the audience clapping along to this? The rhythm is weird, it doesn’t feel much like a clapping moment!
His voice is nice, but this sort of thing really does nothing for me. To my ears, very shapeless (and endless), it’s just a soundtrack rather than something I could listen to a performance of. The audience seem to love him though, so that’s really great. His voice is effortlessly tuneful, but I guess this is just one of those things I don’t get.
South Korea: TVXQ – Catch me
The host nation finishes off the show now, and I’m led to believe TVXQ are a big deal in South Korea and Japan. Judging by the squeals of delight from the audience though, they are going going out with a bang. Gorgeous postcard too!
More Asian electro-pop, I love it! Really full-on intro, a crazy dance routine, why is it in the dark? The backing track is amazing, love the sound. What a strange dance routine though, not like I’m used to at all! Oh I love that bit where they’re all lined up!
Very melodramatic vocals, it’s all over the place, and understandably mimed. Can you imagine singing to this while doing this routine? The English-language chorus is great too. Certainly interested to hear these again, very interesting hi-energy performance. I wonder if this is sort of thing might ever drive a worldwide K-Pop craze, post-Gangnam Style.
So that’s it! I guess there’s a chance for countries to send what they like if there’s no competitive element, but it was still a fun show with a different energy to Eurovision.
I mean, you wouldn’t get the participants all on stage singing “Heal the world” at the end would you. Felt bad about the extended shot of the Afghan guy who clearly had no idea of the song! An endearing bunch really, particularly Maria Calista trying to outsing everyone! Here’s to next year!