10. Ditte Marie – Overflow
From Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2012
Instead of kicking off the final leg with more Swedes… let’s try some great Danes. Yes, Eurovision’s sphere of influence was indeed great on me this time, not least in launching this blog to new and unexpected heights. After the success of following Melodifestivalen and Eurovision, as well as the Norwegian pre-selection, I dipped my toe in the water of Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, the Danish equivalent. There were a handful of decent tracks out of the modest pack of tracks in the running, but this one stood head and shoulders above them all, and indeed all pre-selection songs I heard from anywhere.
It’s a standard issue weapons-grade Scandinavian electropop (yeah technically Denmark isn’t Scandinavia, shush). The dazzling blonde bombshell wasted no time in blowing me away with a great performance, but I think it’s the simplicity of the song that really gets under the skin. It’s a joyously upbeat melody with a layered but regular electro beat. Think Alphabeat meeting RedOne maybe. Denmark didn’t pick a great song for Baku, but it would be a real crime if nobody ever heard this. And that KEY CHANGE! HIIIGHHH!!! I love it, a total joy from start to finish.
9. Anggun – Echo (You and I)
From Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Baku
Yeah yeah, Eurovision again, get used to it. France may not have come out of Baku with much to celebrate, but they succeeded in bringing another offbeat pop song to life, and made me want to learn French all over again. Indonesian-born Anggun is apparently a big pop star in the Francophone world, even though she’s not had much impact to my knowledge in English-speaking pop.
Either way, she brought a truly spectacular stage show to Azerbaijan, with distracting athletes, an amazing floating dress courtesy of Jean-Paul Gautier, as well as being pretty gorgeous herself. I’ve listened to this so much, I can sing it in the car (in a language I don’t understand). From that slow intro, through that amped-up acceleration to a soaring springtime masterpiece. Everything I want from foreign-language in Eurovision. If people will hide behind their language barriers, then it’s their loss. Superb!
8. Girls Aloud – Something New
I’ve touched on the Girls Aloud comeback in the last post, and worried aloud that this is more of a send-off than a milestone. But those thoughts are at the back of my mind when these girls return to form, with the full force of Xenomania behind them. Reminiscent of surprise hit “Something kinda ooooh” if I must draw comparisons, it has that reckless chaotic feel to it, like they’ve just chucked in as many synth rhythms as the computers will manage, and it somehow meshes together.
It’s big, it’s brash, they all give a fair spread of lines, and they get to strut around like superstars on TV. The campaign for this greatest hits album may not have gone completely as hoped, but they have protected their legacy by showing us how effortlessly they could come back and blow us away.
7. Karmin – Brokenhearted
Coming from nowhere, here come unknown duo Karmin. I hadn’t realised until this week that they’d made a name for themselves doing Youtube covers of several hits, notably rather heavy-duty rap numbers (see if you can check out Amy Renee tackling Busta Rhymes-speed rapping on “Look at me now”, it’s astonishing). They made the transition to original material with a suitably huge hit though.
Once that generic-sounding guitar-keyboard riff kicks off, you know this is going to be a catchy pop song. Amy might be hooching in on Katy Perry’s racket, but it’s a fun change, she’s certainly got the sass for the job, as well as the superb rapping skills that are briefly hinted at. That chorus is just undeniably catchy though; the timing, the melody, it just comes together so well. That last 20 seconds has a brilliant variation too, switching up the tempo of the lyrics against the standard rhythm, just love it. I hope to hear great things from Karmin in 2013.
6. Pastora Soler – Quédate Conmigo (Stay With Me)
From Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Baku
Hold your breath, more Eurovision, and another example of how the “Big Five” really raised their game in 2012, instead of sulking at the bottom of the leaderboard. Well that was the plan anyway, France underperformed sadly, and the UK still hasn’t quite got the hang of contemporary music in Eurovision yet. But Germany and Italy made the top 10 for another year running, with Spain also making it for the first time in nearly 10 years.
And WHAT a song to come back with. On paper it should be really old-fashioned and a bit of a toilet break, but with a bit of Swedish magic (they had a hand in writing this, along with about half the contenders) and some Spanish power-vox from Pastora Soler, it became one of the wow moments of the show. Sure, Pastora can look a bit scary with the wrong make-up, but by Christ can she belt those notes out!
From the sentimental piano intro, this is a really melodramatic effort, but she steamrollers through those massive glory notes like they were nothing. Spain have really paid their dues to make it back to the top 10, and I’m so glad it was this track that took them there.
5. Flo Rida – Wild Ones (ft Sia)
From Only one rida (part 2)
That Sia gets around doesn’t she? She did vocals on three of the biggest dance tracks of the year, and wrote Rihanna’s big comeback “Diamonds”. As a solo artist I’ve struggled to get on board, but I really think she’s found her niche here. Flo Rida is a bit of a blank slate these days, but has similarly found his niche in by-numbers dancefloor fillers. Putting the two together gave unexpectedly great results.
Despite some questionable lyrics about being saddled up and ridden, that chorus is just wonderful. At the same time it’s energetic and uplifting, but her vocals add this strange melancholy to it. It’s easy to write off Flo Rida’s contribution here, he seems to be a successful foil for dance anthems that simply need an artist, but I think it may even be the later choruses where they are both singing that have the best depth to them.
As with all great songs, they have a nostalgia connection for me, and this one takes me back to the start of the year when I first heard it in Iceland. It was a great little trip with one of my best friends, and I think it made a lasting impression on me.
4. Nicki Minaj – Starships
From Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
Don’t expect a lot of depth here though, but good God you’ll have fun. As I’ve noted before, Nicki has had a busy 2012. She’s collaborated on several high-profile tracks, as well as launching her second album. That album might have been divided down the middle with difficult or ropey urban tracks on one side, but frothy dance tracks on the other. But for all the feature credits she’s had this year, she certainly kept the gold for herself.
In a typically fruitful partnership with RedOne, this was the big move into dance-pop hinted at in the last album. The result surpassed all my expectations. It’s melodic, uplifting, nonsensical in places. That chorus line is one of the most addictive things this year, and the bombastic production ladled over the top only serves to amp up the fun. The big-beat dance breakdown is a glorious mess, like a stadium anthem, but somehow it’s such a tight pop song. Even if you hate her, you’d have to be particularly narrow-minded not to enjoy yourself a little bit to this monster.
Special mention to that amazing video too, it’s Nicki all over. From the ridiculous array of wigs, the genetically enhanced tits & ass, the amazing Hawaiian volcano goddess theme, it’s always a joy to watch.
3. Pink – Blow Me (One Last Kiss)
From The truth about love
Speaking of ropey albums with astronomical highs, Pink returned this year from a surprisingly lengthy hiatus between studio albums, and tried to uncover the Truth About Love. I just feel that she maybe is never going to be an album artist in my eyes and ears, but she did provide two pretty hot moments with the album. “Try” and its devastating video was one. The other is this evolution in her sound, and blends the two personalities she’s so often displayed with her singles: the emotional angsty Pink and the frivolous sweary Pink.
We get the emotional payoff of Pink totally exasperated with a failing relationship, and serving the poor guy his notice with such believable bluntless. “I’ve had a shit day, you’ve had a shit day”, she screeches in a terrifying surprise glory note that never fails to make me smile. “I think this might be it for us”. The sadness is in there, the frustration is in there, but they don’t define the track in the way that other artists might have it.
The chugging rhythm and modern synth-guitar production makes it sound fresh as a daisy, it’s a real return to form for her, even if it’s more in anticipation of another amazing Greatest Hits compilation in several years time.
2. David Guetta – Titanium (ft Sia)
From Nothing but the beat
I did struggle with this one, as I heard it for the first time well into 2011, but really its lasting impact has only become apparent to me this year. Here’s Sia again, but this time front and centre while David Guetta tries something quite different from his other tracks that sound generic now, but cruelly only because he’s almost single-handedly defined the genre in the last 3 or 4 years with his continued massive success.
Sia’s vocals totally soar on this one, and it’s not difficult to see how it found new heights of appeal, above the usual dancefloor anthems. You’d need powerful vocals to keep up with the madness of the production, but rather than fight her, it dredges up new levels of euphoric dance and gives me a rush every time I hear it. And goodness knows I’ve heard it this year. Whether it was repeatedly at the gym, blasting out of shops and clubs during my visits in Europe, or at the turning point of the warm-up DJ set at Madonna’s Hyde Park gig. The sun came out, the crowd finally got psyched up by this modern masterpiece of dance music that shows everyone why David Guetta’s one of the most powerful producers of the moment.
1. Loreen – Euphoria
From Eurovision Song Contest 2012: Baku
Forgive me. At times, it feels like my musical year revolved around Eurovision to some degree. It is the reason this blog is still here today, I can say that without a doubt. It’s the reason I’ve grown to appreciate European cultures and the differences between them, even if they’re just having a joke. It’s made me listen to new things. It’s made me travel more. It’s given me one of my best friends. It’s really changed my life to a noticeable degree, and I will defend it to anyone, for the good it would do. The sooner the British start appreciating its potential, and stop acting like spoilt, sulky victims, the sooner we can all enjoy it.
So with a degree of inevitability, my top song of the year had to be the Swedish game-changer. Sweden have a long association with the contest, a symbiotic relationship that has benefitted both parties. ABBA are the big example here, one of the biggest bands of all time put both Sweden and Eurovision on the musical map. The Swedes have a solid reputation for pop music, and Eurovision’s legacy has generated several big artists and songs over the years, I’ll cite Celine Dion as a great example. While transexual Israeli Dana International brought Eurovision into the modern age in 1998, this year the Swedes not only picked a uniquely un-Eurovision track to fly their flag, but one that would cross over to a huge audience on the continent. I hear this wherever I went in Europe over summer and autumn, and it even picked up an unheard-of top 3 hit in the UK, famously Eurovision-phobic in recent times.
It also resonates with me because I took a coach tour in autumn, from Finland to Germany via Russia. This track was the soundtrack to that trip, selected by the guide as our “wake-up” song. So a big group of us bonded over this trip and this song, and it’ll always have that association for me.
But what of Loreen? Poor girl, I haven’t even talked about her. How she brought this otherworldy bit of interpretive dance to the stage in almost total darkness, a stark contrast to the flashy visuals of her competitors. Her soaring vocals brought this to life, and despite last-minute nerves about her mumbly diction, and even the threat of the fake snow getting in her mouth, she blew everyone away on the night. She got a landslide victory and brought the contest back to Sweden, where I’ll see it next May.
From that opening effect, that ominous industrial noise, she throws everything at the performance. The dancing is mesmerising, her timing is brilliant, the staging set the whole lot off, and the mix of an almost 90s-skewed dance beat, ultra-modern synths and even some gorgeous string sections, it came together into something truly special, and I think the effect it will have on the contest can be nothing but good.