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Iceland: Greta Salóme – Hear Them Calling

Iceland have just selected their challenger for Stockholm with the result going very much to form. Greta will now take her projection staging to Stockholm and should qualify comfortably from the tricky first semi-final in May. For a good few weeks, fans have been proclaiming their love for Greta's song with many believing it has the ingredients of a Eurovision winner or top-5 contender. Iceland's odds dropped to the low 20s on Betfair following the semi-final performance, but quickly drifted out to 40+. That is one of a few red flags that suggests gamblers don't believe in Hear Them Calling. It's worth…
Song Appeal
Vocal Strength
Staging Potential
Likely Televote Appeal
Likely Jury Appeal
Cohesiveness of Package

Handy

What we have is a great stage show, but as a Eurovision package, it lacks heart and likeablity.

User Rating: 3.46 ( 30 votes)

Iceland have just selected their challenger for Stockholm with the result going very much to form.

Greta will now take her projection staging to Stockholm and should qualify comfortably from the tricky first semi-final in May.

For a good few weeks, fans have been proclaiming their love for Greta’s song with many believing it has the ingredients of a Eurovision winner or top-5 contender. Iceland’s odds dropped to the low 20s on Betfair following the semi-final performance, but quickly drifted out to 40+. That is one of a few red flags that suggests gamblers don’t believe in Hear Them Calling.

It’s worth acknowledging that at the time of writing, Hear Them Calling is the best song selected for Eurovision 2016. But we are 13 songs into a 43-song contest and Betfair still ranks over 10 other song-less countries higher than Iceland.

During the first round of voting, Greta failed to win both the public and jury votes, and only won the selection on the back of voter-transition. That isn’t a ringing endorsement, especially when you factor in both Loreen and Måns won landslide victories in their respective national finals. Jóhanna won by 9,000 votes in 2009. If a song can’t win convincingly on home turf, how can it win Eurovision or finish top-5?

When the Icelandic songs were first published, I picked out Greta and Alda as the two entries likely to win the selection. This was the best Iceland had to offer, and to me, it confirmed they weren’t in the reckoning for Stockholm. The market agreed, as Iceland were matched as high as 170.0, which was my £4 of destiny having laid them as low as 12.0. Only when Greta’s staging was unveiled did the odds crash to 20s.

The staging is impressive and Greta’s team have pushed the projection boundaries even further. In doing so, they have produced an overly fussy gimmick with unsettling imagery at the cost of connecting with the cameras.

Let’s run through the sequence:

0:00 – Greta starts in silhouette – no eye contact
0:30 – Greta plunges to the ground and waves her arms – no eye contact
0:48 – Projection graphics start and Greta rises – no eye contact
1:03 – Mid shot of Greta – first moment of eye contact but in shadow after 5-seconds
1:12 – Projection mirrors Greta’s twirl – no eye contact
1:25 – Giant hands trying to fondle Greta. Disturbing – no eye contact
1:41 – Shadow runs through Greta and emits a cloud from body. Weird – no eye contact
1:47 – Another shadow runs through Greta, but turns into bats – no eye contact
1:57 – Mid shot of Greta – second moment of eye contact but floods out after 7-seconds
2:06 – Greta jolts from side to side. Slightly possessed – no eye contact
2:31 – Demonic shadows projected behind Greta – no eye contact
2:35 – Song builds to climax – Greta smiles
2:37 – Hands and demonic shadows combine in foggy backdrop – no eye contact
2:55 – Culminates in backdrop of bats. Nice. No eye contact

The imagery is depressing and with the lack of connection, I see no reason for people to invest in either Greta or the song.

Listening to Hear Them Calling on its own, it’s amazing how cheerful the song’s melody feels, especially with those triumphant brassy sounds during the refrain. People will shout me down for this, but Greta, or her team, have looked at Måns Zelmerlöw’s winning staging concept and decided to employ the technology regardless of its suitability to the song. What we have is a great stage show, but as a Eurovision package, it lacks heart and likeablity.

Given the lengths they’ve gone to to create this concept, it’s hard to imagine significant changes in Stockholm. If that’s the case, I would advise them to add warmer hues to the backdrop and consider adding a happier ending. In current form, I have this placing around 14th -18th.

Does Iceland have a top-5 challenger?

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32 comments

  1. Easily the best entry so far. Finally something quality.

  2. Omg how many fanw’s do we need before we say enough is enough! Who thought it was a great idea to use screen like that the year after Måns won with something similar?

    On the plus side, unlike last year Iceland have a reliable singer along with a filler song rather than having 2 filler’s in one…

    No final for Iceland!

  3. She should rename it “The Anthem of the Schizophrenic”.

  4. I wouldn’t have needed many simcards to buy Greta out of super final, the juries rated her 4th out of 6, it was just like watching Austria nf on replay.

    It obviously takes it toll singing the same song over and over again every year and it was visible tonight that people need drugs to do that. Poor Laureen looked like an hobby junkie comparing to Sandra Kim who to be fair has masterminded the various substance methods 25 years longer.

    The highlight of the show, Icelandic broadcaster has finally shown ambition and the melodifestivalen final will be shown on Ruv.

  5. A deserving winner. Screen or no screen It still stands up very well. I wrote on the Icelandic betting preview thread that Greta had the best song in the selection by a mile, before I’d seen any production. In fairness though, when did hear it in Icelandic my initial thought was qualifier and 15th-20th on the Saturday. However the English translation and the Projection screen itself have risen the song’s stock.
    Again the Mans argument…I’m not buying it. I find it lazy, dismissive and very typical of the fan-circle train of thought. The only thing shared in common is a projection screen. It’s how the artist utilises the screen that matters. It’s not like she’s got rainbows and garden mushrooms on her backdrop like Princess Peach from Austria. People forget that we have had projected imagery before in filmed performances, and within the contest I’m thinking of Ukraine 2011 for example. My point is that if it’s effective it works.

    Greta’s performance has to be graded on its merits. Often when I’m assessing an entry, one of the things I’m looking for it to associate itself with are audiovisual themes. And Hear them calling has lots of them. Just little things for the audience to pick up on, that piece together a narrative. Without going overboard, I’ll say the look is very Gothic with minimal lighting, her black dress, along with shadows and the ravens. It knows exactly what it wants to be. Another thing is the “Big hands, small human motif” which I love by the way. It extracts that same familiar concept from the BFG and King Kong of the little person trying not to be picked up, which I think is essentially the meme, or the USP that the armchair viewers will take away from this.
    In terms of song, Hear them Calling is well constructed, much more accessible in English and for me the only reason for a juror to mark this down would be to vent their cynicism towards the staging, rather than for an apparent lack of quality in the song.
    At this moment it’s too early to rule her out of a top 5 finish.

    • Mans arguments aside, don’t you think that the staging takes away attention from the song? Hear them calling is a great song and it can stand on its own without any gimmicks.
      I wouldn’t go as far as saying top5, but top Nordic is plausible knowing who the favourites are in Norway, Sweden and Finland.

  6. I’m with Black n Blue on this one. When songs were released people thought this was a contender to win Söngvakeppnin. It was favourite from the off with the bookies .so there had to be something to the song at that point. Now because of the screen people say it’s the reason it won. What a load of bull. Yes the background enhances the song that’s what staging is for in the first place. It’s the best song selected so far that’s not saying much mind. It’s sailing into the final. Do I think it will win Eurovision? Not a hope. Top5 not for me either. Would not rule out top 10 yet at this point will depend on what’s to come.

  7. Having read Gav’s review, can I just quickly point out that Loreen didn’t make much eye contact either?

    • For the single moment Loreen does make eye contact, she at least uses it and smiles at the audience. Besides, the artistry in Euphoria’s choreography suited the song, and as I alluded to above, Greta’s choreography and staging doesn’t suit Hear Them Calling.

      If your point is that because Loreen didn’t make a lot of eye contact, so Greta can get away with it, I disagree. The song isn’t strong or instant enough, which is why they’ve gone overboard with the projection staging.

  8. What a load of sub-zero Icelandic garbage. Not top10.

  9. I’m not convinced the lack of eye contact is such a serious problem. And anyway, it could be fixed with lighting and camera work at Stockholm. Yes, she’s used similar technology to Mans, but in a very different way. Also the line, “See the shadows dancing” in the English translation adds some context to why she’s using it. By comparison Mans’ visual effects seemed entirely unrelated to the song.

    At the end of the day it’s the only national pick so far that has a serious social media buzz around it. I don’t think there isn’t a reason for that.

    • Hi Phil, and welcome to ESCtips.

      I agree, they can fix an awful lot with lighting and camerawork, which is why I’ve suggested adding a little more warmth to the staging. Given the investment, this staging looks set to stay, albeit with a few tweaks.

      You rightly highlight the link to between the shadowy backdrop and the lyrics. I don’t think that’s important, which is why I’ve questioned the reasons behind employing dark and oppressive staging. Yes, Måns’ staging didn’t match the song, but complemented it owing to its simple, memorable branding.

      The buzz is because everything selected so far is utter tosh. Let’s see if this buzz sticks around this time next week.

  10. Top 5 I’d say! Good song, catchy melody, rememberable staging, amazing voice, pretty performer…what’s there not to like?

  11. This screams fan favourite that flops to me, I can’t see it get much beyond the ‘standard’ Icelandic result (so about 19th in the final).

  12. Whether I agree with what you’ve written or not, that is a very well reasoned, comprehensive review Gav.

    As for Betfair’s rankings, they’ve been in a tizzy for a while. There’s still a lot blind faith being put in countries by punters. i.e An expectation for example that Australia will emulate their effort from last year, that Molly Sanden will offer up something spellbinding and that Sergey Lazarev will wipe the floor with all of them. None of those indicators are there as of now.

  13. Well put Gav. Couldn’t agree more with all you’ve said on this one and I personally have it at 16-19 in the final for many of the reasons you’ve said and what I’m sure will be perceived -rightly or wrongly – as copying last year’s winner. Will be interesting to see how this one gets on.

  14. Alda won the Televote by 78 votes/points; Greta was 2nd, Karlotta 3rd.
    Alda won the Jury vote by 260 votes/points; Elísabet was 2nd, GRETA 3RD
    Alda won the Final by 2028 votes/points; Greta was 2nd, Karlotta 3rd.

    Greta won? (Maybe not really)

  15. Ok, now that things have calmed down a bit and I have had a look at some of the concerns of people that don’t rate this entry, I want to share my carefully considered views as a journey from one mindset to another.

    Gav has raised a few very valid concerns, which I share, without resorting to the argument of the staging being a fusion of Heroes and Euphoria. However, that primary argument is, I believe, what is mainly responsible for the odds being as high as they are, representing value. This is because I expect the odds to come down again, for two reasons.

    Firstly, the final version. Iceland always revamp, and Greta actually did a tremendous job with the final arrangement of ‘Never Forget.’ ‘Hear Them Calling’ is aurally and visually already at a level uncharacteristically high for Iceland at this stage of the season, so the final version in March should be pretty damn good. Secondly, I expect the staging to perhaps undergo the odd tweak but I also expect lighting and camera work to be improved by the time they get to Sweden and under the professional wing of SVT.

    Now to address the perception. I have experienced both sides of this because I started out sharing many of Gav’s concerns, but since then, I’ve been looking at this from another angle, which I feel makes a bit more sense. When I first heard ‘Raddirnar’, I wasn’t convinced either. I was a bit prejudiced towards Greta because I was never a fan of Never Forget back in 2012. Coming from someone more than a little bit in love with Iceland as a country, I found it to be artistically pretentious and feeling like a weird false stereotype of Iceland.

    I felt kind of similar about ‘Raddirnar’, I thought it was Greta creating a jarring fusion of Of Monsters and Men and maybe a bit of Enya, that it was messy and unworthy. And to release it un-mastered only worsened that crucial first impression. Looking up what the title translated to and already knowing that “heim” is Icelandic for “home”, I just thought the lyrics must be lazy and unimaginative. “I hear the voices all around me, they’ll bring me home, tra la la” is a cynical quote I sent to an Icelandic friend on Facebook. As I watched Iceland drift out to over 100, I thought that was right, Iceland probably didn’t have a winner on its hands so there it goes. Especially since I found Raddirnar so musically baffling I sort of pictured staging involving a maypole and an Icelandic equivalent of Morris Dancers.

    Now when the staging was unveiled, hands up, who saw that coming? But at the time, I was on Twitter enjoying the banter and straight away I was just like “Greta, no, you’re not Loreen. Stop.” and yes, the staging reminded me so instantly of both Euphoria and Heroes that I think it’s wrong to brush that off as invalid lazy Eurofan criticism. It will be interesting down the line to see if any non-Eurofans pick up on these similarities. I came away from Greta’s first live performance taken by surprise by her ambition, but also thinking “god, what a mess!”

    I’m sure by now you’re reading this thinking I’m not selling a countering opinion very well am I? But I feel it’s important for you to understand my initial mindset and compare it to my current one. The switch was basically me just deciding to give it another watch, because I figured Greta would easily win Songvakeppnin and to write off something this bold just didn’t sit right with me. As some of you may know, part of my ESC methodology involves a lengthy word document where I record all my impressions so that I don’t lose track of my thoughts as songs grow on me over time. I’m referring to those notes right now as I write this.

    I wrote: “on second watch, it’s pretty cool on its own merits and the staging might not clash with the song as much as I first thought. […] The song has potential to be uplifting and more accessible if you don’t listen so closely and focus on the visuals. It might be one to watch, but I’m very torn for now.”

    It is true that one can find the song and the staging are a total mismatch for one another, but I found that by dismissing all my prejudice and cynicism and just allowing myself to absorb Greta’s performance for what it was, I wasn’t really that bothered by it at all. We hear sad melodies with uplifting lyrics, and vice versa, all the time in the overall world of music, it’s one of the oldest tricks in the song writing book. Darkness and light, yin and yang, two parts coming together to make a whole, this is a universally understood and commonly used technique in several forms of art, but sometimes you have to get out of your own head to connect with it.

    Gav runs through the sequence of the performance noting faults which are largely the result of camera work and lighting that can easily be tightened up for Stockholm, offering comments which are completely subjective to the individual person, and as I previously mentioned, talking about a lack of eye contact… spare the odd 5 seconds here and there, plus a smile, which apparently was enough for Loreen to wipe the floor in Baku. Eye contact is not the issue. For me the issue is the theme and message of the song being about finding oneself and dealing with inner demons rather than something more inclusive and common like love or triumph. It’s quite self-centered despite the use of the word “we” in the English lyrics. I don’t know, this could easily be more universal and relatable than I think, but I do fear Greta is trying to be a bit too clever. On the other hand, “lacking heart and likeability” is a criticism that was thrown at Sweden last year too.

    I’m now at a point where I am far from certain that Greta could win Eurovision 2016, but I cannot say with conviction that she absolutely won’t. Regarding the originality of the package, I initially thought the televote would be lower than that of the jury at ESC, but I now think the opposite. In Songvakeppnin, I think Greta was pushed down by the jury for that same prejudiced mindset about the staging, because we all knew the song alone was streets ahead of the rest. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. Televoters were more impressed, and Alda did only win the televote by literally less than 100 phone calls from a pimp slot with confetti, (or maybe someone just opened the window,) so, basically, I don’t want to give the audience too much credit. While the juries and people deeply invested in Eurovision are cynical about originality, worthiness and the f*cking choice of language, when I try to put myself in the mindset of a televoter, I’m thinking “so what?” Those two simple words were the resounding answer to “Conchita won’t win because the east is homophobic.”

    What I hear now is a catchy and uplifting piece that is yet to be improved further, that offers a very good country-song match, (if it reminds people of Of Monsters and Men, that’s a reason TO vote, not a repellent,) and an objectively cool stage show. I do think she should tweak it and make it less reminiscent of Heroes and Euphoria, she should tighten up lighting and camera work and spruce up the arrangement, but for a work in progress, this is the most ambitious and competitive I have ever seen Iceland. I think top 10 is secure unless the Eurovision juries REALLY punish her based on staging prejudice. I’m not committing myself to saying Reykjavik 2017, I’m just saying Iceland should be on the radar because boxes have been ticked, even if the ticks are a bit squiggly.

    And if you want to ask anyone about taking a narrow national victory to a high score in Eurovision, ask Ayrton Sanna.

    • Iceland cannot win esc16 because they have a dated, non-relevant, non-current, average composition of a song with silly, non-relevant, non-current lyrics sung by a non-votable resting-bitch-faced female looking older than she is, ugly and inbred, which will make the average non-fan televoter cringe and move on.

    • Yup Ben I’m afraid I agree with Panos.

      Especially the bit about resting bitch face.

    • You do make some good points Ben, but you’re way overthinking it.
      We’ve already seen how Greta’s charisma works on a big stage in 2012: it didn’t. Why would it work now with a worse song and a more expensive performance?

      • Well I did write a lot, yes, but if you read it carefully, you’ll notice that what I actually did was switch my perception around to view it without prejudice and try to underthink it, just take it at face value. Whether or not others will do the same will pretty much decide its fate, which is why its in Greta’s interests to adjust the staging so it doesn’t scream “Mans-phoria.”

        • You didn’t view it without prejudice Ben. Your prejudice is your massive and oft stated love for the country Iceland (which I’m sure is captivatingly beautiful with lovely people btw).

    • I agree with most of your argument. At this stage, where quite a few weak songs have been selected, and we know there’s more on the way, that Iceland should in theory be set for a strong finish. It’s by a mile the most ambitious entry so far, and there is scope for improvement before we see it in May.

  16. Here’s an idea for yet another staging gimmick:
    I’d love to see her lift weights while singing and flex some muscles.
    It might not match with the haunted by ghosts theme, but could be pretty scary nevertheless…

    • i hope this is very much haunted by a “Ghost”,but thats down to your fellow countrymen and women at this stage.

      • I see what you did there and I considered for a moment to reply with a punchline ending on “krautpleaser”, but ultimately decided that level of pun would set the standard too high for the usually below-average jokes you are used to get from me here.

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