ESC 2017 Belgium – In the Winning Lights

This is a surprising but also not so surpising song from Belgium as they continue to impress me for a third year in a row.

These are my own PERSONAL rankings of what I think of 2017’s Eurovision songs but I’m also going to make some bold predictions about the eventual fate of the song. These will probably be very wrong for a variety of reasons including I have no idea what almost half the artists sound like live or what type of staging and song changes could be made. There’s plenty of songs that have been let down by their staging (2016 Spain for example) so in the end they’re just guesses in the dark.

Country: Belgium
Artist: Blanche
Song Title: City Lights
My Ranking: 8th (out of 43)
Semi Final: 1st Semi Final
Final placement prediction: 3 of 26

After their non qualification for “Mother” in 2014, Belgium has decided to jump the track and go hyper modern. Last years song was a throwback to the 70’s but at the same time they managed to make it feel really modern and youthful as well and that formula has worked well for them. The last three entrants have all been under 20 and Blanche joins them in the pantheon of youth. Belgium’s last win was in 1986 and basically until 3 years ago they’d done really poorly since them, failing to qualify most of the years after semi-finals were introduced. Does this totally modern radio song have the ability to propel them in to the top 10 again for a third time this decade?

So let’s take a look at Blanche, our resident singer. She was internally selected this year, which surprised me since last years national finally yielded a great result. This may have to do with the thing where Belgium switches off a Dutch speaking person and a French speaking person each year to represent both of the sides of Belgium. Blanche is just 17 years old and is the second youngest singer in this years competition. She had a short stint on The Voice Belgique but was quickly eliminated. I don’t have much more to say about her because she is so young and her career is still in the nascent phases. I’m surprised again to see Belgium pick a relatively unknown young face but the formula has previously worked so who am I knock it.

The song is another story. When “City Lights” released I was actually really floored by the song. It felt like a big misstep for Eurovision but seeing the response to it has helped a lot. It took me three or four listen to remember the song which is a very dangerous game in ESC but once I did I found it really pleasant. This is a quintessentially “now” song. Blanche’s deep and low voice matches perfectly with a lightly electronic overlay and the repeating slow lyrics really drive home the feeling of both emptiness and then when the orchestration comes for the chorus, flipping it around to sound full and vibrant. The beat reminds me of a good La Roux song and the vocals call back to Lana Del Ray or Lorde.

This is the type of song I might actually listen to outside of Eurovision season and it’s also the type that I would not change when it came on the radio in the car. There’s a danger though in these low energy songs that you could bore people or worse, there could be not enough of a hook for people to even remember the song. I think at least in the music video the changes in scenery manage to allow you to have 3 full minutes of attention but I’ve found myself watching the live versions and zoning out around the one minute mark. The hook is  great, it’s something that anyone can pick up on because of the high repetition but the lack of lyrics and no vocal crescendo until 2/3 through the song may be difficult for juries to really get on board. I thought around the 1:30 mark we were going to get some vocal prowess and I’m hoping this is still on table for the concert. One short section of falsetto is not enough for me to really say this song is going places.

I feel like I have to point out the elephant in the room. Blanche herself, is not quite a seasoned performer yet and her stage shows so far have been intensely bland. She looks uncomfortable, annoyed, and bored at the same time and sings the song in an even more monotone voice than the studio. This is the type of song where you have to have a high degree of subtly to not seem like a robot and she doesn’t seem to have achieved the perfect meld of that yet. I’m worried that if they put anything else on stage with her, even if it’s something cool like a ball of light (as in the video) to bounce with the lyrics it will completely eclipse her. It is very hard to be the centerpiece for 100+ million people. I don’t know if this was the right choice.

She’s absolutely all alone in the danger zone.

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