Amsterdam hosted a key event in the run-up to the finale of this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden. Nearly all of this year's participants presented their songs, giving listeners a sense of who may win.
For the fifth time, many Eurovision Song Contest artists made their way last weekend to the Melkweg Club. Musical ambassadors from 25 of a total of 39 countries presented the songs they will sing at the upcoming event. More were on hand in Amsterdam than ever before, but hearing so many glittering tracks one after another demanded some endurance from the party's guests. However, they seemed more than happy to listen to the two-and-a-half-hour music marathon - even if many of them never made it past the line in front of the club.
Amsterdam's clubs and bars have played host to Eurovision parties for years. In 2008, some clever organizers decided to put together a concert ahead of the actual contest finale.
"What started off as a joke five years ago has become an annual event, and to be honest with you, it has become bigger than we ever expected," admits Rene Romkes, one of the organizers. Romkes is proud of himself and his team, who aren't getting any support from TV broadcasters in the background.
With and without Germany
Acts from Germany have never participanted in the Amsterdam pre-party. But in Sweden, Valentina Monetta will present for the second time in a row a song by the successful German composer Ralph Siegel. It's a sweeping ballad in Italian that the red-haired diva delivers with plenty of soul and vocal power. In Amsterdam, fans received her take on the song with euphoria.
Ralph Siegel wrote the 1982 song that won for Germany, "Ein bisschen Frieden." A moderator used a verse from it to announce the new Siegel song but was interrupted by the crowd who spontaneously sang the whole refrain all the way to the end. Suddenly, the German party guests were no longer completely out of the spotlight.
Women take the lead
Once again this year, female entrants are leading the odds - most of all Emmelie de Forest from Denmark with the song "Only Teardrops." Party guests were disappointed that she did not come to Amsterdam's Eurovision preview, nor did Dutch performer Anouk with what is probably the most unusual song at the 2013 contest - the somewhat melancholy "Birds."
But there were three ladies from Eastern Europe to admire in Amsterdam: Dina Garipova, a singer with a powerful voice from Russia, Alyona Lanskaya with lots of sex appeal from Belarus, and, finally, the Ukrainian Zlata Ognevich, who fits the qualifications for a top model. Top 10 finishes are expected for the three, and although a ballad from Russia or a fantasy tune from the Ukraine are nothing new, cha-cha rhythms from Belarus should add some spice to this year's Eurovision stew.
Behind the entry from Belarus are a Belgian composer, lyrics by a British writer, a Serbian choreographer and an international team of dancers. Belarus apparently has its eye on the prize this year, aiming not only to host hockey's IIHF World Championship in 2014 but also the next Eurovision Song Contest.
Bracing for scandal?
Asked about the deceptive openness of Europe's last dictatorship, Alyona Lanskaya insisted that music be separated from politics. Last year's event in Azerbaijan proved how difficult that can be, with weeks of discussion about whether the contest should be hosted by a country with a record of violating human rights.
Finnish singer Krista Siegfrids and her friends might be brewing a scandal of a different sort in Malmö. During their performance in Amsterdam, Krista, wearing a bridal dress, passionately kissed one of her female dancers at the end of the song "Marry Me." What goes on in Amsterdam might not be shown on screens carrying the Eurovision Song Contest finale. European Broadcasting Union (EBU) decision makers know that the show will also be shown live in countries like Russia, which outlaw what they call "homosexual propaganda."
Not to be forgotten
Not to forget the men, however: Greece's entry sees the less than serious band Koza Mostra feat. Aghatonas Iakovidis in a response to the demands of dealing with women, a party song called "Alcohol is Free." But men can also be elegant on stage, as Marco Mengoni, this year's winner of the popular Sanremo Music Festival, proves, along with the Croatian sextet Klapa s Mora.
In a survey as to this year's favorites, many guests mentioned Mengoni's name, but no clear leader emerged. However, another country was mentioned suspiciously often: Georgia, whose duo Nodi & Sophie will sing the almost kitschy ballad "Waterfall" with its dramatic build-up.