Song Title: “Black Smoke”
Artist: Ann Sophie
Last year’s entry: “Is It Right” – Elaiza (18th Place)
Germany, one of the “Big Five” Eurovision supporters, is also the nation with the best attendance record. Even prior to reunification, Germany has competed in some fashion, occasionally as West Germany, in every Contest except 1996. Despite being ESC’s biggest financial supporter that year, Germany failed to qualify out of an audio-only prequalification round. I doubt it’s any coincidence that the Big Five have been allowed to automatically progress to the Grand Final since in 1998. In any case, changing the rules hasn’t helped Germany much lately. In the past ten years, they’ve won once, but cracked the top ten on only two other occasions, with an average rank of 16th place. Can Ann Sophie bring back the awkward charm that led Lena to a win in 2010?
As Mike noted in his First Listen, the fact that Ann Sophie is headed to Vienna at all is a bit of a surprise. The winner of Germany’s internal selection process declined to accept the invitation, which then fell to the runner-up, “Black Smoke.” There are definitely some good things happening in this song — for example, Ann Sophie’s voice, which is strong and clear above the rest of the arrangement.
Unfortunately, I can see why this entry lost by an almost 4-to-1 margin in the televote. For one thing: this song is about a relationship that is falling (or has fallen) apart, yet we find Ann Sophie smiling broadly for the camera throughout the performance. More painfully, the groove is totally wrong. The percussion has a really nice, sorta jazzy backbeat going on, but Ann Sophie’s lyrics perpetually hit right on the beat, or in some cases even a little ahead. And I have no idea what is going on with the staging and choreography (or lack thereof). Having a quirky and somewhat awkward female lead worked really well for Germany in 2010, but that’s partially because Lena was quirky and awkward in one place while letting the camera do the work for her. Overall the total package of this entry is jarring and uncomfortable, and not in a positive way.
It’s a good thing “Black Smoke” doesn’t have to fight its way out of the semifinals, because I don’t think it would stand a chance. The more I listen to this year’s competitors, the more I realize just how deep the field is. This isn’t a terrible entry, but neither is it a great or good one. Most of the not-great-or-even-good entries will be filtered out before the Grand Final. As a result, I’ll be expecting Germany to land somewhere in the bottom third. (It’s possible they will have to host the contest next year anyway.)