Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summer Song 2012: Loreen’s “Euphoria”

Last year, I wrote about the importance of the summer song. Identifying a song with the summertime is part of growing up and follows us into adulthood. Hearing that one jam brings back specific memories of a time, a place, a person. You can taste, see, hear and almost feel everything around you in that place and time just by a couple of bars of that song. Think of what happens whenever you hear any of the following summer hits and see if they conjure memories: 

1986: “Venus” by Bananarama
1987: “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston
1991: “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” by Bryan Adams
1996: “Killing Me Softly” by Fugees
1998: “Ray of Light” by Madonna
1999: “I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys
2002: “ Complicated” by Avril Lavigne
2003:  “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé
2007: "Umbrella" by Rihanna
2008: “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay
2011: “The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga

One cannot predict what makes a summer jam or what will stick in the memory long after you pack away the beach umbrellas for the winter. But my choice for one of this year’s summer jams is a rarity, as it could also be crossover hit from the Eurovision Song Contest: Loreen’s “Euphoria”.

Originally a contestant on the Swedish version of Pop Idol in 2004, Loreen was born Loren Talhaoui and went on to forge a successful career as a TV presenter without releasing a proper music album. That’s about to change, as her Swedish chart-topper “Euphoria” won this year’s Eurovision Song Contest ahead of the heavily-favoured novelty track by the Buranova Babushkas.

Within hours of winning, the song blasted to the top of the UK iTunes chart. Within a week, it had topped over a dozen other music charts across Europe and was poised to make its mark on the official UK chart in the top five, giving Loreen an instant blockbuster smash single. That’s not surprising given that “Euphoria” received first-place votes from a record 18 of 42 voting countries in the contest, and only two of the 40 did not award it any points at all (and that’s only because Sweden couldn’t vote for itself).

And remember what other Swedish Eurovision champion went on to conquer worldwide charts? A little group known as ABBA, in 1974, with “Waterloo”.

Let’s examine what’s so great about “Euphoria”. It’s a trance-inspired dance track that, at first blush, sounds like just like everything else in vogue on contemporary hit radio. But listen again a little more closely, and you can see that it’s constructed so that it opens with minimal instrumentation to showcase Loreen’s vocals. She’s quietly whispering, questioning why a simple moment of joy is fleeting. But as the chorus builds, the beats kick in and the full vibrato of her glorious voice comes through loud and clear. There is no guest rap, no name-checking, no self-referencing. There is only a voice and a beat.

The live performance sells the single well. Unadorned by any sets or back-up dancers, the stage is just Loren, hair all askew, in a kimono over a loose-fitting pantsuit in bare feet. She moves about under the spotlight, willing it to follow her as she sways arms akimbo, fleet of foot and yet still singing the whole time. You can tell just by her breathing pattern that she’s not lip-synching it for easy money like Britney Spears did on her last two tours. Loreen doesn’t need to grope or expose herself to get the audience’s attention. When she moves and chants “euphoria!” just before the chorus, before the big beats kick in, she commands your attention. Those with long memories and a fondness of art rock will find similarities to legendary singer Kate Bush’s live performances. That is a lofty ambition and high praise, in my eyes, and Loreen should be commended for elevating the tone when her peers squat suggestively in short shorts and call that “dancing”. It is a bit reminiscent of both the demonic little girl from the murderous video in The Ring and a bit of this from Memoirs of a Geisha, but the Kate Bush tendencies outweigh the horror-cheese tendencies.

What’s most intriguing about the song is that its meaning can be two-fold. On the one hand, it can simply be about romantic love, and euphoria being absolute romantic ecstasy. However, the lyrics can be read in a religious subtext as well, particularly when she sings “we’re going up-up-up-up-up”. Heck, she even mentions divinity and infinity in the chorus. Most of the big dance parties in your city, particularly now during Pride Month, likely call their parties “rapture” or “sin city” or “heaven”. In fact, I’m sure there’s at least one hot club out there that calls their big night out “euphoria”. Regardless, it’s an invocation to transcend and find joy in either sense of the word. This is something that will sound rapturous and thrilling in a club at the end of the night.

Loreen’s “Euphoria” deserves to be blasted out of every nightclub, car stereo, MP3 player, music channel or streaming media outlet this summer. I, for one, will remember this as one of the songs of the summer of 2012 long after I put away my white shoes and start my Christmas shopping.