You've been here before, you know the drill.
39 nations enter, one nation leaves victorious with a song that can top the charts across a whole continent but that is scandalously unlikely to be playlisted by BBC Radio 1.
I disagree that Eurovision is some naff light-ent relic that is basically good for a laugh one (or maybe three) nights a year. I disagree strongly. It's basically the bizarro-world version of our own increasingly weird pop charts. It is holding a mirror up to popular music and showing it what it sort of looks like. There are in fact some genuinely good, well-written songs with a long term appeal in there. I have a playlist of my favourites on spotify which is 2 hours long!
There are also some songs that are not good. There are some songs that barely qualify as music. There are appalling staging, performance and costuming decisions. There are sometimes tuning issues. There once was Dustin The Turkey.
But enough of the portentous foreshadowing! What can we expect in the first semi-final?
Austria - Shine (Natalia Kelly)
I did watch the Austrian national final (I'm one of *those* Eurofans nowadays) and I did like this one. It's a sort of Adele mid-album type stompy ballad and I think the singer is unfeasibly young. It's got some big old notes in the final chorus (complete with key change) that might go horribly awry. Could go either way.
Belarus - Solayoh (Alyona Lanskaya)
This is basically the amazing pop sound of Eurovision 2008-2011 distilled into a little capsule of fun and lungs. It's not one that I'd heard before this review round, but it is hooky, fun and increasingly importantly, it is not a safely impassioned ballad. I'm expecting a huge Ruslana style dance workout in the drum breakdown section she's got instead of the middle 8.
Belgium - Love Kills (Roberto Bellarosa)
Nothing hugely wrong with it, but like a lot of modern pop songwriting it uses some old rave tricks to manufacture a sort of rush feeling which perks up an otherwise slightly lame song. I remember reading a music blog piece about how they're totally overusing the 'rush' and wanted to share it with you, but can't google it up. Any help?
Croatia - Mižerja (Klapa s Mora)
I can't pretend to be an expert on the Klapa folk music style, but this is something you don't see that often these days: actual national musical styles represented. It passed three minutes nicely in a sort of Radio 3 speciality choral way. I wouldn't even know what Klapa was if I hadn't been religiously listening to Ewan Spence's excellent ESC podcast, so now I'm passing the knowledge on to you.
Cyprus - An Me Thimase (Despina Olympiou)
This is the first really daft video of the evening. It's just one of those 'lady in a floaty dress in nature' vids, but manages to also look like a really cutting parody of the same. It's a ballad. It's pretty enough but it's not what I came for and I was entirely able to fiddle around with blog settings while forgetting I was supposed to be listening to it. But you're not here to hear about my attention span problems.
Denmark - Only Teardrops (Emmeline de Forest)
I bloody love this one. Combines a song that sounds like it's from the late 90's heyday of celtic-ish pop with a winsome, barefoot, tousled-haired singer in a druidess costume to quite some effect. I think the staging is perhaps overdone with the drummers and the tin-whistler getting a bit too much prominence, but I really like it. I hope it makes the final (I think it probably will) and I hope it does really, really well.
Estonia - Et uus saaks alguse (Birgit Oigemeel)
I'm already done with ballads, even worthy ones that kick in for the first chorus. I am the kind of girl who likes power ballads if someone like maybe Bonnie Tyler is involved. Bonnie Tyler is not involved.
The rule change this year means that the producers are arranging the songs in the order that they would make the best show. I think at some point they're going to look at the production white board and mark a section 'kettles on for the ballad section'.
Ireland - Only Love Survives (Ryan Dolan)
I watched them do the selection on the Late Late Show, and it was a sort of queasy mixture of surrealism and amateurism involving Danny DeVito, Lordi and widespread tuning 'issues'. This song was probably the Calvin Harris-lite best of the bunch. Some of the others were just awful.
This video might be enough to single handedly kill off the heart hands gesture though.
Lithuania - Something (Andrius Pojavis)
Promising. Once it kicks in it sounds a bit like Editors or Aha or something. If yer man can resist the temptation to do that off key shout of 'yeah' and they beef up the backing track slightly, this it actually rather good and almost my sort of thing.
Moldova - O Mie (Aliona Moon)
The first costuming decision to provoke a 'WTF?' is Aliona, and she's covered in metal rings, with one of those projector screen dresses, some 70s Dr Who extras dancing around in satin hoods behind her and it's all distracted me from the song. Now the key change and it looks like her dress is on fire! I think it was good, but I think her voice needs a bit more from bottom end to make it seem less screechy when she finally goes for it in the last chorus.
Montenegro - Igranka (Who See )
Challenging, bleepy, filthy electro and some very gravelly rapping before the whole business collapses into Eurovision's very first official dubstep freakout. If they manage to come up with something slightly less comedically sexist than this sort of 'Dirrrty 2013 remix' thing for the stage show, I think I can whole heartedly approve. I mean, look at it, it's well dodgy. I like this even though I wish I didn't. They're going to need my vote though, I don't know if everyone is going to dig it.
It does make everyone who sent a timid wee ballad look daft though, which I like.
Russia - What If (Dina Garipova)
Less bombastic than I've come to expect from Russia, although apparently the mere performance of this song caused a theatre full of people to start spontaneously swaying and loving one another. Watch out Malmö, I guess.
Serbia - Ljubav je svuda (Moje 3)
I wish they weren't dressed in tacky hen night costumes, because this is basically a nice uptempo Saturdays song and that's the kind of thing we can all get more or less behind. I can only assume the angel/devil/golden lass thing is a reference to some lyrics which are entirely in Serbian.
If the next song is a ballad, I'm going to listen to that nasty Montenegran dubstep nonsense again first as a sort of reverse palette cleanser.
Slovenia - Straight Into Love (Hannah)
What a gyp. It starts out with dubstep burps and whirrs but then flops out a ballady verse. But then... ARMS ALOFT! The filter effect on the synths is a tad harsh and the whole thing feels a bit empty, maybe missing something in the mid range to fill out the sound, like some of the pro tools tracks got deleted (do they even use pro tools nowadays?)
It's ok, and at least sounds modern and like someone was making an effort. I give lots of points for both those categories, even if the end result is a slight fail.
The Netherlands - Birds (Anouk)
The only excuse for sending a ballad to Eurovision is if it's a really weirdly gorgeous ballad. Anouk is an enormous star here, and has no need to do Eurovision. The general feeling about ESC in the Netherlands is that they never qualify for the final any more and so they don't care. But now they've sent their biggest star singing a really haunting song that seems to be about catastrophic pollution and the end of the world. It gives me chills, it's not at all a Eurovision thing and it's terribly pretty in a very sad way. I have no idea if it'll qualify for the final.
Ukraine - Gravity (Zlata Ognevich)
I first saw this song just after the national finals when it was the very definition of the Eurovision hot mess. There was clearly something there, that's why it won, but the arrangement was all over the shop and one of the backing vocalists was much louder than everyone else to a slightly comic effect. Now, as you can see, it's gone the whole Fern Gully hog. You can never write Ukraine off, especially if they are allowed to bring the unicorns from the video to the big show. Holy crap, we're 2:30 in and it's still building! Sadly, they never really push it over the edge and set it on fire, so I'm left feeling slightly frustrated by it. Maybe they'll have a huge pyro at the end.
And that was the first semi final. More later.