It’s that time again!
In fact, I’m actually a bit later than usual getting this out to you because of all of the last minute song revamp and changeover shenanigans.
So below is the big Eurovision review megapost - my single solitary blog post of the year if you don’t count the fact that I contributed twice so far to ESC Insight. I wrote about Eurovision Hipsters and Eurovision Geography, if you can imagine such things.
But on with the show. It’s a bit of a funny year, because I think we’ve reached Peak Safe. There are now so many songs that follow quite a rigid Swedish modern pop or Sia-aping mindset that to just go Swedish is no longer a way of signifying that you’re taking the contest seriously, it now looks a bit ‘will this do?’. The fact that Sweden themselves have decided against sending something that fits into the big, shiny Swedish Dominance mould suggests to me that the era might be over, just like when Ireland ended their streak of 90’s awesome performances with Dawn Martin singing something with a touch of the Lisa Stansfields about it. We’ve also had a rule change which will stop juries punishing outrageousness and risk-taking quite so harshly - I think that in the coming years we’ll see some new theme taking off as the ever-changing contest adapts to a world where pop is simultaneously global and homemade.
As always, if you want to predict the winner, try to imagine each of these songs with a giant burst of golden pyro glitter over the last chorus. You cannot win without the golden pyro moment.
The format for this review is as usual. Semi-finals described in alphabetical order with Youtube playlists accompanying the relevant text sections. New for this year is the numerical analysis section where I’ll go through various aspects of this year’s crops like some sort of statto. There will be graphs.
Semi Final 1 - Tuesday 10th May
Armenia: LoveWave - Iveta Mukuchyan
While I dig a spoken word introduction and I also dig excessive implementation of rave horn, this song takes both to a point that’s deeply silly. I haven’t seen any live footage of her performing this, so the huge whooping chorus might go horribly wrong on the night. I hope it doesn’t - this seems sort of modern without going the Full G:son.
Austria: Loin d'Ici - Zoë
Well isn't this lovely? It's beautiful, it's happy, it's extremely camp, it's totally adorable. I really hope they keep the slightly homemade tumblr princess graphic ideas from the music video for the staging. This song is so lovely and breezy and bright and it hops along, but is it too sweet? I think the slight edge in the middle 8 and outro keeps it from being nothing but spun sugar.
Azerbaijan: Miracle - Samra
It's fair to say that the Azeris aren't going all out to win this year. Every time I hear this song I go, "Who was this again?". Nowhere near as artistically interesting as anything they’ve previously sent, including the porridgey dullsville that won. Also the big chorus note on ‘Miracle’ sounds like she’s straining over the chest voice/head voice break. If it sounds forced in the studio version Lordi knows how it’ll come out on stage.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ljubav je - Dalal and Deen feat Ana Rucner and Jala
In all the versions of this song I’ve heard, the vocals somehow too high in the mix. The selection box approach to representing the Bosnian musical culture means that none of the aspects of the song are fully committed to, which is a shame. They’ve also given us verses are extremely dull and contain none of the local flavour from the chorus or the linking pieces. The wonderful yelps in the backing vocals are the only part that I found interesting, although the rap/cello duet did make me sort of wake up. Please reconsider and do a whole song that is just the yelps, the cellist and the rapper.
Croatia: Lighthouse - Nina Kraljić
This song is really pleasant. I rather like her vocal style but ultimately what's going to do for this one is that it is not the most memorable from the field of mid tempo inspirational songs we have this year. I really hope that she uses the incredible 4K footage of Croatian landscapes, starscapes and lightning storms from the video as her backing show, because that video is gorgeous and well worth doing the 'flashing imagery' warning for.
Cyprus: Alter Ego - Minus One
Yeah, they are dressed like a rock band but I hear more synths than guitars. It's also a song by the incredibly prolific Eurovision composer Thomas G:son. Fun, but about 13 years too late to capitalise on the popularity of The Killers. They can’t even really capitalise on the wolf howl thing now that Belarus are doing the whole lupine kit off gambit. I sort of worry if this will even qualify? Maybe it will.
Czech Republic: I Stand - Gabriela Gunčíková
It takes way too long to get to the stirring second chorus. There is a lovely ominous string arrangement, but not really a lot of opportunity for it to get the full air-grasping, gesticulating, heaving-busomed lady ballad staging treatment. It's quite restrained, really. Does restraint belong at Eurovision? They’d have to make up for the musical restraint by having her perform it in a dress made of live flowers, or up a tree, or in a Faraday cage next to a giant Van der Graaf generator.
Estonia: Play - Jüri Pootsmann
This song is so classy. Well done Stig Rasta. Sadly I don’t think I’ve heard Juri perform it as well as Stig performed last year’s Goodbye To Yesterday with Elina Born and her single tear. That song really went well with lashings of awkward psychosexual chemistry. For me, this song is more like a lost track from the McAlmont & Butler project than a Bond theme as I’ve heard some people suggest. However, will it get lost amongst the bombast? Will people be bothered that yer man Jüri has a certain air of serial killer froideur? Not a potential winner for me, but nice all the same. Tule Eesti!
Finland: Sing It Away - Sandhja
For me, it’s quite like an Ultra Nate song. Or actually more like a Jess Glynne approximation of an Ultra Nate song. It’s very 90s, but it's like a modern reproduction of a lumberjack shirt in Topshop rather than a vintage River Island slip dress. I love the happy brass and the backing vocals. It’s really singable and at the point it was selected I was just relieved that someone was sending something with a pulse. Loads of ESC fan people don't like it, possibly because it's not Sara Aalto?
Greece: Utopian Land - Argos
Greek does lend itself to rapping, actually. It’s about time we had some socially conscious rap in this place, especially when it’s got some lovely instrumentation on it, like the lovely fiddle riff in the chorus. I find that this is growing on me, although it’s not going to be a song that I actually choose to listen to because I’m in the mood for some socially conscious Greek rap. I hope this will qualify, I love having Greece in the contest, bringing something different and somewhat angry.
Hungary: Pioneers - Freddie
I cannot abide the bloody whistling. Freddie really wants us sheeple to listen up. “What will we do when there are no more products to sell?” he says, as if he’s the first person in Europe to have thought that maybe hyper-capitalism isn’t a super idea. It used to be really unusual for a mid tempo inspirational song to be sung by a solo male, but this year there are loads of that combination turning up. Is this also Eurovision’s first specifically atheist song?
Iceland: Hear Them Calling - Greta Salóme
Some big questions here. What is this song even about? Why is it a country song? Who's running from what? Who's calling? Why is she dressed like a sexy Ozzy Osbourne? Why is she beating away extremely goth bats in near-darkness while jaunty banjos ring out? Who cares? It’s a solid, unarguable with banger. My husband said this was 'quite good' which, given that he's solidly opposed to the entire contest, is quite the endorsement. Please can we go to Reykjavik next May?
Malta: Walk On Water - Ira Losco
Some more super 90’s sounds. Sadly, after all the fuss they had changing it, this song is somehow really anonymous, even though Ira Losco is obviously a fabulous artist. I hope Ira wears a really smashing frock and absolutely belts it out on the night. Her charisma and performance level could make all the difference here. Also, if you're a Eurovision casual you should know that Malta are the current bosses of Junior Eurovision. Have a listen to Destiny's life-affirming song Not My Soul.
Moldova: Falling Stars - Lidia Isac
In the intensity of National Final season, I really wanted one of three acts to win. 1) The genuinely brilliant folk-dance act Doredos, 2) the politically incorrect fire tuba act or 3) the metal band of medieval re-enactors with a pan-pipe. As you can probably imagine, amongst all that lot I don’t even remember the eventual winning song being in the competition, but goodness me do I remember the fire tuba. This song is possibly a bit too fast to be a mid tempo inspirational, but I think is definitely where its heart lies. It's ok.
Montenegro: The Real Thing - Highway
A riff heavy rock song that does not relate to the rest of the contest in anyway at all. It's basically not interested. Outside the Eurovision contest, it doesn’t even please all the rock fans. When playing it to my metal expert husband he said ‘What is this nu metal shite?’. Which.... yeah. I suppose we have to take rock where we find it in Eurovision. I plan on starting a one person mosh pit when they perform at the London Eurovision party, just to thank them for showing willing, although I won’t be wearing a really gussety leotard like the lady in the video.
Russia: You Are The Only One - Sergey Lazarev
Well, isn’t this a precision tooled pop assault on the senses? It invites you to dance (or does it compel you, or at least strongly imply that dancing is in your best interests?) It’s got nice big ravey keyboards on it and huge strings and also really obvious lyrics and huge explosions and fireballs going off everywhere in the last chorus. It’s the one to beat, obviously. I don’t hate it. The video is probably almost exactly what he’s going to do on the stage, which will look absolutely incredible - the level of image mapping and art direction here makes Måns’s stick man dance partner look like a bit of a limp cop out. The only weak link appears to be that Miss Russia’s mime skills aren’t very strong in the windy leaning bit.
San Marino: I Didn't Know - Serhat
This year’s comedy entry which is possibly making more of a mockery of the contest than Dustin the Turkey or Scooch or the Polish milkmaids or Euro Neuro or whatever could. The use of San Marino as a flag of convenience for someone to fund a vanity entry. The rolling over and giving ‘the fans’ the disco version. The total lack of actual singing. The fact that this is just the same lack of singing as the other version but with the cheap, tinny disco backing. Ugh.
The Netherlands: Slow Down - Douwe Bob
After San Marino, this seems comically well produced and unnecessarily professional. It’s really nice. It won’t have the glowering, simmering tension of The Common Linnets on stage, but it’s nice. Another good performance for the Netherlands? Should qualify for the final at least.
Take me straight to Part 2!
Take me straight to Part 2!