Apologies, gentle reader. Normally I provide you with an in-depth analysis and revelatory insight into each of the current year’s Eurovision songs, but this year time, other commitments and real life have bitten into my schedule and I won’t be able to offer this service this year. I know you have a choice of Eurovision Opinion Providers and if you do find it necessary to ask for a refund, my solicitors are instructed to consider each case on its own criteria.
Instead I offer you a snappy(ish) blow by blow account of each entry in order of performance, and we’ll see where it takes us. These are based on the original videos, I’ve not been watching the rehearsals. You’re still going to get my five-star rating for each song. I’m sure that’s a comfort.
Semi Final One
Azerbaijan – Aisel – X My Heart *****
Who’d have thought the best schlager in this year’s contest would come from Azerjeben? Not only is this a bright, up-tempo effort from Aisel (not AySel – they’re clearly limited for girls’ names in Azərbaycanca) but it also has some of the best inappropriate lyrics in the contest. Next time you have to prove your mettle to someone, announce that you’re stronger than cannonballs and watch the reaction. Like Tigger, it’s bouncy, trouncy, flouncy and pouncy.
Iceland – Ari Olafsson – Our Choice *
Whereas this is more like Eeyore. Ari takes on the pain of the world and explores it through the medium of coma. There’s no doubting his musicality – apparently he’s off to the Royal Academy of Music in September – but this ploddy three minutes never engages the listener. About as inviting as a plate of buried cod.
Albania – Eugent Bushpepa – Mall ****
Sgt Bushpepa emotes his way through an anguished song of yearning (that’s what Mall means – nothing to do with comfy shopping) whilst his Lonely Hearts Club Band whack out a strong meaty accompaniment. Forget your Hungaries, this is where this year’s classy folk rock is to be found. He does look a bit angry sometimes but it’s a blessed relief after the vanilla-lite of Iceland.
Belgium – Sennek – A Matter of Time ***
According to Wikipedia Sennek works for Ikea (she’s probably known as Laura Groeseneken there) so I’ll resist jokes about fit Verse A into Hook B. But this song does feel quite manufactured to me, rather than a lovely organic thing of its own. I always think I’m going to enjoy it, but then I end up enduring it. Sennek’s long lanky hair can sometimes give her Princess Fiona ears which take my mind off the song for a bit. It’s not that bad though. Does it remind anyone else of Reynaert’s majestic Laissez Briller le soleil? (not visually, obviously, that would be silly.) That was Belgium too. I think we should be told.
Czech Republic – Mikolas Josef – Lie To Me **
Disclaimer: I wrote this before Mikolas came a cropper on his backflip in the first rehearsal and I absolutely take my hat off to him for carrying on when doubtless he’s in a lot of pain. /Disclaimer>
Before writing this little paragraph, I’m going to watch the YouTube again to see if I can make three minutes without turning it off. Well, credit where it’s due, I did. This is a song that makes me feel very old. The lyrics need to come with a glossary (I still haven’t worked out what GGY means – although I do understand the concept of a wood bamboo, and the camel grossed me out) and I guess they have plans to remove the four-letter words. I like the Epic Sax Guy-inspired rhythm and Mikolas is obviously a talented chap – and I’m totally prepared to accept that the smug poseur character singing this song is an act. But it does irritate me. When his voice goes down into the lower register it sounds really sleazy. A good Eurovision song needs instant impact and this certainly has it. Just don’t hear it a second time.
Lithuania – Ieva Zasimauskaite – When We’re Old ****
This quiet, unassuming little song is normally the kind of fodder I’d just skip and move on. But the lyrics are so heartfelt and its nature so charming – plus I am indeed getting old – that its message got to me. Ieva’s married surname of Zasimauskaite-Kiltinaviciene needs a sentence all to itself. They’re going to have to stage it wisely; too much will kill it, too little will feel too stark. But it’s a yes from me.
Israel – Netta – Toy **
Here’s the one that everyone’s talking about. For the first few seconds of the video Netta sounds like she’s trying to discharge something disgusting from her nasal orifices and then she goes into the farmyard impersonations. There’s no doubt this will make that all so important initial impact, and for it to work I think they’ll need to play up the humour. I read someone’s comment that Netta looks like the school bully and combined with the rather cruel nature of the lyrics, I feel that’s a great description. When she finally gets around to singing “I’m not your toy you stupid boy” it’s fab. It’s just the other bits that turn me off. Feminist icon or grotesque, you decide. What do we think of the word muthabucka? Not convinced. Is the woman in the pink rain poncho with blue hair based on the Victoria Wood character looking for her Kimberley?
Belarus – Alekseev – Forever ***
A classic example of a song written in English by a non-English speaking lyricist. You can always tell when the music requires the stress to be on the wrong syllable in a sentence: “Windows wide opén, flying so high, both of us roaming through magnificent sky…” Alekseev looks like a moody lad, like a singing James Acaster. In the modern tradition, it’s a trifle whingey, but it has a lush orchestral arrangement, and, despite myself, I rather like it.
Estonia – Elina Nechayeva – La Forza *
This year’s popera entry – there’s nearly always one – and it’s a full in-your-ear extravaganza. Sung entirely in Italian, because, as we know, Estonia’s full of Italians, Elina belts out the arpeggios till all the stray dogs in Tallinn come running. Oh, and she’s got one of those Eurovision dresses, you know the type. I don’t care how expert her singing is, it’s everything I hate about Eurovision.
Bulgaria – Equinox – Bones ***
I love the bones of you, say the Liverpool half of the family. Equinox go on one better, loving beyond the bones. That’s a helluva lot of love. A rather creepy official video that looks like an out-take from a sci-fi show enhances the moody gloom of this rather anthemic and persistent little song that can get under your skin, if not quite beyond the bones. Like a few other good songs this year it might not be quite substantial enough to go the very top but this won’t be a disgrace by any means.
FYR Macedonia – Eye Cue – Lost and Found **
Talking of disgraces… No that’s too strong. Disappointments, maybe. It has a great start – you think it’s going to be a bit like No No Never, but then it acquires an ungainly rhythm of faux-funk, and ends up just pappy pop. The old cliché was that three tunes in a song, you can’t go wrong – here’s proof that’s not true. Not a lot to enjoy here.
Croatia – Franka – Crazy **
Temptress sex kitten cross garter’d like Malvolio (not in yellow, thank heavens) pouts while man with bad skin condition dances around her. I can just about take this until she starts talking. Three points for spotting the obligatory annual “diamonds and pearls” lyric. Oh and then she swims underwater in a wedding dress. You couldn’t make it up really. She looks like a lovely girl but it’s not a song I can take seriously. Next?
Austria – Cesar Sampson – Nobody but You *****
So here’s a thing. Gospel in Eurovision normally sticks out like Mr Naef in a beauty contest, but this hint of gospel works really well, IMHO. From the same writing/production team behind the Bulgarian song, and I know who got the better deal. Cesar is a terrific singer and this is a strong, assertive and surprisingly catchy ballad. Not a huge amount more to say – it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Greece – Yianna Terzi – Oniro mou ****
Yianna laments her undying love for her fella while he (presumably) undergoes an SAS Who Dares Wins trial all by himself. Then, rather weirdly, he pulls her out of the earth. They do things differently in Greece. Highly dramatic, incredibly effective, turbulently Greco-ethnic. If you ignore the silly video and close your eyes and dream, you could be transported anywhere you like. In the Peloponnese peninsula, preferably.
Finland – Saara Aalto – Monsters *****
Here’s another official video that doesn’t enhance its song in any way, but the song is strong enough to survive without it. In the past always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Saara Aalto is going to get on that stage and smash it. Very singalong, instantly appealing, plenty of quirkiness and monsters under the bed – even the six year olds watching will appreciate that. I hope they resist the temptation to go over the top on the staging.
Armenia – Sevak Khanagyan – Qami ****
Not the Armenian for a bar of soap, Qami means Wind, so I’ll let you insert your own joke here. Rivalling Cesar from Austria for the Best Male Vocalist award, Sevak spreads his arms and whirls like the slowest Dervish this side of Yerevan. This atmospheric ballad moves along at a nice andante, and builds for strong finish. Wind, wind, where did you take my warm memories? Didn’t know it was a song about dyspeptic amnesia. Fully deserves to qualify.
Switzerland – Zibbz – Stones *****
So many times in recent years Switzerland have been among my favourites yet have failed to make any impact on the contest. I hope that doesn’t happen again – but I fear it may. Coming a very worthy second to France’s Madame Monsieur for the Best Duo Award, Coco releases some great rock chick attitude and this is definitely one of the funkiest chunes this year. Trouble is, no one votes for Switzerland, do they?
Ireland – Ryan O’Shaughnessy – Together ***
Now for something a little less funky. Inspired by Uncle Gary’s Eurovision appearance seventeen years ago, here comes Ryan O’Shaugnessy with a gentle song about an unexpected relationship break-up. I know many people who rate this quite highly – I can’t help but think they’re inspired by the artistry of the excellent video more than the bare bones of the song, which is a trifle whingey in the modern tradition, and a little introverted for my taste. Perfectly pleasant, though.
Cyprus – Eleni Foureira – Fuego **
Eleni is a classy dame but she looks like she’s too good for this song – and I think she’s right. Trying to outdo Aisel in the silly lyrics stakes – someone control that pelican, would you? It’s full of Ivi Adamou-style repetition and I don’t think it’s anything like as good as it thinks it is. One of those triumph of style over substance type songs. Nice feathers though.
Semi Final Two
Norway – Alexander Rybak – That’s How You Write A Song *
Mr Rybak has been responsible for so many excellent recordings over the past few years including his winning (in many ways) performance of Fairytale in the 2009 contest. So it seems such an awful shame that he returns to ESC with this utter drivel. Normally I really enjoy songs that are about the writing process, they have a real inventive and creative edge. Not so this time, this is a cynically envisaged, purpose-built model designed purely to show off Mr R’s incredible showmanship. It’s got a hook you can’t get out of your head, dammit, and if it was that easy to write a song, we’d all be doing it. No! get thee behind me Alexander! Working on the theory that Jamala and Salvador won by being the biggest stand-out anti-personalities with songs just bad enough to win, I reckon this will be Rybak’s year again.
Romania – The Humans – Goodbye *
Static, dreary, soporific. I wonder if lead singer Liz Truss MP will get permission from Parliament to front the group for a week. I say “week”… she’ll be back Friday morning. Douze points from Moldova, so that’s twelve points in all.
Serbia – Sanja Ilic & Balkanika – Nova Deca *
If neighbours FYR Macedonia prove three tunes in a song doesn’t always work, here’s proof that just two tunes in a song can go wayward too. After a long introductory caterwauling, presumably because they couldn’t think of any more notes for the music stave, there’s only time left for two minutes of song. A moderately interesting Balkan chorus, surrounded by blithering nothingness. Nova Deca means “New Generation”, but there’s nothing much new about that horrendous mess.
San Marino – Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening – Who We Are *
Firstly, yes you can sing the chorus of Mans Zelmerlow’s Heroes to the chorus of Who We Are, so that feels pretty shameless. Jenifer Brening – and I mean this as a compliment – must be one of the poshest rappers in the world. It’s like Missy Elliott went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College. It’s Jessika, though, who has to make sense of words like “We are who we are and who we are is who we wanna be”. Right, got that, I think. Lyrics by existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. There’s no lack of effort from the two ladies, but this has all the musical appeal of Bird’s Nest Soup.
Denmark – Rasmussen – Higher Ground *****
At last, a song in Semi Final Two to enjoy! In fact, gentle reader, this is probably my favourite this year. Yes I know they’re just Hokum Vikings, all beard, gowns and stomping, but I find the lyrics remarkably stirring and I genuinely find something strangely heroic about the whole thing. It’s also a fabulously anthemic tune. Be the first to turn around, take the leap and land on higher ground; I will, oh Captain my Captain. At last we finally find out what’s happened with Frodo nowadays.
Russia – Julia Samoylova – I Won’t Break ***
It was no surprise that Julia was coming back for a second attempt at a first attempt at winning Eurovision; and I reckon this is a much better song than that old Flame is Burning tosh from last year. There’s something about Julia’s voice that has a gurgling quality that doesn’t appeal to me, but I have to say I get quite taken up by this song when it gets to the even in the darkness part. That said, the video of her performance at the Moscow ESC Party was a proper shocker.
Moldova – DoReDos – My Lucky Day *
One of those three minutes that only Eurovision can throw up, and I use that term most deliberately. A glum Moldovan ménage à trois acted out to a folk salsa beat. It looks like the worst ever song excised from the worst ever musical. They try to be funny, bless them. But honestly. Three points if you call them Doritos.
Netherlands – Waylon – Outlaw in ‘em **
So Mr Rybak isn’t the only repeat offender this year, as we also have Waylon, the male half of the Common Linnets, and the only person in The Netherlands to be named after a man made fibre. On paper this should be much better than it is. I can see why some people might like it – but Albania beats it hands down. Probably the best part of it is the lengthy guitar outro which has had to be removed to get it down to three minutes.
Australia – Jessica Mauboy – We Got Love ***
Having been the guest artiste at the 2014, Jessica Mauboy returns as a contestant proper; not quite poacher turned gamekeeper but you get the picture. We Got Love is a bright and breezy number that almost soars – but doesn’t quite. The repetition of the words and notes “cos we got love” in the chorus somehow stops it in its tracks. I’m sure it will do well though, and Ms M is a great performer, so Australia has it all to play for.
Georgia – Iriao – For You ***
And now for something completely different. Georgia offer us five chaps with strong choral voices performing folk barbershop to a charming tune that’s got just a hint of Koit Toome’s Mere Lepsed in there somewhere. It’s the kind of song that just washes over you and three minutes later you re-emerge back into reality. In many respects, very enjoyable, and it’ll certainly chalk up a few points.
Poland – Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer – Light me up ***
A Polish DJ and a Swedish singer combine to create a very Swedish sounding entry with ear-disturbing (but still enjoyable) distortions and a summer sunshiny beat. The tune never quite breaks free into perfect bliss but it should be enough to get most people up on their feet. Undemanding, and moderate fun.
Malta – Christabelle – Taboo ***
The taboo in question is that of mental health; and the video in question is an overblown piece of dramatic nonsense. Strip away the layers and you get quite a satisfying pop song with a neat little hook on the mention of animals, animals. I liked this a lot at first but it has quickly begun to pall. Still, first impressions and all that, it could do quite well. Dear old Christabelle’s been hammering at the door of Eurovision for Malta for many years now so it’s good to see her finally get her chance.
Hungary – AWS – Viszlat Nyar *
Now here’s a Marmite song; you definitely either love or hate this one. Traditional Eurovision lovers don’t care for its rocky guitar edginess; those who like a bit of rock seem to rate it highly. I don’t mind a bit of rock at all – but I think this is sheer agony. The title means Goodbye Summer, which seems to have come at the wrong time of the year for the contest. I wonder what Hungarian for Goodbye Chances is?
Latvia – Laura Rizzotto – Funny Girl *
If you were hoping for a spot of Barbra Streisand, think again. Anything funny about Laura Rizzotto’s self-penned ode to misery is either ironic or simply misplaced. It’s a sad account of a relationship breakdown but if it’s meant to be emotional, it completely passes me by. This Rizzotto is all rice and no meat. It’s a shame because she’s an excellent singer and she looks great. However, she wrote it, so there’s no one else to blame…
Sweden – Benjamin Ingrosso – Dance You Off *****
You’ll remember a few years ago that young scamp Frans sang a cheeky little number for Sweden about being sorry, but he wasn’t sorry. This year another young scamp, Benjamin, sings a very similar song about getting rid of an unwanted girlfriend. His musical style is a little breathy but it’s a great tune and feels to me (old codger that I am) pretty much contemporary in style. His mother is Pernilla Wahlgren, so music obviously entered his system through the umbilical cord.
Montenegro – Vanja Radovanovic – Inje **
Another of those songs that sound like they’ve come from one of the glummer stage musicals. The verse builds to a flourish but then the chorus is quite reserved – at first, at any rate. It’s all about how frost paralyses a heart and so love gets frozen out. Sometimes these Balkan songs can sound really powerful and moving, but this one comes across a pompous and over-complicated. Still, Vanja does wear a terrific frock coat, well jel.
Slovenia – Lea Sirk – Hvala Ne*
By means of contrast, Lea Sirk’s contribution for Slovenia is the ultimate in attitude, with Lea having a wonderful time strutting her stuff and making it absolutely clear that it’s a case of No Thanks to anyone who asks. It’s a spiky, uncomfortable song, devoid of emotion so it’s hard to open yourself up to it. It also has a rather alienating robotic feel to it. Very competently done, but it’s not my cup of tea at all.
Ukraine – MELOVIN – Under the Ladder ****
Lucky last in Semi Final Two is MELOVIN with the bizarrely titled Under the Ladder, and the first thing you have to admit about it is that boy, is it a catchy tune! 21-year-old Kosytantyn likes his stage name to be spelled in capitals, just in case you didn’t hear it the first time. It’s a very likeable entry but I’m just wondering how his voice will come across. From the videos I sense a little immaturity and insecurity there, but I think if he nails the vocals he could do very well.
France – Madame Monsieur – Mercy *****
Although I am a self-professed Denmark fan this year, France’s Mercy has been on my head far more than any other song in the run up to this year’s Eurovision and I think it is the classiest composition, given the full gamine interpretation by Emilie, the Madame half of Madame Monsieur. Crammed with pathos, bursting with simplicity, you’d have to be a very hard-hearted sort not to get carried along with it. It wasn’t my favourite from the French final, but on reflection I think it’s the perfect song for Eurovision and for the first time in Donkeys’ Years there’s a real prospect of a Parisian contest next year.
Germany – Michael Schulte – You Let Me Walk Alone **
From one heartfelt song to another, but for me with much less of an impact. Michael Schulte is rocking his Ed Sheeran look, and it’s suitably whingey and self-indulgent for the era, so I think it might appeal to those suffering with teenage angsts, and anyone who’s missing their parents. There’s no question it’s elegantly written, with its escalation up the numbers in the chorus (one love, two hearts, three kids, four no trumps) but at the end of the day it’s rather schmaltzy, and I feel it’s more admirable than enjoyable.
Italy – Ermal Meta and Fabrizio Moro – Non mi avete fatto niente *****
One of the difficulties for some songs that weren’t written directly for Eurovision, is how to cut them down to the requisite three minutes. It killed both Amir’s J’ai cherché and last year’s favourite from Italy, Occidentali’s Karma, all that was left of which was a hollowed out shell of a brilliant song. The otherwise very wordy Non mi avete fatto niente actually benefits from being cut down and the three minute version flows superbly. Like France, it takes a serious subject and gives it a serious and sympathetic treatment without getting maudlin. The two Italian lads are great performers and you write this one off at your peril.
Portugal – Claudia Pascoal – O Jardim ***
Congratulations to Portugal for finally winning Eurovision last year with a song that many loved and many didn’t get. The Portuguese always feel more comfortable being represented by a song that has an element of moroseness about it and this year is no exception. Isaura Santos’s song is all about tending the (symbolic) flowers that are all that remain from a lover who’s died, so if you’re waiting for an uplifting song from the Big Five and host, keep waiting. The melody reminds me significantly of the Lightning Seeds Sense, but offers a very different atmosphere. Claudia has a very beautiful style to her voice; similar to Ieva’s from Lithuania, but stronger. The song doesn’t really go anywhere, but I’m not sure that matters. Not a winner, but very nice.
Spain – Amaia and Alfred – Tu cancion **
Not Su Cancion, otherwise Betty Missiego would su(e). Amaia and Alfred were thrown together on Spanish Reality TV and their song reflects the genuine relationship that built between them as the series developed. It’s all very sweet; a little drippy perhaps, but its heart is in the right place. Not the kind of song I’d be likely to play usually, and probably my least favourite of the Big Five + Portugal.
United Kingdom – SuRie – Storm ****
And finally, we hit the 43rd song and it’s the United Kingdom entry with SuRie singing Storm. One thing’s for sure – SuRie is an amazing performer, and with her experiences as part of the Belgian teams with Loic Nottet and Blanche, she shouldn’t be fazed by the big occasion. The song has a nice build and the subtle emotions conveyed in the second verse when she’s talking to her mother and father knock the emotions of the German and Portuguese songs into the proverbial cocked hat. However, I fear it won’t have the necessary initial impact to do well, although I know SuRie will give it a stunning performance. We saw her perform it at West End Eurovision and she’s definitely a safe pair of hands. And lungs.
This never has any particular relation to how the final results will end up, but let’s have a quick look at which songs have received the most looks on YouTube as at this moment now (which is already history) – and the ones that go big are Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Sweden, Norway, France, Austria, Australia, Macedonia, Russia, Lithuania, Belgium, Poland, Estonia and Denmark – but exceeding the second placed song by a good ten million it’s that muthabuckin experience from Israel. Make of that what you will.
It merely remains for me to wish you all a happy Eurovision week; don’t overlook the Semi Finals because they’re a vital part of the whole shenanigans. Have a wonderful time and here’s hoping for a 2019 contest from Paris or Copenhagen. (But I fear it will be Oslo.)