It seems only a few days since the semi-finals kicked off in Malmö, probably because it was. But now it’s time to look ahead to the Big One. No, not the rollercoaster. Not a long-forgotten Sandi Toksvig/Mike McShane sitcom, references to which will be lost on almost everyone, resulting in a convoluted sentence that adds nothing. No. I’m talking the Eurovision final 2013! 26 songs, 12 hours of voting and the chance for one country to take away the coveted joint prize of the Eurovision title and the financial millstone of hosting 2014′s competition.
Let’s meet the teams.
- France – We open with our cousins over the English Channel. They’ve become quite good over the last decade at dropping something refreshing and different into the Eurovision pot and this is one of those. It’s not going to blow the contest away but it’s different, coherent, passionate and a good use of three minutes
- Lithuania – A surprise qualifier for Tuesday’s semi-final. Andrius may have screen presence but this is still a song in desperate need of a melody. Not amount of hair gel and staring into the camera can make up limiting yourself to three notes.
- Moldova – Like so many songs this year – especially the solo female vocalists’ – this rather takes its time to get going. It could do with a stronger finale but no-one will be listening because it’s all about the dress.
- Finland – Krista Siegfrids went down very well with the crowd on Thursday, topping off a camp display with a same sex kiss that overjoyed the audience in the stadium but led to Turkish television refusing to screen the semi-final. The lyrics are controversial – by turn demanding and submissive – but there’s no doubt this has a strong balance of playfulness and tunefulness. It should do well.
- Spain – A long folky introduction often serves as a warning but once this gets some percussion behind it, it’s not bad. It’s fairly unmemorable but not unpleasant.
- Belgium – Love Kills came alive on Tuesday night. It came across much better than I expected and will hopefully do the same again in the final. After a good sixth in 2010, Belgium spent two years failing to qualify so it’s about time they had another decent result. This upbeat number might well trouble the top ten but it’s a strong field.
- Estonia – Loo break.
- Belarus – I’m by no means the only person to have noticed that Belarus is taking full advantage of Turkey’s absence from the contest this year. Presentation, production, music, performance, nonsense lyrics: it’s all straight out of the Ankara playbook. This should do well although it can’t be allowed to win as Belarus is an entirely inappropriate host for the contest. Look out for the daring rhyme “Solayoh/We play-oh”.
- Malta – Yes it’s twee, but there’s something endearing and positive about this simple song that forces you to like it. Gianluca’s performance on Thursday night wasn’t especially powerful and this might get lost in the grandstanding of the final.
- Russia is another country that I wouldn’t want to see hosting but this, with its marginally hypocritical lyrics about everyone loving one another and ending violence, could do well. It’s another number that really takes off for the final third.
- Germany – Blimey, this rips off last year’s winner Euphoria something chronic. It may not actually have plagiarised Loreen but it’s certainly fallen into the common trap of trying to emulate the previous victor’s success by copying the style and approach. It loses points for that and also because I wasn’t a big fan of last year’s winner, of which this is a pale imitation. Bah.
- Armenia – I’m sure I heard booing in the hall when this qualified from the second semi-final and, however gauche that way, I can undersand why because it’s proper naff. The lyrics are the main fault – “Lonely planet/Who has done it?” – but at least there’s a key change.
- Netherlands – Now we get to the good stuff with a run of six strong contenders. First up is Anouk with her birdie song. She has a great voice, although I’d've liked it to be a bit stronger in the semi-final, and the song is refreshingly different – understated and musically lush. I really hope this does well.
- Romania – I hope this does well too. It’s quite audacious and Cezar gives it his all (though will hopefully get them back later). Sure, there’s a gimmick, but the underlying song is strong enough to work with it. I’ll say no more because it has to be seen to be believed.
- United Kingdom – Heeeeeeeeeere’s Bonnie! The latest act given Eurovision day release from the UK pop retirement home to take part in Eurovision is Gaynor Hopkins (call her by her name) carries the UK’s vain hopes this year. An experienced performer with a track record of touring Europe, she should do all right – although that’s what we said about Englebert last year. This is perfectly serviceable but sadly not the kind of dramatic power ballad that we associate with its singer. It’s a grower – admittedly not helpful when you only have one performance to hit home – and there’s a strong middle eight but after that it fades to nothing. If it wasn’t the UK’s entry, we probably wouldn’t look twice at it. Fingers crossed for top ten.
- Sweden – the host country have decided to keep to the dancey type of song that won them the contest last year. It’s by no means as distinctive as its predecessor and is slightly overwhelmed by Robin Stjernberg’s vocal gymnastics but it’s nevertheless a catchy and upbeat track. I hope he doesn’t grin as much as he did in Melodifestivalen.
- Hungary – Like Malta’s entry, this was less strong in performance on Thursday night than it is in it’s studio recording. Frankly, singer ByeAlex looked terrified by the whole thing. I hope getting through to the final has perked him up because this is a nice little song, another gentle track that’s a bit different from the crowd, and it would be a shame if it was let down by a performance that holds back.
- Denmark – This run of six ends with the bookies’ favourite and another potential winner from northern Europe. I could do without the cliché flute but you can see why this has attracted a lot of attention. Mix together a catchy chorus, syncopated percussion and good backing vocals and you’re halfway to the prize.
- Iceland – I can’t say anything negative about this other than it’s rather bland. It builds up nicely and has a good singer behind it but after the previous six, this is a good opportunity to make the tea.
- Azerbaijan – This won me over much more on Thursday night than it had previously. Very clever staging and a singer who exudes confidence complement a fun if fairly familiar song. I’ll even forgive “Hold me/Unfold me.”
- Greece – Like Azerbaijan, this worked much better than expected on stage. I’m entirely on side with a song that says alcohol is free and I rather suspect the UK will give this plenty of points. There’s funky instrumentation and a memorable chorus – worth a look.
- Ukraine – Bless the giant at the beginning (no, really) but it’s a terrible idea that adds nothing. It’s two styles stitched together as if it can’t quite make up it’s mind – or is cynically trying to appeal to two different demographics. The danger is, of course, that you alienate both. Will probably do better that I’d place it.
- The last of the automatic qualifiers is Italy and I’m not sure it would be in the final if the country didn’t put so much money in. There are a few OK moments scattered through the song but on the whole it’s pretty dull even if, like so many of its competitors, it improves towards the end.
- Norway – Despite the annoying bleating noise, this is another strong entry from Scandinavia. I’d've liked a bit more oomph in the performance on Thursday night. The song has a relentless drive to it but the vocals need that stark power to pull it off.
- Georgia perhaps turned in to BBC Three’s How to Win Eurovision because this is certainly by the book. It left me feeling a bit flat but you can see why it could do well, especially if the audience have forgotten the dull opening by the time it reaches it’s worthier conclusion.
- And finally, benefiting from the relief and greater attention afford the last entrant, it’s Ireland. Already growing on me in the run-up to Tuesday’s semi-final, this still took me a bit by surprise – and not just for it’s cynical but welcome approach to staging. This could get a very high placing if it comes off on the night.
There you go. Denmark’s a favourite but it’s quite an open field, especially with every one of the former Yugoslavian states out of the running. Will their votes stay east? Will Scandinavia retain the title? Will millions of viewers across Europe believe in a Welsh lass called Gaynor? Only time will tell. And if you’d like to cast your judgement alongside, you can download my 2013 scoresheet.