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Eurovision 2017: The Final May 13

The day is here and, excitingly, it looks like anyone could win! And by anyone, I mean Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria or the UK. Of course, probably not the UK but it really is the best of the bunch and Lucie Jones has been nailing it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Twenty countries have made it through from the semi-finals to join the six pre-qualifiers: the Big Five who put the big money in and Ukraine, last year’s winner and this year’s host.

The running order was decided after the second semi-final so here they are in order with my comments. I’ve revised my views on a few after the semis, in particular dark horse Bulgaria.

Israel
The contest opens with one of the few full-on uptempo bangers. It’s one of the weaker vocal performances, which is traded for energetic choreography.

Poland
Poland shouldn’t be in the final and are hogging a place that could have gone to someone more deserving, like Finland or Estonia. They need to take their hackneyed love song, go and sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

Belarus
There are a lot of white outfits in this year’s contest, even with some of them having been evicted earlier in the week. One of the few duets to make it through, both singers are in white. The song is jangly nonsense but they seem to be having a lovely time, possibly because they are not in Belarus.

Austria
It’s another white ensemble for Nathan Trent, who is also sporting this year’s fashionable but awful too-short trousers with no socks. It’s a recipe for cold ankles, folks. Nathan himself is charismatic and clearly loves being part of the contest but the song is weak. If the dry ice machine is turned up any higher, he’ll disappear completely.

Armenia
Visually interesting with strong singing and a doinky backing track. Here it helpfully breaks up the ballads.

Netherlands
This Dutch trio could put the rest of the competition to shame with their tight harmonies, which lift what could be quite a mediocre track. I was one of apparently hundreds on Twitter during their semi-final to comment on the similarity between their sound and 1990s Beach Boys/Mamas and the Papas offspring mash-up Wilson Phillips.

Moldova
One of the most fun songs and performances in the show, marking the Eurovision return of Epic Sax Guy (and his Sunstroke Project bandmates). Get that leg wiggle on.

Hungary
Time for that classic Eurovision folk music moment – and, fittingly, in Hungarian rather than English. There’s rapping too, and then the song kind of just stops at the end. Points added for good pyro. Points deducted for the top knot.

Italy
Yes, there’s a man in a gorilla suit doing a dance routine. We get it. Very clever. This was the early favourite (thanks to the gorilla) but it remains to be seen how it will come across with the revisions they’ve made to the staging since it won the Italian national selection. Performed in Italian with plenty of energy, the song itself isn’t bad but it’s by no means my favourite in the competition.

Denmark
We pop briefly back into English for Anja’s Where I Am, which seems to have got stronger with each performance. It’s one of the better of the night’s ballads, especially when it kicks up a gear towards the end.

Portugal
Salvador performs from the small satellite stage, giving this a low key, intimate feel that matches the song and the singer. It’s a piano bar ballad with a timeless elegance that defies you to dislike it even though you won’t understand the words (unless you speak Portguese, obviously). It could be twee as hell but it’s genuinely endearing and a return to the final for Portgual after six years of failing to qualify. If it makes the top five – which is likely – it will be their best result ever, and it could even be their first win.

Azerbaijan
This is in danger of geting lost given the songs on either side. It includes a man with a horse’s head standing on a stepladder, but this might feel like a cop out after a dancing gorilla.

Croatia
I find myself irrationally annoyed by this one. Jacques is talented. He can sing high pitched pop. He can sing bassy opera. Alternating between them both? Urgh. This would be great in cabaret; at Eurovision it feels like a gimmick, and I say that as someone who liked Cezar and Malena Ernman. I expect the juries to score it highly.

Australia
Another bed blocker. Shouldn’t be in the final. Take a toilet break during this one.

Greece
This feels like it’s improved over the course of the week but I’m afraid we’re now in the weakest section of the show. A pair from Men’s Health casting performing a cheesy dance routine do little to make this more interesting.

Spain
Spain are the second of the Big Five in the final and boy are they lucky to qualify automatically. This is embarrassingly bad. You will be in no danger of forgetting the title – your man sings it about 200 times in the space of three minutes. As My Lovely Horse as this year gets.

Norway
For those counting, it’s another white shirt, although set off by an ill-advised hat. It looks like it’s going to be awful but it’s actually a good package: lyric-packed verses, fun (and controversial!) vocal samples, an unusual middle eight and a strong chorus. None of it’s innovative but if there’s a weakness it’s likely to be the performance. Probably won’t stand out from the crowd.

United Kingdom
This is a juicy spot in the running order for Lucie Jones and rightly so: Never Give Up On You is the UK’s best entry in donkeys’ years. I didn’t even like it much among the various bland options the BBC gave us to choose from but it’s been reworked into something terrific. Add to that a great vocal performance (touch wood) and some absolutely stunning staging and this deserves to do really well. The juries will like it but will the phone voters? I’m set to see it rising up the table and then come crashing down when the televotes are added – but there’s still a part of me that thinks it could win. It’s certainly our best chance of the 2010s so far by miles.

Cyprus
Now that I’ve seen this in place with the video backdrops, the choreography makes much more sense. The track jumped out at me when I first listened to this year’s Eurovision album and I still like it. It’s upbeat and catchy with a good bridge. Probably competing for votes with Israel.

Romania
Strap yourself in for the classic Eurovision event of the night. Yodelling and rapping come together at last in what I believe is referred to as “a hot mess”. Naff choreography, nonsense lyrics and a video background drawn by a three-year-old child all make it stand out – and that’s even without the glittery cannons that are tragically forbidden from firing glitter. It’s dreadful but in all the ways UK audiences love.

Germany
“Oh, hi, Germany here. We just thought we’d saunter in at the end and drop a female soloist with an upbeat pop number on you when you were least expecting it.” I like this and Levina has an interesting voice, not hindered at all by plenty of support from unseen backing vocalists.

Ukraine
There’s not much danger of Ukraine hosting the contest again in 2018. That said, Time is the only guitar rock number of the show so it could attract its own section of televoters. Switzerland in 2015 might be wanting their “time to shine” lyric back, please.

Belgium
Blanche has a gloriously deep voice but it’s still unclear whether her stage presence is selling vulnerability or incredible discomfort. A tough result to call.

Sweden
Robin Bengtsson has been performing this for months but he and his team of Debenhams stylists have continued to polish I Can’t Go On since arriving in Kyiv. It’s a catchy song that no longer has the f-word in the chorus (replaced by “freakin'”) and five treadmills. Great for fans of Waterloo Underground station or City boys who like to spend three minutes on cardio between important meetings.

Bulgaria
Danger, Will Robinson! The dark horse of the second semi-final has got a prime place penultimate in the running order. I had this down as just “OK” and I’m still not a fan but I can see the appeal and a flagging audience could be won over. Sofia 2018 is not out of the question.

France
It’s a pleasant closer to the show from France (in French with a smattering of English). The video screen graphics are almost too engaging: a found my attention almost constantly drawn to them rather than to Alma and her song.

So that’s 26 countries and 26 songs. Plenty of contenders, a few potential surprise successes and some crowd pleasing silliness to keep things light. Portugal, Italy and Bulgaria still seem the most likely winners, but the UK definitely deserve a top 5 finish.

Hello, Kyiv! May 13

A man in a hamster wheel

Ukraine have been in Eurovision since 2003 and have reached the final every year, save 2015 where they weren’t able to take part in the contest because *cough* reasons.

In that time, they’ve won the contest twice and have also been responsible for some of the most memorable staging of the last 20 years.

In honour of their hosting this year’s contest, here are my top 5 entries from Ukraine.

5. Ani Lorak – Shady Lady

This is what Ukraine entries have excelled at over the years: three-minute power pop brought alive on stage. Ani Lorak came second with her gaggle of energetic dancers and light-up fridges – and this is only number five.

4. Verka Serduchka – Dancing Lasha Tumbai

Verka’s 2007 entry is a load of nonsense but it’s also unashamedly fun and pretty unforgettable. The tin foil Timmy Mallett lost out to Serbia’s Molitva but remains an enduring fan favourite.

3. Ruslana – Wild Dances

This was the country’s second time in the competition and they only went and won! Ruslana subsequently spent a year as an MP in the Ukrainian parliament and continues to be politically, supporting ties between Ukraine and the EU and campaigning on human rights. The song’s good, too.

2. Maria Yaremchuk – Tick-Tock

The man in a hamster wheel in Love, Love, Peace, Peace? This is where that’s from. It’s a simple idea that works brilliantly and fits the song perfectly. Mariya came sixth in the 2014 final.

1. Svetlana Loboda – Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)

It might have been the least successful of the five, coming 12th in 2009, but this is my winner. What a first glance look like hamster wheels rotate outwards for Svetlana and her dancers, who are dressed like a Barbarella version of Roman centurions – someone in Ukraine really likes silver. The backing track is funky, Svetlana bangs the drums in the bridge, and the song has the best chorus of the lot. And then there’s the dance move at 1m40s. Anti-crisis BOM.

Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 2 May 11

Do you like white outfits? Do you love male-female duets? Do you crave male-female duets where they’re both dressed in white? Then semi-final two has been made for you!

After some upsets on Tuesday – Finland being the biggest expected qualifier knocked out – tonight it’s the second set of songs vying for places in Saturday’s final. And they are these.

Serbia
If the opening part of this song seems strangely familiar, I reckon it’s because it’s the Sugababes’ About You Now. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as that. There’s a white dress, a shirtless dancer doing a cool/weird backwards routine and a good button at the very end of the number, but it’s not enough.

Austria
Nathan Trent sports the second white outfit of the night. And too-short trousers with no socks. Seriously, people, this has to stop. Nathan is a charismatic performer which will help (as long as he doesn’t disappear completely into dry ice) but the song is bland up until the finale, which is pretty overblown.

Macedonia
Can we stop with the performers’ own faces on the video wall please? There were a couple of act in this year’s Melodifestivalen that did this and it’s weird if not downright egotistical. The song itself is fine but nothing special and destined for mid-table obscurity.

Malta
A white dress? Great idea! This is an elegant Eurovision ballad with the best singing of the show so far but, like so many Eurovision ballads before it, the song doesn’t really go anywhere – including, potentially, the final.

Romania
Yodelling and rapping, together at last in the night’s first duet. I don’t even know if this is a pastiche but it’s a hot mess. Naff choreography, nonsense lyrics and a video background drawn by a three-year-old child make it memorable even if Alex doesn’t fall off his glittery canon (not a euphemism). It’s pretty dreadful, so in many ways the entry the UK audience has been waiting for.

Netherlands
Hello to the best harmonies in the competition. The staging and backing track are minimalist, focusing rightly on the three performers, who lift what could be quite a mediocre track. A final place surely awaits.

Hungary
Missing the traditional eastern Europe folk song vibe? Fear not – Hungary deliver, although sadly not playing the kvinnaböske. There’s rapping too, and then the song kind of just stops at the end. Points added for good pyro. Points deducted for the top knot.

Denmark
This starts off middling and gets much stronger as it goes through, with some big notes adding interest. Look out for the golden shower at the end.

Ireland
Yes, there’s a hot air balloon. No, I don’t know why. Dressed in white, of course, Brendan Murray does a perfectly good job and looks and sounds about 15 so I’m not going to be mean about his song. And therefore have nothing else to say.

San Marino
On her third appearance at Eurovision, I joked that San Marino is so small that Valentina Monetta is the only singer they have. Well, she’s back again. As if to disprove my point, she’s found a friend to duet with. As if to prove my point, he’s American. I actually really dislike the harmonies they’ve chosen but the song’s fun (if you can stomach hearing the phrase “spirit of the night” 300 times in three minutes) and sounds like it has not one, not two, but three key changes!

Croatia
Get your face off the big screen! Jeez. So… Jacques is talented. He can sing high pitched pop. He can sing bassy opera. Alternating between them both? Urgh. This would be great in cabaret; at Eurovision it feels like a gimmick, and I say that as someone who liked Cezar and Malena Ernman. The song could stand on its own without the operatic parts.

Norway
For those counting, it’s another white shirt. At first glance I wasn’t expecting to like this but it’s a really good package: lyric-packed verses, fun (and controversial!) vocal samples, an unusual middle eight and a strong chorus.

Switzerland
It’s an OK ballad with an OK chorus. There’s not much else to say other than the singer’s dress is twice as tall as she is.

Belarus
It’s a duet. They’re dressed in white. Tick off your bingo squares and down your drinks. They seem to be having a lovely time, so that’s something.

Bulgaria
This is OK when it eventually gets going. Maybe it could be a One Direction b-side? Are they still a thing?

Lithuania
I like the brassy backing track. The melody, if there is one in there somewhere, not so much. This is another one that starts going off towards the end, once you’ve already written it off. Still, brass.

Estonia
Our final duet and our final singer in white (although Israel has some dancers in white still to come). It’s a long show and at this point I’m struggling to tell what they’re going for here. Is it a love song? Is it a song about regret? Is it advertising package holidays to Verona? For all that, the singers work well together and the overall effect is surprisingly endearing.

Israel
It’s another face on the big screen although at least this time it explodes. Imri Ziv closes the semi-final with an uptempo banger. Bookies might be offering odds on some of the high notes but their quality matters less in this number than in the big ballads.

Picking ten to put through the final was hard because I’m not sure I would put ten through. However, I’ll go for:
Malta
Romania (because I don’t want to deprive UK viewers of it)
Netherlands
Hungary
Denmark
San Marino (for the key changes)
Norway
Switzerland
Estonia
Israel

Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 1 May 08

Time out is gone – the quest is on. Singers representing 42 countries have assembled in Kiev for the world’s greatest festival of music and wind machines: the Eurovision Song Contest.

The fun kicks off on Tuesday night with the first of the two semi-finals, and this is the one in which UK viewers can vote. Here are the runners are riders.

Sweden
Robin Bengtsson was the winner of SVT’s rigorous Melodifestivalen selection process so you can expect a slick performance. They wisely inserted the word “freaking” to replace a swearier lyric after its victory in the Melfest heats. The staging will particular appeal to fans of Waterloo Underground station and the Debenhams Blue Cross sale. A stronger opener.

Georgia
Fiery staging. Big sing. Reminiscent of a Bond theme. Plagiarise like a Phoenix.

Australia
Performed well but this is the weakest of their three entries so far and pretty dull to watch.

Albania
Lindita has quite the pair of lungs. There’s an OK hook in here but when the clocks from the Doctor Who title sequence appear the video wall behind her, I’ll be looking at the time.

Belgium
Blanche has a gloriously deep voice but seems incredibly uncomfortable on stage. The lyrics make me think of Kenny Loggins’s Danger Zone.

Montenegro
If you’ve been worried that Eurovision has traded in its campiness for slick professionalism, worry no longer. This is not a performance you’ll forget – and not just because Slavko uses his hair as a propeller.

Finland
It’s not just the title, “Blackbird”, that reminds me of Anouk’s brilliant “Birds” from 2013 – this is melancholic and beautiful. Unfortunately it’s also pretty forgettable.

Azerbaijan
This has quite the staging, judging from the rehearsal footage. It’s not the only time you’ll see a performer dressed as an animal in this year’s contest, but it is the only man with a horse’s head on a stepladder.

Portugal
Portugal have returned with a slow, low key, piano bar ballad with the simplest staging possible. It could be twee as hell but instead it’s incredibly endearing and, if you’re in the right mood, surprisingly moving.

Greece
A couple of dancers from Men’s Health casting performing naff choreography do little to make this more interesting.

Poland
Poland need to take their violin and their cliché love song and sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

Moldova
I prefer this to Sunstroke Project’s previous entry, from 2010. Both the song and the choreography are straightforward and fun, and this also marks the Eurovision return of Epic Sax Guy.

Iceland
A song about paper cuts. It’s perfectly competent but got repetitive quite quickly and there’s little interest in the staging. One of way too many performers dressed in white this year.

Czech Republic
I nearly didn’t make it to the end of this. Next.

Cyprus
This track jumped out at me when I was listening to this year’s album and I still like it. It’s upbeat and catchy with a good bridge. The choreography looks a little odd in the rehearsal videos but will probably make more sense on screen alongside video backdrops.

Armenia
Visually interesting, strong singing and a doinky backing track. It’s not to my taste but it’s not bad.

Slovenia
Omar represented Slovenia in 2005, also in Kiev. You can watch that performance on YouTube – be sure to stick with it until the creepy final moments. His song this time is, you know, fine: it’s uninventive and dated but I find myself guiltily liking it despite that. The lacklustre staging won’t help it.

Latvia
A hyperactive child appears to have been let loose on the designs for this: fluorescent coloured backdrops and a costume that’s Hello Kitty does Barbarella. At least the shiny things distract from the the song, which is run-of-the-mill Eurodance.

So that’s your 18 songs, 10 of which will be promoted to the final.

The ten I’d put through:
Sweden
Albania
Belgium
Finland
Azerbaijan
Portugal
Moldova
Iceland
Cyprus
Armenia

But I’d be feeling guilty about Slovenia while I did it.

Update: Now I’ve seen more info about Slovenia’s entrant, I no longer feel guilty about not including them. Bin him.