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Eurovision 2021: The Final May 22

With the 10 qualifiers from each semi-final decided, tonight they head to the final to join the six pre-qualifiers: the Big Five countries of France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK, and the host country, the Netherlands. You can see my initial thoughts on the qualifiers in my semi-final 1 and semi-final 2 previews.

While the bookies obviously have their favourites, this is an unusually open Contest, which is very welcome. There are at least half a dozen countries in with a good chance and few that I would be shocked or disappointed to see win.

What has become clear from the semi-finals is that the EBU has been overly lenient in enforcing its new rule allowing pre-recorded “backing vocals”, with some artists getting support for the main vocal.

Let’s take a look at the 26 runners and riders.

  1. Cyprus – Having overcome absurd controversy from the Church of Cyprus, El Diablo powered through to the final and opens the show. It’s a confident, energetic performance with good use of fuego to make sure you don’t forget the title.
  2. Albania – A dark horse qualifier from Thursday night, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. Anxhela will put in a strong performance but I don’t expect this to make the left-hand side of the scoreboard.
  3. Israel – I had this down as Tuesday’s nonqualifying banger, but that misfortune went to Croatia instead. Eden is charismatic and the song is staged well, with a set of whistle notes thrown in at the end as a memorable extra and a bit of jury bait,. I’m not a fan of them although they sounded more pleasant in the semi-final than I was expecting.
  4. Belgium – Hooverphonic have been around for years and know exactly what they’re doing. With The Wrong Place, they bring a distinct, dark sound and a calm staging that focuses attention on the song. There is definitely an audience for this among both jury members and televoters.
  5. Russia – I have a lot of respect for Manizha’s style and approach. She’s a human rights advocate who’s brought a song promoting women’s liberation in Russia. Her semi-final performance has racked up millions of views on YouTube, especially at home. This song’s biggest barrier for voters in western Europe is that the most pointed lyrics are in Russian.
  6. Malta – Former favourite Destiny, who comes in having already won the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2015, has slipped down the odds a little having led a couple of weeks ago. Sixth in the running order isn’t a great spot to win from but her powerful voice can’t be written off.
  7. Portugal – The vocal style is a matter of taste but Love Is On My Side is the closest to Easy Listening we get this evening. It’s going to be fighting for votes with Hooverphonic and in that match-up the winners will most likely be the Belgians.
  8. Serbia – A big energy banger from the Contest’s only girl group. These three singers strut across the huge stage as if they own it, flick their hair with no fear of whiplash, and belt out the lyrics with gusto – thereby achieving the ritual summoning of Eurovision pyrotechnics. They deserve to do well.
  9. United KingdomEmbers is fun, upbeat and, for the first time since 2014, is co-written by our representative. But while the staging is superficially quite different from 2015, the overall aesthetic feels like a retread of Electro Velvet and that did not go well. In other circumstances I could see this doing OK, but the 2021 final is packed with contenders and I fear this is going to get lost.
  10. Greece – Stefania was let down in semi-final 2 by the weaknesses of Greece’s green screen choreography, with shadows undermining the effect throughout. Hopefully it works better in the final. It does distract from the song, which she performs well, but it also provides a much-needed hook.
  11. Switzerland – Gjon’s Tears has eschewed his song’s most obvious staging where he just emotes at a piano. Instead, he stands on a stark white structure and underlines his unique vocal delivery with jabbing hand movements with moments of balletic dance. This remains a challenger for the win – its biggest problem is that it’s not the only heartfelt Francophone ballad among the favourites.
  12. Iceland – Having been denied the chance to perform at the 2020 Contest by its cancellation, Daði Freyr and his group Gagnamagnið have been thwarted by the covs once more: a positive test has forced them to isolate in their hotel instead of taking to the stage. Fortunately, they already had an extremely solid second rehearsal in the can and this will be shown instead to enable them to compete. This is a brilliant three minutes, from the winning vocals and touching lyrics through to the amazing homemade instruments, the illuminated rings created by Daði’s sister, the wind machine, the gawky choreography, the video graphics from the tie-in Gagnamagnið smartphone game and the crowdsourced 1,000-person choir for the middle eight (full disclosure: includes me). Absolutely deserves I high placing and I’m sure it’ll be getting votes from the UK.
  13. Spain – The second prequalifier of the night is Spain, with a staging that saw the glowing ball in Duncan Laurence’s winning 2019 performance and decided to go big. Despite the emotion of the song, it is in Spanish and it’s the least memorable ballad in the final so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this languish near the bottom of the table.
  14. Moldova – With less competition from other bangers in the second semi-final than the first, this made it through to Saturday night. To be fair to Natalia, she delivers this well, but it remains a fairly lacklustre staging after such a colourful and creative music video.
  15. Germany – I don’t like Marmite but I do like loveable goofball Jendrik and his twee marvel I Don’t Feel Hate. This will split audiences something chronic, featuring such potential turnoffs as unsubtle lyrics, a speech in German, a woman dressed as a hand (the middle finger of the lyrics replaced with a peace sign), and a ukulele. But chuck in some tap dancing, a genuine message and tons of charisma and it really is hard to hate. It’s too divisive to win but if Jendrik can turn in a strong performance tonight then this may yet reach a comfortable spot in the middle of the scoreboard (and above the two other Big Five members who have already performed).
  16. Finland – Middle-finger-gate continues with Blind Channel. The lyrics of their “violent pop” song entreat us to put our middle fingers up but the band aren’t allowed to, so instead they’ve coloured them all red. Dark Side absolutely walked the Finnish national final with more public votes than all the other competitors added together and it will appeal to a big chunk of the televote audience across Europe too. It could finish anywhere on the board but I’d expect higher rather than lower.
  17. Bulgaria – Bulgaria have never won the Contest but are pulling out all the stops this year. Victoria sits alone on a rock as the sands of time pass, a simple and effective staging that reinforces the emotion of the song. If voters would prefer an English language ballad to win, this is the one.
  18. Lithuania – The Roop have slipped below the radar for a couple of reasons. Lithuania’s national final was one of the first this year and as a result Discoteque has become to fans more like an old friend than a fresh new contender. This is even more so because the choreography and staging has stuck closely to both the music video and the national final performance – and the band and their dancers turn it out perfectly every single time. But that familiarity doesn’t exist for the vast majority of viewers across Europe tonight who will be seeing it for the first time – and hopefully loving it. Lithuania’s best result was sixth place in 2006 and they’ve only reached the top 10 once since. This should change that.
  19. Ukraine – OK, I admit it: Shum has grown on me. I find Go_A’s sound quite jarring but the live version coupled with a really nice staging concept has won me over. With no competition tonight for the dance music vote, a plum spot in the running order and a memorable sound, this could pick up a lot of votes.
  20. France – Barbara Pravi won the most recent of Junior Eurovision as a songwriter and now she and her co-writer are taking on the adult show. It’s not first time France have tried chanson this century but it’s by far the most accessible. As with her all-conquering national final performance, which had one of the judges in tears, the camera is focused on Barbara throughout as she channels Piaf and Brel. She is unlucky to follow Ukraine, becaue the two songs with dramatic accelerandos are now next to each other, but Voilà remains France’s best hope for a win since the early 1990s. I’d welcome it too, as a message to naysayers in the UK that the right song can immediately turn a country’s fortunes around (and France have lacked a win for 20 years longer than we have).
  21. AzerbaijanMata Hari is not clever and it’s not originial (even if the song it’s copying is Efendi’s own entry from 2020), but it is engaging and enjoyable and 21 songs in that’s just fine.
  22. Norway – Sometimes simplicity to works. Fallen Angel isn’t musically challenging and the staging is pretty obvious – but the tune is catchy and the look is memorable. TIX is huge in Norway but his bling-laden persona risks coming over as pastiche so it’ll be interesting to see whether the rest of Europe takes him seriously tonight. (It was the UK Eurovision fan club’s online party last night and that featured seven recreations of 2021 entries – including my version of Fallen Angel.)
  23. Netherlands – Jeangu Macrooy was due to perform for the host nation in 2020 with Grow, a song that really needed more than three minutes to…grow. This year he’s gone for a very different sound. Birth of a New Age draws on his roots in Suriname and with colour and energy celebrates that culture and the resilience of enslaved people. When the song was unveiled with a live performance, it felt a bit empty. In the Eurovision staging, though, everything meshes together perfectly and this becomes properly anthemic. Host countries don’t tend to do well but this deserves a solid placing.
  24. Italy – Like Ukraine’s and Russia’s songs before it, Ziiti e Buoni is another song that fans go wild for that I wish I could feel the same about. I think partly the issue is that for some this is raw sex on stage; for me it’s a competent rock group wearing a bit of eyeliner. I do like my Eurovision songs to be lyric-heavy so I appreciate Damiano spitting out Italian syllables like a Gatling gun, but despite utilising every pyrotechnic available (moderation in all things…) this still leaves me cold. Not that I’d begrudge it a victory, if it can overcome votes splitting with Finland: it’s been over 30 years since an Italian victory.
  25. Sweden – A lot of fans seem to begrudge Sweden their success. I absolutely don’t but they do seem to have slipped into a bit of a rut with a certain type of staging and performance than begins to feel by the numbers. Tusse himself deserves to do well but I wonder if rather than inspiring the audience this will actually be a relatively weak result of Eurovision’s powerhouse.
  26. San Marino – I am quietly rooting for San Marino. This is only the third time the plucky microstate have made the final and they’ve done it with style, flying in Flo Rida to rap alongside singer Senhit. She has thrown herself into the Eurovision project, filling the last year with an eclectic range of cover version videos, and in Adrenalina has followed up last year’s Freaky! (which probably wouldn’t have qualified) with a modern Eurovision classic. Their best result so far is 19th in the final; this should blow that out of the water.

So there are your 26 songs. The quality has been so high this year I would be happy with almost any of them winning. It’s probably between France, Malta, Switzerland and Italy but I wouldn’t rule out Bulgaria or Ukraine either – and I love how unpredictable it feels.

I will be quietly (and not so quietly) rooting for three countries that have never won: Iceland, Lithuania and San Marino.

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Eurovision 2021: Semi-final 2 May 19

This Thursday sees another 17 acts take to the stage to compete for a spot in Saturday’s final.

Sadly, after putting in great performances, six countries had to leave the competition on Tuesday night. And so, we say farewell to North Macedonia, Australia, Ireland, Romania, Slovenia and, surprisingly, Croatia. I had 9/10 qualifiers right in my own predictions (a rare occurrence), with Croatia taking the spot that went to Israel. One of the Big Four Bangers had to go and there was little to choose between them.

With one more act taking part in the second semi-final competition is fiercer – although there is perhaps a little less competition vying with the best of the bunch.

  1. San Marino – Ever since Senhit dropped her track Adrenalina, one of the biggest questions of this year’s Contest has been will “feat. Flo Rida” be the case in the live performance too? Special dispensation was given for a stand-in rapper to take part in last week’s rehearsals and now it’s been confirmed that Mr Rida is indeed in Rotterdam. He’s a big name and could propel this high, but let’s not forget the song itself: even without the celebrity addition, this is the best entry San Marino have ever sent to Eurovision.
  2. Estonia – Over time there is a risk that the supposedly doomed number 2 spot in the running order becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with the broadcaster assigning it to the dreariest ballad with the lowest chance of winning. And that’s what’s happened here.
  3. Czech Republic – This is a bop with a distinct sound that sets it apart from everything else in the competition and Benny Cristo is arguably the most charismatic performer in the Contest. It’s by no means a dead cert to make the final but it absolutely deserves to be.
  4. Greece – A twisted Eurovision Henry Ford appears to have decreed that this year’s staging is “Any colour as long as it’s pink.” This is more at the purple end of the spectrum but it’s still very much of the 80s neon feel we’ll see elsewhere. This song does nothing for me but everyone’s going to be distracted by the…inventive green screen choreography.
  5. Austria – I have a lot more affection for this sadboi ballad than other Eurovision fans. It has a funereal tone that maybe isn’t ideal when we’re still all trying to cope with The Event, but as part of an overall mix of songs I think it’s absolutely fine. The second Amen in this year’s competition, the second presented by an excellent vocalist, and probably the second to get knocked out.
  6. Poland – This is a strange one. The song is – how you say? – “basic”. The staging, with more pinks and 80s neon, is A Bit Much. The strength of the vocal remains to be seen. Overall it’s like Jon Ola Sand has come back with an entry of his own. It’s probably not going to the final. (NB: In Rafał we have the first act for tonight who wasn’t due to represent their country in 2020 – if you don’t count “feat. Flo Rida”.)
  7. Moldova – If Croatia was the shock non-qualifier banger on Tuesday, Moldova could well be the banger we lose tonight. After capturing fans’ attention with a music video in which singer Natalia literally eats a man’s cakehole, the unimaginative staging has been a letdown. Coupled with a song, Sugar, that’s a bit too manufactured and, well, saccharine, I wouldn’t count on this making it through. If it does, it’ll be the lower banger quotient of this semi that helps it.
  8. Iceland – The Icelandic legend that is Daði Freyr is back alongside his entirely made-up group Gagnamagnið. So much effort has gone into this. A crowdsourced choir of 1,000 people to do prerecorded backing vocals. Beautiful homemade “instruments”. The latest evolution of his iconic shirt design. Video graphics that tie in with a smartphone game featuring the band. And a song, the third in a trilogy, that reflects on a decade with his wife (who is also on stage and heavily pregnant). It’s not fair to compare the song to last year’s Think About Things, which has already become a modern classic. Instead, compare it to the other songs tonight, and on that basis it goes straight to the final. (NB: A positive coronavirus test sadly means this won’t now be performed live. An as-live rehearsal recording from last week will be used, which should be 98% as good.)
  9. Serbia – The Contest’s only girl group this year is Hu-hu-hu-hurricane and they have not come to mess about. Treading ground similar to last year’s Hasta La Vista, Loco Loco is a ballsy banger. And, unlike every other banger, there are no additional dancers: the stage belongs to these three women alone.
  10. Georgia – Are you attracted by the thought of a serial killer locking eyes with you for three minutes while he sings a dull yet unpredictable song about you? Then you’re in luck. I will say this for Tornike: he confounds expectations. Especially if your expectation is to see this on Saturday.
  11. Albania – Albania always do Albania and good for them. Karma is a midtempo number well sung but also broadly forgettable among everything else on offer tonight. (NB: Anxhela is a new representative for 2021 having won her country’s national selection.)
  12. Portugal – The Belgium of semi-final 2, at almost the same point in the running order, The Black Mamba are an experienced band who know exactly what they’re doing. It’s a simple melody with a solid guitar break although the vocal style might not be for everyone. It’s a shame the group didn’t bring the funkier sound from some of their other songs but I think this might just sneak through to the final via the same demographic who voted for Hooverphonic. (NB: The first entry from Portugal sung entirely in English and another new act who’ve come through a national final.)
  13. Bulgaria – If Portugal are the Belgium of semi-final 2, Bulgaria are the Romania, in exactly the same running order spot. The difference is that Victoria is going to the final. She’s an excellent performer and the staging is calm but effective, focusing on and amplifying her and her song. As with Iceland, don’t compare her song with last year’s; compare it with the competition.
  14. Finland – Blind Channel didn’t just beat last year’s chosen act Aksel in Finland’s national final: they got more public votes than all the other competitors added together. That’s a lot of support to have going into Eurovision. This is loud, aggressive rock but also melodic (the band call it “violent pop”) and should easily appeal to enough of the televote audience in particular to qualify.
  15. Latvia – I love Samanta Tīna. She’s been trying to get to Eurovision for years, having entered both the Latvian and Lithuanian national finals. She made it through last year with Still Breathing, which kept things on just the right side of too absurd, but she’s gone bigger this year with The Moon Is Rising. I fear it’s passed the sweet spot where inventive and accessible meet and will deter as many people as it attracts. She will put on a show though and I really hope she does better than I expect.
  16. Switzerland – After Malta from semi-final 1, we have another of the favourites in 16th spot, with a completely different type of song. As last year, Gjon’s Tears has brought us a Francophone ballad that showcases his high vocal range and emotive delivery. But whereas we all assumed this would be performed sitting at a piano à la 2019 winner Duncan Laurence, this is a choreographed staging including balletic movement from Gjon. I’m fascinated to see how it works: it could detract from the song but it could equally propel him back up to favourite. Either way, he’s qualifying.
  17. Denmark – After Gjon’s monochrome sincerity, the neon is back for the gloriously 1980s closing number from Denmark who, as if it really were Eurovision in the eighties, are singing in Danish alongside a line-up of on-stage backing vocalists. Fyr og Flamme (“Fire and Flame”) are another national final winner who weren’t on the 2020 roster. Conventional wisdom says this is a qualification risk, not helped by the language choice, but I love it and I know so many people who also love it that I can’t believe we won’t see its joy again on Saturday.

The seven countries I expect to go out are Albania, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Poland and Georgia. If you want to save them, you can try as semi-final 2 is the one in which the UK gets to vote. I expect to be dialling up for San Marino, Iceland and Denmark.

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Eurovision 2021: Semi-final 1 May 17

So it’s been a while since we’ve done this. The 2020 Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled but this year it’s back and more than half of the artists taking part are returnees from 2020.

The quality of this year’s songs is particularly good but I’ll caveat that by saying that’s on average with a smaller standard deviation. While the overall quality is high, there are fewer songs that immediately stand out as great (or bad).

Here’s a look at who’s taking part in the first semi-final on Tuesday night. Hot takes incoming!

  1. Lithuania – The Roop were one of the 2020 favourites and they’re back this year with an even better song. They’ve managed to incorporate elements of their 2020 choreography in a way that feels like a respectful nod rather than an imitation. Discoteque may be inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic but it’s an energetic bop that deserves to give Lithuania their best ever result.
  2. Slovenia – As a way to enable delegations to keep their numbers to a minimum if they wanted, pre-recorded backing vocals are allowed at Eurovision this year. Ana Soklič, another 2020 returnee, is one of the acts taking full advantage of this, with a gospel choir ready at the push of a button. Amen isn’t a hugely strong entry and I don’t expect it to make it to the final, but if it does it will be on the back of Ana’s powerful vocals.
  3. Russia – A number of artists have taken unfair stick from commentators in their home countries this year. Manizha is a human rights advocate who was born in what is now Tajikistan. That combined with a song whose message promotes women’s liberation in Russia has annoyed the kind of nationalists who deserve to be annoyed. For that reason, I hope this does qualify – but I’m afraid the song itself is something I’d actively turn off if it came on the radio.
  4. Sweden – They’re the country so many other Eurovision entrants aspire to be and once again they’ve brought a performance polished to within an inch of its life. Teenage singer Tusse is a great performer who should have a big career ahead of him but Voices risks being almost too clinical and by the numbers to do better than their fifth placing in 2019.
  5. Australia – Coronavirus restrictions mean returning 2020 artist Montaigne hasn’t made the long journey to Rotterdam and instead will appear in a prerecorded “live-to-tape” performance. Her song, Technicolour, is a bit of a hot mess but the preview clips suggest they’ve gone with the best possible version of it. Could that save it from being Australia’s first non-qualifier?
  6. North Macedonia – Vasil is another 2020 entrant who’s returned and, like Manizha, has been subject to unwarranted negative press at home that managed to combine nationalism with more than a hint of homophobia. But after a wobble the broadcaster stood behind him and he’s able to perform his musical theatre 11 o’clock number Here I Stand on the Eurovision stage. As with fellow former Yugoslav republic Slovenia, I don’t see this making the final but if it does it will be on the back of Vasil’s vocal performance, which it feels designed to showcase.
  7. Ireland – Lesley Roy is back from 2020 too, this time with the upbeat pop track Maps. Rehearsal footage suggests this will have the most complex staging of this year’s Contest. That could be a spectacle that propels this into this final – or it could end up distracting from the song itself.
  8. Cyprus – It was the church in Cyprus that campaign against El Diablo, having taken the title just a little bit too literally. But Elena confirmed that when she sings that she is in love with the devil, it’s actually a metaphor rather than a confession of Satan worship, so I hope that’s put everyone’s minds at rest. After a misstep with their 2020 selection, Cyprus are back with another Fuego-style banger. Correct decision.
  9. Norway – This is a funny one. Fallen Angel is simple and catchy. It dominated the Melodi Grand Prix competition in Norway, beating fan favourites KEiiNO thanks to singer-songwriter TIX’s huge popularity. But it remains to be seen how well that translates to an international audience, especially with a stage persona that borders on pastiche. It will at least be memorable – although the producers have cheekily put the two angel/demon stagings back to back.
  10. Croatia – Albina won her country’s national selection to bring the second female-singer-with-4/5-dancers banger to semi-final 1. Tick-Tock is arguably the best of the four (four!) but it remains to be seen if they can all make it through or if the votes will split and let something more downbeat through at their expense.
  11. Belgium – Hooverphonic are by some way the most experienced live performers here, which isn’t just a backhanded way of saying they’re older – although they are, among a very young crowd. The Wrong Place has a distinctly different sound and a very straightforward staging. That could make it stand out and appeal to (particularly) the older part of the audience – or it could sink without a trace. NB: Only two-thirds of Hooverphonic are returning from 2020.
  12. Israel – Eden Alene returns from 2020 with another uptempo number – our third female-singer-with-4/5-dancers banger. It’s not the most memorable song which the team seem to have attempted to mitigate by adding a set of whistle notes to the climax. It’s an impressive vocal feat that Eden seems more than capable of achieving – but, personally, I think they sound horrible.
  13. Romania – It almost seems like a self-fulfilling prophesy if you call your song Amnesia but it looks like this is doomed to be forgotten. Roxen is another 2020 act back for 2021 with her low key style. Sadly I don’t see this having any of the ingredients required to take her into the final.
  14. Azerbaijan – Last year Efendi was going to bring a song called Cleopatra. This year she’s back with Mata Hari. I almost hope that the next 10 years see her bring an increasing array of songs about women from history. Unfortunately, where The Roop managed to build on their 2020 song, Efendi has knocked it off. The sound is much too similar and the lyrics even acknowledge that Mata Hari is “like Cleopatra”. The fourth and least deserving of our bangers.
  15. Ukraine – Шум (Shum) is something of a fan favourite. It’s a mashup of dance music and Ukrainian folk singing which certainly distinguishes it from its competition thanks to its unique sound. It doesn’t appeal to me but I can at least see why people like it.
  16. Malta – Ever since Destiny won the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2015, there has been an expectation that she would go on to represent her country in the adult version. That chance was denied her last year when the Contest was cancelled but she’s back this year and it’s with a better song. Je Me Casse was an early favourite and while the choice of staging has seen its odds lengthen it’s definitely still worth an each-way punt. It’s closing the semi-final for a reason.

Ten songs will go through to the final on Saturday. Before their disqualification, Belarus had been drawn to take part in this show too, which means six rather than seven songs will be eliminated. That eases up the pressure on the other acts but only very slightly.

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Eurovision 2019: The Final May 18

Twenty songs have made it through the semi-finals to join the six pre-qualifiers for the final. I’m pleased to report that 9/10 of my predictions for semi-final 2 were correct, with just Croatia failing to make it through, displaced by North Macedonia. Tamara joins Italy, France, Germany, Spain, hosts Israel and of course the UK, who didn’t have any of that rigmarole to deal with.

So who’s up tonight? There’s pride, northern lights, BDSM, partying and more songs inspired by last year’s Fuego than anyone needs – especially when there will be an interval performance of Fuego too.

Malta

What could be more appropriate then than to open with a Fauxgo. The chorus is a bit nothing (by way of Culture Club) but after a lot of work the staging really reflects the message of the song – whatever that is.

Why it should win: Malta has never won, although backing singer Destiny won the 2015 Junior Eurovision.

Albania

Passionately sung in Albanian, this made it through the semis as many eastern European entries fell by the wayside.

Why it should win: Jonida is a full-on Eurovision diva.

Czech Republic

Lake Malawi bring a modern interpretation of late 90s mockney Britpop to Eurovision. It’s charming and has colourful, effective staging that really suits the song.

Why it should win: They’re the only ones representing this musical style and will appeal to a section of the audience not catered for elsewhere.

Germany

Oh, Germany. This is a dreary, cynical, overcooked borefest of a song that would have crashed and burned in a semi-final if it hadn’t prequalified. Despite their claim at the semi-final, the name of the group and the name of song, these two are not actually sisters. Fact: one of the writers of this is also a credited writer on both the UK and Swiss entries, which are, respectively, bigger and better.

Why it should win: It made it through the national final so someone must like it.

Russia

Sergey Lazarev came third (and won the televote) in 2016 with an uptempo number so trying again with a worthy ballad was a bit of a risk. Russia have, of course, thrown everything at this, but while there are good ideas in the staging and the song, it doesn’t hang together for me. The last section is by some way the best, as it always should be, but the overall package is less than its parts for me.

Why it should win: A lush orchestral track and some excellent vocal work from Sergey and his backing vocalists.

Denmark

Old skool, multilingual Eurovision tweeness served up from a giant chair – although where Leonora seamlessly appeared on the chair in the national final, hear she has to clamber up a ladder. This song is super twee but kind of nice for those who can stomach it. If you’re open to it, this song will wrap you in its cotton wool ball of love and take you to Cloudcukooland. And if you’re not, the sweetness will make you vomit.

Why it should win: Nogen synger på dansk for første gang siden 1997!

San Marino

The second in a double bill of sweetness and light with this simple, bright number from Serhat. He’s already gone one better than last time he was at Eurovision by becoming the country’s second ever qualifier. He’d lost his voice a bit on Tuesday but hopefully he’ll pull off the vocals tonight.

Why it should win: It’s unadulterated fun.

North Macedonia

The rebranded North Macedonia has reached the final on its first attempt and clearly made an impact on Tuesday. Tamara’s vocals are great and the images on the video screen manage to avoid being too on the nose. Both this and Russia’s song have a lovely brief moment of silence. Impossible to say if it’s the same silence.

Why it should win: It’s about empowering women (unfortunately in semi-final 2 it was immediately followed by a man singing “Shut up”).

Sweden

John Lundvik won the Swedish selection show Melodifestivalen at his second attempt – and he didn’t just win: he left the competition in his dust. He knows exactly what to do and how to do it – and backing vocalists the Mamas sound fab too. As far as I can tell, London-born John is the first lead performer in the contest ever to have (co-)written a competitor country’s song. Which one? Why ours, of course…

Why it should win: Sweden are very good at Eurovision – and another victory would put them neck-and-neck with Ireland with seven wins.

Slovenia

I confess to being a little surprised that this made it to the final but it clearly has its fans. It’s a low key number performed in a low key way, singer Zala staring into musician Gašper’s eyes throughout. It should be lovely but the effect is borderline creepy and it keeps her from connecting with the audience.

Why it should win: They’re doing their own thing.

Cyprus

Hailing from the same country as Fuego, the appropriately named Replay is another song that’s taken inspiration from Eleni Foureira’s second place. It’s a different song of course, however much some excellent mashups might leave you feeling otherwise, but it’s nevertheless got the same energic approach to staging.

Why it should win: Like Judi Dench’s Oscar for a cameo in Shakespeare in Love, Cyprus almost deserves a belated win just for the legacy of Fuego.

Netherlands

This has been the bookies’ favourite from the start and still is today. It’s slow and thoughtful and has an original sound although it’s never done it for me. The production team have rightly kept the staging simple to focus on the song but they may have gone too far – for much of the song, it’s Duncan singing distantly while sitting awkwardly at a piano and then an incongruous lamp appears. If it doesn’t win, it’ll be because of the staging.

Why it should win: Eurovision in the Netherlands would be pretty convenient.

Greece

And we immediately follow up with another song that’s a fan favourite but just connect with me. Good message, distinctive voice (could be a good thing or not)… but it’s not a song I’d buy or choose to listen to. The staging is rather busy.

Why it should win: Fencing and flora, together at last.

Israel

The host country has opted to go as far away from Netta’s eclectic style as it’s possible to get. Kobi Marimi sings a musical theatre style song lyrically and with power – too much power, perhaps, as sometimes it feels like he’s showing off his voice rather than telling a story. I don’t much like his vocal tone, which is a personal thing, and sadly the song itself is pretty uninspiring.

Why it should win: You can hear him singing in Tel Aviv without amplification.

Norway

Atmospheric verses, catchy pop choruses and Sámi joik delivered by talented singers – it’s a perfect Eurovision recipe. KEiiNO themselves have been enjoying every part of the Eurovision journey – hanging out with fans, covering other competitors’ songs and embracing the camp and the fun of Eurovision throughout the journey. They suffered in the jury final last night when camera shots went wrong during part of the song so all the more reason to get your televote in for them tonight – UK Eurovision fans love this and I’m betting UK viewers will too. It’s never been near winning in the bookies’ odds but the song and the band are great and I hope it gets a strong final placing.

Why it should win: It combines pop with a native folk style in the best traditions of Eurovision in a way that will leave you humming it for days.

United Kingdom

I didn’t think much of the choices the BBC gave us at this year’s You Decide but this has at least grown on me – partly because Michael Rice’s performance has just got better and better. There’s a risk that after singing it for months, he entertains himself with Whitney-esque vocal embellishments that detract from the song. I really have no idea where this’ll end up – recent history suggests it’ll be in the 20s but it could yet appeal enough to be higher.

Why it should win: Michael Rice won All Together Now and there’s no question that he can sing this well.

Iceland

The title of this song by anti-capitalist BDSM art boys Hatari translates as “hatred will prevail”, but it’s very much meant as a warning rather than a goth demand. Amongst the PVC, fire, metal cage and harsh vocals, this has a musicality to it and a political point to make (inasmuch as that is allowed). Iceland loved them and Eurovision will too.

Why it should win: Because Jon Ola Sand would be terrified.

Estonia

We won’t know until after the final how the semi-final votes broke down but this looked for a while on Tuesday like it might be in danger of not qualifying. It’s a straight-down-the-line pop rock number co-written by backing vocalist Stig Rästa, who reached 7th place in 2015 with Elina Born performing the excellent Goodbye to Yesterday. It’s good if inoffensive but will need a stronger performance tonight to hit the top 10.

Why it should win: Victor was born in Sweden.

Belarus

I’ve liked Like It since seeing ZENA’s national final performance and it’s great to see that this has made it to the final. It’s upbeat, fun and youth-oriented (greetings, fellow kids!) and features some ridiculously athletic dancers who can backflip at the drop of a hat. ZENA is just 16 but has already hosted the Junior Eurovision Song Contest.

Why it should win: It’s a bop.

Azerbaijan

Catchy song, handsome man, dance beat, innovative staging and lots of – ahem – supportive offstage backing vocals. This could be a dark horse for the top 5.

Why it should win: Robot arms.

France

Bilal has been living his best life at Eurovision and has deployed a brand new blond wig especially for this performance. The song is about being who you are and not letting other people take you down, which may not be the most original message at Eurovision (hi, Conchita!), but it’s one that bears repeating. There’s a possibility his live vocals will leave a little to be desired but memorable staging and Bilal’s charisma will lift this up.

Why it should win: It really would show the haterz.

Italy

Another act who’s had to deal with negative reaction to him at home is Mahmood, who found his selection being criticised by one of Italy’s more unpleasant right wing politicians. He’s already shown the foolishness of those comments by pwning the charts with Soldi. It’s hard to predict how this will go down: it’s been a massive grower for me but I didn’t like it to begin with and first impressions are vital at Eurovision.

Why it should win: An original sound and a strong story. And clap-claps!

Serbia

Nevena brings a big set of lungs to croon Kruna. She gives a strong vocal performance and that is very much the focus – there’s not a lot else going on and that’s a wise decision.

Why it should win: The best female vocal of the night.

Switzerland

We’re into the home stretch with three bangers to finish us off. The first comes courtesy of Luca Hänni, who won Germany’s equivalent of Pop Idol in 2012. She Got Me has a full-on dance routine but he doesn’t let it impede his vocals. Presumably they wanted to call the song Dirty Dancing but worried about getting sued.

Why it should win: It’s this year’s most effective Fuego-adjacent entry

Australia

It’s popera. It’s dramatic. It’s meaningful. It’s Wicked. And I suspect this won semi-final 1. It’s another one that’s been a grower but in this case the staging really helped me fall in love with it. My only criticism of the inventive sky aerobics involved here is that they’re actually much cooler when you can see the giant poles and the work involved, but these are artily obscured for much of the song.

Why it should win: An expertly sung popera track about depression with the year’s move inventive staging. Plus Kate sounds like she’d be a scream down the pub.

Spain

And finally the last of the Big Five and the last song of the night: La Venda (“the blindfold”). This was one of the first songs selected for 2019 and I loved it immediately: the national final performance drew on the crowd for its raw energy. Over the months since, the backing track has been polished and gradually some of the life this was bursting with has been lost. Now Spain have added the staging and there are way too many ideas involved. I want the drums back, I want the crowd involved and I want the focus back on Miki.

Why it should win: It might have lost the rough edges that made it extra fun but this is still a big old party track.

There you go – it’s a good bunch. I’m inclined to think the bookies are going to be proved right and we’ll be off to the Netherlands in 2020. If they’re not, though, there’s a real chance of a return to Sweden or a groundbreaking win for Australia. Switzerland also have their best opportunity for many years to snatch a victory. And I will, of course, be voting for Norway.

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