Hello. Yes, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? But the arrival of May heralds the Coming of the Contest and Twitter just isn’t up to the task of telling all I have to tell about this year’s Eurovision.
My pre-show pontificating is divided into three posts: one for each semi-final (of which, you will correctly surmise, there are two) and one for the final. On your behalf, I’ve endured all of this year’s songs and compiled some brief thoughts. I’ve linked the country name to the song’s video on the official Eurovision YouTube channel to make it as easy as possible for you to agree with me (or disagree, if you’re crazy).
As has been the case for a few years now, the large number of participating countries means we’re treated to semi-finals in order to whittle the songs down to a barely manageable final. Fear not: the UK’s financial contribution to the competition means we never have to go through the indignity of being knocked out in the first round. We’ll be voting for the songs in second semi-final, so we’ll only get to cast formal judgement on these if they make it through to the big event, which is being held in Azerbaijan on Saturday 26th May. In some cases, I really hope we’re spared.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the countries who’ve been drawn in the first semi-final.
The ones I liked and hope to see get through to the next stage, in alphabetical order:
- Greece have a strong track record of memorable, up tempo Eurovision entries and this is very much in that vein. It’s almost Eurovision by numbers – pick a one word title (in this case the suitably exotic sounding Aphrodisiac) and contrive a song around it – with the musical production updated for 2012. I’m not complaining: this is surely one for the final and it’s the only one of the entrants to lodge itself unbidden inside my head.
- Next up is Maureen Lipman‘s favourite Eurovision country: Hungary. This one keeps just on the right side of über earnest and I really like the musical production (though how that will translate on the night is anyone’s guess). The last Hungary song I liked was Dance With Me in 2009 and that sank without a trace, so I’m hoping for better luck this time.
- Iceland will hope to put European prejudices against ash clouds and defaulting banks behind them, and with Never Forget they may. I rather like the video, with its Icelandic scenescape, but more importantly I like the song. I’m a sucker for atmospheric strings, syncopated percussion and a male-female counterpoint – even if there is a touch of Evanescence to it. Since they then add a sudden silence (which I hope survives in the live version) and a key change, I’d put this straight through to the final. (You may remember Jónsi’s cheekbones from such Eurovisions as 2004, where he performed 19th-placed power ballad Heaven.)
- Ireland – I’d never heard Jedward sing before last year’s contest, having not seen whichever talent show from which they emerged, and this year they’re back for a second helping of Eurovision. Waterline feels like it’s fallen off a Stock, Aitken and Waterman landfill of leftover pop songs, but that’s by no means a bad thing. It could do well – although I wouldn’t be surprised if the twins’ live performance falls short of the recorded version, which could impact on their chances. Either way, it needs to accompany a training montage in a 1980s action film as soon as possible.
- Moldova – It’s cheesy as sin – worse, it’s cheesy as actual cheese – but it’s one of many songs in this first semi-final with a winning cheerfulness that keeps the whole thing bouncing along quite happily. A nice instrumental in the middle and a ska jazz feel make it a keeper.
- Romania – Bagpipes, drums and accordion are all part of Zaleilah‘s charm. I suspect the lyrics mean nothing of note but this is a bit of light fun and begs to be served with rum.
There’s a disappointing dearth of truly terrible entries this year – I don’t know what the other countries think they’re playing at – but there are certainly some songs I’d like to see taken down the knacker’s yard and put out of our misery. For example…
- Austria – Yes, they are genuinely using the band name Trackshittaz. To their credit, it’s an appropriate name, because, to their deficit and excuse mon français, the track is utterly shit. Awful, shouty rubbish. Still, sung in German, “Woki mit deim Popo” sounds rude, so at least that’s entertaining.
- Denmark – I’ve often loved overlooked Danish entries (and pastries, for that matter), and now that we all love The Killing and Borgen, could it be Denmark’s year? No, no it won’t. Soluna Samay is so middle of the road, her only chance of creating excitement is if she trips over the cat’s eyes. Tiresome.
- Latvia – Oh cripes: it’s a Eurovision song about recording a song for Eurovision, and its winning no fans here with the lyric “I was born in distant 1980”. A Eurovision fan friend asked me a few weeks ago whether singer Anmary was in on the joke. I really hope so. Yes, it’s catchy, but so’s smallpox. If the lyrics were in foreign, this might be passable – as it is, it’s hideous and deserves to be burned. Right now.
- Russia – The Eurovision gays won’t be in any hurry for Russia to host the contest again so this dreadful chorus line of singing grannies could be perfect news, if only we didn’t have to listen to it. That said, it does run the major risk of picking up a shedload of “ironic” votes from across the continent. The dancing is only marginally more co-ordinated than Pan’s People, the singing is less tuneful than Jemini and the song itself is dire, so anything could happen.
- San Marino – “Do you wanna be more than just a friend? Do you wanna play cybersex again? If you wanna come to my house then click me with your mouse.” Those lyrics alone tell you all you need to know about the horror that is The Social Network Song. Someone’s noticed that the internet’s a thing and decided to write a sub-Whigfield pun-laden Eurovision entry about it – and then autotuned it to death. And the social networks have spoken: its YouTube Dislikes are outnumbering its Likes by more than three to one. “Oh oh – uh – oh oh” indeed.
Some songs defy categorisation, and they’re the ones I’ve included in this category:
- Sometimes Israel give us a stonking pop song; sometimes it’s a terribly worthy ballad about how good it would be if everyone just got along; and sometimes it’s just bizarre. This time it’s a kitch number that sounds like it’s fallen through time from one of those 1970s Top of the Pops they show on BBC Four to save them making new programmes. It’s too jolly to actively dislike but Slade were never my scene and I don’t like Star Wars. (I do like Star Wars.)
- Montenegro will open the show with Euro Neuro and we start as we might hope to go on: bonkers. It’s a strange fusion of folk instruments, funky beat and monotonous rapping, like an Eastern European Cake, and there is clear evidence the lyricist got drunk and made a series of ill-advised bets with a rhyming dictionary. For all that, the chorus is memorable (for the duration of the song).
The remaining songs were neither particularly good, nor particularly bad. The word “meh” is frowned upon, so we’ll just call them “the rest”:
- Albania – I spent two of this song’s three minutes waiting for it to start. It eventually did (complete with some epic shrieking), but that’s not making the best use of the allocated stage time. The video’s worth a look: a woman with her legs in a box; two children drawing chalk lines on a wall; a weird bird mask; a tealight on a record player. I’m not saying Rona Nishliu doesn’t have good hair – I’ve got nothing against the hair – but I am saying this song could be better. On the other hand, it also could be worse.
- Belgium – When the drums came in a third of the way through, I was hoping this was going to turn into a big number. Instead, it just carried on as before but with drums. Sorry, Iris: this may still be better than most of whatever the kidz listen to today, but you’re no Sergio & The Ladies.
- Cyprus – Here comes the Eurodance. That’s pretty much all you need to know, and being the only track from that oeuvre in the semi, it should corner the market. It’s not bad, although nothing special for the genre – it would play quite happily in a club in Ibiza or Gran Canaria or Frinton or wherever it is one goes to take E and dance topless these days. As the title La La Love suggests, there are a lot of la la la la las – and then it abruptly stops because its three minutes are up. NB: the video appears to feature Catherine Zeta Jones being chased by Tracy Scoggins in a funny hat.
- Finland – Interestingly, this is sung in Swedish. (Look, it’s interesting to me. So Suomi.) I don’t understand a word but I’m sure it’s very poetic. The song has a pleasant, gentle melody and Anna Friel did an OK job singing it, but I can’t see it sparking a riot at Our Price or overloading the phone voting lines.
- Switzerland – Sinplus, the first rock band in this year’s contest, offer a less than subtle “follow your dreams” message. Unbreakable isn’t breaking any new ground – who is it I’m reminded of? Snow Patrol? The Pigeon Detectives? – but it fills three minutes without complaint and as the only guitar band in this semi-final, they stand a good chance of getting through. Of course, when it comes to the voting, I expect Switzerland to give everybody two points.
That’s not a bad line-up, I’d say, so expect a watchable semi-final on Tuesday 22nd May. Were we phone voting for this programme, I’d be calling up to vote for Iceland and Hungary.
Next time: eighteen more countries battle it out for ten coveted final places in Semi-Final 2. Stay tuned!