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Eurovision 2016: The Final May 14

My view for the Jury Final

Today’s the day! I went to yesterday’s Jury Final and I can honestly say I don’t remember a higher quality line-up. And there’s no single outstanding song, which means the results is less predictable than it has been for some time – and certainty less so than in the last couple of years.

What’s struck me too is the number of songs that have been lifted by their live performances. Latvia, Israel, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Australia, among others, have really come alive on the night. It’s also interesting to see the difference in reception between the hall – where the sound is huge – and the TV audience. So while I know what made an impression on the crowd last night, the voting audience at home, and the juries, may feel very differently.

That also means that, while I’ll refer you to my previous posts on the semi-finals to get an idea on the songs that have qualified, I’ve already changed my views on many of them. On top of those I’ve mentioned above, Georgia, Lithuania and Malta have all gone up in my estimation. Russia, on the other hand, feels trapped in its staging. For example, the projection screen Sergey is using doesn’t fill the TV – so when it’s giving him a white background, he doesn’t look like a man sprouting wings so much as a man standing in front of a PowerPoint. And he’s so engrossed in engaging with the video presentation that he sings to the audience less and feels a little disconnected.

The countries I highlighted above, on the other hand, have relatively simple staging that allows the songs – and the singing – to shine through. In the hall, at least. I suspect the juries will be attracted to that.

What then of the automatic qualifiers?

Italy
It’s a simple song well sung but in a high quality lineup, this is the first in the show I felt a little disappointed by. And I’m not convinced the late change into English helps.

Sweden
This is simple and pared down compared to the rest of the songs and that will help it to stand out. Most people seem to either love it or hate it. It certainly wasn’t my favourite of the Melodifestivalen finalists. Look out for the most ridiculous lyric: “I’d rob a bank, and a post office too.”

Germany
This is a grower, which annual readers will know I don’t consider a positive attribute in a Eurovision entry. Her Manga costume just looks silly.

France
France brought along a lovely number that mixes English and French. It has a touch of Sebastian Tellier and works well on the CD. However, Amir doesn’t seem to do too good a job with it live, so despite being one of the favourites, this could end up anywhere.

Spain
Say Yay is a fun old party number, but it’s style over substance for me – Barei has better songs, which I saw her perform in the Eurovision Village alongside this one. And I also learnt from that performance that she has “vocal support” in the wings helping with the melody.

United Kingdom
If Joe and Jake can pull it off tonight, this could do well with the phone voters. It’s one of our best songs in years and I’d love it to do well – not least to encourage the Beeb to stick with a public selection vote. But I’ve learnt the had way that we’re good at convincing ourselves that “this year we’ll make the top half of the table” or somesuch. I have no idea where we’ll come – but I have an inkling the juries will be distracted by the Big Sings and overlook this.

Here’s the full line up:

Belgium
Czech Republic
The Netherlands
Azerbaijan
Hungary
Italy
Israel
Bulgaria
Sweden
Germany
France
Poland
Australia
Cyprus
Serbia
Lithuania
Croatia
Russia
Spain
Latvia
Ukraine
Malta
Georgia
Austria
United Kingdom
Armenia

I genuinely think that in the right year, any one of those 26 songs could win. A dark horse like Armenia could benefit from going last. Ukraine’s not at all political passion could sweep them through. Israel or Australia’s big vocals could knock the other ballads out of their way. Or Russia’s video effects could steer them through. I can’t predict it.

What I do know is that we’re likely to see a new high score to knock Alexander Rybak off the top. That’s because the jury and phone votes are being reported separately this year, doubling the number of votes available.

I also know that the interval act is worth waiting for. And I don’t mean Justin Timberlake, although he’s part of it too. It’s almost like musical legitimacy has come to the Eurovision Song Contest. Who let that happen?

Eurovision 2016: Semi-final 2 May 12

In the distance, the Globe, home of Eurovision 2016

If you thought semi-final 1 had a lot of male soloists, just wait. Is it an unimaginative response to Måns? I realise there are always lots of female solo artists… and I might be imagining the whole thing.

Anyway… the second final of 2016’s Eurovision Song Contest is wide open. There are plenty of worthy entries but no clear leaders – nothing I absolutely love and nothing I hate.

Latvia
And here’s our first solo man: Justs. A gentle start segues into a strong chorus.

Poland
Micheł has a proper pair of lungs. There’s a lovely contrast between the verses and chorus. One of the best songs Poland have sent. Obviously I’m ignoring the American spelling of “color” which the staging rather runs in.

Switzerland
A few nice moments but bland overall with a weak middle eight and a deadening key change.

Israel
Solo man number 3 is the Penguin from Gotham with the forgettable ballad Made of Stars. Longtime readers will know my annual frustration with Eurovision entries that take two of their three minutes to come alive. This is one of those.

Belarus
Solo man 4. With wolves and nudity. It’s amazing what one can do with video effects these days. Hiding beneath these is an OK song with a traditional Eurovision Eastern European rock touch to it.

Serbia
This has a good chorus. It also pulls off the schlager key change that Switzerland stood on.

Ireland
Nicky Byrne from Westlife’s first solo single represents Eurovision’s most successful country. It’s *fine*, especially if you’re a fan of the rhyming dictionary. The energy drop between “sun” and “light” offends me somehow. Another song that could live or die in the performance.

FYR Macedonia
Kaliopi represented her country in the pre-qualifying round in 1996, when Macedonia failed to make its first appearance on the contest. She reached the final in 2012 and is back with a song called Dona that will prompt predictable kebab jokes. It’s pleasant and she’s a stronger performer – but you’ll be sick of the title by the end.

Lithuania
Donny Love Is Blind Montell is back without a blindfold and with worse hair and complete the clean sweep of solo male artists for the Baltic countries. It’s not a million miles from Latvia’s entry – which I marginally prefer. Will there be room for both?

Australia
They’re here again – but this time they have to make it through the semis like everyone else. I get the impression Dami Im’s staging may be simple and relatively static, which could actually help her stand out. It’s a less fun song than last year’s but it’s a big stompy ballad that should serve them well.

Slovenia
I don’t know is Blue and Red is political or about interior design but it’s up tempo and deserves to take Slovenia to their third final in a row. And I don’t care if key changes are supposed to be death – if Russia can have one, everyone can.

Bulgaria
Poli Genova is yet another returning artist: she didn’t get past the semis in 2011. If Love Was A Crime is another upbeat number that’s worthy of a place.

Denmark
It pains me to say it but this boy band effort from Denmark is naff. It’s glassily done and the lads are doing a perfectly cromulent job but it’s factory line pop. It’ll go through but it shouldn’t.

Ukraine
This one is political. Sorry, historical. The lyrics recount Crimeans being murdered in 1944 and the music dovetails well with the words.

Norway
Is there a name for that syncopated synthy rhythm that screams European dance music? Because we need a shorthand. It was there for Iceland (RIP) and it’s back to support Norway. There’s some messing with time signatures but otherwise this is sub-Euphoria stuff.

Georgia
I saw these guys do a short set at the Eurovision Village on Tuesday and was suitably impressed. They’re very 90s indie band – very much my oeuvre – and this song is no different. It’s got a nice Chemical Brothers style mid section too. One for fans of alt rock guitar music – so not much hope at Eurovision, sadly.

Albania
Plodding. I’m 17 songs in and I don’t
have much more to say. Sorry, Albania.

Belgium
What’s The Pressure is, like a few of the songs in this semi-final, a Reasonable Pop Song. That has it competing with Slovenia, Bulgaria and Serbia for me.

The songs I’d like to see qualify:
Poland
Georgia
Slovenia
Latvia
Australia
FYR Macedonia
Lithuania
Belarus
Ukraine
Bulgaria
…and I wouldn’t be surprised if half of them don’t.

Close:
Serbia
Switzerland
Norway
Ireland
Belgium

Nope:
Israel
Denmark
Albania
…and they’re all fairly close too. I’m clearly in a positive mood.

Eurovision 2016: Semi-final 1 May 10

Hello from sunny Stockholm!

I wasn’t planning to write one of these but old habits die hard. So, with only a short time before the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest kicks off, here’s a very brief look at the songs in the first semi-final.

Finland
Light and enjoyable and a fitting opener, especially with lyrics about singing. I see what they did there.

Greece
Chorus that doesn’t rhyme, rapping that’s a bit dull. Potential non-qualifier for a country with a strong track record.

Moldova
Middling but helped by an upbeat chorus.

Hungary
First of many solo male vocals. Has a good rhythm to it. Not wild about his voice.

Croatia
Croatia return this year and, despite the key change, it’s the most forgettable song so far.

Netherlands
They’ve gone folky again, which isn’t daft given the Common Linnets’ near miss a couple of years ago. Potential dark house even it does sound like a thousand other songs – oh, you’re doing that chord progression. Literally slows down as he sings “slow down”.

Armenia
Thinks she’s Adele. Another forgettable one.

San Marino
Serge Gainsbourg does Shaft, produced by Boney M.

Russia
Not as good as it thinks it is (“Thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting”) but it’s got a key change, they’ve thrown everything at it and it’ll probably win.

Czech Republic
Reasonable ballad in danger of being lost after Russia’s big number.

Cyprus
Decent rock song with a proper drive. Capacity to gather votes all over the place if it fills a non-pop hole.

Austria
Nice little pop song. In French. Feels a bit different in this crowd despite being fairly classic.

Estonia
Lugubrious voice with a classy, straightforward song. I love the little guitar lick at the end of the first chorus. Success will depend on the performance.

Azerbaijan
I tend to feel less positive about Azerbaijan’s entries less than the European voters. This one’s pretty repetitive but I like it – so it’ll probably sink.

Montenegro
The other rock one and so a potential splitter of votes with Cyprus. In some ways, it’s musically the more interesting – but it’s less catchy and feels less rounded and closer to noise.

Iceland
Greta’s back! Her 2012 duet with Jónsi is sto one of my Eurovision favourites. This is a strong entry too, leaping from quiet and brooding to Europop beats, if those are a thing. Could be drowned in its own staging.

Bosnia & Herzegovina
Another former Yugoslavian country returning to the contest after time out. It has the obligatory folky strings and is more likely to qualify than Croatia. Plus the rap break is better than Greece’s.

Malta
A funky little number from tiny little Malta. Last year they didn’t make the final but singer Ira Losco managed second place in 2002 – their joint best – and this deserves a stab at the final too.

My 10 to qualify (not a prediction!):

Cyprus
Estonia
Iceland
Malta
Austria
Russia
Netherlands
Hungary
Finland
Azerbaijan

Close:
Moldova
Czech Republic

Not so much:
Greece
Croatia
Armenia
Montenegro
Bosnia & Herzegovina
San Marino

Eurovision 2015: Semi-final 2 May 21

So Denmark – the winner two years ago – and the Netherlands – second last year – were among the six countries that failed to qualify on Tuesday. Not that we were shocked, were we? There were much better songs in the running.

Tonight’s semi-final has a slightly larger field, with 17 countries competing for 10 spots in the final – so it will be marginally more difficult to quality. It’s also the one where we in the UK get to vote, so let’s take a look at the songs.

  1. Lithuania – What starts are jangly guitar turns into a country style backing but they’re no Texas Lightning (Germany, 2006). There’s an irritating chorus and in a sea of duets, this is the weakest. It’ll probably get through anyway.
  2. Remember when Ireland were good at this? They’re not about to return to the top with this dull ballad. Believe it or not, they were better off with Jedward.
  3. San Marino – Another male/female duet. Now I love a good key change, even if the voters don’t, but this one’s a disaster. Just as the song settles into an interesting sound it modulates into cheese.
  4. Montenegro – It’s not promising at first but Adio manages to develop a heartbeat in sufficient time. Add a reasonable performance and interesting musicality and there should be enough here to see it through.
  5. Malta – Georgia’s Warrior deservedly made it through semi-final 1. This is the weaker of the two even while if the sound is more mainstream pop. It would be convenient for everyone trying to keep track on Saturday if this didn’t get through.
  6. Norway – Technically this falls foul of my “just get going” complaint, but I’ll excuse it because a dark ballad can’t go straight in all guns blazing and it does work, eventually. The strongest of this semi-final so far.
  7. Portugal – So unremarkable I can barely come up with a remark. Features possibly the dullest key change ever.
  8. Czech Republic – These two had a fun time at the London Eurovision Party a few weeks ago. I’m interested to see if they manage to bring the charisma on show that night to Vienna or whether they’ll feel the need to go serious. This is a reasonable duet but it needs to be sold in the performance.
  9. Israel – I think it’s trying to be “fun”. The last line – noting that his three minutes maximum song time is up – is unforgivable.
  10. Latvia – I see what they’re trying to do but it’s a bit screamy and a bit of a slog.
  11. Azerbaijan always seem to do better than I think they should. This is a biggish number that does nothing for me so will sail through to the final.
  12. Iceland – Forgettable. If I had anything else to say, I’ve forgotten. And anyone vaguely enjoying this and thinking about voting for it is likely to be distracted too, because next up it’s…
  13. Sweden – Let’s not pretend this hasn’t got where it has because of the staging, but that wouldn’t be effective if there wasn’t a good song to build on. This has been the presumptive winner for some time, propelled from the same position in Melodifestivalen, Sweden’s annual selection competition (as big a deal there as Eurovision itself). Straight through to Saturday without touching the sides.
  14. Switzerland – The opening bass line reminds me of 1995 Beautiful South, and there are lyrical similarities with Jade Ewen’s UK entry (It’s My Time from 2009). Could get a bit lost; could sneak through.
  15. Cyprus – Sweet and simple and probably not going to make waves.
  16. Slovenia – The vocals are a little odd but there’s a nice bit of fiddle – always a good sign – and it’s got a decent tempo and a memorable chorus to help it qualify.
  17. Poland – First, let’s give thanks for this not being last year’s awful Polish entry – to which the UK phone vote promptly gave douze points (thankfully cancelled out by the wisdom of the jury). This is a 1980s ballad. It’s perfectly pleasant with a good climax but will be lucky to sneak through.

The semi-final is on BBC Three and live streamed on YouTube from 8pm. Be there or be not there.