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.
The first semi-final was pretty good. Good work, Sweden, and a particular mention to Ireland and Belgium, who both came across much better than I expected. Most of my preferred songs got through – although Serbia didn’t help themselves with their bizarre Hello Kitty outfits and didn’t make the cut. We rightly said au revoir to Slovenia and Montenegro, with the dreary Lithuanian entry an unexpected qualifier.
Tonight it’s the second semi final and 10 of tonight’s 17 songs will progress through to Saturday’s final to join Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the UK and Ukraine on stage.
Here are my thoughts on the 17 songs vying for those coveted final places coming up tonight (from 8pm on BBC Three).
- Azerbaijan – This is nice enough middle-of-the-road Eurovision fare, albeit with a key change that’s almost squashed. I actually prefer it to their winning song Running Scared, but “Hold me/Unfold me”? No.
- Finland – Now here’s a fan favourite and no mistake. It’s pretty silly but has its camp sense of humour in exactly the right place and the result is good, toe-tapping fun.
- Hungary – This is a lovely, gentle little number and not traditionally Eurovision at all. It might not come off as well live as in the pristinely produced studio recording but it’s another good entry from Hungary and I hope it does well.
- Latvia – The first couple of seconds are awful but suddenly it segues into a genuinely catchy chorus – and then they ruin it all with some naff rapping. Despite that it’s very jolly and that could be enough to carry it through.
- Malta – Yeah, this is a bit twee but it’s sweet and hard not to like. It’s gentle, tuneful and, let’s face it, a nice change for Malta from a big-lunged ballad.
- Norway – That bleating noise on the backing track is pretty annoying but the vocals are stark and the whole thing has a relentless drive to it.
- San Marino – This is another song that leaves it almost too late to get going. Two minutes in, it finally goes up a few gears and we have one third of a good song. Most of it is pretty middling but the end, including a handsome key change, push it up to the next level.
- Switzerland – Not only have Switzerland got a very well-thumbed copy of a rhyming dictionary, it appears to be a simple primary school version. Nevertheless, this is hard to dislike and the Salvation Army singers manage to beat you into submission through repetition.
- Armenia – This is in danger of turning into the Stonecutters song from The Simpsons. “Lonely planet/Who has done it?” is as good as the lyrics get and they are sufficiently cringeworthy to spare us considering the reasonable melody and render this worth avoiding. The end’s annoying too. Still, key change.
- Israel – Israel does seem to swing back and forth wildly with its entries. Last year’s was fun but this is dreary entry and a perfect moment for popping out to make a brew.
- FYR Macedonia – Good grief. With the rest of the former Yugoslavia out of the running, Macedonia could be on the receiving end of a lot of local douzes, and Macedonia’s answer to Freddie Mercury (Lozano) and Monserrat Caballé (Esma) will certainly need them. Not only did they forgot to bring a decent song, Esma genuinely appears to be gargling at one point. It’s like Lozano’s great aunt has turned up drunk to ruin his big moment on The X Factor. Are these two even talking to each other?
- Greece – Bless Greece. Things have got so bad, they’re left with a song in honour of booze. I’m entirely in favour of the sentiment but some funky instrumentation can’t get away from vocals that sound like the subject of the song is also its fuel.
- Romania – Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve struck the motherlode. This is almost impossible to judge but I’d like to see it get the exposure it deserves on Saturday night. It’s kind of got a good melody but that’s hard to talk about without… Well, you really have to see for yourself. This is going to be Friday morning’s water cooler momment and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. I just hope he finds them again.
- Albania – A fairly standard rocky chorus and an OK guitar solo are undermined by letting the guitarist’s gravelly blandless loose on the opening verse.
- Bulgaria – Oh dear. This starts promisingly enough with a bit of Eurovision Percussion but then the singing says the same for three minutes, with no variety or structure aside from a bit of wailing near the end. There’s a drumming interlude that’s enjoyable enough but otherwise it’s only real use is as background music in an Indian restaurant.
- Georgia – It’s not bad when it gets going, pulling out a nice key change and (unintentionally, I’m sure) name-checking Denmark’s best entry of recent years. It could do well but lyrically it’s pretty flat and the opening is dull.
- Iceland – Slightly bland but it builds gently, has a good key change and Iceland’s Badly Drawn Boy sings it well.
It’s that time again – the most important TV event of the year, the Eurovision Song Contest. And the final is the same evening as the Doctor Who finale, just to make the whole night even more exciting.
Before we can reach the final, though, 33 countries have to fight their way through the two semi-finals. I’m a bit busy at the moment so let’s get straight down to business. Here’s what you can expect from the 16 songs in the first semi-final (Tuesday night at 8pm on BBC Three).
- Belarus – With no Turkey in the contest this year, Belarus could be moving tanks onto their lawn. It’s the kind of catchy female vocal and borderline nonsense lyrics we’re used to Turkey taking to a good position in the table. Seriously though – “Solayoh/We play-oh”? No rhyming prize for you.
- Belgium – A basic melody and a well-thumbed rhyming dictionary work well with an upbeat tempo and a nice middle eight to produce a fairly decent result. At the very least it’s NBFB – Not Bad For Belgium.
- Cyprus – There’s an awkward moment in the first verse of many Eurovision songs where they either take off or sink away. This didn’t shoot into the sky but it improved as it went along, averaging not bad at all..
- Denmark – One of the top tips for the contest and one of many strong entries from northern Europe. The penny whistle is a bit of a gimmick but I’m a sucker for a Danish entry and while this isn’t up there with the best she’s got a good pair of lungs, a catchy chorus, some syncopated percussion and nice backing vocals, and that’s a strong combination.
- Ireland – First things first: no, it’s not Jedward. And even ignoring them, this is the best Irish entry in a long time. Going full throttle for a club feel, you could really imagine this as a summer hit or a One Direction single. I mean, I wouldn’t buy it but I could see it going down well. A lot of this is in the production, though – live on stage, it could be abysmal.
- Moldova – I spent the first half willing this to be one of the good ones – would it go for it? It did, rising up the scale to some big notes, although it slightly pulled its punch at the end.
- Netherlands – All those people who bought Lana Del Rey’s records? Anouk is after your votes. She has a characterful voice and the song has a simple, unchallenging beauty to it. It’s memorable and it deserves to do well.
- Russia – A sweet little ditty although very much afflicted with twee Eurovision lyrics about ending wars and poverty and that. A million times better than singing grannies though and the final third is terrific.
- Serbia – Serbia have dispatched their own version of Bananarama and you know, it works. The three Mojes work well together and the result is a proper toe-tapper – albeit one that ends rather suddenly when the three-minute maximum hits.
- Lithuania – The upbeat backing track can’t conceal that this song is missing something quite major: a tune. Each time it segues into the chorus, it feels like it’s going to grow big but no, it just carries on with one of the three notes Andrius condescends to use. A shame.
- Slovenia – Predictably, some entries will attempt to mimic the previous year’s winner and so enter Slovenia’s answer to Loreen, Hannah. Unfortunately, creating a backing track of really annoying electronic pulsing doesn’t automatically make for a euphoric anthem. Well, sadly it probably does but the song itself can’t carry it and no amount of bleeping will fix that.
- Montenegro – Now here’s some Eurovision awfulness of the old school. An intro of screechy vocals is followed by some naff rapping before a chorus that’s all over the place. The second verse appears to be a rapped seafood recipe. A mishmash of dreadful. Hurrah.
- Austria – Starts promisingly but after a few lines swerves so far into the middle of the road it’s a danger to traffic in both directions. The big key change comes too late to redeem it and with too much wailing.
- Croatia – They might look like an identity parade in Moss Bros but this is melodic and harmonious. It doesn’t seem anywhere near as miserable as it should really.
- Estonia – This seems fine. Nothing desperately wrong with it but yeah. Next.
- Ukraine – After a gentle start, the change in direction and stabbing synths caught me by surprise. It’s fun while it lasts but it doesn’t really build to anything. It’s one of the tips for a good placing, which bemuses me.
It’s today! It’s the final! I have booze, I have Euro snacks, and I have time for some snark before it all kicks off.
We’ve come this far together. One more night. Let’s see at who’s made it through the rigours of the two semi-finals (I mean the acts, not you and I) and look at the line-up for tonight’s Euromusic spectacular. No pussyfooting about – this is Truth.
- United Kingdom – As Arnold Dorsey (call him by his name) himself points out, Love Can Set You Free is a grower. Unfortunately, most of the voting public will see it just once, plus a few recaps. I’m still no fan of the key change in this but on a night with a shocking shortage of key changes, it’s more than welcome. I’ve no doubt Arnold (call him by his name) will belt it out of the arena, in one of the most understated productions of the night, but will that be enough for us to see the contest coming the UK next year? No, no it won’t.
- Hungary‘s song Sound of Our Hearts is one of my favourites and I was most pleased to see it get through to the final. While Tuesday’s live performance didn’t quite bring the power of the recorded version, this is still a nice catchy number from the oh-so-wittily named Compact Disco.
- Rona Nishliu from Albania has quite the pair of lungs on her. That epic shrieking was very much present in the semi-final and clearly impressed the voters. If you have ear defenders, I’d put them on before she gets going..
- Speaking of health and safety, I hope there’s been a proper risk assessment of wearing a blindfold on stage. Lithuania – Donny Montell is a tricksy little man. “Look at my power ballad” he says, tempting you in, and then BOOM he’s swiping you with his up tempo song about the blindness of love. This was one of the two I voted for in the second semi-final Watch out for some seriously sub-Fizz attire removal.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina rightly made it through the final but there’s not much memorable about this perfectly creditable piano number to suggest it will win through. MayaSar is one of several female acts competing in the parallel game of Who’s Got Servalan‘s Best Outfit?
- It’s no surprise that Russia made it to the final with their heady mix of crap singing and crap dancing. At least the grannies appear to be having fun, but bear in mind that they want to lure you to their gingerbread house and then bake you in their oven. You don’t want that, do you? No, of course you don’t. (On a side note: when I suggested on Twitter on Tuesday that homophobic Russia may not be an ideal host country for the next Eurovision, someone replied that they didn’t think Russia was homophobic. This from Human Rights Watch is just one quickly Googled reason to disagree with them.)
- I’m not ashamed to admit that I love Iceland‘s atmospheric duet, with its dramatic lyrics and vibrant fiddling. Sadly, the foreboding silence in the middle of the song that’s in the video didn’t make it to the (tough) live realisation, but it is another song to feature one of tonight’s rare key changes, so cherish it.
- Cyprus‘s own Catherine Zeta Jones has gone up in my estimation thanks to her performance on what looked like a dry stone wall in the first semi-final and I was pleased to see this get through. It’s pretty standard Eurodance but catchy and fun and I wouldn’t be surprised if it does well.
- Whistle and I’ll come to you, my France. The song is strong, original and interesting. The performance is very much targeted at the gays. The danger for Anggun is that eyes are on the topless gymnasts when ears should be on her singing. Well, that’s one danger. The other is that she gets concussion. You’ll see why.
- France is immediately followed by another of the Big Five nations, the recently returned Italy. Nina Zilli has picked a style that will stand out from the crowd, although I’m still finding the transition from verse to chorus jarring. I hope this does well, as it’s been tipped, not least because I’ve drawn it to win in the office Eurovision sweepstake.
- Estonia was the other country I voted for in the second semi. It’s a nice little ballad, with no snazzy production of gimmicks, carried by a strong performance from Ott Lepland. That said, I’d be surprised if it finishes very high and you may be happy never to hear the word “Kuula” again by the end.
- I can picture the discussion at Norway Eurovision Towers (every country has a Eurovision Towers): “That guy from Sweden was good last year.” “Eric Saade.” “Yeah. Do you think he’d enter for us this year?” “I doubt it.” “Oh, why not?” “Well, for one thing he’s Swedish.” “OK, then. Launch a national Eric Saade lookalike contest, give the winner Eric Saade’s clothes and make the him represent us at Eurovision singing a not-quite-as-good-as-2011′s-Popular pop number. Do you think you can do that?” “Actually, I think I know just the man…” This track sounds like something Madonna rejected a decade ago. It’s fine, although I’m still not a fan of the rasping synths and I’d happily exchange it for a Popular or a Manboy.
- Azerbaijan were last year’s winners and so automatically qualify for this year’s final. I’m not sure When the Music Dies would be hear otherwise. Look out for the old man sitting on the glass coffee table. I kid you not.
- Romania present three minutes of unremarkable jollity. The bagpipe player appears to be a scientist from The War Games.
- I was surprised Denmark‘s tiresome entry made it to the final. This is just a middle of the road as it was on Tuesday, except this time I’ve already sat through it once. It’s called Should’ve Known Better and yes, Tuesday’s voters, you should’ve. On the plus side, one of her backing singers has a lovely armchair.
- Good news if Denmark left you slumping in your own armchair – it’s Greece! This is Eurovision by the book and is all the better for it. Catchy, upbeat and fun. I wonder if any wags on Twitter will manage to come up with a joke about the Greek debt crisis when this is on? Maybe a suggestion that Greece couldn’t afford to host the contest next year? I doubt anyone’s thought of that yet so it’ll be pretty funny.
- Won’t somebody rid me of this euphoric Swede? The Eurovision fans have apparently been in quite the priapic state about this for months and I genuinely don’t know why. Is it because she has frizzy hair? Is it because this is the most generic “euphoria” track ever recorded and also called Euphoric? Bring back Eric Saade (see above). I shan’t eat my words if this wins, because I’ll still be baffled, but I don’t believe it will win so ner. Britain, DO NOT VOTE FOR THIS.
- I expect the next song to produce a fairly poor result for Turkey, although it will pick up some votes from fans of capes and stereotypically gay leather caps. It fills three minutes but the only thing memorable about it is a particularly create piece of nautical choreography.
- Spain is another Big Five country with a bye to the final. It’s pretty good, although it might stand a better chance if Spain would accept the hegemony of the English language rather than stubbornly entering song after song in whatever their national language is. Extra points will be available for potentially the best key change of the night.
- Our final Big Five entry is from Germany, whose track is the one that would sound most at home in the British charts. This isn’t surprising when you learn that Jamie Cullum is now working against the UK, having written this ditty for singer Roman Lob. It’s one of the last ballads in the contest, which may stand it in good stead, and Not Being Very Eurovision did no harm at all to 2010′s German winner Lena.
- Malta – This is the Night reminds me of Sakis Rouvas’s Greek entry This is Our Night from 2009, which isn’t a big problem. Malta have a habit of entering tedious ballads so this marks a pleasant change of tack, although you may, like me, feel like slapping everyone on the stage and shouting into their stupid faces that there is no Hoxton in Malta.
- FYR Macedonia – This faux ballad kicks into gear just in time, turning into a nicely rocky number with some electric guitar and strings to drive it home. With all of the big guitar bands knocked out, this may fill a niche.
- 1980s training montage! It’s Ireland and yes, it’s Jedward. For some reason, despite them representing a country that is not the UK (their own choice), the BBC presenters keep encouraging us to get behind Jedward. I might get behind them if they were standing on some kind of high ledge, but otherwise, no thanks. This song could do well if they manage a reasonable live performance – and they have quite the outfits and staging, not to mention the backing singers, to distract from their singing.
- Serbia‘s misfortune at being early in their semi-final is offset but healthy late position in the final. This is another ballad that takes a while to get going – many of its brethren having been cast aside in the qualifying round – but it could do all right if the voters are in the mood. I doubt I shall care much by this point.
- Ukraine – This one’s not for me. It’s upbeat enough but I don’t like the syncopated synths and fake strings. It’s also mostly the same three words over and over again.
- It’s the last song! And thankfully Moldova have a good one. It’s cheerful, fun, has a nice ska jazz thing, a good instrumental bit and is all about how he’s going to a woo a lady with his trumpet. Also, the singer looks like he could do a bit of DIY if you needed it. The only points off are for a teasing almost-but-not-a-key-change moment (plus Moldova’s another country with issues.)
To assist in any scoring you wish to do, I have prepared a Eurovision 2012 scoresheet. You may find this useful if you wish to shun such nonsense categories as “Costume” or “Choreography” and focus on what the content is really about.
And that’s that. See you at 8pm on BBC One. In the immortal words of Delia Smith: “Let’s be ‘avin’ you! Come on!”
Update: So congratulations to Sweden for winning. I’m still bemused but it’s a nice, progressive country and one that takes its Eurovisioning seriously. I’d happily spend a bit of May there next year given half a chance. At least it wasn’t the Russian grannies. And very bad luck to Arnold, who came undeservedly second from last but did a great job on the night.
All posts in this series: