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Eurovision 2019: Semi-final 2 May 16

Tonight is the second semi-final of the world’s favourite music contest, but first things first: how did my semi-final 1 predictions go?

Pretty darn well, it turns out. I fingered 8/10 of the qualifiers with just two wrong’uns. Poland, which was something of a 50/50 choice, didn’t make it, and nor did Belgium, whose over-choreographed performance came across as a little nervy. In their stead, the might lungs of Serbia and the creepy-not-endearing Slovenian duo made it through, so Saturday’s bigger audiences will get to enjoy those.

But before that we have the small matter of tonight’s competitive semi-final, not least because this is the one the UK can vote in! I’m pleased to report that there are no bad songs – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t entries you’ll forget once they’re over. You are however in store for a few really great songs and some crazy staging along the way. Buckle up.

Armenia

This falls firmly in the category of good but not memorable. Longtime readers will know I love a good key change but while Walking Out features a key change it’s a throwaway, unsatisfying one.

Why it might not qualify: It could see its potential votes going to North Macedonia or Albania instead.

Ireland

22 is a sweet little ditty with a catchy chorus that’s perfect for radio play. I’d love to see it make it through but this semi-final may prove too tough, although of the three solo female vocalists opening the show, Sarah is my favourite.

Why it might not qualify: Last year’s underwhelming entry was massively boosted by two lads dancing romantically together. This year’s has a 50s diner.

Moldova

After a few years of upbeat, crowd-pleasing fun, Moldova have given us a straightforward ballad. Yay. At least it should be sung well and there is some eye-catching staging (courtesy of Ukraine’s entry in 2011).

Why it might not qualify: Which one was this again?

Switzerland

Luca is an established talent who won Germany’s equivalent of Pop Idol in 2012. She Got Me is this year’s most effective Fuego-adjacent entry, an absolute banger with a full-on dance routine that he doesn’t seem to let impede his vocals. Presumably they wanted to call the song Dirty Dancing but worried about getting sued.

Why it might not qualify: It would take an injunction from Emile Ardolino to stop this getting through.

Latvia

Eurovision week is supposed to be when we forget about the national finals but this did inexplicably beat more interesting songs in Latvia’s Supernova. There’s nothing wrong with it per se but once you’ve heard the first thirty seconds you can use the rest for a loo break.

Why it might not qualify: You won’t be able to dial the number from your coma.

Romania

This is a step up from Latvia, which I kept confusing it with for a while, but it’s going to be borderline for qualifying unless it can bring some real oomph live. Sharing a semi with Moldova may help its chances a little.

Why it might not qualify: I promise the show picks up soon but this is another perfectly good song you’ll probably forget about.

Denmark

Old skool, multilingual Eurovision tweeness served up from a giant chair. This is super twee but kind of nice for those who can stomach it – luckily for me, I am one of them. 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. Being in the same semi as Sweden and Norway may yet help it through.

Why it might not qualify: The vomiting.

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 support group 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 might not qualify: Some people seem to resent Sweden doing well. How dare they bring good songs, talented singers and quality staging. It’s not fair.

Austria

This year’s quietest, gentlest song could really stand out from the crowd. Sadly it’s more likely to get utterly forgotten. Pænda is great and I’d love to see her performing one of her noisier numbers at the Contest. But not this year sadly.

Why it might not qualify: If you’re at a loud Eurovision party, you might not even hear it.

Croatia

In the early 2000s, Croatia loved sending solo men singing big ballads. This is corny and dated but I find it hard not to like and Roko is clearly a terrific singer. If the staging works – and it’s improved from the national final – this could make it in and give eastern Europe a boost in what’s increasingly looking like a western Europe shootout.

Why it might not qualify: It could easily be more overwrought than… wrought.

Malta

More Fauxgo, this time from Malta. It’s a fan favourite but I don’t quite get it – maybe because the song is actually more contemporary than I am. The chorus is a bit nothing (by way of Culture Club) but they’ve worked on the staging a lot and it looks like it’s reached a point where it’s all coming together.

Why it might not qualify: Could lose votes to Switzerland.

Lithuania

Jurij is no stranger to Eurovision having provided backing vocals twice and seems he lovely. Unfortunately, neither enforced falsetto of Run with the Lions nor the unimaginative staging he’s been lumped with do anything to help get him into the final.

Why it might not qualify: They forgot to do any staging.

Russia

Nearly winning with an uptempo number and then trying again with a worthy ballad was a bit of a risk for Sergey but it’s clear Russia really want this. The production benefits from a lush orchestral track and some excellent vocal work from Sergey and his backing singers. 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. Still, direkt till final.

Why it might not qualify: People might respect this but they won’t really love it.

Albania

Serbia’s success in SF1 could bode well for Albania in SF2 (although it is of course an entirely different set of countries voting tonight). This track is more upbeat than Serbia’s which could help it appeal more broadly – or could lose it a potentially classy edge. I suspect a passionate performance will see it through.

Why it might not qualify: Not enough Albanian speakers in voting nations.

Norway

I love this. As importantly, I love the band, KEiiNO. Tom, Alexandra and Fred have been enjoying every part of the Eurovision journey – hanging out with fans, covering other competitors’ songs and embracing the camp. This is catchy pop entwined with Sámi joik that absolutely stormed Melodi Grand Prix in Oslo and if everything comes together it will be brilliant.

Why it might not qualify: Some people might balk at the joik if they’ve never heard it before.

Netherlands

The favourite. It’s slow and thoughtful and has an original sound and Duncan seems nice. Yeah, it’s OK. It’ll probably win although it’s so low key that Sweden or Italy might snatch victory instead – but we can talk about that once this has, inevitably, qualified.

Why it might not qualify: Duncan’s piano catches fire. (Or someone asks why he has a piano?)

North Macedonia

Farewell the iconically ridiculously named Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and welcome to the rebranded North Macedonia. The lyrics of Proud could feel like a cynical grab for votes but I’m happy to take the song at face value. Both this and Russia’s song have a lovely brief moment of silence. Impossible to say if it’s the same silence.

Why it might not qualify: It could lose potential votes to Armenia.

Azerbaijan

Catchy song, handsome man, dance beat, interesting staging, supportive backing vocals. It’s going through. There’s a bit more falsetto but it’s better deployed here. Could easily go top 5.

Why it might not qualify: The laser robots (yep) accidentally cut Chingiz in two during the first verse. Otherwise it’s going through.

That’s your lot for tonight – but sadly only 10 can go through to Saturday’s final. Time to see if I can get as many right as on Tuesday.

Predicted qualifiers:

Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Croatia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Norway, Russia, Malta

I won’t be surprised if North Macedonia or Moldova sneak in, at the expense of Denmark, Albania or Croatia. My main concern though is a good result for Norway. Vote Norway, people. Čajet dan čuovgga!

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Eurovision 2019: Semi-final 1 May 14

National finals, internal selections, promotional tours and rehearsals are done: it’s time for the biggest music shows of the year.

There are 17 acts taking part in tonight’s semi-final, one fewer than originally planned as Ukraine is no longer taking part, which reduces the overall number of competitors to 41 – 41 worthy songs and performers, all with something going for them.

But only 10 can make it through to the final today. Each time I look through the list, I mentally mark songs as deserving to make it through and then reach the end and find I’ve marked many more than 10. So I’m going to force myself to pick just 10 qualifiers knowing full well that the juries and the televoters often surprise us.

Cyprus

It is the least original observation of this year’s contest to note that a number of songs appear to have taken inspiration from last year’s runner-up Fuego, but it has to be said – especially about the same country’s entry for this year, Replay. It’s absolutely a different song but Cyprus have nevertheless doubled down, delivering an energetic opening to the competition.

Why it might not qualify: The biggest risk is Tamta’s vocals faltering from the dancing.

Montenegro

Even the least remarkable of tonight’s songs is a pleasant three minutes thanks to the harmonies from this group of young vocalists. Their staging seems to have got gradually less ragged but it’s still six of them standing in a line singing with their arms.

Why it might not qualify: Lost in a collection of much more memorable songs.

Finland

Darude is the man behind Finland’s entry this year. Yes, Darude off of Sandstorm. No, this did not mean much to me but now I get it. Anyhoo, he and singer Sebastian Rejman served up three song options for Finland this year and the Finns opted for Look Away, a song about the Bad Things going on in the world sent to an EDM beat. It may need Darude’s name recognition and an unforgettable pair of trousers to make it to the final.

Why it might not qualify: The lyrics and music feel like they belong in different songs.

Poland

Tulia have distinctive outfits and a distinctive, traditionally Polish style of singing. Unfortunately it’s a style that I find palatable only in short bursts and three minutes of it is just too much. The song itself is fine but whether it qualifies depends on others’ reaction to this Marmite style and if the Polish diaspora matches up with the countries voting today.

Why it might not qualify: The singing.

Slovenia

This is an extremely low key number performed in an extremely low key way, singer Zala staring into musician Gašper’s eyes throughout. It’s an unusual, borderline creepy choice that keeps her from connecting with the audience. It doesn’t help a song which I know a lot of fans love but I’ve found instantly forgettable every listen.

Why it might not qualify: Uncomfortable to watch, like three minutes of live Stockholm Syndrome.

Czech Republic

Lake Malawi bring a modern interpretation of late 90s Britpop to Eurovision. It’s charming and different from every other entry and should appeal to a section of the audience not catered for elsewhere. Their biggest risk is that it feels thin: they’re a band that suit a basement gig in Maidstone more than a massive, over-engineered stage in Tel Aviv.

Why it might not qualify: It may struggle to fill a stadium.

Hungary

Joci Pápai returns to Eurovision with another Hungarian language song after finishing 8th in 2017. I prefer this one, Az én ápam, but I can’t see it doing as well. He’s a good singer and there‘s a strong musical hook in the chorus but it feels touch and go for qualification.

Why it might not qualify: Another song that could struggle to stand out.

Belarus

I’ve liked Like It since seeing ZENA’s national final performance and it’s only got more polished. This is upbeat, fun and youth-oriented (greetings, fellow kids!) and features some ridiculously athletic dancers. She is just 16 but has already hosted Junior Eurovision.

Why it might not qualify: The song may seem 10-15 years late.

Serbia

Nevena brings a big set of lungs to croon Kruna. It’s a strong vocal performance so expect that to be the focus – there’s not going to be a lot else going on.

Why it might not qualify: Voters more likely to respect it than love it.

Belgium

Another year, another classy song from Belgium. Teenager Eliot is their singer this year. He has a good voice but occasionally seems daunted by the scale of what’s going on. They’ve also put him in a bizarre outfit that hinders more than helps. But it’s a fine song and deserves to go through.

Why it might not qualify: Inexperience performing on this scale.

Georgia

I don’t knew if it’s anger or determination or a distinctly Georgian emotion we don’t have a word for but there is a lot of intensity in this performance. Unfortunately it makes you want to run away rather than listen to the song, which is sung at you more than to you.

Why it might not qualify: I’m scared.

(Good news: it’s all great from here on.)

Australia

It’s popera. It’s dramatic. It’s meaningful. It’s Wicked. The rehearsal footage gives me happy tingles; I just hope the camera shots do it justice tonight. I didn’t warm to it – always a danger at Eurovision – but that’s old news now. Plus Kate sounds like she’d be a scream down the pub.

Why it might not qualify: A pole would literally have to snap.

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. Iceland loved them and Eurovision will too.

Why it might not qualify: Your grandparents may spit out their tea.

Estonia

A slice of pop that borrows its title Storm from last year’s UK entry. Victor was born in Sweden and has appeared in their Melodifestivalen competition – and it shows. They’ve been battling technical issues with the staging but hopefully it will go smoothly tonight. (As a bonus, on backing vocals is co-writer Stig Rästa, who reached 7th place in 2015 with Elina Born performing the excellent Goodbye to Yesterday.)

Why it may not qualify: It could end up being too “normal” in the final batch of songs.

Portugal

OK, when I said it was all great from here on… Portugal’s song has its fans but I’m not one of them. The artiness is dialled up to 11. I can see and appreciate what they’re going for but it’s not for me. Worth a look though and hooray for entries like this that dare to do something completely different.

Why it may not qualify: It is 100% WTF.

Greece

Another song that’s popular and just doesn’t do it for me. Good message, good staging, vocal talent… but it’s not a song I’d buy or choose to listen to.

Why it may not qualify: Upstaged by Cyprus and Belarus. 

San Marino

The night is rounded off with a simple, up tempo number from Eurovision royalty Serhat. He’s represented San Marino once before and – as with all but one of their entries – didn’t reach the final. If the infectious fun of the video comes through and Serhat pulls off the vocals in the chorus, this might yet get him to the final – which would make me very happy.

Why it might not qualify: It’s possible to be too simple.

That’s your lot for tonight. They’ve all worked extremely hard to get to this point but we have to lose seven of them. Here’s my guess as to who’s going through.

Predicted qualifiers:

Cyprus, Poland, Czech Republic, Belarus, Belgium, Australia, Iceland, Estonia, Greece, San Marino

We’ll find out how wrong I am this evening. Thursday has 18 acts and an even tougher competition. See you then!

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Eurovision 2018: The Final May 12

SuRie in the flag parade

Tonight it’s the grand final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon – and it’s on of the most open fields in years.

Before I look at the 26 finalists, it’s worth remembering the 17 who didn’t make it through. They all worked hard and they didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. It could have been the song, the staging, the specific competition and electorate in their semi-final – or just bad luck. All the acts have been travelling thousands of miles meeting fans, promoting their entries and singing their hearts out so hooray for them.

That’s worth saying ahead of the sarky comments I’ll be posting on Twitter later…

This year’s finalists are a brilliantly mixed bag so there really should be something for everyone. You can read my thoughts on them back when they were just done semi-finalists too, in heat 1 and heat 2.

Ukraine: Under the Ladder by Mélovin

A great way to open the show and the first of many pyromaniacs to take to the stage tonight. It’s rocky, gothy and ridiculous, but all in support of a decent song.

Why it should win: Pushing all the rock buttons.

Spain: Tu Canción by Amaia & Alfred

A lovely couple from Spain singing about love. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Why it should win: They’re so sweet.

Slovenia: Hvala, Ne! by Lea Sirk

This explodes into life before settling into a funky if slightly ineffectual rhythm. But then it divides the audience by releasing the worst gimmick ever seen at Eurovision.

Why it should win: Audacity.

Lithuania: When We’re Old by Ieva Zasimauskaitė

A super soft ballad the Ieva carries off beautifully. And if you know the man she meets at the end is her real life husband, it’s all more poignant.

Why it should win: Both Ieva and her song are adorable.

Austria: Nobody But You by Cesár Sampson

Steely-eyed Cesár arrives on a spaceship with a gaggle of gospel backing singers to deliver a solid piece of contemporary pop.

Why it should win: That chorus.

Estonia: La Forza by Elina Nechayeva

Her voice. Her dress. Her high notes. If you’re into opera, this may not seen anything special, but it’s a tour de force vocally perfectly reflected in her amazing outfit. Will the juries love its aura of credibility?

Why it should win: That voice.

Norway: That’s How You Write A Song by Alexander Rybak

There has been a lot of very reasonable criticism about this by the numbers attempt by Rybak to garner his second Eurovision win. But for all that it has at least partially worked, getting him to the final and for a time favourite in the odds. It’s trite as anything but you can’t blame the guy for trying.

Why it should win: Carefully ticking all the boxes.

Portugal: O Jardim by Cláudia Pascoal

I wasn’t a great fan of this but it’s warmed on me every time I’ve seen it, plus Cláudia and songwriter Isaura seem a joy. It’s simple and probably won’t do all that well but it’s better than last year’s Portuguese entry and that won…

Why it should win: It’s beautifully sung.

United Kingdom: Storm by SuRie

We’re a self-critical country so there’s a lot of debate among fans. Was it the right song? Is it the right staging? There’s definitely one sensible choice: putting SuRie in the spotlight. She wowed the crowd at the Brighton selection show and has been performing this flawlessly (albeit modulated down a little!) ever since, as well as being a fantastic ambassador for the UK and the Contest. As usual, it’s not good to raise UK expectations but this is more than respectable and we should be proud of it.

Why it should win: Because SuRie is great.

Serbia: Nova Deca by Sanja Ilić and Balkanika

When this gets going, it’s good fun, even though I have no idea what they’re singing. Sanja’s vocals devotedly work more than the ladies’ though which makes this hit and miss overall.

Why it should win: Bringing the traditional ethnic sound back to Eurovision.

Germany: You Let Me Walk Alone by Michael Schulte

This is a touching solo number flawlessly performed by the ginger German. In a year where background video screens are banned, Michael has cheekily brought along an inflatable backdrop onto which twee graphics are projected. They’re unnecessary and rather on the nose, but it’s hard to say they’re not effective at making this as heartrending as possible.

Why it should win: You need a heart of stone not to be affected by it.

Albania: Mall by Eugent Bushpepa

I’ve never got around to finding out what this is about (sorry) bruises it just doesn’t grab me. It’s another rock entry and one that’s all about Eugent’s live performance.

Why it should win: He knows how to sing, man.

France: Mercy by Madame Monsieur

It’s unlikely that the message of this song (about a child born at sea, I think) will come across to the casual viewer but you’re assured that you won’t forget the title as you hear it many times. It’s in French but mostly school level thankfully and overall this is a confident, low-fi entry performed well by the two Frenchest people you will ever see at Eurovision.

Why it should win: That hand movement.

Czech Republic: Lie to Me by Mikolas Josef

With a very different sound and some gloriously eccentric lyrics (“eat my spaghetti”, “set my camel in the mood”), Mikolas is an eccentric bundle of fun. What’s in his backpack? Will he bring a camel? His stage performance has been hampered by an injury during rehearsals, but he seems recovered and is bringing energy if not backflips anymore.

Why it should win: A triumph over adversity.

Denmark: Higher Ground by Rasmussen

It’s about time a Nordic country sent some Vikings to Eurovision. These guys look ominous, huffing and puffing and marching about the stage, but you know they wouldn’t hurt a fly – not least because their song is a pacifist anthem draped in the garb of pillaging marauders.

Why it should win: It’s got a really good message but also beards.

Australia: We Got Love by Jessica Mauboy

I love Jessica. I love this song. I wish her vocals didn’t sometimes sound a little off because I am longing for this to do well. When she hits it, she really hits it. Watching the semi-final at home, it wasn’t quite there; last night in the hall at the jury final, she sounded terrific. I hope she nails it tonight. It’s a standard pop song but it’s really well done and let’s not complain about good pop in Eurovision, eh?

Why it should win: It’s going to be a Eurovision dancefloor classic (and of course Australia needs to win soon).

Finland: Monsters by Saara Aalto

This is pop too but brasher and really going for it with the staging. There’s spinning (lifted from the staging of one of her other Finnish selection songs), dancing, dropping, and backing troupe dressed only borderline fascist. Saara clearly loves Eurovision and I hope she gets a good result.

Why it should win: She took three good songs to the Finnish selection.

Bulgaria: Bones by Equinox

This supergroup still feels like less than the sum of their parts but if you like it dark and broody, they are serving that in spades. These are talented vocalists with some sharp harmonies and Bulgaria clearly have their sights on winning one day soon – but probably not tonight.

Why it should win: Those harmonies.

Moldova: My Lucky Day by DoReDoS

God, I love DoReDos. This was lightweight in the best kind of way even before they added the staging; now they’re pulling off the song and a little dance routine dressed in their flag’s colours and while acting out a Whitehall farce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched their rehearsal clips. The spirit of 1981’s Bucks Fizz is here in 2018 and thank goodness for them that.

Why it should win: The most fun item on the menu.

Sweden: Dance You Off by Bejamin Ingrosso

The Swedes know what they’re doing. This is Justin Timberlake in Tron and it’s been polished within an inch of its life. It comes with a good pedigree having of course already won Melodifestivalen (and Benjamin’s aunt having already won Eurovision!) but they’ve tweaked the staging so that he is warmer and engages more with the audience. They’re probably not set for a win but the Swedes remain at the top of their game.

Why it should win: It’s like watching a music video.

Hungary: Viszlát nyár by AWS

That screeching of metal is AWS setting the pyro to 11 and charging around stage like there’s no tomorrow. You’ll either like this or you won’t but as metal goes, they make a very good fist of it – while making Lordi look like Brotherhood of Man.

Why it should win: It’s the metallest thing ever to hit a Eurovision stage.

Israel: Toy by Netta

Netta’s arrived with a feminist pop song accentuated by chicken noises, vocal loops and dancing cat toys. It’s bravura genius although it’s never quite translated on stage as well as it did in those early “WTF?!” studio versions. It totally catches the ethos of Eurovision.

Why it should win: She’s absolutely unique.

Netherlands: Outlaw in ‘Em by Waylon

The Netherlands has an obsession with sending folk and country songs to Eurovision that I just don’t get. Waylon is partly responsible, having come second as part of The Common Linnets in 2014 with a song that everyone seemed to love. (I didn’t and was more than happy for Conchita to beat it.) I actually prefer this, despite some contrived lyrics (In Eurovision? Never!) and he can certainly hold his own.

Why it should win: Hmm. He’s got presence?

Ireland: Together by Ryan O’Shaughnessy

This was promoted by a beautiful video of a couple of guys dancing in Dublin. The Irish team have incorporated that into the staging and it works seamlessly. It’s a little distracting but then distracting from the song isn’t a bad thing. It’s a servicable if weirdly falsetto ballad but the presentation lifts it hugely. China’s having their EBU contract cancelled as a result of blurring out the dancers has given this a burst of publicity that has sent it shooting up the odds.

Why it should win: It made me cry live. Twice. And I don’t even like it much.

Cyprus: Fuego by Eleni Foureira

Last year, Portugal won with a slow ballad. The year before, Ukraine won with a slow ballad. Wouldn’t it be nice if this year we went down the 100% fullscale pop banger route? Eleni certainly thinks so. This is by no means the most musically accomplished nor the most original entry but by George it’s on fire as good as its name. The outfits; the dance routine; the hair flick. This has all the ingredients to go the whole way if that’s the mood the voting public is in.

Why it should win: It’s time for a banger (and Cyprus has never won).

Italy: Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente by Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro

Cyprus should’ve been the big finale. Instead we have this. There are a lot of words in here and alas some of them are on the screen, getting in the way of the action (such as it is). There’s a message in here somewhere but it’s lost in the two guys’ angry expressions that make it seem like they don’t want to be there.

Why it should win: Urgh. Let’s say because of the message.

There you go. 26 songs. More than 20 justifiable winners in the right year with the wind blowing in the right direction. In practice, we’re probably looking at Cyprus, Estonia, Ireland or Estonia. But it’s still hard to completely write off Hungary, Israel, Norway, Sweden, France, Spain or Germany. The voting is going to be exciting. Long. And exciting.

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Eurovision 2018: Semi-final 2 May 10

The Altice Arena

So 7 of my 10 chosen qualifiers made it through on Tuesday night, and it probably would have been 8 if I hadn’t accidentally missed out dead cert Estonia when writing up the list. The biggest surprise for me was Ireland, whose staging really lifted the song and gave them a deserved place in the final for the first time since 2013.

Tonight, 18 songs battle for the 10 remaining spots. Let’s meet them.

Norway: That’s How You Write A Song by Alexander Rybak

Alexander won for Norway 9 years ago with Fairytale and he’s back for another stab. This wasn’t the best of Norway’s song options but probably the most likely to win the Contest so in that sense it was the right choice. It’s cheesy as hell but slickly and cleverly (if not cynically) executed, ticking every box it needs.

Verdict: One of the favourites even if that’s not how you write a song.

Romania: Goodbye by The Humans

The first of several rockier numbers in this semi arrives from Romania and it’s a cracker. The quiet opening is electrifying before it bursts into life with electric guitar and power ballad vocals. I fear that its early position in the running order and competition from similar songs may scupper it but this deserves to qualify.

Verdict: Triumph of the Autons.

Serbia: Nova Deca by Sanja Ilić & Balkanika

This is the most traditional song we’ve seen so far this year and it’s a bit start-stop, the male vocals markedly more interesting than the female melody with which they alternate. The staging feels a little chaotic despite very little happening and I suspect this will be forgotten about as soon as the singers leave the stage.

Verdict: Already forgotten.

San Marino: Who We Are by Jessica feat. Jenifer Brening

This one won’t be forgotten though – at least it’s staging won’t, thanks to a selection of dancing (well, slowly moving) robots. You read that right: this has a “feat” in the credits as we’re treated to a Wannabe-style rap break mid song. The rest of it takes an inspiration from Heroes, which isn’t a bad place to start, but it’s nowhere near the same level.

Verdict: A guilty pleasure.

Denmark: Higher Ground by Rasmussen

The Vikings have arrived. This is a stompy Scandi anthem, complete with ships’ sails and huge beards. Everything about the way it looks says the group are coming to pillage your village but the lyrics are deceptively pacifist, all about being the first to lay down your weapons. It’s hard to pigeonhole this in a genre but it works well.

Verdict: All Aboard the longboat.

Russia: I Won’t Break by Julia Samoylova

There has been talk of a shock failure to qualify for Russia and it’s a real chance, although this seems to have improved in both singing and staging. The song is fine is unexciting but the visuals pull frustratingly away from Julia, lost atop of meringue mountain, who should be the centre of attention.

Verdict: Not Russia’s finest hour.

Moldova: My Lucky Day by DoReDoS

The spirit of Bucks Fizz is alive and well and living in Moldova. The words and music and at the lighter end of pop but this is all about the staging, the harmonies and the performers’ undeniable charisma. We have brightly coloured costumes and random body parts populating a Whitehall farce transported to the Eurovision stage. Their biggest risk is not pulling off the challenging dooreography.

Verdict: If Ray Cooney had produced Making Your Mind Up.

Netherlands: Outlaw in ‘Em by Waylon

Waylon almost won the Contest four years ago as half of The Common Linnets with their inexplicably popular Calm After the Storm. Now he’s back with a frankly better song which I mostly enjoy despite not being a fan of country music, of which this is at the rockier end. I heard someone on the Tube last night criticise him for being too slick, which is simultaneously fair and unfair.

Verdict: One to like but not to love.

Australia: We Got Love by Jessica Mauboy

Jessica represented her home country in 2014 when Australia were invited as guest performers and now she’s back to compete. We Got Love is a solid pop song supported by simple and elegant staging: all flashing lights and cheerful prancing. She’s an engaging performer who sounds great when she hits her stride, which she did in jury rehearsal – the result will depend on whether she does tonight.

Verdict: Australia continue to more than justify their inclusion.

Georgia: For You by Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao

The worst named act of the show turn up to give you your much-needed mid-show loo break. They are impressive singers but this is not engaging and the look of it only adds to the feeling that Georgia have accidentally sent a team of accountants.

Verdict: More loss than profit.

Poland: Light Me Up by Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer

It’s another “feat” but this time Lukas is the lead singer and Gromee the goofy DJ. We’re going into club anthem territory with this one, which they sell with a lot of energy. On the one hand, there are moments in the live vocals that always let this down a little; on the other, there are some great vocals too and this is a song where that’s not the most important element.

Verdict: Wave that glowstick.

Malta: Taboo by Christabelle

Dark and broody with an upbeat line through it, Christabelle sells dystopian warnings with the help of an LED chamber. This feels different and interesting and it’s a strong performance but I’m not sure who’s going to vote for it.

Verdict: Could be Mad Max; could be Waterworld

Hungary: Viszlát Nyár by AWS

If you like the sound of screeching metal, this is for you. It’s loud, brash and energetic and well executed, although the singer’s long hair gets in the way of fully engaging with the audience. If you don’t like this genre, though, it’s unlikely to win you over.

Verdict: The heaviest rock but probably won’t sink.

Latvia: Funny Girl by Laura Rizzotto

I really like this song. The lyrics are interesting, the music is sultry and her vocals are pleasant on the ears. But the staging is wrong, wrong, wrong. Even though she’s alone on stage, what should feel heartfelt and spontaneous looks choreographed and contrived. Arm movements that should come from the passion of the music instead look rehearsed, and that takes away so much from the song.

Verdict: Deserves better.

Sweden: Dance You Off by Benjamin Ingrosso

There have been a few tweaks to warm up Benjamin’s relationship with the audience but this is otherwise the same polished performance we saw in Melodifestivalen – and there was little reason to change it. It’s a Michael Jackson/Justin Timberlake number performed on the set of Tron.

Verdict: Sweden know what they’re doing.

Montenegro: Inje by Vanja Radovanović

Vanja has the oddest stage persona. He looks like a nerdy guy who has accidentally wondered into a huge international arena and is asking the ladies surrounding him for directions. However, he also has a good pair of lungs to deliver this slightly dull song.

Verdict: There’s only room for one of this and Serbia at most and it should be this.

Slovenia: Hvala, Ne! by Lea Sirk

The best part of this is the very beginning. The worst is an unnecessary gimmick towards the end that just gets in the way of the song, which has run out of steam a little at that point.

Verdict: Just sing the song.

Ukraine: Under the Ladder by Mélovin

As in semi-final 1, we end with fire. This is emo, gothic, overblown and theatrical and all the better for it. The staging is dramatic but it’s all in support of the song and Mélovin’s engaging performance.

Verdict: Bring me to life.

So which 10 am I sending through? The winners are less clear this time even though fewer songs will miss out but here’s my list:

  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Moldova
  • Netherlands
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Sweden
  • Montenegro
  • Ukraine

I came up with 11 so I’ve bitten the bullet and taken Russia out. We’ll find out tonight if that was right.

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