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Hello, Kyiv! May 13

A man in a hamster wheel

Ukraine have been in Eurovision since 2003 and have reached the final every year, save 2015 where they weren’t able to take part in the contest because *cough* reasons.

In that time, they’ve won the contest twice and have also been responsible for some of the most memorable staging of the last 20 years.

In honour of their hosting this year’s contest, here are my top 5 entries from Ukraine.

5. Ani Lorak – Shady Lady

This is what Ukraine entries have excelled at over the years: three-minute power pop brought alive on stage. Ani Lorak came second with her gaggle of energetic dancers and light-up fridges – and this is only number five.

4. Verka Serduchka – Dancing Lasha Tumbai

Verka’s 2007 entry is a load of nonsense but it’s also unashamedly fun and pretty unforgettable. The tin foil Timmy Mallett lost out to Serbia’s Molitva but remains an enduring fan favourite.

3. Ruslana – Wild Dances

This was the country’s second time in the competition and they only went and won! Ruslana subsequently spent a year as an MP in the Ukrainian parliament and continues to be politically, supporting ties between Ukraine and the EU and campaigning on human rights. The song’s good, too.

2. Maria Yaremchuk – Tick-Tock

The man in a hamster wheel in Love, Love, Peace, Peace? This is where that’s from. It’s a simple idea that works brilliantly and fits the song perfectly. Mariya came sixth in the 2014 final.

1. Svetlana Loboda – Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)

It might have been the least successful of the five, coming 12th in 2009, but this is my winner. What a first glance look like hamster wheels rotate outwards for Svetlana and her dancers, who are dressed like a Barbarella version of Roman centurions – someone in Ukraine really likes silver. The backing track is funky, Svetlana bangs the drums in the bridge, and the song has the best chorus of the lot. And then there’s the dance move at 1m40s. Anti-crisis BOM.

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Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 2 May 11

Do you like white outfits? Do you love male-female duets? Do you crave male-female duets where they’re both dressed in white? Then semi-final two has been made for you!

After some upsets on Tuesday – Finland being the biggest expected qualifier knocked out – tonight it’s the second set of songs vying for places in Saturday’s final. And they are these.

Serbia
If the opening part of this song seems strangely familiar, I reckon it’s because it’s the Sugababes’ About You Now. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as that. There’s a white dress, a shirtless dancer doing a cool/weird backwards routine and a good button at the very end of the number, but it’s not enough.

Austria
Nathan Trent sports the second white outfit of the night. And too-short trousers with no socks. Seriously, people, this has to stop. Nathan is a charismatic performer which will help (as long as he doesn’t disappear completely into dry ice) but the song is bland up until the finale, which is pretty overblown.

Macedonia
Can we stop with the performers’ own faces on the video wall please? There were a couple of act in this year’s Melodifestivalen that did this and it’s weird if not downright egotistical. The song itself is fine but nothing special and destined for mid-table obscurity.

Malta
A white dress? Great idea! This is an elegant Eurovision ballad with the best singing of the show so far but, like so many Eurovision ballads before it, the song doesn’t really go anywhere – including, potentially, the final.

Romania
Yodelling and rapping, together at last in the night’s first duet. I don’t even know if this is a pastiche but it’s a hot mess. Naff choreography, nonsense lyrics and a video background drawn by a three-year-old child make it memorable even if Alex doesn’t fall off his glittery canon (not a euphemism). It’s pretty dreadful, so in many ways the entry the UK audience has been waiting for.

Netherlands
Hello to the best harmonies in the competition. The staging and backing track are minimalist, focusing rightly on the three performers, who lift what could be quite a mediocre track. A final place surely awaits.

Hungary
Missing the traditional eastern Europe folk song vibe? Fear not – Hungary deliver, although sadly not playing the kvinnab√∂ske. There’s rapping too, and then the song kind of just stops at the end. Points added for good pyro. Points deducted for the top knot.

Denmark
This starts off middling and gets much stronger as it goes through, with some big notes adding interest. Look out for the golden shower at the end.

Ireland
Yes, there’s a hot air balloon. No, I don’t know why. Dressed in white, of course, Brendan Murray does a perfectly good job and looks and sounds about 15 so I’m not going to be mean about his song. And therefore have nothing else to say.

San Marino
On her third appearance at Eurovision, I joked that San Marino is so small that Valentina Monetta is the only singer they have. Well, she’s back again. As if to disprove my point, she’s found a friend to duet with. As if to prove my point, he’s American. I actually really dislike the harmonies they’ve chosen but the song’s fun (if you can stomach hearing the phrase “spirit of the night” 300 times in three minutes) and sounds like it has not one, not two, but three key changes!

Croatia
Get your face off the big screen! Jeez. So… Jacques is talented. He can sing high pitched pop. He can sing bassy opera. Alternating between them both? Urgh. This would be great in cabaret; at Eurovision it feels like a gimmick, and I say that as someone who liked Cezar and Malena Ernman. The song could stand on its own without the operatic parts.

Norway
For those counting, it’s another white shirt. At first glance I wasn’t expecting to like this but it’s a really good package: lyric-packed verses, fun (and controversial!) vocal samples, an unusual middle eight and a strong chorus.

Switzerland
It’s an OK ballad with an OK chorus. There’s not much else to say other than the singer’s dress is twice as tall as she is.

Belarus
It’s a duet. They’re dressed in white. Tick off your bingo squares and down your drinks. They seem to be having a lovely time, so that’s something.

Bulgaria
This is OK when it eventually gets going. Maybe it could be a One Direction b-side? Are they still a thing?

Lithuania
I like the brassy backing track. The melody, if there is one in there somewhere, not so much. This is another one that starts going off towards the end, once you’ve already written it off. Still, brass.

Estonia
Our final duet and our final singer in white (although Israel has some dancers in white still to come). It’s a long show and at this point I’m struggling to tell what they’re going for here. Is it a love song? Is it a song about regret? Is it advertising package holidays to Verona? For all that, the singers work well together and the overall effect is surprisingly endearing.

Israel
It’s another face on the big screen although at least this time it explodes. Imri Ziv closes the semi-final with an uptempo banger. Bookies might be offering odds on some of the high notes but their quality matters less in this number than in the big ballads.

Picking ten to put through the final was hard because I’m not sure I would put ten through. However, I’ll go for:
Malta
Romania (because I don’t want to deprive UK viewers of it)
Netherlands
Hungary
Denmark
San Marino (for the key changes)
Norway
Switzerland
Estonia
Israel

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Eurovision 2017: Semi-final 1 May 08

Time out is gone – the quest is on. Singers representing 42 countries have assembled in Kiev for the world’s greatest festival of music and wind machines: the Eurovision Song Contest.

The fun kicks off on Tuesday night with the first of the two semi-finals, and this is the one in which UK viewers can vote. Here are the runners are riders.

Sweden
Robin Bengtsson was the winner of SVT’s rigorous Melodifestivalen selection process so you can expect a slick performance. They wisely inserted the word “freaking” to replace a swearier lyric after its victory in the Melfest heats. The staging will particular appeal to fans of Waterloo Underground station and the Debenhams Blue Cross sale. A stronger opener.

Georgia
Fiery staging. Big sing. Reminiscent of a Bond theme. Plagiarise like a Phoenix.

Australia
Performed well but this is the weakest of their three entries so far and pretty dull to watch.

Albania
Lindita has quite the pair of lungs. There’s an OK hook in here but when the clocks from the Doctor Who title sequence appear the video wall behind her, I’ll be looking at the time.

Belgium
Blanche has a gloriously deep voice but seems incredibly uncomfortable on stage. The lyrics make me think of Kenny Loggins’s Danger Zone.

Montenegro
If you’ve been worried that Eurovision has traded in its campiness for slick professionalism, worry no longer. This is not a performance you’ll forget – and not just because Slavko uses his hair as a propeller.

Finland
It’s not just the title, “Blackbird”, that reminds me of Anouk’s brilliant “Birds” from 2013 – this is melancholic and beautiful. Unfortunately it’s also pretty forgettable.

Azerbaijan
This has quite the staging, judging from the rehearsal footage. It’s not the only time you’ll see a performer dressed as an animal in this year’s contest, but it is the only man with a horse’s head on a stepladder.

Portugal
Portugal have returned with a slow, low key, piano bar ballad with the simplest staging possible. It could be twee as hell but instead it’s incredibly endearing and, if you’re in the right mood, surprisingly moving.

Greece
A couple of dancers from Men’s Health casting performing naff choreography do little to make this more interesting.

Poland
Poland need to take their violin and their clich√© love song and sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done.

Moldova
I prefer this to Sunstroke Project’s previous entry, from 2010. Both the song and the choreography are straightforward and fun, and this also marks the Eurovision return of Epic Sax Guy.

Iceland
A song about paper cuts. It’s perfectly competent but got repetitive quite quickly and there’s little interest in the staging. One of way too many performers dressed in white this year.

Czech Republic
I nearly didn’t make it to the end of this. Next.

Cyprus
This track jumped out at me when I was listening to this year’s album and I still like it. It’s upbeat and catchy with a good bridge. The choreography looks a little odd in the rehearsal videos but will probably make more sense on screen alongside video backdrops.

Armenia
Visually interesting, strong singing and a doinky backing track. It’s not to my taste but it’s not bad.

Slovenia
Omar represented Slovenia in 2005, also in Kiev. You can watch that performance on YouTube – be sure to stick with it until the creepy final moments. His song this time is, you know, fine: it’s uninventive and dated but I find myself guiltily liking it despite that. The lacklustre staging won’t help it.

Latvia
A hyperactive child appears to have been let loose on the designs for this: fluorescent coloured backdrops and a costume that’s Hello Kitty does Barbarella. At least the shiny things distract from the the song, which is run-of-the-mill Eurodance.

So that’s your 18 songs, 10 of which will be promoted to the final.

The ten I’d put through:
Sweden
Albania
Belgium
Finland
Azerbaijan
Portugal
Moldova
Iceland
Cyprus
Armenia

But I’d be feeling guilty about Slovenia while I did it.

Update: Now I’ve seen more info about Slovenia’s entrant, I no longer feel guilty about not including them. Bin him.

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I have written a play, Mr Jaffee Jul 09

SquareIt’s called Square, and it’s produced by my longtime friends The Pensive Federation.

Key facts:

  • It has a cast of four awesome actors.
  • It’s inspired by the “square” concept.
  • It’s an hour long.
  • It’s been developed through the PenFed’s tried and tested process of workshops.
  • It’s on at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe from Monday 8th to Saturday 13th August at 7.30pm each night.

Tickets are available from the Tristan Bates website.

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