Monday, April 21, 2014

EuropeCrazy's Eurovision Preview Part 1: Semi-Final 1

Finally, it’s about time that I published my Eurovision previews for this year.  Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve had some very important stuff going on over the last few weeks, and the period before my mum’s illness was also a very busy time, so there’s a very good reason why I haven’t posted until now.

It's hard to believe that it's just over two weeks to go until the first semi-final. Where did the time go since the national finals ended?  I found 2014 national finals season rather unsatisfactory as it was too 'compressed' - with hardly any activity in January, everything was crammed into February and early March, leaving us with some difficult choices to make about which ones to watch and which ones to miss. 

I managed to watch part or all of the following national finals:

·         Albania
·         Azerbaijan
·         Belarus
·         Estonia
·         France
·         Germany
·         Latvia
·         Norway
·         Romania
·         Sweden

For almost everything else, there’s the Web TV section over at although with one significant omission – the DMGP final L
(Maybe I'm just not looking in the right place, but if anyone has a link to the full DMGP final either on YouTube or DR's website then this would be very welcome.)

So we’re finally heading into the last lap of the speculation/ranking period where fan forums and Twitter are filled with top 37s and thoughts on who will succeed Emmelie de Forest as this year's winner.  The overwhelming favourite over the last few weeks, if YouTube viewings and betting odds are anything to go by, has been Armenia’s “Not Alone”, which coincidentally is my first song up for review, as it will be the first song in semi-final 1.
Armenia – “Not Alone” – Aram Mp3

So is this the pre-determined favourite then?  Well, the guy has a great voice and I was previously impressed by his take on “Only Teardrops” which IMHO is better than the original (I’m sure EdF fans will strongly disagree!!).  This was one of the last songs to be revealed.  It starts off as a controlled and classy ballad, rdelivered in warm, reassuring tones reminiscent of, say, Michael Buble - but then goes into far too much repetition of the title in the middle of the song, which becomes a bit tiresome after a while.  Then the dramatic dubsteppy bit comes in. Pretending to be a casual viewer for a moment, I'd say that his vocals are a little too grating in the second part of the song, and there is no distinctive hook.  For this reason, crucially I still don't see this as an ESC winner.   He is a great singer though, and this is probably going to get Armenia's best ever result.  If Armenia does win, then they will succeed where the EBU have failed: we'll see the back of Azerbaijan next year, and not before time. 

Qualifier? YES
Latvia - "Cake To Bake" – Aarzemnieki

The Latvian national final is always another annual must-see.  This year's theme was "Made In Latvia" only accepting submissions from Latvian-based songwriters.  Dons was hotly tipped to win with "Pēdējā vēstule" but it was the madcap, amateurish acoustic posse, Aarzemnieki who won, and from that moment on, "Cake To Bake" has polarised ESC fan world.  This song is the Marmite of Eurovision 2014. 

There is always a daft song in ESC every year which you need to lighten the mood, and you know you shouldn't like it but you do.  (Your guilty pleasure I suppose, although I always disagree with that phrase because no pleasure should be guilty). 

Especially this year, "Cake To Bake" might just stand out among the serious ballads, and get a Kedvesem-type result; or it could be killed by the draw position and the juries will show it no mercy. I really don't know how this song will do.  I played it to faithful travelling companion, and he was covering his ears in pain after 30 seconds.  If this doesn't make the final though, I think Latvia might just pack up and leave the Eurovision game, which would be a real pity.

Qualifier: YES
Sweden - "Undo" - Sanna Nielsen

Sweden missed the opportunity to blast off the schlager shackles once and for all, when they failed to send Ace Wilder to Copenhagen.  OK so "Busy..." might not have been to everyone's taste but it has the international hit-quality which the contest needs.  Instead, we got a Wrecking Ball-inspired ballad written by the king of rip-off songs, Fredrik Kempe.  Sanna will no doubt give it her all but I have never been a fan of her type of ballad singing, and have never liked this song from the beginning.  The "undo my sad" line still intensely irritates me, and even if they have changed a line and added a word, well it still irritates.  Putting a donk on it usually improves a song, but I heard a dance remix and I still hated it. 

(So, Laura, I'm getting the impression that you really don't like this song very much.....!)

By the way, after all these weeks, guess what's my absolute favourite and most played Melfest song of this year?  "Red" by EKO.  It wouldn't have done anything in ESC but I think it's fabulous.

Qualifier: YES
Iceland - "No Prejudice" - Pollapönk

I didn't follow this year's Icelandic national finals process with the usual enthusiasm of previous years.  And before you ask, no, it wasn't because of the absence of Magni (!) I guess this was probably the right winner - it packs a lyrical and musical punch and it has a memorable singalong chorus, whereas most of the songs in the national final were just a bit 'meh'. It's a 'message' song and you can't argue with the sentiment, however I'm not sure if they will be visually appealing enough to Europe's voters.  What it does have is heart, and lots of it, and the band's natural sense of fun and lack of cynicism. 

When it comes to Iceland at Eurovision I'm very biased, as they're one of my favourite ESC countries.  So of course I'll say that they deserve a place in the final, but the realist side of me isn't so sure.

Qualifier: NO  
Albania – “One Night’s Anger” – Hersi Matmuja
Back in December 2013, my reaction to this winning FiK was a bit muted, as (a) she’d beaten my lovely Luiz Ejlli and (b) It was a bit of a messy song.  However in the intervening months it has grown on me, the rough edges and jarring intro have been swept aside and it’s now a more palatable floaty ballad in the style of one of my old favourite floaty ballads, “Like The Wind” (Belgium 1999).  The vocals on the studio version remind me of Shakira.  In her live performance, she needs to cut down on the facial grimacing though.  Once again, I can see Albania failing to qualify, purely on the basis of its draw position, and competition in its semi-final. 

Qualifier: NO
Russia - "Shine" - The Tolmachevy Sisters

Shine?  Oh really?  I mean, how many times has that song title been used at ESC?  So here it is again.  Are the lyrics a thinly-veiled intention of Russian expansionism, or are we getting too paranoid here?!? I know we shouldn't mix politics and musical sport, but I feel very uncomfortable about Russia's presence in the ESC this year.  Feelings about that aside, this is a pleasant enough although dated song.  As ESC modernises year by year, songs like this just feel more and more dated.  They're trying the charm offensive by sending cute blonde twins but I hope that the voters look beyond that, but qualifying still looks like a certainty.  After all, they are Russia, for goodness sake, and they've never missed a final.  Yet.

Qualifier: YES
Azerbaijan - "Start A Fire" - Dilara Kazimova
You can probably guess my disgust about this particular country's behaviour at ESC, bringing our beloved song contest into the gutter with their *alleged* shenanigans. 
I'm not going to focus on that this time though, and just focus on the song and singer.  I even watched the final of "Boyuk Sehne" and was quite impressed by all three finalists, although Xana Hasanova was my favourite.  As usual, it was a singer-contest final rather than a song-contest and we had to wait a couple of weeks for the usual Swedish-written composition.

I've heard this a couple of times now, and for me, it's a complete non-song, and the country's weakest ever entry.  No doubt they'll throw everything and more at the staging, but unless they *allegedly of course* get up to their usual tricks, they could be looking at a top 10 rather than top 5 position this year.

Qualifier: YES
Ukraine - "Tick Tock" - Mariya Yaremchuk

After all that's been going on in their ravaged country of late, will Ukraine pick up enough sympathy votes to take the contest back to Kiev?  I can't really see it.  I don't care enough about this song, and it doesn't do anything to change my view that Ukraine hasn't sent anything decent since Shady Lady. One thing they always do well is the staging of their songs and I'm sure that they will do the same with this, to boost its chances.  It's not a winner though.

Qualifier: YES
Belgium - "Mother" - Axel Hirsoux

My poor mum isn't very well at the moment, and as if she hasn't suffered enough I decided to play a snippet of this song to her and asked her what she thought of the song, to get the opinion of a casual viewer rather than a year-round fanatic.  She rolled her eyes several times, and then said "I don't like this".  So this one isn't getting many votes from the EuropeCrazy HQ jury, but on the other hand, remember Paul Potts and how he became a star all over the continent.  Axel could have the Potts factor, and this could have a serious chance.  When you read the lyrics without listening to the song, they are quite touching and moving, and have a universal theme.  It's just the style of delivery which is wrong, and bizarre, as Axel whacks you into submission and destroys every aspect of sensitivity which this song could have had.  I'm a bit biased against this song as I'd have preferred "She's After My Piano" to go to Copenhagen. 

Qualifier: YES
Moldova - "Wild Soul" - Chistina Scarlat

This is their 10th year competing in ESC and they've certainly given us some variety over the years. Unfortunately I missed the Moldovan final, so I don't know if this was a worthy winner or not.  No sign of Pasha Parfeny this year though: instead it's a lady with a big voice singing a dramatic ballad with little dubsteppy bits.  After a few listens, I still didn't know what to make of it.  Moldova has an excellent record of qualifying to the final, but I can see this missing out this year as it's just not special or different enough to make an impact.

Qualifier: NO
San Marino - "Maybe" - Valentina Monetta

San Marino is everyone's favourite underdog at Eurovision: every year we're rooting for them to make the final, and every year brings only disappointment.  Valentina's making her third consecutive attempt with yet another Siegel-penned song, which is just not strong enough to get her to the final.  Of course it would be great if she overcame the odds, but this is just too dated to succeed.  It's a variation on a Bond theme, but if we're talking Bond-style-themes then there is a much better one in the second semi-final.  Oh, and what's with the English language?  I heard the Italian version which improved the song 100%.  This will be Valentina's final year; let's just hope that it won't be her country's last attempt. 

Qualifier: NO
Portugal - "Quero Ser Tua" - Suzy

Every Portuguese ESC entry is a missed opportunity, and here comes another one.  I understand there was a bit of a hoo-ha (a Quero Ser Hoo-ha in fact) when this won the national final.  This song's like the Lambada reinvented as a World Cup 2014 song.  It's very catchy and likeable, however her delivery is a bit too cabaret for my liking, and I can't see it progressing to the final.  Unless everyone gets bored with all the ballads and the intensity.

Qualifier: NO
Netherlands – “Calm After The Storm” – The Common Linnets

Ilse de Lange and Waylon make up the Common Linnets.  This gentle country/roots number is the most 'polite' song this year, and I've never heard a song title sung more quietly.  I really don't have a clue how this one will do: it's less-is-more, which can do well, but it's maybe just a little too 'less' for the general viewing public who may find the song a little too sleepy/boring on first listen, as it is a slow burner rather than an instant hit.  I'm hoping that they might stick a bit more vocal oomph into the live version and I think that might be enough to get it to the final.  The Netherlands are taking Eurovision seriously again, and I think they should be rewarded for that.

Qualifier: YES

Montenegro - "Moj Svijet" - Sergej Cetkovic

This guy has the same deep, rich vocal tones as Zeljko Joksimovic - close your eyes and you'd think it was him singing.  This has all the ingredients of a successful Balkan ballad at Eurovision, a very popular genre over recent years, and for that reason alone I can see it doing well.  In the absence of Serbia and Croatia, it will finally be Montenegro's time in the spotlight, and this (more conventional entry than their last couple of efforts) should effortlessly qualify to the final. 

Qualifier: YES
Hungary – “Running” – Andras Kallay-Saunders

It's very interesting that the first semi-final draw is topped and tailed by two of this year's biggest favourites. 
I always think that Hungary and Iceland are the two countries most deserving of a long-overdue ESC win.  Hungary is celebrating 20 years in ESC this year and wouldn't it be a nice anniversary present if they could bring it home with this song?  "Running" is certainly one of this year's favourites.  If you played this song to anyone they wouldn't think it was a 'Eurovision' song - it just sounds like a contemporary chart hit.  That's what I like about Hungary at ESC - they ditch the preconceived notions and just send what they like.  The subject matter is rather dark for a Eurovision entry, however I can't really see this being an issue when the majority of viewers/voters don't have English as their first language. 

This is a good, contemporary song, but lacking the greatness of "Sound Of Our Hearts" which still remains my favourite Hungarian entry.   

Qualifier: YES
So my foolish predictions for the first semi-final: Armenia, Latvia, Sweden, Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belgium, Netherlands, Montenegro and Hungary to progress from semi-final 1. 

1 comment:

Raquelita said...

I'm with Faithful Travelling Companion when it comes to Latvia.Although he did well to last 30 seconds.I can't see Armenia winning either.I like it,and am all for Yerevan 2015 if it means the neighbours won't turn up,but there are much stronger songs this year.