Where has the time gone? It seems no time since national finals ended (well, no time since I got round to writing those blog posts anyway!). Rehearsals are imminent and it will soon be Eurovision week so time is running out for me to finally publish my thoughts on this year's songs.
Let's have a listen to the songs from Semi-Final 1.
MOLDOVA - "I Want Your Love" - Eduard Romanyuta.
This year's contest opens with a Ukrainian singing a song with no Moldovan involvement whatsoever. It was a controversial winner in its own national final and there were lots and lots of allegations. My main gripe was that Eduard denied us the utter joy of the return of Epic Sax Guy to ESC. In a year of ballads and mid-tempos, this is one of the few up-tempo entries in this semi-final so I suppose that's how it ended up opening the contest. This song sounds about 15 years out of date and sounds like a Backstreet Boys album track. As for qualification chances, he would need to summon up some of his home country's ability to turn something average into something special.
ARMENIA - "Face The Shadow" - Genealogy.
"Doooooooon't deeeeeeeenyyyyyyyy!" Genealogy was a good idea in theory, putting together performers with Armenian origin from the five continents, along with Inga of Inga-and-Anush fame, but the song is just a messy screech-fest. This song was originally titled "Don't Deny" and there were lots of allusions to the centenary commemoration of the Armenian genocide. Then the HoD meeting took place, I assumed there was a finger-wagging and then and the song title magically transformed into "Face The Shadow" but the title is the only change. The draw of death - 2nd place in the running order - suggests that the EBU are still not too happy with this either. Neither am I really. I wanted something great, and this is not it. It's painful to listen to, not because of the subject matter, but purely because of the unlistenable shrieking.
BELGIUM - "Rhythm Inside" - Loïc Nottet.
Apart from its little nod to Lorde's "Royals" - a massive worldwide hit from a couple of years ago - this is one of the most unique and different entries in this year's contest, and whilst some have criticised his pronunciation of English, I think it's quite delicious. But will Europe's voters and juries go for this level of minimalism? And is Europe ready for rapapap? As time goes on I doubt it; the draw is also killing the song's choices. I would love to be wrong and see it qualify. Still, the future looks bright for him as he seems to be a promising young artist with a vision of a career beyond The Voice and ESC.
NETHERLANDS - "Walk Along" - Trijntje Oosterhuis.
This was one of the earliest songs chosen for the 2015 contest. At that time I found it quite agreeable on the first couple of listens, but if I'm honest it's not wearing too well at EuropeCrazy HQ. I don't want to sound ageist, I'm no spring chicken myself but I feel that this song (written by Anouk no less) is too "young" for its performer and would perhaps have been more believable if sung by a younger artist in the Taylor Swift/Carly Rae Jepsen demographic. And it crosses the line between acceptable and unacceptable repetition. The most entertaining thing about this is @euro_pete on Twitter with his "YYIIIYIII?" tweet. It might well be this year's "WAWAWEWAWE".....
FINLAND -"Aina mun pitää"- Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät.
My views on this song were initially coloured by the failure of Satin Circus' "Crossroads" to represent Finland this year - I still feel that song would have done very well indeed, and it remains one of my national final favourites this year despite its chances being scuppered by poor live performances. But enough of that song because I'm supposed to be talking about this one. And this is all about the back story of the band whose special needs haven't stopped them playing the punk music which they love. It's a heartwarming human story which is guaranteed to be a televote winner and I think this is therefore a guaranteed qualifier - they will also be a breath of fresh air among the ballads and the bland. However there is also the risk of it qualifying purely because of the sympathy vote?
GREECE - "One Last Breath" - Maria Elena Kyriacou.
Where has my beloved uptempo Greece gone? Even they've sent a bloody ballad this year for for goodness sake. But Maria Elena has a very good chance of qualifying - she's a vocal powerhouse here, and they've used the musical template of "Rise Like A Phoenix" probably more blatantly than any other entry this year. It doesn't really do anything for me but it's an absolute qualifier but in the battle of the big ballads, it will probably be buried by Russia in the final anyway.
ESTONIA - "Goodbye to Yesterday" - Stig Rästa and Elina Born.
This had massive momentum when it was chosen as the Estonian entry, I got the feeling that it faded as national finals season progressed but I'm hoping for a resurgence once the rehearsals start. GTY is often compared to the Common Linnets - it's a male/female duet but apart from that, I don't get the comparison. It is extremely cool, as befitting a song which made it out of the ultra-cool Eesti Laul, but is it too cool to the point of being ice-cold? The staging of this is going to be crucial: they need to bring a little more warmth to make Europe fall in love with them the way that we in the fandom have done. They just need to make sure that Europe 'gets' the subtlety of this song, the lyrics and the performance. Now there's a comparison with the Common Linnets we can hope for.
FYR MACEDONIA - "Autumn Leaves" - Daniel Kajmakoski.
#unpopular opinions time - was I the only person who liked the original, Skopje Fest-winning stompy native-language version of this? The song was then translated into English and reworked as a mid-tempo One Republic-style tune with massive contemporary appeal. So I now like both versions of the song. I really like Daniel and hope he does well. The very inventive video has great potential to be reproduced as memorable staging. One major selling point was the recent revelation of Merj - better known as Blackstreet, yes "No Diggity"-Blackstreet as Daniel's backing vocalists. I think he's great. I want this to be wonderful in Vienna. I want this in the final. Oh, and it will definitely be in my year-end top 50 :)
SERBIA - "Beauty Never Lies" - Bojana Stamenov.
A little flashback first: I enjoyed watching my first ever Serbian national final this year from beginning to end. I was initially cheering on my fave Serbian singer Aleksa Jelic with his vibrant dance-pop song "Vodi Me" but was hugely disappointed by the Melfest-style over-choreography of the song. And when Bojana took to the stage it was game over. "Ceo Svet Je Moje" had the drama, the dancers, the dress....and that mid-song transition from ballad to massive dance anthem. All good so far. And then they translated it into English. For me it really has lost a lot in translation, although it's doing that "I am beautiful no matter what they say" theme which will touch a lot of people. Me? I just wish it had stayed in Serbian.
HUNGARY - "Wars for Nothing" - Boggie.
As showbiz names go, Boggie is not a great showbiz name. And while the sentiment is good, this song is not. In recent years Hungary has brought so much to Eurovision particularly over the last 3 years and lest we forget the wonderful "Dance With Me" by Zoli Adok which I still love. Hungary has become one of the countries I look forward to seeing in Eurovision every year, along with Iceland they are top of my winner wish-list and ...then they go and spoil it all by sending something stupid like this snooze-fest. This song can just, um, Boggie off.
BELARUS - "Time" - Uzari and Maimuna.
Ah, memories. The Belarus final, along with the Albanian FiK epic, saved my Christmas so I will always be grateful to them for that. And when this song won I was quite happy about it for a strange reason. For this is not a great song, and it's far too repetitive, and it seems like some unfinished idea, as I'm still not convinced by the combination of Uzari's dance-pop and Maimuna giving it the full Vanessa-Mae. But all that aside, we have to ask the question, is time really like thunder? (Ah-haaaaaaa). Will this bring the thunder to Eurovision? Well....I still don't know. After the legend that was "Cheesecake" this is a very hard act to follow.
RUSSIA - "A Million Voices" - Polina Gagarina.
Going off on a tangent for a moment, the title of this song makes me think of the Harry Hill sketch with Stouffer the Cat singing "Seven Seconds" by Youssou N'Dour and Neneh Cherry. But getting myself off back off that tangent, this is a very traditional peace-themed ballad sung very well by a reasonably likeable singer. And it will probably get booed because it's Russia. But Russia still has a lot of friends at Eurovision, and I see this placing much higher than "What If" and "Shine". All I will say is that I wouldn't want it to win, for numerous reasons which I don't really want to go into here, or I will go on all night!!
DENMARK - "The Way You Are" - Anti Social Media.
Despite their name, Anti Social Media are the safe McFly wannabes whom it's ok to take home to mum. All these weeks on from the national final, I can't help but feel there's something missing here. It's very catchy and will stand out among the ballads and mid-tempos though, but it suffers from the curse of blandness which seems to have haunted some other Danish entries over the years (you know who you are....) and it doesn't really bring anything spectacular. But it fulfils that other Eurovision criteria as you do remember the chorus after one listen, so the job's done - but if it does qualify to the final, it will probably end mid-table.
ALBANIA - "I'm Alive" - Elhaida Dani.
I've already reviewed FiK in another post so will just summarised by saying that they missed a trick by not sending Lindita's song, but then events took a bizarre turn with the original winning song "Diell" replaced by "I'm Alive" ironically written by the same writers of "S'te Fal" (Zzap & Chriss) but missing the magic of that one for me. However Elhaida is definitely a safe pair of hands (lungs then!) for Albania and this song has become a massive fan favourite.
ROMANIA - "De La Capat/All Over Again" - Voltaj.
The original Romanian language version of this is just lovely, and the video narrative - of the children left behind whilst their parents move abroad to work - is so moving, and a welcome alternative take on the all too easy demonisation of migrant workers. Unfortunately the English version does not really convey this narrative as well as it could do. But it is one of the loveliest songs in this year's line-up, and it's a band, and I like bands, and I like this so will be very happy if it makes the final. It's my favourite Romanian entry since "Playing With Fire".
GEORGIA - "Warrior" - Nina Sublatti.
Typical Warriors. You don't get any for ages and then two of them come along at once, from Malta and Georgia. This one's a feisty Georgian take on Evanescence's Amy Lee. I have a problem with both of these Warriors in this year's ESC, as neither of them are really the finished article for me. In this instance Nina doesn't really have a conventional 'song' and it doesn't go anywhere for me if I'm honest. But she'll do enough to qualify I'm sure.
Qualifying: Finland, Greece, Estonia, Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Russia, Albania, Denmark, Romania, Georgia.
Going home: Moldova, Armenia, Belgium, Hungary, Belarus, Netherlands.
I will publish my semi-final 2 and finalists preview tomorrow :)