This year the Eurovision Song Contest will be held on my erstwhile home turf of Copenhagen, Denmark. I had a chance to go, but I sadly had to turn it down due to other work commitments (which I've now had to cancel thanks to the knee injury. I am not bitter). Before we get started, let it be known that this year is not a vintage year. This is a year of dreary, dreary ballads. You will have plenty of time to go to the loo, make fresh microwave popcorn and refresh your Twitter feed. No country looks as though it really, really wants to win (except Armenia - we'll get back to that). Got your popcorn popping? Let's go.
The First Semi-Final:
- Belgium has entered a song that would make even Louis Walsh blush from its blatant voter-pandering and sentimentality. Mother (sung by Axel Hirsoux who does his damnedest to sell the song, bless him) features lyrics such as "You are right there mother / You are my guiding light / My shoulder, my shelter, my satellite (..) you mean the world to me /you’re more than a soulmate" What Oedipus Complex? By the way, we'll get back to Louis Walsh a bit later on.
- Latvia also has issues with mothers. The frightening Cake to Bake is performed by a twee young studenty boy who apparently was never taught to bake a cake by his mother. It's almost Portlandia except they appear deadly serious. The song continues Latvia's tendency to send novelty songs performed by happy/crap amateurs. Never give up, Latvia, never surrender.
- This year's Beautiful Balkan Ballad™ comes from Montenegro. They've never qualified for the final - but this could do it. I find it hugely dull but do not underestimate the enduring appeal of the BBB (just ask Serbia).
- The Netherlands are evidently heartened by the success they enjoyed last year and have sent another song that is probably too good for the contest (did you hear last year's entry? Goosebumps). Calm After the Storm is one of my personal favourites this year - it has a Fleetwood Mac/Shawn Colvin alt-country vibe to it that I very much appreciate. I am not sure it will do terribly well, but I wish it all the best.
- Another personal favourite is Swede.. no, wait. Sweden inexplicably rejected Ace Wilder's superb and fun and current Busy Doin' Nothin' in favour of a cynical and safe mid-tempo ballad that could have been penned and performed ten years ago. For shame.
- Iceland provides a bit of North Atlantic hipster anarchy with No Prejudice. Yes, it's possibly my favouritest entry in the entire contest. It stands no chance.
- Could Hungary win? They've flown under the radar despite sending decent entries most years. This year they've sent something that is a proper contender. With a good seeding in the first semi-final, I think you should watch out for András Kállay-Saunders.
- Then again, the bookies appear to think that Armenia is set to win. Not Alone has a lot of YouTube pageviews and a lot of OMG THIS IS THE BEST SONG EVER comments on various ESC blogs - I just get the feeling it is manufactured social media hype rather than actual excitement. The song itself is fairly dull before it breaks into dubstep, goes meandering for a bit and then stops. Meh.
The Second Semi-Final:
- I LOVED last year's Norwegian entry (all hail the Berger Queen - it was the moral winner in 2013) so this year's ballad feels a bit like a let-down .. except it is a really, really good ballad. It's not as cynical as Sweden and Norway could (yet again) be a dark horse if it's performed well on the night.
- Heaven knows how Poland is going to stage Donatan & Cleo's paen to modest Polish housewives. It's all a bit N'Dubz but without a particularly strong song. However, who needs a strong song when you have a video like that? Hint: a good song will come in handy on the night, but staging might see this qualify from the semis. Might.
- One of the best 'Eurovision Gold Standard' songs comes from Austria -Rise Like A Phoenix is a quite traditional James Bond-esque ballad sung with conviction by a charismatic performer. Sadly, the quality of the song might drown in transphobia and certain countries will blank it. I'm crossing my fingers that Conchita will indeed rise like a phoenix.
- Finland! Oh, Finland has entered a Killers-meets-early-Coldplay song. Amid all those cookie-cutter ballads, "Something Better" is a breath of fresh air. I would be very surprised if it didn't qualify for the finale. I'm just a touch concerned about those live vocals but nevermind..
- Now for the promised Louis Walsh segment. Ireland's song is immaterial (it's very last year's winner, if you must know) but the in-studio row was GOLDEN. "Your are an odious little man," screamed former winner Linda Martin nearly decking one mentor, Louis Walsh came under attack for rigging the contest and .. oh, here's the whole thing.
- Belarus. Be.La.Rus. Whatever possessed you to send a straight-up copy of that odious Blurred Lines song? Cheesecake is my second least favourite song this year. I did not think anyone could out-douche Robin Thicke, but Belarus' Teo manages that. It is AWFUL.
- And just to clarify: Georgia is worse than Belarus. And they are both in the same semi-final. Ugh.
The Already Qualified:
- Denmark chose Basim - an X-Factor person - with a Bruno Mars-lite song. A bit of controversy surrounding whether it was right to send a non-white singer the year they're hosting .. yes, really. It's pleasant enough and will fare moderately well. At least they didn't send this lesson in how not to match your fake tan & your tights.
- Prepare for an earworm from France who are yet again unbearably tres chic with Twin Twin's Gaga-esque monster pop tune "Moustache". It won't win but it'll be in my heart forever.
- Another X-Factor graduate - this time from Spain. Ruth Lorenzo actually made it big on UK X-Factor and since her actual ESC song is (yet another) dreary ballad, let's watch some vintage Ruth. Doesn't that make you feel better?
- The upset of the year comes the UK who .. who .. well, the UK has sent one of the outstanding songs of this year's contest. Now there is something I don't get to write all that often. See what happens as soon as the UK stops scraping the barrel? Buzz.
So. We have Hungary, Armenia, the UK and Norway as the not-very-clear front-runners with Denmark, Sweden, Ukraine (dreary Eurodance) and Romania limping after them. Personally I am just going to enjoy an evening of Danish cuisine. Remember to do a shot of akvavit every time they mention the Little Mermaid or poke fun at Sweden.