And we’re back for the preview of the 2nd Semi Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2017. Find the 1st Semi Final here. I can’t decide if this is the stronger semi or not – there’s certainly some excellent stuff here and some things that I’d be very sad if they didn’t qualify, but with the sudden omission of Russia things are a bit up in the air. But on with the show!
Serbia: Tijana Bogićević – In Too Deep
Every time I hear this come up in the shuffle I go, “Oh! I like this, what is this nice bit of post dancehall?” And then the D’n’B lite chorus kicks in and I go, “Aha. Serbia”.
The verses should have a lot more to do with the chorus – there’s a bit of Frankensteining with visible stitches between the bits going on here – and the incredible middle 8 string/vocal melody needs to come in so much earlier than it does. I’m expecting it to qualify because it’s Serbia, but then I will still keep forgetting about it. Even though I actually like it when it’s on.
Grab factor: The woah-o-woah-o-woah descending line in the middle 8
Drag factor: It takes 1 minute and 50 seconds to get to the good bit
Austria: Nathan Trent – Running On Air
Pleasant, breezy and agreeable. I’m sure that twinkly-eyed Nathan will be able to sell this rather slight song about happiness and self-improvement extremely well on stage, and the bluesy vocal runs in the verses keep it from sagging outside the sway-along chorus. I’m not convinced that it actually means anything, but the combination of an anthemic chorus, a self-improvement message and the lyrics ‘running on air’ make me think that this song could have a second life in an advert for comfortable ladies trainers.
Grab factor: Nathan’s charisma and embellishments on the verse melody.
Drag factor: A bit empty?
Russia:Yulia Samoylova – A Flame Is Burning
Sigh. I mean, I’m tired of talking about whether or not she’ll be able to perform as part of the show, but the song really is insultingly poor. Yulia and Russia could do better and everyone knows it.
Grab factor: The headlines have been full of Russia this, Russia that.
Drag factor: This is an awful song
Macedonia: Jana Burceska – Dance Alone
This is a song that I wouldn’t be disappointed to hear on an album from Gaga or Robyn. It is absolutely stacked with little hooks and musical touches to grab onto your brain and make you love the song from the word go. Let’s get into how they’ve done this.
We start with the chorus melody up front in the intro, followed by the double clap that is the rhythmic signature of the track. Two hooks in the first nine seconds.
Then immediately after that comes the bit to make you dance – the wobbly, syncopated bassline and Jana’s sexy filtered vocal, along with a second synth melody that repeats throughout. 3 more hooks and at 47 seconds, we hit the chorus with a pause and a rising woah that you’re going to hear a lot more of. We already know the chorus melody, so we’re comfortable and ready to sing along and join in with the double clap when prompted. 58 seconds in and we’ve established and repeated all our main themes. This is very good work indeed.
Verse 2 comes in with a link between the lyrics and music, as the brief instrumental section gives the opportunity to illustrate that Jana is ‘letting the pavement be her catwalk’. We’ve been introduced to all the hooks already and we’re just enjoying hearing them again at this point. Then, we repeat that exciting pause/woah moment at 1:37 as we head into the second chorus. Oh, the chorus, we know how that goes, we’re know what to expect. But what’s this? The exciting sonic hair-toss of the ‘I’ll let it go’ bit adds a new part to the chorus and keeps the whole thing surprising and rhythmically exciting.
At 2:10 we drop out for a middle 8 which doesn’t really introduce any new themes, but remxes existing bits and bobs from the track with a sparser dynamic. All we’re doing here is building up tension that we’re going to release with a triumphant last repetition of the chorus, which crashes back in on a rave rocket at 2:26. Then you’ve got nearly 30 seconds of chorus for everyone to enjoy and for Jana to work the crowd in.
So that is why you like this song so much. It’s a masterclass in ultra-catchy pop songwriting and it manages to do it without appearing tacky or desperate. Well done Macedonia, I don’t know how or where this sudden burst of genius happened, but I’m ever so glad it did.
Grab factor: I just spent nearly 400 words explaining that it’s entirely constructed from grab factor
Drag factor: I can just about imagine that some people might be immune to it?
Malta: Claudia Faniello – Breathlessly
Drippy and overwrought, but Claudia brings every single fibre of her being to it. Her delivery is fantastic, and it’s wonderful to see her finally get her chance at the Eurovision stage. I just wish that she had managed to bag a more current song.
Grab factor: Heartstrings being yanked hard.
Drag factor: Frocky ballad that you’re going to forget as soon as the next song starts
Romania: Ilinca & Alex – Yodel it!
Rapping and yodelling. Two great tastes that taste great together. It’s the salted caramel of 2017. It’s like discovering for the first time that fruit cake goes with sharp cheese (try it, and thank me later) or like the discovery of the Irn Bru float. It shouldn’t work, and yet it does.
Everyone knows what yodelling sounds like, so we’re already 100% familiar with the main hook of the track, and the lovely Ilinca yodels absolutely beautifully and with such power. Alex brings a bit of gruff to the party and the whole message about how you should give up your job and yodel is just bizarre enough to work. Structurally, it is totally route one, no deviations from the standard pop template, but if they’d taken risks anywhere else in the song then we wouldn’t be willing to go along with them for the rapping and yodelling.
Also, Alex and Ilinca have an intriguing on-stage chemistry, which makes me think that they’re doing a lot of arguing backstage, but in a way that ends with a kiss rather than storming off and blocking each other on facebook. I do believe that for duos to work at Eurovision, you have to be able to realistically ship it, and Alex and Ilinca pass this test in a way that a certain Estonian duo super do not. But the yodelling might be too much for some.
Grab factor: YODELEIO!
Drag factor: If you don’t like yodelling, this might be a long 3 minutes.
Netherlands: O’G3NE – Lights & Shadows
Sibling harmonies get me every time. Sibling harmonies done well and a song that gives it the full emotive 90’s Disney welly will get me welling up faster than you can say ‘A Whole New World’. It’s incredibly corny, hugely emotionally manipulative and I really enjoy it. Sue me.
It has the chance to go incredibly wrong on the night, but this is offset by the fact that this is a band who’ve been singing together since they could gurgle, have already been through the tests of Junior ESC and the Voice. These ladies are total pros. Provided the staging doesn’t turn out to be a distracting mess, this could potentially tear the roof off.
Grab factor: Magical angelic harmonies!
Drag factor: Cheese overload, I hope you’re not lactose intolerant.
Hungary: Joci Papai – Origo
This is so cool. This is a song for blasting out your car window on a hot evening or playing just as a house party goes up into dancing gear. Once you get into the translated lyrics, you find out that Origo is a story of love, loss and prejudice, which doesn’t end happily but comes from a place of pain and inner strength. Joci Papai also comes from the often persecuted Hungarian Romani community and he’s a great addition to our #celebratediversity party.
I’m honestly not sure what the wider Eurovision public will make of it, because it definitely sounds not-Western and I don’t know how the voters and public are responding to that at the moment. For me, however, it’s a definite plus. More like this please.
Grab factor: That cool violin riff. Joci Papai’s haunting voice.
Drag factor: Some people apparently don’t like a rap breakdown.
Denmark: Anja Nissen – Where I Am
We were always going to get Anja Nissen at Eurovision at some point. But to throw away her shot on this totally generic 90’s R&B thing is very disappointing. There wasn’t a lot of excitement available in the Danish selection, to be honest and they probably went with a competent live TV vocalist by default. Even though it starts out with a promising hook, it never really builds, never really goes anywhere and never even introduces any changes of instrumentation or melody to make the 3 minutes pass pleasantly. Come on Denmark. You can surely do better than this.
Grab factor: That ‘Laying down my armour’ hook
Drag factor: Literally everything else about the song.
Ireland: Brendan Murray – Dying To Try
Ooft, Ireland. Ooft. While the standard boyband template of a 6/8 slowie with a choir for the final chorus works just fine for Louis Walsh and the rest of the X Factor lot to obtain hit singles for reality contest winners, it simply will not do at Eurovision, especially when we suspect that poor Brendan is going to struggle with the big top notes. Thanks to Linda Martin (who probably hasn’t signed an NDA and can therefore say what she likes to journalists) we’ve found out that they’ve engaged Nicoline Refsing to stage this. If she can make this boring song stand a chance of qualifying then she’s truly a genius.
My other problem with this song is that it sounds like a teenage boy trying to persuade an unsure partner into intensifying the physical part of their relationship, even if they don’t really want to. Which is gross.
Grab factor: And he stands UP off the stool
Drag factor: Another solo male ballad in lead boots.
San Marino: Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson – Spirit of the Night
When will Valentina get her cool, jazzy, classic Amar Pelos Dois? I really hope she does at some point. So, San Marino are bidding to rebrand themselves as the epic disco capital of Europe. This combines many of the things I love the most: boy/girl duets, spoken word verses, unbridled disco joy, bucketloads of handclaps, key changes which clang into place like ancient granite monoliths, ascending vocal runs and a bit where it all drops out except for our heroes.
I really, really want San Marino to get their Q with this. I say it would be good for San Marino, great for Val & Jimmie, excellent for disco and a balm to weary souls around the world. Love love. Peace peace. Disco disco.
Grab factor: The disco beat takes you away!
Drag factor: Somehow there are enough sections and keychanges to stop it dragging.
Croatia: Jaccques Houdek – My Friend
This is deeply, deeply weird. Two different flavours of syrupy self-help messages stirred into an inspirational slow jam. It’s probably a religious song on some level? His friend is Jesus, right? However, I am glad that Eurovision gives people to chance to experiment like this, even if I don’t get it at all.
The string breakdown is thrilling and gives us one of our few opportunities for a Eurovision Fiddle Moment, but that’s really the best bit of it for me. A curio and something to encourage.
Grab factor: THOSE TWO MEN SINGING A DUET ARE THE SAME MAN!
Drag factor: Jacques is your friend who posts inspirational memes on facebook. #blessed
Norway: JOWST – Grab The Moment
Putting aside the very strange usage of death and drug imagery in the lyrics, this song is pretty great. Actually, let’s not put the death imagery aside – this is NORWAY and they do pop that makes you consider your inevitable mortality better than anyone [Monster, Silent Storm]. The heavily distorted and processed vocal sample post-chorus section will obviously have to be altered for the ESC stage version, but they don’t need to touch the absolutely best bit of the song which is the middle 8 drop with that huge, huge bassline. Whenever that song starts I’m counting down the seconds until we get to that bit.
Combined with cutting edge club style visuals, reasonable screen charisma and some really exciting LED face mask things, I think this is a great effort for Norway. Fingers crossed they get the Q.
Grab factor: It’s audibly modern and will be visually arresting on stage.
Drag factor: The middle 8 keeps it interesting, stops drag setting in.
Switzerland: Timebelle – Apollo
From the same barrel of competent radio-friendly mid tempo pop songs that we selected the UK song, we have Timebelle singing about Apollo. Is it the Apollo of Greek myth or the Apollo of Battlestar Galactica fame? We can hardly tell from the somewhat generic inspirational lyrics.
I find that I have less to say about it every time I hear it. It’s just there and it does all the correct things at the same time – not just the chords and the melody, but also the tiny modulations and pauses and production touchers are all present and correct. I just don’t like it very much compared with any of the others.
Grab factor: Yes, that’s a proper pop chorus. Check.
Drag factor: Where have I heard this one before?
Belarus: NAVI – Гісторыя майго жыцця
I’ve loved this song for months and I’ve been keeping a quiet eye on NAVI since last year. This is the big one for them – a lovely song full of hope and positivity at a tempo that invites bopping to turn into full-on pogoing, with a singalong chorus and the presence of a huge number of Belorussians in the crowd. If they can’t get the Q and a great result on the Saturday, then I don’t know what’s gone wrong with Europe’s ears. It’s going to be wonderful singing those ‘Hey! Hey! Heyayayay!’ refrains along with several thousand excited Belorussians and Ukrainans. The ESC revamp of the song really lifts the last minute by adding some more dynamics, a big jury note and lots of potential for crowd participation.
I just adore NAVI – I’d be willing to have them as houseguests (I bet they’re really lovely and probably help do the washing up) or spend a night down the pub with them setting the world to rights. Very excited for them.
Grab factor: Instant bouncing, intense uptempo joy.
Drag factor: Will you get tired of singing, clapping and pogoing?
Bulgaria: Kristian Kostov – Beautiful Mess
Displaying an emotional maturity far beyond his years, Kristian is singing the kind of big sensitive ballad I can really get behind. It’s got a level of sophistication that you’d expect from the new Eurovision powerhouse that is the Bulgarian delegation but it’s not being too clever-clever. It’s got a central message about love defeating adversity (they will never break us down) and that’s something that we can all get behind.
Kristian himself is such a sweetheart and even though he’s only young he can work the crowd like a fearless pro. I just wish he would keep his eyes open so that he can give the people down the other end of the camera the full benefit of his performance.
Grab factor: Oh lookit the wee boy… woah, he can really sing!
Drag factor: It might be too sensitive for the party-party-party folks?
Lithuania: Fusedmarc – Rains of Revolution
I am so confused by this song. For a start, I absolutely do not recall this participating in the earlier stages of the Lithuanian selection process. I don’t even remember listening to it in the run up to the final. I can’t prove to myself that this song existed before it got selected. It’s the reverse musical Mandela Effect and it absolutely freaks me out.
So the song is a bit of a mess. Synthetic brass parps away distractingly, they’re seemingly short of a whole verse worth of lyrics and the 80s called on a giant suitcase-sized mobile phone because they want their bassline back. It’s got a very confusing rain metaphor and I can’t work out if it’s about relationships, religion or disillusionment with the political system. Greta Zazza should be here and I should be heaping praise upon her song. Instead, this.
Grab factor: The synth brass certainly grabs the ear from the very start.
Drag factor: It starts to drag for me in the ‘yeah yeah yeah’ verse.
Estonia: Koit & Laura – Verona
My favourite song from the Eesti Laul pack won through with an enormous televote, even though the staging made Koit & Laura look like they’d never been formally introduced, let alone had the kind of torrid affair you write a song about. I have since been assured that was just two perfectly friendly Estonians enjoying their own comfortable levels of personal space, and that they’ll sort something a bit different out by May.
The song though: you wouldn’t be shocked to find a carefully coiffed Michael Ball & Elaine Page belting this one out to one another in a Royal Variety show in the 80s. It’s a huge slab of cheese, but in a fantastic way. It’s a passionate boy/girl duet and I love it. And if that makes me wrong then I don’t want to be right.
Grab factor: It’s got hooks in all the right places. If Laura can act her socks off while Koit delivers blue steel, it’ll come absolutely alive.
Drag factor: Maybe there’s not enough variety of dynamic and mood? It gets to full pelt within 45 seconds and doesn’t let up from there.
Israel: Irmi Ziv – I Feel Alive
Another song with an intro that doesn’t seem to go with the chorus, it always takes a bit of catching up for me to realise that this is the same massive party banger that I really enjoy.
I don’t really know what it’s about – is it a song of heartbreak? A song of determination? A celebration of life? Or is it just some words that sound good when placed against a beat and a backing vocal? Never you mind, you over-analytical sorts, just get dancing and enjoy yourselves.
Grab factor: Israeli dancefloor party time!
Drag factor: Not melodically or lyrically interesting enough to remove Golden Boy from everyone’s hearts.
My picks from Semi 2: Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Macedonia, Hungary, Romania, San Marino.